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When cultures collide

About to order a beer at Festival Birofilia

Meant to post this photo taken last month at Festiwal Birofilia in Zywiec right after returning home from Poland, but failed.

It was a hoot eavesdropping on the conversation, all in Polish and pretty much none of which I understood except the part where the person selling beer tried to teach this fellow how to say “ee-pa.”

The look on his face after he tried the beer suggested he wished he’d made another choice.

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Friday beer: Two Jokers Double-Wit

Boulevard Two Jokers Double-WitSo you bought the first edition of “1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die” and worked your way through the first 1,000 before you realized that blankety-blanket so and so Stan Hieronymus* suggested a beer you couldn’t find. Now you can die in peace — Two Jokers Double-Wit is back.

It would seem not everybody was as impressed with Two Jokers as I was when it was released in 2009. As a result, Boulevard Brewing did not brew it beer in 2012, or 2013. It’s back now, as a seasonal, familiar and convivial. At the risk of repeating myself, here’s what I wrote in 2009:

“It makes sense that Boulevard Brewing, located in America’s bread basket, would include wheat as a major ingredient in seventy percent of the beers it brews. Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat, a 4.4 percent beer perfect for humid nights in Boulevard’s home of Kansas City, accounts for most of that, but the brewery makes a full spectrum of wheat-based beers, including Two Jokers Double Wit. ‘The beer and the name are based on duality,’ said Boulevard brewmaster Steven Pauwels. ‘On one side you have the old-school way of making a tart white beer while on the other side you have the U.S. craft beer movement to make everything bigger, more complex. This beer is an approach to overcome these differences.’

“He uses what brewers call a ‘sour mash’ to create much of the tartness in this beer, a method employed in Belgium at the beginning of the twentieth century instead of using ‘wild’ yeast. ‘I like the idea of tartness in white beers,’ said Pauwels, who is Belgian-born and trained. ‘Nowadays we tend to over spice these beer to reach that goal, while they were pretty simple beers at that time (in the nineteenth century).’ The recipe for Two Jokers includes both malted and unmalted wheat and a bit of oats. It is spiced with coriander, orange peel, lavender, cardamom and grains of paradise, but none in quantities that make them easy to pick out.

Pours hazy orange with an off-white head. Citrus and spices jump from the glass, followed by sweet notes of cotton candy. Tart on the tongue, pleasantly grainy, with refreshing orange and lemon zest flavors. Complex and lively.”


* Full disclosure: I was paid to contribute 51 entries to the book. So Two Jokers and I have a working relationship, even following each other on Twitter.

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Kufle i Kapsle

Another example of beer from a place.

Kufle i Kapsle

Kufle i Kapsle

Kufle i Kapsle

Kufle i Kapsle
Nowogrodzka 25
00-511 Śródmieście, Warszawa

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Grodziskie available here

Grodziskie available here

A sign* on a pillar in what was the malt house for the last brewery to operate in the Polish town of Grodzisk Wielkopolski indicates Grodziskie beer may be purchased here.

Well, not quite yet. However, renovation has begun at the complex, with plans for brewing to resume early in 2015.

A former and future Grodziskie brewery

Daria and I visited the site last week along with Jan Szala, a member of the commission formed to revive the style, and Marian Bochyński. Bochyński has the largest collection of Grodziskie breweriana of anybody anywhere. Szala was last in the buildings, where brewing ended in in 1993, two years ago. He said they looked much more like a brewery then. Today every one is basically an empty shell.

Watch out for falling brewery wallsGrodzisk, home to about 14,000 people, is totally charming. Bochyński led us past three buildings in other parts of town that were once breweries. Grodzisk had 53 at the end of the eighteenth century and still five, all much bigger and selling their beer in far away posts, at the beginning of the twentieth. The warning sign to the right — Jan explained it basically says to stand away from the building because it is in danger of collapsing — is posted on the side of one of them.

A former and future Grodziskie breweryI’m not sure standing in the middle of this brewery in waiting if it is easier to envision what it once looked like or what it will look like. Jan shook his head as we walked away, saying he couldn’t believe they’d be brewing only months from now. But it turns out he hasn’t visited Browar Fortuna, about 100 kilometers to the east, recently. There the same four principals involved in Grodzisk have modernized a regional brewery that was slowly grinding to a halt.

When they took over Fortuna, founded 125 years ago, little more than three years ago sales had shrunk to 10,000 hectoliters a year. They don’t generally talk about production figures but it seems they are on track to sell six to eight times that in 2014. Before we went to Miloslaw, I asked homebrewers about Fortuna and they said the beers tasted of iron — the flavor, some say of blood, you get when you put a penny in your mouth. They need to taste the beers again. Almost bit of equipment involved in the brewing process has been cleaned up or replaced.

I have no idea if these guys will succeed selling a style of beer that died a natural death, but it’s pretty clear that what they make will be well brewed.

There’s a fascinating beer story unfolding in Poland. One that’s not just about Grodziskie and one that deserves to be told properly, I think as my contribution to “Beer Trails.” This will take some time, though not as long as rebuilding such a valuable piece of the past.

* Click on it to enlarge the photo at the top.

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Friday beer: For want of a ‘narfer narf’

The SessionI have at this moment a deep and abiding thirst for something called a narfer narfer narf.

You see, the topic for today’s 88th gathering of The Session is traditional beer mixes. In making the announcement, hosts Boak & Bailey list several options from Richard Boston’s “Beer and Skittles.” The choices appear in a chapter titled “The Public House” and although the book predates Sierra Nevada Brewing by only a few years (1976 versus 1980) it describes a world that seems more like a setting for an HBO series than one you find in these parts.

Consider a few words from the chapter:

1 The quest

All the pub’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Everything about a pub is theatrical: the exits and the entrances, the dialogue, the eating and drinking, the games. … Opening time and closing time even give each session the dramatic structure of beginning, middle and end postulated by Aristotle as necessary to a well-made play.

2 The people

… then there’s the Why-my-wife-left me bore, the Send-them-back-to-Ireland/West Indies bore, the useless information bore. The drinks bore is one of the worst …

Boston discusses choices of drinks within this context. Although it might appear on the surface I could settle in at the bar at a nearby establishment with a considerable number of beer options my chances of ending up with anything similar to a granny (mixing old and mild) or blacksmith (stout and barley wine) Boston might recognize pretty much don’t exist. Even though finding stouts and barley wines is easy. Beer at AnyplaceinAmerica in 2014 has about as much to do with beer in Boston’s England in 1976 as beer and ale had to do with each other in England in 1542.

And a narfer narf, half a pint of mild and half a pint of bitter? Get serious. (A narfer narfer narf is half a pint of the mixture.)

Recognizing this reality, that I would not be writing about actually drinking narfer narfer narf, Tuesday night at Busch Stadium I decided to try a ballpark blend. Before emptying my plastic cup of Urban Chestnut Schnickelfritz, which remains about the perfect 90 degree/90% humidity ballpark beer, I mixed the remainder with an equal part of Schlafly Pale Ale. I did not wake up Tuesday morning wondering what flavors I’d find if I cut Schnickelfritz with Pale Ale. I chose these two because they are the ones I drink most often at the ballpark. They are local and they are refreshing. I like that combination. I suppose there was a little more, or at least different, fruity character in the blend. More hops, for sure, than Schnickelfritz alone, earthier. But mostly refreshing, and better so because they were brewed locally by other people who live in St. Louis.

(Understand that I grew up in central Illinois, not St. Louis, rooting for the Chicago Cubs, and therefore against the Cardinals. They now serve Goose Island Honker’s Ale and IPA at Busch, beers I really like that originated in Chicago although they are now brewed elsewhere. But at a baseball game in St. Louis I’m drinking a St. Louis-made beer. Once in a while Boulevard Wheat, which is also brewed by people who pay the same state taxes I do, but not Tuesday, even though the Cardinals were playing the Royals. I am not arguing this allegiance to local is rational, but it is real.)

Finally, an aside. I could have done my blending at the Budweiser Brew House at recently opened Ballpark Village. You can actually watch a game from a deck in the Brewhouse (sort of like the Wrigley Field rooftops). They’ve got maybe all of the A-B Inbev beers sold in the U.S. on tap somewhere within the complex. By chance, taps for Goose Island Matilda and Faust, an A-B throwback beer, are side by side. That was probably a missed blending opportunity, you think?

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