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Archive | December, 2008

Monday musing: When the other shoe drops

In fact it is Sunday as I post this, but by the time you read this Monday we should have the RV pointed south. Might not see you until the New Year. If that’s the case celebrate carefully . . .

Will the economic slowdown dampen sales of small-batch beers? Common sense says yes.

So I read Jeff Alworth’s “When Restaurants Die” with particular interest. The story is about the restaurants of Portland, Oregon. But it’s Oregon, and it’s Jeff’s blog, so of course there is a beer ingredient.

I worry that if the best restaurants begin to die off in Portland (we’ve lost 20 this year, including renowned Genoa), the creative minds who founded them will leave. The erosion of talent in the restaurant scene is just generally bad. I don’t know that it will have immediate or long-lasting influence on breweries.

Portland has been the poster city for craft beer success. If there’s a problem there then bigger problems seem likely everywhere else.

I did not write this. It comes from Pete Brown. I’m going to say that twice because while blogs are a wonderful for pointing to well written words sometimes people end up giving the second blog (in this case mine) credit. I wish I’d written this, but I didn’t.

It comes from Pete’s year-end roundup, interesting, though more so if you live in the UK.

Any writer writes because they have a need to be listened to, and whatever that says about our psyches and frail egos, I’m gratified that people read this blog and link to it and recommend it. I apologise to anyone I’ve offended on here – I try not to. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading most of what I’ve written, and wish you a happy and prosperous 2009.

Something of an answer to the question Andy Crouch raises about why we blog. Repeat, I wish I’d written the paragraph. I did not.

Thanks again, to Alan and Jeff for the Yuletide 2008 Photo Contest. Winning a hat was cool, but looking at all those photos was the real fun.

Don’t forget The Session #23 hosted by Beer and Firkins on Friday. Include a drinking note if you can, because we’re back on the road and I’m looking for interesting local beers to try between now and August.


#21 – Where in the beer world?

Where in the beer world?

Do you think you know where in the beer world this photo was taken? Then leave a comment.

Other comments are welcome as well.

I don’t expect you to know where this table was, but there’s a good reason you should be able to name the country.

Or at least I thought so until I saw an interesting photo on another blog (to be revealed with the answer). That probably doesn’t qualify as a hint, so . . . a lucky search of the New York Times archives will get you on track.


Budweiser Budvar: Not so small

Compared to Anheuser-Busch, Budejovický Budvar in the Czech Republic — the other producer of Budweiser — is small. But there’s small, and there’s small.

Budvar brews more than a million hectoliters a year and soon will be able to make 1.3 million. I wouldn’t necessarily call that small. Here’s about a minute of video shot in the bottling hall, which also isn’t small. I used our pocket camera to record the video, so excuse the production quality. (If you click on over to YouTube to watch it, then hit “watch in high quality” it’s a little better.)

In contrast, Pilsner Urquell is so big that I’m not sure how you’d try to capture the bottling plant with a video. Then there is Berliner-Kindl-Schultheiss in Berlin, which brews 1.6 million hectos a year. The brewery has two plants within one hall, each aiming to package 50,000 bottles an hour. There’s a large display at each end which counts just how fast the line is running. The digital display will read 49,893 one second, 49,896 the next, then 49,894.

That’s a lot of beer.


Monday musing: What’s the opposite of Zima?

Before we begin Phase III of our grand odyssey we’re holed up in snowy New Jersey through the holiday, leaving me a bit of time for Monday musing.

– I paid little attention in October to the final demise of Zima, and just caught up with the excellent piece at Slate about its long and torturous death. A fine lesson about marketing, and an interesting contrast to the rip-roaring success of small-batch beers focusing on flavor and making sure there is a there there.

– We like year-end lists in our house, and not just because I can make fun of the beer-related ones. Books, best recordings, best movies, that stuff. And when Sierra gets it organized we’ll post our Best of the Trip – Europe Edition at The Slow Travelers.

But I’ve given up trying to assemble a “best of beer” for the year, for the European leg, for Germany, for Liechenstein. I can’t even decide on my favorite beer from Cantillon.

Mahrs BrauInstead I’ll point you to a list done right. It makes me wish we had managed to collide with Boak and Bailey as all of us bounced around Germany and the Czech Republic. They were in Leipzig when we were in Prague. We were in Dresden when they got to Prague. They blogged about Christmas markets, we went to dozens (Berlin alone has 50).

It’s not that I agree on all their favorite beers (had six, but part of the point of these lists is to discover new things, right?). Daria and I really didn’t care for the sourness in U Flecku. However we loved the Mahrs Bräu Ungespundet-hefetrüb, and since we were staying one block from the Bamberg tavern and had no ticking agenda were happy to order more.

– Visit Alan and Jeff to see the winners of the 2008 Yule Beer Blog Photos contest. It seems I have a photo in there. Probably a sympathy selection after I whined about getting my butt kicked in previous years. I probably shouldn’t be so flip, because – amazing as it may be – run a contest, give away a lot of nice prizes and somebody is still going to give you grief.

– Interesting to see in “How many cult wines can dance on the head of a pin?” that the number of cult wines has exploded since the mid-1990s. Can you think of a parallel? Here’s a hint.

– And I’ll finish with a press release from home (yes, a bit sad I missed this):

“Blue Corn Brewery (Santa Fe) celebrates old traditions as well as new beginnings with the release of Aztlán Winter Ale on December 13, 2008. The first commercial beer to feature certified organic, native New Mexican hops, Aztlán Winter Ale also incorporates organic malts from the United States and Canada, and clean, pure Northern New Mexican water. This winter warmer has malt overtones of chocolate and plum with hints of orange and spice from the hops.

“Ralph Olson of U.S. hop supplier, HopUnion, reported to a source he knew of no other brewery having used these hops in the past. Blue Corn head brewer Brad Kraus, said, ‘In all my years of research about brewing in New Mexico, I have not found a single reference to the use of Humulus lupulus var. neomexicana, or New Mexican native hops, in the brewing of beer here. Since these were grown organically, I felt it fitting to use only organic ingredients.’

“Todd Bates and business partner Steve Johnson grew the hops just north of Embudo, New Mexico. They have been growing and breeding native New Mexican varieties for four years on their small organic farm.”

I visited Todd and Steve in August of 2007 (mentioned here) and Todd frequently comments here. Hi, Todd.


How I survived my Lupulin sabbatical

Lupulin Threshold Shift

I was first exposed to the concept of Lupulin Threshold Shift* when Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing and Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker collaborated on an online presentation, about hops of course, for Brewers Association members. I’ve since seen it on Russian River apparel and heard real live human beings use the words “Lupulin Shift.”

As a defender of the excessive use of hops I probably should have checked with my doctor before leaving the United States last September. Was it safe for my family to be in the car with me, traveling on some European back road, were I to seize up because I desperately needed an American IPA?

But, you know what, I didn’t end up fantasizing about Double IPAs or Simcoe hops. Downshifting hops was just as pleasant as getting off the German autobahn and on to roads that wound through picturesque small towns. No, not down into first gear; beers with single digit bittering units with imperceptible hop flavor or aroma.

I had plenty of beers with underlying bitterness and undeniable hop character. Turn down the volume a bit and it’s astounding what you can hear, or taste. Saison Dupont, Senne Taras Boulba, Schönramer Pils, and Koutský 10° Svetlé Výcepní for starters. Oh, and Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel at the brewery cafe — it drills a hole directly to the back of your brain.

And there were beers with American hop character, most notably those at the 1516 brewpub in Vienna. When I saw Birra Del Borgo’s Re Ale on cask at Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa’ in Rome in late October I knew it would be my first beer of the evening. Daria went right for it too.

The smell of citrusy hops arrived well before I got my nose right over the glass. “Smells like home,” I said to brewer Leonardo di Vincenzo. He smiled the look of a man whose seen hop-deprived Americans linger over this beer before. More important, it is his best seller. And customers eagerly await the release of each batch of Re Ale Extra — the first was a “mistake.” He forgot to add hops until the final five minutes, then dumped a whole recipe’s worth in the kettle.

Am I happy to see crazily hopped beers again? You betcha. Was I surprised to find that brewers in other countries understand how to use hops? Of course not. This Lupulin sabbatical reminded me how important hops are even when they aren’t playing lead guitar.


* If you can’t see the image at the top, it reads: lupulin threshold shift/lu·pu·lin thresh·hold shift/n 1. When a once extraordinarily hoppy beer how seems pedestrian. 2. The phenomenon a person has when craving more bitterness in beer. 3. The long-term exposure to extremely hoppy beers; if excessive or prolonged, a habitual dependence on hops will occur. 4. When a “Double IPA” just is not enough.

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