Dock Street Walker – A Beer Not Reviewed (leaving that to the real Walking Dead)

About a year ago I wrote a “somewhat sarcastic” and critical post about what I saw as a troubling trend towards craft brewer’s use of more and more outrageous ingredients.  Thankfully, “Howard Stern Meets Craft Brewing. Enter The Era of Shock Brews” appeared to have made a difference.  Apparently the seventeen or so people who read it were the exact seventeen or so that would otherwise have brewed something slightly despicable.  They reconsidered after bowing to the force of my reason and observations.  I saved craft brewing with a few pictures, a string of adjectives, and a wireless keyboard.

And then this happened…..

 

A new low in shock brewing?

A new low in shock brewing?

Apparently that eighteenth reader was the one that got away.  When I first heard about a beer brewed with smoked goat brains I assumed it was a bit of interwebz malarky.  A premature April Fools joke on the craft beer community.  Not so lucky.  This beer actually exists and can seemingly be acquired without having to recite a secret phrase to the craft beer manager at the rear alley loading dock entrance of your favorite bottle shop.  Apparently bull testicles and beard yeast weren’t outlandish enough for Philadelphia’s Dock Street Brewery, and otherwise well-respected and established outfit that’s anything but extreme.  Odd.  Its not as though these City of Brotherly Love Brewers are the American equivalents of the Scottish loons at Brew Dogsinfamous brewers of Tactical Nuclear Penguin, the world’s strongest beer and only one “bottled” in a squirrel carcass (or something like that).

It seems the boys at Dock Street are devotes of AMC’s The Walking Dead and thought up this mind numbing recipe to coincide with the airing of the season finale.  It’s not as though craft beer and pop culture haven’t collaborated before.  Ommegang has already done two brews for HBO’s Game Of Thrones (the current Take The Black Stout is a well crafted, complex but accessible stout that would be worth a pour even if it was associated with H.R. Pufnstuf).  And then there was that Hanson Brothers MMMHop IPA.  Or was there? Did they ever get that off the ground or have they been too focused on training for an eventual invitation to appear on Dancing With The One Hit Wonders?

Maybe its just me but I think brewing with roasted goat brains makes about as much sense as Yul Brynner nailing a series of Taylor Swift hair flips.  And before you go there, I’d say the same thing if they were using candied goat brains. I tried to fight the windmill but, alas, the battle is lost.  Since it appears as though shock and grotesque gimmick brews are here to stay I figured I’d toss out a couple of ideas:

Extreme Brewing Fermenter

Extreme Brewing Fermenter

Staying with the anatomical theme, how about a Surgical Waste Saison fermented in used medical waste buckets?  No need to pitch any yeast.  Plenty of naturally occurring, wild yeast strains already partying in the goo.  Looking for something a little darker to pair with a hearty burger of slab of BBQ ribs?  Can’t beat this:

Those aren't hop sacks

Those aren’t hop sacks

Yes, its finally here.  Diaper Genie Baby Poo Porter.  Chocolate malt entirely optional given the robust deep dark hues imparted by the brewing process.  Variants could be fermented with Gerber Peas, Chicken Mush, Organic Carrots, you name it.  The baby food aisle’s the limit!

Unfortunately, there may be no end to this madness.  Fortunately; however, there’s always Bud Light.  I’d take one of those over brains (in my beer) any day.

Cheers!

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Event Review – Fair Food Philly’s 10th Anniversary Brewer’s Plate Event 2014

Reflections of Brewers Plate

Reflections of Brewers Plate

So I’m minding my own business two weeks ago (something I do far more often than many are willing to believe) when G-LO lets me know that he’s been invited to attend Fair Food Philly’s gala 10th Anniversary Brewer’s Plate Event at the Kimmel Center.  He and Limpd attended and raved about it the last two years, but scheduling conflicts prevented either of them from taking advantage of this year’s invitation.  That was about to become a problem for me because I was being asked to pinch hit for the Booze Dancers by attending as a VIP to review the event.  Honored and intrigued by the prospect I gladly accepted the invitation … and the challenge.  You see, the last event of this type I attended was the Atlantic City Craft Beer Festival some years ago with Chef Robert Irvine of Dinner/Restaurant Impossible fame.  Let’s just say that spending a day with him sampling our way through various brewer’s and restaurant’s offerings was hysterical but not something I felt I needed to repeat.

And then there’s that cheese thing.  G-LO and virtually everyone who’s spent more than a few minutes with me is well aware of my issues with cheese (and with more than a handful of other supposedly edible foods – believe me, Rain Man and his eight fish sticks have nothing on me).  I wrote about my fatwa with all things cheese in Full Frontal Fromage so there’s no point in getting into it here other than to acknowledge that my pre-event research revealed that Brewer’s Plate would showcase many local artisinal cheeses.  Never fear.  On occasion, I’m modestly capable of exercising sound judgment in the face of a clear and present gouda and this was one of those times.  I’d enlisted the expert assistance of my lovely wife who, surprisingly, doesn’t share my fear or opinions regarding cheese.  Time to experience the Brewer’s Plate in all of its glory.

Beads of sweat began to form on my furrowed brow and I was starting to form complete thoughts in my mind that ended in prepositions.  A sure sign of an impending panic attack as I waited in line (first in line, actually) to enter the Kimmel Center.  Biej entertained the VIPs, including Epikur’s Writer of the Year, Tara Nurin, with some well executed acoustic tunes to set the mood before the doors opened.  Once inside it was wow at first sight!  The Kimmel Center is a stunning example of design and architecture.  A festival of Mexican hairless dogs and their owners (well some of them) would look great in this space.  Fortunately none of the attendees needed to negotiate any of those hideous canines because Fair Food Philly had something else to showcase. “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” is one of the the themes of the Brewer’s Plate and that theme was beautifully showcased throughout the evening.  In Fair Food Philly’s own words:

The Brewer’s Plate is the great-grand-pappy of the beer and food pairing movement in Philadelphia – one of the first to introduce the region’s blossoming throngs of foodies and beer geeks to the concept. And, like most things, we continue to get better with age.  No other annual event maintains an unwavering commitment to “buy fresh, buy local” while bringing together our region’s outstanding chefs, farmers, food artisans, brewers, distillers, and winemakers for the benefit of the most discerning critics, bloggers and guests.  Brewer’s Plate attendees enhance their knowledge of the local food scene by sampling, attending breakout sessions, and directly interacting with vendors and sponsors. Our 10th Anniversary (#BP10) Celebration will be the best yet, jam-packed with celebrity guests, exclusive beers, amazing pairings, and much more – located at one of the best venues in the city!

After three hours of sampling many of the offerings, covering every inch of all three levels, and chatting with like-minded local craft beer geeks, foodies, bloggers, and professional writers, I have to say the Fair Food Philly team nailed it.  Philadelphia has a long and enviable craft beer and fine food culture and many of the brewers, chefs, chocolatiers, and, yes, cheese maker/purveyors who contribute to that reputation were on hand.  Here’s a list of this year’s participants:

EATS

Abbaye, Alla Spina, Amada, Bar Ferdinand, Barren HIll Tavern, Birchrun Hill Farm, Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse, Brauhaus Schmitz, Capogiro Gelato, Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen, Cherry Grove Farm, Choptank Oyster Company, City Tap House, DiBruno Brothers, Distrito, Doe Run Farm, Donna & Company Artisanal Chocolates, El Camino Real, Eclat Chocolate, Epic Pickles, Fair Food Farmstand, Fette Sau, Field House, Franklin Fountain, Garces Catering, Garces Trading Company, Iron Hill Brewery, J.G. Domestic, John & Kira’s, Khyber Pass Pub, London Grill, Miss Rachel’s Pantry, Night Kitchen Bakery, Philly Bread, Rosa Blanca, Russet, South Philly Tap Room, Southwark, The Belgian Cafe, Tinto, Tria, Varga, Victory Brew Pub, Village Whiskey, Weckerly’s Ice Cream, White Dog Cafe & Wild Flour Bakery

DRINKS

Angry Orchard, Barren Hill, Boxcar Brewing, Brooklyn Brewery, Conshohocken Brewery, Dock Street Brewing ,Dogfish Head Brewery, Earth, Bread & Brewery, Evil Genius, Fegley’s Brew Works, Forest and Main Brewing Company, Frecon’s Cidery, Free Will Brewing, Iron Hill Brewery, Lancaster Brewing Company, Mugshots Coffeehouse, Neshaminy Creek, Nodding Head, Philadelphia Brewing Company, Philadelphia Distilling, Prism Beer, River Horse, Round Guys, Roy Pitz, Sam Adams, Saucony Creek, Shawnee Craft, Sly Fox Brewing Company, Stoudts Brewing Company, Subarashii Kudamono, Susquehanna Brewing Company, Troeg’s Brewing, Vault Brewing Company, Victory Brewing, Weyerbacher Brewing & Yards Brewing

With so many stations to hit and such a wide variety to chose from it was impossible to try and get to all of them but the well thought out layout made it easy to sample a representative cross section.  My wife was impressed with the overall quality of the food and was particularly impressed with the pommes puree by Garces Trading Co. I have to admit, calling mashed potatoes something frenchly exotic makes a difference.  Attempting to list and comment on everything we sampled would be a fool’s errand so I’ll simply note a few favorites.  White Dog Cafe’s BBQ pulled pork sliders were tangy, sweet, and tender and Weckerly’s toasted oat cinnamon Ice Cream float with Dock Street Cinnister Stout was a worthy adults only desert treat.  Speaking of desert treats, you can’t beat Capogiro for flat out world class gelato.  They whipped up several local craft beer flavored gelatos for Brewer’s Plate.  I went with the Weyerbacher Heresy and quickly discovered that heretics can be splendid indeed.  We were; however,  slightly puzzled at the number of items that required two hands to eat.  After all, this is food and craft beer pairing event and pairing is best facilitated by having a bite ready in one hand with a sip ready to go in he other.  Not really a major problem upstairs on the VIP level where there was plenty of room and cocktail tables but managing without a third hand was a bit more challenging elsewhere.

As for the craft brews, I was most impressed with Forest & Main’s Alopex Sour Lemongrass Saison, Brooklyn Brewery’s Swedish Strong Ale, Boxcar Brewing’s 1492 American Pale, andSam Adams Rebel IPA through a Simcoe packed Randall.  Victory Brewing teamed up with Sam Adams for a subtly complex Brewers Plate Stout that was a nice contrast to many of the more intense (though delicious) barrel aged ales performing elsewhere in the Kimmel Center.  Both my wife and I gave the best surprise beer of the night award to Sam Adams for their Spiced Peach Ale.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the Asian Pear Wines being poured by Subarashii Kudamono.  

About those cheeses.  They were abundant and the air was often redolent with their scent but that didn’t seem to bother any of the throngs of people constantly awaiting their turn to graze the spread laid out by DiBruno Brothers.  Again, I don’t get it.  What’s wrong with a display of matzo balls?  That said, my cheese sampling winglady enjoyed all but the Victory Storm King Soaked Cheddar.  Pretty clearly a gross violation and waste of a fine imperial stout but that’s just me.

Unfortunately, we missed one of the feature events, “Best of the Wurst” sausage showdown but we didn’t miss much else.  With such a large and diverse venue it was difficult to estimate the total attendance.  The main lobby and Locavore Lounge on the second level were crowded but not uncomfortably so.  From a third balcony view, I could occasionally make out small mobs of meerkats (nattily dressed hipsters) bounding from brewer to chef to brewer but always in a well mannered way.  This wasn’t one of those craft beer and food festivals that makes you feel like you’ve been dropped into a real life giant pachinko game.  Every element of the Brewers Plate was well conceived from the selection of the venue to the layout of the participants.  The Hoppin John Orchestra kept everyone pouring and sampling to a great groove and the mix of craft beer and foodie fans provided its own city suave energy.

Happy 10th Anniversary to the Brewers Plate! An all around great event flawlessly executed by great people showcasing some of the best Philadelphia has to offer.

Cheers!

Secret Swillionaires Summit Reveals Big Beer Plans

What with all the hubbub surrounding the NSA leaker Snowden and his impersonation of a refuse barge adrift at sea with no taker or safe harbor I thought it might be good time to publish some equally sensitive and potentially embarrassing information regarding a couple of Big Beer’s black bag projects.  I’ve known about them for a few months but been hesitant to reveal anything for fear of reprisals from the corporate goons of ABInBev and MillerCoors.  But before I expose their plans and enter the craft beer bloggers protection program I want to get back to this Snowden idiot for a second.  How screwed is this guy?  He’s being hunted by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies and even Putin, Chaves, and Kim Jong-un won’t grant him refuge.  Unless Jason Bourne is his BFF, he’s going to end up living out whatever days he has left hiding in some remote shack in the Andes hoping not to be eaten by descendants of the Uruguayan soccer team that crashed in 1972.

Impressive show but the real action was in the shadows

Impressive show but the real action was in the shadows

So, back to the Big Beer secret projects.  Not long ago, MillerCoors held their annual distributors convention in Orlando.  As you’d expect, lots of glitz, glamour, showmanship, charts, and puffery (i.e. lies) regarding how well the business is doing and confident predictions of a bright future.  Nothing salacious, exciting, or remotely interesting there.  Kind of like their beer.  Anyway, it seems the real action was taking place behind the curtain.  Late on the second day of the convention there were rumors of Carlos Brito sightings throughout Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.  Odd.  Why would ABInBev’s CEO be anywhere near a major convention held by his chief rival?  The rumors had to be simple cases of mistaken identity.  After all, he does bear a striking resemblance to Maleficent, Disney’s reigning queen of evil deeds (in action, that is).  Well, the rumors turned out to be true.  Carlos Brito really was there and so was his CFO and a handful of other top ABInBev marketing and operations execs.  Something was up.

ABInBev's CEO & CFO before heading to the secret summit

ABInBev’s CEO & CFO before heading to the secret summit

A warren of interconnecting tunnels and underground facilities – practically an entire subterranean metropolis – underlies Disney World.  A perfect setting for alighting well concealed spies to discover all manner of planned and nefarious subterfuge.  Just a quick scan of the event schedule revealed an odd reservation.  A private Disney character breakfast had been reserved in the Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace for 3:00 in the afternoon of the second day of the convention.  A late afternoon breakfast was strange enough but stranger still was the fact that the parties on the reservation were blocked.  The guest notation only revealed that 24 would attend.  Nothing else on the schedule looked out of the ordinary so it seemed as if something special, something unpublicized and unspoken might take place over late afternoon home fries, bacon, and pancakes with Cinderella and her princess clique.

What better way to infiltrate the breakfast and gather intelligence than to plant a listening device and what better listening device than something with huge ears that doesn’t stand out?  Something like this:

A Fish out of water at Disney

A Fish out of water at Disney

Not that! This:

NSA's Echelon has nothing on this listening device

NSA’s Echelon has nothing on this listening device

That’s it.  A hidden Mickey.  They appear in all sizes, textures, and colors down there and are far more ubiquitous than Abe Vigoda.  Micky Mouse himself might have done a fine job but the princesses tend to get a bit skittish around rodents, especially extremely large ones like these:

 Mickey and Minnie better take the day off or take cover if Cary Elwes ever walks through the gates of the Magic Kingdom.  Anyway, with a little help from Ariel, a listening device in the shape of a hidden Mickey was planted near the desert table in the Crystal Palace just before the group was

Now THAT's what I call an effective spy

Now THAT’s what I call an effective spy

scheduled to arrive. Soon enough, she relayed via text that the players were streaming in and it was, indeed, a cast of Big Beer characters rivaling the gown-festooned starlets clearing their plates and refilling their glasses.  A who’s who of global ABInBev & MillerCoors execs from the C Suites including marketing and R & D honchos.  Arch rivals breaking bread and tonging bacon? After an hour or so of small talk and one up-manship regarding the size of bribes one another handed out to secure prime spots at the front of every line in the park they got down to the business that brought them together for this secret summit.  Not surprisingly, craft beer was very much on all of their minds.  A full transcript of the meeting would be too lengthy to post here (anyway, Julian Asange might take exception to my doing that and I don’t want to risk his exposing my recipes for Unholy Hand Grenades or Schlomo Kameamea’s Sliders so I’m only going to publish an excerpt here.  If I pass under his radar I’ll post more excerpts later on).  Because Ariel and the rest of the princesses were asked to leave the room before they got to the serious stuff it’s impossible to always identify who’s talking so speakers are often only identified by company where possible.

Transcript of the Swillionaires Summit

Unidentified MillerCoors Exec (MC):  Good luck with that.  I saw you strike out with Aurora and Jasmin.  Your Adam Sandler schtick is priceless – and dateless.

Carlos Brito (Brito):  Alright. Enough of that.  We need to deal with this craft bullshit once and for all.  We like our Shock Top numbers and Black Crown is right there but I know they’re crap and I think we all see the same thing.  Your Third Shift and Batch 15 imposter (cut off)

MC: Batch Nineteen!

Brito: Whatever.  It’s crap – they’re all crap and we have to acknowledge that too many beer drinkers outside of this room know it too.  More and more every day.  We’re not fooling them anymore with the glitzy packaging, knock-off craft labels and nonsense commercials.

MC:  Agreed.  I guess we knew the party had to end.  We’ve crammed so much cheap shit into our top line beers that they might as well all be Natty Light.  We thought we’d regain some market share with our punch top can but the high school kids would rather jam a pen into a can of Keystone and get the same effect for less money.  Probably smarter than all of us because it tastes just as bad anyway.

Unidentified ABInBev Exec (AB):  Our bowtie can is iconic and masterful.  You guys went in the wrong direction with yours.

Brito:  Let’s not not go there.  We were way over budget with that fool’s errand and it’ll do little more than slow the obvious trend.  Look.  We’re losing.  The craft segment has gained steadily and impressively every year since at least ’02 and we have to change course or end up remembered as the brewing equivalents of Ratt or Winger.

MC:  Or Haircut 100

Unidentified: What’s wrong with them?

AB:  Seriously?

Brito:  We’ve tried everything.  Worked the Statehouses and DC, choked micro distribution and shelf space, bought into some of crafts, acquired Goose Island, and launched a more aggressive knock-off campaign

MC: The craft segment calls it “crafty”.  Kind of works

Brito:  Well it doesn’t f’n kind of work for our bottom line or your’s either!  You’ve seen the same numbers and focus data we have.  They want real flavor – good flavor.  They don’t want bland factory beer anymore.  We’ve lost the narrative and we’re going to lose more than that.  We’re here to brainstorm new, bold ideas so let’s hear them!

MC:  OK, we’ve had a small group in Promotions looking at potential co-sponsorship opportunities,  Strategic alliances between brands and external consumer goods and services.  Through relational database analysis we’ve identified a strong correlation between our bargain brand drinkers and arrests.  We think a potential value proposition for that customer would be to offer discount bail bond coupons with every volume format purchase like our 30 pack.  Perhaps a punch card which could be presented at checkout allowing buyers to accumulate points towards a bail coupon.  Something like the free latte customer cards at Starbucks.

AB:  (unintelligable)…. I can only imaging the legal and regulatory BS that kind of concept would entail.  The revenue limiting divisions … compliance and legal and governmental relations will have a field day.  We’re greasing the pols but not richly enough to make that kind of thing fly.

MC (possibly CEO Tom Long or high ranking exec):  We’re among friends…for now…so I’ll tell you what we’ve had in R&D for several months.  We’ve been trying to mimic them for years with our knock-off lines while we should be mimicking their model.

Brito:  We’re both much too big for that and you know it.

MC:  Yes but here’s where we use our size and resources to finally beat them at their own game.  They love to pal around with one another and do these ridiculous collaboration brews.  Seems they don’t understand the concept of competition.  If we combined forces we could brew a collaboration beer to end all beers.

AB:  (unintelligible murmurs)…. and that’s exactly what it might do to both of us.  What are you suggesting?  We brew something that combines the cheap beer factory flavors already leading to our huge losses? Insanity.

MC:  No. We mimic another of their pet brewing concepts and brew something that will revolutionize not just a beer style but will change the way consumers shop for beer in the retail stores while diverting their attention away from all of the craft competition.

Brito:  We thought we did that with Strawb-A-Rita.  Go on.

MC:  Even more elegant.  We brew a “tripel imperial light beer.”  The craft segment would bottle imperial water – a wetter version – if they could.  Why not take a page out of their pet project books and brew a beer so light…so massively light…that it actually floats?!

AB:  What the f… are you talking about? Do you have one of those on-line degree diplomas tacked to your cubicle particle board?

MC:  Hear me out.  We’ve done some preliminary due diligence and we’re moving along with a proof of concept.  It can be done.  The beer will be light enough to make the cans float to the ceilings of the retail outlets.  Imagine going to the local Costco or BevMo to shop for your beer with a long net or grappling hook?  The hell with those shelves of craft beer – nobody will be looking at them.  They’ll all be staring straight up.  The promotional opportunities are endless.

Unidentified:  Um…  outside events…picnics whatever….airplanes….mylar balloons get the Greenpeace PETA activists all worked up as it is.  Pretty sure stray six packs in the glide paths of a few planes won’t go unnoticed.

AB:  What about thick lead cans or even lead pellets?  We could set up Chinese factories to brew and can it.

MC:  That defeats the whole purpose!  Anyway, we’ve got the brewery angle covered too.  Even our (and your) best and biggest beer factories aren’t capable of creating something like this.  Only one facility in the world can do it.  The large  hadron super collider at Cern.  It’s off line for a couple years now anyhow so we offer to lease it. They need the money.  There’s no market for God particles these days anyway.  Straightforward process.  We load Miller light into one end and Bud Light into the other and flip the switch.  They collide at near light speed and Eureka! Higgs-Boson Light!!

Brito:  You’re right.  It’ll be a beer to end all beers….and everything else!

MC:  Wait…wait.  Think of the myriad of revenue opportunities aside from the beer itself.  That Cern place is HUGE!  We could fit out a section of it as a hotel – a Beer & Breakfast.  Multiple lounges and themed bars.  The Americans come to Germany in droves to see their Bimmers and Benzes being built and take delivery.  We can offer them the same thrilling experience!!

Brito:  Let’s break.  This is outrageous.  I need a beer right now.  Someone tell Cinderella to go off site and get me something.  There are no decent beers in Disney….

(transcript ends)

Not a silhouette.  These people actually look like this

Not a silhouette. These people actually look like this

Seems Big Beer has big plans for a very big brewery.  The next Bud branded floating thing you see up there might not be this thing:

Light enough to float one of their blimps (blood funnel at foreground)

Light enough to float one of their blimps (blood funnel at foreground)

Cheers! (now I’m off to the Snowden Circuit)……

Beer Review: A Hurricane’s Hoppy Lining

Lasting image of Hurricane Sandy

Lasting image of Hurricane Sandy

First things first: There’s nothing good about hurricanes.  Whether Sandy, Katrina, Andrew, or ones yet to be formed and named, they kill people, tear apart families, destroy homes, businesses, futures, and hope.  That said, some of the finest examples of human kindness and compassion are often tragedy’s most lasting memories.  First Responders and nameless neighbors risking their own lives at the height of the storm to save people they’ve never met and may never know.  Physically unaffected people from every state in the country and from countries around the world donating their time, resources and money to help crippled communities get back on their feet.  It’s in that spirit that a small craft brewery which recently moved from Cherry Hill, NJ (just a couple miles from my blogging global corporate campus and research facilities) to Somerdale, NJ lent a hand by brewing a special beer with profits donated to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

So THAT's what "FU" stood for all these years...

So THAT’s what “FU” stood for all these years…

Just about everyone in NJ and all along the Northeastern Coast has more than one memory of Hurricane Sandy.  Those of us who live in the area remember all too well where we were when it struck land and forever changed the geography of much of New Jersey’s shoreline.  I was lucky – sort of.  I missed all the excitement because while Sandy was wreaking havoc I was tethered to a hospital bed at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, 12 floors up with so many IVs in me that they must have thought I was an octopus.  Too add insult to professionally planned and executed injury (a.k.a. major open abdominal surgery), none of those IVs delivered craft beer (but one offered up something a little more potent).  Anyway, Sandy hit about 24 hours after I was told I might not survive the night and less than 24 hours after middle of the night trips through deserted corridors into the bowels of the hospital for emergency diagnostic studies.  As I said – I was lucky.  The rest of you aren’t.  I’m still here to pester you with these posts.

While recuperating at home and rebuilding my strength with a diet of matzo ball soup and Han Dynasty Dan Dan Noodles I saw a tweet from my home town craft brewers announcing that they were going to brew a very limited beer with all profits going to Sandy relief efforts.  One reason why the release was going to be very limited was simply the fact that they couldn’t bottle this beer.  It was going to be distributed in kegs only because there was no way they’d get approval for labels.  No F’n way.  Not for a beer called FU Sandy Ale.  “Forever Unloved”, yeah, right.

Flying Fish Brewery did a great thing by donating all of the profits from every keg of FU Sandy to relief efforts but they did something else which has gone largely unnoticed:  They brewed a spectacular beer.  I’ll admit it.  I’m often a critic of local brews, strongly favoring the bolder, brighter beers of the California Coast, especially San Diego’s flagship West Coast IPAs.  As I wrote a few months back in my post on the Converging Coasts of Craft Beer, I checked out many years ago but never left.  When it comes to a bias for West Coast craft beer, I’m guilty as charged.  That said, Flying Fish flat out nailed it with FU Sandy.

I missed this beer when it was initially released, chasing Twitter feed sightings from bar to bar in the Cherry Hill area the day it was tapped.  No luck.  Not until this past Sunday night’s Fathers Day outing to South Jersey’s finest craft beer bar, the Pourhouse.  My buddy and last H.O.P.P.E.R. standing and I were long overdue for what used to be a semi-regular Sunday night research session (work week readjustment therapy session is more like it).  After some well-deserved abuse for having become near strangers for our recent lack of patronage, Marci, their rock startender, said “we have the last keg of FU Sandy on.”  That was all I needed to hear.  No need to read the tap list.  My Fathers Day started with a breakfast in bed treat with the whole family (including the newest editions, Guinea Pygmalians I & II – my manes, not the kids’, they’ve changed names so many times that I honestly don’t know what they are) and it would end with an unexpected craft beer treat.  A Happy & Hoppy Fathers Day!

Flying Fish describes FU Sandy as a hybrid Pale Wheat Ale brewed with an experimental hop variety dubbed ADHA 483. The experiment worked.  Gloriously so.  Big, bright tropical aromas exploded from the glass.  Plenty of fresh mango, guava, and grapefruit.  Those flavors carried through to the flavor, balanced beautifully by the lightly toasted, biscuity notes from the wheat side of this blended style family.  Even though this isn’t an IPA it has all of the hallmarks of an exceptional one – a West Coast profile at that.  Silky mouthfeel and a crisp, moderately dry finish.  A legitimate contender for the best craft beer I’ve had so far this year along with Stone Enjoy By 12.21.12, Three Floyds Zombie Dust, and (512) Pecan Porter.  By far the best beer that’s ever come out of Flying Fish and one worthy of mention along with the best brewed anywhere.  A Heady Topper topper hands down!  Don’t get me wrong, these guys turn out a few other really nice brews including Exit 1, Exit 6, and Exit 16, but this one is in a class all it’s own – a world class.

So while Jersey may best be known for Springsteen, Bon Jovi, The Sopranos, and those horrific tomatoes, I nominate Flying Fish FU Sandy for a spot on the list of Jersey’s icons.  It’s that good and it did some good.

Cheers!

Magic Hat shows their Heart of Darkness is more than just a beer.

Somehow I managed to find a few minutes yesterday to catch up on Facebook posts in hopes of temporarily suspending or at least slowing the scroll.  Believe it or not, I really do like almost all of my old friends and try to stay connected to what they’re up to and how many times they’ve shopped at Costco for vastly underrated steaks.  As you might suspect, one or two of them share my interest in craft beer so I wasn’t surprised to see my old Audi TT buddy, Jason, post a status update involving Magic Hat.  They’ve never impressed me as anything more than modestly mediocre and after selling out to what’s now a South American conglomerate they’ve lost their identity but I thought I’d give Jason’s link a shot anyway.  Having read the recap of a lawsuit brought by Magic Hat against West Sixth, a small craft brewery in Kentucky, I became more firmly convinced that Magic Hat has lost more than it’s identity, it’s lost any semblance of the character of shared spirit and cooperation that’s been the hallmark of the craft brewing industry.  More importantly, I was left wondering if this is perhaps an example or glimpse of the inevitable types of bigger business corporate behavior that the craft brewing industry’s success was bound to generate.  Are we reaching an important tipping point in an ever more crowded landscape or this merely the result of an international bully breaking the unwritten rules?

Inverted Object or Perverted Logic? (photo courtesy of BeerAdvocate.com)

Inverted Object or Perverted Logic? (photo courtesy of BeerAdvocate.com)

So here’s the skinny: newly sold and foreign conglomerate owned Magic Hat claims that tiny independent Kentucky newbie, West Sixth copied (stole) their #9 logo.  You can read more about the suit and allegations of “enormous financial damage” here.  Before I go too much further a bit of a disclaimer is in order.  I like craft beer.  I “research”, write about, and evangelize the wonders of well-crafted ales to all who may and to some who absolutely don’t care to hear about it.  That said, my love of craft beer doesn’t pay the bills.  Never has and never will.  The bills are paid by something I don’t love – not these days anyway.  I’m a recovering litigator.  I spent over 20 years in courtrooms as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and civil litigator.  I’ve handled over 100 jury trials from murder, rape, child abuse, drug distribution and robbery to construction and roofing defects, commercial manufacturing disputes, products liability, and copyright/trademark infringement.  I’ve put murderers in prison for the rest of their lives and defended companies against disastrous, multi-million dollar lawsuits.  In other words, when it comes the subject matter of one brewery suing another, I know a little something (from every angle).

So what’s really going on here?  Is Magic Hat (or whoever they really are) flexing their deep corporate pockets by filing a frivolous suit betting that a small southern start-up brewery will meekly submit or do they have a legitimate, if unpopular point?  Well, the recovering litigator in me can’t help but conclude that it’s a little bit of both.  There are always many more than two sides to a story.  Don’t get too far ahead of me here.  Yes, I genuinely believe that there is some merit to part of Magic Hat’s claims but whatever merit exists is soundly overwhelmed by simple common sense and good craft beer citizenship.  When it comes to that, Magic Hat is failing miserably.

Are the logos similar?  Well, maybe a bit.  By definition a 6 is an inverted 9 but, all due respect to the legal mind that thought that argument up, it’s ridiculous.  The fonts share some style cues and they each have a special character adjacent to the number but aside from that, they aren’t easily confused except by Cirque de Soleil trainees between two-a-day tryout sessions (and that’s mostly because of their Frenchness).  “Irreperable harm” and “enormous financial damage?” I think not.  I know not.  Not now anyway.  That said, these types of suits are generally brought to protect the owner’s mark from future damage.  West Sixth certainly isn’t planning to expand into Vermont anytime soon but Magic Hat can’t know that and they’re statutorily required to aggressively protect their mark and corporate image at this stage or risk being precluded from protecting it tomorrow.  And there’s the rub.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  West Sixth has made what appear to be legitimate offers to resolve this thing like grown craft beer men – not unlike what Adam Avery and Vinnie Cilurzo did when they realized that both Avery and Russian River had a Salvation in their lineups.  The result was Collaboration Not Litigation Ale.  That’s the way craft brewers have dealt with one another (for the most part) throughout the last decade of the industry’s monumental growth.  Even the truly big boys like Sierra Nevada have gone out of their way to support the local, smaller brewers in North Carolina when they announced their new brewery near Asheville.  Sniping amongst and between craft brewers as the landscape becomes that much more saturated may be somewhat inevitable but doesn’t have to be ugly – not Magic Hat ugly in any event (I imagine I’ve just become a target of one of their cease and desist letters because I used social media to call them ugly).

Black Magic Hat's Prototype Logo

Black Magic Hat’s Prototype Logo

I don’t know – that new logo concept isn’t all that ugly.  Not Mona Lisa or a Pontiac Aztec ugly anyway.  It kind of captures the spirit of the new regime.

Magic Hat's new brew cauldron

Magic Hat’s new brew cauldron

Their nifty new brew kettles fit the image nicely as well.  Looks like a batch of Odd Notion or Roxy Rolles ready for the lauter tun.

Oh, one more thing Magic Hat: don’t forget to mention in your cease and desist letter that my refusal to purchase one or two six packs of your mediocre beer this year will inflict enormous financial damage.

Cheers! (and don’t forget to chime in)

“Nice Cans!” (you can’t judge a book by it’s cover but you can judge a beer by it’s can)

It was a really long day.  A really long day at the end of a really bad week.  I didn’t realize just how frayed I was until I noticed, after more than a few sips, that there was no glass next to my beer bottle.  Not a big deal.  I was just a bit unfocused and I must have simply forgotten where I put the glass.  Plausible but for the fact that I know I hadn’t stood up from the table in several minutes and I’d just taken another sip.  Then it hit me.  I was drinking straight from the bottle.  Once I came to grips with that I became paralyzed with the fear that I might do something else equally devastating – like ingest something containing mayonaise (look, I can’t even spell it correctly).  Thankfully this momentary bout of insanity appeared to be limited to the bottle problem.  The last beer I drank straight from the bottle was a Yuengling at a birthday party for a friend of my middle daughter’s three plus years ago.  It was 90 something degrees and so humid that I swore it felt as though we were being showered by sweat from the underbelly of a herd of giant pregnant yaks.  There were no red Solo cups to be had so I had no choice.  All I remember about the 3 or 4 of them I had back then was that they were spectacularly tasteless.

Fast forward to the beer in front of me last Friday and it was deja vu in a bottle.  Practically tasteless.  This time; however, the beer inside was a legitimate – if uninspiring – craft beer: Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPA with Mosaic hops.  Compared to any craft beer, Yuengling is going to come across as tasteless (all due respect to Dick and his 7,000 year old brewery but oldest doesn’t equal anything other than oldest – better than Bud, Miller & the rest of the Big Beer swill but far from craft beer by a very long shot) but the Latitude seemed just as hollow.  Nothing there.  Zero everything.  Might as well have been drinking something that came out of a 30 pack with a discount coupon for bail bond services like  Keystone, Natty Light, or MGD.  In that moment Bud’s latest fanfare extraordinaire made perfect sense.  After all, they know their socially engineered subjects better than anyone: Big Beer drinkers ALWAYS drink straight from the vessel – they can’t taste the stuff and have no idea how putrid it really is.  And that’s exactly the way the industrial brewers want it.

Pre-crushed for your convenience

Pre-crushed for your convenience

Seriously? What the fuck is wrong with these idiots? ABinBev spent a few gazillion dollars trying to figure out how to manufacture cans that would obviate the necessity of Buford’s having to crimp his own can at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Party while he hits on his second cousin.  Hey Budweiser, you think you might want to spend just a little bit of effort on improving the stuff INSIDE THE CANS instead of prancing around like a brood of proud neon pheasants extolling the virtues of your iconically moronic can?  My buddy, Jim of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers wrote a fantastically satirical post on the Bud Bowtie can a few weeks ago.  Take a look at it (after you’ve read every post here, of course).

Is it just me? Or is it actually vomiting?

Is it just me? Or is it actually vomiting?

ABinBev has plenty of company in ranks of the stupid swill vessels.  Miller Lite is a close second with their sophomoric frat party punch top can designed to “reduce glug.” Huh? How about the nice marketers at Miller tell us what this can is really designed for: shot-gunning brews with the other high school dropouts in mildew-laden basements with mismatched ratty, threadbare plaid couches.  Duck Dynasty or Reality Swamp Wife Swap in standard def on the circa 1991 Trinitron optional.

Coors goes about it a bit differently with their “Super Cold” blue mountain labels.  Might as well be drawings of tongues on the labels because what they’re really aiming for is just that: frozen tongues.  Their beer is only safe to drink at ridiculously low temperatures to ensure frozen taste buds, otherwise they run the risk of having some of their disciples actually taste the stuff and, well, that would only contribute to the already growing flight to quality craft beer.

The constant theme behind all this malarky is simple: get the beer as quickly as possible and as frigidly as possible past the drinker’s tongues before he or she notices how awful it tastes.  Once Bobby Ray pounds 4 or 5 he won’t care what it tastes like anyway in the event he starts to slow down to compare tattoos and fishing scars as he tries to impress a redhead who didn’t notice that halter tops weren’t exactly in style in 1975 either.  Contrast that to the efforts of Sam Koch of Boston Beer who, along with others in he craft beer world, designed a can to enhance flavors and experience.  Sly Fox also introduced the disappearing top can to highlight the can’s contents – substance over sub-standard.

Let’s give credit where credit is due.  Industrial Big Beer has spent billions upon billions cultivating an impressively loyal base.  Market research has shown them that idiotic gimmicks like pre-crimped Bowtie and shot gun ready punch top cans will draw their core demographic to the flashy retail displays at the liquor stores, groceries, and gas stations.  This summer they’ll be installing these things at retail end caps as well:

Sure to look great above the Bud Lime-a-Rita displays

Sure to look great above the Bud Lime-a-Rita displays

If they brand it, they will come

If they brand it, they will come

Hopefully they’ll work out the hygiene issues before rolling these things out.  In the end, they know their customers really don’t care what’s inside the cans or bottles as long as it has the right name on the outside, a childish gimmick, gives them a buzz, and promises to make them attractive to scantily dressed bimbos or talking horses just like they see on TV.

Then again, who doesn’t like an indoor communal salt lick?

Cheers!

Howard Stern Meets Craft Brewing. Enter The Era of Shock Brews

A few weeks ago I was reading about that Finnish brewery that’s recreating a beer salvaged from a 200 year old shipwreck.  Dogfish Head has been doing that kind of thing with much, much older historical brews – the Ancient Ales Series  – for years, so the Finn’s brew concept seemed downright tame.  Move on.  So I did, soon landing on the description of an upcoming brew from a nanobrewery in Iceland.  I figured this would be good.  Any country that produced Björk could probably turn out an avant guard brew.

The brewery was Egill Skallagrimsson (probably not on ABInBev’s acquisition list) and the beer, to my only slight amazement, was Björk Stork Special Lager.  Seriously? First of all, she’s a first class loon.  A modern day Yoko Ono but without the politically-laced soft porn with John Lennon side project.  Makes Lady Gaga look like Taylor Swift during the infatuation phase with a new boyfriend.  Her fans are certified wackadoos and if the country that celebrates her as a national hero wasn’t already physically detached from every other country in the world, we’d figure out how to make it so.  Anyway, here’s what Egill Skallagrimsson said about their upcoming brew:

Magnús Per Magnússon moving an entire brewery

Magnús Ver Magnússon moving an entire brewery

Brewed in honor of our beloved Björk with all of the essence and wonder of her angelic thunder.  Aged 18 weeks atop shavings of footwear worn during her 2011 Biophilia World Tour for a unique flavor experience.  The clarity of this finest lager comes from the waters of revered Vatnajökull Glacier.  A grand lager to quench the thirst of a thousand Magnús Ver Magnússons.  In the shadow of Eyjafjallajökull we bring you Iceland’s most prideful premium lagers.

Her idea of Dress Down Goose Day duds

Her idea of Dress Down Goose Day duds

I won’t be pestering my local craft beer shops to stock this stuff and won’t try to track down those 2 art students down the hall in our dorm who I was convinced were from Iceland due to the mannequins in their….never mind.  Actually, I won’t be trying to get this beer because nobody can.  Harder to get than Westy XII because it doesn’t exist.  But one day it might.  It might because there are already some outrageous brews out there.  The goose-wrapped freak up there would probably pair Icelandic Hákarl (cured shark) with one of them.  So? What would Björk drink?

In other words, what tremendously stupid craft beers are actually being brewed, bought, poured, and…*clears throat…enjoyed right now?  Two ridiculous examples immediately come to mind (excuse the horrific pun – you’ll understand in a minute unless you save yourself and stop reading right now).  Both turned out by otherwise legitimate, respected, award winning craft breweries who apparently thought it might be fun to put on the idiot caps and design the following brews:

Exibit 1:  Wynkoop Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout

Trust me, it bothered me to post it too

Trust me, it bothered me to post it too

To make matters worse, they recently started canning and packaging it in two packs.  I wish I was kidding.  Brilliant marketing or idiocy on a grand scale? You know the Bud Light Lime crowd is howling at this one.

Exhibit 2:  Rogue Beard Beer

a,k,a, Shark Jump Beer

a.k.a. Shark Jump Beer

I didn’t believe this one either until I had no choice.  Well, I have a choice not to go anywhere near it.  I don’t know what they were thinking aside from the fact that they weren’t.  Perhaps a cry for attention from Rogue Nation.  Maybe they felt as though they were being left in the dust by more adventurous craft brewers.  This is their way of saying “Hey! Look at us now! We can be morons too!” Meanwhile, fully aware of my own opinions on this beer, I bought a bottle of their new VooDoo Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ale earlier today AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE THE COMBINATION OF PEANUT BUTTER AND BANANA! So who’s the moron?

There are others.  These are just the two that annoyed me the most.  I assume this trend of shock brews is just in its infancy.  The gauntlet’s been brewed and bottled.  What’s your take? Should I just chill out with a sedate Ruination or am I somewhat justified?  Let me know what you think.

Cheers!