If Mid-November Were More Exciting Would You Be So Happy With Your Thursday Beer News?

So. Here we are again. This is a bad week. Traveling around central Canada. Long meetings. Hotel rooms. Fortunately, I am working on my Korean food skills as part of this road show. My newly increased obsession, kimchi is… well… it’s like a hipster Scot would have invented if Korea hadn’t done it first. Peace food. Other than that, its all hotel breakfast buffets and minivans fully of cheery engineers. Bounding down the highway balanced on a buffer of spicy exotic cabbage.

First off, I was alerted by someone no doubt more attentive that I am, given my kimchi induced food coma, that there has been a shock wave hammering those writing about the history of saison. You see,  has shared his thoughts of a fact-checking mission he undertook on the “2004 book Farmhouse ales, and especially the contribution it includes by Belgian brewer Yvan De Baets” and YdB is not too thrilled but sadly fell back on what looks like a status based defense in his extensive comments offered in response:

This is your website. By definition you will have the last word on it. Cool. I will not start a debate here anyway. I have more to say about some of your claims but I don’t have nor the time nor the desire to do it: not only I strongly dislike the ego battles, but more importantly the first tanks of our new brewery are arriving in a few weeks and I have to prepare them a nice nest.

Remember: watch out for expertise transposition. Few brewers are actually all that acquainted with the means and methods of the historian. Its not in the nature of the gig. Likewise, vice versa. Dig it? For me, however, I think the real problem is assuming anything written in 2004 is going to represent an exhaustive examination of a topic involving beer. A decade and a half is a long time for research to advance – especially when that decade and a half saw the explosion of the digitized historical records. That being the case, taking a strong stance either in favour or against such stale dated research is likely a mug’s game.

More convivially, Eric Asimov of The New York Times (who I like a lot) wrote a piece about the ciders of the Hudson Valley (which I like a lot):

All share a deep-seated desire to understand the traditions, nuances and complexities of apples and ciders. They are the latest wave of a great cider revival in the Northeast, reaching through New England, out to the Finger Lakes in western New York, and down through the Appalachians. For anyone used to most commercial ciders, which are often made from concentrate, sweetened and sometimes flavored, these serious ciders are a revelation. They are mostly bone dry, with the flavors of apples and of the region. Apples, too, it turns out, express a sense of place, what wine lovers call terroir.

Less authentically, apparently what was a contract brewery is now an app that the deal did not include. Figure out that one if you will… and this one for that matter:

Drinking at taprooms isn’t just en vogue, it’s a permanent part of today’s industry that now drives about 10% of Brewers Association-defined volume.

Permanent? You misspelled “today’s top fad” darling. Not unconnectedly, Matthew Curtis announced his retirement from the collective blog Good Beer Hunting. One never know what is behind “effective immediately” but one hopes its nothing too drastic. I line it up in my mind with the tweets about breweries hiring passionate beer comms for their passionate beer comms needs. All in all, a very tough row to hoe but hiring Rebecca would be a smart move, for example:

Hi guys! I’ll be looking for some freelance/ad hoc work after this month. I’m an accredited Beer Sommelier and was even nominated as Best Young Beer Writer this year by the (!).’

You know, Pete Brown used to be a beer comms guy but he is no longer working for this sort of work. He is working on being a better Pete* – which is great – but once in a while loses his marbles most wonderfully:

Oh fuck off. I’m sorry (I’m trying to rein in the bad language and anger and be more professional) but fuck the fuck off. Even the most cursory reading of the history of pale ale/IPA shows this simply isn’t true.

Like others, I don’t really even care what he was writing about when he got so deliciously rude… but in case you are curious it was about a disappointing relaunch of Bass Ale.

Czech beer drinking in a slump.

Tandleman has an opinion on the four Cloudwater cask offerings pending according to a tweet – as well as a very nice new profile photo of himself as you can see. He must have a good social media consultant.  I wonder what social media consultants like that cost…

These days, calling anything “one of the most important beers in modern American brewing” is a bit silly but the Chicago Tribune found cause to so publish in relation to Allagash Brewing’s Coolship Resurgam. I remember about a decade ago getting in a handbags match over someone claiming one US brewery or another was the first to do something to which I replied something something about the Allagash coolship – which Ron will correct correctly as being a “cooler” in English. These things get heated. Fortunately, even the shock of the new is past us now given we live in hyperspace and no one really cares, knowing that next week’s new thing will in turn be stale by the following weekend. Just hope the Allagash beer is tasty.

As noted last week, readbeer.com is up and running. We now can see the output of 63 different sources of online beer writing. That will grow and with it the decentralized, leveled goodness of blogs will return. One of the great things about the former RSBS was how access to ideas was not being filtered through the gauze of self-proclaimed expertise or assertions of journalism. Access was immediate and it was up to the reader to sift clues.  Soon there will be 630 feeds. Best to keep up.

Well, that is enough for now. I am closer to home for most of next week so maybe this will be more considered. Maybe something big will happen that will fill the thousand words with one long observation. Maybe I will sit and count the days to first Christmas and then Spring Training.  That’s more like it. In the meantime, check in with Boak and Bailey for the regular Saturday update.

* Fab.

Maine: Interlude 2007, Allagash, Portland

Twenty-four bucks? What was I doing last decade? I have only a few of these aged big bottles left. I gave up a long time ago on trying to keep the cellar up. One of the few beers left from the days of glory, the era of beer blog ad revenue. I was throwing around the cash like a madman. Pretending that I mattered like some current era communicator. Stan actually mocked me about this beer in particular. But that was back in the day when folk weren’t questioning the fleece. Or at least when 2000 brewers weren’t making something good and sour for half the price. You know, the 75 comments under that post from some pretty interesting names are all… pretty interesting – but it’s as if they thought we would all be drinking $60 beers by now. Really? How did that turn out? Market forces thought otherwise. Bulk fine craft FTW!

It’s 40º C out there. Seven week drought might end tomorrow. Worst summer for rain since 1888. Nutty. I just need a reasonably interesting beer. I just need it not to suck. I pulled it out of the cellar, stuck it in the fridge by the orange juice and the milk bags. [Canada. Go figure.] Hey… it doesn’t. It’s good. Still and a bit thick but in no sense off. Fresh with a lighter lingering finish than expected. The colour of aged varnished pine. An orange hue at the edge. On the nose, warm whisky sweet with autumn fruit, brown sugar and grain as well as a fresh Worchestershired yogurty hum. Pear and fig. The baked fruit crisp you dream of. The second half pint pour generates a lovely subdued tang when rinsed about the gums. Like 90% barley wine with maybe 10% old gueuze. Or less. Just a hint. And all those whispers of rich deep malty grain huskiness still there. Lovely.

Am I glad I spent $24 for this nine years ago? I’m sure I don’t care. Do you know how much I have spent on diapers and winter tires since then? It makes me want. And I just want a thick bacon sandwich. I have asked a child younger than this beer to bring me a chunk of the slab of Vermont cheddar we are working on. Fabulous. Rewarding. The espresso of a grain field. Big BAer love and deservedly so.

The Private Thoughts Of Maine’s Bartenders

I have no beer in hand. Not I. I have a Manhattan. More than once in a while in the summer – and it still is summer – I like the clink of ice in glass. So it was with some interest that I read an article from Portland Maine’s community web news site, Switch, that a pal had sent me. It was about the best and worst of the working lives of a number of Portland’s finest bartenders. Most of the bartenders seem to work in cocktail places but my pal sent it to give me the gears as he pointed out that a “guy at novare res, the snooty beer bar, says that on a bad day “for me, nothing beats an ice cold miller – the champagne of beers.” Novare Res man also said a number of other things like:

Describe the atmosphere at your bar: Novare Res is a pretty laid back beer bar. Most requested drink: It’s all about the beer. Mmmmmm … beer.
Worst drink to mix: When I worked with a full bar, martinis were always the worst. Best drink for the worst day: For me, nothing beats an ice cold Miller High Life … Champagne of Beers…
Personal drink favorite: There’s a brown ale that we carry at Novare that’s amazing, and I’m a sucker for Miller Chill…

Well, as I learned in Lansing the other week, there is a proper time for Miller High Life and its not just at the end of a bad day. And just because you work in a great Belgian beer bar in Maine, well, it doesn’t mean you have to like the stuff, right? But shouldn’t he have narrowed it down a bit more that “a brown ale that we carry”… and what’s the hell is with the Miller Chill? Best line of any of the bartenders:

Worst drink to mix: Allen’s Coffee Brandy and milk, or “Fat Ass in a Glass.” Just mixing one makes me question humanity.

A few years ago I wrote a post about how Allen’s Coffee Brandy was the most popular drink in Maine but in all the years that I have visited there, I never met anyone who drank it. Pity those who work the front lines, the ones who have no choice but to serve “Fat Ass in a Glass” when the customer says so.

About Oaked Beer: Musette, Allagash, Portland, Maine

Along with the Sour Beer Studies, there are other classes of beers that set themselves apart in some way other than reflecting traditional styles. Brewers are reintroducing techniques like beer on the wood to explore the limits of what beer can be and we’ll look at them in this series. Dave Line in his 1974 text The Big Book of Brewing wrote about using wooden casks from a home brewing perspective at a time when he saw it as a dying art:

It is a great thrill to draw your own beer from the wood. The management of this beer is an art and it may take years to develop all the skills. I am by no means an expert, but I take comfort in the fact that I am learning the art of one of our most treasured crafts, and that perhaps my efforts will prolong the traditions of our heritage.

Musette by Allagash is another nod to that tradition, this particular one aged on bourbon barrels for three months and then bottled in May 2006 – 32 years after Line feared for the loss of the heritage. At 10% it certainly reflects Line’s preference that beers attempted to be aged on wood be high gravity. At opening, there was a breath of autumn apple from the bottle that stayed with the ale after the pour, providing maybe a hint of calvados mixed with the raisin-malty aroma. It pours a thick clingy white foam head over deep orange amber ale. In the mouth plenty of roundness of raisin, date and apple with a Belgian musty yeast all cut by a hardwood vanilla dryness from the oak with a bit of tea astringency in the finish. Described by the brewer as aimed at the Belgian made Scotch ales like this silly one reviewed last January, the effect is somewhere between dubbel and barleywine. Very nice but not cheap at $15.59 USD for 750 ml.

Eating In Portland

In case you are wondering we are doing OK but you would be if you had Beal’s Ice Cream (hard ice cream specialists), Red’s Dairy Freeze (soft serve specialists), Maine Diner on the way here (lobster roll and chowder), Gritty McDuff’s (lamb burder and cask ale), 3 Dollar Dewey’s (fish sandwich but shockingly no smoked fish chowder), baseball game hot dogs (plain please), Beale Street BBQ (bulk ribs…say that again…bulk ribs), Scratch Baking Co. (blondies and peabean coffee) and a trip to Hannaford for a side of salmon and enough scallops to stuff seven for under thirty-eight bucks.  Scratch Baking was a bit of a surprise.  Even though it is a few blocks away, I had it in my head it was pricey.  Not so.  Blondies for $1.75.  And fine beer and wine, too.  Achoffe IPA and a half Cantillon for $6.99.  Nutty.  But seeing as owner Bob co-founded Magic Hat Brewing of Burlington, VT it makes sense.  Portland is the new Burlington, you know.

Maine: Export Ale, Shipyard, Portland

I got a little fancy the photo effects but this is one of my first favorite south of the border ales and the only US beer I ever saw listed anywhere as a “Canadian ale” but I am thinking this is very like Mendocino Eye of Hawk and Special London Ale from Youngs.

A rocky off-white head sits over orange-amber ale. Soft water and a lovely aroma of marmalade. Rich malty and a tad sweet, this is a very clean brew with a nice edge of twiggy hops cutting through. I swear I taste a salty tang which is not too odd given where Shipyard brews its beer. If you don’t like the ringwood yeast, you will find an odd note. I like the ringwood yeast.

Red’s Dairy Freeze, South Portland, Maine

Illustrated is the “Chocolate Boston”, which is a chocolate milkshake with chocolate soft serve ice cream topped with chocolate sauce. The “Boston” can be had with other flavours but it is always milkshake plus soft serve plus sauce. Eaten with a spoon and a straw, it is apparently known only to Red’s of South Portland and their customers but we stand to be corrected.

I do not love chocolate but this actually inched me a little towards that affliction. I ate it so fast I got an ice cream chest ache.

Gritty McDuff’s, Portland and Freeport, Maine, USA

Gritty McDuff’s Brewpub, Portland
 

I got to visit both the Portland and Freeport locations of the oldest brewpub in Maine within 24 hours. I am glad to say the brew in each is fine even if the setting of the Freeport pub is a bit rough. It is a bit like drinking in an old storage shed though – to be very fair – it is clearly a summer spot and dropping in during a late winter snow storm did not show it to its best. I liked the food in both spots.

 

 

 

 

If I was in Freeport again I probably would stop in for a stout but if you are heading to visit just one, go to Portland. In each you can see bench seating which is fairly common in New England and Atlantic Canada but less so as you move west. Superb. Their use of rolled raw barley creates a creamy mouthfeel that out strips Guinness anyday. It is like melted ice cream…ok…it reminds me of melted ice cream with a pin-fine nitro beige head above black malt roasty double devon. It is exceptional.

 

 

 

 

I also tried the Scotch Ale in the Freeport location and was similarly impressed. I sometime wonder about the style and whether you can put anything in it you want as long as it has less hops and a black malt roughness. This offering has an orangey hue as well as that flavour in the mouth – a nod to Scotch seville marmadade? The fruitiness is counteracted with the rough black malt, subdued green hop and a slight smokey feel. With an additional tangy edge, the overall effect is slightly Belgian and slightly Scots. Very nice and at 6.3% a wee methodical ale worth deconstructing over an afternoon’s sip.

So definitely worth the visit for the ales, Portland for the ales and the location. Gritty’s also bottles its own – or at least has it contract brewed somewhere – which you can pick up pretty much anywhere in southern Maine. I think I brought a quart of Black Fly home for further study. Below are some shots from the Freeport location which you can click on for a larger view.

Stouts: Fresh Draught Stout, Maine Coast Brewing, USA

This is a smooth cream stout that goes off in a direction that I just don’t quite get. A beige ring over really dark black ale. It has chocolate, licorice and roast barley notes but also a somewhat odd Mennonite apple butter thing in the middle. Not unpleasant but really big and malty like you might expect in an imperial stout but this brew has none of the whallop one of those packs. If it was called porter I would not be surprised either but it still wouldn’t be right. Am I a stylistic prude?

Neat to see these guys brew six different stouts…but none called Fresh Draught Stout. Maybe its the Black Irish Stout as one beer advocate notes that it has an “agreeably lithe fruitiness of a vaguely pruneish nature emerges mid palate and lends a blurred bitter cocoa dusted dark fruit contrast.” Wheee-yew! And I thought I was a ripe little adjective squeezer.

From Baaah Haaabaaah, State O’Maine. Something like $5.65 US a half gallon at RSVP Liquors in Portland Maine.