Saturday, June 30, 2012

Beer There

I don't get to travel much for work. I do occasionally visit a neighboring museum, but generally I stick close to home. This past Thursday, however, I had the chance to scoot down New York City way. Granted the trip was technically for work—but why not make it a bit beery, too?

My traveling companion for this little sojourn was Carrie—fellow hop-head, co-worker, and all-around buddy. We hopped the 7am katy out of Rensselaer and headed for Penn Station, en route to a meeting at the New York Public Library-affiliated Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture. The train was due in around 9:30 and our meeting wasn't scheduled until 11:30. Two hours to kill—what were two museum professional, beer loving friends to do? How about a quick ride on the C up to Central Park West and the New York Historical Society's Beer Here exhibition? That's exactly what we did, and let me tell you, it well worth it. Worlds collided for me in that exhibit space. Not only was I surrounded by all things beer—which made my head spin—the exhibit was amazingly well designed and concise. NYHS hit every topic in New York City's brewing past—everything from 18th century account books to temperance banners and Miss Rhinegold's dress from the mid-1950s. Oh, and there's a beer hall in the exhibit, too. Not a model of a beer hall—a real beer hall offering at least twenty real craft beers from across New York State. The only downside was it was ten in the morning—not as if that would have stopped us—but the hall didn't open until two. If I couldn't drink beer, at least I could be immersed in a beery environment, right?

Unfortunately, we did have to get back to work. As much as we were willing to hang out at NYHS until two, we were expected uptown. Back onto the subway and a 20 minute jaunt up the 1 and 2 lines and we landed at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem. A few hours later, we shook the hands of our Schomburgian cohorts and headed out in search of food and beer. After a steamy 94º stroll down what Langston Hughes dubbed the "the heartbeat of Harlem," we ended up between 127th and 126th Streets at the legendary soul food joint—Sylvia's. Fried chicken, waffles, collards and mac n' cheese washed down with Harlem's own Sugar Hill Golden Ale—a bready, sweet blonde ale with a hint of spice and honey. I'm not much of a food and beer pair-er, but the Sugar Hill's sweetness was a nice compliment to the spice of the fried chicken and the smokiness of the collards. We sat outside and people watched, and I've got to say—there's nothing much better, on a 90º+ day, than people watching in Harlem and a cold beer.

In order to not get back in the middle of the night, we needed to catch the 5:45pm Amtrack back north. After Sylvia's, we headed back down the 2 to 34th street and ended up killing our last hour at Tír Na Nóg, an Irish pub across the street from Madison Square Garden. Although the beer was nothing to snuff about—I quaffed Lagunitas IPA while Carrie kicked back a few Smuttynose Pales—the interior of the bar was what was really stunning. The Dubliner barman told me all of the woodwork, including what would become the bar, was pulled from a Irish church slated for demolition, reworked and shipped to Manhattan fifteen years ago. Intricately carved and detailed woodwork adorns the pub. High back confessional pews act as booths and web-like carvings edge the bars archways and door. Tír Na Nóg is dark, but inviting, traditional but comfy—and groups of soccer fans slowly filled the place to watch Italy beat Germany in the Euro 2012 semi-finals. With all the hustle and bustle outside on 8th Avenue, Tír Na Nóg was a quiet respite—despite the occasional hoot from an Italian soccer fan—from a long day. We downed our last pint and headed back to the train station. Two-and-a-half hours later we stepped off the train in Rensselaer, and called our trip finito.

So, there you go, NYC in three beery acts—and we got a little work done too!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Imperialist Dogs

This past week my friend Casey was making a trip into darkest Pennsylvania, and asked if I'd like him to bring back a a few out-of-state brews. Obviously the answer was yes. He suggested Bell's Two Hearted Ale, and I asked him to keep an eye out for anything else unavailable in New York. He arrived, back from the Keystone State, and was at my doorstep first thing Saturday morning with a sixer of the Bells' and another of Tröegs Perpetual IPA. Job well done Mr. Seiler. Thanks to you, I have twelve, fine quality IPAs chilling comfortably, in my fridge.

I say IPA, but according to the Tröegs label, I should have said, six IPAs and six Imperial IPAs. My, uh, bad.

Beervana's Jeff Allworth recently stepped back into the contentious, shall I say, discussion on style—as did Alan. Casey's gift has led me there as well, although as more of a question on naming conventions rather than of that of style.

Imperial has come to mean strong, and I get that. Imperial Stout harkens to the days when the strongest black stuff made its way east out of London to chillier climates north. Stout (less strong) domestic, Imperial (stronger) Stout export—right, pretty simple. Even throwing Export (medium strong) Stout into the mix, it's all still pretty clear. Imperial IPA is where I get hung up. Aren't IPAs, by definition, imperialistic—regardless of strength? Weren't they created for the Indian market—a market that was built and fostered by British imperial colonialism? Adding "Imperial" to India Pale Ale, kind of makes the "India" part a bit redundant, doesn't it? I don't want to sound pedantic about all of this, but can't an IPA, just be an IPA. If it's pale, hoppy and bitter, who cares how strong it is—it's an IPA.

Beer Advocate now lists Imperial Pilsner as a beer style. We all do realize this shit is just being made up as they go along, right? 

I hope. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Too ...write ...can ...will ...update ...when ...temp ...drops.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Craftiest?

Martyn's most recent post about his collaboration with the Welsh brewery Brains to create and brew Col. Williams East India Pale Ale, got me thinking about the role of IPA in the craft beer world. It helped also, that I mowed he lawn directly after reading his post, so I had a good bit of thinking time on my hands. I questioned I pondered against the hum of my lawnmower's 5.5 horse power, single stroke, was this:

Is IPA the craftiest of all beer? That is is to say, does IPA exemplify good or bad, in all it's forms—American, English, Belgian, black, white, double or imperial—all that "is" craft beer?

IPA is, unto itself, a conundrum. It's far and away the most popular "style" of craft beer—at least in the U.S.—but I'd expect elsewhere as, well. Yet, it's defining character—bitterness—is what most non-craft, or non-beer drinkers for that matter, say is what they don't like about beer. It wasn't always the darling of the beer world, either. Its height of popularity—prior to the rise craft beer movement over the last 20 years—was the 1840s. After that, IPA settled into a comfortable chair and let its brethren Bitter, Burton and Mild take the spotlight. It was a long slow ride downhill for IPA, occasionally popping up here and there, but generally keeping a low profile. It's kinda' funny, actually—a beer that really wasn't all that popular—and in fact, nearly died in its home country—is now at the forefront of the craft beer movement. That's pretty amazing.

Outside, as Jeff phrased it, the beer geek bubble, IPA seems to have become the poster-boy for craft beer—by intention or not. Love them or hate them, IPAs are ubiquitous—BeerAdvocate lists 5,080 of them. So, what's the draw? Do IPAs provide a better canvas for the brewer, or have they just caught the imagination of the beer drinker? Is IPA the beer thought of—collectively—when the phrase craft beer is mentioned? Regardless of what its made of, or how it's made—be it in Bulgaria or Baltimore—it appears that IPA has become the beery benchmark to judge craft beer by—right, wrong, or otherwise.

I've posed a good number of questions in this post, and I'll be the first to say, I'm in no position to answer any of them—just a few thoughts thunk whilst mowing the lawn. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Burton Ale – What's in a Name?

I'm not much of a style Nazi. I'm not against categorizing beer, but I don't go in for pigeonhole-ing it into a predetermined set criteria based on gravity ranges and IBUs. Take Pale Ale for example, I tend to give Pales a good bit of leeway—especially when their edges start burring into IPA range. beer styles should be like a Venn diagram. If they're lighter in hue and top-fermented, I'm cool with calling them whatever you want. I'm even cool with the Black IPA rig-a-ma-roll—it's a tad oxymoronic, but as long as the beer tastes decent, I'm happy. I will, however, make one exception when it comes to qualifying one specific beer—Burton Ale.

Burton Ales couldn't be simpler—they are pale, bitter beers brewed with water that has a high mineral content—especially calcium sulphate. Think of them as sulphury IPAs. Burton-on-Trent, the English, West Midlands home town of Burton Ale, was known for its minerally water, so, recreate that water and add in a good bang of hops and your all set to make a historic beer, right?

Burton on Burton?
Sure, except that's not what Burton Ale is—or rather was.

A good number of modern brewers have co-opted "Burton" to reflect any number of beery iterations that claim to be historic—most, although, are just IPAs. Granted, the phrase "Burton" can be a sticky, and often confusing, concept when it comes to style, because the area around Burton-on-Trent contributed prominently to two completely different beers—Burton Ale and IPA. The later is the forefather of the pale and bitter IPA we know and love today; while the former was a stronger, chestnut-hued, bitter-sweet brew that has fallen to the ages, Somewhere along the line, Burton Pale Ale became Burton India Pale Ale and everything fell apart.

For its part true Burton Ale, was one for the most popular brews in England during the 19th-century—far more popular than IPA. It transcended Burton-on-Trent and was brewed across the U.K. Versions of it were, in fact, brewed in the U.S., and in Albany, no less! Burton, along with Mild and Bitter, was a staple in every pub and tavern in England well into the later 20th-century. As with many other beers, Burton's day would come and go, and oh how quickly would it be forgotten.

What are we left with today? In the U.S, brews like Southampton Burton IPA, is a classic example of the "neo-Burton"—minerally, pale, bitter and hoppy—and Dog Fish Head's Burton Baton, an abomination of historical accuracy on an epic level. Burton Baton is the perfect example of a brewery warping history to it's own ends. DFH's web site gives this description for Burton Baton:
This oak-aged gentle giant has been gaining popularity over the past few years and is now available year-round! For Burton Baton, we brew two "threads," or batches, of beer: an English-style old ale and an imperial IPA. 
After fermenting the beers separately in our stainless tanks, they're transferred and blended together in one of our large oak tanks. Burton Baton sits on the wood for about a month.
The beer itself—phenomenal. Truly, Burton Baton is great. It's big and malty with great citrus and vanilla notes, with a mellow bitterness on the back end. It has a subtle oak-iness, and at 10% ABV it's pretty potent, too. It, however, has about as much to do with a Burton Ale as it does grape soda. I'm not sure about that "two-threads" business, either. Burton Ale may have been parti-gyled, but it wasn't made by brewing two separate styles and then combining—at least not by the brewer. Stronger Burtons were sometime referred to as Old Ales, but not because they were aged, but rather because by the 20th-century, Burtons were considered to be a throwback to earlier times of brewing. Aging is irrelevant to the style—Burtons were typically sold young. In DFH's defense, I have read that Burton Baton was created as an homage to Ballantine Brewery's Burton Ale, brewed in Newark, New Jersey during the first half of the 20th-century. Ballantine's Burton was brewed strong and aged on oak for years—but, if Burton Baton is a reflection of Ballentine's Burton Ale, then it doesn't seem like Ballantine's version fits the bill for Burton either.

If most of the Burtons that are kicking around today are bastardizations or posers, is it even possible to get a hint of what this nearly forgotten beer was like? Luckily, yes. Two British beers, and one American, jump to mind—Theakston's Old Peculiar, Young's Winter Warmer and August Schell's Stag Series #4 Burton Ale. Schell's website offers an accurate and concise history of Burton Ale and lists its Burtons' ingredients as Maris Otter pale malt, torrified wheat, two British crystal malts, brewing sugars along with Nugget and Golding hops. At 8% ABV and 60 IBUs, it ends up balanced between bitter and malty. So, how does that fair against the Burtons of old? I asked someone who I knew would know—Martyn Cornell—and he gave me his take on the nuts and bolts of Burton Ale. I'd be remiss if I'd not mention Martyn in a post about Burton! Here is what he had to say:
...Burton Ale was a bitter-sweet, darkish beer made with dark sugars and a dash of crystal malt... I think a high IBU is definitely ahistoric for a Burton Ale. 
There you have it, that sounds like a pretty thorough description of all three—the Schell's, Young's and the Theakston's.

What puzzles me the most about Burton is it's demise, and how quickly it fell out of favor. I think it's about time that this brew step back into the lime light. Personally, I think a 8% ABV, dark, bitter-sweet brew sounds about as good as it gets—and if I can't get more breweries to get on the band wagon, I guess I'll just have to make my own! 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Marley's Ghost: Six Months In

Not a whole-heck-of-a-lot to report since last time , but I'd thought I'd give an update on my 2012 Christmas beer project—Marley's Ghost 1843 Christmas Porter. The biggest event in the life of this ebony darling was the move from the first floor to the cellar. The warm temps at the end of march and into early April prompted the move. My 90-year old house can get pretty warm when the mercury rises, and after a few 80º plus days, I thought it best to err on the side of caution and move the carboy down to the cellar.

The pellicle is still... uh pellicling, and it's turned a chalky shade of ivory. It looks like an off-white, miniature version of the surface of the moon. Carbon dioxide has continued to build-up within the sealed jar, so fermentation is still active—albeit at a very slow rate. The bung popped during the warm temps in March—without any loss of beer—and that was my cue to get the beer into a cooler environment. Although, even in the cellar—of which never rises above 74 or 75º—and just last night, pressure had built up enough that when I adjusted the bung, I was presented with a slight pop.

I'll be honest, I've known that there was a correlation between British and Belgian brewing during the 19th early 20th-centuries, but I never realized how similar they were. My beer—with it's Brettanomyces clausenii "infection"—smells down right Flemish. It's sweet, and tart, with a pronounced yeasty nose. There isn't much as far as hoppiness, but there is a pronounced earthiness.

So, in the cellar shall my black beer sit—until, the weather turns cooler in October. I'll update again in September.  

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Chicago Beer Riot

On Wednesday, Ron posted a small excerpt about a beer riot in New York City in 1857. This got me thinking about what other times has beer been at the center of civil unrest? I'm not talking about a bunch of drunk sports fans turning over cars because their favorite basketball team won (or lost) it's championship—or any other drunken disorder, of the like. What I'm getting at is riotous behavior as a result of politically motivated actions—true civil unrest over a pint of beer.

That led me to an incident, related to the riot noted by Ron, which happened two years earlier and 1,000 miles from New York, in the booming cow-town of Chicago. Although the location was different, I suspect the  underlying sentiment of the riots was the same. Both of theses incidents weren't about "Oh no, we've run out of beer, let's riot." Their roots lay in the political an social discord of mid 19th-century America. Absolutist conservatism was on the rise across the country—anti-slavery, anti-drink, religious zealotry and xenophobia all were contributing to a social and political tempest which would eventually lead, ten years later, to the American Civil War. There was no room for tolerance, only absolutism. You are wrong, and I am right—and blood would spill because of this thinking.

The Chicago Beer Riots have their beginnings in the mayoral election of 1855. The American Party—better known as the Know-Nothings—was gaining popularity in the city of Chicago during the mid-1850s. The Know-Nothings were a national, pro-American, anti-German and anti-Irish Catholic, political faction, bent on curbing immigration—by any means necessary. To the Know-Nothings, immigrants spoke another language—which was wrong—they drank beer—which was wrong—and they practiced their own religion—which was wrong. The xenophobic group would back, along with the city's temperance-minded groups, mayoral candidate Dr. Levi Boone (nephew of American folk-hero Daniel Boone) against incumbent Democratic mayor, Issac Miliken. Before I go any further, I want to make sure something is clear here—The Chicago I'm talking about isn't the city of today, in fact it wasn't much of city at all. Chicago, in 1855, was a fairly small town with only about 40,000 residents—New York City on the other hand had a population of just over a million. Chicago's smaller size made it ripe pickings for absolutist groups, like the Know-Nothings, to get a foothold in politics with a relatively small number of followers. That's exactly what happened in 1855. Boone won the election and brought his nativist views with him to City Hall.

Boone was infuriated by the growing relationship between the German and Irish immigrants within the city. He saw not only their alliance, but their growing neighborhoods, churches and spreading customs as a threat to what he considered to be true "Americans." It became Boone's goal to decimate Chicago's immigrant population and he chose beer—something beloved by both groups—as his instrument to do that. Boone's first tactic was an increase of nearly 600%—from $50 to $300—on liquor license fees, followed by an issuing suspension of those licenses. Boone's biggest hit, however, came when he re-instituted a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Although "American" bars and taverns continued to operate on those days without recourse. On the first Sunday Boone's revived law was in effect, Chicago police arrested more than 200 barkeeps and tavern owners in and around the city's German populated, northern neighborhoods.

The Clark Street Bridge
On the morning of April 25, 1855 a group of mostly Germans tavern keepers marched down Randolf and Clark streets, toward the Cook County Court House, in protest of a hearing set for that day on the matter of the previous arrests. The mob was unarmed and at first peaceful, albeit a bit threatening—stating that the court should find in their favor, less the town "... have a taste of war!" The crowd was intercepted by police officers armed with cudgels. The police laid into the unarmed crowd, savagely beating them and arresting nine protesters. The group retreated, bloodied but not beaten. The situation escalated later that afternoon when the protesters returned, in greater numbers, and armed with knives, clubs and shotguns. When the crowd began crossing the Chicago River, Boone ordered the Clark Street Bridge, a draw bridge, to be opened—effectivly splitting the mob in two, with one group on the north side of the bridge, and the other to the south. This tactic incensed the rioters and it was at this point that small arms fire broke out between the northern faction and the police department. Amid shouts of "Kill the police!" and "Pick out the stars!" more than a thousand protesters battled two-hundred police officers for over an hour. Boone would eventually call in the militia and as night fell, the riot subsided. Hundreds were wounded, but only one—a German immigrant named Peter Martin—was killed.

Within days, the liquor license fee was restored to $50, and the city's prohibition of alcohol sales on Sundays was lifted. Although terribly violent, the riots did succeed in unifying the immigrant population of Chicago. An unprecedented turnout—nearly 75%—of the city's Irish and German population voted in the following year's mayoral election. Boone was ousted and the turnout effectively discredited the Know-Nothing party within the city—setting Chicago on the political course for which it is known for today—that of ethnic, urban, machine-based, municipal politics.

Beer–1, Tyranny–0.   

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Pay Sucks, But the Benefits Are Great

How'd you like to be on this job interview?

"Well, Joe, it looks like you'd be a perfect fit for our company. Let me tell you about some of our benefits. We have full health care coverage—including eye, dental and a customizable wellness program. Our package also offers reduced rates on life  and homeowners insurance, as well. You'll get two weeks of vacation, a week of sick leave and personal time. We offer profit sharing, a Christmas club and a keg-R-ator, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Courtesty of
According to Carol Harnnet, of Human Resource Executive Online, that's what Mark Torres of The Rubicon Project might offer—at least the beer part anyway. Harnett's article goes on to say that companies, like the Rubicon Project, are starting to rethink tradition benefits packages. The mega com Google has been offering "lifestyle" perks—like free haircuts at an on site salon and usage to it's on site gym and swimming pool—to its employees for years. Other companies are starting to adopt a Google-like approach to retaining and, or, wooing employees. Pool tables, community gardens and yes, my favorite perk, beer—or even full bars—are becoming more common in the workplace. These alternative perks are especially effective since a number of companies are reducing, or in some case eliminating, more traditional benefits, as a cost saving measure.

Granted, beer in the workplace isn't a totally new concept. Many Victorian companies and factories offered beer to their employees—but not for the same reason. I'm fairly sure those businesses weren't all that concerned about employee satisfaction, they just didn't want people dropping dead from e-coli exposure while working the line—they could die at home all they wanted. Beer, because it was boiled, was potable. Most coliform was destroyed during the brewing process, while a good bit of any other available water might have been a tad off—like contaminated with raw sewage, off.

Those gastro-intestinal wrenching times are behind us, and a new epoch of beery work may be upon us. Instead of investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in your own brewery—just so you can drink at work—why not suggest to your HR department Mark Torres' idea. Although, I still imagine that most places won't allow beer and spread sheets to mix—but who knows, maybe they will sooner or later.

At least that's what I keep telling myself.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Session #64: Pale? Ale

I'll be honest, I wasn't planning on contributing to this month's Session. It's no slight against Carla, the Beer Babe, I just couldn't get my act together. Zipping over to the beer stores to find two Pale Ales that I wanted to write about, just wasn't in the cards. I'm simply lazy, I know, it's not an excuse, but at least it's truthful.

Then my conscience got the best of me. How could I let my reader down? There has been created an implicit trust that I will drink beer and then write, poorly, about it; and you will then ignore what I write. It has become a universal constant. If I couldn't do a side by side comparison of Pales, maybe I could, at least, think of something to write about. So, here goes.

Pale Ale isn't really that pale.

That's right, I said it. Pale Ale—not so pale. The debate over Black IPA's name has been argued ad nauseum—Black IPA can't be an IPA because the P means pale, and black is the opposite of pale. Okay, point taken, but when you think about it Pale Ale isn't all that pale, either—not anymore, anyway. There are any number of beers that are far paler than even the palest of Pale Ales—Wit, Pilsener, Kölsch, Lambics and Cream Ales—to name a few. In fact, a non-beer drinker might even classify the Pale Ale as a dreaded "dark beer"—it looks far darker than almost all macro Lager. Sure, it's quite a bit lighter than a porter, but is it "pale"?

It used to be simple. Back in the olden' days, when brewers made a beer they only had a few malts to choose from. Brown beer came from brown malt, Amber beer from Amber malt and the lightest beer they could make, came from the lightest malt they had, pale malt—hence the name Pale Ale. Even after Mr Wheeler let his patented malt roaster loose on England in the early-19th century, Pale Ale remained a single malt beer and, well, pale. A tiny bit of black malt meant brewers could darken pale malt to shades from golden-amber to coppery-red—but no, Pale Ale stuck it out and made sure to lather on the zinc oxide and wear a floppy hat before going to the beach. In fact, British breweries were still making 100% pale malt Pale Ales well into the late 1920s and early 1930s—all juuuust golden-hued.

At some point, however, a little dark invert sugar started slipping in, then caramel malt, brought its tanned good looks to the party. It was a slippery slope for Pale Ale and, as the saying goes, once you go Caramel 40ºL, you never go back. Today's Pale Ale use a veritable rainbow of roasted and toasted malts, resulting in brews that range from hazy orange to coppery red. So, what does that mean? Yup, you got it

Pale Ale isn't really that pale.