Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Welcome to Nail City -- an excellent weekend adventure in Wheeling, WV, circa autumn, 2001.

Ever wondered where the church pews in Rich O's were procured? Here's the story.


Welcome to Nail City.

Heavily laden with provisions, Syd Lewison and I exited the package store, where we had been directed because it had the “best” selection in town. It certainly wasn’t the best section of town, and when a raggedly dressed man approached us, a number of potential shakedown scenarios, none of them particularly savory, flashed through my mind.

“Excuse me, sir … ”

The possibilities loomed like the dreaded sub-sections on an income tax return. Did I have some spare change? A cigarette, perhaps? Would I care to purchase a pharmaceutical from his vast selection, to medicate? Or was he a representative of Watchtowers-R-Us?

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

“We Feature Gallo, Bartles & Jaymes, and Other Fine Wines.”

Fine wines? It must be true; hell, it was right there in the Yellow Pages for Wheeling, West Virginia, which was another five minutes east from our vantage point at a motel near St. Clairesville, Ohio. It was a late autumn weekend, it was deer season, and as soon as we had made it 50 miles east of Columbus, the interstate highway became littered with road kill and filled bumper to bumper with pickup trucks hauling uncovered carcasses.

Venison is fine by me, but I’m not a hunter, and although cigars are an important part of my life, this was no pilgrimage to the former home of Marsh-Wheeling cigars (ironically, they’re now made in Indiana).

We had one, and only one, reason to drive from Louisville to Wheeling: Business, or to be more specific, the business of capitalizing on the misfortune of certain elderly residents of the city.

Apparently, some of the old folks in question had died, while others had become too infirm to climb the double staircases leading to the second-floor sanctuary of their Pentecostal church. The church had relocated to smaller, more level quarters elsewhere in Wheeling, and a local used furniture dealer was conducting a sale of fixtures prior to the building being put on the block.

Among the items being sold were the church’s venerable oak pews, some six feet and other nine feet long, which were estimated by our intermediary to be more than 60 years old. Our mission in Wheeling was to relieve the congregation of a baker’s dozen of these pews. On Sunday morning, we were slated to meet the broker at the church, load the liberated pews into a Ryder rental truck, and haul them back to New Albany for use in Rich O’s – another charismatic place where the patrons speak in tongues and gargle snake oil.

However, all this had yet to happen. It wasn’t even 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. We’d checked into our hotel and were searching the yellow pages, not quite in the mood for fine wines, but wondering what the local beer scene was like in Wheeling.

We were about to learn that good beer in Wheeling is about as plentiful as strip clubs (or, for that matter, strip steaks) are in Kabul.

Act II, in which the outsider pauses to assist the eager natives.

“Excuse me, please, sir, but can one of you read?”

The man waved a sheet of paper inches from my skull as I paused to reflect that it had been quite some time since such an easy question had been asked of me. But what was the catch?

Suspicious yet intrigued, wary but accommodating, I decided to acknowledge that yes, since at least the mid-1960s, during some point in the LBJ administration, I have been able to read – quite well, actually.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, “because if you can help me read this, maybe I can get this (expletive deleted, but referring to a procreative female dog) to shut up.”

He motioned to an indifferent and perfectly quiet female waiting in the shadows by the pay phone. She rolled her eyes toward the darkening firmament, seemingly less afraid of potential violence from her boyfriend than of yet another worthless evening of futility and trash talk.

Seconds later, Tom Henderson emerged from the store toting his evening’s refreshment. Right alongside him was my illiterate friend’s best buddy, a veritable Sancho Panza, who announced that he had invested in bottled water for himself and a 40-ouncer for my questioner, just as instructed … and here’s the change to prove it.

Examining the man’s sheet of paper, I saw immediately that it was a “VIP club” circular for the dog track located down the street. He pointed at the bottom of the page, where there were three coupons, each for a complimentary slot machine pull. Visibly triumphant at his good fortune, as he had managed to find someone literate, pliant and reasonably sober so late in the afternoon – it obviously was a novel experience – he asked if the three coupons could be used, all at once, before midnight that day.

“Well, it doesn’t say you can’t use them all tonight,” I said, studying the various expiration dates emblazoned on the coupons, “so good luck, and have a good life.”

If you will look on the map …

Wheeling is located between Ohio and Pennsylvania in that strange angular panhandle of West Virginia that points northward not unlike a bony, outstretched middle finger. Much of the city lies on the left bank of the Ohio River, but the central district spills over onto an island in the river, where we were directed to buy beer and to counsel colorful local illiterates.

Wooded hills define the physical character of the area. Towns are wedged into the flat bottomlands between the heights. To look at Wheeling on a road map is to see an urban area seemingly one mile wide and twelve miles long, poured between the river to the west and a long ridge to the east.

At one time, Wheeling was the “Gateway to the West,” the later an industrial powerhouse, producing steel, iron, nails, glass, cigars and even beer, the latter inspiring these words from a history of the area written in 1879:

To historically review the dawn or subsequent development of man's appreciation for ale and beer, would be no sinecure achievement, suffice it to say that since the arrival of the earliest pioneers in this section, brewing, in some shape, has ever held its own. But the nutritious and palatable blending of malt and hops found little difficulty in fascinating the popular taste, even our grand-fathers were free to extol the merits of "John Barleycorn."

Contrary to enduring stereotypes of West Virginia as the hillbilly type of place where squirrel brains stubbornly remain on the collective dinner table, Wheeling has enjoyed a diverse cultural history engendered by the immigrants who came to work in the city’s factories. The last names of three pro sports luminaries born just across the river in the state of Ohio, John Havlicek and the brothers Niekro, attest to this, as does the presence of Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish congregations to spice the backwoods fundamentalist broth.

But the pendulum never stops swinging. It was well into the 20th century before an expedience borne of economic decline compelled local movers and shakers to reconnect with Wheeling’s southern heritage, and thus with some of the cultural themes that West Virginia’s original secession from secessionist Virginia had been intended to forestall. Nowadays, outsiders are lured with country music and the relaxed ambience of the South, even though the largely outdated industrial landscape appears suspiciously northern in character.

On Saturday afternoon, driving east on the interstate, we crossed into downtown Wheeling while admiring the city’s graceful, ancient long-span suspension bridge, the world’s oldest, which dates from pre-Civil War times.

Stopping briefly to make final arrangements for the truck, I was struck by the surplus of aging and generally derelict red brick warehouses, victims of the downturn that has plagued Rust Belt cities like Wheeling for decades. They’re the sort of building that microbrewery start-ups so eagerly sought in the 1990’s, before that particular industry suffered its own leveling off.

Downtown, in the vicinity of the approaches to the suspension bridge and the epicenter of attempted tourism, several of the city’s old commercial buildings -- the banks and corporate headquarters of another age – have been renovated. One of them, at 1400 Main Street, has become the Wheeling Artisan Center. On the building’s upper floors are housed West Virginia arts and crafts shops, the folksy milieu of the south, and the staple attraction for blue hair bus tours and visiting groups, which the local visitor’s bureau directs to the River City Ale Works on the first floor, which is where we were seated at the bar wondering if this was as good as it gets in a place like Wheeling.

Comrade, can I see your ration coupon?

For me to have a good life, it meant a desperate effort to remain upwind from my interrogator. Besides, the conversation seemed to have gone about as far as it could, so I started to turn toward the sanctuary offered by our rental car, but he wasn’t finished with me quite yet.

“Fine, thanks, but Jesus Christ, I don’t want to use the damn coupons – look, I just want to cash these in and get back the money for drinks. Does it say I can do that?”

Pondering the theory and practice of loopholes, I caught the scents of burning leaves and cold river water. Traffic hummed on the adjacent interstate. Elsewhere on Wheeling Island, West Virginia’s state high school football championship game would be starting later in the evening.

Exactly what do people drink at dog tracks, anyway?

Why? Why? Why?

In truth, we had been forewarned. Before departing Louisville, I visited and searched for brewpubs and beer bars in Wheeling. There were none of the latter, and to put it charitably, the reviews for the only listed brewpub, River City Ale Works, were mixed.

I learned that the original occupant of the space was called Nail City, an establishment billed as West Virginia’s largest brewpub. When asked about this, the bartender informed us that the current River City Ale Works was the only brewpub in West Virginia, making it the largest by default.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true; there is at least one other brewpub operating in the state, but we had no access to floor space measurements, and it seemed that the first of many Brewpub Warning Signs was about to be raised: When you spend valuable moments debating ephemera rather than the merits of the beer on offer, you might be headed for trouble.

Should we stay or should we go? Alternatives seemed few in number, other than hitting the road for nearby Pittsburgh, a scant hour up the interstate, but which of us would drive?

We elected to stay at Wheeling’s largest and only brewpub, the reward for which was an admittedly fine meal, as well as fine views of the shapely, athletic female bartender who tried her best to be helpful. However, for aficionados of brewpubs, even great food and buxom hired hands are small consolation when the beer is unimpressive.

Here, then, are a few warning signs to consider during a brewpub visit. They are specific to Wheeling’s River City Ale Works as experienced during our visit, but equally applicable, in varying forms, to similar establishments.

You become worried when:

A brewpub’s dining menu lists at least 75 different meals, but only six house beers are described on the table tents.

The six everyday beers listed on the table tents aren’t available.

The two beers that are available, neither of which are listed on the table tents, are written on a chalkboard half-obscured by Miller Lite point-of-sale materials.

The two house beers are competent, if unspectacular, but they’re served ice-cold in frozen glasses.

For every glass of house beer the bartender pours, another glass goes cascading down the drains as foam is “poured off.”

The bartender explains that the reason for the discrepancy between the six beers listed on the table tents and the chalkboard’s two like this: “Well, we didn’t brew for a while, but now we’re brewing again.”

You ask why this is the case, and she replies, “Because the brewery was broke.”

The brewpub offers “happy hour” pricing, but a large and readily visible sign reminds customers that the special prices do not apply to the two house-brewed beers that are available.

The preceding bears repeating: A brewpub offers “happy hour” pricing for mass- market swill, not its own beer.

You look around the bar, and no one else is drinking the house beer. You conclude that you must be strange for insisting to do so, speculating that your interest in beer is greater than that of the management, and wondering why such a place even bothers maintaining a brewery when so little is done to nurture and support it.

The overwhelming evidence available to us was that it might be a long time before craft beer becomes a priority in Wheeling, notwithstanding the freedom once enjoyed by the city’s residents to “extol the merits of John Barleycorn." Eyes affixed to the plunging neckline of our bartender, we asked for directions to the best package liquor store with the best selection in the city.

“That’d be Cut Rate over on Wheeling Island. We all go there. Go across the suspension bridge, fourth stop sign, turn right … “

Beer and circus.

Like the set pieces at Madame Tussaud’s, the tableau outside the liquor store was frozen in time. Myself, Syd Lewison and Tom Henderson, each with paper sacks of cold beer in hand, and the sun setting to the west, behind our hotel in Ohio. Standing before us was a man with a sheet of paper. His pal’s arm was extended in an almost Biblical offering of refreshment. Just off stage, silently, drearily, there reposed a woman.

In the fading light, the fine print on the coupons was way too small, and my patience far too gone, for me to bother trying to read it.

“It doesn’t say you can’t,” I offered. “Go for it.”

Thusly reassured, the man thanked me a final time and accepted the bottle of malt liquor. The three forlorn bearers of dog track “drink” tickets shuffled off toward their ultimate redemption, to the greyhounds, to the southernmost extremity of Wheeling Island.

Come to think of it, the woman hadn’t said a word the whole time … and all because I could read.

Editor’s note:
For abundant historical information on Wheeling, as well as numerous photographs both old and new, go to …

Monday, November 28, 2005

Saturnalia MMV press release, with beer descriptions.

  • November 28, 2005.


    In pre-Christian Rome, Saturnalia was the annual winter solstice celebration that originally coincided with the feast days for Saturn (god of sowing and the harvest), Consus (god of the storage bin) and Opa (goddess of plenty).

    Many of our contemporary winter holiday traditions derive from Saturnalia’s pagan roots, including the hanging of wreaths and garlands, donations to the needy, prayers for peace on earth, time away from work to be enjoyed with family, and of course eating, drinking and merriment.

    On Friday, December 16, Rich O’s Public House and Sportstime Pizza pays tribute to these ancient pagan origins with the kick-off of Saturnalia, a draft beer festival scheduled to last past Christmas and New Year’s into January of 2006.

    For NABC’s second Saturnalia celebration, I’ve gathered 31 special kegs of beer – some rare, some seasonal and others just innately festive – from America and around the world (see complete list below).

    Some of these hard-to-find beers will be appearing in draft form for the first time ever in metropolitan Louisville, as is the case annually during two other renowned draft festivals at Rich O’s and Sportstime:

    Gravity Head (strong ales and lagers; begins February 24, 2006).
    Lupulin Land (harvest hops; begins October 13, 2006).

    When the doors open at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16, the first 15 sacrificial Saturnalia selections for MMV will be revealed, tapped in a ritualistic manner … and the hedonistic pleasure will begin. The 16 remaining kegs will be tapped as needed when the first wave depletes.

    Contact: Roger A. Baylor, Co-owner and Publican


    Pricing and portion sizes vary according to alcohol content and style. Selections marked with an asterisk * are appearing on draft for the first time at Rich O’s Public House and Sportstime Pizza. There will be 31 draft beers in all, with 15 to be tapped on December 16, and the remaining 16 following in due course as openings occur. This will take several weeks. During the festival’s run, information and updates will appear on these web sites:

    Potable Curmudgeon
    Rich O’s Public House

    Note: Gale’s Christmas Ale (2003) is a cask-conditioned ale and will be served from the hand-pump beginning on Friday, December 16.



    Corsendonk Christmas Ale
    Spices likely are used, but precise information is lacking. The effect is subtle and polished, complementing a typically rich, malty, seasonal Belgian Abbey-style ale.
    8.5% abv

    *De Dolle Special Extra Export Stout
    Dolle’s first-ever Stout is brewed with roasted, chocolate, pale and caramel malts; Nugget hops; house yeast; and candy sugar. Combining chocolate, coffee and espresso flavors with Dolle’s characteristically singular funk yields an individualistic Belgian Export-style Stout.
    9% abv

    De Dolle Stille Nacht
    Stille Nacht means “Silent Night” and is Dolle’s winter seasonal, a high-gravity treat brewed with pale malts and white candy sugar, full and sweet in a complex way, with judicious additions of Nugget hops for balance. 9% abv

    De Ranke Pere Noel
    An amber winter Belgian seasonal that offers traditional elements like spiciness, but builds to a dry, hoppy finish, eschewing the near-universal sweetness of many such Belgian ales.
    7% abv

    Delirium Noel
    The venerable, family-run Huyghe brewery near Ghent created this holiday beer in 2000 to complete their “Delirium trilogy,” and appropriately, Noel blends the clean flavor profiles of Delirium Tremens and Delirium Nocturnum into a unique third way, albeit slightly stronger at 10% abv, prompting the brewery to remind us that it “requires a responsible consumption.”
    10% abv

    *La Rulles Cuvee Meilleurs Veoux “Best Holiday Wishes”Unpreviewed Wallonian Christmas ale, brewed with multiple malts, three different hop varieties, and fermented with Orval’s unique Trappist yeast strain.
    7.3% abv

    N’Ice Chouffe
    Thyme, vanilla, orange peel and candi sugar are among the spices used to accent a dark and brawny winter seasonal, brewed in the hills of the Ardennes.
    10% abv

    St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel
    Reddish-brown Abbey-style elixir with secret herbs and spices evident in the aroma, but much less so in the palate, which suggests the quintessential Belgian body and flavor.
    9 % abv


    Mahr’s Christmas Bock
    In the tradition of Yuletide lagers, this is a tweaked version of the classic Bamberg brewery’s springtime Bock – a shade tawnier, and with more assertive noble hop character.
    6% abv


    Kiuchi Hitachino Nest New Year Celebration Ale 2005
    We’ve given last year’s release of this hybrid spiced Japanese micro Eisbock another nine months to age in the keg, and are expecting a smooth, complex character with a punch.
    Circa 7.6 to 9% abv


    Gale’s Christmas Ale 2003
    Cross your fingers, folks. Normally two-year old cask ale would be impossible to serve, but this is a special stronger Christmas brew. If it’s right, it could be a Saturnalia high point.
    8.5% (cask-conditioned)

    JW Lees Moonraker
    The name comes from the purported habit of soused local farm workers to try and “rake” the moon’s glow on a placid pond near the Lees brewery. We’ll take some of what they were drinking, bartender.
    7.5% abv

    *Ridgeway Seriously Bad Elf
    This Bad Elf keep getting more obstreperous as the years pass. He’s already been in trouble this year ( in Connecticut, with Indiana misbehavior still yet to come.
    9% abv

    Ridgeway Santa’s Butt
    A higher-gravity nod to Salopian Brewing’s Entire Butt, itself a revival of the classic English tradition of mixing certain ales to achieve the flavor profile for what eventually came to be known and brewed as Porter.
    6% abv

    Young's Winter Warmer
    Textbook example of a maltier, slightly stronger winter version of an English ale, brewed by one of the world’s most famous breweries (located in London).
    5% abv


    Anchor Christmas Ale (“Merry Christmas & Happy New Year”)
    The recipe has differed each year since the holiday ale’s inception in 1975, but the conceptual links with trees (on the label) and the winter solstice have remained consistent.
    5.5% abv.

    *Arrogant (Oaked) Bastard
    According to Stone Brewing Company, the addition of oak chips to its flagship, “angry” Arrogant Bastard Ale transforms it into something more “sophisticated.” Indeed, the hints of oak complement this rare Bastard’s trademark hoppiness in a worthy and memorable way.
    7.2% abv

    *Avery Old Jubilation
    Previewed in November to rave reviews, Avery’s “winter warmer” ale is mahogany in color, with a malty, nutty and slightly English flavor (sans spices) deriving from the use of five malts and Bullion hops for balance. Rich, elegant, and almost restrained by Avery’s evolving standards of gravity brewing.
    8% abv

    *Dark Horse Tres Blueberry Stout
    This unpreviewed, fruit-laced Stout comes from one of many innovative Michigan breweries.
    4.5% abv

    Great Lakes Christmas Ale
    In general terms, the brewing of holiday specialties breaks down to one of two paths, irrespective of national origins. One is the tradition of adding spices or flavorings to a stronger-than-usual beer. The other is a stronger-than-usual beer, without spices. Upland Winter Warmer represents the latter, and Great Lakes Christmas Ale the former. Four malts, wheat, honey, cinnamon, ginger and grapefruit-like Cascades hops combine to produce a dictionary definition of spiced holiday microbrew, American-style.
    7.5% abv

    Left Hand Milk Stout
    The addition of lactose (milk sugar) to stout is an English practice, with the calories added helping to bolster claims of nutritive qualities that probably would not withstand the scrutiny of modern science. This is a decidedly sweet stout not to be mistaken for Guinness or stronger Imperial Stouts. Pleasant notes of chocolate and oats, low gravity.
    5.2% abv

    New Holland Phi
    Another Michigan innovator, one that offers annual, wildly differing interpretations of a proportional recipe formula as part of its high gravity series. The 2005 Phi is golden and strong. What is it? If you have an opinion, let me know.
    9% abv

    *Oaken Barrel Epiphany
    Brewer Ken Price uses Westmalle Trappist yeast to fashion this tasty Tripel, which nudges toward the sweet side of the range without sacrificing a velvety elegance.
    Circa 9% abv

    Rogue Chocolate Stout
    Brewed with a staggering 10 ingredients, including chocolate malt, chocolate flavoring and rolled oats, and rich in every conceivable respect. Draft is made available very selectively, so we’re fortunate to have one.
    Circa 6% abv

    Rogue HazelNut Brown Nectar
    First concocted in honor of a creative, homebrewing friend of Rogue’s head brewer, HazelNut Brown Nectar is brewed with hazelnut extract, a half-dozen malts, Perle and Saaz hops, and Rogue’s trademark yeast strain.6.2% abv

    Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve
    After a year’s absence, Santa’s Private Reserve is back on draft as part of Rogue’s “John’s Locker Stock” series. Imagine a slightly bigger St. Rogue Red with double the hops, and you’re almost there.
    Circa 6.5% abv

    *Schmaltz He’Brew Jewbelation 5766
    What can be said about a contract brewing company that says it is “celebrating nine years of delicious beer and delicious shtick”? Jewbelation has 9,000 lbs of 9 different malts and 9 different hop additions.
    9% abv

    Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
    Speaking from the perspective of a dozen years’ experience at Rich O’s, it is indeed difficult to imagine another seasonal ale that symbolizes the holidays better than Celebration Ale. Desert island beer for many, recurring seasonal favorite, with generous doses of Chinook (for bittering), Cascades and Centennial hops, dry-hopped with all three, but not neglecting a delicious malt underpinning.
    6.8% abv

    *Summit Winter Ale
    Unpreviewed, but on the dark side, inspired by English winter ales, and almost surely malty rather than hoppy.
    5.9% abv

    Three Floyds Alpha Klaus Xmas Porter
    Only Three Floyds Brewing Company would devise a robust porter with English chocolate and Mexican sugar (or vice versa, depending on the source) that reeks of piney hop essence and is built on a broad, malty foundation. We’re quite happy they did. Highly recommended by anyone who’s sampled it previously, including the Publican.
    7.5% abv

    Upland Winter Warmer
    Upland’s winter specialty is perhaps best described as a cross between an Old Ale and an English-style Barley Wine, falling a bit shy of the strong American microbrewed interpretations of both styles. Compare to the Young’s Winter Warmer.
    9% abv

    Sunday, November 27, 2005

    Ours is not to question why.

    The state of Indiana has its own peculiar regulatory regime when it comes to the sale of alcoholic beverages.

    But as is the case in all states, the imperatives of voluminous statutory fulfillment fall into two broad categories, the first aiming to ensure that all appropriate taxes are paid, and the second seeking to enforce the drinking age and the myriad associated regulations.

    There is nothing unusual in any of this, at least nothing beyond the intrinsically odd (and quite possibly Freudian) American habit of lumping alcohol, tobacco and often firearms together in one steaming cauldron of red tape.

    Owing to the strictly enumerated significance attached to the state’s decision to extend to licensees the privilege of serving alcoholic beverages, business owners surrender sovereignty over their own buildings by submitting a floor plan to the state. ATC officers may enter licensed premises any time they wish, irrespective of probable cause or search warrants, and use these site maps to look at anything and everything they wish – file cabinets, records, cash registers, the safe.

    Again, such a state of affairs certainly isn’t unexpected. Owners know the score before going in, and generations of Hoosiers have expressed their implied agreement with the prevailing regulatory regime by repeatedly failing to agitate for any changes. Que sera sera.

    Of all the many laws on the Indiana books that govern the sale of alcoholic beverages, there are a few minor definitions and prohibitions that make little sense to me, but insofar as major sources of annoyance are concerned, only three are worth mentioning – not because compliance with them poses a hardship, but pertaining to the contradictions of each.

    These are the three (sometimes four) yearly exceptions to the customary daily restrictions on hours of operation, i.e., when we may begin selling alcoholic beverages and when we must clear the bar and stop.

    The first is Election Day, which in some years occurs twice, and of course is the day when alcohol can’t be sold until the polls close. Rules like this are widespread, and in some ways archaic given that in Indiana, one might choose to drink continuously until 3:30 a.m. and then nurse a six-pack or a bottle of whisky during the time it takes to watch a DVD before crawling off to vote when the polls open at six.

    Next is New Year’s Day, when it is perfectly legal to drink one’s fill in a restaurant or bar, after which there’s the small matter of driving, but package/carryout sales are completely prohibited, meaning that the state prefers us not to drink safely at home.

    The single most annoying alcoholic beverage restriction on the Indiana books is that no alcohol can be sold on Christmas Day, period – not inside the bar, not as package sales, but altogether.

    If this prohibition is meant to protect workers, then why do we allow any businesses to be open – and why can’t I, as the owner, go in and run the bar if it’s my time and my choice?

    If it’s because of the religious holiday, as I suspect it is, then run and call the ACLU on my dime, because it is time to have this particular wall between church and state strengthened.

    There’s no desire on my part to be open on Christmas. I prefer drinking at home. But if someone wishes to fill that market niche, there’s no reason why Christianity should stand in the way.

    Thursday, November 24, 2005

    Beer to go with your Thanksgiving meal.

    Crossposted at NA Confidential.

    At noon today, my wife, my mother, two aunts, one uncle, a cousin and the Curmudgeon gathered for a holiday buffet meal of turkey and the familiar fixings, served within the venerable confines of Tommy Lancaster’s Restaurant, a downtown New Albany institution that might have been considered a trendsetter during the Kennedy administration and hasn’t done much to alter this time-tested winning formula ever since.

    But that’s all well and good, and not to be construed as criticism. Tommy’s does what it does, just like downtown New Albany’s other hoary survivor, the South Side Inn, and if Betty Crockery-style Imperial American 1950’s Era grub is what you seek, these are two prime practitioners of it will serve it up to you at a reasonable price, with paneled ambience to match.

    During my second (and final) trip through the chow line, I noticed an elderly gentleman nursing a Miller Lite.

    At first suppressing a shudder, it then occurred to me that matching bland beer to bland food seems perfectly reasonable in the context of sensory deprivation … but how would the true beer enthusiast – as opposed to America’s sadly ubiquitous Swillocrats – reckon the suitability of beer choices to accompany the ideal Thanksgiving feast?

    When it comes to choosing wine for the Thanksgiving table, Bob Johnson writes:

    Some - including my Wine Lines colleague, Glen Frederiksen - will tell you that a rich, buttery Chardonnay is the best white wine because it mirrors the rich flavors found in such holiday fare as mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and, of course, turkey.

    Others will proffer that the only red wine to choose is Pinot Noir, because its cherry, cranberry and spice notes so nicely complement the myriad side dishes found on the Turkey Day table.

    And still others believe in the "anything goes" philosophy, basically inferring that because there are so many disparate flavors on the holiday table, it would be impossible for a single wine to provide total pairing pleasure.

    The truth is that virtually all of the arguments have merit, and there is no single answer that trumps all others.

    Beer, not wine?

    I favor the full-flavored approach, one that resembles the Pinot Noir strategy of the wine lover. There are obvious Belgian parallels with the “cherry, cranberry and spice notes,” as is the case with McChouffe, Chimay Premiere (red) and Gouden Carolus Noel, to name just three.

    From the German perspective, a fat mug of Doppelbock would hit the mark, especially if such a normally clean beer could be juiced with fruitiness – but wait, such a heavenly beer really does exist: Aventinus Wheat Doppelbock.

    The hoppy American microbrews I love on an everyday basis just don’t strike me as good matches for the traditional dishes served at our stereotypical Beaver Cleaver Thanksgiving, but I’m betting that a Belgian-style Saison (Dupont, Glazen Toren, Hennepin) would be very compatible, with lightly hoppy dryness and peppery hints for accent.

    For dessert? Perhaps an oversized Imperial Stout, designed to take the place of coffee, cream and pie (but not the after dinner cigar). At this moment in time, I’m enamored of Great Divide’s Oak-Aged Yeti and its creamy, vanilla-laced complexity.

    Come to think of it, gotta run … there’s one in the fridge with the Curmudgeon’s name on it.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2005

    Bad Elf freed in Connecticut ... but the "fight is definitely not over."

    In October, we first learned of a "criminally" Bad Elf wreaking havoc in the state of Connecticut: Importer and blue noses square off in Connecticut's Elf beer ban.

    In short, state alcohol regulators refused to approve custom-designed labels on bottles of English-brewed special winter ale that referred to various misbehavin' and drinkin' elves.

    As the riotously funny beer importer Dan Shelton reports on his importing company’s web site, there’s been a parole of sorts.

    All right, so many of you now know that the State of Connecticut has seen the error of its ways and has agreed to approve our Christmas beer labels. Unfortunately for the good people of Connecticut, they still may not be able to buy these beers this year, but more about that in a day or so. The fight is definitely not over.

    The highlight of Dan’s account of his journey into the heart of bureaucratic darkness comes when he reprints comments received by his company since the story hit the wires, and among them is the following gem that deserves consideration in its punctuationally-challenged entirety:

    Glad you think you won. By making a mockery of our State Liquor Division by crying about your 'Free Speech'....give me a break. You ARE profiting by using a symbolism that in our state is rightfully illegal to do. Shame on you. Those regulations are in my eyes prudent and most necessary. Children learn from a young age that alcohol abuse is acceptable. Leave a bottle of your swill around with your XMAS Characters...Jr. won't think it's cool to pick up Mom and Dad's nasty habit....Well, due to your Company's arrogance in deciding to skirt our laws, I think maybe it's time for a good 'ol fashioned BOYCOTT ..yep.. You people are the worse case and a Poster Child on how NOT to be a re= sponsible company. I hope you're SUED for negligence. Damn beer drinkers are scum.

    Scum? That’s so … precious.

    Really, all that's missing is "Confound Taxpayer" or "$$$$$$" as a signature, a disparaging reference to the incumbent Mayor, and “jus’ my ‘pinion” at the end, and it might have been written by an anonymous New Albanian doing the "Trog Sham (an)'s Blues" karaoke at the Luddite Bar & Grill.

    Come to think of it, maybe it was ... if so, come on over to Rich O's and visit on December 16, when Seriously Bad Elf will be served on draft during our Saturnalia winter solstice festival:

    "We're putting the Pagan back into Christmas -- one pint at a time."

    Monday, November 21, 2005

    NABC in the New Albany Tribune.

    Thanks to the Tribune and to reporter Kyle Lowry for her piece on the New Albanian Brewing Company, which appeared in the Sunday edition of the newspaper -- on the front page, no less.

    Beer is a way of life for Sportstime Pizza and Rich O’s co-owner Roger Baylor.

    All other considerations aside, while it's nice to be known regionally, it's always nicer to be recognized in your home town, and with luck, before you're dead.

    I'm proud to have played a part in reviving brewing in a city that once had more than a few, and it's my hope that this resurrection can be extended to other facets of life in New Albany.

    Sunday, November 20, 2005

    The Curmudgeon makes a radio appearance.

    My friend Mike Stephens is the proprietor of Youngstown Cigar Shoppe in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and for the past year he has moonlighted as the host of Kentuckiana Business Talk on WAVG-1450, a local AM radio station.

    At Mike's request, I joined him tonight for beer chat, and it was a kick.

    We touched on frequently asked questions pertaining to beer and beer appreciation, and Mike provided ample opportunities to tout my pub and brewing business, as well as the FOSSILS homebrewing and beer appreciation club, of which Mike is a longtime supporter.

    Mike's show airs every Sunday from 5:00 p.m. to - 6:00 p.m., but catch it soon, because he's decided not to renew his contract for another year.

    Upcoming events at Youngstown Cigar Shoppe (located in the Youngstown Shopping Center on US 62 in Jeff) include Mike's customer appreciation and Christmas open house on Saturday, December 10. There'll be cigars, food and refreshments. Call him at (812) 284-6044 for details.

    Saturday, November 19, 2005

    NABC brewery expansion almost finished; brewing to resume by November 28.

    NABC's four new 7-barrel serving tanks were taken into their special area today and put into place.

    Now that they're out of the brewery, the way is clear to complete the chilling system hookups for the serving tanks and the two new fermenters.

    At left, proud brewers (and haulers) Jesse Williams (L) and Jared Williamson (R) express relief that the heaviest lifting is over.

    Other than the glycol chilling system pumps and hookups, still ahead are the beer line installation and a deep brewery cleaning before brewing can resume somewhere around November 28. We'll have lost three weeks of brewing time, but should be able to catch up by Christmas.

    At the other end of the building, the wooden floor is down, and the walls are being painted in the wing formerly known as Paul Rutherford Accounting, and henceforth to be Prost, our banquet and conference area.

    The main seating area is pictured here, but there will also be other rooms for use during parties, one with a pool table and darts, another with a bar and couches, a smoking lounge, and eventually televisions and audio. This space is not going to be used as an expansion of seating on a regular basis, but for special functions and large parties.

    Friday, November 18, 2005

    Ram and Oaken Barrel stopovers during an Indy roadtrip day.

    It would be senseless to drive all the way to Indianapolis for ten minutes of state bureaucracy business without sampling a beer or three from the city's brewpubs.

    After completing Greg's ATC pilgrimage yesterday, the two of us walked a few short blocks from the state office complex to Ram Restaurant & Brewery (140 S. Illinois St.), where we dined and sampled brewer Dave Colt's Oatmeal Brown, Old No. V and IPA.

    Of the three downtown "corporate" brewpubs in Indianapolis, Ram always has been the pick of the litter to the Curmudgeon. Alcatraz lies just across the street from Ram, and Rock Bottom's only a couple of blocks away on Washington, but if you have time for one, check out Ram.

    During a nice brewhouse chat with Dave and his assistant Jerry, we discussed the opening of Ram's second location in Fishers, Indiana, which the brewery downtown will be supplying courtesy of Cavalier wholesalers.

    Accordingly, it may be possible for us to work out an arrangement to procure some of Ram's winter seasonals, which are to include Jerry's Dunkel (Bock) Weizen, Dave's Sierra Nevada Celebration clone, and an Imperial Stout (for Gravity Head).

    For those southbound on I-65, remember that Oaken Barrel Brewing Company is but a mile or two west of the Interstate at the Greenwood exit.

    We settled in at the bar, ordered beers and munchies, and later hailed brewer Ken Price, who showed us the expanded brewhouse.

    Ken's last two beers to appear at Rich O's were Saison and Super Fly IPA, and both were hits. His Epiphany Tripel, fermented with Belgian Trappist yeast, is coming up during Saturnalia. It's rich, tawny golden and sweetish, and should be perfect for taking the edge off the forthcoming holiday.

    I'm always interested in featuring the beer crafted by Dave, Ken and their assistants, not because they're great people and deserve recognition, but because their talents are the reason why Indiana breweries produce many fine beers -- and we enjoy selling and drinking fine beer.

    Photo credit: Dave Colt's picture was taken from Down to Drinking, an article in the NUVO alternative newspaper, and a link recommended in its own right as a source for information about these and other Indianapolis breweries.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2005

    Main Street Jeffersonville chili and beer, and a St. Matthews landmark changes hands.

    Twelve years I’ve been making the trip to Bluegrass Brewing Company on Shelbyville Road, and though I’ve seen the Maier’s sign hundreds of times, not once have I stopped in to check the beer list and drink Lite beer over ice.

    Cheers to Maier’s — 50 years of making memories, by Lindsay Sainlar (Louisville Eccentric Observer).

    How many Maier’s customers can say the same thing, only in reverse? They've seen the BBC sign hundreds of times, but never strolled fifty yards away to see what beer really should be, i.e., NOT served over ice?

    How will the O’Shea family change the institution of Maier's? Stay tuned for the answer.

    Meanwhile, here’s a Thursday night tipple, courtesy of LEO’s Kevin Gibson (from this week’s edition):

    Chili, beer tasting fundraiser.

    Jeffersonville Main Street Inc., a non-profit downtown revitalization organization, will hold a fundraiser on Thursday, Nov. 17, at the Ramada Hotel, 700 W. Riverside Drive in Jeffersonville. Attendees can taste chili prepared by local restaurants and media personalities, and sample beers from Bluegrass Brewing Company (PC note -- I'm assuming this is the Main & Clay location) and Upland Brewing. There will be a silent auction and cash bar; tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased at a number of Jeffersonville locations. For more info, call 283-0301.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005

    Last call for Drinking Liberally tonight.

    Tonight: Pints (plural) for democracy.

    Owing to the necessity of setting aside seating space at Rich O's for Tuesday's Drinking Liberally gathering, might those planning on attending please drop me a private e-mail, or comment below, and provide a (non-binding) RSVP?

    Drinking Liberally comes to Rich O’s Public House for a 7:00 p.m. session. Readers who are nodding in agreement with the organization’s stated aim of spreading democracy “one pint at a time” are encouraged to attend. While we're not expecting the city council's Gang of Four to be among those visiting, they're certainly welcome to drop in, quaff Progressive Ale, and justify their political existences.

    Previously at NA Confidential: Drinking Liberally – coming soon to Rich O’s?

    Louisville DL takes road trip to Rich O’s in New Albany, by Vicki Sansbury (from Drinking Liberally’s on-line forum).

    Drinking Liberally helps kill the pain for lefties, by Stephen George (Louisville Eccentric Observer, July 5, 2005).

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    Pre-Thanksgiving draft Saturnalia preview at NABC, Rich O's, Sportstime.

    This week, and probably through Thanksgiving, NABC is staging a Saturnalia MMV preview, and pouring a few of the drafts that will be featured beginning on December 16 when we try and put a little bit of pagan back into Christmas.

    Currently pouring (as of November 14):
    Avery Old Jubilation 8% abv
    Corsendonk Christmas Ale … Belgium, 8.5% abv

    Coming later this week:
    Great Lakes Christmas Ale 7.5% abv

    There could be one or two others, so stay tuned.

    Sunday, November 13, 2005

    NABC brewery expansion update.

    The brewery expansion project is proceeding according to schedule.

    Last week, NABC's brewers Jesse Williams and Jared Williamson worked on remodeling the former game room area located in the Sportstime seating area, and the initial work to bring the new fermenters and serving tanks on line with the existing glycol chilling system was started.

    By the end of the coming week, the serving tanks should be in position, freeing the main floor of the brewery so that (a) the new fermenter installation can be finished, and (b) the brewery itself can be scrubbed down and brewing restarted.

    The serving tanks then will be connected with the tap station, and some semblance of normalcy will be restored.

    Administratively, Indiana's Alcohol and Tobacco Commission signed off on the floor plan changes, both for the brewery expansion and the new banquet/conference area that we plan to call Prost. There the floor has been laid, and painting will begin soon, with a deadline of November 30 looking reasonable.

    As noted previously, during the beginning stages of the brewing capacity increase, we plan to focus on five core styles before broadening the offerings again. I'm hoping this means fresh beer in mid-December at roughly the same time as Saturnalia begins.

    Friday, November 11, 2005

    My father, Veterans Day and good beer.

    As most of you know, today is Veterans Day, 2005.

    My father, who was born in 1925 and died in 2001, usually had a beer or maybe two (but unlike his son, seldom more) while reminiscing about his military service. During the last decade of his life, his favorite beer was Pilsner Urquell, and he liked it far more on draft than in the bottle. The photo above was taken circa 1952 -- when he wasn't drinking Pilsner Urquell. Oertel's 92, perhaps?

    Roger G. Baylor joined the US Marine Corps in 1942 and put in two and a half years as a gun striker and shellman on the 5-inch guns aboard the battleship USS Washington in the Pacific Theater. He was called back to service during the Korean War, but remained stateside.

    Not all threats to life and limb came from the enemy. During my father's time on the battleship, it collided with another American ship (ironically, the USS Indiana) and once rode out a major typhoon.

    The photo below was taken earlier this week at the Veterans' Plaza on Market Street in New Albany. The memorial is being landscaped and upgraded by volunteers from the community.

    The Curmudgeon encourages you to drink a toast to a veteran today. I'll be having a Pilsner Urquell after work.

    Thursday, November 10, 2005

    NABC to join breweries nationwide in celebrating Ben's 300th with Poor Richard’s Ale.

    (Cross-posted at NA Confidential)

    It wasn’t enough that Benjamin Franklin was a writer, inventor, businessman, statesman, patriot and all-purpose wit.

    The Colonial-era legend somehow found time to drink beer, too.

    In his writings, Franklin refers to the consumption of ale and denotes various types of the fermented beverage, concluding that it was a healthy drink if consumed in moderation – an observation with which modern medical science concurs.

    Even a teetotaler might be curious as to what these ales of old were like and how they were brewed, but unfortunately, substantive information is scant.

    When the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, a non-profit group formed to organize the celebration for Franklin’s 300th birthday on January 17, 2006, began looking for an answer to this question, they found it by teaming with the Brewers Association, which commissioned a competition among professional brewers to formulate a Poor Richard’s Ale.

    Tony Simmons of Brick Oven Brewing produced the winning recipe, chosen by a panel of experts at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival. According to Simmons, his act of historical recreation was determined by the following factors:

    Style ... Based on Franklin’s own writings, other period references and records of available raw materials, it is likely that he often drank tankards of a libation similar to Old Ale (England) or Strong Scotch Ale (Scotland).

    Malt … “Low” (pale malt, similar to today’s Maris Otter or English floor malt) and “High” (darker malt, perhaps approximating a combination of what we now call Biscuit, Special Roast and Black) malts probably were used.

    Adjuncts … During the Colonial era, imported malt was expensive and local barley crops were unpredictable, so the use of cracked maize and molasses in brewing was common.

    Hops … Hop production in America did not begin in earnest until after Franklin’s passing, making it likely that traditional East Kent Goldings imported from England were the hops of choice.

    Yeast … Not until the mid-19th century did modern scientific techniques unravel the mysteries of yeast, so it’s impossible to know very much about 18th-century yeast management. Simmons suggests that contemporary English or Scottish strains of yeast (low to moderate attenuation) will suffice to replicate Colonial fermentations.

    The Brewers Association is asking member breweries nationwide to join in the celebration of Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday by brewing a special batch of Poor Richard’s Ale and having it ready for serving on January 17, 2006.

    Locally, the New Albanian Brewing Company is happy to participate in the Poor Richard’s Ale promotion, and will be brewing our contribution to the coast-to-coast party in late December.

    Furthermore, NABC believes it might be even more fun if our homebrewing friends and patrons from FOSSILS and LAGERS use the recipe parameters provided by Tony Simmons and brew their own batches of Poor Richard’s Ale, which we all could sample alongside our NABC commercial version on Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday.

    What do you think, homebrewers?

    Wednesday, November 09, 2005

    Gravity Head 2006 advance preview.

    Here's the list of advance orders for Gravity Head 2006.

    Please note an important date change. Gravity Head 2006 has been moved forward two weeks, and will begin on Friday, February 24. We have every reason to believe this change will occur this year only, and in 2007, the festival will revert to its usual starting position during the second weekend in March.

    As the weeks pass, this list will be augmented with further information.

    Arcadia Imperial IPA
    Bell’s Batch 7000 12% abv
    Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree IPA
    Dark Horse Sapient Trip
    Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter 9.5% abv
    Flying Dog Horn Dog Barley Wine 10.5% abv
    Great Divide Hibernation Ale 8.1% abv
    Great Divide Hercules Double IPA 9.1% abv
    Great Divide Oaked Yeti Imperial Stout 9.5% abv
    Great Divide Old Ruffian Barley Wine 10.2% abv
    NABC Stumble Bus (2005)
    North Coast PranQster 7.6% abv
    Rogue Old Crustacean Barley Wine (2002) 11.5% abv
    Rogue Imperial Stout 11% abv
    Rogue I2PA 9.5% abv
    Stone Double Bastard Ale 10% abv
    Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine (2005) 11.26% abv
    Two Brothers Bare Tree Weiss Wine 10.2% abv

    JW Lees Vintage Harvest Ale (Willoughbys crusted port barrel aged; 2004; firkin), 11.5% abv
    JW Lees Vintage Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Scotch barrel aged; 2005; pin), 11.5% abv
    Old Engine Oil Special Reserve (Invergordon Scotch barrel aged; 2005), 8.5% abv
    De Dolle Dulle Teve
    Chouffe La Gnomette
    Kiuchi Hitachino Nest New Year’s Celebration Ale 2006 9% abv
    Samichlaus Bier (vintage TBA) 14% abv

    Tuesday, November 08, 2005

    Saturnalia MMV winter solstice draft festival update.

    There were some faulty links in previous updates, so we'll start fresh here and continue to update as orders are processed and beers arrive.

    In December, we'll be staging a second winter solstice draft festival: Saturnalia MMV. The starting date is Friday, December 16. If all goes as planned, there'll be commemorative t-shirts available.

    The beer list for Saturnalia MMV is taking shape, and the following will be updated as matters become clearer.

    (* ordered)
    (# in stock)

    *Anchor “Our Special Ale” (Christmas Ale) 5.5% abv
    #Avery Old Jubilation 8% abv
    *Dark Horse Tres Blueberry Stout 4.5% abv
    #Great Lakes Christmas Ale 7.5% abv
    #Left Hand Milk Stout 5.2% abv
    #New Holland Phi 2005 9% abv
    *Oaked Arrogant Bastard 7.2% abv
    *Oaken Barrel Epiphany
    #Rogue Chocolate Stout 6.3% abv
    #Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar 6.22% abv
    #Rogue Santa's Private Reserve
    #Schmaltz He’Brew Jewbelation 5766 9% abv
    #Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 6.8% abv
    *Summit Winter Ale 5.9% abv
    #Three Floyds Alpha Klaus 7.5% abv
    *Upland Winter Warmer 9% abv

    IMPORTS (15)
    #Corsendonk Christmas Ale … Belgium, 8.5% abv
    #De Dolle Extra Special Export Stout … Belgium, 9% abv
    #De Dolle Stille Nacht … Belgium, 12% abv
    *De Ranke Pere Noel … Belgium, 7% abv
    *Delirium Noel … Belgium, 10% abv
    *Gale’s Christmas Ale 2005 … United Kingdom, 8.5% (cask-conditioned)
    #Kiuchi Hitachino Nest New Year Celebration Ale 2005 … Japan, circa 9% abv
    *JW Lees Moonraker … United Kingdom, 7.5% abv
    *La Rulles Cuvee Meilleurs Veoux “Best Holiday Wishes” … Belgium, 7.3% abv
    #Mahr’s Christmas Bock … Germany, 6% abv
    #N’Ice Chouffe … Belgium, 10% abv
    #Ridgeway Santa’s Butt Winter Porter … United Kingdom, 6% abv
    #Ridgeway Seriously Bad Elf … United Kingdom, 9%
    #St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel … Belgium, 9%
    #Young's Winter Warmer ... United Kingdom,

    If not delivered in time for Saturnalia, it could be moved to Gravity Head.
    *Hibernus Samaranth Quadrium … Belgium, 11.5% abv

    Monday, November 07, 2005

    Thursday, Nov. 10 Upland tasting at The Keg Liquors in Clarksville.

    When it comes to good beer, one of the most gratifying developments of late has been the upgrading of the beer selection at more than a few package stores in New Albany, Clarksville and Jeffersonville.

    Obviously, generational changes at family-owned businesses bring the possibility of fresh persepctives and a greater willingness to observe the marketplace -- and give the customers what they want. With formative years spent working at the now-defunct Scoreboard Liquors in New Albany, where perhaps I was a bit ahead of the curve in attempting to stock good beer before interest in it began to accelerate, there remains a soft spot in my heart for those in the package business. I especially enjoy it when their marketing views coincide with mine.

    Todd Antz, owner of The Keg Liquors in Clarksville, has been holding regular good beer tastings in conjunction with his wholesalers, and there’s another one scheduled from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. this Thursday (November 10), when the Upland Brewing Company line of microbrews will be featured.

    According to Todd, there’s a good chance that brewmaster Caleb Staton will be down from Bloomington and in attendance. If you’re anywhere near Lewis & Clark Parkway on Thursday afternoon, give the store a look and have a wee sample of an Upland ale.


    In the interest of equal time, Bridge Liquors in New Albany, which is located near the hospital on State Street, is promising a holiday beer sampling, including delectable stocking stuffers from Shelton Brothers and B. United importers.

    When more information becomes available, I'll move this one to the marquee (and I'll probably see you at the sampling).

    Sunday, November 06, 2005

    Drinking Liberally gathering set for the 15th, Wal-Mart film for the 16th.

    Here are two dates on the calendar worth remembering.

    On Tuesday, November 15, Drinking Liberally comes to Rich O’s
    for a 7:00 p.m. gathering. Readers who agree with the organization’s stated aim of spreading democracy “one pint at a time” are encouraged to attend.

    Louisville DL takes road trip to Rich O’s in New Albany, by Vicki Sansbury (from Drinking Liberally’s on-line forum).

    Drinking Liberally helps kill the pain for lefties, by Stephen George (Louisville Eccentric Observer, July 5, 2005).

    On Wednesday, November 16, there's an important film event in downtown New Albany. Previously at NA Confidential, we told you that CFP and Destinations Booksellers are to screen "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" documentary film on Nov. 16. It’s an outdoor showing (at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.) at the Farmers’ Market, corner of Bank and Market. Dress appropriately and bring a folding chair.

    Previously at the Volunteer Hoosier blog: Stunning, in which Randy Smith describes his feelings after previewing the movie.

    Other NA Confidential links:

    Speaking of Wal-Mart, as the movie release date draws nearer, Bentonville begins circling the wagons.

    Unsurprisingly, "Wal-Mart Healthcare Mythology Shattered."

    Friday, November 04, 2005

    Drinking Liberally - coming soon to Rich O's?

    I've received a pleasant e-mail from one of the founders of Louisville's Drinking Liberally chapter.

    Before divulging the note's contents, you should know what Drinking Liberally is, and here's the answer, courtesy of the organization's national web site.

    Drinking Liberally: An informal, inclusive Democratic drinking club. Raise your spirits while you raise your glass, and share ideas while you share a pitcher. Drinking Liberally gives like-minded, left-leaning individuals a place to talk politics. You don't need to be a policy expert and this isn't a book club - just come and learn from peers, trade jokes, vent frustration and hang out in an environment where it's not taboo to talk politics.

    Bars are democratic spaces - you talk to strangers, you share booths, you feel the bond of common ground. Bring democratic discourse to your local democratic space - build Democracy one drink at a time.

    Drinking Liberally's motto is, "Promoting democracy one pint at a time," and this sounds suitably noble. Already I'm considering matching certain styles of beer with particular topics.

    All this has come up because some regular patrons of the Louisville chapter's Thursday night gatherings, which are held at the original Bluegrass Brewing Company on Shelbyville Road, believe there may be sentiment for a New Albany chapter, which would meet at Rich O's and quaff $8 pints of Progressive Beer.

    As a counterweight, albeit tiny, to the prevailing crackpot sentiments of theocratic fascism washing over Indiana's shores (see 'Intelligent design' debate coming in this morning's Courier-Journal), I'd be delighted to host Drinking Liberally at my pub, perhaps in the new conference/banquet wing that we're hoping to have finished in December.

    Negotiations toward this end have been initiated, so stay tuned for further details.

    (Crossposted at NA Confidential)

    Thursday, November 03, 2005

    A day as fine as today should have been spent in a beer garden.


    Today was such a lovely autumn day, and my thoughts turned to the glories of the Bavarian beer garden. Here are two random views from the last group trip I escorted in September, 2004. First, the self-serve window.

    And the view just outside Bamberg, in lovely and beery Franconia.

    (The customers were all behind me when this photo was taken, circa 10.00 a.m.)

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    BBC Tap Room's beer tasting and appetizers on Wednesday, Nov. 9.

    BBC Beer Company is the reformatted, revitalized downtown Louisville brewery where original Bluegrass Brewing Company brewmaster David Pierce crafts his classic styles (American Pale Ale, Dark Star Porter and Hell for Certain, just to name three) for a growing, appreciative market.

    I'm happy to see the enthusiastic new ownership group pushing the brand throughout metro Louisville and beyond, as witnessed by the jam-packed events calendar located here, from which I've pulled one upcoming listing.

    Work Late Wednesdays - Tap Room Tasting on November 09, 2005

    Join BBC Beer Company at their Downtown Taproom and brewery on 636 E. Main Street, Wednesday, November 9 from 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm to celebrate the many flavors of their brew and showcase wonderful local food ... BBC brewmaster David Pierce will offer samples of his brew and even host tours of their brownstone brewery throughout the evening. Healthy samples of BBC Beer will be served for $5 a flight as well as other BBC specials ... Simpsonville Kentucky's Old Stone Inn will be on hand dishing out complimentary appetizers, including a White Cheddar Cheese Grit Cake served with Pork Loin and Old Stone Inn Barbeque Sauce ...

    For more information, call 584-2739. Here's a view of the Tap Room, as borrowed from BBC' site:

    Tuesday, November 01, 2005

    A-B's Stephen J. Burrows Will Rot in Hell.

    Here's the encore presentation of a column first published in 2003, one that will retain a certain timelessness, at least for so long as its subject remains ensconced in a position of corporate authority.


    I picked up the latest All About Beer magazine, eager as always to see which breweries had anted up hard marketing cash for the current month’s Beverage Tasting Institute rankings, but I didn’t even make it out of the letters section.

    Therein was a missive from “A-B HQ” signed by Stephen J. Burrows, Chief Executive Officer and President, Anheuser-Busch International, Inc., detailing a 1911 agreement between A-B and Budejovicky Budvar in which the latter agreed to let the St. Louis company conquer the world and enslave the taste buds of every nation – or something in that vein.

    A veritable Protocol of the Elders of Swill, initialed by one of the highest priests of corporate flim-flammery.

    Like piquant slime from an over-burdened septic tank, Burrows bubbles up from the terra firma every so often to espouse the superiority of all things Anheuser-Busch, especially as they pertain to the continued, annoying presence on the A-B radar screen of the Budejovicky Budvar upstarts in the Czech Republic.

    Thinking back to the recently commenced and as yet unconcluded Haliburton War (known by trusting sorts in the electorate as the “Iraq” war), Burrows functions somewhat as the “Comical Ali” of Anheuser-Busch: Grotesquely Goebbelsian, deadly earnest yet laughable, spouting arcane references to long ago treaties between the allegedly competing breweries that presumably were negotiated much like those between the federal government and Native Americans facing Gatling guns – with a Busch family member always keeping one hand behind his back, fingers crossed, ready to ram the peace pipe where the sun doesn’t shine when no one’s looking.

    After all, that’s how you get to be a successful multi-national corporation.

    In short, Anheuser-Busch’s dirty war against Budvar continues to be waged, the conniving generalissimos like Burrows and A-B’s stuffed corporate suits continue to be guilty of war crimes, and most of us are too busy scrambling to survive the Bush presidency to take notice.

    You’re not where you come from.

    As befits a multi-national corporation with little real interest in the essence of the mass-produced commodity it relentlessly peddles, Anheuser-Busch yawns at the antiquated notion advanced by many Europeans to the effect that there is such a thing as an “appellation of origins.” A-B touts the veracity of “Made in America,” but disputes the same reasoning if applied to a European brewery from which A-B’s founder “borrowed” geographical imagery more than a century ago.

    Subsequently, generations of international lawyers have honed their Lexuses on the dispute between Anheuser-Busch and Budvar (or, in the German language, “Budweis”), and why not? It’s an endless cash cow, because in essence, both breweries are right. A-B had a copyright preceding the operation of the current Budvar company, and for hundreds of years before that, any beer from any Budweis brewery was a Budweiser beer.

    There’s no reason why the two breweries can’t co-exist – none beyond the institutionalized megalomania that girds A-B’s very existence, and that makes the massive, bloated company so repugnant on so many different levels.

    Another reason why the world hates us.

    As always, much blame for this lamentable situation whereby A-B runs roughshod over anyone with the temerity to stand in its way, can be attributed to the benumbed and oblivious Joe Six Pack, whose ignorance and disposable income makes possible the existence and prosperity of Stephen J. Burrows and his fellow corporate assassins.

    Indeed, the disconnect between the personal lives of ordinary people and the remorseless consumer culture they inhabit, some willingly but most cluelessly, has become more vast and unbridgeable than the oceans that no longer separate us from equally exploitable markets overseas.

    In everyday life, there isn’t a honest blue collar working man alive, as well as a handful of narcissistic yuppies, karaoke singers, and yacht clubsmen – hell, even a golfer or two who’ve retained some semblance of dignity – who wouldn’t leap to the assistance of the Little Guy being bludgeoned into submission by a huge, overblown, pompous and arrogant bully.

    Yet, sadly, they cannot fathom the resemblance whereby the 800-pound gorilla that is Anheuser-Busch lashes tiny Budvar through tactics calculated to make Al Capone blush, all the while egged on by obsequious mouthpieces like Stephen J. Burrows and his worldwide corps of cash-wielding lawyers.

    So, as Sonny Bono once astutely noted, the beat goes on, and on, and on.

    Add another name to the son-of-a-bitch list, Mr. Cobb.

    There’s little that men and women of good sense and decency can do to derail the international A-B monolith, but I promise you this.

    Not only will I refuse to serve Stephen J. Burrows should he ever wander into my place of business, but I will personally remove him from the premises if he refuses to respond to reason – and, given A-B’s legacy of arrogance, it is likely that he would display such obstinate tendencies.

    There’s no Bud Light here, anyway.