Monday, November 28, 2011

An Apple a Day...

Howdy everybody—I'm back—and without a beer related post, too! It's cool though, see up there, where it says drinkdrank, no where does it mention beer. Okay it does say beery blog, but it also says other notions. Those are the notions I'm going to talk about in this post—specifically apple-borne notions. That's right, cider. Not only am I going to just talk about cider, I'm also going to have a guest help out. My wonderful, albeit anti-beer, but pro-cider wife Amy has been dragged into  agreed to give her input on a few fermented Malus domesticus offerings. She has absolutely no interest in doing this, but I think, she thinks that her participation in this will get me to vacuum the downstairs.

First off, an introduction. Say hi to the folks, Am.


She is, in actuality, upstairs giving the kids a bath, but I thought it was rude not to do some sort of introduction. Never mind that—on with the show.

What are the chances I'm going to get
sued for putting this on here?
I will admit, I'm not much of a cider drinker. I like it, but I'm just more drawn to beer. Recently though, I have been more and more interested in the whole cider process. A few months ago, Columbus Day weekend actually, the family and I took a trip to Broadalbin, New York and Eagle Mills, operators one of the oldest cider presses in the United States. Eagle Mills has a home-spun, pick-your-own apple orchard feel, without the apple orchard. It's a straight up cider mill and from what I can tell, cidering seems to be amazingly simple (easy for me to say, in front of my computer.) Seriously though, it's pretty straight forward: Get apples, wash apples, grind apples into pulpy-chunky-stuff, press pulpy-chunky stuff under a shit ton of weight and collect the run-off. Boom! there's your raw material, now just get some sugar, camden tablets, yeast and a couple of weeks and viola—cider! So, easy even I could do it—but I didn't. I did, however pick up a few commercially produced ciders—one Irish, one American and one English—and figured this was the perfect way to spend some quality time with my wife. Not a fancy dinner or a lovely drive in the county—no sir, a good, old-fashioned, cider tasting—the most romatic of all husbandly gestures.

Up first, the Irish offering—Magners Original, made by Bulmers (apparently it's also sold, in Ireland, as Bulmers) in Clonmel, County Tipperary. It poured a rosy amber hue with a good bit of carbonation. It had a sweet apple aroma with a decidedly Chardonnay-like edge. Amy picked up on that as well.

"It's a little winey, but sweet" said said as she quietly smacked her lips (That's how I know she's really tasting something.) I held my tongue on making a whiney joke. I can't blow this whole thing this early on.

I got a good bit of the dry white wine quality out of it as well. It's sweet and slightly tart—cidery and wine- like at the same time. Other than that, it's a little one note.

All right, back to U.S.A—Middlebury, Vermont, in fact—and to a sample of, arguably the best know American-made cider—Woodchuck Amber. Pouring, it's more golden than the Magners and has a far less Chardonnay-ish aroma, and it's flavor is rounder and mellower.

"Smell it. What's it smell like?" I asked as I handed Amy her glass.

"It smells like, uh, cider." She answered..

"No, I mean, do you smell anything else?" I ask as I placed my nose into the mouth of my pint glass. "I'm getting honey, do you smell honey, too?"

Having been looking down into the pint for most of this interaction, I slowly moved my eyes up, to look at her over the rim of the glass. Amy's answer was simply a look. Those of you who collect baseball cards, comic books, models of the the entire United Federation of Planets fleet of star ships, work on cars or fanatically follow any number of sports teams, will know this look. It's the "Please don't get to excited and get any of your geekness on me" look. I've pushed it to far—I'm going to lose her. Abort! Abort! See the difference between wives and friends, when it comes to specific nerdiness, is that friends will hear you out—wives just walk away. Especially in situations like this.

"What? No, never mind—what do you think?" I ask, attempting to rewind and erase.

"I think I like this one more than the other one." She said after a sip or two.

See what happens when you try and do things as a couple? Let's just move on to the Blackthorn, the UK's offering. I've heard some rumblings on the interwebs that Blackthorn isn't a true cider—that it's mass produced by the cider mafia or something. You know what I don't care. It poured, from the can, a bright, fizzy gold and had a great apple aroma. It wasn't too sweet or to winey—just pure apple. Of the three ciders it had the most apple-ish flavor, as well. It's very crisp and a bit tart, slightly sweet and almost woody. The true test, however, is with Amy. No prompting or encouragement from me, just a simple, "try this"

"Mmm" she smiled as she quietly smacked her lips.

And there you go. Blackthorn is the great equalizer. The moral of the story, although, isn't who makes a better cider—The UK, US, or Ireland. It's the fact that when my Amy says "You spent how MUCH on beer?!" I can simply say, "Yes, but look what I got for you!"

As those of you who are married know, that's all that matters.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Operation Drumstick

I'm going to be laying low into this week's holiday, but I thought I'd give my ideas on having a beery turkey-day. I'll be back at it next week, but this should keep you going until then!

Thanksgiving is hands-down, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. Some might argue Christmas or Easter, but for my money, nothing rings the bell, like a good old fashioned turkey day. I love to eat just marginally less than I love to drink beer, so when a holiday comes around that is essentially based around the dinning room table, I'm on board. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, yams, gravy, green bean casserole—just typing the list sets off my most basic of Pavlovian responses. Along with all that amazing food, the right kinds of beer on turkey day is the icing on the cake—or in this case the whip cream on the pumpkin pie. Because I'm talking about an feast of epic proportions, however, there needs to be a bit of beery strategy before diving in. You've got to asses the situation and plan your tactics accordingly.

Turkey in the straw?
Before I get into all that, I want to say, I realize that the U.S. is amongst the minority of countries who celebrate Thanksgiving, and that a good bit of you out there, don't give a rat's pah toot about it. My strategy, nonetheless, is still effective against über-meals under any circumstances—holiday or otherwise. So remember this in situations such as: birthday dinners, weddings, bar or bat mitzvah and retirement gatherings. As the boy scouts say, be prepared.

At this point you're probably saying to yourself, "yada, yada, yada—another beer and food pairing." It's not that simple, because everybody has there own food traditions when it comes to holidays, like Thanksgiving. Besides, I'm not much for the "this dish with this beer" approach—that might win the battle, but I need to win the war. What I'm going to do is take a clue from military strategist and split the feast into three assaults—First, the "softening-up" phase during the appetizers, next the main objective– Thanksgiving dinner, and lastly dessert, and the final "mopping-up" operations. I'll look at the challenges of each situation and suggest a few beers that will best work with the attack. Since the "Thanksgiving" I'm talking about is the U.S. incarnation, I'm going to stick with American brews. So, grab you helmet and an extra napkin—this might get messy.

So there you are, like a shavetail officer leading his first combat mission. Your first culinary battlefield is laid out before you—veggie and relish platters, shrimp cocktail, deviled eggs, cheese platters and artichoke spinach dip. We can't jump right in here, we need some finesse—Old Rasputin would end up finishing you before you even started. We've got to asses the situation, weigh our options and get through to the next rally point. We're running the gambit on flavor and texture with this food. The shrimp and relish dish bring a mineral brininess; while the cocktail sauce and deviled eggs heat things up, lastly the cheeses and artichoke dip are rich, gooey and just a tad salty. I say take inspiration from the crisp crudités and go for a light lager or even a cider—my picks are NoCal's Lagunitas Pils or Middlebury, Vemont's Woodchuck Amber cider. Like the veggies, they have a fresh lightness that can cut through all those disparate flavors like a Bangalore torpedo through barbed-wire.  Now, that we've gotten through the baptism by fire, take a look around you at your unit—how's everybody doing. How's Gramps looking? Is that second glass of White Zinfandel getting to Aunt Peg, yet? You're doing fine—check your gear and get ready, that first assault was just the warm up—it's about to get serious.

The appetizers are going to feel like a walk in the park next to dinner. There's nothing light about a turkey dinner with all the fixins', it's a whirlwind of flavors and textures—roasted, sweet, creamy, herbaceous, sticky, buttery and starchy. If there was a lot going on earlier, it's going to get really chaotic when the turkey comes out. Don't forget, you're going to get flanked from the left and the right when stuff starts getting passed around the table, too. We're going to need a good position in defilade for this attack—something that can compete with a full-on, armored assault of flavor. I'm going with IPA. Just like turkey day's ubiquitous cranberry sauce, American IPAs have a slightly sweet, citric and astringent quality that can level the odds. My two recent go-to IPAs have been Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery and California's Bear Republic Racer 5 IPAs. Both beers have a great, sharp bitterness, a mild maltiness and the perfect blend of the classic American C hops (Centennial, Cascade, Columbus and Chinook), giving them both the right amount of citrus zing to push back the onslaught that is Thanksgiving dinner.

You're hardened now, a Thanksgiving veteran. The dinner has been wiped out, but the platoon has taken some heavy losses. Your Dad is sound asleep on the couch, with the button on his pants undone, and your Mom is like the walking wounded doing the dishes in the kitchen—but you can't stop now. You've got to contain and neutralize the enemy, and they're hold up in a sticky area called—dessert. Mount up grunt, you've got point.

Dessert—the last patrol. Mop this up and you'll be free and clear—but don't do anything stupid at this point. A spiced up winter brew or something cloying and sweet is going to pin you down and knock you out. Pumpkin and apple pie, bread pudding, ice cream—all spiced, creamy and rich. It's been a tough assault, I know you're thinking "Why not just go with a cup of coffee?" To that I ask, "would Patton just go with a cup of coffee?" Hell no and you won't either! Coffee is good inspiration, though, what about a beer that emulates coffee, like a Robust Porter? Two beers jump out at me for this job—New Hampshire's Smuttynose and Pennsylvania's Stoudt's. Both of these Porters are defiantly black and roasty, they put even the most gourmet coffee bean to shame. Their bittersweet flavor and smoothness is perfect to go up against mountains of pies, puddings and cakes. They'll keep all that sticky sweetness at bay without losing any ground.

A quiet stillness falls over you. It's over and you've won. Tired relatives slowly pull their coats on and head for the door. The kids trudge upstairs for bedtime and the embers of the evening's fire crackle over the low drone of cars leaving your driveway. You wipe the crumbs from the corner of your mouth and do a silent perimeter walk through the house. All is clear and quiet as you take your last sip of beer. You can rest now, soldier, but don't forget, Operation Mistletoe commences in thirty-one days.

To those who celebrate it, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Live and Learn

I really wanted to like it. I mean, I really wanted to like it. It's not like I haven't had a beer cocktail before—always a big thumbs up for the Beergarita—but this was different. Conceptually it's a great—what's not to like? Practically, however, it misses the mark. What amazes me is, its popularity both in Canada and Mexico—albeit in two slightly different versions. I even consulted a bona fide Canadian on the appropriate proportions—How much of this? How much of that? On the other hand, maybe it is not the problem, maybe I am. It's not so much bad, but disappointing. It's like that one gift you desperatley want for Christmas and when the big day comes, you end up with socks, or a tie, or a book about Margaret Thatcher. I think I might have built it up in my mind to be something it never could have been—the best of both worlds—and my high-hopes were dashed by a thin, fizzy bastard-child.

I don't know, and I might be totally off-base, but count me out the next time on beer and tomato juice.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Huh? Wha?

I've decide to keep running with the American adjunct lager theme a bit longer. Whereas my last post was about the greatness of the American adjunct, "heritage" lager, this one is about the exact opposite—shitty American macro lager. You've gotta take the good with the bad, and this one involves the baddest of them all. This past Wednesday, ABInBev announced Bud Light Platinum. I first saw this mid-week on Lew Bryson's blog, Seen Through a Glass, but it keeps popping up in my Google News stories, too—so I delved a little deeper. Available next year, the newest member of the Bud Light family will boast a 6% ABV and, according to an AB InBev spokesperson, it “appeals to a key group of beer drinkers and expands consumer occasions.”

To which I repeat, "Huh? Wha?"

It's blue, so it has to be good.
First off, 6% and 137 calories, does not a light beer make. Secondly, "...expands consumer occasions,” is garbley gook. That dude could have said "appeals to a key group of beer drinkers and expands purple unicorn farts..." and it would have made just as much sense.

I've heard some scuttlebutt that this is ABInBev's attempt to break into the upstart craft beer market or that this is going to be a tequila-flavored, light beer alternative—personally I think the later is more likely. I understand that the big boys have taken a hit in the last year or two and craft beer is gaining in the market, but what I don't get is—why compete with yourself? Bud Light came out in 1982 and immediately robbed market share from the original Budweiser. Okay, I can live with that, light beers were the thing and a shit ton were coming on the market in the early eighties—fair enough. Now however, you've got Budweiser Select, Budweiser Select 55, Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Golden Wheat, and now Bud Light Platinum—All "light" beers. Each one of these "styles" is stealing market share from each other—how do you sustain that? No wonder why sales slipped in 2010.

Does any of this smack of the American car industry, say, back in 2005—those heady days of shitty products and over extending? ABInBev can tell us that Bud Light Platinum will expand consumer occasions, whatever that means, but who are they trying to fool, us or themselves?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Slumming It

We all know beer has only four ingredients—water, malted barley, hops and yeast—right? Those are the time honored and accepted building blocks—the true basis for the beery primordial ooze, as it were. Except it's not, and it hasn't been, for a very long time. The Brits and Belgians have used sugar in brewing for ages; while pumpkin, molasses, wheat, oats, and fruits of all kinds, defiantly dance on the grave of the Reinheitsgebot, as well. Yet, the word adjunct has taken on a negative connotation, especially when it's bookended with two other words—American and lager. Whereas at one time American adjunct lagers—like the Bushwick Pilsners of Brooklyn—were the apex of U.S. brewing, they've now been reduced to the beery equivalent of slumming it. My post about Schaefer, in this month's Session, got me thinking about American adjunct lager and their history, so I thought I'd expand on the theme a bit.

American adjunct lager has become the epitome of bad brewing. The phrase alone implies sweet, mass produced, low-brow swill or flavorless, light-in-calories, DWIs in a silver can. The big boys of American brewing have done a phenomenal job insuring that quality won't ever interfere with profit margin. All that cutting of cost has done the lowly American adjunct lager a disservice.

What's funny about that is, adjuncts have always played a part in American brewing—especially corn. Why? Let's take a look at some numbers—in 2010 The U.S. produced 4.9 million metric tons of barley. Between 2010 and 2011 it was estimated that about 2.9 million acres of barley were planted, or approximately 2% of the country's total crop area. How about corn? That's a little different—In 2010, the U.S. produced 331 million metric tons, or if you like, 12.1 billion bushels, of corn. That's 39% of the world's corn crop. Corn is America and therefore brewing with corn is American. It's obvious why corn became the go to grain for American brewing—it's here and there's a lot of it! We've been giving it out for a long time, as well. Take a look at British brewing records prior to the Second World War, they were rife with "maize." The only thing to interrupt that trend was the Kriegsmarine and their pesky U-Boats sinking supply ships coming from North America—ladened with corn, mind you—in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. Aldoph Hilter forced British brewers to move away from corn, not some yearning to return to traditional and "proper" brewing stuffs of yesteryear.

While the big boys have exploited corn, smaller, regional breweries have embraced corn as part of their character. These "heritage" brewers have used corn for decades—it was part of their grist 100 years ago and it's part of their grist today. Historically, regional lager breweries, in the U.S., were as much a part of the make-up of their cities and towns, as their streets, parks and baseball teams were. Brands like Iron City, Old Style, Schmidt, Rainier, Old Dutch and Monticello, dotted the American landscape. These breweries and their communities were linked and, their identities became almost synonymous. Narragansett was Providence, Rhode Island's beer, and if you were in Providence, you drank Narragansett. Regional breweries supported local economies and their communities supported them. These breweries provided not only jobs, but also a way to relax after work. Here in Albany NY, Dan O'Connell—architect and puppet master of Albany's Democratic machine from the early 1920s to the late 1970s—also owned Hedrick Brewing Company. Rest assured, every bar, restaurant and distributor in the city carried that brand of beer in the 1940s and 50s.

As time marched on, many of those local or regional breweries went the way of the dodo, or changed their recipes—usually as a result of a buyout—to compete with the über-brewers. The beloved U.S., regional breweries of the 1940s, 50s and 60s—like Ballantine, Blatz, Hamm, Rheingold and Strohs—would never be the same. Although, some are still available, those that are, are shells of their former selves— having been bought and sold time and time again. Most of those heritage lagers are now being brewed in towns and cities far from those that they helped build. While most have changed or disappeared, a few still continue to operate. I took some time out to sample two of those rare, regional American adjunct lagers—Utica Club Pilsener Lager Beer from Utica, New York and Dixie Beer, hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana.

North: West End Brewery,
Utica, NY
Utica Club is brewed by F.X. Matt Brewing Company—also known as Saranac Brewery and/or the West End Brewing Company—the second oldest, single family-owned brewery in the country. They've been in the Central New York beer biz for nearly 160 years— and U.C. has been in their fermenters since 1883 and was the first beer sold in the United States after prohibition. Arguably, the most famous aspect of Utica Club are it's iconic, animated beer steins "Schultz and Dooley," first introduced in the late 1950s.

South: The deserted Dixie Brewery,
New Orleans, LA
Dixie Beer, however, is a bit of an anomaly. The Dixie Brewing Company has been operating since 1907, brewing it's flag ship beer, Dixie. Mother nature interupted that stretch when the historic brewery, on Tulane Avenue in New Orleans, was essentially destroyed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005—looters even stole the copper brewing kettles in the aftermath of the devastation. The brewery remains off-line, however, Dixie and the brewery's other three beers—Blackened Voodoo, Crimson Voodoo and Jazz Amber—are still being made by the brewery's owners, under contract at Joseph Huber Brewing (brewer's of another well-known, mid-western regional beer, Rhinelander) recently re-named Minhaus Craft Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin. Even an act of God can't seem to keep ol' Dixie down.

Both beers poured, as expected, a bright and lively golden-yellow with giant dollops of white foam for a head. They looke exactly like every beer, ever illustrated for print advertisements in 1950s LIFE magazines. Both also smelled remarkably similar—grainy with a noticeable waft of sweet corn. Appearance and aroma is where the similarity ends. The Dixie was quite sweet—almost flowery—with a buttered bread finish. It has a grassy and earthy hop note with a slight citrus quality, as well. The U.C. was far drier, with a noticeable corny, cereal quality—a bit starchy—like dried pasta, in a good way. It has almost no discernible bitterness, with just the slightest, musty, hop flavor. Both, are most definitely corny and if you're in the mood—quite tasty. I have to admit something about these two beers. I have a soft spot in my heart for both of them. Utica Club could be the first beer I ever drank, and I'm fairly sure I kept the brewery business in, during the early 1990s, and my time at school, in Rochester, NY. Flash forward ten years—I spent two-weeks drinking nothing but Dixie in southern Louisiana, while on my honeymoon with Amy. Dixie is truly the perfect beer to drink while sucking crawfish heads or chowing down on a plate of étouffée.

Love them or hate them, American adjunct lagers are what American brewing was, and quite honestly is. Just as Bitter, Burton and Mild were the bedrock of British brewing—bright, German-style lagers augmented with the most abundant grain in North America is the platform from which the American brewing industry was launched. Whether you like it or not, as Americans, we're as corny as Kansas in August—and so is our beer.

Monday, November 7, 2011

And the Winner Is...

If it weren't for arn, proprietor of Blood, Stout and Tears, the International Stout Day Haiku Contest could have been a complete flop. He swooped in, at the last minute, to deliver this gem:
Stunning, absolutley stunning.

     vanilla slips in
     dark magic takes hold of me
     roasted bliss deepens

Amazing. Truly inspiring—It brings a tear to my eye, every time I read it. It's heart wrenching and delicious at the same time. On to the prizes...

Tell him what he's won Johnny!

Well, Craig! Arn will be dubbed "poet laureate" of drinkdrank from now until the next International (insert beer style) Day Haiku Contest is offered! International Beer Day is in August, 2012, so maybe he'll keep the title until then? That is unless, somebody comes up with another
International (insert beer style) Day, between now and then—which is a pretty good possibility. 

And that's not all!

He'll also recieve—THIS BRAND NEW PINT GLASS!!! (waits for applause to die down) That's right Craig, this handsome, pint glass, emblazoned with the Evans Ale/Albany Pump Station logo completes any glassware collection—and it's capable of holding 16 full ounces! Beautiful and useful!

Wow. I Poet laureate for an undetermined amount of time and a pint glass representing an Albany, NY brew pub. That's some fancy-ass swag.

Remember that the next time an International (insert beer style) Day Haiku contest comes up.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Session 57: The One Beer to Have When Your Having More Than One

There's nothing like the internet for confessions. I don't know you, you don't know me—let me tell you all my dirty little secrets—that's never gotten anybody into hot water, right? While I'll freely admit to my reader(s) that I dream about being tied up while someone throws mini gherkins at me, my beery confession might chip away a little more at my amenity.

I love Schaefer Beer. There, I said it. Actually I'm fond of most American regional, "heritage," adjunct lagers and ales—like Genessee, Utica Club, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz—but Schaefer is still king in my book.

Maybe it's because it was the official beer of the Brooklyn Dodgers—with it's distinctive white script font, emblazoned on Ebbets Field's illuminated scoreboard—A Real Hit! A Real Beer! The H would light up for a hit, and the E for an error. Maybe it's because Schaefer was once brewed in Albany—F&M Schaefer bought Albany's Beverwyck Brewing Co. in 1950 and expanded its operation from Brooklyn into upstate New York. In fact, a friend just found an old Schaefer can from the 1970s entombed in the wall of a restroom in the New York State Museum—where I work. A new Museum building was built when they erected the Empire State Plaza, and was completed in mid seventies. One of the workmen must have left it there thinking it would never be found. The restrooms were renovated this past summer and, lo and behold, there it was.

Ebbets Field's scoreboard
I think the real reason I love it is, it's just the quintessential American beer—simple and good. For all of craft beer's wonderful qualities—from their handmade roots, to their unique ingredients and experimentations—there's just something about the crack and hiss of Schaefer can. That gold and red can represents, to me, baseball and barbecues, warm summer evenings with the hum of the cicadas ebbing and flowing. It's not the greatest beer ever made, although it is quite satisfying, but it has a sense of history behind it. It's a beer that, as Americans, our fathers and grandfathers drank. Schaefer raised war bonds during World War II and sponsored a summer music festival in Manhattan's Central Park—The Schaefer Music Festival— during the 1960s and 70s. It featured acts, over it's nearly ten year run, like The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys and The Doors. Schaefer and American culture are indelibly intertwined. Schaefer Beer is America—pure and simple.

For all the Dogfish Head, BrewDog, New Belgium and uncountable other craft beer I will drink over my lifetime, I will now and forever drink that one beer to have when your having more than one.

Friday, November 4, 2011

We Are the 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

Occupy a barstool
I heard this on American Public Riadio's Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal. He was doing a piece about how the craze that's sweepin' the nation—the Occupy movement—has helped out a local business in Oakland California. Bartender and bar manager Zhiva Kirschanski, of downtown Oakland's Radio Bar, said this, in a phone interview on the radio show, about what happened at his bar during the protest.
It was pretty much packed out the door from the minute we opened til 2 a.m. And I did so much business that I literally ran out of every single beer in the place! That’s pretty epic, to say the least.
So, remember this if A) you are thinking about opening a bar in Oakland or B) are outraged at our financial system and also want a beer. It's funny, though, didn't the riots on October 30th also start around 2 in the morning. That has to be completely coincidental, right?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

#International Stout Day Haiku

I've decided to start a tradition and haiku-it-up on these International (insert beer style) Days. So, here's three, for Stout Day:

Dark and bittersweet,
tan froth waits silently still.
purity in black.

Imperial heavy,
plum fruit and chocolate smooth. 
Ebony in glass.

Sweet and roasted silk,
the simple and plain result.
Ruby highlights gleam.

Feel free to wax haiku-ly in the comments section. If I get enough entries, I'll pick a winner—and as always, please, no wagering.

By the way, you can find more info about ISD—like local events—here.

12 hour ISD update: 7:30 pm – Sick, but still celebrating with Lakefront Brewery's Fuel Café Stout. Good thing we're celebrating Stout, I don't think I could taste anything else!

12 hour ISD update 2: 7:55 pm – The Fuel Café Stout is awesome paired with leftover Halloween Kit-Kats.