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Session #115 announced: The role of beer books

The SessionHost Joan Villar-i-Martí has announced that the topic for The Session #115 will be “Role of beer books.”

He writes, “Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped developing their local beer scene. There’s also the – bad – role of books that regrettably misinform readers because their authors did not do their work properly. There are many different ways to tackle this topic.”

So read a new book or revisit an old friend and post on the topic Sept. 2.


The Session #114: A St. Louis pilsner

The SessionWe Changed The World … For This?
[Via All About Beer]
An American Story.
IPAs as National Tradition.
[Both via Beervana]

Whoa! What’s all of this have to do with The Session #114, given that Alistair Reece has asked us to write about pilsners? But what Jeff Alworth has to say about the use of American hops and about how American brewers, and now brewers around the world who are mimicking them, is relevant.

Urban Chestnut Brewing Forest Park PilsnerThere is such a thing as an Americanized pilsner out there that has nothing to do with Miller Lite. Who You Callin’ Wussie from Arrogant Brewing* is an example. It is a well made flavorful beer, brimming with lots of aromas and flavors, some of which you won’t find in an old world pilsner. Basically, it’s kind of loud and it bangs into the furniture. That’s OK, as long as it is adding diversity, not eliminating choice. These are the sorts of things you should be thinking about when you read Lew Bryson’s column in All About Beer.

*Yes, this is the same brewery as Stone, although I find the explanation exhausting.

I’m not sure any beer can get inside your bones like certain music — let’s say just about any song from Son Volt’s Trace — but one like Stammtisch from Urban Chestnut Brewing just up the road from us, or Live Oak Pilz, or Marble Pils, has a better chance than any IPA I can think of. Or a pilsner like Wussie, which ranked seventh in a blind tasting of pilsners conducted by Paste magazine. Stammtisch was first, and Pilz and Pils apparently were not tasted.

Paste praises Urban Chestnut for brewing “superlative German beer styles.” I understand this, but maybe because I’ve been in St. Louis almost as long as Urban Chestnut (and Daria has been here longer) I figure I’m drinking St. Louis beer, not German beer. Part of the attraction of Stammtisch is that it has become a familiar flavor, just as Trace is familiar. Oh, and that drinking a liter isn’t a challenge. It’s more like humming along when Jay Farrar sings, “Ste. Genevieve can hold back the water, but saints don’t bother with a tear stained eye.”


The beer in the photo is Urban Chestnut’s Forest Park Pilsner, which is brewed with six-row barley malt, corn, and Cluster hops. I wrote about in the August/September issue of Craft Beer & Brewing.


The Session #114: Pilsners

The SessionWhen The Session began more nine years ago — so before half of the breweries now operating in U.S. had opened — it focused on exploring styles.And it will again next week. Host Alistair Reece has asked us to write about pilsners for The Session #114.

What I want folks to do is put down their IPAs, their Belgians, their sours, their barrel aged stuff, and hunt out a few pilsners to compare and contrast, whether they be Czech, German, Belgian, American, etc, etc. Try to get examples of Czech and German in particular to see the differences. Most of all though I just want people to re-discover what I consider the pinnacle of the brewing craft, so off hunting you go.

The next Session is Aug. 5.

Session #113 (Observations) roundup posted

The SessionBoak & Bailey have posted the roundup for The Session #113. A pretty good turnout, including one “observation from outside the European-American axis.”

Lots of good reading, so head that way for the links.

Spoiler alert, here’s what they learned (from this admittedly small sample):

1. Vaping in pubs, which we saw lot of in Newcastle and a bit in Birmingham, isn’t as universal as we’d expected.

2. Pubs are pubs are pubs — there’s nothing in the descriptions above that made us think we’d be unable to cope with any of those venues, even Suzuki Drink, which sounds the farthest from our experience.

3. A major football tournament doesn’t necessarily dominate pubs even when they’re showing it.

4. That looking closely at even the most familiar pub can reveal intriguing details.

5. Observations without narrative can seem rather dry… But anyone looking back on these in a hundred years time (digital decay and pending apocalypses permitting) will find plenty to enjoy in every entry.

The Session #113: A few pub observations

The SessionThis is my contribution to this month’s Session, “Mass Observation: The Pub and The People.” Now that I have read host Boak & Bailey’s post I would give this a C-. I already knew that I would receive a lower mark because I did not anonymise (or with a z) the pub, but their report makes it clear I could have collected much more data that would be of use to a twenty-second century athropologist. They also raise the question of how the presence of an observer may affect what is being observed. For instance, there are questions I would have liked to have asked Will Gilbert, but that’s not what I was there to do.


This was not the best time to observe what might be called typical at Riley’s Pub in the Tower Grove East neighborhood of St. Louis.

During a commercial break for the Jeopardy, the TV game show everybody had come in to watch, a man found an opening at the bar and squeezed in to order two more glasses of Urban Chestnut Zwickel. “This is the busiest I’ve seen this place, like busier than the World Cup,” he said.

Urban Chestnut beers, Zwickel and STLIPA, as well as Guinness (because it was Thursday) were just $3.50 a pint, and Riley’s set out free snacks. That’s not why both rooms of the pub were full. Friends and neighbors had come to see Will Gilbert, like them a regular at Riley’s, compete on Jeopardy. Of course he was at the party, because the show is taped in advance.

A bartender at Riley's Pub tends to the tapsAt 4:15, 15 minutes before the program would start, there were still seats at the bar. They quickly disappeared by the time the bartender poured a Zwickel, a Zwickel, a Harp, another Zwickel, opened the Guinness tap, slid a can of 4 Hands City Wide across the bar and filled two glasses of water before returning finish the Guinness pour.

“Do you know Will?” one man asked as they made their way toward the less crowded second room. “I’ve played trivia with him,” said the second.

Sometimes trivia means the same thing in St. Louis as in most cities — something bars offers on a week night to attract customers. But St. Louis also has a unique trivia culture, found in churches on Saturday night (and beer is welcome). So it was a big deal when Gilbert landed a spot on Jeopardy.

Although Riley’s is sometimes grouped with other “Irish pubs” (like seemingly everywhere, St. Louis has plenty), I’d simply call it a neighborhood tavern. It’s the only commercial establishment in the immediate neighborhood. It’s the kind of place that holds fundraisers for the local high school and invites customers to sit quietly during televised political debates.

Last Thursday the draft choices were Civil Life American Brown, Civil Life Rye Pale Ale, Guinness, Smithwicks, Harp, UCBC STLIPA, UCBC Zwickel, and Schlafly Pale Ale. They don’t change very often.

When Gilbert’s picture appeared on the screen (there were two televisions in the bar area, another in the adjoining room) at 4:24 a cheer went up. The place went silent when the competition began, but low level conversations returned quickly enough. Mostly cheers followed, sometimes when he got an answer right, other times when one of his competitors got one wrong. Once in a while a chant — “Will! Will! Will!” — broke out. Wearing a T-shirt decorated with a St. Louis city flag and holding an Urban Chestnut ceramic mug Gilbert settled at one end of the bar, a step outside most of the madness.

He commented occasionally, without raising his voice, like any other afternoon when he and friends were watching the show, as they do often at Riley’s.

“This is the one, Patrick. It is your fault I didn’t know this.”

“I knew this one. I was pissed.”

He led going into Final Jeopardy (for those unfamiliar with Jeopardy, this is how it works), but got the final answer wrong. It took a moment for his friends to understood what he knew long ago. “Will! Will! Will!” they chanted, then applauded long and hard.

In the 45 minutes between the time I got a seat at the bar and Jeopardy ended I saw the bartender, sometimes with a bit of help, pour 18 glasses of Zwickel. Perhaps the price was a factor, but it was also a Zwickel sort of day, the temperature hitting 97 degrees and the heat index topping 100. She drew five glasses of Guinness, two of Schlafly Pale (plus a pitcher), two Civil Life Browns and two Rye Pale Ales, one UCBC STLIPA, and one Harp. She also handed out six bottles of Stag, three cans of City Wide, one bottle of wine (chilled in a Bud Light bucket) and one single glass, and mixed (about) six drinks made with spirits.

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