Saturday, July 30, 2016

Crouch: "The craft brewing industry still suffers from a serious cleverness deficiency."

File under "classic elegance."

Telling it like it is. Is anyone paying attention? Earlier in the week at my public affairs blog, I indulged in conjecture.

ON THE AVENUES: An imaginary exercise tentatively called The Curmudgeon Free House.

It can't help being noticed that the list of European classic beers suggested therein for the most part contains beers with names simple and direct: Brewery name + style.

Schneider + Weiss.
Bell's + Two Hearted.
Samuel Smith + Oatmeal Stout.

Not a penis innuendo to be found, although this isn't a one-method-fits-all suggestion. It's merely an observation. At the end of the day, it's all about the beer, isn't it?

Time to Grow Up: Beer Branding’s Cleverness Deficiency, by Andy Crouch (Beer Advocate)

... Despite the clear value in welcoming outsiders and newbies, our behavior and messages often send signals of exclusion. The first way many potentially interested consumers interact with beer brands is through labels, tap handles, and point of sale materials. Slogans, imagery and appeals joking about breasts, dicks, vaginas, crapping, bestiality and ejaculation are awesome if we’re trying to sell beer to seventh-grade boys. But I’d like to think that even the most immature of fan boys, after a quick chuckle, think such attempts are pathetically juvenile.

If craft brewing wants to extend its audience beyond the traditional market of youngish, wealthy dudes, then it should encourage its more adolescent-obsessed elements to grow up a bit. To call out any particular brewery or beer here would only give it greater attention, which is perhaps the point of these efforts. But we all know such brand immaturity is rife in the industry.


Friday, July 29, 2016

I tried to buy Carlos Brito an Ordinary Bitter but he just kept checking his portfolio.

That fucking Carlos Brito.

He never remembers anything I tell him. He's usually too busy fondling his wallet.

To repeat, Carlos, before you spend another zillion Euros taking credit for realities that already exist ...

The World's Largest Brewer Is Betting Big on Weak Beer (Reuters via Fortune)

Anheuser-Busch InBev, which will soon make almost 30% of the world’s beer, wants to serve more low and alcohol-free brews to drinkers trying to live a healthier lifestyle.

The Belgium-based brewer, on the verge of buying its largest rival SABMiller, has forecast lower and zero strength beer will grow from a small base to make up 20% of its sales by the end of 2025 ...

 ... have a goddamned "weak" beer that really matters (below), though I'm reminded that Reuters can join Brito in Beer Hell for using the word "weak" instead of "low-alcohol" or some such.


My favorite session-strength style has enough hops to offend 90% of the typical customers in an Indiana sports bar, pointing to the fact that it isn't just the reduced alcohol, but the flavor.

Wankers. They're all wankers, each and every one. Now put down that Bud Light Dry Lime A Rita and learn something about "real" Session Beer.


8A. Standard/Ordinary Bitter (BJCP 2008)

Aroma: The best examples have some malt aroma, often (but not always) with a caramel quality. Mild to moderate fruitiness is common. Hop aroma can range from moderate to none (UK varieties typically, although US varieties may be used). Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Appearance: Light yellow to light copper. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. May have very little head due to low carbonation.

Flavor: Medium to high bitterness. Most have moderately low to moderately high fruity esters. Moderate to low hop flavor (earthy, resiny, and/or floral UK varieties typically, although US varieties may be used). Low to medium maltiness with a dry finish. Caramel flavors are common but not required. Balance is often decidedly bitter, although the bitterness should not completely overpower the malt flavor, esters and hop flavor. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium-light body. Carbonation low, although bottled and canned examples can have moderate carbonation.

Overall Impression: Low gravity, low alcohol levels and low carbonation make this an easy-drinking beer. Some examples can be more malt balanced, but this should not override the overall bitter impression. Drinkability is a critical component of the style; emphasis is still on the bittering hop addition as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping seen in American ales.

Comments: The lightest of the bitters. Also known as just “bitter.” Some modern variants are brewed exclusively with pale malt and are known as golden or summer bitters. Most bottled or kegged versions of UK-produced bitters are higher-alcohol versions of their cask (draught) products produced specifically for export. The IBU levels are often not adjusted, so the versions available in the US often do not directly correspond to their style subcategories in Britain. This style guideline reflects the “real ale” version of the style, not the export formulations of commercial products.

History: Originally a draught ale served very fresh under no pressure (gravity or hand pump only) at cellar temperatures (i.e., “real ale”). Bitter was created as a draught alternative (i.e., running beer) to country-brewed pale ale around the start of the 20th century and became widespread once brewers understood how to “Burtonize” their water to successfully brew pale beers and to use crystal malts to add a fullness and roundness of palate.

Ingredients: Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts, may use a touch of black malt for color adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn or wheat. English hops most typical, although American and European varieties are becoming more common (particularly in the paler examples). Characterful English yeast. Often medium sulfate water is used.

Vital Statistics:
OG: 1.032 – 1.040
FG: 1.007 – 1.011
IBUs: 25 – 35
ABV: 3.2 – 3.8%
SRM: 4 – 14

Commercial Examples: Fuller's Chiswick Bitter, Adnams Bitter, Young's Bitter, Greene King IPA, Oakham Jeffrey Hudson Bitter (JHB), Brains Bitter, Tetley’s Original Bitter, Brakspear Bitter, Boddington's Pub Draught


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Barbecued mutton and English-style ale at the Ole Hickory Pit Bar-B-Que.

I'll take these and a firkin of Ordinary (photo credit). 

Susan knows her way around a word processor, having served for 15 years as the Courier-Journal's restaurant reviewer. She's authored books about bourbon, food and Kentucky travel, was (and maybe still is) a teacher, and is an accomplished musician.

My grandparents lived in Henderson, Kentucky, which is prime mutton territory. My granddad was a fan; my mom, not so much.

At the family reunions held there, we always had mutton. I remembered this hazy fact many years later, when I was visiting Greece and learning how marvelous lamb can be in all its various edible forms.

A very gentle point, though ... perhaps more than one paragraph devoted to what (in my mind) tastes like an apt beer pairing? I'm not going to tell you which beer it is, so click through and read the whole article.

FOOD & DRINK, PAIRINGS: Barbecued mutton and an english-style ale, by Susan Reigler (LEO Weekly)

There are few sights and scents that warm a dedicated carnivore’s heart like those of a giant pile of wood nestled next to cinder-block building from which the savory scents of wood smoke and cooking meat emanate. Summer is here, and that means picnic and dining tables piled with racks of ribs, plates of pulled chicken and pork, bowls of potato salad and slaw and all the fixings that accompany that favorite American summer feast — barbecue.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Louisville Craft Beer Week approaches (September 16 - 24, 2016).

Consider this your advance notice. Get with John, and get it together.

Be a part of Louisville Craft Beer Week. Again!

Thank you so much for supporting in the past by hosting LCBW events (or sponsoring)! We, along with the droves of beer nerds in Louisville, appreciate it.

New for #LCBW2016

We're going mobile (and paperless) this year. We've partnered with an app developer to bring LCBW into the 21st Century.

The LCBW app will allow us to send out notifications to users, allow them to check in to your events, share events on their social media channels, and interact with each other...posting photos, chatting about events, etc...

We think this interactivity will make 2016 the best LCBW ever. But we can't do it without your help. Please consider a sponsorship, or at least some events so that your location will be packed out all week!

Thanks again for supporting!

Please reach out to John Wurth, 502-807-4871 or with any questions.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Steve Coomes: In modern restaurant journalism, the details are 'softened.'

For my money, and on a daily basis, Steve Coomes is the finest local writer on food, dining and drink. I'm not sure his thoughts in this essay are directly applicable to writing about beer.

Then again, I'm not sure they aren't.


As a journalist, I’ve covered dozens of sporting events, yet at none of these was I asked to pay for my seat on press row. Far as I know, no other reporter has either. It’s assumed that if you work for a credible media outlet, you can “get credentialed” with a free pass that gives you some of the best seats in the house and walk-around access to places fans only dream of going.

No matter what happens at those events, reporters are expected to write it as they see it, even when things turn ugly. It even seems that part of a sports reporter’s job is to find fault so as to appear objective.

My career as a restaurant reporter is lived in a markedly different fashion. People in my trade used to follow the old saying, “Never accept more than a cup of coffee” so you’d never get too friendly with your subjects. If they were restaurant critics with any integrity, they couldn’t even accept that, and the publications they wrote for reimbursed all expenses.

But a paradigm shift is underway in restaurant reporting. Due to the continued paring back of staffs at all publications, more and more freelancers are employed to cover this industry. Those freelancers are not only paid low sums for their work, they’re rarely reimbursed for meals, drinks, tips or the miles rolled up driving to dinner and home.

And yet as reporters, they’re expected to be non-biased chroniclers of what they eat and what they learn about the people who serve those meals. They’re expected to become experts in their understanding and recollection of the subject matter, which requires a significant investment in time if they’re going to be good at that work.

In 2016, here’s where things get a little tricky ...


Monday, July 25, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: Before the deluge, or knowing how this whole beer business started.

AFTER THE FIRE: Before the deluge, or knowing how this whole beer business started.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

I always tell young film-makers, ‘find the song that only you can sing.’ It doesn’t just come to you. It’s trial and error and disappointment before you find, slowly but surely, the confidence to express your film-making identity.”
-- Paul “Bourne” Greengrass

Seeing as I have too much time on my hands, odd thoughts of late have turned to those early years at the Public House formerly known as Rich O’s.

Is it creeping nostalgia?

No, not really. I've no great desire to risk my own eternal Groundhog Day of A Cosmic Runaround by reverting to a place and time that’s better left alone. What’s done is done. Oasis and Goose Island were then, not now. I’m serene, and my legacy is secure.

Rather, these recent thoughts have to do with simple curiosity, and given my inclinations, they’ll probably lead to worrisome complexity.

In the 1990s, I took for granted (naively, perhaps) that it was possible to run a small business, to stay alive while doing so, and to be able to grow the business slowly, all the while devoting special attention to teaching about the business’s chosen core specialty – in my own instance, better beer.

It somehow worked. Is this cadence even possible now?

Expenses are high, attention spans are short, and any establishment with a few beer lines and a stand-up cooler packed with nicely decorated bottles can become the hottest destination of the millisecond, as acclaimed by the viral illuminators of social media just prior to their abandonment of “craft” beer for infused kombucha.

The basic founding ideal at the Public House was better beer, which at the time posed a task easier spoken than implemented, and yet better beer options existed back then, too, even if few on-premise locations chose to exercise them.

At the time, crusty old school operators tended to be openly contemptuous of beer diversity: “I don’t drink that shit, so why would I sell it?” gruffly intoned amid an Old Swillwaukee.

A newer generation of more enlightened owners and managers was only just emerging. This more open-minded cohort grew their beer businesses in step with expanded "craft" availability, which eventually merged with the hyper-connectivity of a wired planet to create the chaos we inhabit now.

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, the growth process during Clinton I was a series of baby steps, followed by panting reconsolidation, a few deep breaths, beers and chicken wings, then manning up and advancing the perimeter a few taps further.

Ironically, the goal posts always seemed to stay the same distance away, just over that horizon, but when I was young, this didn’t bother me very much. There’d always be time to reach them.

Perhaps if I’d have paid closer attention to end games, there’d be a cleaner script, but we play the hand we’re dealt. I have.

So it goes.


Those who spent any amount of time at the Public House during the 1990s and early 2000s saw an advanced beer program evolve only slowly. Owners and customers learned together, and there was a shared sense of achievement.

My sourcing options for draft and bottled beers were drawn from a relatively narrow pool, the bulk of it imported. When Sierra Nevada reached Indiana at some point around 1993, it was like a national holiday.

In some ways, reduced choice made stocking easier. However, it could be mightily frustrating, and there are infamous stories of me screaming intemperately at cowering wholesalers and other scurrying intermediaries.

One or two of these stories might actually be true – per week.

For the first 12 years of the pub’s existence, the word “guest” wasn’t even used to describe this evolving list. “House” and “guest” descriptors became necessary later, when brewing on site commenced in 2002, and was expanded in 2005 (with two new fermenters) and 2009 (Bank Street Brewhouse’s debut).

Brewing led the beer program in a different direction, though this was neither clear nor overtly planned in the beginning.

Subject to the limitations of our early pre-brewing pub budgets (in other words, could we afford to buy beer in a particular week?), the aim was to build a beer list that offered stylistic diversity at the best price point possible, given the extra expense of better beer.

In pre-Internet practice, this meant consulting books by Michael Jackson (and a few other writers), subscribing to magazines like All About Beer, and joining the UK’s Campaign for Real Ale.

Tactile books and periodicals informed staff and consumer alike, and gave them something to do apart from watching television (which we banned early on) and imagining what life would be like 15 years in the future, when smart phones would come into existence and suck the essence of enriching conversation from barrooms everywhere.

For several years, a three-tap cold box was all we had, and two of these faucets always were fixed: Guinness and Carlsberg, then later Pilsner Urquell. The third tap rotated by whim.


There were four basic rules governing my beer advancement program.

• Knowing the stories and history behind the labels.
• Understanding styles and being able to explain them to customers in simple terms.
• Trying as hard as humanly possible to keep printed lists and blackboards accurate and up to date.
• Insisting that when it came to purchasing, ultimate direction – the synthesis of knowledge and understanding - came not from a wholesaler or even a brewery rep, but from behind the bar.

Let’s begin with the latter, which has not ceased to be of critical importance in all the years since.

Working in a package store during the 1980s, I met many shiftless wine and liquor wholesaler reps, and while they were several rungs ahead of used car salesmen on the deportation scale, I learned to be wary. In almost any business, reps exist to sell you products you don’t need, for the benefit of their company.

I viewed my job as protecting my employer from needless expense, and when I became my own employer, knowing more about beer than most reps (exceptions indeed exist) became about far more than fiscal accountability.

It was about pride.

Consequently, I made it a point of honor to scoff at swag – except when accepting it, in which case I tried to be thoughtful and judicious. So long as the reps knew that swag alone wouldn’t sway me, we were good. More often than not, I repurposed these items to bolster the FOSSILS homebrewing club raffle.

To be sure, the sales scene is different now, but not as much as one might assume. Undoubtedly there are hundreds more available beers to fill limited taps and occupy scant shelf space. Consumer demand plays its role, but the ultimate filter still must be wielded by the bar manager or beer buyer.

It’s all about actively teaching customers what they want even if they don't realize it yet, and as for knowing stories and styles, entertainment and education are what separate professionals from novices. To be honest, I don’t care how much a customer thinks he or she knows after a quick glance at the empty mental calories on Thrillist.

No single person can know everything, but it is the obligation of all involved in the sale of better beer to possess an ability to explain and conceptualize. Knowledge remains the bare minimum requirement. It’s a value-added proposition. The more one knows, and can impart with clarity, the greater the chance of a satisfied return customer who tips well – and learns something.

It’s that basic, but at times I fear the art has been lost. Consequently, I sandbag quite a lot nowadays. Before ordering, I ask questions about beer to servers and bartenders.

Sometimes their answers are coherent, other times not. I’ve been known to cringe when listening to the panoply of “beer facts” as dispersed by staffers. I try to stay quiet and groan out of earshot, because I’m not the one signing their checks.

Fortunately, the creaky old saw about Bock beer being colored dark by vat scrapings from once-yearly cleanings finally seems to have gone the way of the tooth fairy.

Unfortunately, there’ll soon be a Sour Bock IPA to fill the nonsensical void. I’ll accept it with grinding teeth, but only if the beer’s three separate stylistic components can be explained to me by my server. If not, I’ll have a traditional Pilsner, please.


Food and drink lend themselves to constant reinvention, and yet it cannot be denied that there are eternal “classics” amid the bedlam. Clichés become such precisely because they contain an element of truth, and certain aspects of the human experience stand the test of time, whether an umbrella, mouse trap or De Koninck.

If I were to start over, conveniently ignoring pesky realities like rent, logistics and aching knees for the mere sake of conjecture, my plan of operation would be just this sort of time-tested, sustainable, “Classic Beer” programming, the fermentable equivalent of Stairway to Heaven, twice daily.

At my former business, we eventually incorporated our own brewery, guest taps, and hundreds of bottles into a bloated beer program that eventually had to be aggressively pruned to avoid capsizing itself.

I’ve no such grandiose ambitions in my dotage, and I don’t care to run a brewery, ever again.

Rather, my contrarian instincts tell me that the beer climate is ripe for a modest, thoughtful return to basics, emblemized by a relatively small list of classics on draft, and in bottles and cans, to be accompanied by some good, old-fashioned beer education, which seems to have been tossed aside in the era of mile-wide, inch-deep “craft” fandom.

Interpreting songs written by others may be the best singing I ever did, or might yet do. Next week, I’ll sketch this idea a bit further.

Let's sketch it here, instead:

ON THE AVENUES: An imaginary exercise tentatively called The Curmudgeon Free House.


July 18: AFTER THE FIRE: Moss the Boss, his dazzling beer café, and what they taught me about “craft.”

July 11: AFTER THE FIRE: We are dispirited in the post-factual world.

July 4: AFTER THE FIRE: Euro ’85, Part 34 … The final chapter, in which lessons are learned and bridges burned.

June 27: AFTER THE FIRE: Out and about in America, Europe … and my cups.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Reviews of Old Louisville Brewery's first round of beers.

I'm delighted to see OLB generating discussion.The notion of a brewery in Old Louisville seems to have captured the fancy of many.

Here's an introduction ...

The Old Louisville Brewery is about to open, with Axl Rose rumored as John Wurth's website pinch-hitter.

... followed by an in-depth look at the beers, which may or may not still be pouring.

That's the fun of it, right?

A review of Old Louisville Brewery’s first batch of beers, plus what they’re releasing next, by Scott Recker and Syd Bishop (web only; LEO)

Tucked away on an unassuming part of Magnolia Street near Sixth Street sits Old Louisville Brewery, the latest edition to the city’s collection of beer creators. This past weekend, co-owners and brothers Ken and Wade Mattingly opened the doors to the brewery, which features a taproom inside and a dog-friendly patio with a walk-up window outside. Currently, they have four house beers on draft as their first batch of releases, which we stopped by to try. We also took time to talk with the brothers about what we can expect in the near future.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Old Louisville Brewery is about to open, with Axl Rose rumored as John Wurth's website pinch-hitter.

Remember how my provocative and controversial column used to be where the hiatus is now?

Remember my two (1, 2) amazing appearances on the now-defunct podcast?

You might recall that this here creator of revolutionary content has time on his hands and plenty of bones left to pick.

Tanned, rested and soapbox-ready -- which is precisely what Wade and Ken Mattingly no longer will be now that their brewery is about to open for business.

All breweries are a pain to coax into existence, but these guys have worked uncommonly long and hard to tap their dreams. Check out the Facebook page and make plans to try out the new kids on the block.

Now, John ...

Old Louisville Brewery Set to Open Friday, by John Wurth (Louisville Beer Dot Com)

Remember Remember John Wurth? (Who?) Remember Episode 11 of the now-defunct Louisville Beer Podcast?

Hopefully, you remember at least one of these. You might recall that this here’s a website that’s been on a bit of hiatus, because of Wurth’s busy day job and family schedule. Then, maybe you’ll also have some fond memories of when we had Wade and Ken Mattingly on the ol’ podcast back in November of the year 2013. Memories…

Well, here we are back in the year 2016, and Old Louisville Brewing is on the verge of opening on Friday, July 22. They hosted a soft open tonight, and invited me to attend. While they don’t have their Peanut Ale on tap YET, I got to sample some of the wares, and was pretty pleased.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

For the record: The Brewers Association addresses the AB-InBev acquisition of SAB Miller.

Death to chains and multi-nationals.


Brewers Association
Boulder, CO • July 20, 2016—

Bob Pease, president and CEO of the Brewers Association (BA)—the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers—released the following statement regarding the approval of Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) to acquire SABMiller:

Today’s decision by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to approve the acquisition of SABMiller by ABI stipulates many of the safeguards the Brewers Association requested to preserve fair competition and access to market for America’s small and independent craft brewers.

While we continue to believe that the merger of the world’s two largest brewers is bad for both the beer industry and consumers, the DOJ’s significant requirements, including the termination of incentive programs such as the Voluntary Anheuser-Busch Incentive for Performance Program (VAIP), a cap on ABI’s self-distribution volume and other measures to protect distributor independence, appear to address some of our major apprehensions with the merger. With effective enforcement of these provisions, small brewers can rely on their independent distributor partners to access the market. This will help ensure that beer enthusiasts can continue to enjoy a vast variety of options from the more than 4,600 breweries in the U.S.

The Brewers Association will closely examine the consent decree and compliance with its provisions, as well as monitor ABI’s actions, specifically with regard to the acquisition of independent craft brewers. We remain concerned about how past, pending and future acquisitions may shift the dynamics of the current beer market. We will continue to encourage the DOJ to monitor and, where necessary, take action to remedy any anti-competitive effects of ABI’s behavior in the U.S.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bass Ale Blues, connecting the Original Memphis Five with Malcom Lowry without a single mention of Bass Ale.

Don't ask me how I manage to pick "next" when it comes to books, just know that it will be a book -- bound, tactile and absurdly old-fashioned.

Appropriately, at the present time I'm reading Dick Sudhalter's Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945, a mildly controversial volume published in 1999, in which the author charts the influence of white musicians on the development of jazz.

Given that I've usually advanced the argument that black musicians have been the prime movers of jazz, Sudhalter's book is a scholarly and well-reasoned supplement to ancient history. I'm less interested in a final verdict than with his stories of players and aggregations long forgotten, among them the Original Memphis Five.

Somewhat incredibly for jazz, a genre long specializing in archival LP and CD collections spanning the gamut of styles and performers, only a small number of this group's 300-plus sides have been reissued. Many are feared lost.

Of course, some tracks by the Original Memphis Five (including various pseudonyms) are readily available, including "Bass Ale Blues." It's the first I've heard of this song, which was written by Frank Signorelli (apparently there are no lyrics), and it strikes me as beyond strange that a jazz musician would refer to an imported English beer during the peak of Prohibition.

It gets even weirder. Stuck in the middle of an unfruitful bout of Googling, I was guided here:

Malcolm Lowry @ the 19th Hole

It's a blog started in 2009 to celebrate the centenary of Malcolm Lowry's birth.

And who was he?

Lowry wrote the classic novel Under the Volcano, perhaps a "modernist masterpiece," and a work I adored during my dissipated mid-1980s years. Lowry tells the story of the doomed alcoholic Englishman Geoffrey Firmin's downward spiral in Mexico, set against the spectacle of the annual Day of the Dead.

Finally, who would have known that the Original Memphis Five was one of Malcolm Lowry's favorite jazz combos?

As a later singer (and cultural commentator) observed:

Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They're going to destroy
Our casual joys
We shall go on playing
Or find a new town

Blues de la Cerveza?


Monday, July 18, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: Moss the Boss, his dazzling beer café, and what they taught me about “craft.”

AFTER THE FIRE: Moss the Boss, his dazzling beer café, and what they taught me about “craft.”

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

This essay from April, 2014 was one of my final postings at Louisville Beer Dot Com. Only a teaser appeared here, at my blog, so if you missed it before, the whole text follows.

As is my habit, I’ve touched up some of the passages, but have not changed anything of substance. It should be noted that Moss eventually accepted my Facebook friend request. Here is a recent photo of him.

Now, back to April 21, 2014.


In my view, the “craft” modifier for better beer has outlived its usefulness, at least without earnest industry-wide introspection as to what the art of “craft” might actually mean if and when it is practiced.

Until then, I’ll begin with an anecdote. If my luck holds, I may end with it, too.

In October of 1995, when the Public House was only three years old, I departed the comfortable confines for a ten-day tour of European beer destinations, including Dusseldorf, Cologne and Belgium. There also was a brief two-day side trip by train to Copenhagen to visit my friends there. My friends David Pierce, John Dennis and Ron Downer accompanied me.

Much beer was consumed, though you probably already guessed as much.

Our first great thrill was accidentally stumbling into Dusseldorf on "Sticke" day, when the brewpub Zum Uerige rolls out a special, beefier version of its elegant everyday ale. Sticke happens only at random intervals, and we felt fortunate to experience such goodness by chance, in the primeval absence of social media to guide the proceedings.

These days, everyone would know. Serendipity has been outlawed, and that’s too bad.

The next morning, we set out for Belgium, allowing for a few hours of fast-paced Kölsch consumption in Cologne. A change of trains was necessary at Liege, and so we made for the station buffet to have an inaugural beer. There were 35 choices on the menu, which by Belgian standards was elemental, but they spanned the gamut of the brewer’s art.

At the time, I wrote:

“In America, you also have a choice: Bud or Bud Light. That is, if you can find a train station.”

Namur, located in the Meuse river valley in southeastern Belgium, was the ultimate target. It is a clean and scenic city with an old citadel perched on a hill, and our first move after settling into our lodgings was to consult Tim Webb’s seminal Good Beer Guide to Belgium and Holland (nowadays, just Belgium) for the address of L’ Eblouissant (The Dazzling), a beer café featured in the Namur section, and highly praised by the author.

It was the reason we chose Namur in the first place.

Equipped with a sketchy city map and gestures from the desk clerk, we began walking. Upon arrival, it became evident that while a drinking establishment was doing business at this address, it was not The Dazzling.

Because the friendly bartender was kind enough to explain the situation and to give us directions to the café’s new location across town, we ordered a round of Duvel, tipping him handsomely prior to resuming the hike.

Even then, we almost missed The Dazzling. There was no sign apart from a backlit Murphy’s Stout oval, adorning an accurate facsimile of an Irish pub front. We stepped inside, only to find the pub officially closed to make room for at least two dozen Namur locals gathered there to celebrate their recent return from a tour of Sri Lanka.

At this juncture, our first acquaintance was made with the Belgo-Irish force of nature known as Alain Mossiat, to be forever known as “Moss the Boss.” Moss welcomed us, albeit a bit warily at first. His resistance began to crumble when it became evident that our beer pilgrim credentials were exemplary, and so an impromptu compromise was reached.

He’d be very busy with the group, but we could occupy an improvised table in the rear storage area. He’d serve us when he could, and there was enough Spaghetti Bolognese on hand for us to have some dinner, too.

Moss proceeded to both cook and serve food and beers to the thirty of us, operating from a closet kitchen with an ordinary home stove, and with his 12-year-old son positioned atop a beer crate behind the bar, pouring nitro Murphy’s all night long for the native revelers.

The stout was Moss’s nod to his Irish side, and besides, no other bar in Namur had such a beer in 1995. However, cash flow aside, Moss’s pride and joy was a comprehensive list of bottled ales from the Wallonia region, which he viewed as poorly represented on famous beer lists elsewhere in Belgium.

After making our first selection ourselves, we asked Moss to choose for us during the remainder of the evening, and one after another, 750 ml bottles of Wallonian ale appeared before us. The pinnacle was an aged, homebrewed mead from his personal (and very literal) cellar, which quite simply was the best I’d ever had, and may yet be.

Perhaps I kept track of what we were drinking, but I doubt it. What I remember is a magical evening in an eclectic setting, seated amid random junk, cases of bottles and various beer placards and advertisements (oddly, not unlike my home base), learning that for all of Belgium’s culinary splendor, the one dish you’re likely to find on the menu at a beer café with “snacks” is spaghetti, an ambience sans television or music, with our quartet lapsing eventually into a philosophical debate.

In my 1995 description:

(As we sampled) and finished eating our spaghetti, a spirited argument ensued as to the true nature of craft-brewed beer in America, with Alain interrupting occasionally to explain the next selection. Expatriates abroad. Drinking, talking. Very cool.


My first thought about this scene as recalled in 2014 is this: Damn, we were referring to better beer as “craft” even then, 20 years ago?

What exactly was being said about “craft” as we drank ales and mead in Namur?

My recollection is hazy, but one general theme was whether Sam Adams genuinely could be regarded as “craft” when so many other emerging microbreweries produced a fraction of the volume, and without contract brewing accounting for so much of the barrelage. How could small and large alike occupy the same boat?

As they say, the more things change …

There is much to say about craft, crafty and the sheer grandeur of variable semantics. These can wait for another column.

Thinking back on it, Moss’s strident advocacy of local and regional Wallonian specialties may have planted quite the seed somewhere in my noggin. It would not have been possible to return to the Public House in 1995 and adapt it in such a fashion, but it would be entirely possible now, and an all-Indiana and Kentucky beer format might be quite the marketing corker amid the general in-crowd saturation, appealing to an under-served segment of the better beer crowd for whom localism actually matters.

Moss left the pub business in 1998, relocating with his family to County Mayo in Ireland to operate an organic farm. If memory serves, he’s been back in Belgium for a while, and probably is a grandfather by now. It’s been a long time since we’ve communicated, and yet, perhaps predictably, he’s on Facebook. I’ve sent a friend request.

To recap: In 1995, we had a discussion about “craft” at The Dazzling, and in 2014, “craft” strikes me as an outtake from The Shining.

I think there needs to be a full-scale reboot.


*Bonus 2016 Postscript*

In January of 2007, I stumbled quite by accident on the website of a band called Ceilí Moss, a folk/rock act from Belgium, where I was stunned to see this explanation:

If you're curious where this name comes from: Ceilí (pronounced as Kylie) is a Gaelic word for a party with music, and Moss was the nickname of Alain Mossiat, boss of the pub "L'Eblouissant", where we did our very first gigs.

The website link remains active; however, as of the summer of 2015, the band has ceased performing.

By April, 2007, we'd learned that Moss the Boss was back in Namur (where he remains, according to Facebook). Around this time, David Pierce found a relic of our shared 1990s era of Belgian beer travel.

I was cleaning out some old file drawers this weekend and came upon my old Tim Webb Good Beer Guide to Belgium. Matt Gould and Rick Buckman had borrowed it for their leg of the tour, 1996. The pic was a present for my 40th birthday.

A blast from the past, for sure. Here's to Moss the Boss ... again. His establishment remains an archetype, one ripe for localized reinvention -- don't you think?


July 11: AFTER THE FIRE: We are dispirited in the post-factual world.

July 4: AFTER THE FIRE: Euro ’85, Part 34 … The final chapter, in which lessons are learned and bridges burned.

June 27: AFTER THE FIRE: Out and about in America, Europe … and my cups.

June 20: AFTER THE FIRE: Less can be more.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Diary: Can there be a singer-songwriter version of the "good beer" bar?

For diary entries, I sling it without thinking too much about minor annoyances like spelling and syntax. 

For many years, I stuck to the desperate notion that the best possible thing I could do in business was promote the notion of a team.

My analogy was a band in the musical sense of the word, and while not discounting potential disagreements and friction, trying to celebrate what can be done in terms of a group, as opposed to an individual.

Often, it really was a team. At other times, it wasn't. At no time did I ever seek to cultivate the idea that there were NOT numerous employees behind the scenes, doing the real work without which no business can survive. I always understood that we couldn't pay them what they're worth, and tried to figure out how to better remunerate them. At one point, it occurred to me that we might be employee-owned.

Give the guys on the shop floor credit -- they were too smart for that.

At some juncture, perhaps the late 1990s or early 2000s, lots of attention became focused on me. It always surprises folks to learn that I was a reluctant front man at the pub. It happened because someone had to do it, and I was the best candidate. There was a time when no one regarded Phil Collins as the replacement for Peter Gabriel in Genesis, and yet he was the ideal choice -- whether or not you like what occurred subsequently (I do).

For various reasons, cults of personality became increasingly jarring to me, even my own. It made running for political office last year extraordinarily difficult, as our system is predicated on the professional wrestling model of self-promotion, and this has come to thoroughly disgust me.

Going back to music as an analogy, one thing musicians can do that bar owners cannot is go back to basics. A singer/songwriter/instrumentalist can occupy a space in the corner and perform, potentially with a minimum of assistance from others. He or she may even be paid, though unfortunately, this seems to be optional nowadays.

But ...

Is there the "good beer bar" equivalent to the solo singer/songwriter/instrumentalist?

After all, in the time I've been patronizing the world classic 't Brugs Beertje in Bruges, I've never seen more than two bartenders at a time, with (perhaps) a kitchen helper. Sergio's in Louisville operates similarly. In 2013, I visited a one-man Real Ale pub in Totnes, Devon UK.

Why couldn't a single person with an occasional helper run such an establishment if the business plan was suitably opportunistic?

The space needs to be relatively small and inexpensive, and weekly hours somewhat limited. The beer selection can be small, and still be good. Why have gadgets like televisions when everyone has a phone? WFPK works fine. Popular wisdom insists that there must be food, but apart from the mandated $10 frozen weenie menu, being located in a dense area with numerous nearby eateries can satisfy state law and the needs of customers.

As for the cult of personality ... yes, the owner/operator of such an establishment would need to be an entertaining sort of curmudgeon. It's all about the personalities, or patron and client alike.

However, there's no need for a cult.

I think it could work. What do you think?

1 Diary: Does a bar serving good beer need draft lines to succeed?
2 Diary: You have three draft spouts. What do you pour?
3 Diary: Can there be a singer-songwriter version of the "good beer" bar?


Friday, July 15, 2016

Diary: You have three draft spouts. What do you pour?

For diary entries, I sling it without thinking too much about minor annoyances like spelling and syntax. 

Yesterday, I asked whether a "good beer bar" qualifies as memorable if it does not serve draft beer. I'm still assuming that this hypothetical bar will have 20-30 beers in bottles and cans, and today, let's imagine it possessing a three-keg box, capable of holding three full kegs only.

It would NOT be adapted to house five or six one-sixth barrels, just three regular kegs. What would you pour, and how would your pouring schedule work?

Glancing backward through the mists of time, I can recall when this question mattered to me. We had a three-keg box in 1992 at Rich O's, and our first choice of draft was Guinness. Later we added Carlsberg (then Pilsner Urquell). When we had enough money to get the third tower working, it rotated. The draft system grew and grew.

These days, there are 35 or more taps at my formal business, with house-brewed beers and guests. Draft became the focus, and the bottle list has diminished accordingly.

My current hunch is that in the present age, when one seemingly never knows if a beer will be on tap more often than once every six months, the idea of permanently anchoring two of these towers is sound.

As a contrarian of long standing, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that if I were in the position to pick these three beers, my choices (today) would be Guinness, Pilsner Urquell and a rotation of Fuller's London Pride (or something like it) and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Not "session" per se, but close.

So much for my years advocating American "craft," but hear my defense before passing the verdict: "Craft" is everywhere, and the Old World classics have been overwhelmed. Isn't it time to pick up the string of education where it started? Besides, there'd be ample space on a hypothetical bottle and can list to feature American "craft" styles.

The other factor is size. The establishment I have in mind is small (see tomorrow's post), and given the exponential growth of American "craft" beer, you'd genuinely need a Hop Cat or Mellow Mushroom to do it justice.

BUT NOT TO WORRY. I can imagine an American "craft" only lineup just as easily.

I have other ideas, so keep reading, and let me know what you think.

1 Diary: Does a bar serving good beer need draft lines to succeed?
2 Diary: You have three draft spouts. What do you pour?
3 Diary: Can there be a singer-songwriter version of the "good beer" bar?


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Diary: Does a bar serving good beer need draft lines to succeed?

For diary entries, I sling it without thinking too much about minor annoyances like spelling and syntax. 

Must a bar specializing in better beer offer draft beer? Or can it be interesting with bottles and cans alone?

It's a question for reflection, but at one time my knee-jerk response would have been that without draft beer, a good beer bar could not truly be great. I may be in the process of changing my mind. It depends, doesn't it?

If one decided to go with Belgians and Belgian-style ales, wouldn't bottles and a semblance of appropriate glassware be enough?

Not all dive bars have draft. Even if the emphasis were not on Belgians -- say, American "craft" beers only -- would it be enough to have popular craft styles in cans or bottles, with glasses (of course) for pouring?

If engaging in such an operation locally (on Indiana soil) there'd be an added incentive to forego draft, because the regional ATC office interprets state law as allowing beer in "original containers" (bottles and cans) to be carried out the door, onto the sidewalk, while draft does not qualify, unless you carry the keg outside.

Instead of investing in draft equipment, one might purchase simpler straight refrigeration, and be absent cleaning obligations. Have a standard dishwasher for glassware ... and good to go.

Is no draft, no deal? If you have thoughts, please share them with me.

1 Diary: Does a bar serving good beer need draft lines to succeed?
2 Diary: You have three draft spouts. What do you pour?
3 Diary: Can there be a singer-songwriter version of the "good beer" bar?


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"Next time we see 'deconstructed' on a menu, we’re walking out."

My top choice isn't even included.

It's menu items charred, whipped, baked, deconstructed, fried, broiled, flambéed, blackened or otherwise plated "to perfection."

Perfection doesn't exist, folks -- and I share the author's annoyance.

The 10 Most Annoying Words and Phrases on Menus, Ranked, by Josh Scherer (Los Angeles Magazine)

I was at a restaurant the other night and something about the menu seemed… off. It was so sparse. It was just a concise list of foods, most of which I wanted to eat, with no twee adjectives or obscure farm names in sight. Though I was happy about it at the time, it only made me realize that I have an advanced case of CMF (Chronic Menu Fatigue)—and you might too. It’s the general feeling you get when you go to a restaurant and realize every word or phrase on the menu is there to make you feel, in one way or another, unqualified to eat the food. Here is a list of the most annoying and/or pretentious words and phrases that trigger the symptoms.


Monday, July 11, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: We are dispirited in the post-factual world.

AFTER THE FIRE: We are dispirited in the post-factual world.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

If I’m to judge from the electronic bushel baskets filled to overflowing with social media-borne exclamation marks, the biggest news in Indiana “craft” beer last week was the arrival in Hoosierland of brews from Maui Brewing Company, courtesy of Cavalier Distributing, Inc.

Cursory due diligence reveals that Maui still brews in Hawaii and ships to the mainland, damn the expense. Good for them. This authenticity is commendable, given that I can still remember my befuddlement back in 2006 after being served relatively inexpensive Kona at an eatery in Orlando, yielding shortly to raging annoyance when I learned that it was contract-brewed at Widmer, or maybe Redhook – same thing.

Damned insufferable Craft Beer Alliance. How is it Hawaiian if it isn’t even brewed in Hawaii?

(curmudgeonly grumbling sounds and periodic gnashing of teeth)

Of course, conventional beer geek wisdom has long since overruled me. Sierra Nevada can be brewed in North Carolina, and Stone in Berlin, Germany. Appellations of origin mean almost nothing as “craft” beer crawls steadily forward, toward becoming exactly the same problem a revolution previously was required to rectify.

Note that I don’t exclude overruling myself, having purchased Sierra’s Nooner Pilsner on more than one occasion. In a time when beer appreciation is many miles wide and a scant millimeter deep, who am I to rant and rain on these multi-locational parades of profitability?

Besides, most of the beers I typically drink are locally produced in the metro Louisville area at comfortably small breweries.

I’ve got this localism fetish going for me, if little else.


Anyway, let’s go back to Maui Brewing’s triumphant arrival into Indiana. It strikes me that I’ve seen dozens, maybe hundreds of similar press releases over the past five years, and on behalf of NABC, I’ve written my fair share of them.

“Finally, your chance to wrap your greedy Rate Advocate-stained fingers around (fill in blank), now coming to (fill in blank) for the very first time.”

I always omitted the exclamation marks, as there are plenty of them floating in the wort-laced ether, sadly homeless. They need loving shelter -- or to be mercilessly slaughtered.

What I’m wondering is how many of these latest, greatest beers remain in circulation two or three years after their arrival. Surely there is an attrition rate, because as endless as those rows of wholesaler SKUs seem already, they’d be even more voluminous if new breweries kept piling on, one atop the other, without a withdrawal now and then.

My suspicion is that when you get past the top tier of biggest sellers at a wholesaler, about as many breweries depart as arrive, which suggests that there’s an informational market niche in need of filling, namely the exit announcement.

“Finally, your chance to say goodbye to (fill in blank), now leaving (fill in second blank) following a period of brave hopefulness and bold optimism, only to be crowded off store shelves by AB-InBev’s pay-to-play mockrobrews – and 145 new “craft” brewery arrivals.”

By the way, any bottles of NABC's Elsa Von Horizon you might happen to see are to be regarded as collector’s items for label art, only.


Recently while perusing social media, all the while imagining that it would be a better use of my time to be clubbed senseless with a slab of semi-frozen whale blubber, I noticed a blurb from a local eatery with a better-than-average bar program.

“Cheap” beer coming, it trumpeted.

It made me think of all those times I’ve seen breathless announcements for “cheap wine” -- except there’ve never been any of those. Half-price bottles, perhaps, but never the word “cheap.”

Come to think of it, contemporary cocktail-driven bar programs seldom advertise on the basis of “cheap” whiskey, do they?

Verily, it’s top shelf and upscale with wine and spirits, but when it comes to beer, the dumbing-down always lies waiting, just around the corner.

Noting that my observations here are confined primarily to restaurants, and I’m not speaking of specialty beer bars and any other establishment which is eligible for an exception because it evinces signs of willful design … so, disclaimers aside, why does good beer still get treated like bad beer used to?

A possible answer is the weird recurring cultural habit of otherwise intelligent food and drink people to excitedly exonerate the utilitarian adaptability of rank mass-market swill.

“Well, you know, there’s a time and place for Miller High Life.” No there isn’t – not if you’re actually beer literate.

Ah, yes; literacy. Hence, the other possible answer: There is far less beer knowledge lurking behind the typical metro area bar than one might imagine.

As BJCP judge Gomer Pyle once said, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”

Too many draft selections and bottle lists are what happens when beer “education” is derived from rote readings of Thrillist at 3 a.m. while drinking purely wretched Pabst Blue Ribbon and pretending it’s for a purpose. The only purpose I can see is not being driven to do better.

Pray tell, where the hell are all the Cicerones? Weren’t they supposed to be the beer sommeliers of the future, and the faces of a fresh, factual approach, brimming with stylistic nuggets, and both ready and able to transform beer programs into principled bastions mirroring the typical edgy eatery’s wine and bourbon lists?

The cicerones may be out there somewhere, but I’m wondering if they have any active input into the beer selections I see in metro Louisville. It makes no sense to me that restaurants eager to differentiate themselves in terms of cuisine during these hyper-competitive times seem utterly unable to sort through the beers available to them and to come up with something more distinctive that six IPAs, two wheats, a sour and Coors Banquet.

Silly me.

I thought the revolution was about enabling bar management to eschew passive interpretation of customer demand, the bias of wholesaler reps and the skewing effect of brain-dead swag.

I thought the revolution was about pro-actively creating and nurturing customer demand by offering well-chosen “craft” beers intended to enhance and showcase the talents of the kitchen.

To my way of thinking, it takes only a few “craft” beer fans to justify the more thoughtful approach, and to return the favor with word-of-mouth – still the most cost-efficient means of advertising, and very nearly better than selfies.

In the end, I suppose none of this is possible without a better knowledge base than currently exists, and the knowledge base isn’t likely to improve unless owner and upper management decide it’s a priority. It’s a shame, because lots of wonderful opportunities are being missed.

Then again, maybe I'm completely full of spent grain, in which case this column space is yours, to make the case in rebuttal.


July 4: AFTER THE FIRE: Euro ’85, Part 34 … The final chapter, in which lessons are learned and bridges burned.

June 27: AFTER THE FIRE: Out and about in America, Europe … and my cups.

June 20: AFTER THE FIRE: Less can be more.

June 13: THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: I know I’m gonna change that tune.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

The child is grown; the dream is gone.

Long ago, you'd walk into a house filled with children and see hash marks all over the linoleum. These lines measured how fast kids were growing, and all it took to verify the household's accounting was to compare them with little humans dashing back and forth, assuming they'd stand still long enough.

I'm sure there's an app for it these days.

I can't imagine anything better calculated to lift eyebrows than a constantly updated chart on the side of brewery, visible to the public, showing how many barrels of beer actually are being produced inside. Of course, the Feds know. They're collecting taxes on real output, as contrasted with hopeful estimates on a business plan.

Come to think of it, perhaps there needs to be one set of hash marks visible to the general public, and another capable of being seen only by bankers and brewery investors.

But aren't we doing that already?

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Sicily: "Etna Fumes and Spews, but the Winemaking Goes On."

We'll be somewhere in the middle of this view.

We're going to Sicily later this year, and while my friend Fabio from Arezzo has alerted me to the presence of at least one fine specialty beer cafe in Catania, beer isn't the reason for the trip.

Speaking for myself and not my bride, motivations include renewing acquaintances with a childhood interest in volcanoes; visiting an island that's a distinct nation in itself; eating and drinking as locally as possible; and as an extension of thinking locally, beginning a process of widening horizons past my tendency to holiday exclusively amid beer culture.

There may be good beers in Sicily, but wine's the thing, and I intend to revel in it. Articles like this one help.

Etna Fumes and Spews, but the Winemaking Goes On, by Eric Asimov (New York Times)

 ... Working under an active volcano is a simple fact of life in the Etna wine region, like the lapping of the ocean in a beach town. Ordinarily, the 11,000-foot mountain is tranquil, snow-capped and gorgeous, even if it does regularly emit plumes of smoke.

It often spews ash or lava, which trickles to a stop high on the slopes, well above the vineyards, which top out at about 4,000 feet. But big eruptions are not infrequent. The most recent was last December.

Winemakers deal with natural hazards every day. Hail, drought and infestations threaten crops and may cause financial and cultural disasters. But a volcano can mean life or death.


Wednesday, July 06, 2016

"The apples John Chapman brought to the frontier were very different than today's apples—and they weren't meant to be eaten."

Photo credit and story: Louisville Courier-Journal.

Recalling that New Albany businessman will soon be opening a cider bar, and hopes to produce his own cider at some point, it's always a good idea to rewind and see where it all started.

The Real Johnny Appleseed Brought Apples—and Booze—to the American Frontier, by Natasha Geiling (Smithsonian)

The apples John Chapman brought to the frontier were very different than today's apples—and they weren't meant to be eaten

On a family farm in Nova, Ohio, grows a very special apple tree; by some claims, the 175 year old tree is the last physical evidence of John Chapman, a prolific nurseryman who, throughout the early 1800s, planted acres upon acres of apple orchards along America's western frontier, which at the time was anything on the other side of Pennsylvania.

Today, Chapman is known by another name—Johnny Appleseed—and his story has been imbued with the saccharine tint of a fairytale. If we think of Johnny Appleseed as a barefoot wanderer whose apples were uniform, crimson orbs, it's thanks in large part to the popularity a segment of the 1948 Disney feature, Melody Time, which depicts Johnny Appleseed in Cinderella fashion, surrounded by blue songbirds and a jolly guardian angel.

But this contemporary notion is flawed, tainted by our modern perception of the apple as a sweet, edible fruit. The apples that Chapman brought to the frontier were completely distinct from the apples available at any modern grocery store or farmers' market, and they weren't primarily used for eating—they were used to make America's beverage-of-choice at the time, hard apple cider.


Tuesday, July 05, 2016

"Brewers are sourcing their signature bitterness in sterile labs, not muddy hop fields."

Approximately one million years ago, while visiting a brewpub in the United Kingdom, bar-side chat led to my being given an impromptu brewery tour.

The kit was primitive, enabling little more than glorified homebrewing, and in fact homebrewers I know personally have snazzier setups. The capacity was very small, just a few barrels at a time. The mash tun resembled one of those coffee services on a European train, where they pour hot water through the pre-calibrated basket into the cup.

Both the Bitter and Porter served me were excellent. If I had it all to do over, this is about as big as my brewery would ever get. Two, maybe three ales, and an occasional seasonal.

By the way, here's a story about hop extracts.

Craft Brewers Go High-Tech, by William Bostwick (Wall Street Journal)

Once relegated to industrial brewing, hop extracts are the secret behind some of today’s briskest craft beers

Nature scenes rule on craft beer labels—mountains, streams, even a yeti or two. But you won’t see a pressurized supercritical carbon-dioxide hop extraction chamber on a label anytime soon.

The dirty secret behind today’s IPAs: There’s little dirty about them. Brewers are sourcing their signature bitterness in sterile labs, not muddy hop fields.


Monday, July 04, 2016

AFTER THE FIRE: Euro ’85, Part 34 … The final chapter, in which lessons are learned and bridges burned.

AFTER THE FIRE: Euro ’85, Part 34 … The final chapter, in which lessons are learned and bridges burned.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

(Thirty-fourth and final in a series chronicling my travel year 1985)

It was late in the evening on August 8, 1985.

In fact, it may have been past midnight, making it the 9th, not the 8th, but no matter.

I was back home again in Indiana, after three glorious months in Europe.

Now what?

Luxembourg City had disappeared far too quickly into the Icelandair jet’s rearview mirror. The European continent receded into cloud-blanketed expanses of ocean. After subsequent trips, I’d allow myself a moment’s melancholy at each westward departure, though not this first time.

There was too much to think about.

Many hours later, allowing for an obligatory Reykjavik shopping layover, I stumbled somewhat groggily from a customs checkpoint into the arrival hall at Chicago O’Hare. There John and Kevin were waiting to meet me. They were troopers and true friends, following through just as we’d agreed back in May.

As a bonus, the brothers were holding a cheesy cardboard sign, hand-lettered BAYLOR TAXI.

In this primitive rotary dial era, it had not occurred to any of us to prepare contingency plans in case of problems – a flight delay or cancellation on my part, or a flat tire on theirs. I hadn’t phoned home even once. European pay phones were old-school mystifying, as well as overly expensive. Only a handful of post cards were dropped into letter boxes.

That’s because the entire point of Europe was to get away from the United States, and this is exactly what I’d done. I went away, got away and broke away. Hurdles real and imagined were cleared, and the first pilgrimage was completed.

Now what?

At times, clichés are all we really have, so I can attest that even then, passing through customs, I definitely knew things weren’t going to be the same for me, ever again.

Once wasn’t enough. There’d have be another, and if so, how would I arrange my life for what might be two long years, until my funds enabled the next escape from our stifling Reaganite compound?

I didn’t know the details, only the imperative.


We traveled five hours straight home from Chicago, stopping only to devour sliders at a White Castle along the way. This reversion to indigenous form was the first broad hint that in spite of my best efforts to be a new European man, bad American habits surely would worm their way back into my world.

So they did, and so it went.

Within days of returning home, I was filling shifts at the liquor store. Soon school was back in session; teachers immediately started taking off work, and substitute teaching began anew. Money trickled in, and the budget again could be written in black ink.

After a few weeks, there was sufficient revenue to develop those rolls of slide film still hidden in the lead-lined pouch, and at last I could see where I’d visited. Bills were paid, bar tabs settled, and a faint dribble of cash was stashed under the mattress.

Sadly, fiscal restraint suggested a return to inexpensive mass-market beer, except predictably, American swill no longer tasted very good. Eventually it would occur to me to drink less and drink better, but not just yet. Too many hormones required sedation.

Choking down the cheap beer, I grinned, rationalized, and accepted these cost-cutter hardships, keeping two eyes fixed very firmly on 1987, and the expected sequel. Anyway, I worked at a package store.

When all was said and done, Bass Ale and St. Pauli Girl tasted surprisingly good when the employee discount enabled an occasional splurge.

Thirty pounds had disappeared from my frame during three months across the pond. The medical experts probably will say it’s too much, too fast, and accordingly, unlikely to last. They’re absolutely right, and by the end of 1985, I’d found each and every of those lost pounds, and added a few more for good measure.

It all came down to exercise, or the lack of it. When the daily formula is to work two jobs, drink, sleep, rinse and repeat, physical self-care isn’t much of a consideration.

Rather, it was entirely psychological. It was get back to Europe, or bust.


Far more than high school and college graduation dates, the year 1985 marks the first great dividing line in my life. There is what came before the European journey, and what happened after it.

Later there would be numerous other narrative junctures involving the usual suspects: Thru-ways, dead ends, lovers, careers, wins and losses; all the things that go to make up a life. There’d also be 34 more trips to Europe, perhaps bearing out the extent of the obsession that blossomed in 1985.

What did it all mean, way back then?

Three decades later, it’s a question I’m still trying to properly assess, and in many ways the available answers are uniformly embarrassing.

I can see more clearly now than before. In spite of the many qualifications and evasions available to me, the mere fact that I took a trip to Europe in 1985 speaks to privilege, not privation. It speaks to how lazy and formless I’d been up to that point.

In 1942, my 17-year-old father ran away from home to fight in a world war, and I was spared this tough choice. We didn’t always agree, but my parents worked hard and sent me to university – for a philosophy degree.

I didn’t go to work in a sweat shop at age 12, didn’t endure domestic violence, and didn’t have many hard decisions to make. In short, I was lucky. It was easy muddling through my youth, such that there was ample time for me in my early twenties to decide at long last to get my act together and set off on a quest, purely elective, to “find” myself.

Most humans on the planet don’t have this luxury. And yet, this life is the only one I’ve ever had, and all I can do is live it.

Europe in 1985 is where and when I grew up, insofar as I’ve ever grown up, which is debatable. Europe was the exact opposite of my undergraduate experience, and far more of an advanced educational seminar than a non-stop party. It’s where things began making sense to me.

Honestly, I was as surprised as anyone. Somewhere inside there were the genes I needed to plan ahead, work hard, save money, and challenge myself.

This is the ultimate point, because at first, I got it backward. I kept thinking that a tenure in Europe was required to gain the experience necessary for growth and self-knowledge, and of course being there proved to be a big part of it, and yet what changed me the most, more than three months in Europe, was the two-year period preceding the trip.

Yes, Europe changed my life. What I didn’t notice at the time was my life changing in order to get to Europe. Finally, I cared about something, and finally, out of nowhere, emerged a work ethic.

Who’d have guessed it?


This 1985 travelogue began in 2005. It proceeded by fits and starts until completion in 2016. At this pace, you’ll be lucky if I make it into my 1990s travel history before dying at 101.

There seems to be no good way to end a story that has taken so long to write, so as an attempted coda, subject to future revision, here are three personal legacies of Euro ’85.

Food, cooking … and beer.

Moussaka, clam sauce, blood sausage, Wiener schnitzel, herring and beef tartare are just a few of the culinary high points of Euro ’85. I’d never enjoyed foods like these, and the fact that even a poor tourist might still be able to taste them was impressive.

Coming from a background of largely flavorless meat and potatoes, this exposure was revelatory, but since few of these meals were readily available back home, it was time to take cooking seriously. The only way I’d be able to get the dishes I wanted was to cook them myself, and while much has changed since then, cooking remains a rewarding pursuit.

Meanwhile, beer as a career wasn’t yet apparent to me, and my first European trip wasn’t about compiling or rating brands and styles. My beer understanding remained decidedly imperfect afterward. However, experiencing first-hand the prevailing beer culture in places like Germany, Austria and Ireland was absolutely invaluable, and it obviously informed the Public House.


In 1985, I’d been exposed to almost as many languages as countries, but the problem with constant movement was a reduced opportunity to make sense of any in detail. Upon return, I vowed to learn a European language, and began stockpiling books, instructional cassettes and videos.

Alas, it came to very little in the end, and three decades later, I still lack proficiency in a second language. However, I know a few words in two dozen languages, and prior to my second journey in 1987, managed to teach myself the Cyrillic alphabet, which made Moscow’s subways navigable.

The lure of urbanism.

I grew up in the Southern Indiana countryside, then went to Europe for the first time and spent nearly all of the trip exploring cities. I’ll grant that it took a while for these urban lessons to be absorbed, but the conversion was genuine.

These days, it seems to me that I inhabit a neighborhood (New Albany) of a larger city (Louisville), albeit it without all of the amenities in infrastructure that made European city life what it was, and remains.

Shouldn’t I be able to board a bus, switch to the subway, and be in downtown Louisville in minutes without once considering the use of my car? Why our endless sprawl? Can’t we fill in those tragic empty spaces where the downtown buildings used to be?

I must stop.

The older I get, the more normal my European interlude in 1985 appears to me. It’s the long trip since then that’s been so damned strange.



THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Euro ’85, Part 33 … All good things must come to a beginning.

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Euro ’85, Part 32 … Leaving Leningrad.

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Euro ’85, Part 31 … Leningrad in three vignettes.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 30 … Or, as it was called at the time, Leningrad.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 29 … Helsinki beneath my feet, but Leningrad on my mind.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 28 … A Finnish detour to Tampere for beer and sausages.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 27 … Stockholm's blonde ambition, with or without mead-balls.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 26 … The Hansa brewery tour, and a farewell to Norway.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 25 … Frantic pickled Norway.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 24 … An aspiring “beer hunter” amid Carlsberg’s considerable charms.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 23 … A fleeting first glimpse of Copenhagen.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 22 … It's how the tulips were relegated.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 21 … A long day in Normandy, though not "The Longest Day."

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 20 … War stories, from neutral Ireland to Omaha Beach.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 19 … Sligo, Knocknarea, Guinness and Freddie.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 18 … Irish history with a musical chaser.

The PC: Euro '85, Part 17 ... A first glimpse of Ireland.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 16 … Lizard King in the City of Light.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 15 … The traveler at 55, and a strange interlude.

The PC: We pause Euro '85 to remember the Mathäser Bierstadt in Munich.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 14 … Beers and breakfast in Munich.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 13 … Tears of overdue joy at Salzburg's Augustiner.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 12 … Stefan Zweig and his world of yesterday.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 11: My Franz Ferdinand obsession takes root.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 10: Habsburgs, history and sausages in Vienna.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 9 … Milan, Venice and a farewell to Northern Italy.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 8 … Pecetto idyll, with a Parisian chaser.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 7 … An eventful detour to Pecetto.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 6 … When in Rome, critical mass.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 5 … From Istanbul to Rome, with Greece in between.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 4 … With Hassan in Pithion.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 3 … Growing up in Greece.

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

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


Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Top 20 posts at Potable Curmudgeon, 2nd Quarter 2016.

I'm told PS's proceeds dipped this year. 

The Potable Curmudgeon's top 20 posts for the second quarter of 2016 are listed here. These rankings are determined by a mysterious Blogger formula I no longer understand. So be it.


95 ... 06/13/2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: I know I’m gonna change that tune.

108 ... 04/18/2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Euro ’85, Part 33 … All good things must come to a beginning.

110 ... 06/27/2016

AFTER THE FIRE: Out and about in America, Europe … and my cups.

115 ... 04/15/2016

After 15 years, Little Kings returns to Cincinnati.


(126 average) ... TWO-PART SERIES: A few beers on Estonian time. 

96 ... 05/16/2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: A few beers on Estonian time (Part One).

156 ... 05/23/2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: A few beers on Estonian time (Part Two).


130 ... 04/01/2016

The Six Session Beers of Session Beer Day, 2016 (Ch. 1): Falls City Kentucky Common.


(131 average) ... TWO-PART SERIES: The mouse, the elephant, and a clash of nonpareils.

145 ... 04/25/2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: The mouse, the elephant, and a clash of nonpareils ... part one.

118 ... 04/26/2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: The mouse, the elephant, and a clash of nonpareils ... part two.


132 ... 05/09/2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Hip Hops ... A look at two new New Albany breweries.

133 ... 04/04/2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: Birracibo’s local/regional “craft” beer percentage rides the bench.

134 ... 06/06/2016

Special Ed's Brewery elevates cluelessness to an art form -- and brewing hasn't even started.

145 ... 06/22/2016

HopCat is coming to Louisville, and it's gonna be yuuuge.


(148 average) ... FOUR-PART SERIES: 18th Street's Sex and Candy

133 ... 05/11/2016

(1 of 4) 18th Street's Sex and Candy, but first, the story of 18th Street Brewery.

111 ... 05/13/2016

(3 of 4) 18th Street's Sex and Candy, and wondering, "What ... the Brewers Association (Is) Doing to Address Gender and Race?"

184 ... 05/14/2016

(4 of 4) 18th Street's Sex and Candy: "Your Sexism is Predictable and Boring, 18th Street Brewery."


149 ... 06/26/2016

Turn up at a complete stranger's house and pay them to cook you dinner.

150 ... 06/06/2016

THE POTABLE CURMUDGEON: A Mile Wide sidewalk superintendent.

169 ... 04/08/2016

The beer list at Doc's Cantina in Louisville.

172 ... 05/10/2016

It doesn't matter whether Guy Fieri's new Louisville restaurant has good beer because none of us will be going there anyway.

172 ... 05/27/2016

Bud Light Lime in Louisville, but in Cleveland, "Progressive Field keeps turning into a cavernous culinary and craft-beer mecca."

271 ... 05/25/2016

Hugh E. Bir's to celebrate 50 years at the ORIGINAL 4th Street Live on Sunday, June 5.

479 ... 06/03/2016

A tail of two Yetis: Red Yeti sued by Great Divide.

520 ... 05/28/2016

Roger answers all your questions on the eve of Boomtown, 2016.