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Archive | May, 2007

Flying Dog plans ‘open source’ beer

Beer Open Source ProjectFlying Dog Ales – which has more happening on the Internet than any other brewery I know of – has launched its own Open Source Beer Project.

The idea is to allow beer drinkers and homebrewers to create or recommend modifications to a Flying Dog recipe.

The Open Source Beer Project will start as a Dopplebock but the style may evolve as participants offer ideas and tweak the recipe. “We are encouraging input on every part of the recipe, down to how what variety of hops we should use, how much we should use and when we should add them,” said Flying Dog Head Brewer, Matt Brophy.

The open source beer will be Flying Dog’s latest “Wild Dog” release and hit stores in October.

Kudos to Flying Dog for creating an RSS Feed for the project. The brewery has embraced the Internet. Just a few examples:

– It regularly updates its website, and sends out frequent e-mails for contests like a Ralph Steadman Signed Gonzo Bottle drawing.

– It has more friends (8,607 at this moment) than any other craft brewery in/on MySpace.

– It has a Squidoo page.

– The brewery continues to add new videos at YouTube.

Is this marketing? Yes. Should be be wary of marketing? Probably, but a thread runs through the way Flying Dog appears in each of these spaces. The videos are of actual employees – like president/”lead dog” Eric Warner and his truck.

If these aren’t real people behind real beer then it is a heck of an act.

Brewing for the American market

Whether you embrace *xtr*m* beers or not, there’s little argument that Americans’ willingness to try experimental beers has captured the attention of brewers from other countries.

Case in point, Roger Protz visits the Nethergate Brewery on England’s Essex-Suffolk border, which has earned its reputation with excellent mild cask ales.

What does he find brewer Tom Knox working on?

“Belgian beers have helped the appreciation of bottle-conditioned ales in Britain,” Tom said. He plans a 10.5% beer with 85 bitterness units for the American market: it will be finished with Champagne yeast. The range of bottled beers will come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including some with corks and wire cradles in the Belgian fashion.

Twenty years ago you wouldn’t have heard many British, Belgian and German brewers talking about “brewing for the American market” and if they did they certainly weren’t talking about their more flavorful beers.

Is there a winery on the way to the brewery?

GrapesDon’t forget, next Friday is Session #4 and it’s all about drinking local (or regional, or as local/regional as you can be). (How The Session started.)

This will be easier for some than others, but the Brewers Association happily points out the average American lives within 10 miles of a brewery. You probably have seen the numbers: In 1984 there were just 83 breweries operating in the US, down thousands from 100 years before. Today there are more than 1,400.

But beer’s not alone. Today’s Wall Street Journal has a story about the United States of Wine (subscription required) in which is describes the “remarkable expansion of wineries to unlikely places.” Check out these numbers:

There are 5,110 wineries in the country — 1,773 outside of California, Washington, Oregon and New York, according to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — and many of them are new. In Texas, 24 wineries opened in 2006, up one-third in just one year, says industry-tracking firm Wines and Vines. Last year, Colorado went from 48 wineries to 70.

Makes sense to me. It takes less than half an hour to walk to the brewpub in the village where a l live, but before I’m half way there I’ll pass a winery.

So my point would be that interest in better beer is not happening in a vacuum. It’s been linked to similar affection for quality food and wine for more than 30 years. It took some people longer to figure that out, but it’s hardly a secret now.

Other historic beers on my wish list

As I type this nobody has come up with the starting bid of $1,500 for eight bottles of Ballantine Burton Christmas beer, and it’s not going to be me.

Sure, I wish I had a chance to try the beer. It’s intriguing that it would have stood up all these years, but as long as we are wishing for impossible things … I’d like to have a taste of what it was like in the 1960s or ’70s, when Fritz Maytag and other new wave brewers tasted it. It likely influenced where a new generation of beers was headed.

There are other beers like that – I’m not interested in old bottles that turn up, but what they tasted like at their prime – but I’ll start with a simple 6-pack.

1. Ballantine Burton Ale. For reasons already stated.

New Albion sign at Russian River Brewing

2. New Albion Ale. New Albion was the first American microbrewery built from scratch and you simply cannot measure its impact. The Brewers Association this year honored founder Jack McAuliffe. Michael Jackson wrote that this was the “truest to the (English ale) model in its hoppy bitterness and well-attenuated body.”

(The photo is a sign that used to hang at New Albion and now sits above the window looking into the barrel room at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa.)

3. Cartwright Portland Beer. Cartwright was Oregon’s first micro, and Don Younger of the Horse Brass Pub tells wonderful stories about the excitement surrounding the arrival of its first beer. Problem is Cartwright beers weren’t very good (Jackson refers to “some technical” woes). The second micro, BridgePort, was much better, and you know the rest about what happened in Portland.

4. Newman’s Pale Ale. Bill Newman opened the first micro east of the Mississippi in 1981 and kept it running until 1987, exerting influence mostly forgotten 20 years later. He was devoted to the English model, fining his beer in casks and serving it at cellar temperature. In Beer School, Steve Hindy and Tom Potter write “he refused to compromise with anything modern.”

5. Shiner “Old World Bavarian Draft.” Locals still talk about the dark Bavarian-style beer that brewmaster Kosmos Spoetzl brought with him from Germany in 1915. It was brewed into the 1960s but had different names after Prohibition. Spoetzl had a strong German consumer base, but it is still interesting that he was able sell an all-malt German-style lager at time (pre-Prohibition) the rest of the country was drifting toward lagers lighter in color and flavor. After all, Shiner is in Texas (south of San Antonio).

6. Anchor Steam (circa 1965). Maytag readily admits the beer was sour and not very good when he first tasted it and bought a controlling share of the brewery. The American beer revolution hasn’t been driven by steam beer, but without that (then) sour beer …

Would you drink a $200 bottle of beer?

Ballantine Burton Ale

Well, I guess he first question is if you’d pay $200 for a bottle of beer.

That’s because eight bottles of Ballantine Burton Christmas Ale are up for auction at eBay. The starting bid is $1,500 (none as I type), the “buy it now price” is $5,000 and the auction closes May 28.

From the auction description:

The labels state that the ale was brewed for Edward Boghosian on May 12, 1946. Seven (7) of these were bottled in November 1960 and one (1) was bottled in November 1959.

This ale was never sold to the general public and only given to special celebs, friends and employees during the Christmas season. This batch was made for a local Rhode Island TV executive. The bottles are all intact and in overall excellent condition. Some labels may be a little loose and a few caps have some oxidization. Please refer to photos.

I auctioned off one Ballantine Burton ale bottle a few weeks ago for $130+. I was able to recently obtain the remainder of the bottles which are now being auctioned off here. There are no further bottles available once these are gone.

As any Internet search will show you, these Ballantine bottles have a well deserved reputation. Back in 1994, Steve Kemper wrote a story for BeeR the Magazine titled “Pub Crawling New York with the Beer King” detailing in evening spent in several of Manhattan’s historic barrooms with the late Alan Eames.

They finished at Bahama Mama, where Eames had a bottle of Ballantine Burton Ale delivered to the table. That particular beer had been aged in wood from 1946 until 1966 and had been in the bottle for 25 years. After Eames explained how he came to own the bottle, he said: “This is the Dom Perignon ’55 of beers, and God sent it to me.”

Another beer in that lot he came across sold for $400, and Eames suggested the one they opened could be the last bottle in existence. He was wrong about that, because the bottles keep showing up. But eight at one time, and with a display box, should take your breath away (and your pocketbook if you intend to own the lot).

From the story: “He poured. The color was coppery, the head fleecy and alive. We tasted. Eames moaned with joy. I joined him in chorus. The ale tasted of wood and caramel and roasted grain and humus. Our please was complicated by the pain of loss that always accompanies the impeding disappearance of something fine. Eames poured out the last of it, and we drank.”

You may recall that eBay briefly outlawed selling vintage beer, then relented by setting forth several rules, starting with “The value of the item is in the collectible container, not its contents.”

Perhaps. But we all want to know what the beer inside tastes like. What the heck – if you bought eight bottles it wouldn’t hurt to open one.

Added May 29: The auction closed without any bids.

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