Sunday, July 31, 2005

PC in SC: Hilton Head Brewing Company.

It isn’t so bad joining a snail’s pace queue at the departure gate to await an explanation as to why airplanes don’t carry spare tires in the trunk like cars do, and it’s even tolerable in such an emergency to depend on a corporate entity like Starbucks to provide caffeine sufficient to ride out the bureaucratic process, but to be forced to endure mid-1970’s musical dreck like Tony Orlando & Dawn, the Starland Vocal Band and Bread goes beyond the pale of acceptable stress in a civilized society, proving yet again that torture is not the best way to solicit compliance.

In the end, the tire wasn’t even bad, although US Airways didn’t make the call until after painstakingly rerouting most of the steaming passengers in front of us, and our flight from Louisville to Charlotte was only minutes late. After the connection there, touchdown in Savannah, and a visit to Budget, we hit the highway in search of the fabled recreational paradise of Hilton Head and my family reunion headquarters for 2005.

Had the reunion not been held at Hilton Head, it is doubtful we’d have visited any time soon, but in the end, it was a good experience.

In short order, we learned that Hilton Head is a 42-square-mile island off the South Carolina coast that was the home of a dozen antebellum cotton plantations (overseers and slaves only, owing to the pestilential conditions), and as recently as 1950 was without electricity and still strictly agrarian.

There are now 30,000 year-round residents, two million annual visitors, bicycles galore and whole families atop them, 300 eateries, 25 gold courses, more gated cul de sacs than Arlington National (cemetery, not golf course – Jesus, put the clubs away, will you) has tombstones, and one museum devoted to the only truly unique and interesting sociological phenomenon on the island, African-American “Gullah” culture.

Hilton Head itself is an open-air museum not so much of the wealthy, who indeed are different than us, so much so that like certain species of wildlife, they’re only seen at dawn before retiring for the night behind the very poshest of the velour gates, but of the upwardly mobile nouveau riche, the Bush-voting, golf bag-toting, chardonnay-sipping former occupant of the middle class for whom Hilton Head and places like it have been specifically constructed in the fashion of a Disney-like homage to serve the interests of the culturally clueless.

But there’s a brewpub on Hilton Head, so we went to check it out.

Hilton Head Brewing Company is located just off the traffic circle that leads into the Sea Pines area of the island, where we had the questionable fortune to be booked into a room in the South Beach/Salty Dog complex of tourist establishments. That being said, at least we had beach access a few hundred yards away, and immediate proximity to the Land’s End Tavern, where Palmetto Pale Ale (Charleston), as good a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone as you’ll find in the Low Country, is available on tap.

Thumbs up to that, and back to the brewpub. It’s hard to find, being one of several pubs and restaurants comprising a freestanding food court of sorts just off Greenwood Drive.

Like many brewpubs, perhaps even the majority, Hilton Head Brewing Company sends out numerous mixed signals, touting mass-market swill by means of typically obnoxious point-of-sale materials alongside an attractive, exposed brew house, and having not one but two “kid’s nights” weekly while selling all the foo-foo mixed umbrella drinks their parents can throw back … and so on.

Ultimately, one must judge the beer, and I was pleasantly surprised. The four styles sampled were Pub Light, South Atlantic Pale, Calibogue Amber and Raspberry Wheat, and only the latter was perfumed and forgettable.

The light is golden and bears hints of Kolsch-like fruitiness, and the pale ale is mild and Cascade-driven. The Calibogue is chunky for the style, with an a.b.v. in the 6% range, and malty sweet. I was tempted to mix the amber and the pale ale to take a bit of the sweet edge off the stronger ale, but in the end went with a full pint of South Atlantic to accompany moderately spicy chicken wings and my yearly hamburger with mushrooms and blue cheese.

That’s right, yearly. My previous burger was consumed in St. Louis at a Cardinals-A’s game in June, 2004 … but of course, White Castles and other hangover medicines don’t count.

We purchased a 2-liter signature growler with a swing-cap stopper for $20, and called it an evening. The Calibogue stood up nicely to a catered reunion barbecue feast on Saturday that boasted a mustard-laced, vinegary sauce atop finely pulled, almost grated pork, with collard greens and sweet potatoes on the side.

The grocery stores and supermarkets on Hilton Head island are reasonably well stocked with craft beers (Palmetto, Sierra) and the usual mainstream imports like Guinness and some of the German pilsners, a few of which are to be sighted on tap at various establishments.

Combined with the ales available at the brewpub, the situation is by no means desperate – and certainly helped with navigating the family festivities, which sometimes resemble the ambience of the airport musical selection.

Next time: Savannah, Georgia.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

If you missed today's Microbrewers Festival in Indy, you missed an incredible array of craft brews, with nary a can of mass-market swill in sight.

Indiana’s tenth Microbrewers Festival, which is staged annually by the Brewers of Indiana Guild and associated sponsors, and benefits the Northside Optimist Club, was held earlier today at Opti-Park in Broad Ripple in Indianapolis.

Having just returned from South Carolina on Thursday and been forced to work much of the day Friday, I limited my stay at the festival to the three hours immediately preceding the opening of the gates and the arrival of the paying customers.

And, to a dozen or so small samples. Really.

Pre-fest always is the best time to jaw with brewery friends and reps, because everyone’s working to keep their heads above water once the crowd storms the gates, and today was no exception.

While making the rounds, I enjoyed some excellent sips, including the supple, spiced Grand Cru from Indy’s newest brewpub, Brugge Brasserie; an excellent barrel-aged barley wine from Lafayette Brewing Company; and some of the elusive, fuller-than-full, multigrain Breakfast Stout from Founders in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Veronica Sanders was there to boast about Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, winner of the best of show in the 2005 commercial category in the Indiana State Fair judging and inheritor of the title held by New Albanian since 2004. As regional microbrewing haven, Michigan was well represented this year, with New Holland, Dark Horse, Stoney Creek and Arcadia present in addition to Kalamazoo and Founders.

Marvin McKay says that he’s slowly but surely assembling the pieces of his intended follow-up to the late, lamented Chalkie’s, and may be up and running in a yet-to-be-disclosed location early in 2006. Best of luck to him; Marvin’s one of the classiest fellows in the business.

Both Cavalier and World Class distributors brought a boatload of good beers from across the United States – too many to mention here..

Just before leaving to meet Diana and search out a place to celebrate my forthcoming birthday (you’ll just have to guess how old), I had the good sense to say hello to Ken Price, brewer at Oaken Barrel Brewing Company in Greenwood, and Ken informed me that his Saison was on tap at the pub. What’s more, he recommended today’s Oaken Barrel kitchen special, a smokehouse combo of ribs, pulled pork, baked beans and corn on the cob.

Half an hour later, we were at Oaken Barrel’s doorstep. Ken’s Belgian-style Saison is clean and subtly fruity and finishes dry, with the requisite peppery notes. While neither overly complex nor Baroque, there’s still much to tease and tempt the palate, and a better complement to garlic-laced barbecue with a thick, sweet and tangy sauce is difficult for me to imagine … unless, of course, the meal were served in Belgium, not Greenwood. Nothing against the latter, mind you, but I’m funny about geography.

The fruits of today’s festival networking won’t be immediately apparent to Rich O’s patrons, but remember: It’s only nine or so weeks until Lupulin Land Harvest Hop festival.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Back from the Palmetto State, with more beer to come.

It’s difficult to maintain that you’ve returned from a brief vacation feeling “refreshed” when temperatures were in the high 90’s throughout.

However, on two of the days a morning dip in the ocean provided a respite from the heat and humidity, and of course, the tourist infrastructure is air-conditioned.

Importantly, there were more decent local beers than I’d been led to believe existed in the South Carolina and Georgia coastal “lowcountry”.

Perhaps they weren’t always spectacular beers, but they were drinkable, nonetheless, and occasionally quite good.

Specifically, I’d have killed for Palmetto Pale Ale on Friday night, when my cousins catered a lovely “lowcountry boil” on the grounds of a top-dollar and thoroughly Dickensian modern housing development near Beaufort (that’s pronounced BYOO-ferd, blue staters).

The concept of the boil is grand, indeed. Fresh shrimp, crawdads and any additional available seafood, ears of corn, kielbasa and new potatoes are cooked with a propane torch in a gigantic pot, unceremoniously dumped atop the table in trays and greedily devoured.

My family being, well, my family, a pony keg of Miller Lite was thoughtfully iced and tapped.

I drank Coke, itself a southern innovation.

Owing to Allen family demographics, these once-a-year family reunion trips almost always will almost always take place in the deepest, red-state South in late July. Last year’s was held near Atlanta, and in 2006, Orlando will be the venue. The exceptions will be hosted by my cousins in Madison, Indiana, and me (in 2010).

When it's my turn, I'm aiming to have fabricated evidence pointing to a long-lost German branch of the family tree, and organizing a Bamberg idyll.

Given the realities of my situation, one must be prepared to execute the famed lemonade conversion, and so time was devoted to surveys of historic Savannah and Charleston following the family festivities on Hilton Head. In all three locales, good beer was to be found ... and it saved my life.

There’ll be more here on these beers, breweries and pubs, although a working day on Friday and the 10th Annual Indiana Microbrewers Festival in Indianapolis on Saturday must come first.

It’s always good to be back.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Sunday, July 17, 2005

New Albanian Brewing's porter to become "old," but not as a result of aging.

Every other week, and sometimes more often if there’s time, I write Publicanista!, the official newsletter of Rich O’s Public House, the New Albanian Brewing Company and Sportstime Pizza.

You can subscribe to this on-line newsletter by going to and following the directions in the box to the bottom right of the page.

Here’s an excerpt from last week.

NABC brewer Jesse Williams has a batch of Bob’s 15 B porter on the way, and therein a problem has arisen. Evidently, the official numbering scheme for style and sub-style definitions has changed, and according to the Beer Judge Certification Program, 15 B now refers to German Dunkel Weizen.

I’m inclined to leave the name unchanged for the sake of tradition, and to observe the vital dictates of remaining contrarian at all times with respect to style, but your thoughts are appreciated. Next Friday (July 22) we’ll have a cask-conditioned firkin of Bob’s 15 B pouring from the beer engine.

Both my business partner Amy and longtime FOSSILS club stalwart Ed Tash wrote to suggest that we change the name of the beer to Old 15 B, and Ed included this rationale:

I've been giving some thought to your dilemma, caused by the BJCP changing robust porter from 15 B to 12 B. I suggest you call your Porter "Bob's Old 15 B.”

Here's why. There is book about Jack Daniels whisky published about a year ago that attempts to explain the origin of Jack Daniels Old Number 7.

According to the author, the number 7 was the license number of the Jack Daniels distillery. The borders of the county the distillery was located in changed, and the distillery changed counties (without moving), which caused the distillery to be given a new license number. Jack Daniels had established “7” as a brand name and didn't want to start over with a new name, so he put "Old Number 7" on the barrels, bottles, etc.

I have not read the book, but I heard the author interviewed on WFPL-FM 89.3 when the book came out.

Now you know more about Jack Daniels than you ever wanted to know, but bottom line is that I think you should keep 15 B in the name; your customers already know the name and what to expect from the beer.

Besides, only a handful of geeks know that Robust Porter is now 12 B.

Ed makes a strong case, and Amy agrees -- so it will be.

The forthcoming batch of Bob’s Old 15 B will be the first to bear the qualifier … but not the last.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

At least it wasn't served with a tomato wedge.

There was an auction yesterday to settle accounts at Kelly’s Lounge, once a fixture on wide, wide Dixie Highway in Shively.

The auctioneer’s circular didn’t explain the reasons for the bar’s demise, and it can’t be said to matter much to me either way, since I hadn’t been there in almost a quarter century, but the one time I did drop into Kelly’s to have a beer while waiting for a friend, something happened that I’ll always remember.

A man slid onto the barstool next to mine and ordered “the usual,” which was a pitcher of Miller Lite, a frosted glass … and a quart of tomato juice.

He proceeded to mix the light beer and tomato juice half and half until the can was empty and the pitcher was dry, except for the small portion he poured into my glass when I expressed amazement at something I’d never seen done before.

A Miller Lite with flavor, or carbonated tomato juice?

What did the tomato juice ever do to deserve such a fate?

For a list of this and other beer cocktails that you’ll never see me sanction, go here.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Dogfish Head's handcrafted Liquor de Malt is good beer, bad marketing.

Our scant allocation of Dogfish Head Liquor de Malt, billed as a bottle-condition, handcrafted malt liquor brewed with three types of corn (7% abv), was one case of twelve 40-ounce bottles, plastic-capped, and each coming with its own paper sack adorned with printed logo.

We quickly sold eleven of the bottles. The twelfth came home with me, and I’ve opted to ignore the explicit directions for proper use and instead pour the beer, sans paper bag, into my preferred tasting vessel, a 15-year-old Slovak pub mug.

Other than NABC’s Turbo Hog, I’ve not sampled an American malt liquor since my last visit to the Great American Beer Festival, when the temptation to relive memories of the early 1980’s compelled me to quaff a taster of Mickey’s Malt Liquor. It just wasn’t the same without tasting it directly from the wide-mouthed green bottle, but the flavor was as I remembered it.

Dogfish Head’s typically quirky version of what, in the American sense, should be an alcoholically enhanced, adjunct-choked lager marketed to those concerned with “bang for the buck” (the mainstream beer world’s equivalent of “raincoater” in porno parlance) is actually fairly good, with a creamy, lingering head and a deep golden hue.

The presence of corn is unmistakable in the palate, with Liquor de Malt exhibiting the sweetness left behind when the cob is tossed into the garbage, but there’s enough malt character for balance, and a hint of the trademark Dogfish hopping for good measure.

The beer itself? It’s fine, and illustrates the redemptive possibilities inherent in a microbrewery’s decision to personalize a mainstream style.

However, I must note that the marketing for Liquor de Malt is in questionable taste; we all know the stereotypes associated with malt liquor – all in good fun, I suppose they’d say, but the symbolism attached to drinking from a paper sack verges on tacky just the same.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The surreal absurdity of Pabst Blue Ribbon as alt-retro-chic.

“Just as young consumers might wear '70s-look sneakers or sip '50s cocktails, many are bellying up to the bar for the beers Grandpa drank — maybe a Rheingold, a Leinenkugel's or a Utica Club.

“They're sometimes called ’retro beers,’ brands that might bring to mind old men in ribbed undershirts but are finding new life with the young. It worked for Pabst Blue Ribbon, and now others are trying.”

From Marketers use word of mouth to pop the top on retro beer, by an unidentified USA Today staff writer.

Readers will be shocked to discover that I’ve had my share of Pabst Blue Ribbon, beginning in the 1970’s and continuing sporadically into the Reagan years, then screeching to a complete and well deserved halt for more than a decade until a mercifully brief refresher course was experienced during an evening or two in 2003.

One thing kept coming back to me as I read USA Today’s throwaway fluff piece about the latest marketing trend that has nothing whatsoever with the essence of the product being vended.

That’s the way Pabst tasted back when Grandpa actually drank it, long before the Internet and cell phones. It was a distinctly flavored product, and one that has very little to do with the inoffensive beer as it is currently manufactured.

Back in the day, you may or may not have liked Pabst, but you couldn’t accuse it of being watered down. In those days, you could pour it in a glass, and if you cared to risk your flatware, insert a spoon and see it stand straight up.

Now Pabst in a glass probably would be mistaken for Evian.

Today’s PBR, known primarily as Dennis Hopper’s beer of choice in “Blue Velvet,” and currently the darling of yet another blithely unaware target consumer group that drinks beer because of what they see and not what they taste, reminds me of the dastardly 70-calorie Pabst Extra Light of the early 1980’s.

The Pabst signature flavor is still somehow in evidence, but it is so compromised that it bears almost no resemblance to the rough-edged, grainy golden olfactory monster I remember seldom being able to get through without choking.

Oh, well. Sometimes I wish I could follow trends instead of always creating my own. It’s a curse, but at least the beer that passes between my lips does so because of its flavor -- and not because of an accrued image of Americana accepted as gospel by those who never experienced the genuine article.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Jeffersonville condemns Glenn Muncy's building, while the Curmudgeon condemns him.

Updating an earlier report in Potable Curmudgeon, and giggling uncontrollably while doing so, we hear the sounds of pompous bluster emanating from the neighboring city of Jeffersonville.

Muncy threatens lawsuit over building condemnation, by Larry Thomas, Jeffersonville Evening News city editor.

Here’s an excerpt:

The owner of the site of a once-thriving Jeffersonville business is livid that his property has been targeted for condemnation so it can be turned over to another developer.

"I'll sue them," Glenn Muncy said on Thursday, after learning that the Jeffersonville Redevelopment Commission voted 4-0 to exercise imminent domain* over property he owns at 228 Spring St., once home to Tubby's.

At various junctures in Thomas’s commendably straight-faced report, Muncy claims to have convinced the state of Indiana that “$500,000 in liens and judgments” against his property is a case of mistaken identity, insists he has investors waiting to form a corporation, vows that he’s just turned away a buyer for the building, and yes, “confirmed” plans to open a microbrewery at the site.

Perhaps the Jeffersonville police force still remains on Muncy’s back alley payroll, as the congenital fact fabricator and former last-place mayoral candidate belched back at me in 1993 while threatening to have them harass me after I politely declined to become involved with an early plan to establish a brewery, one just as spurious as the current non-starter.

Too bad, really. It’d be much funnier to taste his beer.

See Tubby, the sequel: As much a "master brewer" as the Curmudgeon is a neuro-surgeon.


* "imminent domain" as in Thomas's original article; it should be "eminent domain."