Thursday, December 30, 2010

It's the end of an era on Friday at the Pizzeria & Public House.

I will be at the NABC Pizzeria & Public House at lunchtime tomorrow (New Year’s Eve) smoking a cigar, because when we reopen for business on Monday, January 3, ours will be a newly minted smoke-free facility.

We first made the announcement in August …

The NABC Pizzeria and Pub will be smoke-free as of January 1, 2011.

… and now the appointed time finally has arrived, although in an odd, seemingly premature way. It was the subject of my Wednesday Weekly column last week:

Wednesday Weekly: Sadness at the passing of a regular habit?

Transitions of any sort are challenging, and I think way too much – always have, and probably always will. Just the same, the overwhelming motifs in my consciousness as we prepare to move forward into a brand new year are images from the past, which are becoming very dim in the rearview mirror. That’s because in 2011, NABC will be doing its level best to reinvent itself in a future tense, and to some extent, history will be both made and relegated.

Those who know me best always say that it isn’t necessary for me to try to explain myself; it invariably gets me into trouble, but it’s something I can’t turn off. As much as I might like to qualify it, the fact remains that the beer business with which I’ve been associated for almost twenty years always has been an extension of my own personality, and so when it comes to making policy changes like implementing a smoke-free workplace and radically reforming the guest beer program – simultaneously – there is a rigorous self-examination prefacing the public’s knowledge of the new direction.

Which is to say: These matters impact me, too.

A seismic shift in my professional “beer life” commenced about three years ago, and the aftershocks finally have awakened me to the next phase, to where I need to be, and where I hope many of us are heading. I’m grateful for the wake-up call. If you are out and about at lunchtime on Friday, December 31, I’ll be smoking a cigar at my own bar for the last time, so join me.

As a postscript, the smoke-free workplace may soon be a statewide phenomenon. In his most recent column in the New Albany Tribune, State Representative Ed Clere had this to say:

CLERE: Session will require resolve from all

... Typical New Year’s resolutions are also relevant to state government ...

... Quit smoking: A statewide smoking ban seems inevitable. Indiana is among a dwindling number of states that do not have some type of statewide ban. Support for a ban appears to be growing. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has made a total ban on smoking in the workplace one of its 2011 legislative priorities, and earlier this month, Gov. Mitch Daniels said he would sign a ban. First, of course, the legislature would have to pass one, and the Senate has snuffed out recent attempts.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

NABC label ink at beernews.com

It's the great Internet news source where I go to view labels and read press releases from breweries across the country, and perhaps NABC's inaugural appearance there: http://beernews.org

New Albanian bottles to debut later this winter

(New Albanian, IN) – Look for some new bottles in the Hoosier State coming early next year ...

Bacchus reconsidered, and just in time.

See, it's what I've always told you: Art and alcohol go together -- and what better time than Saturnalia!

Juiced in time: BacchusGod of ritual madness, abandon and ecstasy, Bacchus is the true deity of the season, inspiring artists from Titian to Twombly, by Jonathan Jones (Guardian)

Been drinking at Christmas? Planning a drink for the new year? Then let's celebrate the true god of this season: Bacchus.

Wednesday Weekly: The 'Ville, Indy and the base of the craft beer pyramid.

I’ve always maintained that Louisville is a great beer town, given the circumstances of geography and history which might otherwise argue against the city’s prospects.

Louisville is Southern, but it isn’t Mississippi, either. It’s a rather Northern version of Southern, with bits of the best of both worlds.

Louisville generally represents the highest cultural and educational aspirations to be found in Kentucky, the hinterlands of which perpetually resent the state’s biggest city precisely because of its cosmopolitan strivings, causing me to respect Louisville’s upward arch all the more.

Louisville’s tenure as an Ohio River port is helpful, although being a seaport would be even better; then again, proximity to the ocean hasn’t much helped New Orleans or Miami become great beers in the sense of Seattle, Baltimore and San Diego, which amply prove my “ports as great beer towns” rule of thumb.

Louisville enjoys a diverse and profuse restaurant and dining scene, and maybe some of this depth of appreciation for good food spills over into the realm of better beer, informing our pursuit of more challenging beverages.

Louisville has been home to top-shelf founding beer evangelists, and boasts watering holes of upper-echelon quality, with people and places in it for the long haul, including owners, brewers, bartenders and staff at Rocky’s and the sadly defunct Fat Cat’s (1980’s); Silo (also dead), Bluegrass Brewing Company, Rich O’s, the Irish Rover, the O’Shea’s pub empire (1990’s); and Cumberland Brews, Browning’s and too many second- and third-generation establishments to count in the past ten years. Louisville attracts beer business gamers and lifers, adds constantly to the list -- and the quality shows.

---

As for me, having lived this good beer life since the first Reagan administration, and passed my time both as active participant and periodic voyeur as years have gone by and changes unfolded, Louisville’s status as great beer town makes me feel proud and vindicated, although of late, to be honest, I find myself a bit troubled.

Are we falling behind?

These thoughts are an effort to put my tremulous finger on what’s bothering me; accordingly, I don’t pretend they’re entirely formed, or finalized to any firm degree. You see, if you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll find a lengthy list of links that chronicle existing and forthcoming breweries in the city of Indianapolis, two hours to the north.

Not so long ago, there were only two main areas of choice for locally-brewed craft beer in Indy: The three chain brewpubs downtown (Alcatraz, Ram and Rock Bottom), and the two independents in Broad Ripple (Broad Ripple Brewing and Brugge Brasserie).

There also were a handful of “good beer bars,” as in the case of the Marvin-era Chalkie’s in Castleton and Mike DeWeese’s BW3 downtown.

Now, five or so years later, there has been a veritable explosion of better beer options, and gazing at the boom from afar, it appears that brewery start-ups are leading the way forward, which is precisely as it should be. By early 2011, the Indianapolis metro area’s working brewery population easily could double in number, dwarfing Louisville’s roster.

As noted here previously, Indiana’s list of distinct brewing companies is approaching 40, and may already be there. When beer writer John Holl’s book about Indiana breweries is published this spring, it will be the third such volume in a year. Indiana is hot.

Obviously, donning my business-sized fedora for a moment, I hope to capitalize on this brewing profusion by rededicating the Public House’s draft lines to emphasize these Indiana beers, of which we brew just a few, too. It will give us a product that cannot be found to the same extent across the river.

But I digress, and this isn’t the point of today’s rumination.

---

Rather, it is this: Why is it that until only recently, given Indianapolis’s urban clout and its economic strength, both as crossroads of America and as state capital, it clearly underperformed when it comes to beer brewed locally within its metropolitan parameters, but now is going stratospheric?

And, why is it that Louisville, previously hitting way above its economic and geographic weight in terms of locally brewed beer, is stagnant in terms of brewery start-ups?

Apart from the brewery expansion projects undertaken by three of its pre-existing brewers (BBC St Matthews, Cumberland and NABC) and the presence of two contract ventures lacking bricks and mortar, we’re standing stock still. Where’s the new blood to impel evolution?

Yes, I know. Indianapolis is different from Louisville in many ways. Yet, it seems to me that in Indy, an area not lacking in the best American craft beers and world imports as provided by homegrown wholesalers like World Class and Cavalier, the focus turns increasingly toward an expansion of locally brewed craft breweries – those clearly comprising the foundation of the craft beer pyramid as it should be anywhere that purports to be a great beer town.

Isn’t it axiomatic? How can a town really be a great beer town if the prime focus isn’t on its own, unique, locally brewed beers? Would you go to Bamberg just for the Café Abseits, as wonderful as it is? Or do you go because there are nine breweries there?

In Louisville, we’re just not spawning new breweries, with the pre-existing expansions and contract exceptions already noted. Overall, Louisville as a still-great beer town seems largely content to protect consumer comfort zones, and indulge in the habit of looking further afield to adopt as its “local” beers those coming from other places.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, although it raises an eyebrow, doesn’t it? In my experience, the quality of locally brewed beer in Louisville is uniformly excellent. There’ll always be unique specialties and rarities, but on an everyday basis, why look elsewhere?

Am I forced to conclude that as a beer town, Louisville still is suffering through a small market, “inferiority complex” phase, having less to do with quality than perceived image? Is it that locally brewed craft beers are considered insufficiently trendy or not hip enough, and instead, palates are diverted to other locales to provide panache, star power and RateBeer tasting comments memorized by rote, if not actual experience?

These questions plague me. Maybe I worry too much.

Does this quasi-attention-deficit disorder owe to a neglect of the metro market by local brewers? Is it because local brewers in Louisville have not provided beers worthy of attention? Are we somehow screwing up?

On all counts, no, I think not.

Wonderful beer is being brewed in Louisville … as well as in Indianapolis, except that in Indy, it’s leading to greater interest in locally brewed beer and new start-up investments in locally brewed beer. In Louisville, outside of reinvestment by existing brewers (admittedly, a very hopeful phenomenon) it is not, and because of this, diversity and innovation surely suffer.

That’s why I fear we’re slipping, and that shelves groaning with beers from other cities, once a cause for joy, instead is impetus for mild concern in today’s evolving marketplace.

I may be right, and just as easily, I may be wrong.

Feel free to debate, affirm and disprove.

One thing I can say is this: My energies in 2011, and in the years to follow, will continue to be devoted to advancing “betterbeerthink” as it pertains to the cause of locally brewed beer in Louisville. Thanks for reading, thinking and drinking.

Metromix 2010 Local Brewing Guide: New and Proposed Breweries in the Indy area

Metromix 2010 Local Brewing Guide: Alcatraz Brewing Company

Metromix 2010 Local Brewing Guide: Barley Island Brewing Company

Metromix 2010 Local Brewing Guide: Broad Ripple Brewpub

Metromix 2010 Local Brewing Guide: Brugge Brasserie and Brewing

Metromix 2010 Local Brewing Guide: Oaken Barrel Brewing Company

Metromix 2010 Local Brewing Guide: Ram Restaurant and Brewery

Metromix 2010 Local Brewing Guide: Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery - College Park

Metromix 2010 Local Brewing Guide: Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery - Downtown

Metromix 2010 Local Brewing Guide: Sun King Brewing Company

Metromix 2010 Local Brewing Guide: Other Breweries in the Greater Indy Area

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kopke a smash hit at Pants Down Potluck Port Drinkers Circle.




Thanks to Kopke for doing it right, to David DuBou of Vintner Select for an entertaining and informative presentation, and to Amy Weatherford for the photos.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Knights of the Beer Roundtable: Top Three finish for Beak's

There's nothing wrong with 3rd place with competition this fierce. Follow the link and read the comments for all the beers considered in 2010 ... the lineup's impressive, indeed.

The 2010 Knights of the Beer Roundtable Beer of the Year - Brugge Brasserie's Spider

Brugge Brasserie Spider 16.0 pts.
People's Hopkilla 9.5
NABC Beak's Best 7.5

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sundays in Indiana?

A number of blog readers have sent links from various news outlets previewing this story. When the curtain rises on the 2011 legislature, it will be the same basic outline as before: Grocery and convenience stores wish to dismantle remaining Sunday alcohol sales restrictions and discard the time-honored ban on cold beer at places also selling to-go gasoline (among others), while package store interests see the beginning of the end for the small family liquor store if competition is opened up. Both "sides" are right, in their own way.

Now what? I suppose that's why we elect these folks.

New Effort For Sunday Alcohol Sales To Be Launched In Indiana, by Gabe Bullard (WFPL)

The Indiana General Assembly will convene next month, and among the first bills introduced will be a measure to lift restrictions on alcohol sales. Some lawmakers and retailers are making yet another attempt at easing regulations.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday Weekly: Sadness at the passing of a regular habit?

The announcement was made some months back, and consequently, everyone involved has had plenty of time to prepare for it.

Now, it’s almost here.

On January 3, when NABC’s original Pizzeria & Public House re-opens for business in 2011 following two days closed (New Year’s Day and the usual Sunday), we’ll be smoke-free.

Beginning on the 3rd, smoking no longer will be permitted inside the building at 3312 Plaza Drive – the entire building. No hidden nooks and crannies, and no exceptions, at least if I have anything to say about it. If we’re going to do it, it should be done correctly, or not at all.

Human nature being what it is – customarily dilatory – there was a flurry of “pro” and “con” comments just after the original announcement, and then relative quiet; now, as the “dreaded” day draws near, the prospective policy change has been mentioned a couple of times in conversation, and I’ve started thinking about it again.

My conclusion?

There isn’t anything dreadful about it, not at all, at least for the majority of patrons and workers.

It continues to surprise me that even the employees who smoke support the idea of a smoke-free building; in fact, they’re the ones who reintroduced the idea in the first place. Servers are on the front line, and no one knows daily conditions better than they do. If they’re willing to step outside at intervals in order to ensure a full dining room (and more tips), it’s a powerful argument in favor of modernity.

At the same time, there are moments in life when you find yourself standing quite clearly on the wrong side of history, and unfortunately for self-identified regulars who smoke, this is one of those times. For them, a smoking ban is a threat, an affront, and perhaps a mortal insult, and in many ways, I sincerely regret the inconvenience to them. Following is a Facebook comment excerpt from one of them, who I’ve known for a very long time.

“The decision will be bad for most of the regulars, but good for the business (and there will simply be a new group of regulars sprout on the couches like so many potatoes.) I have thought for a LONG time the Sportstime side needed to go non-smoking. There is no division there to separate tables and toddlers. But, I feel the backroom of Rich O’s should stay smoking, at least Mon.-Thurs., when it is full of mostly smoking regulars and there is rarely a wait in non-smoking. Fri.-Sat. may still have smoking regulars, of course, but there is almost always a wait in non-smoking those nights. But policies drawn with wide, straight lines tend to be easier for others to follow. So yes, the smoking will send me out. I cannot imagine that is any kind of surprise, or concern."


They're reasonable thoughts, and although I might choose to tackle the clauses one at a time, much of it can be summarized thusly: Bans on indoor smoking are about workplace safety, period.

If second-hand smoke is harmful, and I personally have come to accept that it is, if to a still uncertain extent, there is no way to protect the health of workers except to make the smoking ban uniform. Compromises are impossible to incorporate, and before someone asks, I opposed the New Albany council’s citywide ban (over-turned by mayoral veto in 2008) precisely because it was porous. If universality in my own place, or the entire city, means that I must give up my cherished cigars indoors, then so be it.

However, since I first read the above earlier today, my thoughts have veered away from pure considerations of the indoor smoking issue.

Instead, I’ve been considering what it means to be a regular in this tobacco-laden context. The complaints about the smoking policy change that I’ve heard so far have come almost entirely from frequent customers who’ve spent much time and money seated in one or both sides of the operation, smoking before, during and after eating and drinking.

Not for a moment is it my intention to be anything but grateful for their patronage over the past years, and it is my sincere hope that when a bit of time has passed, that there’ll still be some way to accommodate them at the Pizzeria & Public House. I like them, and I’ll miss them.

Conversely, I need to state this for the record: Given the many, generally positive, qualities to our business as noted by visitors over the years, ranging from the pizza to the ambience, the staff, and of course the beers, I hope I can be forgiven for expressing personal sadness of an almost overwhelming degree when I hear folks who’ve always rightly viewed themselves as the establishment’s backbone of regular patronage cite smoking as a deal-breaker.

So, that’s all it was, all this time?

That’s all we meant to you – a dry, climate-conditioned place to smoke?

No, I’m not offended. I’m not angry. I’m not anything at all, except very sad, and sad to a profound depth that even I’m surprised at feeling, having concluded long ago that it’s rare for me to feel much of anything, any longer.

To be sure, the longtime friend quoted above is showing uncommon understanding about the situation, and so my comments here are not exclusively directed to her. In fact, I’m not sure my comments are directed at anything or anyone other than to me. It’s like something finally has become clear to me after being hidden all these years, presumably behind a cloud of smoke.

So: It is my belief that those individuals and entities unable to adapt are likely to lose out in the end, and my business continues to evolve. It always has, and I hope it never stops evolving.

Furthermore, I’d like to believe that individuals are capable of evolution and reinvention. I’ve tried to be open to these processes myself, with variable results; just the same, I’ve changed. I'm not the same person at 50 as I was thirty years ago. Thank heavens.

On the other hand, apart from cigars, cigarettes have never been my thing. Perhaps I just don’t know, and can’t possibly fathom, the nicotine angle to this “regular” equation. Perhaps it's the nicotine talking, and not the persons.

You guys will be missing so much. The Pizzeria & Public House is poised to kick ass in 2011, and it’s been a while since I’ve been this excited by the prospects, both aesthetic and commercial. It is unspeakably sad that there’ll be some absences during this wonderful time.

Sad. Very, very sad. I'm not sure what else to say about it, so I'll stop writing.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

IPA into view for Office Hours, tonight.

Thanks to everyone who made last Monday's Imperial Stout tasting happen. I'm planning on being back in the saddle tonight, as Office Hours rams headlong into the BJCP's Category 14 ... and this means hops, hops and more hops.

We'll be going very light on English IPA owing to the abundance of straight American IPA available for sampling.

Imperial IPA will have to wait until January 3, as the 27th of December is our annual Pants Down Potluck Port Drinkers Circle (this year with guided tasting).

Sampling and commentary at Office Hours costs $5 and runs from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Public House.

***Category 14 — India Pale Ale (IPA)

14A. English IPA


Overall Impression: A hoppy, moderately strong pale ale that features characteristics consistent with the use of English malt, hops and yeast. Has less hop character and a more pronounced malt flavor than American versions.

14B. American IPA

Overall Impression: A decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong American pale ale.

14C. Imperial IPA

Overall Impression: An intensely hoppy, very strong pale ale without the big maltiness and/or deeper malt flavors of an American barleywine. Strongly hopped, but clean, lacking harshness, and a tribute to historical IPAs. Drinkability is an important characteristic; this should not be a heavy, sipping beer. It should also not have much residual sweetness or a heavy character grain profile.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bottled beer list piece by piece: BJCP styles 10 - 13.

Remember: We'll be doing many American Pale Ales (and IPAs, for that matter) on draft, too, so there will be representation galore for this consumer favorite style. Note that Bell's Expedition Stout, while a staple of previous lists, falls through the cracks here because it is not available everyday. I suspect we'll have some around. The goal remains using the bottled list to educate, and simplifying it so that the beers on it are always on it. There'll be seasonal and specialty offerings, too.

10. AMERICAN ALE

10A. American Pale Ale
BBC American Pale Ale … Kentucky; 5.7% … 3.50

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale … California; 5.6% … 3.75

10B. American Amber Ale
New Belgium Fat Tire … Colorado; 5.2% … 22 oz … 7.50

Stone Levitation … California; 4.4% … 4.00

10C. American Brown Ale
*Dogfish Head Indian Brown … Delaware; 7.2% … $.$$


11. ENGLISH BROWN ALE

11A. Mild
NABC Community Dark … on draft, every day

11B. Southern English Brown
(BJCP says: “Increasingly rare.” Unavailable here)

11C. Northern English Brown
New Castle Brown Ale … England; 4.7% … 4.25

Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale … England; 5% … 5.00

12. PORTER

12A. Brown Porter
Samuel Smith “The Famous” Taddy Porter … England; 5% … 5.00

12B. Robust Porter
Founders Porter … Michigan; 6.5%. … 4.00

Rogue Mocha Porter … Oregon; 5.3%. ... 4.25

12C. Baltic Porter
Baltika “6” Porter … Russia; 7% … 16.9 oz … 5.50

Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter … Maryland; 9.2%. … 5.25

Sinebrychoff Porter … Finland; 7.2%. … 6.25

13. STOUT

13A. Dry Stout
Guinness Stout … on draft, every day

13B. Sweet Stout
Left Hand Milk Stout … Colorado; 5.2%. … 4.25

13C. Oatmeal Stout
Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout … England; 5%. … 5.00

13D. Foreign Extra Stout
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout … Ireland 7.5% … $.$$

13E. American Stout
*Avery Out of Bounds Stout … Colorado; 5.1% … $.$$

13F. Russian Imperial Stout
Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout … Colorado; 9.5% … 22 oz … 11.50

Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout … California; 9% … 5.00

Samuel Smith Imperial Stout … England; 7% … 5.00

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bottled beer list piece by piece: BJCP styles 6 - 9.

Asterisks denote beers we must add to the list; all prices are subject to review, and if not listed, that's because we don't know the cost yet. My standard for selection has been everyday availability, year-round, with preference to American-made beer over imports when sensible.

Obviously, there'll be exceptions. Maybe this would be a good time to ask Sun King if we'll be permitted to buy cans ... details, details.

6. LIGHT HYBRID BEER

6A. Cream Ale
*Sun King Sunlight Cream Ale … Indiana; 5.3%. … $.$$

6B. Blonde Ale
*Southern Star Bombshell Blonde … Texas; 5.25% … $.$$

6C. Kölsch
Reissdorf Kölsch … Germany; 4.8% … 16.9 oz … 6.25

6D. American Wheat or Rye Beer
*Three Floyds Gumballhead … Indiana; 5.5% … $.$$

7. AMBER HYBRID BEER

7A. Northern German Altbier
(I’m still looking)

7B. California Common Beer
Anchor Steam … California; 4.9% … 4.25

7C. Düsseldorf Altbier
BBC Amber … Kentucky; 4.19% … $.$$

8. ENGLISH PALE ALE

8A. Standard/Ordinary Bitter
(Usually UK cask ale only; few are exported)

8B. Special/Best/Premium Bitter
*Schlafly Pale Ale … Missouri; 4.4% … $.$$

8c. Extra Special/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale)
Fuller’s ESB … England; 5.9% … 4.50

Old Speckled Hen … England; 5.2% … 16.9 oz … 6.75

9. SCOTTISH AND IRISH ALE

9A. Scottish Light 60/-
(Cask ale only; not exported to the USA)

9B. Scottish Heavy 70/-
(Only sporadically available in good condition)

9C. Scottish Export 80/-
*Belhaven Scottish Ale … Scotland; 5.2% … $.$$

9D. Irish Red Ale
Smithwicks … Ireland; 4.5% … 4.25

9E. Strong Scotch Ale
Founders Dirty Bastard … Michigan; 8.5% … 3.75

*Three Floyds Robert the Bruce … Indiana; 6.5%. … $.$$

Traquair House Ale … Scotland; 7.2% … 8.75

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bottled beer list piece by piece: BJCP styles 2 - 5.

For public discussion and viewing, I'll be posting sections of the new, evolving beer list at the NABC Pizzeria & Public House.

Let's just say that in filling the slots of the BJCP categories that denote what many of us would consider "lesser" beer styles (clears throat), there are many to choose from, little that inspires, and much debate, although Bockland is more interesting than the rest.

Also, bear in mind that everything's provisional at this point. Category 1, Light Lager, is here: No worries: Still a Lite-Free Zone, with no 1A allowed.

2. PILSNER

2A. German Pilsner (Pils)
Warsteiner … Germany; 4.8% … 4.00

2B. Bohemian Pilsener
Pilsner Urquell … Czech Republic. 4.4% … 3.75

2C. Classic American Pilsner
(NABC’s Kaiser 2nd Reising periodically appears on draft).

3. EUROPEAN AMBER LAGER

3A. Vienna Lager
Samuel Adams Boston Lager … Massachusetts HQ; 4.9% … 3.75

3B. Oktoberfest
(Seasonal only, circa September)

4. DARK LAGER

4A. Dark American Lager
*Leinenkugel Creamy Dark … Wisconsin; 4.9% … $.$$

4B. Munich Dunkel
Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel … Germany; 5% … 16.9 oz … 6.50

4C. Schwarzbier (Black Beer)
Kulmbacher Monchshof Schwarzbier … Germany; 4.9% … 16.9 oz … 6.75

5. BOCK

5A. Maibock/Helles Bock
Rogue Dead Guy … Oregon; 6.5% .. 4.25

5B. Traditional Bock
*Berghoff Traditional Bock Beer … Wisconsin; 5.4% … $.$$

5C. Doppelbock
Celebrator Doppelbock … Germany; 6.7% … 5.75

Spaten Optimator … Germany; 7.2% ... 4.00

5D. Eisbock
Kulmbacher (Reichelbräu) Eisbock … Germany; 9.2% … 5.50

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Monday, December 27: Pants Down Potluck Port Drinkers Circle - this year with guided tasting!

It's that time again, Portheads.

Monday, December 27, is the 2010 gathering date for the annual Pants Down Potluck Port Drinkers Circle of New Albany, Southern Indiana, Oz and points afar.

This year, there’s a twist, although as before, the port tasters will be imbibing in the Prost banquet and special events wing at the NABC Pizzeria & Public House.

In 2010, the Circle’s tasting will unfold in two acts.


Thanks to the timely intervention of Kevin Lowber, who moonlights as evening Public House server nonpareil after spending his days selling wine for Vintner Select, there will be an official program of Port education this year, featuring the emceeing/interpretive services of the estimable David DuBou of Vintner Select.

This session begins at 6:30 p.m. and will be guided by David; 2-oz samples of the six Ports listed below will be served, with commentary. The price for this sampling is $20 per person; the Ports also will be available for carry-out purchase afterward.

Kopke White Oporto
Kopke 10-Year Oporto
Kopke Coleita Oporto
Old Shandon Port Works Syrah Port, Paso Robles
Kopke Vintage Oporto
Kopke Late Bottled Vintage Oporto

This educational tasting session is open to all comers, although I’m asking that you reserve space in advance by e-mailing me: roger@newalbanian.com

Act Two begins when the educational sampling concludes, around 8:30 p.m., when a coalition of the willing reprises our time-honored “pot luck” tasting format.

Just bring a bottle of Port and a snack (cheese, salami, olives or other munchables) for post-class sampling.

Recall also that Prost is smoke-free, and you'll be forced to retreat to the bar for the consolations of tobacco … but remember that this is the final year for such pleasures; we go tobacco-free on January 3, 2011.

As in the past, I'm recommending a book for those interested in Port. Prior to my only visit to Portugal in 2000, the Danish gonzo journalist Kim Wiesener, a longtime friend, recommended Richard Mayson's "Port and the Douro" as the finest overview of all things Port.

Indeed, it is excellent, and if you're interested in Port, it's a must-have. There's a newer edition available, and I've spotted it recently at Destinations Booksellers in New Albany.

Here's a capsule description:

Mayson recounts the history of this great fortified wine up to the present day, including an assessment of major vintages back to 1896. He examines the physical condition of the region, grape varieties and vineyards with an appraisal of each of the main quintas, providing a directory of individual producers and shippers.

No worries: Still a Lite-Free Zone, with no 1A allowed.

Yesterday, reader Rob made an insightful observation.

I'm seriously worried that you have a beer that fits BJCP category 1A.

Not to worry, Rob. Here's a preview of the list (in development) that should answer your question. An * indicates a beer new to the list. I'm still in the process of deciding about descriptions; currently, the inclination is to have separate BJCP style compendiums available for perusal.

1. LIGHT LAGER

1A. Lite American Lager
No way. This is a Lite-Free Zone. Low calorie “light” American lagers were banned from the Public House on Jan. 1, 1994 and from the Pizzeria on Nov. 15, 2002. Good riddance.

1B. Standard American Lager
*Schlitz Gusto (Classic 1960’s Formula) … Illinois HQ; 4.7% … $.$$

1C. Premium American Lager
Red Stripe … Jamaica; 4.7% … 4.50

1D. Munich Helles
Spaten Premium Lager … Germany; 5.2% … 4.00

1E. Dortmunder Export
*Bell’s Lager … Michigan; 4.5% … $.$$

NABC at Kentucky Brew Review.

Thanks to John King for his posting at Kentucky Brew Review. Kindly permit me to accept John's praise and direct it to the brewers and staff, who do the heavy lifting to permit my pontificating.

New Albanian Brewing Company and Bank Street Brewery

Most local bars in Louisville carry NABC beers, so ask when you can. As always, I do my best to spread the word about local places like My Old Kentucky Homebrew, Louisville Beer Store, and NABC…so I hope you can all do the same.

Also: Thanks to Sergio and James for your recent notes. Damned nice of you both.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday Weekly: The milestone of reforming a millstone.

Last week, the Publican (that’s me) came down with a mild cold, and the usual dreary symptoms, combined with a long overdue need to just stop for a few minutes, damn it, and take a deep breath … well, it seemed to suggest an opportune time to finally … at long last … after two or more years … sit down and go through the Pizzeria & Public House’s supposedly fabled beer list, item by item.

The goal: Tame it.

I’ve already explained where my thoughts have been headed of late. If the craft beer revolution in America is winning (it is), if NABC has invested heavily in brewing its own beer (it has), and if the company continues to seek to be serious about promoting knowledge and education (it does), then a rote renewal of our traditionally expansive, top-heavy imported bottle strategy makes very little sense.

Taken in concert with a continuing, unpredictable state of distribution in Indiana, one that seldom rewards planning and effort with consistent results (yes, there’s more than a trace of bitterness there, and I’m sorry; I’ve banged my head against the wall far to many times not to feel anger at not being able to get what I wanted, when I wanted it), and given that during hard times, there isn’t much money to spend on inventorying fantastic and fantastically priced imported beers, it just makes sense to pause, study the landscape, and begin the reinvention -- come what may.

So, I used my sick days last week to re-imagine the list.

In my first drafts, the main bottled beer list is organized not by country, as before, but according to Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) stylistic parameters.

You ask: Why the BJCP, and not various other systems?

Because the Cicerone program of server certification follows the BJCP’s categorization of beer styles. If our employees learn to think in the BJCP’s way, they’ll be a leg up on the Cicerone program if they desire to pursue it, and the message will be consistent for consumers. The BJCP’s categories are not perfect, because perfection does not exist in this or any other world. However, as a place to learn the rules before trotting off to break them, it is fine.

Consequently, many beers are coming off the menu, while others have been added. Some of the cuts are one-offs and special orders that sneaked onto the list, while others are items we’ve actually depleted long ago and haven’t bothered noting.

In almost all cases, my fundamental consideration for selecting a particular beer is whether it is available on an everyday basis from its wholesaler, year-round. I’m finished with vainly and forlornly hoping that a just-in-time, special order system can be achieved in beer, in Indiana. Making the everyday bottled beer list as consistently available as possible is the prime goal.

Next, I’ve tried to fit these beers into the BJCP style categories where they belong, with the goal of having at least one example of each sub-style, if at all possible. Only a handful of styles currently are eluding me, like Northern German Alt and Southern English Brown. Others, like Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer (21B), obviously must be relegated to seasonal status.

To reiterate, the main bottled beer list must be a consistent, readily obtainable, everyday guide to the panoply of world beer styles as defined by the BJCP. This mission duly accomplished, seasonal and specialty offerings ranging from Oktoberfests (September) to Pumpkin Ales (late autumn) to Doppelbocks (March), and including Lambics, Ciders and Meads, can be drawn from the hundreds of other available brands to populate monthly, quarterly or purely whimsical side lists materializing on a rotating basis.

These will come and go regularly without the necessity of year-long, often futile efforts to receive product when we want it, and as importantly, without the accompanying inventory expense. I’m guessing that representative small lists for Lambic, Cider and Mead will be maintained all the time, with appropriate rotation of brands within each, and maybe selections to be reserved as “Something of the Month.”

Other decisions have yet to be made, and these are slightly more arbitrary, requiring staff participation.

Should a listed selection be the 750ml “share” bottle, or the 11.2 oz with a better price point?

Must we keep a beer in stock that doesn’t fit the reform effort’s concept because it still sells well at a ludicrously high price, even if I don’t like it personally (i.e., Corona)?

If two brands of the same style are available, should ease of procurement in glassware and wholesaler schwag be the deciding factor?

Shall we gradually seek to pare the import list even further by head-to-head contests and competitions?

I have another concept in mind, one that is by no means novel or unique, but which is sufficiently counter-intuitive (for us, at least) to merit fresh consideration.

Once the bottled beer list is finalized and composed of beers that will be constant, it may be time to launch a first-ever “drink all the beers and win a prize” competition. Such a pursuit addressed by style would be infinitely more educational than those “round the world golden lager” quests, as ours would be devoted much more to truly experiencing the range of stylistic possibilities.

If the staff can agree and think of a suitable award for those completing such a journey, perhaps we’ll take this rarest of plunges and get it going.

Eventually, NABC bottles (we’re within weeks) will take their places on the beer list, and the list surely will evolve.

It is way past time for such an evolution, don’t you think? I feel like a great weight has been lifted, and the new list will be an exciting change of pace. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Preview Henna Black IPA, a new NABC release, this Thursday at the Public House.

As a preview, cask-conditioned Henna Black IPA, Jared Williamson's latest addition to the Brewer's Best Friend Series of canine-inspired specialties, will be pouring this Thursday (December 16) at the Public House.

Draft will be ready for drinking within the next two weeks. New Year's Eve growlers? It's possible, folks. Here are the specs:

Henna Black IPA

Malts: Simpsons Golden Promise, Rahr 2-row, Simpsons Medium Crystal, Castle Aromatic, Weyermann CaraFoam, Weyermann Carafa #2

Mash hops: Chinook

Kettle hops: Warrior, Centennial, Chinook

Dry hops: Amarillo, Centennial, Chinook, Simcoe

Yeast: House London

OG: 1.066

ABV: 7%

IBU: 83

Color: 24 degree Lovibond SRM

Monday, December 13, 2010

Office Hours without me tonight? Weigh in, please.

I'll begin by reiterating that the general public always is welcome to attend our Monday evening Office Hours tastings. This said, there's a core group of 10-12 in attendance on most Mondays at 6:30 p.m.

I'm addressing this post to you, the regulars. Can you taste without me tonight?

During the fall term, we've been inching forward, through the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines, with an eye toward tasting examples of as many styles as possible now (and forward into next Spring).

Tonight, after one postponement already owing to last week's seating conflict, we're to consider Russian Imperial Stout.

Overall Impression:
An intensely flavored, big, dark ale. Roasty, fruity, and bittersweet, with a noticeable alcohol presence. Dark fruit flavors meld with roasty, burnt, or almost tar-like sensations. Like a black barleywine with every dimension of flavor coming into play.

Here's the problem ... or the opportunity.

As most of you know, I've been putting a disproportionate amount of time into the anti-bridge-tolls insurgency, and today is the final "public input" meeting with the group that we've come to address (not lovingly) as the Tolling Authority. It's from 4:00 - 7:00 p.m. this afternoon, in downtown Louisville at the Muhammad Ali Center.

Also, as most of you know, I write a regular Thursday column for the New Albany Tribune. The deadline is Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m.

There's also a NA-FC School Board meeting tonight, and another in a series of contestable measures being floated by the commander in chief. There's no way I can attend both meetings, but there'll be blogging to coordinate afterward.

In short, my community activism needs to take precedence tonight; given the slowless with which I write, making that deadline tomorrow morning after beginning at 9:00 p.m. would be challenging. Obviously, I feel badly about skipping out on Office Hours tonight, or else I wouldn't bother explaining.

BUT ... there's really no reason why "Office Hours Without the Publican," and tonight's Russian Imperial Stout tasting, cannot go on as originally planned. Ben and Eric can set it up just like they always do, and Rick might easily lead the discussion.

Unless the group feels differently, I suggest you carry on tonight without me, and I'll listen to the audio afterward. Thoughts?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pre-Christmas Kentuckiana craft beer bus with Rick and Jeff Tours.

On Thursday evening, December 23, Rick and Jeff Tours will be piloting a beer bus tour of all the pubs where craft beer is brewed locally: BBC (I'm assuming both St. Matthews and the Tap Room); Browning's; Cumberland Brews; and NABC (Pizzeria & Public House).

Jeff Gesser says: "It's a last chance trip to buy brewery gift cards and/or t-shirts for friends and family before Christmas."

The cost is $25 per person, and includes transportation (the bus starts and finishes in Louisville), refreshments on the bus between stops and a catered meal. Call Jeff at 502-807-7531, or e-mail for details and reservations.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wednesday Weekly: "Micro-canning changes the game."

I often forget to reprint my columns for Food & Dining, which are not yet archived on-line, so allow me to rectify the oversight. The following (as originally submittted) appeared in F & D's second quarter 2010 edition.

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“You've likely never had great beer out of a can because so far, not much great beer has been put into a can. That's changing, and fast.”
--John Foyston, beer writer for The Oregonian

Fermentation is nature’s way, brewing is mankind’s art and science, and the ultimate success of these interrelated endeavors is determined by the individual consumer reaction to the beer resting in his or her hand.

In turn, the consumer’s approval depends in large measure on the sort of container that has been designed to deliver the liquid to a set of waiting lips in a way that assure optimal freshness and quality.

My own interest in beer containers admittedly is offbeat and selective, based less on scientific principle and technology and more on the attitude of the individual beer drinker, a state that reflects subconscious preferences, community psychologies and personal superstitions, all these combined into as many different forms as there are human beings to contrive and perpetuate them.

Many drinkers prefer draft beer, as dispensed into a glass or a cup. Others refer to themselves as “bottle babies,” refusing glassware and consuming beer directly from the bottle. In like fashion, millions of people drink directly from aluminum cans, simply popping the top, drinking the contents, feeling refreshed, and never thinking too much about it.

Perhaps owing to the expedience and informality of mass market bottled and canned beer, they have earned opprobrium of sorts from generations of radicalized beer aficionados, who have declared it utterly mistaken to drink straight from a bottle or a can because from either, the aroma so integral to taste is largely undetectable.

I know. I’m one of them.

But these same enthusiasts have deemed it entirely suitable to enjoy the contents of a bottle or can if properly decanted into an appropriate glass. Moreover, some times the very fact of a beer being bottle conditioned, or naturally carbonated in the bottle, is exalted as ideal and preferred. Even so, most cans apart from those with a nitro widget (Guinness, Boddington’s) generally have remained objects of suspicion.

Is there a coherent basis for this attitude, or is it merely totemic?

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Clay Robinson surveys this scene, and knows exactly where he stands.

“I've had a love affair with cans since I was a young boy,” says Robinson, the founder of Sun King Brewing Company, a 2009 microbrewery start-up in Indianapolis. “Dave Colt (Sun King’s brewer) and I both had beer can collections as kids.”

Canning has been part of Sun King’s business plan since its inception, and the brewery began releasing canned Sunlight Cream Ale and Osiris Pale Ale in the spring of 2010. Robinson’s favorable impression of cans goes beyond his boyhood collectibles, to reinforcement experienced during travels to the state where craft canning began.

“I first had craft beer in a can six or seven years ago while visiting my sister in Colorado,” he explains. “Not surprisingly, it was Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale. I remember thinking, ‘Pale Ale in a can?’ Then I bought some just to see what it was all about. I was amazed at its freshness and depth of flavor, so from that point I was hooked.”

It’s a familiar story. In craft canning circles, the Oskar Blues brewery in Lyons, Colorado, functions nowadays as a combination of Fenway Park as Mecca for Red Sox fans, Robert Johnson’s recordings as templates for blues guitarists, and the Library of Congress to document enthusiasts. In 2002, Oskar Blues became the first American microbrewery to can its ale, two units at a time to begin, and entirely by hand. The reason: Canning lines intended for small scale craft usage had yet to be produced.

Sleek and efficient smaller canning lines soon followed, thanks not only to the pioneering, niche-defining entrepreneurial efforts of Oskar Blues, but as importantly, to the active intervention of the Ball Corporation and Cask Brewing Systems.

These two far larger companies began scaling the existing canning technology to microbrewery production capacities, making it possible, albeit it more expensive than bottling, to meet the demand of a restive market just awakening to the potential of canned craft beer in recyclable aluminum, which can be taken places where glass is prohibited, like beaches, outdoor preserves and sports venues.

“Save your money because it's not cheap to get into,” is Robinson’s advice to aspiring craft beer canners, but he adds in definitive tone: “We believe that cans are a superior vessel for the transportation of craft beer.”

Robinson has a strong argument.

Aluminum itself is odorless, flavorless, pliable, lightweight and impermeable by light. Higher levels of damaging oxygen can be displaced from a can during the canning process.

According to Robinson, “The seam is a perfect seal, and the canning process functions in a cap-on-foam manner that allows for the least amount of dissolved oxygen in the finished product, and of course, light can’t get through aluminum.”

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It’s a factual, rational and largely irrefutable matter, and yet the decision still rests with the drinker. I asked Robinson how the cans have been received by the public, and his answer is emphatic.

“The response to our cans has been tremendous! We announced that we would be doing so about six months before it actually happened, and so we spent a lot of time engaged in conversations about the virtues of cans with the people who love our beer. That, coupled with a lot of positive press for cans nationwide, has really paved the way. Plus, cans are the first time Sun King has been available in a small package. Our fans are really excited about our new, highly portable container.”

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There is a dynamic not unlike a pendulum that keeps time during these considerations of beer packaging and containers, swinging back in forth though history as advancements are made and human cultural standards evolve. Beer has been stored inside, or been poured into, a dizzying array of manmade objects culled from an equally wide range of materials.

Wood, stoneware, ceramic, glass, metal, and plastic; barrels, urns, vases, bottles, hogsheads, jugs and cans; and at each juncture, the objective has been the same: To maintain beer’s freshness during transport, and to see that it is consumed when freshest and best. Better ways come and go. At times, they return.

As Sun King’s Robinson implies, as the chosen container has become smaller, more easily reproduced and efficient, beer’s transportability has steadily been enhanced, and the experience of drinking beer inexorably removed from its point of origin in the brewery, far past a place where the brewer has control of his creation. For a brewpub, where most house beer is enjoyed on the premises, this means less. For a brewery dependent on distribution, packaging decisions are life and death.

Impressively, for Sun King and other small craft breweries to invest in the emerging technology of micro-canning, as expressed in the currency of an aluminum container that once symbolized lesser quality beer in the minds of an earlier, more militant generation of craft consumers, is to trust resoundingly in the ongoing youthful democratization of craft beer.

The can as a container serves to widen the range of craft’s market penetration, by taking it where it could not previously go. Micro-canning changes the game, both in terms of distribution logistics and perceptions. Beer drinkers will decant their cans into glassware when they are able, and rink straight from the can when they are not. Either way, they’ll be enjoying greater access to better beer. Let them decide.

As a romantic at heart, it is my preference to think of beer in terms both artistic and hedonistic, as liquid poetry and as metaphorical prose. Beer has been an integral part of human civilization from the very start, and its story fully justifies those flights of intoxicated fascination and smitten adoration that ensue when a few too many of the tale’s tasty chapters have been consumed in one setting. The reality is that craft beer in cans alters none of this romance, and costs not a single intangible in return for an expansion of the perimeter.

Clay Robinson’s final thought is instructive, and brings us full circle, back to the beginning: “Regardless of the package, the beer that it carries has to be good.”

Indeed. Look for excellent canned craft beers brewed by Sun King and other trendsetters, already in stock or coming very soon to a package store near you.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Indy's Tomlinson Tap Room: 16 taps and exclusively Indiana brewed.

I love it when a plan comes together. This article from the Indy Star's Metromix profiles the recently opened Tomlinson Tap Room, includes a listing of recently opened and "coming soon" Indiana breweries, and provides a glimpse of what I'd like to do with 8-10 of the taps at the Public House.

Verily: It's time to put our mouths where our money is.

Indiana brews make City Market site a hit

... Now, about 10 brewhouses are operating in the area, with at least five more to come in 2011 -- evidence that Hoosiers are eager to raise their pints to the creative, can-do spirit that results in quality. And the newly opened Tomlinson Tap Room, on the mezzanine of City Market, has seemingly become ground zero for Indiana beer enthusiasts. A joint partnership between the City Market and the Brewers of Indiana Guild, the Tap Room is a showcase of both well-loved and rare brews from all over the state.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

It's a Free Frites Fete from 2 - 4 p.m. this Saturday afternoon at Bank Street Brewhouse.

This Saturday (December 11), Chef Josh Lehman is soliciting your opinion with free samples of frites and sauces.

From 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., the Bank Street Brewhouse kitchen crew will offer guests free samples of frites in the form of an assortment: Different cuts of potatoes, different types of potatoes (russets, sweet, yukon gold) and different sauces for accompaniment, including the seven sauces currently on the menu, along with ten new ones (green curry, rosemary aioli, blue cheese, dill lime aioli, horseradish, hot chili, mango ketchup, peanut sauce and more).

Patrons are asked to vote for their favorite cuts, types and sauces.

But there's even more.

There will be frites fried in duck fat (which makes everything taste better), and also a special beer for the event.

Anyone care to guess where I'll be on Saturday?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Stop the presses: There is an Office Hours change in schedule.

When business is sluggish, one does not second-guess a manager's last-minute decision to book a party of 40 persons into Prost on a Monday night, even if it means displacing the Office Hours session.

I have made an immediate, executive decision as of 4:35 p.m.: We will postpone the Imperial Stout segment scheduled for tonight until next Monday, December 13.

Those still interested in coming tonight, please do; I'll be there, we will sit in the area outside Prost, there'll be no recording, and we'll improvise another substitute tasting, perhaps something wintry. Perhaps we can discuss the implications of the beer list changes discussed in Wednesday Weekly last week.

Sorry for the last minute nature of the change. We need the money. So there.

Imperial Stout: Starring tonight at Office Hours.

Two weeks ago, we concluded an exploration of most Stout stylistic territory.

Tonight, the onslaught of icy cold weather jibes perfectly with an overview of Imperial Stout, always my personal favorite "gravity" category.

As always, sampling and commentary costs $5 and runs from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Public House. Let's see what we can round up for this one.

***Category 13 — Stout

13F Imperial Stout
Overall Impression: An intensely flavored, big, dark ale. Roasty, fruity, and bittersweet, with a noticeable alcohol presence. Dark fruit flavors meld with roasty, burnt, or almost tar-like sensations. Like a black barleywine with every dimension of flavor coming into play.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wednesday Weekly: Putting your mouth where your money is … and letting go of one dream, in exchange for another.

It's late, it's long, it's pretty much unedited, and it finally makes sense to me.

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Sergio: The title is yours.

Lori and Tyler … take ‘em away, and best wishes.

Todd, you’ll be seeing me even more often.

For such a very long time – at least two years, probably closer to three – I persisted in thinking that the problem could be solved by enhanced organizational skills. It was a question of viewpoint, and of perspective. A few more facts, a little added tweaking, and it would be clear to me.

There were numerous helpers, bold new plans and wonderful ideas. Schemes came and went. Every time I thought the path was clear, something would happen. I’d be distracted by a crisis, overwhelmed by an obligation, or just realize that the latest brainstorm still didn’t make sense.

Usually, it was because all my time and attention were being devoted to Bank Street Brewhouse and NABC’s nascent beer distribution effort. I should have understood what all this meant, but I was stubborn, the cognitive dissonance grew and grew, and to be honest with you, there were times when I simply could no longer drink my way through it.

Now, finally, I can see the options clearly.

At long last, by means of the fortuitous intervention of serendipity, enough of the layers have been peeled away to reveal the crux of the issue, the root of the problem, and the necessity of the answer.

Until now, I never truly understood the far-reaching implications of my company’s expansion. Bear with me while I try to explain it.

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When NABC decided to take all the chips left on our table and bet the entire stash on the future prospects of Bank Street Brewhouse and its larger brewing system, with capacity four times the size of the original house brewery on Plaza Drive, it was an investment in our company, one that naturally we hoped would make the company stronger in terms of commerce. In short, we hoped to turn a profit by becoming more of a brewery.

But it was deeper than just that. Unlike one’s unprincipled investment in a fast food franchise, our gamble was predicated on a series of judgments, ideas and artistic themes derived from the ongoing success of America’s craft brewing revolution. We were investing in something unimaginable 25 years ago: Great American-made beer, and in fact, American-made beer so great that it increasingly was influencing the world’s beer making.

From the beginning, subject to the usual growing pains, this fact was understood very clearly in the context of daily operations at the Bank Street Brewhouse, both in the front of the house and in the brewery. The daily plan was, and continues to be, to remain as consistent as possible with the themes of the craft brewing revolution: Local, fresh, innovative, with the added, finished value of these offerings deriving from NABC’s uniquely creative style.

This is why Chef Josh seeks to obtain ingredients from local sources. This is why the wines are from Indiana winemakers only, and the liquors from independent, non-corporate entities. This is why we use Abstonia hops from the Knobs in season, and even if most of our brewing ingredients are from elsewhere, their added, finished value comes from the NABC brew team’s creative acumen.

All along, as Bank Street Brewhouse and NABC’s new production brewing operation took conceptual inspiration from “new” ideas, we maintained a conservative approach at the Pizzeria & Public House. We changed absolutely nothing about the tried and true, pizza-based food menu (not the precise point of the current discussion, although to be considered at some point later), and the beer program proceeded largely as before, with a handful of changes. Additional draft lines were freed to provide spouts for the wider selection of NABC’s own beers made possible by our increase in brewing capacity.

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Two decades ago, when the Public House first opened, the beer list was composed almost entirely of bottled imports, mostly from Europe, with only a handful of American-made “micros” even available. The beer list that made our reputation grew from this fact, and it made us famous.

As an avid reader of the beer writer Michael Jackson, and as a devout Europhile apart from beer, my travel experiences in Europe and my interest in the continent gave me insights that were unique, and contributed to a flair for forging contacts, cutting deals and making selections that played to these strengths.

It was all very good, doing what I (and we) did best. As the world’s classic beers became available, they joined the list, and the list grew. As the years went on, more and more American craft beers became available, and the list grew. We gradually added taps, and the draft possibilities duly exploded. In 2002, we started brewing, with the modest goal of adding completely different creations to the lineup.

Truthfully, in the mid-2000’s, NABC’s original locations was one of the few places anywhere to offer such a large selection of America’s and the world’s best beers, draft and bottled, alongside its own craft drafts. Even so, imperceptibly, the ground was shifting. It always does, doesn’t it?

American craft brewing was getting bigger and better, and in one of the inspiring turnabouts in world cultural history, American brewers began inspiring the Old World to rethink and embellish its traditional brewing ideas, resulting in a new generation of incredible imports to hit American shelves.

Then, one day, suddenly there were thousands of excellent beers from which to choose, hundreds of thousands of Internet ratings to peruse, and not only that, plans for NABC brewing expansion were coming close to fruition because we had decided to make more of our own beer.

About this time, perhaps 2007, I became very aware that with my life about to be reoriented toward getting a new business off the ground, a rapidly changing competitive landscape locally, and more world and American beers available as “guests” than ever before, the Pizzeria & Public House’s draft and bottled beer program (both guest crafts and guest imports) was in serious need of a rethink and some sort of upgrade so that it could remain among the best.

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There were many questions demanding answers, and things started getting difficult. With great beers all around, both from near and from far, how does one differentiate choices in the absence of pockets deep enough to stock 1,000 beers -- or even 300?

How does one do it on the imported side of the ledger when it isn’t always possible to get Indiana wholesalers and importers on the same page?

Even more importantly, how does one do it when all the company’s money is tied up in its expansion, now devoted to brewing and distributing NABC’s own house beers, and doing it during a sapping, maddening recessionary climate?

I haven’t been willing to face the truth until now, because the fact of the matter is this.

One doesn’t do it. It cannot be done.

Right here, right now, with the current circumstances inside NABC and outside it, I cannot revitalize the beer program at the Pizzeria & Public House if revitalizing it means retaining the previous format.

Make it different, and perhaps better, by accepting a changed situation, embracing change, rebuilding it from the ground up, and completely reinventing it by bringing it into line with the same motive forces that impelled NABC’s brewing expansion?

I think so, and I have a plan.

First, I must stop feeling sorry for myself, cease mourning for the loss of my baby of two decades, and get with the damned program. When NABC made its investment in brewing its own beers, it stopped being what it was before. It became something else, which always will be evolving, but in order to begin evolving, the program must change.

And it will. Our beer list’s carbon footprint is about to dramatically lessen.

As for permanent everyday bottles, there will be a dramatic reduction in imported brands; in essence, imports will be pared to a few brands that move dependably, and a handful of one-off styles (Trappists and Lambics among them).

Daily bottled American craft beers will stay about the same in number or be reduced slightly, but will be changed a bit in composition, with fewer of the same style, and more diverse flavor profiles. The BJCP list will continue to serve as a template for the bottled list remake.

You will continue to see a rotating import and craft seasonal presence – hopefully more consistent in appearance.

On the draft side, 15-18 taps will pour NABC beers. Another 8 – 10, maybe more, will pour Louisville-brewed beers and a sizeable contingent of beers brewed by Brewers of Indiana Guild member breweries. It is my desire to become an unofficial Louisville metro taproom for BIG, and in the process, offer a selection of under-appreciated beers from a state that, after all, has had two books published about its breweries this year, with a third on the way in early 2011.

After that, there’ll be American craft beers from all our friends all over the country: Stone, Bell’s, Sierra, Great Divide, Rogue, Left Hand, Dogfish, Founders and too many others to enumerate here.

Apart from Guinness, Spaten, Schlenkerla, Delirium Tremens, Lindemans and perhaps two other slots, draft imports will appear only at special times or during fests.

Understand that imports will not disappear entirely. If the annual Anstich shipments from Shelton still come across from Germany, I’ll try and score some. If an import we like is available, we’ll pounce on it and enjoy it while it’s here.

Imports no longer will comprise the backbone of the list, bottle or draft. That time is now finished for me, as much as I hate to say it. My heart won’t change, but my head will. We took it as far as we could, when we could and rather than fight futile battles that cannot be won, we’ll take stock of reality and compete elsewhere.

The new beer list, and the new beer program at the Pizzeria & Public House, will reflect the welcomed hegemony of American-made craft beers – as it should, and as it better reflects both the ideology and the dollar amount of our investment in craft beer, NABC-style. Win, lose or draw, there’ll be no cognitive dissonance.

Insofar as possible, I will use this space to update you on progress, and to report on the experience. Thanks for reading, and thanks for patronizing NABC.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Saturnalia meets Hanukkah: The eight recipes of Vertical Jewbelation begin pouring at the Public House.

With today's tapping of Jewbelation 8 for the arrival of Hanukkah, the Shmaltz He’Brew Jewbelation Series has started pouring at the Public House. We're the only pub in either Indiana or Kentucky to sign on for the whole series.

Jewbelation is Shmaltz He’Brew’s annual anniversary ale, brewed for release during Hanukkah. It began with 8 in 2004. The 2010 release is 14, and as usual, the anniversary year corresponds with the number of malts and hops used to brew it, and the alcohol content by volume.

But this year, there’s even more to it, because Shmaltz has recreated all six previous versions of Jewbelation: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13. Not only that, but all seven versions (including 14) have been blended together to create an eighth, Vertical Jewbelation, surely the pinnacle of tasty shtick.

So, 8 is pouring, and as taps open, we’ll start pouring consecutive Jewbelations in ascending order -- probably no more than two at a time. When one blows, the next in line will take its place.