Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Beer Swap

Merry Christmas everybody!

It's been over a week since any of us last posted, but with the Holidays and end of year deadlines at work we've all been a little busy. This year for Christmas I got roped into a Holiday tradition that is becoming more and more popular each years. I speak of the Christmas Beer Swap. It's a great tradition, which I hope to participate in for years to come. For anyone who might not know how it works, a group of guys get together (girls can join in too...for sexual favors) and buy a different case of beer. Then they put all the beer together and make a bunch of variety packs. For Christmas time, typically everyone gets a Holiday or seasonal brew. What I love about this Holiday tradition is it gives you a chance to try a bunch of new and different beers that you might not try otherwise. This is a big deal in PA since most of the time you have to buy an entire case to try any of these beers, and at $35+ for a TV and no beer makes Homer something something.

I did this with a group of seven other guys at work, which means everyone got three of each beer. We did the swap on Tuesday before Christmas and I have already had the chance to sample several of the beers. I figured this would be a great opportunity to share my thoughts as I drink them. So expect several followups as I get through the collection.

We've got 10 different beers actually. One of the guys went to a "make your own 6-pack shop" ad bought 3 separate beers. The list includes Magic Hat (Howl) Black-as-Night Winter Lager, Bell's Christmas Ale, Lancaster Brewing Strawberry Wheat, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Erie Brewing Ol' Red Cease and Desist, Clipper City Brewing Winter Storm Category 5 Ale, Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Ale, Troegs Mad Elf, Southern Tier Brewing Old Man Winter Ale, and to top off the collection, Samichlaus.

The first one I tried was the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Now I tend to shy away fom Sierra Nevada normally. They have a hard-on for hops. Though this is a fact true to just about all American craft brewers, but Sierra Nevada's got a real stiffy. The Celebration Ale was actually my pick. I was the one who bought it. Figuring most of the other beers would be heavy I wanted to mix things up with something a little lighter. The beer I wanted to buy, Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale, was $70 a case. So I went with a suggestion from the guy at the beer store. He said it wasn't as hoppy as most there other stuff. Well he was right, it wasn't "as" hoppy. Unfortunately there was much any other flavor either. It was slightly beer flavored hops-water. This surprised me because a lot of sources ranked it amongst the top Christmas brews. Alas, the truth is it tasted watered down with the only real flavor being the bitterness of the hops. It also had a cherry red hue that seemed completely atificial, as if they added red food coloring to make it more festive. I found this beer to be highly overrated and dissapointing.

The next beer I tried was the Cetegory 5 Ale. This beer from the High Seas line fo Clipper City Brewing was pretty much what I expected. Fairly typical for a winter seasonal brew. It was dark, rich and heavy on the hops. THough it is an imperial ESB and it did have a few unique characteristics. To quote BeerAdvocate "The neck label mentioned yeast sediment but it looks remarkably clear." So I guess that makes it special. It was good and I would recommend it if someone was looking for a winter beer, but it's got nothing on the last beer in this review.

The latests one to try, the Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, I've actually been drinking as I write this. I like it. I really really like it. The beer has a nice amber brown hue and rich aroma. It has a spiciness to it that I don't think I've ever tasted before, a respectable kiss of hops, and a unique caramel finish. I think it is incredibly smooth and very well balanced for a winter seasonal brew. I am sad, for as I wrap this up, the beer is now gone. Luckily I still have 2 more bottles in the fridge. Definitely at the top of my list so far. Though I do still have yet to sample the Samichlaus.

Expect more from me as I continue through the Christmas beer swap collection, and have a Happy Holidays.

update: I'd love to get the input of anyone else whose had the chance to try these beers as I go through the list. It would be great ot get somebody else's take on these.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Life is full of hard choices

So let's be perfectly honest with ourselves for a moment.  Stop sucking in your gut, don't stand up straight, go to a mirror, look yourself in the eye long and hard and ask yourself "What beer should I drink?"

Then we'd like you to honestly post you answer in the comments section.  Or lie and say it's the Utopia (It's not, liar!)

I'll go first:  If I answer the questions honestly, it has me drinking Molson or Labatt.  Not my favorites, but I have had them.  There's many beers on that list that I enjoy, both cheap and expensive; but I wish I could say the answer is Elsinore.  I hear if you take them a bottle with a mouse in it, they'll like, give you free beer.

Source for that nifty flowchart

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Penn Brewery

While some asslicking cockwhores are moving out of the city of Pittsburgh, some fine, upstanding citizens are going to great lengths to keep Pittsburgh brewing traditions alive.

Now that doesn't say much in that article I linked to, so I'll give you the scuttlebutt I've heard around town.  Cause, you know, it's just a blog.  What the fuck do you want from me, journalism?

The story I heard was that Tom Pastorius, founder and owner, who played with his band many Friday nights at the brewpub, wanted to retire.  He wasn't greedy, he just wanted to have fun with his life and he'd made as much money as he felt he needed.  I admire that.  But anyway, stories I heard had Tom retiring to do... whatever the hell he felt like.  So he sold Penn Brewery to some folks who thought they could continue on his good work.  But Tom didn't actually own the building, just the company; and the landlords wanted to write up a new lease for the new owners that included numerous anal violation clauses, and few to no lubrication addendums.  So the new owners started looking at moving or selling out.  (I don't really blame them for that, it sounded like a raw deal to me).  But Tom wasn't really cool with that, he wanted Penn Brewery to stay in Pittsburgh.  He'd started that place to be a Pittsburgh institution.

In Februray, his worst fears came to fruition.  The folks who bought it sold the bottling line and moved production to Wilkes-Barre.

This is not what Tom wanted.  In fact, he had gone on record saying that he didn't want the brewery to end when he retired.  So, he got together with some other investors, got a grant from the city's urban renewal initiative (to the tune of $300k), and bought the fucking place back.  Awesome!

Now, I understand that not everyone can afford to be so selfless and dedicated to community.  I sure can't.  But even if you can't do something like Tom to try to give back to a community, the least you could do is not shit all over it.  I'm talking about begging favors in the name of community, then pulling stakes, leaving disgusting amounts of debt, jobless locals, and a vacant building in a barely recovering part of town.  Yes, I'm still bitter about that.  And I will be until they either move back into a depressed area of Pittsburgh or rename their beer "Pissy Swill sold by Shady, Backstabbing Bastards".

Such can not be said about Tom Pastorius.  Brewermaster, entrepreneur, yinzer, awesome dude.  Here's to you!

So that's the story as I heard it, and I have now done my part to usher in the death of journalism by spewing unchecked facts and rumors into the blogosphere.  Feel free to read about what really happened but it will probably be less entertaining.

Sorry if you started reading this before I was done, I hit some key combination that posted it in the middle of writing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Victory is Ours!

Another battle has been won in the great Pennsylvania war on booze. The winning side? The alkies of course.

A little over a year ago, a restaurant by the name of Baba D's wanted to open up a new location on Carson Street in the South Side region of Pittsburgh. The owner purchased the property, spend $600K renovating the place, and applied for his liquor license in preparation for opening night. Pittsburgh City Council's response. "Go Fuck yourself."

Yes, I know he's County, not City, but Mayor Opie is his lapdog.

Obviously the owner, Mr. Najib Aboud, was a little put off by this. It appeared that the City wouldn't issue a license do to over saturation of the area. What that meant, besides what happens to my pants whenever a watch Honor Blackman in old episodes of The Avengers, was that there were too many bars within a 50,000 square foot area. How many is too many? 62 bars to be precise. Well that doesn't seem all that unreasonable, but let's to the math, shall we. 50,000 sq-ft divided by 5280 ft in a mile squared, carry the box of hamster food and an enema for uncle Steve (the two are completely unrelated, i swear), and multiply by the number of Tiger Wood's mistresses...ahh yes. That's an area of 1.148 acres or 0.0018 square mile. That is 62 bars in 0.0018 square miles, or more precisely, one bar for every 806 sq-ft. HOLY SHIT! The limit the City set is 53. Why 53? Because 54 bars is obviously pushing it. What are you, retarded?

I've been around the Country and around the World, and in all my travels, I have yet to find a place with such a large and highly concentrated number of bars as Carson Street in Pittsburgh. The South Side bar scene, is basically a 1.3 mile stretch of road running from the 10th Street Bridge to the Hot Metal Bridge, and it is lined on both sides with nothing but bars and the occational diner or mom n' pop shop mixed in.

The city actually purchased an 8ft x 8ft plot of land in the middle of it to put up a pay toilet, so people would stop urinating in the alleys, on the sides of the building, or even just outside to front door of the bar.

And this isn't just a bunch of random dive bars. No, Carson Street has something to satisfy everyone's taste. There's the classic Americana at places like Mario's or Dee's Cafe. If you're into death metal try visiting the Smiling Moose. The Tiki Lounge has stools and tables made from tree trunks, and a real witch doctor who hang around the back (I think his name is Pete). Hippies and yuppies can share a drink in harmony at the HKAN Hookah Bar and Lounge. The snobs are free to drug their women at Paparazzi's (No seriously, I've seen it happen on several occasions myself. Girls stay away from there). You can listen to some great live blues at the Blue Note Cafe. Shootz is the place to go for football and pool. And complete drunken debauchery can be had at the other 54 bars you have to choose from. Casey's Draft House even has a midget that comes out every 15 minutes to poor shots.

...I think he's actually the owner.

Well, it looks like Baba D's can finally wipe the dust off their back bar. Drinking establishment #63, welcome to the neighborhood. Let's get shitfaced.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Come on, who's gonna ever find out?

The biggest problem facing modern drinkers?  Cameras.

Everyone has at least three cameras on their person at any given time.  Every single device sold at Best Buy has a fucking camera in it.  Every phone, PDA, mp3 player, cigarette lighter, and toaster strudel has a fucking camera built into it for no damn reason.  I hear tell they're even working on a camera that has a little camera mounted on top. And for the most part, these devices go unused.  Because they're shit.  The reason your lipstick case has a camera in it is because the camera is so substandard that it cost almost no money to build one into it.  If someone really wants to take pictures of something, they bring a camera that isn't embedded into a coffee mug because even if it's 12 years old and went through the wash in your jacket pocket a few times, it takes far superior pictures.

As a result, the hand sanitizer with the shitty Chinese CCD chip in the lid stays in your brother's girlfriend's purse... until someone does something stupid.

That's how you get this

Saturday, December 5, 2009

This Day in Booze: The 21st Amendment

Do I really need to say anything about this day. It's the freak'n end of prohibition. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed upon the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933 at 3:32 pm. The United States of America had been dry for 13 years, 10 months, 19 days, 17 hours, 32.5 minutes....well, sort of.

The Noble Experiment Failed, but at this time of rejoicing we should look back on those 13 years and what long term effects they have on the shaping of today.

Yes, for the people that lived it, Prohibition was Hell. Regardless of the original game plan, there were unintended consequences. Some of the worst things to come out of prohibition, besides no booze, were bad booze (poison), organized crime, sobriety, lost jobs when the breweries shut down, the common man turned criminal just for trying to make a living, and a flat out disrespect for the law.

But if you really take some time to look at Prohibition, you notice that not all the unintended consequences were for the worse. I never though I'd say this, but prohibition in a lot of ways was good for society. Now before you decide to string me up by the balls for heresy (I like my balls) hear me out.

Prohibition was responsible for introducing American's to a vast wealth of foreign spirits. Since what was being produced locally at the time was little better than paint thinner with a touch of caramel and formaldehyde, the importation of liquor from abroad helped to diversify America's pallet. Whiskey from Canada was much smoother than American rye or bourbon, and is still extremely popular today. Tequila was all but unknown to anybody who didn't live in the South West or California, but as soon as booze was made illegal, the entire country was ¡Hurra por la bebida! Shiploads of rum, which had fallen out of favor after the revolution due to cost, were park just 3 miles off the coast of Florida. There were also scotches from the U.K., cordials from France, schnapps from Europe, and the list goes on.

Speakeasies. So long sausage fest! Hello all you can eat Tacos! OK, I admit that was a little much, but women in bars?! Astounding!

Finally it was acceptable for men and women to socialize in the same place. You can also find links to the suffrage movement and the beginning of women's social independence. Not only did the quality of the company improve, but so did people's view the bar scene. It was no longer a place to just hang out with the guys and talk about how much life sucked. Now it was an opportunity to mingle and entertain oneself on a Wednesday night. During this time the bartender was able to hone his craft, even if it was simply to mask the awful taste of the poison they were serving. But that didn't stop people form frequenting such establishments, and thanks to Prohibition the "cocktail hour" was born.

The dawn of the tourism industry owes it's roots to Prohibitions. Prior to the 1920s, traveling abroad just for the fun of it was a concept your average American never really thought about. But without good booze to be had locally, the industry took off with a fury. The Caribbean and Havana were especially popular places, and it was on these trips that American's were introduced to even more unique spirits and cocktails. As the industry grew, you have the birth of Pan Am and other major airlines and cities like Miami grew exponentially. All of this meant jobs and growth for the community as well.

Those are just the biggies. Some of the other benefits to arise from Prohibition include the government issue of industrial alcohol licenses, which meant more research into yeasts (nice for us homebrewers). In 1919, the Scientific American Publishing Company published "Home Made Beverages: The Manufacture of Non-Alcoholic and Alcoholic Drinks in the Household" in which vendors sold small barrels, simple stills, guides for distilling techniques. Don't ask me how a book on making non-alcoholic beverages is able to sell stills during Prohibition. I just report the facts. The rum industry was making some of the best quality rum ever, until WWII and things went to shit.

Now even though all these good things came out of prohibition, is any of this going to stop me from celebrating it's demise this evening in grand fashion? Nope. But just remember that even good things can come from bad situations. Except for Fuzzy Blueberry Fail. Nothing good comes of that.

Update: Anybody else have more good unintended consequences that came out of Prohibition? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, December 4, 2009

CAMRA, BrewDog, BJCP Styles and (Grand) Pappy Protz

Well, there is yet more controversy around BrewDog. As a blogger, I'm legally required to write about this. They've tried to push the limits of brewing, and especially British brewing, to the breaking point-- using, horrors of horrors, Champagne Yeast and traditional German techniques. Bowing to the French and Germans, about beer no less, naturally set off CAMRA, and even the usually level headed Roger Protz, who is the singular reason I went gay for CAMRA. Protz, as detailed beautifully over at Brookston, was refusing to call this beer. This story was reported there better than I can do myself.

What I can add here are two things, one about my speculation of what Brew Dog might do to British brewing, the other about our interpretation of British beer as Americans, through the guise of the BJCP. As Brew Dog pushes the limits of British Brewing, they run the risk of running themselves out of business. There are great traditional breweries, sure, but there are a large number of startups that brew ultra-traditional brews because they sell, mainly to CAMRA. These breweries could expand to doing more creative beers, in established markets and with established tones. Perhaps they could even bring back the Old Ales, Barleywines and XXXX beers so well established and discussed by Shut Up About Barclay Perkins. Not to mention, there are 3.5% alcohol beers in the UK that pack much more, and more appropriate, ranges of flavors into the medium than many of the 7-9% Brewdog beers have done. These masterful breweries, if invited to do more 'American' style beers, could likely whomp the whippersnappers at Brewdog, if their base would let them. As a CAMRA member of dubious standing, I say go on.

As Americans, we believe in antiquarian British beers. We want the beers of our forefathers when they were stationed there, hence the continued inclusion of Southern English Brown, a beer I have never seen popularly mentioned in two years of living there and numerous trips back since (including being at the GBBF and Festivals south of the Thames). The BJCP, following a mission of preservation, are nice enough to keep these styles alive, but it belies what we want from British beer. It is also what the flat-caps and bearded wierdies (both of which I qualify for at times) of CAMRA want. British beer is marketable as twee, and while some lovely baby steps have been made, this wholesale attack by Brewdog might be shortsighted. As I mentioned above, they could easily be beat by expansions in the product line by the most traditional brewers. They also will open up the UK to the amazing, longer standing, American beers. While I wish them luck, enjoy their beers and think they do put a bit of a UK spin on things, I'd be more interested in a British version of a US IIPA or even an American (Texas) Brown with UK hops and malts, rather than Dogfish Head: Scotland.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Twenty Things Worth Knowing About Beer

If you haven't figured it out yet, you're supposed to click on that image to go to a different website that has a nifty little thing called "Twenty Things Worth Knowing About Beer".

If you have figured that out, then you're not drunk enough. Go get more booze.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

BJCP Results and Feedback

After a protracted battle with the mailman, My BJCP results finally got to me. I thought I'd share a concise version here, for those of you thinking of studying for the exam or curious about the organization.

The program puts a lot of clear care into the examinations. The packet I received had a members guide, a neat color chart, pin, list of my previous experience, certificate and, of course, the results.

I scored a 76 on the written. My exam was well balanced between the technical and style ability. The first comment I got was about my poor handwriting and losing some data in copying by writing in the margins. I knew the former to be a peoblem, but the latter was disappointing not to know about before the test. Still, I should have thought they'd be copied. As that is my only complaint, It should be evidence of how highly I think of this process.

On the style questions, I did well on recalling the styles, classic examples and comparisons. My answers were still short on depth and I am missing some specific details on aspects.the German lager question, which was the one I knew least about before studying turned out to be my strongest answer.

Technically, I lacked depth and missed a lot of details. In particular I did not provide enough detail about decoction, how to manipulate body and I overlooked techniques to balance and work with biterness, wort chilling, water chemistry and aeration. All of this reflects areas where I am inexperienced in brewing. I am impressed by how well the test reflects what I feel are my weakest areas in my knowledge.

I scored an 80 on tasting, so I can't imagine needing to retake it for years to come, which is exciting! I scored close to the proctors on 3 questions (within 2) and was 18 points high on the last. I generally gave decent feedback. I had a lot of trouble detecting wood flavors and also some issues with esters and sherry notes. This is consistent with my prior judging experience. I overused 'some' and 'good', and the program would rather see me use intensity indicators. This isn't surprising and I am glad to be given a means to correct this overuse of vague terminology.

The feedback I got was much more detailed than the overview I gave here. I am an OK brewer with a solid knowledge of brewing, and I feel that has been reflected here. My pallette is better than my ability to write about what I find. I will delve into the recommended reading (Michael Jackson, George Fix) and will think about taking the test again once I have 15 points or so. Right now I am happy to be a certified judge and know I have a lot to learn from many very nice people before I move into the more top tier of judges.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fermentation Friday for November-- Roundup

Sorry for my late roundup, I spent most of yesterday sleeping off the excesses of the holiday. Thankfully R. Dicks (r huge) held us down here at JABB, telling us about how he's the special friend who gets to help with the brewing. He downplays his contribution a bit, I think, as he's been hosting the brewing and I think has caught the bug. I expect him to be up and running a massive system by this time next year, and incorporated two after that! As mentioned before, Adam talked about his natural independence,and the guys he brews with. He left out his place as a central node of the homebrew blogging community; perhaps even a community organizer. Bob talks about trying to find a community and reaching out to the internet when the physical community won't materialize. My suggestion, if I may, start a local club, you can't have too many. The brew dudes rank order their community, centered on their family and friends who support and consume the product. Next are their blog followers, and finally the forums, twitter and facebook.

Well, how about me. I love the local clubs, I attend three (CBS, NHC and HOPS!) and belong officially to HOPS! I take something different from each, HOPS! brings me a community I sorely lacked when I moved to Chicago. The CBS is full of old-time brewers, many of whom have gone on to some major notoriety. Their first Thursday meetings bring in a variety of brews, both commercial and homebrew, from throughout Chicago land. The NHC is full of people pushing the boundaries of what a beer can be, which is fun.

A second community I love is the BJCP, where I'm a certified judge and learn a lot from the other judges and tasting a variety of homebrew. Finally, I'm active on the BN forums and even donate. I consume the podcasts and it keeps me occupied on slow days at work.

Finally, my biggest community are my co-bloggers here, who put up with my incessant beer discussions over IM and e-mail and keep me from being lonely, thanks guys.