Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The PC: Beer stories and bedtime for gonzo.

(Published at LouisvilleBeer.com on December 30, 2013)


Beer stories and bedtime for gonzo

by Roger Baylor
“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”
--Leo Tolstoy
It’s been a long, strange trip, hasn’t it?
The first brewing insurgency of the modern American era began at New Albion Brewing Company, which began operations in Sonoma, California, in 1976. Auspiciously, a revolution in beer was spawned in the very same year as America’s Bicentennial celebrated the culmination of a previous uprising.
As a casual student of history, I’m aware that almost inevitably, revolutions consolidate into their own systematized pecking orders, even as they mature and gravitate toward future appointments with reinvention (arguably the best case scenario) or, more often, messy counter-revolutions.
Maybe we’re witnessing one or both of these outcomes just now in the world of beer.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A barside conversation.

Someone said to me: Help me get it straight.

I said sure.

He asked, so who makes Stella?

AB InBev, I replied.

What about Bud Light?

That’d be AB InBev, too.

And Goose Island?

I looked at him with compassion.

Give it to me straight, he said.

AB InBev.

Thanks, that’s what I thought.

It was as though a great burden had been lifted. He took a drink.

Now, can you tell me about economic localization?

Sure. It’s the antidote to narcissism …

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The PC: A trick of the Christmas tale.

(Published at LouisvilleBeer.com on December 23, 2013)


A trick of the Christmas tale

It happens each holiday season.
During an otherwise random conversation about Trojan Goose, the superiority of two-way street grids or the many edifying reasons why the Confederacy got whipped in the Civil War in spite of the present-day Republican’s pipe dreams, eventually someone looks at me with dismay.
“Roger, you’re such a Grinch.”
My response never varies: “Thank you very much.”
The roots of my longstanding Yuletide antipathy might be traced to Freudian conceits, Jungian counter-thrusts, references to childhood toilet training habits or the sheer pervasiveness of psychological repression stemming from residency in a fascist state, but in truth, it’s far simpler.
It goes back to that original, defining moment in every American boy’s life – not when it becomes clear that he’ll die some day without the saving grace of being able to hit a curveball, but the sudden, gut-wrenching discovery that in spite of the shameless propaganda fed to us by adults, who’d assured us that excruciating behavioral self-regulation would be rewarded by a gaudily costumed fat man parking his tricked-out sleigh on the roof and descending the chimney, that nope, in the end, it was nothing more than a transparent ruse.
It hits you: Santa Claus doesn’t really exist at all.
Our house didn’t even have a chimney, and you’d think this would have made me suspicious, but I was oblivious. When the shameful day of infamy arrived and my chum chided me — “c’mon, don’t tell me you still believe in Santa?” — I did much more than merely shake Santa’s grip, cold turkey, right there on the spot.
I irrevocably disavowed the whole contrived Christmas spectacle, because even at such a tender age, I could see the dominoes falling as the previously sacrosanct Santa myth vaporized in plain sight. If the grownups could mislead us about Santa, where would it end? They might also be fibbing about those other edicts demanding compliance and conformity, from the civic foundational edifices of religion, patriotism and obedience to the logic of the crosswalk.
The worst of it was sitting alone in my room, cross-legged on the cold tile floor, and experiencing the devastating frustration of knowing that I was far too young to properly drink my way through the rampant disappointment.
Santa’s unused cookies and milk were the best I could do, and then, as now, I detest milk.
In 1991, at 31, I spent Christmas in the city of Kosice — now located in sovereign Slovakia, which then comprised the easternmost lands of Czechoslovakia. It was the mid-point of a six-month stint teaching conversational English to doctors and nurses at the city’s main hospital, an experience made possible by the Cold War’s end. Upon returning stateside in 1992, there was a brief break, and then I went into the food and drink business, where I’ve been ever since.
Grinch or not, the approach of the holiday season in Kosice proved fascinating. With no Thanksgiving as mile marker, few signs were evident that that Christmas was coming until the eve of St. Nicholas Day (December 6), when children scrubbed and polished their shoes, placing them on windowsills to be filled with candy and chocolate. Presumably, bad children would receive a bundle of twigs bound together for swatting their butts … as it should be.
In Communist times, the regime attempted to persuade the populace that a chap named Grandfather Frost brought these goodies, presumably on behalf of the benevolent leadership. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, back came Christmas trees and caroling in the streets, and while these were familiar to me, decorations didn’t even begin to appear until the first part of December. I remarked to my uncomprehending students that they should contrive a holiday like Halloween to mark the true beginning of the shopping season.
Shopping season? It was quite ephemeral. Surely it’s different in 2013, but in 1991, only a few understated window displays were to be seen in shops, and high ¬pressure, guilt laced sales tactics were nowhere to be found. However, one necessary seasonal item became ubiquitous during the week preceding Christmas.
It was carp, raised and fattened in farm ponds, not river bottoms, and brought to market in streetside barrels and oversized plastic tubs. Some buyers brought their own buckets to take the living fish home for a few days of further bathtub cleansing. Others had their purchase killed, weighed and wrapped on the spot.
Carp is the traditional Slovak meal for Christmas, accompanied by an array of special side dishes, and perhaps some steaming sauerkraut soup. There always was plenty of bottled lager beer, but the Christmas Eve toast in 1991 was chased with homemade peach brandy from a student’s village nearby: “To peace, health and a good harvest.”
Two or three lifetimes later, there was a second chance to be in Europe for Christmas. I hope it doesn’t prove to be the last.
In 2009, the Baylors stayed in a rental apartment in Bamberg, Germany, a mere stone’s throw from the Fässla and Spezial breweries. With the requisite open-air Christmas market, mulled wine and naturalistic decorations, Franconia’s version of the Yuletide season was obvious without being garish. The Grinch in me was shaken, if as yet unbowed.
On Christmas morning, we strolled through the Altstadt’s deserted streets and climbed Altenburg hill to the medieval castle, affording a sweeping view of the valley and Bamberg’s dizzying number of church spires. Most businesses were closed, but pleasingly, some food and drink purveyors were open in a city blessedly free of the archaic blue laws still existing in Indiana, which prevent alcohol from being served on Dec. 25 – a purely Christian holiday.
Clouds rolled overhead, and it was a bracing and exhilarating walk. Descending the commanding heights back to our riverside starting point, we passed the city museum in the old town hall astride the Regnitz and saw that the doors were open. Inside was a fine collection of 18th century Porcelain from Meissen, and one of 38 nativity scenes on display in and around Bamberg during the holiday season.
A reconnaissance of Ludwigstrasse’s expanse revealed that Bamberg’s Chinese restaurant owners are not as ambitious as metro Louisville’s, with all three closed for the day. However, at the train station, the bakery and small grocery both were open, and I bought a handful of half-liter Schlenkerla Märzen lagers to accompany the evening’s home cooked vegetable soup.
With no close friends in Bamberg, we kept ourselves company, having procured groceries and libations in advance. With bottles of Fässla in support, Christmas evening selections on the telly revealed a diverse Euro holiday tableau.
There was a Basque celebration from Bilbao, with crazy costumes, quasi-operatic tunes and the inexplicable, pre-historic language spoken by the world’s first cod fishermen. The whole time, I kept expecting a Muse concert to break out.
We watched a performance in Salzburg of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”; snippets of a schlocky Bavarian idyll, rather like the Osmonds meeting Lawrence Welk in lederhösen and dirndls; and then a Berlin performance by Max Raab and the Hotel Palast Orchestra, a stagey society presence reminiscent of Joel Grey’s role in “Cabaret.”
Finally came “City Lights,” the not-so-silent masterpiece by Charlie Chaplin, without dialogue but featuring a musical soundtrack as a concession to new 1931 technology. The Little Tramp falls for a blind flower girl … and meets a drunken millionaire along the way.
On the 26th, Café Abseits beckoned again, with a fine draft list of regional, seasonal Bockbier. Later, at Spezial, delightful Ochsenbrust in horseradish sauce with a dumpling was accompanied by several of the brewpub’s quintessential smoked lagers.
I don’t “do” Christmas. Occasionally, there are exceptions.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The PC: England, or one man's heightened cholesterol panic is another man's nostalgic repast.

(Published at LouisvilleBeer.com on December 15, 2013)


England, or one man's heightened cholesterol panic is another man's nostalgic repast

“The secret of a happy life is to know when to stop – and then go that bit further.”
Inspector Morse, classic British television police crime solver
The very least I could do during two weeks spent in England’s lovely West Country was to ingest my gout medicine each and every morning without fail – preferably washed down with a pint of cask-conditioned Bitter from one of those pubs nearby already dispensing it, but in a pinch, grudgingly conceding the utility of mere water.
Yes, I know: Fish do IT in THAT. The solution? Eat more fish, especially with chips.
Somewhere a health fanatic reads and brays with dismay, but have no fear. It’s only despairing, defeatist clatter of the sort Winston Churchill wouldn’t have countenanced, even after his morning bottle of champagne, and these naysayers are inaudible to me — fully muffled by the cacophonous sizzle of a traditional English breakfast frying atop the stove, even the waxy tomato from Tesco’s, because it is destined for maximum exposure to hot oil just like all the rest.
Queue the Elgar, and consider this partial list of foodstuffs joyfully consumed during my holiday, including both local “English” fare and widely available culinary options borrowed from elsewhere.
Anchovies fillets (fresh)
Baked beans
Bangers and mash
Black pudding (i.e., blood sausage)
Cornish pasties
Crab sandwiches
Egg rolls
Fish pie (not Stargazy pie, alas)
Gajrati (regional vegetarian Indian)
Haddock and chips
Pie, mash, eel and liquor (the latter is gravy)
Pizza (loaded)
Smoked salmon
Spanish tapas
Steak & kidney pie
Thai red curry
Yorkshire pudding
Alas, I digress. It generally is my custom to entertain and inform in purely fermentable measures of prose, and yet on this most recent English holiday in July, 2013, I found it quite unthinkable to separate the culinary from the ale-mentary.
Overall, ways of the new were not my objective, and I did not search for top chefs flashing their own branded apron and sauce wear. Rather, my task was to focus on the glories of the much maligned traditional English table, and to accompany them with the native products of classic ale-making.
Mission accomplished. First, let’s review the liquidity to be found in a reference volume.
Just after purchasing plane tickets, and before any other arrangements had been made, I purchased the essential book for ale hunting in the United Kingdom: “Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Good Beer Guide,” edited by Roger Protz, and fully revised for publication each year.
CAMRA is the beer world’s oldest and most doggedly pervasive consumer protection society, founded in 1973 for the express purposes of espousing and protecting cask-conditioned “real” ale from the intrusions of modern times. What exactly is cask-conditioned “real” ale? CAMRA explains:
Real ale is a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask (container) from which it is served in the pub through a process called secondary fermentation. It is this process which makes real ale unique amongst beers and develops the wonderful tastes and aromas which processed beers can never provide.
Just know that traditional cask-conditioned ale is a living entity. It is pre-industrial, “slow” beer at its finest, predating every advance in ease of packaging, and preceding all processing shortcuts undertaken for the sake of modernity.
Consequently, as a product requiring training, thought and effort to maintain and dispense properly, real ale and the pub where it is consumed are inextricably linked. In America, the “coldest beer in town” merely signposts the triumph of refrigeration. In England, the best pint of real ale within walking distance of a bus stop is stirring testament to the publican’s commitment to craft.
That’s why CAMRA’S beer guide is vital. The organization’s local chapter members serve as diligent boots on the ground, studiously analyzing ales and pubs on a daily basis. Their intelligence gathering is the heart of the book, making it the top source of information for the visitor who cares less about his bed and breakfast than finding pints of fresh ale. Which pubs are tops at tending their firkins? What do they usually pour? Do they serve snacks or meals? Are they hosts for discourse in their community? The book provides these answers, and many more.
My first visit to Devon and Cornwall was in 2009, and four years later, there have been changes in the pub scene. Owing to regulatory, political and societal factors too numerous to recount, pubs in the UK are diminishing in number, and that’s a bad sign. At the same time, there are more breweries now at work than at any point in a half-century.
Dozens of newcomers are brewing classic ale styles — Mild, Bitter, IPA, Stout and Porter – alongside newer variations, and they’re supplying local pubs. There may be fewer venues, but the range of choice probably is greater. Session strengths (below 4.5% abv) remain the norm, and while I might drop names (St. Austell, Skinner’s, Summerskill and Bridgetown), it wouldn’t matter, because none of the beers brewed by these excellent breweries are available anywhere close to Louisville. This is as it should be. They await your arrival, over there.
On a sunny Sunday in July, my wife’s cousin drove us from the city of Plymouth to the Dartmoor National Park. There, surrounded by rolling, sparse uplands and freely roaming sheep, we dined at a venerable establishment called the Dartmoor Inn in Merrivale. I enjoyed roast beef with gravy, cabbage, vegetables and Yorkshire pudding. Two pints of well-tuned local Jail Ale from the Dartmoor Brewery in nearby Princetown completed this time-honored Sunday Roast.
Frankly, I gloried in the ambience: Dark walls, wooden beams, a low-hanging ceiling and a fireplace, with humps, stoops and irregular measurements, and overall, minimal space for a heavyweight like me to navigate. The roasted meal was deliciously overcooked, and the ale’s ideally balanced malt and hops kept my palate sharp amid the meat and butter. It was the embodiment of a lifetime’s fascination with BBC News, “The Last of the Summer Wine” and maritime gin rations.
But what of the calories and cholesterol?
Whenever healthfulness began encroaching, I merely reached for another custard tart, found the closest CAMRA-listed pub, and waited for the feeling to pass.
Brew, Britannia.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Red Yeti Brewing in Jeffersonville moves closer to opening.

I heard the first stirrings of Red Yeti Brewing roughly one year ago, and the semi-official public announcement was made in May, 2013. It's great news for Jeffersonville. Here's an update from Kevin "502 Brews" Gibson.

Red Yeti Brewing hopes to open by late January in Jeffersonville

Another microbrewery and pub is set to open in early 2014 – Red Yeti Brewing nears completion of its brewing operation and restaurant after completely overhauling a two-story structure in downtown Jeffersonville.

Owner Brandy Ronau said she and her husband Paul Ronau have been planning the brewery for three years, and renovations to the building at 256 Spring St. have been going on for about a year. Brandy said Red Yeti just got approved for a liquor license to have a full bar in addition to house-made beers.

Which led to an interesting digression elsewhere. What do you think? To me, it's a coincidence and no great shakes, although John's right: Out in the marketplace, and the parameters might be different. That's a long way off, and the important thing is for Red Yeti to open and begin brewing good beer.

What’s in a name?, by John King (LouisvilleBeer.com)

... (Kevin) Gibson discussed the proposed opening of Red Yeti Brewery in Jeffersonville, IN with their headlining beer “HopIPAtamus”. As soon I read that, I thought to myself two things:

1. How the hell do you say that? (pronounce it similarly to “hippopotamus”)

2. That sounds an awful lot like it’s neighbor to the west, Hoptimus from NABC. (Not to be confused with Hoptimus Prime by Ruckus Brewing…which can’t touch NABCs version)

HopIPAtamus. Hoptimus. That could get confusing if Red Yeti started putting beer out in the Kentuckiana market.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

NABC and PourGate: Total and unequivocal defeat for the Floyd County Health Department, says the state attorney general.

To get the full, surreal history of what we've come to call PourGate, I'd recommend pouring a real beer, settling into a comfortable fireside seat, and heading over to my NA Confidential blog, where searching for Floyd County Health Department should yield plenty of hits.

To summarize: According to the Attorney General of the state of Indiana, NABC's position v.v. PourGate is correct on all counts, and the FCHD's approximate location is atop a rapidly yielding pit of quicksand.

In the matter of NABC and PourGate, total and unequivocal defeat for the Floyd County Health Department

The complete unedited advisory opinion is here:

Complete text: “Floyd County/ New Albany ordinance issue in violation of IC 7.1-3-9-2, 7.1-3-9-6″

The AG's opinion should be sufficient to win half the battle. Next comes NABC's decision how to proceed with reference to the retaliatory and defamatory photo posted on the FCHD's web site earlier this year. Remember it?

Isn't it amazing how much time must be expended to battle arrogance of this caliber?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Artisan distilling in Indiana: It's about brewers, too.

This is what happens when the information comes from the wine lobby.

But seriously, it's worth remembering that (a) the artisan distilling legislation involved lobbying efforts on the part of the Brewers of Indiana Guild (not taking anything away from Ted Huber and Ed Clere), and (b) it allows for brewing companies to have the "same opportunity" to distill as Huber had already. Leaving the beer folks out is telling only half the story, although Van Hoy correctly notes that the oft-heard lament of "we can't buy beer on Sunday" actually is not true, given that Hoosier breweries (and wineries)  can sell off-premise on Sunday.

For Starlight Distillery, it's all about the grain being legal in addition to the grape. "Vodka, gin and whiskey" obviously are grain-based distillates, where previously only fermented grape and fruit juices could be improved through distillation.

I wish them good fortune in expanding the distilling operation. Gin, anyone?

By Shea Van Hoy (NT)

Huber’s Starlight Distillery has a nice, shiny still, ready to crank out spirits to its loyal, thirsty customers.

Owner Ted Huber plans to add another one now that a new law is in the books, and that’s good for business and tourism in Southern Indiana.

In short, House Enrolled Act 1293 provides artisan distillers with the same opportunity that small breweries and wineries already had — to bottle their products and to sell them by the glass.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The PC: Bourbon, bone marrow, Greg Fischer … and Stella Artois?

(Published at LouisvilleBeer.com on December 8, 2013)

Bourbon, bone marrow, Greg Fischer … and Stella Artois?

My New Year’s resolution was going to be writing this column weekly, rather than twice monthly, in 2014. Might as well get started.  

Whether working as brewers, taco slingers, distillers, baristas, vintners or sous chefs, we customarily inhabit an insular space within the hospitality industry zone.
Of course, the trick is to make insularity more expansive, and to link and project our individual artisanal skills in a big-picture way so that the ripples carry beyond the inner sanctum of true believers, far out into the broader world where the casually interested people live. Get them to look your way, and you’ve got something.
Kentucky’s bourbon makers grasped this point long ago. As a spirit, bourbon is strictly defined, and even if the geographical element is somewhat more porous than before, the fact remains that bourbon makers consciously group themselves as Kentucky Bourbon, and are unified in anchoring a sizeable element of their product’s allure to a particular place – what’s more, to a specific state of mind, and to a story told often and persuasively.
It wouldn’t take a befuddled alien from outer space very long to absorb contemporary bourbon’s savvy place-making expertise. All bourbons come from quaint little towns in the atmospheric backwoods, where the 6th or 7th generation of a family relies on its oldest living member – generally a weather-beaten, impossibly wise male fueled entirely on pork belly and grits – to magically render hand-crafted rarities that city folks will sell their first-born children to possess. It matters less whether any of it is true, and more that the branding is irresistible and awe-inspiring.
The city? It usually gets a cut, one way or another.
When I was growing up, my father’s view of Louisville was a city governed by a coalition of bourbon, tobacco and horse breeders, with politicians finishing a distant fourth in the power hierarchy. Tobacco’s nicotine addiction may have jarred it from the governing elite, although its failure to self-reinvent as a hand-rolled, designer cigar purveyor didn’t help, either. The horse pimps are still very much with us, even if bankrolled from Arab sheikdoms. Right now, the Kentucky Bourbon Kingdom is second only to Big Coal, and the trail of native intoxicants originating in the mountainous hinterlands has become urbanized.
As well it should.
The only odd part about Louisville taking full advantage of its own time-honored position in the Commonwealth’s chain of bourbon legacies is that it took so long to cement. Combining the bourbon renaissance with the city’s astounding culinary reputation is as close to a no-brainer as can be experienced, drunk or dead sober – even when viewed by a New Albany city councilman.
And so it was that last week, Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville breathlessly announced the summoning of a task force filled with corn-whisky conjurers and superstar chefs, with a PR- and tourism-driven mission of assisting an eager planet in viewing Louisville as the end-all when it comes both to bourbon and dining.
Naturally, it should come as no surprise when a politician expresses enthused, selfless willingness to tether himself to an explosively marketable phenomenon … and this is not to be taken as a criticism of Fischer. The idea is fundamentally sound, and at some point, he’ll need to be re-elected. In the mayor’s circles, it’s pronounced “win-win.”
Of course, there was a small catch.
Fischer’s advisors neglected to remind him that other elements of the city’s food and drink culture might feel slighted if not mentioned during the photo op, and indeed, nothing whatsoever was said about wine, coffee, food trucks … or craft beer. This is unfortunate, as a mere paragraph surely would have sufficed as appeasement, but someone ineptly dropped the ball … and thinking back to that insular space within the hospitality industry zone, it was inevitable that disaffection would come to be expressed.
As well it should have been.
I’ve mostly refrained from the ensuing ruckus. While NABC’s location in a neighboring state is subject to ever-changing conceptual definitions, some inclusive and others not, our connection to politics is inexorably Hoosier, That’s the way it works, and so I’ve been largely content to be a bystander and read as Sam Cruz of Against the Grain voiced annoyance on Twitter, Elizabeth Myers upped the ante at Louisville.com, and a thoughtful piece by Steve Coomes at Insider Louisville (where free-lancer Kevin Gibson originally broke the task force story) providedworthwhile counterpoint.
No one asked me (ahem), but I see all this as a valuable team building exercise. If there is to be a cogent rebuttal from the craft brewing community in Louisville and the state of Kentucky, it needs to stem from a position of principled unity among the breweries, and preferably, be expressed by the Kentucky Guild of Brewers (KGB). The message should be educational, about the craft beer segment as a whole, and addressing KGB’s existence and ultimate aims.
Politicians simply do not regard scattered on-line complaints with the same alacrity as those bearing even the slightest hint of massed, monolithic intent. For all I know, a statement of principle is already on the way to the mayor, better to snap his neck forward and suggest heightened diligence on the part of staff and himself in the future. Information? It makes him a better mayor.
Building blocks of cooperation and unity require time for organization, and this is a great and enduring challenge for craft brewers in the general sense. We’re independent-minded, under-financed, short-staffed and very busy – and what I’m learning more and more with each passing day is that we cannot afford to use these nagging circumstances as excuses.
As a director on the board of the Brewers of Indiana Guild, I can say that BIG has made considerable progress trudging uphill to a point where in Indianapolis, political personages like Louisville’s mayor (and his staffers) are becoming accustomed to consulting the craft brewing bloc, if only to gauge its point of view as an entity representing enhanced numbers and escalating economic clout.
The message might still elude county seats, and that’s why an active alliance between craft brewers and localists is so absolutely essential. For one thing, local brewing and localism are contextually synonymous. More importantly, local brewers telling their stories in local vernacular constitutes the only language any politician absolutely can be relied upon to understand –voting, remember? The story must be told over and over, to the point where you’re feeling like quaffing a nice, cold Miller Lite rather than repeating those same words yet again to a clueless council member or bumbling chamber of commerce propagandist.
That’s the way it works, and we just have to do it. Let’s hope Mayor Fischer gets the craft beer message, because there’s likely to be another seat at the table for those in a position to claim it … if they will.

Friday, December 06, 2013

The 2014 beer calendar hits the fan ... in February.

Since when does events season start in February? Here's the 2014 calendar so far, with all of them counting as NABC gigs except for the Craft Writing afternoon, which is being attended by me and my shadow.

February 1 (Saturday)
Brewers of Indiana Winterfest in Indianapolis

February 8 (Saturday)
Winter Warmer 2014 at Lafayette Brewing Company (Lafayette Indiana)

February 14 & 15 (Friday & Saturday)
Cincy Winter Beerfest in Cincinnati, Ohio

February 15 (Saturday)
Craft Writing: Beer, The Digital, and Craft Culture at the University of Kentucky (Lexington)

February 28 (Friday)
Gravity Head 2014 (Bullet Train to Blackout Town) at NABC's Pizzeria & Public House

Ah, but wait -- there's more, because a new festival is coming to Louisville ...

February 22 (Saturday)
Tailspin Ale Festival – Louisville’s 1st Winter Warmer Beer Festival at Bowman Field

Following are a few more Indiana dates of interest.

April 5-12
Bloomington Craft Beer Week

April 12
Bloomington Craft Beer Fest

July 12-19
Circle City Beer Week

July 19
Indiana Microbrewers Festival

Thursday, December 05, 2013

A brief report on this week's Brewers of Indiana Guild meeting.

On Wednesday, there was a board meeting of the Brewers of Indiana Guild, and I accompanied NABC's Blake Montgomery to Indianapolis for the occasion. He went out and did sales guy stuff, and I spent the afternoon at Sun King with the other directors.

Not all the topics we discuss can be public knowledge, but broad themes are fair game. As with any organization, we have our internal housekeeping tasks to perform. These days, much activity has to do with the explosion of commercial brewing in Indiana. The number of working breweries in Indiana has more than doubled during the past three years.

Among other tasks, the Guild hopes to improve communications with all craft brewers in the state, improve promotion of the segment, continue to successfully lobby the legislature, commence a mentoring program and have every brewery in attendance at our two biggest yearly fests. Toward these ends, we're organizing committees. I'm on the membership committee, and this makes me quite happy.

I'm also glad that as we move forward into the emerging era of Indiana brewing multiplication, one of my pet ideas is gaining traction. We're not there yet, but the day draws nearer.

I wrote about it earlier this year.

Now that Indiana is a state fairly blessed with brewers, should non-Indiana beers still be a component of these three yearly Guild fests?

Of course … under conditions and circumstances channeled by the guild itself, which to my way of thinking, means orienting guest beers according to their own state guild structures, and not by their Indiana wholesalers.

My solution has the merit of gently nudging Indiana wholesalers sponsoring an Indiana guild-administered festival to better support those Indiana brewers already on their sales rosters. It also provides a compelling reason for other state Guilds to become better organized, and to refine their message.

Just picture it: Instead of a wholesaler tent at the BIG Microbrewers Festival, with craft beers from America jumbled together, there could be separate tents for guilds from Kentucky, Michigan and other states.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The PC: Strawberry’s Bar Forever.

(Published at LouisvilleBeer.com on December 1, 2013)


Strawberry’s Bar Forever

Once I’d actually gotten to know the brothers Harold and Kenny Schneider, who at the time owned the K & H Café in Lanesville, Indiana, elements of my wayward past life began nagging at me. Early on, I resolved never to tell them my secret. The embarrassment would be too great, because they’d become more than ordinary bartenders. They were friends and mentors.
Harold, whom everyone knew as Strawberry (or Straw), died in June of 2013 at the age of 78, prompting memories and reflection. Is it too late now to confess? I don’t think so. It’s never too late to start all over again, and to put this trauma behind me forever by confiding aloud to his brother, other surviving family members and the planet as a whole: Yes, it’s all true. When first patronizing the K & H Café and partaking of its short list of adjunct beers, kept highly chilled therein, I wasn’t yet 21 years of age.
In fact, I was barely 19. There: I’ve said it.
What more can I say?
Kenny and Straw owned the K & H for 35 years, from 1960 (the year I was born) through 1995, when quite a few of the regulars from various eras gathered together to say goodbye and to wish them a happy retirement. A deeper consideration of this chronology reveals Straw to have been 25 when the “K” first opened, and 60 when the new owners took over.
(Immediately, I don the dainty shoes of Miss Trixie, elderly and iconic secretary inhabiting the pages of America’s funniest novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, to plaintively ask: “Am I retired yet?” Is there a slim possibility of my own escape from small business ownership servitude in only seven short years? Alas, it’s highly unlikely. I started later than Straw, at the advanced age of 32, and three and a half decades for me projects to a conceivable departure at 67. Ah, but a boy can dream)
Of course, mere words never will suffice to summarize a long and well-lived life. Some probably look down on the occupation of small town tavern keeper, but Straw raised kids and sent them through college (as did his brother), went to church, and was an active community pillar by any local standard. Displaying a bushy red raised eyebrow, he was understated to the point of a sage’s gentle sandbagging, invariably providing the barflies with wise, thoughtful counsel.
My chronological transgressions as patron were artfully obscured when Straw and Kenny hired me as an occasional bartender in 1983; there was no job application, and an ID wasn’t necessary considering I already possessed the requisite state servers permit from my other job at the package store. It was my first glimpse of the view from the other side of the bar.
The routine was simple. The two owners alternated weekly, working days or nights. An ancient lady who’d been there form the start cooked burgers and tenderloins at lunch, then prepped the evening’s food for greater efficiency, because on slower weeknights, the sole bartender both served and manned the griddle. On weekends, there’d be some kitchen help and an extra bartender to accommodate larger crowds.
Budweiser and Miller Lite were on tap, served in chilled Mason jars. Cocktails mostly resembled various combinations of whiskey, vodka, coke and orange juice. There might have been tomato juice, and tequila shots were not unknown. Pabst, Old Milwaukee and a handful of other mass market brands were available in cans, and a couple weekly cases of Stroh’s were on hand for Doc, a colorful Lanesville resident who duly pillaged them each weekend.
The wood-paneled bar room was divided from the all-ages area by a wall, later removed during renovations near the end of the brothers’ long run. Upstairs was a dusty, unused former apartment filled with supplies, point-of-sale detritus and a quarter-century of lost-and-found.
I desperately wanted to live up there.
The fat screen above the bar showed college sports, selected network dramas and (for a while) the Dukes of Hazard. The electronic darts game in back provided a useful distraction for idle hands, when visible; there was no discernible non-smoking area, and no obligation to provide one. Country music and classic rock played on a genuine vinyl-filled juke box, and to this very day, certain Conway Twitty and Alabama songs compel my inner Pavlov’s dog to yelp at the mere suggestion of their chords. Quite early during my tenure, customers pitched in to help restore a vintage shuffleboard table. It was a retro showpiece.
Once, in a condition of sheer blotto, my visiting cousin noticed a wooden carving on the shelf behind the bar, and announced to all and sundry that Jesus now was on tap. Saviors aside, no imports were stocked, and craft beer as such didn’t yet exist during the Reagan years, although the brothers tolerated a short period when Larry and I got uppity and insisted on bringing bottles of Guinness Export Stout inside the K & H for mixing into half-and-halves, in Mason jars, using … yes, using Budweiser in place of pale ale.
Once the novelty wore off, I accepted my station in regional life and meekly went back to drinking Doc’s leftover Stroh’s.
It wasn’t until I moved to Floyds Knobs from Georgetown and began hanging out at a pizza place in New Albany called Sportstime did my Lanesville ties begin to fade. An evolution was underway, or a revolution, or maybe (finally, and regrettably) I was growing up. But times changed quickly, and it wasn’t long before decades had passed and a rose-hued glow began shining in the rear-view mirror. I’ve learned to respect it – and keep driving.
When I think back, not once during my period of work and patronage at the K & H did the prospect of small business ownership cross my mind. Yet here I am, immersed.
Perhaps inadvertently, I learned far more about running a business than was evident to me at the time. Straw in particular offered numerous and memorable life lessons about patience and a good attitude when dealing with the unpredictability of the consuming public. I may not have always practiced these examples, but they haven’t been forgotten.
Most importantly, the K & H was all about community, and Straw welcomed me as part of the Lanesville family, as well as his own. It’s the biggest insight of all, and one that never goes out of fashion. Rest in peace, kind sir. Your work lives on … even the Mason jars, which I’m told are back in fashion.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

From Honey Creme to Vietnam Kitchen on Thanksgiving, 2013.

Scrumptious and delicious -- not to mention the donuts.

Unfazed following yesterday's pecan pie purchase at Sweet Stuff, located a few blocks from our house toward the city center, me and the missus strolled ten minutes this morning in the opposite direction, down to another New Albany institution, so as to begin the holiday with style and sugar

Honey Creme is so delightfully old-school that you feel guilty washing down their goodies with espresso. But I didn't have Folger's around the house. Next comes the yearly ritual and family tradition.

We've been doing Vietnamese for Thanksgiving for as long as we've known each other, and I've no need for the elaborate Thanksgiving meal of childhood.

But let's be pragmatic for a change.

If you'll be coming by the Public House on Friday for Saturnalia MMXIII, and JUST BY SHEER UNFETTERED COINCIDENCE you happen to have leftover turkey for sandwiches on your person and are willing to allow me to MAKE OFF WITH JUST A LITTLE BIT of it, well, it is QUITE LIKELY that a nice beer may find its way into your hands. Just saying. Not that I really need turkey, or anything. You know.

Needless to say, both NABC locations are closed today; we'll be open on Friday, November 29 for usual business hours. Be careful out there, and enjoy your adult libations responsibly.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Psst ... your subjectivity is showing, and I note this fact purely objectively.

Earlier this week, I was involved in a beer discussion thread at Facebook, and it proved to be quite good. Agreement may have been elusive, but that’s what makes the game worth the flame. The worst aspect of it is that we’re having the conversation electronically, and not in a comfortable pub with good beer, snacks and a convivial atmosphere.

One thought emerging from the chat, at least in my saturated noggin, is that there isn’t any such thing as a “monolithic” craft beer culture. Once upon a time, perhaps there was. Now there are several craft beer cultures, and while they have components in common, the respective spheres don’t entirely overlap. It strikes me that these respective craft beer cultures boast differing root or principal values, contributing to elaborate belief systems undeniably pursuing better beer, but disagreeing on what the pursuit of better beer actually entails.

Some values are physiologically determined and are normally considered objective, such as a desire to avoid physical pain or to seek pleasure. Other values are considered subjective, vary across individuals and cultures, and are in many ways aligned with belief and belief systems.

The following cultures are not intended as exhaustive, but as a basis for further exploration.

A homebrewer/craft culture that principally values being able to analyze, recreate and “brew it yourself.”

A trader/swapper culture that principally values the mechanics of the chase and the joy of collecting.

A ratings/priestly culture that principally values the presumed exactitude and objectivity of language in quantifying pleasure, and wielding it subjectively like a tire iron.

A localist culture that principally values the personal, grassroots experience of places and people.

Specifically, at some point in the earlier thread, it was said that beer from the Louisville area isn’t of sufficient quality because it tends not to interest traders in other places, and consequently, if we brewers are interested in building a more valuable locally-brewed culture, we’d be wise to borrow whatever tricks are wielded by breweries elsewhere, because these methods obviously have higher value, seeing as they generate more interest among the network of traders.

I see this as the tail launching the dog into outer space.

To my knowledge, every local Louisville area brewery does a thriving trade at its own tap room or restaurant, and when I drink locally brewed beers in these venues, they generally taste perfectly good to me. I’m not a rube, and I’ve been doing this for three decades. So, what (and where) is the disconnection?

Is it that folks going to brewpubs and enjoying fresh local beer are incapable of proper value judgments – or else they wouldn’t be drinking beer of inferior quality? Or, is it because the attributes principally valued by trading and swapping reflect a different value system than the typical localist’s? Are their different belief systems at play?

Verily, fascination with the far-off is as old as humanity. In his book, Tastes of Paradise, the social historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch reminds us that when the spice trade commenced in Europe several hundred years ago, the “need” to obtain spices from the Orient was far less about their supposed usefulness in masking rancid food, as is often imagined nowadays, but because the spices themselves were quantifiable measures of status according to the prevailing values of the age.

In essence, back then, anyone who was anyone just had to have these spices – or, risk not being anyone, any longer. Possession of Oriental spices was a symbol of status, and key to their value was the basic fact that these spices were from somewhere else – exotic, expensive and hard to obtain, and therefore infinitely sexier than the local norm. It wasn’t necessary to explain it. It was understood, and the peasants knew full well that status was conferred on those in possession of the requisite symbolism.

All this is well and good, but what I’m prepared to argue is that nothing about any of this can be termed objective, as insisted oft times during the thread. In fact, what I'm coming to question is whether there is any such objective reality in these considerations, and how truly objective it might possibly be, when from the very start the trader/collector (and often, the beer “geek”) offers as "objectivity" a set of prerequisites clearly influenced by rampant subjectivity.

In short, once the cultural subdivision or label (as above) has been imbued with a value system and embraced, don’t the adherents begin playing to their respective and subjective value systems? After all, once one becomes part of a club, one starts obeying the club's directives. If one can merely flash an image of a sought-after beer and induce salivating on the part of the audience, without once being obliged to explain or provide greater depth of insight as to why the viewer should be salivating, haven’t we passed joltingly from the realm of better beer into the laboratory of Pavlov’s canine?

I don’t have all the answers. But the questions are quite entertaining, and the entertainment value is immeasurably enhanced by vitriol … and squirming.

Friday, November 22, 2013

NABC believes in Naughty Claus. We don't believe in Black Friday.

NABC will be very busy on Thanksgiving weekend, 2013, though not on the holiday itself. Thanksgiving Day is on Thursday, November 28, and both NABC locations will be closed. On Friday, the beer schedule explodes.

Plaid Friday is on Friday, November 29. At NABC's Pizzeria & Public House, this is the day when Saturnalia Winter Solstice draft fest begins ... and it's the 10th anniversary edition.

Jingle Walk and HolidayFest (Downtown New Albany) takes place during the afternoon on Saturday, November 30. We'll be dispensing samples of Naughty Claus, Tunnel Vision and other NABC favorites on the premises of Keg Liquors.

Later on Saturday evening,  The Nifty $50 Art Show is happening at the Art Store in downtown New Albany. There'll be art, musical entertainment and NABC's Elector and Houndmouth on draft.

Meanwhile, New Albany's favorite band Houndmouth plays Headliners Music Hall in Louisville on the 29th and the 30th (both shows are sold out as of this writing), and by special arrangement, NABC Houndmouth will be available on tap at the venue, which customarily doesn't serve draft beer.

This brings us to 10:00 a.m. on the morning of Sunday, December 1, as Bank Street Brewhouse begins its Sunday Brewhouse Brunch, with our ever-popular build-your-own Bloody Mary Bar, food, and carry-out growlers all day long. Not exactly a nightcap ... although perhaps a brunch-cap after a prolific weekend.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The PC: From Bier Brewery to Cumberland Brews, but not neglecting Plaid Friday.

(Published at LouisvilleBeer.com on November 15, 2013)


The PC: From Bier Brewery to Cumberland Brews, but not neglecting Plaid Friday.

My eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing, right there on the Twitter feed.
Could it really be?
Up in Indianapolis at the Mass Avenue Pub – a fine, craft-friendly downtown bar in an emerging food, drink and cultural corridor – there was going to be a tap takeover, and the beers projected to flood the pub’s draft lines were coming from Bier Brewery.
Surely this was a misprint.
After all, Bier Brewery is not located in San Diego, Boulder, Kalamazoo, Atlanta or Bend (Oregon). How could they get away with THAT? If beer appreciation these days is all about location/further location/furthest location, then it stands to reason that Bier Brewery’s home in Indianapolis, just a few miles away from Mass Avenue Pub, would preclude it from being embraced by an Indy pub. The narcissists wouldn’t stand for it. Where was the chic, the aura … the sheer distance?
There had to be a catch.
Pondering the enigma as I cuddled up to a Sun King Sunlight Cream Ale, daringly decanted straight from the can into my favorite dimpled mug, I imagined a conversation with Mass Avenue Pub’s management.
Roger: Really? You’re emphasizing local Indianapolis-brewed beers … in Indianapolis? The end times must be upon us.
Mass Avenue Pub: What’s so unusual about that? We have lots of great breweries here in Indianapolis.
R: I dunno. They’re only great when you’re somewhere else, right? Does Bier Brewery have good enough scores on RateAdvocate?
MAP: Beats me. I never look at RateAdvocate. Bier Brewery is top quality and caring folks, and we’re just trying to support local beer.
R: Okay, but how can a joint be local if the beers aren’t sourced from a gypsy brewer utilizing multiple locations in the European Union, and then sending them to America by means of an equation pegging IBUs to an inverse carbon footprint?
MAP: Gypsy? That’s funny. We have a bunch of tattooed brewers in town, but no gypsies I’m aware of. We support other beers from all over, too, but Bier Brewery brews right here – and local breweries are what makes Indy such a wonderful beer town.
R: Sounds risky to me. Did you get express written permission from World Class Beer to do this? Are any of Bier Brewery’s beers triple-soured during a sea journey across the equator? Maybe Dry-Chrysanthemummed? Better yet: Aged in caskets formerly used to bury Scottish road kill, but only if constructed with Islay-tempered wood?
MAP: (Laughing) Maybe, maybe not. Why not come up and see?
R: I might, thanks.
Still somewhat confused, I proceeded to the kitchen to begin work on an especially important pot of Hungarian Szekely Goulash, for which I’d reserved a bottle of Neyron Red from New Albany’s River City Winery.
As the aromas of pork, onions, paprika and sauerkraut filled the house, it seemed the perfect time to switch off the Arctic Monkeys’ newest and tune into the recently released Episode 9 of the LouisvilleBeer.com podcast, the one where Scott Shreffler of Schlafly gave us a solid Gravity Head preview, but didn’t reveal how Schlafly managed to outbid Alltech for Yum Center craft access.
Only the shadow knows … and Centerplate, of course.
There were ten very interesting minutes jam-packed into the podcast’s hour-long running time, among them a good discussion (paraphrased) about beer brewed in Louisville, to wit:
How come we never talk about Cumberland Brewery/Brews?
Indeed. Why? It’s a relevant query, and the podcast’s participants were suitably thoughtful in briefly identifying a seeming “disconnect”: The 13-year-old brewpub’s relative anonymity when it comes to participation in events and discourse.
Someone noted that Cumberland Brews seems perfectly content to fly beneath the radar, to refrain from hedonistic chest-thumping, to please its customer base, and to thrive on its own little chunk of Louisville localism. Or, to be more succinct, Cumberland Brews might well be the only Louisville Metro brewery to recall and apply the founding principles and localist ethos of the craft beer revolution.
Who’s up for a Cumberland Brews tap takeover?
(pins drop, crickets chirp)
That’s what I thought. Perhaps in Taos, New Mexico. Is that far enough away?
NABC is a founding member of New Albany First, which is our city’s independent business association (IBA). It’s like the Louisville Independent Business Alliance (LIBA), which encourages you to Keep Louisville Weird, and is dedicated to encouraging the public to support independently owned, small local businesses. IBAs accomplish this through three primary focus areas:
1. Public education about the greater overall value local independents often can provide (even when they are not the cheapest) as well as the vital economic, social and cultural role independent businesses play in the community.
2. Facilitating cooperative promotion, advertising, purchasing, sharing of skills and resources and other activities to help local businesses gain economies of scale and compete more effectively.
3. Creating a strong and uncompromised voice to speak for local independents in the local government and media while engaging citizens in guiding the future of their community through democratic action.
NABC and our craft brewing brethren sink or swim as locally oriented independents, and many of us have pledged support via New Albany First and LIBA. Happily, the approaching holiday season provides a perfect opportunity to put worthwhile principles into real-world action.
We all know that “Black Friday” (November 29) is the biggest sales day of the year for big boxes and multinational chain stores — the ones where the money promptly flees town for corporate headquarters worldwide. In response to media hype and saturation advertising, which steer so much trade to the country’s biggest, richest and largest companies on “Black Friday,” the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), of which New Albany First is a member, promotes Shift Your Shopping, of which Plaid (as opposed to Black) Friday is a component.
Instead of Black Friday it’s PLAID FRIDAY! Shift Your Shopping and wear plaid as you shop on Friday to remind yourself and others to make the 10% Shift. The 10% Shift encourages you to shift 10% of your holiday purchases from non-local businesses to Local Independents (also called indies or locally owned and independent businesses). Making the shift to local independents is one way we can build sustainable economies and create jobs in our local community.
It’s simple. You’re not being asked to go cold turkey — just allocate a percentage to independent local businesses, and learn what they can do for you. New Albany First and LIBA can help locate independent businesses, and we thank you for your support.
Now more than ever: Think globally, drink locally.