Book Review: Brewing Local by Stan Hieronymus

brewinglocalsmConfession. I have fed Stan in my home. I have been asked by Stan why he bothers discussing things with me. My name appears in this book. I am very fond of Stan. All of which may influence my opinion of his writings, of this book. Along with the fact that this was a review copy kindly forwarded from the publisher. Can’t help it. Heck, if I run the photo contest again this Christmas I might just give it away as the only prize. I’m like that.

But let’s work around that for the moment. As with his other books for the Brewers Publications series, Stan has written a practical guide. Starting with the second half of the book, we see it contains discussions on foraging, a directory of ingredients one might consider adding to a beer to capture locality in the glass and, then, a collection of brewing recipes – including one for an 1835 Albany Ale supplied by Craig which has its roots in a report to the New York State Senate from that year which I discussed now over six years ago. It is flattering but at the same time something I consider important. Beer and brewing in the north end of the Western Hemisphere has a history which goes back at least 439 years – not counting the Viking expeditions. You would think it was invented by the immigrants who moved here after the varying successes of the 1830s revolutions in Europe. It wasn’t.

Much to his credit, Stan goes even further back and documents one beverage of one of the peoples who were here before European colonization: corn-based tiswin of the Apache. He also ties late 1800s Okalhoma choc with the Choktaw people who were relocated in the genocidal trail of tears two generations before. There would have been others – but they were not by any means pervasive according to a Senacan cultural botanist pal of mine. Yet it is hard to believe that the brewers of New Sweden in the 1650s making beer from local pumpkins, corn, persimmons and watermelons didn’t learn something from the locals.

What the depth and breadth of Brewing Local conveys is a picture of a complex and largely unexplored understanding of indigenous vernacular brewing on this continent. It is an exciting time to have an interest in such things. Stan emailed me earlier this year that he would have included my idea of “four eras of cream ale” had he come across it in time. I suspect I hadn’t even written it in any proper manner before he saw it. Months later, I got to hunting around “cream beer” dating back to the early 1800s with the hints of its pre-lager existence, its earlier German immigrant foundations and its potential links to later 1850s Kentucky Common. All of which might also be worthy of a footnote or two in this book. Had I written it. Had someone – anyone – looked it up. There is so much yet to be pursued.

Which is a good thing. Which makes for a very good book. Because the book is both history and guide, both a “how to” and also a “why” which ties a lot of things together in a way that hasn’t been done before. It’s a part of a bigger collective work in progress. [I don’t find fault that Stan, for example, doesn’t mention the reason I think steam beer is called steam beer but that is also part of the bigger working out of things. I could be dead wrong.] Does this make it a milestone book in North American brewing history? Could be. I’ll have to read it a more few times to form a full opinion on this book. You should, too.

Review: Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Leblanc And St. John

ocbg1I have been remiss. Well, late. Not lazy. Late. Distracted? Distracted. Jordan and Robin sent me a digital copy of this book weeks ago and I have only gotten to writing my review now. There’s been taxes to do at the last minute. Children to take to sports or hover over as math gets the best effort we can expect. Evenings like tonight at City Hall giving my best advice to council. I got a hair cut Sunday. At 11 am if you are wondering. But all the while I have kept dipping into this book. I like this book. I like this book for a few reasons. Let’s be honest. I have secondary skin in the game. I co-wrote the history of Ontario beer with Jordan. It’d be nice to think that everyone who buys this book might buy our book, too. But that’s not why I like this book. I like this book because this is the book that got me interested in the beer over the next horizon over a decade ago.

Well, not this book. This form of book. A regional guide. Like the ones Lew used to write. In 2004, I read Lew’s New York Breweries and ever since I have tried to ensure that there were NY beers in the stash – and NY hot dogs in the freezer. He not only told you where to buy the beer but also where to stay, what to get the kids into and what snacks to buy. See, there have been a number of sorts of beer books over the years. Sure, there are the global style guides as well as the food and beer pairing books. But there have been the Brewers Association style guides that started with Terry Foster on pale ale, the History Press histories including the two I helped write, those annual Good Beer Guides from CAMRA and all the home brewing guides, too, back to the Amateur Winemaker books of the 1960s written by C.J.J. Berry and Ken Shales as well as the fabulous David Line. Then there are the wonders like Unger‘s histories of the Baltic and North Sea facing lands from 1000 to 1900. There is Boak and Bailey’s remarkable Brew Britannia and Pete’s wonderful books of a recent and yet some how lost era ago. Before I liked all these and the rest that sit in piles around the house – I liked regional beer guides. Like this one.

Regional guides contextualize beer to a place and time. They have a level of comprehensive detail that is hard to capture in any other sort of beer book. They are as useful as Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Birds, the granddaddy of this entire class of writing. Ontario Craft Beer Guide follows in that tradition with a particular exactness. Exactitude. See, unlike even many regional beer guides, Ms. Leblanc and Mr. St. John tell you exactly what to expect. They explain which breweries are doing the brewing and which are really wholesalers hiring others under contract to a specification. They have a numerical rating guide which – wait for it – does not range all the way from 72/100 to 94/100. Not everyone wins a participation ribbon in this universe. In their system poor beers can earn a 1.5/5 and come with a resulting warning and great ones can be rewarded with a truly rare 5/5. I am having a Rhyme and Reason from Collective Arts right now solely due to the 4.5 they gave it. And they were right.

Do I have quibbles? How could I have quibbles? They were on the road for months seeking out every beer they could! Have I? No. And I actually know a thing or two. Do I like some beers a bit better than they do? Sure, I do – but that’s not often the case and where it is I have reasons. Like I am an older guy who likes slightly maltier beers. Save me the loser facile tropical hops. I can open a can of fruit cocktail, too. But with this level of detail I can transpose my palate to their recommendations and still trust their recommendations. Trust. That’s it. I can trust a book like this. So can you. Mainly because I don’t need to trust it. It’s so reliable. It’s got facts. It’s full of facts. Facts about good beer are actually really hard to find. You want facts about good beer in Ontario? Here you go.

If I didn’t live in Ontario I might say that it’s too bad they didn’t add local context like Lew’s regional rules of boiled and fried wieners but let’s be honest about this, too. Snack food is not what made Ontario. Natural produce? We got it. Local wines and fine wild meats and fish? Sure thing. Local snack shacks? We live on rumours of such things beyond the borders. It might tell me some other reasons I might want to go to North Bay or Sarnia, too. Maybe in the next edition. Or not. When Lew wrote those first guides 12 years ago, the internets weren’t telling me what they are now. We can actually luxuriate in the focus as much as those other facts. That’s good.

Wonder not. Make the call. Buy it.

Platinum Pints 2010-15: Best Beer Book Writer

platwe are half a decade into… the decade. The twenty-tens. Time to reflect and to reflect on a longer time span than the annual keek. Have their been arcs to trace? Have past achievements been already lost? That’s what the Platinum Pint awards are for. To think about what we have received to this point and where we stand as a result.

As I might have foreshadowed, the winner of the award for the best writer of books 2010-15 is Pete Brown. During that span, his three books Hops and Glory, Shakespeare’s Local and World’s Best Ciders: Taste, Tradition, and Terroir have stood as the standard for inventive, daring, interesting and well-written drinks related texts. They also represent an era which may well be over. This past year was dry. We have to be honest. It was such a dip in beer book diversity that when I mentioned this, Stan tweeted about a book about making home brew very quickly. I love Stan’s sense of humour.








Pete entered the decade riding a high. His third book Hops and Glory had been out for half a year. In December 2009, he won the British Guild of Beer Writers’ Award for Best Writer 2009. I had my eye on Pete. I reviewed his first book Man walks into a Pub in 2003 when most beer communicators were still in elementary school. I interviewed him in 2006 when his followup Three Sheets to the Wind came out. They were good but gave a sense that there was more to come that was better. One thing they did establish was that an insider could write as an insider and also that one could travel the world exploring beer without being a junket parrot. Better still, his books were being published by a proper generalist publisher, Macmillan.

When Hops and Glory came out, I was blown away. I reviewed it over a number of posts. What immediately struck me was the daring. The guy was actually doing something, exploring. And he was doing it in a pretty weird way. His plan was to take a cask of IPA from Britain to India by ship to retrace the origins of the beer. Fabulous. And he failed. Or at least the cask did (spoilers… literally… and I suppose too late for me to mention… oh, well…) But by not actually achieving the physical outcome he imagined he rightly claimed a greater good. He describes the British Empire, shipping routes and shipping methods as well as Georgian culture. He took beer, lifted above itself as subject matter, then drew us a picture of how the beer fits into its own broader history while illustrating the foibles of human existence – and did so effectively as I described:

Anyway, the point is that for 237 to 306, Brown takes us into his internal experience – into the doldrums of the sailing ship and then into the small heart of darkness that is the international shipping trade today – by seemingly forgetting to slip back into the history. It’s a good technique. It weighs a bit, wears a bit. But it still takes us along as if to say “it’s alright, Al, no need for you to ever go on a container ship from Brazil to India all alone for five weeks… I’ve done it… don’t bother.” Thanks Pete. I won’t. It’s off my to do list.

The book set the standard for those that followed. Beer books now needed to be filled with humour, invention and place the theme in context. His next book Shakespeare’s Local ran with all that while staying in one spot – the George Inn of Southwark. With a history going back hundreds of years farther back than India Pale Ale, the opportunity was ripe. He dove deeper again into his topic. I pointed out that the history was detailed, that it would be useful to know who Simon de Montfort was and maybe why Englishmen became more mobile in the 1400s bolstering inns like the George. The fact was we were being presented with beer as a subject worth something other than an introductory nod. I found this inspiring. I had dreams of much the same for the research Craig and I were undertaking with the Albany Ale Project even if not necessarily is the same medium. Pete’s books inspired the idea that there was more to know and more to discuss. I was left with the desire for more at the end of Shakespeare’s Local. More illustrations, a greater library of such histories. In response, I’ve published two histories chasing his example and, since then, have undertaken much more research that I intend to continue in the years to come. The past is, after all, good beer’s future.

The very next year, Pete came out with a new book and took a 90 degree turn with World’s Best Cider. Well, not really a turn as he announced in 2010 that cider and perry were officially on his radar. But when he published this book, he did a very interesting thing – he killed off all hope that anyone would write another as well. It is such a complete text for the first comprehensive global guide that none would be needed until the industry grew to a next level. And that opportunity appears to be off the cards given that the mass market for cider has, to put it kindly, leveled off. Again, I found the effect was somewhat shocking:

The next thing I thought was “oh, my… cider porn.” Never encountered cider porn before but, then again, never met an atlas of cider before either. Which is what this is. Think of all those beer books with the same “what beer is section,” the longer “all sorts of beer section categorized one way or another section” and the “food and beer” section. Then take away the beer, cut the food section and add fermented apple juice. That is what this is. Except… there isn’t another. Is there?

There isn’t. As Jeff uniquely and entirely graciously acknowledged yesterday. And there hasn’t been a set of three books by one author in good beer that have touched these three not only in the decade but, as far as I am concerned, in my experience. Not that they are comprehensive. That is the point. Each in their own way take a small part of the whole and drill down excellently. As a set, they illustrate how wonderfully drinks writing sits in the broader cultural context. These books gave us the impression that like good beer was on a roll.

It was not to be. The downside of the example these books of Pete Brown set is that, sadly, publishers have decided there is no market for such books and, if we are honest, sales likely drive that opinion. So we are left with the lower orders of the publishable and sales worthy, the style guides and pairing companions. Good for the authors, one supposes. But hardly something to look forward to repeating in the years to come. And Pete is self-publishing his next, his seventh book, What Are You Drinking? That is where we are mid-decade.

There you have it. The first Platinum Pints 2010-15 announced goes to Pete Brown as Best Beer Book Writer of the half decade. Next? Who knows. Maybe best experience. Whatever that means.

Thoughts On The Introduction To The Anthology

4913Maybe I am a morning person after all. Again, I am up, wanting to write. The niggling thought in my head about how too much beer writing is sadly like what’s found in the auto section, to quote a newspaper editor I know. I was thinking about this as well as the wee hidden essay I found in the e-book… ebook… “Eeee! Book!!” Boak and Bailey put out. No, I have written them back and forth enough that by now we should be on a first name basis. So it’s Jessica and Ray’s new wee ebook. [Ressica? Maybe.] It’s just a compendium of old blog posts [“Just!” tisked Ressica] but its got this new introduction. Not unlike the “best of” records with that one new hit. Hittish thing. Bonus track? Extra content, perhaps. It’s just 12 paragraphs long but in it they consider the “why” of thinking a lot about beer and then, extraordinarily, writing about it.

The suggestion is that drinking is an experience diminished by involving the brain, or perhaps even that the very point of drinking is to shut the blasted thing down for a couple of hour. Maybe sometimes, that’s true – no-one wants to be the plum on a hen or stag party asking for tasters of ale and taking notes later – but surely the two activities, thinking and drinking, are not always mutually exclusive?

Aside from the questions of punctuation that I as a minimalist would spot, it’s an interesting question. Are they? I wonder. Alcohol briefly might heighten the senses and open the mind but with any extended experience both those effects rapidly crash as the door to the outside closes and the mind takes over with its newsreel of past associations, the recollections of things past. Are you fully thinking when even on a semi-lash? One half-sentence alludes to the experience: “[t]here is also something special about walking down a street and seeing a vision of a long-gone pub, or even the ghost of a vast but vanished brewery.” I might argue that there are somethings special about that experience which may be fairly distinct depending on a number of variables including how many pints you’ve downed to that point. A dentist pal used to have a modest amount of beer when studying and then one before the exam. He knew how to leverage alcohol’s power of ripening the recollection.

But then there is the other problem. Is the experience transferable? In addition to exploring historical context, BB asks us to consider the examples of greater mindfulness and even meditation as answers to the “why write about beer” they pose at the outset. While awareness of one’s beer a part of one’s life is rightly considered a good thing – if only due to the dangers it also carries – does this person’s appreciation of this sort of experience have anything to offer that person over there… keeping in mind that person is concurrently going through a grab bag of subjective experience of their own already. Again, another hint: ‘[t]hey are the posts on which we worked the hardest and cared most about.” An excellent and honest observation. We write to tell. Admittedly, many write mainly to sell but that’s not always the most thoughtful stuff. The human need to fill a fridge has left much on the cutting room floor. Finding those who write to actually tell regardless of return is key. They will be most honest in the endeavor, no?

But, lastly, have they skill enough? Once the author has observed and, then, observed honestly, does the writing convey the observation well? As you might expect, Jessica and Ray demure. They thank and hope at the introduction’s end. They hope the reader will enjoy. They hope other writings will be explored next. This is good. I have noticed an ugly trend recently in the tightening pack of beer writers jostling for attention. The use of the words “trust me” – surely an admission of guilt. The writer who asks you to “trust” them has just told you that they are incapable of expressing something compelling enough for your to actually read. Fortunately, Ray and J. need not worry. Their writing entertains and expresses themselves inherently. Not only are their observations keen but the slightly reserved style they employ hints to their own nature. English reticence balanced with… perhaps even struggling with a touch of hypomania. Likely minds irritated by those seeking to stick them with nicknames yet minds that are, as they say, perhaps prone to causing trouble. Too rare a thing.

“Back of a Beer Mat: Bits from the Blog” can be found here and, tah-dah, it’s free. Worth exploring.

Is The Data Overload Becoming An Issue?

It was a bit of a revelation. Well, a joke and a revelation. I have a brother who is a bookman who sends rare finds for birthdays and holidays. This year for my 52nd I got this book on cheese. Published in 1960, it is a simple thing. More like a long magazine article than a full book. The author describes one trip taken in a car traveling from farmhouse cheese maker to farmhouse cheese maker. Cheeses are gathered in the back seat and the trunk… sorry, boot… and the taken back to London where they are eaten at dinners and parties with guests like Dame Margot Fonteyn and Stirling Moss. It’s all very light and comforting. It’s not all that unlike Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis which I reviewed six years ago now. Yes, a voice from another era and one imbued with class and cultural distinctions which don’t matter anymore. Yet it is filled with discovery:

Mrs. Roberts DOES still make Caerphilly but not in her cool dairy, which I had foolishly asked to see. That is only used for storing milk and cream! Her cheeses are made in the kitchen, with vats and presses a hundred years old, and they mature in the bedroom. As these ancient, heavy wooden vats are irreplaceable, she may soon have to give up her cheesemaking.

OK, like Amis perhaps without the ever present danger of arrest for driving whilst intoxicated. Perhaps. There are still bottles consumed as she goes about. But there is nothing snobbish about any of it. In the second paragraph, snobbery is the word used for the one who sniffs contemptuously at the mere mention of the cheeses of ones own country. It’s an essay about the pursuit of the real in a world where imports and processes have become the norm. Sound familiar?

This is a voice like the one in my head when I became interested in beer. Not a voice I hear very much of anymore, sadly. Between the quantity chasing tickers and the off-flavour seminarians and the worshipers of the next ever so slightly different hop strain, there seems to be little being left to individual discovery. Too much expertise in the beer to be assimilated from above. Not enough simple pleasure in the experience of it. The current bleat about poor quality in new craft is just the latest twist. The hand of industrial process now reaches down as one’s betters warn that if you eat that cheese matured in the bedroom you might encounter something unexpected, unplanned.

This is not to suggest all was better. The second half of the book is filled with recipes which range from the traditional – like that very attractive cheddar biscuit – to the weirdly experimental. I will not, for example, take up the recommendation to wrap eight bananas in ham and bake them in a sauce made with a whacking pile of grated Lancashire cheese. But there is a joyfulness about it all which big craft seems to be drumming out of me, drumming out of good beer. I don’t care. The errors and trials and surprises of all these new actual small brewers are too interesting to care about their elders and betters, the self-appointed senex with the standard operating procedures, marketing staff and strategic plans for the annual trade show.

A Week Off In April To Get Things Done


It’s either a sign of a well organized life or one with not enough in it. The spring holiday to get the taxes done, straighten out the gardening, fix the step and have some naps. And opening week baseball. Maybe some first round playoff hockey, too. The one thing I am not doing is writing a book. This time last year I was in the middle of writing three books each of which has turned out to be, err, cult classics. Happy readers. Low sellers. Good reviews. Niche huggers. I should have known. Beer writers are either fat or thin. Both from the same cause – anxtity yips. Told a pal once his mistake was doing for a job what I do for a hobby. Beer may still pay for itself. It just doesn’t take me all that far anymore when it does. That’s fine. Been since 2010 that the prospect of a truly idle summer lay before me. I was reading about brainy books back then five years ago today. Probably gave me ideas. Planting some carrot and lettuce seeds will help with that. Tiny seeds in the cold early spring soil don’t give you ideas. Just salad.

Notes On Turning Into A Book Fair Carny, Etc

nowayI had not expected to make myself into a book fair carny but forty-five quiet minutes into the four hour book booth manning at last weekend’s NY State Brewers Association Festival I looked at Craig and said something to the effect of “we better think of something quick or we are going to hate each other around three hours from now.” It’s not that the fest wasn’t swell so much as it was a beer fest, not a book fest. So… I stood up and began to shout “GETCHA BEER BOOKS… GETCHA BEER BOOK HERE!!!” until I was quite hoarse. Sales picked up rapidly. And they continued to pick up as folk drank more beer. So, two tips for the beer book selling public for the price of this one post: (i) act like an idiot and (ii) act like an idiot in front of folks getting drunk. Which leads me to a few other thoughts:

=> “To grangerize: to illustrate with material taken from other published sources, such as by clipping them out for one’s own use.” Isn’t this what beer blogging really is?
=> Thirty-four dollars and ninety-nine cents!?!? I am sure some young aspiring consulting craft beer mixed revenue dreamer has a grab bag of cliches by which such things are justified but… thirty-four dollars and ninety-nine cents!?!? Seen at the Cicero, NY Wegman’s grocery store.
=> Chad was more sensible. He had some beer, too. I just shouted a lot.
=> I consider the fear of sweetness and the denigration of crystal malt to be hallmarksof this era which shall be mocked in the new future after the paradigm collapses. But I can say that about a lot of things.
=> I have no idea about how many pubs or taverns represents a crawl but some people have very fixed ideas. Having done one, as one must, by taxi in Toronto in the last year I would accept a walking four-stop crawl in two small neighbouring villages myself.
=> Words that beer bloggers might have recently chosen not to use: intended, unravelling, instantly.
=> My answer? Use the machines – whether you own them or not? You’re a “brewery” while the others can use “brewing” or “beer company” or something else.

There. Monday notes. It’s thawing out there. We are a long way from warm but the dripping roof has created the driveway trickle which leads to the gurgling roadside drain.

Session 97: A $40 Room And Maybe Free Beer

sessionlogosmWe are asked to write about up and coming beer destinations for this month’s edition of The Session but I wonder if I’m living the rougher and readier reality. Beer travel? From what I see it often includes some sort of relapse into undergrad lifestyle. I am having bit of a creeping feeling that this two star hotel on the old four-lane route out of Albany, New York might be serving that up for me this weekend. But the room ain’t bad and soon pals will arrive. The solvent againt will prove to be the bond.

See, as I mentioned, I am attending the New York Brewers Association fest and conference at some other fancy pants hotel without $38 CND rooms. And to be fair I got this deal in Hotwire weeks ago. But it illustrates one of two ways beer and travel interact for me. I go to beer events or I find beer wherever I go. I have never traveled to find only beer. But that was covered in Session #93 four months ago. Not to mention sorta during Session 29.

Beer destinations? You may want to have a good look in the mirror if you dwell too much on the idea. You will find good beer on life’s highway if you are good at noticing stuff. You will also find other good stuff if you keep you eyes open for that as well. And if you don’t want your grand children to think you were an alcoholic back in the day get some photos of that stuff, too, when you travel. Travel gives you perspective. Or at least it should. Jeff knows. Go hicking in Franconia and you’ll find some good beer along the way. And, if not beer, wine or rum or even a nice cup of tea. It’s a big world out there. Don’t let the grandkids down.

I Never Go To Beer Fests… Except This Week!

uhvb1aThis weekend will find me at Albany attending the New York State Brewers Association second annual Craft New York Brewers Festival. The most exciting thing is that it is being held at a place called The Desmond Hotel. It is exciting because I love 1960’s first wave ska and, according to my notes, every band had to have a guy called Desmond in it. At least the great ones did. I am going to head south for the first time since September to man a chair at a table to see if I can help Craig spread the good news about our history of Albany ale as folk spin around the dance floor to these sorts of song stylings.

The Craft New York Brewers Festival will bring together 40 New York Breweries (and brewers) from every region of the state featuring up to 90+ hard to find and award winning beers. To make this very special event more exclusive, we will feature food sampling and pairing from local Albany restaurants and food vendors to go along with each brewery attending at no extra cost! This is a great opportunity to meet the NYS brewers that make the beer, and the owners of the local food scene in the Capital District that are such an important part of the community.

So, what do I do with the opportunity? I am not all that keen on fests as drinking sessions but I do look forward to having some decent conversations with folk in the trade. Its tied to the Association’s winter meetings. What to do? I might ask for a glass of gin. I might try an informal survey on what beer to pair with Anjou pears. Always wondered about that. Perhaps I might inquire as to what business strategies they have to better support better arm’s length beer business writing. Might expect the answer to be “what the hell is that?!?” though, mightn’t I. Frankly, the real question I want answered this weekend is whether anyone has been subject to section 3.11 of the NYSBA’s bylaws: Membership in the NYSBA, may be revoked by a majority vote of the Board of Directors for non-payment of dues, conviction of a felony or crime of moral turpitude, or willful violation of any other provision of the By-Laws of the NYSBA.. Crimes of moral turpitude? What the heck is that? Wonder if any of the members know. Might walk around asking members if they know anything about that. Perhaps it has some thing to do with unholy collaboration projects. That sort of thing. Evil.

Say hello if you are around the Des. After 8 pm, I understand, known as El Des.

Book Tour Tales: Why Do I Love Upstate New York?


Back home. Been in the USA since Thursday and, unlike a lot of you who have to cross an ocean or get out a map, I was able to hit three grocery stores on the way home. See, I live 37 minutes from the international Thousand Islands Bridge, the most beautiful border crossing on the planet. So I bought laundry soap. But unlike most trips into the nearby Empire State, the family was not in tow. I don’t take off in another direction all that often. Which means I had a lot of time in the car to think about stuff. Or at least stuff other than where Mr. Bunny had gotten himself to. It’s always under the swim bag, by the way.

I had all the time in the world to think about what attending the SUNY Cobleskill event Grain to Glass meant. It certainly was the opposite of that stunned big craft celebrity brewer neediness. The room was full of people interested in becoming better brewers, better hop growers, better business people. It was also held on alumni weekend at the school, largely an agricultural college. There were chain saw demonstrations as illustrated past the corn stalk. There was free pulled pork from the hospitality school students, classrooms of diesel engine repair classes to check out and a whole bunch of other stuff. Beer was a topic among topics. It was a trade. It was placed in its proper place. A hipster free zone where no one gave a rat’s ass about the next PR twisty line coming out of the national Brewers Association board. Excellent.

Then, there was thinking about where I fit in to that proper place. People were really interested at that event and the others Craig and I attended about their region, their history and their beer. Beer was part of their culture. They were not there to learn about their niche hobby. There was no beer community. There was beer in the community. So, they wanted to know about traditional hops as opposed to new hybrid flavoured hops. Folk there – like at the other events – want to know about US ale brewing history, how there was two centuries of beery life before lager. It’s good to imagine how brewers in training might want to emulate those who came before them instead of some big craft guy who they see on YouTube or a TV ad. Are you picking up a theme?








One of the real treats of the trip was talking with a guy who has run a bar called The Lionheart for a quarter of a century who has found the way to sell three dollar pints of US craft beer while making a good living. A lot of it has to do with running a good bar with great staff but a lot of it also has to do with ignoring the next big thing that never turns out to be the next big thing. Taking care. Supporting local. Looking for value. Remembering the customer pays the bills not the suppliers. Including different sorts of clientele. Serving a mix of clients was also the obvious decision Browns of Troy which was running a charity event in another section of the brewery while we were holding forth in another space talking about the city’s brewing heritage. In a third section, the bar crowd were kicking back Brown’s great oatmeal stout or an IPA made on site as Jeter played his last game for the Yankees on the big screen. And as the Giants beat the Washington Whatchamacallits on another.











What’s it all mean? Why do I bother spending holiday time and more money on discount hotels than I will ever make on the book to visit again and again. I was telling someone how weird it is studying and writing about the history of a city I have no personal connection with. Yet when I am there – whether it is Troy or Cobleskill or Syracuse or up in the North Country – it feels like a place that is entirely normal. Not to mention beautiful. Yesterday afternoon I cut out of the SUNY event to take three hours to doddle my way over to Syracuse on a warm Saturday afternoon care of route 28 then along route 20 to route 92. Changing leaves. Pre-interstate main roads though small towns, along river valleys over rolling hills farmed for generations. Took me through watersheds that meet the ocean at Baltimore, New York and east of Montreal. Bought a hot dog at a Stewart’s.

Reading what I just wrote, if I am Stan I might think about how beer comes from this place and with the farmstead brewing and hop yards and cideries there is a lot to be said for that. But it is also a great place that you can learn about through its beer, its bars and its breweries. Beer isn’t a community. It is a window through which you can get to know about a community. That is why I am actually optimistic. You may not catch that from time to time but I do disagree with the idea posted by Boak and Bailey last week that beer is not as rich a seam as food, or music, or film. Beer is as rich but you have to know what beer isn’t to appreciate the point. Beer is not passive and it is not haute or elite. It is pervasive and innocuous. When we say beer is like bread we have to remember it is really like bread. An everyday thing. But we live and have lived in the everyday for hundreds and thousands of years in communities built around the brewery as much as the church and the town hall. That’s what people do as they do other stuff with their lives. Like these guys who you can see in the background of the picture above. People of the beer, I’d say.

That’s worth writing about.