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Archive | February, 2007

A logo for The Session

The SessionJay Brooks has created a logo for The Session. He’s even given us multiple options – both to the size you use and also if you want to include the words “Beer Blogging Friday.”

I haven’t decided which I prefer, so don’t be surprised if you come back and words magically appear in the red circle.

You can grab what you want here.

We all owe Jay a beer (each). Jay, I’ll buy you one at Stubbs in Austin, OK?

A toast to Berkshire Brewing

Berkshire BrewingHere’s an example of what I mean by beer from a good home: Berkshire Brewing in South Deerfield, Mass.

Ann Cortissoz profiles the brewery in today’s Boston Globe (free registration).

Co-founders Gary Bogoff and Chris Lalli began selling beer in 1994 after friends helped them rehab on old cigar factory. They coaxed 6,000 barrels a year out of a seven-barrel system (that’s what you find in a medium-size brewpub) and bottled by hand until they were selling 10,000 barrels annually.

The sell almost all their beer within 100 miles of the brewery, but this year will likely “grow out” of microbrewery status, surpassing 15,000 barrels. About 60% of sales are draft and 40% of the bottled sales are growlers filled by hand. Berkshire only sells 22-ounce “dinner size” and the 64-ounce growlers.

“When we were bottling by hand there never was a question (about six-packs). Then we when we did the comparisons we saw there was no way we could compete with breweries like Sam Adams. It really worked out well. We’ve got our own little niche.”

They aren’t going to get very big without packaging beer in six-packs and selling it all the places six-packs are available, but that’s OK with them.

Berkshire self distributes – “99% of our beers is handled by our people,” Bogoff said – from three separate warehouses. Berkshire began selling beer in Connecticut in 2005 and also works with a distributor in Vermont. “We’re living by our own destiny. It’s a little more involved but at the end of the day you can claim full responsibility for the beer,” he said.

And, yes, it’s good beer.

A drinking note for Drayman’s Porter (6.2% abv), tasted last April for All About Beer magazine:

The label says “fresh” and “local” and the image of a horse-drawn beer delivery wagon accentuates the point. Deep brown to black – though mahogany highlights decorate the edges – with a billowing brown head, this might look like a beer to age. Don’t think about it. The big chocolate, roasty nose hints of coffee and further suggests freshness, while perfect carbonation adds to the luxurious, sweet, chocolaty palate. More straightforward than complex, with just enough hops to accent roastiness again at the drying finish.

New Beer Rules

SamichlausWith a nod toward Bill Maher’s “New Rules” as opposed to Miller’s Man Laws …

THE BACKGROUND: A little over a week ago we were in California for some meetings. For evening diversion, Real Beer co-founder Mark Silva brought along vintage beers for “vertical” tastings (where you sample the same beer across a number of years).

In that spirit, Banjo Bandolas hauled down some old beers from the 1980s his uncle, Bud Lang, had given him. Lang was the first managing editor at All About Beer magazine, but these were not beers carefully cellared for a special occasion. They were beers that spent cool winters and hot summers in a Los Angeles garage.

Some were strong beers we might have hoped would stand up to those temperature swings but others – like the Millstream lager out of Iowa – had no chance.

The most interesting looking beers were a Thomas Hardy’s Ale from 1983, Samichlaus from 1986, Mort Subite Gueuze from the 1980s (no date) and Anchor Old Foghorn from the 1980s (again, no vintage). They would all sell for a chunk on eBay, but Banjo pointed out that in good conscience he could never sell beer that he suspected would taste like we found out these did.

We drank the beers (not all at once) against other vintages that had been stored in friendlier conditions. In each case they were the oldest beer in the lineup, and in each case the least enjoyable. Maybe it was age, but mostly it seemed like the garage won.

The 1996 Samichlaus (brewed in 1995, packaged in 1996, a lager that had spent 10 years in the bottle) was spectacular, rich and complex. The 1986 – at the time the strongest beer in the world (Sam Calagione was still in high school) – tasted like prune juice mixed with vodka. The difference between the ’83 Hardy’s and an ’89 Silva brought was as dramatic.

In each case, the well-cellared beers gained complexity, drank smoother, and acted like we hope beers will when we lay them down. The cooked beers were lifeless, not just wanting when it comes to carbonation, but one-dimensional, single-note beers.

One other thing they shared in common, and that was lack of good closure. The Mort Subite cork crumbled when I pulled it from the bottle, and on each of the other three the inside of the cap was rusted.

Giving us …

NEW BEER RULE #1: When you open a beer for a vertical tasting and there is rust under the cap it’s time to seriously lower your expectations for what’s inside the bottle.

Rusted cap

Who, or what, do you love?

Love & BeerIf starts with Lew Bryson’s post What We “Owe” the Industry (even if you don’t wade through he comments which weave here and there) then what follows might make more sense. Alan McLeod brought something else to the conversation when he asked Do We Love The Beer Or Brewer?

For me these questions are related because b) I don’t love the beer or the brewer; as a consumer I appreciate the experience and as a journalist I live for the story. And a) the first city editor I worked for, Bill Schmelzle, taught me that nothing else in a story mattered if I didn’t get the facts right (and when I proved I could do that then he introduced the importance of balanced reporting).

Principals in a story could expect this, not because I “owed” it to them but because I worked for the people who bought the paper every day. Is this an old-fashioned notion, irrelevant in these days (of blogs, Fox television, “we media” and specialty magazines)? It doesn’t matter. It’s part of my DNA.

Newspapers should be advocates for the communities which they serve, whether they put the word “advocate” in their masthead or not. Granted, specialty magazines are a step or three away from newspapers. But at my local Borders I only have to walk three feet from DRAFT and All About Beer magazines (Beer Advocate is not on newstands) to pick up the New Yorker or Harpers. That’s pretty close and heady company.

Let’s say the community where I live stinks at the village center because we need some central sewage system instead of a hodge-podge of septic tanks. The local paper isn’t doing a very good job if it writes only about how pretty the new gardens are downtown – while the smell of sewage overwhelms the petunias.

Thus it drives me crazy that Ashton Lewis wrote, “But the way I see it is that a beer magazine boasting to be the ‘Beer Advocate’ should focus on the positive.”

Mr. Bryson puts it more eloquently:

But “advocate” does not mean “worship blindly,” or “defend without judgment.” They stand outside the industry, and they judge it by their own standards. And by those standards, whether you agree with them or not, they believe that they advocate “beer” — not “the craft beer industry”, not “your beer” — by speaking plainly about beers they think fall short, breweries they think engage in bad practices, retailers and wholesalers who don’t measure up to their standards.

That’s actually more likely to take place at BeerAdvocate.com, in a “we media” sort of way. I want to see more of that in the magazine, more in the other beer magazines and more in the non-beer press.

Of course, most of what appears in the media gets written or spoken in the vast territory between reporting bare facts and offering criticism. There must be a balance. While I already answered the question the headline of Alan’s post (“Do we love the beer or the brewer?”) what he’s really writing about is finding that balance for yourself.

Do you want somebody to tell you what beers you should like? Or where you should enjoy them? Is there some other reason you read about beer or talk about it over, of course, beer? He’s asking good questions.

Answer them and you’ll better understand what you want an “advocate” to do for you.

Friday. The Session. Be there.

Come Friday a bunch of us are going to write about stouts. The theme, class, is “Not your father’s Irish stout.”

Do we have to have a name, too? I’d like to get that out of the way, so I can help answer Alan McLeod’s question Do We Love the Beer or Brewer? and track all the chatter Lew Bryson provoke with his post What We ‘Owe’ the Industry, which was followed by a lengthy discussion at Beer Advocate.

Particularly since I disagree with everybody.

So in the interest of speed I’m picking a name, but not insisting Alan use it when he hosts in April. When we have hosts use the same name two consecutive months that will be the official name. (Kind of like the kid in “A Thousands Clown.”) The danger, of course, is that it will become sport to keep picking different names.

I've got the next round

The name is …

The Session.

No.

Another Round.

No.

The Session.

Yes, The Session. Unless I change my mind before Friday.

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