18 June 2008

Miller: More Testing Needed

Rob Kasper is reporting in his Baltimore Sun blog that Miller is extending its testing of its three "light" "craft" beers (wheat, amber, and blond ale), heavily promoted in their test markets (Bawlmer, Minneapolis, Charlotte, and San Diego), which it was planning to release this coming fall. Now, according to the AP report rehashed by Kasper, testing will continue, with Milwaukee replacing San Diego as a test market.

My prediction: Grab those promo items and bottles as future breweriana now. (Anyone remember Red Dog, which I think was from "Plank Road"?)

UPDATE: See August 1. To quote Nelson Muntz: "Ha-ha!"

New Venue: Taps Baltimore

Yeah, horribly innovative, huh? At least it's not a bugle.

Taps Baltimore is the former Fort Charles Pub, which is located in the historic old Craftsmen Club building at the northeast corner of Fort Avenue and Charles St. in Federal Hill. (The Baltimore Craftsmen Club apparently does survive today as the Graphic Arts Professionals of Baltimore.)

The new place opened on Feb. 29th; its stated goal was to have 40 beer taps and a wine tap by mid-April, but by mid-June they had still mustered only 17. The line-up is not so bad, however: among the usual mass-market domestics and imports lurk a few standouts: Fordham Copperhead, Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA, Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard (!), and Ommegang Three Philosophers (!!).

Keep an eye on them. Depending on if/when they get more taps and what they put on, they may be an interesting option.

And while you're in Federal Hill, swing by The Dog Pub. Cross Street is ripped up for much-needed repaving (granted, a LOT of streets in Baltimore are being repaved under Mayor Dixon's "Operation Orange Cone," but far more need repaving critically), and no doubt The Dog Pub is taking a nasty hit in traffic.

This Week in Baltimore

Saturday and Sunday: What beers show up at Hampden's "Honfest"? No, not Natty Boh or National Premium, nor Clipper City's BaltiMarzHon..... but Heiniken and Amstel Light, plus an import tap (I forget whether it was Franziskaner or Warsteiner)..... plus a stand by Redstone Meadery of Colorado, serving HONey wine! Damn, why didn't I think of that?!? (Local tie: the parents of Redstone's founder live in a Baltimore suburb, and shamelessly ran the booth all weekend!)

Monday: Baltimore Sun reprints last week's Wall Street Journal article on bars using undersized "pint" glasses (or "cheaters") in an effort to squeeze out larger profits--not unlike the ubiquitous shrinking candy bars, potato chip bags, or ice cream containers (usually 1.75 quarts rather than 1/2 gallon, and I've seen 1.5 quart containers). They link to Jeff Alworth's Honest Pint Project at his blog, and so will I.

My own thought? Just Say Know. An informed consumer is an empowered consumer. I want to pay a bar a fair price for a beer, be it expensive or cheap, and I want an appropriate serving every time, and I want to be able to tell if a beer's 3%, 5%, 8%, or 10% before I order. And having said that, I also have no objection to a bar charging me 50 cents or $1 for a sample-sized serving, instead of having to build the cost of a "free" sample into the barkeep's tip. Having said that, however, perhaps the easiest way to get thrown out of many bars, faster than wearing gang colors and a sidearm, is to pour your serving into a measuring beaker......

Odd Beer of the Week (so far): Harviestoun Ginger & Lime Bitter, a 5.8% best bitter from Scotland that tastes like a 3.5% session beer. Max's Taphouse, along with an Italian saison (Piccolo Birrifico Seson, with odd citrus fruit, juniper, and coriander) and Birrifico Grado Plato Strada San Felice, a chestnut-flavored 8% beer.

Thursday the 19th: Max's Taphouse and Allagash of Maine, featuring brewer/owner Rob Tod. Fourteen Allagash beers on draft: Hugh Malone, Victoria, Victor, Black, Grand Cru, Mussette, Dubbel, Curieux, Four, Triple, Mussette(Barrel Aged and Dry Hopped), Odyssey, White, and Barrel Aged Four.

Same Night: if Allagash ain't your thing, have the Olivers Oatmeal Stout on firkin at Metropolitan on S. Charles St. in Federal Hill, starting at 6 PM.

Same Night: Clay Pipe is doing a promo at The Friendly Inn, 11074 Frederick Road (Md. Rt. 144), Ellicott City, MD, featuring Backfin Pale Ale and Hop-Ocalypse, from 8 to 11 pm.

Friday the 20th: Firkin Friday at DuClaw Fells Point: Double dry-hopped Consecration American Brown Ale and that Apricot Hellrazer. Start your stopwatches at 5 pm.

Wednesday the 25th: "Christmas in June" at Mahaffey's in Canton. 3 Christmas beers on tap: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Troegs Mad Elf, and Anchor Our Special Ale 2007.

12 June 2008

Beer News From Across the Land

This is just a heads-up for the three of you who might be reading this that care.

Due to circumstances beyond normal control, the Brewing News newspaper chain dropped off MULTIPLE issues of their brewspapers at Max's Taphouse.

Hurry, and you can cop FOR FREE Yankee Brew News, Southern Brew News, Yankee Brew News, Rocky Mountain Brewing News, and Great Lakes Brewing News. Money refunded if not satisfied. Close cover before striking. This bag is not a toy. Settling may have occurred. Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.

UPDATE: All gone, sorry. (^_^)

Real Ale (& more) in Fells Point

Tonight would be a worthwhile night to invade Fells Point for a pub crawl.

The Chesapeake Bay Branch of the UK's Society for Preservation of Beers From the Wood is holding its annual "pub crawl" of Fells Point this evening. Participating bars include John Steven Ltd. (which, not coincidentally, is hosting a Clipper City Brewing Co. "Meet the Brewers" night from 7 to 9), the Wharf Rat, and Max's Taphouse. In addition, DuClaw will be into its second night of its release of Consecration, described by them as a hoppy, medium-bodied American brown ale.

Note: some beers tapped, particularly firkins, might require SPBW membership, which is readily available by filling out a membership form and paying $10. Membership does have its privileges in this case.

11 June 2008

DuClaw Firkins in Bowie!

I wonder if someone reading this blog at DuClaw set out to embarrass me.

In an apparent response to my laments that DuClaw firkins only appear at Arundel Mills comes the e-mail today that they will host a Firkin Friday (the Firkenteenth?) at their BOWIE location.

Two firkins: Apricot Hellrazer gets tapped at 5, and after that runs out comes Blackberry Kangaroo Love. Poured until depletion, bar area only, happy hour prices obviously do not apply.

Gad, that sounds yummy enough to drive down there. Let's see if I can steal some gas, or a train ticket.

07 June 2008

Okay, you beer-and-food culinary wizards: Try THIS one on for size..........

I have a sister.

She has a blog.

In her latest entry, she mentions an attempt to render collard greens edible. It involves a Community-Shared Agriculture co-op. And bacon.

And a bottle of Sam Adams Cherry Wheat.

Okay, how many of you just went "Huh?!?" I sure did.

I'm guessing that, aside from beer bread, she's relatively new to the concept of beer in cooking. (Wait'll I get her to try Belgian beer and mussels.....)

So, here's the challenge: What kind of beer SHOULD she try steaming collard greens with? (First thing I'd do is tell her to head to the Penna. Dutch Farmers Market near her and procure some thick slices of dry-cured bacon rather than the frozen slices of presumably nitrate-injected bacon she probably had--but that's just me. And I'm betting some of you are vegetarians, like my wife.)

I'm flipping furiously through my beer cookbooks (unfortunately, I don't have the new one by Lucy Saunders) and beer guides for suggestions. Unfortunately, they seem to be confirming the popular notion that meat must accompany beer, apparently preferably meat burned over an open flame. Strong green stuff, on the other hand? Off the top of my head, I'm thinking a dunkelweizen or hefeweizen? Or maybe just a citrusy sweet weizen? (Try to find something good enough that they're not going to want to dump a bunch of spicy dressing on it afterwards!)

And hey, how about asparagus? Just got to the farmers market ourselves today; more asparagus. Quick-and-dirty asparagus recipe, snitched from the Arizona Republic while I was out there: Take fresh asparagus, grill with a little olive oil, slice down to bite-size and toss with a drizzle more olive oil, cherry/grape tomatoes (halved), and feta cheese; season to taste (I find using feta with cracked pepper, then adding just a dash of smoked sea salt, is the perfect touch). No bacon necessary.

Hmmmm. I have those bottles of New Belgian Mothership Wit and Skinny Dip in the fridge. Do I open them for an experiment, or save them for the Tuesday Night Beer Social crowd?

06 June 2008

RateBeer versus BeerAdvocate

Generally, I try to stay as far away as I can from website rivalries. As for myself, it all comes down to what site has the best signal-to-noise ratio, which seems to have the most knowledgeable contributors, and which is most usable.

In the beer-geekery web-world, the "big Kahunas" seem to be RateBeer and BeerAdvocate, and to me it's always been a toss-up as to which is a more reliable or useful source of information. (If I'm searching geographically, I tend to lean towards the increasingly-crassly-commercial Pubcrawler, which tends to focus more on the overall venues than the beer-centric reviews of the above two.)

Well, yet another beer site, RealBeer, came up with an analysis that, though imperfect and somewhat statistics-overladen, does tend to give food for thought over the rivalry.

My big problem with these sites (and Beer Advocate Magazine): It seems, too often for my liking, that these sites--or more accurately, the "personality," the vibe, the chatter, and the atmosphere of said sites--tends to push the "extreme beer" movement, while losing sight of the fact that far more customers--the customers that are the bread and butter of the brewers' business--drink the blueberry-wheats, the lighter ales, and the lagers that many reviewers at such sites would turn up their noses at. The noise of "extreme beers" tends to be out of proportion to the actual impact and market share, in my opinion.

What think you?

05 June 2008

Aren't You Supposed to Pitch Yeast, Mate?

An item from Tom Cizauskas' blog:

Hugh Sisson —founder and general partner of the Clipper City Brewing Company— will throw out the ceremonial first pitch when the Kansas City Royals visit the Baltimore Orioles on 2 July at Camden Yards.

Hmmm, wonder what kind of yeast they're pitching. And when they're tapping it.

Huh? Baseball?!? Whatzat got to do with anything?

Firkins at DuClaw

DuClaw brewing just sent me another of their HTML/graphics-heavy e-mails announcing the next firkin event at their Arundel Mills location: June 6th, with a firkin each of vanilla-infused Bad Moon Porter, strawberry-infused Bare-Ass Blonde, and double-dry-hopped Consecration American Brown Ale. On tap at 5 PM until they're gone. The last time I was at one of these events, it was a crazed madhouse that drained two firkins in about 30 minutes. Much as I may like the beer, it just isn't worth such a scene to me.

There's always been something a bit mystifying about the DuClaw chain to me. They can do decent (and at times terrific) beer, but they only seem to promote their firkins and better stuff at the Arundel Mills site. The brewers, Jim Wagner and "Bo" Lenck, say that the cask beer sells at Arundel Mills and languishes at their other locations--and, having seen the near-riot conditions at the firkin events at Arundel Mills, I know they're being accurate. But I don't see these chaotic crowds at, say, Max's Belgian Fest or a beer festival. (Then again, the layout of the beer festivals at least encourages an orderly line. If folks had to line up for a glass of real ale at Arundel Mills, the chaos would diminish considerably.)

Don't get me wrong. I like their beer, and anyone promoting real ale is a hero in my book. But I truly wonder if the frenzy I see at these events is really over good beer, or a frenzy for frenzy's sake? Are there THAT many beer fans in Anne Arundel and Howard Counties that refuse to go into an urban setting for terrific beer? Has DuClaw managed to create a good-beer following where none existed before? Or have they tapped into a kind of mob-driven marketing frenzy akin to bringing the Swedish Bikini Team to their place--the mob is there because it's a mob?

I'd truly be interested in hearing from DuClaw regulars on this. But I have a nagging suspicion that DuClaw beer regulars don't have much of an overlap with the rest of the Baltimore beer scene or those that attend a diversity of outlets.

04 June 2008

Red Brick Station's Ginger Rye

If any of you were astute enough to come here from my column in Mid-Atlantic Brewing News looking for news updates, you have been rewarded.

I had the chance to stop by Red Brick Station in White Marsh the other day, and was surprised to find a new beer on the line-up that brewer Mike McDonald hadn't told me about: Ginger Rye, a light 3.8% session beer. Mike wasn't there, but owner Bill Blocher was.

"It was just something he was fooling around with," said Blocher. "We didn't want to say anything about it until we knew it was going to be OK." As with such a lightweight, the beer is subdued, with a golden appearance and very subtle notes of rye and ginger. "He was grating fresh ginger root into the kettle by hand," said Blocher. "Next time, he's gotta add a lot more ginger. I love ginger beer!" For a one-off experiment, it works, especially for the hot and muggy days we're just starting to get this way.

Blocher also commented on the debut of this year's They Made Me Do It Blueberry Wheat: "By my count, we went through 160 gallons that first night! All we could do was just crack open the taps and pour almost non-stop!" And you don't want to know what the blueberry bill was for this year's batch, either. Still, it's worth it: "It's our most popular beer," says Blocher.

Also on tap still is the Maibock, including, when I was there, a cask on handpump. Lager on a handpump? Hey, it isn't the first time they've done it. They've even shown up at the Chesapeake Real Ale Festival with lager in a firkin. Dare to be different, eh?

03 June 2008

Brew Dog (Scotland) Reviews

Brew Dog The Physics (660 ml bottle, 5.0%)--yes, decidedly tame and amber, carries hallmarks of Scottish beer, namely the emphasis on malt, a lovely sweet/caramel body without being cloying...... some nice noble hops lurking there, but a well-balanced beer....

Brew Dog Punk IPA (660 ml bottle, 6.0%)--light, almost pils color, better head retention than most, minimal nose.... rich straw flavor, rather dry and bitter--oh, hell, let me quote the bottle label:

This is not a lowest common denominator beer.
We don't care if you don't like it.
We do not merely aspire to the proclaimed heady heights of conformity through neutrality and blandness.
This beer is in no way mainstream or commercial, it is proud to be the alternative.

It goes on for three more paragraphs in such a vein, like Groundskeeper Willie on a bender and a rant. As for the beer: Proof that a golden beer can be nicely hoppy and chewy, even bitter, without being pedestrian. The "straw" character--grassy, almost a bit "cabbagey"--would turn some folks off, but I can see a place for this beer on a hot summer day, preferably at sundown. My friend characterizes the hops as "obviously American--Cascade, Amarillo....."

Brew Dog Paradox Islay (330ml bottle, 10%, split with friend in snifters): black, low head retention, nose as charred as a mesquite charcoal pit! Flavour (note the British spelling, thanks): cross an aggressive rauchbier with a rich imperial stout (I'm thinking Stone or Dogfish). Many folks would compare this to licking a cigar ashtray. Not that I would know. Impact-wise, you HAVE to be in the right frame of mind to drink these beers--it's not like a JW Lees Harvest, which will swiftly PUT you in the mood. This much smoke should not have survived in the wood, should it?

Brew Dog Paradox Speyside (330ml bottle, 10%, split in wine glass): equally black, low HR, in contrast a rich, sherried, barleywine nose. Now THIS is what folks should expect: HUGE all around. Rich, almost buttery, lots of toffee... rich as honey, considerably "over the top"..... order this when you want to recreate the infamous scene from "When Harry Met Sally"....... "I'll have what she's having...."

We passed around my order of the only (draft) beer I thought could stand up to these monsters: Oskar Blues Ten Fidy: Ka-boom, ka-boom...... yadda dadda dadda daddy ka-boom, ka-boom....... Enormous, huge.......

And finally (I PRAY)....... Harviestoun Ola Dubh 30-Year (8.0%): compzared to the other "features" of the night, considerably more subdued--but that probably works in its favour. Big character, well rounded, but just a bit less spectacular that the above beers...... all this really says is what a wretched embarrassment of riches I'm surrounded by, rather than any negatives about the beer itself.....

And my friend (who shall remain unnamed) quaffs the JW Lees Harvest on cask: He compares it (quite rightly, I think) to an over-the-top clover mead. "Though I never met a clover mead with a one-minute finish..."

02 June 2008

New Real Ale Maker in Town!

The Dog Pub--formerly the Thirsty Dog Pub--in Federal Hill has undergone an apparent maturation in the past couple months. Formerly a "faux" brewpub that sold re-branded Old Dominion beer, they were all but forced to snap up their own brewery--the former Clay Pipe facility in Westminster--and start brewing in order to fulfill their mission of serving house beers. Since then, they've expanded as well, with a second location in Columbia, Md. (across the parking lot from the terrific Frisco Grille).

I have yet to hear a "beer geek" sing the praises of these beers--not because of any fundamental flaws, but simply because the beers seemed to lack any real character, aimed more at the "average Joe/Jill" beer drinkers than aficionados (and, in the case of the Federal Hill location, dog-walking "average J's"). The image of beers flavored with fruit syrup after their pouring didn't help their image any, either. But their two-mugs-for-$3 special (has it been raised yet?) was a welcome dose of variety after the late Sean Bolan's closed a while back and Ryleigh's (the former Sisson's, site of Maryland's first modern-era brewpub) finally stopped pretending to have house beers at their much-renovated location.

Well, an e-mail from the just-around-the-corner Metropolitan Coffee House and Lounge reveals that the Dog Pub has supplied them with a firkin of Hoppy Dog, their hoppy (well, duh) pale ale.

The Dog Pub going to cask-conditioned beers? This bears checking out! More details as they become available...... meanwhile, the firkin is scheduled for tapping Thursday, June 5th at 6 PM. See you then.

UPDATE: an online report indicates that the Health Department may have finally caught up with this place, banning the dogs in what used to be as dog-friendly a place as you were likely to find (everything but a beer tap for the dogs).

In Defense of the Three-Tier System

The three-tier liquor distribution system mandated by most states in the Mid-Atlantic region is a favorite "whipping boy" of pseudo-libertarian-minded beer/wine fans who grouse that "the system" prevents the completely open market of direct shipments of beer/wine to the consumer, etc.

Brewery owner and fellow blogger Hugh Sisson, who's been in this business for 20 years or so, chimes in with his thoughts at his blog (as with others, linked at the list at the right). Having just come from a state where beer is seemingly everywhere--drive-through liquor stores, convenience stores, supermarkets, big-box super stores, you name it--I can see his points. It always seems much harder to find good local/craft beer in such states than in this market.

True story: I was told a certain liquor store in central Maryland, which I formerly would have regarded as second-rate at best, had changed hands, and might have a slightly better selection, and "would you check it out and see if it's worth our trouble?"

I found a Normandy cider. At a good price. That sure satisfied the cider fan who had asked me to check out the new selection.

Get Your Wood On!

If you're a fanatic of wood-aged beers, your presence is mandatory at Max's Taphouse tomorrow night (Tuesday, June 3rd).

At the Tuesday Night Beer Social (upstairs in the Mobtown Lodge beginning @ 6 PM), Casey is pouring four new-to-the-region beers from the year-old Brew Dog Brewery in Fraserburgh, Scotland:
Punk IPA 6.0% ABV "post-modern classic Pale Ale"/IPA
The Physics 5.0% ABV ("Laid-back Amber Ale")
Paradox Islay 10.0% ABV Imperial Stout Aged in Ardbeg Casks (Batch 009)
Paradox Speyside 10.0% ABV Imperial Stout Aged In Glen Moray Casks (Batch 005)

Meanwhile, down on the beer engines, you may choose between the
J.W. Lees Harvest Ale aged in Lagavulin Casks and the Harviestoun Ola Dubh 30 Year. Both of these beers are stupendous in bottle; on cask they're arguably better than even the vaunbted Samuel Adams Utopias. (But I would be remiss in not noting that, as far as I can tell, Mahaffey's in Canton got their cask of Ola Dubh on first.....)

Not enough for you? Also on draft are--among other wonderful beers--Oskar Blues Tenfidy, Stone Oak Aged Arrogant Bastard, Smuttynose Jack Daniels Porter (about which I know nothing, but assume bourbon barrels are somehow involved), and Allagash Curieux. And I'm wagering there's another one or two wooded beers somewhere on the drafts I missed.

See you there--maybe with some tweezers for removing tongue splinters.

Back from Arizona

Hello, folks, I'm back.

Spent close to a month in Arizona, with a little beer drinking/pubcrawling thrown in (nowhere near as much as many readers here would do, but then I wasn't driving, and gas prices ARE high....).

Will comment and try to get caught up as time allows..............