Friday, May 30, 2008

Happy 1st Birthday Homebrew Blogging Day!

Yeah, that's right- i used an exclamation point. Do something about it.

Here we go. Thanks to Adam at Beer Bits 2, two obsessive worlds will now collide on a monthly basis as bloggers who homebrew (or vice versa, depending what the mirror looks like to you) have a Session-like place to pick a topic and all post about their own experiences and opinions. It's a great idea and i'm really looking forward to reading the posts for this month.

Adam chose the first topic and is hosting this month, as is the custom, and we're starting things off, well, at the beginning. Adam told all of the homebrew bloggers to write about how they got started, so the stories of disaster, infection, and falling in love should all start rolling in in a few hours.

My adventures begin at the click of the link....

It is really quite fitting that the first Homebrew Blogging Day is falling just before the beginning of June and even more fitting that it's all about my beginnings in making my own beer. In just a few short days i will be celebrating one year as a homebrewer. I think i made or participated in about 8 batches this year. Some came out great, some...well, that's what we're gathered here to talk about. Oy.

It seems like so many homebrewers that i talk to got their start the same way i did. I'm seeing friends getting into it right now in the exact same way. It's just one of those things that doesn't even really seem like a possibility until you think about it. You just need to hear that it isn't terribly difficult. That it's fun. That sooner or later you might start saving money by doing it (ha, someday).

Simple conversation.

Standing behind the bar with Ryan G, one of my favorite workmates (and now one of Vermont's newest education graduates) we got talking about beer that we love and somehow got talking about making beer ourselves. We laughed, thought about it, then thought more seriously about it. Why not? So we split a kit from Midwest and got ourselves two recipe kits and a few extra hops and set out to brew some beer.

I read a little, he read a little, we both got really excited, then we just picked a day and made it happen. Or tried to.

Here's the thing about homebrewing. When it's pretty foreign to you, there are a lot of ins and outs, a lot of things to think about and understand and pay close attention to. Once you get the knack for it, you can make much better use of your resources and have a lot of control over your beer's destiny.

The brewday didn't go too bad really, but let's review all of the mistakes we made:

-Squeezed the crap out of our specialty grains before removing the muslin bag from the steep. If what we made actually ended up tasting like beer, we'd probably had some serious tannic attack going on.

-Didn't have much of a plan for cooling the wort. An ice bath, sure we can make one of those. Three trays worth of melted ice later and our wort was still well over 100 degrees. We probably looked like we were handling plutonium or something, carefully running into the bathroom with a kettle full of hot wort, trying to make a cold bath for it.

-Fermentation. I take full responsibility for seriously ruining the first batch of beer. I knew you had to shake the bucket to aerate the wort before pitching yeast...i didn't realize or didn't read enough to know not to disturb it once fermentation took off and finished. This is something i'd learn the hard way a few batches in.

-My ideas of a rigorous fermentation and what a rigorous fermentation really is differed pretty greatly back then. As the airlock bubbled away, i couldn't hear anything churning in the bucket. I thought i was supposed to be able to hear this thing going crazy in there. No dice. Give it a shake.

-Dry Hop. Well if these hops are just going to sit on the surface of the beer then how's the beer in the middle and bottom going to even be affected by them? Shake it up.

Needless to say, Batch 1...not a success.

So batches came and batches went. I ruined a perfectly good pumpkin ale (made with real pumpkin) by trying to re-aerate my wort when repicthing more yeast. I made a nice strong dark and finally began to take my time in the reading aspect of homebrewing because there is a lot to learn.

Bryan, the other member of The Stout Yeomen Brewing Co (our pseudo-quasi Homebrew Club) got his kit for Christmas and just let it sit there as he read Palmer from cover to cover. His first batch, a dry hopped Copper Ale (the exact same kit and dry hop we'd attempted as our 1st batch last June) came out great. He knew what he was doing, knew what to expect, and made a really nice beer that scored well at the War of the Worts.

I'm the kind of guy that tends to learn from his mistakes and in that regard i find myself very smart. And i say that because i give myself a lot to learn from.

In this first year of brewing, i've finally started to turn out some nice batches, i'm using resources to put my own recipes together, learning a lot from other brewers that i speak to in real life and on homebrewing message boards, and things are good. When the time is right i'd like to invest in a kegorator and start to bottle a lot less beer. Bottles are a great way of sharing beer, but bottling a batch of beer alone isn't all its cracked up to be.

Dr. Joel's Bad Batches of Beer:

-Copper Ale
-Brown Ale (majorly infected..only infection to date)
-Peach Wheat (this was actually an ok batch of beer, but peach extract made it hard to have more than one)
-Spiced Pumpkin Ale (this thing was a winner until i shook the crap out of it on a repitch)

Dr. Joel's Good Batches of Beer:

-Brewer's Brune (or Dr. Joel's Jekyll Juice as name by the boys at Teresa's Next Door): A Belgian Strong Dark Ale made with a big grain bill, dark candi sugar, and the Ardennes yeast strain. It was strong, it was dark, it just didn't age the way i thought it would.

-Partially Free Brown Ale: Part of the Oak experiment with Bryan. We brewed the same batch of beer and oaked it differently. A brown ale made with Chocolate Rye. This was a last minute substitution aided by the guidance of George and Nancy at the homebrew shop. This beer came out really nice and is the first one that i was very happy with.

-Raucco's Rye Red Ale: This is the beer i blogged about during American Craft Beer week. I bottled on Sunday and cracked one open before TND last night. I'll probably just end up calling this an IPA because of my steeping problems- it doesn't scream Red Ale. But it's a nice beer and i look forward to cracking one open about two weeks from now for the full effect. I also owe my dentist some beer (really, i do) and i hope she likes this and can see the beauty of it despite the fact that i'll also be giving her a bottle of Nugget Nectar.

So that's it you creeps. More info than you probably wanted, but that's been my Homebrewing experience from the first batch. Homebrewing has been a great little hobby for me to dig my heels into. I've learned a lot about much more than beer as a result. I make tea differently now, i do little experiments with hops, i taste beer differently.

Adam has got me thinking about all of these homebrew t-shirts he's coming up with, so i will end my post with a t-shirt idea of my own:

"I Brewed This Shirt"
Read more!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Day In The Life

Another post, no pictures. There were going to be pictures, there were going to be a lot of things on Tuesday evening...then i lost my phone. The several hours of searching and hunting completely disabled me from getting done the important things in my life and i found it just in time to finalize sushi plans in Skippack at the awesome Tokyo. We were out on the deck ready to pop open a bottle* of Malheur Brut when the clouds rolled in and forced us, our bottle, and our boat indoors.

So the flyers to be posted about The Bridge Street Tasting Series will have to go up today. That's fine, i wouldn't have caught Mike at Cheese! on Tuesday anyway because they close up shop on Mon and Tues.

Anyhow, more pressing matters. Beer...

I hit the road Wednesday with the Beer Lass herself, Suzanne Woods for a glimpse into the life of a Sales Director. For those that don't know, Suz is the sales beacon for Sly Fox Brewing Company in addition to many other endeavors (both current and upcoming) in the sudsy world of beer. Full disclosure one way or the other of my reason for doing so will be forthcoming in a couple weeks, but for now i'll just say i had good reason to do some job shadowing. So i made like a shadow as we stopped in at a bunch of Sly Fox accounts and got a feel for what goes on in the world of beer. I learned a lot and we got to a bunch of great places.

I hadn't been to Devil's Alley and Memphis Taproom yet, so those were two great stops. I can't wait to get back to Memphis to try some food. That place is every bit as great as everyone says it is.


I will buy you a beer if you comment or email me the name of the photograph or photographer who's picture of the motorcycle flying through the window is framed in the Memphis Taproom's men's bathroom**. I think it's one of the greatest pictures i have ever seen.

So in addition to great food at Good Dog (as always), almost being a key witness in one publican's discovery of what was thought to be a dead homeless man, and a tense match of rock, paper, scissors (international rules), i learned a bunch of valuable stuff about how the beer sales business works.

Things all wrapped up at Jose Pistola's for their North Coast Promotion with Pranqster, Brother Thelonious, Acme Pale, Red Seal, and Old Rasputin on Nitrogen. Each beer got you a little closer to true bliss as promised by Casey Parker. Driving back to Phoenixville wasn't the only reason i stopped after three.

In all a very good day indeed. One of these days you people will clock into the Grain Bill and see more than words again. Seriously. Someday.

* Quick beer tip #1 - With a big corked bottle of beer and a place that serves beer you don't care for, calling ahead and asking if you can bring in a bottle of champagne is always worth a try. With Malheur you're kind of not even lying.

** Info must lead to me actually finding this picture on the interwebs.
Read more!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

This Is One Serious Lack of Images.

Short lived as it may be, i think this is the first time the front page of Grain Bill has had absolutely no pictures whatsoever. That's a problem. I didn't realize i had so much to say and so little to show. Surely that can be changed.

Just to catch up on a few things:

The Hop Head Red is out there and its fantastic, it came over here just in time for the Spring that finally decided to show up. The hopping is on the floral end of things which is just fine by me in this crisp clean beer from Green Flash.

Victory's Brewpub is doing some serious damage in the Cask ale department. Kev reports Hop Devil, Hop Wallop, Storm King, and Uncle Teddy's on as of yesterday with ESB ready once something kicks.

I still haven't made it into Ron's Schoolhouse since the bar was put it. Not gonna happen this week either. One of these days.

Not the most exciting blog post you ever did read, i realize that. I'm being very careful with what i say at the moment so Big Dan can't get a whiff of my trail. . Read more!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Seek Inclusion: Iron Hill and Brew Lounge 5/22/08

Wow. Ya know, i'm just gonna come clean. This blog is probably the closest thing to a confessional i'll come to for a while so the beans are gonna spill around here people.

I used to have a really short sided view of the Iron Hill brewpubs. If you've read much of my blog, you'll know that i now sing their praises pretty what happened? Well, i opened up my mind and realized that i don't know everything after all. Full conversion began in Media with their Berliner. Larry Horowitz' lineup for the War of the Worts was just plain ridiculous (and you can't talk about the beer business with a more positive minded guy than Larry). I missed the Belgian event in West Chester, but have been told by a very reliable source that it is something to make a point of catching next year.

They used a tabasco barrel for God's sake. (Sake, not God's Sake)

Click to
I'd always been a fan of the food at Iron Hill and i thought i had them all figured out years back when i first checked them out. I thought they played it safe and just catered to a dinner/family crowd. I thought they didn't have anything to offer to me....Then i met the Quadfather, then i met their Wee Heavy, then i met their Roggenbier, then i met their dry hoppped Iron Bound on cask, then i met Iron Bound on nitro (an APA on Nitro?), then i met their mug club parties.

Tim Stumpf, 'my' Iron Hill brewer is doing a hell of a job in Phoenixville. I have been trying to stop weekly since joining the Mug Club and he has kept things really interesting. The staff is friendly as can be and i've even begun to meet some of the natives.

So to the Mug Club party then? Strap on your's what they had on tap:

Pig Iron Porter
Wee Heavy
Bourbon Barrel Wee Heavy
Baltic Porter

NITRO: Bourbon Barrel Russian Imperial Stout
CASK: West Coast Wheat

Add to that some Cypress Grove goat cheeses and something local (Birch Run?) from the Big Cheese himself, Mike Romando and you've got yourself a party.

Or you've got yourself a party to go to.

The Brew Lounge held a meetup last night at The Drafting Room in Exton. I was a late comer, but there was plenty of hanging out left to be done. TDR had tapped Hop Head Red, so i finally got a taste and as usual, they had a lot of great stuff to try.

Our wounded soldier, Cask Ale Kev was there as was Adam of Beer Bits 2. We talked homebrew with Jeremy and Greg from Exton beverage showed up for a chat. I'm sure Bryan will write the thing up properly so i'm reserving space to link to it

Adam is starting a monthly homebrewing blog post, a' la The Session, so i'll definitely be hopping on that train. Check out his blog, its a great read.
Read more!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Let's Just Talk About Food For A Minute

I posted a quote from Brewmaster's Table in my scribblings about a Victory beer dinner a little while back and i am finding that it really, really rings true.

The jist, if you didn't click over, is that sometimes we get too wrapped up in the day to day operations of life to concentrate on a good meal. Sometimes we have to eat just to fuel up and don't get to sit down and really enjoy something.

This has been happening to me lately, i honestly don't know why, but i've been running around quite a bit during my prime kitchen hours and haven't been cooking nearly as much as i want to.

So here's where my head is at. I've been discovering all types of foods that i'd just never had before over the past few years. The more i read, the more i poke my head into different restaurants, etc the more i end up getting exposed to, as anyone would. I've been watching No Reservations too, so that has certainly opened my eyes (and in many cases my stomach...but not all).

So maybe it is ironic between gourmet Indian cuisine, traditional Indian fare, Thai, and getting over my fear of scallops (thank you Andy Dickerson) that what i've found myself getting into from a food shopping and meal prepping aspect has been food that is so much more simple and in many cases so much more plain. It's not laziness, i know at least that much. I love to let the hours slip away over the stove with a couple records playing.

I've made some connections with, of all things, traditional English cuisine. A long and winding story i'd tell you over a pint would reveal a novel i started writing sometime during college. At times the words poured out of me, but in other spells i would force sentences out one by one. I was overthinking something i didn't know how to properly execute and its ended up as chapters and notes and ideas on a computer disk.

But the place is very much like the portrayals of Olde England and port towns and villages i'd seen in books and cartoons growing up. They stuck, don't know why. Bustling cobblestone streets, voices all muddled together as people sell their wares in an open air market set up in an alley, fat red-faced men laughing as they sip from tin goblets, buskers that resemble The Band trying to make a pound on some corner.

This food falls right in line with that. Although not connected by geography, the writings of Dylan Thomas have always connected me to that same unconcious place. Whether it be men doing the devil's work or a simple rousing night on the town, Thomas would frequently takes us to a room full of characters deep into the night's allowance, with a watchful landlord presiding over the action.

The image in my mind was always one with a necessity for simplicity and these foods certainly represent that. Many derived more from an approach of 'What do we have left?' than anything else, this food has stayed very much the same for hundreds of years. It is easy to picture it served in a pub on a dull, rainy day just the same as i see it laid out in the hearth warmed kitchen of an English farmhouse. The dishes alone can blur the lines of time. I think that is a huge part of why i am drawn to it.

What am i eating you ask? Right now stuff that's easy to prepare. I've got a lot to learn in the kitchen, but these meals are as much a therapeutic touch as anything else really. They taste great, of course, but they're a transporter and that is really important.

The Ploughman's Lunch:

A lot of people believe this is a meal with a manufactured history, that's fine, i'll bite. The idea behind the meal is that it's a simple offering of goods a ploughman could take from home in a sack and unwrap and enjoy at midday right in the fields. You've got a nice chunk of English cheese, bread, pickle, tomato, and maybe some pickled onions and bit of mustard. There are variations, i've certainly added and subtracted for my own, but for such a raw, bits and pieces meal you really get to enjoy a lot of different tastes and flavors without eating a whole lot.

Toad In The Hole:

Basically it's sausage baked in Yorkshire pudding with gravy on top. I'm still working out an English ale gravy recipe, but this is easy to prep and easy to make and will fill you up in a hurry. Talk around the lunch table has involved tossing some veggies into the batter, so i may go in that direction next time around.

Bangers and Mash:

Of course. Sausages over mashed potatoes, gravy over everything. So simple, so delicious. There's a pub down the street from me with bangers on the menu and i ducked in during a snow storm over the winter and it was absolute perfection. Too messy to drive to work, not messy enough to keep the town out of the bars. Seems to be a theme every winter.

The English Breakfast:

Eat your heart out. Most everything is fried up in the full English Breakfast and that's just fine with me. Eggs, meat (sausage please), tomatoes, baked beans, fried bread, black pudding. Pile it on and pile it high boys.

Now i have never had black pudding, but i think i'm ready to try. It's not nearly as frightening as it might seem at the onset. What's the saying? Use everything but the squeal? I buy into that at the time being.

What to drink? There's no way to turn your back on the classic and obvious choices here. There are certainly a great number of American craft beers that would serve up well here...Brooklyn Brown was my beer for my first stab at Toad In The Hole, but let's remain in traditional form here.

I am very partial to the Brewery at Tadcaster, the Samuel Smith line of outstanding British Ales. This is due in part because i learned about many styles of British beer by way of their products. In the necks of the woods i was drinking beer in when i was learning about Porter, Oatmeal Stout, English IPA, and Nut Brown Ale, Sammy Smith was what as available. Thank you for your hard work Mr. Finkel.

Samuel Smith

Not to be a single-dimensional or brand loyal consumer, i've got to celebrate other good beers and breweries here who are owed their due. Fuller's is widely available and worth your while, the ESB and London Porter are all over the place. I've yet to try Adnam's and with rosy cheeks i'll admit to still not having experienced Old Speckled Hen or at least not since its meant anything anyway. Bitters and milds, bitters and milds, bitters and milds.

CAMRA Just because.

So there you have it, a lot of words about something really simple. That's exactly how i feel about this food though so it serves me right for opening my big mouth.


Read more!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How i don't set the world on fire, Vol. #1

Ok, status check.

Not a ton to report today, but i'd feel like all this gloomy weather was getting the best of me if i didn't post something.

Actually, truth be told i really enjoy days like the one a lot of us are looking out our windows and seeing. I've done some really cool stuff during rain storms and days of general gray.

My Dad used to take me on walks in thunderstorms in the summer and that was awesome. There was always that element of danger that makes it good to be close to your Dad, it's like some invincibility thing that you feel when you really trust someone.

Getting back on track though, what is happening this week?

Well i am pouring at the Full Mooner tonight at the Ugly Moose... 6:30 - 9:30 PM in the garage. We're pouring Dogfish Head, Southampton, Riverhorse, and Oskar Blues. If you're in the 'yunk and not at Flat Rock then you should come hang out. $10 gets you samples all night.

Thursday is full of events. I'm definitely starting at the Mug Club Party at Iron Hill in Phoenixville and wondering if there will actually be Cannabilistic left (doubtful)...they had on Rye IPA Cask, Rye IPA, and a Kev approved Baltic Porter yesterday too and they're rolling out something special for the muggies. If you've got a membership card i hope to see you there, it'd be cool to put some names to faces in there.

Then i really want to go show my support for The Brew Lounge at The Drafting Room even though Thursday is usually reserved for Teresas Next Door. Can i do all three? Heck no, i rise before 6 am Friday and work until midnight dude.

Other than that it's a very Tiki Memorial Day. Catch me behind the bar Friday, Saturday, and Sunday this weekend. We're rolling out some new beers soon, they may be in this week, they may be in the following.

I made Toad In The Hole last night and paired it with a Brooklyn Brown. I need to work on the recipe just a touch, but you'll definitely catch me making this often.

Raucco's Red Rye has got a nice blanket of Cascades floating on top and will be bottled next week. Johnny gets married the second week of June, the timing is perfect.

Read more!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bridge Street Brewskies

You may have heard the rumors circulating wherever people are drinking good beer. You may have seen the flyer at your local fair trade, hand made joint. I am here to tell you that it's coming people. The organic beer is coming and you should be there to taste it.

What should be the very first of a bunch in the Bridge Street Tasting Series, the event is going down in Phoenixville's 'Happening District' and its approaching quickly.

On June 5th from 6 - 9pm at Earthmart on Bridge Street (in between Wolfgang Books and The Colonial Theater) we'll be tasting organic beers from Peak Organics and Wolaver's. A taster glass is $3 and you can taste until your heart's content.

Earthmart is more than meets the eye, while they offer a great variety of handmade products from kitchen utensils to glassware as well as organic and fair trade food and drink, Earthmart can help you turn your home into a center of energy and resource conservation. From sinks and flue-less fireplaces (which are really awesome) to solar fans for your attic. Where else can you get a veggie burrito and an environmentally safe fireplace in one stop?

This is sort of a pilot episode to see what the turnout looks like, but future tastings are planned to be a bit more involved, with a lot of different beer to be paired with a lot of the different businesses Phoenixville has to offer.

This one will be a good time though, that much is certain. The staff at Earthmart is a lot of fun, Peak is sending a rep, and i'll be humming symphonies and juggling toy cars as i pour from Wolaver's fine organic products.

While things like charity and bettering our quality of life are fresh in my mind, this event is being held simply to spread information about organic brewing and get the names Earthmart and Grain Bill ( out there to you folks. The $3 will hopefully pay for the beer and ice. Come say hi.

If by some chance you're a business in the Phoenixville area and you'd like to put on a tasting of your own, please get in touch and we'll start planning.
Read more!

Friday, May 16, 2008

American Craft Beer Week - Food & Beer

Don't know if i am going to get the chance for my beer and food post today, so in the meantime check out this link to a good article on coasters and white linen. Hopefully we get to talk food and beer later. Read more!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

American Craft Beer Week - The Collective

Even though i catch myself doing it from time to time, i really dislike using the term ‘scene’ to describe any community of people linked together by common ideas. To me, it makes the group in question seem transient or passing. To get to the point of even being lumped under such a term though, there has to be enough support and investment to build the community mindset. So this is why I choose the term Collective. It takes people who are there for the love of something, it takes people who are there to further that something’s potential, and it takes people who are there because they realize that the strength of unity is no accident.

The Craft Beer Collective is quite impressive. There is a central goal or ideal that lingers over every corner of activity within the craft beer world. On some ends are the relentless collectors or completists looking to gain access to everything they can by any means necessary. On other ends are those looking to get as locally involved as they can, showing appreciation for what their local brewers or distributors do and will volunteer themselves to the cause. Other ends find groups and clubs, sometimes quite specialized, who gather together under a common understanding and use power in numbers to bind themselves and their goals. Others just float, they like to experience a little bit of everything and find that craft beer attracts a lot of friendly, like minded people who are a lot of fun to just sit and have a beer with aside from stigma or expectation.

Hovering above all of this are the tools of unity, the references and maps that are shared uniformly by those who enjoy craft beer and those who making a living from it. Some are as simple as a website, magazine, or newspaper and others are events that can serve as a proving ground or marketing exhibition for all to revel in and experience.

The collective mind though has one common tie that binds all of its components. Everyone is here for beer that’s made honestly from the best ingredients in the world by the best brewers in our country. Support is at the forefront as the craft beer world realizes amidst all the fun that it is still the little guy. The collective has arrived with and achieved greater understanding of what support systems are all about; simply by our placement in the grand scheme of things, we’ll always have an eye over our shoulder for Goliath.

So what makes the world go round in this community of craft beer brewers and drinkers? Well, a whole lot of stuff.

Most importantly, there are so many breweries and brewpubs that go to great lengths to build relationships with their customers. They throw them parties and special events, they invite them into their breweries to help out, they use them as a test market. Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione writes in his book, Brewing Up A Business, “We were fortunate to have some really savvy, beer-drinking regulars who were more than happy to give us their opinions on which beers worked and which ones didn’t. We would tweak the recipes to satisfy our own palates and those of the customers who understood the kinds of beers we were trying to brew. They shared with us what they were looking for in a beer, and we tried to educate them on the kinds of beer we were hoping to brew. These regular customers and the staff and Dogfish Head learned a lot from each other.”

The communication between those making the products and those buying them is extremely tight knit for an industry that has begun to post multi-billion dollar retail sales numbers in recent years. The connection and interaction is kind of amazing in the face of those numbers.

Falling right in line with this, competition between craft brewers is rarely perceived as something more than a bit of fun. In a market with so many options, it would seem that everyone would be clawing at shelf space and sales, but many craft brewers are quick to note that everyone is the little guy in the face of the macro breweries. Craft brewers support each other, brew together, offer up equipment at good prices when they expand, and even hang out together. Despite the thousands of different stories and backgrounds that make up the people working in the craft beer industry, there’s one spirit common to them all and it’s one worth celebrating through their hard work and their products.

For those with all the other jobs there are to have in the world, there’s a world of possibilities available to them and they’re all taken advantage of to the fullest. From weekly trips or after work stops to the local brewpub and beer bar to cross country treks for brewery tours and beer unavailable on their home turf, craft beer drinkers let little stand in their way.

Clubs support the industry greatly whether they are formally driving towards a certain goal or simply giving people an excuse to get together. They are varied far and wide: While some gather to brew their own beer, others gather to trade beer from all over the country as they sample and tell tales of how they’ve gotten some of the rarest beers in America. Other groups seek to educate in a relaxed atmosphere and others simply want to exhaust the possibilities of their city’s available barstools. Many brewpubs and bars are quite accomodating towards the quirks these clubs may have (this includes clientele).

It is easy to stake this claim with no research done whatsoever: the biggest number of people flock to the quickest source and get the majority of the information. Beer Advocate is the epicenter of craft beer’s informational and social needs. It is a database, a meeting place, and an educational kiosk where one can get quick answers to a ton of beer related questions. Jason and Todd Alstrom have created a place for beer lovers, beer geeks, and beer inquisitors to have their voices heard and questions answered. Aside from 35+ specialized message boards, one can easily find information on beer styles, serving and pairing suggestions, events, venue information, and complete offering histories of just about every brewery in the world. Plus if you ever wanted to know what some random dude in Alaska thinks about a beer, you can look up his thoughts on any beer he cares to place a rating on.

Likewise, you’ve got Rate Beer, another great resource site. With an organizational bent that’s a bit different than Beer Advocate, Rate Beer is a great reference. With breakdowns of states and countries where you can look up your local distributors or brewpubs, the site is a definite one-stop source for tons of valuable information. The more you hop around the site the more you will find including homebrew recipes, a glossary, and some well thought out articles.

From homebrewing to news and tasting notes, the craft beer airwaves are full of voices and the sounds of glasses being filled. Podcasts and webcasts pop up all the time to the delight of cubicle workers from coast to coast. Simply searching through google will turn up a ton of options and digging through the archives of many different shows will always yield some very interesting and relevant surprises.

Radio shows include:

Basic Brewing Radio
Craft Beer Radio
The Good Beer Show
Big Foamy Head
The Sunday Session
The Jamil Show

The internet even has a hub for its pros to hang out in. is a comprehensive resource for the craft beer industry to get business ideas and tips, buy or sell equipment, seek out help, advice, and employees, and discuss industry trends and issues. Featuring articles, message boards, and classified ads as well as a database of suppliers and vendors, a lot can be learned about the business by just reading and watching.

While you’re online you may as well check in with the zillion beer bloggers worldwide. With everyone from brewers to bar backs blogging away, if you want to get up to speed on what’s happening in with a brewery, country, city, or specific brand of beer, you can find it on a blog. Really easily. Some bloggers are high profile and give readers a glimpse of things that they’d only hear stories of well after the fact, while others are dedicated to reporting on one topic and one topic only, but do so everyday. You’d really be hard pressed to have an interest in something beer related and not find a blogger talking about it. Blogs are also being used as a link between breweries and customers or bars and patrons, it’s a great bridge that doesn’t require the purchase of webspace or a webmaster. I personally have my own little rotation of blogs that I’ll check each day just to see who’s talking about what. My favorite blog right now is Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin. He posts so much great content and has so many great links that he is a must see.

Other great beer blogs (there are so many):

Charlie Papazian
The Lost Abbey
Appellation Beer
Seen Through A Glass
A Good Beer Blog
The Brew Lounge
Liquid Diet Online
Russian River
Rick Lyke
The Beer Lass
Hair of the Dog Dave

So you like to take your information on the train or to the dentist’s office, do you? Not a problem, some of the most well known voices of Craft Beer are all tangled up in the monthly and bi-monthly beer publications that serve our entire nation. From the many brewspapers that localize their news and keep entire regions up to speed to the nationally distributed magazines that feature great stories and interviews, there is certainly something in print for every level of the craft beer appreciation. There are trade magazines that go directly to the members of the industry and there are mags that only deal with brewing beer at home, both of which include work from writers who are quite active in many other parts and segments of the industry.

From publications like All About Beer, Celebrator, Draft, & Beer Advocate to Zymurgy and Brew Your Own to New Brewer, to the brewspapers like Brewing News and Ale Street News there is a need for depth and diversity when it comes to writing about beer. Some of the industry’s finest writers about beer are able to service all of these different types of publications and more while running their own blogs and actually getting out of the house for a beer once in a while. Some beer writers names you should know are: Stephen Beaumont, Stan Hieronymus , Lew Bryson, Don Russell, Andy Crouch, Garrett Oliver, and Carolyn Smagalski and Bob Skilnik and Maureen Ogle. Between them they’ve written books, articles, and torn through cyberspace in addition to leading lectures, discussions, tastings, and beer dinners. Among them there are very few topics that have gone undiscussed.

Any talk of beer writing calls for a mention of Michael Jackson. He will always be The Beer Writer and The Beer Hunter. Mr. Jackson invented beer writing and always wrote with passion and care, inspiring more people in the beer world than could be realized. His passing last year was quite sad, but if ever there was a test of the craft beer collective’s unity, they certainly passed, sending him off honorably and with much praise.

So when do we party? All the darn time actually. There are beer festivals, beer gatherings, beer dinners, and promo events daily in the United States. Now whether or not one is right around the corner that’s a different story, but with the average American (I guess I can consider myself to be one of those?) living within 10 miles of a brewery, options are usually more than they are less. Bigger events like Great American Beer Festival, Savor, Extreme Beer Fest, and American Craft Brew Fest attract people from all over the world, while most states have a bunch of festival that attract breweries from across the country. There are also many smaller festivals held in cities throughout the year that celebrate specific beer styles, wood aged beers, and the release of yearly offerings like, most recently, Maibocks.

If all this is any indication of the power in numbers craft beer has as an industry, keep in mind it is by far the minority when it comes to beer production and sales. This works to craft beer’s advantage in many ways, but still as the industry and popularity continues to grow each year it is interesting to see how each part of the collective grows with it. There’s room for everyone and some of the best things are surely yet to come. So as this weeklong celebration of American Craft Beer gets closer to its end, why not take a look ourselves and be proud of the different ways we’ve contributed to its success. I consider myself lucky to have had the limited experiences that I have had and look forward to many, many more in the years to come.
Read more!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

American Craft Beer Week - Homebrewing

I haven’t brewed a beer in a few months. It’s a lot more fun when there’s something sitting in the carboy and you’re keeping a steady eye on it, waiting to bottle it up and share. Situations being as they may, I was lucky enough to save a batch that i thought would be lost back in February and it turned out to be one of the better beers that I have made yet.

So i’m back in business. New brewery, different kettle, more organization, more space to maneuver. Things are looking good. I had to take a half day from work last Tuesday, so i got myself my ingredients and set out to finally make a beer that i’d designed a few months ago. It certainly wasn’t the best brew session i’ve had yet, i tried some new stuff, showed my rustiness a bit in some parts, and came out a couple of gravity points below where I’d wanted to, so this beer isn’t going to be exactly as I’d wanted it, but we’ll see what happens.

I had two major objectives when i sat down to make a recipe for this beer: Make a hoppy red ale and use rye. So a name immediately popped into my head and from a long and winding tune i could hear the words: Rye Rye Rocco, but this beer would not be made in honor of Mr. Esquandolas. My longtime friend and current Jacksonville native, Johnny Raucco is getting married in about a month or so. I’m not able to make it down there for the wedding, so I brewed this beer in tribute to him and his lovely wife to be. It’ll actually be just about ready to drink on the day they get married, so i will be sure to do so on their behalf.

Raucco’s Red Rye

3 lbs Rye
2 lbs Carared
1 lb Caramalt
3 lbs Extra light DME (late addition 39 mins into boil)

1 oz Cascade pellets for 60 min
1 oz Crystal pellets for 5 mins

Music: The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike

I’m doing a 2 oz Cascade dry hop in the secondary as well.

So i was really excited to brew and took my time sanitizing and making a 2 Liter starter with Wyeast 1084 (their Irish Ale yeast) last Monday night. Laid everything out nicely and was ready to roll for Tuesday. I’d forgotten to get muslin bags for my grains, so I had to put everything into my big nylon hop bag, which would turn out to be a problem.

I already wasn’t excited about doing this because 6 lbs of grains in one bag doesn’t lend itself to much of an equal distribution of water to grain. The stuff on top or in the middle isn’t going to reach the same temps as what's on the bottom…so i knew i’d be stirring quite a bit. Not the problem. The problem was the fact that the bag either burned or ripped in the kettle. I am assuming the force of six pounds of grain right down onto the bottom of the kettle melted two nice tears into the bag.

So now not only am i far from optimal steeping conditions for myself, now i have grain coming out of the bag everytime i stir. This would have been much better if i’d had some bags and actually been able to perform a real steep of these grains.

So that was an adventure. I pulled the bag about 10 minutes early because i didn’t want any more grains in the wort and i was concerned about the weight on the grains on bottom right against the heat source. The bag was pulled, I had to perform some straining magic to get about 2 lbs of grain out of the kettle and then i was finally ready to boil. I added a little bit of light DME and waited for my three gallons of water and sugars to get to a boil.

It came and it wasn’t the most ferocious boil i’d seen, but it was a boil nonetheless. In went the first hop addition and the hour long boil was on its way. I did my late extract addition with 21 mins to go, gave everything a nice solid stir, then dropped in the immersion chiller at about the 20 minute mark.

Crystal in at 5 and everything was fine and dandy. I’d like to use crystal more in the future. I have a feeling they’re going to get hidden a bit by the dry hop, but my wort smelled wonderful during cooling. My specialty grain issue may have marred the appearance and gravity of my beer (came out at 1.050 and I wanted 1.053), but it sure did smell nice.

My growler of starter had been eating away for about 22 hours and went into the wort hungry like….sigh…the wolf. It took a while longer to get down to pitching temperature, but i pitched at 66 degrees and had my fermenter down to about 62 by morning. My airlock was showing activity when i woke up Wednesday morning, so things got started in much less than 12 hours.

I plan to keep the fermenter as close to 62 as possible which means the temperature inside during fermentation will be right in the middle of the 1084’s recommended temps. For a yeast i’m using for the first time it seems like being right in the middle will show a lot about how the yeast performs.

So I’ll keep you posted on this thing. I was relying on that steep for a lot of the beer’s character and i wasn’t able to do that step the way i’d like to, so we’ll have to see what effect it will have on the finished beer.

I’ve already got my eyes on the next batch and it should only be a couple of weeks until the next session.
Read more!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

American Craft Beer Week - The People

At every turn in the Craft Beer industry there’s a character. This is not a profession defined by age, singular style, beliefs, or rank. Beer can be made so many ways, packaged so many ways, and sold so many ways and for every variation there is a man or woman with a story to go with it. American Craft Beer has many identities and without the following people, we would have a far different (and less exciting) group to look up to.

Of course this list could be much, much longer, but i wanted to highlight the people that spring into my mind immediately when i think about what i love about the Craft Beer landscape in America.

Garrett OliverBrooklyn Brewery

Garrett Oliver is a Craft Beer megaphone. His voice has carried to countries all over the world and his message and delivery are so on point that even those with their noses completely in the air cannot avoid the logic in his thinking. More importantly though, his work speaks for itself. Whether he’s pairing food with beer or just mashing in, Garrett talks a good game and backs it up every time. He has paired beer and food for top class chefs and has duked it out with top sommeliers to prove beer’s supremacy. The guy’s been on Martha Stewart, ok? What you get out of a conversation, presentation, or written work from Garrett is not only passion, but cold hard fact. He is going to get you to think harder about beer and he’s going to get you to enjoy it.

Phil Markowski – Southampton Publick House
Often times in the world of Craft Beer, a brewer is so much like their brewery that the line between the two are often blurred. Not every person who loves great beer knows who Phil Markowski is and not every person who loves great beer knows about Southampton Publick House. As one of the foremost voices in America on farmhouse ales, Phil’s line of beers are jaw dropping. He packs a ton of flavor into each beer, but doesn’t over power you. His versions of Saison, Quadrupel, and Biere De Garde are absolutely benchmark representations of their styles and his Double White is something you’ve just got to experience for yourself.

Charlie Papazian
– Founder: Association of Brewers, Zymurgy – President: Brewers Association
Some of the hugest voices and proponents of great beer have come from men who will never be known for owning a brewery. Charlie Papazian’s passion and commitment to beer is something that has made Craft Beer the industry it is today. Tangled up in the homebrewing obsession during his days as a nuclear engineer, Charlie’s notes on brewing became a book and his book became a bible. He founded the Association of Brewers, Zymurgy Magazine, and the Great American Beer Festival. His work in organizing and unifying hundreds of thousands of people with a few common goals is hardly paralleled in this industry.

Sam CalagioneDogfish Head Brewing Company

Sam’s crazy, everybody knows that. If you’ve listened to him speak or even just looked at what he’s done from a far, you know it. His madness was put to great use though and he opened his little brewpub and slept on a mattress there each night, eventually making some of the most interesting and talked about beers in America. He might have fumbled towards greatness, but Sam has shown himself as one of the most amazing business minds in Craft Beer. He knows how to turn heads and connect with his audience and he looks like he has a lot of fun doing it.

Rob Tod Allagash Brewing Company
Tucked into the upper pocket of the East, Rob Tod’s Allagash Brewery turns out amazing Belgian style beer year after year and the more he tinkers and experiments, the cooler things we get to taste and enjoy. Rob was an early pioneer of Belgian style brewing in the US and has inspired a ton of breweries as a result. From his core lineup to his great line of barrel aged beers, Rod Tod has pushed further and harder in his new and expanded brewhouse with beers like Fluxus, Black, and a real honest to goodness lambic infecting and inoculating itself in his very own koelschip.

The CareysNew Glarus Brewing Company
Dan & Deb Carey run the kind of brewery that is a glowing example of what the American Craft Beer industry is all about. Is it because they use all natural ingredients? Is it because they make award winning beer? Is it because Dan left Anheuser-Busch in pursuit of better beer? No and no and no, but things like that certainly don’t hurt. The New Glarus Brewing Company was born from a dream and a chance and their success was raised from their hard work and dedication to products they believe in. New Glarus beer is New Glarus beer, that’s all there is too it. From the madly popular fruit beers to their amazing Unplugged Series, New Glarus typifies the adventurous spirit of the American Craft Brewery.

Tom Dalldorf
Celebrator Beer News

The Wavy Gravy of craft beer, Tom Dalldorf is the enthusiastic voice behind such industry necessities as the Celebrator magazine, the CBN Evening Brews and the Rolling Boil Blues Band. Tom’s work spreading the good word of Craft Beer is unique and seemingly endless. He speaks, he reports, and he contorts song lyrics all for the love of great beer. His efforts take him all over the country and he is as much a proponent of the industry as he is the products that are served within it.

Michael Jackson

You heard it from many brewers shortly after his passing: Our beer wouldn't be here if Michael hadn't talked or written about it. The reemergence of entire styles of beer have been resurrected shortly after Michael wrote about them. Somewhere between his dedication to the subject, his knowledge of the object, and his understanding of humanity, Michael's work took ahold of an entire industry. One of those rare people who is able to completely dedicate himself to what he loved, Michael worked for beer the way a professor works to shape young minds. With his eyes way beyond the physical makeup of a pint, Michael wanted to understand the people the beer came from, he wanted to understand the land on which they brewed it, and he wanted to show how these elements could inform you, but you couldn't fully understand them all until you sat down in a pub with friends to get the whole experience. Everyone's got a Michael Jackson story and they are always told with great care. Sam Calagione told a great story at the Tutored Tastings this year about driving Michael from Philadelphia to Delaware while listening to jazz CDs. All we can do now is look back, but without continuing to learn from Michael we're not holding up our end of the deal.

Feel free to add more people in the comments section….
Read more!

Monday, May 12, 2008

American Craft Beer Week - The Brewpub

There is a certain simplicity and learning curve that i’ve experienced in drinking beer at a brewpub that’s not necessarily something you can achieve by hounding down great cases or sixpacks or bombers. It’s something that i didn’t necessarily realize until i’d brewed some beer of my own really and it’s no hard and fast rule, but it sure makes sitting down in a brewpub a lot of fun. A brewpub is alive; in some ways like a mouse on a wheel doing the same thing over and over, but in other ways like some wild adventurer damning the consequences and taking a big chance.

Even if you’re sitting down at the very best of brewpubs, you always run the risk of imperfection. It’s part of the business. I’d say that you meet it too, you’re bound to, but your reward for rolling the dice is that you run the risk of perfection as well. The factors at play when supplying your drinking population with beer made on premises have demands that fluctuate constantly. Even the best run brewpubs have to fly by the seat of their pants a bit. A big run on one beer or an unexpected bus full of nuns could run your munitions shed dry in a hurry, so then what do you do?

Brewpubs are constantly changing environments and that is one of the things that makes them so much fun to drink in. There’s more room to try something spontaneous and make do with what you’ve got. Keeping your core intact while maintaining interesting variety is a true balancing act though, you might be able to do an amazing one-off, but the demands involved with meeting the expectations of your patrons isn’t something you can just do, it’s something you have to do. And you’ve got to be quite good at it.

If anything in American beer drinking culture parallels that of the great Real Ale pub culture of England, it is our brewpubs. In the land of Real Ale, a beer drinker will walk in and taste a pint to see how the cask is pouring. If it’s not to their liking then they’re off to the next pub, simple as that. While we’re not exactly blessed with the same number of options in terms of brewpubs over here, the same rule of exclusion applies to our tap lineups. Sometimes something is tasting so great that you won’t even consider a different beer and other times a beer just isn’t doing the trick for you, so you set to work with something else.

The best brewpubs, of course, will have a strong handle on quality control, kegging schedules, and consistency, but even so sometimes a beer will just have to get moved a little early to free up room in a tank or save an empty tap. Sometimes you’re right in the midst of this and need to bounce around the tap list a bit until you find something that works.

In some cases, this jump around the list will give folks a chance to have new experiences with beer or at the very least identify beers that taste very different than what they are used to. By virtue of the business, customers inevitably expand their knowledge of beer styles and in some cases get turned onto a beer or a type of beer that they find themselves loving that may have gone completely passed them if the ‘closest thing to Miller Light’ wasn’t pouring so hot or happened to be out at the time.

SIDE NOTE: I have to commend the fine owners and employees of brewpubs across America for finding ways to appease the customer who asks for the closest thing to X Beer (most recently in my travels a swift Iron Hill bartender handling a request for ‘the closest thing to Corona…..on tap’), something i am sure they deal with a lot. Some brewpubs brew beers specifically for this set, while others don’t provide the option, but know how to describe their beer in a way that’ll eventually get a bite. The reality is that BMC has trained a ton of people and the brewpub is where they become untrained a little bit at a time.

The brewpub is extremely neighborhood centric. A whole crowd of people locked in by virtue of geography become part of the regular crowd. They adapt their tastes to what’s available and choose their favorites. Sometimes they get a little daring and try something new. Many brewpubs are family friendly too. The brewpub invokes a different spirit than a bar, it’s about something different than what a bar is about. It is centered around the talents of one mind or the collective mind of one team and it takes to the stage day in and day out.

If the beer is wrong, there’s only one place to look. When the beer is right, there’s only one place to point the applause. Fair as fair can be.

In addition to all this, even if they’re just spitting out information they’ve been made to memorize, brewpub employees will know the score on their beers. It’s nice to be told what kind of malts or hops have been used or what a brewpub has tucked away in a barrel downstairs that you’ve got to come back for. Better yet what beer goes really good with that signature salad or sandwich.

So visit your local brewpub this week, drink a beer that’s unavailable anywhere else in the world. Take a look around and see the local folks, the regulars, the staff. Realize that this has all been built on the power and knowledge of what beer can do. The hard work that goes into just having the opportunity to take the risk of opening a brewpub is immense, imagine what it takes just to keep the lights on once you’re open.

My local guys:

The Sly Fox
Iron Hill - Phoenixville
Victory Brewing Co.
McKenzie Brew House
Rockbottom Brewery

RIP Destiny Brewing Company. I am trying to break in to see if the kettle is still there. It looks like part of the bar is in a heap on the back stoop. I admit that i have been and will continue to snoop around and pull out a copy of Ale Street News for myself everytime they drop off on the front step.

Read more!

I Love A Parade

Welcome to American Craft Beer Week. Didn't know it was here? Didn't know it was coming up? Yeah, things have been quiet about it in all of the usual spots.

Well i'm celebrating.

Each day i will spotlight a different element of craft beer and the current plan is to provide a bit of commentary by me, followed by some links you can follow to great examples of each element around the web.

The week is leading up to Savor, so i figured a link was in order. This is going to be a great event and more importantly, it's gonna be an important event.

Speaking of, Friday i'm gonna post about beer and food. In what capacity i don't exactly know just yet, but if you folks want to send in any beer and food pairings you like or recipes or anything i'll be sure to post them up. Feel free to email me.

Simple as that.
Read more!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Insert Foot In Mouth, Wiggle Toes, Repeat

Dear Internet,

I screwed up. I made a big mistake last night and i've got to tell you about it. Sometimes when you're out and having a good time with friends and have something in your mind that you think will be funny it backfires right in your face.

As an elaborate scheme involving stolen barstools,a rivalry that doesn't actually exist, and the normal merriment that goes along with an average Thursday at Teresa's Next Door, i went too far.

In trying to bring two worlds together, i tried to further a joke by introducing a friend as the Aunt of Mr. Bryan Edward Beetem, a mistake with consequences that did not fly into my mind quickly enough upon setting these wheels in motion.

I broke the first rule of common decency; never, ever move conversation towards anything that may lead one's mind towards a woman's age. As the needle on Henchy's iPod scratched to halt, a roomful of eyes set upon me, a schoolboy ran by and kicked me in the shins, my stocks dropped, and a Month Of Sunday's repentence was prescribed, i knew i'd made a terrible mistake.

Innocent as the line was, with full intent on confusing the bejesus out of Bryan upon his return to the bar, it fell flat on its face.

Despite my pleas, despite backing from the husband of the offended, i find myself here in internetland and in the dog house. Let this post ring out as an official apology to the millions of readers that could possibly read this (although i get about 20-25 hits / day), hopefully the magnitude of this public confession will lend some hand in mending the wound opened by my words. I am shamed officially and continually. I strive to show my face in public once again, possibly on Wednesday.

At least we all see eye to eye on the Southampton Quad.
Read more!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Caps and Crafts

It’s that time of year again (actually it has been, I’m a little late in posting this) for all of you Troegs fans out there. The Art of Drinking Troegs 2008 is about to begin. The yearly art contest challenges you- yeah, you – to make something awesome out of Troegs bottle caps. If you’ve been to the tasting room and gift shop, you’ve seen some of this art on display. There are prizes involved, you’ve got to drink beer to get the caps, everybody wins even if some people lose. It’s pretty awesome.

May 15th is the official kickoff for this year’s Art of Drinking Troegs contest. You can get your supplies at the following bars. It’s arty, it’s crafty, please do not eat the paste no matter how much it smells like root beer. So get out there, drink some Troegs, turn your living room into an art studio and let your inspiration flow as the fella says.

If people want to send me pics of their stuff i’ll be glad to post them up. Click ' Read More' for some pictures i took around town just for the heck of it. Next stop, bottle cap swimsuit calendar.

Read more!

When Two Work Spaces Collide

This is dumb. As you may or may not know, i sit in front of a computer for a living, let me tell you, not a whole lot goes on at this computer on this desk in this cubicle on this wing of the building in this end of the corporate center. Truly. If there was some sort of work pedometer my legs would've rotted away and fell from my hips a long time ago.

So the reason i'm telling you this is because i've got stuff to post, it's already written and ready to rock, but the pictures to go along with these posts are on my camera, in my home, on my nice street in my nice town up the block from my nice brewpub. So you'll have to wait. Add that to the list of productive things i could be doing rather than making phonebooks, which i am not really doing right now anyway. (I just finished typing this entire post, still no action on the phonebooking)

Anyhow, because the option is there and this is actually a post about some upcoming things, events, people, places, times, and beers. Click to see why i've really gathered you all here today.

These little 'Letter of Intent' posts are BS, i know it, you know it. It's like an IOU for blog posts. But since i'll be sitting here at this desk till 3:15 or so, i'm gonna line things up and let you know what to expect from me over the next week. I'm at work, so are you. Gimme a call, tell me about it. 610-731-2824 is Dr. Joel's Workday Hot Line. Calls from a bar during workday hours get you automatically quoted on The Grain Bill. If you leave me a voicemail my work phone automatically turns it into an mp3 on my computer so....just think of how famous you could be.

-The Art of Drinking Troegs, a bit of hype and info and pics for their yearly contest. I meant to do this over the weekend and then the weekend happened.

-My latest batch of homebrew hit my new brewery Tuesday evening. It'd been a good few months since i was able to brew last so there were ups and there were downs. Techniques employed, brewery tools laid to rest, and a monster starter got pitched into wort that's bubbling away as we speak.

-Ortino's Deck opens Saturday afternoon. It opens at 1 and i work at 2:30, so i've got to make quick work of it, but work of it i'll make. See you there.

-Speaking of Ortino's, more of the Dan Bengel Chronicles are due very soon. I'm formulating right now as you're reading this. I'm giving him preferential treatment in the beer part of my brain for a little while.

-The Tiki Bar is open and just about in full swing. We could actually use a couple people on the floor if anyone is interested shoot me a line. It's been a normal start for us, opening night was busier than anticipated, which is always a good thing. I'll be posting beer lists and such as things start to come together for the season. Have you ever eaten Alligator? Ours is marinated in hot sauce and is a suburban delicacy. Come see the man in the hat.

-I am pretty excited for Iron Hill to put their Rye IPA on. I think the board says May 12th (website reads 15th), but i am hazy. If i wasn't so darned busy this week i'd have instigated a maibock bar trip to Iron Hill Bridge St and Sly Fox. Anyhow, it looks like Mr. Tim Stumpf is putting the RIPA on cask as well and it may hit before the 12th as it's set to go on after the current and always delicious Dry Hopped Iron Bound cask hits ground zero. How do i know all this? Cask Ale Kev. He is the Northern Star of cask ale in this area.

-Two places i wanted to get this week will have to wait until next week. Possibly Wednesday for anyone interested. Ron's Schoolhouse Grille / Ron's Original and the reconstructed Victory site. If anyone wants to check these spots out next week, let me know. Sounds like yesterday was the day to be at Victory. Mr. Steele gave a call, but i was knee deep in Mother's Day shopping and Keema Samosa and couldn't take the evening shift.

-So that beer i brewed on Tuesday took me away from an impromptu trip to Capone's for all you can eat crab legs and Hopfen Weiss on tap. Poke my eye out with a crab claw. It hurts missing a trip to Capone's. Matt has some sort of voodoo over me i think. My trips to the bottle shop are the same everytime:

I walk in.
He says, "Hey, how ya doin'?"
I go way over beer budget.

I don't get it. But we're going on Tuesday to remedy the situation.

Anyhow, boy did i ramble on this one. Ah well, at least there was something to do when you came to the site today.

Read more!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bock The Goat

Holy sunshine race fans, you couldn’t ask for a better day to run some goats. With false talk of rain clouds and showers leading up to the day of the Sly Fox’s annual Bock Fest, a bit of sympathy from Ra himself added provision to fruition and as always, the event was a great success. Six heats of pure goat adrenaline, a photo finish, a race off- it was enough to make you start charting out the odds and placing a bet.

The bocks were pouring away as Sly Fox featured something like six or seven different bock beers for the thirsty crowd. Beer lines snaked in front of, inside of, and around the brewpub while smile after smile shined right back up to those clear blue skies. Friends, notables, and strangers littered the festival site and if ever there was a kickoff to this new spring season of ours, it was at the hand of our feet.

So on to the action: Entrekin, Infected, Sundae, Reggie, Lightning, the competition was exactly as fierce as you would guess that competition at a goat race would be. With some close heats and a few disqualifications this thing was far from a landslide. Jasper, a goat with real purpose and speed took the crown by winning a one-on-one race off with first heat winner Entrekin.

My favorite goat of the day did not fare so well, but he had personality in spades and now that he’s got the taste for racing, i’d look for him to be a serious competitor in Bock Fests to come. Reggie, who was not only racing for the first time, but was actually seeing life outside of his own yard for the first time, had a lot to say in our pre-race interview. (I’ll post audio soon.) He was quick and to the point, answering my questions, relieving himself, then trotting off to the starting line.

Between the anticipation of the races, the exhilaration of competition, and the madness of the aftermath, Phoenixville was a oompah-ing, fur flying, beer garten raceway for yet another year. Many were in attendance for the first time and I believe just as many have vowed to make a return.

When waiting in line to get a beer is your only problem of the day, you’ve got to know you’re doing something right. Sly Fox continues to please their hometown fans (and those who like a bit of travel as well) with fun events, great beer, and a mindful eye on tradition. This year’s Bock Fest was no exception. It was a day to just relax and have a glass of beer or three with your friends, a day to be right where you are, and a day to enjoy a great event at a great brewery.

Oh, the Jasper Maibock is delicious.
Read more!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Posting Up With Joe Sixpack

So as i wrap my head around the weather miracle that was yesterdays Goat Race at Sly Fox and prepare my thoughts on the event, i'd like to post Joe Sixpack's column for this week. It's a great read and it wakes up all of those little thoughts about Philly's beer culture that are bouncing around in your head. I'm going to paste the whole thing in here because the link will take you to his new column each week. A story like this deserves a longer shelf life than 7 days.

May 2, 2008 | Build a good bar, and they will come

"I KEEP HEARING from readers who tell me, "I moved to this neighborhood because of [fill in the blank] bar." I hear it in South Philly, West Philly, Bella Vista, Center City and, more than anywhere, Fishtown, home of Johnny Brenda's Tavern.

One of these days, some smart, urban-planning scholar is going to publish a study on the role of beer in attracting new people to the city. Until then, we'll have to rely on anecdotes like this one:

The dude's name is Tyler Hays, 39, originally from Oregon but more recently of New York, where he's president of a Soho furniture company called BDDW. If you've never heard of the firm, it's only because you haven't been shopping for a $12,000 maple credenza lately.

His furniture designs are impeccable - beautiful craftsmanship that is regularly featured in the likes of Vogue, House Beautiful, GQ and the New York Times Sunday magazine.

Most of the pieces are constructed by hand at a studio in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. But the company has been growing and needed more space. So last year, Hays found himself nosing around on a real estate Web site, hunting for cheap buildings in Brooklyn.

"I came across this one building in Philly that looked pretty good," he remembered. "I said to myself, 'I just wish Philly wasn't 4 1/2 hours from New York.' I mean, what do I know?

"I Mapquested it and discovered, man, it's only an hour-and-a-half away. I climbed into my car and drove straight to Philly."

The building was in Port Richmond, tucked among rowhouses just off of Richmond Street. Big and ugly and vacant, it was previously a commercial printing shop that produced cereal boxes, among other products.

"A dump," Hays said.

He drove around, wondering if he'd wasted the trip. Down Aramingo, across Lehigh, past York to Girard - somehow, he found himself walking through the front door of Johnny Brenda's. "I went in and I'm thinking, holy cow, this is like Williamsburg 10 years ago."

Now, I have readers in Fishtown who get pissed any time I mention Johnny Brenda's because, after all, the neighborhood is ripe with corner bars - bars that have been pulling in the locals for generations. I tell them a favorite bar is a personal choice; it's hard to put a finger on what makes any place special.

Johnny Brenda's? A superb, local tap list, very good, affordable Mediterranean dishes, a laid-back dining room, an upstairs music venue - those are all obvious.

But there's more: a sidewalk sculpture for locking up bikes, a handmade iron railing, the painted tin ceiling, the hipster bartenders, a stack of community fliers by the door, a guy playing old records on a turntable, comfortable lighting, a red-felt pool table, well-scuffed linoleum floors and tattooed locals.

Tyler Hays took it all in.

"New York turns you into a snob," he said. "Then, you see a bar that really gets it. No posers. It feels like Philly. It's not trying to be anywhere else."

He went back to New York and started raving about the city, about how it wasn't so far away, about the monster space in Port Richmond, about how cheap it would be to live here.

"I told everyone how great it would be for the employees," Hays said. "You pay them $20 an hour in New York, they can't buy a studio in the city for that. It costs $2,000 a month for a loft in the Bronx . . .

"Down here, I can buy a house for a couple hundred grand. I can buy a pint of beer for $4 at a bar that's not crowded with a bunch of posers with their foreheads full of Botox."

Hays drank his beer and bought the building. Two of his employees quickly followed and now the three share a house on Thompson Street in Fishtown. When the workshop is at capacity, it will employ at least 30.

New jobs, new taxpayers - all because of a bar.

Yeah, it's just an anecdote, but I mention it for two reasons.

First, many politicians and community leaders in this town have a knee-jerk reaction whenever someone wants to open a new bar in the neighborhood. They make the owners jump through hoops for zoning permits, they give them grief at every turn.

I know, the city has its share of nuisance bars. But it's just as true that a good tavern run by responsible owners can be a community asset.

And second, I think we've got a new slogan, folks. Philadelphia: Our forehead's not full of Botox."

-Joe Sixpack Read more!

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Session #15 - The Beer That Did It

On the first Friday of every month, beer bloggers the world over combine to offer their views, opinions, and experiences on one uniform topic. We have the wonderful Mr. Stan Hieronymus to thank for it and there's a great explanation and backstory at Jay Brook's blog here.

This month's topic, The Beer That Did It is a call to all of us to think about the beer that made us really sit back and think about things, that one beer that completely opened up our minds to a whole world of history, tradition, people, buildings, techniques, ingredients, and change.

The session for May 2008 is being hosted by Boak and Bailey whose UK Beer Blog is always worth checking in on. So while my contribution can be read right here by clicking 'Read More', you can go to Boak and Bailey's to get links to other posts on this topic from around the world. It's very cool. So on with the show i suppose....

Up from the rhizome and down to the cone, hop bines are a work of beauty in their purely whimsical sense of growth. Given structure, the bine will follow its path climbing ever upward. The transitive harvest of diamonds. In a beer, hops are extremely easy to identify, they are bright, bitter, and refreshing at once. For a newcomer to beer, they are easy to pay attention to and by that I mean to say they’re at many times unavoidable.

I got into good beer as a hophead. Simple as that. I’ve since come to understand much more about beer and its subtleties and its intricacies, but there was indeed a time when tons of great craft beers were too malty, tripels were too perfumey, and too many other Belgians just tasted like rotten fruit. I’m not scared to admit it, i’m just glad i didn’t think i was cool enough to blog about it back then. Actually, i don’t even think there were blogs back then. Consider the stars aligned.

I am proud to say, like so many others, that the beer that did it for me is one of classic example, it’s one that is very important to the current craft beer landscape, and most vitally, its one i can come back to every once in a while and remark to myself with each sip, “Man, that’s a nice beer.” Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause please for Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Put yourself in my sandles for a few minutes, will ya?

You’re in between your Freshman and Sophmore year of college. You’re a dirty hippie. You’ve got dreadlocks growing like lead hop bines out of your head and diving past your shoulders. You’re in a parking lot in Camden waiting for a concert to start. It’s like a Cannabaceae family reunion out there. (Wisely, you’d eventually learn to take your lumps and just stick with the hops.)

“One for three, two for five. Heady beeeeers!”

Before you can take so much as 10 steps down Shakedown Street, Dave, your traveling buddy for the weekend-who you just met in a summer class at the local community college-puts a Sierra Pale Ale in your hand. It’s been on ice all morning and it is one of the most amazing things you’ve ever swallowed. In the summer sun you stare at the flowers that grace the label, the water, the mountain range. It’s beautiful man.

At this point you don’t even know what beer is made of, but you know this beer is a miracle. So onward you go into life and before you know it you’re actually seeing this beer on tap. Sometimes it’s just as you remember it, sometimes it tastes like dirty metal and you’re disappointed. You wonder how something so eye opening, so flooring could actually taste…bad. So you move down the taps to something else, Bass probably. Wait a minute, why does this one taste like metal with pennies glued to it? Eventually you learn that some bars don’t clean their lines and that others can’t move a half of Pale Ale to save their souls.

Whether justly or not you now listen to professed hopheads and wonder if their journey is similar to yours, maybe they’re just a few beers away from discovering abbey ales or maybe they need a more distinct bridge. Maybe they’ll get a mouthful of Cascades in an American Brown or American Wheat and head off into a new direction. Or maybe their journey is theirs and theirs alone, you can’t even fathom a guess as to where it will take them. Maybe it’s better that way.

Somewhere between Dark Star and Harry Hood it all just clicked together though. One beer led to another, one style led to another, and one brewery led to another. Now you’ve got beer aging in the basement, you’re scrubbing labels off of bottles to fill with your latest fermented concoction and you’ve got a glass resting on your Sierra Nevada coaster as you type your entry into a worldwide celebration of beer, its culture, its people, its power, and its beauty.

Read more!