31 December 2009

Last Drink of 2009

No, not beer....

Last of a big bottle of Drambuie, a bottle given to me by staff at the closing Capitol City Brewing Co. Inner Harbor location for being the last one out the door that last night.  A toast to absent and departed friends.

So here's a hand, my trusty friends
And gie a hand o' thine,
And we'll take a right gud willy-waught
For days o' auld lang syne............

Vintage Notes: 2004 Anchor Our Special Ale

Pours a deep porter opaque as did the others.....  better head retention..........  nose of spiced oatmeal and gingerbread porter.  Somewhat lackluster and light on the palate initially compared to the previous OSA entries, but finishes with a touch of raisin.  Not as dry, either, and I think the sweetness mollifies the flavor somewhat.

30 December 2009

DuClaw To Close Fells Point Location Tonight

Boy, if I want news to report, I just have to walk away from the computer for a few hours.

The news broke from several fronts simultaneously--Elizabeth Large's "Dining @ Large" blog and Sam Sessa's "Midnight Sun" blog at the Baltimore Sun's website, the City Paper's "Feedbag" blog, and a couple e-mails and other blogs--that DuClaw Brewing is closing its Fells Point location tonight.

Speculation runs rampant as to the reasons, with several folks suggesting the place did not have enough business and had bad service and/or beer.  That was never the case when I was there--it was always consistently busy and crowded with a seemingly loyal crowd and good, solid beers.  However, Sam's Midnight Sun blog says:
[Company owner David] Benfield said a disagreement with the building's landlord, dwindling  business in the winter months and the smoking ban contributed to the decision to shutter the business. The company's other locations will remain open, Benfield said.
This sounds hauntingly similar to the huge rent increase that sparked the decision of Capital City Brewing Co. to pull out of its Inner Harbor location several years ago.  But there are also recent reports of legal troubles.......

Looks like I have another "brew pub wake" to attend tonight............

On the other hand, there was good news in that the next batch of DuClaw's Colossus barleywine, its entry into the ultimate-beer sweepstakes, brewed in 2006 and aged nearly four years, will be bottled and sent out to retail markets in January, with a reported proice of $21.99/22-ouncer.   This sure beats the extremely-limited-release they did a while back of their first batch, where you practically had to "know the secret handshake" to be offered a bottle at all, and I recall the price being much higher than that..........

UPDATE:  I received the following mass e-mail from DuClaw's e-mail newsletter list a short while ago:

It is with great sadness that we announce the closing of our restaurant in Fells Point on 12/31/2009. While speculation, bizarre conspiracy theories and criticism will run rampant, the simple fact of the matter is that for whatever reason, Fells Point was never quite the right fit for us and vice versa. So, with three thriving restaurants, bottled beer in liquor stores and a franchise location coming soon, now seemed like the right time to pull out of an area in which we never felt truly comfortable.
For the last 5 years, we had some great, loyal customers and employees. Thank you to everyone that ate, drank and worked with us in Fells Point; we’ll miss you. You are all still more than welcome to join us in Bel Air, Arundel Mills and Bowie for the same great beer, food and wine, to use your Pint Club memberships, or redeem gift cards purchased through the Fells Point restaurant. We’re still around, so come see us!
We’ll miss Fells Point, our regulars and staff, but it’s time to say goodbye. You win some, you lose some.
Dave Benfield, President
DuClaw Brewing Company

29 December 2009

Brewers Art Update

If you don't get to The Brewer's Art in the next day or so for the St. Festivus, kiss it goodbye until next year--the last keg was running low last night, and at the same time the last sixtel of the current Zodiac single-hop pale ale with Amarillo hops was running out, with a replacement unlikely for a week or two.  "We find that the holiday beers just don't tend to sell after the holidays, no matter how good they are," said manager Volker Stewart as he helped himself to a "quality-control" sample of the Zodiac.  He said that a German "guest beer" was very likely to share the taps with the house beers during the first weeks of January.

Max's 5th Annual Belgian Beer Fest Feb. 12-14

This just in from Max's Taphouse:

We are just over a moth away for this year's Belgian Beer Fest. We will have over 120 authentic Belgian Beers on draft, over 150 authentic Belgian beers in bottles, and a full Belgian-inspired food menu. We will also have a free Belgian Breakfast buffet on Friday Feb 12 at 11am.
MAX'S BELGIAN FEST DRAFT LIST 75% DONE [spelling corrections by yours truly]:
Houblon Chouffe
La Chouffe
Mc Chouffe
N' Ice Chouffe
Alvinne Bathazaar
Alvinne Extra
Alvinne Gaspar
Alvinne Melchior
Alvinne Oak Aged Bathazaar
Alvinne Oak Aged Podge
Barbar Winterbok
Bockor Cuvee Des Jacobins Rouge
Brugse Zot Dubbel
Cantillon Gueze
Cantillon Iris
Cantillon Rose De Grambrinus
Cazeau Tournay
Cazeau Tournay Black
Contreras Valier Blonde
Contreras Valier Divers
Contreras Valier Extra
De Dochter Van De Korenaar Emblasse
De Dochter Van De Korenaar Noblesse
De Glazen Toren Angelique
De Glazen Toren Jan de Lichte
De Glazen Toren Ondinke
De Glazen Toren Saison De Erpe Mere
De Proef Van Twee
De Ranke Noir De Dottignies
De Regenboog T' Smisje Triple
De Regenboog Catherine the Great
De Regenboog Guido
De Regenboog T' Smisje Dubbel
De Regenboog T' Smisje Plus
De Regenboog T' Smisje Speciale
De Regenboog Vuuve
De Regenbbog Wostijnte
Delirium Tremens
Duvel Green
Ellezelloise Hercules Stout
Ellezelloise Quintien Blonde
Geants Urchon
Geants Gouyasse
Gulden Draak Vintage
Het Alternatief Eerwaarde Pater
Het Alternatief Hik Blonde
Het Alternatief Piet Agoras
La Trappe Isidor
Silly Enghien De Noel
Sint Canarus Pere Canard
Sint Canarus Triple
Slaapmutske Kerstmutske
Slaapmutske Dry Hopped Lager
St Bernardus Christmas
St Feuillien Blanche
St Fueillien Saison
Struise Tsjeeses
Van Honsebrouck Bacchus
Van Honsebrouck Gueuze Fond Tradition

De Dolle Dulle Teve
De Dolle Stille Nacht
De Koninck Winter
De Ranke Guldenberg
De Ranke XX Bitter
Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux
La Rulles Estivale
Petrus Winter
Scaldis Noel
Van Bossche Buffalo Stout
Echt Kriekenbier

Heavy Seas' 2010 Beer Release Schedule

As announced by Hugh Sisson at his blog minutes ago:

Winter 2010

HOLY SHEET  Über Abbey Ale 9% ABV  - A Belgian Abbey style that is both aromatic and full bodied.   It will benefit with aging up to two years.  Mutiny Fleet – 22 oz and draft – limited release.  January.

SIREN NOIRE   Chocolate Stout 8%  ABV -  English style imperial stout, fermented and flavored with imported Belgian chocolate nibs. Smooth and easy drinking.  Named for the Sirens who lured seafarers off course and ultimately to their demise. Mutiny Fleet – 22 oz and draft – limited release.  February. NEW

Spring 2010
Big DIPA  Double IPA 10.6%  ABV – Triple hopped during brewing, well balanced with  an earthy hop aroma and flavor.  Brewed with 5 pounds of hops per barrel!!!  Mutiny Fleet 22 oz and draft – limited release.  March.

LETTER OF MARQUE  Hop Rye Porter – Winners from our 2009 Letter of Marque Homebrew Competition will work along side our brewers to create this one time special release.   Letter of Marque will feature a different beer every year selected from our national homebrew competition.  Historically, a Letter of Marque was a document that made a Pyrate a legitimate professional.  Hence, our Letter of Marque makes a home brewer a legitimate professional as well!  Mutiny Fleet – 22 oz and draft – limited release. April. NEW

RED SKY AT NIGHT -  Belgian style Saison  7.5 % ABV -  country farm house ale. A complex yet delicate ale, brewed with a unique Belgian yeast which develops a spicy, fruity flavor.   Pyrate Fleet – 12 oz and draft -  available March thru May.

BELOW DECKS (BARREL AGED) – Barley Wine 10% ABV – Our award winning barley wine which has been aged two ways -  in wooden bourbon barrels and cabernet barrels.  It will benefit with aging. VINTAGE DATED  Mutiny Fleet – 22 oz and draft – VERY limited release. May. NEW

Summer 2010

SMOKE ON THE WATER – Smoked Imperial Porter  - Details are Top Secret.  Mutiny Fleet – 22 oz. and draft – limited release.  June. NEW

HANG TEN  Weizen Dopplebock 10% ABV – A classic German-style weizen bock, slightly cloudy and bursting with flavor. It will benefit with aging up to two years.  VINTAGE DATED.  Mutiny Fleet – 22 oz and draft – limited release.  July.

SUMMER ALE -  Details are Top SecretClipper Fleet12 oz and draft -available June thru September.  NEW

Fall 2010
PROSIT!  Imperial Oktoberfest Lager  8% ABV -  Malt focused with five types of grain including Vienna and Munich malts -  plus a secret extra malt that we use only in our Prosit!  Balanced with 3 kinds of hops.  Mutiny Fleet 22 oz and draft – limited release.   August.

THE GREAT PUMPKIN   Imperial Pumpkin Ale   8.5% ABV - We add the pumpkin during the mash at precisely the right time to create just the perfect balance of malt, hops, pumpkin and spice.  Mutiny Fleet – 22 oz and draft – limited release.  September.

THE GREATer  PUMPKIN  Imperial Pumpkin Ale   9% ABV tbd  -  Our Great Pumpkin enhanced by aging in bourbon barrels.  Mutiny Fleet – 22 oz and draft – VERY limited release.   September NEW

Early Winter 2010
WINTER STORM Imperial ESB  7.5%ABV  -  Brewed with copious helpings of English malts plus US and English hops. Full malty flavors dancing with powerful hop aromas and a lingering, firm hop bitterness. .   Pyrate Fleet – 12 oz and draft -  available October thru December

BELOW DECKS   Barley Wine  10% ABV -  Our English style barley wine  - rich, malty, and opulent. Great at time of release but will benefit from bottle aging for many years to come. VINTAGE DATED.  Mutiny Fleet – 22 oz and draft – limited release.  November

YULE TIDE  Belgian Tripel Ale  10% ABV -  Slightly sweet with a complex malty flavor. The spicy flavor comes from our unique blend of Trappist yeast and Belgian candi sugar - making it both aromatic and flavorful. It will benefit with aging up to two years.  VINTAGE DATED.  Mutiny Fleet – 22 oz and draft – limited release.  November

Through this, you should be able to discern a shift in packaging strategies: a division of the "armada" into the 22-ounce bottle "Mutiny Fleet," and the "Pyrate" and "Clipper" fleets in 12-ounce bottles.  Note also the plans to brew a formal batch of the GreatER Pumpkin, the spectacular experimental aged-in-bourbon-barrels Great Pumpkin, for consumer purchase (albeit limited supply).  Note two new beers, the Letter of Marque hop rye porter in April, and Smoke on the Water smoked imperial porter for June.

"Artificial alcohol" that doesn't get you drunk?

Article from the UK's Telegraph newspaper:

An alcohol substitute that mimics its pleasant buzz without leading to drunkenness and hangovers is being developed by scientists.   

The new substance could have the added bonus of being "switched off" instantaneously with a pill, to allow drinkers to drive home or return to work. 

The synthetic alcohol, being developed from chemicals related to Valium, works like alcohol on nerves in the brain that provide a feeling of wellbeing and relaxation. 

But unlike alcohol its does not affect other parts of the brain that control mood swings and lead to addiction. It is also much easier to flush out of the body.  Finally because it is much more focused in its effects, it can also be switched off with an antidote, leaving the drinker immediately sober.  The new alcohol is being developed by a team at Imperial College London, led by Professor David Nutt, Britain's top drugs expert who was recently sacked as a government adviser for his comments about cannabis and ecstasy.
Don't get excited.  Any substance like this, because it's designed to alter mental states upon ingestion, would come under the purvey of the Food and Drug Administration, and ergo would end up being more heavily regulated, and thus more expensive, than ordinary booze.  And I love their fantasy that "the recovered ethanol (the chemical name for alcohol) could be sold as fuel".  Right......  Gasoline would still be far cheaper.

Besides which, I don't buy the premise that alcohol is "flavourless" as the article implies.  A large part of the reason non-alcoholic beer is unpopular is because it doesn't have the esthers and mouthfeel an alcoholic beverage does.



28 December 2009

Vintage Notes: 2001 Christmas Ale homebrew

The cap says "2001 #2 22-10-01", meaning it's a bottle of the second batch of homebrew Xmas ale my friend and I did in 2001, bottled on Oct. 21 of that year.

Pours as black as an Imperial stout, with a rich brown head to match, though head retention is poor.  Nose is unusual--pepper, faint licorice and black cherry.  Flavor is very fruity and slightly sweet, with notes of dry Scottish ale, plums, and raisins.  Definitely a "fruitcake" beer, but with a very weak and light mouthfeel much more akin to Anchor OSA or a session beer than a big winter beer.  Flavor lies on the tongue heavily, coating it like iodine.  Sweet at the front of the tongue, but chalky and drying at the back, with some juniper notes. 

All in all, a pleasant beer, which I would definitely get a six-pack of.  If I could change it, I'd up the alcohol a bit more, possibly with a dose (or extra dose) of honey.    Now, I wonder if I still have the recipe scribbled down somewhere?

Beer Perfume? Well, Not Quite........

I just saw a TV "news" report from Seattle, broadcast on local NBC affiliate WBAL-DT's noon news, depicting a new "beer perfume."  A quick online search revealed many other news/"news" outlets repeating the story verbatim.

"Beer perfume"?  Not quite.

The product is a joint project between Blue Marble Energy, a "Seattle-based company utilizing hybridized bacterial consortia to produce specialty biochemicals and renewable biogas", and Sweet Anthem, a Seattle perfume boutique specializing in vegan perfume products. 

The perfume in question, Eos, available in both male and female fragrances, claims to be the only commercial perfume products not using petroleum products in its production: 
EOS is petrochemical-free, containing only bioderived and organic materials. And best of all, EOS is carbon neutral. The EOS line features a special selection of Blue Marble Energy’s bioester fragrances as the top note, carefully blended with Sweet Anthem’s custom heart notes and low notes. The Blue Marble Energy bioesters used in both EOS fragrances are derived from certified organic brewery grain. All other ingredients are locally sourced from the most reputable distributers [sic] of organic, sustainable, or wild harvested materials.

And no, it doesn't smell like beer.  Or hops, for that matter--though Hop Union was passing around a hop-based  cologne some years back.......  or there's this from the UK.....

26 December 2009

Vintage Notes: 2002 Anchor Our Special Ale

Pours a deep, bright chocolately porter colour, with rich but short-lasting head.  Bottle was filled almost to the top with as little headspace as I've ever seen in a commercial bottle.  Nose, oddly, is more akin to oriental spices than traditional brewing or pastry spices. 

This one is drier than current fresh Anchor OSAs, but has a certain full mouthfeel and richness of flavor that hearkens back to spiced, not-overly-sweetened Mexican chocolate sans vanilla.  It also packs a subtle hint of smokiness and peppery flavor, reminding me vaguely of the hugely smoky Lapsang Souchang tea blend.    Finish has a light plum fruitiness.

This is by far the nicest of the "aged Anchor OSAs" I've tried.  The flavor mutates just enough to be different without losing essential qualities of the original.  Well done.  Good thing I have two more bottles.

25 December 2009

Vintage Notes: 1998 Anchor Our Special Ale

Continuing the stream of vintage beers, I pop open the oldest Anchor OSA I have in my stash, 1998.  Pours black as a very dark porter or stout, bright and still with firm carbonation, opaque sediment on the bottle bottom.  Head doesn't last long.  Nose is odd and distinctive, unlike any other spiced beer, with no malt but some elusive stone fruit and pepper.  Flavour is almost bone dry, dark yet still light on the palate, with a tannic, puckering effect of old spice and wet wood.  Lower alcohol and thirst-inducing qualities of the dry spiciness/tannins make this a fast drink.  Dominant spice flavor is dull/old black pepper with hints of nutmeg or cinnamon.  Finish leaves this drinker wanting something more, like iced tea or hot tea.

Proof that it's probably a waste of time to sit on Anchor OSA for "aging."  Between lighter alcohol and freshness of spices, this is a beer to be drunk young and fresh.

24 December 2009

Vintage Notes: George Gale & Co. Ltd. 2001 Christmas Ale

Corked 9.3 oz bottle.  Pours deep garnet with little to no head or carbonation.  Nose of a classic oaked barleywine, almost reminiscent of oaked Olivers Three Lions or the like, with a prominent malt background.  Initial sip is tart--not surprising for Gales, which often cranks out its Prize Old Ale with a serious tartness.

The flavour is a surprise.  Between the woodiness and the acidity, this is more akin to a red wine with an old-ale nose than it is a barleywine, though at 8.5% it's dancing on the line between barleywine and old ale.  The front of the tongue tastes the toffee of malty barleywine, but the back of the tongue and throat taste tart raspberry/blackberry flavours, and the tart effects emphasize the berry character.  The tasting notes from the importer mention spices; come to think of it, this tastes like the "woodiness" of spices that have aged too long (chew a cinnamon stick that's boiled through three cups of cider, and you'll see what I mean).

Verdict:  Once again, don't sit on these these things too long.  This bears the signature of spices, and spiced beers don't age that well, if at all.  (Hint: don't age Anchor Our Special Ale unless you're a masochist for identifying such aged flavours.)

Well, you may not have the chance anyway.  In November 2005, the British mega-brewer Fuller's acquired George Gale & Co Ltd of Horndean, Hampshire, in a deal worth £92 million. The deal encompassed Gales' brewery in Horndean and 111 pubs, mostly in Hampshire and the South Coast of England.  Gales beers are now brewed at the Griffin Brewery in Chiswick.  Some batches of Prize Old Ale made it to recent real ale festivals, including the Chesapeake Real Ale Festival a couple years ago.......  The website alleges that they still do a Winter Brew.........

Has anyone seen this beer on the shelves anywhere in recent months, or years?

And with that:  Best wishes for a Merry Christmas, or any other winter holiday of the season you choose to celebrate...........

23 December 2009

Vintage Notes: Dominion Millennium 2004

Continuing a theme from a couple nights ago, I opened a bottle of Dominion Millennium bottled Feb. 15, 2004, according to the dot-matrix-printed date on the bottle.

Pours deep, dark reddish brown/mahogany with a nice but not-long-lived head.  Bottle has considerable dark sediment at the bottom.  A rich nose promising a slightly peaty, dry British barleywine.  Initial sips reveal a much drier barleywine than either remembered or anticipated.  Unfortunately, a drier barleywine loses something in the translation; the sugars in J.W. Lees Harvest Ale provide a thicker, richer, fuller mouthfeel that is noticeably absent here, and thus the flavors are muted in the process.  The mouthfeel is alcoholic and more akin to a watered-down spirit than a beer or barleywine.  Some definite hop bite in the long finish as well.  Think a woody, diluted-by-water single malt.

Verdict:  This is an aged barleywine for those who find the typical Thomas Hardy's, Samichlaus, etc. too sweet and cloying or loaded with syrupy richness.  It would be interesting to see what happened to one of these after another 15 years and see if it "rotted out" like that 20-year-old JW Lees sampled the other night.  I strongly suspect there would be even less left of this than there was of the Lees Harvest after that time--though some brave soul will have to tell us in 2014 at the earliest.

And while we're at it, a beer-tax poll......

The Baltimore Sun--or at least someone at its website--wants your opinion on whether Maryland's alcohol taxes should be raised.  RIGHT HERE, FOLKS.  (Maybe.)

I wouldn't want to be accused of ballot-box-stuffing, but...........

Today's History Lesson: Cultural Mores and Alcohol Laws

Courtesy of Reason TV (a project of Reason Magazine), Garrett C. Peck, author of the excellent The Prohibition Hangover, tells us in part why American liquor laws are so screwy.

22 December 2009

Clipper City: Calm Down, Folks!!!!!!

I've been getting a lot of comments and traffic from yesterday's news leak about Clipper City.

So let me emphasize more, after a call to the brewery reps:

ONLY THE BRAND NAME--i.e. the packaging and marketing--is changing.  They are not discontinuing any of the beers (at least yet) or changing the recipes.  The four CC beers--Pale, Gold, MarzHon, and McHenry--will still be produced.  Oxford, too, for now--I got the impression that they were still working out just what to do with the brand and recipes.

The strategy behind this is simply market expansion.  Right now, Clipper City beers are only available in Maryland; putting them under Heavy Seas will ease their expansion into other states where Heavy Seas is already located.

Hugh is taking a well-deserved vacation, and the people left in their offices are telling me "it's hard to get any work done around here with the phone ringing off the hook", so unless you have a professional business relationship stake in this matter, just sit back and wait until after the New Year, or official word from the brewery (which, of course, will also be reiterated here when it reaches me).

How to Brew a Big Beer

Pratt Street/Olivers' brewer Steve Jones produced a nice day-long series of seven posts yesterday tracking the process and progress of brewing one of their latest beers, "The Bishop's Indulgence," a chocolate-infused stout.

You can take them in order by starting here.

A reminder that the blog still contains a weekly opportunity to win beer-related goods, "The Friday Question."

21 December 2009

Vintage Notes: 1989 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale, 20 Years Later, and 1999 vintage, 10 years later

My birthday today, looking for something to appropriately mark the occasion, and realizing that, you know, the old stuff just could end up being enjoyed at some fantastic wake someday if I don't actually start consuming the stuff, so.... I start reaching into one of the two Thomas Hardy's boxes, both of which hold a wild variety of vintage stuff, and the first random grab is a 1989 bottle of J.W. Lees Harvest Ale.  Twenty years old.  Out it comes.

This beer is one of the epic British barleywines, and probably on every serious beer lover's "beers to try before you die" list, right up there with Thomas Hardy's Ale and George Gale's Prize Old Ale.  This beer is brewed once a year from the first harvest of English two-row Maris Otter barley and East Kent Golding hops, with a special yeast strain. J.W. Lees Harvest Ale is released on December 1st and runs about 11.5 percent ABV.  The years may have been unkind to this particular bottle, however.  Michael Jackson's 1995 notes on this particular vintage report an "orange colour," but this one pours an extremely dense red, almost porter colour.  Only the faintest hint of carbonation remained.  The nose is a smoky blend of port, tobacco, raisins, and damp leather.  The flavor is dry and similarly smoky, lacking the toffee-sweet notes typical of Hardy's or other barleywines.  The body, at 11.5% ABV, is more reminiscent of a lighter dry merlot or cabernet.  The flavour keeps coming back to dry leather, oak, and pipe tobacco--not necessarily bad, mind you, but a let-down if you're seeking the butterscotch-like richness of fresher barleywines.  The finish is tannic and slightly bitter.  Bottle has a heavy dose of sediment.

Verdict: held too long.  I would polish off any vintages this old if you have them, or hold them for a vertical tasting.  I'm estimating ten to fifteen years would be the maximum for this.

I'm getting some munchies for dinner, then maybe moving on to some more libations.  Hey, did Jenny just walk by with eggnog?  Hmmm, do I have something to add to that commercial non-alcoholic stuff?.......

A couple hours later, I found two bottles of 1999 vintage.  Let's see if my hypothesis is correct.......

Pours with a rich, extravagant head.  Bright deep mahogany colour.  Lush malty nose, promising classic barleywine flavours.  Mild but firm effervescence, fresh and sweet palate of toffeed malt, what Michael Jackson described as "juicy 'barley sugars.'"  Flavour profile akin to an overly-sweet Scottish wee heavy as interpreted by western American brewpubs and micros, with chewy texture balanced by appropriate but still subtle hop bitterness.  Notes of tanned leather, brown sugar and buttered toast, tea, and a hint of woodiness, either oak and/or allspice or mace.

Seriously, compared to the last one, I'm having trouble finishing this one.  In spite of the winter season, cold weather, etc., this seemingly has enough sugar in it to induce a diabetic coma.  The final sips dry out a bit, however, with notes of prune and sherry on the back. 

Verdict: a definite winner, albeit so rich I would make plans to share even a 275-ml bottle with another person, at least.

The End Of Clipper City!

Now that I have your attention..............

It's true.  Direct from the hors--er, managing partner's mouth on Friday night.

"Clipper City will cease to exist as a brand effective February 1st."

The Heavy Seas brand will end up as the business name and house brand, with requisite changes to be made as needed.  He was mum on exactly what beers might change, but it's certain that the Oxford and Clipper City names will be history.

Grab your Clipper City breweriana now, folks.

17 December 2009

"Cheeee-eese, Gromit...."

Cheeses to go with your Christmas beers and other booze.  (I've always loved Comte, myself.)

And a Slate piece on whether the mere concept of cheese is environmentally "politically correct."

This should hold y'all for a few......

I'm off out of town for a few, but before I scram, here's a quick update of what's worth paying attention to for your pre-Christmas libations:

Metropolitan (Federal Hill, 906 S. Charles St.): Firkin of Otter Creek's Quercus Vitis Humulus: "a bold 27 degree plato barley-wine, warm-fermented with Bohemian lager yeast, then blended with Sauvignon Blanc grape juice and fermented a second time with a pure culture of Champagne yeast, then aged on lightly toasted French Oak".  12% ABV, with 38 IBU.  Previous samples of draft at Max's were quite intriguing.  Starts @ 6 pm.

Max's: Cask Night: He'Brew Bittersweet Lenny IPA, Lagunitas Brown Shugga, and Lancaster Hop Hog.  Discounts on casks Thursday nights beginning @ 6 pm.  Meanwhile, there's a whole lotta holiday/Xmas/etc. beers still on tap, last I saw.......

Frisco Grille, Columbia:  Firkin of Heavy Seas Loose Cannon dry-hopped with locally-grown (Frederick, Md.) Cascade hops, beginning 4 PM Thursday.

Judge's Bench, Main Street Ellicott City: Their first firkin tapping, also Heavy Seas Local-Hop Loose Cannon, along with some of the Clipper City brewing crew and Hugh Sisson, Friday evening beginning @ 5 pm.  Also on hand: 2008 Below Decks, Yule Tide, Winter Storm, Peg Leg, and among the last of the Oxford Organic Amber, which is reported by Clipper City to be retired soon.

Mahaffey's:  Wayne, ya big lug,. I love ya, man, but I can't tell them all what your weekly bomber special Thursdays is until you put my up-to-date e-mail address in your address book.  Meanwhile, they usually also have $5 jumbo shrimp and "crab cake slider" platters Thursdays.

16 December 2009

We Need To Address This......

Thanks to Sam Sessa's Midnight Sun blog for the tip:

There's a bar in Dundalk called Hops Inn.

It's on Railway Avenue--a plus for this railway enthusiast.

Here's the beer list.

In spite of that name, there isn't anything even CLOSE to a "hoppy" beer there.

I suggest the sales reps from the distributors of Clipper City, Olivers, Victory, Wild Goose, Pub Dog, etc. pay them a visit.  Or maybe I'll clandestinely plant hop vines there.

14 December 2009

Xmas Beer Social @ Max's tomorrow

The title pretty much says it all.  Be there for a whole bunch of Christmas beers--and get there before they violate the fire code for capacity.

(Posting is likely to be pretty light for the rest of the month.  One of my closest friends passed away a short while back, and we're just finding out about it now.)

08 December 2009

What New Beers Do We Want? And Do We Need Them?

The DC-Beer e-mail list has been chattering with a discussion of "new" beers in the DC market for 2009, and a few discussions about possible new ones for 2010.  Remember, this is Washington, DC, and by extension suburban Virginia and Maryland:

Duck Rabbit
Terrapin [ironically, was contracted in Maryland until recently--and not related to U. of Md.]
Bruery  [Available in Baltimore]
Firestone Walker
21st Amendment ([also in Baltimore]
Goose Island
Stoudt's [disappeared for a while, seems to be back]

Possible/desired new entries for 2010:
New Belgium
Lost Abbey/Port Brewing
Russian River [available in Philly]

Now comes the delicate question:  With such a rich diversity of beer brands and quality available here, do we really need to see more beers here?  Is bringing in New Belgium, for example, worth probably losing shelf space for, oh, I don't know, The Bruery, Great Divide, or Avery?  Is Lost Abbey or Port worth losing Lagunitas or Stone, or several of the Belgians?  Because face facts, folks, there's only so many craft beer dollars to be had, absent some "benevolent dictator" outlawing industrial-scale lagers like Bud, Miller, and Coors.  There are times when I truly feel bad that I'm passing up, say, a terrific Avery or Brooklyn or Oskar Blues or Otter Creek or Allagash beer in favor of something just a little bit more special, distinctive, local, or oddball.  Beers are only worth the trouble of shipping, making distribution arrangements, etc. if they can get repeat customers, not just "okay, check that off my list" samplers.

Beside which, isn't there good reason to keep even the best beers local?  Shouldn't I have good reason to look forward to visiting a beer bar in California, Colorado, Chicago, or Casablanca?  The last thing I want is what I had happen during my last visit to Arizona, where the bar was ever so proud to show off their newly-acquired Dogfish Head beers (and I was wearing a Dogfish Head belt buckle!), and I had to get them to pull out the local stuff from the far corners...........  including, of course, Lost Abbey Ten Commandments......

Baltimore Magazine's "25 Best Baltimore Bars"

Courtesy of Sam Sessa's Midnight Sun blog for the tip, here's Baltimore Magazine's list of "25 Best Bars".  Seven writers in the byline.

  • Bertha's
  • B&O American Brasserie
  • Brewer's Art
  • Cat's Eye Pub
  • Club 347
  • Club Charles
  • Five
  • Hamilton Tavern
  • Hard Yacht Cafe
  • Hightopps Backstage Grille
  • Idle Hour
  • Jerry's Belvedere Tavern
  • Little Havana
  • Mahaffey's Pub
  • Max's
  • Mick O'Shea's
  • Oregon Grille
  • Owl Bar
  • Pazo's
  • Pub Dog (Federal Hill)
  • Racer's Cafe
  • Red Star
  • Ropewalk Tavern
  • Sly Fox Pub
  • Wharf Rat

Sidebar essays chat about Bar (Fells Point), the Laughing Pint, Teavolve, Cazbar, and Regi's American Bistro.

Debate and/or discuss. My big qualm:  Why did they highlight and write up the Annapolis location of Sly Fox when there's a perfectly functional one in the zone between Federal Hill and Locust Point?

07 December 2009

Samuel Smith's Beer Dinner @ Metropolitan Dec. 15th

In my e-mail inbox a few minutes ago:

Metropolitan is announcing the next in our series of beer dinners to be held next Tuesday, December 15.  Chef Ferdinand Farly will be pairing five courses with five beers from the Samuel Smith Brewery in Yorkshire, England.  Samuel Smith Brewery is one of the oldest and largest independent breweries in England, producing a variety of classic English ales in a brewery that dates back to 1758.  John Brown of Merchant du Vin, the importer of Samuel Smith, will be on hand to talk about the brewery and the beers.

The details:
Date: Tuesday, December 15
Time: 7:00 pm
Cost: $50 per person, Limited to 15 people

The Menu:
1st Course: Green Pea & Mint Soup
Pure-Brewed Lager
2nd Course:  Green Pea & Watercress Salad
Old Brewery Pale Ale
3rd Course: Curried Scallops
India Pale Ale
4th Course: Lemongrass Lambchop
Taddy Porter
5th Course: Fried Banana
Oatmeal Stout

If you are interested and wish to reserve a spot, call Metropolitan at 410-234-0235 or send an email.

05 December 2009

Hoppy Hoppy, Joy Joy at Red Brick Station

I managed a long-overdue but all-too-quick visit to Red Brick Station yesterday, and found a surprise awaiting me.

First, Percolator.  Not a dopplebock, but instead a 6.5% hoppy ale named after all the hops percolating inside the brew kettle.  (Also on draft at Mahaffey's as of Thursday night...).

Second, A-10 Warthog IPA, named for, and brewed in part for, the military aircraft that are tested at nearby Martin State Airport.  It's an outrageously hoppy 6.5% IPA, perfect for hopheads fond of the thought of picking hop cones out of their teeth after drinking, full of fresh aromas and grapefruity hop bite.  Brewer Mike McDonald explained it thus: "The test pilots at Martin converge here for lunch and drinks every test day that gets canceled because of inclement weather--and lately that's about one day a week.  We brewed up the beer with them in mind, and when we named it after the plane, they gave us the picture now hanging on the wall there!"  Another difference is the yeast: instead of the "house" Ringwood yeast, McDonald fermented the beer with a batch of "Chico" yeast, made to replicate Sierra Nevada's house strain, acquired from nearby DuClaw Brewing.

Winter Solstice Ale is just around the corner, a deeply roast porter that, in the premature sample from the aging tanks, had a lot of coffee notes, but is held to a drinkable 5.5%.  It features 20 pounds of cocoa nibs, along with vanilla--"the vanilla is only a chocolate flavor enhancer, just like commercial milk chocolate," said McDonald.  The finished product will probably have richer chocolate flavors but a dry finish.

McDonald said of an earlier batch of Highlander Heavy that was on draft a month or more ago: "That was a last keg that was sitting around in the back of the cooler.  I haven't even gotten around to brewing this year's batch, but I have to tweak the recipe again."  It seemed that last year's batch dramatically demonstrated the huge difference that different malt suppliers can make; a blend of the same malt specifications from a different malster produced a result not to McDonald's satisfaction, and one that didn't age well, either, if some reviews of that last keg are to be believed.

03 December 2009

UPDATED: New Max's Cask Nights, and the Same Old One at Metropolitan

UPDATED and bumped up: In addition to the earlier post content below, let's add that Thursday has been the cask night at Metropolitan for a while now, and tonight-s cask is Wild Goose Snow Goose, a sentimental old favorite of mine.......  decisions, decisions............  Plus, Thursday has long been a featured-beer night at Mahaffey's in Canton; now if I could just get Wayne to add my newer e-mail back to his list instead of the one I dropped over a year ago............

What?  With three beer engines, EVERY day is Cask Day at Max's Taphouse, you would think.

But starting Thursday Dec. 3rd, Max's is holding Cask Nights in addition to its usual Trivia Nights.  Similar to the Tuesday Beer Socials, beginning at 6 p.m. there will be a featured beer (or more than one, or even a firkin now and then), with a discount on the price for that night only.  The starting line-up for the 3rd:

BrewDog Harcore IPA  9.0% ABV. Scottish Imperial IPA, 150 IBU's
Williams Bros. 80 Shilling  4.2% ABV. Scottish Ale
Lagunitas Brown Shugga  9.8% ABV. Strong Ale Hybrid

Max's has now purchased several of its own firkins, and is dispatching them to various breweries through the distributors, in order to assure supply.  This is hardly new--many local beer bars now have their own firkins, as it's often the only way to get cask ale.  (If you see a fire-engine-red one floating around, it's from Metropolitan Coffeehouse.) 

02 December 2009

What Do I Have To Do To Get Your Beer, Anyway?

What's the most popular and requested draft beer in Baltimore?

Well, if you just count tap handles, it's probably Bud Light.  But if you open a bar in town, you might have the big industrial brewers falling over themselves trying to "buy" their way into your place (they'll install your draft system as long as you serve their products, for example).

But is there a beer with a waiting list--a beer where someone has to die or get bumped off before you get their beer?  According to Sam Sessa's Midnight Sun post, most certainly:  Brewers Art Resurrection.  Go read the post; he got it mostly right (but didn't go into the bottling-at-Sly-Fox-in-Pennsylvania situation). 

This dilemma highlights the growing problem that confronts a great many brewpubs nationwide, but is exacerbated in urban areas and Baltimore in particular.  At one point, Baltimore had five brewpubs in the city limits; now it's down to two brewpubs and three "brewpub outlets" where the beer is brewed outside the city--and only if we still consider the Ram's Head Live complex near the Power Plant still a brewery outlet, in spite of many guest beers.  Both the remaining brewpubs, and one of the now-gone ones (Sisson's), have/had brewing systems literally crammed into back corners and basement space, and frankly, it completely dumbfounds me that ANY brewer would be willing to work long-term in those claustrophobic, cramped confines.  My Bacchus, unions were formed and arose to power to combat such working conditions, dammit!  Steve Jones of Oliver's/Pratt Street has jokingly called himself the "hunchback," and anyone who has ever been down in the brewpub's basement--a typical old-Baltimore-downtown basement--would be flabbergasted.  Brewers Art's set-up is slightly less claustrophobic, but equally cramped and "inhumane" by many labor standards.

Oliver's is lucky enough that Bill Oliver bought long-term and has lots of excess capacity in its conditioning vessels (thus allowing Jones and assistant Justin D'Amadio the opportunity to work more and expand their market to D.C. and beyond--Olivers is rapidly becoming the "default" reserve cask beer at a lot of places now).  Brewers Art doesn't have that luxury--it's either tank space or a kitchen.  Take your pick.  The brewery at the former Sisson's, last operated under the current owner Ryleigh's, was removed and sold to Mountain State Brewing's Brian Arnett, because, as I was told by the management, they ran the numbers and found that there was more money to be made from additional seating space than there was from the brewery; a similar fate for the same reason befell the brewery at the original DuClaw in Bel Air, and I suspect the only reason they haven't ripped out the brewery at the Annapolis Ram's Head Tavern is the sheer disruption the scrapping would cause.

Thanks to that stupid, fantasy-based, and even unethical real estate boom of the late 1990s and beyond, the square footage involved in running a brewpub in an urban area is anywhere from expensive to ludicrous.  Nobody in their right minds, unless they inherit the property or have a "sweetheart" deal with a property owner or the city, would open a brewpub in an inner city in America today, what with property and business taxes, license fees, and the sheer cost of the necessary real estate.  Bill Oliver, the former owner of what is now the Pratt Street Ale House, was heavily rumored, before selling the place last year, to have been seeking out  a solution similar to what DuClaw carried out: putting the actual brewing operations outside the city and operating the pubs as  "tied houses."  (Thirsty Dog/Dog Pub similarly set up shop out in the old Clay Pipe facility in the "industrial" side of Westminster, with an eye towards their expansion to other locations, but they had been serving Old Dominion beers as their "own" brands before OD pulled out of Maryland, forcing their hand at an innovative solution, one that has scored them one GABF medal so far....)

Should we have mercy on these poor souls?  Would we be all right if, just to make up fantasies, Brewers Art shut down for two weeks, disassembled their brewing equipment, and set up a new brewery with three times the capacity and a bottling line in, oh, I don't know, a business park in Owings Mills or Glen Burnie?  And PSAH/Olivers relocated to a back corner of an abandoned industrial building in Highlandtown or a pier in Canton, brewing up beers in a nice Pugsley system sourced from Shipyard or Wild Goose?

Hey--it would mean we'd get a bit more Resurrection, Cerebus, or Le Canard, right?

Incidentally, since Sam let the cat out of the bag in his post, so to speak, I'll point out that there are still a scant few tickets left for their annual holiday beer tasting on Dec. 12th, noon to 4 p.m.  20% of the gross is donated to a chosen local charity; about a dozen of the region's breweries will be on hand with their holiday beers, and Brewers Art sets out a buffet of their excellent food to accompany it all--and that's usually the first "keg to kick." Tickets, advance only, are $40 plus a processing fee; go here for tickets, and don't call the brewpub.

Do You Have a "Regular" Beer?

A poll to the right for readers of this blog (and non-readers, if you want to read this to a friend or blind beer drinker):

Do you have a routine "regular" beer in your life?  Either a favorite or a "go-to" beer that is regular in your life?  Do you always have a case of Clipper City Heavy Seas Loose Cannon or Wild Goose IPA in your cellar, or a six-pack of The Raven or Victory Prima Pils in your fridge?  Are you constantly filling a growler of DuClaw Misfit Red or Olivers ESB every week?  Do you have a standing order for a sixtel or keg of such a beer for your kegerator?  Do you get cantankerous if the level of Brewers Art Resurrection in your blood gets low?

If not:  Why not?

Homebrewers:  Are you brewing the same recipe routinely, or are you constantly trying new things?

The one most popular question I get asked when people find I write and blog about beer is "what's your favorite beer?"  I always refuse to answer, for three reasons: One I at least attempt to maintain a diplomatic sense of neutrality as a reporter on the scene; two, we have to recognize what what I may like in a beer (maltier, balanced English-style ales) may not be what the extreme-beer fanatic or hophead has in mind; and three, being in this incredibly rich, sophisticated, and diversified market, I have such an embarrassment of riches to choose from that it's embarrassing and pathetic to even think of winnowing such a list down to a Top 25.   Plus, variety being the spice of life and all that, I can't imagine a situation where I'd want an entire sixtel, let alone a half-keg or keg, of any specific beer, even a "holy grail" such as Thomas Hardy's, J.W. Lees Harvest Ale, Samichlaus, New Glarus Belgian Red or Raspberry Tart, or anything, unless I can invite about 50 fans to share it with me--and isn't that really the point of a beer festival, after all?

December Mid-Atlantic Brewing News is out......

Spotted at Max's Taphouse last night.  Check your local good-beer venue for your copy.  Cover stories on "extreme beers" and "how hoppy can you make a beer?"--the latter by yours truly.

FDA Going After "Buzz Beer"? Or, Goodbye to Coffee Stout?

Greg Kitsock's beer column in today's Washington Post calls to our attention that news that the federal Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on caffeinated alcoholic beverages:

On Nov. 13, the FDA sent a letter to 30 manufacturers warning that "there are no food additive regulations that permit the addition of caffeine at any level in alcoholic beverages." The agency has given the companies a month to present scientific evidence that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe. The FDA was prompted in part by complaints from the attorneys general of 18 states that such high-octane energy drinks can be addictive and can create wide-awake drunks who are unable to judge their level of impairment and are therefore prone to engage in risky behaviors such as driving under the influence.

The apparent intended target of this "campaign" are "are caffeinated spirits such as the vodka and tequila made by Pink and flavored malt beverages such as Four Loko, a deep-purple concoction spiked with guarana (which contains caffeine) that measures 12 percent alcohol and tastes like grape Kool-Aid mixed with cough medicine."  (I pity Kitsock if he actually tasted this swill, though a fellow writer grabbed a similar "beverage" while we were on a fact/photo-finding mission to Fordham in Delaware.......  and, yes, it was about as pathetic.)

But the unintentional victim of such an assault could also be coffee-laced beers--now its own medal category in the Great American Beer Festival.  Locally, who remembers Fuel at Capitol City in the Inner Harbor--still being made at other Cap City outlets?  Who's had other terrific coffee stouts such as Southern Tier's Java?  And now maybe we know why Dogfish Head does a Chicory Stout rather than a coffee stout?  Of course, the whole image of the concept is not helped any by the fact that beer enthusiast Drew Carey mocked the concept by having the characters on his eponymous show start up a garage brewery making "Buzz Beer".....

Further, the libertarian in me is aghast at the FDA's statement: "there are no food additive regulations that permit the addition of caffeine".  Well, ex-cuuuse the heck out of me, but just where the hell do they get off making a statement like that?  Basically, we're not allowed to do something related to foodstuffs unless it is specifically allowed and blessed by the FDA?  Did we have to seek out the FDA's approval to add fruit to a beer?  Chili peppers?  Cinnamon and nutmeg?  Do I have to ask their blessing if I want to age it in an oak barrel--or, for that matter, a hickory or maple barrel?

Oh, wait, you say?  The issue arises because caffeine is considered a drug?  I'll tell y'all what:  Let's start making the coffee stouts out of decaffeinated coffee.  Then tell the FDA to stick it where the sun don't shine.  Or, more accurately, to just "buzz off."  And while they're at it, look at those "Irish Coffees" down at the "Irish" pub and elsewhere.......

UPDATE:  Much more discussion at the professional level, including a list of targeted products, HERE. 

In addition, a professional brewer e-mailed me the following:

The FDA letter specifically states:
"A10. This FDA action is not directed at products that are flavored with coffee. The beverages that are the subject of FDA’s request for information are characterized by the intentional addition of caffeine to alcoholic beverages by the manufacturer."

Thus, it is not the addition of coffee, a legitimate food product, that they have issue with, but the addition of pure/straight caffeine, a chemical compound. IMHO, and non-legal opinion, they most certainly DO have a right to limit such additions, in the public interest. I realize the caffeine almost certainly COMES FROM a food product, but so does MSG and a myriad of other CHEMICALS which are dangerous in straight concentrated form and therefore regulated.
To which I will point out:  OK, it's not permissible for someone to blend this stuff and commercially package it, but it's perfectly OK if I do it myself, at my own risk.  Okay.  Fine.  Then what of the bartender making Jack and Cokes, or Irish Coffees, or Red Bull and vodkas?