Lord be praised! Pete Brown, author of the best beer book of 2006, Three Sheets To The Wind as well as the also excellent Man Walks Into A Pub has written to let us know his beer blog has fixed the boiler problems, gotten a new load of coal and has the transmitters once again aimed directly at the Internet. He says he is really enjoying using it to develop ideas and give an airing to stuff that doesn't fit anywhere else. Hey - sounds like my life. Go read.
A few weeks ago I got a very nice email from a very nice PR person about an Australian trendy handbag shop called Crumpler opening up a high-end outlet here in Ontario in downtown Toronto. Why would they write me? Well, the promotion they use, of course. This is part of the press release I got on 14 May:
This is the first time the world-famous Beer for Bags sale has found its way to Canada, at Crumpler’s new Toronto location, 831 Queen Street West...While other clothing and accessory stores offer sales, discounts and reductions, Crumpler encourages shoppers to haul beer, by the case or can, into their store and exchange them for Crumpler’s top quality gear. The Beer for Bags Wheel, distributed in newspapers and on the streets of Toronto, is the authority on beer to bag ratios and conversions. Spin the wheel for your bag of choice and the exact quantity and brand of beer you need for the swap is revealed...Spin to the "Complete Seed" messenger bag (retail $115), and you’ll find its match - one case (equals 24 bottles) of Grolsch Lager with Swingtops (retail $66) for a $49 savings.Spinning the Wheel of Beer. Crass, cheery and a carnival atmoshpere. Excellent I say. But apparently the scheme is utterly illegal in the eyes of the powers that be as this morning's Globe and Mail explains:
Crumpler co-founder Dave Roper says he understands that Canadians might be a bit befuddled by the beer for bags bartering program. "In Australia, bartering, especially with beer, is a very common occurrence," he said. "So this just comes naturally to us."Err...make up your mind, AGCO - which way is the transaction going? Just for the record, I did mention this in my email of 14 May: "One thing I would want to ask about is whether this is legal in Ontario. Has that been checked out?" But what the heck. No news is bad news and all of a sudden a handbag boutique has made it into the Toronto's national newspaper for free. Not too dumb.
There's just one catch: According to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, using alcohol as a means of exchange - bartering - is illegal. AGCO spokesman Ab Campion said that by using the beer as a form of payment for merchandise, customers would technically be selling the beer without a liquor licence, which is a violation of the province's Liquor Licence Act, he said. "It's clearly illegal," Mr. Campion said. The company would also be in violation of the act by paying for the beer with the bags, he said.
I just hope the Ontario Handbag Licensing Commission doesn't also get wind of this. Then they'll be in real trouble.
That is the dream, right? Well they are living the dream in the land of my forefathers on the island of Colonsay off western Scotland according to this report from last month in the BBC:
The brewery was officially opened by islander Dougie McGilvray, 98, at a ceremony attended by about half of Colonsay's 120 population. Mr Johnston, now the brewery's managing director, said: "We know that the monks who lived here in the 14th and 15th Centuries would have produced ales of their own. Recreating these ales is something we would like to do further down the line."Neato. And look - they have a blog to keep us all informed with their efforts. I say we adopt them. Go read the blog and buy the t-shirts even if you can't get the beer. The other west coast brewing revolution.
It's hard sometimes to judge a brewpub on one visit. It's a bit harder to do so on a long run when you need a break and get it even if Andy Crouch has given you fair warning to expect less than you might want. Having said that, we liked the place. First, during an early afternoon shift, it was kid friendly. By that I mean little more than a kids menu that does not try to convince you that chicken lumps and fries is a $6.99 buy. Plus nice staff and actual chicken in the lump. The food was slightly hippie Vermont-ish with a whack of the real stuff in the grilled cheese, a good burger and tasty guacamole. Hard to survive in a place like Vermont with poor food.
Second, the space was fine - bright, with some sofas on the far side of the bar, an upstairs, decent exposed brewing equipment as well as plenty of folk art. The kind of stuff that would work as well on a busy night with the college kids as on our quiet afternoon. Finally, Andy's main complaint was that the beer he had had was simple sour. The beer I was served had no hint of that - even though I was only able to have a half pint of their flagship beer Old 76, which they called a Yorkshire strong ale. It struck me as a slightly lighter Charles Wells Bombardier, a raisiny chewy sort of beer with nice fruit notes including cherry. I certainly would have had another if I were staying put for the afternoon. Only six BAers have rated Old 76 but they all like it. Maybe the brewers got a copy of The Good Beer Guide to New England and contemplated a couple of futures, one of them without brewing included.
So while I have been to more interesting places, I certainly have been to worse especially on the road and if the beer now is always as good as the one I had, I'd be happy to recommend the place. Heck, I would have taken a growler if they weren't asking for something like ten bucks for the growler down payment. Yikes. It's a jar for God's sale. Even with that, it makes for a great stop halfway between the North Country or western New York and the beaches of Maine on highway 9 between Albany, NY and Keene, NH right downtown on the main drag.
Well, I got back and though I never did hit that last brewpub in Vermont due to canoe issues, I was struck again by the normalcy of craft beer in much of New England. You go shopping at the grocery there is Allagash, Geary's, Smuttynose. You grab a bite to eat anywhere, there are a couple of independent taps offering flavour that the McBrews never could provide. In their advertising there is good humour and local pride adding to the cycle of reinforcing the importance of good humour and local pride as does a town's winning team or a good ice cream shack. Quality and value alone build the steady audience for good beer - not snobbery or tourism.
I will do a few proper reviews of what I came across in the next few days but it is important also to note that Andy Crouch's The Good Beer Guide To New England was quite useful for route planning and giving fair warning or great expectations. I should also work out some of the things I plan to do with the blog over the next while. There are book reviews to write, including Evan Rail's new Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic that arrived just before I hit the road. And that editorial in this month's Beeradvocate has really got me thinking, especially that list of the means to expand one's advocacy. I also have now acquired a fairly beefy sour beer collection which will allow me to follow up the idea to explore that beery experience more. And a glass of Harpoon's Session Brown ale at 3 Dollar Dewey's in Portland, Maine has got me thinking again about that goal of beer. And I have to home brew a hefeweizen, put my collection of brewery stickers on my new canoe, insulate the stash room - and there is that other idea that I haven't thought of yet. Gotta work on that, too.
Heading northwest today through the White and then Green mountains looking for one more new beer experience before the border after a week in the land of craft beer down the aisle from the cat food and cheerios. I wonder why we Canadians put up with it? Maybe lunch at the Vermont Pub and Brewery where I first tasted US craft brew in 1990. Maybe I will drop into Grand Union in South Burlington for last minute shopping. Who knows?
The long Memorial Day long weekend trip has been going well. Yesterday at around 4:30 pm I was at the Beale Street BBQ in South Portland having a Gritty's Vacationland waiting for my bulk BBQ rib order to be ready. Less than an hour later I was in a grocery store trying to decide between Dogfish 60 or 90 Minute IPA - a decidedly decadent experience for any Canadian not used to see beer across an aisle from cat food. Earlier at lunch at Gritty's in downtown Portland, we had had an hour of Johnny Cash to go along with lamb burgers and their best bitter on cask, a fantastic bright nuttiness of a soft pale ale. And on the way out the door, there were a pile of give away mags and newspapers among wich were a neat stack of the May 2007 issue of the new Beeradvocate magazine. I reached out. I grabbed. I took.
I've been a fan of the Beeradvocate website for a long while now. While there is the good and the bad of a massing of reviews to form a statistical averaging, the site is more than that what with the articles, the not blog blog and the group discussion areas. Well, the magazine is taking it up another level, according to the editorial, positioning itself and the Alstrom brothers who run the whole BA empire into the forefront of actual advocacy for great beer in a number of ways like actively lobbying for blue law repeal, supporting efforts like Lew Bryson's Session Beer Project and even creating scholarships for people who want to become brewers. These are great plans. In addition, as the life of the magazine goes on, it will also build on its design to set itself apart from other trade publications that are maybe a little less consumer oriented. There are articles by names I respect in beer writing world like Andy Crouch and Jay Brooks as well as good angles on stories about the worthlessness of brewing competition ribbons and medals or gluten-free brews. And there is a great cover picture of Marty Jones of Oskar Blues Brewery who has been a big supporter this here beer blog for quite a while.
I hadn't planned to subscribe to the Beeradvocate magazine but one issue may now have got me interested. It is a bit of a lonely life as a beer blogger, roaming the continent in a van with kids in tow in search of shops with rare beers or bars with new craft brews on tap. A magazine like this one is another way to remind yourself that you are part of a clan of beer nerds, that there are new stories out there you haven't heard about yet, maybe even unthought of advertisers to hit up. It is a bit like a beerfest that comes to your door once a month, when you think about it.
I have a hellacious cold and the temps got up into the 90s today, so it was time to crack open the chili beer. I wondered if it would clear my sinuses, and boy, did it ever!
From Arizona to me here in New York, I wanted to try the beer in the clear bottle with the floating chili in it. I got my favorite tiki mug out, which I had made myself and seems like just the thing for chili beer. The beer is a nice orangey straw color, poured foamy too, clearing but leaving behind an oily film on the beer's surface. First sip and all sips proved one thing, although chilled it was HOT. This is a very spicy beer, and really did clear my runny nose and stuffed head, and made me sweat. People in the Southwest are laughing at me now, thinking this beer could be spicier, BUT I like spicy food, and this stuff is pretty hot.
That's about all I could taste, jalapeno. The wife says we need to have one in the house at all times, for medicinal purposes. She also, bold soul, ate the chili entirely, which impressed me, but she said it wasn't all that hot. Obviously it had all leached into the beer.
In the last two weeks there have been four beer dinners on Long Island. In fact, there have been so many beer events lately that it's been difficult to choose which to go to since many of them are scheduled on the same night. The Thursday before I flew down to Houston (see yesterday's post) I went to a beer dinner at Southampton Publick House. If you want the story about that little trip, you can listen to episode 90 of my podcast. At that beer dinner I picked up a bottle of Southampton's May Bock which Rich (my host) and I tasted on this week's podcast episode.
Speaking of this week's episode Rich and I give you a recap of the beer dinner that he and I hosted together with our beer judge and brewing friend Mike at Deks in Rocky Point, New York. We had five beers and five courses. Dean and Kevin (the owners of Deks) came up with the menu, then Mike and I suggested the beer pairings. With the scallops wrapped with bacon we paired Allagash White. Next we paired the cheese quesadillas with Chimay Cing Cent. For the salmon wrapped in phyllo dough we had Flying Dog's Old Scratch. We paired Einbecker Mai-Urbock with pickled shrimp with a Thai sauce glaze. We finished the evening with chocolate mousse on espresso infused lady fingers paired with Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout (easily the best combination of the evening).
Of course, being beer geeks, Mike and I gave everyone the story behind the beer while they sampled and tasted. Mixing a good time with a little bit of information makes for an entertaining evening and it also spreads the good news about the great beers that are out there.
We declared the evening a success and it looks like this was the first of many beer dinners that we will be hosting in restaurants all around Long Island.