Tuesday, April 15, 2014

War is over, if you want it.


There'll come a time when someone will ask me, "But Roger, I thought ... "

You thought right, but you see, the war is over, and when the time comes, I'll explain it. I've had to do it often lately, and that's what happens when you find yourself in the losing locker room. Just remember that the press is entitled to interview the vanquished, too, and until that day arrives, let's turn back the pages to 1898 and Secretary of State John Hay, who wrote these words in reference to the Spanish-American War.

"It has been a splendid little war, begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that Fortune which loves the brave."

Yeah, right, and we know better. Naturally, no war ever is splendid, is it? So, yes; you thought right ... but times and people change. So it goes. You change with them, and move on down the road.

The Diary of Our Own Jimmy Bracken: Wrestling, better beer and the yawnable thumping of chests.

A former professional wrestler by the name of James Hellwig died recently. Apparently he was known by a stage name, as the Ultimate Warrior.

"Stage" name is appropriate, because as Wikipedia points out in the article entitled professional wrestling:

This article is about wrestling as a form of rehearsed entertainment.

Professional wrestling (often shortened pro wrestling, or simply wrestling) is a mode of spectacle which combines athletic and theatrical performance. It takes the form of events, held by touring companies, which mimic a title match combat sport. The unique form of sport portrayed is fundamentally based on classical and "catch" wrestling, with modern additions of striking attacks, strength-based holds and throws, and acrobatic maneuvers; much of these derive from the influence of various international martial arts. An additional aspect of combat with improvised weaponry is sometimes included to varying degrees.

The matches have predetermined outcomes in order to heighten entertainment value, and all combative maneuvers are executed with the full cooperation of those involved and carefully performed in specific manners intended to lessen the chance of actual injury. These facts were once kept highly secretive but are now a widely accepted open secret. By and large, the true nature of the performance is not discussed by the performing company in order to sustain and promote the willing suspension of disbelief for the audience by maintaining an aura of verisimilitude.

For a very long while I've known, and accepted, that when it comes to popular music, I've missed the entire era of rap and hip hop -- comprehensively, from the very start to right about now. There is no antipathy; merely omission, and as a generally intelligent adult, I understand that having no knowledge of this pervasive musical genre means that I'm hopelessly out of a powerful cultural loop, utterly detached from a powerful shaper of those younger than me -- for two decades or more.

It's fairly clear to me that a 35-year-old has been influenced heavily by such music, whether overtly or subliminally, even if I'm oblivious to it.

What I didn't grasp, at least until recently, is how significant the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE), progenitor of the "championship wrestling" of my own youth, has been when it comes to the cultural outlook of a generation now also defining beer geekdom.

I note this for various reasons, chief among them the preening, strutting and exhibitionistic entertainment ethos exemplified by wrestling of this contrived type. Chest-thumping may be the literal, historic contribution of outdated Tarzan movies, but surely this act of masculine boastfulness was perfected by the forever calculating WWF. In the current age of short attention spans of shortened (perhaps obliterated) attention spans, it's the preferred marketing strategy of many breweries.

Better beer and championship wrestling. Maybe there's something to this observation, and maybe not. The connection is not my cup of tea, NABC's Hacksaw Jim Dunkel notwithstanding, but something I've grown accustomed to seeing. I suppose I need to make peace with it; either that, or get riled up, start yelling, and thump my chest. Maybe wield a folding metal chair, or a tire iron.

Seems silly to me.

Halfway to LCBW, all the way with NABC to MilkWood this Thursday.

For those readers in or near Louisville, I'm told that a complete list of sponsors and events will be in a special section within tomorrow's LEO Weekly.

I'm not sure whether NABC is listed anywhere, but if not, we will be doing a beer dinner at MilkWood on Thursday, April 17. The menu hasn't gotten to me yet, so what I know is this:

MilkWood Welcomes the New Albanian
Thursday, April 17th, 6:30pm
Four courses paired with five beers, $55
Call 502.584.6455 for reservations

I'll be there with Blake, saying subversive things about beer and enjoying the meal at one of Louisville's finest restaurants.

Halfway to Louisville Craft Beer Week starts Wednesday, by Kevin Gibson (Insider Louisville)

Hard to believe we’re already halfway there. But hey, any excuse to drink a local craft beer is a good excuse. So let Halfway to Louisville Craft Beer Week commence.

Have mercy ... Lew's been waiting for the bus all day.


Not really; just 45 minutes each way.

It isn't for the purpose of name-dropping that I mention drinking a few beers with Lew Bryson yesterday afternoon.

Lew flew into Louisville with a relatively brief window of opportunity for having a drink with me. Early on, he mentioned a bus to Bank Street Brewhouse, and upon learning that BSB is closed on Monday, replied that the same bus serviced the Pizzeria & Public House.

I'm not sure what I thought he meant by bus, but I wasn't interpreting it literally, at least until I drove over to the Pizzeria & Public House to meet him, and learned that Louisville's Transit Authority of River City (TARC) does in fact run buses connecting both our locations, and do so in a roughly timely fashion. Lew got on the bus in front of the 21C Museum Hotel and got off in front of the Grant Line Road Kroger ... drank four pints of beer ... and then reversed the process.

There's something pleasingly sessionable and egalitarian about all this. Now Lew has to work (i.e., drink bourbon) for a few days, but his lesson in public transportation is much appreciated, and I must reluctantly discard my defunct 15-year-old anecdote about taking the 2.5-hour-long, one-way bus -- actually three buses with two separate half-hour layovers -- from Grant Line Road to Bluegrass Brewing Company in St. Matthews.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The PC: My shoes are filled with Volga mud: (3) Beer hunters lurking nearby.

(Published at LouisvilleBeer.com on April 14, 2014)

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My shoes are filled with Volga mud: (3) Beer hunters lurking nearby.

A 1999 travelogue in three parts.

March 31: (1) A tale of a fateful trip.
April 7: (2) The future is the past.
April 14: (3) Beer hunters lurking nearby.

(3) Beer hunters lurking nearby.

I awoke groggy and disoriented. We had retreated indoors quite early the previous evening, aiming to avoid mosquitoes of Biblical proportions, and sat inside talking and drinking Baltika Porter in the odd glow of a never quite black summer’s night.

Allan’s local helper had been commissioned to prepare fish soup for a midday meal to be consumed just prior to making the drive back to Moscow, and this left us with several hours to explore. Allan proposed a drive to a nearby town.

Armed with bootlegged Jackson Browne and Bad Company CD’s procured for next to nothing at the thriving music market back in Moscow, we set out for the scenic trek to Kolyazin, a dusty and isolated nowhere town that has the eternal good fortune to be dusty and isolated less than four hours away from Moscow – this being “good fortune” because a brief look at any reputable map of Russia will reveal there to be hundreds of Kolyazins, most of them located in places that are so lost in the middle of nothingness that they might as well be on another planet.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Louisville Bats and Centerplate present: The Sahara of Slugger Field, 2014 version.

Here comes the first pitch of the 2014 season from Centerplate, and it's ... $6.75 for a draft craft beer at Louisville Slugger Field this year -- well, assuming you can find it. Amazingly, the situation may be worse than it was in 2013.

At a time when the Cincinnati Reds, parent club of the Triple-A Louisville Bats, is generating big-time headlines with a new craft beer concessions destination ...

Cincinnati Reds Go Big With Craft Beer, by Graham Averill (Paste)

Baseball season begins in April and over the last few years, there’s been a trend among major league ball parks to offer craft beer options in addition to the ubiquitous macro beer options. The Cincinnati Reds are taking their love for craft beer to a whole new level. This season, the Great American Ball Park will debut an 85-foot-long craft beer bar, dubbed the Reds Brewery District Bar, that features 60 taps and 23 different craft beers from all over the country.

 ... the Bats and Centerplate offer this delicious list of elementary-school-cafeteria-quality options.

The list does not identify brand names, so we turn to intrepid reader JZ, who gives us the report on the opening night options at the forlorn roasted peanut stand on the concourse by Section 115:

"BBC APA, Sam Adams Lager, Reds' Apple Ale & Leinies' Shandy. 2 out of 4 is not good."

Ouch!

If you're keeping score, that's one locally brewed craft beer (Bluegrass Brewing Company), one nationally distributed lager, and two MillerCoors foo-foo abominations.

As in the past, Louisville's chapter of Craft Beer Nation turns its lonely eyes to Against the Grain, which is the nearest option for good beer outside the turnstiles. Recently, AtG was hinting that it would be involved inside the ballpark this year -- you know, where the games being played actually can be viewed.

Accordingly, and with uncharacteristic excitement for my pay grade of cynicism. I asked AtG today at Twitter for scoop -- and here's a transcript of the conversation, with two random comments contributed by John King.

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Roger
You guys doing beer inside the ballpark this year?

John
Looking at those prices, I'd be sneaking a couple cans in. And peanuts.

Roger
Yep. Centerplate needs to burnish it's monopoly, and the Bats need to pretend they're responsive

John
I can't judge, I pay $8 for Old Style to watch my team lose every year in Chicago.

AtG
We always have beer at the ball park! ... seriously, not immediately, draft box is still at shop & we don't have product to allocate yet.

AtG
It's low on the priority list & we've a lot on our plates at the moment.

Roger
Slim hope is better than none at all. Thanks.

---

There's nothing much to add, is there? Another season at Louisville Slugger Field, and another strikeout for better beer at the ballpark. John's close to the mark; cheering for good beer at a Bats game is rather like rooting for the Cubs. The season ends, and once again, you're disappointed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Concerto of Quaff: How to connect chicha with the Louisville Orchestra.

It always is advisable to define one's terms, particularly when confronted with the illiteracy prevalent in today's world of declining e-ttention spans, and so when I say to you that I'm a longtime fan of classical music, here's a definition of it.

Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western music (both liturgical and secular). It encompasses a broad period from roughly the 11th century to the present day.[1] The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common practice period.

And yes, by linking to Wikipedia, I'm in full possession of an ironic sense. Meanwhile, last Friday we attended a performance by the Louisville Orchestra. I wrote about it at NA Confidential.

The Louisville Orchestra plays Robert Schumann, at the Ogle Center last night.

... as the four horn players were brought to the front of the orchestra to perform their part of Schumann's Konzertstück for Four Horns, Bernhardt observed that horn players come equipped with towels and the frequent need to unburden their instruments of condensation in the form of human spittle. The principal horn player agreed and demonstrated the process, removing the u-shaped section, blowing into the mouthpiece, and spraying the ground.

We had a very good view of all this from the second row, and it didn't offend me, as I played trumpet briefly as a child, before learning that one actually was compelled to practice to play successfully. What was truly funny was the horn player's comment, glancing down at the puddle: "Tomorrow morning, this might be New Albanian Hoptimus."

It is the first time Hoptimus has been mistaken for chicha, and gives me a valuable seasonal beer idea. In fact, a Chicha Horn might become the next trendy fermentation vessel.

And what is chicha?

Chicha, in all its incarnations, ranged from the Andes up to what is now the southwestern United States. The Apache made a traditional corn beer, the prohibition of which was one of Geronimo’s reasons for rebelling against the resettlement regime in the 1880s. Recent archaeological evidence suggests that some Pueblo tribes of modern-day New Mexico, long thought to be teetotalers, were making their own fermented corn drink about 800 years ago. So, arguably, chicha is the original American beer.

When the link to my thoughts about the LO's Schumann homage appeared on Facebook and Twitter, page views abruptly spiked, and there was much social media banter by the orchestra's musicians. Several thoughts belatedly occurred to me.

Since we've had a Public House, we've had orchestra members and friends as customers. Some of them I've gotten to know quite well.

I shouldn't be surprised that a horn player would mention Hoptimus. Perhaps because classical music has a reputation as inaccessible to wholly normal folks like me, it might seem odd, but it definitely isn't.

Whenever I've written about the Louisville Orchestra, there have been plenty of readers, and an enjoyable conversation, as during the most recent occasion:

Forget those horns and their spittle! How about VIOLA VENOM?

I can be fairly slow on the draw, but it's finally dawning on me that the these beer loving musicians are being criminally underserved. NABC has its cooperative Houndmouth Ale, and our Black & Blue Grass is loosely tied thematically to bluegrass music. Pop and rock groups have their beers, too, but damn it, why not a classical-themed brew? A seasonal bottle release could be tied to the LO's fundraising efforts, and a portion of proceeds help support the music.

Conceding that I've no idea where these thoughts are headed, if such a beer is practical (surely it will not be chicha, as attractively subversive as the notion strikes me), or if we have the time or capacity to brew it, nonetheless these past few days have been filled with "how stupid can I be" moments. This has been staring me in the face for years.

Classic beer for classical music. It really needs to happen.

Hunter's Double D and Seattle Slew Kabobs, please.

In 1987, May Day fell on a Friday.

I was in Vienna (Austria, not Virginia) for the weekend, walking into the center to watch the annual parade held in honor of the world’s holiday for workers, and punctuating the experience with periodic doses of lager beer.

My exact thoughts cannot be known even now, when they’re occurring, much less 27 years later, but I’m confident that among them on this pleasant spring day in the cradle of the Habsburgs was this: “Hot damn – I’m missing Derby for this!”

In 1987, I’d barely taken note of the encroachment of ATMs on the now lost art of exchanging traveler’s checks, and so I couldn’t have foreseen the advent of Twitter, on which I recently made another installment in a seemingly endless series of disgruntlements, NCAA Meets Derby Festival Edition:

The problem with living here is when they finally stop babbling about college basketball, they begin babbling about the Kentucky Derby.

Armed and ready with an answer was Jerod Clapp of the News and Tribune.

Given my proximity to the Downs, this is my least favorite time of year. Let's brew an anti-commemorative beer. Something sour.

It was sounding more and more like a plan, and what better as bistro accompaniment to soured Derby ale than Secretariat Burgers, perhaps with some jockey-itch sauce on the side. How I detest Horse Pimp Days in these parts!

But Jerod’s final idea was the best of all:

Ya know, it's HST's year in Louisville - "Hunter's Double D." After his essay on the whole thing.

For the unenlightened, my correspondent refers to the founding document in the pantheon of gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” Much to my surprise upon joyfully rereading this fabled piece, it actually is possible to lift on sentence as summary.

So the face I was trying to find in Churchill Downs that weekend was a symbol, in my own mind, of the whole doomed atavistic culture that makes the Kentucky Derby what it is.

It’s hard for me to fathom that in 1987, I was less than two decades removed from Thompson’s visit to Churchill Downs, when I was 10 years old. In three weeks, it will have been 44 years, and while the entire planet has changed its stripes numerous times since 1970, the Kentucky Derby remains just as decadent and depraved, and likely will stay that way.

That’s both timeless and thoroughly idiotic. At least we have better local beer now.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Get thee to Bloomington this Saturday, and avoid Thunder Over Fischerville.


This Saturday is the 4th annual Bloomington Craft Beer Fest. NABC's lineup for the fest, and our events preceding it during Bloomington Craft Beer Week, can be found at the web site:

NABC in Bloomington, April 11 & 12, for Craft Beer Week and the Craft Beer Fest


The fact that Kentucky Derby Festival organizers pushed this year's opening Thunder Over Louisville fireworks show back a week to accommodate Easter weekend poses a problem: What to do? Go to Bloomington for the BIG festival this Saturday, or stay in town for Thunder?

Silly question, actually; it's time now for my annual disclaimer.

I get no kick from juleps, and mere horse pimps don’t thrill me at all, but I get a kick out of being a contrarian Grinch each year during Derby Festival.

The orgasmic fireworks display this Saturday known to me as Flatulence Over Louisville always provides grist for this cynic’s willful disobedience, providing an excellent pretext to skip town for somewhere quiet and civilized by comparison … a place where good beer and victuals are readily available to wash away the bad taste of our yearly glorification of pure, old-fashioned American garishness.

In 2013, the Brewers of Indiana Guild's annual meeting was the pretext to enjoy Indianapolis during Blunder. This year, it's Bloomington, the BIG fest, and some exploration. Even better: In 2014, the guild's meeting takes place on Derby Day itself ... and northward I will go.

Let me know when the smoke clears, okay? I really detest this crap.

Monday, April 07, 2014

A statement on the occasion of Session Beer Day.

It is Session Beer Day. Long live session. We've come a long way to get back to first principles, and that's okay. It may be time for a beer.

There is somewhat of a digression to all of this.

Occasionally a cliché bears passing resemblance to reality, and recalling the eagerness of every politician to stump by heaping effusive praise on the genius of good, old-fashioned American workplace creativity, permit me to note that in spite of all my various and cranky complaints, this characterization is spot-on when it comes to contemporary American brewing.

Seeing as New Albion was born during the nation’s Bicentennial year, we’re now almost 40 years into the American brewing renaissance. There now are more than 2,500 working breweries in the United States, collectively producing thousands of different beers.

If there’s one approximate generalization to be made as to where these breweries have come from, and where they’re going, it probably would be this: The boundaries of previously accepted beer style have been pushed, pushed – and pushed again. Often, they have become unrecognizable.

In today’s brewing circles, creativity and extremism have too often become synonymous, with good and bad implications. On the positive side, “extreme” beers twist and expand style definitions, combining unexpected characteristics and conjuring innovative, over-the-top specialties: Cherrywood-smoked Imperial Saison? India Pale Ale with coffee? Beers aged in every sort of used barrel known to man?

All veritable child’s play, these days.

Conversely, the alcohol contents of such creations can be as extreme as the recipes, and have been known to cause blood alcohol machines to proclaim “tilt” before collapsing in a heap of fractured plastic and rusted metal. That’s why at reputable establishments, you see extreme beers served in small glasses.

It remains that throughout human history, revolution inevitably begets complicated cycles of counter-revolution, reaction and retrenchment, and many beer aficionados are joining me by turning back to what is commonly referred to as “session” beer. But credit must go where credit is due, and the prime mover in session advocacy these past few years is beer writer Lew Bryson, who defines his terms at Session Beer Project:

► 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
► flavorful enough to be interesting
► balanced enough for multiple pints
► conducive to conversation
► reasonably priced

In fact, there is a “back to the future” aspect to the revival of session beers. All the European brewing cultures from which today's brewing have drawn inspiration always featured “smaller” beers for daily consumption. Because virtually all American mass-market lagers eventually devolved to smallness, with flavor a forgotten afterthought, new age brewing arguably found its greatest success in going big, but this doesn’t change the question.

Can a beer be lower in alcohol without sacrificing flavor?

There is little doubt it can be, and metro Louisville breweries tend to have fine examples on tap. At NABC, we try to keep three session-strength ales flowing at our two locations, year-round. One of Against the Grain’s revolving style pours is Session. Apocalypse, the BBCs, Cumberland … all have beers during the year that dip below the mark and retain plenty of flavor.

On the occasion of Session Beer Day, permit me to reiterate: Having been there and done that, the very notion of session beer reanimates the pleasing imagery that drew me to beer in the first place: Pints to return to, with good conversation and perhaps a cigar (mood and weather willing); imbibed in a clean, well-lighted joint or a breezy garden; and not so strong that I lose the power of speech. Localism and session are intertwined, and go together like Best Bitter and bangers & mash.

I’ll always enjoy the higher echelons of alcohol in beer, but for me, they’ve become reserved largely for special occasions – as was the case for centuries. Meanwhile, session beer signifies coming full circle, back to a more relaxed beer-drinking ethos. The vigorous chase is for youth. Craft (and craftiness) are better suited to a more mature perspective.

At least that’s today’s rationalization, and I’m sticking to it.

The PC: My shoes are filled with Volga mud: (2) The future is the past.

(Published at LouisvilleBeer.com on April 14, 2014)

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My shoes are filled with Volga mud: (2) The future is the past.

A 1999 travelogue in three parts.

March 31: (1) A tale of a fateful trip.
April 7: (2) The future is the past.
April 14: (3) Beer hunters lurking nearby.

(2) The future is the past.

It was 1999, and from the beginning of the trip, it seemed a strange and disjointing sensation to be returning at last to a land that had captivated me so intensely earlier in my life.

In particular, it seemed quite wrong to be entering Russia by airplane. Before, back in the decidedly dark ages of the 1980s, I’d arrived in the Soviet capital only after long journeys by train, taking me eastward over a period of days through ever more mysterious and primitive concentric circles of the Warsaw Pact. Being able to effortlessly glide into an airport while ensconced in the belly of a Swissair jet seemed positively corrupt and decadent by comparison. The proletariat would harshly judge me.

A decade later, sprawling, brooding Moscow remained the imperial capital of Communism, at least in physical appearance. Seventy years of urban methodology was loosely draped with the familiar veneer of capitalism’s purported victory in the long running saga of the Cold War. Garish neons, intrusive billboards, cellular phones, car alarms — even the occasional coat of paint — all conspired to trick the unthinking visitor into believing that Moscow had become somehow Western.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Amid the KBS auto-erotic narcissism, Dale Moss grasps a good point.

Prior to the e-borne fragmentation of traditional print media in metropolitan Louisville, the Courier-Journal was the newspaper of record for the region. There was an Indiana section, and in it, Dale Moss wrote about a quarter-century's worth of columns before moving on just a couple years ago, as the C-J's death throes disgorged another group of long-serving journalism veterans.

Now he has returned, and can be read at the News and Tribune, the local (CNHI chain) newspaper of Floyd and Clark counties.

MOSS: Some thoughts while dreaming of a nap, by Dale Moss (News and Tribune; beware the paywall guard towers and really mean dogs patrolling them)

... Anyway, as part of my reintroduction to you, after all those years in that other newspaper, here is some else of what I believe:

I believe New Albany’s Roger Baylor, and his soulmates around the world, are to be toasted for convincing we rubes to drink better beer. The good-beer evolution resembles revolution. Just check the beer aisle at mainstream sellers such as a Meijer.

I'm glad Dale mentioned this, not so much because I need to see my name yet again in print (or my company's best selling beer referenced at an orchestral performance), but because I spent much of the past week reading various on-line portals inhabited by real salt-of-the-earth beer narcissists, complaining bitterly because they couldn't get enough Founders KBS to earn their personal geek points and merit the inevitable masturbatory selfie on Instagram.

This new age whimpering self-aggrandizement constitutes devolution, not evolution or revolution. The revolutionary part is as Dale Moss views it: Good beer on the shelf at a chain grocery; good beer at ballgames, and good beer enjoying ready availability in places where you spend the times of your life. That's the point. It's what we've spent 25 years pursuing.

And by good beer, I mean just that: Pale Ale, Porter or maybe even a Pilsner done right.

We continue to grow this thing we call craft beer not by commending narcissists for the forbearance in the face of pitiable discrimination, but by expanding the market penetration of good beer and taking the time to chat with those folks standing outside the tent, and wanting to step inside so long as they're not criticized for failing to discern the faint petunia nose on a soured breakfast stout, bottle conditioned with eau de tangerine, and corked, not capped, with a set of Chinese-made pliers conveniently attached ... only $30, if your local liquor store respects your patronage enough to shun and abuse the others who want it, too.

Thanks, Dale. I needed that. Good points have a way of getting you back on point.