Monday, December 31, 2012

The End is Nigh

Well, it is for my week off from work, anyway.

For the past few years, I’ve taken the week between Christmas and New Years off from work. It truly is one of my most favorite times of the year. Not just because it’s a break from the daily grind, but it’s a very “family” time for Amy, the kids and I. Aside from the usual merriment of Christmas, the week also brings sledding, crackling fires in the woodstove, movie nights and epic battles of Uno on the living room floor, and of course surviving the apocalypse (yeah, I know that was the Friday before Christmas, but who's counting? Certainly not the Mayans.) In any case, as Lionel Ritchie said, the week is easy like Sunday morning.

It’s also a time for me to stretch my beery wings. Usually new beer comes to me at the pub, as quick samples after work. Having a week to do not much more than relax allows for a little broadening of my beery horizons. I don’t have to be home at a specific time, because I’m already home. I don’t have to worry about getting up in the morning for work, and I’m not driving anywhere. It all works out for the best. So what did this beery week off bring? A little bit of everything, actually. Of course, I tippled on a few of my standbys during my time off—Southern Tier Old Man, Full Sail Amber—but there were a few special ones in the mix, as well.

The week kicked off with the inaugural run of my home brewed gingerbread beer at a little get gathering we had at our house, with the neighbors, on the 22nd. The spicy brown beer went over pretty well, I must say. It’s a pungent, dark brew, with a more than subtle gingery, cinnamon and clove bite followed by a bittersweet blanket of molasses. My mother-in-law likes it, so I must have done something right.

Marley’s Ghost made its appearance that night, as well. Truth be told a few bottles of the funky black stuff may have been popped for Alan, Chad, Ron and Ethan at Beau’s Oktoberfest at the end of September—but the rest was kept for a few month longer, and quickly dispatched by the neighbors. Bretted beers are an acquired taste, but all in all everyone seemed to agree that it grew-on them. It ended up being thinner than I expected, and for a beer that was hopped with four ounces of East Kent Goldings, it was decidedly un-bitter. Regardless, the project and beer were well worth the yearlong wait.

Other than my own yuletide themed brews, the only other “Christmas” beer I had was a modest little holiday brew from England. Harvey’s Christmas Ale, to be exact. It’s become a bit of a Christmas Eve tradition for me to knock back one of these fruity and rich brews—in it’s weighty bottle—while I’m cooking up the evening’s meal. I really love this beer—in fact it’s the only beer that I keep the bottle when I’m done. There is a small colony of them, perched on my desk, even as I write this post.

Rolling through the merriest of merries, Christmas morning—after which it appeared as though a Toys R Us had exploded in our living room, I settled down with a snapping fire in wood stove, episodes 5 and 6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones on DVD, and a gifted bottle of Guden Carolus Classic (Thanks to Nina and Bruce.) The winey, bruising, 8.5% Belgian Brown Ale, was the perfect elixir to top off what is always, without a doubt, the craziest day of the year. Remember winter is coming.

Oh, and did it ever come.

Thursday brought 8 to 10 inches of snow to Albany and a two-and-a-half hour, marathon, snow blowing effort that evening. I have a pretty big snow blower, but this stuff was like lead. My reward for burning off the calories put on earlier in the week was to add on a few more in the form of Theakston’s Old Peculiar—perhaps my favorite British beer. Oliver’s received a case of it (yup, just a case) back in early October, and I’ve been holding onto a few bottles since then. OP is pretty rare around these parts. It must be five or six years since I’ve seen it in the area. As I trudged through the cumbersome white stuff, the scent of snow blower exhaust clinging to my beard, I said to myself, “I will have you Old Peculiar, oh, yes, yes I will.” And, I did.

The biggest surprise of the week came Friday evening—although, it should have been Saturday morning with bacon and eggs—with my first taste of Founder’s Breakfast Stout. I’d heard the hype over this double chocolate, coffee oatmeal Stout, but I’ll be honest the hype didn’t do it justice. This baby, with a baby on the bottle, honestly tastes like the best cup of greasy spoon, diner coffee, you’d ever want to try. This beer knocked my socks off—in fact, it may have taken a few toes with it, too.

So, where does that leave us? With tonight, I suppose—New Year’s Eve. In keeping with the tradition of looking back, I picked up an 8-year-old, paper-wrapped bottle of Schiender Aventinus (2004). Although, the ball still won’t drop for another hour and fifteen minutes, the game plan is to substitute the Aventitus en lieu of Champagne, so what I think of it is going to have to wait until next year, and on that note…

Cheers to the New Year.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three Degrees of Separation

I've never been to Oregon, let alone Portland. I've never had any of Occidental Brewing Co.'s beer. In fact I'm pretty sure you can't even get it outside the greater Portland area, and certainly not 3,000 miles away, in New York.

Yet, I'm writing about them.

Technically, Jeff Allworth of Beervana wrote about them first—and chose them as this year's recipient of his Satori Award for the best beer released by an Oregon brewery or brew pub. Technically—again—the Satori was half a Satori, but that's his story to tell.

So, why am I writing about them?

Beery coincidences, that's why—and who doesn't love the beery coincidence?

I have a friend, and fellow Little League board member—Casey Seiler*—who also happens to be a pretty phenomenal journalist. Not like this blog is "journalism," but a bona fide, spells things right, journalist—technically (again, again?) he's the state editor and a columnist for the Albany Times Union. Why anybody would want to write about anything other than beer is beyond me, but he does a pretty good job at it. Aside from being a great writer and friend Casey also has a brother-in-law. A brother-in-law named Dan Engler. A brother-in-law who also happens to own a brewery called Occidental.

See, beery coincidences—and a free plug for Occidental. If you live in Portland, or your traveling there, go check them out. Let me know if the beer is as good as Jeff says. Or, better yet, bring me some.

I'm looking at you Casey.

*Casey contributed a number of the bottle caps, lacquered into the bar in the photo on Jeff's blog. I bet you're glad you know that now.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Marley's Ghost: The Spirit Appears

"You will be haunted," resumed the Ghost, "by Three Spirits."

Scrooge's countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost's had done.

"Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?" he demanded in a faltering voice.

"It is."

"I—I think I'd rather not," said Scrooge.

"Without their visits," said the Ghost, "you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow when the bell tolls One."

"Couldn't I take 'em all at once, and have it over, Jacob?" hinted Scrooge.

"Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third, upon the next night when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!"

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gimmick Schmimmick

Hot on the heels of the announcement that HBO and Brewery Ommegang have collaborated on a beer inspired by the network’s Dungeons & Dragons-esque, hit cable series, Game of Thrones, I got into an interesting conversation on twitter about beery gimmicks. The exchange stemmed from Alan’s tweet that, “[creating] beers based on themes and characters in the fantasy series...” was, as he put it, “meaningless.” Myself,'s Brian Papineau, and Katy Watts, of Sheltered Girl Meets World, all jumped into the conversation, weighing the pros and cons of gimmick. Alan’s take is that gimmick results in added expense that gets passed to he consumer as “sucker juice”, while Brian contends that it is consumer taste that drives, or should, drive beery trends.

Both are valid points, but the question for me is, at what point does gimmick turn to trend? If the intention of a gimmick, be it a pet rock or beer, is to sell and promote, then couldn’t it be said that any of the more recent beery trends—beer-wine hybrids, gypsy-brewing double IPAs, spiced-up holiday beers—are all, at the heart of it, gimmicks? Granted, these trends have some history to them. Imperial Stout is nothing new, but the imperialism of everything else, from pilsner to wheat beers, is.
The water gets cloudy—in the U.S, at least—by the influence of the distributor on the market. Stronger beers sell well in the U.S., as do hoppy beers. Find a marriage of both—like a double IPA— and obviously those are the beers that will be pushed by the distributor. The distributor is always looking for the next get-rich-quick idea, and who could blame them? Their job is to sell beer—good, bad, or gimmicky.

Regardless of influence, sometimes the short-run gimmick becomes the long-term trend. Buffalo Bill’s Brewery lays claim to brewing the first “modern” pumpkin beer in the early 1980s. Was that done as gimmick? Maybe, but pumpkin beers sure as hell are a trend now.

Personally, I’m a tad indifferent to the gimmick. If I buy it and it’s great—all the better. If it’s bad—oh well, live and learn. I might be out a few dollars, but I won’t make that mistake again. Is the “inspired by…” a bit schlocky? Sure, and honestly, I don’t know if Iron Throne would be my first choice at the beer store, but I usually like Ommegang stuff and at $8.50 for 750mL, it’s not a bad buy.

Do I think television show inspired beer will become the newest beer trend? Probably not, but if it is, I'm hoping for one inspired by Arrested Development—they could call it TobIPAs Fünke.

If you'd like to get in on these riveting twitter exchanges, follow me in the Twitterverse @drinkdrank1.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Big Picture

I think sometimes we all need to step back and take a look at the big picture.

Be it craft or crafty, remember, it's just beer.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Missing the Mark

Yesterday, CNNMoney posted a Beth Kowitt interview with SABMiller executive chairman Graham Mackay, about his company's response and plans to adjust to the rise of craft-beer sales in the U.S.

Well, they've got a plan—but as usual it's off the mark.

Mackay has a handle on what the problem is. The big breweries focus, and have focused for years of what he deems as "repeatability" and "...the elimination of harsh flavors" or what everybody else calls bitterness. Craft, in his opinion, offers "...a bit of interest"—that an "local, anti-marketing, anti-global, anti-big" attitude. Mackay admits that for a business the size of SABMiller, it's tough to get the street cred that inherently comes with being a craft brewery. So SABMiller has formed relationships with some of those craft breweries of introduced what it considers to be craft lines. When asked if he thinks the "core craft consumer embraces that model, he says:
There's a huge debate in the craft world about us, all big brewers, because we're like the enemy. We're the other guys. They think we're stealing their authenticity. What we say is, "Let the consumer decide." If we're authentic enough for the consumer, that's authentic enough for anyone.
I'll buy that, but I'm fairly certain SABMiller could give a shit if the craft industry itself thinks they're "authentic" or not. To this point, Mackay is lined up pretty good, but the interview starts to go sideways when he talks about his company's separate "craft" division, Tenth and Blake:
For most beer, the proposition is emotional. It's not functional. The beer is not that different. And even if the beer is different, there are others that taste much like it. So you're trying to create new emotional associations in people's minds. To do that, you've got to act like a small company. You've got to incubate it for a long time. Tenth and Blake is set up to introduce things slowly and carefully and consistently like a small company.
And there we have it—macro brewing's biggest, and as far as I can see, most misunderstood (by itself) mistake when it comes to competing with craft-beer.

Craft beer isn't about authenticity or the proposition of emotional associations or even incubation. It's about beer—specifically, good beer. The big boys haven't focused on that in a long time—a very long time. What's amazing with this interview is that Mackay realizes this, and yet, is proposing his cockamamy emotion, horse shit. Whatever emotional connection may be had while drinking beer, it's more likely due to the comradery of friends at the pub or of family at a barbecue, but certainly not because you chose Otter Creek over Miller Lite. Blue Moon has been successful for SABMiller, but wouldn't you rather hang your hat on it's success do to fact that people like the beer rather than because they think it's from a small brewery? It always amazes me the breadth of which companies and CEOs go to swallow their own Kool-Aid.

Of course this, as it always does, comes down to the ol' mullah. Far be it from me to say that craft-brewers aren't in it to make money. Of course they are, but maybe that's not the only driving force. Once again Macaky has been led astray,
I don't think the craft movement in its current guise will continue to grow indefinitely. I don't think it can. It's not economic. Too many people won't make any money. Too many of them will go out of business. And I think it will become less fashionable. These things are fashion to some extent.
But, it's okay for SABMiller to pretend it's brands are craft until the bottom falls out. That's where the big breweries really miss the mark. They are playing to be the kid in the room with the most toys—regardless if those toys are missing pieces, broken or are out of batteries. Maybe, the tact best taken to compete with craft is to forsake quantity for quality, and find a few of the best toys and stick with them.

But they won't, because they never do.

But don't think the craft folks haven't drawn the battle lines, either...

Monday, December 10, 2012

This Just In: Brewery Says Beer Is Beneficial

The NY Daily News, Time, The Huffington Post and Glamour Magazine (really, Glamour?) are all reporting on the newly discovered, anti-virus fighting properties of humulone—the chemical that makes hops bitter. This, apparently, earth-shattering revelation was the result of research done by Sapporo Medical University and funded by ...wait for it... Yes—Sapporo Brewery.

Does anybody want to buy a bridge?
Wow! I mean, really—wow! A brewery paying for a study that finds beer to be not just benign, but healthful—who'da thunk? I can only hope that all those french fry tests being done at Hamburger U will also be as positive. 2012 looks like it's going to go down as a red-letter year in science.


Don't get me wrong, if the research supports the findings—great. I also realize scientist and doctors have been endorsing beer for generations—but c'mon. Should three well respected news outlets—and the Huffington Post*—be waisting their time with this? This wasn't an independent medical study—this isn't like trying to find out why sharks are cancer resistant. This was an industry-funded experiment to sell beer. What if the results came back with nothing? Would Time and the Daily News have reported that? Would we have seen this headline?

"Researchers at Sapporo Medical University have concluded that beer is yellow... and sometimes it's not."

I'm not sure if it's a slow news day, or they were just going for an easy headline. Maybe they just ran with the press release—but, talk about taking the bait.

*That joke was just to easy to pass up. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Ya' know what I haven't written about lately?


Since the holidays are quickly approaching, I figured I'd pass along a few beery recipes that are perfect for those obligatory year-end parties and get togethers. That's right, I'm about to go all Martha Stewart on your collective asses. Bear in mind, I have not made any of these recipes, so I take no responsibility for their suckiness—however, I will take all the credit for their deliciousness. Secondly, I'm not going to pair any beers with these recipes because, truthfully, I simply can't be bothered to do that. So, let's start off with a really simple appetizer:

Drunken Mussels

5 pounds (2.2kg) mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
2 shallots, minced
1 can diced tomatoes
5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Twelve ounce bottle (355mL) of IPA
2 Tbsps green peppercorns in brine
2 Tbsps butter
chopped parsley for garnish
crusty bread

1) In a large pot (or the kitchen sink basin), soak the mussels 10 minutes in enough lightly salted cold water to cover.

2) In a separate large pot, mix the shallots, tomatoes, garlic, beer, peppercorns and butter. Place the mussels in the pot, and bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, reduce heat to low, and continue cooking 5 minutes, until mussels open. Discard unopened mussels. Place remaining mussels and broth in a large bowl and top with parsley. Serve with the crusty bread to sop up the broth.

Okay next up, a main course. I'm thinking something hearty and rich for a chilly December evening. I really dig stews and pot roasts, and the Belgians do a crazy good version of beef stew made with Old Bruin or Flemish Red Ale.

Carbonnade flamande

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 pounds (1.3kg) of chuck roast or top round cut into 2 inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups thickly sliced onions
1/2 cup (60g) all-purpose flour
2 tsp brown sugar
3 Twelve ounce bottles (355mL) of Old Bruin or Flemish Red Ale
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp of red currant jelly
1 Tsp red wine vinegar
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Boiled carrots and potatoes, for serving

1) In a heavy Dutch oven (cast iron is perfect), melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Season the beef with salt and pepper and add one-third of it to the pot. Cook over moderate heat until lightly browned. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with 2 more batches of meat, using the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.

2) Add the onions to the pot, cover and cook over low heat, stirring, until browned. Stir in the flour until the onions are well-coated, then slowly add the beer. Return the meat to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Add the thyme and bay leaves, cover and simmer over low heat, stirring, until the beef is tender, about 2 hours.

3) After two hours, uncover the pot and let the sauce reduce slightly and thicken over medium heat. Stir in red currant jelly and vinegar. When the sauce is to your liking, transfer the stew into serving bowls, sprinkle with parsley and serve with boiled carrots and potatoes.

This time of year nothing says Christmas more to me more than gingerbread, and this cake-y version spiked with a spiced-up holiday beer, and served with a big dollop of vanilla cream really hits the holiday mark.

Gingerbread with Vanilla Whipped Cream

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each cloves and nutmeg
1 stick (113g) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup (255g) molasses
1-1/4 cup (295mL) room temperature, spiced holiday beer (like harpoon Winter Warmer)
1 large egg
1/2 cup (92g) diced crystallized ginger (optional)

1) Grease and flour a 9-inch square pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175º C).

2) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

3) Melt the butter in a heatproof measuring cup. Add the molasses to the cup, and pour into the dry ingredients in the bowl, mixing to moisten.

4) Add the beer gradually, stirring until everything is moistened. Beat the egg and stir into the batter until it's evenly combined. Stir in the crystallized ginger.

5) Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake just begins to pull away from the edge of the pan.

6) Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 15 minutes before slicing; gingerbread is best served warm. Top with vanilla cream (below).

Vanilla Whipped Cream

2 1/2 cups (600mL) chilled whipping cream
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat whipping cream, sugar and vanilla extract in large bowl until firm peaks form.

There you go—three recipes for the holidays, all with a good shot of beer to liven things up! If you make any of them, drop me a line and let me know what you thought, or if you have a favorite recipe you'd like to pass on, leave it in the comment section or send me an email at

So, like the title says, go and eat, drink and be merry!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bottom of the Ninth

I'm sick—but the blog must go on.

24/ has released a list of the 9 beers that Americans no longer drink. The statistics were complied over five years from 2006 to 2011 and include those beers which have lost 30% or more in sales. They are Milwaukee's Best and Best Light, Miller High Life Light, Amstell Light, Miller Genuine Draft, Old Milwaukee, Budweiser Select, Michelob and Michelob Light. The lowest sales loss percentage of theses beers is Milwaukee's Best with a 35.5% decline, and the highest is Michelob at 72% loss.

The article attributes all of this decline, firstly to he rise and dominance of light beers—like Bud and Coors Light; then to the light "premium" and/or craft-ish beers, including Shocktop, Blue Moon and Michelob Ultra; and finally as a result of the pressure from craft and small-market beers. The article notes—from an interview with Beer Marketer’s INSIGHTS executive editor Eric Shepard—that the industry blames a lack of innovation for the decline, but puts most of the blame on the economy.

I've got to say the "economy" thing is a bit of a cop-out. Yeah, I get that a shitty economy affects everything, but—from my house—this decline isn't about one beer being better than another, but rather an over-saturation in the marketplace. ABInBev and MillerCoors made a poorly calculated decision and flooded the marketplace with too many beers—the old "everything to everyone" pitfall—and it's come back to bite them in the ass. How much different is what the American brewing industry has done over the last twenty years than what the American automotive industry has done—repackaging of the same product under a different name? ABInbev sells fifteen American light Lagers alone—fifteen!

Just by the law of supply and demand something has got to give.

Okay, back to being sick. Ack.