Friday, February 29, 2008

John Hansell Interview - The Malt Advocate

Before there is whiskey, there is beer. That's how whiskey is made. Who better to tell you this than the guy who wrote the boo...err magazine on the subject? John Hansell is the creator and publisher of Malt Advocate, a magazine dedicated to whiskey appreciation. John has been writing about about beer, wine, and spirits for years and is a great addition to Philly Beer Week. His blog, What Does John Know, is a one stop source for whiskey enthusiasts.

He took some time out to talk to Grain Bill and made just about the most persuasive selling point of whiskey that i've ever heard. Here's the info for his Beer Week event, click "Read More" below to get to the interview.

Whisky Tasting with John Hansell
Monk’s Café
264 S. 16th St.
6 p.m. $65

John Hansell, world-renowned whisky expert and publisher of the Malt Advocate, will lead a tutored tasting of very special whiskies. This is a very special evening which features rare whiskies from demolished distilleries. Most of them were shuttered in the early 1980s. Some are "experimental" whiskies from that same era. This may be the only opportunity you will ever have to taste these whiskies, as they will become increasingly rare in the future. Only 24 seats available for this event. John's events sell out quickly, so be sure to call on January 14th to secure a ticket to this event.

John Hansell Interview - 02/28/07

As it stands you have the pleasure and pressure of hosting the only non-beer tasting event on the Philly Beer Week schedule. Aside from whiskey’s similarities to beer pre-distillation, what other familiarities can beer drinkers find waiting for them in a good whiskey?

Diversity, complexity, and individuality come to mind immediately.

Do you see much crossover between those who prefer craft beer and those who prefer fine whiskey, or is that just a Lew Bryson thing?

Not just a Lew Bryson thing, but he is helping to champion the cause. I was a full-time beer writer (and Malt Advocate was originally a beer publication) 15 years ago before expanding Malt Advocate to focus on whisky. Malt Advocate is called Malt Advocate because malted barley is the common bond between beer and whisky.

Whisky is a natural extension of beer. It is, after all, distilled beer. Imagine a great beer. And then imagine that great beer’s flavors concentrated by a factor of 10. That, my friend, is whisky!

What can attendees expect from your tasting at Monk’s on March 10th? This is not the kind of tasting that happens every day, that’s for sure.

It’s a tasting of rare whiskies from distilleries that have been demolished and will never produce whisky ever again. Most of the distilleries closed down about 25 years ago, during the early 1980s. Not only are they rare whiskies, but I also selected whiskies that are diverse in flavors, to make the tasting more interesting.

Where does this collection of whiskies come from and how did the decision come about for you to share it in this type of setting?

I believe that special things are meant to be shared, not hoarded. With people who will appreciate them, that is. The whiskies primarily come from my own personal collection. The Monk’s audience is usually very enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and appreciative. It’s an intimate setting where we can all learn together and have fun.

What thoughts would you like to share on Philly Beer Week as a whole?

I think it’s a great idea. That’s why I decided to be part of it. Philly is a great beer town. It’s time to let the rest of the world know this.

Do you have your sights set on any of the other events in particular?

They all look great, really.
Read more!

Philly Beer Week starts......HERE!

Ok, ok, ok. I know you're all waiting to see the beer list from my tasting tonight, and it'll be up in a few days, but we have more pressing matters to deal with right now.

Philly Beer Week is 7 days away. Granted, we've got events all over the place all the time anyway, but the calendar is just bonkers. Seriously, take a look, click on any day from the 7th to the 16th of March and check out your mind.

So what are we doing here at Grain Bill? Talking to everyone we can. We'll have interviews with Joe Sixpack, Adam Avery, the crew at Flying Dog, Mr. Malt Advocate himself, John Hansell and any others we can get ahold of.

Keep checking back as there will be a lot to cover before, during, and after Philly Beer Week. Read more!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Attention breweries, pubs, reps, and move makers. If you want free labor during Philly Beer Week, email me. Read more!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Flying Blind, A Tasting At My Place

To commemorate my first full week in my new, solo, apartment, i am hosting a beer tasting. Nothing major, nothing fancy, more of a scientific experiment on my part than anything else. 5 Guests, plus myself, all with varying degrees of knowledge and appreciation for beer. Tasting blind, taking notes, discussing, and unknowingly pulling me out of my newfound depression. It's gonna be awesome.

To see the specs,

-=Blind Pilot's Flight Night=-

Friday, February 29th @ 8 PM
157 Main St. Apt #3
Phoenixville, PA 19460
($5 Donation Appreciated)

A night of blind tastings with notes and discussion. Four flights of three beers each, linked by theme not necessarily by style.

Flight #1 - Malt's Got Your Tongue
Flight #2 - Cool Ship, Rocketman

-- palette cleanser --

Flight #3 - Get Out of My Basement
Flight #4 - Knock Your Lights Out

Snack Break:

Reserve Cheddar
Pub Pretzels with Jalapeno Raspberry Jam

Flight #5 - Red Eye Nightcap, Flying Over The Great Divide

If you weren't on the invite list for this one, don't fret it's a pilot round (ahh the plane jokes). These things can only get better and if you do want to come to a future event, just shoot me an email and i'll let you know the what, whens, and wheres.

Pics and the actual list of beers this weekend. Most likely Sunday, as i will be at Craft Beer Fest on Saturday trying to drum up a donation for the brewers.
Read more!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Quick Tasting Note - Nutfield Old Man Ale

I am waiting on some really good stuff to be returned to me (content wise), so until then all i have for you is my tasting notes for. Nutfield's Old Man Ale.

Nutfield's Old Man Ale - Portland, Maine 12 oz.

I'd love to taste a fresh one of these. My bottle may have floated a bit before it got to me as I can get just a whiff of lost love in the hops department. Still a good beer that I could certainly stand more than one of. On the upside what was left in the aroma was spicy hops (hello Tett) and a bit of yeast. They used Ringwood and this thing was butter free and ready for drinking. Due to age it was a bit off in the mouth, but i can tell a fresh one of these has to have a nice fruity finish.

On the downs, it was actually a bit chewy for a beer with just a faint amber hue to it. Maybe more chewy because the hops jumped ship a while ago. Definitely some cloying going on and a serious honey thing happening in the aftertaste. That could really be used to its advantage at the dinner table. If i am ever up in Portland not trying to shove a wine thief into Rob Tod's Lambic (i'll admit that does sound wierd), then i will give these guys a shot. I could get a true to form Road Soda.

For the brewer in you:

O.G. 1.055 - F.G. 1.015 - Alcohol 5.0%

Pale Malt
Crystal Wheat
Malted Wheat

Mt Hood


Read more!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Outer Styles - Breiten Sie Ihren Gaumen aus

If our earlier relations with the people of Germany hadn’t been so….stressed, we would have a seriously different brewing industry right now. You might be able to get a little more than yellow beer when you sit down to dinner at a restaurant.

If Prohibition hadn’t come along to mend peoples’ family lives and spur organized crime, people in America wouldn’t have lost the taste for traditional German beer and the people who used to make it wouldn’t have had to settle for less or close up shop entirely.

“Good fortune and bad are equally necessary to man, to fit him to meet the contingencies of this life.”

So now in modern day America we’re the ones settling. We take what the importers and wholesalers will give us and we hope that it’s been well taken care of along the way. Granted, we’re not desperate here, there’s good German beer to be had and, in a way, we’re probably better off having to hunt a little for some of it too.

Oh wait, we also have all these craft brewers in the states who look a style in the eye and head straight for it. Some shoot for tradition, others turn styles on their heads. So while we may not have the genuine article, at least we have a point of reference.

That brings us to Roggenbier.

I kid you not when I say that I was driving around one day when Roggenbier popped into my head. “Roggen. Roggen, Roggen…bier. What’s a Roggenbier?”

I don’t know where in my subconscious it came from, but I made with the googlage (after the driving thing) and got myself to the style guidelines. A dunkel with rye instead of wheat? This is a necessity. Although finding one is easier said than done. I checked my usual sources which all came up dry, so I stuffed it to the back of my mind as one of those things that would just have to come to me. And a few days later it did.

Iron Hill – Phoenixville.

They did a darned good job of it. The rye brings a bit of dryness to a beer that would otherwise be pretty forward in its sweetness. A little bite of sour, just a subtle nip, really made this beer stick out for me. I really like dunkels, but for my palate I have to drink them sparingly as the combination of phenols, overall sweetness and the fruity esters can be a bit like eating a bowl of cereal in the middle of a session.

Roggenbier saves the day. Taking a good bit of the sweetness away but still leaving the complete yeast profile (Roggens usually keep the same yeast strain as Dunkels, one that is meant impart hints of clove and fruit) leaves a beer that makes you want another (and another) as many good beers should.

The barkeep at Iron Hill also told me they did a Roggenbock last year and to keep my eyes out for it. I certainly will.

Hello baby, I’m gone, goodbye
Half a cup of Rogg ’n Felsen
Farewell to you old Southern sky
I’m on my way

Read more!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Natural Selection

It is important to know what we’re putting into our bodies. Important for us, important for the future, and important if you believe in the power of small business. Buying fresh, buying local, and buying smart keeps people who you probably relate most closely to in your tastes and ideals in business. Producers of fine artisan goods take pride in their craft and go to cost and labor lengths that bigger businesses won’t to make sure you have a great product.

Meet Beecher’s Handmade Cheeses. These guys are really cool.

Located in a busy Seattle market, Beecher’s makes a variety of artisan cheeses with milk from cows that are not fed growth hormones and that only eat high quality feed. This allows Beecher’s to make high quality cheese from the highest quality local milk available.

At their retail location in Pike Place Market, Beecher’s makes their cheese on premises while operating a café and cheese counter that offers their “World’s Best" Mac and Cheese alongside of Beecher’s and other local cheeses. Beecher’s is also the brains behind the Pure Foods Kids Workshop, which works to teach the youth about how foods effect your body, how to understand Nutritional Facts, and how to understand the marketing that is aimed at them.

Kurt Dammeier is the founder and owner of Beecher’s and his commitment to keeping it local and keeping it smart is a true testament to a form of consumerism that makes a difference and is easily achieved by us all. Kurt also owns 20% of the Pyramid Breweries business and is a member on their board. For the interview, click to

GB: For people unfamiliar (like me all the way over here on the East Coast) how would you describe Pike Place Market and how would you say that has helped expose Beecher’s to customers?

Kurt Dammeier: The market is the soul of the city. It has been operating continuously since the turn of the last century. It is a source of pride in a very new city that the center is still very old.

Did you open as just a cheese producer and shop or was the café in operation from the get go?

The store/cheesemaking was opened four years ago exactly as is. We are making more cheese now but the cheese sales, café and cheesemaking were there from the start.

Do you remember what cheese really opened your eyes and made you get serious about what you were eating? I understand you were pretty passionate about it from a young age.

Hard to imagine, but back in the early seventies when I was about 10 Tillamook was the artisan cheese of the time. I noticed a BIG difference between it and the commodity cheddar. Of course it was still made in open vats by people at the time.

What led you to Brad Sinko? What is the working relationship like between the two of you? Do you find yourself pitching him cheese suggestions or does he have free reign?

We found Brad through a recruiter. My role is basically creative director, We make to my idea and my palette.

How much have the cheese classes you hold at Beecher’s gotten you in touch with your customers and how much have they taught you about your own business?

An old saying is that to learn, teach. And yes, teaching these classes has forced me to learn much more.

I am not exaggerating when I say I have had your website open all day long at work. Every time I come back to it I find more and more useful information. What made you want to have such a complete source for providing customers with information about caring for and pairing cheese and the importance of buying fresh, local, undisturbed products?

I am a big believer in building the category with consumers, not just trying to sell our cheese. The old rising tide floats all boats theory That is why we sell a broad variety of local artisan cheeses and why our website seeks to educate.

How important is it to get milk from animals that aren’t pumped full of chemicals? And as more and more people move into an educated form of consumerism, how much more common do you see natural, fair, and whole foods being in the marketplace?

Michael Pollan’s new book has a saying. You are what you eat eats. It is important for flavor and for health.

How did the Pure Food Kids Workshop come about? It’s an amazing idea, how has it been going so far?

We started out with the idea that we would donate our 1% of sales to existing programs that were doing this. Then we found there weren’t any so we started one ourselves.

So you are a board member with the Pyramid Breweries, how did you get involved with them?

It seemed an interesting investment and I knew it would be a good place for me to learn about premium products. I bought about 20% of the company in the public markets and then was asked to join the board.

One of the things that i really admire about Pyramid is that they combine a far reach on the market with a sort of non-assuming approach. The beers really speak for themselves. I mean, your roster is anchored by three Weizens. That’s really cool.

In the world of Craft Beer is there a line between a solid offering list and keeping up with the trends?

It may be really two different types of craft brewers. For those in package in a big way across multiple markets you really have to focus on a single core style that is the driver of your business. When you are small you can experiment a lot.

What has the reception been like for the Imperial Hefe?

Very good in the press and with influencers. In terms of barrelage it is pretty small.

Thinking similarly to your strong feelings on local and sustainable culture, what can breweries, who have a lot of sources to consider for their raw materials, do to tie in this way of thinking?

Interestingly, not many have done this with any success. I have been urging PMID to do something along these lines, so far with no success.

One thing that a lot of brewers are talking about right now is perseverance through the challenging times that are looming over the beer industry. With an operation that was around way before the first micro/craft boom, it seems like Pyramid might be one of the best suited breweries to persevere through some potentially rough waters. What is Pyramid doing to prepare for the hop drought and malt hike?

Battening down the hatches. We all know it will be rough, but that prices will rise to cover costs eventually. You just have to be able to hang around.

Now for the obvious question: You get one Pyramid beer to pair with one Beecher’s cheese. What do you do?

I have to go with Flagship Reserve and Hefe…

What Craft Beers are you really into right now?

Mont Blanc Brewing, Blanche. Mostly, I just like to drink what is local*. I don’t take it too seriously.

*Joel's note: Mr. Dammeier was in France at the time of this interview. He REALLY keeps it local.
Read more!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tasting Notes - '96 Kriek and Goat Cheese

Ok people, tasting time.

Last night i enjoyed a Cantillon Kriek bottled in 1996 along with Drunken Goat and Humboldt Fog cheeses.

Cantillon Kriek '96
Brasserie Cantillon- Brussels, Belgium
750 mL in a Lindeman's flute

Drunken Goat / Murcia Al Vino
Wine Soaked Goat Cheese aged 30-45 days after wine - Murcia, Spain

Humboldt Fog
Surface ripened soft Goat Cheese. Cypress Grove Chevre - Arcata, CA

Everything after the pour was a complete surprise to me. I expected a much deeper color to the Lambic, maybe something murky and crimson, but no, this was a clear beer that almost had more of an amber hue than the red i was waiting for. Slight head in the flute that was gobbling itself up as the bubbles met the oxygen after rushing to the surface.

The head settled and fell away pretty quickly despite the ton of bubbles rushing up from the bottom of my glass. The aroma had that trickyness spontaneous beers seem to have for me. Unless there is a ton of funk in the nose it's really hard to tell if you're going to get something sweet or something acidic and tart.

Now with this guy bottled in '96 that means the cherries went into it in 1995 at the earliest, right? I wasn't expecting these cherries to hang for 13 years. At first it appeared as though they didn't. More gueze like than anything else, i was relishing this beer despite no real cherry presence.

As it warmed though and i sipped a bit as i had my first bite of Drunken Goat for the night everything changed. The creaminess from the cheese and the acidity and complex flavor of the beer made the cherries pop. WOW.

What a match, i am definitely going to try the Spanish goat on some more lambics and see how it does. A really solid cheese, for me this one is great by itself but it really stands well in a pairing, it has a great flavor...i mean the goats snack on wild herbs as they graze, so there's gotta be a little magic in there somewhere.

Where the wine soaked cheese really worked was in its subtlety, a lambic in general is going to take the driver's seat, so when it came time to pair up with Humboldt Fog there wasn't quite enough room for everyone.

Humboldt Fog is an amazing cheese. It's gooey, runny outer edge is barely contained by a cavey looking rind while a stark white softness is split by vegetal ash straight through the center. It's a beautiful cheese, it takes command when it's in your mouth and does a bang up job.

Paired with the acidity and faint cherry taste coming through the now warmed Kriek i was just having trouble putting the two together. Beer works harmoniously with food in a great way, but i think i was smashing together too many decibels for my own good.

Maybe it's just that i absolutely love Humboldt Fog and didn't want anything getting in it's way. I dunno.

Drunken Goat will definitely be a standard in my pairing arsenal while Humboldt Fog will be a cheese i use to impress (or hoard for myself).
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Just Firkin In The Woods

It’s that time of year again. Nugget Nectar saw its release a few weeks ago and the Eastern Conference wins again. This beer is divine. Extremely cost effective for a seasonal beer of such delicious proportions…now here’s where it gets fun.

Last year i had a pint of it pulled from the hand pumps at Teresa’s Next Door and it was an otherworldly experience. I could smell the hops from about a foot and a half away and the fullness of flavor and smoothness of this beer was just spot on. So when i heard that Union Jacks – Manatawny was doing a Troegs promo with a firkin of Nugget Nectar, i knew it was an occasion not to miss.

Troegs has been on a tear the last few years. Their big seasonals (Nugget Nectar and the Mad/Naked Elves) have huge followings ‘round these parts. There is a cool divide between the two because on one hand you have a hop forward “Imperial Amber” that needs to be found and enjoyed as soon as you can get your hands on it. It’s delicate, all those hops aren’t getting any better the longer they sit so you need to be proactive. The Mad and Naked Elf offerings are vintage worthy. They are of Belgian leanings and with the Mad Elf’s depth of flavor from chocolate malt, local honey, and cherry layers you'll be thankful in a year or two when someone offers you a vertical flight after Christmas dinner.

Their Scratch Beer Series has been a great way to get the public involved in a ritual of anticipation and scramble as Troegs only bottles 200 cases of these single release beers and only sells them at the brewery. The series is a dedication to the Trogner brothers in their fertile pre-brewery state. They were learning the business while homebrewing and these beers come directly from the notes they took while bubbling wort as green little brewers on their way to big, big things.

The Scratch Beer Series by style has consisted of the following beers, great descriptions here:

Scratch #1: California Common
Scratch #2: Porter
Scratch #3: Tripel
Scratch #4: Barleywine
Scratch #5: Imperial Oatmeal Stout
Scratch #6: Unfiltered Export Lager
Scratch #7: Weizenbock
Scratch #8: Grand Cru (rumored, not yet released)

Ok, so enough background. If you know Troegs you know all that stuff. The firkin was amazing, it was delicious, but what came with it made for a very special evening indeed. Troegs sent their super-rep Nick in to tout the beer as well as one of their brewers Whitney Thompson. Also in tow was Larry Horowitz, brewer de royale` with Iron Hill.

You could see the excitement for Nugget Nectar and for Craft Beer oozing out of them. Talking to them you could tell that these people genuinely love what they do and are excited to share it with the rest of us. Commerce is a weird, weird thing and it is good to know that the community aspects of Craft Beer mirror a lot of the principles upon which the industry itself is based. Later in the evening (where it began to get a little foggy for me) Brian O’Reilly of the Sly Fox showed up as well. The camaraderie between these three brewers of far different outfits and business models was extremely inspiring.

This is why we support our local brewers so heavily: in addition to the amazing beer and events they provide for us, they really love what they’re doing, are proud of it, and can gather to celebrate each others’ successes. Cheers to them.
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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Promises, Promises

Nugget Nectar and praise of some great people will be tomorrow. For right now, just a few pictures i snapped today. Also some rare beer and goat cheese tasting notes will be up real soon like too.

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Blogs Suck

Man, I really don't want to do this.

Sure I've been to some good blogs, but really what is a blog beyond a spotlight for pretension (I mean just look where this sentence is going...) and chance to realize you can't even handle keeping up with your laundry, let alone content that's interesting for whatever readership you end up having?

Well, hopefully it's a chance to show some potential employer what I know and what I'm dedicated to. If everything goes right this will be a place where you'll be able to find information, ideas, news, pictures, and opinions that will make you high five into empty air or curse me and my laptop from however many miles away you are.

Alright, down to tacks.

This is all about beer.

Sure you're going to read about cheese, maybe see some food recipes, there might be some science and math going on. But that's all part of beer.

Beer goes with food, i mean it really goes with food. I'm just starting to learn about it all, but Mr. Garrett Oliver has been a huge help via his book, The Brewmaster's Table ( If you are even remotely interested in the pairing of beer and food this book opens up a whole universe of possibilites.

Anyhow, enough 'Hi, my name is" I'm off to do some stuff before i come back and post about how amazing it is to drink a very fresh beer with someone who made it and how cool people in the craft beer industry are in general. Oh, a couple of pictures too.

So, my name is Joel. I don't capitalize the word "I" unless i am using it to start a sentence. I don't believe in it, it's greedy. Read more!