Thursday, April 30, 2015

"Kentucky Common beer to stand out at BrewFest."

This one's been on the docket for a while. It takes place tomorrow.

At LouisvilleBeer: "Derby City BrewFest: An 'Uncommon' Beer Festival on Derby Eve."

To summarize, tracking down facts about the historical presence in Louisville of a style referred to as "common" (or reflecting the German still being spoken locally then, "Komon") poses many challenges, but it existed, and appears to have varied widely. The term itself might have more to do with price point than anything else, in the form of a "session" or "table" beer, inexpensive, and suitable for daily consumption at a time when cultural mores would have embraced such a brew as a thirst quencher, as opposed to soda, water or iced tea.

Whether sourness was an intrinsic property of Kentucky Common remains the great debatable. It may have been a by-product of handling, as Leah Dienes of Apocalypse Brewery suggests in the article below. The idea the common might have been loosely connected with sour mash (see: bourbon) in some fashion may or may not be supported by available evidence, although it makes sense even if only in an isolated or accidental way, and undoubtedly bolsters the storytelling possibilities.

In Louisville, the Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, and the day before is the Oaks, a racing day generally claimed by locals as their own. Churchill Downs is a money-making conglomerate, which for several years has forged an alliance with the Stella Artois, making carbonated Belgian dishwater the "official" beer of the Kentucky Derby. Naturally, if you're interested in what's really brewing locally, Derby City BrewFest is a required destination tomorrow night. Here's another preview.

Kentucky Common beer to stand out at BrewFest, by Bailey Loosemore (Courier-Journal)

Also, don't forget to reject Stella Artois as faux Derby beer.

A few other seasonal Derby links:

The classic: Director’s Cut: ‘The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,’ by Hunter S. Thompson.

The outrage: Tradition, Americana, Churchill Downs and Stella Artois.

On horse pimps: "The Kentucky Derby Really Is Decadent and Depraved."

Just be patient: Derby Festival begins, bad beer flows, and so we learn to wait.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

These requests from abroad, Vol. 13: Two collectors from Poland.

If you own or work for a brewery, you've probably fielded numerous e-mail inquiries from overseas asking for beer labels, crown caps and the like, as destined to become the cherished keepsakes of private collectors from just about anywhere -- although it seems that most of them live somewhere around eastern and central Europe.

To me, there is something compelling and yet haunting about these foreign requests, places of longtime personal interest to me both historically and geographically. I've been in or near many of them. They speak vividly to my inner melancholic. Lately, I've been pasting their addresses into Google Map and seeing what their places of residence look like.

After all, they can look at my business via the same technology, and it seems only fair for me to see where they live, so very far away. Especially coming from European locales, these are images that speak powerfully to me, conjuring memories of places I've been, people I've met ... and beers I've consumed.

Quite a few of these seems to come from Poland. 

I'm not sure why, but they do, and my latest obsession has been to follow the street views on Google Map from the city or town's train station to the address of the inquirer, with a traveler's presumed wanderings in mind: Where would I stop for a beer in route?

My admittedly small sampling reveals that there are too few pubs in Poland. Back during my backpacking days (although in fairness, I wasn't in Poland very much), it was axiomatic that to emerge from the train station in eastern and central Europe was to see a kiosk or restaurant close at hand, packed with locals enjoying their beers.

Now there are few. Maybe they drink at home these days. So do I.

Now, on to the most recent pair of requests.

Above is the town of Gniewkowo, where Kasia lives, somewhere on this street. Gniewkowo is located northwest of Warsaw near the city of Torun. The border with Germany is about 150 miles away. There's a rail station, but it's on the edge of town to the south, with little close to it save for a Communist era housing estate and a sports complex. On the main downtown street, there is a restaurant where it's reasonable to assume Polish lager is served. I'd eat there.

Meanwhile, Kasia is more creative than most.

We could also exchange if you wish so. I have a lot of interesting polish breweries stuff to exchange. I would be very grateful if you would be so kind to send me any of your coasters, bottle openers, labels or any other items.

I like the idea of her offering to swap items, and will set this email aside for future consideration, if I ever have time.

Ironically, Kamila doesn't live very far away from Kasia, in the larger settlement of Ciechocinek, which is noted as a spa and tourist city. It's another quiet residential street, a bit removed from the center.

Kamila is more ambitious.

My name is Kamila. I am a beer items collector. This is my passion for a few years. I have a quite big collection but I do not have any item from foreign breweries. My favourite interest is collecting openers. I would be very grateful if you would be so kind and send for my address any collector's item. I would be appreciative of any bottle-opener, cap, label, coaster or glass.

Ciechocinek appears decidedly more affluent than Gniewkowo. The Wikipedia entry praises the quality of Ciechocinek's thermal springs and its saline graduation towers, pictured at the beginning of this post.

Ciechocinek is a spa town in Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland, located on the Vistula River about 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east of Aleksandrów Kujawski and 20 kilometres (12 mi) south-east of the city of Toruń.
Ciechocinek is known for its unique 'saline graduation towers'. Experts have considered the local saline springs to be of extreme value and named the thermal spring no. 14 "a wonder of nature". The therapeutic qualities of these springs are directed toward curing cardiovascular, respiratory, orthopedic, traumatic, rheumatic, nervous system and women's diseases.

Poland. Maybe some day.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 2 … Hitting the ground crawling in Luxembourg.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 2 … Hitting the ground crawling in Luxembourg.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

(Second in a series chronicling my travel year 1985)

Thirty years on, two relatively odd twists stand out in my memory of my first European excursion in 1985.

First, given my usual compulsion to write, and considering the ample time I spent waiting on trains and then riding them, resting in hostel common areas after a long day’s touring or sitting on park benches watching life’s rich pageant – in short, with so much spare time to harness -- very little of that first trip was committed to paper.

Only snippets and random observations survive, along with a fairly accurate day-to-day record of my progress.

Why? Maybe it was laziness, although more likely the sheer sensory overload was too much for me to handle. I know what you’re probably thinking, but it certainly wasn’t because of the alcohol consumed.

To this day, people don’t believe me when I say that very little in the way of alcohol beverages was consumed abroad in 1985. In the beginning, there were stray beers here and there, but nothing approaching intoxication until I let loose for a night in Rome with a group of fellow travelers, having discovered cold, 2,000-lira (one dollar) 2/3 liter bottles of Carlsberg (and cold, too!) at a bar down the street from our pension.

Later in Turin, I drank with my cousin and his pal Scott, and after that at local place in Vienna and the Augustiner beer hall in Salzburg … of course, there was the Hofbrauhaus in Munich, and numerous pints of Guinness in Sligo, Ireland while watching Live Aid on the telly … and we can’t forget the vodka with the Australia during the Leningrad stay near the end … can we?

But seriously, fifteen drunken nights out of 90 is a fairly poor record for the allegedly professional drinker I fancied myself to be at the time, and it owed entirely to caution, to the fear of letting go in an unfamiliar environment, especially at night, walking long blocks back to bed following revelry. Also, there wasn’t much money, and I intended to hoard it carefully.

Parsimony proved wise. Stepping off the return flight in Chicago on August 8, 1985, I had exactly $100 in my pocket. The rest was gone, and for as good of a cause as could be imagined. Arthur Frommer, who helped start it all, ultimately was wrong in quoting a $25-a-day figure. The Euro was as yet a dream, the dollar was strong against national currencies, and the final calculation came out to about $19.50 a day, not counting the rail pass and flights.


May, 1985.

A 45-minute stopover at Keflavik for comprehensive Icelandic souvenir shopping may indeed have afforded my first official steps on something resembling European soil, but in truth, the inaugural stroll across the continent’s sacred ground must be said to have taken place at the Luxembourg City international arrivals terminal.

After passport control and customs, I spotted an “exchange” window. Exhausted from a sleepless night, I turned and asked a fellow passenger whether I should get French francs or the Luxembourg variety.

“Well, that would depend on where you are, wouldn’t it,” he replied, with a surliness borne either by his own sleepless transatlantic night, or perhaps an upbringing of pain and betrayal suggested by an unmistakable New York City accent.

Nonplussed, I waited silently in line and when my turn came, swiftly shoved the immaculately clean traveler’s check through a tiny aperture, waiting to see what sort of money would come spitting back, and hoping I wouldn’t have to answer questions in an unknown local dialect.

The teller motioned toward my passport and yawned. Luxembourg francs appeared … and a new ritual had been experienced.

Further ahead, the baggage conveyor disgorged my inexpensive Service Merchandise “athletic club” gym bag, which lacked backpack convertibility, but had a handy shoulder strap – and one of the strap’s connecting loops had been ripped away from the fabric by the baggage sorting claws, leaving it useless, and subsequently fating the bag to be carried like a suitcase for the remainder of the journey.

Finally I emerged into a covered plaza, followed the signs for an airport bus bound for the central train station, and paid the driver with a crisp Luxembourg franc C-note. A short suburban ride later, the bus glided into its lane at the stylish old Gare, and I bounded out, finally, into a stereotypically busy, sunlit European street with sidewalks, bicycles and cafes.

All well and good. Now what?

Somewhere in Luxembourg City there was an officially sanctioned international youth hostel with a reservation (facilitated by “snail” mail, no less) waiting just for me. How to get there? Should I buy a city map, or risk humiliation by asking directions of a possibly non-English speaking passer-by?

An Internet kiosk was out of the question, as the information superhighway had yet to be invented by Al Gore.

Looming before me was a large sign that turned out to be a map of the city, providentially erected as a public service for ignorant foreigners exiting the train station for the very first time. Walking toward it, I abruptly stumbled and looked down to see the arm of a street person in a decently clean suit passed out drunk in the shade of a fountain.

Fragrant and snoring, he was no help at all, but the map showed exactly where I was, and precisely where I needed to go, which looked to be about two kilometers in a straight line.

Easy enough on the face of it, except the street names in French defied easy memorization, and most importantly, the map failed to show the irregular topography of Luxembourg City, which lies on ridges and hills and is contoured not unlike corners of West Virginia.

My 2-km scenic hike took almost two hours, mercifully ending when it finally did only because I finally chanced by a pole sporting various directional signs, one of which was the familiar hut-and-tree logo pointing the way to the youth hostel.

It had taken so long to perform these simple arrival tasks that the hostel already was open for afternoon hours. I checked in without difficulty, located my assigned bunk in what would become a completely filled 12-person dorm room, declined both a shower and an institutional dinner of noodles and mystery meat, never once considered drinking a beer, and proceeded to sleep 15 hours straight through ‘til morning, a continental breakfast, and the trek back to station to board my first train.

How do you get to Greece from Luxembourg on a rail pass? I was about to find out.



The PC: Euro ’85, Part 1 … where it all began.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Visits to West Sixth and Blue Stallion while philosophizing in Lexington, Kentucky.

Multiple kudos to Peter Fosl, Professor of Philosophy at Transylvania University, who came up with a first-rate idea for me to come to Lexington on a brilliant spring Thursday and speak with philosophy majors over lunch at the school cafeteria. That's because I'm a Bachelor of Arts degree holder with a major in philosophy (IU Southeast, 1982).

The missus joined me for the road trip, and a great time was had by all.

When the cafeteria shut down, Diana and I had two hours to ourselves, and so we took a 15-minute walk to West Sixth Brewing, where we enjoyed a plethora of beers (Berliner Weisse, Smoked Porter, Hefeweizen and Dunkel, all deadly accurate) and snacks from Smithtown Seafood, located in the same building.

Then it was off to a humanities faculty reception (thanks, Mr. and Mrs Furlong) where I conducted an impromptu beer sampling for those in attendance, with NABC bombers and local Lexington brews from West Sixth, Alltech and Country Boy.

Peter dropped us off at Blue Stallion, where first a Rauchbier and then a Marzen completed the day, in the company of numerous students playing trivia, and a superlative food truck: Rolling Oven, making wood-fired pizza and Italian sandwiches.

Blue Stallion inspired reflections of a modern oddity: Having locally-brewed lagers at a brewpub filled with kids half my age, who are listening to the same music we were hearing at Knobs field keg parties back in 1976. Strange. Do we really need the James Gang any longer?

Stuffed to the point of tick-like, we walked back to our room at the classy Gratz Park Inn and collapsed. Earlier in the day, we'd chatted about the late Christopher Hitchens, who visited Transylvania University in 2004, and stayed at the same hotel. Now, finally, I have something in common with Hitchens, who is one of my favorite writers.

Obviously, we missed a few worthy beer places, but after all, it was a "working" trip, and there'll be other times. Thanks to everyone at Transylvania for a fine day and a nice break from the routine.

Friday, April 24, 2015

"This year, Three Floyds' Dark Lord Day will double as a craft beer-soaked protest rally."

Speaking as a beer fan of longstanding, and in no official capacity whatever, please permit me to say just this one thing.

Thank you, Nick Floyd.

Nick is speaking much needed truth to power with regard to Indiana's disastrous RFRA legislation, as engineered by Indiana's GOP "super majority." Some might say that those in Nick's position should be more circumspect, and refrain from taking a position, especially given that many of these same legislators have favored Indiana's brewing business.

Not me. I believe they need to be called out, early and often.

RFRA, even as hurriedly revised when the backlash ka ka hit the fan, is a monstrous act of stupidity. It did harm to Indiana's brewing industry, and modifications aside, it will continue to do so. We must speak out whenever and wherever we can. As our customers are injured, so are we.

Thanks again, Nick.

Three Floyds Makes Dark Lord Day Pro-Gay With Big Freedia Show, by Mark Konkol (DNAinfo - Chicago)

This year, Three Floyds' Dark Lord Day will double as a craft beer-soaked protest rally.

The target: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and his state’s controversial Freedom of Religion Restoration Act — the so-called “anti-gay” law that prompted national outrage from politicians, liberal activists and rock bands alike.

“We’re fighting the power of the governor of Indiana over the freedom of religion act, or whatever it’s called, that basically makes it legal to discriminate against anyone,” Three Floyds brewer-owner Nick Floyd said.

So, at Saturday’s annual celebration of Three Floyds Brewery’s Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout — the only day you can buy what many craft brew geeks consider the world’s best brew — Floyd added a gender-bending performer to co-headline its hard rock lineup of bands with the reunited original lineup of heavy metal rockers Corrosion of Conformity.

Floyd, who lives in Ukrainian Village, said his Munster, Ind.-based brewery also got calls from people asking him to protest the law by canceling Dark Lord Day — the one day of the year you can buy Three Floyds' Russian Imperial Stout — in protest of the controversial law.

“I tell them, ‘Look, Dark Lord Day is the biggest f--- y--- to that law,” Floyd said. “One lady even wanted to sell her ticket because she wants us to boycott [the law.] I had to tell her we’re on your side. We’re fighting back, and the best thing to do is come here and support us.”

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I'm for it: CAMRA debates and passes progressive motions.

I'm aware of all the reasons why an American is supposed to frown on such an organization, with its conferences, motions and cardigans. I love it just the same, and it remains a yardstick to me, 25 years after I first began paying dues and getting monthly newspapers. Eventually I stopped getting the paper copies, and started following CAMRA electronically.

Let’s get behind the beer industry: CAMRA members vote for a more inclusive campaign

Members of CAMRA, Europe's largest beer consumer group, have reinforced the organisation's positive approach to campaigning for beer and pubs by passing a series of progressive motions at its annual conference.

More than 1,200 CAMRA members attended the conference in Nottingham between 18-19 April and debated and voted on 20 motions about issues affecting the beer and pub industry, as well as CAMRA's future campaigning. Decisions were taken to support the practice of serving real ale from ‘key-kegs' and to recognise cider with whole fruit and spices as ‘real' were passed, whereas motions that advocated CAMRA distancing itself from wider beer industry initiatives were rejected.

Members clearly voted in support of an inclusive approach to the beer industry, reaffirming that the Campaign is about the promotion and championing of real ale, and providing a choice for drinkers, rather than outright opposition to other types of beer. The Conference expressed the strong opinion that denigrating other types of beer should not form part of the Campaign's active advocacy of real ale ...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

An inspiring Rauchbier at Gordon Biersch in downtown Louisville.

On the topic of the Gordon Biersch restaurant/brewery outlet in downtown Louisville, I'll have more to say a bit later in the year, as my column in Food & Dining Magazine (3rd quarter, circa August) will profile it.

First, having been called upon to represent NABC in a "throwdown" evening at Biersch, with our Helles and theirs flowing at the same time, I had a wonderful time on Tuesday with beers, pizza and Nicholas Landers, who brews at Biersch.

Given my habit of antagonizing the peanut gallery with rote chants of "Death to Chains," there'll be an inevitable rejoinder alleging hypocrisy, or worse. But life isn't black and white, and localism is about principled shift -- and at Louisville's branch of Biersch, all the beers are brewed on site, and a greater degree of site-specific latitude than ever before is offered to Landers. I think his core portfolio of German-style lagers (and the occasional Teutonic ale) is delicious; meanwhile, he's doing an American-style Pale Ale and IPA.

In particular, if you like Rauchbier of the Spezial model, get over there now. Nick's made a fine version using Weyermann malt. There's a growler in the fridge as we speak, and it isn't expected to last very long.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

These requests from abroad, Vol. 12: From Munich, a young man seeking to break the bottle cap record.

If you own or work for a brewery, you've probably fielded numerous e-mail inquiries from overseas asking for beer labels, crown caps and the like, as destined to become the cherished keepsakes of private collectors from just about anywhere -- although it seems that most of them live somewhere around eastern and central Europe.

To me, there is something compelling and yet haunting about these foreign requests, places of longtime personal interest to me both historically and geographically. I've been in or near many of them. They speak vividly to my inner melancholic. Lately, I've been pasting their addresses into Google Map and seeing what their places of residence look like.

After all, they can look at my business via the same technology, and it seems only fair for me to see where they live, so very far away. Especially coming from European locales, these are images that speak powerfully to me, conjuring memories of places I've been, people I've met ... and beers I've consumed.

Say hello to Moritz, who is a resident of Munich, Germany.

It has been a decade since my last visit to Munich. Once upon a time, this would have been cause for concern, but I've been to Bamberg a few times since then, and it just goes to show how priorities change.

Moritz's residence appears to be the smudgy building in the center, which is located around eight miles from the center of town, to the northwest, just before the countryside begins. Quoted verbatim, you'll note something perhaps unusual about this request.

Dear Sir,

I am 15 years old and I am collecting bottle caps (crown caps) since four years.

Now my greatest wish is that my collection will be listed in the Guinness Book of Records. The world record is 175171 caps and therefore I am always looking for new caps to catch up and to break this record.

Therefore I would like to ask you to send me one of your bottle caps for my collection.

It would make me very happy if I could add a bottle cap of your company to my collection.

My address is: Moritz Bester, Lidelstrasse 3, D – 81245 München Germany

Thank you very much and kind regards

Moritz Bester

I returned Moritz's e-mail, informing him that alas, I could be of no help; NABC's bottle caps bear no logo or insignia. However, if anyone can give him a hand in his quest, please feel free.

Meanwhile, I'm not being flippant when I say: If I were to send him caps, would it constitute statutory breweriana?

After all, at this late date we're still plagued with many instance of Internet idiocy, wherein there must be an age verification process to read a web site about beer. I remember an episode many years ago when I was trying to access the Samuel Adams web site. Being slightly lubricated and butter-fingered, I managed to enter bad information and was blocked. Being me, I complained. Being them, a cyber-reply was forthcoming.

We understand that the age verification process may seem cumbersome. However, it is very important to us that we take every reasonable precaution to ensure that the only visitors to our site are those who can legally enjoy the great taste of a Samuel Adams beer. We take this responsibility very seriously, even to the extent that it may cause someone like you to become frustrated.

Not for the first time, I couldn’t resist the impulse to cast a line and see if there were humans somewhere on the other side.

Thanks for the template. Does this mean that we shouldn't allow children to study automobiles until they're old enough to drive? 

When it came, the reply was bureaucratic and humorless, so three cheers to censorship, to “reasonable precaution” in studying the history of fermentation science, and to those deep bows to the dictates of Puritanism that we feel like me must make.

Up the revolution ... and send Moritz some caps if you have some.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 1 … where it all began.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 1 … where it all began.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

“The Greek word for "return" is nostos. Algos means "suffering." So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.”
― Milan Kundera, Ignorance

One May morning in 1985, a middle-class American youth from bucolic Floyd County, Indiana, stumbled greasy and sleepless into the arrivals hall of a foreign airport. Following the requisite passport, customs formalities and currency exchange, he endured a thoroughly confusing and memorable first day in Europe.

Thirty years have passed since that bewildering and exhilarating Luxembourg inaugural, and the nostalgia is palpable. My inaugural European sojourn was conceived and executed with a single-minded determination unknown to me at the time. It taught me to believe in myself, and it led to many, many more pilgrimages. There have been no regrets whatever.

During my first European summer, I commenced an overdue transition from populist local yokel to genuine “citizen of the world,” as the athlete Edwin Moses so eloquently phrased it during the otherwise jingoistic and embarrassing David Wolper Memorial Olympiad in Los Angeles in 1984.


Europe in 1985 was a life-altering epiphany, but in truth, even the most minor of ephemeral insights would have seemed huge given my indecisiveness and youthful lack of focus.

A university degree in philosophy made for witty repartee, but little else, and it seemed to me that career choices were for fools who never saw the sun rise after an evening spent closing every bar in town. Ten placid green acres with a split-level dream home, a riding lawnmower, little leaguers and a fridge filled with Old Milwaukee Light? That was philistinism, right?

At the age of 24, two part-time jobs were sufficient to pay my bills. They also provided a semblance of scheduling flexibility in the event of hangovers – as there always was enough beer money. Why else would a person work at a package store in the first place? But in truth, I wasn’t going anywhere.

Even worse, I knew it.

In 1983, I was asked by an area high school teacher to accompany him as a second chaperone on a student trip to Europe the following year. The price seemed reasonable at $1,600 for nine days, with airfare, hotels, bus and most meals included. I responded affirmatively.

A few months later, I was strolling past the travel section in the library when a title caught my eye: “Europe on $25 a Day,” by Arthur Frommer. As ever mathematically challenged, I shook my head with disbelief. Was it a misprint? Could it really be true? Skeptical, I checked out the book, took it home, poured a beer, and started reading. Eventually a pocket calculator was produced.

The earth fairly shook.


My fellow twenty-something males would have required the woman (or women) of their dreams running bikini-clad across a Florida beach during a sultry rainstorm to elicit anywhere near my response to Frommer’s book, in which clear and reasonable tips plainly illustrated how to do Europe right, and for far longer duration than a mere week.

My new writing hero insisted that travel could be educational, and offer a rare glimpse into different worlds. His advice on the nuts and bolts of budget travel technique was relentlessly informative, effortlessly evocative and consistently pragmatic.

Always think like a European traveler, not an American, and like a local, not a visitor.

Don’t expect things in a foreign country to be the same as home, and expect to pay more when they are.

Think, plan, and accept the available bargains.

Don’t eat every meal in a restaurant. Pack a salami, buy a loaf of cheap crusty bread, and picnic.

Walk, ride the bus, rent a bike.

My brain was hard-wired for the humanities and history, and yet the comparative sums quickly became persuasive. At $25 per day, my $1,600 properly budgeted the Frommer way came out to 36 days, not nine. If I were to postpone the epic voyage for another year, leaving even more time to save money, the trip might last three months, not nine days.

For the next year and a half, my European travel obsession escalated, fed by a steady diet of travel books, magazine articles and PBS documentaries. Thomas Cook rail schedules were studied, and European history devoured with renewed zeal. Plans were jotted, expanded, revised, discarded, and brought back from the waste paper basket. I acquired a Pentax K-1000 camera and learned to use it, just barely.

By the spring of 1985, with departure nearing, a rough outline had settled into place.


There would be a round-trip flight on the then-cheapest Icelandair from Chicago to Luxembourg, returning 88 days after departure. Ground transport would be a three-month Eurailpass. Convinced that it would be my sole and only trip to Europe, a kamikaze itinerary was planned, incorporating nights on trains sleeping in seats, and crashed on the decks of boats. I studied every available trick to skim cash and expand the duration of my experience.

Then suddenly, the curtain finally rose.

There was a sleepless night on an eastbound flight, and before I knew it, a strange Luxembourg airport. Subsequently, theory yielded to practice. My well-ordered plan did not take into account greenness, timidity and stubbornness. The real work was just beginning.

The profusion of languages, local customs and currencies overwhelmed the senses. ATM barely existed, and the failure to note esoteric regional holidays and erratic hours kept by mom and pop shops led to foodless nights. There were missed connections, panicked fumbling and myriad disappointments.

There were times of panic, but I managed to keep moving. Despite the red-faced embarrassments, cheap hostels already booked, standing-room-only overnight train trips, pain in my arms from lugging a silly gym bag, fear of squat-only “toilets” in Turkey, forgetting a towel and using my only long-sleeved shirt to dry off, all of it managed to work out in the end. 88 days later, back again in Luxembourg for the westbound flight home, I could think of only one thing.

When’s next?

In the coming weeks during this 30th anniversary year, I’ll be describing the summer of 1985. At selected intervals, beer will factor into the narrative, although in retrospect, it must be conceded that I knew next to nothing about beer and brewing.

In all probability, that’s what made learning so much fun.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Say hello to Bologna Beer. Kinda sorta.

Most readers will quickly guess that smokiness is the "meat" in the bologna beer, but the overarching point here is the tying together of localist threads.

Locals react to "bologna beer" in Lebanon: Snitz Creek Brewery serves-up Seltzer's Bologna in a new way, by Meg Frankowski (WGAL)

LEBANON, Pa. —Would you drink your favorite deli variety in the form of beer? Snitz Creek Brewery is now serving-up Lebanon, Pa.'s, famous Seltzer's Bologna in liquid form.

While Seltzer's Bologna is a secret recipe, we do know that it's placed in wood smokehouses for three days to cure. Still, there's no actual meat in the beer mix. Adam Szajda, co-owner of Snitz Creek, says the secret is in the grains.

"We use grains that were smoked in the Seltzer's smoke house in Palmyra, Pa.," said Szajda.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Al Smith, Prohibition and the "greatest political button of all time."

Coincidentally, this may be the greatest Mental Floss posting of all time. Prohibition wasn't so much about alcohol as bigotry, religion, prejudice and politics.

And yes, the pirate votes wet.

The Greatest Political Button of All Time (Mental Floss)

 ... Many of the Protestants (particularly Methodists, Southern Baptists and German Lutherans) who so feared the nefarious influence of Smith's Catholicism were also in favor of Prohibition. Al Smith was not.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Pour Fool on Dick Cantwell's principled resignation from Elysian.

It's been a few months, and The Pour Fool follows up.

The Pour Fool on Elysian and AB InBev's "malignant tentacles."

Folks, a "craft" brewery absorbed by AB-InBev is just as dead as if a nuclear bomb were dropped on it. Huzzahs to Dick Cantwell:

"In his resignation, Cantwell affirms what everyone already knew about him; his integrity and standards and the unwavering dedication that he’s always shown to the craft brewing culture that he helped create."

The Pour Fool rocks it.

Dick Cantwell: Corporate Brewing STILL Sucks, by stevefoolbody (The Pour Fool)

Dick Cantwell has resigned from his position as partner and brewmaster at Elysian Brewing in Seattle, in the wake of the company’s tragic sale to AB/InBev, the Belgian/Brazilian mega-brewer which acquired the brewery as part of a broader plan to insinuate itself into the craft beer community and win back younger drinkers who have abandoned the company’s flagship beers, Bud, Bud Light, and the foundering Michelob.

Following are a few relevant postings from earlier in the year.

Pop open a Trojan Goose and enjoy this explanation of why you shouldn't.

Trojan Cigar?

The PC: Budweiser explains the Doctrine of Trojan Geese Transubstantiation.

Elysian and Sub Pop: "Corporate Beer Still Sucks."

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Heinz, Miller, ketchup and wretched light beer.

Read the first full paragraph below like this:

Amerian low-calorie "light" lager is one of those beers that science, technology and mass production have truly mastered. We as a society no longer need to make our own light beer in the same way that we no longer need to hand-crank our cars. We figured out a better way. Or, rather, Miller, Bud and Coors figured it out.

I'm serene in the knowledge that as times change, my fundamental hatred of light beer remains intact.

But there's more to ketchup than this homage to Heinz, as was verified by the time-wasting wonders of Wikipedia. The actual word "ketchup" can be traced to a local dialect of the Chinese language in reference to a condiment, and so perhaps it isn't so unusual after all for barbecued spareribs from the Chinese carry-outs using ketchup in the sauce.

Meanwhile, ketchup in England used to be made from mushrooms, not tomatoes. This makes sense, because Europeans didn't have tomatoes until they were brought back by New World explorers. In turn, this means that your favorite Italian spaghetti sauce recipes were not available to ancient Romans.

Neither was light beer. Lucky Romans.

Stop Making Your Ketchup In-House. It's Terrible, by Farley Elliott (Eater forums)

You know it's true.

Ketchup is one of those foodstuffs that science, technology and mass production have truly mastered. We as a society no longer need to make our own ketchup in the same way that we no longer need to hand-crank our cars. We figured out a better way. Or, rather, Heinz figured it out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Keg Fest of Ale 2015.

Todd Antz does such a good job of selling his annual event that I'm sure he doesn't need the Curmudgeon's help, but just the same, a yearly approving nod in the direction of a top-quality beer event never hurts.

Read the press release at The Keg Fest of Ale 2015.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gohmann: "Regulation, religion, and corporate interest (make) the South less hospitable to small breweries."

Steve Gohmann is a native of New Albany and a longtime acquaintance from the Public House. He's been a professor at U of L's School of Economics for more than two decades, and recently made the news when "tapped" to head the new John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise at U of L’s College of Business.

(That's Papa John, by the way)

To me, Steve is considerably more renowned of our little known somewhat secret beer tasting board, which regrettably, I've not have the time to attend of late. In what spare time he has, Steve has concluded research on craft beer and the South. The release of his paper garnered much social media attention, so please permit me to offer belated congratulations to him. I hope we can share a beer soon.

Why the South Is the Region With the Fewest Breweries, by Joe Pinsker (The Atlantic)

It may be hard to imagine now, but American ale-drinkers previously had few alternatives to the mass-produced beers that The Economist once (not incorrectly) deemed "fizzy dishwater." In fact, there were only two craft breweries in America in 1977. By 2012, that number had risen to 2,751, and while macrobreweries such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors still dominate America's beer market, craft breweries are estimated to account for about a tenth of the industry's revenues.

While observations abound about "the rise of America's craft breweries," the story has been very different on the state level. Vermont, for example, had one brewery for every 25,000 residents in 2012. Mississippi, meanwhile, had one for every 994,500. These aren't anomalous islands of booziness and temperance—they're exemplars of their regions. The nine states with the fewest breweries are all in the South. What is it about the region that might make this true?

In short, it's because of the Baptists. Steve Gohmann, a professor of economics at the University of Louisville, recently published a paper in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice cataloguing the potent blend of regulation, religion, and corporate interest that makes the South less hospitable to small breweries ...

Monday, April 13, 2015

The PC: Who'll put the beer in Boomtown?

The PC: Who'll put the beer in Boomtown?

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

There was a first-time event last year in New Albany called Boomtown Ball & Festival. It will be repeated this year, but first, let’s take a look back at the inaugural.

Boomtown took place on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and was centered on the farmers market space at the corner of Bank and Market. In conjunction with Production Simple, the local band Houndmouth “curated” musical acts. The Flea Off Market set up shop. There was a locally operated beer and libation vending station called Boomtown Tavern, selling (among other choices) NABC’s Houndmouth Ale.

In accordance with Indiana state law, the whole festival area was fenced off (see below), while outside the mandated enclosure, many of downtown New Albany's retail shops, eateries and watering holes observed special hours. By 9:00 p.m., the merriment of Boomtown shifted indoors to The Grand, where Houndmouth played a sold-out show.

The whole kit and caboodle was underwritten by city government, and to know exactly how much it cost, you’d have to ask the mayor. He might even give you a straight answer, although it’s unlikely. At the time, City Hall vowed that Boomtown would become a yearly event, and accordingly, just last week, information was released describing Boomtown Ball Version 2.0, to be held on Sunday, May 24.

BAND BUZZ: Houndmouth to present encore Boomtown Ball & Festival in New Albany

NEW ALBANY — A band with New Albany roots making waves on the national music scene is presenting the second annual Boomtown Ball & Festival, and is curating the event’s music lineup.

Houndmouth, along with New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan and WFPK, are staging the Sunday, May 24 event, which serves as the kickoff for New Albany’s Bicentennial Park Summer Concert Series, according to a news release from Production Simple.

The release does not state whether Houndmouth will perform at the event.

Early indications are that Houndmouth will not perform at or near Boomtown in 2015, perhaps because the group will be prominently featured at Louisville’s Forecastle music festival in mid-July.

In addition, given that New Albany’s farmers market currently is undergoing a costly and mostly senseless renovation, it appears that Boomtown’s layout must by necessity change. The press release mentions use of Market Street, suggesting that the city will mimic the time-honored Harvest Homecoming pattern of closing Market from State to Bank, and Pearl between Spring and Main, then placing the flea market’s booths along the sidewalks on both sides of the street, in front of existing businesses.

But it’s all guesswork on my part.

Last year, I started sweating these details in February, as it was NABC’s responsibility to procure the alcohol licensing. In 2015, it’s an election year, and I’m mounting an independent campaign for mayor against the very same incumbent who intends Boomtown as a “platform plank” of his own.

Consequently, as Sgt. Hans Schultz once presciently observed, “I know nothing! I see nothing! I hear nothing!"


It’s worth noting that while a supplementary catering permit like NABC’s is useful in such settings, it isn’t the only course. The city itself could obtain a standard temporary permit, and in fact, it just might be doing so as I write this column. There is plenty of time, and yet I’d be remiss (and not at all curmudgeonly) if I missed the opportunity to offer a few helpful pointers.

In Indiana, temporary event planning with adult libations as a component makes perfect sense, at least until the state of Indiana’s laws governing one-off alcoholic beverage serving permits are taken into consideration, and even then, Alcohol & Tobacco Commission guidelines are not overly complicated -- unless one is confronted with the enduring obstinacy of human nature.

Only then does it get weird.

The grounds of a temporary event must be enclosed, typically through the use of portable plastic fencing, and attendees must use delineated points of entry and exit. If the event is intended for all ages, the bar area must also be separated as an over-21-only perimeter.

You can carry your beer from the bar area out into the larger fenced expanse, but not from the festival grounds, so as to wander the streets outside in anarchic fashion. Alcoholic beverages sold within the enclosure are to remain there and not to be carried out. Similarly, alcoholic beverages purchased outside the enclosure are not supposed to be brought inside.

Is this clear? Whomever pulls the temporary alcoholic beverage sales permit is obliged to enforce these rules and risk fines, including the possibility of losing the yearly permit upon which daily business ultimately depends.

It might help to know that the ATC is composed of state police officers with full powers of enforcement. It does not answer to locally elected or appointed officials, who must obey the rules like everyone else. Grains of salt come in handy when they suggest otherwise.

Last year at the first Boomtown, my exasperation level was high. Once, I watched as a civilian walked up to a section of fencing we’d just repaired with zip ties, and began tearing it apart to create her own custom-designed exit.

“Excuse me, but that’s not an exit. It’s a fence.”

“But it isn’t clearly marked.”

True, the state of Indiana hasn’t yet required us to post signs on fences stating THIS IS A FENCE,” and as a lifelong malcontent, I’ve often had the same reaction to fencing as the woman’s. But one looks at reality differently when his company's name is on the festival permit.

On the other side of the Boomtown compound, where families were seated at tables adjacent to the mandated fencing, a green, grassy, open area was only yards away on the other side. I learned that in such situations, children cannot be deterred from destroying fencing to go play in the grass, pushing the fence upward on the crawl while adults mashed it down in pursuit of their wayward kids.

It appears as though this year, these will become the worries of another -- and all the best to you.


At the first Boomtown, our beer, wine and spirits vending area inside the temporary Boomtown fest grounds utilized NABC’s supplementary catering permit, but it was managed as a cooperative made up of several local establishments, which shifted a percentage of the Boomtown bar's combined business to serve as seed money for the New Albany Restaurant & Bar Association – which now exists as a legal entity.

Another portion of NABC’s proceeds went to worthy causes, with recipients including Open Door Youth Services and Rauch Inc.

During the course of my involvement with Boomtown last year, I preached the gospel of heightened communication, which goes a very long way toward reducing confusion to manageable levels, if not eliminating it outright.

I made decisions and urged solutions on the basis of more communication, not less, and in the simple recognition that downtown stakeholders already had issues with unanswered questions pertaining to pre-existing impositions (read: Harvest Homecoming) without needing any more of them.

Our downtown has changed, and we just can’t persist in top-down planning without seeking some measure of consensus first, primarily from those who stand to be affected by the actions being considered.

A good way to start is this question: “Do you mind if we use your space?”

What does any of this have to do with beer? The Indiana ATC’s temporary event requirements are far easier to implement in symmetrical, open areas, apart from the variables embraced by an urban street grid. Whomever interprets the rules for this year’s Boomtown should bear this in mind, because particularly in this application, common sense isn’t always.

I hope it works out, and trust that it will. After so many years on the planning and vending side of the equation, attending an event like Boomtown as a mere spectator may be strange.

A few beers probably will make it better, starting right about now.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

2015 Update: "The Story of Bonfire of the Valkyries."

I'm kinda sorta on leave of absence to conduct a campaign for mayor of New Albany, but that doesn't mean I must refrain from joining in the propaganda effort. Bonfire is out now. 

Those of us still prone to reading books in a tactile sense, turning pages without electronic assistance, probably remember “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” a novel by Tom Wolfe. It first was serialized in Rolling Stone magazine, and then published in its entirety in 1987. The novel is set in raucous New York City during the 1980s, and when later released as a motion picture, bore a highly descriptive marketing tagline:

“An outrageous story about greed, lust and vanity in America.”

Bonfire of the Valkyries, a seasonal release from the New Albanian Brewing Company, is brewed far from the Big Apple’s cosmopolitan tumult, in the quaint Ohio River town called New Albany, which celebrated its bicentennial in 2013 by purposefully ignoring the bulk of its contested and caterwauling civic history – to such an extent that the real 200-year birthday milestone doesn’t actually come around until 2017.

Accordingly, Bonfire of the Valkyries is a satisfying beer about mythology, pyromania and forgetfulness.

More importantly, Bonfire of the Valkyries is NABC’s annual and respectful springtime nod to our brewing forbearers in New Albany. From the mid-1800s, most of these were transplanted Germans with names like Reising, Buchheit and Nadorff, who brought with them from the old country a taste for then-revolutionary lager beers.

Did some of them recall more archaic fermented delicacies, perhaps black, smoky and strong concoctions pulled from icy cellars deep in the Franconian countryside? We can only guess, but it seems entirely possible, and we’re eager and able to close the historical circle by making their beer dreams into reality.

According to NABC’s informal house style guidelines, Bonfire of the Valkyries is considered an Imperial Smoked Black Lager. At 8% abv, it is almost double the alcoholic potency of standard Black Lager, as codified by the “official” Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) playbook. Moreover, there is a healthy percentage of Weyermann Rauch (smoked) malt from Bamberg, Germany.

Bonfire of the Valkyries is full-bodied and clean, with medium but assertive smokiness. In the sovereign territory of New Albania, it’s the ideal accompaniment to smoked meats (especially when it’s been a good year for deer hunting), oysters, cabbage soup, kielbasa, sauerkraut and freshwater trout, although to be honest, we’re purely guessing about the trout. While there is no known instance of someone pairing Bonfire with river catfish or carp, we’re open to the possibility.

You roast them, and we’ll toast them.

Conversely, as we’ve been known to do in New Albania, you might just enjoy a few glasses of Bonfire of the Valkyries while burning away the long hours until Ragnarök, the forthcoming, epic struggle that will make Wolfe’s milieu look like a serene late evening walk in New Albania’s famous Rent Boy Park.

22-oz bombers of Bonfire of the Valkyries are available in Indiana and metropolitan Louisville on the Kentucky side of the Ohio. A limited amount of draft has been allocated, and of course, it can be enjoyed in all forms at NABC’s two New Albanian locations.


Bonfire of the Valkyries

Imperial Smoked Black Lager

ABV: 8%

IBU: 10 (or 20; who remembers?)

Color: Very brown to pre-black.

Flavor: Full bodied, with strong, clean dark lager malt character and ample smokiness.

Compare to: Bonfire is an utterly unique Imperial Smoked Black Lager, but it compares with Smoked Porters from Alaskan, Stone, etc.

Description: We start with German-style Black Lager, brew it to a higher than normal strength, and use a proportion of beechwood-smoked barley malt. Bonfire demands: “Give me bacon.”

Recipe Suggestion: Begin by ordering carry-out from your favorite barbecue purveyor (ours are Feast BBQ on West Main Street and Shawn’s Southern BBQ, both in New Albany), remembering to keep the sauce on the side; what you need is a plate of delicious smoked meat. Decant Bonfire of the Valkyries from a growler or bomber bottle into whatever clean glass is available. Get down to business; we’ll come back later to check on your progress.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Love is blind: Finally, an IPA tasting that makes sense.

(Last year I wrote about this same general topic here, as pertaining to a blind taste test of Indiana beers)

Dibbs Harting may have taught me to be a beer judge, BJCP-style, but in all honesty, it's something I don't do very often. Once or twice a year is enough for me.

Effective judging in itself hardly is simple, and yet certain elements can be grasped by anyone. Axiomatic among these is the anonymity of the process. I pour a sample of a particular style, not knowing who brewed it, and I judge accordingly against the stylistic yardstick.

Just like this fellow at Paste. Kudos to the "blind judging" process, which involved objectively (gasp) considering IPAs, and not incessantly snapping selfies. It appears this group has followed this route before. Good for them. More should.

Blind-Tasting 116 of the Best American IPAs: We Have a Winner, by Jim Vorel (Paste)

The top American India pale ale has been chosen

... Yes, there were surprises on all fronts, both in the beers we loved and the beers that didn’t speak to us as we expected. That’s why we committed so fully to the blind-tasting method.

Friday, April 10, 2015

NABC’s beers for the 5th Annual Bloomington Craft Beer Festival (April 11).

Tomorrow's festival in Bloomington features 53 (all-Indiana) breweries, mead, wine and the following lineup from NABC.

Ancient Rage with Styrian Golding dry hops
Action APA with Mosaic dry hops
Hoptimus-a-Rita with Citra and Mosaic dry hops and bitter orange peel

Sixth Barrels:
Barrel-Aged Bonfire of the Valkyries (Bonfire 2013 aged in a River City Winery Colonel’s Legacy [a big red wine aged in a bourbon barrel] barrel)
Hacksaw Jim Dunkel

50 Liters:
Black and Blue Grass

More information here: NABC’s beers for the 5th Annual Bloomington Craft Beer Festival

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Bromosa? Let me contemplate that for just a bit.

Given the steady volume of unique and inventive marketing ideas that stream daily from the mind of Scott Wise (Scotty's Brewhouse, Thr3e Wise Men Brewing), I shouldn't find myself doubting that such a thing as a Bromosa really exists.

Not that I feel like drinking one, although in a former life, a pitcher of bad beer and a quart can of tomato juice periodically seemed like a good idea.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Dibbs Harting: Homebrewer, beer judge, sausage maker and rocket scientist.

I've known Dibbs Harting (see below for newspaper profile) for something like 20 years, and still recall the conversation way back then, when one of my friends told me about this fellow from Pekin who made great homebrewed beer.

Me: I haven't heard of him. What's he do for a living?

Friend: He's a rocket scientist.

Me: (arches eyebrows)

Friend: No, really!

Yes, really, in the sense of explosives destined for rockets and the like.

Politically, Dibbs and I probably are a few poles apart, but that's the great thing about the world of better beer, because it brings us all together around the table.

If the irish Rover's Michael Reidy is correct, and the pub is a poor man's university, then I took care of few elective courses with Dibbs around. In fact, he was my teacher in the runup to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) test in 2002 (?), and the exam's proctor. He hasn't yet determined how I managed to pass it, given my abysmal grasp of science.

Speaking of the BJCP, consider the similarities between Henry Hunt's account of state fair judging in 2013, and mine from 2005.

And so, these many years later ... about Dibbs, and what he does for a lving.

MOSS: Indiana Ordnance Works winds down mission, by Dale Moss (News and Tribune)

Indiana Ordnance Works, Inc. President and CEO, Dibbs Harting, began working for Picatinny Arsenal helping manufacture smokeless powder in the former Army ammunition plant along Ind. 62 nearly 50 years ago. While the Indiana Ordnance Works and Harting still have continued purpose disassembling large-caliber propellant charges, both will be moving on from River Ridge following the completion of currently contracted duties with the Army in 2018.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

In observance of Session Beer Day, 2015.

NABC celebrated Session Beer Day early this year, but today is the official marker nationwide. Lew Bryson's Session Beer Project has a web site and is on Facebook. Also see Happy Days are Here, Again! It's Session Beer Day! at Yours for Good Fermentables. Following is a repeat of last year's column. Anyone for a pint of Ordinary?


It is Session Beer Day. Long live session. We've come a long way to get back to first principles, and that's okay. It may be time for a beer.

There is somewhat of a digression to all of this.

Occasionally a cliché bears passing resemblance to reality, and recalling the eagerness of every politician to stump by heaping effusive praise on the genius of good, old-fashioned American workplace creativity, permit me to note that in spite of all my various and cranky complaints, this characterization is spot-on when it comes to contemporary American brewing.

Seeing as New Albion was born during the nation’s Bicentennial year, we’re now almost 40 years into the American brewing renaissance. There now are more than 3,000 working breweries in the United States, collectively producing thousands of different beers.

If there’s one approximate generalization to be made as to where these breweries have come from, and where they’re going, it probably would be this: The boundaries of previously accepted beer style have been pushed, pushed – and pushed again. Often, they have become unrecognizable.

In today’s brewing circles, creativity and extremism have too often become synonymous, with good and bad implications. On the positive side, “extreme” beers twist and expand style definitions, combining unexpected characteristics and conjuring innovative, over-the-top specialties: Cherrywood-smoked Imperial Saison? India Pale Ale with coffee? Beers aged in every sort of used barrel known to man?

All veritable child’s play, these days.

Conversely, the alcohol contents of such creations can be as extreme as the recipes, and have been known to cause blood alcohol machines to proclaim “tilt” before collapsing in a heap of fractured plastic and rusted metal. That’s why at reputable establishments, you see extreme beers served in small glasses.

It remains that throughout human history, revolution inevitably begets complicated cycles of counter-revolution, reaction and retrenchment, and many beer aficionados are joining me by turning back to what is commonly referred to as “session” beer. But credit must go where credit is due, and the prime mover in session advocacy these past few years is beer writer Lew Bryson, who defines his terms at Session Beer Project:

► 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
► flavorful enough to be interesting
► balanced enough for multiple pints
► conducive to conversation
► reasonably priced

In fact, there is a “back to the future” aspect to the revival of session beers. All the European brewing cultures from which today's brewing have drawn inspiration always featured “smaller” beers for daily consumption. Because virtually all American mass-market lagers eventually devolved to smallness, with flavor a forgotten afterthought, new age brewing arguably found its greatest success in going big, but this doesn’t change the question.

Can a beer be lower in alcohol without sacrificing flavor?

There is little doubt it can be, and metro Louisville breweries tend to have fine examples on tap. At NABC, we try to keep three session-strength ales flowing at our two locations, year-round. One of Against the Grain’s revolving style pours is Session. Apocalypse, the BBCs, Cumberland … all have beers during the year that dip below the mark and retain plenty of flavor.

On the occasion of Session Beer Day, permit me to reiterate: Having been there and done that, the very notion of session beer reanimates the pleasing imagery that drew me to beer in the first place: Pints to return to, with good conversation and perhaps a cigar (mood and weather willing); imbibed in a clean, well-lighted joint or a breezy garden; and not so strong that I lose the power of speech. Localism and session are intertwined, and go together like Best Bitter and bangers & mash.

I’ll always enjoy the higher echelons of alcohol in beer, but for me, they’ve become reserved largely for special occasions – as was the case for centuries. Meanwhile, session beer signifies coming full circle, back to a more relaxed beer-drinking ethos. The vigorous chase is for youth. Craft (and craftiness) are better suited to a more mature perspective.

At least that’s today’s rationalization, and I’m sticking to it.

Monday, April 06, 2015

The PC (Hip Hops): What “Craft Beer” Is, and What It Isn’t.

The PC (Hip Hops): What “Craft Beer” Is, and What It Isn’t

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

"Hip Hops" is the name of my column for Louisville's Food & Dining Magazine. The following appeared in the Spring 2015 issue (No. 47). 

Hip Hops: What “Craft Beer” Is, and What It Isn’t

In 1976, the birth of New Albion Brewing Company in California presaged a revolution in beer. Four decades later, under the nom de plume of “craft beer,” the revolution seems permanently embedded in American culture, although the attendant hysteria about its growth may be obscuring a fundamental question: What is craft beer, anyway?

When it comes to epistemology, former president Bill Clinton is my choice for getting to the heart of the matter – It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. Keeping Clinton’s Theorem in mind, let’s take a quick look back at Craft Beer Nation’s year in 2014, as viewed by the numbers.

Never have there been this many brewers in America. More than 3,000 craft brewing entities are operational, not including multiple brewing site licensees. On average, one and a half more craft breweries are opening each day. Craft beer sales grew 18% in the first half of 2014. Craft beer’s fan base is diversifying, with 32% of its present volume being consumed by women. The number of craft brewers canning beer has doubled since 2012. Surveys show that in 2014, 38% of American households purchased craft beer at some point during the year.

But what “is” craft beer, anyway?

Imponderable questions for the industry

Is craft beer an objective or subjective label? Can it be made by a big producer, or must it always be from a small brewing operation? Must it be made near to its consumers, or can craft beer have a far-flung consumer base?

The Brewers Association, craft brewing’s trade group, has a vested interest in these questions, as does the federal government’s Tax and Trade Bureau. State legislators and alcoholic beverage control agencies are eager to know, too.

Covetous multinational monoliths, watching with alarm as their traditional flagship lagers erode, desire craft beer’s imagery and demographics. They prefer consumers to regard “craft” as a vague advertising term, and to ignore the small print.

Simply stated: From business and regulatory standpoints, craft beer keeps getting bigger and bigger, making it ever harder for the segment to espouse a foundational ethos of smallness. Craft beer remains an artistic phenomenon best experienced locally, but one inevitably destined to mimic commercial imperatives through distribution.

For many, the essence of craft beer is spiritual, not numerical, but while poets and purists prefer to rhapsodize about hoppy, malty, sweet and sour aesthetics, politicians and bureaucrats demand quantifiable criteria, transferable to a ledger sheet, because awarding “small” businesses an excise tax reduction implies an accepted, concrete definition of small, and in beer, this measure begins with annual production by the barrel (31 gallons).

The issue is the total number of barrels, with beer style and brewing methods generally superfluous, leading to numerous statistical anomalies and Jesuitical reckonings.

Big vs. small, local vs. national

What is the difference between Samuel Adams, a company traded on the New York Stock Exchange with more than 2.5 million barrels shipped and $600 million in sales in 2013, and the newly opened My Dream Nanobrewery located in the former ice cream stand down the street, which might produce 125 barrels this year if the owner somehow can swing crowdsourcing on another piece of used dairy equipment to act as a fermenter?

According to the Brewers Association, none. They’re both craft brewers, and both should receive discounted excise tax bills owing to their small-scale, artisanal size.

Then again, perhaps size doesn’t matter as much as technique. Until 2014, the Brewers Association would not accept Yuengling, America’s oldest (started in 1829) and largest family-owned brewer, as worthy of membership in the club. Why? Because Yuengling has continued to brew American-style “adjunct lagers” with corn and rice, a practice regarded by purists as bastardization.

Is it really? Many craft beer enthusiasts detest adjunct lagers, but these remain legitimate American hybrid styles, as improvised by 19th-century German immigrant brewers, who found themselves working on the wild frontiers of “civilized” brewing and adapted accordingly.

Craft Beer Nation gave it a rethink, and now breweries like Yuengling and Schell can be stamped “craft,” because adjunct lagers aside, at least they’re not owned by robber baron multinationals.

Don’t be confused. Ownership is very much a part of craft beer’s Clintonesque equation, and that’s why Goose Island has become Trojan Goose. The Chicago brewing company’s venerable Bourbon County Stout series is the status symbol of choice for hoarders, collectors and narcissists, but since Goose Island was wholly absorbed by AB-InBev, it no longer can be considered craft.

When craft beer is defined in these ways – by barrels produced, approved recipes and corporate structure – and consequently, when self-identified craft beer drinkers persists in enjoying certain beers lying outside the “official” definition, from Goose Island to Blue Moon, then the results are cognitive dissonance and a commonly stated, exculpatory point of view holding that craft definitions don’t matter at all, so long as the beer in question is “good.”

This brings us full circle: It depends on what the meaning of “good” is. Good luck with that one.

Whither craft beer now?

I’m as confused as anyone else, but here’s what I think.

In 2015, expect to see a growing divide within Craft Beer Nation, reflecting an evolving marketplace as it pertains to brewpubs and production breweries.

The superlative Lafayette Brewing Company in northern Indiana is an example of a brewpub that does not distribute its beers outside its own building, or does so only sparingly. People come to it.

Conversely, Lexington’s Alltech (Kentucky Ale) relies on production and wholesaler distribution of its packaged beers to bars, restaurants and package outlets in Kentucky, Indiana and numerous other states. It sends beer to the people.

Some regional breweries, including Bluegrass Brewing, West Sixth, NABC and Three Floyds, are both brewpubs and production brewers. Given that by early 2015, the state of Indiana will be home to more than 100 breweries, with another two dozen in Kentucky, and that in 1982, when I graduated from college, there were fewer than 100 breweries in the entire country, we come to the primary tankard of contention within Craft Beer Nation: Is there a point of saturation?

Probably so. My personal view is that soon, most of America’s “small” breweries will be compelled to devote an all-hands-on-deck mentality to one or the other, either a brewpub business model or a production and wholesale distribution model. It doesn’t mean there’ll cease to be overlapping, only that the craft beer market as symbolized by finite tavern faucets and store shelves will cease to support an exponential expansion of brands.

Brewpubs will survive and thrive as breweries, restaurants, civic novelties, watering holes, community centers and tourist destinations, but you won’t find their beers elsewhere to any great degree.

Those sufficiently capitalized craft beer production breweries capable of adapting to changing tastes in styles and packaging, and supporting sales teams and marketing budgets – in short, the ones able to successfully emulate the multinational beer sales playbook – will have beer in every Costco and Liquor Barn.

What is craft beer, anyway?

I know craft beer when I taste it, and it is best tasted locally. Beyond these two affirmations, maybe we’ve traveled past the point of knowing – the boomerang has returned, and it’s all just Beer now … again.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The grass is green, and Gravity Head approaches its annual finale.

Gravity Head 2015 began on February 27 amid cold and snow. Today, I'm scheduled to mow the yard for the first time this year.

Happily, NABC's annual "big" beer fest is winding down exactly when it should. As of opening tomorrow at the Pizzeria & Public House, there'll be 12 listed selections on tap, with only two remaining to pour. 47 have passed into history, and four "bonus" kegs came and went. There were two scratches, one for non-arrival, and the other mistaken identity.

You can see the up-to-date listings here: Gravity Head 2015 starters and lineupdate page … what’s on tap?

As usual, it's been a kick. Next year's eighteenth edition of Gravity Head begins on February 26, 2016, and has a working title of "Entertain Your Brain." The opening day tap feature will be Stone Brewing Company of San Diego, Escondido, Richmond and (soon) Berlin.

Thanks again for your support.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

A wonderful BBC Louisville Lager, food and good times at the Crescent Hill Craft House.

Formerly a mixed berry cobbler topped with BBC's spent grain.

Update: Read about branding changes at BBC Main & Clay.

To tie up a few loose ends in an article I'm writing for Food & Dining Magazine about the Crescent Hill Craft House, we were compelled to go there (yet again) early Friday evening, and eat, and drink.

That's hardship. For nibbles, we arranged a spread of Bacon Bruschetta, Charred Chicken Wings, Brussel Sprouts and Fries, My wife drank Blue Stallion's (Lexington) Hefeweizen, which is delicious. As is my habit, I surveyed a draft beer list composed entirely of local and regional beers, in search of sessionable choices.

It suddenly struck me that I had not yet tried BBC's (Main & Clay) Louisville Lager, and when I asked about it, the server was exemplary, describing it as a European lager with German hop character.

Indeed, it is, and I regret only trying it now, months after it was released. BBC Louisville Lager is so good that I'm reconsidering my decision to stop using the garage keg box, which came about because there were so few beers I'd consider drinking on a daily basis. A sixth barrel might work out right.

At a time when a brewer's tap handles are so hard to hold, doesn't it make sense for a "craft" brewer to circumvent the previous received wisdom about the untimeliness of lagers, and make a beer of widespread appeal, that can hold serve because it's so different from the now standard IPAs, and is less than 5% abv? It's the stuff of a classicist's genius, which is probably why I didn't think of it first.

My second beer on Friday night was Ei8ht  Ball Brewing's Prodigal, an American Pale Ale coming in at 6.5%, and a textbook example of the genre.

I've richly enjoyed my visits to the Crescent Hill Craft House. Let's hope it has a long and prosperous life.

Craft House web site

Craft House at Facebook

Friday, April 03, 2015

RFRA and the damage done: Legislators have some explaining to do.

With the exception of five lonely defectors in the Indiana House, including my own state representative Ed Clere, the state's Republican majority dropped a neutron bomb on Indiana business when it pushed RFRA through to Governor Pence. It has since been amended, but ample damage waa done.

The PC: Our bedfellows are becoming stranger with each passing legislative session.

It is bad law, a regrettable over-reach (the GOP enjoys a super majority in Indiana state government), a human rights disaster, and a body blow to the state's business climate -- all of these being purely negative aspects, and yet the saddest part of it might be the grubby, small-minded pettiness of the politics involved, and how, with a stroke of his gilded crayon, Pence has deposited this bundle of divisive bile at all our front doors, to foul all our communities.

These are the same legislators who've been so conducive to measures favoring the growth of Indiana-brewed beer. Understanding that this is my personal opinion only ... but don't some of our "friends" need to explain in greater detail why this happened?

Surely RFRA must rank as one of the greatest unforced errors in recent Hoosier political memory. From the perspective of beer and brewing, it's worth remembering that the same fundamentalist constituency being pandered to with RFRA forms the backbone of Prohibitionist sentiment in Indiana. That's worrisome.

My state senator, Ron Grooms, has responded to principled criticism of his unqualified support for RFRA by digging ever deeper bunkers of denial, and insisting that RFRA was misunderstood.

But the problem for Grooms is that we understand all too well.

Honesty, anyone?

Business Insider: Only group effort can clean up RFRA fallout, by John Ketzenberger (Indy Star)

... Downtown Indy's Senior Vice President Bob Schultz said last week there were more than 700 million Internet impressions of the phrase "Boycott Indiana" in the first four days after the governor signed the bill. He called the reaction a "catastrophe" for local business.

While the loss of dollars and cents won't be determined for months and may never be known for certain, the damage is already done for those who match talent with jobs in Central Indiana.

"This has played into every stereotype," said David Phoebus, an executive recruiter for Indianapolis-based Vaco. "You know, like the sign at the state line that says, 'Welcome to Indiana, set your clocks back 200 years.' "

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Indiana breweries: "Open to serving all people, assuming they are of legal age to drink."

This enriching personal testimonial explains the wider stakes of Indiana's ill-considered Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) better than I ever could -- and I've tried my best.

First, the lamentable backdrop.

The RFRA was overwhelmingly approved by Indiana's Republican "super majority" and signed into law as quickly as possible by Governor Mike Pence. Within nanoseconds, a tidal wave of social-media-driven revulsion seemingly from across the planet forced hasty and disingenuous backpedaling, and subsequently the law was amended to include safeguards against anti-LGBT discrimination (of course, this being the law's original and barely disguised intent).

However, note that as it pertains to discrimination in pre- and post-RFRA senses, Indiana's LGBT community as yet is entirely unprotected by state law. In Indiana, state law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions), disability, age, ancestry and sealed or expunged arrest or conviction records.

Bizarrely, discrimination is prohibited on the basis of off-duty tobacco use.

Tobacco? Smoke 'em if you've got 'em, at least when you're not at work ... but LGBT? No protection. It's a situation that needs to be rectified, as soon as possible, lest the GOP's resident medievalists prompt another humiliation for our state.

Overall, it must be said that Indiana's business community responded well to this provocation. As noted by the correspondent Hinkle, roughly half of Indiana's breweries quickly posted "this business serves everyone" notices. The Brewers of Indiana Guild was a bit slower to issue a reply, but only because there was a scheduled meeting coming, anyway, and the topic was on the agenda.

Opinion at the meeting was unanimous, and I view our "we make many different beers for many different people" stance as vigorous and accurate.

This shouldn't have happened. If we remain focused, it won't happen again.


There are three things that I truly care about in life: my family, my job and beer.

Two years ago this Friday, my wife and I traveled to NYC to get (gay) married. We celebrated our legal marriage at The Pony Bar in Midtown, a craft beer bar with a stellar draft list and a reputation for being a hang out spot for the founders of Untappd. For our one-year anniversary we traveled to Three Floyds. During our visit we repeatedly commented on how happy we both were to marry someone equally obsessed with beer and returned home with a trunk full of bottles. This year, we are continuing the tradition by celebrating at Brew Kettle. We’ve already planned a visit to Belgium for year 25.

I’ve never felt Hoosier Hospitality more than when I sit in a brewpub. I’d go on to argue that breweries in general are some of the most welcoming and accepting businesses towards all communities, not just the LGBT community. Belly up at a bar, your sexual orientation, religious beliefs or political opinions mean little, so long as you’re a beer enthusiast willing to talk barley, yeast and hops until closing.