Friday Bullets For The End Of 2010 And 2000’s

Remember all the fuss 11 years ago about whether the millennium ended with the first minute of the first day of 2000 or 2001? Prigs aplenty had their view and most people sensibly had not a care for what they said. But today is different. There is no argument after midnight tonight that somehow the first decade of this century continues. It is done and, frankly, aren’t we well rid of it? Global recession after bubble after terror attacks after Y2K. Good bye.

We are digging out now from a decade of crap. Tonight is the beginning of that, the beginning of something defined by that digging out. Yes sirree. But what? It is another decade without a name. The teens? But 2011 is only a tween by that logic. If the last ten years seemed like we were being ruled, by turns, by the rage and joys of a pre-schooler with a wet diaper and no bottle will the next ten be awkward, gangly, gloomy and pimpled? Will that be an improvement?

  • What did I like this year? It was a big year for my internet writing as it turned out. While I seem to have moved heartily over to the beer blog and lost the daily habit here, I finally got more active on Facebook and Twitter, too.
  • Conversely, I read a huge amount for the first time in years. Histories, aboriginal social and legal theory as well as a bit of the languages, US constitutional writing, some baseball, everything I could find about Albany ale but a lot less about current politics.
  • I got out and about a bit but a bit less than in years past. No great push into the mid-west or the US south. Maybe in 2011. There are just too many humans to move these days. We have gone from a room in a motel to a junior suite in a hotel to two basic rooms in hotels with dreams of two junior suites. I should take up camping. I will never take up camping.
  • Politics depressed me. In Canada, we are led by the dull. In the US, the national campaign was bungled. Only in the UK was there a new thing. But that thing is posed to crush before it shows whether there is any benefit to come from the crushing.
  • I can’t think of an album of the year. Listened to a lot of music but not sure what record stood out. I like “Empire State Of Mind” a lot but only because the title implies that it includes the whole state which means somehow that Watertown is included in its embrace. I could have played more banjo but I played a fair bit.
  • Sports? Sox did well with what they had. Story of my life as a fan – except for the Leafs. They just suck.

I didn’t know that this would be my year in review when I started it but, really, what news occurs between Christmas and New Year’s Eve? Nothing. Well, weather news, North Korea still postures and someone got ripped off in an unimportant bowl game. Maybe that.


Galeville Grocery Shuts After 84… or 156 Years

galevilleMy math is pretty bad but not as bad as the news out of Liverpool in central New York near Syracuse that the Galeville Grocery has shut after being a grocery store since 1926 and a building since 1854. Reader Jack forwarded me last Friday’s news in an email earlier this week:

Even into this week, this storehouse turned store was a draw for customers prowling tightly drawn aisles, seeking canned goods, lottery tickets, plastic containers of bread crumbs, foreign and domestic beers, pool supplies, Italian bread, meats, sandwiches. You name it. But life moves ever forward and sometimes, there’s no time for nostalgia. Galeville Grocery becomes a part of the local Byrne Dairy family. It gets a new building in 2011, one designed to look like the current, but with 21st century touches to reach a 21st century shopper. The floors won’t creak and the cramped checkout counter will likely be larger. The aisles will be wider and the selection, some of it already with the Byrne Dairy name on it, may not be as wide and deep, but convenient, fast and easy. We’ll likely see some of the same, familiar faces.

Gee, I’m a 21st century shopper and I kind of liked the old place. I’ve been stopping there since at least 2004 soon after we moved to Ontario. I always seemed to find a well priced beery surprise I hadn’t seen elsewhere. And there was the service beyond even the counter guy loading your trunk for you. I really appreciated that time that I drove back 30 miles after realizing I didn’t have my receipt for the border declaration to Customs Canada – only to watch the staff dive into the trash to find it. But then there was the sad news of the passing of owner Bernie Rivers this past summer and one can imagine the prime location and all the good will lead to a great offer for the property. Don’t know if good beer sales will continue especially with the move Wegman’s has made over the last few years to fill central New York demand. I’ll keep an eye on it but it’s probably the end of an era.

Twenty Years Ago, A Christmas Eve In Scotland

One of my favorite Christmas Eves was twenty years ago tonight, in Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland. I was visiting my uncle, auntie and cousins and had settled into a week long stay. It didn’t take long for it to seem like to everyone in the village I was that “coosin frae Gan-ee-der.” People shouted hello to me from across the street, a colonial vestige of something, a bit of all their people who had gone away. I had been there a few years before by myself so was renewing old friendships but this time I had come there from a new direction – from Poland where I had been teaching English as a second language in a small city on the Baltic coast. And I’m still married to the guest I brought along, the one I had met only a few weeks before, back there well east of Germany where the Soviets still had tanks. All in all, a complex bit of culture shock going on: from the nutty affluence of North America to the balance of hard luck and new hope world of the land keeking out from behind the Iron Curtain and then on to somewhere in between, an old village in the old country in winter.

In that village there was a pub. The Golf Inn. Down the street and around the corner from the family home most evenings we played pool, drank a lot of Guinness and sat around and talked night after night with family and friends, greens keepers, university students back from college all curious about what we had seen in the East. We were there on Christmas Eve, too, dressed up a bit more and well fed by auntie, packed in with the neighbours likewise having a great old time when, at 11 pm, without any warning to we two Canadians in the corner, all moved as one across the road to the Church of Scotland, the Kirk, for the service. It was magic. Never been in a church before or since after a night filled with beer and friends. Before and after the dour sermon, there were great big men swaying in kilts, well oiled from the evening to that point. They sang in congregation and beefy harmony in great booming voices. Unlike this night, twenty years later in another church in another country, I am now not sure if they sang the Viking meets Italian carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” but they may well have:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

After church, we were with the half that did not pour back into the pub to continue. We had to get back. There were plenty of guests in the house besides ourselves, generations of relatives that all had to get up in the morning as one. We walked together back round the corner and up the street in the cold still dark night full of the singing, the beer, the night.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale ’05 v.’10, South-like London, England

I have been wondering what to do with these single boxes of Fuller’s Vintage Ale I stick away every year. Seems a shame to blow them all in one binge even if shared with pals and plenty of notes. Not much to learn there. I needed a plan, a system. So, with that in mind, I figured that I would open the current version as well as the version from five years ago. That sounds like a plan. And it is a recurring theme. Just what the modern blogger needs: plans and themes. The boxes are note worthy in themselves if only to note that someone took the time to make the font on the box a little more elegant between 2005 and now – though it does not carry over to the card inside. And interesting to note that the 2005 is #10599 while this year’s model is #026673, expectant of its siblings growing into six figures. But let’s not get bogged down in packaging. Unless you really want to. No? Fine.

The 2005 opens with a fizt and immediately gives off a nutty sherry aroma…rummy even. Plenty of frothy oranged off-white head. In the mouth, I first get marmalade and sticky bun. There is a very nice light astringency around the edge. Nutty with almond a bit like Hungarian Tokay. Very rich with a pleasant candied quality but clearly working its way yeastily beastily through itself. The malt has pear juiciness in there, too. Before the pear shows up, in the first wash there is a hot wave that is almost tobacco. As it opens the tobacco and pear morph into a touch of licorice. In the finish there are complex twiggy things going on, something like hedge.

By comparison, the 2010 is simpler, heftier and sweetly cloying, the sugars not having broken down for half a decade of thermostatic abuse in my basement stash. Even the head is more of a uniform fine cream rather than the more bubbly open froth of its elder. The bitterness is more generalized and slightly rougher. The back of the throat heat a notch more pronounced. No sense of the pear in the malt at all but maybe bread crustiness instead. Good and pleasant but clearly a bit young by comparison like a cheese that has yet to develop its bite. Frosh.

Having said all that, I still have 80% of each bottle left. I feel like I should do some tests upon the fluid with, say, litmus strips… or maybe observe the reaction of small penned animals asked to bed down in the boxes laid down amongst the smelly wood shavings. But what can a data like that tell you? Look at the photo above. Science is not all its cracked up to be. Both beers are very moreish, rich and worth opening at this time of year. Each could stand up to old cheddar or stilton very nicely at the end of a big holiday meal. I expect I will go buy more 2010 and hide it from myself. I will. I’ll be a year away from the beginning of paying university bills by the time it’s ready. Better buy lots. They’ll probably be drinking them by then, too.

While we are thinking about it, it does make you think whether any nation on this planet can express the hidden capacities of good rich malt like the English can.

Obviousness Update: Monsieur Noix of Ireland calls me out over the geography but I am mere puppet in this respect, parroting the brewery itself.

Click on the image to the right as to the evidence at hand.

To What End, The Traveling Beer Writer’s Argument?

I was shaking my head at another piece of Roger Protz’s writing last night. This time it was a bit on Chimay. I like Chimay as much as anyone so my concerns do not relate to the brewer – but you will recall that Mr. Protz is hardly monastic himself. He has a temper and a lack of discretion when it comes to other members of humanity. And he can shock with both error and recreational rudeness. So, it was with that guilty pleasure one has following the misfortune of others that I read this early paragraph about the most commercial of the Trappist monasteries, Chimay:

Some of the criticism, on websites in particular, is couched in a style of vulgar abuse that doesn’t warrant attention. But a number of serious and well-disposed writers have also levelled the criticism that beer quality has declined.

Note those last four words: “…beer quality has declined.” After completing them, Protz goes on for a thousand words or so, writing in a rather hostile tone, making arguments that would lead you to suppose that quality has not changed let alone declined. But then he writes the words (typo his): “Sample of Red and Blue that I have tasted in Britain recently have been less complex than I remember them.” Less complex? Isn’t that usually one example of what one might describe as a decline in quality? Why is the argument structured in this way? Why does he posture and accuse when in the end he is essentially agreeing with the point he is attacking? And why does he use this sort of summation, avoiding natural causal connection:

That, I believe, is the result of some change and slight diminution of complexity in the beers, not a sell-out by the monks to the forces of commercialism. I am well aware that this is unlikely to satisfy those who prefer the conspiracy theory of history.

Isn’t the proper idea for that sentence the more active “cause” not the passive “result” – and isn’t what has been “caused” by the brewery’s intentional change in fermentation processes a loss of complexity and therefore a decline in beer quality? Isn’t that the news here? Why the abandonment of objective analysis? With the given choice of argument and structure – not to mention the mix of accusation and hostility with the apologist’s agenda – what are we left with? A muddle. To what end, I have no idea.

An Interesting Story About Those Importing Dorks

It’s funny when arseholes tell you that you are only treated as a fool because you don’t understand things as profoundly as they do. In web design the arsehole’s joke went like this: “Funny? If you understood that joke on as many levels as I do, you’d really know what funny meant.” This article on the Shelton Brothers empire-ette has that particular funk:

“I hate beer writers,” he said. “You can ask them; they hate me, too. They call me arrogant and opinionated. They think I’m a real asshole. But, hey, what can you expect? I was trained as a lawyer.” By doing little more than parroting the marketing-speak of advertising companies, Dan believes American beer writers are largely to blame for an industry and drinking public that’s more taken with gimmickry than artistry. “The attitude seems to be, ‘It’s all good.’ No one’s willing to criticize a beer they don’t like, and when I do, I’m told I’m just trying to sell the beers I import. I’ve had fights with beer reviewers who want to believe that you can’t be objective about beer. It’s all subjective, they say. You like what you like.”

Oh dear. As a lawyer, I can see it. Can you? Anyone who actually says “I was trained as a lawyer” has moved well into the arsehole-esque zone. Reminds me of another joke: “What do you call a doctor who got “D” in anatomy? Doctor.” You get why the verb “to shelt” was invented, right? Don’t get me wrong. I have liked many of the High and Mighty beers of Will Shelton discussed in the article and also plenty of the beers that the brotherhood has imported. I have liked some a lot. But not all of them. Their business may be successful and have taken a lot of hard work but one can still ask valid questions about value and selection. In that they are like most other brewers and importers. Actually, in every way they are like that. Because that is what they are.

It’s an interesting counterpoint, when you think of it, to the emotional tug of that really swell guy who is the face of the new and time shifting TV show Brew Masters. Read the tweets. Giggly people want to know Sam. He’s so great. Who wouldn’t want a fawning relationship? Sheltons? Arseholes – but they’re so deep. Those in the know want an abusive dependent relationship. Why does anyone care? We shouldn’t. If you care about the personality of those who who make and provide your beer, well, you should ask if you have the same concern for those who make your cheese, your car’s tires or your socks. You don’t, do you. Make the beer prove itself each time.