Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Old Louisville Brewery is about to open, with Axl Rose rumored as John Wurth's website pinch-hitter.

Remember how my provocative and controversial column used to be where the hiatus is now?

Remember my two (1, 2) amazing appearances on the now-defunct podcast?

You might recall that this here creator of revolutionary content has time on his hands and plenty of bones left to pick.

Tanned, rested and soapbox-ready -- which is precisely what Wade and Ken Mattingly no longer will be now that their brewery is about to open for business.

All breweries are a pain to coax into existence, but these guys have worked uncommonly long and hard to tap their dreams. Check out the Facebook page and make plans to try out the new kids on the block.

Now, John ...

Old Louisville Brewery Set to Open Friday, by John Wurth (Louisville Beer Dot Com)

Remember Remember John Wurth? (Who?) Remember Episode 11 of the now-defunct Louisville Beer Podcast?

Hopefully, you remember at least one of these. You might recall that this here’s a website that’s been on a bit of hiatus, because of Wurth’s busy day job and family schedule. Then, maybe you’ll also have some fond memories of when we had Wade and Ken Mattingly on the ol’ podcast back in November of the year 2013. Memories…

Well, here we are back in the year 2016, and Old Louisville Brewing is on the verge of opening on Friday, July 22. They hosted a soft open tonight, and invited me to attend. While they don’t have their Peanut Ale on tap YET, I got to sample some of the wares, and was pretty pleased.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bass Ale Blues, connecting the Original Memphis Five with Malcom Lowry without a single mention of Bass Ale.

Don't ask me how I manage to pick "next" when it comes to books, just know that it will be a book -- bound, tactile and absurdly old-fashioned.

Appropriately, at the present time I'm reading Dick Sudhalter's Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945, a mildly controversial volume published in 1999, in which the author charts the influence of white musicians on the development of jazz.

Given that I've usually advanced the argument that black musicians have been the prime movers of jazz, Sudhalter's book is a scholarly and well-reasoned supplement to ancient history. I'm less interested in a final verdict than with his stories of players and aggregations long forgotten, among them the Original Memphis Five.

Somewhat incredibly for jazz, a genre long specializing in archival LP and CD collections spanning the gamut of styles and performers, only a small number of this group's 300-plus sides have been reissued. Many are feared lost.

Of course, some tracks by the Original Memphis Five (including various pseudonyms) are readily available, including "Bass Ale Blues." It's the first I've heard of this song, which was written by Frank Signorelli (apparently there are no lyrics), and it strikes me as beyond strange that a jazz musician would refer to an imported English beer during the peak of Prohibition.

It gets even weirder. Stuck in the middle of an unfruitful bout of Googling, I was guided here:

Malcolm Lowry @ the 19th Hole

It's a blog started in 2009 to celebrate the centenary of Malcolm Lowry's birth.

And who was he?

Lowry wrote the classic novel Under the Volcano, perhaps a "modernist masterpiece," and a work I adored during my dissipated mid-1980s years. Lowry tells the story of the doomed alcoholic Englishman Geoffrey Firmin's downward spiral in Mexico, set against the spectacle of the annual Day of the Dead.

Finally, who would have known that the Original Memphis Five was one of Malcolm Lowry's favorite jazz combos?

As a later singer (and cultural commentator) observed:

Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They're going to destroy
Our casual joys
We shall go on playing
Or find a new town

Blues de la Cerveza?


Monday, July 18, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: Moss the Boss, his dazzling beer café, and what they taught me about “craft.”

AFTER THE FIRE: Moss the Boss, his dazzling beer café, and what they taught me about “craft.”

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

This essay from April, 2014 was one of my final postings at Louisville Beer Dot Com. Only a teaser appeared here, at my blog, so if you missed it before, the whole text follows.

As is my habit, I’ve touched up some of the passages, but have not changed anything of substance. It should be noted that Moss eventually accepted my Facebook friend request. Here is a recent photo of him.

Now, back to April 21, 2014.


In my view, the “craft” modifier for better beer has outlived its usefulness, at least without earnest industry-wide introspection as to what the art of “craft” might actually mean if and when it is practiced.

Until then, I’ll begin with an anecdote. If my luck holds, I may end with it, too.

In October of 1995, when the Public House was only three years old, I departed the comfortable confines for a ten-day tour of European beer destinations, including Dusseldorf, Cologne and Belgium. There also was a brief two-day side trip by train to Copenhagen to visit my friends there. My friends David Pierce, John Dennis and Ron Downer accompanied me.

Much beer was consumed, though you probably already guessed as much.

Our first great thrill was accidentally stumbling into Dusseldorf on "Sticke" day, when the brewpub Zum Uerige rolls out a special, beefier version of its elegant everyday ale. Sticke happens only at random intervals, and we felt fortunate to experience such goodness by chance, in the primeval absence of social media to guide the proceedings.

These days, everyone would know. Serendipity has been outlawed, and that’s too bad.

The next morning, we set out for Belgium, allowing for a few hours of fast-paced Kölsch consumption in Cologne. A change of trains was necessary at Liege, and so we made for the station buffet to have an inaugural beer. There were 35 choices on the menu, which by Belgian standards was elemental, but they spanned the gamut of the brewer’s art.

At the time, I wrote:

“In America, you also have a choice: Bud or Bud Light. That is, if you can find a train station.”

Namur, located in the Meuse river valley in southeastern Belgium, was the ultimate target. It is a clean and scenic city with an old citadel perched on a hill, and our first move after settling into our lodgings was to consult Tim Webb’s seminal Good Beer Guide to Belgium and Holland (nowadays, just Belgium) for the address of L’ Eblouissant (The Dazzling), a beer café featured in the Namur section, and highly praised by the author.

It was the reason we chose Namur in the first place.

Equipped with a sketchy city map and gestures from the desk clerk, we began walking. Upon arrival, it became evident that while a drinking establishment was doing business at this address, it was not The Dazzling.

Because the friendly bartender was kind enough to explain the situation and to give us directions to the café’s new location across town, we ordered a round of Duvel, tipping him handsomely prior to resuming the hike.

Even then, we almost missed The Dazzling. There was no sign apart from a backlit Murphy’s Stout oval, adorning an accurate facsimile of an Irish pub front. We stepped inside, only to find the pub officially closed to make room for at least two dozen Namur locals gathered there to celebrate their recent return from a tour of Sri Lanka.

At this juncture, our first acquaintance was made with the Belgo-Irish force of nature known as Alain Mossiat, to be forever known as “Moss the Boss.” Moss welcomed us, albeit a bit warily at first. His resistance began to crumble when it became evident that our beer pilgrim credentials were exemplary, and so an impromptu compromise was reached.

He’d be very busy with the group, but we could occupy an improvised table in the rear storage area. He’d serve us when he could, and there was enough Spaghetti Bolognese on hand for us to have some dinner, too.

Moss proceeded to both cook and serve food and beers to the thirty of us, operating from a closet kitchen with an ordinary home stove, and with his 12-year-old son positioned atop a beer crate behind the bar, pouring nitro Murphy’s all night long for the native revelers.

The stout was Moss’s nod to his Irish side, and besides, no other bar in Namur had such a beer in 1995. However, cash flow aside, Moss’s pride and joy was a comprehensive list of bottled ales from the Wallonia region, which he viewed as poorly represented on famous beer lists elsewhere in Belgium.

After making our first selection ourselves, we asked Moss to choose for us during the remainder of the evening, and one after another, 750 ml bottles of Wallonian ale appeared before us. The pinnacle was an aged, homebrewed mead from his personal (and very literal) cellar, which quite simply was the best I’d ever had, and may yet be.

Perhaps I kept track of what we were drinking, but I doubt it. What I remember is a magical evening in an eclectic setting, seated amid random junk, cases of bottles and various beer placards and advertisements (oddly, not unlike my home base), learning that for all of Belgium’s culinary splendor, the one dish you’re likely to find on the menu at a beer café with “snacks” is spaghetti, an ambience sans television or music, with our quartet lapsing eventually into a philosophical debate.

In my 1995 description:

(As we sampled) and finished eating our spaghetti, a spirited argument ensued as to the true nature of craft-brewed beer in America, with Alain interrupting occasionally to explain the next selection. Expatriates abroad. Drinking, talking. Very cool.


My first thought about this scene as recalled in 2014 is this: Damn, we were referring to better beer as “craft” even then, 20 years ago?

What exactly was being said about “craft” as we drank ales and mead in Namur?

My recollection is hazy, but one general theme was whether Sam Adams genuinely could be regarded as “craft” when so many other emerging microbreweries produced a fraction of the volume, and without contract brewing accounting for so much of the barrelage. How could small and large alike occupy the same boat?

As they say, the more things change …

There is much to say about craft, crafty and the sheer grandeur of variable semantics. These can wait for another column.

Thinking back on it, Moss’s strident advocacy of local and regional Wallonian specialties may have planted quite the seed somewhere in my noggin. It would not have been possible to return to the Public House in 1995 and adapt it in such a fashion, but it would be entirely possible now, and an all-Indiana and Kentucky beer format might be quite the marketing corker amid the general in-crowd saturation, appealing to an under-served segment of the better beer crowd for whom localism actually matters.

Moss left the pub business in 1998, relocating with his family to County Mayo in Ireland to operate an organic farm. If memory serves, he’s been back in Belgium for a while, and probably is a grandfather by now. It’s been a long time since we’ve communicated, and yet, perhaps predictably, he’s on Facebook. I’ve sent a friend request.

To recap: In 1995, we had a discussion about “craft” at The Dazzling, and in 2014, “craft” strikes me as an outtake from The Shining.

I think there needs to be a full-scale reboot.


*Bonus 2016 Postscript*

In January of 2007, I stumbled quite by accident on the website of a band called Ceilí Moss, a folk/rock act from Belgium, where I was stunned to see this explanation:

If you're curious where this name comes from: Ceilí (pronounced as Kylie) is a Gaelic word for a party with music, and Moss was the nickname of Alain Mossiat, boss of the pub "L'Eblouissant", where we did our very first gigs.

The website link remains active; however, as of the summer of 2015, the band has ceased performing.

By April, 2007, we'd learned that Moss the Boss was back in Namur (where he remains, according to Facebook). Around this time, David Pierce found a relic of our shared 1990s era of Belgian beer travel.

I was cleaning out some old file drawers this weekend and came upon my old Tim Webb Good Beer Guide to Belgium. Matt Gould and Rick Buckman had borrowed it for their leg of the tour, 1996. The pic was a present for my 40th birthday.

A blast from the past, for sure. Here's to Moss the Boss ... again. His establishment remains an archetype, one ripe for localized reinvention -- don't you think?


July 11: AFTER THE FIRE: We are dispirited in the post-factual world.

July 4: AFTER THE FIRE: Euro ’85, Part 34 … The final chapter, in which lessons are learned and bridges burned.

June 27: AFTER THE FIRE: Out and about in America, Europe … and my cups.

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


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Diary: Can there be a singer-songwriter version of the "good beer" bar?

For diary entries, I sling it without thinking too much about minor annoyances like spelling and syntax. 

For many years, I stuck to the desperate notion that the best possible thing I could do in business was promote the notion of a team.

My analogy was a band in the musical sense of the word, and while not discounting potential disagreements and friction, trying to celebrate what can be done in terms of a group, as opposed to an individual.

Often, it really was a team. At other times, it wasn't. At no time did I ever seek to cultivate the idea that there were NOT numerous employees behind the scenes, doing the real work without which no business can survive. I always understood that we couldn't pay them what they're worth, and tried to figure out how to better remunerate them. At one point, it occurred to me that we might be employee-owned.

Give the guys on the shop floor credit -- they were too smart for that.

At some juncture, perhaps the late 1990s or early 2000s, lots of attention became focused on me. It always surprises folks to learn that I was a reluctant front man at the pub. It happened because someone had to do it, and I was the best candidate. There was a time when no one regarded Phil Collins as the replacement for Peter Gabriel in Genesis, and yet he was the ideal choice -- whether or not you like what occurred subsequently (I do).

For various reasons, cults of personality became increasingly jarring to me, even my own. It made running for political office last year extraordinarily difficult, as our system is predicated on the professional wrestling model of self-promotion, and this has come to thoroughly disgust me.

Going back to music as an analogy, one thing musicians can do that bar owners cannot is go back to basics. A singer/songwriter/instrumentalist can occupy a space in the corner and perform, potentially with a minimum of assistance from others. He or she may even be paid, though unfortunately, this seems to be optional nowadays.

But ...

Is there the "good beer bar" equivalent to the solo singer/songwriter/instrumentalist?

After all, in the time I've been patronizing the world classic 't Brugs Beertje in Bruges, I've never seen more than two bartenders at a time, with (perhaps) a kitchen helper. Sergio's in Louisville operates similarly. In 2013, I visited a one-man Real Ale pub in Totnes, Devon UK.

Why couldn't a single person with an occasional helper run such an establishment if the business plan was suitably opportunistic?

The space needs to be relatively small and inexpensive, and weekly hours somewhat limited. The beer selection can be small, and still be good. Why have gadgets like televisions when everyone has a phone? WFPK works fine. Popular wisdom insists that there must be food, but apart from the mandated $10 frozen weenie menu, being located in a dense area with numerous nearby eateries can satisfy state law and the needs of customers.

As for the cult of personality ... yes, the owner/operator of such an establishment would need to be an entertaining sort of curmudgeon. It's all about the personalities, or patron and client alike.

However, there's no need for a cult.

I think it could work. What do you think?

1 Diary: Does a bar serving good beer need draft lines to succeed?
2 Diary: You have three draft spouts. What do you pour?
3 Diary: Can there be a singer-songwriter version of the "good beer" bar?


Friday, July 15, 2016

Diary: You have three draft spouts. What do you pour?

For diary entries, I sling it without thinking too much about minor annoyances like spelling and syntax. 

Yesterday, I asked whether a "good beer bar" qualifies as memorable if it does not serve draft beer. I'm still assuming that this hypothetical bar will have 20-30 beers in bottles and cans, and today, let's imagine it possessing a three-keg box, capable of holding three full kegs only.

It would NOT be adapted to house five or six one-sixth barrels, just three regular kegs. What would you pour, and how would your pouring schedule work?

Glancing backward through the mists of time, I can recall when this question mattered to me. We had a three-keg box in 1992 at Rich O's, and our first choice of draft was Guinness. Later we added Carlsberg (then Pilsner Urquell). When we had enough money to get the third tower working, it rotated. The draft system grew and grew.

These days, there are 35 or more taps at my formal business, with house-brewed beers and guests. Draft became the focus, and the bottle list has diminished accordingly.

My current hunch is that in the present age, when one seemingly never knows if a beer will be on tap more often than once every six months, the idea of permanently anchoring two of these towers is sound.

As a contrarian of long standing, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that if I were in the position to pick these three beers, my choices (today) would be Guinness, Pilsner Urquell and a rotation of Fuller's London Pride (or something like it) and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Not "session" per se, but close.

So much for my years advocating American "craft," but hear my defense before passing the verdict: "Craft" is everywhere, and the Old World classics have been overwhelmed. Isn't it time to pick up the string of education where it started? Besides, there'd be ample space on a hypothetical bottle and can list to feature American "craft" styles.

The other factor is size. The establishment I have in mind is small (see tomorrow's post), and given the exponential growth of American "craft" beer, you'd genuinely need a Hop Cat or Mellow Mushroom to do it justice.

BUT NOT TO WORRY. I can imagine an American "craft" only lineup just as easily.

I have other ideas, so keep reading, and let me know what you think.

1 Diary: Does a bar serving good beer need draft lines to succeed?
2 Diary: You have three draft spouts. What do you pour?
3 Diary: Can there be a singer-songwriter version of the "good beer" bar?


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Diary: Does a bar serving good beer need draft lines to succeed?

For diary entries, I sling it without thinking too much about minor annoyances like spelling and syntax. 

Must a bar specializing in better beer offer draft beer? Or can it be interesting with bottles and cans alone?

It's a question for reflection, but at one time my knee-jerk response would have been that without draft beer, a good beer bar could not truly be great. I may be in the process of changing my mind. It depends, doesn't it?

If one decided to go with Belgians and Belgian-style ales, wouldn't bottles and a semblance of appropriate glassware be enough?

Not all dive bars have draft. Even if the emphasis were not on Belgians -- say, American "craft" beers only -- would it be enough to have popular craft styles in cans or bottles, with glasses (of course) for pouring?

If engaging in such an operation locally (on Indiana soil) there'd be an added incentive to forego draft, because the regional ATC office interprets state law as allowing beer in "original containers" (bottles and cans) to be carried out the door, onto the sidewalk, while draft does not qualify, unless you carry the keg outside.

Instead of investing in draft equipment, one might purchase simpler straight refrigeration, and be absent cleaning obligations. Have a standard dishwasher for glassware ... and good to go.

Is no draft, no deal? If you have thoughts, please share them with me.

1 Diary: Does a bar serving good beer need draft lines to succeed?
2 Diary: You have three draft spouts. What do you pour?
3 Diary: Can there be a singer-songwriter version of the "good beer" bar?


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"Next time we see 'deconstructed' on a menu, we’re walking out."

My top choice isn't even included.

It's menu items charred, whipped, baked, deconstructed, fried, broiled, flambéed, blackened or otherwise plated "to perfection."

Perfection doesn't exist, folks -- and I share the author's annoyance.

The 10 Most Annoying Words and Phrases on Menus, Ranked, by Josh Scherer (Los Angeles Magazine)

I was at a restaurant the other night and something about the menu seemed… off. It was so sparse. It was just a concise list of foods, most of which I wanted to eat, with no twee adjectives or obscure farm names in sight. Though I was happy about it at the time, it only made me realize that I have an advanced case of CMF (Chronic Menu Fatigue)—and you might too. It’s the general feeling you get when you go to a restaurant and realize every word or phrase on the menu is there to make you feel, in one way or another, unqualified to eat the food. Here is a list of the most annoying and/or pretentious words and phrases that trigger the symptoms.