Monday, July 30, 2012

On the Road

Looking at my blog roll, I noticed a neat little trend in the beery blogosphere, this week. Three of my beer-minded compatriots have written about both beer and travel. Maybe these like-minded writers all have the travel bug, or perhaps it's just the summer-time thing to do—hitting the road in search of beer, that is. In any case, have a read at how...

...a ten hour trip brought some good rewards for A Good Beer Blog's, Alan McLeod.

...a little preparation and technology helps Jay Zeis, of A Beer in Hand is Worth Two in the Fridge, track down those-out-of-the way beer bars and local brews when he's road-tripping.

...Jay Brooks of Brookston Beer Bulletin, thinks the Travel Channel did at picking their top "7 Beer Destination." Technically, Jay isn't traveling, but his post is close enough—and a really great read.

A review, some tips and tricks and a look at a "best of list"—three takes on a similar topic. It's like a mini Session (which, by the way, I'm hosting this month.) As for me, my beery summer traveling days are done. This fall, however, is another story...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dive Right In

I love it when I'm inspired to write by other bloggers!

Boak and Bailey have a post up about Becky's Dive Bar, a London pub that operated in the 1960s, 70s and perhaps into the early 80s. Becky's, apparently, was rather well known for offering hard-to-find British beer from across the U.K—a trend that was well ahead of its time. As cool as that is, what strikes me is the use of the word Dive in the bar's name. Today, a bar or restaurant may use that term rather tongue-and-cheekly, to denote that it's a laid back place—and perhaps a bit gritty—where patrons can leave their sport coats at the door and laugh a little louder than normal, or in some cases as the the re-gentrified hipster hangout. That's all a gimmick to sell Pabst Blue Ribbon. A true dive bar, on the other hand, is probably not what most reputable establishments would want to be associated with—with its customers paying more attention to the ice in the bottom of their glass than the world around them. So when, and why, did dives, dive off the deep end, so to speak? According to the most accurate source of information known to man, the multi-volume, Oxford English Dictionary–Second Edition, a dive is defined as:
An illegal drinking-den, or other disreputable place of resort, often situated in a cellar, basement, or other half-concealed place, into which frequenters may 'dive' without observation.
The Palais Royale—
Albany's diviest of dives.
Photo by Dan Nester
It also references the colloquialism's first known use, from a July 6th, 1871 New York Herald article describing "One of the gayly decorated dives where young ladies... dispense refreshments to thirsty souls." That doesn't sound too bad—gayly decorated, young ladies, thirsty souls, I can dig that. Things take a turn for the worse, however, a little over a decade later when an 1883 Harper's Magazine writer, H. H. Kane, uses the phrase in a more negative light, associating the word with drug addiction, "...Those who frequent the opium-smoking dives."


It seems like this is where dive begins begins to be connected to the seedier-side of society. Jacob A. Riis' 1890 essay, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York supports this notion. Riis dedicates an entire chapter to the police raids against the underground (litterally and figuratively) "stale-beer dives" of New York City. Stale-beer dives were exactly that—grimey, underworld establishments that sold stale and spoiled beer for pennies. The city outlawed the sale of spoiled beer, hence the raids, and soon headlines trumpeted the death of the stale-beer dive. The dives themselves, were a bit more resilient than that, and instead of rolling over for dead, they adopted a new suffix, one with a  more nautical theme. In 1887, The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania based journal The American, uses the phrase "sailor's-dive" when reporting on the Hawaiian Rebellions and King Kalakaua's predilection for banjo playing in such places. Francis Hopkins Smith, the American author, architect and engineer, mentions that one of his character—Muffles the Bar-Keep—from his 1903 novel The Underdoghad at one time worked as a "dish-washer in a sailor's dive," before rising the ranks to become one-third owner of the Shady Side Inn, just outside the Bronx. So, either the Shady Side Inn didn't see many sailors or it was a notch, or perhaps notches, above a dive?

At some point after the turn of the century dives become, well just dives. No longer did they need to be supported by another word. Yes, there are references to places being simply known as dives prior to this, but the early 20th-century was the golden-age, a renaissance, for the word dive. Dive had finely come into its own. In his 1909 book The Wretches of Povertyville, author I.L. Nascher differentiates, by chapter title, between the beer-soaked, gambling and prostitution houses of New York City's Bowery, as "Dives and Dens," and the beer-soaked, flop houses and soup kitchens he refers to as "Haunts and Homes." The dive-y edges blur a bit in Dr. Nascher's book, but in any case, he's less than flattering when it comes to the denizens of lower Manhattan. In the very first paragraph of Povertyville, Nascher states:
There is no sharp dividing line between the respectable saloon and the dive, between the clean music hall and the vicious concert hall, between the reputable bar-room and the disreputable dance hall. There is a wide differnce between the extremes, but there are many grades between them.
Is it me or is the good doctor a bit biased?

By the 1920s the speakeasy—the hubs of flappers, gangsters, jazz and illegal hooch—would surmount the dive as the go-to, underground watering-hole, for a few years. The repeal of  Prohibition and the increasing pressure of the Great Depression, would soon bring back the dive in force. With despair comes drink, and with drink comes the dive. The dive began its move from the city to the suburbs, into every town across the country. For every town hall and fire station, there also sprouted a hole-in-the wall bar. The demand by returning GIs for exotic, Polynesian cocktails in the post-war 1940s and 50s, left out-of-style and dreary Tiki-bars still dolling out shots into the 1970s. Whiskey dens, gin joints and beer houses now dot the country—places with names like The Silver Slipper, Eddie's, the Savoy Lounge and Palais Royale. The dive—named or unnamed—is, and honestly was, always around. The Vegas lounge, the biker bar, the dusty Texas roadhouse, and the signless club in Brooklyn can all thank that gayly decorated place somewhere in New York City, for letting those young ladies dispense their refreshments to so many thirsty souls—and I thank them, too.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Weather it seems, has been at some level in a good number of my posts, recently. Be it the wacky weather in New York City I got to experience first hand last week, or the triple digit temps down in South Carolina the week before. Those warm temps got me thinking. On Sunday I was, as I do every week, cutting the grass. It's been pretty warm in Albany this summer, so a jaunt around the yard with the mower can get a good sweat going, and  build up a decent thirst. Finishing up, with sweat on brow, I put the old girl back in the garage and set off inside to slake my thirst—with iced tea.

I have beer in the fridge. In fact, I have cold, lawn mower beer in my fridge—Rolling Rock, to be specific—theoretically, the perfect solution to my sun-baked dilemma. Yet, I went for the tea. For that matter, I almost always go for tea—or water—over beer in those parched moments. I just don't think beer is all that quenching. I think certain styles—like a Saison or an IPA—work well on a balmy, sunlit day, just as pint of Porter just seems right on a blustery late November evening. But, I don't think those scenarios are matter of satisfying my thirstiness. Don't get me wrong, I think a cold beer on a hot, summer afternoon is fantastic—refreshing, yes, but not quite abating when it comes to thirst. I can think of a number of times, when walking to the pub on a scorcher, that I ordered a tall glass of H2O, before my first pint. Maybe it's a science thing. Alcohol, by nature, is a diuretic. Drinking it results in a greater loss of fluids than it provides. That scenario, however, doesn't usually rear it's ugly head until three or for pints in. Alcohol—in this case beer—is technically the opposite of slaking or at least it ends up that way in the long run. Honestly, in my case, I don't think that has much to do with it.

I might be in the minority on this one, but in any case, I thought I'd share a beery quirk in my personnel file.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Back in a New York Groove

Back to NYC, for me—and Carrie. This time, though we took it up a notch, or rather a few notches, on the craft beer beeriness scale. We stopped by the unarguable and undisputed craft beer Mecca of Manhattan—a little place called Rattle N Hum.

The trip to Rattle, however, rattled us as well.

Having finished our business Harlem around 4:15, we headed back to midtown, via the 2 train, to Penn Station, with the intention of walking the two-and-a-halfish blocks to 33rd Street between Fifth and Madison Aves. As the subway roared its way south, we noticed the growing number of riders who seemed to be a good bit more, shall I say, damp than we were. Emerging from the 32nd Street exit from Penn Station, 5:00 in the afternoon had become midnight. The sky was black above New York. Dark clouds swirled and what seemed like sheets of rain were bombarding the helpless tourists and pedestrians on the sidewalks below. The expected, leisurely half mile walk to the bar had become a daunting trek through one of the heaviest downpours I've ever been in. Gusts of wind threatened to launch our measly umbrellas, out of our grip, and into kingdom come. Lightening zapped across the sky like glass shattering while thunder echoed down the cavernous streets, like the report of a howitzer. This storm wasn't like anything I'd ever been in before. It, for lack of a better word, exploded. I felt like we were being sprayed in the face by a hose on full for fifteen minutes, while we dodged both taxi cabs and flash-flood waters careening down the street. Compared to this water boarding would be a dream. By the time we reached the bar, I was soaked from nearly the waist down.

Oh, but it was worth it.

Stepping into the bar, from the chaos outside was like stepping through some kind of worm hole, transporting us not only from the storm, but from midtown itself. Sure, this place had the dim light and requisite long, wooden bar, but there's something different about Rattle N Hum. It screams craft beer. No neon Bud Light signs here, no sir. We perched our selves at the far end of the bar, backed by a wall muraled with a who's who of hand painted beer labels. A simple request, and two Fullers' Bengal Lancers appeared. The place is nearly impossible to comprehend, visually—there's something to look at with every dart of the eye—from banner and flags, tap handles and hand written beer lists climbing the walls. A Ballast Point Big IPA for Carrie and a Long Ireland Breakfast Stout for me—along with a few beer spiked chicken and mushroom sliders and an order of loaded fries with curry—and we continued to decompress. When we rolled in a few souls sat at the bar, but slowly beer geeks and girls, businessmen and blue collars filed in. The indy-rock playing when we got there, eventually was drowned out by a cacophony of voices and  laughter. By 6:00 the joint was packed. I've spent a fair amount of time in my life drinking in NYC bars and pubs, but Rattle is different—it's comfortable, like an old pair of shoes—even though I'd never been there. Rattle has a familiarity, an acceptance that sometimes—most of the time—can get misplaced at a big city bar. It's not like I felt as though I could easily become a regular to the place—I didn't have to, it was as if we already were regulars. We capped our time with another Big Eye IPA and a Green Flash Retro Extra Pale Ale—which, truth be told, Carrie was a little underwhelmed by. I made up for that by grabbing two bottles of their West Coast IPA for the train ride back to Albany, and we headed out the door.

I missed Rattle N Hum almost as soon as we left. The walk back to Penn was far less adventurous. The storm had moved away and the sun began peeking back over the skyscrapers. The sky had turned a pinky-blue and all that was left of the torrent was lake-sized puddles. I left New York with a few great beers, a new favorite spot, and a pair of very wet shoes.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Big, Bigger, Biggest

I've just landed back in the Empire State, having spent eight days frolicking in the Palmetto State—much of which was a quite beery. I was however, struck by one rather odd beer distribution anomaly. I've mentioned before that the beer selection in the Myrtle Beach area grocery stores is pretty phenomenal—offering everything from New Belgium to Fullers, Saison du Pont to Saranac—but there's a catch.

Of the nine commercial breweries operating in South Carolina, only one store—the Piggly Wiggly in Surfside Beach—carried product from more than one of them. Walking into almost any grocery store in Albany I'd be sure to find at least three or four New York brewed beers, in some case quite a bit more. During my stay below the Mason-Dixon line, I visited three different stores—Lowes, Food Lion and the aforementioned Wiggliest of Pigglys, in search of South Carolinian beer. Lowes came up dry, Food Lion offered cans of Myrtle Beach's own New South Brewing Company, while the Piggly Wiggly topped the list with beer from both Spartanburg's RJ Rockers Brewing Company and Thomas Creek Brewery of Greenville.

It's great to see markets and groceries embracing beer, but gone now are the days of just macro versus micro. There's now a third layer the macromicros, as oxymoronic as it may be. Breweries like Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams and New Belgium—the 180,000+ barrels, craft breweries—seem to have become the expected craft beer available to the general consumer. In other words those breweries have become known as "the" craft breweries, and their availability in grocery stores reinforces this. Before I go any further, I have to add that I don't think that view is necessarily a bad thing, and I believe that most of these breweries are fantastic and produce great beer. I also have to add that this overshadowing of smaller, local or regional breweries by these larger mid-level breweries isn't being done intentionally by either the grocers or the breweries—It's being proliferated by the three-tier distribution system and it's distributorships. Distributorships are the ultimate bandwagoners, they push what's trendy—remember the ice beers of the mid-1990s. We are on the precipice of a similar era, where "craft" is replacing "ice." I want to see Sierra Nevada at every bar or pub I stop into and I want to be able to grab a twelve pack of Fat Tire at a gas station—but I don't want to do it at the cost of the brewery run by the local guys down the block.

How do we stop this? Some of the onus falls to the grocery stores, and significant number of them have taken a step in the right direction, simply by offering craft beer, However, if they choose to sell craft beer—and by this I mean offer a substantial selection, not just a few six packs—then they should hire beverage managers who have some knowledge of both local and national craft brands. The other responsibility falls to us, the beer lover. Speaking with the store manager or beverage manager increases awareness. If you ask for it, they'll usually get it. The more local beer is asked for, the more you'll start to see it in the coolers and on the shelves of the markets in your town.

To the groceries, bodegas, markets and shops, out there, I say, embrace craft beer. To those out there who already have, I thank you. But, if your going to do it, why not give the little guy a shot, too.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Announcing The Session #66: The One Beer to Rule Them All

Allrighty fellow bloggerinos, get your pencils sharpened and your thinking caps on!

Even though I'm still on vactaion—that's "on holiday" for you UKers—I still have a beery duty to perform. That duty is calling for me to announce the upcoming Session, hosted by yours truly. So here goes:

We all have our favorite brews—even if you say you don't; deep,deep down we all do. From IPAs to Pilsners, Steam Beers to Steinbiers, something out there floats your boat. What if we look that to another level? What if you were to design the perfect brew—a Tolkien-esque One Beer to Rule Them All. The perfect beer for you, personally. Would it be hoppy and dark or strong and light? Is it augmented with exotic ingredients or traditionally crafted? Would your One Beer be a historic recreation or something never before dreamt of? The sky is the limit on this one. If you need to travel back in time to brew at Belgian farm during the 1870s, go right ahead—just say hi to Doc Brown and the Delorean for me. Maybe you'll need to mount a expedition to the treacherous Amazonian rain forest to bring back some chicha, to spike your brew with; or perhaps, you'll just dust off that old Brown Ale homebrew recipe, tweak it a bit, and call it an evening.

I'd suspect that most of you out there probably have a good understanding about the brewing process—but if you don't, no sweat, just wing it. This exercise isn't about making sure you've checked all the right boxes for the BJCP or some homebrew competition. This Session is all about imagining the possibilities—no matter how ridiculous! Feel free to create a recipe, right down to the aplha acid in your hops or conjure up a review just like you'd do for any other beer. However you want to come at this, it's your ultimate beer, your One Beer to Rule Them All!

One small caveat, however, you do need to name your concoction—no imaginary super beer would be complete without some glorified moniker to seal the proverbial deal!

Feel free to leave a note in the comment section when you've posted your contribution—have fun, think big, and I look forward to reading what you come up with for August third! 

Monday, July 9, 2012

This Blog is Interrupting My Vacation!

Not really.

Although, between jaunts to the the beach, stops at ice cream shops, the aquarium, and yes, Medieval Times, I have quaffed a few beery treats—treats, I might add, unavailable in the great state of New York. I think that's one of my favorite parts of traveling south for vacation—the beery discoveries. The grocery stores down here offer a mind boggling selection of brew. It's like Christmas morning strolling into the beer aisle at Lowes, Krogers and (my personal favorite) The Piggly Wiggly—so much new beer and only a week to try it.

On the way down, I grabbed a hoppy sixer of Charlottesville, Virgina's own Northern Lights IPA—brewed by Starr Hill Brewery—while we pit-stopped for the night in the northern suburb of Richmond, Ashland, Virgina. Trust me when I say, a few beers are a necessity while spending the night in a hotel room with a three-year-old and a six-year-old. After making landfall in Conway, South Carolina, at my parents place, the past three days have brought pints of New Belgium Fat Tire at dinners out; bottles of Shiner Heffeweizen while feeding the turtles in my folks pond, with Will; The Rabbit-Duck Amber and Highland Brewing Company St. Terese's Pale Ale while grilling steaks and burgers in the sweltering 100° temps, just the other side of the door at my folks air-conditioned haven.

What will the next five days bring? That remains to be seen, but I suspect it will involve heat, the ocean, southern drawls and unexpected beer—and that's a burden I'm willing to accept! 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Red, White and Brew

Okay, so I've got a little Independence Day challenge for you. Here goes:

Out of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, seven of them brewed beer—either for a living or as a hobby. Who were they?

I can think of three.

Happy Fourth, everybody!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Of Bottles, Sheds and Canadians

I'll be honest, I have no idea if Alan is proposing a "Beer In the Shed 2012 Festival" or not. However, my post about the "Beer In the Shed 2011 Festival" appeared exactly one year ago today. Yesterday also happened to be Canada Day, so I decided to snap (do digital cameras "snap" anymore?) a pic of the growing beer bottle collection in my garage (the closest thing I have to a shed) as an homage to my Canadian brethren and his storage unit. "Collection," though, might be a bit of a stretch. It appears that there are only four bottles, but actually, there are six—you can just make out Blue Point's Hoptical Illusion peaking from behind the Bell's and the apple green label of a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is reflected in that bottle, as well. The garage is evident. Thinking back on this whole endeavor, I have to ask—to what depths have I sunk that I now take photographs of empty beer bottles left on roofing shingles in my garage.    

In any case, drink up garage/shed owners—today is your day.