Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bistro New Albany's kickoff party heralds a new era.

On a day filled to the brim with Derby activities, weddings, the NFL draft, NBA playoff games and an excellent beer festival, Bistro New Albany finally arrived and held a belated kickoff party last night in celebration.

Here’s the Tribune’s bNA preview from earlier in the week:

Bistro New Albany to open Monday for lunch, by Eric Scott Campbell (News-Tribune).

Note that regular business hours commence on Monday at 11:00 a.m. (not 10:00 a.m.), with a lunch menu and limited afternoon hours for May, and a more extensive evening operating schedule in June.

Here are a few photos from the event. Much to my chagrin, I neglected to squeeze off a shot of Dave Himmel, who resuscitated the project after founder Greg Merz’s untimely health problems put plans on hold earlier in the year.

However, Dave’s partner, Chef Dave Clancy, is shown below mugging for the camera before returning to a hot burner:

Gratifyingly, the common theme of conversations held during the course of the evening was optimism for New Albany’s future. I’ve always been aware that for some in the community, the advent of a dining and drinking establishment is not something to be regarded as a signal accomplishment, but for those already living and working downtown – whether their tenure is measured in months, years or decades – and for those everywhere in New Albany willing and able to learn and speak what amounts to a second language hereabouts – this being the language of progress, success and future thinking – the arrival of bNA and other bastions to follow preface a turning point.
Crucially, they provide us with “third spaces”:

What is a third space? It's a place that's neither work nor home; it's an in-between-space. It may be a coffee house or a bistro. Third spaces are generally busy and locally owned…with funky restrooms.

Absolutely. First there's Dave at Federal Hill, and now two new Daves at bNA; can we find more Daves to open even more third spaces?

I’ll provide bNA updates as merited.

You? Go out and find some Daves -- pronto.

Friday, April 28, 2006

One good smoke deserves a bowl of curry and a dessert beer or three.

Yes, I know -- I said I'd have another chapter of the Rogue saga posted today, but the week finally has managed to catch up with me, and it isn't finished yet.

If it's any consolation, I drank a Rogue Skull Splitter after work today. That should count as research, and I'll ask my accountant to verify it next time I join her husband for a beer or two and some baseball chat.

Before you hit the beer fete at Keg Liquors tomorrow (Fest of Ale 2006: This Saturday, April 29, at Keg Liquors in Clarksville, you can score a stogie at Mike Stephens's shop in Jeffersonville:

Smoke ’em if you got ’em; Cigar festival coming Saturday to Jeffersonville, by Nicholas Wiselogel (News-Tribune).

It is one event where you are guaranteed not to hear the phrase “close, but no cigar.”

That is because everyone — or at least every adult — who attends the annual Free Cigar Festival at the Youngstown Cigar Shop Saturday will be able to partake in a sample of a new premium stogie being commissioned by the store.

Since taking over the business five years ago, Mike Stephens has hosted the event, which usually attracts several hundred people, on the Saturday before the Kentucky Derby.

The event is from noon to 2 p.m. at the store, located at 1411 Youngstown Shopping Center, Jeffersonville.

Mike's the cigar guy, but he appreciates a good pint of ale. Just yesterday I enjoyed a hand-rolled cigar from one of his previous Saturday sales events. It was in fine shape out of my humidor, and kept me company along with a cup of Earl Grey and "The Economist."

Play your cards right tomorrow, and there'll be time for a quick bite in between events at Mai's Thai, which is situated right in front of the cigar store.

Sounds like fun, so I suppose I'll work.

Consider it payment in kind for the recently concluded vacation.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Don't miss Fest of Ale 2006: This Saturday, April 29, at Keg Liquors in Clarksville.

(Note to readers: The third installment of "A Passage to Rogue" is coming tomorrow)

With the arrival of temperate weather comes the outdoor beer festival season, and this year's first entry takes place this coming Saturday (April 29):

Fest of Ale 2006 at Keg Liquors in Clarksville (2 p.m. to 6 p.m.)

The irrepressible owner, Todd Antz, has been working on this one for a long time, and here's his sales pitch for a great lineup of feautured beers.


Please join us for our first ever Beer Festival, we have dubbed Fest of Ale 2006. Falling on the Saturday between Thunder and the Derby, we will have brewers and importers from all around the world on site for a huge event.

So far we have:

Upland Brewing Company (Bloomington, IN)
Bluegrass Brewing Company (Louisville, KY)
Bell’s Brewing (formerly Kalamazoo, brewer of Bell's Beers)
Barley Island Brewing (Noblesville, IN)
Thirsty Dog Brewing
New Albanian Brewing (New Albany, IN)
Browning's Brewing (Louisville, KY)
Wetten Importers (Delirium, Gouden Carolus)
Eurobrew Importers (Xingu, St. Peters)

Our three craft beer distributors (World Class Beverages, Cavalier Distributing, and North Vernon Beverage) will also be there to fill in the gaps with beers not available from our brewers.

There will be food, music, and plenty of great beer. We even have a silent auction planned with all proceeds going to Bridgepointe Goodwill Services. Tickets for this event will be $25 in advance, and $30 the day of the event. Tickets are available for advance purchase from our website at


As NABC's contribution to the fest, and as befits our commitment to "go high, or go home," Brewmeister Jesse Williams is taking a few gallons each of our Hoptimus (Double IPA), Thunderfoot (Cherried Imperial Stout) and a special preview of the this year's edition of ConeSmoker.

Jesse's working the first half of the show, and I'll be there circa 4:00 p.m.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bistro New Albany seems about to commence operations.

Bistro New Albany appears to be ready for liftoff, beginning with lunch hours on Monday, May 1.

Most readers are familiar with the ups and downs of bNA, a downtown New Albany eatery planned for the space at the corner of Market and Bank that formerly did business as the House of Bread.

Rather than provide links to earlier pieces I wrote, it strikes me as more appropriate to provide you with an assessment from one of the partners. Here’s the most recent update on bNA’s status, courtesy of Chef David Clancy, and as posted on Monday, April 24 at Robin Garr’s Louisville Restaurants Forum:


Robin Garr:
I got this from Dave Clancy while we were out of town, regrets that I neglected to post it until now. It's great news for foodies all over the metro.I wanted to take a moment to get you up to speed on what has transpired since February (our opening date was originally projected to be 2/6/2006, as you may recall).

The principal owner (Greg Merz) had physical issues arise that basically brought the whole project to a screeching halt. I have spent the last two months trying to arrange financing to open the business on my own, and was fortunate enough to find a new partner, Dave Himmel, who is just as eager to strike out in the fledgling New Albany market as I am.

We have now come to terms with Greg on a buyout of his business interest in the restaurant, and are slated to open May 1st for full service lunch, followed by full service dinner later in May. The same basic concept remains intact, in that our goal is to bring fine dining to downtown New Albany – affordable, and approachable to a wide demographic.

We will feature tap beers from NABC and BBC brewing, a world class wine list, as well as menus based on local purveyors such as Capriole farms, Kentucky Bison, Lotsa Pasta, Turtle Run etc.

You may feel free to post or use any of this information at your discretion, and my hope is that we can play an integral part in the renewal of downtown New Albany, as it is clearly a city on the move.


As for NABC’s end of the deal, I corresponded with Dave and Dave while visiting the West Coast, and since returning from the trip, I’ve met and spoken with them about the beer selection. Here is my assessment, as posted on the Forum:


As with Greg before, I've been offering beer assistance and suggestions to Dave and Dave. Here is the projection with respect to craft beer at the new bNA. It's a good and balanced list with room for playfulness and seasonal rotations. They're all quality beers with food, and Chef Clancy will be using some of them in his recipes.

1 NABC Community Dark (Dark English Mild)
2 NABC Croupier (English IPA)
3 NABC Elector (Imperial Red?)
4 NABC Bob’s Old 15-B (Porter)
5 Rotating according to season and demand
6 BBC APA (American Pale) Ale
7 BBC Alt (German Altbier)
8 Bell’s Oberon (American Wheat)
9 Rogue Dead Guy (Amer. Hop/Bock hybrid)
10 Spaten Premium Lager (German Lager)

The Bell's and Rogue taps likely will rotate seasonally. The open tap might be almost anything -- subject perhaps to Chef Clancy's culinary needs?


I’ll try to keep Potable Curmudgeon Blog readers posted on hours, menu offerings and other relevant bits of bNA information as the exciting new era dawns.

You're simply going to adore bNA's outdoor seating area, for dining as well as drinking.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Passage to Rogue (Part 2): Russian River and North Coast Gems.

My only previous trip to San Francisco and environs was in 1978, and although it was a memorable week, the untutored and inexperienced mind of a teenaged Hoosier obviously could not be expected to fathom the kaleidoscopic opportunities offered by the world famous metropolis.

From the time Graham and I departed Louisville on April 5, 2006, for the cross-country drive that eventually would place us just south of the Bay Area in historic Monterey, we engaged in detailed daily itinerary discussions, the gist of which evolved into a form of travel triage: Given that he had taken the route previously and I had not, my sightseeing whims would be paramount, but more importantly overall, we agreed that if in doubt, more time would be expended in those places, primarily rural or smaller sized, that were less likely to be revisited easily in the future.

For instance, Memphis. A city well worth visiting for its river history, its delectable barbecued ribs and its playoff-bound NBA team, but one that is easily accessible from Louisville – and consequently, one to be saved for another day.

However, stopping along Highway 1 by a California coastline cove, breathing salt air mists, dipping a toe into the swirling tidal pool and having a crisply hopped craft beer for lunch – maybe actual food, and maybe not – is something to indulged, not deferred.

On Sunday night as we polished off the deliciously greasy pub fare at Monterey’s Mucky Duck and washed it down with fresh Sierra Nevada Porter, Graham and I reached a hard decision about the following day’s schedule.

There simply would not be sufficient time to properly enjoy the city of San Francisco. A mere half day there would amount to little more than a brutal teaser, and barely enough time to get proper bearings, enjoy a good meal and find the Toronado, much less the adequate opportunity to contemplate tourist destinations, cultural attractions and perhaps a baseball game.

Furthermore, I knew that because the annual craft brewers conference was about to convene in Seattle, several people I aimed to meet at breweries located north of San Francisco would likely be out of town if we waited until the middle of the week to drop in and visit them.

And – to be honest – I already could feel the powerful gravitational pull of Rogue Ales even if it were still a few hundred wonderful miles up the Pacific Coast in Newport, Oregon.

With openly acknowledged regrets, we determined to bypass San Francisco this time around with a promise to return and do it right some other day, and with the blessed electronic help of Mapquest, a relatively quick and painless route via San Jose and Oakland’s Interstate system was plotted, with the stated objective of Santa Rosa and liquid lunch at the renowned Russian River Brewing Company in a place otherwise recognized as the gateway to California’s wine country.

Mapquest’s directions were letter perfect, and we jetted through the sprawling collection of cities making up the East Bay just after morning rush hour, passing the hallowed shrine (well, to me) of the Oakland Athletics ballpark, noting with surprise that there’s much more to Oakland than Gertrude Stein ever was willing to let on, catching a few welcomed glimpses of downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge looming to the west, and finally crossing the water at the San Pablo Bay neck by means of the Richmond-San Rafael Toll Bridge, motoring past an ominous San Quentin Prison and into legendary Marin County.

The friendly doors to Russian River Brewing Company were just opening for business when Graham parked the car at the municipal lot adjoining the rear of the brewpub. We dashed through the rain to a waiting seat at the scantily populated bar.

The first sign I saw explained the notion of a Lupulin Threshold Shift, and I knew immediately that it was going to be a very good experience.

Soothingly, it would seem that the Noble Cone ranks highly at Russian River, as the brewer and owner, who had already decamped for the Seattle trade show and was unavailable for questions, is credited with originating the Double (or Imperial) IPA style while working at a brewery nearby in 1994.

His creation now is vended at Russian River under the admirably witty name of Pliny the Elder, the Roman scholar who first provided the Latin name for the hop (Humulus lupulus). As luck would have it, it was temporarily absent from the draft lineup on April 10.

No matter. The brewery’s regular IPA is more than suitable as a hoppy replacement, with tingly loads of the sticky, piney hop character one wishes were dominant in all such creations.

The remainder of the beer list at Russian River is extensive and boasts a number of creative and innovative stylistic entries, including an entire line of Belgian-and French- influenced ales that end with the –tion suffix – consciously mimicking the –ator of German Doppelbock, perhaps? Perdition, Damnation, Salvation, Erudition … and coming soon, Deification.

With the help of our enabling bartender, I sampled nips of a few, and all were quite tasty, as was my calzone. It was one of those places you hate to leave, because the quality of the beer and the food is matched by a commitment to intelligence in marketing. For the opposite of these essential beer qualities, look no further than mass-market beer advertisements on television, which market alcohol-laced soda pop by insulting the intelligence of the viewer.

That many viewers are fully deserving of such treatment is a topic for another day (and another IPA).


Our drive resumed, crossing west through the hills around Sebastopol and meeting Highway 1 at Bodega Bay. Forty miles of lovely coastline followed, until we stopped for a relevant history break at Fort Ross State Historical Park, where an explanation is forthcoming for the presence of rivers named “Russian” and towns called “Sebastopol” in California, which as we know, the United States forcibly wrested from Mexico -- but not before Fort Ross was constructed with virgin timber felled by seafaring colonists of the Russian empire, who were in search of seal pelt riches.

These riches were elusive. The Russian colony was disbanded after four decades of persistent financial losses, and the property was sold to a Mr. Sutter – of Sutter’s Mill fame. Although parts of the fort and various regional geographical appellations have survived the test of time, the Russians did not leave behind a taste for Kvass, their mildly fermented, lightly carbonated staple concocted from black bread and baker’s yeast … and that’s just as well.

See also: Three days that shook my world.

Yet further up the coast is the sleepy hamlet of Albion, which calls to mind New Albion -- not the Pacific Coast as dubbed by the randy sailor, diligent explorer and all-around wild man Sir Francis Drake, but the brewery, a pioneering endeavor well ahead of its time, founded in Sonoma (near Santa Rosa) in 1976 and certainly the first “microbrewery” of the contemporary age.

It sank in 1982, but some of the equipment and the yeast strain were conveyed to the Mendocino Brewing Company, which picked up where New Albion left off and survives today inland at the towns of Hopland and Ukiah after several moves and ownership changes. The current moneymen are brewery investors from India, and that’s not a problem so long as Kingfisher is kept safely out of the equation.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company is located nearby, too (in Boonville), and then there’s North Coast Brewing Company, dating from 1988 and a bona fide classic microbrewer that has persevered to become a major “manufacturing” component of the evolving local economy of its hometown, our Monday destination of Fort Bragg, California.


Fort Bragg, a town of 7,000, traditionally has been referred to as a “blue-collar” kind of place, a working town in contrast with the artist and tourist colony at Mendocino nearby.

A huge Georgia-Pacific complex testifies to the importance of the lumber and wood products industry, but it is now mothballed, and the spacious site awaits redevelopment. Today, the town continues down the increasingly common path of transition to tourism and recreation, centered on regional attractions like the Pacific Ocean, the Shasta Mountains to the east, and the Redwood preserves to the north.

The maker of Red Seal Ale, Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, PranQster Belgian Golden, Scrimshaw Pilsner and the Acme brands, among others, North Coast enjoys widespread respect among craft beer aficionados, and with the brewery’s beers available in Indiana for many years, a loyal following far away from the home base is a vital part of the company’s business plan.

However, getting the beer from Fort Bragg to drinkers worldwide can be somewhat of a bottleneck, as Senior Vice President Doug Moody explained during our orientation tour on Tuesday morning.

The brewery has ever-increasing opportunities to do just this, but these aims are hampered by Fort Bragg’s physical isolation on the coast. Interstate 5 is more than 100 air miles from the town and far longer by winding mountain roads, and although these same roads provide access to the far closer US 101, the same roadway restrictions on tractor-trailer length apply.

The brewery is in the process of negotiating a clever deal with a regional restaurant supply business to ship out beer in the emptied (and properly sized) food trucks heading back south toward the Bay Area, where a North Coast warehouse will be established and stocked to assist the exporting of North Coast beer.

Meanwhile, conveying beer to the taproom and restaurant located across from the brewery on Fort Bragg’s main street might be as simple as rolling out the barrels between passing RV convoys, but as we learned from Doug on Monday afternoon after entering town, the pub and eatery are closed on Monday and Tuesday during the off season. He helpfully suggested that we try The Wharf, situated down the bluff from the highway by the town’s smallish Noyo Harbor, for North Coast beers on tap and top-notch food.

Judged by the relaxing and salutary effect of a grilled local-catch seafood combo and smooth pints of Scrimshaw and Rasputin, he was right on both counts.

On Tuesday morning, following a hearty breakfast and rich black coffee at a funky organic/free range café adjacent to the motel, we proceeded to the brewery and learned about North Coast’s fascinating history.

According to Doug, North Coast’s founder and brewer Mark Ruedrich has followed a brewing philosophy of seeking to avoid the yeast-accented “house character” of many (probably most) microbrew product lines, preferring instead to showcase the malt and hops appropriate for a given style.

For the brewery’s latest new product, Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale, a sense of improvisational proportion would lead one to expect the stray yeasty ester.

Brother Thelonious, an homage to the jazz great Thelonious Monk, and created in conjunction with his Institute of Jazz, is just being released in selected markets and should seep into Indiana later in 2006. Doug gifted Graham and I with short-fill bottles, which we’ll sample once Graham is back in town.

Doug’s comments about the brewery operation were interspersed with observations on the gentrification of Fort Bragg. As the town has become a vacation destination, property values predictably have risen, with the result that it has become increasingly difficult to hire good people owing to the higher cost of living. His passion on this and other topics spoke to the desire on the part of most successful microbrewers to instill a sense of family and shared purpose over and above financial solvency and growth.

One way to achieve the latter without sacrificing the former is diversification. Last year, combined sales of North Coast’s bricks-and-mortar brewery shop and its on-line counterpart reached a million dollars, and this isn’t just tons of Red Seal ball caps going out the door.

It’s a stamp of approval from beer lovers, who are more than willing to return the favor in loyalty when beer quality and company character are prime components of the business plan.

It’s something to strive for – for sure.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Passage to Rogue (Part 1): Through the Desert and into the Trees.

For corn-fed landlubbers like me, there’s something elemental and deeply symbolic about those places on our planet where ocean meets land.

Verily, navigation is treacherous – out amid the vast seas themselves, and also around the multitudes of clichés that have been deployed throughout history to describe the sound, the appearance and the visceral feel of large volumes of salt water coming into shore and hitting rocks that appear to be stationary, but gradually yield to the incessant assault over the eons.

Beaches, both sandy and rocky. Blow holes. Surf, waves, mists and sprays. Undulating, crashing, rocking. Flotsam and jetsam.

I’ve seen a more than a few Atlantic, Mediterranean and Baltic coastal vistas in Europe, by land and by sea, and admired the varied Atlantic shoreline at different times of the year in Maine, South Carolina and Florida. There was even a brief Caribbean idyll more than two decades ago, and I’d consider going there more often if the beer were better and Jimmy Buffett hadn’t already written so many songs and books about it (see “clichés,” above).

Until then, it’s hard to beat the “view” at a beach in France, even if the beer’s not very good there, either.

Prior to catching sight of the Pacific Ocean just north of San Luis Obispo on April 9, it had been all of 27 years – more than half a lifetime – since I’d found myself perched on the American shore of the Pacific Rim, gazing over towards Asia.

In 1978, the occasion was a weeklong visit to San Francisco and a glorious day spent hiking at the Point Reyes National Seashore.

In 2006, the travel plan hatched by my buddy Graham was to take a right turn at San Luis Obispo and drive north along California’s Highway 1 (and later, US Hwy. 101) all the way to Newport, Oregon – home of Rogue Ales and a pilgrimage site all its own.

We knew there would be a few brewery and pub stops along the way – and I’ve heard they even make wine out there, somewhere in California and Oregon, but with only one liver to give, savoring the grape seemed far less likely than draining the grain.


On the morning of April 9, we emerged from a Day’s Inn in Barstow, greeted a temperate and sunny morning, and began driving toward Bakersfield. The previous day had ended with a fittingly surreal passage from the Arizona border through the silence and majesty of the Mojave Desert, with decrepit road signs pointing the way variously to Ludlow, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and with the brooding legacy of the concurrent Route 66 readily available for silent contemplation much of the way.

With the leafier beginnings of America’s national salad bowl within heehawing distance of Buck Owens Boulevard, we ventured west from Bakersfield and crossed the middling Temblor Range on Highway 58, ascending on the eastern side through scrub and dry pastureland, past hundreds of spinning and power generating windmills, then passing through the eerie elevated Carrizo Plain before making the descent past freshly verdant green fields, broadly leafy trees and impossibly fat cattle.

At times, it’s easy to see why the pioneers spoke in terms of a land of milk and honey, especially after a desert passage. The downhill plunge ended in the tidy outskirts of San Luis Obispo, and a few miles further the Pacific Ocean finally was revealed on the horizon near Morro Bay.

The only European parallel to this experience that I can offer is inexact, but the course of our morning’s drive from Bakersfield to San Luis Obispo reminded me of being in Albania in 1994 and traveling the old Italian-built coastal road between Vlore, an Adriatic port city and onetime submarine lair, and gently shabby Saranda, another port that lies south along the gulf facing the island of Corfu.

Both routes – Albanian and Californian – began quite dry, only sparsely vegetated and relatively dusty, and changed dramatically in terms of landscape after the top of the range was mounted and the weather line was crossed.

In both cases, I had a driver, for which I remain thankful. When it comes down to it, I’ve always preferred watching … the scenery, as opposed to the roadway.

The Albanian mountain descent wasn’t as lush and green as California’s, but there were no stolidly ancient olive groves waiting in San Luis Obispo, as there were in Saranda.

The Albanian road was half the width of the California highway, only sporadically paved, and lacking even the most rudimentary of guardrails.

But no one in California was offering freshly roasted lamb at an improvised roadside eatery and slaughterhouse (actually, a slaughter tree), but rest assured, the zesty California-brewed craft beers proved far better than the workmanlike lagers brewed in the Balkans.

The latter fact I sought to reaffirm that very evening after we stopped for the day and set up bivouac at a motel in Monterey, a plush city of Spanish colonial origin situated near the Pebble Beach Golf Course, and consequently one obviously accustomed to entertaining duffers and other travelers who have more than a dollar or two to spend on amenities– as well as the usual assortment of globetrotting English soccer hooligans and associated Euro trash, who in this case probably were making their annual spring migration south for requisite photo-ops at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in LA.

These types generally can be relied upon to locate the nearest pub with a British Isles theme, as Graham and I also promptly did in spite of being headed toward Oregon, not Disneyland.

To be exact, The Mucky Duck, a soothingly lived-in and vaguely English-style pub of long standing in the community, with perfectly appropriate greasy fish and chips and virtually the complete Sierra Nevada product line on draft, including Bigfoot, IPA and the brewery’s always delicious Porter.

Nice. Very, very nice. The passing ruffians were so pleased with it that they didn’t object to standing outside to chain smoke. Pleasant chaps, after all. Hope they do well in the City of Angels.


See also ...

Desert life and a fortunate spin of the wheel. (California arrival)

Backfill: Something to which we all aspire? (San Simeon).

... both at NA Confidential.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

NA's riverfront development district passes first hurdle.

At last week’s New Albany city council meeting, an important economic development proposal passed an initial reading.

Restaurant bill approved 8-0; Eateries would be exempt from liquor-license quotas downtown, by Eric Scott Campbell (News-Tribune).

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to create a riverfront development district where restaurants could buy liquor licenses without adhering to state quotas.

Several business owners spoke in favor of the bill during the public comment period, saying it would attract new restaurants and entertainment. The bill must be approved two more times to become law.

At a previous council meeting in March, the proposal had been tabled. After characterizing the riverfront development district (RDD) as a “no-brainer,” I was surprised that some local businessmen were against it, and later amended my support for the RDD to include the courtesy of briefing existing three-way license holders about the many ways that the availability of non-quota permits might lift all downtown boats.

For background, see these two previous postings:

Leapfrogging the three-way quota? First the City Council must authorize a Riverfront Development project.

NAC swings and misses on the topic of the proposed Riverfront Development Project Area -- a good idea that needs more work.

Predictably, there is an element of community opposition to the RDD that centers on the neo-Prohibitionist refrain that access to liquor should be reduced, not expanded.

It seems to me that one angle has gone unexamined. There is at least a possibility that the availability of non-quota three-way permits at a consistent and fixed price might lead to a “less but better” scenario, in that once freed from the necessity of paying the Indiana quota system’s artificial “secondary market” price, a drinks emporium could emphasize a small selection of quality spirits instead of being forced into selling vast quantities of Jack and Coke to make back the inflated quota fee.

Certainly the RDD would assist in making it possible for someone to open a single malt Scotch bar, or a designer bourbon lounge, although bear in mind that the RDD would do nothing to lessen the red-tape expected of all alcohol license applicants, and in the case of downtown New Albany, many prospective business locations would not be approved owing to the unfortunate proximity of worthy buildings to the city’s far too numerous churches.

To the Curmudgeon, the latter is a clear violation of the separation of church and state, but it’s the law and probably won't be changed for decades to come owing to the prevalence of superstition in the typical Hoosier's diet. The state’s quota system also is the law, and it's idiotic, but at least the RDD provides a mechanism to alleviate some of the idiocy -- and encourages the revitalization of our downtown.

I hope that the council’s congenital obstructionists do not interfere with the progress of the riverfront development district. It’s no panacea – just something that would be quite helpful.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

One fine day in Seattle (Part Two).

The first part of this account of a beautiful day in Seattle can be found at NA Confidential: One fine day in Seattle (Part One).

Tuesday was as good a spring day as you’re likely to have in Seattle, and by early afternoon we’d stashed the rental car in the baseball game day lot on the site of the late and largely unlamented Kingdome, and strolled off for a look at the redevelopment projects under way on the south side of the business district, where Qwest Stadium and Safeco Field (home of the football Seahawks and baseball Mariners, respectively) sit side by side.

Pioneer Square and Commerce Square are entertainment districts of vintage origin and recent re-use, both of them shaded and lined with 19th-century brick commercial buildings returning to utility as offices, galleries, cafes and shops.

Nearby, surrounding the two sports facilities, are numerous old warehouse buildings in the process of conversion into condos, hotels and drinking and dining establishments. In one such building to the west of Safeco, Pyramid Ales – a longtime player in Seattle’s craft beer scene – has its brewery and a two-floor restaurant that was hopping before the baseball game.

Pyramid’s claim to craft beer fame is its infuriating Hefe Weizen, which borrows two-thirds of the Bavarian wheat ale formula – it’s unfiltered and made with wheat – but backs away from the classic style where it means the most, using non-specialized American ale yeast for fermentation, thus sacrificing the fruity/spicy flavors and aromas that characterize the genuine article.

However, Pyramid’s ales are well made – the IPA might have been the first and only choice for me – popular, pleasingly local and far better than mass-market swill.

Safeco Field itself is an engineering marvel, featuring a retractable roof that rolls into place on tracks when needed, and a seating configuration that is among the best I’ve seen in terms of intimacy and sight lines for baseball.

Upper deck seats on the east (right field) side of Safeco provide views of both the Olympic Mountains and the ferries and commercial ships going back and forth, in, out and across Puget Sound.

Safeco Field’s concessions offerings quite possibly are the most comprehensive of any in the country. The usual ballpark staples are freely available – hotdogs, peanuts, popcorn, nachos, soft drinks and fizzy yellow Bud Light – but they’re merely training wheels numbly clanking beneath a considerably higher common denominator for culinary delights and interesting libations.

Take craft beers, for instance.

Actually, I took several.

Good beer is everywhere at Safeco, and it’s not just ghettoized in one or two dispensing stations located on the other side of the field or closed entirely when crowds are small, as was the case during Tuesday night’s Mariners loss to the Texas Rangers.

Local stalwarts Redhook and Pyramid (and the far smaller Snoqualmie) are joined by Oregon brewers Deschutes, Full Sail and Bridgeport. Colorado’s Fat Tire pours alongside Coors. While aficionados might argue, and with merit, that for the most part small producers aren’t present at Safeco, and also point to Redhook’s ballpark sales status as a manifestation of its marketing tie-in with Anheuser-Busch, it remains that such a range of choice, and its pervasiveness within the confines of the venue, is something unprecedented in my experience.

Try imagining anything approaching these many options at Cincinnati’s Great Western Ballpark, much less Louisville Slugger Field, and the scale becomes more obvious.

The one product I sampled from a truly small brewery was Copperhead Pale Ale, from Snoqualmie Brewing Company. The next day, we happened upon the brewery’s taproom after perusing the famous waterfall nearby. It’s about 25 miles east of Seattle.

Of course, if you’ve had too many beers, espresso always is close at hand, albeit from the Starbucks monolith.

When it comes to food at Safeco Field, fans can choose from items like barbecued pork and the fixings, Tex-Mex munchies, full Thai platters and a half dozen varied presentations of sushi (with sake-from-a-box to accompany). These are the eateries I personally witnessed along the field level concourse; there may be others elsewhere.

Sushi and India Pale Ale at a baseball game in Seattle? I couldn’t resist the pairing.

What could be more appropriate given the city’s maritime heritage, its multicultural ethos, the contemporary setting on the Pacific Rim facing the vibrant Asian economies – not to mention the fact that outfielder Ichiro’s status as a bona fide Mariners hero fully incorporates his resume as Japanese baseball legend?

Kids (and adults) dissatisfied with Ichiro’s on-field performance can try to do better at one of the Nintendo game stations for public use, which are located near the children’s play area beyond the centerfield bleacher seats.

To be honest, I’m not sure what variety of sushi I consumed, although I was pleased to read a “raw food” health warning on the plastic package. Whatever it was, I’ve had better at Maido Essential Japanese. But that’s hardly the point.

Sushi and IPA.

At a baseball game.

Coming back to Louisville just keeps getting harder and harder …

Friday, April 21, 2006

A tough job (you know the rest).

Graham’s two-year-old granddaughter looked up at me and smiled knowingly.

She pointed to the beer collection I’ve painstakingly assembled over the course of three decades, and asked, “is there a baby in your stomach?”

Yes, it turns out that Art Linkletter was right, and indeed, they actually do say the darndest things.

Look elsewhere for apologies, because I’ve not become who I am today by displaying a propensity for relinquishing a bar stool without just cause or pushing back from the dinner table before the last plate has been licked.

All the same, it’s a bit much to have the obvious consequences pointed out by such a young and inexperienced observer.

Be that as it may, on Friday, April 14, Eva’s granddaddy and I reached the conclusion of our 3,000-mile road trip from Louisville, Kentucky to Portland, Oregon.

Along the way there were ample opportunities to expand the waistline by broadening the palate – by one preliminary estimate, perhaps as much as 15 pounds worth.

Dining highlights were varied and numerous, ranging from pulled pork barbecue in Oklahoma City to grilled oysters in Newport, Oregon, with bits of Tex-Mex (Albuquerque) and a Kobe (USA) beef burger with blue cheese (Newport, again) thrown in for good measure. From veggie gourmet pizza in Portland OR to organic, free-range goodies on the breakfast menu in Fort Bragg CA, the eating was uniformly excellent throughout.

There was even time for a pastry or three along the road. Graham proved to be roughly half the eater of the Curmudgeon, providing several opportunities to sample his food, too.

Hence his granddaughter’s prescient, albeit youthful, eye.

The beer tally began slowly owing to the relative poverty of the Great Plains when it comes to craft beer. Our first evening’s restaurant stop in the Oklahoma City exurb provided an opportunity to drink the much adored Shiner Bock, a Texas legend that is better viewed as a Potemkin village (nice label, but there’s no “there” there).

Things improved dramatically in New Mexico, with worthwhile brewpub stops in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Flagstaff’s Beaver Street Brewery was another good find. From San Luis Obispo and north along the coast, craft beer affairs began to intensify.

Suddenly, there were more breweries, beers and choices than time to investigate them, and we began to declare priorities and bypass otherwise deserving destinations.

Of course, the highlight was Rogue Ales in Newport, Oregon. There’ll be more to come on that particular Beer Mecca.

Close behind: North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg, California. A great morning tour concluded with the gift of two short-fill bottles of Brother Thelonious, NC’s new Belgian-style ale, which Graham and I plan on sampling once he returns.

With dozens of drinking establishments for the choosing in Portland, just as many were regrettably omitted during a short three-day stay (my wife and I stayed the weekend after bidding Graham adieu).

The Biscuit-less Horse Brass Pub had some great regional ale on tap -- and a dense carpet of cigarette smoke that reduced visibility to three feet or less. Perhaps not everything about Portland is green.

In spite of the upscale appearance, I actually enjoyed the swanky Henry’s 12th Street Tavern even though it’s part of a multi-state chain. It is located in a building formerly belonging to the defunct Henry Weinhard’s brewery (a classical age staple in Oregon).

During two separate visits to Henry’s, I sampled five of the tavern’s hundred draft beers (most micros and craft brews), and all were in good shape. There’s an inexpensive happy hour snack menu, too.

Portland’s Nob Hill/NW 23rd Avenue corridor begins just a block from the B & B where we stayed, and there are numerous options along it, including a couple of McMenamins theme bars and the NW Public House branch of Laurelwood Brewing Company. The daily special New Zealand lamb chops were fat and succulent, and the IPA appropriate.

In fact, given the chance, IPA matches just about anything.

I suppose it wasn’t necessary to travel all that way to prove what I already knew, but it was worth the rigorous scientific testing – and Eva’s observation.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Back home again in Indiana (why?)

The trip's over, and reality is setting in.


It was inconvenient to use the Internet at several points during the past few days, which accounts for the paucity of material, but daily posting will now resume as I sort through the backlog of scribbling and photos.

Without it being a full-time job, comprehensiveness with respect to the beer scenes in Portland and Seattle would be almost impossible. It's fairly incredible, really.

Here's the answer to Ed's question: I did not see Phil "Biscuit" T., as he was out of town (with a girlfriend, according to the bartender at the Horse Brass).

Graham was to have seen him yesterday, so we'll have to wait until he gets back before receiving a report.

More after I'm better organized ...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


We've entered the home stretch, with Graham left behind to visit his son's family in Portland, and the Missus and I staying with her friend in a suburb or Seattle.

Tonight: Mariners vs. Rangers, and a look at the state-of-the-art Safeco Field, retractable roof, sushi, craft beer and all.

Currently I'm transmitting from one of the city's 415,000 wi-fi friendly coffee shops. Good beer abounds; last night, I plucked a six-pack of Alaskan Amber off the supermarket shelf (hoping that Dave's reading).

For more on the Portland wrap-up, see "Three days that shook my world," at NA Confidential.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Diplomacy in Rogue Nation.

Okay, okay -- you want to know why the narrative has been interrupted? Try spending two days residing in a guest room located above the tap room of one of the microbrewing world's premier breweries.

The legendary Jim Cline of Rogue Ales, Special Ed (Rogue Nation chieftain) and the blogger celebrate the end of the Rogue brewery tour on Thursday, April 13.

We're pictured in the bar at the Rogue Public House, located on the bayfront of Newport, with commercial fishing installations just across the street. The brewery's across the harbor.

Where to begin? Great folks, numerous varieties of distinctive beer, drinking establishments on both sides of the harbor, wearables and gear, a new and growing distillation operation (Northwestern botanicals in a gin, for example, and also a craft vodka), oyster shooters and Kobe beef burgers, more great folks ... the list goes on and on.

Rogue is a prime exemplar of the human element in craft brewing. There is a palpable spirit of mischief worthy of the brewery's name.

For those of you urging a group trip to Oregon and Washington ... there is hope. I've been having an absolutely wonderful time.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Alive and well in the City of Roses.

Loyal readers, don't hold it against me when there's been to much great beer to drink and not enough time to write about it.

Suffice to say, the sojourn to Newport, Oregon for a visit to Rogue Nation has already passed into legend. There might be photos soon.

Currently, we're in Portland, and after 3,000 miles, Graham is handing me off t the missus for the next phase of the trip.

And the meeting with our beloved Phil "Biscuit" Timperman? Well, let's just say that thanks go out to Charles Porter (onetime brewer at Bloomington Brewing and Upland, now at Full Sail) for serving as guest-host when Biscuit elected to visit San Francisco at the last moment.

On to Seattle. More later.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

North Coast Brewing visit yields jazzy ale.

We began the day with an incredible organic breakfast at a diner adjoining our cheap motel in Fort Bragg, California, then drove two blocks down the street of the coastal tourist town -- it was pouring rain, after all -- to North Coast Brewing Co., maker of Old Rasputin, Red Seal and PranQster, among other classic microbrews.

It was morning tour time, courtesy of Doug Moody, the brewery's VP and National Sales Manager.

We learned many things, but for now, the part worth reporting is the creation of a new beer: Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale.

Our bottles are short fills. They've survived tonight ... but tomorrow will be another story.

Monday, April 10, 2006

More "Albuquerque Confluence" photos.

Courtesy of Steve and Caroline, here are a few views of our New Mexico night on the town, which included Il Vicino's (Nob Hill), Kelly's (the blurry one, courtesy of a friendly but shivering server), and then back to the Magic Trunk for Steve's belated taste of Gravity Head (NABC Thunderfoot, on tap in the hotel parking lot and not back in New Albany).

Thanks again, guys. It was a fine evening.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

An evening in Albuquerque.

Friday proved to be a lovely day to glide down to Albuquerque from Santa Fe, enjoy some good Tex-Mex for lunch, then hook up with friends for a few pints.

When Graham and I arrived at the Il Vicino brewery tap on Vasser (in the northeast quadrant of the city), it was 4:15 p.m., and only a dozen or so people were there. Within an hour, it was jam-packed with loyal regulars.

Il Vicino is a local/regional Italian restaurant chain that has been brewing since 1994. Currently the brewing takes place at the industrial park location shown above and below, with only a tiny tap room and a vibrant patio for beer service on site. What the location lacks in ambience (actually, not much), it compensates with the evangelical fervor of its customers. As with Second Street Brewing in Santa Fe, it was a great demographic cross-section of people.

Beer scribe and resident Stan Hieronymus met us at the tap room, and he introduced Brady, Il Vicino's brewer, who found time while working to pour samples of some upcoming seasonals brewed with Belgian yeast. Soon our friend Steve Bohannon arrived, and after that his girlfriend Caroline, and we embarked on a journey to Central Avenue. If you've been to Bardstown Road in Louisville, then you have an idea of Central in Albuquerque. It's near the campus of the University of New Mexico, and was filled to the brim with youthful revelers.

We dined at the Il Vicino's Nob Hill outpost (extra anchovies, please), then found it impossible to resist certain warnings we'd been given about Kelly's Brewery & BYOB, an industrial strength college-aged party center, brewery and brew-on-premise located right across the street.

The Kelly's venue is fun -- it's an old gas station and auto showroom, and huge ... and loud .. and any minute I expected someone to uncoil a garden hose and spray the place down. Friday night, all right; plastic cups, televised sports and expired fruit sections meant for Corona and foo foo drinks, but more so than that, Kelly's shall now be known as the home of sour banana Belgian Dubbel, although in fairness the Imperial Stout was drinkable.

I know -- I was warned. Sometimes you have to crane your neck and gaze at the wreck.

Much fun was had by all, and we made it back to the hotel reasonably early and fit for driving 600 more miles on Saturday.

Private to medrep.

You have been made aware of the house rules for posting comments, and yet you persist in ignoring them.

It's annoying to interrupt a pleasure trip to remind you of this ... just be aware that anything you post to any of my blogs will be deleted at the first opportunity -- even if you're in agreement with me -- until you comply, as you have politely been asked to do more than once.

Thanks, ya big lug ya.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Santa Fe, sans Atcheson & Topeka.

Santa Fe, New Mexico -- a four hundred year old city.

We're 7,000 feet up, having labored through 500 miles of 50 mph headwinds from OK City and Amarillo. The reward? Beer, of course. First up is the Blue Corn Cafe, a brewery on the outskirts, in the exurb, and a block away from the sufficiently cheap Comfort Inn.

A bit sterile, but reputedly good food. My IPA and Porter both were technically proficient, and I could have had more than one of each. Getting the attention of our "next American Idol" singing bartender was somewhat difficult.

Next up was Second Street Brewery, which was much more like it. A diverse clientele ranging from stoners to three-piece suits, a marvelous Thursday curry special and top-flight beer (IPA, ESB and Imperial Stout) helped to take the edge off of a day's worth of dust storms and wind resistance. Funky and heartily recommended.

Friday morning, the plan is to spend time in the historic heart of Santa Fe before making a short hop to Albuquerque. Saturday, it's California ... maybe.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Greetings from Oklahoma City.

850 miles later, we're well on the way to Santa Fe.

In Cave City, Kentucky, we stopped for coffee at a stop 'n' rob adjacent to the Dinosaur World and unexpectedly met the self-described Commonwealth bow hunting champion, who described bagging a dove.

West of Nashville, it was time for a rest stop:

In West Memphis, Graham added a quart of oil to the top-performing Crown Vic.

My first ever visit to Arkansas left me amazed that it produced a leader of the free world, and a token spitwad was aimed at the random Wal-Mart. The wind's been up in Oklahoma, and Thursday might be stormy on the way to New Mexico. Here's an overturned semi in the middle of OK City (Lloyd, we cringed for you).

By the way, the draft system in the trunk works (Hoptimus in the Super 8 plastic glass). There are a few brewpubs here in OK City, but after all those miles, the Kings-Spurs and NABC sounds better than going back out.

More tomorrow ...

Luggage? We don't need no stinking luggage.

They're not open containers ... yet, and they're safely stored in the trunk.

The idea is swap growlers of NABC beer for growlers of brewpub beer along the route West. If there's any left, it can be shared with friends like Biscotti in Portland and environs.

Road trip!

NABC St. Radegund Bitter honors a pub, a publican and a dragonslayer.

In 1998, my longtime friends Russell "Roz" Tate and Jason Masingo were in Cambridge, U.K., doing summer program course work. Dr. Donald “Uncle Don” Barry and I joined Roz and Jason for three days of intensive pub crawling and extensive research into the phenomenon of cask-conditioned ales.

My friends already had settled on the ideal venue for “real” ale: The St. Radegund. It’s the sort of pub we’d all like to frequent, with a small but well-selected range of libations and three hand pumps pouring fresh and superbly tended English ale.

The landlord, Terry Kavanagh, turned out to be one of those larger-than-life drinks impresarios glimpsed periodically in literature, but in this instance flesh-and-blood, warm, garrulous and welcoming, yet unwilling to suffer a fool for the sake of a pound. There need to be more like him.

This web comment (see link above) says it all:

“My only concern about the place is that its life expectancy is linked to that of Terry the landlord's liver.”

In 2006, when NABC’s brew crew of Jesse Williams and Jared Williamson announced their intention of making an authentic English bitter designed expressly for the Rich O’s cask cabinet, it seemed like an obvious step to honor the St. Radegund with naming rights for the ale.

But who exactly was St. Radegund?

The pub's name derives from a 12-century Benedictine nunnery in Cambridge that was dedicated both to St. Mary and St. Radegund; Jesus College later was contructed at the site of the nunnery.

For the rest of the story, we turn back to Roz Tate, currently an adjunct lecturer in history at Indiana University Southeast:

The early-medieval line of Frankish kings was the Merovingians. They were rulers of the Franks during the collapse of the Roman Empire and during the beginning of the Dark Ages. It was they who moved the Franks out of Germania and into the area we now call Belgium after the fall of Rome in the west.

Clovis was the most famous of the Merovingians. He ruled the Franks from AD 481 to 511. It was Clovis I who expanded Frankish rule into the lands we now call France. Clovis died in 511 at Paris. His kingdom was divided between his 4 sons. The one you need to know is Clothar I.

Clothar was king of 1/4 of the Frankish kingdom until his brothers one by one died from illnesses or in battle.

Clothar then became King of all the Franks from 568-561, when he died.

(NOTE: You will see the following spellings of his name: Chlothar, Chlotaire, Clotar, Clothar and Lothar. The last, "Lothar," is inaccurate! There is no Frankish King Lothar in the 6th century. In fact, Lothar I does not come along until the 9th century. Clothar is the most accurate and the best choice.)

Clothar had 4 wives, one being Radegunda. Here's how it happened.

Radagunda was born c.520 into the house of a minor Germanic king, who feuded with his brother for power over the German Kingdom of Thuringia. Around 530, the uncle won the feud and killed his brother. This left Radegunda orphaned, but controlled by her uncle, who now ruled Thuringia.

In 531, Clothar crushed the Thüringen army and took control of the kingdom AND Radagunda, whom he eventually married. Clothar had 4 wives, but Radegunda is the only one you need to know.

Clothar felt threatened by Radegunda's brother, so he had him killed. This so hurt Radegunda that she ran away and turned to God for salvation and comfort. She decided to found a nunnery at Poitiers (Christianity was spreading throughout western Europe during this time, so ANY new churches/nunneries were big deals in Rome).

She was successful. Apparently, Clothar felt some remorse over his murder of Radegunda's brother, so he fronted her some cash. The nunnery became famous and the legend of Radegunda began to grow. There are stories of miracles that were performed by her, including the curing of infirmities of all kinds, leprosy and there are also stories of her extreme kindness. There is also a legend of her single-handedly slaying a dragon (a popular story of the time period, symbolic of Christianity's victory over paganism/evil).

In reality, she took the cross herself, but did not become abbess of the nunnery, just a very famous nun. Radegunda died on August 13, 586 (some say 587). Her funeral was three days later, and it was attended by Bishop Gregory of Tours and the priest/poet Fortunatus, who became Bishop of Poitiers in AD 600. Both men left behind historical writings of her life.

Spellings you will see are Radagunda, Radagunde and Radagundis, the first being most common.

She was canonized and is now St. Radegund, patron saint of Poitiers.

Half the batch of NABC’s commemorative St. Radegund Bitter will be served by hand pump for the next few weeks. The other half will be poured by the usual CO2 dispense.

The recipe used will remind some drinkers of NABC Beak’s Best, but it’s a different ale, with all English malt and a bit sharper hop bite. The abv is in the vicinity of 5.7%, making it milder than most NABC beers but stronger than most cask ales in the U.K.

Remember that by using the cask breather, we’re able to prolong the life of the naturally-conditioned ale, so you’ll have ample opportunity to indulge in the sort of scientific sampling that we undertook back in Cambridge in ’98.


(photo credit here)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Beer in Old Albania, and the "blessed unrest bawdy Balkan bacchanal."

Back in January, I received a note from New York City from a woman who had stumbled across the New Albanian Brewing Company’s web site during the course of Internet research on the country of Albania.

Or, as I call it now, “Old Albania.”

Last year I reprinted an article from 1994, entitled "Beer in the Land of the Eagle." As the photo at left indicates, the Tirana brewery has managed to add labeling during the intervening 12 years.

Back home in New Albany, “New Albanian” always has been intended as a two-sided pun, one that refers to a resident of the Indiana city and all things pertaining to it, as well as the small but fascinating European country.

As it turned out, my correspondent was soliciting donations for a fundraising event on behalf of artistic expression in Kosova, the Albanian-dominated breakaway province soon likely to be permanently detached from Serbia.

I’m not about to take a position on this likely geopolitical step, and it was impossible to provide beer, but donating a couple of New Albanian t-shirts to the organizers struck me as appropriate.

NABC in NYC … anyway, here’s a description of the fundraiser and a link to the web site.

blessed unrest bawdy Balkan bacchanal

A benefit event to support an International Theatrical Collaboration between blessed unrest and Teatri Oda of Prishtina, Kosova

Saturday, April 8th, 2006, 7:30-10:30 pm, 500 West 52nd Street, 2nd Floor, New York City.


(photo credit here)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Miller CEO: “It is as if we were promoting beer as the official beverage of the knuckleheads.”

Good morning, class.

Please read the following article from MarketWatch, as submitted by Hank.

When you've finished, go to your refrigerator for a craft beer appropriate for the time of day, season and mood. Enjoy the nose, noting the balance of hop and malt. Pour lovingly into a glass. Cherish the flavor components that are typical of the style.

Consider these questions in the context of the MarketWatch article:

Does Mr. Adami accurately diagnose the problem with mass-market swill?

Does he offer a viable solution by addressing the conceptual nature of mass-market swill?

Is the swillocracy capable of reforming itself, or must we destroy it and start again from scratch?

Enjoy the remainder of your craft beer.


Miller CEO: Beer at a crossroads

LAS VEGAS (William Spain; – 3/6/06) -- In another public acknowledgement of domestic beer's woes, the chief executive of Miller Brewing told a crowd of bar owners Monday that the industry is at a "critical crossroads," as it faces flat growth and surging competition from other alcoholic beverages.

After decades of innovative marketing that brought beer's share of the market to about 61% in the mid 1990s, brewers fell into a pattern of "sameness in message, sameness in look and sameness in our products," Norman Adami told attendees at the annual Nightclub & Bar Show here.

Companies like Miller, a unit of SABMiller, and archrival Anheuser-Busch were once among the country's "ideal marketers, right up there with the Nikes and the Apples," he added.

But as consumers began to look for more personalization and sophistication, Adami noted, the business failed to catch on quickly enough. Brewers stuck to the formulas that had worked before: mass-advertising campaigns with lots of bikinis and bad jokes.

"We were promoting sameness and increasingly going lowbrow. It is as if we were promoting beer as the official beverage of the knuckleheads," the executive said. Yet the consumer "was looking for more diversity and style."

As a result, the growth of wine and spirits is "significantly outpacing the growth of beer," Adami asserted, with the exception of imports and microbrews, which continue to grow at a good clip.

To fight back, Miller is overhauling the packaging and marketing of its big domestic brands, including Lite, Genuine Draft and High Life, while heavily promoting imports including Pilsner Urquell and Peroni.

After some very tough years, "Miller has basically been able to stabilize its portfolio and we feel we have established a platform for sustainable growth," Adami told MarketWatch after his speech.

He added that he sees some signs of "a reawakening in the American beer business. I believe the industry is going to get its marketing mojo back."

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Mailbag: Gwatkin ciders and perry in polypins?

Reader question:

A couple of years ago, you ran a special at Rich O’s and had plastic barrels filled with English cider. When are you going to do it again?

The 6-gallon faux barrels we had that time are called polypins, which are food-grade plastic of some variety with a convenient spigot on the side for dispensing.

These polypins were brought to us by the B. United International importing powerhouse, and were filled with three libations from the U.K.: Gwatkin Yarlington Mill (a single varietal cider), Gwatkin Scrumpy (a blend) and Gwatkin Blakeney Red Perry (pear cider).

They’re still listed at the company’s web site.

David Frost, my diligent B. United representative, has confirmed that his firm isn’t currently importing these products owing to lack of demand stateside.

Too bad!

Not only were the ciders and perry quite good, but they also required little upkeep. We merely moved the polypins in and out of the walk-in cooler and poured them from the top of the cask ale cabinet behind the bar.

David promises that B. United will keep us in mind should the opportunity arise to purchase Gwatkin polypins again.