Thursday, January 29, 2009

Oh Huffington Post...

I'm not sure that Ms. Huffington wrote this herself or if it was one of her gabillion compatriots who penned it (edit: turns out the author's name is Katharine Zaleski), but the particular wording of this entry on The Huffington Post got me miffed.

Mostly the blog entry is a repost of various news tidbits, but the lead-in was particularly unbecoming:
According to The NY Post, President Obama is greasing the voting process a bit with some libations at the White House for lawmakers who are considering his stimulus bill.
The NY Post article was a bit more benign, though it did show this picture of Obama raising a pint (of what I believe was PBR, from a campaign stop in North Carolina during the primaries), an image which Huffington echoed with this pic, which is rumored to have been snapped at PA's Bethlehem Brew Works.

Anyway, apparently the article was previously titled "Boozing for Bipartisanship," but the title has since been changed. The implication of the lead-in to the article is that Obama is getting GOP candidates drunk so they'll vote for his stimulus package. Turns out there will be 11 Dems and 11 GOPers at the meeting -- a few too many witnesses if Obama is planning on beer-rolling Republicans into consent.

I think the implication is offensive. So what if members of both parties are going to discuss their ideas over drinks? Do you, blogger, have information that any of these 23 politicians behaves badly around alcohol? Or that there is some kind of conspiracy to get the GOP liquored up and make them sign things in return for the opportunity to suck tequila out of an intern's bellybutton?

Come on. What's next? Obama spikes GOP's Malt Liquor with rufinol? Let's show some journalistic integrity here. Obama drinks. So do lots of politicians. And until we have reason to judge their drinking habits, let's replace phrases like "greasing the voting process a bit" with their factual counterparts.

It's called being social. Get over it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Misogyny among us...

Sometimes beer drinkers scare me. I know, I know, for the most part we're all pretty decent, open-minded individuals who recognize in each other a common love for the finest beverage malted barley can produce. But every so often you get a review like this one:

UFO Raspberry Hefeweizen from Harpoon Brewery. From pouring the beer and smelling it, you think your getting some fruit juice. Once you take a drink you can taste the wheat and has a slight bitter taste, its not what you think you are getting. There is a nice aftertaste of fruit. I’m not really sure you can call it raspberry, but it is fruity. It is not overpowering like some other raspberry beers. This would be great for your girlfriend, or maybe after dinner. As far as raspberry beers go, this was one of my favorites.

Emphasis is mine.

Are you serious, anonymous beer blogger? Are you really assuming that my girlfriend only drinks fruity, inoffensive, middle-of-the-road brews that she doesn't really have to think about? That's incredibly back-assward. It's kind of like saying this IPA would be great for a college professor: maybe it would, but how on earth would you know?

For the record, my girlfriend enjoys Belgian quads, English-style brown ales, and crisp lambics. That is, of course, when she's not drinking cabernet or prosecco. In fact, most of the women I know drink IPAs, stouts, porters, and hoppy pale ales like Sierra Nevada.

I'm not saying women shouldn't enjoy this beer -- hell, I love me some RazUFO in the summer by the pool -- but rather that we shouldn't label this a "girl beer" any more than we should label ANY beer a "girl beer." It's silly and prejudiced, and it does not advance beer advocacy in the slightest.

You'll notice that I didn't link to this particular blog, and I won't because I'm betting this was an honest mistake. I don't want to harp on this particular individual too much, but I do want to make everyone aware that this attitude still exists in beer culture, and that we need to be mindful of it. Next time you hear someone call a brew "girly," take the opportunity to educate them.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pennichuck Seasonal Releases

Pennichuck just sent out an email (their third today -- kudos to those guys for joining the digital age) which listed the release dates of their seasonal brews. Here's what you need to know:

Currently available in 22oz, 1/6BBL & 1/2BBL kegs are;

Halligan IPA

Fireman’s Pail Ale

BackDraft Chocolate Porter

Currently available in 1 Liter Swing-tops, 1/6BBL & 1/2BBL kegs are;

2008 Bagpiper’s Scottish Ale

2008 Pompier English-Style Barleywine

2008 Pozharnik Espresso Russian Imperial Stout

Seasonal Release - Jan. 28th in 1 Liter Swing-tops, 1/6BBL & 1/2BBL kegs;

Saint Florian’s Doppelbock

Just in time for Easter, this seasonal beer was created by the Belgian Monks. This 7% ABV doppelbock has a very well balanced malt and hop profile. Aromas are a sweet doughy caramel and fruity notes. Taste is of fruit and earth with a sweet caramel malt and low hop bitterness with a slightly fruity ester that shows through the carbonation.

Seasonal Release – Feb. 20th

Chief’s Imperial IPA (New for 2009)

This American Imperial IPA is planned to reach 10% ABV and 100 IBU’s. Malts are of Crystal 40, White Wheat and Aromatic Malt. Hops are Columbia, Willamette and Cascade and dry hopped with Cascade. Packaging will be 12/22oz, 1/6BBL and 1/2BBL kegs.

The five crossed bugles in the brand image represent the rank insignia for a Fire Chief.

Seasonal Release – May/09

Rüstwagen Hefeweizen (New for 2009)

This is planned to be a traditional unfiltered German Wheat beer seasonal offering that will return each May. Rüstwagen is the German for Rescue Truck and is a continuation of our Firefighter theme. Stay tuned for additional information as we begin formulating the recipe and near the April brewing schedule.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Profile: Given2Fly -- Homebrewer extraordinaire

I'll start this post by saying that I've never had any of his beers, but Given2Fly (whose name is Jamie, says BeerAdvocate) has got the setup down pat. I stumbled across this guy's website, and spent about an hour perusing the various contraptions he had built, marveling at the pristine quality of his home-made bar, and drooling over the photos of his beer cellar.

I don't know what this guy does for a living (it sure as hell isn't beer writing), but he's obviously doing well for himself. That said, he outlines cost-effective ways to build fermentation coolers, outdoor homebrew rigs, a bar-top made from vintage beer crates, etc. The man has inspired me to build a bar -- and there's absolutely no room in this draughty little apartment for it. And if I could get away with brewing outside in the (surprise!) eighteen inches of snow currently in my backyard, I'd build myself a homebrew rig, too.

Kudos to you, Jamie. And if you ever need company, look a brother up.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Malcom in the Minority

It's not often that I get riled up by a fellow booze journalist. But a blog post made by the Guardian's (UK) Malcom Gluck just struck a gigantic, throbbing nerve somewhere deep inside me.

This is the blog in question.

And if you don't feel like reading it, I'll cut some snippits for you. Here's a particularly juicy little nugget:
50 years ago only 5% of the nation drank wine. Now it is nearer six times that, pubs struggle to sell beer, and the amount of wine imported keep on rising. Why? Well, beer is only drunk by losers and sadsacks, unsexy people who care nothing for their minds or their bodies.
I shouldn't dignify this kind of thing with a response. Never mind the severe lack of factual information here -- are you really telling me that British pubs are struggling to sell beer? The UK invented the beer pub -- what gets me is the reference to increased wine sales from 50 years ago. Are you suggesting, Mr. Gluck, that beer sales have decreased over the past 50 years? That fewer people are drinking beer? That there are more and more people in the UK who are shunning beer altogether in favor of wine? Come off it, man. The fact that more people are drinking wine does not mean that fewer are drinking beer.
That's point one. Point two is that wine goes with the spicy foods we like (which no beer does), is much more of a communal activity and, when it comes down to it, encourages livelier and more intelligent conversation. When was the last time you heard a beer drinker pass a witty remark? Beer drinkers are also terrible lovers, awful husbands, and untidy flatmates.
You've obviously never had an IPA with your chicken curry, Mr. Gluck. I suggest you expand your beer-pairing horizons. Ignorance here is more indicative of an "unsexy" person than their beverage of choice. As for communal activities, I can't remember the last time me and my buds gathered around the TV to watch a game of football (the American [read: real] kind) and cracked open a bottle of vino. I cannot think of a more communal activity than sports fandom, and I cannot think of a more fitting beverage for those occasions than beer. And if you're looking for wit over a pint, jump the pond and have one with me. (And as for the last sentence, well, if we were such terrible lovers we wouldn't be spawning so many little beer-drinkers-in-training, would we?)
Wine is the supercool liquid and drunk sensibly is actually good for you. It's a health drink. Wine has changed from the dry-as-dust, unpronounceable gunge it was in our grandparents' day. Wine in New Labour Land is vivacious, fruity, inexpensive, and it's fun. Small wonder wine drinkers prefer Australia, California, South Africa and Chile to France and Germany.
Yep. And beer in the New World is complex, dynamic, inviting, and emminently drinkable. Beer drinkers will drink brews from all over the world without prejudice as to the particular terroir from which it is cultivated. Beer is made from ingredients from all over the world: Hallertauer Mittlefruh hops from Germany, barley from the midwestern USA, yeast cultivated from abbeys in Belgium. It is truly an international beverage, and beer-lovers appreciate it as such.
It is a wine revolution and every time you drop in on a bar and enjoy a glass of Chilean cabernet sauvignon or acquire a bottle of succulent Australian shiraz from your local supermarket you are being a revolutionary. And as dear old Che used to say, Viva la revolucion!
Drinking wine is revolutionary? Odd, considering how long people have been doing it. Maybe drinking beer isn't revolutionary, either -- I would certainly never classify it as such -- but it's amazing the groundswell of new beer enthusiasts who are finding new and interesting ways to cook, eat, and relax with beer. Good craft beer is being served at many weddings, for example. There are books being published about the proper way to go about pairing beer with certain foods. When beers like Dark Lord or Kate the Great are released at their respective breweries, thousands of people show up to buy a bottle. Thousands more try to bargain their way into the posession of one such bottle, often trading other beers of significant value to get it.

What's more, we beer advocates drink our beer and enjoy it without feeling the need to become inflammatory or pejorative toward wine drinkers, the wine industry, or wine in general. I don't know where this divide came from -- I know more than a few wine drinkers who are dumb as rocks, and many beer drinkers who are some of the most brilliant people I've ever met. Hell, Barack Obama drinks Pabst Blue Ribbon! The measure of a man is not by what he drinks. Thinking anything different is absurd and ignorant.

What utter nonsense, Mr. Gluck. Utter nonsense.

Friday, January 16, 2009

TAR now on Twitter!

That's right, friends. As if you couldn't get enough of me right here on blogger, you can now get delicious little tidbits of your favorite beer journalist on Twitter.

Consider it like a flight of 4-oz. samples at your favorite brewpub: you get a taste of the story, and if you want more, you can order up a full pint -- the whole beery experience -- right here at The Ale Report.

Pop. Fizz. Enjoy.

Rogue Sasquatch St. Alien?

Got a lovely email from the lovely people at Rogue in the lovely state of Oregon. Apparently the state is celebrating its 150th anniversary (which is called something that I cannot for the life of me figure out how to pronounce). We all know that the 150th is the Barley Anniversary, and as such Rogue has been recruited for the oh-so-arduous task of brewing (and, one assumes, drinking) a beer to commemorate the occasion. No word yet on what that beer may be, or if it will be available anywhere other than the great state of Oregon. All I know is that we New Englanders love us some Rogue, so a couple of cases thrown our way would not go unrewarded.

(Again, I speak as if anyone from Rogue actually reads this blog. I should have learned by now, but hey, a little self-importance never hurt anyone, right?)

Here's the press release:

SALEM, OR, January 15, 2009 – After 150 years of statehood, Oregon deserves its own beer. And Oregon’s own Rogue Ales – which is celebrating its 21st birthday this year – is brewing it.

Oregon 150, the non-profit organization responsible for planning the state’s sesquicentennial celebration, selected Rogue to brew a special commemorative ale for the state’s 150th birthday. Sesquicentennial Ale will be available starting Feb. 14—Oregon’s birthday – on draft and in limited edition 22-ounce serigraphed bottles. Sesquicentennial Ale will debut at Oregon 150 celebrations in Salem and Portand. It will also be featured at the Oregon Brewers Guild open houses at Rogue’s Newport and Eugene breweries that weekend. Sesquicentennial Ale will be on sale until Dec. 31, 2009 at Rogue’s pubs in Newport (Bayfront Pub, Brewers on the Bay), Portland (Rogue Distillery and Public House, PDX Airport Pub and Green Dragon), Eugene City Brewery and Rogue Public House in Astoria.

Sesquicentennial Ale, dedicated to Oregon: The State of Beer, was designed by Rogue brewmaster John Maier to showcase Oregon-grown ingredients. The initial brew features 5 ingredients: Two-row and Munich malts - a portion of which were grown in Oregon’s Klamath Basin - Willamette hops from Rogue Farms’ hop yard in Independence, Rogue’s proprietary PacMan yeast from Hood River and free range coastal water. Sesquicentennial Ale is brewed at Rogue’s Newport brewery. Even the bottles are from Oregon, manufactured at Owens-Illinois’ Portland plant and serigraphed at TriS in Tualatin.

“With Rogue’s deep roots in the Oregon brewing community, their years of award-winning beers, history of charitable giving and new foray into growing their own malting barley and hops, they were the natural choice to brew Oregon’s sesquicentennial beer,” said Melisa McDonald, Executive Director of Oregon 150.
In the fall, Rogue will brew another batch of Sesquicentennial Ale using malting barley from Rogue Farms’ barley ranch in Tygh Valley, making it the first all-Oregon ingredient artisan beer.

The Rogue Nation Treasury will print a commemorative Hopoe (the currency of the Rogue Nation) and the Rogue Nation Postal Service will issue a commemorative stamp to honor the state’s sesquicentennial.

Celebrating its second century, Rogue ales is an Artisan Varietal Brewery founded in Oregon in 1988, as one of America’s first 50 microbreweries.
Rogue has 600+ awards for taste and quality and is available nationally and in 20 countries.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

2009 Release Schedule: Ommegang

Again, wicked excited for this stuff. I hotly anticipate their cave-aged releases every year (and am aging some Three Philosophers as we speak to see how it compares with their stuff). Rare Vos was my first venture into American-brewed Belgian styles, and Three Philosophers was the first time I ever got unintentionally obliterated without feeling it. (But oh how I felt it the next morning...)

Great press release from these guys. Here's what I got in the newsletter:


Wherein, Ommegang makes a 2009 resolution: To get our act together and give out the news you need well ahead of the game.

(Cooperstown, New York) In years past Ommegang released our specialty beers on a schedule seemingly based on every other random time period. With ongoing growth, the challenge of the guessing game has worn off. For 2009 we've committed to a schedule designed to keep everyone informed well in advance of releasing specialty beers. Let us know what you think, if you so desire, and remember to take frequent breaks from the demanding job of journalism to enjoy a fine beer. Happy 2009.

Inauguration Ale (a.k.a. Obamagang)
January - February
6.2% ABV - Draft only

The TTB won't let us call the beer Obamagang on the keg label. So it will be known legally as Inauguration Ale 2009, but the tap handles will be The style lies between a porter and stout, with a bit of Kriek and a touch of chocolate blended in. It will be on draft only, beginning with the inauguration - in limited areas including DC, NYC, Syracuse, Philly, Chicago and Boston. We will donate a percentage of sales to charities in the respective cities where the beer is sold, and we've asked our distributors to match our donations and pick the local charities. (Also please note that the beer is not an endorsement of Obama.)

Ommegang Biere de Mars
January - March
6.5% ABV - 750 ml bottle only

Belgian-style amber with Brettanomyces in the secondary fermentation, and also dry-hopped, making Biere de Mars amber ale with a bit of extra zing, extra tartness, and a touch of farmhouse funk. The original batch was brewed in the summer of 2008 for sale only at the brewery, but the response has been great, so here it comes for all.

Ommegang Rouge Flemish Red Ale
April - June
5.5% ABV - Draft only

Authentic Flemish Sour Red Ale. Brewed with our Belgian partner Bockor Brewery and imported to the US. The beer is spontaneously fermented, and then refermented and aged at least 18 months in French oak casks. It's an unblended "Grand Cru- style" Flemish Sour Red Ale. Available on draft only, and an amazingly pleasurable drink.

Ommegeddon Funkhouse Ale
June - August
8% ABV - 750 ML bottle only

Ommegeddon is an 8% ABV Belgian-style ale with a wild twist - a dose of Brettanomyces yeast and a blast of dry hopping. It's a strong blonde ale with a sharp citrus flavor that, like other Ommegang ales, has a dry finish. Its dryness and funkiness begat the name of Ommegeddon. This will be the fourth official brewing of the beer and we expect it to continue to evolve.

Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence
September - November
7.0% - Draft and 750 ML bottle

Since the 2007 - 10th Anniversary Edition - of Chocolate Indulgence Stout, our brewstaff and Department of All Things New and Delicious have been conducting research and experiments to further develop the character of the beer. (We tend to never sleep when it comes to fine-tuning the flavor and character of our beers.) We feel that the just-released 2008 batch has been honed to sublime levels of chocolaty / malty / decadent goodness - and that the 2009 brew will break some other new ground.

Ommegang Christmas/Noel/Winter Beer
November - December

It's never too early to start thinking of next Christmas. The final name, ABV and packaging are under wraps for now, but the beer will - probably - fit somewhere in the range of a high-gravity Belgian-style winter warmer, with an Ommegang twist. (Feel free to send ideas, recommendations and samples of Noel beers you love. We promise to use for educational purposes only.)

Brewery Ommegang opened in 1997 to craft-brew fine Belgian-style ales. The brewery creates five ales year-round as well as a range of seasonal and specialty ales. The beers have won national following by connoisseurs of fine beer and are distributed in over 40 states. Ommegang production and sales continue to grow rapidly and the company is in the process of significant physical expansion to meet growing demand. The brewery is located on a 136-acre farmstead in Cooperstown, New York and offers free daily tours and tastings, as well as a well-stocked brewery store and an online store. Ommegang is open every day of the year except for Christmas Eve day, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, and New Year's Day. For more info, 1-800-544-1809, or visit

2009 Release Schedule: New Glarus

You can't get it in New England (at least not by any legal means), but it's beer news so I figured I'd post it. New Glarus has just released their 2009 lineup... in handy color-coded table format!

Check it out.

2009 Release Schedule: Weyerbacher

This was posted on BA, apparently sent out in the Weyerbacher newsletter, which is apparently the only major brewery newsletter I don't receive. (Don't worry, I'm all signed up now.)

Announcing Our Seasonal Schedule for 2009:

January - Fireside Ale (used to be Charlie)

February - Heresy & Insanity

March - Slam Dunkel

April - Blanche

May - Muse & Riserva

June - Belgian Pale Ale (another new brew!) <--similar to Alpha maybe?

July - Fourteen

August - AutumnFest & Imp. Pumpkin Ale

September - Harvest Ale (wet hopped) to all areas this year!

October - Winter Ale

November - QUAD

December - T.B.A.

And also,, no price increases on any beers for the year.

2009 Release Scheudle: Smuttynose Big Beers

Older Brown Dog has already hit the shelves, and if you haven't tried it yet, you need to. I know I need to, anyway. Out later this month is the new Gravitation Quad, which sounds mighty delicious. Here's what we know is coming out this year:

@ Gravitation Belgian Quad -- Jan. '09
@ Imperial Stout -- Mid-Feb. '09
@ Maibock -- Late March '09
@ Baltic Porter -- Early May '09
@ Farmhouse Ale -- Late June '09
@ Big A IPA -- Early Aug. '09
@ Wheat Wine -- Mid-Sept. '09
@ Barley Wine -- Early Nov. '09
@ S'Muttonator Double Bock -- Early Dec. '09

And, of course, we can look forward to the Winter Ale, Hanami Ale, Summer Weizen, and Pumpkin Ale in six-packs during their respective seasons.

2009 Release Schedule: Left Hand Brewing

I am SO freaking pumped! A couple of revived brews from the recently lethargic (at least in their distribution to New England) Left Hand Brewing. Revisited are the Oak-aged Imperial Stout, which I've never had, and the St. Vrain Tripel, which is the beer that got me into tripels. From the newsletter:

Oak-Aged Imperial Stout

Available - MARCH

Our limited edition Oak-Aged Imperial Stout is back for the 1st time in 2 years, but with a couple of new twists - instead of being aged in French Oak Wine Barrels, we opted to age it this year in Heaven Hill brandy barrels from the hills of Kentucky. (And like all of our Big Mo Limited Edition releases, it’s available in 22 oz. bombers now instead of the 750ml caged & corked Belgian beer bottle.) We racked Imperial Stout into the barrels back in June of this year, and will blend it with un-aged Imperial Stout to woody perfection. At 22 degree plato and 10.4% ABV, it’s the perfect warmer for those cold February, early March nights. Enjoy the complex flavors revealing hints of raisin, black licorice, coffee, dark chocolate, and, of course, a hint of brandy. Order quickly - we’ve decided on our blend already, and we’ll only be packaging about 150 barrels of it this time around. So, in other words, get it when you see it, b/c who knows what type of barrel we’ll try again in ‘11.

St. Vrain Tripel

Available - LATE MAY

Also back from a 2-year hiatus is our limited edition St. Vrain Tripel Ale. If you’ve been out to the brewery, you must have seen the ‘raging’ mighty St. Vrain Creek that churns due west of the brewery in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Named after Ceran St. Vrain, an early settler to the valley who built a trading fort in the area. A reflection of this dedicated spirit can also be found in the beers of Belgium, where brewers, often monks, developed beer styles over the past 900 years of distinctive character. At 20.5 plato, St. Vrain is a classic Belgian Style Tripel. It’s beautifully light in color and lightly bittered with Spalt hops. A touch of sweetness from clear Belgian candy sugar tempers the warm spiciness hidden within beers of this gravity. To maximize authenticity, the entire brewing staff shaved their heads and bathed in baptismal ecstasy on the banks of the St. Vrain. 9.0% ABV, 20 IBU’s.

Oktoberfest Märzen Lager


The beer pours an alluringly clear copper color, with a short white head and good lacing. The malt bouquet is accented by toasty, bready aromas. As you lift your stein in high anticipation, your palate is well rewarded for its patience. The sweetness of the German malts dominate upfront, while the noble pedigree hops allow for a proper dry finish, true to style. Medium-bodied, with the subtle elegance of a well-balanced beer. Clean and crisp, this Märzen Lager can easily become your session beer this Fall. 6.0% ABV with 27 IBU’s. Beer Advocate Magazine said of it in their October 2007 issue: “We sized this one up and it came through like a champ. A complex but drinkable malt bomb on the taste buds.”

Snow Bound Spiced Strong Ale

Available - OCTOBER

Brewed once a year to fight cabin fever, this spiced strong ale uses all natural ingredients, including crushed cinnamon, chopped ginger, orange zest, cardamom and cloves. The addition of locally harvested clover honey, coupled with the sparing use of hops and a malty foundation, creates the illusion of a liquid cake. Deep red in color, this medium-bodied beer is a winter warmer - enjoy on a cold night in front of the fireplace. 8.6% alcohol by volume, and available in 22 oz. bombers & kegs. Beer Advocate’s issue last year said “this is a spiced ale done right, nothing light and dainty about this beer at all - just the way we like our winter warmers.” And Celebrator’s issue this month called it Exceptionally Great, big sweet, spicy nose with hints of ginger and other spices.

Warrior Fresh Hopped IPA

Available - OCTOBER

The vibrant aromatics and flavors that are derived from the use of exuberant amounts of fresh flower hops are what helps create and set apart this most unique beer. While the addition of locally grown hops from the brewery’s own hop farm contributes to the bright floral hoppiness, the majority of the hop volume comes from the Warrior hops that are overnighted from Yakima, WA. Yet true to the brewery’s fundamental belief system, the strong hop character is balanced by a strong malt foundation, allowing for an approachable, drinkable IPA that finishes amazingly clean. The beer is full-bodied, bronze in color, and tips the scales at 6.6% alcohol by volume and 60 IBU’s. Available in 22 oz. bombers and kegs. Modern Brewery Age’s December 2007 edition said “Warrior IPA takes no prisoners. It slays lesser brews.superb in every respect.”

Oak-Aged Widdershins Barleywine


And rounding out our limited edition Big Mo’ Series of Beers for the year is Oak-Aged Widdershins Barleywine. And, just like it’s brother Imperial Stout, we’ll be aging this big beer in the same Heaven Hill brandy barrels from the hills of Kentucky. We’ll rack Widdershins into the barrels in April of this year, and will blend it with un-aged Widdershins to woody perfection. Counter clockwise to the traditional American style barleywines, we designed this beer to be rounder and smoother than some less refined versions. Full of caramel and malt flavors, yet balanced with a variety of hop varieties, all vying for your attention. Oak aging and sparing use of specialty malt add complexity to this already deep beer. Full bodied, copper in color, Widdershins tips the scales at 8.8% alcohol by volume. And, just like Imperial Stout, get it when you see it, b/c who knows what type of barrel we’ll try again in ‘11.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bud = Toothpaste

After years of contemplation, I've figured it out. I've finally discerned why it is craft beer is more appealing to me than mass-produced American lagers. And it's so simple, I nearly slapped myself when I came to this striking realization. It's all just a matter of advertising.

Online beer forums are teeming with discussions concerning the latest Budweiser ads, and how they tout the virtues of fresh hops when their beers have barely any noticeable hop character at all. Beer Advocate has a couple of threads going as I write this, all of them heated and enlightening (and only slightly pejorative -- but hey, it's a craft beer site).

We all like to think it -- and if you're reading this blog, I assume it's as true for you as it is for me: "I don't pander to advertising executives who tell me their product will significantly improve my quality of life." Well, maybe that's true, but the sad fact is that advertising, by its very nature, leaves and impression upon us, for better or worse.

I was reading an article in Fast Company today written by Dan and Chip Heath which discussed the merits of using stories as opposed to slogans in advertising campaigns (among other things). Slogans, they argue, are remnants of a bygone era where the American consumer related to catchy jingles and internalized them to the point where they were incorporated into daily life. By their nature, slogans are meaningless bits of noise designed to stick in a person's brain. Problem is, most Americans are so inundated with little bits of advertorial stickies that there's no room left for anything else.

Stories, on the other hand, make a product seem more appealing by striking an emotional chord in the consumer. So when I see a commercial about the history of Sam Adams, looking at photos of Jim Koch hauling cases of beer on a dolly into an establishment himself, I smile. When I see the look in his eyes as he discusses the soil conditions on a farm in Germany where he gets his hops, I nod. I, too, have a passion for beer as fervent as Mr. Koch's, have plunged my whole head Scarface-style into a mound of hops and inhaled, have chewed on raw malted barley to ascertain its particular contribution to a beer. I get Sam Adams.

Budweiser has released a series of ads touting the beer's "drinkability," which they admit is a nebulous term. Bud has a history of creating cheesy slogans: "This Bud's for you," "Real Men of Genius" and "The king of beers" stand out in my mind. And every time I hear them, I can't help but think of of the myriad toothpaste commercials I've seen which all promise whiter, healthier teeth by means of some lame slogan or other. Four out of Five Dentists Recommend OUR Toothpaste, they say. Well hell, four out of five dentists recommend ANY toothpaste, I'll bet. Four out of five beer drinkers will tell you that THEIR beer has "drinkability," regardless of what brand it is. Four out of five will tell you that THEIR brand is the true "king of beers," otherwise they wouldn't buy it.

You don't see craft breweries with silly little slogans like that. Sure, Sam Adams has "Take pride in your beer," but that's not the central focus of their ads -- it's the story. Dogfish Head makes "off-centered ales for off-centered people," but the real story is the innovation behind the brand. I don't think I've ever seen a slogan on a bottle of Sierra Nevada, or Anchor, or Harpoon.

Point is, craft beer doesn't come off as cheap. Their advertising executives (if the breweries are big enough to have them) don't spend their days hawking up one-liners. They tell stories. And there are lots of stories to tell. I'm sure Budweiser has its share of heart-warming tales, as well, but to date I haven't seen any. Then again, at this point I think a story-centric Budweiser ad would just come off as Bud pandering to a sentimental demographic. Still, telling the story is a much better approach to selling Bud as a "high-quality product" than taking out ads saying what great hops they have.

So that's it: it's all about the story. You get stories from brewery owners all the time, talking about their humble origins homebrewing in their garages and gutting some old shoe factory in the middle of nowhere to build their own little brewing empire. You get stories from consumers who travel hundreds of miles in an annual journey to Mecca and drink the beer at an obscure little brewpub in the far northern region of New England. You see award-winning brewmasters driving delivery trucks on non-brewing days. And then, when you take that first sip of that special brew and it dawns on you that you can actually taste the story behind it?

That, my friends, is something special.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Tasted: Pretty Things' Jack d'Or

Dann Paquette, founder of the Pretty Things project, said in a recent interview with that with the economy the way it was, he couldn’t afford to open his own brewery. Instead, Paquette opted for the lower-cost method of brewing on Paper City Brewing Co.’s equipment. Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of the beer coming out of Paper City. To my palate, most of the offerings from Paper City had a peculiar minerality that was too distracting for me to enjoy them – though that said, many of my beer-drinking amigos love the stuff. Anyway, I chalked up the minerality to a trick of the local water supply, or maybe a slight flaw in the brewing equipment, and didn’t think much more of it.

After tasting Jack d’Or, I can say without reservation that the water and brewing equipment at Paper City are fine – indeed, the brewery seems to be operating perfectly.

Jack d’Or pours a rich yellow-gold with a thick, pristine white head which clings to the glass. There is a bright, citrusy hop note on the nose that complements a classic saison bouquet of lemon, pine, light red and green fruits, herbs, and a certain “funk” characteristic of Belgian yeast strains.

A sip reveals an intriguing, inviting light- to medium-bodied brew, effervescent and delicate in demeanor. The front of the palate displays soft notes of dried banana and sweet spices (I caught ginger and root herbs). The delightfully acidic mid-palate gave the impression of lightness and effervescence. Rich, dried fruits like blackcurrants, starfruit, and pear grace the back of the palate, accented by a beautiful hop bitterness that is assertive but not overwhelming. The beer stands as a testament to what American hop profiles should be like, and throws into stark contrast the myriad American brews that have missed the mark. The finish was long, dry, and pleasantly bitter. The experience left me gaping in awe. Absolute perfection.

Not only is this the best beer I’ve had in months, it’s the single most spectacular beverage I can remember drinking in quite some time. Everything about this beer screams quality. The malt is sticky, but not nearly overbearing. The hops are fresh and delicious, providing a wonderful compliment to the crisp saison tang. Put another way, if this beer was a white wine, I would happily pay in the neighborhood of $100 for it. This is a refreshing beverage to say the least, and an amazing first offering from Pretty Things and Dann Paquette.

Fans of Jack d’Or won’t have to wait long for a second offering from Pretty Things. Rumor is that a second brew is in the works, to be released early in 2009. No word yet on what style the beer might be, but the beer-drinking community is hotly anticipating its arrival nevertheless.

In the mean time, get to know Jack. You’ll be glad you did.