Friday, June 30, 2006

Bob Capshew, “The Incider,” and the Rocky Meadow orchard.

As the text of the newsletter reprinted here clearly indicates, longtime friend Bob Capshew has commenced the exciting task of rehabbing -- not a house, motorbike or antique, but a whole pear orchard.

It reminds me of the famous "Music Man" snippet:

A gentleman and a Bob with a capital
'B' and that rhymes with 'P' and that stands for '

Currently we carry a French-made perry, Christian Drouin Poire, in bottles at Rich O's, and in the past served Gwatkin Blakeney Red Perry (U.K.; unavailable at present) in plastic polypins.

Bob will be needing help if we're someday to enjoy locally crafted perry, and if you're interested, e-mail me and I'll pass it along. Here's his newsletter.


The Incider
June 2006, No. 1

Welcome to the inaugural issue of “The Incider,” a newsletter for the friends of the Rocky Meadow orchard. As many of you already know, this winter I took on the task restoring a mature pear orchard to production. This newsletter will bring you up-to-date on what I feel is a very exciting but little known local treasure.

Rocky Meadow Nursery and Orchard was started by Ed and Pat Fackler in the late 1970s on a 31 acre farm near New Salisbury, Indiana. They grafted and sold nursery trees as well as unusual fruit until about five years ago when they sold the farm. The orchard remains as a testimonial of years of experimentation and research. Anyone that bought fruit trees in the 1980s and 1990s remembers Ed as one of the most knowledgeable experts in his field.

The orchard currently has several hundred mature apple and pear trees. The pear tree plantings are very diverse with over 70 varieties – probably one of the largest private collections of pears in the U.S. Nature has taken its toll but there are still approximately 160 pear trees remaining. Untended pear trees often grow into shapes that discourage fruit production. After months of trimming, the trees are now starting to show promise with lots of fruit. If the average yield is ½ bushel per tree there will be 80 bushels (3,000+ pounds) of pears to pick this fall. The picking will start in August and continue through October.

There are two types of pears at the orchard – European and Asian. The European pears are picked then ripened at room temperature after cold storage. These are the traditional pears that have a “buttery” texture. Asian pears are allowed to ripen on the tree and are usually round and crunchy. Some weigh as much as 2 pounds each and may be stored for up to 10 months. The pears will be stored in the large walk-in cooler at the orchard. Each pear variety has a unique ripening date and storage life. Most of the trees have been tagged with their name and location to aid in identification at picking time.

For those of you that worked on my home made garbage disposal/beer keg press system you will be glad to know that I have now purchased a used commercial press with a high speed grinder and a hydraulic press. The yield from the commercial press should be between 3.5 to 4.0 gallons per bushel. Thanks to all who helped move it from New Albany’s Hillside Orchard recently.

We now have electricity in the barn which has allowed us to do some inside painting in preparation for the juice making. Even our new puppy, Porter, has helped as evidenced by his yellow ear!

Special thanks also go to my wife Maureen, Ben Capshew, Eric Waters, Kevin Richards, Jason Masingo, Rick Buckman, Charlie Gray, Leah Dienes, Kent Royse, Steve Cotton, Bob Reed and Roger Young for their help on other projects.

If anyone would like to visit or help at the orchard, please give me a call or drop an e-mail. Chores range from light (e.g. thin pears, tree identification) to heavy (e.g. string trim around trees, cut wood, hauling wood). Stay tuned as we approach harvest!

Bob Capshew

Thursday, June 29, 2006

NABC outside accounts in Southern Indiana.

The New Albanian Brewing Company is pleased to supply our draft beers to a very limited number of establishments in New Albany, Clarksville and Jeffersonville.

At present, there are no plans to distribute in Louisville or other locations in Kentucky, primarily because Indiana state law allows small brewers to self-distribute, while Kentucky requires an agreement with a wholesaler.

In New Albany …

The Bistro New Albany, at 148 E. Market in New Albany’s historic downtown business district (812-949-5227), is NABC’s primary off-premise draft account – where we drink beer when we’re not at work. Bob’s Old 15-B, Community Dark, Croupier, Elector and one rotating selection are available every day (lunch served Monday through Saturday; evening and dinner hours Wednesday through Saturday). Tell the Daves that NABC sent you.

NABC is the preferred local craft beer supplier for the Calumet Club, a meeting and reception hall owned and operated by our friends of long standing, the Bliss family, located at 1614 East Spring Street (812-949-1611). Community Dark is on tap for most events, and other NABC beers are available by arrangement.

Located on Mansion Row (Main Street), Culbertson West is another reception and special event option. NABC beers are available by request.

In Clarksville …

Stratto’s is a new (open May, 2006) and impressive upscale Italian eatery owned by longtime New Albany restaurateur Sam Anderson, which occupies the venerable and sumptuously remodeled McCullough House at 318 W. Lewis & Clark Parkway, Clarksville (812-945-3496). Bob’s Old 15-B is on tap.

In Jeffersonville …

Chris and London Smith’s Come Back Inn (415 Spring Street, Jeffersonville, IN; 812-285-1777) serves rotating NABC drafts as part of a small but excellent draft list that can include local ales from Bluegrass Brewing Company, Michigan-brewed Bell’s beers, and some Belgian imports.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

From the 1997 archive: "Anheuser-Busch, Gone Home."

Introduction (2006)

As I continue to dig through the archives in search of material to assist Jay’s revamping of the NABC web site, fascinating time capsules keep floating to the surface.

My first visit to Ceske Budejovice came in 1989 during the Communist period, and eight years passed before a second stay in 1997, which is the one recounted here.

Most recently, I had the pleasure to return in September, 2004. Through all three visits, the hundred year war between Budvar and Anheuser-Busch has persisted, flaring periodically in courtrooms throughout the world. Budvar has long since sidestepped Anheuser-Busch’s restraint of trade by exporting to selected markets in America under the name Czechvar (available in Kentucky, but not Indiana).

The Masne Kramy beer hall has been closed for quite some time, supposedly awaiting renovation, but in spite of this loss of traditional ambience, dozens of pubs and restaurants serving Budvar have opened in the obviously prosperous city since the 1997 journey.

On the 2004 visit, my group gained entry to Samson – Ceske Budejovice’s “other” brewery, now known as Budejovicky Mestansky Pivovar, and in the process of bouncing back from heavy damage during the bad flooding of 2002. It now exports under the Budweiser Burgerbrau name, and markets itself as the city’s oldest operating brewery.

Three Sticks never responded to my challenge, either.


From Bohemia’s Meadows and Groves.

Ceske Budejovice’s central square is just that: Square. It is a vast, perfectly symmetrical, open area surrounded on four sides by the beautiful Renaissance and Baroque arcaded buildings that are the city’s most memorable architectural feature. In the very center of the square, there is a fountain -- dormant in winter -- and a dramatic statue of Samson slaying a lion.

Any symbolism to come is purely intentional, but it won’t have to do with Ceske Budejovice’s other brewery, which is named after the Samson statue, and which itself hasn’t done any big game hunting lately.

The powder-blue facade of the recently renovated town hall is to the southwest of the statue. To the northeast is the Black Tower, a belfry and watchtower that was finished 200 years before America’s Declaration of Independence was written.

On the northwest corner of the square, a narrow street leads north, in the direction of Prague, which is a hundred miles away. On the street, where not so long ago dingy COMECON outlets peddled Bulgarian embroidery, East German cameras and Polish strawberry preserves behind dark, imposing, distant counters loosely monitored by dozing and easily offended sales clerks, there now are bright, new shops boasting fancy mirrors and track lighting, which offer current fashions in clothing, expensive jewelry, and the latest in Korean consumer electronics. These attest to the post-Communist awakening and provide stark, almost nostalgic counterpoint to this traveler’s memories of the ancien regime.

A block or so up this street lies the Masne Kramy, which must be counted as one of the top beer halls in all of Central Europe. For three centuries, the building housed Ceske Budejovice’s meat market, where the butchers operated their stalls behind the low, arched arcades on both sides of a long, central hall. Now the hall and the surrounding alcoves are filled with neat wooden tables covered by bright red and white cloths, dotted with coasters and centered with glass ashtrays, all bearing the logo of Budweiser Budvar (or Budejovicky Budvar), the city’s most famous brewery supplier of the Masne Kramy’s exquisite beer.

The beer hall boasts a bountiful dining menu of inexpensive, well-prepared Czech dishes -- pork in all its baked, fried and cured manifestations, tangy goulash soup, rich farm-raised carp, dense potato dumplings and sugar-laden desserts -- but only one beer is available: Budvar, the Beer of Kings, which is dispensed in half-liter mugs for the stupefyingly low price (yet still expensive by local standards) of about 55 cents, American. The lager is golden, creamy and superbly balanced. In the best tradition of like-minded establishments, barmen work constantly at filling and topping off mugs of beer, which are brought to the patron’s table by efficient waiters who continue to line them up until a signal to stop is given, cash is exhausted or unconsciousness sets in ... and sometimes not even then.

On the opposite side of the street, a couple of doors down, there is a lonely, unpopulated cafe front. It is scrubbed, modern and attractive, and it seems out of place, almost as much so as the banners that once were unfurled in streets like this one to announce the fraternal solidarity of the Czech and Soviet people, and were later removed and cut into strips for use as toilet paper.

There is a tidy glass case to the left of the door. It was meant to display the establishment’s offerings; instead, a handsome sign in the case informs passers by, in Czech and in English, that the cafe has closed as of the first of the year. This already dated announcement immediately produces more curiosity than sadness, primarily because the cafe seems so very alien to the environment around it. One notices the red, white and blue rectangle of a foreign flag, and further imagines a strange metallic Missouri arch staring out from the menu case, and these images are overtaken and pushed aside by the reflection in the glass of the vintage local stone arches lining the elderly Czech street.

The Masne Kramy is only a few doors down on the other side of the street, its venerable, confident facade gently mocking the gutted corpse of the fallen interloper. The questions are inevitable. Who was the invader, the intruder, the outsider who couldn’t cut the Bohemian mustard and had to shut down? What sort of creature was this that swaggered into town, boasting of its reputation, brandishing its wallet and peeling off large bills in a humorless parody of the way that the Russians paraded their tanks through the squares and handed out plastic Lenin pins and the charming prospect of a fun-filled holiday in Odessa if the Czechs remained nice little boys and girls and followed the Plan?

Hello, We Must Be Going.

In the end, the now-vacant retail floor space was far more than just a spiffy cafe where people could relax and read American newspapers, or attend English language lessons while drinking Folgers and idly dreaming of the Yellow Brick Road that leads from every Wal-Mart to the ice-cold Bud Light on draft at Appleby’s.

The defunct St. Louis Cultural Center wasn’t a cafe. It was meant to be a nice, big, fat, succulent carrot to be waved in the deprived, grubby faces of the citizens of Ceske Budejovice, those only recently roboticized socialist drones, and one meant to entice them, to inflate (and fellate) their expectations, and to purchase their acquiescence as Anheuser-Busch negotiated for a stake in the city’s famous brewery. It was the American imperialist’s Trojan Horse, its magnanimous surface glitter concealing the industrial technologists, the glassy-eyed bean counters, the soulless pitch men and the corporate strategists without whom A-B would be nothing more than a mere brewer of second-rate beer.

This oxymoronic cultural center in Ceske Budejovice was one of the most obvious incentives dangled by the Busches, who’ll never be accused of grasping concepts like subtlety and irony, but the ostensibly benevolent Anheuser-Busch steamroller didn’t spare the rod during the time when it coveted Budvar. There was always the unsavory prospect of

Anheuser-Busch choosing to lay siege to Budvar through endless, full-court litigation conducted by generations of lawyers bankrolled by the Busch billions. There was the announcement that A-B would drastically reduce the amount of Czech hops that it buys, and the company’s subsequent denials that this wicked blow to Czech hop exports amounted to blackmail, and the universal wonderment that ensued given the absence of any existing olfactory evidence of hops in A-B’s factory-brewed beers.

But in the end, no agreement was reached, and the American giant’s advances were spurned virtually on all fronts, and now the techno-brewing colossus is busy doing its own little bit for the ignoble cause of historical revisionism. It says that it all was a misunderstanding of sorts, and that it didn’t really ever want Budvar, and it doesn’t need to achieve an agreement on the 100-year-old copyright dispute that has bedeviled the philanthropic slumber of generations of degraded Busch imperial chieftains, and after all, Europeans love Budweiser from America even if it can’t be labeled that way in a number of European countries ... and, by the way, since we no longer have any business interests in the Czech Republic ... well, you know how it goes with purely business decisions ... not that we don’t still love you and are motivated by a shining altruism that transcends crass commercial considerations ... but we’ll have to close the St. Louis Cultural Center.

First the oppressive Soviets left, and now the carpet bagging Americans. Can true freedom be very far behind?

We Have Met the Enemy ...

For those readers who have been slumbering on the swampy rocks along with the cute and cuddly Anheuser-Busch coterie of frogs, ants, alligators and two-toed sloths, it’s been almost three years since the Campaign for Real Ale sounded the alarm that Anheuser-Busch was intensifying its efforts to buy into the Czech Republic’s Budweiser Budvar brewery as a means of resolving the long standing copyright dispute between the two companies, and in malicious intent if not in actual press release, seeking the effective decimation of the Czech brewery that has spent most of this century proudly refusing to prostrate itself at the feet of the Great Satan of the planet’s -- the universe’s -- brewing industry.

Although CAMRA’s warning wasn’t the first issued by parties concerned by A-B’s predatory designs on Budvar, it was a wake-up call for those American beer aficionados who hadn’t previously recognized the nature of the threat to the future of real, traditional beer that will continue to exist for so long as companies like Anheuser-Busch remain free to roam the earth. This may strike some as a harsh judgment, but it is a necessary one, and it is being seconded by an increasing number of beer authorities, including beer writer Fred Eckhardt, who recently went public with the thought that so many have expressed only privately for so long: Anheuser-Busch is the enemy.*

(A Brief Aside: Charlie Papazian, are you reading? Or does the plight of southern Africa’s small, local sorghum beer makers interest you more than the dismantling of Budvar? Shouldn’t they both interest you? Are you speaking publicly now? And just how much do events like the Great American Beer Festival depend on the largesse of the zymurgicidal assassins in St. Louis? Charlie, there are so many questions for you to answer, but so few actual words coming from you ...)

... and Anheuser-Busch Is the Enemy ...

... and yet consider the difficulties that we face as we attempt to make this point to those who’ve never considered the dreary legacy of the seemingly innocuous product that they unthinkingly swallow while watching the tube, changing the oil, playing softball and dreaming from the waist.

To millions of Americans, it is an article of faith beyond any question that Anheuser-Busch exists somewhere in a rarefied utopia of patriotic, mythological symbols that include Ozzie, Harriet, apple pie, baseball when Kennesaw Mountain Landis called the shots, Abraham Lincoln, Manifest Destiny and eagerly scoring with a nubile cheerleader in the frigid back seat of a ‘57 Chevy parked by a barn following the homecoming basketball game, and being utterly unrepentant about it during Sunday School the following morning .

Millions effortlessly accept this image of Anheuser-Busch, one that is enforced by the incessant, digitally-enhanced clatter of the brewer’s public relations and marketing mega-machine, one whose cost exceeds that of the gross national product of most Third World nations and contributes mightily to the price of a "beer" that is filled to the brim with rice, fermented in a couple of hours, lagered for less than the two weeks that entry level American workers meekly accept as the duration of their paid vacations until they’ve somehow managed to avoid termination for ten to fifteen years, and elevated to the status of reigning religious trademark icon for little other reason than a cacophony of advertising that is so venal and patronizing and pervasive that Josef Goebbels surely spins in his grave at the recognition that his notion of the Big Lie has been so brutally corrupted by these robber barons of the buzz biz.

However, in a perverse and backhanded sort of way, perhaps Anheuser-Busch does indeed symbolize the so-called American Dream, in the sense that the idealized, sanitized American Dream is a tricky coin with two radically different sides. On one side the familiar platitudes are arrayed: purple mountain majesty, pursuit of happiness, we the people, the

King of Beers. On the other side, realities intrude, and by dawn’s early light we see the malignant, slimy, exploitative underbelly: The glorification of ends achieved by any means, the corruption engendered by power for the sake of power, the cancerous ideology of growth for the sake of growth.

To be sure, Anheuser-Busch isn’t the only company that rose to a position of prominence by destroying its competitors, by bribing, by threatening, by extorting, by fixing prices, and by caring not one jot about the destruction -- and the utterly vapid sterility -- left in its bullying and arrogant wake. Not the only one, but the best example that we have in the world of beer, which A-B dominates like a mutant Godzilla.

Of course, the ultimate irony is that the vise-grip of A-B’s market share is perpetually tightened by the brand loyalty of those who aren’t able, or interested, or willing, to try and look past the shameless propaganda blitzkrieg to glimpse the savage realities -- the exceedingly relevant truths -- that lurk beneath the motifs of Americana that are exalted and perpetuated by the company’s pervasive public relations machine.

Which Bud’s For You?

All I want to know is this: How many of the people -- the common people, just plain folks, the silent majority, the man in the street -- who lift Budweiser to their lips in a daily ritual of patriotic affirmation are using the Busch family’s alcoholic soda pop as a medicinal salve; a few cold beers to wash away the frustration of another long working day caught in the tentacles of regimented, corporate America, at the mercy of tyrannical multinational corporations who can buy and sell them a billion times over, chew them up, spit them out, run rampant, fill the pockets of upper management even as the individual is being down sized into a taco-slinging, minimum-wage nonentity ... and yes, that would be the very same sort of bloated, multinational corporation that has created the blessed, nearly frozen medicine, the aluminum-clad balm, and has done so by way of a cynical agro-industrial process, and now the drinker is angrily slamming the fragile can to the unsuspecting surface of the bar top in a fit of impasioned rage at the economic injustice of the evil multinational corporations without ever grasping that the product in his hand is part and parcel of it, a bulwark against the intrusion of craft-anything, and inexorably woven into the fabric of the evil that he so loudly detests.

The cure is the disease ... but just try making the point to someone who is convinced that the eagle on the dollar bill is the same one on the Anheuser-Busch logo, and that both nest in the nostrils of George Washington’s nose on the face of Mt. Rushmore. As H. L. Mencken said, "Human beings never welcome the news that something they have long cherished is untrue: they almost always reply to that news by reviling its promulgator."

I’ll consider myself reviled.

Might Doesn’t Always Make Right.

I find myself back on the street in Ceske Budejovice, at night, watching, listening, savoring the memory of the Slovak band playing that time in the Masne Kramy, the sausages and ham and cabbage, the seemingly endless and always amazing mugs of draft Budvar, and the odd, nagging, Biblical notion that just as the moneychangers were purged from the temple, so were the brewing Philistines evicted from the storefront across the street to beat a hasty and humiliating retreat back to the rice paddies of St. Louis. It is worth noting that Budvar is thriving in the post-Communist milieu, in spite of A-B’s protestations that Budvar would do better under the protective, big brotherly wing of the St. Louis-based brewing Medusa.

Indeed, the spectacle of America’s arrogant brewing Goliath’s defeat at the hands of the small, yet resourceful, Czech David has proven to be the most enjoyable moral saga of our age. How many action/adventure flicks starring luminaries like Steven Seagal and Sly Stallone have yielded such a stirring, enjoyable, feel-good outcome of justice prevailing over the forces of gloom and doom? However, we’re lacking a true resolution to the saga, a fitting closure, something to make sense of it all. How’s this for an unexpected plot twist: Evil empire shocks the world by conceding defeat graciously, and offers a surprising, sensible, overdue trophy to the victor and a treat for the long-suffering, beer-loving spectators.

And So, A Public Challenge to the Missouri Kremlin.

Why can’t we buy Budvar here in the United States, the alleged bastion of the free market? Basically, we can’t buy it because Anheuser-Busch won’t permit it to be sold here.

Thus, I’ll bring this tantrum to a close by issuing a personal challenge to August Busch III, patriarch of the world’s largest industrial manufacturer of semi-beer-like liquids, and to set the table, I’d like to remind him of the words of former President Ronald Reagan. During his second term, President Reagan stood before the single most recognizable symbol of the Cold War, the cruel barrier that divided Berlin, and said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

I consciously echo this thought by asking August Busch III to permit the sale of Budvar in the United States, and to do it under whatever label Budvar chooses, whether it be Budweiser Budvar, or Budejovicky Budvar, or Budvar, or

Budvar the Anti-Busch Magic Elixir, or any other name it desires. Mr. Busch, for once in the long and sordid history of the Busch imperial dynasty, just do it; do the right thing; and do it irrespective of whether America’s Budweiser is or isn’t permitted to be sold in the Czech Republic at the present time. They’ve endured enough hardship this century, so let them exclude your beer if they want and explain it to the world in their own fashion. The pet shampoo market in the Czech Republic isn’t that big, anyway.

Of course, acceptance of my challenge will require a ranking Busch czar to seek the high ground, to sprout gills and dive to the bottom of the ocean and discover Atlantis, to run a one-minute mile, to balance the Empire State Building on a six-pack of King Cobra, and to swallow a century's worth of stubborn and egotistical vanity -- it’ll be unfamiliar territory, to put it mildly -- but damn it, why not let us, all of us, beer snob and supermarket case sale shopper alike, decide which of these two, Czech Budvar or American Budweiser, truly represents the best that beer can be. Anheuser-Busch insists that the two beers aren’t alike and pose no threat to each other, so why the continuing, pique-fueled blockade?

How ‘bout it, Auggie III? How ‘bout it, Auggie IV, heir to the throne?

Any one care to guess which one will receive my vote? Mine’s a Budvar, prosim ... and keep them coming until the crowns run out and the last imperialist has headed home to St. Louis.


* Eckhardt’s article originally appeared in All About Beer magazine, and was reprinted in Walking the Dog #78 (March, 1997).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

On irony and beer tourism, Czech-style.

Here’s a Radio Praha story from March, 2006, that I found while perusing the World Wide Web for information pertaining to our forthcoming beercycling trip to Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic – where we’ll be foreigners, and consuming beer …

Association: Foreigners a growing factor in domestic beer consumption.

The Czech Beer and Malt Association has revealed that a growing number of foreign visitors are an increasing factor in domestic beer consumption. Last year, tourists accounted for between 15 - 20 percent of the total 16 million hectolitres of beer consumed on Czech soil. Domestic beer consumption has long hovered at an average 160 litres per head - and tourists reportedly average 24 to 31 litres. Frantisek Krakes, chairman of the Czech Beer and Malt Association has remarked that beer drinking ranks just behind historic sites and cultural events as one of the more important reasons tourists visit.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Archives unearthed: Mitch Steele visits FOSSILS (from 1998).

On May 24, 2006, I belatedly picked up on the story that brewer Mitch Steele had walked away from Anheuser-Busch for a job at Stone Brewing Company:

From the empire of wet air to the arrogant bastard's lair.

… there began a correspondence that eventually led to something earthshaking: A guest appearance at a FOSSILS club meeting by the Anheuser-Busch brewmaster who had been placed in charge of the mockrobrewing program by virtue of his previous experience in the microbrewing segment.

He brought A-B mockrobrews to Rich O’s for all to taste, unflinchingly endured the inevitable grilling, answered questions about his take on the eternal conflict between art and commerce, and earned respect from those in attendance even if most continued to nurse contempt for his employer.

The brewmaster was Mitch Steele.

Today, during the course of compiling content for the NABC web site (yes, it's finally undergoing a long overdue and complete revamping), I happily unearthed a few stray zip discs and found my account of Mitch Steele’s visit to Rich O’s Public House for the FOSSILS meeting.

It all happened on November 8, 1998.


"Mitch Steele: A great guy doesn't make a great multi-national corporation."

It shouldn’t be a problem.

There would be plenty of time before the FOSSILS meeting began to run over to Bluegrass Brewing Company with Syd and Cory Lewison. Our guest speaker, Mitch Steele of Anheuser-Busch, had said he would be there, and it would be a good chance to get to know him better in a more relaxed setting.

Predictably, it turned out to be a little too relaxed, a feeling probably exacerbated by the divinely inspired presence on tap of Bearded Pat’s Barley Wine. Three Wort Hog mugs later, we managed to get out of the BBC parking lot with only ten minutes to spare before meeting time.

It was a simple matter to rationalize being late: "Shucks, hardly anyone ever comes on time to a meeting." Everyone knows that a 6:00 p.m. start means that we’re lucky to get going by seven.

With Cory behind the wheel, we roared into the parking lot at Rich O’s by 6:03. To my amazement, people were lined up on both sides of the entrance glaring at the locked front door. Cory and Biscuit had to go behind the bar to satisfy the demand for beer prior to the start of Mitch’s tasting. It was a madhouse.

As it turned out, Mitch Steele’s appearance at the November 8 FOSSILS meeting drew the largest crowd we’ve ever had at a regular FOSSILS meeting at Rich O’s: 75 people. The seven cases of beer he brought were gone quickly. The November 8 meeting produced the year’s biggest raffle prior to the Christmas party, and by executive decree, the raffle provided the heaven-sent opportunity to dispose of the garish red Anheuser-Busch blazer that Michael Truitt donated so long ago.

Many in attendance were anticipating a showdown between myself (billed as the purist in the white hat) and Mitch (the suave representative of the dreaded swillocracy). They were destined to be disappointed. From the beginning, it was not my intention to participate in the question and answer session. Given the sheer number of people crammed into the place, the need to serve as beer steward, and the lingering after effects of the BBC visit, I probably couldn’t have even if I’d wanted to.

What I hoped would occur would be FOSSILS members asking plenty of good questions, and this happily was the case.

We learned of Mitch’s educational background at UC-Davis. We listened as he defended A-B’s foreign policy in the Czech Republic. We were told of the demise of the American Originals line, of Mitch’s new job in the St. Louis brewing plant, and of how he keeps good beer in his refrigerator along with a six-pack of Budweiser. Why? Until he moved to St. Louis, he never really understood the heat and humidity of the American Midwest, and how good Bud is to quench the thirst it brings on.

In short, we witnessed an amazing, courageous attempt at the squaring of a circle. Mitch’s credentials as a lover of good beer were presented, questioned, and ultimately accepted with few reservations by those in attendance.

At the same time, Mitch attempted to portray Anheuser-Busch as an employer that is itself not incompatible with good beer, and thus not incompatible with the good taste in good beer of someone like Mitch Steele.

We may have appreciated Mitch’s efforts, but I think few of us are willing to let A-B off the hook quite so easily.

Mitch brought a case each of seven different beers to the meeting. The first four were commercial releases, and the last three were from experimental batches brewed in-house.

The first four:

Michelob Hefe-Weizen. A forgettable American wheat ale that shouldn’t bear the name of a German style that implies so much more than the Michelob version is designed to deliver.

Pacific Ridge (available only in California.) Everything about it screams the intent for it to be a mild American-style pale ale somewhere in the Sierra Nevada ballpark, but it’s not anywhere near home plate. In this case, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Michelob Porter. Another limited distribution Michelob specialty, and perhaps the best of the commercially released bunch. It was entered into the FOSSILS homebrewed porter contest as a ringer, and came away the winner. It wouldn’t be a bad, inexpensive 6-pack in the absence of other, bolder choices.

Winter Brew. An all-malt lager with slightly less than 6% abv. It reminded me of a Dortmunder or export style, and in my ideal brewing world, a beer like this would be the everyday lager, not a seasonal exception to the rice-choked norm. In the world of A-B, it is promoted as a winter specialty.

The final three beers sampled were German-style wheats: Hefeweizen, Dunkel Hefeweizen, and Weizenbock. All were experiments stemming from the Crossroads Hefeweizen that A-B did several years back. All were brewed to style with German wheat yeast. None is likely to see the light of day as an official A-B release, for as Mitch informed us, every effort on the part of his employer to brew something bigger and more interesting has failed to endure one or another test, either internally (within A-B) or externally (the market).

Why? Reading between the lines, Mitch’s testimony admittedly softened my traditional view of A-B as a monolithic entity. It would appear that there are factions at A-B just like there are anywhere else. Some decision-makers in the company want to go into mockrobrews in a big way, while others want to stick with the bread and butter profitability of mass-market swill. When the company has experimented with different products, some have been left alone to be as Mitch and his compatriots have intended, while others have been disfigured by the interference of marketing geniuses. Listening to Mitch, I was left with the impression that not every A-B employee is on the same page at all times.

As for Mitch himself, there can be little doubt that in most significant respects, he is "one of us." It may be true that he’s not a fan of Belgian ales (that infamous UC-Davis training in "balance" peeking through?), but he can be forgiven for that. If I can get him to Belgium some day, he’ll understand. In the meantime, he knows beer, and he likes good beer.

This brings us back to the squaring of the circle, and one of the toughest of eternal questions: How are we to feel about those men of seeming good faith who do work to which we are philosophically opposed?

Make no mistake about it. Mitch works for a company that by virtually every objective standard is the antithesis of all that we as FOSSILS strive to achieve. I’m certain he would argue this point; he’s a good company man, and he understands who signs the checks, but there are some aspects of A-B’s position in our society that are too obvious even for a company man to ignore.

For instance, Mitch has said on more than one occasion that lovers of good beer shouldn’t disparage the choice of the common fellow, who buys the beers that he knows he likes: Bud, Miller, Milwaukee’s Best, and so on.

What Mitch ignores, and what makes A-B (and other corporations like it) our enemy, is that through its size and its financial clout, A-B is able to influence the common fellow’s likes and dislikes in myriad ways that are designed to subvert, not enhance, freedom of choice. A-B can do this through pervasive saturation advertising, and it can do it by strong-arm tactics like seeking to influence the business decisions of its distributors with regard to what they distribute. The aim is to convince the consumer that there is only one choice, and this is repugnant.

Contrast this with the goal of FOSSILS and others like us, which is to educate the consumer and to place the consumer in a position of control, not in a position of susceptibility to mass-market persuasion.

When the last pint has been drained, this saga comes down to money. Money is as much of an answer to the conundrum as we’re likely to get, although it certainly isn’t the only one. It would be easy to say that Mitch is in it for the money -- that if he could get the same money at a micro as he gets at A-B, he’d be doing that instead.

It’s more complicated than that.

What is your chosen profession, and what is your view of what constitutes the pinnacle of your chosen profession? Salary and compensation figure large in any such assessment, yet so do intangibles that have to do with perceptions, self-image and professional pride.

Playing in big league baseball is one thing; playing big league baseball for a storied franchise like the New York Yankees is another. There is a mystique and an aura about the Yankees. As the flip side, there is also enmity on the part of those who are not fans of the Yankees – those who are on the outside. Who bothers to "hate" the Montreal Expos? What would it prove? But millions "hate" the Yankees, and this merely reinforces the club’s mystique in the minds of those who’ve wanted to believe it in the first place.

The fact that the pay is good is icing on the cake.

Mitch Steele knows and loves beer. He has gone to school to learn how to brew beer, he has served his apprenticeship in the minors, and he has worked his way to what he undoubtedly considers to be the top of his profession: Anheuser-Busch, the New York Yankees of the brewing world. It’s the best money, but it’s also the best equipment, the best resources, and the most powerful support apparatus. It’s the chance to devote his talents to the pursuit of "pure" brewing science at the world’s most proficient brewing academy.

If Mitch Steele, beer lover, has indeed made a deal with the devil, at least it’s a devil he knows. We can’t fault him for doing the best he can to support his family, and pursuing his profession to what he considers to be its pinnacle.

At the same time, here’s to the hope that we haven’t lost him forever, that some day he is awakened to the reality that his professional skills are being given over to an advanced technical proficiency that by definition threatens to obliterate the spiritual and artistic natures of his field of endeavor.

Hey, Mitch: It’s never too late. C’mon over to our side.


Photo credit: Stone Brewing Co.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Dream lineup of draft smoked beers.

Under ideal circumstances, how many draft smoked beers could be assembled at the Public House at one time?

Based on previous experience, and with everything breaking right, here’s the potential list:

BBC (St. Matthews) Black Silk Smoked Porter
NABC ConeSmoker
Rogue Smoke
Spezial Rauchbier
Schlenkerla Fastenbier
Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock
Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen
Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen
Stone Smoked Porter

There might be variants, as I believe that in the past, BBC has aged the Black Silk in a bourbon barrel at least one time, maybe more.

Also, one might argue that the Scotch barrel aged versions of Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil and JW Lees Vintage Harvest qualify owing to peat in the residual whisky, but that might be a bit far-fetched.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Today: Lambic by the Glass III at the Public House.

The lambic appreciation event runs in the Prost special events room from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. today.

The format's much the same as before, except that I've omitted a few items (they might yet appear, depending on demand) and organized the lambics according to style rather than brewery. My consideration in doing so is to provide the best overview. Also, there are only two price tiers this way, and we'll run less risk of wasting beer (shudder).

Here's the program for today.


JUNE 24, 2006

For the third time, we’re going to be dispensing bottled Belgian lambic by the glass, with the goal of making it easier and less expensive for you to sample the olfactory joys of this style of rare, funky and challenging Belgian ale. If Lindemans Framboise is the only lambic you’ve ever tasted, you’re in for a tremendous surprise.

Lambic is brewed from a mash of barley and unmalted wheat, hopped with (intentionally) stale hops as preservatives, then transferred after boiling to large, flat, rectangular pans (cool ships) for overnight exposure to all the wild yeast the Belgian breeze can muster. Aging takes place in oak barrels previously used for wine, sherry or port. Unblended lambics are rare, but occasionally found within Belgium (see Cantillon Bruocsella below). Generally, batches of young and old lambic are blended to achieve house character, yielding Gueuze.

If fruit is added, as in the cases of local cherries (kriek) or raspberries (framboise or frambozen), a second fermentation occurs. Ideally, no sugar is added. The flavor characteristics of lambic, even with fruit added in the traditional manner, are dry and musty, and often with the tell-tale wild yeast aroma charmingly referred to as “horsehair blanket.” Bottle-conditioning provides effervescence.


Cantillon 1900 Bruocsella Grand Cru … 3-yr old, single batch, unblended, authentic lambic. Still; very little carbonation.

GUEUZE … $4.00
Cantillon Organic Gueuze … (DRAFT) a blend of one, two and three year old lambics.
Hanssens Oude Gueuze … flagship lambic blend.
Lindemans Cuvee Rene (Gueuze) … blend of various aged lambics.

Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus … fresh raspberries added to year and a half old lambic.
Lindemans Framboise (4-oz draft sample)

KRIEK … $4.00
Hanssens Oude Kriek …uses local black cherry pulp rather than whole fruit.
Lindemans Kriek

Cantillon Vigneronne … lambic fermented with Italian Muscat grapes.
Lindemans Cassis … flavored with currants.
Lindemans Peche … flavored with peaches.
(New) Lindemans Pomme … flavored with apples.

Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise 2001 … Rare unblended Framboise – twice the raspberries than normal.

Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek 2003 … Rare unblended Kriek – twice the cherries than normal.

Cantillon St. Lamvinus 2005 (we believe) … 2-year-old lambic fermented with French wine grapes

Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze 2001 & Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek
Vintage dated, classic blend of one, two and three year old lambic. Brewing has commenced at the Drei Fonteinen restaurant, but these lambics are the product of lambic brewers elsewhere and were blended at Drei Fonteinen. The Kriek includes copious quantities of rare, sour local cherries.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Brise-BonBons & Printemps -- distinctive Wallonian ales from Fantome.

In 1998, the first of an ongoing series of European pub and brewery crawls found 16 friends and customers from Rich O’s on a chartered bus in Belgium – or more specifically, somewhere in the hills of the Ardennes in route from Namur to a tiny village called Soy, which as you might imagined is not pronounced like the Oriental sauce.

Soy is the home of artisanal brewer Dany Prignon’s Brasserie Fantome, and it was to be the first of two brewery visits I’d arranged that day, with the afternoon projected for a session at the Brasserie Achouffe, not far down the road near Houffalize.

Fantome proved to be a barn-like structure with a rustic tasting room built onto one side and a cobbled together brewing system to the rear, incorporating an eclectic vision of zymurgy and good times, and presided over by the always gracious and slyly humorous Dany, who didn’t let language differences stand in the way of explanations, anecdotes and copious samples of his work afterward.

Many of us fell in love with the Fantome ethos on that day, and Dany’s ever changing line of innovative ales has been among my favorites ever since. Fantome’s importer, Shelton Brothers, is top of the line, and although I fumbled on the current shipment and forgot to order the brewery’s flagship Saison, a case each of Fantome ale still made it into New Albany.

Fantôme Printemps is a special seasonal springtime ale that varies in design from year to year. As of this writing, I’ve not had the chance to sample, although I recall it to be lighter and more effervescent than Saison.

Fantôme Brise-BonBons is a relatively new creation, and Dan Shelton’s description is hilarious:

With joy, and a little bit of mischief, Fantôme brewer Dany Prignon dedicates this very bitter beer to all of the many varieties of brise-bonbons - literally, ball-breakers - in the world. Specifically, this beer is meant for wise-guys, braggarts, pains-in-the-ass, muck-rakers, trouble-makers, know-it-alls, stuffed-shirts, blow-hards, and bores, as well as nut-cracking, wind-bag, prattling-on, self-appointed experts on every-thing, and nose-in-the-air snobs, convinced they can do anything better than you.

Dany intended to make a beer too bitter for a normal person to enjoy. The problem is, everyone loves it! Guess we're all just a bunch of brises-bonbons sometimes.

Several of us popped a bottle of Brise-BonBons today, and while not completely over the top in terms of the magic cone, it is well-hopped by Belgian standards and joyously in the stylistic range inhabited by Urthel Hop-It, Houblon Chouffe, De Ranke XX Bitter and Poperings Hommel. Happily, the trademark Fantome funkiness is present -- a streak of sourness, an herbal balance, and a fruity note that you can't quite account for.

Both these special Fantome ales are stocked and priced at the Public House, and by tomorrow I’ll probably have them up on the blackboard for all to see.

For more information, visit the Fantome brewery page at the Shelton Brothers web site.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Anheuser-Busch the object of worldwide World Cup derision.

Perhaps as punishment for the blatant cultural imperialism inflicted on beer-rich Germany by the Anheuser-Busch international monolith, which paid zillions of dollars to monopolize beer sales at the World Cup, the unfortunate American football squad was dispatched into oblivion today by an enthused Ghana team -- with the help of a controversial penalty call by an official who presumably hates Budweiser as much as the Curmudgeon does.

Bad karma, A-B – bad, bad karma ... or, in other words, business as usual.

Here’s a beer blog perspective, and more humorously, Bud Out:

What have we become? Self-denial for 40 million US-Dollars? What are our children supposed to think of us?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

2006 Lambic by the Glass: One evening only, this coming Saturday, at Rich O's.

Our third Lambic by the Glass tasting will be held this Saturday, June 24, in the Prost annex (enter at the Rich O’s door, and turn right). I plan on starting the event at 3:00 p.m., and juggling samples until 11:00 p.m.

While this particular paean to Belgian brewing tradition isn’t everyone’s favorite time, those who are hip to lambic definitely will want to be in attendance.

The object remains as before: Comparing and contrasting spontaneously-fermented lambics from Belgium by means of multiple bottles and small (4-oz) pours from Drie Fonteinen, Cantillon, Hanssens and Lindemans.

In 2006, there’ll actually be one draft lambic: Cantillon Gueuze.

In addition, Belgian-themed food will be a part of the tasting this year, and the menu items are coming together as I write. Unfortunately, not having a deep fryer on site means foregoing frites, but so be it. We'll think of something, and as soon as it's settled, I'll post it.

After much thought, I’ve decided not to release an advance list of selections to be tasted on Saturday. The list is largely as it's been in the past, although there’ll be a surprise, and maybe two. I’d rather wing it, pull out a dozen or so representative bottles to start, and see where the attendees and their taste buds take it.

Yes: I’ll definitely be there the entire time to pour and disseminate information. Last year, I scheduled myself to be four places in two days, and this year the calendar was consulted first.

Here’s the text of the preview that appeared last year at the Potable Curmudgeon beer blog.


For too many of my customers, Lindemans Framboise is the only Belgian lambic they’ve ever tasted. We keep it on tap year-round and sell 20 liters a week like clockwork.

The Curmudgeon grimaces, but never fails to deposit the filthy lucre.

To be sure, there’s a place in the cosmos of beer styles for sweetened raspberry concoctions that manage to appease the spouse while you savor something, well, a bit more challenging, but in ideal terms this isn’t at all what lambic should be about, as it functions as a classic beer style on a number of worthy levels.

Lambic is joyfully archaic, brewed from a mash of barley and unmalted wheat, hopped with (intentionally) stale hops as preservatives, then transferred after boiling to large, flat, rectangular pans (“cool ships”) for overnight exposure to all the wild yeast the Belgian breeze can muster.

Aging takes place in oak barrels previously used for wine, sherry or port. Unblended lambics are rare, but occasionally found within Belgium, and sometimes exported. Generally, batches of young and old lambic are blended to achieve individual house character, yielding Gueuze.

If fruit is added, as in the cases of local cherries (kriek) or raspberries (framboise or frambozen), a second fermentation occurs. Ideally, no sugar is added. The flavor characteristics of lambic, even with fruit added in the traditional manner, are dry and musty, and often with the tell-tale wild yeast aroma charmingly referred to as “horsehair blanket.” Bottle-conditioning provides effervescence.

In 2004, I became possessed of the notion that my Lindemans drinkers needed to be exposed to the flavors, textures and sheer olfactory jolt to be derived from other lambics, and gently guided beyond their fruity comfort level.

The major obstacle to this intended enlightenment was the price asked for a bottle of Cantillon, Hanssens or Drie Fonteinen, so for the first time ever, we veered away from the usual “festival of draft beer” approach and devoted two evenings to pouring lambic by the glass.

Along with the usual Lindemans flavored lambics, we rounded up a case of Lindemans Cuvee Rene, ten Cantillon styles, three vintages of Drie Fonteinen and three or four Hanssens, with the total coming to 22, and procured rubber wine stopper caps from Old Mill Liquors. Prices were calculated and pricing tiers established. The tasting began ... and after quality control was finished, a few ounces remained for the paying customers.

Now, if we could just lay our hands on a truckload of mussels ...


Here's a page of fine photos that amply summarize the lambic experience as displayed at the Cantillon brewery in Brussels: Lambic Brewery Day (source of the above photo).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Foolish pride and wasted beer.

You learn how to handle it, but you never really get used to it …

As always, the sinking feeling started when the young couple sauntered through the front room, obviously substituting bravado for experience.

I greeted them and asked what I could get them to drink, and she swung right through the pitch.

“Do you have Crown and coke?”

No, we’re a …

“How about Smirnoff Ice Triple Black?”

… good beer bar with a few bottles of wine -- just for the fun of it.

To myself, I thought: What is Smirnoff Ice Triple Black? It goes to show how little I know about twenty-something alcohol delivery devices.

The count was two strikes -- and no balls, at least to judge by the input of the strutting male, who flailed helplessly at strike three when he smirked, “she doesn’t like real beer.”

“I don’t like beer at all,” she readily confessed.

The male chortled. I directed them to the blackboard, made myself available for questions, and wasn’t surprised when he selected the same beer for both of them without venturing another query. That, my friends, is doom. When men who don’t know anything decide they must make a decision or lose face, it nearly always turns out badly.

“Two of the 15-B, please.”

I shrugged and served them the house-brewed brown porters, which they both pecked at for twenty minutes before he flagged me down and asked that I bring her a coke.

“She just doesn’t like the beer.”

“I don’t like beer at all,” she repeated.

Instead of a cola, I brought her a sample of Lindemans Framboise, judging it to be the closest thing to a wine cooler that we’d be likely to have on site, and as I had expected all along – if boyfriend would have given me the chance -- she was immensely pleased.

“Honey, there’s a beer that I actually like.”

But that said, she proceeded to drink only half the 10-oz pour, while he made it a few ounces into his 15-B. Hers was there for the taking, and many were the years that I’d have drained it without asking permission, but the man didn’t touch her almost full glass. Within another ten minutes, they had paid and were gone.

Beer wasted. I really hate it when that happens.

Monday, June 19, 2006

June 29 Caffe Classico food & beer tasting and a digression about amber ale.

Be reminded that on Thursday, June 29th, at 7:00 p.m., I’ll be emceeing a beer and food pairing at Caffe Classico, Louisville’s bastion of continental-style coffee. It’s located at 2144 Frankfort Avenue in Louisville.

Owner Tommie Mudd offers elegant Italian-roast espresso, solid café food menu of soups, salads and paninis, short lists of beer (including Duvel and often Chimay) and wine, eclectic evening entertainment on weekends.
The price for 3- to 4-ounce samples of six different beers and accompanying appetizers is only $20:

1. Pilsner: Damm Barcelona with olives, sardines, tapas, etc.

2. American-style microbrew: Boulder Sundance Amber with Sushi (California rolls)

3. Wheat Beer: Paulaner Hefe-Weizen with Weisswurst mit Senf, bitte.

4. Stout: St. Peters Cream Stout, with clams and/or mussels.

5. Trappist Belgian Ale: Westmalle Tripel with cheeses (French-style assortment)

6. Belgian Raspberry Lambic: Lindemans Framboise with Belgian chocolate truffles.

You’ll see that the beer selections haven’t been designed as “advanced.” Rather, my aim is to have beers of moderate strength (except for the Westmalle) but a wide range of flavors and textures, with only one lager (Damm) to serve as calibration.

The only one of the six that I’ve personally not tasted is the Sundance Amber, this being because amber ales generally have not been among my favorite microbrewed styles. However, since my April journey to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve found that they can be serviceable if the malt isn’t too sweet and a good, firm hopping rate is present.

Here are three pertinent amber ale (10-B) explanations from the beer style guidelines at the BJCP website:

Overall Impression: Like an American pale ale with more body, more caramel richness, and a balance more towards malt than hops (although hop rates can be significant).

History: Known simply as Red Ales in some regions, these beers were popularized in the hop-loving Northern California and the Pacific Northwest areas before spreading nationwide.

Comments: Can overlap in color with American pale ales. However, American amber ales differ from American pale ales not only by being usually darker in color, but also by having more caramel flavor, more body, and usually being balanced more evenly between malt and bitterness. Should not have a strong chocolate or roast character that might suggest an American brown ale (although small amounts are OK).

To be candid, although they tend to be well made products, I’ve never much cared for the many amber ales brewed within a few hundred miles of my Louisville-area home, commonly seen examples being Bell’s and Upland.

It’s a nebulous style category at best, and as the BJCP definitions illustrate, amber ale overlaps both pale ale and brown ale, and often has been the repository for simplistic “red” ales without a stylistic home.

And yet, quality amber ales were spotted and enjoyed throughout coastal Oregon and in Seattle during my holiday sampling, and these included regional favorites like Mac & Jack’s African Amber and Alaskan Amber, as well as Fat Tire from relatively far-off Colorado.

Is North Coast’s Red Seal amber ale or pale ale? Accounts very, but I’m guessing the former owing to the body and balance between malt and hop. It’s certainly a sturdy specimen, as is Rogue’s American Amber, always a crisp and well-hopped entry that goes gangbusters with pub grub.

While in Seattle, I purchased a six-pack of Alaskan Amber to take home with carryout garlic and anchovy pizza. The deep dish pizza crust was doughy and chewy, and the amber ale’s malt matched it perfectly, while remaining quaffable for rinsing the saltiness of the sublime and ticklish fishies.

How will Boulder’s amber do with sushi at the Caffe Classico event? I'm not sure, but I’m looking forward to it.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Looks like I picked a bad weekend to quit losing my temper.

The fifty-something woman with far too much makeup looked quizzically at the standard La Rosita’s selection of four – count ‘em, four – freshly made sauces intended for diners to joyfully slather on tortilla chips while waiting for their uniformly wonderful meals.

“Don’t you have any regular salsa?,” she whined.

It was all I could do to restrain myself from reaching over and plucking out her false eyelashes.

Israel, the owner of La Rosita’s, recently told me that when he first moved to New Albany and opened his much admired taqueria, he was entirely befuddled by frequent requests for burritos and other menu items to be served “enchilada style.”

Finally someone explained to him that this was standard operating procedure at Tumbleweed, where numerous New Albanians were initially exposed to a very loose approximation of Mexican-style cooking and still want the same thing done the same way – and their Coronas spiked with lime – more than 20 years later.

I’ve often speculated that there’s a “gene of adventurousness” that carries with it a propensity to learn new things and take chances – and that this gene has been efficiently bred out of much of the gene pool in New Albany and Southern Indiana.

Is it nature or nurture that causes otherwise functional people to ask: “Don’t you have any normal beer?”

“I can assure you that they’re all quite normal,” I usually answer, “and in fact, we make our own beer right here in this building.”

“But … but … don’t you have any AMERICAN beer?”

Perhaps there’s a “map comprehension gene” gone awry, too.


My Friday afternoon was going swimmingly, and I’d settled down to a small pizza and a ConeSmoker, absorbing a smidgen of each before being told that the vehicles parked in the NABC lot all had Pizza Hut fliers and refrigerator magnets on their windshields.

A moment later I’d traversed the hundred yards between my business and the neighborhood’s Yum! chain outpost and was standing at the counter, towering over a baby-faced young man obviously masquerading as manager, wagging my finger, and loudly expressing profane displeasure at Yum!’s tactless invasion of my property.

“That’s a public lot, sir,” he intoned.

“It’s private property,” I responded, “and you’re trespassing on it when you scatter litter on it.”

A sample was duly slammed to the counter.

“But strip malls are public property,” he replied.

I was struck speechless at his vacuous garbling of the basic facts of American life, but only temporarily, recovering to provide a brief lesson on the meaning of private vs. public property, why “no soliciting” signs are posted at the doors, and the fact that he had ten minutes to remove the advertising paraphernalia before I called the police and let them reinforce the message.

Evidently something in my presentation struck the “I’m responsible, aren’t I,” nerve in the manager, who dispatched a peon forthwith, and the latter – obviously an unambitious stoner – quickly comprehended the situation far better than his boss.

“This was a pretty dumb thing to do,” he said as he went about the task of collecting fliers and magnets.

Yes, I thought to myself. It was.

Doesn't anyone ‘round here know how to play this game?


If you were visiting the Public House or Pizzeria last evening when the thunderstorm moved through, I apologize for the inconvenience when we lost virtually all electricity just after 8:00 p.m. After Cinergy/Duke Energy predicted as much as a three-hour wait for repairs, the decision was made to begin shutting down early. With the exception of draft beer pours, there’s simply little that can be done in the dark, as walk-ins lose their chill and the room gets steadily more heated.

I'm heading there now to make sure everything's working properly.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

REWIND: The World According to Spike, and What to Do About It.

From April, 1999, as originally published in Walking the Dog, the official newsletter of FOSSILS. The distributorship that Spike worked for was sold a short time later.


“Rog, the beer business just isn’t fun any more. This used to be a people business. Now it’s all about market shares and buy-outs.”

Spike (the fellow on the beer truck)

“Of the displacement of dignity by merchandising that trivializes, there is no end.”

George Will (the syndicated columnist)

Spike is an old friend of mine who delivers beer for one of the local wholesale distributors. He’s been at it for more than ten years, and while it’s common knowledge that a man won’t get rich driving a beer truck, Spike does all right. His wife has a good job, and together they make a nice living.

Spike’s a throwback in many respects. Temperamentally, he’s an old-timer. He enthusiastically dons the requisite advertising wearables -- the jackets, caps and polo shirts -- and he looks good in them. When he’s off the clock, he loyally drinks his employer’s number one aluminum-clad, low-viscosity brand.

To ask Spike a question about business is to receive a prompt and courteous response, unless you’re complaining about something. In this case, he’ll reply with the sort of resigned shrug perfected by service personnel throughout the ages and remind you that after all, he’s just the delivery person. You’ll have to call up the shop and ask one of the guys in charge if you really want to know which end is up.

Spike came in a while back, and we chatted about old times together playing ball. Eventually the conversation turned to current events, and I asked him if he knew anything about the rumors going around that his distributorship was about to be sold to a big player in Indianapolis. Spike didn’t think so, but he didn’t know for sure, and he was prompted to make the statement that began this column:

“Rog, the beer business just isn’t fun any more … ”

I rubbed my chin for a moment and took a long drink of coffee before answering him.

The beer business may not be fun at the macro end, I said, but it’s fine out here in the sub-5% market share percentile, the part devoted to micros and craft brews. What could be more people-oriented than a business where the product is made locally or regionally? When you get to meet the brewers, distributors and bar owners and get your hands dirty rolling kegs around, throwing cases into the trunks of cars, and talking about Sierra Nevada Bigfoot sightings far into the night. It’s a hell of a lot more interesting than arguing over whose cans of light beer are served coldest.

I wasn’t finished. Is there any better community than the beer business, when your chosen end of the business is the microbrewing and craft beer part of it? Yes, it takes more work than the macro end. You don’t go home at the end of the day, hang up the jacket and cap, and forget about the day, because you can’t. You don’t want to forget it, either, because you’re living and breathing beer, not just supplying a lowest-common-denominator demand.

To live beer is to be knowledgeable about the brewing process, and fluent in stylistic terms, and to have an open mind. Very often the financial rewards aren’t much, but the energy of the community makes up for it. It’s a thriving, energetic and exciting sub-culture.

Fun? Hell yes. It’s fun.

Somewhere behind his beard, Spike was skeptical. Maybe all this is true, he said, but it’s still a business, with the same pressures and the same obligations to make a profit. In the end, how could it be all that different? It’s all gone sour, the entire business of beer, and not just one part of it. It’s the times we live in, he said.

I disagreed. It may be the same, but it’s very, very different. We looked at each other. Spike’s a good and decent guy, and he was on his way out the door and couldn’t stay much longer anyway, so he said he’d take my word for it. It was unclear whether he was really convinced.

Spike departed to finish his route, and I mulled over his comments. Something else he had said suddenly seemed important. Spike said he’d really hate to see his employer sell out to the larger distributorship. “I wouldn’t want to go out and try to get another job,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time – what else could I do?”

It’s always sad to hear a friend give voice to such weariness and resignation when it comes to his job. Spike can see that his line of work somehow isn’t what it once was, but at the same time he can’t imagine doing anything else. He can’t even imagine doing the same thing for another employer; notice that he instinctively assumed that the sale of his company would mean the loss of his job.

But sadder still is his attitude with respect to the specific business he’s been in for over a decade, which is the business of beer. Workers like Spike spend forty hours each week surrounded by beer – cases, kegs and pallets of it, stacked with forklifts, backed up to the dock at the supermarket, surrounded by point-of-sale materials. Yet few of them, Spike included, actually know anything about beer. Nor do their bosses, who are busy poring over order sheets that reflect the latest ad blitzes conducted by the major brewers.

I feel sorry for Spike. In his own way, he loves his job. He loves the beer business. However, the beer business as he knows it is institutionally incapable of providing sustenance – assuming, and this is critical, that sustenance is being sought.

Spike can sense the rot, but can he see where it originates? Mass-market beer sales long ago ceased to be a “people” business except in the sense that human beings can be influenced by whatever means available to purchase items produced by far-off industrial entities that have no fundamental interest in the communities where their customers, and intermediaries like Spike, live and work. The people you know are local, but there’s nothing truly local about any aspect of the transaction.

Not only that, but the items themselves have been stripped bare of any definable essence, and without essence, sloganeering & propagandistic corporate marketing fills the void – if, in fact, it is physically and philosophically possible for one void to replace another.

Consider George Will’s words: “Of the displacement of dignity by merchandising that trivializes, there is no end.” He was writing about the Church of England in the latter half of the 20th century, but he could have been writing about Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors. Thanks to the efforts of these and other oversized brewing corporations, virtually all substantive meaning has been removed from the noble heritage of beer. Thus deprived of intelligibility, beer may be merchandised just as unintelligibly to the increasingly clueless masses.

The inevitable corollary of stripping beer of its conceptual lineage and locally-based heritage in order to reinvent it as a nationally-manufactured, pliable soft drink is the debasement of every person involved in the process, from brewer to sales person, and from beer truck driver to consumer. If the product has no essence, how can there be essence to any person handling it? If beer’s diversity is reduced to monostylistic conformity, so are individuals reduced to an amorphous, homogenous mass of receptive consumerism.

Spike can sense the rot, but there are ways he can fight back. Unfortunately, he is ignoring these tools.

Why? Perhaps he doesn’t have confidence in his own abilities.

Perhaps he’s afraid to confront one of the great, inexplicable, unspoken rules that apply to beer wholesale distributorships: All employees of a distributorship must know nothing about the product they sell – nothing about the brewing process, nothing about the wider world of tradition and style, nothing about any of it. It is a lamentable state of affairs, which I blame on the corporate brewery mentality mandating that the “beer” being produced is just a product in a wrapper to be pushed into the pockets of faceless consumers.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Knowledge remains the key, and any person can learn. Most of us in the sub-5% market share percentile once lacked knowledge, but we learned. We were animated by our passion, a motive force that drove us to study the terminology and methodology of beer and brewing, to consider questions of physical and human geography as they pertain to beer, and to surpass the limitations of our upbringings.

I urge Spike and his comrades to resume (or, if proper, to begin) the process of education, and to be more than merely functional links in the distribution chain. Knowledge is empowerment, and if the revolution can begin gaining allies among the Spikes of the world, we’re all going to be having more fun … and drinking better beer.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Bard's Tale returning to the Public House next Wednesday.

Here’s good news from Mat Gerdenich, owner of the Cavalier Distributing, Inc., Indianapolis beer wholesaler:

Bard’s Tale is back in Indiana! I have plenty in the warehouse.

The New Grist is also in good supply and selling well.

No good estimate as to when the Hambleton Gluten Free from England will be in. The importer is still struggling with the Feds on label approval, so it is going to be a while.

In Indianapolis: Cases of Bard’s Tale are being delivered to Castleton Wine and Spirits, Kahn’s, Wild Oats and Parti Pack (South Side) this week.

We deliver to New Albany area on Wednesday, June 21.

I will give you an update soon as the beer gets on the shelf in more stores.


Look for Bard's Tale at the Public House on Wednesday evening, and if you're wondering what this is about, see these previous articles:

Three cheers: Bard's Tale brings beer back to the Celiacs.

New Grist Beer -- more sorghum-based hope for Celiac beer lovers.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The three-tier blues strike again.

Yesterday I spoke with my representative from North Vernon Beverage Company, which is our supplier of Sierra Nevada and Upland brands.

Up until quite recently, North Vernon was the place where our pallets of special-order draft Rogue ales came to rest, but this longtime arrangement changed in April when Indianapolis-based World Class Beverage obtained the rights for Rogue distribution for the entire state through a deal with Best Beers in Bloomington.

Or not, as I was informed yesterday.

It seems that North Vernon read the fine print of an agreement inked some years back, and concluded that the deal between WCB and Best Beers did nothing to alter North Vernon’s privileges with respect to Rogue distribution in a territory that includes New Albany. Both Rogue and WCB had no choice but to concede in the face of the legalese, so now we’re back where we started two months ago.

Of course, there has been a casualty of this uncertainty, this being the special-order draft pallet of Rogues that was to have included Rogue Chocolate Stout and Rogue Smoke for Dave Fest 2006. After following all the directions given me to procure these beers by the first of June, at best they’re currently in route, and will have to be sent to North Vernon, not WCB, which will delay delivery to me for an even longer period.

As Rogue’s Jim Cline correctly observed in a note to me, occurrences like this are why people like me become terminally disillusioned with the requirements of the three-tier distribution system.

I’m certainly not angry with anyone in particular, and it’s fine with me to deal with North Vernon for Rogue kegs.

I just want the goddamned beer!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The story behind the seat.

Yes, you've heard it all before ... but once again we're embarking on the long-awaited revamp of the New Albanian Brewing Co. website, and as one component of this effort, I'm been trawling through the archives in search of important historical material.

Given that it has been almost ten years since the discovery documented below, and seven years since the cherished artifact itself was mounted on the wall of the walk-in cooler by the Rich O's Public House bar, it's past time we returned to the oft-repeated question asked by newcomers: "What's the toilet seat all about?"

Here's the answer, as explained by my cousin, Dr. Donald "Uncle Don" Barry.



By Don Barry (1996)

A momentous and monumental event occurred on August 8, 1996 when I found in the attic of the backyard garage of the Barry homestead on Highway 131 in Clarksville, Indiana an artifact that is destined to convulse our world.

I rediscovered the sacred Toilet Seat from the back of Jim Morrison's Blue Bus.

To paraphrase the immortal words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941, this is a day that will live in celebrity.

The almost incredible saga behind the divine Toilet Seat will be related below in a moment. Initially, however, the earthshaking importance of this find must be established. The scientific community is already hailing it as at least equivalent in significance to the discovery in August of the previous existence of organic life on the planet Mars. Jim Morrison's Toilet Seat from the Blue Bus will quickly win recognition as one of the most renowned relics of the modern world along with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, the Divine Dentures of the Tooth Fairy, the Petrified Paw of the Easter Bunny, and the Exquisite Excrement of Saint Scrotum.

Sotheby's of London and New York was contacted about the potential value of the Sacred Seat; if authentic, they declared, (how can there be any doubt?) it would be considered priceless and in a category with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The figure they conservatively suggested was $5 billion. Agents claiming to represent Donald Trump, Madonna, and the Saudi Royal Family have conversed with me by telephone about purchasing the object, but they were immediately rebuffed. Instead, my intention from the outset was to donate the Sacred Seat to Rich O's Public House so that it can hang majestically from a wall in the future Blue Room after remodeling. Perhaps this gift will be recognized as my greatest contribution to humanity.

How this author came to possess the sacred Toilet Seat more than two decades ago is nearly unbelievable, and comparable to the Republican Party's "Tales of the Rich, Famous, & Brain-dead". It is well known that Jim Morrison was briefly a college student for four trimesters in 1962-63 at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. There he befriended a History professor named James Pickett (a direct descendent of George, from Gettysburg notoriety) Jones, who attended some raucous parties with Jim, conversed with him frequently, and helped him to minimize the adverse consequences of some troublesome times. Soon after Morrison's death in Paris on July 3, 1971, the spiritual Jim driving the celestial Blue Bus visited Dr. Jones on a clear, cold, bright, starry, Van Goghesque night in Tallahassee. Saying that he would return several decades later to pick up Dr. Jones at the proper time, Jim presented the professor with the Toilet Seat from the back of the Blue Bus as a token or memento of their eternal comradeship. In all probability, Jones cherished the Toilet Seat infinitely more than any of his four wives or multitudes of female companions.

Eventually, from September, 1967 until July, 1973, I matriculated through the graduate program of the History Department at FSU, achieving a Master's and Doctorate Degree while developing a fast friendship with James Jones. As fate would have it, Jones had always been a rabid sports fan whose burning ambition for decades was someday to attend the Final Four of the Indiana Boys Basketball Tournament. Consequently, I used family connections in March, 1973 to acquire two tickets. James drove seven hundred miles from Florida to Hoosierland, and we watched New Albany win its only state championship (incidentally, in spite of being a devoted Jeff Red Devil, I rooted for the rival Bulldogs to triumph as a matter of neighborly respect). In an expression of profound gratitude and in recognition of being kindred spirits, Jones gave me the Sacred Seat with the understanding that someday in the future Morrison, Jones, and Barry would be riding the Blue Bus together.

Nevertheless, the 1970's and 80's were unstable and occasionally turbulent years for me. The year 1979 witnessed my return to the city of Tallahassee and FSU (for how long I had no idea) as well as my decision temporarily to store the Sacred Seat in the backyard garage loft for safekeeping. Amazing as it might presently seem, I completely forgot about the Crapper Cover, although there were often not-so-subtle suggestions in my life of its existence. Every year I would return to Indiana to visit family and friends and to reside at the Barry homestead. On many clear, bright, starry, Van Goghesque nights, after returning from fun & frolic at Rich O's, standing and tinkling in the back yard, I would observe the Blue Bus suddenly descending from the heavens with Jim smiling and waving at the driver's seat. After feeling relieved that the Blue Bus did not stop to collect me and relieved after having just relieved myself, I merely concluded that Jim was out on that particular evening joyriding. Silly me!! I failed to realize that Jim was passing by to confirm that his Toilet Seat remained securely stored in the garage attic.

Yet as recently as Christmas of 1995, May of '96, and the first days of August, my sightings of the Blue Bus still did not awaken my consciousness of reality -- until my mother on August 8 recommended that we purge the garage of its decades-old junk! Now, as this article is being composed, the Sacred Seat is the proud possession of Rich O's Pub in New Albany, Indiana.

By the way, the sides of the Blue Bus are covered with graffiti, not unlike Jim's grave site at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Some of the dawdlings appear as follows: "Live a life that's free", "Show me the way to the next whiskey bar", "C'mon baby, light my cigar", "Breakin' on through to the other side", "Everyone here gets out alive", "Mr. Mojo Risin'", "Riders on the storm", and "Running Blue".

Folks, quite simply, we presently verge on a revolution of popular culture. The holy Crapper Cover at Rich O's will soon emerge as the greatest pilgrimage shrine in the world, superseding such locations as Rome, Mecca, Graceland, Jerusalem, Henryville Forestry (where Elvis now resides in a log cabin), and Pere Lachaise Cemetery itself (the final resting place for such luminaries as Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, "Divine" Sarah Bernhardt, Chopin, Richard Wright, Moliere, the Communard Martyrs of 1871, and French President Felix Faure, who succumbed in February, 1889 from a stroke suffered in the rear of a limousine while his dance hall girlfriend performed fellatio, with rumors later abounding that he expired with a smile on his face and that never in history had such a "blow" been struck for French democracy). But now in our contemporary era, people from all over the world will eagerly travel millions of miles to observe (perhaps even to touch?!) the Sacred Seat. An amusement park named Seven Flags Over Floyd County will be constructed, featuring a gigantic balloon in the shape of the holy Toilet Seat, beckoning the faithful to shops selling tee-shirts, bottle-openers, key-chain-tokens, toilet-seat-shaped earrings, belt buckles, fuzzy toilet-seats for rearview mirrors, etc. In his next presidential bid, Dan Quayle will undoubtedly adopt as his campaign symbol a blue toilet seat -- and appropriately so!

Yet, in all probability, the same question that has been swirling through my mind for weeks is also mesmerizing you as well. If I (now Rich O's Pub) possess the sacred Toilet Seat from the back of Jim Morrison's Blue Bus, then the practice of taking a dump or whiz for the riders of the Blue Bus must be an awfully uncomfortable act. Correct?

However, my theory is this; the occupants of the Blue Bus are ensconced in such a happy haze of Guinness, Bushmill’s Single Malt, Cohibas, Sportstime Pizzas, and Marvelous Music by Mozart & Mahler & Morrison (Van too) that they are oblivious to any replacement's contorted configuration. And so it should be, for an eternity!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Novices, keep an eye on the prize -- and drink Bass if that helps.

My friend and prospective NABC web master Jay has made it one of his missions in life to ensure that I am exposed to thought-provoking items on the Internet that pertain to beer. He understands that I’d otherwise miss them owing to forgetfulness, laziness, the beer in front of me, or a combination of all three.

Naturally, he’s right, and accordingly, he recently pointed me toward this article at Rate Beer:

Oakes Weekly: Ten Beers You Do Not Need to Try.

For the most part, these are beers that are pitched to novice beer drinkers are being somehow representative of better beer, even definitive examples of classic styles. But either they were never worth your time, or their value to the novice beer drinker is greatly overstated. Many of them trade on reputation more than what they actually bring to the drinker. Which is why one of the qualifications I used to determine this list was surprisingly simple – if I brewed this, would you need to try it? Take away the history, the label and the sexy backstory. Do you need to try this beer? For the following beers, no:

Anchor Steam, Bass Ale, Budweiser, Guinness, Negra Modelo, Newcastle Brown, Oktoberfest (all of them), Pilsner Urquell, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Widmer Hefeweizen

Here’s some curmudgeonly full disclosure: All except Budweiser and Widmer Hefeweizen are currently sold in bottles at Rich O’s Public House, my pub in New Albany.

Pilsner Urquell, Guinness and Sierra Nevada are regularly available on draft. I rotate draft German and microbrewed Oktoberfests each autumn. To the best of my recollection, thus far in 2006, I’ve personally consumed only Pilsner Urquell and Sierra Nevada of the ten beers comprising the Oakes list.


I greatly enjoy the Oakes column when I think to read it, and this one has struck a latent chord of classical Marxist theory.

More on that unlikely connection in a moment.

It may seem uncharacteristic for someone as opinionated as I am to undertake the case in opposition to Oakes’s meditations, because in large measure I agree with his assessments of these beers, even if I’d be inclined to go a bit easier on Sierra Pale and Pilsner Urquell – admittedly both of which Oakes accords grudging respect while maintaining that better examples of their respective styles are available.

It would appear that our fundamental point of divergence is one of perspective, stemming from this comment:

Is there the same sense of wide-eyed wonder as when I started? Okay, I’m a bad example because I went from being a dumbass underage beer-hater to beer geek basically in the span of five minutes.

It’s quite admirable to challenge one’s stamina, wallet and liver by locating and tasting hundreds and sometimes thousands of different beers, and to maintain the skills sufficient to objectively rate them. Compared to the sheer number of beer brands and the dazzling diversity of stylistic interpretations available on today’s market, the old standards certainly do taste tired, and for the precise reasons Oakes offers: They may have been diminished, they may have been surpassed, or they may always have been overrated.

But in my world, there’s just more to it than pleasing the discriminating beer aficionados, among whom I count myself (I seldom drink the same beer twice in a week or longer), and this is where the Marxist theory comes into play.

In essence, recall that Karl Marx postulated a series of evolutionary social and economic steps, each following by necessity on the heels of the previous one, and leading to the ultimate victory of the proletariat and pure Communism. It was V. I. Lenin, not Marx, who suggested that a tightly organized cadre of committed revolutionaries could leap past the intermediate conditions and bring about the same result.

In like fashion, and based on my experience, there are necessary steps involved with teaching and guiding beer drinkers to greater understanding about beer ands a willingness to try new beers, and several of the beers on the Oakes “unnecessary” list remain useful for this purpose.

Each and every day, we see new customers, and many of them are all too keenly aware of our reputation for serving beers other than those with which they’re intimately familiar, i.e., mass-produced golden swill. Our job is to peruse a list of 225 bottles and 33 drafts and find those selections best calculated to introduce typically timid starter beer drinkers to the inherent possibilities.

Granted, during the past fifteen years of daily attempts to convince people to drink better beer, I’ve seen miracles of conversion occur before my very eyes. Every now and then, a Coors Light drinker is given a sample of Cantillon Gueuze, and it is love at first horse-hair blanket infused sip.

Sometimes, die-hard Bud Men graduate overnight to become born-again Gravity Heads, and are transformed into Dionysian paragons of Barley Wine revelry.

But far more often than not, the budding (pun intended) disciple travels an evolutionary path to ultimate enlightenment … as I did a thousand or so years ago, long before Southern Indiana knew microbreweries existed, and our lifeline to real beer had names like Pilsner Urquell, Guinness, Paulaner Salvator and anything in the Merchant du Vin portfolio.

Yes, in these wondrous times – and depending on where you reside – it seems rather pointless to sing the praises of starter beers … until you realize that not everyone’s on the same page, or at the same stage.

Oakes is right; Negra Modelo is vastly overrated. But if I can use it to help attain the ultimate goal of enhanced beer consciousness, then it becomes a tool in the arsenal.

Not that I’ve abandoned “permanent revolution” in terms of classic beer theory …

Monday, June 12, 2006

Rich O's medals in Rate Beer's "Best Beer Bars in the United States."

Thanks to my pal Jay for calling my attention to this!

Not to be outdone by the recent Beer Advocate accounting of the “Top 50 Places to Have A Beer in America” rankings, Rate Beer has released its own list of “Best Beer Bars in the United States.”

Both web sites compile subjective ratings submitted by registered users, so the process isn’t rigorously scientific – just good, clean fun and maybe short-term bragging rights.

Drum roll, please: Rich O’s Public House has earned a gold medal and a ranking of #3 in Rate Beer’s polling, compared to #19 at Beer Advocate.

Does this really mean we’re the third best such establishment in the whole US of A?

As noted previously, it’s just nice to be included in conversations like these and to know that we’ve worked hard to deserve being tossed into the mix.

But what I actually do like about this newfound notoriety is “New Albany” alongside Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Brooklyn and Baltimore. My friends, that’s a kick.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The World Cup choice: Hooter's in Jeffersonville or Schlenkerla in Bamberg?

It’s hardly a surprise to open the Sunday sports section of the Louisville Courier-Journal and find World Cup coverage relegated to page A-15.

That’s out of 16 pages.

In today’s local New Albany Tribune, the square-headed (and barely literate) sports editor wrote about a recent excellent adventure at Hooter’s and bemoaned the absence of quality sporting events on television during the month of June, conceding that the NBA Finals might be worth a passing glance, but dismissing the World Cup as little more than another good reason to “hate Europe.”

Verily, the wondrous Dave Kindred is to the slack-jawed Mike Hutsell as hoppy Jever Pilsener is to insipid Miller Lite … but Lite wasn’t the problem at all as the World Cup’s opening matches were recorded.

The Houston Chronicle is one of many newspapers to report the disheartening news:

Some Germans are crying in their beer; They're bitter that Bud is official World Cup brew.

Let’s try to forget Hutsell’s provincial ignorance and Anheuser-Busch’s worldwide assault on taste and decency, and turn instead to “Why the Germans should win", in which Michael “The Beer Hunter” Jackson offers an elegant consideration of the German brewing classics:

Which great beers are produced in, or near, the cities were the soccer World Cup games will be held?

Ahh, that’s much better. Only two and a half months

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Nice patented bottle label backing, but your beer still sucks.

I ask this question constantly, but never seem to receive a plausible response.

Why is it necessary for America’s megabrewers to devise television advertisements that depict their target audience in such an unflattering light?

Put another way, the people shown consuming megabrews almost always are utter boobs. Neither is it particularly funny, nor is it flattering to imagine that those being slandered are compelled to run (drive) out and pump money into the coffers of the companies involved.

In one current Coors Light commercial, a typical 20-something dunderhead criminally ignores his beautiful girlfriend, all the while passionately cooing sweet nothings -- not to his beer, which wouldn’t be all that unusual, but to the unseen can liner that keeps the wet Rocky Mountain air fresh.

In another blurb, again by Coors, it is revealed that the label on throwaway bottles now has a special backing that keeps the warmth of the drinker’s hand from permeating the cheap glass, thus keeping the tasteless swill colder for longer.

Geez, that’s stupid.

From Miller’s sophomoric “Man Law” to the Michelob Ultra Amber touch football game, you’d confidently expect to encounter Dick Cheney studying the Koran before you ever might view a beer commercial that lets treats customers with respect or somehow lets slip pertinent information about beer.

Whenever a half-hearted attempt at beer education is made, it is fallaciously conducted by wannabe wunderkinds like August Busch IV, who if advertisements are to be believed, has successfully operated more disparate divisions of Anheuser-Busch than Elena Ceausescu did government agencies in communist Romania.

Perhaps you remember what happened to Elena and hubby.

I know, I know … it’s been this way for a long, long time, although it seems to me that as the mainstream carbonated urine manufacturers face ever smaller sales figures to divide amongst themselves, the marketing irrelevance begins to take on a hue of befuddled desperation.

Meanwhile, craft beer sales are growing strongly, and while sales smoke and marketing mirrors play a role in the world of good beer, too, their influence is immeasurably less than on the megabrewers's aesthetically bankrupt side of the fence.

In my world, it really is about the beer.