A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. I have nothing whatever against Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman, although if I were the sort to nurse ancestral grudges, there might be bad blood.
You see, unlike many basketball fans nearby who pledge allegiance to the University of Louisville Cardinals, it was my good fortune to see Bridgeman play when he was in high school, even if I was only 10 years old at the time.
Junior Bridgeman’s senior year in 1970-71 ended with his East Chicago Washington squad crowned as undefeated state champion, arguably the finest team in Hoosier high school history. All five starters for the Senators received four-year college scholarships, including Pete Trgovich at UCLA and Tim Stoddard at North Carolina State. Interestingly, Stoddard subsequently lasted more than a decade in the major leagues as an above-average relief pitcher.
In winning the 1971 title, East Chicago Washington defeated my Floyd Central Highlanders by a score of 102-88 in the championship semi-final in Indianapolis. At the time, it was a record for most points scored by a losing team in the Final Four.
Bridgeman went on to Louisville, enjoyed a 12-year NBA career, and has had a very successful post-athletic business career, primarily as the owner of several hundred Wendy’s and Chili’s franchises.
Meanwhile, I became a professional beer drinker and went straight to hell in a bottomless, used peach basket – but that’s a fun story for another day.
My mornings do not begin with television or radio. Rather, I check my iPhone for updates from the world’s few remaining reputable national and international news sources (Economist, Guardian, New York Times), generally of the sort that don’t rate beers.
Local news comes from the Twitter feed and e-mail headlines. Among my many sources for local information are the Courier-Journal, News and Tribune, Insider Louisville and Louisville Business First. The first two purport to offer comprehensive news coverage, while Insider and LBF typically compete to provide histrionic, breathless “scoops” for that saddest of all human archetypes, those among us who somehow derive erotic jollies from business and finance news.
Restaurant and bar items remain of vague interest to me. Concurrently, gleeful tales of housing prices, stock options and hospital groups have precisely the same effect as an ice-cold outdoor shower in January.
Accordingly, last week Insider Louisville contributed a pulse-quickening, purely sponsored press release from the cuddly Cordish Companies, collector of formulaic, cookie-cutter chain stores, and extractor of municipal economic “development” subsidies from sea to shining sea.
In this for-pay “news” release, I learned that there’s a new restaurant at Fourth Street Live, Louisville’s engorged Cordish outpost. I’ve edited the rhetorical carnage to omit flagrant, self-congratulatory rhetoric, both on the part of Cordish and its best political friend, Mayor Greg Fischer.
Local business leader and sports legend opens Birracibo at Fourth Street Live!
The Cordish Companies and local business leader and former NBA and University of Louisville basketball player, Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman, proudly opened Birracibo at Fourth Street Live! last month. The newest restaurant specializes in artisanal pizzas, wine, and craft beer …
… “We are proud to partner with the Cordish family to create a truly special restaurant for downtown Louisville,” stated Junior Bridgeman, President and CEO of B.F. South Inc. “Birracibo is committed to quality, local ingredients, and an artisanal food and beverage program.”
“Birra” and “cibo” translated from Italian mean “beer” and “food” respectively. Birracibo honors that namesake by showcasing the best local and regional craft beers, as well as a menu that will assuage sophisticated palates and casual diners alike.
I hope IL paid well for that one. How very, very dreadful to write such drivel.
Truthfully, we’ve long since pole-vaulted the critical juncture where bracketing “craft” is required, seeing as “craft” has ceased to have any coherent meaning. Though strictly provisional, my current preferred formula is this: “Craft Beer Is Dead; Long Live Indie Beer.”
Because: As an identifier, “indie” is vital. It reconnects better beer’s conceptual origins to the small, local business revolution, something increasingly forgotten by the boastful white whale chasers. My personal beer values system tells me that it’s just as important to follow the money as to prattle on about quality, especially when hardly anyone can agree on what quality means in a time of raging personal subjectivity.
Of course, the problem with indie beer is that “indie” (and “alternative”) long since were victimized as concepts by the music business in precisely the same way as “craft” has been gutted and wielded by brewing multinationals.
At any rate, we’re told that Birracibo features “the best local and regional craft beers,” and so not unlike a Missourian, I looked at the drinks card, which helpfully is available online. I’ve unilaterally divided the Birracibo beer list into categories that are more truthful than the blanket term “craft.”
By definition, neither local nor regional “craft.”
BIRRA PERONI // Italy, Lager - 4.7% ABV
BUD LIGHT // St. Louis, MO, Lager - 5% ABV
HOEGAARDEN // Belgium, Witbier - 4.9% ABV
STELLA ARTOIS // Belgium, Lager - 5% ABV
AMSTEL LIGHT // Netherlands
BIRRA MORETTI LAGER // Italy
BIRRA MORETTI LA ROSSA // Italy
BUDWEISER // St. Louis, MO
CORONA // Mexico City
ESTRELLA DAMM DAURA // Barcelona
GOOSE ISLAND SEASONAL // Chicago, IL
HEINEKEN // Netherlands
MAGIC HAT #9 // South Burlington, VT
MENABREA LAGER // Italy
MICHELOB ULTRA // St. Louis, MO
ISN’T BEER AT ALL (1)
ANGRY ORCHARD // Cincinnati, OH
“CRAFT,” BUT NOT REALLY LOCAL/REGIONAL (3)
NEW BELGIUM FAT TIRE // Colorado, Amber Ale - 5.2% ABV
GREAT LAKES BURNING RIVER PALE ALE // Cleveland, OH, Pale Ale - 6% ABV
LAKEFRONT NEW GRIST GINGER // Milwaukee, WI
LOCAL/REGIONAL “CRAFT” (13)
ALLTECH KENTUCKY BOURBON ALE // Lexington, KY, Bourbon Aged Ale - 8.8% ABV
FALLS CITY ENGLISH PALE ALE // Louisville, KY, Pale Ale - 5% ABV
GOODWOOD LOUISVILLE LAGER // Louisville, KY, Lager - 4.6% ABV
GOODWOOD BOURBON STOUT // Louisville, KY, Bourbon Stout - 8% ABV
NEW ALBANIAN HOPTIMUS // New Albany, IN, Imperial IPA - 10.7% ABV
NEW ALBANIAN ELECTOR // New Albany, IN, Imperial Red - RHINEGEIST COUGAR BLONDE ALE // Cincinnati, OH, American Blonde Ale - 4.8% ABV
WEST 6TH IPA // Lexington, KY, IPA - 7% ABV
BELL'S SMITTEN GOLDEN RYE ALE // Galesburg, MI
FALLS CITY HIPSTER REPELLANT IPA // Louisville, KY
FOUNDER'S BREAKFAST STOUT // Grand Rapids, MI
GOODWOOD WALNUT BROWN ALE // Louisville, KY
GOODWOOD RED WINE SAISON // Louisville, KY
Tossing aside the Angry Orchard (cider is not beer, is it?), we’re left with 31 beers on the Birracibo list. Stylistically, it makes no sense, but indisputably, there is a good core of local/regional “craft” beers.
Overall, the picture is less than pleasing. 16 beers genuinely rank as local/regional “craft,” and the remainder do not. The percentage works out to 52% local/regional, to 48% multinational. Unsurprisingly, reality on the ground does not correspond with the press release’s gushing promises.
Yes, I know: It’s Fourth Street Live, and it’s an imported entertainment concept – so what?
Yes, considering what it surely takes to play ball with Wendy’s, Chili’s and Cordish, the act of appeasing AB-InBev’s monopolists with roughly 30% of an allegedly “local/regional” beer list makes perfect sense. It’s probably in the Fourth Street Live contract somewhere that a business must do so.
But everything I’ve read about Junior Bridgeman’s business career suggests that he’s always been uncommonly hands-on. He famously worked the Wendy’s shop floor before he bought one, and has continued to swoop into his franchises, even as they’ve numbered into the hundreds.
It’s the sort work ethic you’d expect from someone raised by the East Chicago steel mills, and widely admired for professionalism during his basketball playing days. I respect it, even if Wendy's isn't my idea of lunch, now or ever.
Allow me to suggest that the same work ethic – the same respect for what’s true, and the same nose for what isn’t – as applied to the beers carried by an establishment trumpeting an “artisanal food and beverage program,” implies a willingness to do a lot better than this list.
52% is a good shooting percentage, but if “craft” is to retain any palpable meaning whatever, all 52% should buy is a seat on the pine.
March 14: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Two decades of Beer Corner barrels.
March 7: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Can I get a “do-over” on Naughty Girl?
February 22: The PC: Beef Steak and Porter always made good belly mortar, but did America’s “top” steakhouses get the memo?
February 15: The PC: Swill in youthful times of penury and need.
When the Euro '85 series returns: Leningrad USSR, continued.