“These Are Not Your Uncle’s Balls”

Over the course of a day I have many opportunities to be wrong. There are plenty of people from federal and state regulators to the occasional staff colleague hoping that I’ll miss something or fail to catch an esoteric issue as they sharpen their career-advancing daggers.  I guess that’s a reasonably good description of stress. Halloween was a particularly fine example (and not because I’d be spending much of the early evening careening about the neighborhood in the company of hideous ghouls and pint-sized Taylor Swifts).  It was my final day of preparation for a deposition (as a witness – the wrong side of the questioning) in a case involving about a quarter billion dollars.  So you could say it was a bit more stressful a day than most.  That said, we were having a few friends over for drinks, pumpkin ales & apps after trick or treating with our kids later on so I took a few minutes to type up a sign to go with the meatballs I concocted for the evening.  The description started with “these are not your uncle’s balls.” It devolved from there, listing the odd culinary Fusion Confusion Collision Cuisine elements it contained from Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, and Sweden.  For no good or apparent reason I sent the description to my enabler and wingman in all things culinary, craft beer, spirits, and lunacy, G-Lo of It’s Just The Booze Dancing and he responded with the following annoying line: “that’s a blog post, just say’in.”  I didn’t have time to list all the reasons why it was certainly was NOT a blog post, went back to preparing for the deposition, and ignored him for the rest of the day (while occasionally mentally circling back to why it wasn’t a blog post).     ………..Until it was.

I did my part as the trick or treating craft beer evangelist by dragging around a rolling cooler full of Wachusett Pumpkin and Tuckahoe Holly Beach Pumpkin Ales, handing them out to worthy and thirsty Halloween revelers (after they presented legal proof of age of course – can never be too sure when you might be handing an adult beverage to a freakishly large 14 year old in a skin tight dalmatian suit).  The meatballs went over well and the after party was success but there were no inspiring craft beers and definitely nothing to inspire a craft beer blog post.

Fast forward to that Saturday.  My oldest daughter’s birthday and youth soccer double header.  As I was getting ready to get out of the car at the second soccer field one of these parked next to me:

Your Uncle's Sedan Deville (still a big seller in Canada)

Your Uncle’s Sedan Deville (still a big seller in Canada)

A 1978 Caddy Sedan Deville.  Required wheels for uncles in the Northeast, tricked out with a split front bench seat, color-keyed hub caps and, for the lucky few, a Dolby B 8-Track cassette player for that collection of Lawrence Welk tapes.  Your uncle had one too and if you never saw it, it was because he kept it in the garage of his other family’s house on Long Island.  You never saw them either, but they were there.  Little did I know that a few hours later I’d pour a beer that would relate – in an extremely byzantine way – to the Sedan Deville proving G-Lo correct.  There was a craft beer blog post in them thar balls after all.

Fast forward even further to that much celebrated annual slaughter of homely birds in honor of our cultural slaughter and domination of the indigenous Native Americans and where do I find myself but in the company of uncles.  Lots of them.  Veritable late seventies Caddy showroom lining the street out front.  But before I digress further, there has to be something done about 60+ year old couples shopping together at supermarkets.  It must be outlawed.  When was the last time you didn’t see couples of that age arguing in the soup aisle?  The husband grumbling quietly under his breath while his wife proudly proclaims something that’s almost certainly wrong.  Meanwhile, they left the cart at an angle across the aisle apparently forgetting that they hadn’t rented out the whole place for a private shopping/sniping experience.  From now on, one at a time.  Couples with an aggregate age at or over 120 must not shop together.  Really quite simple.  Better for all of us.

Anyway, while some look forward to turkey, stuffing, and Cowboys football in the lead up to Thanksgiving, I look forward to the arrival of winter and holiday seasonal craft beers.  Always have.  Nothing says holiday season like the first sight of Anchor Christmas Ale.  That’s always been my favorite winter/holiday seasonal and this year’s version is especially good.  That night I poured my first of the season.  The next day I poured something entirely different.  Anchor California Lager.

Not hipster approved

Under-appreciated Craftbeersmanship

First of all, I generally avoid lagers.  Just not enough going on.  They always lack depth and complexity.  The Reader’s Digest of beer styles.  This one was different.  I checked the label a few times as if to expecting it to reveal itself to be something more than a pedestrian lager.  But it was more – though firmly a lager.  It was a a classic example of what true craft brewing is irrespective of style.  Anchor has always held a very special place in my craft beer heart.  Anchor Steam was the beer that started me on the path to becoming a craft beer geek in the first place.  Anchor Liberty Ale is another favorite.  A solid go to pale that’s versatile,  never gets old and never disappoints.  Perhaps the cleanest, driest finish of any beer I’ve ever had.  It even brings out the best in a sun ray or two on a cold East Coast winter day…
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Suddenly I was reminded of the deposition I attended up in Manhattan the week before.  Eight hours of testimony on asset-backed securities and swap terminations is enough to drive the purest Mormon to drink.  Fortunately I’m not Mormon (and never have been despite my Bob Dylan-esque temporary departure from the balls of my People – matzo, that is) and I’m far from pure – though generally pretty good.  So I’m on my way back to Penn Station when I “just happen” upon Rattle N Hum in Midtown.  I’ll review the bar another time but, suffice it to say, it has a very Philadelphia craft beer bar scene vibe.  That’s a good thing.  I figured I could squeeze a pint of craft beer research in  before I had to hit the train so I grabbed a stool.  Few things surprise me in a craft beer bar but I was taken aback at the tap list scrawled on the chalk board.  40 Sierra Nevada brews.  These were not your uncle’s Sierra Nevada Pales (though it was on the lines).  Everything from Torpedo to one-off barrel aged stouts.  Familiar to anything but.  Most of your uncles only know SN Pale (especially the ones who confuse volume with insightful comment) but the cool one has had most, if not all, of the brews on the tap takeover list that day.  By that standard I guess I’m kind of cool because the only one I hadn’t had was the Barrel Aged Maple Stout with Coffee (until there was one in front of me on the bar).

As watched the Soprano’s neighborhoods of North Jersey fade in the distance during the train ride home I couldn’t help but think of how underrappreciated Anchor and Sierra Nevada seem to be these days.  Don’t get me wrong, I love plenty of cutting edge, aggressive craft brews.  Ballast Point’s Indra Kunindra and New Belgium’s Lips of Faith Coconut Curry Hefeweizen being prime examples.  But with Dogfish Head, Brew Dogs, Surly, and so many others vying for shelf space and attention, the stable longboard surfers – the ones who first taught us that you could ride waves in the first place – are often left too far out of mind.  There’s something to be said for stability, authenticity, and tradition.  Kind of like a ride in the center front seat of your uncle’s ’78 Caddy.

Then I arrived home and after a quick dinner and check of the kid’s homework I went to the chilled craft beer research locker and gazed upon a shelf full of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ales.  Coincidence? Nope.

Happy Hoppy Holidays!

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The Evolving of a Craft Beer Geek (or “How I’ve Learned to be More Tolerant”)

Craft Beer with a View

Craft Beer with a View

About four and a half years ago I wrote and posted a not so short essay describing my journey to craft beer geekdom.  Soon after that I stopped blogging (despite the fact that one of my craft beer idols, Greg Koch of Stone Brewing, actually took the time to read it and posted a complimentary comment).  Plenty of good reasons got in the way of my writing (some less than good ones snuck in there as well) but my “research” and enjoyment of craft beer, the industry and, more importantly, the people involved with it continued.

Now that I’ve started blogging again I thought it would be a good idea (and maybe fun) to go back and re-read the Crafting of a Craft Beer Geek post to see if anything has changed since I wrote it.  Do I still agree with it?  Are the points or observations still valid?  What did I miss?  What’s Next?

One thing occurred to me right away.  I did miss something.  I had to have missed a lot of somethings to have written that whole thing all by myself (which I’m pretty sure I did).  I know I attended and participated in the birth of all three of our children so at least I didn’t miss any of that.  Lesson learned: only write posts that don’t require 2 bombers or other large format bottles to get through.  With that in mind, here are a few look-back observations and updates to that infamous post:

  • I must have thought I was going to win a prize for the longest sentence and longest average sentence.  James Joyce would have been proud.  My high school English teachers would have fainted.  My college creative composition professor is still at the front of the class doing an adaptation of Ben Stein’s “Beuller….Beuller…?”
  • I’m up to about 1,500 craft beers tasted and about 750 reviewed (still slacking there)
  • Anchor Steam still has a place in my craft beer fridge.  Fat tire not so much.
  • I finally made the pilrgimage  to Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens.
  • That grown up version of the “safe tree” is still in Scottsdale/Sedona though the forest of safe trees now includes Papago Brewing, Four Peaks, Old Town Tavern, The Yard House & Stone Rose at the Princess.
  • I finally began home brewing with Honey Badger IPA as chronicled in New Jersey Monthly Magazine.

Most importantly, I’ve found that I was right about my parting observation back then.  It’s still not about the beer.  It’s about the craft beer people like the group at Just The Booze Dancing and the people that make up the vibrant craft beer culture (fans, writers, brewers, bar owners) in places like Philly, Austin, San Diego, Asheville & the next great craft beer scene, wherever that might be.

Oh, and if you do plan to click over and read the original post, have a Stone Double Bastard in hand.

Cheers!

 

 

Craft Beer’s Mt. Rushmore

The Inspiration for Mt. Hopmore

The Inspiration for Mt. Hopmore

President’s Day is a time for honoring all of our past Presidents but somehow the guys that managed to get themselves chiseled into that mountain seem to be the only ones that actually get honored.  Not sure what Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, or Warren Harding did to miss the cut up there but perhaps there was a remarkable likeness of their faces molded into the mud beneath the pines after a storm one Thursday afternoon.  Or not.

In any event, images of Mt. Rushmore got me thinking about which craft beer pioneers I would want to see carved into a mountain.  Who belongs on craft beer’s Mt. Hopmore?  I started with a list of 7 or 8 names (ok, exactly 8).  Naturally, my target number was 4.  After all, the real thing has 4 and it looks really good under those fireworks at night.  Coming up with exactly 4 craft beer luminaries for Mt. Hopmore was; however, almost impossible.  Then it hit me – it’s my concept.  My mountain – my rules.  That was easy.  So my Mt. Hopmore has 5 giants of craft beer.  In all honesty, the first 3 seem to me absolute givens.  The last 2 were just too hard to differentiate between one another.  Both clearly worthy and both identical in one important respect.  Anyway, here they are:

Fritz Maytag - Anchor Brewing

Fritz Maytag – Anchor Brewing

First of all, doesn’t this guy look the part? Swap him out today for Teddy Roosevelt and almost nobody would notice the difference.  Hard to argue against including the guy who took over a failing second-rate brewery and turned it into, arguably, the flagship craft brewery that lead the way for all the others to follow.  A true craft beer icon.

Ken Grossman - Sierra Nevada

Ken Grossman – Sierra Nevada

It’s often said that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the one – the Neo of craft beer.  OK, I just said it and I’ll repeat it a bunch of times (though not here – there’s a limit to how much I really want to torture you) so it’ll eventually be often said.  Ken Grossman opened minds and palates to hoppy, flavorful ales and even though Sierra Nevada Pale pales in comparison to today’s hop bombs, many of them would never have been brewed if not for his vision and determination.

Jim Koch - Boston Beer

Jim Koch – Boston Beer

How can you ignore the guy who brought Samual Adams, an American patriot, to the masses by brewing it to them?  Too many good reasons to carve him into a mountain even if Boston Beer is, well, very large (and advertises – a rarity in the craft beer industry).  He’s been a huge supporter of small, independent craft brewers.

Sam Calgione - Dogfish Head

Sam Calgione – Dogfish Head

You knew he had to show up.  As outspoken as anyone in the industry today and a formidable foe to Big Beer.  The Godfather of extreme brewing, he’s come up some outrageous brews.  Love him or hate him, if you’re a craft beer fan you have a strong opinion one way or the other.  He’s elevated the debate surrounding beer vs. wine as a companion to fine food and he gets extra credit for pissing off Big Beer with his short-lived Brewmasters series.

Greg Koch - Stone Brewing

Greg Koch – Stone Brewing

Full disclose: I have a Stone Brewing addiction.  If my wife would have allowed it, our first child might have been named Arrogance.  That said, he founded Stone and the mountain is made of the stuff,  Aside from that, he’s turned craft brewing up to 11, pioneers sustainable industry and pokes a hoppy finger in the eye of Big Beer with every Ruination poured.  Oh, another thing: he’s made gargoyles very, very cool.

So that’s my Mt. Hopmore.  Agree? Disagree?  Take the poll and vote!

Hoppy Holidays!

flyer_xmas2008_small

It may be too early to stuff the holiday stockings but it’s not too early to start stocking the beer fridge with great holiday ales.  Nothing says the holiday season is approaching like the sight of the first few Holiday and Winter seasonal brews on the shelves.  This is my favorite time of the craft beer drinking year because so many interesting and flavorful beers are released.  I’ve always been a huge fan of Anchor’s holiday offering – “Our Special Ale”.  This year’s vesion was released on November 3rd and started hitting shelves along with a few of the other early holiday brews including Avery’s Old Jubilation and Red Hook’s Winter Hook.

The Trappist Monks have a good gig going over in Belgium but they have nothing on the Elves when it comes to brewing Holiday Ales!  

Do yourself a favor and tell Aunt Millie not to bother with that scrumptious home made fruit cake this year and to pick up a six pack of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale or Deschutes Jubelale instead.  If she insists on forcing her way into the house with one of those sticky cinder blocks anyway, make sure you have enough of your favorite holiday brew on hand to help get it down.

Cheers!