The other St. Louis brewery

Appellation Beer has a recent post on the brewery in St. Louis that isn't Anheuser-Busch, the impressive Schlafly Brewing Company (say it Shla-flee, not Shla-fly, which I made the mistake of doing). The post is part book review and part commentary on a topic thats beer circling the Interwebs lately, at least the part that discusses good beer, beer's place as a drink of the common man.

I'm lucky enough to have a friend who lives in St. Louis and brings me back cases of tasty Schlafly beer when he returns home to visit. Most recently, its been the Kaldi's Coffee Stout, the Christmas Ale and the Pumpkin Ale, all of which I thought to be top notch. I'm planning to do a post on all three of them soon, perhaps this is just the prodding I needed.

here's hoping my friend returns home soon, with Schlafly in tow, of course!

I've been bunged!

At least that's what I'm choosing to dub the beer blog equivalent of a 'plug'.

Cheers to Wörtwurst for putting me at top billing on his blogroll update post.

Welcome, to any new readers, as well.


Beer in the Indiana Gazette?

Nate beat me to the punch here, but its completely justified as he's brewed a few more batches than I have (none).

The Indiana Gazette will be publishing an article on beer and wine making in an upcoming Sunday Leisure section.

Whats next, weekly columns on local beer happenings, style highlights and good beer coverage? I'd be delighted if that were the case.

Beer club, beer blog.

Nate went ahead and started up a blog for the beer club. We'll be posting news, club info, tasting information, along with the usual high-jinks. Check it out!


An extended Hibernation, or A couple notes on bottle dating.

There's been some talk, both on Beer Advocate and in their new magazine regarding the issue of brewers dating their bottles. Those who date will usually either do a "bottled on" date or a "best by". The methods of dating can be as simple as marking a date with a pen, to using a laser to cut it into the label.

Unfortunately, finding a brewer that dates their goods is pretty hit or miss. A lot of brewers do date their beers, likely an equal amount of brewers do not.

So where is this all leading? A couple of recent date mishaps, courtesy of yours truely.

Tonight, I popped open a Deschutes Black Butte Porter I got in trade this fall. Checking for a date on the bottle, I see a best-by of 08/22/06. Dammit! I try it anyways and while its far from amazing, it is drinkable. Not worth a review, but drinkable. Note to self, check dates on bottles as soon as you receive them.

This past winter I picked up a case of Great Divide Hibernation Ale from my local distributor. Okay, it wasn't quite that simple, it was a special order. I called, waited, got a call and picked it up. I drank it, and liked it, a lot. I gave a few away, traded a few over Christmas and recently and then finally got around to doing a formal review.
That's when I check the bottled-on date. Bottled 2005. Hmm, that odd. And while Hibernation is brewed in the summer and cellared until fall, its hardly sitting at the brewery for a year. A mistake I thought, and checked at a local six pack shop that had stocked Hibernation the last time I was there. Same story, bottled 2005.
I'm not sure where things fell apart, but I'm doubting it's my local beer distributor holding on to last year's stock, especially since another store in town has the same vintage. The fact is though, that someone somewhere is shipping old beer.
Luckily, Hibernation Ale is a strong beer that can last a year or five in good conditions. I'm not sure how this one was stored, but its still excellent. I wouldn't have known it was last year's vintage until I was smart enough to check.

Well, at least its a good beer. I sort of lucked out, since the 2005 vintage of Hibernation Ale won a silver medal in the Aged Beer Category at the GABF 2006. In fact, I might have to go pick up the rest of that 'old' beer.


The Joys of Beer Trading

Thanks to the guys at the Brew Lounge I have a few new beers to try.

Left to right, we have Adam's homebrew, which I think is his dry-hopped IPA barleywine, Yards Tavern Spruce Ale, Sly Fox Christmas Ale 2006, Southampton Biere de Garde and Sly Fox Odyssey 2006. Clear in the back is olive oil for dinner, please disregard that one.

All of these are new to me, except the Sly Fox Christmas, but thats even better because I had it this year, absolutely loved it and was trying to track down more.

Thanks Brew Lounge!

Brown Ale Article in the NY Times.

Occasionally, the New York Times will run an article on beer in their Food section, under the Ales of the Times column. In the past they have done lambics, wheat beers, and porters. Today's column (they seem to run quarterly by season, last year at this time was barleywines.) was a feature on brown ales, an oft underrated beer.

Part of the reason brown ales are not in the news more (at least in the beer world) is that they are very simple beers. By 'simple' I'm not saying they are easy to brew, as usually it is more subtle styles of beer that take the greatest skill to craft. You can't hide poor malt choices behind an absolutely huge hop profile.

Thus, in these days with 'extreme beers' often getting all the attention, the brown ale is much like the wallflower at the high school prom. Perhaps, the guys out on the floor get the girls for being loud, brash and over-the-top, but the kid over there, all alone, or maybe with a group of like minded friends, he's sensitive, complex (without being too deep of course) and understated. Give that kid a chance!

Well, perhaps I'm stretching the metaphor a tad too far.

Nevertheless, the brown ale... Where was I? The article covers the tastings of a number of different brown ales, alts in some cases, from the US, England, Germany and the Netherlands. The samplers include Richard Scholz, an owner of Bierkraft in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and Lew Bryson, beer writer extraordinaire. Take a look, learn a little and maybe try a new beer or two.

Don't miss the Interactive Feature link about a third of the way down the page, it has some nice photos and good audio on the tastings.

For more on Brown Ale, you can also read up at The Brew Lounge.

(For some of the NY Times articles, a login is required. I'd recommend using Firefox and BugMeNot to get around that.)

East End Beer Dinner at the Harris Grill TONIGHT

Tonight at the Harris Grill in the Shadyside neighorhood of Pittsburgh, there is a special East End Brewing Dinner. Sadly, I will not be attending (though donations are readily accepted and I would provide excellent coverage), but there are some spots left if you can get there. The menu and pairings sounds amazing. For your tastebud tempting pleasure, here they are:

5 Courses Plus Intermezzos
Apple, Butternut Squash, And Radicchio Salad With Dry-Hopped Lemon Vinaigrette
Pedal Pale Ale

Red Dragon-Asparagus Chowder
Big Hop Ipa

Intermezzo: Witte-Citrus Sorbet

Trippel Cheese Puff Pastry “Tart”
Ugly American Trippel Style Ipa

Indian Coffee Crusted Strip Steak Over Three Potato Gratin Served With Roasted Golden Beets And A Chipotle Demi-Glace
Gratitude 2006 W/ Bitter End Side Car

Intermezzo: Blackstrap Chocolate Truffle

Snow Melt-Macerated Morello Cherries Over Cardamom-Dusted Apple “Crackers” Served With Sweetened Cinnamon Crème Fraiche.
Snow Melt Winter Ale

Oy! And I promise, if/when there is another one, I will not miss it.


Beer and Food: A Roughneck's Take

Over at A Roughneck's Take on Beer, Wörtwurst has posted a scanned piece from the Brewers Association about the delicious combination of good beer and good food.

Wörtwurst prefers snack foods with his brews and while I'm not one to pass over pretzels with my beer when offered, I really enjoy pairing beers I drink with the food (usually dinner) I am eating. Its not a new concept, in fact there have been a few excellent books written on the subject, most notably Garrett Oliver's The Brewmaster's Table.

The article is pretty boilerplate as far as beer and food goes, for example, German food with German beer, but its a good reference article. Also included are a few blurbs about glassware and cooking with beer.

The real Easter Egg in the article though, is this handy chart that grids beer style, along with some basic style characteristics. The chart then details suggested foods, cheeses and desserts for each style, as well as preferred glassware and serving temperature.

I'd like to think this goes to show that beer doesn't only go with food, beer IS food!

This town's probably big enough for the both of us.

Welcome to the blogosphere another beer blog out of Indiana, PA. Thats right folks, double the coverage!

My friend Nate has started up his blog: "Nate's Beer and Brewing Blog". Nate seems to get out more than myself, so expect a nice diversity of beer coverage.


More on the "true meaning of beer".

I posted about this yesterday and like many beer fans, I jumped at the chance to defend good beer.

Stan Hieronymus has good coverage of folk's reactions, including words by Stephen Beaumont (who also just wrote a nice piece for Epicurious).

Mike Seate, the columnist who wrote the article that started the ruckus has posted some of the responses he has recieved including one by my friend Nate, which is so well-written, I'm going to repost it here (without his permission, though only until he gets back to me):

Dear Mike,

I read your recent article "Beer snobs forget the true meaning of beer". Being somewhat of a "beer geek" myself, and a homebrewer, I wanted to share a few thoughts (I'll not call myself a beer snob, because I'll drink just about anything if the situation warrants, though I do prefer more interesting brews than the ubiquitous pale fizzy lager).

You're right in the fact that many beer emporiums or craft beer bars have sprung up recently. Pittsburgh is somewhat on the trailing edge of the trend, as we usually are for more refined activities, but there is a definite market for it in our area. Compared to the sheer number of small, neighborhood bars who offer nothing more than pale fizzy lagers (Bud-Miller-Coors and their lights), there are still relatively few places to get a beer with more character. Microbrewing is picking up in our region, thank goodness, and even now we have some great places to enjoy good beer at low prices - e.g., brewpubs. Hopefully, you've discovered Penn Brewery, East End, North Country, Red Star, and Marzoni's - you'll find great beers at low prices (even lower than a Bud at most bars). Even the Hofbrauhaus is coming to the city - only the third in the U.S. - so people are waking up to the thought of better beer.

Paying a high price for Boddingtons, for example, is obviously discouraging, since it's not that great - but considering import tariffs, and the ridiculous three-tier distribution system in our messed up state (case laws, etc.), can we really expect cheap imports? I'd love to see the return of a brewer in every town, where you knew the local brewer and supported his product - that which still exists in Europe. Post-prohibition and the rise of the industrial macro brewers has really stunted that until recently. Of course, your article suggests that people shelling out $5-$10 for a beer are also drinking 4 or 5 a night, like a lot of people drinking Coors Light. Chances are, they're spending the same amount I am - I'm just drinking less.

The truth of the matter is, there are thousands of brewers worldwide, over 60,000 different beers in roughly 80 'style' categories. Some are meant for sipping or enjoying with food (just like wine), some are meant for frat parties and hunting trips. With all that variety, with rich traditions going back hundreds and sometimes almost 1000 years - most people still limit themselves to drinking a mass-produced, tasteless light beer because the TV tells them so. C'est la vie and to each their own. The more people drink good beer, hopefully the cheaper it'll get (and easier to find). You can find everything from sweet to sour, dark to light, smooth to enamel-stripping bitter, and from 3% to 20% alcohol.

In my mind, the true meaning of beer is enjoyment of the drink and socializing - not swilling the cheapest crud you can find to dull your miseries. "Working men" in most European countries sit down to a beer that is local, cheap, and tasty - not popping open a Bud Lite, y'know. If more people around here drank better quality beer, it would cease to be pretentious.

So, by all means, enjoy the corn-laden swill from Styrofoam cup with your kielbasa - hopefully, it's at least a Pittsburgh Brewing product. If that's what you truly enjoy, I'm happy for you. Perhaps in the future, you'll sit down to ask all us bar patrons why we're shelling out our hard earned cash for a "working man's drink". The most common answer will probably be "because it tastes good and doesn't give me a hangover". Who knows, you might even find a new beer to enjoy.

Nate McElroy


Argh and double argh.

When this topic came down the pike and popped on to my screen, I knew I recognized the columnist responsible. Leave it to the Tribune-Review to make Pittsburgh look... something.

Titled "Beer snobs forget the true meaning of beer", the column has me gaping at something in every paragraph. The guy sets himself up, going to the Sharp Edge of all places. Its a beer emporium, for Pete's sake,a beer bar that specializes in craft beer. Its not like he's stopping into Moe's for a mug of Duff.

I guess what bugs me most is that he set's himself up for the whole affair. He sounds almost xenophobic when he comments about "styles and brands of beer so obscure, you need a Frommer's travel guide just to pronounce them."

Give me a break. I'm just going to stop now. It's writing to get a reaction. This isn't the voice of Pittsburgh, its just one man's opinion, a columnist who's job it is to write their opinion.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, thank god for Bob Batz Jr. I'm going to leave the griping for some one else. I'll leave you with this, from Greg Koch:

"Typical human reaction. When you encounter something that you don't understand, it sometimes makes people feel uncomfortable. When that happens, people often react by either learning more about it or by attempting to marginalize it and thus make themselves feel better in the process. This guy simply chose the latter. Sadly, yes, but he's got a lot of company."

More good beer for me!

What do you do when pickin's are slim?

Tomorrow night, the folks from my office decided to do a Wing Night. The bar/restaurant chosen has good wings and since it is the bar's Wing Night, good prices to boot. The problem, though only to me (the rest of the office is BMCY crowd), is the rather lousy beer selection.

Draft options are: the usual suspects plus Yuengling, Yuengling Black and Tan, Blue Moon and Guinness ) which isn't even spelled right on their website. Bottles are very much the same, plus Newcastle and Sam Adams.

Now, I'm not so snobby that I skip the gig altogether or drink water, especially not with wings. That's just not right. Blue Moon is only just ok and its overpriced since its a psuedo-micro. The Sam Adams is a real beer, but its not going to be cheap, and I don't like it enough to pay four bucks a pop. Last time, we were there they didn't even have any.

I guess I'll just wing it (sheesh) and see what happens when we get up there. I'm thinking its going to be a Yuengling night and to be honest, there are times when I actually like Yuengling. Would I get it at a beer bar when better options are available? No, but when its one of the only good beers in a small, western PA college town full of cheap macros, its a solid choice.

Now its your turn. Do you avoid places that don't have good beer? What do you do in a pinch?


Beer by the Numbers

As you may know, I rate a lot of the new beers I try at BeerAdvocate. The system there relies on numerical ranking on Appearance, Smell, Taste, Mouthfeel and Drinkability accompanied by a generous space to comment on your numbers. Its a good system that allows rankings by style and other options, both as a user and across the site.

The thing that gets me, and I must insist this is a personal hang-up, is that I don't really trust my numbers. I think I'm too subjective to rank by the numbers. For example, this afternoon I had a barleywine from Red Star Brewery. A week or so ago, I had a 2005 vintage of Brooklyn's Monster Ale. My BeerAdvocate reviews are here and here. The ratings differ by .3 points but I got different impressions of the beers themselves.

Maybe I'm more right-brained, but I find qualitative ratings to be more useful to me, as a consumer and beer lover. I value the rankings and general trending I can get from numbers but to really get into the beer itself, you have to go past the numbers. This is by no means criticism of BA, its more a personal reflection.

I'm thinking, while I continue to rank beers for myself on BA, I'd like to add a more descriptive reflection, both for myself and site readers. The guys at The Brew Lounge do a great job at this, and it helps that the two of them taste the same beer together, you get a good balance of Adam and Bryan's personal tastes. They don't rank by the numbers, instead just giving impressions of the beer's characteristics and a 'verdict'.

To that end, expect some highlights of beers that I have on hand from time to time. I'll continue to rate on BA, of course, but if I have a special beer, or one that I find especially striking, I'll make sure to post my thoughts here.


Best of 2006, one man's opinion (though not mine)

Lew Bryson, author of Pennsylvania Breweries, among other things beer and non-beer, has posted his Best of 2006 in 'The Buzz' section of his website. It has yet to have a permalink, so I'm going to just take a guess that someday it will be this. I'll update then when it gets archived.

He's got an obvious slant towards the eastern part of the state, but has impact across the state, as a lot of the places he mentions are easily accessible to us westerners or the product is in our market, like Weyerbacher (Best PA beer of 2006, Troegs (Best Local Brewery) and Sly Fox (Best Beer of 2006, although I'm not sure why that's different than Weyerbacher as they are both from PA. Lew?)

Of extra interest though, to the immediate area is Penn Brewings win as Best PA Brewpub. Lew says "You know I love lagers, and session drinking is my new crusade. That makes Penn Brewing an easy choice for best Pennsylvania brewpub. I lean more and more to the German beergarden model of drinking -- simple food, clean space, good session beers -- and Penn's dead-on the beam. I wish there was a place like this -- just like this -- in Philly, in Harrisburg, in Lancaster, in Reading, in Wilkes-Barre... I think it would revolutionize beer drinking in the Keystone State."
Go Penn!

He also gives a nod to Tom Baker, formerly head honcho at Heavyweight, a brewer I learned about much too late (and I think a lot of people feel the same) for Best Local Brewer. I'm still sitting on my last bottle of Perkuno's Hammer, although I happen to know where there may still be a case.

All in all, it seems like a good year for beer in PA, Nice coverage, Lew. Just write more in 2007!

Coffee Beer Radio

I forgot to note that the guys at Craft Beer Radio had done a show on Coffee Beers recently when I posted on the subject.

Its also a boon to my post, as three of the beers they review are mentioned in my post and the P-G article, due largely in part that the show is based out of Pittsburgh. Don't let that sway you though, if you're a non-western-PAer as they review beer from all over the country, sent in by listeners and 'acquired'.

You can find that show on their website,where you may download single episodes or subscribe to their podcast feed. Are they beer experts? Nah, but who is. They know their stuff and are fun to listen to, so check them out.


Coffee Beers

Today the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, thanks to the coverage of Bob Batz Jr., had an article on coffee beers.

Batz Jr.'s (Is that the right way to say that? From now on I'll just get friendly and call him Bob) writings are an always-interesting coverage of the region, with obvious emphasis on the Pittsburgh metro. Bob's always the one to turn to for the latest happenings in the area and he's often the soul source of heads-upage for those events and beers that receive little fanfare otherwise.

Now, back to coffee beers.

The article mentions three coffee beers readily available in the area: Atwater Block Vanilla Java Porter, Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout and Bell's Java Stout. I have been fortunate enough to try them all, two in bottles and the Lagunitas in a growler from Fatheads. Of the three, I liked the Lagunitas the best, it is true to its namesake offering a nice dark roasty flavor, a creaminess much like the crema of steamed milk and a nise sweetness to balanace it all out. However, my favorite coffee beers are not among that list.

That honor falls to two beers, actually. North Country Brewing's Vanilla Coffee Porter (not in the BA system) and Schlafly's Kaldi's Coffee Stout. The first beer I was lucky enough to happen to be there when they had it on and after a taste I knew it was destined to fill my growler (I was a little prepared). The balance of the vanilla with the coffee on that one was perfect. The second beer I was lucky enough to have spirited to me by a friend who lives in St Louis, in fact I got two sixpacks of that one. The Schlafly is made with toddied espresso from the local Kaldi's coffee shop and its obvious with one sip that it is espresso in there. It's dark, slightly bitter, complex and not too sweet.

Bob goes on to mention a couple brewpubs that also have a coffee beer: Red Star's Coffee Porter (Which I missed. Have I ever mentioned how annoying it is when brewpubs have out-of-date or functionally useless websites? End rant, another time...) and Church Brew Works' Espresso Stout.

If you are a fan of good coffee and a fan of good beer (Luckily, I am both) seek these ones out. They are a tasty to way to get your caffeine fix.


Getting started homebrewing, maybe.

Being in to good beer, I think, at least for some one even a bit creative or scientific in nature, naturally extends in to brewing your own beer. Not long after you try a good beer do the gears start turning that make you think, hey I'll bet I could make something like this. It may not be as creative as a Triple Brown Bock (at first) but once you start down the road, there's probably nothing you can't make.

In fact, a lot of beerfolk say real innovation often comes from the homebrewer, who, brewing a mere 5 gallon batch, isn't making the sort of investment, both time and financial that a commercial brewer is. That leaves a lot more room for experimentation. Plus, a lot of commercial brewers start out as homebrewers. If I'm ever going to open up that brewpub (with a little help from my friends) someday, its a good way to get some experience under my belt (right...).

To that end, I've been thinking more and more about homebrewing. Kim bought me a cool homebrewing book called Microbrewed Adventures by Charlie Papazian, well-known (at least in the beer world as author of, basically the homebrewer's bible. Microbrewed Adventures combines a lot of brewing history (with an obvious emphasis towards craft beer) with recipes from the brewers Papazian talks about. Expect a review... err, sometime.

I've also got a borrowed copy of the above bible, the New Complete Joy of Homebrewing, to guide me. From what I understand, which is probably very little, its not that hard to mess up, as long as you keep organized, calm and clean.

I'm looking forward to getting the ball rolling, I've been prodded some more, so now its just a matter of time. Sweet, precious, limited time...


Beer Management

Beer geek is a label that some folks who enjoy good beer to the point of calling it a hobby do not take kindly to. They argue that referring to others or themselves as geeks makes beer seem dorky or out of touch with reality, after all its just beer. Others prefer aficionado, enthusiast or oddly enough, snob. Its a topic ('what do we call ourselves') discussed in the beer world almost as frequently as beer itself.

Having no shame, I've embraced the beer geek moniker, and with it, all that comes along with being a geek. I post beer reviews (here, eventually) and on a website devoted to beer. There's more than one such website, actually. Beer Advocate just recently announced they had reached the threshold of 90,000 members. That's a lot of beer geeks. But that's not what this post, I was hoping, is about, so moving on.

I like to keep track of stuff. I'm not organized in my daily life, though I have noticed that as I grow older I'm more peevish about order. I keep reviews on the afore-mentioned website, but what if I don't want to review a beer, or just want to see what I have in my cellar (well, right now its an attic, but it works)? Enter Google Spreadsheets. Its free, its online and its quite handy. I'm able to track my current stash, provided I keep it up to date, share it with fellow beerheads in the interest of setting up trades and honestly, just geek out. You can find my beerlist, as I call it, over there on the right somewhere or just click this handy-dandy link.

Geeky? Perhaps, and I'm just fine with that.


Blah blah beer.

I'll add something soo-oon...