Thursday’s ad is for Baltimore’s National Bohemian. There’s not much info about the ad, though I’m guessing based on the indistinct background that it’s more late-50s to early 60s. I love the cartoony bartender (The Natty Boh mascot Mr. Boh, from the 1950s to the present) with the clean, empty bar showing the slide down to the unseen patron at the end of the bar.
Greg Noonan, the craft beer pioneer who founded the Vermont Pub & Brewery in 1988 passed away October 11. He died in his sleep Sunday night. He was only 58 years old. His brewery was one of the first on the east coast, New England and, naturally, Burlington, Vermont. He’s not as well known for his contributions to the industry as he probably should be.
There’s a nice obituary by Guillermo Woolfolk, who’s the Birmingham Craft Beer Examiner.
He will be missed. Raise a toast to his memory.
You probably noticed that last week I was in Boston for a day, judging the Longshot Homebrew Contest finals at the Boston Beer Co. brewery there in Jamaica Plain. After we finished and had a late lunch, the rest of the day was open. My only plan was to try some more beer and, hopefully, some more frites. As we were waiting for judging to begin, several people in the Samuel Adams marketing department had suggestions of places around town with great frites. Armed with several names, I had a mission. And that’s how Thursday became a Fryday.
At lunch, Todd and Jason Alström, from Beer Advocate, mentioned they had to go to Boston Beerworks where they were being interviewed and then afterwards would be pleased to join me on my fry crawl. Bob Townsend, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (and my favorite new person from Georgia) also tagged along since he had time to kill until he was meeting a friend for dinner later. So the Frites Foursome hailed a cab and our adventure began.
Out first stop was Boston Beerworks, the one near Fenway Park. Todd and Jason had to meet Boston Globe reporter Joseph P. Kahn so he could interview them about Beer Advocate and their upcoming beer festival. The article was subsequently published yesterday, entitled The Beer Necessities.
The brewery is just inside the door.
New signs hang behind the bar announcing which beers they have on tap. Bob and I waited here while Todd & Jason were interviewed and had some beers and, of course, an order of frites. Here, you can see my review of their frites.
The unsubtle sign above the entrance door, in case you weren’t sure what you’d been drinking as you leave. Our next stop was the first recommendation, Eastern Standard. For some reason I only took a photo of the frites here, oh and their handmade chips, so here’s what it looked like inside.
After that, we stopped for a quick pint at The Other Side, a cool organic dive bar near my hotel.
No frites, but they had a pretty decent beer list, both on tap and in bottles.
The vibe was Toronado meets Santa Cruz Organic Cafe, with loft seating, local art on the walls and an impressive menu of unusual dishes all made with local and natural ingredients.
Our next stop was another recommendation, Brasserie Joe, a French bistro, also attached to a hotel, the Colonnade Hotel.
Another nice place, with a contract beer on tap made by Brooklyn Brewing (tasted like their Pilsner). The frites were appropriately Belgian-style, served in a silver cup lined with a checkerboard paper. After I took photos of the frites for their review, our bartender asked me what I was doing and then, bemused I suspect, brought us over some delicious hot bread and carrots in a horseradish-based sauce. Also, Dann Paquette, from Pretty Things, met us at Brasserie Jo and joined us on our crawl.
Our last stop on the fry crawl was Cambridge Brewing, where we were to meet up with Bob Townsend again and also where Andy Crouch would join us. Bob had ordered some frites, so I was able to try his. They were somewhat different than the ones I had the last time I was there. I had a great talk with Dann there, and he has some exciting things going on. I was dying to try some of his beers, so …
Our last stop of the evening was the nearby Hungry Mother, where I had an opportunity to try two of Dann’s beers. First, I sampled the Jack D’Or, a really wonderful beer. Pretty Things took a saison and really put their own stamp on it, Saison Americain indeed. I also tried the Baby Tree, his interpretation of quadruple. It was likewise outstanding. Between talking beer and philosophy with Dann and how good his beers are, I think Pretty Things may be my favorite new brewery. So far they’re only in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania.
Dann Paquette, Andy Crouch and Todd Alström showing off Pretty Things’ Baby Tree at the Hungry Mother..
My friend and colleague, Lew Bryson, must have been thrilled when he came up with the title Malt Disneyland for his most recent First Draft column for Portfolio magazine, because in my humble opinion it’s one of the best new names for Belgium anybody has ever come up with. Of course, I love wordplay and the Walt/malt thing cracks me up. I confess I never remember to check out his Portfolio column — sorry about that Lew — but luckily MSNBC reprinted it yesterday and so it showed up in the old, handy dandy RSS Feed Reader. Naturally, it’s a great read, too, but oh that title — now that’s a grabber. Well done.
The Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in West Chester, Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia) will again highlight local Belgian-style beers. The Belgium Comes to West Chester event will take place on January 26 at 4:00 p.m. In addition to head brewer Chris LaPierre, several other brewers will be on hand to discuss their beers and there will also be available a three-course beer dinner paired will a few of the available Belgian-style beers. The cost for the event will be $40.
From the press release:
“Belgian style beers are at the center of the craft beer movement right now and both male and female beer lovers are embracing this style,” says LaPierre, who will be pouring his Heywood; Quadfather and the award-winning Cannibal.
“This is a great opportunity for beer fans to see the unique Belgian style beers being brewed in the region, all in one place,” says Mark Edelson, Director of Brewing Operations.
Sounds like it should be a fun event.
Here’s a partial list of beers that will be poured at the event.
- Dubbel (Stoudt’s Brewing)
- Stumbling Monk (Stewart’s Brewing)
- Saison (Sly Fox Brewery)
- Wild Ale and Belgian Brown Ale (Harpoon Brewery)
- Abbey Blonde Ale (General Lafayette Inn & Brewery)
- Bourbon Abbey Dubbel (Flying Fish Brewing)
- Mad Elf (Troeg’s Brewing)
- Otay (Nodding Head Brewery and Restaurant)
- Abbey 6 (Victory Brewing)
- Imperial Wit (Dock Street Brewery)
- Barrel Aged Imperial Wit (Iron Hill, other location)
- Flemish Red (Iron Hill, other location)
- Cannibal Nocturnum (Iron Hill, other location)
- Fe10 (Iron Hill, other location)
Last fall the bankrupt Pittsburgh Brewing got a new Plan of Reorganization confirmed which included new investors, a settlement with creditors, a new CEO and a new name: Iron City Brewing. The new boss, Tim Hickman, today outlines his four-prong plan to increase revenues this year by a staggering 35%, certainly an audacious goal. Perhaps their biggest hurdle is that the perception of the brewery, as a direct result of the bankruptcy, has diminished and many locals assume the quality of the beer has likewise decreased. This despite the fact that the brewery was founded in 1861, making it one of the oldest breweries in America still operating today (#1 is another Pennsylvania favorite, Yuengling, which was founded in 1829).
To combat these problems, Here’s the four things Hickman hopes to accomplish:
- Upgrade the facility on Liberty Avenue to assure consistent production.
- Stop competing with beer-producing giants.
- Saturate the bar scene.
- Redesign packaging and labels.
With a modernized brewery, “Iron City expects to produce more than 233,000 barrels of beer in 2008. Last year, the brewery turned out about 172,000 barrels. The 2008 projection would be the most beer brewed at Iron City since 2004.” Sales VP Tony Ferraro has made the sensible observation that they can’t really complete on price with the bigger breweries and will be looking at themselves as a regional brewery. As a result, they’ll raise their prices slightly in line with a reasonable mark-up and will promote the beer as local, tying themselves to Pittsburgh’s 250th birthday celebration, which takes place this year. They’re also finally replacing their Hoff-Stevens kegs with new Sankey’s in an effort to get more tap handles in local bars and restaurants.
They’ll also be redesigning their packaging and labels, although apparently the iron city logo is off-limits. A new slogan will also be introduced. “The official beer of the Pittsburgh Nation.” And apparently some locals agree. A pair of Pittsburgh natives have set up Drink Iron City, “a blog about supporting the Iron City [Brewing] Company.”
Currently, Iron City Beer has a 6% market share in the greater Pittsburgh area and the plan is to shoot for 10% over the next few years. As Hickman puts it. “We’ll get there,” he said. “We have a quality product here, and we have consumer loyalty behind our brands.”
She said she approved of every step Iron City is taking, and even praised Hickman for raising prices.
“In fact, it’s a smart idea to raise prices,” she said. “That raises perceived value.”
Bradford also agreed that Iron City should concentrate on local loyalty, “because that’s what Iron City has going for them.”
The old Pittsburgh Brewery during better times.
Downtown Bar & Grill, located in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York at 160 Court Street, will be hosting a pretty spectacular tasting of Dogfish Head beers on the 27th of November, including the debut releases for 2007 of World Wide Stout, Pangaea, and Golden Era, along with seven other Dogfish Head beers on draft. The festivities will begin at 6:00 p.m.
Seth Kugel, a travel writer for the New York Times who writes a regular column entitled “Weekend in New York,” tackles such Big Apple topics as where to take your dog, ice cream and where to picnic in Central Park. His most recent column (sent to me by my friend Maureen. Thanks Maureen.) is called “For Beer Tastes, on Beer Budgets” and aims to steer tourists and locals alike to the cheapest possible beer that can be had in the city that never sleeps. To which I can only ask … why? What is our national obsession with buying the cheapest possible anything and everything?
I’m sure I’ll be in the minority — again — but I think beer is already too inexpensive and should actually cost more. As it is, few small brewers make buckets of cash for their considerable efforts. Many are fine hand-crafted artisanal products that are akin to other gourmet food products people are willing to spend more for, such as cheese, bread or chocolate. Even the big brewers make their money on volume, not individual margins. Their markup is really quite low when compared with many other types of goods. Even as the cost of ingredients, transportation and marketing continue to rise, the big guys engage in price wars with one another making the cost of a beer artificially low. Most people think this is a good thing because we’ve been conditioned to believe cheaper is somehow better. That whatever is least expensive is inherently most desirable. Wal-Mart has become the biggest retailer in the world by pandering to this cheapskate ethos. People may say they want quality, good customer service and selection but they’re generally full of shit. When they open their wallets, they want to pay as little as possible.
Some of that is understandable, of course. Few of us are as rich as Croesus with virtually unlimited amounts of money to spend, so making choices about what and how much of your money to spend is inevitably necessary. But that doesn’t mean finding the cheapest price should be our mantra. Being cheap shouldn’t be a philosophy or way of life the way it seems to have become. Naturally, the propagandists have been selling conspicuous consumption for close to a century now and most of us have internalized the drive for buying more and more stuff. Couple that with real wages dropping for decades and the only way to keep up with the Joneses is to spend less and less for the same useless crap. We live in a society dominated by business, whose interests have been sold to our politicians. It’s so bad that when terrorists attack us our leaders tell us to “go shopping.”
Kugel likens finding a “cheap beer” to big game hunting, “like trying to find a cheetah on the African savanna.” He adds, “[s]ure, $7 pints dot the landscape like plump antelope, but the rare sub-$3 brew lurks in the underbrush like the fleetest footed of the big cats, hard to bring down without the help of a skilled guide savvy in sniffing out tell-tale footprints or happy-hour specials.” He finds 50-cent Budweiser on the Upper West Side in a bar where “bras hang from above the bar and snapshots of women who had apparently until recently been wearing those bras are posted on the wall.” Then there’s $7 pitchers of beer at the aptly named “Cheap Shots.” Kugel tells us of finding $2 cans of PBR, $5.75 quarts of light beer, and $2 Yuengling drafts. One place in Brooklyn features “’Crap-o-copia,’ a bucket of ice jammed with six cans of whatever the beer-loving cat dragged in for $12. On a recent visit, that included American classics like Stroh’s, Schmidt’s, Genesee Cream Ale and Miller High Life.”
But what he fails to mention or justify throughout his article is just what is the point of the hunt? Why must we find the Cheetah? If Cheetah tastes like Bud, PBR or Coors — the tastes-like-chicken sameness of the beer jungle — then who cares how cheap it is. I wouldn’t drink it if it were free. I want my beer to taste of something, to actually have flavor and I’m willing to pay for Antelope, though I’m confident he could have found discount Antelope — say a $5 pint of something worthwhile. But Kugel seems to take the position that it’s more important for it to be cheap, that it simply doesn’t matter which big game you find because they’re all the same. It’s hard for me to believe that a travel writer has never noticed that all beer is not the same. After all, travel writers are paid to experience new people, places, and things. How is it possible one could remain completely ignorant of the world’s most popular alcoholic beverage to the point where price is the only way to differentiate between them?
The two-buck Chuck phenomenon aside, can you imagine stories in the New York Times about finding the cheapest wine or whisky when you’re out on the town? I can’t, and it seems to me this is just another of the countless insults beer endures. Why is beer the Rodney Dangerfield of alcoholic beverages? Why is it so acceptable for the media to take cheap shots (yes, pun intended) at beer without even realizing how insulting they’re being? It’s a bit like telling Polish jokes at a Pulaski Club or fat jokes at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting without even realizing your poor taste. It’s that bone-chilling ignorance that really gets me going. When I lived in North Carolina several decades ago, you’d still hear older white people address black men casually as “boy” without the slightest inkling that they were doing anything wrong, insensitive or insulting. That may be an extreme example, but that’s what these constant attacks on beer feel like to me. I don’t think Seth Kugel, or indeed most of the rest of the beer-ignorant press, sets out maliciously to insult beer. They simply don’t know any better. And that may be the saddest fact of all. It might be downright funny if it weren’t for the fact that people read the Times as America’s “paper of record” and believe what is written in its pages. So while I believe the entire media has a duty to try to be accurate, the Times has an even higher standard to uphold. Yet in the one subject I know at least a little about, they very often fail miserably to show even a passing familiarity with beer (with Eric Asimov being a notable exception).
Beer has been struggling mightily for over 25 years to gain some respect. Given the strides made by the craft beer industry in that time it certainly deserves its place among the other fine gourmet beverages of the world. Once the laughingstock of the world, American beer today is known throughout the world to be of the finest quality. There are now more different beer styles brewed in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. That’s an unbelievable swing in a little over two short decades. It’s a shame that something like 95% of all Americans didn’t get the news. Here, thanks in part to our mainstream media, the perception of beer as interchangeable cheap swill for the hoi polloi remains how most people think about beer, including our intrepid Times author. So instead of searching for the cheapest beer, how about trying to find out what the difference is between a $7 antelope and $3 cheetah. It should be obvious, I agree, but so long as the mainstream media remains so beer-blind such ignorant advice like where to find the cheapest beer will continue to pass for real journalism.
Don Russell, better known as Joe Sixpack, had another very interesting column yesterday about an unassuming pink stucco home in Burlington, New Jersey, which may — or may not — have at one time been part of a brewery. And not just any brewery, but because records seem to date part of the structure to around 1693, it could be considered America’s oldest standing brewery. Currently, that title goes to “the Patrick Creagh house in Annapolis, Md., circa 1749.” The house is on sale on Craigslist for a mere $159,000 (hey, I live in California) but when I search for it, it didn’t turn up. Perhaps it’s already been scooped up by a new owner who, as Russell speculates in his closing, wants to be able to “thump his chest and boast, ‘Hey, c’mon over for brats and beer in my house, the oldest freakin’ brewery in America!'”
America’s oldest standing brewery?
Curt Hudson © the Daily News