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30 July 2006
Getting Stoned.
I have neither the patience nor the storage capabilities to participate in Stone Brewing's Vertical Epic program and I have a few doubts about whether all the beers will hold up until December 12, 2012, but it's a helluva brewing and promotional effort and I salute them for it.

Here's the way it works, if you're unfamiliar: beginning on February 2, 2002 (02.02.02), Stone releases a new (in every sense, since each beer in the series is different from the others) beer annually on the day when year-month-day are the same; i.e., the second beer was release on 03.03.03, the third on 04.04.04 and so forth. These are limited releases, particularly that first one (Stone says that, "according to the Wall Street Journal, the Stone 02.02.02 Vertical Epic Ale is one of the rarest craft beers in America"), so they are eagerly sought out by beer geeks.

Last night I opened the Stone 06.06.06 Vertical Epic Ale that I bought at Drafting Room Exton on Thursday and I was literally blown away. I know it's going to get better with age, but this is one truly fine beer Right Now, a very complex and intriguing dark black concoction of spicy Belgian yeast flavors and chocolatey malt. There's a hops presence, but subdued and secondary, enhancing but not overwhelming the base characteristics of the beer. The listed abv is 8.66% but there is no discernible alcohol flavor except for perhaps a faint and warming hint at the end.

Sipped from a medium sized brandy snifter over the course of a two-hour movie, 06.06.06 made for a very enjoyable evening. Methinks I'll snatch me a couple of more bottles of this one and see how they age--not until 2012, but at least until I give in to temptation.

Temptation? Say, isn't that a Russian River beer? Wouldn't mind scoring a couple of those either. Maybe I'll find both of them here.

[Posted 9:45 am edt]

29 July 2006
"Nothing changes unless something changes."
I wrote that last night in this BeerAdvocate.com thread. Sounds simplistic, but it's the heart of the matter. I love that sort of linguistic construct.

All you can do is all you can do. When all is said and done, all is said and done. No matter where you are, there you are.

Don't know why, perhaps it's because I am what I am.

In this particular instance, I was reacting to the nervous nellies who get all shaky thinking about the neighborhood where the new Dock Street is being planned. Beer destination establishments as agents of urban renewal already have an enviable record in Philadelphia (see Standard Tap and South Philadelphia Taproom) and this guy's contribution to the revitalization of his city's historical district (where I'll be hanging in a little less than nine weeks now) seems to have gone pretty well.

It is what it is, y'know?

[Posted 3:05 pm edt]

28 July 2006
Let's brighten Dan's day.
No, not that Dan. Don't you think I have any other friends?


Passing relationships with people named Dan?

Whatever. The "Dan" in this instance is Dan Weirback, the man who made Weyerbacher a household word (and, believe me, that ain't easy).

I think I disappointed Dan severely when I told him when he asked that I preferred his reformulated Hops Infusion IPA to his Double Simcoe IPA, a beer geek delight. Yeah, there was time when he would have wept with joy for nice words about Hops Infusion, but that's irrelevant.

Thing is, I am not a hophead and am, in fact, uptohere with the fact that half or more of the craft brewing community is going ga-ga over trying to make the next "hop bomb" that will get the Beer Advocates to chattering and offering to trade body parts to lay hands on whatever is the over-the-top flavor of the day.

So, I expected to be less than impressed with Weyerbacher Eleven, an 11.7% abv anniversary Triple IPA made exclusively with Phoenix hops. Still, I needed to try it and, as I noted in the last posting, Patrick Mullin of Drafting Room Exton made that possible.

I liked it.

A lot.

Maybe it's my mood. Maybe it's the fact that it's just after 3pm of a slowly deteriorating (weather-wise) July Friday afternoon and I've broken down and popped the top because transcribing interviews is a bit of an effort, what with the constant leaning this way and that way and twisting here and there to stop the tape, start the tape, plus you're always trying to remember exactly what the last 25 words you heard were (unless you're a much better typist than I), plus, believe me, that and other stuff make this job of putting words together in a proper order a lot more of a physical strain than you might think. Maybe...

Who cares? The thing is that I found this beer damned tasty. One would be my limit, understand, and I'm not about to rush out and stock up on cases (if any are still available), but this is another very nice entry in a steady stream of very successful Weyerbacher releases over the past year or so, and I wanted to say that.

Besides, I miss the plaintive phone calls from Dan asking what I think, calls which seem to have ended abruptly after my Simcoe comments. So, somebody alert him, will ya?

A final note, if I might. The Weyerbacher website says this about the Phoenix hop:

Phoenix is also low in cohumulone and high in aromatic oils, so you can throw a ton of 'em in and the beer will stay smooth and aromatic.
Given that I got very little nose at all from this beer, I tend to disagree and think these guys are more on target about the variety's essential characteristics:
In brewing trials, the flavour and bittering balance has been found very acceptable. This variety is useful as a bittering hop and as a potential substitute for dual-purpose varieties in all types of beer.
Don't tell Dan that part or either he'll never call again or he'll want to argue when he does.

That just ruins the mood. Really.

[Posted 4:30 pm edt]

27 July 2006
The hack is back...
...which is not quite like Hack-A-Shaq, but you gotta take what you get.

And what you get, after a long absence, is moi.

It could be worse.

Remember when a vandal broke in and took over this site while I was gallivanting in Europe a couple of years back? Now that was bad.

So bad, in fact, that I don't really recommend your reading all the vicious and baseless blather he posted, but do scroll down and relish the very attractive Jack on a Stick. They just don't make 'em like that any more.

That said, my apologies for going silent for the better part of ten days. I been swamped, what can I tell you? Not only deadlines, but dealing with power outtages, computer crashes and recalcitrant software (the latter perhaps the result of the first two) and a few personal issues. But now I has returned.

Okay, okay, calm down. No need to kill a fatted calf and hold a party or anything--just go grab yourself a cold one and we'll talk. Take your time, I'll wait. Got a cold one here myself.

Catching up is hard to do...
...when there's not much to catch up on. I guess the biggest local story of the moment is still this one, which I broke a couple of weeks back and which the Inky finally caught up to it with a story in today's paper. Three months seems an impossibly short time for a startup without a permit, brewing license, brewer or, for that matter, brewery, but we shall see.

Okay, here's something that might float a few boats. The smaller, gentler Bryson has gotten himself involved with a beer festival in his very own home town. How cool is that? So cool that, at no thought of time or expense, I have put up this more detailed report on the Beer Yard calendar.

As long as I'm in the business today of sending visitors to the Beer Yard site in droves (I owe Matt some hits), I'll say that this event a week from Saturday is one I'm really looking forward to, though I'm a-scared it's going to overrun with beer geeks. I stopped by Drafting Room Exton for lunch today as it turned out and unleashed my own inner geek to make a few suggestions about various matters to Patrick Mullin. He bore up quite well under the pressure, I thought.

I purchased a 22oz Stone Vertical Epic 06-06-06 and 15oz can of Young's Double Chocolate Stout, and upon hearing that I'd not yet tasted it, Patrick kindly gifted me with a 12oz bottle of Weyerbacher Eleven, so there's some good drinking ahead here at Chez Curtin during the August "Dog Days."

Speaking of purchasing singles, Patrick told me spent a recent Sunday morning at the new Northern Liberties Foodery and came away very impressed and significantly poorer. Every beer person I talk to apparently finds it impossible to walk out the door there without taking advantage of the 10% discount on purchases of six bottles or more. I almost made that same trip myself this past Sunday morning but decided, since the latest Celebrator Beer News is about to arrive, I'd wait and combine the visit with dropping them off during, and partaking in Sunday Brunch at Standard Tap.

Turns out that could be as soon as this Sunday, because I received my writer's complimentary copy of CBN in the mail within the last couple of hours. A good issue for me, this one, with the regular "Atlantic Ale Trail," which has coverage of the Geary's 20th Anniversary beer program and the last days of Heavyweight; "Morse Road," a retrospective on the career of Tim Morse, founding brewer for John Harvard's (a career which has since taken an interesting new twist, which I'll report on soon); "Light Lager or Dark Lager," a story on visiting brewpubs in Prague, which is an updated and expanded version of a sidebar written for this story about my visit to the Czech Republic last year which was cut for lack of space, and what was essentially a photo caption for a jpg image of Bluecoat Gin--the image didn't run, but the 60-work copy did, topped by what may be the largest headline in the whole issue.

Digression (I can do 'em too): Since you may be wondering about the gin thing and because I was kinda mean to the Big Guy up in the opening section, and we all know how moody folks on diets can get, let me direct you to the best story so far on Bluecoat, his contribution to the current issue of Ale Street News. Am I a Mensch, or what?

All my CBN pieces (okay, not the Bluecoat paragraph) will be up here in a week or two, of course.

Otherwise, I just finished a story on energy conservation for American Brewer and am about to start working on a one-day beer tourist guide to Philadelphia for Beers of the World. I also sold the latter on the idea of a Vinnie Cilurzo/Russian River story; I'll be working on that at GABF, which I really need to start getting organized for (Big Dan and Cruella will be on hand for the first time so I have to be sure I'm registered under various aliases), along with a couple of other ideas I'm not ready to talk about quite yet.

I'm also in the middle of transcribing a long interview with an area brewmaster who was one of the real pioneers in the industry, a story for which I haven't yet found a home. Finally, I am sitting on a couple of potential blockbuster stories, each or both of which would transform the local beer scene, but in different ways entirely. I'm sworn not to reveal either and reveal them I won't (note to those who always call and try to weasel this stuff out of me--you know who you are--not a chance, so don't bother).

S'all I got.

[Posted 5:10 pm edt]

17 July 2006
Sly Fox news.
I've been looking for an opportunity to post here my admiration for the steady, and sometimes amazing, pace Brian O'Reilly and his brewing team had managed to keep at Sly Fox Royersford, but now I don't have to, because I got Brian to say it hisownself.

It's part of a just-posted story which announces the schedule for new and returning bottled beers, a new canned beer and a bit of brewery expansion, while also dropping a hint about what's going to happen in at the Phoenixville pub, a move for which, shall we say, the "groundwork" was done a while back.

[Posted 12:55 pm edt]

14 July 2006
Site updates.
As promised, I've added my first article for Beers of the World to the archives and you can read it here. My next piece, on Fritz Maytag and Anchor Brewing, will, I assume, turn up in the October issue and go up here, depending on the editorial preferences, shortly thereafter or two months' later when the next issue comes out.

Dominic Roskrow is stepping down as editor next month, so we'll see what that means. I assume I'll keep right on keepin' on for them and am currently, per request, putting together some more story ideas. I'm already committed to a "Philadelphia is a great beer city and here's why" story, or some variation thereof, for delivery in August and, presumably, publication in December.

I've added a Beers of the World link in the column at right and will soon add one for American Brewer, to facilitate reading various print pieces once they're published.

I also realized, while preparing a writer's query (read "gimme work") for another, non-beer publication, that I'd never put up my review of Michael Jackson's Whiskey: The Definite Guide, which ran in Celebrator Beer News last fall. My bad. It's up now. Unfortunately, the CBN site has fallen back into its old pattern and I can't update the cover photo in the Archives listings. I'll yell at Dalldorf. Won't help, but it'll be fun.

Otherwise, I'll be clavicle deep in notes and background material on the AmBrew technology story this weekend and I have close to two hours of taped interviews with a local brewing industry giant to transcribe and organize, so I may not pass this way again anytime soon.

Usually when I say that, I'm back the next day. Let's see.

[Posted 8:00 pm edt]

12 July 2006
Weep for Tom, it's all gone awry.
You know all those stories about Tom Baker shutting down Heavyweight so he can pursue his dreams and, besides, he needed a break?

It appears that they were a complete fabrication and Tom has falled upon truly hard times, as evidenced in this highly depressing photo, just in from the streets of Nowhere, New Jersey:

This is truly one of the saddest things I've ever seen. If only I'd bought more Biere d'Art this might never have happened...

UPDATE: We've just been informed that the photo above is in fact from last Saturday's Royal Stumble at Nodding Head and that Tom is just fine, relaxing in splendor and preparing for an appearance (one of a series, attend them all) at this event on Saturday. We regret the error.

Or maybe not.

Thanks to Ms. Peggy Z. for the photo, although the unseemly giggling was a bit much.

[Posted 11:58 am edt]

11 July 2006
Told ya so--sorta.
Way back in the dim, dark past, or at least so many months ago that I'm too tired and it's too early to track it down exactly, when I wrote here, in conjunction with reporting that Nodding Head had given up its search/plans for a small production brewery in Northern Liberties as I recall, I added, ever so coyly, that "somebody else" was still looking to do the same thing.

Well, it's finally happening and I reported the story at the Beer Yard last night.

I think the old firehouse site is great, perfectly located to draw clientele from Penn, Drexel and other academic institutions in the immediate area, not to mention the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, and the concept of a simple pizza 'n' beer operation is equally appealing. I can't begin to tell you how many brewers have told me that it's the sort of setup they dream of in their secret hearts.

If Dock Street pulls this off, and the long-delayed new Triumph brewpub in Olde City finally opens this fall, a city which has been notably brewpub-deprived will have gone a long way toward rectifying that unfortunate weakness.

Back in 1995, shortly after Homeboy Brews was published, I remember Jeff Ware asking me, in a not entirely happy fashion, why Dock Street was given only passing mention in the piece. I had to explain that the focus was on new beer producers and his place had been around for the better part of a decade.

Jeff's not officially part of the new Dock Street, but this time I can promise him attention will definitely be paid.

Meanwhile, Bryson has been all over new brewery openings in Pennsylvania of late (as is befitting the author of this), the most recent of which is pretty weird. If you're starting a brewery but don't want anybody to know about it, why in the world contact the area's best-known writer on the topic with information and send him photos to boot?

And, as well as we're tossing bouquets to the Other Guys, let us note that Sixpack was the first to note the opening of the Northern Liberties Foodery (already added to our links at left). He's also got the winner of the Royal Stumble, complete with photos.

If I do say so myself, and I do, there's not a region in the county which gets better and faster craft beer news coverage than this one.

[Posted 7:58 am edt]

9 July 2006
Tae Kwon Do and Bill Covaleski too.
I did not go to the Royal Stumble at Nodding Head yesterday and for that to happen, for me to miss what is always one of my favorite beer gatherings of the year, something else very important had to be happening.

It was.

I attended the National Tae Kwon Do Karate Championships at this remarkable facility, which is, to offer a beer-related reference for your hops-addled brains, about five minutes west of Victory Brewing.

My two grandsons were competing the 9-10 year old category in those championships. It turned out to be a great day, just a millisecond short of a perfect one.

Ryan, the oldest of the two, lost the championship match to the favorite (who had beaten Jack, the younger grandson, in an earlier match) in a sudden death overtime as his "hit" on the opponent came ever so slightly after the opponent's winning one. Ryan had a two point lead in the second half of his match and was up by one with less than twenty seconds when Billy, the biggest kid in the competition who could fend off most opponents with his long high leg kick, managed to get him and tie it up.

It's a pretty confusing sport for a newbie to figure out, from the way the matches are set up to how the scoring works--if I understood the latter better, I'm pretty sure I could come up with an argument that Ryan won-- but intriguing once you get into it. Saturday's matches were "fighting," while the previous day's (which I missed because my car was in the shop) was "forms," where Ryan finished third, also losing to Billy, the big kid. These two seem destined to have one of those rivalry things going forward, and we'll get him next time.

Kids from all over the country were on hand. Aside from Pennsylvania which, of course, was the dominant presence, I heard Michigan, Tennessee and, I think, Texas cited among winners in other rings from around the building, and I should say that if anyone reading here is thinking of messing with the Hester sisters down in Tennessee, I'd definitely suggest hands off (just as, when Ryan's big enough to come borrow the car keys a few years down the road, I'm gonna give 'em up without any argument).

The United Sports Training Center, as the website notes, is "the most comprehensive multi-sports facility on the east coast" and the population of a small city was gathered on the grounds Saturday. In addition to the karate championships and other, less official things going on inside the huge main building, there was a massive girls' lacrosse championship being conducted on some or all of the outside fields (there are 11 of them, two with lights). Thousands of people were milling around, spread out over at least 60 acres. Let's put it this way: there is parking for 1,000 cars and when I arrived, half an hour before the karate stuff got underway, I had to drive all the way to the end of the lot where a gate led to some overflow parking area and "invent" a space for myself. It was a good half mile walk back to the building.

I'd toyed with trying to catch the Stumble after the contest, but it would have been 3pm or later by the time I got back to civilization and a train into the city and by that time it would have been pretty pointless, so instead I drove to downtown Downingtown and Wegmans Food Markets, my favorite grocery chain ever (and recently rated the best company in the US to work for by Fortune, to add to its charm), to grab some cheese, maple syrup, muffins and other necessities of life. And who should I run into, wandering the aisles and plying his wares, but cheerfully smiling Bill Covaleski?

I should have expected it, having posted at the Beer Yard listings of the two beer and cheese tastings Victory is doing at Wegmans this month (the next one is July 22), and, no, he wasn't really wandering the aisles but standing at a table and display where one might sample HopDevil IPA, Prima Pils and/or Whirlwind Wit with one of three cheeses. I did all three, of course, to be polite, 'cause that's the kind of guy I am. As I was leaving, Bill eyed the Sly Fox shirt I was wearing and said, firmly, "we have to get you a new shirt." Music to my ears. I'll pick that up the next time I'm at the brewery.

Which wasn't Saturday. Having had my Victory, I decided to stop for my "going home" beer at Drafting Room Exton, where I enjoyed a Stone Smoked Porter and tried, but not too hard, to get the bartender to sell me one or both the two bottles of Weyerbacher Eleven that I spied in the bottom of the cold box behind the bar. They had been dropped off for Patrick Mullin within the hour. I could see the poor girl was torn. She had a duty to fulfill the brewery's wishes, of course, but the only person who might really get screwed if I made off with them was, well, Patrick, so no big deal.

Could I have eventually charmed her? We'll never know; instead, I left a note taped to one of the bottles and hauled my ass home.

The O'Reilly Factor.
No, no, not the creepy loudmouth, the other one. Our O'Reilly.

Since the news seems not to have spread as quickly and widely as one might imagine--Mr. Wasting Away To Nothing called me in a mini-panic Friday night to ask what the story was, apparently under the belief that he should have been on the call list right under the grandparents--allow me to record for posterity the fact the Patience Olivia O'Reilly was born to Brian and Whitney a week ago yesterday and everyone is doing fine (except for Tim, who's instead doing double time at the brewery while Brian learns to do diapers).

Patience seems a particular appropriate name for a poor lass who will have to sit, well, patiently, while her daddy explains the entire history of brewing to her time and again, as is his wont. And "POOR" sure do seem apt initials for the daughter of a craft brewer.

Let us all wish her a long, healthy and happy life and wish for her that she looks like her mother and not dear old dad (we do like to hope that the universe is not an entirely cruel place, although that comforting idea is in direct conflict with the reality of George W. Bush in the White House).

There will probably be, sadly, a few traumas along the way. Indeed, some of them are unavoidable. For example, there will be that inevitable moment when Patience hears the fateful words: And this is your Uncle Big Dan....

If all goes well, he won't call her "young man" or ask her for a free beer right away.

Sly Fox news and a site update.
Back where Brian used to work, they sent out the largest Sly Fox shipment ever at the end of June, have the eagerly awaited Black Raspberry Reserve in the tanks, scheduled for release (mostly in 750ml bottles, in mid to late August) and hope to announce distribution in a third state soon, maybe as early as the end of this month. If you regularly visited the Beer Yard and Sly Fox sites to keep current with my handiwork, of course, you already knew most of this stuff.

Speaking of sites, this one has been silent for a stretch. That's because a) I've not had much to say and b) I have not had much to say because I've not had much beer to drink.

I went in for my annual physical at the end of June and was stunned to find the doctor's scale weighing me in at five-plus pounds higher than my own. There is a top weight limit over which I do not allow myself to go, because at that point it seems that my cholesterol count climbs as does my blood pressure, and those ain't good things for us ancient types. It was enough to spur me to rush home and take on seriously the "comprehensive diet and exercise program" I often joke about.

As it turns out, I found, checking my scale with items whose weight I know, the doctor's scale is either rigged or just plain off (he hinted at the first when I was there) and my cholesterol (according to the blood tests) is a very fine 160, thank you. But, you know, it felt good to cut back on everything for a while, and now that I'm down either eight pounds, or 13 on the off chance that other scale was okay, it's right comfortable to keep on keepin' on. I've eased up a bit on the strictness of the diet (as you've seen, a bit of beer now and then is back on the docket) and slowly added in more exercise (I'll be off for a nice, brisk two-mile walk after this is posted).

Exercising is another time-eater to put into the schedule, so my ramblings here may continue to come at a slower pace. If nothing else, I gotta keep up with the Big Guy (and, no, I don't mean by posting less, although that does fit, don't it?), and he's set a helluva pace. On last sighting, he appeared to have dropped--in beer terms--approximately two Horwitzs and half a Brugger.

I wander afield. Back to what's happening around here.

I had hoped to put up both Different Strokes, Different Coasts and Stockbrokers Gone Wild here today. The first is an overview of the different fashion in which craft brewing developed on the West and East coasts back in the '80s; the second is an irreverent look at how Jim Bell, Bob Connor and Henry Ortlieb nearly laid waste to Philadelphia's emerging craft beer scene in the late '90s. Both would seem to have some broad general interest and both appear in the current issue of American Brewer. However, editor/publisher Jim Dorsch has asked for exclusivity until the next issue comes out, and I've agreed.

Those stories will go up here, then, no sooner than late September or early October. Just for you guys, even though I have an inveterate "deadline stretcher" when it comes to AmBrew, I am busting it to get my story on energy saving technology in the brewing industry done as soon as I can so as not to hold up that next issue. Oh yeah, I'll blow the deadline again (it's tomorrow), but I'm aiming to do so by less than week.

What I will get up here in the next day or two is the short piece I did on Tom Peters and Monk's Cafe´ for Beers of the World. And I'll look back over earlier AmBrew stories to see if there are any others that might be of interest to you folks.

As for that not posting for a long while, I surely made up for that today, didn't I?

The complete June 2006 postings have been archived here.

[Posted 10:33 am edt]

Malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.

--A. E. Houseman


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