Monday, July 29, 2013

Pilsner Problems

I'm wrong. A lot.

It's a fairly common occurrence , especially if you ask my wife. Not, just here at drinkdrank, either—all the time, everyday—at the grocery store, picking-up the kids, you name it, chances are I'm wrong.

In my own defense, though, I don't have a fact checker working for me, like a major men's magazine might. A men's magazine like, say, GQ. So, when I read something like this:
Pilsner was born into dark days for beer. In the late nineteenth century, brewing was still a rough art and beers were, on the whole brown, smoky, and thick as curdled milk—gut-busting liquid bread, hearty fuel in an age when breakfast for most was a bowl of beer soup.
I say to myself, okay, that

A little background on this might help a bit. It comes from William Bostwick and was written for GQ's Beer School column. The good mister Bostwick is expounding the virtue of pilsner—specifically Firestone Walker's new offering, Pivo. That's great, I'm sure it's fantastic, most FW stuff is. It's just that he seems to have taken some liberties with the history. Aside from stating that Pilsner was born in the 'late' 19th-century (Pilsner's birthday is October 5, 1842—not so 'late'), and that brewing in that century was 'a rough art' (British breweries produced million and millions of barrels of beer during the 19th-century, so maybe not that 'rough'), the author later asserts that Pilsner was invented because British brewers began light-toasting their malt, and then Continental brewers began making something imitating IPA and Bitter. The Brits may have influenced Bohemain malting techniques, but I don't think I'd go as far as to say Pilsner was invented to imitate IPA.

The author has also submitted, for our disapproval, a link to his own website, showing a 19th-century/early 20th-century, anti-temperance ad which states 'Against Prohibition - Lager’s amber fluid mild, gives health and strength to wife and child.' That would be fine if there was some mention of Pilsner, not simply, generic amber lager—which Pilsner is not. 19th-century American Amber Lager would be more akin to Yeungling than Pilsner Urquell.

A lot—not all, though—of this confusion, could have been easily cleared up if he would have just added the words 'Bohemia' or 'Bavaria', or just simply 'German', occasionally... Pilsner was born into dark days for German beer... Bavarian brewing was still a rough art and beers were, on the whole brown, smoky and thick... Many German breweries were technologically behind the Belgians and Brits—and Prussians for that matter—but that's an important thing to include. Otherwise the reader assumes that all 19th-century brewing was pre-industrial, for lack of a better term.

There's one other issue.

Bostwick is seeming to imply that Firestone Walker Pivo is the first 'craft' Pilsner. Samuel Adams Nobel Pils, North Coast Scrimshaw, Sierra Nevada Summerfest and the Crisp from Sixpoint, might not agree.

So, am I wrong?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Albany Ale: On Broadway

I love the little, inconsequential discoveries about Albany Ale. The little mentions of it in the work-a-day world of the 19th century. Newspaper ads and clippings are cool, and city directories are neat, but Brian Welch, out new friend in Boston may have unearthed my new favorite. 

At first glance, this sheet appears to be like hundreds of thousands of broadsides printed in the 19th-century to advertise plays, musicals and minstrel shows performed in New York City. This one, from September 23, 1872, came from The Theater Comique—a playhouse on Broadway, between Spring and Broome Streets. It list fairly common place stuff—listing the shows playing that week, the actors, and brief descriptions of the scenes. But, take a look at Scene 3, under the header CASH OR, THE WAY OF THE WORLD.

I have no idea what this play is about—and I'm not finding much history on it—but it seems like there was a scene in a bar and the merits of Albany Ale were compared to those of Newark Lager Bier. Newark, New Jersey, like Albany and Philadelphia, was also one of the U.S's mid-19th-century brewing centers. 1872 is the beginning of the end for Albany Ale. The transcontinental railroad had connected the east and west coast and Albany's monopoly on distribution was weakening and the popularity of its hometown brew was waning. However, it appears that it still was in the minds of theater goers on the Great White Way. The old girl wasn't dead yet.

Truthfully, the broadsheet is pretty insignificant—other than the cool factor. What's more important in my mind, is that the Albany Ale Project is becoming a true collaboration. We're moving past the "old days" of just Alan and myself satisfying our own curiosity, to a full-fledged exchange of ideas. People from all over the U.S.—and the world for that matter—are contributing to the project. From Ron Pattinson in the Netherlands, to Jess Kidden in Newark, NJ and now Brian in Boston, the research is expanding and the holes in the history are slowly closing. With Ryan and Neil at the C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station, and Roger at the Homebrew Emporium on board, the re-creation aspect of the Project is really beginning to take shape, as well.

Needless to say, cool things are happening with the Project.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Take Me Out

Over the past three weeks I've been to three professional baseball games. From the highest level—the Major League New York Mets—to the lowest level—our local, single-A team the Tri-city Valley Cats—with Myrtle Beach's ball team, the Pelicans, thrown in for good measure. All three ballparks had some really great beer on hand, as well. At CitiField in New York I drank Brooklyn and Sixpoint, in South Carolina it was New South and Foothills, and up here, Troy, New York's own Brown's Brewing Company.

Baseball and beer, as I think any fan will attest, go together like peas and carrots. Most of the time it's great—like New South growing hops at the the Pelican's ball park. Other times it's not so great—like the riots that broke out, in large part, due to the decision sell 10 cent beer at a June, 1974 Cleveland Indians game. Generally though, and in my recent experience, baseball and beer have had a fairly jovial relationship.

With all my recent exposure to baseball, I was going to ask, "what's the best baseball beer?" but, in thinking about that question I realized it's not about the style of beer, it's more about where the beer is from. For me, the best baseball beer is local beer. There's a comradery—a relate-ability—that both baseball and beer share. Baseball in the United States is, and always has been, a local experience—especially minor league baseball. Beer isn't that far off. Well before the era of craft beer, regional breweries in the U.S. cultivated loyal drinkers. At one point during the mid-20th century, almost every town across the country, had a regional brewery—or one close enough by, that could be adopted—not unlike baseball teams, both minor and major, that dotted the same map. Every town had its team, and every town had its beer. While many of those regional breweries—and ball teams for that matter—have gone the way of the dodo, baseball and it's connection to beer still thrives. As long as kids keep having a catch in the backyard, and as long a breweries keep making great, local beer, there will always be beer and baseball.

On a personal note, a warm summer evening at the ball park—with the kids and Amy—hotdogs, peanuts and a 16 ounce plastic cup of Valley Cat Ale, is about as perfect a time, as could be spent.

Play ball. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Odds and Ends

It's been a busy week at drinkdrank HQ.

First off you might have noticed (or probably not) that the site was down yesterday. That's because we have a brand new URL—we are now officially! The old address——still works, but it will redirect you to the new, and soooo much more fashionable .com version.

Same crappy content—fancy new TLD.

Next up, I have a few speaking engagements coming up. The first is at the Rensselaerville Library's Festival of Writers, on Sunday August 18th, from 4 to 7pm. I'll be part of the Festival's beer pairing stammisch—a multi-course meal served family style. I'm not much of a beer and food pair-er so local beer blogger and cicerone Kevin Burns of the Foaming and Executive Chef of the Palmer House Cafe, Micah Kuhar, will be there to keep me from looking dopey. If that's at all possible.  Tickets are $50.00 or $35.00 for designated drivers.

Two days later, on the 20th, The University Club of Albany has asked me to speak about Albany's brewing history, at their 'Hops and History: Albany’s Brewing Tradition' event. They are also planning a tasting—which I have to say I think is really cool, and quite an honor—based on my post of the seven beers that shaped New York brewing. This one starts at 5:30 pm. Tickets are $20 and reservations can be made by calling (518) 463-1151. 

By the way, the site on which the University Club's current building stands was once the home of George Amsdell co-owner of Amsdell Brothers Brewing Company. The current building was built after a fire destroyed the Amsdell home in the early 1920s. 

How's that for coincidentally cool?

A few months ago I was contacted by Olivia Abel of Hudson Valley Magazine. They were planning their first ever beer issue and asked if I would do an interview with Emma Roellke about Albany's brewing history. The results were spectacular! I just got my digital copy (and so can you) and it's chock full, not only of Albany Ale stuff but features on beer bars, breweries, brewers and hops from up and down the Hudson River. If you want to know what's going on in the Hudson Valley beer scene—get this issue of Hudson Valley Magazine! 

The first recreation of beers from Albany's past is well under way. Alan and I have been furiously emailing back and forth with Ryan, the head brewer at C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station, and Roger Savoy, owner of the Homebrew Emporium. It looks like we're heading for an early November release, and there's plans in the works for an event or two to coincide with that

All the grain has been sourced (all from New York, by the way) we may even roast our own black malt, and if anybody has any, say, Helderberg hops (I'm talking to you, Dieter), or New York grown English Cluster, Pompey or Humphrey hops (the older and cheesier, the better) they are looking to get rid of, let us know! For all y'all home brewers out there, keep an eye out for The Homebrew Emporium's quarterly newsletter—the recipe for the same historic beer C.H. Evan's is going to make will be released in a scaled down home brew version.

Finally, speaking of Alan, we now have not one, but two Albany Ale writing projects going—one long form and one short form. The short one should be out before the long one—but you how those things go. We'll keep everybody up to date on the status of those, as well.

Anything, else? No?

Looks like I have a bit of work to do. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Observations In a Grocery Store

I am officially back from the land of cotton, and the beery adventures were abound. Not the least of which was catching a Myrtle Beach Pelicans baseball game, whilst sipping on a Pelican Summer Tide Ale, made with hops grown at the ballpark. That takes the marriage of beer and America's past time to a whole new level.

South Carolina—and the southeastern U.S. in general—is embracing beer. The ball park is just one example of that. Breweries are popping up across the state and the old southern stand-bys and NASCAR favs of Bud, Miller and Coors are increasingly having to share space in tap towers with New Belgium and Bells. All five of the large supermarket chains in Myrtle Beach—Food Lion, Bi-Lo, Krogers, Lowes Foods and Piggly Wiggly—offer a diverse selection of both macro and micro brews—the later two also have a make-your-own-six-pack options. Gas stations are also jumping on the craft beer bandwagon as well. Craft beer is making inroads in South Carolina.

just some of the single bottles available
at the Market Commons Piggly Wiggly.
Photo courtesy of
The Piggly Wiggly at the Market Commons—a pre-fab, shopping and residential "town" just this side of the Myrtle Beach airport—has THE BEST BEER AREA IN A GROCERY STORE I HAVE EVER SEEN. Do you get my meaning? Seriously, it's amazing—sorry Wegman's, it's got you beat. When was the last time you've seen Chimay (red, blue and gold); nearly the entire Southern Tier Blackwater series; St Bernardus Abt 12, Pater and Triple; Stone stuff out the wahzoo, New Holland's Hatter Family; and the following, just up on tap at the growler fill-up:

• Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu
• Westbrook Capt'N Skoons Wench Wild Peach Ale
• New Holland Black Tulip Tripel
• Stone Espresso Russian Imperial Stout
• Avery Twenty Anniversary DBL IPA
• and Founders Devil Dancer Triple IPA

All in a place where you can also buy baloney and band-aides.

I'm a big fan of the make-your-own option. In fact, that's how I buy most of my beer nowadays, so I was glad to see it at not one, but two of the grocery chains in Myrtle Beach. I did notice something that was a little disturbing, though. None of the beers I've mentioned are made in South Carolina. This is not to say that these places didn't sell South Carolina beer, they do, just not by the single bottle. South Carolina has five breweries that bottle or can their brew—RJ Rockers, New South, Thomas Creek, Westbrook and Coast—and yet New York was better represented in the single bottle, 12 ounce or 22 ounce offerings. Up here, in Albany, Price Chopper—where I do my grocery shopping—offers beer from eight New York State breweries in 12 ounce single bottles, and four more in the larger size. At Lowes Foods in Surfside Beach, Michelob Ultra and Miller 64 are offered in singles bottles, but not any of the local breweries. What's the point of that? Mixing a six pack of those two beers would be three dollars more than just buying a six of one or the other.

I don't get the exclusion of the locals. Perhaps I'm unique in my perspective, but I like trying local beer, and being able to make a sixer is perfect for that. Since Myrtle Beach gets a million visitors a week between June and September, wouldn't it make sense to push the local product rather than Dog Fish Head or Fantome?  I can get Brooklyn Local 1 in Albany, but I can't get White Thai from South Carolina's Westbrook Brewing Company. Price Chopper will have Stone Ruination, but they won't have New South stuff. In an even more unusual twist, Piggly Wiggly contracts Thomas Creek to brew their own brand of craft beer Pig Swig—an Amber Ale and a Pilsner—but neither of those beers were available as single bottles, either.

What's really ironic is that Piggly Wiggly's new tag line is 'Local Since Forever.'

Friday, July 5, 2013

I'm Out

Golf courses and cool ocean breezes call—and of course beer unavailable in New York.

I'll be taking a short hiatus until the 15th.

See ya' then. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Albany Ale: Disappointment Is My Only Friend

Remember this? It's a lie.
Have you ever been sure of something?

I mean deep-down-into-the-bowels-of-your-very-being, sure of something? The kind of sure of something, that when it falls apart you feel like a guy on America's Funniest Videos getting wham-oed in the gonads during a pinata mishap.

Tonight, the U-Haul building in Albany whamo-ed me in the gonads. Hard.

You see, I was convinced that the blocky building on the yellowed, Albany city directory advert from 1857, just had to be the same as the blocky, multi-colored building with the U-Haul truck on its roof.

J.W. Hill ruins everything.
I was so confident that I had a whole post written about it. A post that delved into my own history—a reminiscence of my childhood—of zipping down I-787 and seeing, for the first time, the brightly colored box with the truck perched on its roof, like a bumblebee about to land on a flower. I had proof, too. The Sanborn insurance maps from 1892, 1908, 34' and 51'. Each year the building was there—square and proud and true. I've also seen the John William Hill lithograph of Albany from the early 1850s that clearly shows the Taylor brewery on the far left of the print, looking just like the current building.

Wait a minute, that building doesn't look anything like the U-Haul building...


I was going to tell you that by 1850, John Taylor had been brewing in Albany for nearly 20 years. Taylor's business, like many others in the city, had boomed because of the Erie Canal. By the late 1840s it had become apparent that Taylor's Green Street brewery was not able to meet demand at 40 to 50,000 barrels per year. It was time to expand, and expand he did. In 1851 Taylor would open a new brewery at Arch Street and Broadway—John Taylor & Sons Brewery—a brewery capable of producing 200,000 barrels of beer a year—which made it the largest in the United States, at the time.

The main brewery building housed—among other brewing apparatus—365 cedar "pontoons" capable of clearing 2,600 barrels of ale (for more on that, check out Martyn's post on the Taylor pontoons.) This building—as well as a seven-story storage building, a malt house, a steam-aided cooperage, main office and a 10,000 volume library—sat on a two acre lot with direct access to the Hudson River. In fact, the brewery had elevators to move grain directly off boats moored on the pier below the brewery.

By the Civil War the brewery was using pressurized kettles capable of boiling 600 to 1000 barrels of wort—a technology that was cutting edge in the mid-1860s. The brewery employed 200 people and provided half-salaries to the families of those men under its employment who chose to enlist in the Union Army, while also promising employment upon their return. It wasn't all pleasant on the riverfront, however. In June of 1863 rioting dockworkers ransacked the building, sending brewery workers fleeing for their lives and causing thousands of dollars of damage. Then, in September of that same year, the patriarch of the brewery died. Things didn't go all that smoothly from that point on, for the newly dubbed John Taylor's Sons Brewery.

By 1870 all four of Taylor's sons—John, Edmund, Joseph and William—had also passed. In 1871 the brewery was sold to extended family members, and in 1887 the brewery would change hands again, and was renamed the Taylor Brewing and Malting Company, and operated under that name until it's closure in 1905. By 1908 the facility was no longer being used as a brewery. A number of business operated in the complex afterwards—from refrigeration and ice to a bottling facility—but the main building was held vacant by the new owners.

That's all true—and everything would have been hunky-dory had the Albany Hardware & Iron Company not come along in the early 1920s and torn down the defunct brewery, and built a new "fire-proof" building in its place. Stupid new building.

So, in the end I was wrong—and you'd think I'd be used to that, by now. But, as a matter of self-condolence, at least Alan was wrong, too.