The good guys at Beer Advocate posted this...
First, we hate blogs as much as this guy: http://mama.indstate.edu/users/bon ... bLogs.html. (Actually ... we hate blogs more.) That’s why this is not a blog....and then proceeded to announce their new blog...which isn't a blog...yet works exactly like a blog. This is good and will likely be a great read and place to comment on thoughts from the Alström brothers about beer culture. But it is a blog.
Your Long Island beat beer reporter abandoned his usual stomping ground and flew out to the Pacific Northwest---the Seattle-Tacoma area to be precise. I visited a number of breweries in that corridor extending from the southern tip of Puget Sound up to the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle where a statue of Lenin casts his protecting gaze across an intersection near Dad Watson's, one in the large family of McMenamins pubs. If you want to hear more about my Washington beer adventures, you can listen to episode 8 of my podcast.
Now that I'm back on Long Island, I've been thirsty for some locally brewed beer. I had enough hops out in Washington so I was in the mood for some malt. But nothing sweet. That's my one complaint about Washington beers in general, just about everything was too sweet for my taste---you know that lingering sugary aftertaste. So I went straight over to John Harvard's over in Lake Grove and had a mug of DJ Swanson's Scottish Ale. Boy, did that hit the spot. The Scottish Ale (not to be confused with Scotch Ale---as the tasting notes warn) is a caramel malt festival all on its own. The maltiness is complex but not oppressive or thick. I get some chocolatey notes along with a rich roastiness. After a mug of Scottish I was ready for another, but I decided that 44 ounces was probably too much of a good things, especially since I did plan on returning home.
In my last Long Island beer update, I mentioned that DJ Swanson, the brewer at John Harvard's, was making a Belgian-style Tripel. Well, it's on now and you can get a 10 ounce glass for under $5. The aroma is candy sugar laced with bubble gum. It's got a good heavy mouthfeel, but doesn't come across as cloying. The alcohol content is evident, but not so hot that the Tripel isn't refreshing. You might recall that Belgian-style IPA that I mentioned back at the beginning of June. Well, the Tripel was made back then and the same strain of yeast fermented both beers.
In my next post I'll tell you about a new taproom that we have here on the Island. It's called Bobbique and it has an incredible selection of beers and a knowledgeable cellarman. More about that in a few days.
I am a lucky guy. I now get books I ask for sent to me so I can review them for you. I like to think that I only review the ones I have a great deal of respect for but, still, the others do pile up...even if it is a little pile as there still are not that many books about beer being written. So here are some books I did not love but which may have good value for specific uses.
- Beer -Domestic, Imported and Home Brewed by Eve Adamson: The first thing you notice about this book is how poor its grey pulp page paperback format is. It is unfortunate that it is being published in such a cheap quality way as it is a decent enough attempt at a global guide to beer, not far off the concept of a Hugh Johnson annual guide to wine. The problem is it approaches that noble plagerism at too high a level. Facts are in general, descriptions are regional like the fact that Japanese craft brewers perfer sweet stouts while Seadog of Maine is referenced without mention that (as I believe is still the case) their beer are contract brewed at Shipyard. This means the book does present an effort to systematize information but, unlike the famous wine guide, we learn about alleged trends rather than the nerd knowledge we crave. This is bound to fail as few of the interesting aspects of fine craft beer are in regional characteristics. In fact, it feels like it was researched off the internet and we all know how reliable beer information on the internet is.
Rating: a decent and affordable stocking stuffer for the newbie beer nerd who should move beyond it rather quickly.
- Brewing Up A Business by Sam Calagione: This relative blockbuster of a book (for beer related books anyway) by the co-owner of Dogfish Head Brewing of Delaware may surprise you in being reviewed in this company. The thing is it is way more about business than brewing, it is way more about Sam than brewing and it is way more about Sam's approach to branding than beer. This is not bad at all. I am inclined to recommend the book to a couple of very enthusiastic entrepreneurs I know. But I would not recommend it to my beer club pals in particular as it would provide more assistance to an owner of software start-up than someone wanting to learn about beer. And if the author tried to work the motto of Dogfish Head more into the text I would not be surprised as "off-center beer for off-center people" seems to be on every page, assaulting you with the branding message. I have difficulty with this as I do not consider myself off-center. It may have actually put me off the brewery a bit as opposed to drawn me closer to it. But I am not a young entrepreneur - which is the real subject of the book.
Rating: a book for the person keen to learn some lessons about business.
- Craft Brewers of Ontario by Bill Perrie: I was really disappointed by this book. It is an uncritical look at certain members of the Ontario Craft Brewing Association which I would not be surprised to learn was a patronage piece. It is so positive and upbeat that it simply lose me with the boosterism. Consider these final words from the section on Ontario's beery history provided by beer writer Ian Bowering:
The best microbrew beers are made by the members of the Ontario Craft Brewer's Association, many of which are in this book. The market for quality microbrewery beers has now been solidly established in Ontario.Sadly, craft brewings is only now becoming recognized as a product in the two available retail outlets in Ontario - the Beer Store and the LCBO - and has none of the general community support in the bars of the province like you would find in Portland, Maine or Syracuse, New York. And many of the best Ontario craft beers are simply not in the book as they are not part of the organization or were overlooked - and, frankly, some of the breweries that are in are really not that interesting. You will not learn about that in this book because, unlike the works of Lew Bryson or Andy Crouch there is no effort to actually assess quality with the result that there is little useful guidance in the book as to what is out there to be found and what is to be avoided. This shows up in one really irritating aspect. Each brewer's chapter concludes with a "tasting notes" section, many of which are not even notes about the taste. Consider Brick Brewing's Bambay which is described in this way:
Bambay is a secluded cove in the Out-Islands of the Bahamas known only to those who can find it. Bambay is a unique citrus-brewed beer that is unbelievably refreshing.This is simply advertising copy and the use of "unbelievably" is indicative of the overly ripe spray of superlatives and hyped-up adjectives that bear no relation to the product or place being described. Another example is the first few lines on the chapter on Church-Key (or rather the incorrectly hyphenless Church Key) contains the words "nestled", "picturesque" and "quaint". The effect is rather like a tourism brochure. And while this is rich coming from me, there are a lot of other typos as well, more than I would expect from a published work. On the upside, the book is attractively presented with great photos and good basic information about the breweries - where to find them, who is involved and their range of products.
Rating: this book will provide something of a snapshot of the craft brewing industry in Ontario in the mid-00's of the 21st century. Have it in the library if you want a complete library of beer writing from Ontario. Greg thought more of it and you can find his review here if you think I am too harsh.
I found this remark interesting from an article about the tensions in the US macro brewing world:
"If beer drinkers find out they're involved in some of these craft beers, they'll lose all of their cachet," says Ms. Ramberg, a Heineken drinker. Mr. Forrest disagrees, arguing many drinkers don't connect the dots. He says many people in the industry don't realize Blue Moon Belgian White is made by Molson Coors, the world's fifth-largest brewer. Protests from diehard Rolling Rock aficionados notwithstanding, the iconic brew should give Anheuser-Busch a buzz.I don't know about that. While we all wish our brews all came from places like this, they mostly really come from place much more like this. There is no reason ten million bottles of good tasting beer made out of real ingredients can't be made at one time in a whacking big piece of machinery any more than a pico brewing system pumping out 25 gallons at a time. It is only what is in the beer that matters. But what craft brewer is going to last if it starts cutting corners rather than taking on challenges? The difference really is that when your best advertising is word of mouth you better make sure that mouth is a happy one.
In my never expanding effort to get you people to read more about beer, I offer you a great new source of information, the Chicagoist. Underneath this link you will find search results from that organ's search engine for the word "beer". The Chicagoist does not appear to have a handy category link for their "Beer of the Week" posts, which are very clever and thoughtful reviews, or other beer related commentary. So that search result will have to do.
In other beery ready bloggy news - and in addition to Greg - don't forget to check out contributors Donavan and Knut, back from vacation. And also check out the beerish thoughts of recent commentors Evghenis's, Al's, MSS's, Tedo's, zzsimonb's, Bad Ben's and Woodchuck's beer posts and Travis's one post blog. At least it is 100% about beer. And also The Belgian Beer Blog as well as Chris at Belmont Station...and Appellation Beer...and Beer Rag has started up again...and there is The Pour from The New York Times that adds a post slightly more often than Travis does.
Add any more links to the more active side of beer blogging to the comments...because sharing is good.
I tried this seasonal beer from the Sebago Brewing Company of Portland Maine a couple of weeks ago when I was at the Maine short during a stinking hot heatwave. It was good. I brought one home only to find another stinking hot heatwave moving through these parts with around 90F in the backyard last evening and, by jimbo, it was good again.
This hef pours an authentic cloudy straw with grey notes under a quickly dissipating foam and rim. The brewer is brave enough to mirror the gravy-esque colour of the ur-Hefeweizen, Schneider Weisse, though it fails to provide the overflowing carbonation of the standard. In the mouth the yeast is milky with clove and allspice as well as a citric or passionfruit note. There is also banana and raw wheat porridginess...is that how you spell porridginess? It is more-ish from the soft water, true to style and approachable. Very nice. All two BAers who reviewed it love it. More should try.
Describing taste in words is funny business but making the effort is worthwhile as it provides you with a mechanism through which you can record your experiences with food and drink, and especially craft foods like real ale. We each take in the esters, phenols and other organic elements and recreate their interconnection in our own minds as we sip, sometimes discovering what the brewer intended and sometimes finding out new nuances never expected. Then you use your words to frame your experience. Do it often enough and you develop your own descriptors that make sense for your experience.
So it is inordinately shocking, then, to learn about what may be the worst idea in the craft beer movement I have ever heard of - a standardized system of beer description not unironically called Cyclops:
Cyclops, the new scheme launched today at the Great British Beer Festival at Earls Court in London, has the backing of 14 real ale breweries. Under the scheme, the brewers have agreed to follow a standardised template on all promotional material, describing the style, smell, look and taste of their beers. Bitterness and sweetness – the two main measures used to describe real ale’s characteristics – will also now be scored from one to five.This is tragic. And it is stunning that CAMRA supports such a thing. It is important at this moment in time that the most famous Cyclops, Homer's Polyphemus, was blinded for life by drinking strong wine and ate people. This is hardly the making of a good brand. But even when he had one good eye he saw things...like he was born with one eye in the middle of his forehead - as in without particularly strong ability to see things from other perspectives. Plus, as man eating giant shepherds who get tricked a lot, they sort of fit the images of a rural rube characature, kinda like in the satirical play by Euripides.¹
Cyclops follows a pilot scheme introduced by Leicester brewer Everards, which simplified the language used to describe real ales on promotional materials so customers knew exactly what to expect. A Campaign for Real Ale spokesman said: "Real ale is an incredibly complex drink with an enormous range of styles and tastes. Cyclops will demystify real ale so drinkers will know what a beer will look, smell and taste like before they part with their cash at the bar."
And that is sort of what the program takes the craft beer lover for in presuming to tell you how to taste - it takes you for an ignorant oaf. It will create one recommended way to look at things and a snobby attitude to those who find their own way. Reject such mecho-branding systematic standards that will homogenize response patterns and trust yourself. If you think a beer tastes like the armpit Polyphemus after a long night in the cave (if you know what I mean) while the brewer tells you something like "it is a 5 (bitter), 3 (waterhardness), 3 (maltiness), 2 (mouthfeel) and 4 (overall) pale ale" then you just trust yourself and know that is likely tastes like that armpit.
¹...which would have been funnier if, instead of saying he was called "No man" thus leading to lots of punning hi-jinks that confused the big old dope, Odysseus had actually called himself "Norman" which would have led to a lot less confusion and likely the eating of Odysseus in the first few scenes thus saving thousands of undergrads the misery of figuring the whole thing out.
...piggies...everywhere with the piggies...
Alan wrote glowingly about the Heinnieweisse from the new Butternuts brewery near Cooperstown New York last month so I was happy when finally I found their other brew, Porkslap, at Finger Lakes Beverage in Ithaca. There has been discussion here at Good Beer Blog about this stuff, and based on Alan's review of the green can from them, I bought some of that and it was a fantastic wheat beer. Best of all, brewed in a back shed or something near here, so fresh and unusual. And in a can!
I love pigs, at least illustrations of pigs, and my livelihood consists of making funny little pigs. Really. I do. Anyway, I wanted this stuff just because of the can, two piggies dancing or celebrating or something. Finally, I got some, and it was a great price for a microbrew, 6 bucks for a 6 pack. And I love ales, and this one is a WINNER. Calls itself a pale ale, but it is a dark amber, and as for tasting, the wife says "light for an ale, lovely flavor, delightful label, luscious". Ooooh! Luscious even! I agree, but would say it is a very hearty ale, the Butternuts gang even calls it farmhouse ale. If it was compared to something like Bass Ale, you might say "stronger and smoother too", as my wife, in my dreams, might also say about me.