Monday, June 27, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: Out and about in America, Europe … and my cups.

AFTER THE FIRE: Out and about in America, Europe … and my cups.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

Kindly note that I’ve changed the name of this column to reflect the fact that my involvement in the “craft” beer business no longer is ongoing. As a recovering former small business owner, I survived the frying pan, and perhaps it’s time for an evolving perspective. Just don't expect me to jump back into that particular fire ... at least yet.


The Irish Rover was established in 1992 and to me, it always has been Louisville’s most authentic Irish pub. For as long as the Rover has been in business, these words have graced the menu.

“A pub is a poor man’s university.”

It’s more important than Guinness, and a sentiment after my own inclinations. I tried mightily to honor this dictum during the period of my own pub business.

Being just down the street from a university didn’t hurt, but the degreed customers were not the only part of the learning equation. My pub usually was an egalitarian venue. I tried my best to keep it that way in spite of the “craft” beer cost structure.

It’s over now, and I don’t miss the beer, though being divorced from a university of my own making is harder than I imagined. It’s especially true in times of compelling international news, as with last week’s Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom.

Social media debate simply doesn’t replicate cool pints and pointed fingers in a pub atmosphere.

Luckily my old friend Jon invited several of us to his house on Saturday for an afternoon of UEFA Euro matches, beer and conversation. We spent four hours talking about British politics, insidious neoliberal economics and the turning of calendar pages. Alas, we’re not getting any younger.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the themes and controversies attendant to Brexit’s “leave or remain” paradigm effectively symbolize the life of my own mind, coming full circle from the starting point of the Berlin Wall’s sudden dismantling in 1989.

The fall of The Wall was the first thunderclap of a storm that modified – though not completely erased – the post-WWII world order. The collapse of Communism provided the opening for expedited globalization, and whether by chance or otherwise, it coincided with my personal decision to seek a career in beer, right here at home.

It wasn’t always clear to me then, but the 1990s were the ideal time for neoliberalist economic policies to poisonously blossom, hastening the concentration of capital in the hands of the few, prompting the populist backlash emblemized by Bernie and Brexit, three decades later.

I was kept busy thinking globally, but drinking locally. My preferred variant of capitalism was a small, local, independent, grassroots business, with a necessarily educational offshoot – the ad hoc poor man’s university – providing a framework for education through beer, and also ensuring I wouldn’t go stir crazy in the American hinterlands.

Through it all, to greater or lesser extent, I kept in touch with Europe, and never once stopped thinking that I should have been European.


The year 2009 was the advent of Bank Street Brewhouse. At the time, I’d convinced myself that we were marrying European sensibility to American “craft” brewing. It may even have been true, although the subsequent record provides decidedly mixed testimony.

At their worst, my forays into attempted definition proved I had an unclear notion of self-exile-in-place.

Coinciding with BSB’s launch, I’d started writing a weekly column for the local newspaper. My essay of February 5, 2009 on the topic of personal geography generated a surprising degree of rancor, and for reasons that surprised me.

I fully expected to be admonished for deploying a certain rhetorical device pertaining to closets, and was prepared to take my medicine. I still am. However, I can’t un-write a published column, only learn from it. This I’ve done, and continue to do.

What I didn’t expect was to be denounced by a longtime pub patron and friend, who immediately boycotted the Public House in protest, citing grounds of Roger’s publicly failed patriotism.

Eventually he returned, and while this isn’t the point, I’m frankly unable to tell you what the point might actually be. To each his or her own, but to me, Europe’s been my life for as long as I can remember.

Granted, I’ve made shoddy work of it. Language aptitude eludes me, and here I remain at the age of 55, stuck inside of Nawbany with the Bamberg blues again. I’ll probably never live in Europe, and yet it’s impossible for me to imagine not being obsessed, haunted and enraptured by Europe, even if much of what I wrote in 2009 is revealed to be drivel.

I’ll take that chance, and so the original column follows. If it provokes another boycott, I can live with it.


Out and about.

But the whole point of liberation is that you get out. Restructure your life. Act by yourself.
-- Jane Fonda

Shouldn’t the act of writing be as personal as it ever gets, especially if the results are intended for public, not private, consumption?

Shouldn’t one’s own words be inextricably linked to one’s own identity, with the writer endeavoring to honestly address matters like self-realization, personal liberation, and all those little acts of defiance, mourning and acceptance that go together to make a life?

Certainly this was the general condition for much of human history prior to the electronic immediacy of modern times. Either a person was literate, retaining at least the possibility of leaving a tangible record of existence for posterity, or he wasn’t, in which case a life passed unnoticed -- unless one was part of the tiny minority deemed suitable subjects for biographical renderings.

In those earlier times, when something of significance needed to be said, those few who were literate were expected to compose manifestos, polemics, confessionals and apologetics. Just like Martin Luther’s famous tract, these were intended to be nailed both literally and figuratively to the cathedral door for all to see.

In the current age of ephemeral solipsism, you needn’t know any more than the method of posting a self-made YouTube video, then sit back to count the hits as they mount through e-links, and finally calculate the extent of your newfound (and short-lived) notoriety.

It just isn’t the same.

These themes of personal freedom and written expression today compel me to broach a difficult topic, and yet it seems to me the right time to tackle it: Who am I as an individual, where did I come from, and where am I going?

For me, the one achievement reasonably attainable in my lifetime is self-knowledge. Random serendipity deposited me here, and I was issued one non-renewable life with second chances rarely if ever permitted. There is so very much of it that cannot be controlled, time is short, and as an atheist, I don’t look elsewhere for answers. But each of us spends every single moment of our lives inhabiting our own bodies, so doesn’t it make sense to come to terms with who we really are?

As such: I can’t remember when it first occurred to me that I was different from the others.

There was neither a singular epiphany nor an earth-shattering revelation, only a dawning recognition that my attractions and desires were directed toward other places than those taken for granted as "normal."

For more than a quarter of a century, I’ve known the truth. The immensity of it overwhelmed me, and the implications usually blinded me to the realities of my situation. I kept going both directions, there and back and forth, never willing to admit that my orientation might be other than that considered typical for a male of my upbringing in a small Southern Indiana town and in a conservative, traditional society.

As a youth I wanted nothing more than to be like my friends, and after all, in those days we were not readily exposed to alternative lifestyles as part of our formative educational experiences. One might by chance read about such matters in books and see the issues skirted on television, but here? It really was the sort of thing that dared not speak its name aloud.

I was tormented by the usual doubts and questions. Was it nature or nurture? Had I done something wrong? Was I being punished? Did I have control over my real feelings and possess the ability to change them, or were they hard-wired and non-negotiable?

After much soul searching and heartfelt discussions with loved ones, dear friends, longtime customers, local politicians, cherished teachers, and even that pleasant fellow in White Castle the other day whose name I can’t remember, I’ve come to a momentous decision, and I’m able finally to reveal it to you, my faithful readers, and to the world.

I’m really a … a … a European.

There, I’ve said it. European. Not American.

Apparently the stork erred, and I’ve spent 48 55 crazy-quilt years trapped in this hamburger-eating, swill-slugging, mindless patriotic church-going, television-gazing country. It’s just so profoundly unfair.

I should be riding on bicycles or affordable public transportation through thoughtfully planned, human-scale communities to important soccer matches, and then vacationing in Madagascar or Bali or Cuba.

I might be drinking Belgian ale, Greek ouzo and Spanish wine from the appellations of their origins, and gratefully choosing between many more than just two political parties, among them one that actually reflects my own belief system.

I could be enjoying competent, universal, cradle-to-grave health care and never having to worry about the harmful encroachment of a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, with religion restricted to debating the architectural merits of charming church buildings in Rome and Kiev.

I would be refusing to own a firearm, seeing that the crime rate is low and I needn’t affix my status as genuine citizen and "real man" on gunshot cadences … speaking a full half-dozen languages fluently … and understanding that my tax burden, while high, is being distributed to the benefit of my community as a whole, which benefits me as an individual.

Surely the delivery error can be rectified with a revised document of authenticity.

Anyone seen that damned negligent stork?


June 20: AFTER THE FIRE: Less can be more.

June 13: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: I know I’m gonna change that tune.

June 6: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: A Mile Wide sidewalk superintendent.

May 30: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: “The Drinker” (A Book Review).


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Turn up at a complete stranger's house and pay them to cook you dinner.

A platform in the UK called EatAbout "invites you "to enjoy private meals in the home of a chef." You can bring your own wine or beer; there's no corkage fee.

Is it last orders for restaurants? by Killian Fox (The Guardian)

A wave of new internet startups aim to do for eating out what Airbnb did for travel accommodation and Uber for taxis, with diners eating in chefs’ own homes

... It may be too early to compare social dining platforms such as EatAbout with genuine disrupters such as Airbnb and Uber. “Unlike hotels, which have a captive market, in that everyone visiting a city needs a place to stay, restaurants exist for the neighbourhood they inhabit, for their people,” says the chef Jackson Boxer, who runs the restaurant at Brunswick House in Vauxhall, south London. “I think there are lots of fabulous things about the supper club model, but these sites are filling a niche. I don’t think they’re a threat.”


Taco Steve, appearing at Bank Street Brewhouse on Monday evenings.

Turns out I was mistaken. You really can go home again. Well, at least Stephen can. Otherwise, Steve's still cooking at his home base. Check out the hours and menu at Taco Steve's Facebook page.

NABC Bank St + Taco Steve Mondays 4p-8p

NABC Bank Street Brewhouse is now open from 4p-8p Monday evenings for pint drinking and growler refills. Come hang out with Heather Morris serving up pints as well as food served by Taco Steve. Is there a better way to spend your Monday?


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

HopCat is coming to Louisville, and it's gonna be yuuuge.

HopCat (no spacing, alas) is a regional chain out of Michigan, one of those "bigger is better" ideas that proliferate in America, where "craft" beer long since has been claimed as a victim of Disneyesque Capitalism, though it cannot be denied that immediately upon planting a location in Broad Ripple (Indianapolis), HopCat started pouring (a) sponsorship money into the Brewers of Indiana Guild, and (b) lots of Indiana-brewed beers.

Duly noted. Duly appreciated. Here's how the Indy branch of HopCat describes itself on Twitter.

130 all-craft drafts, ciders, wines, cocktails + food your Mom would make if she loved beer. Lunch, Dinner, Sunday Brunch.

The forthcoming HopCat location to Louisville has been mildly controversial owing to the familiar spatial and parking issues on Bardstown Road.

Massive Highlands beer bar now has an opening date, by David A. Mann (Louisville Business First)

HopCat – Louisville will open July 30. The big bar, boasting about 11,000 square feet, has been under construction on Bardstown Road in the Highlands, at the former Spindeltop Draperies Inc. property, since last year.

The first 200 people in its doors that day will get a card good for a free order of its "crack fries" every week for a year.

I don't think "crack" is particularly funny as it pertains to fries, or for that matter to much of anything else (remember "crack babies," anyone?) but to each his own. I suppose if a brewery called Special Ed can talk about "'tard tested, 'tard approved," then crack fries is a relatively mild linguistic offense.

Meanwhile, it's bigger and bigger and better and better. One gets the impression that if "cat houses" were legal, the marketing tie-in would be only nanoseconds away.

(The Highlands HopCat) will feature 132 varieties of craft beers on tap, a full menu, three event spaces (including two with private bars) and a rooftop deck with outdoor seating. It will also have more than 200 whiskey selections, including many many Kentucky bourbons, and a small-batch in-house brewery featuring its own creations and collaborations.

Louisville's HopCat will be the chain's ninth, with a tenth outpost to follow in Lexington, late 2016 with the Lexington outpost having opened in the fall of 2015. As Mark Twain once presciently noted, there are lies, damned lies, and press releases.

“We’ve worked hard to make HopCat – Louisville unlike any other,” Mark Sellers, founder and CEO of BarFly Ventures, said in the release. “I believe we’ve created a location that will serve as a hub for Kentucky craft beers and a magnet for local beer lovers as well as those visiting Louisville from around the world.”

The usual dreary boilerplate code language, concocted to gladden the hearts of fetishists who read business news for their jollies.

But HopCat still isn't AB-InBev, so I'd heartily recommend the Kentucky Guild of Brewers prepare an invoice and get out in front of the chain's arrival in Kentucky.

Finally, am I being cynical? Yes, but only when absolutely necessary.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

There's a "Brewing Experience & Education Retreat" coming to Hanover College.

This sounds interesting. The text of the e-mail I received is reprinted here, and to sign up, go this way.


Hanover College (Hanover, Ind.) will host Brewing Experience & Education Retreat (BEER), August 6-7. This two-day event is designed for beginning homebrewers and features instruction provided by Craig Philip and Tim Cunningham, experienced beer producers and Hanover chemistry professors.

The two-day, overnight experience costs $275 per brewer. The price includes on-campus accommodations, direct instruction during the brewing process, take-home equipment, meals and a tasting event featuring local breweries. Participants will be able to produce, and take home, their creation of a Dry Irish Stout, India Pale Ale or American Brown Ale.

Brewing Experience & Education Retreat (BEER) is available only to those ages 21 and older.

If desired, campus housing is available Friday, August 5, for just $25.

For more information or to register online, visit

Contact Craig Philipp at or Tim Cunningham at


Monday, June 20, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: Less can be more.

AFTER THE FIRE: Less can be more.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

Kindly note that I’m changing the name of this column to reflect the fact that my involvement in the “craft” beer business no longer is active. As a recovering former small business owner, I survived the frying pan, and perhaps it’s time for an evolving perspective. Just don't expect me to jump back into that particular fire ... at least yet.


I remember being in Prague in the mid-1990s. We’d wander downtown neighborhoods hunting beer – sometimes hopping street cars, other times the subway, but most often on foot.

The objective was to find drafts from as many of the Czech Republic’s breweries as possible, and having identified these beers, to drink them straight down.

In retrospect, it isn’t clear to me what sort of legal framework for beer distribution even existed in the Czech Republic at the time. Something akin to a “tied house” seemed common, in that a pivnice (piv-nee-tsuh, or tavern) generally would serve beer from only one brewery.

These days, we’d quickly decamp to a multi-tap and be overwhelmed by sheer choice, and I’ve read that Prague now has such establishments boasting bountiful selections, as well as WiFi to enable the inevitable postings at Untappd, but this approach strikes me as tantamount to the king’s gamesmen running the animals past his shooting point.

It’s also no way to conduct a drinking tour of a city, especially when traveling overseas, where there’s so much else to learn.

20 years ago, many of Prague’s pubs served beers from one of the city’s “big three” breweries: Staropramen, Braník or Mestan, the latter two apparently long deceased as independent entities.

Other breweries were well represented, too, and it seemed the closer their home cities to Prague, the better chance of finding them. Pilsner Urquell was a given. Gambrinus, Velkopopovický and Radegast also were around, though at the time, the epochal Budvar not as much.

Intriguingly, it remained possible in the mid-1990s to find watering holes in Prague that had hooked up with smaller breweries, or even larger ones further away from the capital. There’d be occasional appearances by Ferdinand (from nearby Benešov), Hostan (Znojmo), Regent (Třeboň) or Starobrno (Brno). The trick was finding the places serving them, as they didn’t always correspond to addresses amid the prevailing tourist routes.

An obscure brewery called Herold became an obsession for my band of explorers. It was founded in the countryside in 1506, surviving the threat of closure in the waning months of the Communist period only because its stubborn plant manager refused to do what the authorities told him.

These authorities soon were gone, and the plant manager remained.

We seemingly traipsed over half of Prague one evening trying to find the sole pivnice that we’d been told poured Herold, and stopping frequently for directions at other establishments along the way. These wayfinding tips generally came accompanied by beers, which might explain our ultimate failure.

Resolving to locate the Herold brewery itself, eventually we did so with the help of a savvy travel agent in Prague, who secured a minibus and driver for a day’s journey deep into the Bohemian hinterlands.

First we visited the town of Velké Popovice for a Velkopopovický Kozel tasting, then Vysoký Chlumec (home of Lobkowitz), and finally the tiny town of Březnice, where a farmer on a tractor pulling a wagon overflowing with manure slowly guided our careful man at the wheel to the Herold brewery gate.

I’d contacted the manager, but he had an untimely emergency and wasn’t there, so his second in command made a hasty phone call, ran out the door, and soon emerged with a local schoolteacher in tow to serve as interpreter.

Our Herold brewery tour lasted all of 20 minutes, yielding to a considerably more intensive two-hour survey of the lagering cellar. By the end of our seminar below ground, we had absorbed so much knowledge that the ancient stone staircase leading back to the top began wildly undulating to the beat of non-existent music.

The magical motion very nearly kept us subterranean, which would have been just lovely by me.

Two decades later, much has changed in the Czech Republic -- and everywhere else in the world, too. Many of the old-school Czech breweries are gone (Herold survives), and a new crop of “craft” brewers has arrived.

Granted, the range of beer choice in Prague used to be far narrower, but it was a beer paradise nonetheless, and while it may sound as though I’m waxing nostalgic for a bygone era – one I devoted a full quarter-century of my professional life to revolutionizing – it’s very important to understand that yes, you bet I am … unless of course, I’m not.

Just as trudging eight miles robed in primitive bearskin through six-foot-high snow drifts helped transform a previous generation of mid-20th century schoolchildren into improved parents, hunting beers the hard way had its merits.

Beer tastes better when you work for it, and breweries, too; we’d follow a canal or rail line, sniff the unmistakable aroma of a boil in progress, and follow our noses to the goal line. The biggest problem was finding our way home.


The real reason I’m bringing all this up is because, as a consumer, there exists a little-known, positive connotation to the tied house: If it’s a Fuller’s pub, you know there’ll be Fuller’s served there. No guesswork is involved, and at times, this can be a good thing.

In the present era, unceasing “guest” tap rotation has morphed into something that’s incredibly diverse, but also no longer comes moored to any system or routine. It’s wonderful and chaotic, all at once.

Rotating guest taps made for a refreshing trend when acting as the changeable component alongside a non-revolving core selection, but we’ve long since settled into the rigid orthodoxy of a daily (hourly?) spin-the-flavor-wheel approach. Accordingly, fresh ideas for marketing and retailing a profusion of better beer choices have steadily diminished.

When the only constant is dizzying change, then surely for some establishments in search of a noteworthy market niche, resolving to give the pendulum a nudge in the opposite direction is merited. Either a semi-permanent selection of classics, or a single brewery’s popular range, would make for a distinctive strategy.

Naturally, I’m not sanctioning tied houses if by “tied” we mean contractually narrowed choice, especially via a swillmonger. And, of course, the tied house isn’t exactly legal in America – even when it happens, which is lamentably often.

Rather, I’m advocating a voluntary tie of sorts, and as always, I’m insistent that any beer and brewing knowledge base emanate from behind the bar, as reflected by an intelligent and coherent (if narrowed) selection, and mirroring the conceptual contours of an establishment’s wine and spirits program.

After all, everyone knows that a bar simply must have a core selection of liquor, but how does this not apply to beer styles?

Conversely, many bars in metropolitan Louisville proudly feature Brown-Forman wines and spirits. So, why not follow suit with an exclusive selection of Falls City’s genuinely independent local drafts?

Wouldn’t it make sense for an eatery on the Indiana side of the river to feature all Sun King drafts?

And isn’t it true that if one did, Sun King’s three flagships – Sunlight, Osiris and Wee Mac – would be the biggest sellers?

There are many ways of cultivating loyalty. My contention is that more customers than we tend to think actually like the idea of “their” favorite brand or style of beer, and when it comes to better (“craft”) beer, the merits of continuity are being vastly undervalued.

Accordingly, there’s a case to be made for making the process of choosing a regular beer easier for those who might become regular customers just because they know what to expect when they drop in for a sandwich.

Recently a friend was musing along these lines: “If I opened a pub, would I be crazy to have a three-tap keg box, pouring Guinness, Pilsner Urquell and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, with no guest taps at all?”

Aside from the absence of representative beer localism, no – he would not be crazy. In fact, there’d be something I personally like on tap, all the time.

And: There's only so much time in the first place.


June 13: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: I know I’m gonna change that tune.

June 6: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: A Mile Wide sidewalk superintendent.

May 30: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: “The Drinker” (A Book Review).

May 23: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: A few beers on Estonian time (Part Two).


Friday, June 17, 2016

Come to Forecastle and enjoy 4-oz samples of local "craft" beer.

Handmade thimbles -- photo credit.

It says so, right here in the article.

Local Beer at Forecastle Festival 2016, by Cresant Smith (Louisville Beer)

The Forecastle Festival will be held on the Louisville Waterfront July 15 – 17th 2016. All of this great music deserves great local beer. You have seen the list of artists that are scheduled to perform, however, you may not be aware of the craft beer selection that will be available.

Here are the Louisville and Kentucky breweries and what they will be offering:


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Special Ed's Brewery elevates cluelessness to an art form -- and brewing hasn't even started.

From the web. 

Any snarky preamble I might offer cannot do justice to the unawareness on open display herein.

Some jokes simply aren't funny, however much inner mirth one might derive from them. Yes, hubby is special. But Special Ed means something different, doesn't it?

How can 'tard-tested be defended in any way? Then again, we still tolerate a football team called the Redskins.

Naturally, I'm reminded of Indiana's Route 2 Brews, and its ridiculous Leg Spreader. Special Ed's may not be as obvious, but it's just as indefensible.

Special Ed’s Brewery owners apologize but keep provocative name, by Blair Anthony Robertson (Sacramento Bee)

In a whirlwind 24 hours, the owners of Special Ed’s Brewery in Galt saw indignation go viral about their company name and slogans, received death threats, filed a police report, issued a written apology, took down their Facebook page and, yes, opened the retail store for business Tuesday.

“My husband is getting death threats on his phone,” co-owner Cheryl Mason said. “The situation is not funny at all.”

Mason said she and her husband, Edward, have reported the threats to police. The name and related themes tied to the business – including the slogan “Take the short bus to special beer” and “’tard tested, ’tard approved” – touched off a firestorm of complaints, vitriol and calls for a boycott on Facebook and Twitter. The business also promoted a proposed beer, Back of the Bus Brown Ale, that appears to refer to Jim Crow-era segregation.