Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hey, Thanks!

1936 Croft Brewing Co. (Boston, MA) advertisement
Courtesy of

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Slight Holiday Hiatus

Yeah, yeah, I missed my Friday post. Fear not, I'm back.

Well, kinda not. This post is the bloggy equivalent of calling in sick to work when you're not really sick. I'll be playing hooky until next Monday—after the Thanksgiving holiday (That's this Thursday, for those in Mumbai). Don't worry though, I'll probably drop a Turkey-Day shout-out on ya'll.

See ya' next Monday!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

...And Justify To All

Why are we constantly justifying beer?

Trolling the interwebs for beery news I've noticed that there's a good number of articles on the health benefits of beer. Why is that? I'm sure you might be able to find some redeeming health qualities about french fries, but nobody is writing articles for the Boston Globe or the L.A. Times saying that a new study shows three french fries a day actually reduces your cholesterol. French fries are french fries. We know they taste good, and we know they aren't very good for us, but no one seems to feel the need to speak out, on behalf of the french fry. Yet we do that all the time for beer.  

This whole beer equals healthfulness thing isn't new either. Do a Google image search, and you'll find it's chock full of turn-of-the-century images of beer swigging mommas, with swaddled babies. Even earlier—during the mid-19th century— testimonial anecdotes about beer's ability to impart vim and vigor, from medical community were fairly common. Not to mention, that Guinness is apparently good for you.

Aside from beer's apparent healthfulness, we now have the word "craft" associated with it. Beer wasn't good enough, before, now it's "crafted". To, me craft implies two guys, Mike and Steve—the first, a former lawyer, the second a home brewer, both with a passion for great beer—got together to make beer that they want to make, like beer should be made, with only the freshest blood-oranges elderflower, and yak urine available. Craft has got to be good, right? It's crafted. Don't get me started on "Locally crafted" beer. That's got to be twice as good as regular old beer. 

We've even goon as far to create mythology for beer. Beer unto itself wasn't exciting enough. We need to add a little swashbuckling to it. With tales of the high seas and our collective love of the hop. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the American brewing industry—to accurately recreate the brews of yore—we can now have they same beers that were brewed strong and heavily hopped to survive the trip from England to India. IPA restores our cultural heritage. Except the myth is exactly that, a myth.

Sarcasm aside, why do we make beer out to be something it isn't? 

It almost feels like the justification is an effort to protect it—like public serve announcements. Beer isn't disappearing like an endangered species, but we act as if it might. We don't defend wine, or whiskey or gin that way. Yet, we treat beer like the troubled middle child who isn't as cool as its older sibling wine, or as fun as its younger one, tequila. Beer is the "big boy with a special gold star" to whom we need to constantly reiterate that fact, less its self-esteem drop.

Do we, as a society, feel collectively guilty about beer? Have we wronged beer in the past and now feel the need to make retributions to it? We seem to not want to accept beer for what it is. 

At what point is beer just beer, and more importantly, when is that good enough?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Closer To You?

I have a question.

I suppose I should preface the question with a disclaimer. I'm going to write about two thing I don't normally write about—Albany (modern-day Albany that is) and coffee-flavored beer (which I don't like). So, if you're not form upstate New York, this post may be lost on you. May I suggest a  temporary stop over at Nitch's place? Or how about visting Leigh at The Good Stuff? Plase come back next week.

Albany, is blessed by Stewart's Shops. Actually, it's not just Albany. Almost every hamlet, and village from nearly the Canadian border to the northern fringes of New York City, western Vermont to Oswego, have their very own Stewart's Shop—and sometimes more than one. There's really nothing like a Stewarts Shop. They're not conglomerations or large, faceless corporate entities, like 7-11. Stewart's is local—headquartered in Saratoga Springs, New York and family and employee owned. They're not just gas stations with a store attached, either—although many do have gas pumps. Stewarts are gas stations, convenience stores, ice cream parlors and coffee shops and meeting place all rolled into one magnificent package. They are like a modern day version of the drug store with a soda fountain. Stage set on the first part.

I don't like coffee-flavored beer (For that matter I like coffee-flavored coffee, as well). Regardless if you think there's been a de-beerification of beer, of late—a diluting of the purity of brews by the addition of elderberry, or blood orange, or chicory, or other various and sundry of non-malt, hops, yeast and water—like coffee. That argument is moot here, I'm talking about my own personal taste, not the greater state of the beeriness of beer. So, again, I don't like coffee-flavored beer—but I do recognize that they've become quite popular, especially the Porter/Stout variants, and especially in this chillier time of year. Stage set on the second part.

Back to Stewart's. Like I said, Stewart's are almost everywhere in upstate New York—as is their ubiquitous coffee. Known for their, locally-made, fantastic ice cream (it really is that good), Stewart's coffee is nearly as popular. Stopping for a cuppa' Stewie Lou's, is a morning ritual for thousands of New Yorker's. Not to mention, the coffee—sweet and nutty— is made hourly from open to close.

Jump to coffee-flavored beer, again. There's got to be a hundred breweries—maybe more—in eastern upstate New York and Western Vermont. I would imagine most of those places make some kind of Porter/Stout—be them Imperial, Oatmeal, Robust, Milk and yes, Coffee.

So my question is—Why hasn't anyone made a Stewart's Coffee Porter or Stout?

Not that I really want to drink it.

By the way "We Are Closer to You" is Stewart's Shops' tagline, hence this post's title.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Green Beer

Olive Drab, actually.

Here's something you might not know, and just in time for Veterans Day.

During the Second World War, the U.S. Army contracted with 40 breweries across the country to produce olive drab cans to be sent to American troops fighting in Europe, the Pacific and the CBI. Steel rationing halted beer can production in 1942, but was re-instituted for these 40 breweries two years later in 1944. Regional breweries, like Beverwyck in Albany, produced the OD cans (in flat, cone and crown tops) which were then sent to areas where men from those specific areas were fighting. In the case of Albnay's Beverwyck Brewery, this cans were most likely sent to Hawaii and the Central Pacific. 

Courtesy of
New York's 27th Infantry Division—a National Guard division comprised of men from all over New York, but with a high percentage from the areas around Albany—had been in the Pacific Theater, on Oahu, Hawaii, since 1942. The unit first saw combat at Makin, Eniwetok and Majuro Atolls, in the Gilbert Islands in late 1943 and early 1944. In June of that same year, the 27th would assault the island of Saipan, in a three month routing of Japanese forces in what was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Colonel William O'Brien and Sergeant Thomas Baker, both of Troy New York, as well as Captain Benjamin L. Salomon were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, for their actions on July 7th, 1944. This is the only time the Medal of Honor has been given to three men, for separate actions, on the same day, in the same battle. The 27th would continue its campaign in the Pacific, landing and fighting on Okinawa, then acting as part of the Allied Army of Occupation, briefly being garrisoned in Japan, after that country's surrender. The 27th Division holds the distinction as the longest, continuously deployed National Guard unit ever—from December  1941 to December 1945.

Like the 27th Division, the OD cans also saw post war service, being produced until mid-1947. Of the 40 U.S. Army-contacted breweries, eight were from New York state. Including Albany's Beverwyck, the other seven breweries were Fitzgerald's (Troy), Rhinegold and Rupert (Manhattan), Schaefer (Brooklyn), Genesee (Rochester), Iroquois (Buffalo) and West End Brewery (Utica).

So, to all the veterans out there today, I raise a OD can to you!

Friday, November 8, 2013

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I came across an AP article yesterday about The Alchemist having to shutter its retail space in Vermont next week.

The beer-making biz has been good to the Waterbury, Vermont husband and wife team of John and Jen Kimmich, the owners of The Alchemist. Output at the brewery has jumped 500% in the two years since they opened their commercial operation (their original brewpub was destroyed by flooding during Hurricane Irene), and as I most likely don't need to tell you, Heady Topper—The Alchemist's one-and-only brew—is quite popular.

Maybe a little too popular, and that's what disturbs me.

You see, The Alchemist isn't closing the retail end of its business because sales have slumped or because of supply issues. It's closing because people coming into Waterbury to buy the Double IPA have become so disruptive to the tiny hamlet, that the threat of legal action against the brewery—by its neighbors—became a such real possibility, that the Kimmichs decided to shut down their retail store.

That's too bad. Heady Topper is a great beer and I'm sure the Kimmichs are great folks. But, as anyone who has ever spoken to a beer geek—let alone read any of the reviews on Beer Advocate or Rate Beer—can tell you, sometimes (and by sometimes I mean all the time) can take "beer" a little to far—like this bit from the article about the constant traffic in the driveway of one of the brewery's neighbors:
The driveway at the Kimmichs' business is easy to miss, and Kinsell said there was one half-hour period last summer when 26 people turned around in her driveway. When she parked a vehicle across the entrance to her driveway to slow that traffic down, people turned around on her grass.
I love beer, and I'm enthusiastic about it, but sometimes I find my fellow beer comrades are a little too enthusiastic—like at about a ten, when they should probably be closer to a six or a seven. The thing is, this enthusiasm isn't just about "beer", or even "craft beer", for that matter. It's the apotheosizing of a only a few besainted brews. Fanaticism for beers like Founder's KBS and Westvleteren 12 seems to have reached a fever pitch with Heady Topper.

I've got to be honest I find the whole idolatrizing of beer to be bizarre—and truthfully a bit hive-minded. I don't like anything that much. Is Bell's Two-Hearted really that good, or is it more important to say that Bell's Two Hearted is really that good. The beer rating sites love that mentality, as do the breweries. But who are we fooling? Is Westvleteren great because it's great, or is it "great" because Rate Beer has it at number one on its list? 

I don't want to sound all anti-establishment here, but we praise the independence of craft brewers—those plucky beer makers doing it their way and getting out from under the shadow of big beer—but then we mindlessly follow, lemming-like over the cliff when it comes to "The Top Ten IPAs" or whatever other invented ranking of beers are out there. 

Stop and think about what happened in Vermont. The Kimmichs opened their business with the best intention. Make a little beer, make a little money—and it worked. Heady Topper worked. Then people started acting like fucking morons and ruined it for everybody. That doesn't just affect you and I and our chances of getting a great beer. It affects, the Kimmichs, their family and the families of the 25 people they employ. Those are the people who make the beer! Messing with the system screws it up for everybody. How many people made the trek to Vermont, turned around in that woman's drive way and "just had to try Heady Topper" because they read about it on Beer Advocate. Converging on a tiny town in Vermont like the Visigoths sacking Rome—in hindsight—probably wasn't the best move. I guess the old adage is true, a person is smart, but people are stupid. 

In the end, I'm saying drink beer, but don't be a douche about it.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Yeah, that kind of describes this weekend. Well, Saturday at least.

Six months of planning, meeting, brewing and announcing culminated in what I think was one of the best beer events I've had the pleasure of being involved with—the 1901 Albany Ale cask tap at the Albany Institute of History & Art. 

Two plus hours of beer and history, I was the proverbial pig in shit. 

Ryan (the brewer), a jackass, and Alan (the Canadian).
Our host and partner, the Albany Institute and their curator of History and Material Culture, Dr. W. Douglas McCombs, set the tone for the evening by displaying not just a few old coasters and and beer bottles, but by developing a full exhibition in the Rice House. Doug brought out everything from an 1840s Joel Munsell print of Robert Dunlop's brewery, to the original 1901 Amsdell brewing log (with the original recipe for this 1901 recreation) to an 1980s sign from Bill Newman's brewery—the first craft brewery on the East Coast. Their artifacts panned a a huge swath of time in the history of Albany Ale. Aside from the good Dr. McCombs, The Institute's Director Tammis Groft and especially the Institute's Director of Development Elizabeth Reiss—and her amazing staff—kept the wheels from falling off as the beer flowed. 

Alan—my partner-in-crime in this whole Albany Ale shebang—arrived from the Great White North around 4pm and I picked them up shortly thereafter—and it was a good thing we got there when we did, because the event ramped up promptly at five. By 5:15—after a countdown from five—C.H. Evans' brewer Ryan Demler had tapped the first cask of Albany Ale made in more than 100 years, with nary a drop spilt, I might add. The crowd of nearly 170 people ebbed in front of the table on which the little cask was perched. Ryan and I frantically poured pints of the amber liquid placing them in the outstretch hands of folks eager to taste a bit of history.

I'm sure your all asking at this point—what about the beer? It seems to have been quite the hit. 

The firkin.
Courtesy of Geoff Huth
So much so that Ryan needed to make a beer run at around 6pm. By that point, we had already gone through a firkin and a half-barrel, but the break in the action also gave Al and I the chance to pimp the Project a bit. In any case, the beer was generally what I expected—sweet and mild. What I wasn't expecting was the rich, toffee and citrus, almost orange like notes in it. At 5.2%ABV, this version of Albany Ale seems to have been quite an easy drinker, too. A far cry from its mid-19th century Grandpa—the Albany Ale of the 1860s—which most likely ticked in closer to 8 or 8-1/2%.

By 7pm, things wound down at the Institute. Alan and I said our goodbyes to the Institute and Evans folks, with handshakes and congratulations around, on a job well done by all parties. We topped off the evening with a dinner of Mexican at the venerable El Mariachi. Then off to the Lionheart to meet up with a few more cask-tap attendees—Chad Fust (who helped out with the Vassar brewing logs last September), his lovely girlfriend Rei; and Ethan and the boys from Community Beer Works in Buffalo—for more Albany Ale (and some CBW brews, too.) 

As cool as it was to be involved with the brewing and unveiling of this beer, what I think is more important than just "the beer" is the partnerships we formed. The collaboration between a research project, a local museum and a brewery seems to have been a win-win for everyone.

The Institute brought in 170 people on a Saturday night in November—160 people who on most every other Saturday night, probably wouldn't have been in a museum, let alone seeing pieces of Albany's past—beery or otherwise. Ryan and C.H. Evans Brewing Company now have a bunch of kegs at a bunch of bars and pubs across the Capital Region, they've also indelibly tied themselves to the brewing history of this city.

But what about the Project—what did the Project get out of all this? We got 160 people to know just a little bit more about the Albany Ale Project and their own beery history—and that's all we've ever asked. Hopefully, recreating this beer will spark someone to look in that old trunk in the attic, or open that dusty book in the basement. Maybe—just maybe—someone out there has a piece of the Albany Ale puzzle, stashed away, someplace they haven't yet thought to look. That's what the Project got

That, and I got a derby and a sweet handlebar mustache out of the deal, too. 

Thank's to everyone who came out, and we'll see you at the cask tap of the next Albany Ale recreation—whichever one that might be!

You'll just have to wait and see...

For Alan's take on his trip to Albany and the cask tap event, check out his post here.