Friday, January 28, 2011

Hedonists Praise Westvleteren and Drie Fonteinen and More.

I was hoping that throwing the word "porn" into yesterday's title would help draw in some extra traffic. No such luck. The words "Drie Fonteinen" and "Westvleteren" are much more effective. Just in case you're a new blogger looking for tips.

Anyway, thought I'd take a second to point out the release of this year's Ratebeer Best.

I don't think it's controversial to say that Ratebeerians generally represent a certain type of beer drinker. Most people who try a lot of new beers and keep notes on them are looking to be immediately impressed. So a beer needs to come to the party looking its absolute best, carrying its biggest aroma and punch-you-in-the-face flavor if it wants a realistic crack at these awards.

Subtle, more drinkable beers--the kinds with which we can spend a whole day or develop intimate, long-term relationships--can generally forget about it. That's a flaw but not one worth losing sleep over. I like to keep those beers to myself anyhow. Like a quiet pub off the beaten path, not everything needs to be shared with the world.

The fascinating thing about the listing, and Ratebeer in general: It is ultimately hedonistic and democratic. Anyone can contribute, and thousands do. There is no education or training process required. These are real people out there simply saying how much or how little they like all these beers. That is a powerful thing and hugely informative. It is also frightening for many brewers.

In short: Ponder the listings with a grain of salt. But ponder them anyway.

More of interest to us pilgrims: the rankings of best places. Lots of ideas and dreams for future travels in there. Nice to see Moeder Lambic Fontainas make the Top 10 among beer bars. Meanwhile, to confirm a growing trend: Italy appears to be emerging as a top beer geek destination. Have a look-see.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Beer Porn Amongst the Belgians.

Tiny but cool piece of stop-motion video here from Belgium-based American expatriate documentarian Taylor Brush, who's working with Tim Webb on a little project. You can find much more about it here, including a 27-minute promo.

Do you have money? Or maybe you know someone who does? Because I reckon they're looking for some to make this thing a reality. If they don't get any, maybe Taylor, Andrew and Tim will keep making fine beer porn for us anyway. Or maybe they won't.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Wish List.

Draft Magazine has put out its list of 100 Best Beer Bars. Well researched and dead handy. Simply figure out which region you're in (try asking the person next to you), then browse the list for a beer bar in a nearby city.

Probably some good ones were left out. It would be hard to cut the list down to 100 these days. But everyone likes a nice round number.

Pictured here: The Bridge in St. Louis. For my Missouri peeps. How about ordering me up some mac and cheese with a 20-ounce glass of Saison Dupont. Thanks.

Lucky bastards, living in the First World.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fresh Beer and Fresh Fish.

Here is a nice reminder from Costa Rica that momentum toward better drink is inextricably linked to the momentum toward better food. Some countries move faster than others, that's all.

First, a bit about Product C: It's a distributor of fresh seafood, which in itself is a remarkable thing in Costa Rica. You might be surprised to learn how hard it can be to find fresh, local seafood here... For example: I bought some squid the other day. The supermarket gave me two choices: frozen stuff from Costa Rica or fresh stuff from Chile, of all places. The latter cost literally six times as much. Welcome to the oddities of food distribution.

So: The story goes that chef Demian Geneau founded Product C because it was otherwise impossible to source fresh Costa Rican seafood. So he up and did it himself. The company took off and has launched a couple of outlets where you can buy the stuff to take home or, better yet, sit down with a glass of wine or beer and have them cook it up for you--an option I highly recommend based on our visit to the one in Santa Ana.

Here's the news for us thirsty types: As Brandon Nappy reports, the Product C in Santa Ana has added draft beers from Costa Rica's Craft Brewing. And it's easy to imagine how well that crisp blonde Libertas would go with some pargo entero done right.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Germany's Secret is No Secret.

Ludwigsburg is a nice town just outside of Stuttgart in Baden-Württemberg. It has a friendly commercial center and a Baroque palace that was something like a hunting lodge gone out of control (as Baroque palaces are wont to do). The town also has two brewpubs, by the way. And they're both pretty good. But you won't be going to Ludwigsburg just for the beer, will you?

Bamberg? Sure. Köln, Düsseldorf, Munich, and even Berlin... I've been to all those cities mainly to drink their beer. Many of you would shamelessly do the same. That's the sort of sick people we are. But those are not the places that make Germany a great beer country.

I'm going to repeat that: Those are not the places that make Germany a great beer country.

Brauerei Zum Rossknecht in Ludwisgburg... Now that's the kind of place that makes Germany a great beer country. Why? Because it's a neighborhood pub than makes great beer in a medium-sized town. Rossknecht will never be famous among geeks. It's famous enough among the locals, and welcoming to any pilgrims who stop in. And that's enough.

The usual options are a grassy, unfiltered Urhell and a decent Weizen. The seasonal when we visited last winter was a stunning Winterbock with notes of toffee, chocolate and dark currant. But on both my visits I came back to that Urhell. Again and again.

The other brewery in town, Sudhaus, is across the road from the train station. Where Rossknecht is a bit more traditional and homey, Sudhaus is younger and rambunctious. I remember a passable Weizen beer, a better Dunkelweizen, and yet another cracking Helles, which according to my notes has an addictive lemony character. Expect classic rock and sing-alongs at volume.

Incidentally: What makes Germany a great beer country is happening in the U.S. these days too, particularly with its emphasis on brewpubs. More and more little towns are getting their own, and most are making pretty good beer.

Most will never make a dent among on the international geek scene, thankfully, but they can be famous to you and me. And that'll be enough.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The NYT and €200 Bottles of Beer, For the Record.

The New York Times offered this beer geek's tour of Belgium the other day. You could do worse than follow in its footsteps, but there were a few errors that would have been cleared up by a bit of fact-checking.

First there is the misspelling of Mr. De Baets' name. No relation to Norman Bates. Then there is the claim that Yvan founded the Brasserie de la Senne. Nope. The founder was Bernard Leboucq, who first brewed Zinnebir and later invited Yvan to join him.

Regarding Westvleteren, the article says that one can only buy one case of beer per month from the monks. In fact the limit is often two or three cases per vehicle. It just depends on the beer and the time of year.

Interestingly: The author mentions that the old Senne-blended Crianza is going for €200 a bottle at Moeder Lambic. When I read that bit, I thought maybe Jean and the guys were taking a piss. I checked with Nassim, and in fact they do have it listed at that price... so effectively it's not for sale. There are only about 20 bottles left in existence. If some cash-flush geek does come along and insist on paying that much, well... He or she receives a warning that, in the opinion of the ownership, the beer is past its prime. Buyer beware.

All I can say is, €200 would buy a lot of fresh glasses of Taras Boulba.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gone Surfing.

I was going to write something cranky about how the BJCP style guidelines long ago departed from any meaningful reality, since they've just added some new weirdness to the already weird. Instead I'll point you to Stephen Beaumont's post. Because I'm a huge Stones fan. "Totally pointless categorization of something that is the same shit – it just depends on how much you lay the backbeat down or how flash you play it." Yeah. What Keith says.

On the other hand: Whenever anyone whines about style guidelines, maybe it's best to put our fingers and our ears and sing, "They're just for homebrewing contests, lalalalala." It's probably a mistake to take them personally just because they fetishize and overcategorize one of the things we love most, a thing that has given us many wonderful memories in many interesting places, a thing that has whispered into our ears with some desperation that it cannot be divided into hermetic definitions, no, it won't be, because it's as liminal and dynamic as all the ideas we share and enjoy and send around the world every day. And it probably always has been that way.

Anyway. The style guidelines are too easy a target, aren't they? There's no sport in it.

Finally: I was also going to tell those of you in Paradise, or planning to visit someday, that you can now find Costa Rica's Craft Brewing drafts in a few places around the country. These include the Black Sheep Pub in Nosara, El Estribo in Santa Ana, and in Escazú at the Time Out Tavern. Which is the closest thing I have to a local, so that works well. So does the pitcher and a pizza deal for $20. The owners tell me the stuff is selling like hell. So that's good news.

The CRCB beers are likely in a few other places by now too. Brandon Nappy, please pick up the white courtesy phone. Feel free to share details in the comments section.

I'm disappearing to the beach for a few days. You're unlikely to hear from me. Enjoy your snow, if you have any.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Bloodless Cup?

Studying coffee today. And drinking it too.

Did you know... Costa Rica is one of the few Latin American countries, or possibly the only one, whose coffee industry lacks a bloody history of some kind? The theory goes that there wasn't enough cheap labor--i.e., natives--around to oppress, so the farms were smaller, poorer, and more "egalitarian." Naturally the same conditions applied to all sorts of farms, not just coffee, but we are talking about a crop that has had a major impact on the country's history. Bear in mind that this is a nation that abolished its military altogether in 1949. Hard to imagine any other Latin country pulling that one off.

What I'm wondering is if that unique history might somehow affect the flavor of what's in the cup. I mean, beyond the effect that a good story has. Which is considerable.

Costa Rica is also home to La Minita, one of the best-regarded growers among international coffee geeks. It's an export coffee that's somewhat available in the U.S., but I have yet to see a bean of the stuff within its home country. Maybe I ought to get out there and have a look-see.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fascinating, But Save Your Money.

It was an excellent gift. I drank a couple glasses of it on Christmas Day and shared the rest with the family.

Boston Beer and Weihenstephan claim that they used a new process to make extra sugars available for fermentation, aiming to dry out the beer. Non-Germans often do this by adding sugar, but that just wouldn't be Reinheitsgebot. Fascinating, I think. Whatever they did, maybe they should have done more of it. The beer still ended up way too sweet for my tastes. It did have a classy sparkle though.

Might be better for making friends than for drinking. Regardless, a righteous gift.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Session #47: Cooking and Blogging WITH Beer.

I usually cook with beer. That is not to say that I usually put beer in the food. What I mean is that when I am cooking, I am usually with beer.

I was cooking with beer tonight. I grilled cheeseburgers, and I was with homebrew.

This homebrew is a sneaky one. It's an extra pale ale hopped only with Sorachi Ace. Light on the bitterness but heavy on flavor and aroma hopping. Sorachi is supposed to be the lemony hop, but this is like a glass of oranges. Specifically, this is my seventh glass of oranges tonight. Sneaky, I tell you. The strength is around 4.5% abv while I've dialed the bitterness back to about 25 IBUs. At first I thought it wasn't quite bitter enough. But the sneaky stuff won't stop sneaking down my hatch.

Aren't we supposed to be talking about cooking with beer? OK. Once I made a carbonnade with Westvleteren. What a damnable waste.

The sneakiness of this beer has me thinking about balance. It is not always apparent with the first glass, when you are looking more for flavor than for drinkability. You don't taste drinkability so much as prove it.

How many times have you had a big IPA or imperial stout and thought, "Ooh, that's really drinkable," and then after that glass you're either done or on to something else? My point is that we are not really qualified to judge drinkability after just a few sips. Some of you would disagree, but I respectfully request that the argument be carried out in person, in a decent establishment, with plenty of time to spare. No note-taking or fancy picture phones. Just beer and bullshitting. And counting.

Cooking. Yeah. We were babysitting a 5-year-old tonight. After a few bites of the cheeseburger I made for him, he decided it was too peppery. Plenty of flavor but not eatable, you might say.

I don't know. I ate one and a half of the damn things. With beer.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Great Scott! Secrets of Beer Aging Revealed! Or Maybe Not.

I found this little item in the Sky Mall catalog on the plane back to Costa Rica: the Vintage Express Aging Accelerator. Marketed toward wine and liquor aficionados, it "accelerates the aging process by recreating the Earth's natural magnetic field."

The two obvious questions: (1) Does it really work? And if yes, then (2) would it work on beer?

"Enjoy the delicious flavor of 10 years of aging in just a few seconds." Imagine the possibilities. Compare a fresh Westvleteren with an "aged" one. Or a gueuze. Or an imperial stout. Or whip up some fresh IPA, leave some in the flux capacitor overnight, and see if it tastes like it just came off a boat to India.

You wouldn't even need 1.21 Gigawatts to power this bad boy. There are no batteries or moving parts, only "extremely powerful Neodymium magnets" which "realign particles in beverages. ... The longer a beverage remains in the Vintage Express, the greater the effect."

Maybe the reviews on Amazon will shed some light on this:

"Magnetic fields have absolutely nothing to do with aging. This is absolutely preposterous."

"This has scam written all over it. Stay far away."


Oh well. Would have been fun to try, but maybe not for $59.99.

If you're traveling today and want to hunt for it, go to Page 66. It's just above the ad for the Hollywood Cookie Diet and 15-Day Detox, on the page directly after the Digital BBQ Tongs. I've never ordered a thing from Sky Mall, but it makes for fun reading. The toddler likes it too, since there are lots of pictures of cars, puppies and cookies.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Beer Statistics and Other Damn Lies.

Buried in the Brewers Association's news release is the main reason that it is re-interpreting the word "small" from 2 million to 6 million barrels per year:

"Loss of The Boston Beer Company's production in craft brewing industry statistics would inaccurately reflect on the craft brewing industry's market share."

In a few words, the BA has decided that it needs the rapid growth of Samuel Adams to keep craft beer numbers looking pretty each year. National media love to cite those numbers when talking about craft beer, and the BA loves getting credit for them. In one word, it's marketing.

Boston Beer is currently in the neighborhood of 2 million and poised to keep growing. Since craft brewers are making about 10 million barrels a year, cutting the old brewer and patriot loose would mean taking a 20 percent hit. That's a big chunk of craft beer's 7 percent share of the beer market.

However, I suspect market share is not the real concern. Instead, it's market growth. The annual double-digit growth numbers are the sexiest part of the craft beer stats (a 12 percent sales increase in the first half of 2010, for example). Especially while all other beer sales are dropping. And especially during an economic downturn.

That ridiculous growth number is the one your average Bud drinker sees on Fox News and thinks, "What's all the fuss about? Maybe I should give one of them fancy six-packs another go."

The odds are about one in five that he'll reach for a Sam Adams. And those odds are getting higher all the time.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Out With the New, In With the Old.

The Public House Brewing Company in Rolla, Missouri, chose to go with a "soft opening" on Thursday, December 16, give or take a pre-party or two. Josh and Josh went the soft route--in other words, with no promotion or advertising--as a way to ease their business into the community. The idea is to open the doors, see who shows up, and iron out problems as they arise without much embarrassment.

Here is what happened: They ran out of beer in less than a week.

Thanks to word of mouth, about 100 people showed up the first day. The next day, most of those same people showed with five friends. And so on.

I've been talking about this brewery because of its emphasis on session beers, which is sadly almost unique in the U.S. these days. Public House's early success suggests, at least for this corner of the Ozarks, that their approach has great merit. (It also suggests that the Two Joshes might want to consider expanding their tank capacity.)

So far Public House is making a Kölsch, a mild, a hoppy pale ale, and a stout. All were drinkable but the real winner for me was that toasted-bready, dryish, full-flavored mild weighing in at 2.5% strength. It might get darker than its current pale-amber look (second row from the back in the photo), but I dig the recognition that a mild should be much more than a stout's mini-me. And it comes in different colors. Just ask Ron.

Running out of product was no disaster for the Joshes, thanks to a clever guest tap policy with strength in Missouri-made craft beers. Thus they brought in some Tin Mill Doppelbock from Hermann to back up the Kölsch they released at midnight on New Year's Eve.

The Public House is at 600 North Rolla Street, just a few minutes off the Interstate. Consider a visit next time you're cruising Route 66 or flying down I-44. They promise they'll have enough beer for you.