30 November 2010

Baltimore City Bans Caffeinated Alcoholic "Energy Drinks" UPDATED

UPDATE #2: The official press release.   Read it as you will: it specifically says "The Baltimore City Health Commissioner is issuing an order barring the sale of alcoholic beverages containing caffeine in the city."  But it also names seven products under six brand names by name, saying "The ban applies to the following commercially available products".   Other caffeine-bearing products such as coffee liqueur are not specifically mentioned or exempted, nor is amy distinction made between caffeine occuring naturally in flavor additives (coffee, tea, chicory, etc.) and artificially-extracted/consolidated caffeine as is typically added to "energy drinks."

The blogpost by Midnight Sun's Erik Maza sums it up nicely, in my opinion:  "Not content to have beat the horse, and left it for dead in a dingy ditch somewhere, Baltimore's health commissioner today banned the sale of caffeinated alcoholic drinks like Four Loko within the city."

Here's a succession of blogpost from Reason.com's Jacob Sullum on the subject over the past two weeks:

And now for something to distract the naysayers from this stuff: alcoholic whipped cream.

 UPDATE:  Howard County jumps on the "Ban Four Loko" wagon!   And Thursday isn't soon enough:  " ,. . . effective at the close of business on Wednesday, Dec. 1."

Baltimore Sun:

The Baltimore City health commissioner has banned the sale of alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine as of 5 p.m. Thursday.

The move allows the city to fine, up to $1,000, those who continue to sell Four Loko and other such drinks in defiance of a recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration ban and an agreement reached by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot with alcohol wholesalers and retailers associations to stop restocking.

"Removing these beverages from the marketplace removes the temptation to abuse them," said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, city health commissioner, in a statement. "The public health consequences of the masking effects of caffeine in alcoholic beverages are real and include increased risk for unsafe sex practices, driving while under the influence and increased risks for blackouts."

The ban applies to products including Core High Gravity HG Green, Core High Gravity HG Orange, Lemon Lime Core Spiked, Moonshot, FourLoko, Joose and Max. The city plans to officially notify Tuesday 566 licensed facilities.
More at the link, and here.  Note: the exact wording of the order has not been posted (as of this blogpost) at the Baltimore City website or other media.  Even the Baltimore City Liquor License Commission chairman, Steve Fogleman, is awaiting official documentation before commenting.

But I will note two things:
1) If this order bans the specific products by name, they only have to introduce new names.
2) Four Loko, for one, has already said it's removing the caffeine from its alcohol-delivery system products beverages.

Still awaiting word:  Has this ban just inadvertently banned Lagunitas Cappuchino Stout, Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, Southern Tier Jah-Va, and other coffee- and tea-infused beers?

The FDA, however, did say that its own actions against caffeinenated boozes were narrowly-focused:

Does this action apply to coffee-based liqueurs?
No.  These Warning Letters are not directed at alcoholic beverages that only contain caffeine as a natural constituent of one or more of their ingredients, such as a coffee flavoring. The alcoholic beverages that are the subject of FDA's Warning Letters are malt beverages to which the manufacturer has directly added caffeine as a separate ingredient.
Stay tuned.........

Beer Brunch at DuClaw Arundel Mills Dec. 19th UPDATED

UPDATE: Tickets go on sale at 9:00 AM E.S.T.  I predict a sell-out in ten minutes.

The DuClaw Brewing empire is getting aboard the beer-breakfast/brunch bandwagon with its first Beer Brunch, a six-course, $45 extravaganza on Sunday, Dec. 19th at 9 a.m.at their Arundel Mills location:

  1. Sweet Potato Pancakes with a Vanilla Almond Syrup topped with Fresh Homemade Cream paired with Sawtooth Belgian Wit
  2. Spiced Pumpkin Waffles topped with a Cinnamon Cream paired with 31 Spiced Munich Dunkel.
  3. Beer Marinated Steak and Eggs paired with Devil’s Milk Barleywine
  4. Cherry Strata paired with Cherry Black Jack Stout
  5. Beer Biscuits and Maple Sausage Gravy with Euphoria Toffee Nut Brown Ale
  6. Banana Crepes with a Chocolate Drizzle with 13 Degrees Hefeweizen
Only 50 seats are available, and they are being sold through the company's online store beginning Dec. 1st.  I predict an extremely rapid sell-out, if the popularity of their firkin tappings at that location are any indication.

Two AIDS Charity Events at Baltimore Beer Bars Tomorrow

Two events tomorrow at local beer bars in support of World AIDS Day:

At Brewer's Art, 20% of the day's proceeds go to Chase Brexton Health Services (in the neighborhood) for AIDS-related causes.

Down in Federal Hill, Muggsy's Mug House is participating in "Global Drinks for World Action," a related fundraiser, complete with international music, trivia, and a raffle.

See? EVERY state has stupid alcohol laws....

It's a syndrome you'll see across this land.  Every fan of quality beer, wine, or spirits can instantly and eagerly point out some aspect of their home state's laws on alcoholic-beverage sales, production, or distribution.  Pennsylvania: the "state store" system and the case law.  Maryland: almost no grocery or convenience stores can sell booze.  Virginia: State Stores.  Keg registrations.  Prohibitions against Sunday sales, or beverages over a certain strength.  The various regulations mandating that booze be served only in "private clubs" or restaurants.  Prohibitions against listing strength of beer on beer bottles, while it's required on spirits and wine.

One would think Colorado, home of so many craft brewers and one of the centers of the craft beer revival, and a state where the current governor-elect is a former brewpub owner--would be exempt from this nuttiness.

Think again:

As the happy-hour crowd began trickling into The Celtic Tavern on Tuesday night, bar owner Patrick Schaetzle — flanked by placards and mirrors touting Murphy's Irish Stout — got some unsettling news.
Sometime next year bars will have to stop selling his Lower Downtown pub's signature stout along with an array of other beers that are lower alcohol. The looming restrictions flow from a bitter, three-year battle between liquor and convenience stores over who can sell full-strength beer.
Schaetzle and a number of his similarly shocked patrons pointed out that both waistlines and blood-alcohol levels could suffer as a result of banning low-alcohol — read, low-calorie — beers from taverns and restaurants.
State liquor regulators continue to hammer out guidelines meant to ensure everyone from the brewers down to the retailers follow the rules.
Beermakers will have to test their suds and submit an affidavit stating their alcohol content to authorities.
Once enforced, the rules will likely shut off taps of lighter versions of brands like Shiner, Amstel, Heineken, Yeungling, Michelob and Shipyard among others. Light versions of the big three — Coors, Budweiser and Miller — appear to have just enough alcohol to remain flowing.
More in this Denver Post editorial today.  (Tip o' the hat to fellow beer blogger Jack Curtin for the lead.)

Beer Dinners at Victoria Gastro Pub

The manager at Victoria Gastro Pub (one guess what her first name is?) dropped me an e-mail which included a schedule of upcoming events for the gastropub in 2011.

First, the aforementioned Ugly Sweater Party on Christmas Eve--technically not a beer event, but wottheheck....

Not all of them are beer events, but I thought I'd list the planned beer events so you could plan accordingly.  As always, these are planned events; contact the pub for updates or to watch for additional events that may be added in the future.


Wed-Fri 1/5—1/7 Belgian Beer Fest
Tuesday 1/11/11 Flying Dog Beer Dinner
Mon-Mon 1/17—1/31 Howard County Winter Restaurant Weeks


Sun- Mon 2/6- 2/7 Flying Dog 24-Tap Takeover
Tuesday 2/8/11 North Coast Beer Dinner

Tuesday 3/1/11 Belgian Beer Dinner

Tuesday 4/5/11 The Bruery Beer Dinner

Tuesday 5/3/11 Brasserie Dieu De Ciel Beer Dinner
Mon-Sun 5/16—5/22 American Craft Beer Week

Tuesday 6/14/11 Colorado Beer Dinner (Oskar Blues, Yeti, Great Divide & Boulder)


Wed-Fri 7/6—7/8 Christmas in July
Tuesday 7/12/11 Dogfish Beer Dinner

Mon-Mon 7/25—8/8 Howard County Summer Restaurant Weeks

Mon-Mon 7/25—8/8 Howard County Summer Restaurant Weeks
Tuesday 8/9/11 Unibroue Beer Dinner


Tuesday 9/6/11 Lagunitas Beer Dinner

Tuesday 10/4/11 Oktoberfest Beer Dinner
Fri-Mon 10/7—10/17 Baltimore Beer Week Proposed Dates

Tuesday 11/8/11 Southern Tier Beer Dinner

What, flying dogs aren't freaky enough by themselves?

From Flying Dog PR e-mails and posts:

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls (21 years or older), have yourself a Merry Firkin Christmas at Flying Dog's Freak Show December 10 at the brewery.

We'll have jugglers, magicians, fire dancers, sword swallowers, fire breathing, and more for a freak show that puts your in-law's 20-person dinner table to shame. It's the kind of party meant for those consistently shunned to the kids' table.

DJ Two Teks will be spinning in the interludes. Along with 12 beers on tap, we'll have 3 cask-conditioned ales on the bar and beer engine.

Tickets are $30. They're sure to sell out fast, so get yours as soon as humanely possible. (The rest of your holiday shopping can wait.)

29 November 2010

December Beer Events in Md. and D.C.

This list is edited from the "Hop Tips" e-newsletter sent out by Mid-Atlantic Brewing News to e-subscribers.  Sign up yourself at http://www.brewingnews.com/ht/ 

Tuesday, November 30th: Wonderful Holiday Beer Dinner at Brewers Alley, Frederick Two seatings: 5:30pm and 7:30pm. Both in the upstairs Banquet room, with downtown holiday lights shining in the windows. Details at 301-631-0089 or www.brewers-alley.com.
Thursday, December 1st: Heavy Seas Beer and Pizza Party at Two Boots, Baltimore
Loose Cannon and Small Craft Warning with your pizza toppings or keep the pint glass with your 1st Marzen draft. Live music, raffles, prizes and specialty pizza. 6-9pm. www.twoboots.com/TW2008/baltimore.
Saturday, December 3rd: Pint Night at Hempden Hills BBQ, Hagerstown
Try a pint of HS Gold Ale, which recently won a bronze medal at GABF, and keep the pint glass it's served in. Other Heavy Seas beer will be available. Meet our rep from the brewery who can answer all your beer related questions. 7:30-10pm. 301-797-4455. www.hsbeer.com
Saturday, December 4th: Winter Beer Wonderland at Roots Market, Olney
3-4 different breweries will be pouring their seasonal fare. Brand New Brewery from Rockville MD Baying Hound Aleworks will be featuring their Pale Ale and their Winter brew. Event is just for tastes but free to all. There will be plenty for purchase. 301-774-1344 or http://rootsmkt.com.
Tuesday, December 7th: All About Beer with Hugh Sisson
Join Heavy Seas founder, Hugh Sisson, on the eve of their 15th anniversary for a special event at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Learn about different styles of beer and hear stories from the first brewpub owner in Maryland. Sample 5 Heavy Seas beers paired with food from Bluegrass Tavern. Beer tasting only: $15 (non-members) or $10 ( members). Food pairing included: $20 (members) or $25 (non-members). Reservations required. Tickets at 410-727-4808 x129 or pfallon@thebmi.org. www.hsbeer.com.
Wednesday, December 8th: Holiday Beer Dinner at Dogfish Head, Gaithersburg
Five courses paired with your favorite Dogfish brews. $75 includes all. 7-9pm. Reservations at 301-963-4847. Menu at www.dogfishalehouse.com.
Wednesday, December 8th: Maryland Beer Dinner at Bluegrass Tavern, Baltimore
Heavy Seas and White Marsh Brewing are hosting this 6-course dinner. $85. 6:30-9pm. Reservations required. 410-244-5101 or www.bluegrasstavern.com. Menu at hsbeer.com.
Friday, December 10th: Heavy Seas Pint Night at Niners Canal Pub, Cumberland –Join in for a pint and keep the first glass. 7-9pm. www.ninerscanalpub.com. www.hsbeer.com.
Tuesday, December 14th: Beer Club at Lure’s Bar and Grille, Crownsville –Featuring Christmas/holiday beers. Food and drinks for $38. 6-8pm. 410-923-1606 or www.luresbarandgrille.com.

Sunday, December 19th: Beer for Breakfast at DuClaw Brewing, Arundel Mills
Six courses of scrumptious brunch fare paired with some of their finest brews. $45. Tickets at http://www.duclaw.com/store/default.aspx (on sale beginning December 1st)

Tuesday, December 21st: Loose Cannon Cask at Sean Bolan’s, Bel Air
With added hops in the firkin. 5-8pm. www.seanbolans.com. www.hsbeer.com.

Thursday, December 22nd: Loose Cannon Cask at Sly Fox, Annapolis
5-8pm. www.slyfoxpub.com.

Thursday, December 23rd: Heavy Seas Holiday Pint Night at Federal House, Annapolis Get what you really want this holiday season; Winter Storm and Loose Cannon in a souvenir glass. 6-9pm. www.federalhouserestaurant.com. www.hsbeer.com.

Friday, December 24th: Ugly Christmas Sweater Party at Victoria Gastro Pub, Columbia –Winners chosen at 8pm. 410-750-1880 or www.victoriagastropub.com.

Friday, December 31th: New Years Eve Party at Victoria Gastro Pub, Columbia – Special menu and live music beginning at 9pm. 410-750-1880 or www.victoriagastropub.com.
Wednesday, December 1st: Craft Brewers Come to Congress…and ChurchKey – Many of the finest Craft Brewers in the US are coming to Capitol Hill to lobby on behalf of Craft Beer. After they finish up a tasting for Congressional staffers, they're heading to ChurchKey. Starting at 6pm, ChurchKey will be featuring some amazing draft and cask beers. 202.567.2576 or www.churchkeydc.com.

Friday, December 3rd: Great Lakes Christmas Ale and Cookies at Black Squirrel
Chef Gene Sohn will also make holiday desserts that pair with the beer, including a Christmas Ale bread pudding and a Christmas Ale eggnog custard. There will be a holiday cookie decorating area in the upstairs lounge. 6:30-9:30pm. 202-232-1011 or www.blacksquirreldc.com.

Monday, December 6th: He'Brew Jewbilation Vertical Draft Night – Schmaltz Brewing Company is celebrating their 14th anniversary, and to toast their continued success they’ll be pouring re-brewed drafts of He'Brew Jewbilation 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13, along with 2010's Jewbilation 14. The eighth He'Brew draft is a Vertical blend: Jewbilations 8 through 14 aged in Sazerac Rye Whiskey barrels. 6pm. 202.567.2576 or www.churchkeydc.com.

Thursday, December 9th: 21st Annual Winter Holidaze Tasting Extravaganzee at the Brickskeller – A whole bunch of the regions’ best brewmasters come to the stage with their winter seasonal. Meet them, hear them speak, and taste their great winter brews. Doors open at 6pm, they never start at 7pm. $35. 202-293-1885 or www.lovethebeer.com.

Friday, December 10th: Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch Bottle, Cask, and Draft at De Vinos – 6-9pm. 202-986-5002 or www.de-vinos.com.

Tuesday, December 28th: Belgian Beer Dinner at Belga CafĂ© – 6:30pm. Reservations at 202-544-0100. www.belgacafe.com.

26 November 2010

Beery Christmas (Lights)....................

Trust the occasionally offbeat owner and crew at Max's Taphouse to go with something like this.

Regular Christmas lights don't show up all that well on the exterior of a building, so Max's did a little experimenting and fabricated a whole string of giant "oversized" Christmas lights to adorn the roofline of the bar's buildings.

A closer examination, however, will show the true ingenuity of this decoration.  The "lights" combine a string of ordinary 110-volt light sockets and colored compact-fluorescent light bulbs (the light source) with large plastic balls that fit perfectly over said light fixtures.

And where, pray tell, did the balls come from?  They're recycled/reused "Key Keg" PET balls, the guts of recyclable plastic-and-cardboard "kegs" used by many of the European brewers such as BrewDog to ship one-way shipments of low-volume, high-cost quantities of beer to the States!  (A lot of said beers come through local importer Legends Limited.)  I asked bartender Bob Simko where they kept the balls until they built the decorations.  "All over the place!" he said.

Knowing Max's, I'm expecting this is only a preview of forthcoming decorations.  (For Halloween, the roof featured, among other things, a moving giant spider.)

The debate continues...... and beer (again) gets no respect.....

Baltimore Sun:  The great legislative debate on whether to allow direct wine shipments to Maryland residents continues.

No mention, of course, of beer, or "beer-of-the-month" clubs, or direct orders of special releases direct from distant breweries.

24 November 2010

Let's Dash Another Urban Legend About Beer on the (Plymouth) Rocks....

Yeah, you've no doubt heard those Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 because the were "out of beer"?

Baloney, says this article:
So where did these legends start? In the years following the end of Prohibition, Anheuser-Busch and other breweries began running ads with slogans such as "Pilgrim Fathers drank it." The U.S. Brewers Association also ran holiday ads using the tagline "Beer, Not Turkey, Lured Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock." The beer industry was still stinging from 13 years of Prohibition, and they wasted no time trying to persuade customers that beer was a fundamental part of America's history.
I always figured the rewriting came from some fraternity house myself.  (Now to go submit this one to Snopes.com.....)

23 November 2010

Thanksgiving Eve, Updated Again

Keeping in mind the allegations (see posts on this subject in 2009 and 2008) that Thanksgiving Eve is the biggest drinking day of the year (not "holiday," just drinking day), what are your plans for tomorrow?

Metropolitan in Federal Hill is tapping its weekly firkin a day early from its regular Thursday, in tomorrow's case a firkin of Oliver Brewerie's The Darkness, a 7% dark wheat beer.

In contrast, the source of that firkin, Pratt Street Ale House, is closing for Wednesday and Thursday.

Meanwhile, DuClaw is going all-out at its Bel Air location, coming right out and saying it's "High School Reunion Night":
There will be plenty of time to nap AFTER the turkey and stuffing. Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday November 24th 2010, catch up with your old friends (or make some new friends) only at DuClaw Brewing Company Bel Air. We’re throwing our own “High School Reunion” from 9pm to 1am, with a DJ spinning tunes, drink specials, contests and more!

Of course, it wouldn’t be a high school reunion without “Superlatives”! Vote for the party-goers (1 male and 1 female in each category, nominees must be present) that you think best embody the following categories:

BARE ASS BLONDE (The Best Bare Ass)
EUPHORIA (Most Dazed and Confused)
MISFIT RED (Cutest Redhead)
NAKED FISH (Best Looking Naked)
KANGAROO LOVE (Spends the Most Time “Down Under”, if you Catch Our Drift)
OLD FLAME (Cutest Couple)
COLOSSUS (Biggest, Buffest, ‘Roid Ragin’est Juice-Head)
PAX NEMESIS (Best Behaved)
HELLRAZER (Worst Behaved)
EXILE (Most Likely to be Arrested)

The DJ will be announcing winners and awarding prizes throughout the evening.

While the party is a Bel Air exclusive, the specials will be available at all participating DuClaw Brewing Company locations.
Okay, the name/contest tie-ins may be a bit cheesy, but it works if you ask me.

I have a proposal from a family member to go out for a pint or so tomorrow, but the updates/feedback have been lacking................

Anyone else want to chime in?

The Bottled Water Market

If any reader doubts the value of marketing for a beverage, all she or he has to do is catch a view--or, more realistically, read this article--which highlights, albeit superficially of course, how the seemingly ludicrous proposition of a bottled-water market grew from an aberration to "one of the biggest success stories in the modern food and beverage industry":
By branding and marketing water, it has been transformed from something that many of us took for granted into a product that now makes billions for global multinational companies.
But like all products, its success is driven by consumer demand.
"Some people… want to consider the bottled water industry as a marketing trick foisted upon consumers," says Kim Jeffery, chief executive of Nestle Waters in North America.
"I wish I was that good or had that much money.
 If you have access to the BBC, it's on BBC2 at 2100 GMT tonight (4 PM EST).

Catherine's to replace Fed Hill bar Taps

Alternate title: "The McFaul empire spreads in Federal Hill."

The Baltimore Sun's Midnight Sun blog, by Erik Maza, reports that the Federal Hill bar formerly operated as Taps, in the old Craftsmen Club building at Fort and Charles Streets, was bought by Marc McFaul, owner of the Ropewalk Tavern, Dark Horse Saloon, and Stalking Horse, and is slated to be reopened possibly by the end of the year after some remodeling--including, according to the comments, two large windows to lighten up the previously cavern-like interior.

Question: Ropewalk Tavern has a relatively large beer selection, one that many folks in the hinterlands would kill for.  Why does that bar remain relatively unnoticed by beer enthusiasts in this area?

The Ugly Side of the Booze Business

Those of you who pay attention to political happenings elsewhere in Maryland, and particularly to our south, may have noticed the recently-evolving story on a corruption scandal involving Prince George's County officials and, among other things, the alcohol and tobacco trade there--both commodities whose commerce is regulated by government on the federal, state, and local level, usually for the purposes of "revenue enhancement" of one sort or another.

In the case of P.G. County, according to the Washington Post article:
The county's chief liquor inspector is also the head of the local Democratic Party. One of the five members on the Board of Liquor License Commissioners - responsible for granting and revoking liquor licenses - is also on the party's central committee, which helps choose the board members.
The liquor board's chairman was first appointed while his wife led the county Democrats in the mid-1990s. And a third board member is married to a senior state delegate.
Corruption of a different sort runs on the other side of the business: the supply side.  Ever since the end of Prohibition and the set-up in the majority of states of the three-tier distribution system--a system ostensibly meant to avoid the situation that arose in Britain, where bigger breweries expanded and obliterated smaller breweries by means of owning the bars as well as the breweries--the "seedy" underbelly of the alcohol business, full of winks, handshakes, and secret deals right out of the campaign-finance playbooks and manuals, has been an "open secret" that nobody has seemed interested in addressing.  And it's not a Maryland problem (although the one-party nature of most of the state's politics is a factor that no doubt perpetuates the scenario); it's a nationwide problem.

It would be easy for craft beer enthusiasts to believe that their favorite places and beers are above that kind of stuff.  After all, there isn't that kind of money involved in craft beer, is there?

Think again.

Crain's Chicago Business, a Chicago business journal, has published a major story highlighting the Chicago beer business scene: "Pay-to-Play infects Chicago beer market, Crain's investigation finds."  In it, the newspaper highlights, among other things, why New Glarus Brewing, one of the Midwest's most successful and popular micros, retreated from the Chicago market (hint: it wasn't, as alleged by Chicago store owners, that they couldn't make enough beer to supply Chicago anymore--a quick trip outside the city lines exposed that fib); that Chicago has lower craft-beer prices than the national average but a dearth of locally-produced beer/breweries; and that craft beer claims only 5.3% of the local market instead of a national average of 6.3%.

Also highlighted and detailed, largely in off-the-record allegations for obvious reasons: the "pay-to-play" atmosphere, where distributors are asked to pay, or offer to pay, to put a particular beer in a bar or chain:
A craft brewer tells Crain's that Rockit Bar & Grill, with locations near Wrigley Field and in River North, wanted to charge him $3,000 to put his beer on tap.
Is there anyone in the business who can explain to us just why the booze business can't be just above-board and straightforward with its business practices?  Indeed, after several generations of this balderdash, it's become a case of "that's how it's always been."  But does it have to be that way?  (Of course, ask them directly, as this article's authors did, and the answer is always flat-out denial that they do it, or "no comment".)
Mike Roper, who owns Michael & Louise's Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville, says large brewers and bars have a strong incentive to keep pay-to-play alive. The bars get free beer and lower costs while the brewers gain access to lucrative outlets. Though Hopleaf is one of the city's best-known gastropubs, featuring 34 regional microbrews and specialty beers from Belgium on draft, a bar in Wrigleyville will sell more draft beer on a Chicago Cubs game day than Hopleaf will sell in a month, he says.
“Craft brewers have to compete in a marketplace that is not completely fair, and it's like athletes having to compete against someone on steroids,” says Mr. Roper, who has been working in Chicago bars since 1982 and says he hasn't engaged in pay-to-play. “Being with Bud or Miller gives craft beers a better chance to get into popular bars or chain stores.” The larger distributors have more clout, but they also can drag craft breweries into the pay-to-play world, he adds.
The follow-up comments to the article are worth reading, as they include important details left out of the original article for space reasons.

I'm currently talking with a brewery owner that's trying to get his products into this market.  He wants to have wider distribution here, but finds himself looking at the demands of the distributors and balking.  Even though we have several distributors in this market that are relatively kind to craft beer and even one or two that are outright craft-beer boosters, he calculates that it would cost him more to enter this market with wider distribution than his brewery would make from it.

And you wonder why your "cheater pint" shaker glass of a craft beer costs so much.

22 November 2010

Heavy Seas Black Cannon

"Black India Pale Ale" (an obvious oxymoron), "Cascadian Dark Ale," or whatever we're calling a hoppy black ale, is the beer fad craze of 2010, and now Heavy Seas contributes its version:

According to the brewery, this new winter seasonal will be on the market from January to March in all its markets.

Md. Booze Businesses Still Fighting Proposed Tax Increase

The Md. State Licensed Beverage Association, one of two trade groups in the state that concerns itself with the alcoholic beverage industry, is still rallying against proposed alcohol excise tax increases:

Despite the deceptively simple catch phrase, bars, restaurants, wineries and alcohol wholesalers think that the “dime-a-drink” proposal to increase the state tax rate on alcoholic beverages will cost them a lot more.
“They can call it 10 cents a drink. I call it $3 a case of beer,” said Jack Milani, a partner in Monaghan’s Pub in Baltimore County. Milani is legislative co-chair of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association.

Worth repeating just as raw data:

Proponents of increasing taxes on alcohol point out that Maryland has one of lowest state tax rates in the country. It was last raised in 1972 for beer and wine, and in 1955 for distilled spirits.
Currently, the state tax is 9 cents per gallon on beer, 40 cents per gallon on wine and $1.50 per gallon on spirits. The increase would add  roughly 10 cents per “drink” across the board. While this seems small, calculations have shown that the actual taxes would increase by 700% to 1,300%. 
Always beware when tax-increase advocates state the terms of a proposal as "only a dime a drink" or "a penny increase."  (Does anyone remember when tax proponents tried to make the case that the rise in the state sales tax from 5% to 6% was "only a one per cent increase" in the tax when, as anyone who stayed awake in math class knows, it's actually a 20% increase?)

I also love this line later in the article from Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative and Health Care for All coalition president Vincent DeMarco:
In 2008, the current alcohol tax raised almost $29 million for the state. In addition to that sum, DeMarco projects that the increased tax would raise $214 million in new revenues. These funds would be used for an array of health services: developmental disabilities, addiction treatment and prevention, mental health, and Maryland Medicaid Trust Fund for childless adults.
An obstacle in DeMarco’s path to pass the tax increase is Gov. Martin O’Malley’s publicly stated opposition to tax increases this legislative session. DeMarco is hoping that the projects the tax would fund make a difference.
“We think the public differentiates among taxes that save lives, and this [tax] does,” he said.
As if anyone actually believes that the monies raised would not end up just deposited to the general funds eventually?  Perhaps the hospitality industry should simply go on the counter-offensive and call the proposal a "jobs-killing bill."  Hyperbole meets hyperbole.

18 November 2010

Changes to Capitol City Brewing in DC

Those who have been around here drinking for a few years will probably have had flashbacks, during all the recent hoopla over caffeinated alcoholic drinks, of one of the nation's finer coffee stouts, which originated here in Baltimore. Capitol City Fuel was the creation of Mike Morris  Tod Heatwole, Cap City's first brewer in Baltimore, and was a winter seasonal at the Harborplace brewpub, thick and rich at 9-10% and laced with coffee--ten pounds per batch, originally. 

So whatever happened to them?  The Harborplace location closed in September 2007, a victim of sluggish sales and increasing rents.  The company is still alive in the DC area, but is poised to shutter its Union Station/Capitol Hill location in the spring, leaving them with only two locations: the downtown location in a former Greyhound terminal, and the Shirlington, Virginia pub and brewery.  Greg Kitsock has an overview of the company and its numerous pending changes, as well as the 2,000th beer, 2G-IPAat his Washington Post blog.

Mmmmmmmm. . . . . . . Fuel...............

The Annual Brewers Art Christmas Beer Tasting, Dec. 11th

The event: Saturday, Dec. 11th, noon to 4 PM:
Join us as we present 12 (or more) of the area's best holiday beers! Representatives from all breweries will be on hand to present their delicious beers and attendance is limited. A lunch buffet will be offered as well. If you have been to this event, you know it is a great time.

Tickets here; the ticket site say that they start selling at 6 AM tomorrow.

"Brewmasters" TV Parties

I'm certain that a lot of craft-beer places will be organizing viewing parties of some sort to lead up to the Sunday night premiere of The Discovery Channel's new series about Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head Brewing, Brewmasters.  The first notice to hit my mailbox is one for Max's Taphouse, upstairs in the Mobtown Lounge beginning at 8 PM (show time is 10 PM).  Dogfish beers on draft and in bottles, naturally.

More on the show here, including schedules (the premiere also airs Thanksgiving night at 10 PM).

Anyone else hosting "Brewmasters" parties?

17 November 2010

Md. Alcohol Trade Groups Agrees to a de Facto Ban on Caffeinated Booze

Maryland's two largest alcohol trade groups have just instructed their members to stop selling alcoholic drinks infused with caffeine, according to the Baltimore Sun:

The Maryland deal is not binding and does not make the product illegal. The Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association, a group of 22 businesses that distribute most of the alcohol in the state to bars and stores, agreed unanimously to stop importing caffeinated alcoholic drinks, said Nick Manis, a lobbyist for the group.
"No additional product will be entering the state," Manis said.
The voluntary ban won't prevent the businesses from distributing the supplies left in warehouses, but Manis said that his clients anticipated the action and have not ordered the product in weeks. . . .
Also signing on to the agreement was the board of the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents about 1,600 of the state's roughly 6,000 licensed alcohol stores and bars. The group's board of directors Wednesday voted to ask members to yank the product from their shelves, though individual liquor stores and bars may determine if and when they want to comply. . . .  
The agreement won't preclude lawmakers from pursuing a complete ban in Maryland. The possibility of legislation was floated by Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who presided over the Board of Public Works Wednesday at which Franchot announced the deal.

Rob Kasper reviews Alewife

Former Baltimore Sun food/beer columnist, current editorial staffer Rob Kasper reviews Alewife.

He doesn't say much about the beer, but he covers at least some of the food.

Last time I was there, I had the Kobe Beef hot dog with bison chili on a pretzel roll.  Excellent, if you can get past the idea of the oxymoron of a "Kobe beef hot dog."

Ravens Purple Beer? No, Franklin's Currant Affair

Are you a Ravens fan?  Do you also love exotic craft beer?  (Yes, I know that for most folks, the two together simply do not compute.)

Franklin's in Hyattsville is currently (ha-ha as you will see) pouring by far the most purple colored beer I've ever seen:  A Currant Affair:
"An American fruit beer made with Black Currants. Red in color with a pinkish head, fruity, slightly sweet with a tart finish.  4.5% ABV." 
Don't believe that "pink" and "red" stuff.  It is utterly, brilliantly Ravens purple--so much so that 1) my photos of the stuff, like any non-3D photos of the Grand Canyon, don't do it justice, and 2) you start to wonder if the inside of your mouth will be stained purple if you drink this stuff.

If you fear the concept of fruit beers because you've had bad experiences with either excruciatingly sweet "chick beer" Belgian fruit beers or excruciatingly tart Belgian lambics, rest assured that this is neither.  As the description says, it shows the character of the fruit in the initial second or two of the sip, but the finish is bracing, tannic, and dry, almost wine-like, albeit still very light on the palate and alcohol.  Some might even take a growler home and experiment with a dash of sugar just to bring out a bit more roundness to the palate, but it still finishes with that wispy, dry currant character.  Once you get past the seemingly-artificial look of the color and head, it works as a fruit beer.  Splendidly, if I may say so.

One of my wife's favorite beers is Lindemann's Cassis from Belgium; it was a delight to bring her a growler of a cassis-like beer of similar strength for about the retail cost of a 750-ml bottle of the import.  ($10 a growler at the source in Hyattsville)  If you're a Ravens fanatic, this might give you an excuse to drink excellent beer at the next tailgate or house game party.

Also on hand at the pub to sip while your growler is being filled:  A Pumpkin Pie Stout with spices, a rye double IPA called Hop E. Soul, and an English dark mild called Stonehenge.

Photos so far this week

Dale Katechis (founder of Oskar Blues Brewery and the namesake for Dale's Pale Ale), Erin Tyler (of local distributor Legends Limited), and Casey Hard (cellarmaster, Max's Taphouse) at Max's Taphouse tonight.

 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, 1999 vintage, at Max's on the 30th anniversary of the brewery on Monday night.  And by the way, if the SN Brewer's Reserve--a blend of Bigfoot, Celebration, and Pale Ale--is still on when you walk in, by all means try it.

 A Baltimore & Ohio steam locomotive being cooled down and serviced in Baltimore on Sunday after a day's operation.  (Bonus points to anyone identifying the exact location of this photo,)

Four Loko removes caffeine; will your coffee stout be the next victim? UPDATED

UPDATE II:  The Washington Post Maryland Politics blog and Baltimore Sun Maryland Politics blog report that Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has called for a ban in Maryland against the caffeinated alcoholic drinks:
Franchot's office has released a joint letter from the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association and the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association saying the two trade organizations have asked its members to voluntarily halt distribution of caffeinated alcoholic beverages.
"In order to act in the quickest manner, a voluntary action was needed and that is why I called for it at this morning's Board of Public Works meeting," Franchot said in a statement. "In this case, legislative action would simply have taken too long and put too many more lives at risk."
The comments to these blogs state the obvious, of course.

UPDATE I:  The Food & Drug Administration  today formally warned four companies that the caffeine added to their malt alcoholic beverages is an “unsafe food additive” and said that further action, including seizure of their products, is possible under federal law.
The companies receiving warning letters and their products are:
• Charge Beverages Corp.: Core High Gravity HG, Core High Gravity HG Orange, and Lemon Lime Core Spiked
• New Century Brewing Co., LLC: Moonshot
• Phusion Projects, LLC (doing business as Drink Four Brewing Co.): Four Loko
• United Brands Company Inc.: Joose and Max

Of these, only Moonshot comes close to resembling a conventional beer in its packaging and presentation; though recently "reformulated," it still received very negative reviews on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer.

Now, nobody at this point seems to be targeting craft beers using tea or coffee (or other additives such as chicory) as an adjunct.  The concern, however, should be that an overzealous regulator on a state or local level could use the federal action as a guideline or excuse to act against, say, a coffee stout or tea-laced beer (such as an example of the latter recently brewed at the Pratt Street Ale House).  The FDA itself leaves the door open to further enforcement in its "Q&A" on the subject:

At this time, the FDA is sending Warning Letters to four manufacturers of alcoholic malt beverages to which caffeine has been directly added as an ingredient.  Other alcoholic beverages containing added caffeine may be subject to agency action in the future if the available scientific data and information indicate that the use of caffeine in those products is not GRAS.  A manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that its products, including the ingredients of its products, are safe for their intended use and are otherwise in compliance with the law.
Original Post:
Phusion Projects, the manufacturer of the popular but controversial caffeinated alcohol drink Four Loko, said late Tuesday it will remove the caffeine from its products, pulling the blend off the market just as the Food and Drug Administration was poised to ban it and other such caffeinated malt beverages.

Phusion Projects said in a statement posted on its website that the company will remove caffeine and two other ingredients from its products going forward.
In a statement, Chris Hunter, Jeff Wright and Jaisen Freeman, Phusion’s three co-founders and current managing partners said:
“We have repeatedly contended – and still believe, as do many people throughout the country – that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe. If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced.  
“In addition, if our products were unsafe, we would not have expected the federal agency responsible for approving alcoholic beverage formulas – the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) – to have approved them.   Yet, all of our product formulas and packaging were reviewed and approved by the TTB before being offered to consumers.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has supported such a ban, reported Tuesday on his website that the Food and Drug Administration plans to ban caffeinated alcoholic drinks like Four Loko and Joose as an "unsafe food additive to alcoholic beverages."

More from the Washington Post here.

Meanwhile, the Brewers Association, the craft-beer alliance of brewers, announced late yesterday that it will formally petition the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to conduct rulemaking on alcoholic energy drinks:

The petition seeks to disallow synthetic and pure caffeine additions to alcohol beverages, but allow incidental caffeine from ingredients that have a long tradition in brewing, such as coffee, chocolate and tea. The petition seeks to clarify that coffee, chocolate, herbs, spices, seeds and fruit are ingredients that should remain available to brewers to make beers for responsible enjoyment by beer drinkers.
Certain alcoholic energy drinks have received significant negative attention from state attorneys general, public health groups and concerned citizens. Many states are taking action this fall before the federal government has responded, leaving a patchwork of different regulatory wording, all with the same intention. The goal of this federal petition is to provide a clear and consistent national standard to assist state-based rulemaking under the 21st Amendment. This standard would remove the products of concern from shelves without creating unintended damage to the hundreds of craft brewers who, for many years, have been using traditional ingredients like coffee, tea and chocolate to responsibly craft interesting and flavorful beers.
Brewers Association President Charlie Papazian stated, "Responsible brewers have successfully used coffee, chocolate and tea to add interesting flavor and complexity to their beers for decades. In fact, the Aztecs brewed a corn, honey and chili-based beer that contained cocoa. Many craft brewers build on these traditions today using coffee, tea and chocolate. On the other hand, the addition of artificial caffeine not from a natural ingredient source has no heritage or tradition in brewing. We support a ban on the direct addition of caffeine." The Brewers Association invites TTB to open up public comment and rulemaking on whether these products are appropriate for responsible consumption.

16 November 2010

Cancel the Van Pool to Frederick....

Umm, yeah, about those reports of those open-bar tours resuming at Frederick's Flying Dog Brewery?

"Never Mi-i-i-i-i-nd!........"

(Somehow, I knew someone or the other was jumping the gun.)

15 November 2010

Merger Mania

Two national brewpub chains--Gordon Biersch, the lager-focused chain with outlets in Washington D.C. and Rockville, Md., and Rock Bottom, whose nearest outlets are in Bethesda, Md. and Arlington, Va., have announced a merger with the holding company that owns other brewpubs, including the District Chophouse in Washington, D.C.

The new company, to be called Craftworks, will consolidate the operation of 35 Rock Bottom locations and 29 Gordon Biersch locations (plus two in Taiwan!), plus a GB bottling operation.  The company will also operate the Old Chicago pizzeria chain, as well as a variety of specialty concepts including A1A Ale Works, Big River Grille and Brewing Works, Bluewater Grille, ChopHouse & Brewery, Ragtime Tavern, Seven Bridges Grille & Brewery and The Walnut Brewery, and also and maintains intellectual property rights to the Boulder Beer, Inc. microbrewery in Colorado.  Indications are that the consolidated company will operate the restaurants under their original brands and not "rebrand" them or change brewing, food offerings, etc.

What will this mean for the company and the brewpubs?  Among beer aficionados, Gordon Biersch beers have been solid and good, but the brewpubs largely predictable and formulaic, with beer samples expressed to a central lab weekly for quality control and adherence to the German Reinheitsgebot (translation: no adjuncts, good or bad); the Rock Bottom outlets, on the other hand, have been more "traditional" brewpubs that allowed the house brewers a degree of latitude and creativity, as well as cask-conditioned ale in the outlets I've been in.  The Chophouse "chain" has only four outlets--DC, Denver, Boulder, and Cleveland, so the outlets are still something of a rarity; and anyone who's tasted the production of District Chophouse's brewer, Barrett Lauer (the original brewer of Baltimore's Wharf Rat/Pratt Street Ale House) will know that there's no "chain feel" to the place, unlike Gordon Biersch's outlet a few blocks away.

Will any of them ever come to Baltimore?  Hard to say.  The Chophouse theme has incorporated historic buildings, and there's a vacancy in the Power Plant downtown what with the hasty departyre of the closed-down ESPN Zone.  I've had folks suggest a Gordon Biersch for the Harborplace location vacated by Capitol City Brewing a while back, or even the Fells Point space vacated by DuClaw at the beginning of this year.  But consider that whatever economic forces led to the closure of these well-capitalized locations will also be in play for a seemingly more capitalized company like Craftworks.

So is there room in Baltimore for these folks?  Do we want a lager brewery again, or have we largely forgotten Baltimore Brewing Co.?

Prince George's County Corruption Investigation Involves Liquor Smuggling

This developing story from Prince George's County indicates that several police officers and others are being charged in an FBI investigation that involved in part the importation of untaxed alcoholic beverages and cigarettes into Maryland; investigation is focusing on liwuor stores in Hyattsville, College Park, and Beltsville.

Here's more from the Baltimore Sun.

Monday-Wednesday @ Max's

And, y'know, you can send an e-mail to Casey at chard --at--maxs dot com and get your name on their e-mail distribution list, if stuff like this is worth going out of your way for.....  (as usual, typos corrected and editing done for clarity/emphasis)

6pm-til' ?

We will be celebrating 30 years of Sierra Nevada tonight with a great draft line up and a free food buffet.  Beers to be featured:

Pale Ale
Bigfoot 1999
Estate Homegrown
North Hemisphere
30th Anniversary Jack & Ken
30th Anniversary Our Brewers Reserve  

Estate Homegrown
30th Anniversary Jack & Ken
30th Anniversary Fritz & Ken
30th Anniversary Charlie, Fred & Ken



This Tuesday we are going sour. We will have three great sour/wild ales for the Cisco Brewery in Nantucket, Mass. These guys make some great beers.We will be featuring three beers from their "The Woods Series". These beers are all aged in oak barrels.

We will be featuring
Cisco Lady of the Woods- 5.0%ABV. A wit beer based ale aged in Chardonnay barrels.

Cisco Monomoy Kriek- 6.7%ABV. 2 Yr Old Nantucket Flemish Style Red aged on Whole Sour Cherries for 10 Months.

Cisco Cherry Woods- 4.7%ABV. Wheat Based Beer aged in Oak for 12 Months with Whole Sour Cherries

These are 3 great beers that are very limited, so come early. Cheers

As always we start at 6pm
To Try to make everyone happy, we will be putting together tables in our side room for the social.  It is quieter in there and it gives everyone a place to meet up together.  You will still have to get your beers from the main bar, but this also allows us to get some other folks interested in the Tuesday Social beers.  Cheers!

Southern Tier Oat
Avery Dugana
Avery Old Jubilation
Brooklyn Cuvee Noir
St Bernardus Christmas
Scaldis Noel
Aventinus Eisbock
Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux
BFM Cuvee Du 7eme
Hitachino Classic
Anchor Christmas 2010
Boulder Obovoid (Nitro)
Porterhouse Wrasslers XXX Stout (Nitro)
Troegs Mad Elf
Rogue Mogal Madness
Victory Harvest Pils
Brooklyn Winter
Southern Tier Old Man Ale
Jodion Tentation Cider
Wild Goose Snow Goose
Olivers The Darkness
Lagunitas Little Sumpin Wild
And re-entered from last week: 

We will have Dale Katechis (owner/founder of Oskar Blues) here.

We will have a whole bunch of drafts on for this
Dales Pale Ale
Old Chub
Ten Fidy
Oak Aged Ten Fidy

13 November 2010

Crazy Idea of the Night

Okay, Flying Dog says they don't have the capacity to brew Wild Goose beers anymore.

The market for and interest in Wild Goose has declined in the past decade, in no small part because they've never done it "right" since the Cambridge days of a Peter Austin open-fermenter-and Ringwood-yeast system.

There's a 20-barrel Ringwood system across town right now.  In a city known to have terrific water for brewing.  The current owner/operator of said system hasn't been seen or heard from much in the past couple months.

It's even set up in part of an abandoned industrial complex--just like the original Wild Goose brewery was in Cambridge.

I'M  JUS'  SAYIN'. . . . . . . . . . . .

12 November 2010

In OTHER Flying Dog and Legal Department News.............. UPDATED

UPDATE:  The reports below have been officially refuted by Flying Dog head dog Jim Caruso--see here.....

Meanwhile, as the stuff continues to fly over their controversial decision to discontinue Wild Goose beers, Flying Dog Ales has taken a move towards another controversy surrounding the Frederick brewery: reopening the famous bar in the front hall, which had been pouring samples for folks before and after the brewery's tours since early Frederick Brewing days, but has been closed most of 2010 for "renovations."

Astute fans knew the "renovations" line was a ruse.  Rumors had floated about for some time that a patron had over-partaken of the free samples, and had been subsequently arrested or been in an auto accident and then brought suit against the brewery.   Anyone who had seen folks who treated the brewery tours as an open bar to drink liberally in suburban Frederick on weekend afternoons could see that this was almost inevitably going to bite not only Flying Dog, but any other brewery that offered samples--of which Clipper City is one.

The Washington City Paper's Young & Hungry blog reports that Flying Dog has seemingly found a..........  well, I'll leave it to you to decide whether it's a loophole, a crafty reading of the rules, or a ruse:

This winter, the award-winning local brewery will resume public tours and beer sampling on Saturdays, thanks to some creative interpretation of the meaning of the words "tour" and "beer" in the following part of Article 2B Section 2-206 of the Maryland state law about brewery licenses:

A licensee may serve up to 6 ounces for a sample of beer brewed at the licensed premises to anyone who has taken a tour of the brewery, if that person is of legal drinking age.
The ingenious plan is to break up the regular, pre-fuzz era Flying Dog tour into small visits to different parts of the brewery. Visitors receive a token for each "tour" they complete, which they can then redeem for a six-ounce sample of beer in the tap room. Similarly, the definition of the word "beer" can be interpreted as plural to include the multitude of beers a brewery makes. This reading of the law could allow the brewery to serve liberally, since Flying Dog has as many as two dozen beers available at any given time.
Whether this line of reasoning is accepted or results in a legal sledgehammer against the brewery will have to be seen.  Meanwhile, however, both Flying Dog and Clipper City/Heavy Seas, along with even a few legislators and Liquor Control Board officials, have been discretely working behind the scenes to effect changes in current legislation, of which brewery samples are only one aspect:
Under the current law, Maryland breweries also cannot donate beer directly to non-profits. According to Flying Dog sales representative J.T. Smith, breweries with manufacturing licenses have to buy their product back from a wholesaler in order to donate it. This means if Flying Dog wants to support a community event with their product, they could have to pay as much as $24.50 for something that cost them $15 to make. 
Since counties run their own liquor boards in Maryland, Frederick County will be able to take advantage of the new law under local courtesy. The proposed law will be voted on in January or February, but by the time it goes through the legislative process it could be summer of 2011 before Flying Dog fans are enjoying beers in the tap room. Luckily, this will be just in time for the long-awaited return of GonzoFest.
Baltimore Liquor Control Board chairman Steve Fogleman highlighted some of the proposed changes during his "Meet the BCLCB Chairman" meet-and-greet at The Wharf Rat during Baltimore Beer Week.

Stay tuned, as always.

(Photos from Young & Hungry's "The Lagerheads'" Flickr feed.)

Tasting notes: Shiner 101

I went to help set up a Guy Fawkes bonfire party last Saturday.  In exchange for helping to set up the beer taps, I was told to help myself to some beer.  This is a party that usually has beer that you won't normally see in Maryland, a mix of homebrew and "pirated" beer from elsewhere.  (The largest keg was Nut Brown Ale from District Chophouse in DC, for example.)

Okay, where are the pilsner glasses?  I know I have at least one.........  ah, here..... though it is a Clipper City 10th Anniversary Glass.......  gotta save this for Dec. 8th.......

One bottle I got away with was a bottle of Spoetzl Brewery's Shiner 101, a Czech-style pilsner according to the label.  I've no idea if this is available locally.  I don't normally check out German styles myself; I seemed to get my fill of them from Baltimore Brewing Co. when they were open and producing well, and also got lots of indoctrination from a late friend from Wilmington, Del. who was a regular visitor to Germany's opera houses and bars.

Shiner 101 pours bright, a rich yellow, a hair darker than the typical North American Industrial Lager.  Good head retention, lace on the glass.  Hop nose restrained a bit--present but subdued.  Flashes of BBC's Pils come back to me.  A bit drier and more restrained in character than my memories of BBC Pils, though.  Extremely no-nonsense, obviously designed to wean Texas drinkers away from Bud/Miller/Coors with a somewhat richer body but very mellow flavors.  It lives up to the collegiate implications of its name: an introduction to the world of beers beyond industrial, pedestrian lagers.

Anyone Want to Clone Snow Goose?

Brew Your Own Magazine has a clone recipe for Wild Goose Snow Goose offered on its website.

If that's not convenient enough for you, Maryland Homebrew in Columbia has long had an extract-based clone recipe for "My Goose is Cooked" hanging on their wall rack of recipes.  You could go there, take the sheet, and buy your supplies fresh on the spot, or even order the supplies online.  The recipe's even available through the website if you click on the right links......  approximate cost for five gallons is $85-90.

Wild Goose poll

At least two folks have asked me to start a petition to save the Wild Goose brand.

First, I don't do the online petition thing--they don't work, and are rife with opportunity for misuse.  Second, there's a part of me that reckons it would do no good.  And third, I have an idea that I could talk two or three Ringwood brewers into pirating the Snow Goose recipes.

But what I CAN do..............  see to the right at the top of the column........

11 November 2010

Wild Goose Beer: 1989-2010

Erin Biles, the public relations manager of Flying Dog Ales in Frederick, Maryland, confirmed the news with an e-mail tonight:
What you've heard is true. Aside from a few more batched of the Wild Goose IPA, Flying Dog will no longer produce any Wild Goose beers. Quite honestly, our brewery is currently at capacity on Flying Dog beers alone.
And with that announcement, the door finally, ignominiously, and quietly closed on a beer that changed many a life--mine included.  People in the Northeast in the 1980s who had been shown that beers besides Guinness could have flavor by the likes of Samuel Adams and Pete's Wicked Ale discovered the English-tweaked flavors of both Oxford Brewing's beers from suburban Baltimore and Wild Goose's beers, helped in part by articles on the new brewery popping up in the Baltimore Sun and other newspapers.

Ironically, the shutdown occurred almost to the day as the brand reached 21 years of age--the drinking age in the United States.

Wild Goose began operation in early November 1989 in a section of an abandoned oyster cannery facility in Cambridge, Md. not far from where U.S. Route 50 makes its right-angle turn towards Ocean City.  It was one of many Peter Austin systems installed by Alan Pugsley, a British native whose brewpub systems used open fermenters and were acclimated to the use of Ringwood yeast.  For better or worse, Ringwood and the Peter Austin systems would be a signature of many pioneering breweries on the Eastern Seaboard, including the Baltimore area's Wharf Rat (1992) and Red Brick Station in White Marsh (1997).

Initially, production and publicity was considerably limited.  If you asked locals where the brewery was in early 1990, you received quizzical looks or head-scratching.  Finally, if you drove around back of the crumbling cannery, you might see some cars parked, a freshly painted door, and a plume of steam spewing from a vent pipe, and smell the soon-to-be-familiar aroma of damp malt mingling with hops and the air from the nearby Choptank River marshes.  Quizzically, you might knock at the closed door, and finally be greeted by an enthusiastic employee, who would shake your hand and offer you a beer from the staff refrigerator in the front office!  (This was, in addition to good public relations, an excellent way to "dispose" of  "short-filled" bottles as well....)  During one of my early visits and "ten-cent tours," my friend and I inquired about purchasing more beer to go with us on the rest of our Eastern Shore junket; they replied that they didn't have a license to sell the beer and pointed to the nearby liquor store back on Rt. 50.....   ".......... but if you really don't mind a little sediment in your bottles, we have a few of these beers to get rid of...." and they handed over three six-packs of Samuel Middleton's Pale Ale, then being brewed for the Middleton tavern in Annapolis, all with a little sediment "problem."  (Those were probably, unintentionally, my first bottle-conditioned beers.)  The "free beers" would yield to a more "professional" tasting bar set-up after maps to the brewery started appearing on the bottom of six-pack holders.

Wild Goose marketed itself as "The Only Beer For Crabs," an allusion to the native crustacean of the Eastern Shore.  The beer had supposedly been formulated to pair with crab.  In addition to the Wild Goose Amber, they also produced a golden ale which they dubbed Thomas Point Light Golden Ale, maned for the iconic screwpile lighthouse south of Annapolis.  Unfortunately, a serious perception problem soon arose: customers unaware of the lighthouse name took the "Light" to mean a low-calorie beer, which Thomas Point Light Golden certainly wasn't.  The name was re-tweaked to "Thomas Point" after a year or so, and later still the beers became Wild Goose Amber and Wild Goose Golden.  You had to be careful which six-pack you grabbed, if you cared that much--it seemed a lot of patrons didn't.  Wild Goose also undertook to brew a number of contract brews, including bottling house brands for the Middleton Tavern and Baltimore's Wharf Rat (which, although it would soon have its own brewpub, never has had a bottling line).

In 1992, Wild Goose introduced the first of its annual Snow Goose, a traditional British-style brown ale brewed with chocolate malts and roasted barley produced as a winter seasonal.  In spite of a rather simple recipe and a restrained 5.9% alcohol level, the beer was quickly loved by many beer drinkers looking perhaps for a respite from the rich spiciness of other holiday beers like Anchor's Our Special Ale.  Although its alcohol and recipe in no way lent itself to aging in the manner of barleywines like Thomas Hardy's Ale, a few aficionados--this writer included--would hold aside a few bottles for future consumption, finding many of the flavors richer and more complex after a spell of bottle conditioning.  Later in the 2000s would come Pumpkin Patch Ale, an pumpkin-and-spice ale that perfectly straddled and melded malt, spice, and pumpkin flavors.

In 1994, Wild Goose embarked on an expansion plan, hoping to expand to a 50-barrel brewing plant with annual production of 20,000 barrels.  Sadly, this expansion was to be the undoing for the brand's independence.  The Cambridge brewery was unable to increase its market share to pay for the expanded production, and fell into financial arrears.  Frederick Brewing Co. a brewery founded in its namesake Maryland city in 1992, swooped in to purchase the Wild Goose brand and assets in 1997, concurrently with purchasing Baltimore's Brimstone Ale from its founder, Marc Tewey.  As one former Frederick employee once told me, "Frederick went through all the motions of ripping up all the stuff out of Cambridge and moving it all to Frederick, and then never did a damned thing with them."  To this day, I don't know what actually happened to the Frederick equipment.  The former Cambridge brewery site on Washington Street would burn and ultimately be demolished, though at last report the foundation still remains in a commercial district, across the road and abandoned rail tracks from a Wawa convenience store and gas station.

Frederick had expanded quickly since opening in 1992, relocating to an industrial park, adding capacity and taking on debt at about the time the rapid growth rate of microbrewery sales began to slow.  The brewery had the capacity to produce 170,000 barrels of beer per year at one point, but shipped just 31,500 in 1998.  Facing a declining market share, Frederick took a substantial gamble on Hempen Ale--a beer brewed with marijuana seeds as an adjunct--and lost.  Frederick also reformulated the recipes of Wild Goose to its house yeasts and 50-barrel JV Northwest brewing system, complete with centrifugal filtering--a change which robbed the beers of their essential Ringwood character.

In August 1999, Snyder International, a Cleveland-based group that owned the Little Kings and Crooked River brands (contract-brewed in Frederick at the time) bought the bankrupt Frederick Brewing Co. and continued production.  In 2006, Flying Dog Ales of Denver, Colorado, which had been contracting a substantial amount of its national production at the Frederick facility, stepped in to purchase the Frederick facility from Snyder International.  In a bold move meant in part to distance it from the troubles of the Frederick beer brands, the new owners rebranded the facility the Wild Goose Brewery, and even brought back in Jim Lutz, a former Wild Goose executive, as part of the company sales force.  Lutz once told me, "When I was in Cambridge, we bought a hundred firkins to start production and distribution of real ale.  When I came back on board [in 2006], we could find two of them."

Flying Dog made some noble, albeit ultimately token, attempts to keep the Wild Goose brand alive, even mounting a large logo sign on the side of the brewery and reintroducing the original yeast strains as best as possible.  Market share continued to erode, however, in spite of some last valiant efforts, including a redesign of the packaging.  But Flying Dog then took the bold move of shutting down its Denver facility and moving all production to Frederick.  Eventually, increased production demands for Flying Dog mandated the passing of the Wild Goose brand--well, that and sheer neglect of the brand.  In the past year and a half, only Snow Goose, Wild Goose Oatmeal Stout, and Wild Goose IPA made their presence known on regional shelves and taps.

The Delmarva Peninsula now has several breweries, including the robust Dogfish Head, the brewery for Fordham/Old Dominion, the new Evolution and 16 Mile breweries in Delaware, and even the Eastern Shore Brewing Co in St. Michaels to fly the flag on Maryland's side of the peninsula.  But Wild Goose flew the skies first and led the way for them.

More reminiscences from Tom Cizauskas here.

So you REALLY need to try that beer?

Metropolitan Coffehouse just cracked open a bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin.

$8 a one-ounce shot.

Why Wild Goose may be gone.....

Still no confirmation from the brewery (I'm giving them a chance to reply to e-mails before calling), but my wife had a funny hypothesis upon hearing the rumor:

"Well, no wonder.  Flying Dog only wants to give bad-word names to their beers!  Snow Goose is too nice."

10 November 2010

You, Too, Can Spend Too Much For "Beer"!

Hey, you!  Yes, you!

Got more money than sense?  Feeling desperate to buy your share of one of the greatest beer publicity stunts of all time?  Do you perceive your life to be incomplete until you personally partake of beers that (briefly) held the records for strongest "beers" sold?

Yes, now you, too, can spend too much for a spectacular gimmick beer.  Legally, to boot.

A very limited number of bottles of BrewDog's Tactical Nuclear Penguin and Sink the Bismarck!--500 bottles of each, according to the brewery--have been shipped to the United States for commercial sale, including a select few spotted in the central Maryland area.  The suggested retail price is approximately $80 for the TNP and $110 for STB--plus sales tax.

Previous commentary here.  (Click on cartoon above to enlarge.)

Rumor of the Week

Heard from two places now:

Wild Goose is done as a brand.  This year's Snow Goose will be the last.

If true:  Boo, hiss to Flying Dog.

The Snow Goose is out in select bars now.  Especially tasty, a good malty ale with lots of flavor but only 5.9% and not too much heaviness.  Enjoy it while you can.  And take notes for a clone recipe.

Notes on earlier versions from two years ago here.

09 November 2010

Quick notes on two Victory beers

"Victory Vista Farms Harvest Ale:  This beer uses Cascade and Nugget Hops from the Vista Farm in Orefield, PA. This is a wonderful beer and very limited , only 25 barrels made [for 2010]."

Okay, the hop character is nothing short of stupendous, but this beer has possible the thinnest body and mouthfeel I've tasted in a beer since some accidental ingestion of a "light" beer somewhere in my past!  It would be possibly the most refreshing summertime beer in history, but you can't get these hop notes in a beer made for the summer, unless you bring the hops from another hemisphere.

Victory Village:  a 5.1% coffee-laced amber ale that shows that it's possible to do a "coffee beer" that isn't a stout.  Darn nice effort, almost seems like a cup of breakfast.

Both at Max's, VERY limited supplies on draft.  Blink and you'll miss 'em.