Saturday, March 27, 2010

Remembering Michael: The Beer Hunter March 27th, 1942-August 30th, 2007

March 27th is a bitter sweet day for me. For anyone who loves craft beer it is an important date to remember. Today is the birthday of Michael Jackson, The Beer Hunter. Sadly Michael left this world far too early when he died in 2007 of a heart attack at the age of 65. The beer world will never recover from the loss of such an influential figure, but what Jackson did while he was here will endure for decades to come.

For those who do not know who Michael Jackson was? In the world of beer, Jackson was and still is a legend. He was an English writer and journalist by trade and one of the best. What made Jackson so important to the world of beer is he was a true pioneer writing about beer, its science, its history, its culture, its folklore, its importance when no one else did. In 1977 Jackson penned The World Guide To Beer which to this day is the most fundamental text on the subject of beer. The modern theory of different beer styles is largely based on Jackson's ground breaking work. Jackson traveled the world finding local beer traditions, beer culture, brewing methods, and shared it with the world. He went on to pen a dozen more books on beer and whiskey. His body of work on the subject of beer is the template for all other definitive works on the subject. His video series The Beer Hunter is "Beer 101". Quite simply, Michael Jackson was, and forever will be the world's leading authority on beer.

Jackson's influence can not be understated. The reason you are drinking a great craft beer today is largely in part to Jackson and his work. The fact that you can now walk into any grocery store, supermarket, restaurant, or bar and find a variety of beer choices? Thank Michael Jackson. He inspired literally thousands of brewers across the globe, and saved beer styles that would have been lost to the world had he not written about them, and brought them back into the light. That is how important Michael Jackson was. He and his work has been so influential, you don't even realize it. What we take for granted was just not there before Jackson sparked the interest in different beer styles, and the reason we have such quality and variety in no small part is due to Jackson and his work.

Today would have been Michael's 68th birthday. I will raise a glass of beer to Michael Jackson and toast the man. I will thank him for inspiring my love for great beer, and to hunt for the world's greatest beers. I am going to go with a vintage bottle of barley wine, a British beer style, one Michael knew well and loved. I'll also drink a few German beer brought back from Germany by a friend. Here it to you Michael. Happy Birthday. You will always be remembered.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A fool for you: Indigo Imp Jester

The one thing that I really enjoy most as a beer lover is trying local beers. Beers that can not be found outside their local market, and beers you have to travel to if you want to give them a try. I was happy last year passing though Ohio to find such a brewery in the Indigo Imp Brewery of Cleveland, OH. Established in 2007, this is a very small, very local brewery, that sells its beers in and around the Cleveland, OH area. Unfortunately for me, I was passing through when the brewery was not open, but was able to pick up two of their beers in six packs. They were both very impressive, and I was particularly fond of their Indigo Imp Jester.

This beer is a Belgian Pale Ale by style, brewed with an authentic Belgian yeast strain. This beer has some spicy notes from the yeast, with good malt caramel/toasty malt flavor and mild hop bitterness. Belgian Pale Ale is a very drinkable beer style, Palm and De Konnick are classic examples of the style and Indigo Imp pays tribute with Jester.

Indigo Imp Jester pours to a bright, light amber color, with a soapy, white head that fades and a moderate carbonation. The nose on this beer is spicy and earthy with light aromas of toast as well. The palate is firm, with light caramel and toasty malt flavor on a soft body. Light estery fruit flavors play against the malt character of this beer. Jester finishes with more good light caramel and toasty flavors up front, then ends with a spicy and earthy yeast flavor that lingers.
This is a flavorful, drinkable beer, and a nice example of Belgian Pale Ale. I enjoyed this beer very much, and would take it over New Belgian Fat Tire, which is the most available American example of the style. If you want to try this one, you will have to come to Cleveland. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Beer Pimp: AB Inbev Budweiser Chelada

The concept of mixing beer and tomato juice/Clamato juice is nothing new. A red eye has been around for decades and its orgins do not come from south of the U.S. border. For those who do not know what Clamato is? It is basically a cocktail of tomato juice, clam broth, and spices. It was invented in the mid 1960's in New York. Early in 2007, AB which is now AB Inbev the world's largest multinational corporate brewer came up with the brilliant idea of launching a beer/Clamato juice mix and marketing it as Budweiser Chelada. AB rolled this out initially in markets with big Hispanic populations, and marketed it in 22 oz cans. The national roll out came a year later, and you can find this beer and Bud Light Chelada everywhere.

AB, and now AB Inbev is really the pimp of the beer world. They know trends, and they know that Clamato juice has really taken off in Mexico and Central American markets. The demand for Clamato is high, so how does AB get yet another piece of the market? Forget the fact that a red eye has been popular in the U.S. and Canada for decades. Chelada is born. Mott's LLC the corporation that makes Clamato is just as guilty. At one point when you did an Internet search of Clamato it came up in Spanish, not English. They know where their biggest selling markets are, where they are growing, and it is not in the U.S. All well and good, you are in business to make money. That being said, to now market Clamato juice as something that came about from Mexican workers toiling away in the fields or some other nonsense they have on the Spanish verison of their site? It is complete and utter horse shit.
As stated earlier this tomato/clam cocktail was invented in 1966 in Hamlin, NY by the Duffy-Mott Company. Two employees wanted to make a Manhattan clam chowder cocktail by mixing tomato juice, clam broth, and spices. Clamato was born, and it is tangy, salty, spicy, refreshing, and delicious. I'll try any beer once. I love Clamato juice, I have been making my own versions of a red eye for years. How bad could this beer be?

Budweiser Chelada pours to an opaque pink color, with a pink head that quickly fades, and a vibrant carbonation. The nose on this beer is a mix of lime/Clamato which is nice if you like that, trouble is most people don't. The palate is salty with Clamato flavor which pretty much masks any beer flavor. The body is very thin and fizzy. This beer finishes with more salty/Clamato flavor then ends with a hint of lime and salt that lingers.

This is not a very good red eye. If you like Clamato (I love it) it is palatable for that fact alone. The only plus I see about this beer is the convience of being in a can and being premixed. That being said, if you want a thirst quenching refresher in a can? I would rather go with a good ice cold beer, or a ice cold can of Clamato. If you want to make a real red eye, or a real michalada? You would do far better by making your own with a better tasting beer, Clamato, or what ever tomato based juice you fancy. I would not buy this beer ever again, and would not recommend it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ireland's Own: O'Hara's Celtic Stout

For those of us who love a good Irish or dry stout, every day is St. Patrick's Day. While many will be getting their drink on Saint Patrick's Day, I don't need that as an excuse to enjoy a good stout. I'm a big Guinness drinker from way back, but I don't drink bottled Guinness Stout anymore. The reason I don't is bottled Guinness for the North American market is contract brewed in Toronto, Canada. I'm sure that is a decent enough beer, but if I want the real thing in the bottle, as well as on draught? I go with the newly arrived, legendary Guinness Foreign Extra Stout or a pint at my local Irish pub.
My favorite bottled Irish stout these days is O'Hara's Celtic Stout from the Carlow Brewing Company of Bagenalstown, County Carlow, Ireland. This beer is a phenomenal example of the style. I am a pretty seasoned stout drinker, and this beer impressed me to say the least. At the time it seemed like heresy to even suggest it, but beer made me forget all about Guinness stout. If you want a fantastic bottled Irish stout brewed in Ireland? Look no further.
O'Hara's Celtic Stout pours to a beautiful, deep ebony color, with a creamy white head, and a moderate carbonation. The nose is just packed with aromas of dark malt and roast. Aromas of dark chocolate, coffee, roasted barley, and grassy hops invite you in to take a sip. The palate is firm, with outstanding flavors of dark malts, chocolate, coffee and roast. This beer dark chocolate flavors up front then ends with a bone dry, roasty and bitter finish that lingers.
This is a truly exceptional example of Irish stout. I can not overstate how impressive the bottled version of this beer is. It might be the most impressive of all the bottled Irish stouts on the market today. If more pubs started to carry this one on draught as well, O'Hara's Celtic Stout would be my stout of choice from now on. This beer is Ireland. This is a great drinking beer, one you will want to drink a few of. It works very well with shell fish, and red meats, or even burgers and pub grub. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Friday, March 12, 2010

American Brown: Brooklyn Brown Ale

The Brooklyn Brewery and I have a very long and happy history together. Brooklyn beers were some of the very first "microbrews" (remember when we use to call them that?) I started to drink on a regular basis, and they have remained regular, to semi-regular staples for me ever since. The very first Brooklyn Beer I ever tried was, Brooklyn Brown Ale, a beer that I instantly fell in love with, an one that will always be a personal favorite of mine.

Brooklyn Brown Ale is an American twist on a classic English beer style. It is the benchmark example of American Brown, which is more robust in flavor than English Brown Ale. Unlike its English inspiration, it has a very vibrant hop character, in aroma and flavor as well. My first experience with this American Brown Ale, was about 18 years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. "A first", is an experience that lasts with a beer lover a life time, and that experience was an epiphany.

Please, allow me to digress. A college class mate of mine and I use to shoot the breeze after class, and one day he invited me over to his house for a few beers. He had the most amazing living room set up (for a beer lover anyway) I have ever seen. He had built shelves all along the walls of the room, and the room was completely covered in beer bottles. Next to the stairway, he has stacked about nine cases of beer where he would keep bottles and bottles of microbrewed beer in, and in a constant rotation, he would shift them into a college dorm sized refrigerator. I was amazed. At the time, I was a fan of microbrewed beers, but this guy, he was a fanatic. To make a long story short, he handed me my first Brooklyn Brown Ale, and all these years later, I can still remember that first sip, I had a beer epiphany.

I went on to drinking the full line of Brooklyn beers, but I'll never forget my first. I'll never forget Brooklyn Brown. Brooklyn Brown Ale pours to a bright, deep brown color with a creamy tan head, and a lively carbonation. The nose is packed with aromas of sweet malt, a touch of chocolate, some nutty notes, and zesty, cirtrus hop aromas. The palate is firm with good dark malt flavors of chestnut, chocolate, and touches of caramel malt sweetness. Some nice, fruity estery flavors are present as well. This beer finishes with a long, dry, zesty, cirtus hop bite that lingers on the tongue.

Brooklyn Brown Ale is a fantastic beer with great character. You get a lots of good malt and hop flavors, and I really enjoy drinking this beer, and American brown ale as a style. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Irish up: O'Hara's Irish Red

With St. Patrick's Day fast approaching it is time to enjoy a good Irish beer. Irish Stout of course will take center stage, as well it should. It is the national drink of Ireland, and Guinness Stout is one of the world's greatest beers, and most popular. I don't need an excuse to drink Irish beer, and I drink it year round. I am a big stout drinker, but I am also a big fan of another Irish beer style called Irish Red.

Irish Red ales by style are unique and flavorful. They have a good bit of caramel malt sweetness that is paired with estery fruit aromas and flavors, as well as some "buttery" notes in the mouth feel. These beers are not aggressively hopped, and tend to be malty and fruity. They are delicious, drinkable beers that are a great beer to drink a few pints of and a very food friendly beer as well. I've had some outstanding American examples of this style, and some great Irish ones as well. One my favorite Irish Reds and one I drink fairly regularly is O'Hara's Irish Red from the Carlow Brewing Company, of Bagenalstown, County Carlow, Ireland.

O'Hara's Irish Red pours to a beautiful, bright, deep, ruby red color with a creamy white head and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer invites you in with good sweet malt aromas paired with estery fruit aromas. The palate is firm with good sweet and caramel malt flavors, paired with light touches of butter and juicy fruit. It finishes with more malt and fruit character up front, then ends slightly cloying. Hops are present in this beer but only to balance.

An excellent example of Irish Red. A very malt and fruit accented beer, what Irish red ales really are all about. This would be a great beer to sit and enjoy a few pints of, and would match well with red meats such as beef or lamb. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Stir it Up: Mad River Jamaica Red Ale

American Red or Amber Ale is a style with a pretty broad spectrum. I have had some tremendous examples over the years and my share of duds as well. One of my all time favorite examples of this style is Mad River Jamaica Red from the Mad River Brewing Company, of Blue Lake, CA.

This beer was originally brewed for a Reggae Festival held in Humbolt County, CA each year. This beer delivers on what American Red or Amber ale should really be all about. Lots of vibrant hop aromas, flavors and bitterness paired with lots of good sweet and stewed malt character.

Jamaica Red pours to a beautiful deep amber to red color, with a thick, creamy, white head and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose is fantastic on this beer with lots of good citrus and pine hop aromatics paired with good malt sweetness and estery aroma of ripe fruit. The palate is soft and full with lots of good biscuit and caramel malt flavors paired with tangy fruit flavor. JamaicaRed finishes with more great malt and fruit flavor up front, then end with a pleasing citric hop bitterness that lingers.

This is a great beer loaded with flavor that would work well with a number of different foods. This would work really well with spicy dishes. Jerk chicken or curried goat anyone? Great beer from a great Northern California brewer. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Hopus Maximus: Pliny the Younger

The Russian River Brewing Company of Santa Rosa, CA has made quite a name for itself in American craft beer circles. The beers they brew are tremendous and they really get the style of what has become know as American India Pale Ale or AIPA right. AIPA is a still that showcased huge hop aromas, flavors, and bitterness, and used hops grown in America's Pacific North West in abundance. Russian River is credited by most as the first West Coast brewer to come up with a "Double IPA." That term and Imperial IPA has been used to describe a style that is just drenched with hop character. Pliney the Elder is their phenomenal example of this beefed up version of AIPA.

Who was Pliny the Elder? Pliny the Elder was a Roman naturalist, scholar,historian, traveler, officer, and writer. Although not considered his most important work, Pliny and his contemporaries created the botanical name for hops,"lupus Salictarius", meaning wolf among scrubs." Hops at that time grew wild among willows, much like a wolf in the forest. Later the current botanical name, humulus Lupulus, was adopted. Pliny died in 79 AD while observing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. He was immortalized by his nephew, Piny the Younger, who continued his uncle's legacy by documenting much of what he observed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Russian River pays tribute to the Younger with a "Triple" IPA.

Pliny the Younger IPA pours to a beautiful deep golden color with a thick and creamy white head, and a good bit of carbonation. The nose on this beer hits you from a mile a way. Very pungent, very zesty aromas of lemon/citrus and pine flood the nose in a major way. The smell of this beer alone is hoppier than some IPA's. The palate is firm with good pale and biscuit malt that supports wonderful, zesty, juicy grapefruit/lemon hop flavor. Pliny the Younger finishes with more zesty hop flavor up front, then ends with a mouth puckering, zesty and tangy hop bitterness that explodes on the tongue and lingers for quite some time.

Hops, hops, and more hops. This beer is a neutron bomb of hop character. Pliny the Younger IPA is not for the timid, and is an extreme hop blast of a beer. This beer is dangerously drinkable, and all that pungent hop character masks the fact this beer is 11% abv. You could get into some real trouble if you did not drink this one in moderation, but it is one anyone who loves hops must try. A beer like this should not be matched with food. Enjoy this one slowly, and savor every drop. For more information about this beer visit the brewery's site at:

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Genesis: New Albion Brewing Company

There can be only one. When people ask what was the first microbrewery or craft brewery in the United States? The answer is without question The New Albion Brewing Company, of Sonoma, CA. New Albion was only in business from 1976-1983 but the effect this brewery had on America will resonate for a millennium. New Albion sparked a fire that will never be extinguished. This brewery stoked the fire for Americans who were longing for beers with flavor and character. Prior to Prohibition, there were literally thousands of breweries in the United States. These regional brewers offered beers with regional flavor and character. In the New England states, it might be a brewery that brewed ales and porters. In the Midwestern states, a brewery that offered German beers styles like bock bier. On the West Coast a brewery that brewed a hybrid beer style known as Steam beer.

By 1976 that had all been lost, with only a handful of national brewers, and a few regional brewers that were hanging on. The United States had almost lost the idea of how special beer could be, and it had become a commodity in this country. Fritz Maytag rescued a long standing brewery in San Francisco, CA called the Anchor Steam Brewery. Maytag was brewing beers like no other at the time. He was the precursor to what was to come.

Anchor had been a brewery since the 1800's. So who would be crazy enough to start a brewery from the ground up, making beers with flavor and character in 1977? That man was Jack Mc Auliffe, and he called his brewery New Albion. The story goes that Jack Mc Auliffe was serving with the U.S. Navy in Scotland in the mid 1970's, Jack liked the beer he was drinking in Scotland, and knew he could not get these types of beers back in the United States.

What was Jack to do? He did what many others did with the bland choices on the market and started to home brew. The legend was born. Jack Mc Auliffe started the New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma, CA literally from the ground up. There were no craft or micro breweries at the time, and Mc Auliffe literally put a brewery together with modified equipment and made it work. Jack brewed the beer and was smart enough to hire a recent UC Davis graduate by the name of Don Barkley who would come to work for New Albion for free.

New Albion brewed British beer styles on a very local level. The consistency and availability of the product is really irrelevant to what is being stated here. What makes this brewery so important in U.S. brewing is the fact that is was the first brick and mortar, start up brewery in the United States since Prohibition. This was the template for all micro/craft brewers to come. Jack Mc Auliffe and his New Albion Brewery were truly revolutionary at the time, and this brewery fired the first shot for beer independence at the national brewers who dominated the beer market. They took no notice then, they do now. If you are enjoying a glass of great craft beer today? It is in no small part due to New Albion Brewing Company. That is how important this brewery was to the U.S. and the Craft Beer Revolution. If we want to compare this to our own colonial history Jack Mc Auliffe would be Patrick Henry. Would this have eventually happened? I think it would. But I thank Jack Mc Auliffe and New Albion for making it happen when it did, and we as beer lovers in the U.S. are all reaping the benefits 33 years later.

Beer Pioneers: The American Craft Beer Revolution

Coming this summer a documentary film called Beer Pioneers. It is the story of the men who started the Craft Beer Revolution in America, and gave us the beer we are drinking today:

Before the 1970s, American beer was "just beer," a big-brand industrially produced effervescent pale lager. However, from the mid-70s through the 1990s American beer witnessed a revolution: handcrafted traditional (and flavorful) artisan ales and lagers appeared on the landscape, made in America, in small breweries.Craft beer wasn't an easy sell. Early craft brewers struggled to change the public's perception of American beer and the big breweries protected their territory. Even so, craft brewers fought the uphill battle, and found their audience. During this craft beer revolution: microbreweries were reborn, homebrewing was legalized, brewpubs resurged, and flavorful craft beer was re-introduced to the consumer in nearly one hundred different styles.Nearly 15 years in the making, this documentary takes an in-depth look into the American craft beer revolution. The filmmaker explores the history and evolution of craft beer, and speaks with the people that made it happen. The program includes dozens of interviews of the early pioneers of America's craft beer revolution, brewers, authors, homebrewers and beer drinkers, along with visits to the historic breweries, and archival footage. TRT: Approx. 110 minutes. Status: In Post ProductionRelease: Summer 2010Format: HDProduced by: Beer Guppy Multimedia, Burbank, Calif.(c)1995-2010 Jay Sheveck, dba Beer Guppy(c)1999 Earthbound Entertainment, Inc.TM: "Beer Pioneers"

For more information visit:

Beer Memories: Pete's Gold Coast Lager

While I lament how Pete's Wicked Ale has fallen from grace, it reminds me how great the beers Pete's was having brewed in the early 1990's. Pete's Brewing had wild success with the Wicked Ale, and they decided to capitalize on this and offer a few more beer styles. Craft beer at the time was decidedly ale with maybe only the Sprecher Brewing Company of Milwaukee, WI and a scant few others craft brewers actually brewing lagers. Pete did offer a lager to compete against the main stream American light lagers, and that beer was Pete's Gold Coast Lager.

This beer was an all malt, clean and malty lager. Stylistically this one could be called a helles a classic Bavarian pale lager with balanced malt and hop character. In fact the new not so Wicked Pete's actually markets the current version of this beer as Pete's Wicked Helles, but like the Wicked Ale it is a shell of what the Gold Coast Lager was. Its funny but most beer lovers, even the ones who have been drinking craft for ages don't remember too much about this one. I certainly do.

One of the most memorable beer drinking experiences I had with this beer was actually tail gating at a concert. Myself, my brother, a good buddy of mine and his wife had went to see the Moody Blues and Chicago in concert at an outdoor venue. We had loaded up the cooler with craft beers, and my buddy, the storied and fabled Bruguru had brought the Pete's Gold Coast Lager. I remember drinking this one ice cold, and as it warmed, how clean, malty and flavorful this beer was. I could not stop drinking this stuff, and kept reaching for the Gold Coast. It had such great pale and crisp malt flavors, just the right amount of hop bite, and was so, so drinkable. It was a fantastic example of what a craft brewed lager was and should be. Something the Germans and the Czechs had known for centuries. This beer was an eye opener, and in that moment it made me appreciate what a great lager beer was all about. Pete's Gold Coast Lager will be burned in my memory for that fact, and I will always remember this beer as being a great one, and one that said to me, craft brewed American lager can be done.

Craft Beer Legend: Wm. S. Newman Brewing Company, Albany, NY

When one thinks of the genesis of craft beer in the United States, there are a few names that immediately come to mind. Brewers such as Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada are named right off the bat. Among beer geeks it is pretty common knowledge that The New Albion Brewing Company of Sonoma, California is rightfully credited as the first craft brewer in the United States when it opened in 1977. These were all West coast brewers, surely someone on the East Coast of the U.S. had decided to brew beer as well. So who was the first craft brewer on the East Coast?
Some early east coast brewers have made claim such as the D.L. Geary Brewing Company of Portland, ME and The Weeping Radish Brewing Company of Maneto, NC. Both those breweries were established in 1986 and were indeed two of only a handful of brick and mortar breweries who opened their own breweries and brew their own beers from the ground up. These were not contract brewers having an established regional brew their beer for them. These were local entities brewing their own beers, and serving their local markets. Geary's and Weeping Radish are two legendary East Coast brewers, however they are not the first.
That title can be claimed by one man, and one brewery: The Wm S. Newman Brewing Company of Albany, NY. Bill Newman established his brewery in downtown Albany in 1980-81 and was a true pioneer. Newman a teacher/journalist had learned how to brew beer in England, and brought what he learned to the United States. He brewed British beer styles, and his two flagship beers were Albany Amber Ale and Albany Pale Ale. He even went on to brew a winter warmer called Newman's Winter Ale. These beer could only be found in the Albany area on draught.
You could actually purchase beer at the brewery as well, and it was also available at Albany area beer retailers. Newman did not bottle beer and this was before the days of growlers. Newman's answer was to package his beer in something that was called a cubitainer. A cubitainer was a 1 gallon or 1.5 gallon plastic cube that Newman marketed in a cardboard box, similar to wine boxes that you see today. There are actually some brewpubs that still use the cubitainer, Big Time Brewery in Seattle, WA comes to mind. The beer was unpasteurized, and had to be consumed quickly. Empty cubitainers could be returned to the brewery, and refilled, much like craft brewers today do with growlers.
Newman's ale were said to be fresh, flavorful, delicious beers. They were unpasteurized, unfiltered, and naturally carbonated. The problem with such a small scale operation, and brewing in the early 80's was inconsistency, and Newman's product sometimes suffered from this.
It is amazing that beer like this existed at the time, and Newman really should be credited with being a true craft beer pioneer. By 1985 Newman was trying new ways to make the brewery profitable, and actually started to contract out Albany Amber for bottle production with The Hibernian Brewery of Eau Claire, WI. Newan wanted to eventually put in his own bottling line, but needed to prove there would be local demand for his bottled beer. Sadly, sales had been in decline for Newman's draught products, and real local support for the bottled Albany Amber never happened. Newman was forced to close his doors in 1987 and went out of business.
A sad ending to a true American craft beer pioneer, and legend. What Newman was doing at the time was ground breaking, and he was truly ahead of his time. Like with the Emerald Isle Brew Works of West Warwick, RI Newman's beers were actuall "too good" for the market and the time period he was in. Had Newman started up 10 years later, or even in today's market? We would probably still be drinking his beer, at least in Albany. What Newman did should always be remembered, because he was an early template of what the Craft Beer Revolution was and is all about. Fresh, delicious, local beer. All of us who enjoy great beer today owe Bill Newman and what he did a debt of gratitude, whether we know it or not. How influencial was Newman? Back in the early 80's a young Jim Koch did a short stint at Newman's brewing. Koch went on to say:
These little microbreweries were starting up and that really got my interest. I actually worked in Bill Newman's brewery in Albany. He was the first guy who started a microbrewery east of Boulder. I came away thinking, OK, the idea is right. I knew that it was possible to make world-class beer here in the United States.
Jim Koch went on to found the Boston Beer Company, and is the brewer of Sam Adams. So next time you are in the pub drinking a pint of your favorite, local craft beer? Lift a pint for Bill Newman and the Wm. S. Newman Brewing Company.

Beer's Brother: Hard Cider

I love beer. Beer has been and will always be my drink of choice, though I do also drink wine on occasion, and spirits as well. Beer has been with us here in America since colonial times. But there is also another drink that has been here as long as beer, and that is cider. Hard Cider has been popular in Europe for centuries, especially in countries such as England, Ireland, and France. Cider here in America, hasn't enjoyed steady popularity. Hard cider is apple cider that has been fermented, and is an alcoholic drink, usually coming in at about 6% abv, making it a bit more potent than your average beer.

In colonial times, cider along with beer, was an every day drink. As much hard cider, if not more, was being produced and consumed than beer at points in time. But somewhere along the line the tradition of drinking hard cider, was lost. There has always been small, local, pockets of hard cider production, but cider has become popular once again due to cider companies such as Green Mountain Beverage of Middlebury, VT makers of Woodchuck Hard Cider. Established as a brand in 1991 Woodchuck is the most popular of all American made hard ciders, its only real competition had been Cider Jack (now owned by Green Mountain) and Hornsby's Hard Cider.

I enjoy a good cider from time to time, and Woodchuck is a quality product that can be found in bottles in beer stores, supermarkets, and bars. I've even seen the cider on draught at some good beer bars, but you will find the bottled product more than the draught. I like that Woodchuck offers some variety, but I enjoy the original Woodchuck Draft Cider. I also enjoy Cider Jack which once was produced by The American Cider Company, but is now just a label for Green Mountain. Hard cider tends to fall into two categories, French and English. French ciders are sweeter, while English ciders are less sweet and drier. American ciders have some sweetness but tend to be dry like their English ciders. Both Woodchuck and Cider Jack are excellent hard ciders.

Woodchuck pours to a bright, deep golden to light amber color, with a slight white head that quickly fades. Carbonation is very lively. The nose has a nice sweet/sour apple aroma. The palate delivers more tart and sweet apple flavors. Woodchuck finishes with more apple flavor and dries on the tongue. Cider Jacks is pretty much the same, but a little lighter in color, a little less sweet, and drier in the finish. I like them both.

Thes are crisp, refreshing, hard ciders. I'm a beer drinker, but I have always been a cider drinker as well. Especially when I give beer up for Lent!! Cider is a nice change of pace from beer and I nice alternative to wine for a beer drinker. I like drinking hard cider also because there really is a tradition involved. It is as much a part of our American heritage as beer is. Hard ciders works really well with pork and turkey. I would match this with roasted pork loin, baked ham, or roasted turkey. This makes a nice aperitif, and would go great with a desert of hot apple pie. Woodchuck and Hornsby are easy to find, Cider Jack in select markets. If you have never had a hard cider, Woodchuck is a great place to start. For more information visit their site at: or

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Under the Oak Tree Polka: Drinking a beer.

Not so wicked anymore: Pete's Wicked Ale

What ever happend to Pete's Wicked Ale? The brand name still exisits, the beer is still relatively easy to find, but this is not the Pete's Wicked Ale that I knew and loved. For those who do not know the story of Pete's Brewing Company, and the significance it played in the craft beer movement, it is one worth telling. We all have heard of Samuel Adams, but did you know early on when craft beer was first taking off, Pete's Brewing Company was the second largest micro brewer in America, right behind The Boston Beer Company. Pete's Wicked Ale was available in 47 states by the early 90's and could be found everywhere in bottles or on draught. You walk into a bar, restaurant anywhere these days and you will find Samuel Adams. 20 years ago more often than not, a Pete's Wicked Ale tap would be found right next to the Sam Adams tap. How many Pete's Wicked Ale taps do you see these days? I only seem to see bottled Pete's in the supermarket and I don't see many takers. I can't recall another craft brew that had fallen so far from grace. This beer use to so popular, like Sam Adams, you had a hard time not finding it. Those days are over for Pete, and here is why.

Pete Slosberg was a pioneer in the U.S. craft beer industry. In the late 1970's he was hombrewing like many others who were tired of the bland choices on the market. Pete decided to turn his love for beer into a business in 1986 and founded Pete's Brewing Company in Palo Alto, CA. Pete did not have a brewery, and was one of the very first contract brewers who had an existing brewery brew his beer for him. Production started in Palo Alto at the Palo Alto Brewing Company when Pete's could only be found on the West Coast. By 1992 production had shifted to the August Schell Brewing Company of New Ulm, Minnesota a long standing regional brewer who had the capacity to brew Pete's beer. By 1995 Pete had grow so popular and demand for Pete's Wicked Ale production shifted again, this time to the Stroh Brewing Company in Saint Paul, MN. Things started to go down hill from there. Pete got too big, too popular, too fast, and ultimately the Wicked Ale was changed and reformuated, and we have what is now basically a label and not the Pete's Wicked Ale I loved.
The beer I enjoyed was from the early 1990's and it was an American Brown Ale by style. This beer once had vibrant, citric hop aromas and flavors, on a delicious, toasty, nutty, and chocolatey malt base. It was dry hopped with Cascades, giving it wonderful citrus hop aromas. It had a really great, malty palate. This was a classic example of American Brown Ale, a new subset of the style at the time, and Pete's Wicked Ale was just a fantastic beer. I use to drink this one on draught a lot, I would always have bottles of this beer in my fridge. In the early 90's it was one of my favorite beers. What passes for Pete's Wicked Ale now?

Pete's Not So Wicked Ale pours to a deep caramel/brown color with a soapy white head that fades, and a fairly lively carbonation. The nose that was once so vibrant with fragrant hop aromas, it lightly sweet malty, and faintly hoppy. The palate which one time had lots of robust chocolate malt flavors, is mildly sweet malty, with a thin body. Pete's Not So Wicked Ale which in its glory days finished with a long, dry, cirtic hop bite that lingered, now finishes with a light sweet maltiness, and just a trace of hop bitterness.

Pete, you have become a shell of a beer. I'm sorry but this beer just does not do it for me, it has become a middle of the road, bland, and boring beer. In all fairness, it is still well made, the flavors are mild, but it still has more flavor than a marco. This beer would actually suit the tastes of macro drinkers now, more than micro or craft brew drinkers. I suspect that is the wicked game Pete wants to play now. But for us old hardcore Pete's "I remember when he really was wicked" Ale fans, this beer has become a huge let down. I can't see myself drinking much of this beer ever again.

Slosberg sold the company back in 1998 to Gambrinus Company, owners of Spoezel Brewing (Shiner) and Bridgeport Brewing. So Pete has not been wicked for the last 12 years, and while he was once a pioneer in the craft beer world, he is largely forgotten and has become but a footnote. He took the money and ran, and that is sad, because Pete Slosberg like his Wicked Ale is but a memory for beer lovers. When he sold his company he lost all say in how his beer was brewed. One would think that Slosberg can not be happy with what his beer has become. It has made him wealthy, but I dare say he drinks about as much Wicked Ale as I do these days; none.

Blast from the Past: Great Providence Brewing Company

Ever wonder what it would be like to own stock in a brewery? I actually did. Unfortunately for me, the stock was only worth $1.85 per share when offered, and the 10 shares I owned (that I got for free) are no longer worth the paper they are printed on. The year was 1996, and the craft beer boom was at its height. It seemed like anyone and everyone with a business plan and some investors wanted to get in on the craft beer industry. In 1996, two Connecticut businessman thought they could make it in the beer business. They started life as the Great Atlantic Brewing Company in CT, but shifted gears and thought they could find success and build a brewery in Rhode Island. The Great Providence Brewing Company, of Providence, RI was born.

Great Providence seemed like it was going to be a success and the owners seemed to have a sound plan. They offered stock in the company directly to the public cutting out brokerage firms and underwriters. The hope was to generate $2.8 million in revenue though the sale of 1.5 million shares of stock at $1.85 a share. This money would be used to build a 50 barrel brewery in Providence with the initial goal of brewing 50,000 bbls of beeer a year. In the meantime Great Providence would contract brew their beers, and would build brand recognition in the City of Providence. It almost worked.

Great Providence contract brewed one beer, a pilsner by style. Initially this was to be a draught only product, and in January of 1997 Great Providence Pilsner was available on draught at 31 restaurants and bars in the City of Providence. Plans were to bottle this beer as well, and it would be available at liquor stores in RI, CT, and eventually MA. Sadly that never happened. This beer remained a draught only product for a few months, when eventually it started to dissapear. By the end of 1997, Great Providence Brewing Company had went bust.

The worst part here? Great Providence Pilsner was actually a pretty awesome beer. It really was a shame that this beer did not take off, because I remember being floored with how good it was. This beer was a crisp, clean pilsner with outstanding pilsner malt flavors with really fantastic herbal/grassy hop aromatics and bitterness. The body on this beer was so smooth and polished, I was amazed how flavorful yet drinkable this beer was on draught. It was the kind of beer you could drink a lot of, and that perfect balance between flavor and drinkability. Great Providence Brewing is yet another example of what might have been. I guess I could take comfort in the fact that I did have the chance to experience their beer, and will always remember this one.

Seasonal beers: Capitol City Fruitcake

The beauty of the craft brewing industry is breweries and brewpubs come in all shapes and sizes. Being a small brewer in not a bad thing, it can actually be a very good thing. It allows a brewer to be creative and brew beer styles that you just could not do, if you had to produced in a 100bbl or more run. Many brewpub and breweries offer seasonal or "one off" brews. Beers that might come around once a year, or brewed once every few years or so.

The Capitol City Brewing Company of Washington, DC is a very small, local brewpub chain with two locations in DC, and a third in Shirlington, VA. Established in 1992, they have been producing a number of beer styles, and their beers are quite popular in the DC Metro Area. I'm a big fan of this brewery, and have been drinking their beers since the late 1990's. I have visited all their locations, and even the one in Baltimore, MD that sadly closed a few years ago. You will always find some great beers at Cap City, and you will always find a good seasonal beer pouring at their locations. A good example of this, is a beer Cap City Shirlington will feature from time to time, and that is a beer they simply call Fruit Cake.

This beer is based on a Belgian strong ale that is brewed with 600 lbs of blackberries, red raspberries, and cherries. Cap City does not brew this beer very often, but when they do? You better get some, because it won't last. I have always enjoyed a well done fruit beer. Putting fruit in beer is something that has been done in brewing for centuries. The Belgians have perfected the art, and a well done fruit beer can be a truly amazing drinking experience. Cap City has a very unique and delicious one in Fruit Cake.

Fruit Cake pours to a brilliant, ruby red color, with a creamy, pink head, and a moderate amount of carbonation. The nose on this beer is fantastic, with lots of fresh and tart aromas of berries and cherry paired with peppery alcohol. The palate is slick and slightly oily, with really delicious sweet and sour flavors of berries, cherry, and pale malt sweetness. This beer finishes with more excellent sweet and sour berries/cherry flavor and ends with light peppery alcohol flavor that takes the cloying edge off of this beer.

Fruit Cake is a really well done fruit beer and an excellent example of why seasonal beers are so special. The fruit is the star here, but it has enough malt backbone to stand up to the fruity aromas and flavors to let you know you are drinking a good beer. Draught only, if you want this one , you will have to try it at the brewery, or purchase a 2 liter swing top growler to go. Cap City is a great, local brewpub chain that brews outstanding beers. You might not find Fruit Cake on your visit, but you will always find a great line up of regulars, and of course a great seasonal or two. For more information, visit Cap City's site at:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beer in the heart of Wine Country: Keuka Brewing Company

The Finger Lakes region of New York state is an absolutely beautiful place. It is here that you will find New York wine county with hundreds of vineyard and wineries. It is a wine lovers paradise. I enjoy drinking wine, but I am without question a beer lover. So I was very happy to find a brewery in the heart of wine country. If you ever venture to Hammondsport, NY and visit Lake Keuka you will find a very small, very local, craft brewery called the Keuka Brewing Company.

Established in October of 2008, this brewery's beers can only be found on draught at a handful of accounts in the Hammondsport/Keuka Lake area. They are brewing a rage of ales at the moment, ranging from a raspberry wheat, a Belgian witbier, a pale ale, an American red ale, and American India Pale Ale, a nutbrown ale, and a stout. If you visit the brewery for $3.00 you can get an unlimited tasting and $2.00 off the purchase of 1/2 gallon growler if you pay for the tasting. The brewery has a small gift shop/tasting area where you can purchase merchandise and growlers to go. When I visited last May, the brewer/owner stated that 22 oz bombers of their beers would be available some time in the future.

Stylistically their beers were accurate, and all their beers were well done, and very flavorful. I really enjoyed all their beers, with the stout and their IPA being my favorties. I wound up filling my growler with the stout, but would have been happy to fill it with any of their beers. If I lived in the area, I would be getting my growler filled weekly. This is very fresh, very flavorful, delicious beer packed with flavor and character. The true beauty of Keuka Brewing and small, local breweries like this place? If you want their beers you need to travel to the source. This is beer at its grass roots, and I for one love that. This place shows a lot of promise, and it is great to see a brewery on the Keuka Lake wine trail. This place is well worth checking out if you find yourself in the Finger Lakes. For more information about the brewery and its beers, visit their site at:

I got a crush on you: B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher

Is it possible to have a crush on a beer? I'm not sure about that, but I know I have enjoyed some beers so much, that I have made pilgrimages to the breweries to try the beer at its source. One such beer was B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher Oatmeal-Imperial Stout from the Hoppin' Frog Brewery of Akron, OH. When I tried this beer a few years back, you could not find it outside of the state of Ohio. Hoppin' Frog has since expanded and can now be found in a number of states. I can enjoy B.O.R.I.S. year round, but it is this time of year when I really love to drink this beer.
This is local beer at its very best. Hoppin' Frog is a very small microbrewery, that markets its beers in 22 oz bombers, and is also kegs for draught accounts in select markets. When I visited the brewery in June of 2009, they were brewing that day, and the crew at the brewery was hard at work. The owner/brewmaster Fred Karm was happy to stop what he was doing to talk to me, show me around the brewery a little, and most importantly, sell me some of his beer. You are welcome to stop by the brewery, usually after lunch time, to buy some bombers (cash only). Hoppin' Frog brews a number of beer styles, I purchased every beer style they had available, including a special bourbon barrel aged version of B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher. And while I was floored by that beer and all their products, I was there for one beer, B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher.

B.O.R.I.S. stands for Bodacious Oatmeal Russian Imperial Stout, and this is one truly amazing beer. This beer is a Russian Imperial Stout by style, but is a unique take on it. Most Imperial stouts do not have oatmeal in them, and this addition gives the beer a silky smooth mouth feel, on a big, bold, flavorful beer. B.O.R.I.S comes in at 9.4% abv and 60 IBU which makes this a very strong beer, with lots of big hop character to stand up to all that big, dark, roasty, and dark chocolate flavors of this beer. This is a very special beer, and it is easy to see why it won a gold medal at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival in the Imperial Stout category.
B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher pours to a jet black color with a thick, creamy, tan head and a moderate carbonation. The nose on this beer is awesome with big aromas of cocoa, dark chocolate, mild roast, and piney hops. The palate is oily and vicious on the tongue, with big, robust flavors of dark chocolate, coffee, cocoa, roast, and more chocolate. The oatmeal makes this beer silky and creamy as it goes down. B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher finishes with more dark chocolate. coffee, and roasty flavors up front, then ends with a good, piney hop bite that lingers.
This is one impressive beer. Very robust, very flavorful, very drinkable for such a big beer. It hides its 9.4% abv very well, so be careful with this one. Don't make any plans if you decide to drink the whole 22 oz bomber. This is one of my all time favorite beers of all times, of any style. This is the ideal sipping beer, perfect for this time of year, and the perfect beer to match with rich deserts. I love this one, and I really love Hoppin' Frog as a brewery. For more information visit their site at:

Beer Memories: Foggy Bottom Lager and Ale

The beer scene in America today is truly fantastic. The quality and variety of beer available in the United States is unmatched anywhere in the world. This is a great thing, and we as Americans are getting back to drinking locally as well as globally. Before Prohibition there were literally thousands of local breweries in the U.S. serving their beers to the local markets. Just about every town and city had their own brewery and our nation's capital, The District of Columbia, was no different. The Chr. Heurich Brewing Company was established in Washington, DC in 1873 by a German immigrant named Christian Heurich. By 1894 Heurich's beers had become so popular in DC a brewery the size of over two city blocks was constructed on the Potomac river and the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC.

Sadly by the 1950's Heurich had lost its local support, and with rise of a handful of powerful national breweries, Huerich closed its door in 1956. The brewery was knocked down, and on the brewery site now sits the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Heurich' s history might have ended there. The Heurich story continued 20 years later when in 1986 Gary F. Heurich, third generation brewer, and the founder's grandson, started the brewery up again but as a contract brewery. He named it the Olde Heurich Brewing Company, and had his beer brewed for him by the F.X. Matt Brewing Company of Utica, NY. Huerich started with one beer, Olde Heurich Maerzen Beer, a German styled marzen, which is a clean, malty, smooth and drinkable lager. It was the brewery's flagship, I actually tried this one in the early 1990's as a "beer of the month club" selection, and remember being impressed. A few years later I actually moved to the DC area, and was re-introduced to this beer.

In 1995 Huerich added another flagship beer with the introduction of Foggy Bottom Ale. Two years later he would change the name of the Maerzen to Foggy Bottom Lager. These beers had a real presence in the DC Metro Area, and you could find them in bottles in local beer stores and on draught at bars all across Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland. I remember drinking quite a bit of both the Foggy Bottom Lager and Ale on draught, and remember both being very well done beers. Olde Heurich went on to do seasonal beers such as Winter Fogg (porter) Spring Fogg (maibock) Autum Fogg (Oktoberfestbier) and Summer Fogg (American wheat beer) that were all well crafted beers with character.

Foggy Bottom Ale was a pale ale by style with a good pale and biscuity malt palate, paired with some great citrus and piney hop aromas, flavors, and bitterness. This beer was actually dry hopped with Hallertau and Cascade hop varieties. Dry hopping is a process where the beer is actually conditioned with hops after the brewing process giving this beer excellent hop aromas. This was a very drinkable, sociable pint, that went well food. I remember drinking a lot of this one on draught at a number of places in DC, and bottles being available in my good beer stores.

Foggy Bottom Lager was a classic example of marzen a Barvarian beer style that was the original Oktoberfestbier. Marzens are clean, smooth, malty beers with outstanding nutty and toasty malt flavors. This beer was very drinkable, and I remember enjoying this one on draught as well, and would purchase bottles of this one to enjoy at home as well.

Sadly it all came to an end again for Huerich this very week four years ago. On March 4th, 2006 the Washington Post reported Gary Huerich decided to stop producing Foggy Bottom beers due to poor sales and lack of real local support. The brand had been sold in DC Metro Area for 20 years, but DC's hometown beer would be no more. The really sad part is this brewery, its owner and his beers was DC last surviving link to a real regional brewery in the District. I believe part of the problem for Huerich was the fact that Foggy Bottom beers were contract brews, and there really had not been a Huerich brewery in DC since it closed in the 1950s. Huerich planned to open a brewery in DC, but it never happened, and Foggy Bottom beers never really got the "hometown" brand loyalty Huerich was hoping for.

I did not drink Foggy Bottom beers every day, but it was nice to know they were there, and I kind of miss the fact they are not. I have a lot of good memories of drinking Foggy Bottom beers in DC, so I pay my respect for them here. Oddly enough, you can still find the brewery's site on the web, and it is worth a look at:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Das Flenst: Flensburger Pilsner

Now here is a beer that I am very sad to say is hard to find at least here in the United States. Impossible to find is more like it, as this beer is not exported to the US. This is a very popular beer, but it is a big fish in a small pond if you will, as it is only popular in a particular region of Germany. The beer I speak of is Flensburger Pilsner from the Flensburger Brauerei of Flensburg, Germany. Flensburg is one of the most northern of all German cities, that its on the German/Danish border. This brewery was established in 1888, and their flagship brew is their pilsner, or as the locals call it Das Flenst.

Northern Germany is known for its pils which really is the German version on Czech Pilsner. German pils or pilnser, tends to have a more assertive hop character than the Czech version, yet remains a very balanced beer. Flensburger Pilsner is a classic example of of a crisp and clean beer, with brilliant hop aromatics and bitterness. Jever is the classic example of Northern German Pils, and is by far, the most popular example of this style. Jever can be found in a number of export markets, including the US, and I am happy to say I have easy access to that beer. Flensburger on the other hand, is pretty much a local beer, and while it enjoys popularity in Northern Germany, odds are you won't find this beer too far outside those Northern German markets.

This is a wonderfully crisp, and hoppy pils, that rivals Jever. It is marketed in beautiful 033l brown swing top bottles, that make a very distinctive"plop" sound when you open them.

Flensburger Pilsner pours to a beautiful, bright,golden color with a bright white head, and a good bit of carbonation. The clarity of this beer is really brilliant, and this might only apply to beer lovers, but it really is a thing of beauty to look at. The nose on this beer is fantastic with lots of vibrant, herbal, grassy aromatics that invite you in. The palate on this beer is fantastic as well, with really crisp pilsner malt flavor on a smooth, round, clean body. Flensburger Pilsner finishes with more crisp malt up front, then ends with a very dry, herbal hop bitterness that lingers on the tongue.

This is a flawless example of German Pils and is lager brewing at its best. Sold, clean, delicious, drinkable beer. Das Flenst is a beer you will want to drink a lot of, and I could see myself pounding this beer with impunity. The only problem for most beer lovers is the fact, you will have to take a trip to Northern Germany to get some. Its hoppy and crisp character, make it a perfect match for a number of classic German dishes, and spicy fare as well. Personally I would not match this one with food. This is a great drinking beer. Sure beer goes great with food, but sometimes you just got to drink beer, and forget about what food goes with it. Visit the brewery's website for more information at :

Legend of the Sierra Nevada: Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale

For beer lovers all across the United States, this is a legend. The Sierra Nevada Company of Chico, CA is one of the nation's best micro breweries, and it is one of America's first. Sierra Nevada products have become icons in the beer world, and this West Coast brewer has continued to grow leaps and bounds over the course of their history, enjoying national distribution to all 50 states.

Sierra Nevada really isn't a microbrewery anymore, they have grown big enough to be considered a Regional brewery. SN knows how to start the year out right, and they do so each January, with the winter release of their monster of a barleywine called Bigfoot. Bigfoot is legendary in the beer world, and for good reason. Barleywine, a style that originated in England, has always been a strong, warming, malty beer. Bigfoot is all that, but the brewers of SN did something a little different when they first brewed up this beer. They made their barleywine hoppy as well as strong and malty. Sierra Nevada was the first WestCoast brewer (or any brewer for that matter) to do this with barleywine, other West Coast brewers have followed suit, and many produce a barleywine not only big in malt and alcohol, but also big in hop character. Because of this, "West Coast" barleywine has become sort of an unofficial subset of the style.

The hops, and combination of hops, change in Bigfoot every year, and it is always a hoppy treat. Beer geeks will begin to see Bigfoot sightings start at the beginning of each year, but vintages of this beer can be enjoyed as well because Bigfoot is a beer that be laid down for years like wine. I believe that Bigfoot is a beer that should be consumed young, as that huge smack of hop character is most vibrant. When aged, some of those big hop flavors will mellow, and more complex and malty flavors will come through. Young, or old, Bigfoot is one of the most impressive barleywines you will ever taste.

Bigfoot '10 vintage pours to a beautiful, deep amber color with a thick and creamy tan head and a soft carbonation. The nose on this beer is very complex and aromatic. Big waves of peppery alcohol marry with aromas of sweet malt, fresh bread, and piney hop aromas. The palate of this beer is rich and lush, with a sea of smooth maltiness. Complex flavors of sweet malt, butter scotch, and estery fruit flavors of plum, coat the tongue. The body on this beer is fat and comforting, with a slick and oily mouth feel. Bigfoot ends with more of those complex malt flavors up front, then ends with a very warming (11% abv), piney/citric hop bitterness that lingers.

This beer is phenomenal, and without question is one of the beer world's finest barleywines. Bigfoot is the perfect after dinner drink, and the perfect night cap beer. I wouldn't match this beer with food, this is one you will want to slowly sip and savor. Again, this beer can be enjoyed both young, or with some age on it. I think it is a good practice to drink it both young, and with a few years of age on it. It will improve with age, but if you really want that big smack of hops, its signature character, drink it right away. Beware, Bigfoot is a barleywine, so it is a heady brew, and one you will get in big trouble with if you have more than one or two. For more information visit the brewery's site at:

Monday, March 1, 2010

The bar: A love story

While the Victorian Era ended in the United Kingdom in 1901 with the death of Queen Victoria, its American off shot started around 1876 and continued to about 1915. Also know as the Age of Consumption Americans were consuming many things including beer. It is interesting for a beer lover to look back to see what kind of beer Americans were drinking 100 years ago, and where Americans were drinking it.

Going into beer geek mode here, so if you have lost interest already, enjoy the picture. That is the Victorian era bar at the Old Ebbitt Grill which started its life as a saloon/bar in 1854. Bit of a tourist trap these days, but still a favorite of those who either live and work in the District.

For me beer is best when it is served on draught at a good, unpretentious bar. Brewpubs and beer bars are my watering holes of choice because they offer great quality and variety. That being said, I can enjoy a beer just about anywhere. It is not so much the drink, but where you are drinking it. Drinking was and is a social activity. We can go back to the colonial roots and see a tavern culture. Back in those days people did not drink bottled beer at home, they drank beer at a tavern, ale house, inn, or pub.
As the nation grew so did the saloon, bar and beer hall. Drinking in a bar or saloon was the most popular leisure activity for male workers from the 1870's until Prohibition was enacted in 1919. By 1897 licenced liquor dealers in the U.S. numbered over 215,000. Unlicensed establishments know as blind pigs added 50,000 more to that number. Major cities such as Boston, New York, and Chicago naturally had the highest concentration of saloons/bars outnumbering dry goods, grocery stores and meat markets combined. New York City had over 10,000 bars by 1915, one for every 515 people. Those numbers are staggering when you think about it, no pun intended. What we now as see as most old school bars today, really took hold in this era.

Many bar traditions also took shape. The "free lunch" was born in the saloon when Chicago barman Joseph C. Makin decided to serve a hot oyster with each drink. Other bars followed suit and some bars to this day will still serve free hot dogs or offer something for free at lunch time. While it might seem like a magnanimous gesture, it is actually good for business. Salty foods make you want to drink more, especially so when it come to beer. So the next time you see popcorn or pretzels on a bar? It is there to get you to drink more beer. I'm ok with that because I love to drink beer, and I love to drink it on draught at a good bar. A good bar is so much more than a place to get a drink or beer or whiskey. It really is a sanctuary, a home away from home.