Monday, October 31, 2011

Something Wicked This Way Comes

A few things I've been pondering upon a midnight dreary...

Blackened Voodoo, Hobgoblin, Maudite, Red Devil, Nightmare, Bigfoot, Leviathan, Hex, Laughing Skull, Hop Monster, Ghost Train, Cuvee De Evil, She Devil, Brasserie Fantôme, Evil Dead Red, Meshistopheles, Helltown, Dead Guy, Corne Du Diable, Hop Zombie, Bat out of Hell, Poltergeist ESB, Big Bad Wolf, Ghoul Fuel, Saison of the Witch, Jack O' Lantern, Vampire Bite, Ghost Ship, The Beast, Werewolf, Green Death, Bière Du Démon, Black Demon, WytchCraft, Emma's Coffin, Belzebuth, Howl, Devil Dog, Black Raven, Pumpkinhead, Maniac Alt, Nosferatu, Evil Twin, The One-Eyed Monster, Crop Circle Wheat, Cyclops, Succubus, Black Damnation, Diabolici, Druid Fluid, Red Banshee, Hell, Cauldron Brew, Wake Up Dead, Heart of Darkness, Curse of Jack, Kraken Stout, Mummy Train, Psycho Keller, Berserker, Hellhound On My Ale, Kelpie, Dark Lord, Black Ghost, Bock of the Bat, El Chupacabra, Troll Porter, Spooky, The Curse, Two-Headed Beast, 666, Demon, Black Dragon Mild, Frankenstein Dortmunder, Gypsy Juice, Gremlin, The Horror, Fallen Angel, Winter Warlock, Greene's Gargoyle, Old Scratch, Zombie Dust, Sea Hag IPA, Samhain Pumpkin Porter, Goblin King, Black Magik, Lucifer, Hoodoo Voodoo, Monster Ale, Gangly Ghoul, Black Cat, Jinx, Witch Doctor, Spider, Satan Red, Insidious, Zombie Apocalypse Red, Number of the Beast, Killer Bee, Vlad the Inhaler, Headless Horseman, Alien Abduction, Yeti, Black Death Porter, Pendle Witches Brew, Black Mass Stout, Babayaga, El Diablo, and Darkness.

Feel free to let me know any that I've I missed—I'm always up for another good pondering.

Happy Halloween everyone.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Getcha' Beer Here! Just Not in the Clubhouse

Amazingly, there has been other things going on in the beery world, that do not pertain to the Oxford Companion to Beer. Like the fact that Major League Baseball was considering a ban on beer in all of its teams clubhouse's—before, after and during games. The whole controversy started because Boston Red Sox starting pitchers, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester admitted to drinking a few beers in the clubhouse, during games that they were not pitching in. The word "admitting" seems to imply guilt, in this case, but technically it's not against MLB or the franchise's rules. So, I'm not sure what the violation was. As a matter of fact, it's a fairly common practice in baseball. Either way, somebody tattled to Boston's WHDH-TV, and MLB needed to take immediate action to protect America's youth—or a least say they were going to, and then back down the next day. Annoyed by MLB's knee-jerk reaction, Joe Maddon, manager for the Tampa Bay Rays, facetiously suggested the league was going to re-invoke the Volstead Act. That's right, the Volstead Act. When was the last time you heard a baseball manager mention a non-baseball related historical reference, let alone a historical beer reference?

The irony of the situation is two-fold. First, Budweiser was the official sponsor of this postseason's, after game celebrations—in each teams respective clubhouse. Secondly, the two teams—the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers—vying for the National League spot in the World Series, play in stadiums named for brewing companies—Busch Stadium and Miller Park. In fact, the Cards were at one time owned by Anheuser-Busch.

Keith's game day check list:
Away uniform–check,
Camel Lights–check,
Here's the crux of the situation—and it needs a little back story. A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, in the year 1986, the New York Mets staged, arguably, the greatest comeback in World's Series history. Up by one game, going into game six, Boston took a quick lead, but the Mets tied it up in the eighth inning and held the tie through the ninth. A home run and an RBI, in the tenth inning from Boston, brought the score to 5–3. However, in a string of last strike, clutch hitting, the Amazin's would also score, and advance their runners into scoring positions. With Met left fielder Mookie Wilson at bat and an inside pitch thrown wild, the tying run would cross the plate. After a series of foul-offs, into a full count, Wilson would smack a slow roller down the first base line, to the waiting glove of BoSox first baseman Bill Buckner—or so it seemed. The ball would sneak past Buckner, dribbling between his feet, settling in shallow right field; allowing Ray Knight to cruise home, grab his helmet and jump on the plate to score the winning run. The Mets would go on to win game seven, and the Series, two days later.

Amazin' to say the least, right?  Do you know where Met first baseman Keith Hernandez was during all that commotion? Please allow Seinfeld to explain:      
KEITH: Let me explain, Elaine. I'm Keith Hernandez. I was the 1979 MVP. I won 11 Gold Gloves in a row. I was part of the most amazing comeback in World Series history... 
ELAINE: Wait, I thought you were in the clubhouse smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer during that rally. 
KEITH: Only at the start. I was in the dugout when the ball went through Buckner's legs. I was still drinking the beer and I didn't have my pants on, but I was in the dugout.
That's no joke folks—I mean, it is a joke, but it did happen—the beer, the smokes, the dugout. Although, I don't know about the pants thing. Nobody tried to ban anything back then. I'm pretty sure we all knew smoking and drinking might have some detrimental affects on our health, and Hernandez in 86', was a bigger role model than John Lackey, today. Do you know the difference between Keith Hernandez and the 1986 World Series Champion New York Mets, and Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester of the 2011 Boston Red Sox?

The Mets didn't miss the play-offs by one game. 

So, before MLB starts blaming the evils of beer, maybe they should blame Boston's 20 losses in September. Did MLB ever think the reporter for WHDH might have been a disgruntled Sox fan, mad that they shitted their season away? You may have gotten a little carried way fellas, bad press doesn't have to be bad press, unless you make it bad press. Oh, and Jon, John, and Josh, next year, lay off the fried chicken and beer. Try not to gain over a hundred pounds between the three of you—nobody points fingers at the winners. 

I'm just sayin.'

Monday, October 24, 2011

Variety is the Spice of Life

I made my own six pack the other day. Six IPAs from six different breweries—$8.95, plus tax and deposit.

Here's the thing, I "built" that six pack at a supermarket—the Slingerlands, New York, Price Chopper, to be specific. Individual bottle or can sales isn't anything new. I've seen forties, 22-ounce bombers, 16-ounce pounders and tall boys sold in groceries (and gas stations) for years. Sure, small neighborhood markets or boutique stores may be known as having great beer selections, but what I'm talking about are full-size, multiple location, supermarket chains. Obviously some stores have better, or more beer than others, but this make your own six pack—at the same location you can buy a whole chicken, toilet paper and a gallon of milk—is a whole new idea, around these parts.

The selection isn't anything to laugh at either. Price Chopper's make-your-own area sported U.S. craft-breweries like Lakefront, Otter Creek, Flying Dog, Middle Ages, Sierra Nevada, and Full Sail. Unfortunately, the import selection is a little lacking, with a modest showing of only some of the larger and more well known breweries across the globe—like Carlsberg, Heineken and Guinness.

Kroger's beery offerings.
I decide to do a little investigative work, to see how widespread this phenomenon is. When I say "investigative work", I really mean, just Googling the phrase make your own six pack and grocery store—and seeing what comes up. Got it? No real work being done. What I did find was, what seems to be a growing trend of large, grocery retailers offering, single, 12-ounce bottles and or the option to make-your-own sixer. From my seven minutes of searching, I found that the eastern U.S. grocery chains of Wegmans (New York), Food Lion/Bloom (Southeast U.S.) and Fresh Market; the mid-western chains Jewel (Chicago) and Woodman's (Wisconsin/Illinois); the Texas based HEB; and the national chain of Kroger, all offer make your own six packs at some, and I stress some, of their locations. There are probably more stores doing the same thing, but seven minutes of research is quite enough, thank you.

I do have one question, and it's a question of economics. How will this trend of single-bottle, craft beer availability, in chain grocery stores, effect local beverage centers, that specialize in craft beer sales? The average (U.S. craft brew) single-bottle sale price, at most of the beverage centers in this area, is $2.50—making the cost of a make-your-own sixer at those stores, about $15.00 per six pack. Granted, the selection at local beverage centers is far greater than that of the one or two Price Chopper's that have this offer going, but a $4.00 difference is quite a big margin.

As much as my loyalties lie with Oliver's, I will admit it is nice to see the hangover cause sold in the same location as the hangover cure.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Have Sorghum—Will Travel

I don't know anything about sorghum beers. In fact, I've never even had one. I've always seen them like a medication I didn't need to take. I don't have Celiac disease—a condition which causes a person to not be able properly digest nutrients, due to a reaction from eating gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, and barley—I can drink beer just fine, trust me on that. However, three guys from Albany—Jeremy Hosier, Mark Crisafulli and Drew Blanchet—look at it from a different perspective. According to Mark Crisafulli, the current sorghum beers on the market, like Anheuser-Busch's Redbridge, are "Almost undrinkable—like Coors Light without the taste and without carbonation." He continued, "If I had celiac disease, and I'm used to drinking good beer, there's nothing out there for you."

The boys in the band.
L to R. Crisafulli, Blanchet and Hoiser
These guys saw a hole in the market and decided to do something about it. That something is Steadfast Beer Company, and they brewed their first batch of sorghum-based, craft-beer on October 20th—and I was there to see it. The interesting part about this project is, none of the fellas have celiac, or even a wheat allergy. As a matter of fact they don't even have a brewery. They are, for the time being, contract brewing through Holyoke, Massachusetts based, Paper City Brewing Company —an hour-and-a half-drive from Albany—and that's where I caught up with the three entrepreneurs.

The whole sorghum beer brewing idea came, initially, from Jeremy who approached Mark with the idea. Crisafulli is the owner of Oliver's and Westmere Beverage Centers in Albany, and Hosier is the manager at Westmere—so between both of them, they have more than 25 years of experience in the beer world. Mark liked the idea, but first and foremost, both guys knew that they need a great recipe. Jeremy, a homebrewer, went to work, researching and tasting whatever gluten-free beer he could get his hands on.

"The word sorghum was everywhere—sorghum this, sorghum that. I gathered that was probably the primary fermentable..." Jeremy said. Looking into it further, he discovered that sorghum, used in brewing, is an extract from indigenous African grasses, that has been modified with enzymes and amino acids, and can be used exactly like malt syrup—no mash, just one big boil. Even though he was familiar with extract brewing, it wasn't always smooth sailing.

55 gallons of
sorghumy goodness.
"The first one was, kinda funny." Jeremy noted, as Mark and Drew listened on with shit-eating-grins on their faces, remembering the groups home brewed trials. "We bottled it in growlers, so the carbonation never really took off. It was overly bitter and a mustardish yellow color—but it tasted good!" One of the issues with sorghum, is that it's not super-fermentable, which means beer that is made only from the extract, ends up with a low gravity. The other issue is color. Sorghum syrup looks brown in large quantities, but produces pale yellow beer. Toasted and roasted grains are out of the question, so something else needs to off-set both gravity and color.

I know you want to, but
don't jump in fellas.
"I thought of two things—molasses and candi sugar." Noted Jeremy. "So we decided to make a beer that uses both, and it turns out that our second recipe, even after multiple batches—the second beer we ever brewed—was still the best. We stuck to it and that's the beer that's going on in there right now." So, if the majority of gluten-free beer available is pale, weak and blah, what can we expect from Steadfast? "It's an assertively hoppy, medium-bodied, pale ale/IPA. It's somewhere between the two. It has characteristics of both." Jeremy said of his 6.8% ABV concoction. Now that strength and color could be checked off with an "Okay", the next hurdle for the boys was, where to make it?

"This all came about a-year-and-a half, almost two years, ago" said Mark, "Since that time, we've been jumping through legal hurdles and working on the recipe—and interviewing breweries." He continued. "We've been to a bunch of breweries on the east coast, trying to find the right niche, and we felt that this place [Paper City Brewing] was just perfect for us." I was curious as to what Steadfast's host, Paper City—a traditional barley beer brewer—thought of all of this. John Hebert, Paper City's brewery manager and brother to brewery owner Jay Hebert, said this:

"I think it's pretty exciting to make a gluten free beer... and it's actually all new to my brother and myself. It's kind of an interesting project. I know that there are a lot of gluten-free beers that aren't to interesting and I'm hoping this one's going to be more on the interesting side!"

Look for this label at your local
beer store—then buy me some.
Along with what to make and where to make it, the name of the company has gone through some changes, as well. Initially created as the d.b.a. Jeremy's Brewing Company, The TTB (The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) was kind enough to inform the guys—24 hours prior to filing their paperwork—since they didn't own an operating brewery, the phrase "Brewing Company" can't be used. A few hours later, Steadfast Beer Company was born.

Why Steadfast? I asked—and was told that they wanted a strong sounding name that implied dedication. During those few hours of frantic name searching Jeremy eventually came across the word steadfast, and liked the sound of it. "People who can't consume gluten, their lives become a chore... They have to read every label they encounter... it's work to be celiac." Continuing, he said "Basically, the whole thing is work—but we're on your side." When he teamed up with his graphic designer, he again got the opportunity to reinforce that theme, on his label. "She came up with the compass, which I think is brilliant. Ya' know it's a sense of direction; you hold to your course, you're steadfast."

Whether all of this is being done for the greater good, or to fill a niche in the market place, what impressed me the most about these guys, was their relatability. I spent two-and-a-half hours with them as they made calculations and adjustments to their boil, added hops and oversaw what was essentially the most important batch of beer in their company's, albeit short, history—and they were nothing but accomodating. During that time I had one of the best beer conversations I've ever had—just three guys and myself, shooting the shit about beer. Three guys, who obviously love beer, getting the chance to do what they love. If any of that dedication and "steadfastness" gets translated into Steadfast's beer—and I'm confident it will—look out, Northeast, there's going to be a new game in town. A game that everyone can enjoy.

Keep your eyes open and on the look out for Steadfast Beer Company's Sorghum Pale Ale, due out at the begining of December. If you see it before then, let me know!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Crock Pot Luck

I have a soft spot in my heart for southern (American) food. Be it lowcountry vittles, Cajun spice, smokey barbeque, city-fied soul food, or deep south home cookin'— I perpetually have a hank'rin for those eats. If it's fried, smothered, pulled or burl'ed I'll eat it. Because of my addiction to this cuisine, I have a tendency to cook quite a bit of it—much to the chagrin of both my wife and waistline. This past weekend, I made a southern staple that I've been wanting to make for some time—Brunswick stew.

I did not take this photo.
I wish I did, but alas,  it was
Randy Major and Leigh Ann Ross.
Brunswick stew comes from the idea that if you put a whole bunch of stuff in a pot and cook it all day, it's going to taste good—and it usually does. There are as many origin myths behind this meaty concoction, as there are recipes—some say it came from Brunswick, Georgia while others claim Brunswick County Virginia—hell, even Braunschweig, Germany gets thrown into the mix. The general consensus is that it should be made from more than one kind of meat—usually pork, chicken or beef, but wild game is also common; various vegetables—especially lima beans, corn and tomatoes, and sometimes okra and potatoes; The consistency should be thick, with more meat and veggies than broth; and last but not least, it should have some smokiness to it—you get this by using barbecue sauce or, better yet, left over barbecued meats and sauce. There are slight variations on it, depending on where you travel, but that's the general criteria.

That guy sure makes you want to drink beer.
What I did was: Let three country-style pork ribs and two boneless chicken thighs, chill-out in the fridge overnight, after a pat-down with my barbecue rub (any barbecue spice rub will work—homemade or store bought). That same night I mixed 1/2 a cup of homemade barbecue sauce (again, store bought is fine) with 1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce and 1/2 a cup of North Carolina, Piedmont style, vinegar-based, barbecue sauce. I got mine from Ralph's BBQ, in Weldon, NC—but a homemade mix of 1 cup of cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2  a teaspoon of red pepper flake, is a great substitute. I let that chillax in the fridge overnight, as well. The next day, I rough chopped an onion, two celery ribs, a few carrots and mince some garlic, and then put them all into a slow cooker. On top of the mirepoix (ooh fancy cookin' word) I added the meat. From, this point, it's dump and go—I poured over the meat, a can of diced tomatoes—drained, the barbecue sauce mixture, 1 cup of chicken broth or stock, 1/2 a cup of kernel corn, 1/2 a cup of lima beans and a little salt and pepper. Then you set the cooker to low and walk away.  Eight hours later, the veggies have cooked down, there's a flavorful broth, and the meat literally falls apart—There you have it Brunswick stew.

There is one last ingredient I like to add before turning on the cooker.  Hmm, I wonder what that—beer, it's beer. I like to add beer—a full cup with the other "wet" stuff. What beer to add, is the question? It just so happens that my folks were up visiting this past week. Up from where, you ask? Up from Conway, South Carolina. Dear old Dad, was kind enough to bring up a few bottles of Pig Tail Ale. I've mentioned Pig Tail back in July, you can read about that adventure, here.

Just as Brunswick stew is a classic dish of the American south,  the company for whom Pig Tail Ale is brewed, is a southern legend in it's own right—I'm talking about the grocery store chain Piggly Wiggly . For nearly 100 years, Piggly Wiggly's have been supplying meat and produce across the south land. It's where Hoke was tryin' ta' drive Miss Daisy—Piggly Wigglys are the carrots to Dixie's peas. It just so happens that a few months back the grocery chain partnered with Thomas Creek Brewery, in Greenville South Carolina, to develop a private label line of beers. Thomas Creek took the challenge and came up with two flavors, packaged under the brand Pig Swig—Pig Tail Ale, an Amber Ale, and Pig Pen Pilsner. Starting in May of this year, Pig Swig's brews became available at 100 Piggly Wiggly locations across South Carolina and coastal Georgia.

The beer itself is great. I haven't tried the Pilsner, but I have had the Amber. It's copper-red, with a thick lacing head, and smells of rich caramel, and fresh toasted bread with a nice hit of citrusy, American hops. It's full-bodied and malty—sweet, with a bready-cereal flavor. It has a nice, mellow, bitterness, with a slightly herbaceous hoppiness. It's a good go to Amber Ale—it also is perfect in or with the Brunswick stew. Its sweet maltiness works really well with the brown sugar in the barbecue sauce and rub, and because its bitterness is subdued, the hops don't overpower the dish—as sometimes happens when using a style like IPA during extended cooking. The stew isn't "barbecue" flavored, but it does have some subtle, sweet and spicy characteristics of barbecue, and the Pig Tail helps to round out some of the spice, with a smooth malty note in the background.

If any one recipe was made to have beer in it, it's definitely Brunswick stew—and if any one person was meant to have beer and Brunswick stew in them, it's definitely me.                                                

Sunday, October 16, 2011

One For the Road: Vermont

I figured for the first installment of One For the Road, I shouldn't stray to far from home. So, I thought we'd travel to the land of covered bridges, maple syrup, winding dirt roads and cows—lots and lots of cows. Vermont is an unusual dichotomy of Rockwellian quaintness, and 21st-century progressiveness. Vermonters are salt-of-the-earth folk, (I'm talking about real Vermonters—not rich, New Jersey transplants or stoned, out-of-state UVM students.) with a small-town sensibility and a think globally, act locally approach to life. Known for it's skiing, mud-season, fall foliage, Subaru Outbacks, and the perennial, jam-band's jam-band—Phish; Vermont also happens to be quite a beery state. According to Beer Advocate, it boasts 21 craft-breweries and brewpubs—which is pretty amazing, because, at just under 626,000 people, Vermont is the second least populated state in the country. Places like The Brewery at Trapp Family Lodge, Madison Brewing Company, and Lawson's Finest Liquids, all call Vermont home.

From bottom to top: McNeill's, Long Trail,
Otter Creek/Wolaver's and Magic Hat.  
Heading east, on the meandering and billboard-less, Vermont Route 9, we travel through the southern towns of Bennington and Wilmington to Brattleboro and our first stop—McNeill's Brewery . Way back in 1992, owner and brewer Ray McNeill, opened his namesake brewery to critical claim, but it would be sixteen years before he would start bottling and distributing his beer. Nearly two decades after opening, the Brattleboro-based brewery now offers 16 brews—including Pullman's Porter, Dead Horse IPA and Dark Angel Stout. I went with a 22 ounce bomber of their Ruby Extra Amber Ale—a 5.7% American Amber Ale, packed with a lot of British character. Slightly cloudy, and copper-hued, the Ruby gives off an great fruity aroma, has a nice toasted malty flavor with a hint of pine and citrusy tartness. A whimsical label and homemade aura about this beer, gives McNeill's Ruby Amber a small-batch, home-brew, feel to it. You don't get that much in distributed brews, it's nice to see and taste.

Jumping on 91 North, one of only two interstate highways in the state, (not including that little 12 mile jog of I-93 between the New Hampshire Line and St. Johnsbury) we head upstate for just under an hour-and-a-half trip to the hamlet of Bridgewater Corners—home of Long Trail Brewing Company. With under 1,000 year-round residents, the town Bridgewater is the very definition of a rural, Vermont community. Long Trail Brewing Company —named for the nearly 300 mile hiking trail that runs the length of the state— started operating in 1989, out of the basement of the Bridgewater Woolen Mill, but would move to it's current location in 1995. It's flag ship beers, Long Trail Ale and Double Bag, are both Altbiers, but the Double Bag is brewed in the style of the stronger Sticke Alt. Longtrail produces a number of other styles, including their Traditional IPA—which happens to be one of my all-time favorite beers. The brewery has also taken on an environmental responsibility with their brewing, by developing their EcoBrew campaign. They've made a commitment to sustainable brewing efforts by installing a heat recovery system, reducing water usage, and becoming Vermont's largest company to participate in the Central Vermont Public Service's "Cow Power" renewable energy program—that's a cow poop-to-methane-to electricty program, don't ya know! All these efforts, and many more, garnered Long Trail the "2009 Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence," presented to them by then Vermont Governor Jim Douglas (R). In the wake of Hurricane Irene, in late August of this year, a number of Vermont breweries and brew pubs were badly damaged or in some cases destroyed. Long Trail Brewing Company—with a good bit of itself under water—opened it's doors for seven days and gave out ice and water, and served three meals a day to friends and neighbors in the Bridgewater area—as far as I can tell, that's the Vermont way.

Long Trail brewery, just after Irene.
All of this eco-friendly, small town brewing has afforded me the opportunity to try their most recent seasonal offering—Harvest, a 4.6% ABV American Brown Ale, brewed with Vermont maple syrup. A rich, caramel brown with an aroma of fresh-baked, brown bread. It's sweet, with a slight hazelnut quality—it think that may come from the maple syrup. The bitterness is restrained and its smooth mouthfeel and sweet malty backbone take center stage. Harvest is a little stronger than most session ales, but I might be convinced to have a few of these in a row!

All right, back on the road, this time were going to cut through the heart of the state. This area of Vermont is exactly what you think of when you think of Vermont, rolling hill, green pastures and little red barns. Heading west on U.S. Route 4, we skirt just south of the central section of the Green Mountains National Forest, and through towns like Killington, Mendon and Spurbury, before meeting the junction with U.S. Route 7, north of Rutland. From this point were northbound on Route 7, and on our way to Middlebury and Wolaver's Organic Ales and its sister brewery Otter Creek Brewing . The original brewery, Otter Creek, opened in 1991, introducing its popular Alt-style Copper Ale (There must be an inordinate number of Düsseldorfians, er, uh, Düsseldorfers, in Vermont.) The brewery began producing an all-organic line of ales, seven years later, called Wolaver's Certified Organic Ales. Initially, Wolaver's was a beer marketing company based out of Nevada City, California, but with the success of this new line, the WolaverWolaver's is to certified, organically grown and locally sourced Vermont ingredients. They use only Vermont water sources; Vermont grown wheat and oats; only certified organic, domestic-grown malt and hops; and its own proprietary, top-fermenting yeast strain.

For me, the one beer to have, when your talking about Wolaver's, is their Oatmeal Stout. It's 5.9% ABV and nearly black with a thin-ish tan head. This oatmeal stout is a mouthful. Roasty and slightly sweet with a wonderful dark caramel—almost burnt sugar flavor—and a great bittersweet chocolate edge. It's like a caramelized plum, dipped in molasses.

The last stop on our journey is just up Route 7, in South Burlington. Burlington, Vermont's largest city, is a mash-up of hippie-chic, small-city irreverence, college town cool and old-fashioned home town-ness—and it's brewery, Magic Hat Brewing Company , is no exception. Opened in 1994, Magic Hat was bought by North American Breweries of Rochester, NY, in 2010 making it the 8th largest craft brewery in the U.S. Eclectic ingredients like beets, chamomile and vanilla, give Magic Hat an air of alchemy. In keeping with those ideals, and with a nod to the supernatural, Magic Hat produces four year-round brews and four seasonals—hanging it's hat on (pun intended) the apricot-infused #9, as it's signature beer. For this go-around I went with one of the brewery's seasonals—Hex, Magic Hat's, 5.4%, take on a Märzen-esque Oktober—or as they refer to it as "Our"toberfest. I'll be honest, here, Magic Hat isn't my favorite brewery. To me, all they're beer tastes alike. They did a fair job, however, on Hex. Firstly, it smells great—malty and deep with great, roasted biscuit and caramel tone. It pours a light amber with a creamy head—full bodied and malty, although, I'd love to have seen something more with it. It's not the best of the style, but still pretty drinkable.

I've now tried four different beers from four different breweries, and I think I can sum up everything with four simple phrases—homespun; environmentally conscience; organically local; and eccentric. Each one of these breweries bring something unique to Vermont-made beer. What interesting to is that those four phrases do a pretty good job of describing the state of Vermont, as well. One of the questions I'm asking of One For the Road, on these digital road trips, is can beer embody a place? In the case of Vermont and it's beer, I gotta say... jeezum crow , you bet!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Beery Road Trip, of Sorts

I've been quite New York-centric of late—The Olde English, The Adirondacks, John Taylor and Albany Ale . You write what you know, I guess. So, I've decided to broaden my horizons with a new idea—a series of posts on beer samplings from a specific region, either in the U.S. or abroad, and I've decided to name this beery road trip, One For the Road. The beer might be from a city, or a province, from the east coast of South America or the great white north. I find myself becoming increasingly interested in the differences (or similarities) of beer made in specific places. What do Chicago or Mexico or Western Canada or Freystadt bring to their beer? Is there something that makes Chilean Beer, especially Chilean? Maybe, maybe not—but I intend to see for myself.

On the road again.
My plan isn't to review these beers—don't worry though, I'll mention if I like or don't like them—but rather, an overview of the beer. A sip of each place's beery soul, as it were. I'll mention a little information on the region and give some background about the breweries, but what I'm really looking for is a connection to place. I hesitate to use terroir, because it's snooty and I'm also looking for something bigger than that—can a beer embody a place? 

Chances are, I'm not going to get the opportunity to travel to, let's say Sydney, Australia, any time soon. So, my impression or expectations of each place is going to play into this, as well. That's where I'm hoping for a little reader participation might help out. So, if I come to the conclusion that beer made in Rupert-on-Freckleton tastes of unicorn farts and fairy pee; and you happen to live in the glorious heart of Rupert and think I should try your local brewery's Wildly Mild Wild Mild Ale—which happens to be made next door to your flat; and if I tried it, I'd come away with a totally new appreciation of what Rupert-on-Freckleton beer can be...Please let me know.

Seriously though, talking about beer is what it's all about and I want to know about your beer. Let me know if I'm full of shit, or that I should try another beer, or that the beer I picked is good—but there are better options...and I'm full of shit.

The next question is, where to first?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Session 56: Thanks to John Taylor: Addendum A

In a series of events that can only be described as purely coincidental, Alan has unearthed, not one but two more bits of the Albany Ale mystery.  On the same day as this month's Session, Alan posted this image on his blog—a advertisement for, among other things, Strong Albany Beer available in Kingston, Ontario from a local 1816 newspaper. A little more poking would lead him to this little beauty, another ad for beer—although not referred to as "Albany"—from just five months earlier in the same paper, by the same merchant. Alan speculates that this is one of the earliest shipments to Kingston after the end of War of 1812, and it was full of beer!

So was that first 1815 ad actually referring to Albany Ale? I don't know, and realistically there is no way to know, but it did send me on a little quest of my own. I went back to my Google map and took a look at who was operating at that time—what I found was pretty interesting.

State Street hill in 1805
Sometime between 1796 and 1797, James Boyd opened what is considered to be the first, large "modern" brewery in the city—at Arch and Franklin Streets. There were a few small breweries operating in the city around that time—Van Schaick, Gill and one owned by American Revolutionary War Hero, Brigadier General Peter Ganesvoort, that closed in 1801—but they were small operations. The next large brewery to open was Robert Dunlop, which opened in 1806. I speculate that Fidler & Co. opened around this time as well, but I don't have an exact date for them. Now, here's where it gets interesting—the next two breweries in Albany to open, would be in... wait for it... 1816. Jacob Cole and McLeish & Birrell begin operating that year, and six months later Jospeh Ketchum would open his place. So as far as I can tell, or have been able to find, no breweries opened in the city of Albany for almost ten years and then—BANG!—two began operating in same year as the advertsiment in Alan's Kingston Gazette, and one shortly thereafter. More amazingly, just over half a decade later, four of those names—Boyd, Dunlop, Fidler and Birrell would have controlling interest in the largest breweries—Boyd & McCulloch, Robert Dunlop*, Fidler & Taylor and Henry Birrell—in the city.

So, what happened—was it coincidence that Albany Ale, or as it's mentioned in Alan's ad—Strong Albany Beer, was being advertised in Canadian newspapers at almost the exact same time as the Albany brewing industry was gaining traction?

I don't think so.

I think a new market opened and the industrious brewers of Albany exploited the situation—and exploited it quickly. The war was over and trade with Canadian towns gave a boost to the Albany brewing industry that would spark a nearly seventy-year-long boom in the city. I think this new market allowed Albany Ale to gain some notoriety and when the Erie Canal opened in 1825, men like John Taylor were primed and more than happy to fill the tankards of thousands of ready, willing and able drinkers—across the county and Canada. So, one might ask did John Taylor make Albany Ale or did Albany Ale make John Taylor?

*It was at Robert Dunlop's brewery that Peter Ballantine first worked, after arriving in the U.S. from Scotland, in 1820. It was at that brewery that Ballantine acquired his skill in brewing. Ballantine worked at a number of Albany breweries—including as a partner in Fidler & Ryckman—and then at his own Albany brewery, before leaving and opening his own renowned Newark, New Jersey location.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Session 56: Thanks to John Taylor – the Original American Big Boy

I have a lot to thank John Taylor for.

Before I get to him however, I should say that if it weren't for Alan, we never would have met. About a year and a half ago the good Doctor McLeod stumbled across a reference to "Albany Ale" in a digital version of the Newfoundland Public Ledger, of October 12, 1847. He simply asked, What the Heck was Albany Ale? Being an expert in all things Albany (just like my British expertise) I decided to poke my nose into things. That started an on again/off again love affair between Alan, myself and Albany Ale.

That didn't come out the way it sounded in my head.

I know that Martyn and Ron are way better at the brewing history thing, but living in town, I felt a bit obligated to get to the bottom of this Albany Ale issue—and what I found was pretty surprising. The Dutch did build breweries in colonial Albany, but it would be rum distillation that would dominate spirit production in New York until after the American Revolution. Small commercial breweries began popping up in the city, around the turn of the 19th-century, but it would take another fifteen or twenty years before large scale ale brewing operations would begin, in earnest in Albany. The period between 1820 and 1870 would see Albany become the largest brewing city in the country. There was, at any given time during that period, between 20 and 30 operating breweries within the city—a city of about 50 thousand residents—including breweries like Amsdell Brothers, McKnight Brewery, Peter Ballantine (yup, that Ballantine) and Andrew Kirk, to name a few. Here's a Google map that shows where they all were.

Yes, in the 19th-century, there were breweries all over New York and in cities across the eastern seaboard—and expanding west—Philadelphia, for example was renowned for it's porter. But the fact is, the amount of beer being made in the city of Albany was, without a doubt epic. Albany made everywhere else look like small potatoes. It's also, unfortunately, a part of my town's history that is all but forgotten. In fact, historic ale brewing in the U.S., not just in New York, is a nearly forgotten industry that help to shape this nation, but has been far overshadowed by the histories of late-19th century lager brewers—but I'll get into that later.

So, how did Albany go from having a few small operations to being the 19th-century American equivalent to Burton-on-Trent? Three factors—New York grown hops, the Erie Canal and John Taylor.

Central New York, in the 19th-century, was like Kent, the Hallertau and the Yakima Valley combined. In 1808, Massachusettsian James Coolidge, emigrated into the state and planted the first hop vine in central New York. Hoping to cash in on the plant's economic potential, Coolidge would have never guessed that within forty years New York would be producing almost 80% of all hops in the U.S. By the end of the century, the state was exporting 60 million pounds of hops a year—a good portion of that sent to England. A temperate climate; loamy, nutrient rich soil; and just the right amount of rainfall made Madison, Otsego and Oneida counties the perfect hop producing areas in the country. There's was one other thing that made hop production successful in New York—ease of transportation.

In 1825, the ability to move goods from one end of the country became a significantly easier. A nearly 400 mile waterway, complete with locks and towpaths, opened on October 26 of that year. They named that little route The Erie Canal, and it made it possible to ship goods and people, nearly continuously from New York City to California. At the junction of the Canal and the Hudson River, sat the city of Albany. Perfectly located to receive hops and barley from the western part of the state; fully capable of brewing barrel after barrel of beer and then shipping it back west, via the canal, or south down the Hudson and out to the Atlantic. The perfect storm of supply, production and distribution.

Raw ingredients, transportation, and manufacturing are all essential to a boom, but one more element is also necessary—exploitation. That's where Mr. Taylor comes in. Born at the end of the 18th century, John Taylor emmigrated as an infant, with his parents from England, in 1791. Originally trained as a candle maker, and having owned a number of candle making business, Taylor would, eventually turn his attention to brewing. Partnering with his, most awesomely named brother-in-law, Lancelot Fidler. The two opened Fidler and Taylor Brewery on Hamilton Street in 1822. Within ten years Taylor would buy-out his brother-in-law, move the brewery to Green Street, dropping the Fidler name all together.

The temperance movement and prohibitionist sentiment were on the rise during the 1830s and alcohol was increasingly seen as having ill-effects on the well being of the American family. John Taylor and his brewery were not immune to this negative view. Edward C. Delavan, a former wine merchant-cum-prohibitionist accused Taylor of adulterating his beer and using water contaminated with feces and decomposing animal matter. This acusation resulted in an investigation by the New York State Legislature, of which twenty of the states most notable brewers and brewery owners testified (All of them denied adding anything "unorthodox" to their coppers.) The hearring and then a subsequent 1840 libel suit and trial against Delavan, would garner newspaper headlines and thrust, not only Taylor, but also Albany brewing into the national spotlight.

The brewery at Broadway and Arch Street.
By 1850, Taylor's sons, John and Joseph, were running brewery offices in New York City and Boston. Taylor's Celebrated Imperial Albany Cream and Albany XX Ale was being sold in such far-flung places as San Francisco, New Orleans, Argentina and Nova Scotia. In 1852 Taylor Brewery, now John Taylor & Sons, would move to it's final location at Broadway and Arch Streets—adjacent to the Hudson River. This new location was the height of brewing technology. With two large buildings six and seven stories, respectivley, the brewery compound boasted a grain elevator; five malt houses; a fire-proof storehouse; a ten-thousand volume library; a one hundred and thirty foot clock tower; a European imported, steam apparatus for it's cooperage; pressure kettles; and a state-of-the-art "pontoon" refining-system similar to ones used in English breweries—specifically Whitbread (you can check out the "pontoons" in Martyn's post about Taylor.) Why all the high-fallutin' technology? Because, in less than thirty years, Taylor & Sons had become the largest and most successful brewery in the United States. Taylor & Sons had the capability to brew 200,000 barrels of ale a year—only the breweries of London produced more. Normally, large scale, American brewing operations, of the 19th-century are associated with lager and names Like Busch, Blatz and Miller. Not in this case, Taylor was an all ale brewer, and at the time, significantly larger and more profitable than any of the Midwest breweries. By the start of the American Civil War, Taylor would employ more than 200 workers—of which, any that enlisted in the Army, Taylor would hold their jobs and pay half their salary to their families until their return. Taylor's wealth exploded in the last years of his life, reporting nearly $125,000 in 1860—comparing his wealth to the economy he lived in, that figures out to be about $400 million.

A Taylor bottle circa 1880.
John Taylor died on September 13, 1863. Within ten years, William Taylor, John's only surviving son, would die also. The brewery continued to operate as a family business under the name of John Taylor's Sons, but with William's death, the remaining family members would sell the brewery, they did, however retain some financial control. With the rise of lager, Taylor's ale production slowly dwindled. It's highest yield, since the brewery's hay-day, coming during 1883, with 80,000 barrels. In 1887 the brewery would change it's name one final time to Taylor Brewing and Malting Company, under which it would operate, disassociated from any Taylor family member, until it closed in 1905.

Now, other than being a cool, long-lost story, and Taylor being, arguably, the match that ignited the brewing boom in Albany, what do I have to thank John Taylor for? Here's the deal: If I hadn't stumbled across Alan's post about Albany Ale, I probably would not have done any research on 19th century brewing in Albany. By not doing any of that research, my interest wouldn't have been piqued by Taylor and I would not have gone back again and again to Alan's blog to post more info on both Taylor and Albany Ale. In doing all that, I came to the realization that I love to write about beer. So, if it weren't for John Taylor, you wouldn't be reading this blog!

Thanks, John Taylor—and you too Alan!

By the way, for ALL the Albany Ale skinny, check out this link on Alan's blog or check out the Albany Ale page on Facebook.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

DRANK: Guinness Black Lager, Guinness Ltd., Dublin, Ireland - BOTTLE

Ya' know when you go to a concert and the band keeps playing stuff from their new CD instead of the stuff you want to hear from their old album (at 37, I'm old enough to use CD and album interchangeably.) Guinness Black Lager is the stuff from the new CD. It's not bad, it's just not what your used to.

Nice buckets
Reviewers on Both Ratebeer and Beer Advocate have been, in my estimation, a tad harsh to this new comer—giving it a "C" on BA and an overall score of 35, on Ratebeer. While that seems a little tough, I can't lay all the blame on those sites and their reviews. Guinness may have made a slight miscalculation with this turn of label copy:
...cold-brewed with roasted barley to deliver the refreshing taste of lager with the unique character of Guinness.
It's that last little bit, that convolutes everything.
 ...with the unique character of Guinness.
I actually like it, (admittedly, I didn't think I would) but I don't think it has that much "Guinness" character. Yes, it's black and yes it's brewed with roasted barley. That's about where the similarity ends. First off, the serving suggestion is to drink it cold. Cold and flavor—they don't play so well together, but who am I to argue? So, out of the fridge and into a 0.4 mL glass, it went. It's black, there's no denying that, with those token ruby highlights; it's got that dense, coffee-colored head (although this one is a bit fizzier than any of the stout versions). It has that classic dark lager aroma, with a little bit of roastiness thrown in as well. Taste-wise, it reminded me more of Matt Brewing Company's, Saranac Black Forest, rather than Guinness. It's medium bodied with a nutty, slightly scorched note. It's a bit bready with a rasiny dark fruit tartness. It has a nice drying bitterness and a decidedly crisp edge to it. It's not heavy—not that heaviness is a bad thing—but I think saying, "...with the unique character of Guinness" bring-up a certain preconception. This beer is not Guinness, at least not the Guinness your expecting. It's not a Stout—more of a riffed on Schwarzbier—so don't expect stoutness. If you can look past that, I think you'll find a beer that brings something fairly unique to the table.

Think of Guinness Black Lager this way, Exile on Main Street, Led Zeppelin IV, Thriller, Blonde on Blonde, London Calling, Pet Dreams, and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back were all the "new" stuff at one time, too. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dooglefish Head

A mash-up between Dogfish Head and Google, eh?

This ultimate tag-team is bent on world dominationbringing peace to the middle east, collaborating on a globally-sourced, beer dubbed URkontinent—A high-gravity, exotically-flavored brew (couldn't have seen that one coming.)

I am so on the fence about this, my ass hurts.

On one hand, I think it really cool that technology could bring together the best nerds (both traditional and beer focused) from all over the planet and say, "World, what do you want?" Using Google Sites and Moderator to take suggestions from their minions Googlers all over the globe is downright brilliant. Sam Calagione hits the nose on the head when he says that what Google does every day is, "...take a fractured world of information and put it into something cohesive and whole." Even Google's video chat app, Hangouts, was used so the ingredient collaborators, hundreds or thousands of miles away from Delaware, could see what was going on during the brew!

Yes! That's it! Brilliant! Kinda...

On the other hand, Dogfish Head is acting like they're giving the people what they want, altruistically, when they're really just using Google as a tool to advertise their beer. Google isn't doing that on their end. They're saying, hey check out all this awesome technology—look what we can do (Our Quick Response code tattooist will be over shortly to encode your children.) I'm all for marketing schemes and I get that companies are going to use what ever means they have to, in order to get their products or message out there—I worked in advertising for ten years, I know the score—just don't act like that's not what going on.
"We don't really spend any money on advertising or marketing outside of the few, small beer geek publications. Most of our energy goes into just having a conversation with people who drink our beer—instead of the old world monologue of a giant company, yelling at you 'We make the best beer in the world' on a TV screen or a billboard—That doesn't work."

Calagione, actually said that in the video! Isn't that exactly what they just did? Just because you didn't pay for it, doesn't mean you're not advertising. Geez, you've had a television show on Discovery and you just got in bed with one of the most powerful technology companies in the world. Did you think we wouldn't figure it out, Sam? I hate to break it to you, but nobody really thinks you're running your business during breaks between surfing the tube on Rehoboth Beach and chapters of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Advertise your beer or don't advertise your beer, I don't care—as long as you don't say you aren't when you obviously are. I don't have anything against Google, Dogfish Head or Sam Calagione—In fact, I really like Dogfish Head beer—just don't take me for a fool.

As long as you don't do that, and you keep making a good product, I'll keep buying your beer.

Don't worry Google, I'll keep using you, too.