Monday, September 30, 2013

I've Got a Bridge I'd Like to Sell You

I understand that in niche hobbies there's a fringe element that fosters the extremophile. The-one-of-a-kind, oldest, fastest, biggest, crispest sound, sharpest picture, he-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins mentality rears its head in all sorts of ways with this lot—and beer is no exception. Such is the way of many fanboys, fanatics, enthusiasts and aficionados.

Okay, $2000 bucks for the beer,
and I'll throw in the bridge.
This past Wednesday, Portland, Oregon's Hair of the Dog Brewery released twelve bottles (all that was made, actually) of its 19-years-in-the-making, 29% ABV Barley-wine, behemoth, named "Dave". The doors opened at the brewery just before noon and all twelve bottles were sold by 4:30 that afternoon. It's a bit gimmicky, but I've said before that I have no problem with gimmicks. Wind gonna blow, birds gonna sing and breweries are going to do whatever they can to sell beer. I can accept that.

As far as gimmicks go, this one isn't too bad, either. Hair of the Dog actually had something interesting going on with Dave. They used an Eisbock approach to jack up the ABV—by partially freezing the brew, and removing the water it concentrates the alcohol content. Then they let it age for nearly two decades. I can get behind that. Sounds better than bull testicle beer—and according to Anita Hamilton's article at's New Feed, someone seems to think it's pretty good, too.

Okay so, that's cool. Did I mention that those twelve, 12.7 ounce bottles of Dave sold for $2000. Each. 






Are those people out of their goddamn mind? Seriously, somebody spent more money on a single beer than I did on my first car. I can't blame Hair of the Dog, either. If they can get a bunch of suckers to drop two large on a bottle of beer, more power to em'. I have a whole bunch of useless shit I'd love to sell for that much money. Stuff way more useful than beer—like a Craftsman table saw from the mid 1970s in my garage. That's old, it's gotta be worth $2000, right? You drink the beer, it's gone. The table saw will give you years of wood-working enjoyment.

Let's really put this into perspective. 

According to, the average 2007 sale price for a human kidney in the Philippines (where it's legal to sell your organs) was $3,000.

Plus, the kidney wouldn't be 19 years old. Hopefully.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Beer Quote of the Week

"One camper who reportedly spoke with the affected campers told ABC that the pig got into 18 beers, ransacked the campsite's garbage bins and got into a fight with a cow."

I can't do this justice. Read more here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Your Body and You

The human body is a veritable playground for microorganisms. From your skin to your eyes, bacteria and fungi call you home. Every nook and cranny you've got—if you can see it or not—is home too these little buggers. However, like most cities, some places are less safe to live than others. The stomach is one of those places. The stomach produces acid to help digest food, and because of that highly acidic environment, only a select group of microbes can live there. Organisms like Streptococcus, Staphylococcus and some types of yeast.

Yeast, you say? Any particular yeast?

One, in particular, that you may have heard of—Saccharomyces cerevisiae—Brewer's yeast.

So, what would happen if one had an inordinate level of brewer's yeast in one's gut, and then one ate something high in carbohydrates, like pasta? Spontaneous fermentation?

Nah, that couldn't happen. Could it?

Well, yes.

Just ask the Texas man who suffers from Auto-Brewery Syndrome. According to both NPR and CBS News, the 61-year old arrived at his local emergency room with a blood alcohol level of .037%—almost 5 times the legal driving limit—without drinking a drop. Obviously, the ER docs were skeptical, but, it turns out it was true. Drunk without drinking. It wasn't a one time event, either. His drunken spells had become such a regular occurence that his wife, a nurse, bought a Breathalyzer, to be on the safe side. After years of spontaneously getting drunk, doctors recently determined—and published a report in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine—that antibiotics given in 2003, after surgery to fix a a broken foot, may have killed off the good bacteria in the man's gut, and was naturally replaced by Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Carbohydrates and starches, or foods high in sugar, would get broken down by his stomach acid, and then rather than get absorbed into his bloodstream, fermented.

Viola. Drunk after church.

ABS is pretty dangerous for obvious reasons. Run to the store for milk and the next thing you know Johnny Law has pulled you over for driving on the wrong side of the road. Not to mention that your body is basically poisoning itself. It is however, a rare condition—and when I say rare I mean like shark attack win the lottery on the same day rare. Only a handful of cases, world-wide, have been reported since the 1970s. The cure is pretty simple too, a low-carb diet and anti-fungal medication.

The next time you checking your beer belly out in the mirror, keep this post in mind. It could be worse, it could be a real beer belly.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Save the, uh, Lager

I'm not much of a petition guy. Truthfully I've never seen them doing much good. Think about it—they usually pop up as some grass roots movement—after the fact—and go nowhere. Usually, one big company, moves in on a little company (or bunch of little companies) and bullies them out; or tears something down; or tries to build something ugly. Then people get all up upset, and collect a thousand signatures in the name of stopping the injustice; or saving the trees; or protecting the furry woolly bat.

Then, nothing happens.

The megaconglom box store opens, or the old fire house gets tore down, and the furry woolly bat goes extinct.

So, like I said I'm not a petition guy.

Until now.

Anheuser-Busch might kick Old Style out of Wrigley Field in Chicago.

C'mon guys! Really? Old Style has been the un-official, official beer of the Cubbies since 1950. Old Style and the Cubs go together like, well, like the Cubs and not winning a National League Pennant since 1945. Harry Caray, ivy covered outfield walls, rooftop seats, "Let's play two", and Old Style all are synonymous of the Cubs and Wrigley.

It's not a done deal though. Crain's, the Chicago-centric business website is reporting that the new marketing contract that AB, the Cubs and Levy Restaurants (the company that runs concessions at Wrigley) have entered into, gives AB some say as to what beer is sold in the historic ball park—but not exclusive rights.

You might ask what an Albany, New York guy, and a rather devoted New York Mets (albeit often disappointed) fan, cares about beer in Chicago? I have a soft spot for both the Cubbies and Old Style. I was born in Arlington Heights and lived for ten years in Elk Grove, Illinois —just a hop, skip and a jump from Wrigley.

So what's being done about this potentially heinous act? Pabst Brewing Co., who owns Old Style, has started their own grass roots effort to keep Wrigley "Old" (I just made the up—they should use that.) Using social media and creating a website petition at, Pabst hopes to garner enough support from Cubs fans to convince Levy Restaurants, and the Cubs to keep he red and white canned favorite under the new AB agreement.

So, just this once I might make an exception to my anti-petition stance. Fuck saving the whales or ousting a politician—a regional beer, sold at a ball park 1,500 miles away from me, might be in jeopardy.

That last bit wasn't very convincing, was it?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Albany Ale: Was it Last Tuesday, or 1901?

Last Tuesday was a special day.

It was a day that's been coming for quite a while—a special brew day. I'm not talking about brewing up some average IPA or Brown Ale. I'm talking about brewing  a version of Amsdell Brewing and Malting Company's 1901 Albany XX Ale.

Yeah, that's right. 1901 Albany XX Ale.

I've mentioned that Ryan Demler from C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station,  and the Albany Ale Project—Alan, myself, and a whole bunch of you out there—have been working on recreating some beers from Albany's past, and this past Tuesday was our first go at it.

Now, I do have to clarify a bit. The beer that Amsdell made back in 1901—their Albany XX Ale—isn't the Albany Ale from the 1850s and 60s that garnered fame for its namesake city. Although the earlier and latter beer share the Albany Ale name, the beer Amsdell made in 1901—and the one we recreated—is more like a grandchild to the beers that caused the Albany Ale phenomenon 50 years earlier. As a matter of fact, this version of Albany Ale was last beer to be made with that name. Similar, but with some differences.

So, why not create the famous Albany Ale of the earlier period first? Because, the later beer was the path of least resistance—we have a recipe (a lot of recipes, actually—from 1900 to 1905, thanks to the brewing logs held by the Albany Institute of History & Art).

Like I said, the earlier 19th-century beer and the later 1901 beer did share some similarities, like the use of adjunct sugar—honey in the older one, glucose and invert in the younger—and then there's a connection in strength. Not their ABV per say, but their position on the strength scale—the second, or XX spot—in their brewer's line-up. That double strength characteristic, in fact, harkens all the way back to Matthew Vassar's Double Ale brews of the 1830s. The beers did have some differences as well. The older beer was far less attenuated, and used more hops—the older beer used about twice as many hops, but that might be explained because it was common for mid-19th century brewers to use older, less potent hops—waste not want not. Beer evolves—then and now. So, again think of the grandparent/grandchild relationship rather than Amsdell's 1901 brew being a clone of an earlier Albany Ale brew.

Back to the brew day. Although we adapted Amsdell's original recipe slightly for a modern brew pub's brewing facility, Ryan stayed true to form. He used floor malted, American 6-row barley, homemade invert sugar, and even roasted the black malt himself. We also did a cereal mash of corn grits—just as Amsdell would have done—rather than using the much easier flaked maize. The hops were all New York grown heritage hops from a variety of growers in the state—Helderberg Hop Farm, in Voorheesville, New York; Dutch Barn Farm in Stone Arabia, New York and blogger Will Nolin of The Perfect  Pint, out near Syracuse. The hops themselves are of the Cluster variety, most likely English Cluster, Humphrey or Pompey hops—all varieties known to have been grown at the turn-of-the-century in New York.

I think Ryan would agree, it went better than we both expected. The cereal mash got a little tricky. Ryan used his kettle for the grits and then we transferred it back into the mash tun, where the 6-row was waiting. We ended up bucket brigade-ing a good bit of it too. The invert siezed-up nicely as well, but nothing that a hot bath couldn't fix. A whole bunch of hours later and the first Albany Ale to be brewed in Albany since the turn-of-the-century (the last one, not 2001) was in the fermenter.

We're looking at an early November release and a few related events are planned around then, as well—more on those a little later. The Pump Station will—obviously—have it on, and hopefully, some of the other bars and restaurants around the Capital District will too.

What if you can't make it to Albany?

No fears, dear reader, we've thought of that, too. The Albany Ale Project, along with C.H. Evans is also partnering with the good folks at the Homebrew Emporium. They been so kind as to create a home brew-able version of the same recreated 1901 brew that Ryan made! One of the events I can tell you about, is the one happening on November 10th at the Pump Station. Come down at 4 pm and see how your home brewed version of the 1901 Albany XX Ale stacks up to Ryan's in a blind tasting!    

If you're new to this Albany Ale thing, check out for the skinny on the history of brewing in the city of Albany, New York (brewery histories are coming soon!) and for more pics of the brew day check out the Albany Ale Project's Facebook page!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Up On the Roof

Back in the fall of 1989, fifteen year old me got drunk for the first time. Not just drunk, wasted. Hammered. Totall–effing–blottoed. This wasn't the first time I’d drunk beer, but it was the first time I saw what I had drunk, come back up the way it went down. My parents, and their neighbor friends went to New York City for the weekend. Their sons, Andy and Craig (ooh this is going to get confusing) and I were left to our own devices. By devises I mean Craig, a senior, was off to a wicked cool senior party and Andy—the freshman—and I—a sophomore—did not.

The elder brother however, did not leave us hanging. He produced twelve pristine cans of Meister Brau, for the low, low price of twenty American dollars—a bargain at any price. Okay, maybe not that price. Needless to say, after that the rest of the evening was bit of a blur.

In any case, my hangover would eventually subside, I would graduate high school, go to college, drink much, much more beer, and begin my life—as did Craig. My folks still kept in contact with his, but he and I lost touch. That is until like everyone else—everywhere—we bumped into each other on Facebook. What had Craig been up to over the last twenty plus years? First a law degree, then a move to Seattle, Washington and—oh yeah—he just opened a nano brewery in August. 

The guy who got me drunk, for the very first time—24 years ago—now owns a brewery. The more things change the more they stay the same, I suppose. A few messages on Facebook answered all my questions.

Craig wrote the whole thing started with his home brewed recipe for  coffee porter. Befriending a coffee shop owner (there might be one or two of those in Seattle) Sean, he made a porter that used the shop's cold-pressed brew and it was a success. So successful in fact, that Sean kept asking him to make the porter—and even wanted to sell it himself. Even after Sean sold the business, the new owner, Prash, began asking Craig to make it for her to sell. 

So that's when the brewery opened, right? Nope.

It took Craig years to embrace the idea of opening a brewery. That is until last summer, when he and his wife Jess agreed that it was time for him to leave the big-firm attorney biz for the beer biz. After leaving his position at his law firm for a solo-law practice, and then partnering with Jess, his buddy Parker, Parker's wife Angela (a beer marketer—so, that helps), and another buddy, Tyson, they opened a single BBL nano brewery and named it Rooftop Brewing Co.

Craig says there's a zen philosophy behind the name Rooftop, too. He wrote, "A few years ago, I decided to tear the roof off of my Tudor A-frame house in order to take advantage of a killer view that could not be seen anywhere else in the house. None of my friends thought I would actually do it, but I did...None of them thought I would quit a big-firm attorney position to open a brewery. But I did." He knows that they'll succeed, simply if they put their minds to it.

So what about the beer? Anything is up for grabs—all styles and techniques—as long as it's done thoughtfully. This week alone they have six beers available at there tasting room on Dravus Street—an IPA, a Wit, their signature Makeda Coffee Porter, a Rainier Cherry Kriek, a gluten-free Apple Brew and "Willing and Abel"— a rye beer made with Tazmanian Pepperberries and Australian and New Zealand hops. Speaking of their tasting room, Craig says their customers are neighborhood folks—a steady group of regulars—and beer geeks, coming from across the city seeking out new brews. On any given night he says, it's a combination of both.

Right now Rooftop's beer is being sold on-premise only, but they do want to expand. Craig says they realize the limitations of a small brewing system, and eventually want grow and distribute across greater Seattle, but at the same time they still want the tasting room to be a neighborhood bar. He wrote, “We are slow-building our brand and already have a devoted group of customers who love our beers. We want to always make them happy and give them a place to come and drink our beers. So the goal is to have a bit of both worlds—a small neighborhood tasting room/bar that locals can claim as their own— but at the same time, continue to grow our brand and distribution to a point where Rooftop beer is available all over. It will take time, but I think we are off to a good start!”

A good start indeed, and he's convinced me.

If you're in Seattle any time in the near future, stop by Rooftop. The tasting room is at 6 Dravus Street, and it's open Thursdays from 5 to 9pm, and Fridays from 5 to 10pm. Check out what they've got for you to try at, and on Facebook, too.

Oh, if you do stop by, let Craig know that he still owes me the change from that twenty he used to buy the twelve pack.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Raising a Pint to Boston Lager

So Jim Koch is officially a billionaire.

Koch once commented on the Boston Beer Company's success at becoming the largest craft brewery in the country. He likened the success to being the tallest pygmy in the room. Although with the announcement that Samuel Adams stock (NYSE: SAM) was selling at above the $224 mark last week, it makes you wonder what kind of private jet that pygmy owns?

For all the posturing and assuring that he, and Samuel Adams, aren't one of the big boys—but kinda are—I still have to say, I think they do a pretty good job. Boston Beer Company (which includes the brands Samuel Adams, Angry Orchard, Twisted Tea and most recently—under the Boston Beer Company subsidiary Alchemy & Science—Coney Island) runs a fine line between marketing and a solid product. Koch may come off as a bit of a zealot in his TV and radio spots for Samuel Adams, and not all of Boston Beer Company's 70+ products may astound or amaze you (although most are quite good, and well made) but the one that started it all, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, still stands the test of time.

Boston Lager is truly a phenomenon. You can walk into almost any bar, pub or restaurant in the U.S. today and find it—be it bottle or draft. There aren't really any other craft beers you can say that about. That craft bit is pretty important, too—because it's still craft. I'm not just talking about the "legal" definition of craft, either. Your barrel pear year capacity or the revenue you generate is irrelevant to the quality of beer you make.

Boston Beer Company may be getting bigger everyday, Jim Koch might be a billionaire pygmy, and all those Boston Beer Company stockholders might be getting rich, but what really matters—at least to me—is that Boston Lager is still a pretty good beer.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Albany Ale: Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble*

I have a totally unsubstantiated theory.

Okay, maybe it's not a true "theory".

It's more like a series of questions that are leading me to a certain conclusion. Re-phrasing it that way may keep me out of trouble in the long run. Don't get me wrong, I could be (could be? Don't you mean most likely are.) off base—but hear me out.

A few weeks ago, after my talk at the University Club, I was given a book—American Breweries II, by Dale Van Wieren (thanks to John Ewashko, for that, by the way). How this tome slipped by me, I'll never know, but it is something special. My guess is that a good number of you know why. It lists nearly every brewery in the United States, from… well… from forever, up until the mid-1990s. It's chock full of breweries listed by State, City, address, and operating dates. Thousands and thousands of breweries, all categorized into "families" by location, regardless of owner or operator, from the 17th century to the late 20th century.

Ron Pattinson may be heard uttering the phrase "Data, glorious data" as you read this.

So what was I going to do with all this lovely data? What everyone should do—make a graph. But, what to graph? How about one showing the number of breweries operating in Albany in any given ten year period from 1800 to 1920? Let's throw Albany's little brother, Troy in the mix, too. Now, how about if we compare that data with other areas in New York Sate over the same period? 

Before I go any further, I need to step back and set some guidelines.

For this exercise, I'm going to pretend that anything south of the Harlem River belongs to New Jersey. The hot mess that is the history of New York City, is too big a bite for me to take right now. The "City" is—and was—its own entity that operates with little regard for the rest on the state, so I at this point, I'm leaving it alone.

So if not NYC, then who? I've decided to look at the areas in New York that had populations of 100,000 or more, by 1920. Those areas are Albany/Troy, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo—sorry Utica. I've included Troy with Albany, not only because of their close ties with each others brewing history, but also because of their proximity to one another. Speaking of location, I've also include some of the "outskirts" for some of these areas; like Cohoes and Lansingburgh in the Albany/Troy area, and Amherst and Tonawanda near Buffalo. My caveat, however, is that those outskirts must be within ten miles of the larger, target area—sorry Schenectady.

So, with all the criteria set, what have we come up with?

Well look at that.

Here's what I see: Stability versus instability. Albany and Troy seem to have had a fairly stable brewing industry, throughout the 120 year span. Neither city shows a significant spike—that being rapid growth, followed by a somewhat significant decline in their breweries. Albany had a rise early in the century and both cities rose significantly during the 1860s, but there no big ups-and-downs. Syracuse, likewise, was stable, but later in the century. That can't be said for the two western most cities. Both, especially Rochester, have a rapid rise followed by a drop.

Looking at the cities individually, we see that the height of brewing for all the cities falls between 1860 and 1880. Albany peaks first in the 1860s, followed by Troy, Rochester and Buffalo in the 1870s, and lastly, Syracuse in the 1880s. What's interesting is that all of the areas—with the exception of Syracuse—experience some level of decline between 1880 and 90. A decline that continues for everyone until national prohibition in 1920. Albany lost 11 breweries, and Troy lost four—from their heights in the 1860s and 70s, to their biggest decline in the 1890s. Buffalo lost 15 breweries from its height in the 1870s to its deepest decline in the 1890s. Rochester won at losing, with 17 breweries lost from its peak in the 1870s to its sharpest decline—a mere ten years later—in the 1880s. Each area, would continue to lose, on average, seven to eight breweries, until the start of prohibition. It's also worth noting that this isn't an ale versus lager phenomenon. The graph charts breweries in operation—not what those breweries made.

Now, you may be saying to yourself at this point, that the obvious reason for the rapid rises in brewery numbers in Rochester and Buffalo is rapid population increases—and you'd be right. Partly. Albany and Troy never had a significant population boom during the19th century. Their populations increased steadily over the 120 year period, and their breweries were established early-on, growing into rather large facilities—perhaps capable of meeting demand with fewer numbers. Their decline begins as competition increases. Syracuse, on the other hand, did experience a population boom. One that was slightly later, in the 1890s, than its more western counterparts. Its arc indicates what one might expect, slow, but steady brewery growth, and rise, plateau and a mild decline. Rochester and Buffalo see their booms mid-century, and yes, like Syracuse, both cities see a rise in the number of breweries that coincides with their population increases. However, the booms explain the rises, not the falls. If both cities had consistent population increases, shouldn't they have had arcs more in line with Syracuse?

You might also be inclined to think that amalgamation and consolidation may be at play. And yes, there definitely larger breweries buying smaller breweries, but, the data source does take that into consideration. As was mention previously, the listings are set into "families" by location. So if a brewery was sold and renamed, but continued to operate at the same location, it's accounted for.

Granted, expansion of what would become the very large the midwestern breweries, at around the same time played into the decline of New York breweries, and interestingly, an email from Jess Kidden—about hops—brings up another correlation. According to a number of sources, New York hops production peaks in 1880, with the state supplying about 80% of the nations hop crop. By the 1890s, that percentage had dropped to around 50%. 

So what was going on, down the Erie Canal? 

Remember those "questions" I mentioned at the beginning? Here they are.

Could there have been an unsustainable 19th century beer bubble—especially in western New York— during the 1870s, that popped in the 1890s? Was it simply demand and population increase that brought about the numbers of breweries opening in western New York—or could there have been some beery speculation? Did the success of the brewing industry, earlier in the century, in Albany and Troy, and an influx of a beer a drinking population into western New York, fuel the fire for this speculation?

Alan—in a response from to an email I sent him earlier this week on this topic—brought up another good point. While these western New York towns were booming, other frontier areas were also expanding, and yet that might have gone a bit unnoticed by those Rochester and Buffalo brewery owners. Alan wrote:
There is going to be an expectation that the business model will hold, be stable. So as each city becomes supplier to the western frontier, they do not assume that others are going to come along and build Cleveland or Indianapolis.
Bringing the whole idea back to Albany Ale, if speculation, or some kind of betting on the western New York brewing industry was going on, could those bets—and specifically the losing bets—have negatively affected not just the brewing industry of western New York, but also that of Albany and Troy as well?

Maybe those bets were just too much for the marketplace.

*Yeah, yeah, I know that's not the "correct" quote from Macbeth, but it made for a good title.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The New Phone Books Are Here! The New Phone Books Are Here!

Actually, it's the new website, that's here—the O-fficial Albany Ale Project website, to be exact.

But who doesn't love to quote The Jerk, whenever they get the chance.