Brouwer’s Cafe Hard Liver Fest

Okay, so I’m a week and a half late in posting this. It’s not my fault that Jay Brooks has blogged about three dozen times since the moments we shared at the judges table in Seattle, just to make me look bad, I’m sure. I tell you, the man is obsessive…

Anyway, back to the beer. We were given eight finalists to judge on the afternoon of March 21, 2009, in the palatial office space of Messrs. Bonney and Vandenberghe, the two “Matts” who own and operate Brouwer’s Cafe. Which, considering that there were only 41 barleywines in total, meant that either the early round judges had been slacking or the talent really was that good this year.

Fortunately, it turned out to be the latter. At least mostly.

One finalist was eliminated in pretty short order – I believe a smell of cheese was mentioned – and while there was more discussion regarding the second elimination, it, too, was fairly apparent. Then things got tough, as we anointed seven worked and wrangled to pare ourselves down to three or maybe four finalists.

One of those pared is worth mentioning: Lost Abbey Angel’s Share. While I and the other judges enjoyed this beer tremendously, there was an undercurrent of it being extremely good, but not a true barleywine, which resulted in its elimination. (For the record, I was a vocal part of that undercurrent, although I scored the beer high for its excellent structure and balance of barrel notes and beer notes.) This, of course, gives rise to the question of what a barleywine is, and leads us down the peril-filled path of stylistic definition, but that is a topic best left for another day and another post. Suffice to say that, for me, at least, the beer I was tasting was more a barrel-aged old ale than a barleywine.

About the winner, there was no controversy. Alaskan Brewing 2007 Big Nugget Barleywine was a stand out from the word go, with notes of bourbon, vanilla, caramel, toffee, raisins and other dried fruit in the nose and a big, bold but balanced body of all of the above along with a bit of smoky char, bigger fruit and a rising, drying hoppiness that brought the taste to a lovely, warming conclusion.

Coming in second place was Speakeasy Brewing 2006 Old Godfather, which I personally thought had a gorgeous aroma but a bit too much apparent sugar in the body, while third place was taken by Elysian Brewing‘s 2006 Cyclops, a fruity and soothing ale that made an impression from the very first sip.

It’s “Beer Hunter, Whisky Chaser” Day!

beer-hunter-whisky-chaser1Because I hate repeating myself, and think it just sloppy blogging, I will rarely – almost never, really – cross post between my three blogs. But this is no ordinary day, and this announcement is surely special.

Today marks the official release of a new book I am proud and privileged to be a part of: Beer Hunter, Whisky Chaser, a collection of new writings on beer and whisky assembled to honour the late, great Michael Jackson and, at the same time, provide valuable research dollars to the Parkinson’s Disease Society (UK).

Aside from myself, the contributing authors are a who’s who of the beer and whisky writing biz, beginning with a very personal tribute to the man himself from his loving partner, Carolyn Smagalski, and including (in alphabetical order) Dave Broom, Ian Buxton, John Hansell, Julie Johnson, Charles MacLean, Hans Offringa, F Paul Pacult, Roger Protz, Lucy Saunders, Conrad Seidl and Gavin D Smith. Aside from Carolyn’s piece, all the essays are works on the beverages in question and range from the very personal (Dave Broom’s “Three Stepps to…”) to the historic (Julie Johnson’s “Thirty Years of American Beer”) to the philosophical (book editor Ian Buxton’s “Pants to Whisky: An Authentic Link”). In total, there are thirteen essays plus an introduction by Ian Buxton, the sum total of which makes for some very fine reading.

We all contributed our services free of charge, so 100% of the proceeds will be directed towards Parkinson’s research, making this likely the most charitable volume you may ever buy. And you really should buy it, and get a couple for friends or behind the bar while you’re at it. So go ahead and click on over to Classic Expressions to read more about the book and place your order.

Beer Regionalism? Give Me a Break!

I’m actually hesitant to travel down this road for the simple reason of not wanting to publicize idiotic ideas, but since it has become almost epidemic these days, I feel the need to call out our current wave of beer regionalism for what it really is: unmitigated and utterly unnecessary bombast.

First off, we have Charlie Papazian running a poll on which city in the United States is “Beer City USA.” (Link not provided because I’d rather you not run off and cast your vote.) “Specious” is the word which comes to mind for that one. Then we have some insular journalist from Baltimore dissing Canadian beer without really having the faintest clue about what is available north of the border – here’s a hint, Rob: You have to come here to drink it! – and Alan McLeod shamefully offering him some validity. And that’s all followed by some twit on the beer chat boards opining that there has been more innovation in the last 25 years of American brewing than in 250 years of European beer, never mind such things as pasteurization and the hydrometer, as Ron Pattinson so accurately observes.

Really, folks, it’s all beer. Some of it is good and some of it is bad and some of it may not be to your or my tastes, but does it really matter where it comes from? During Philly Beer Week, they hosted brewers and their beers from across the country and around the world, in venues that traditionally have great beer programs and other which do not. And one of the finest beer events I’ve attended in the last two or three years was the European Beer Festival in Copenhagen, which featured not only European beers, as the name might indicate, but also ales and lagers from the States, Canada and elsewhere.

It’s a big world out there and it’s one that is filled with a lot of different beers, so let’s not get bogged down by petty regionalism. As Stan notes so succinctly, bravado is seldom becoming.

Elysian Fields, Seattle, Pt. II

Yesterday I told you about what I think Elysian Fields is doing well on the beer side. Today, we look at their food.

All too often, I find, going to a place for good beer means also being confronted with a menu filled with burgers, wings, nachos and fries. Not that there is anything wrong with that…occasionally. But when you visit beer bars and brewpubs as much as I do, you begin to crave even a modicum of invention in the food selection.

Which is why Elysian Fields is such a breath of fresh air. We started with the white bean Bruschetta, Seasonal Cured Meat selection and the Cheese Plate, the last of which included the delicious Cashel Blue as well as a very nice Petite Basque. For our mains, we had Ragu Bolognese, Bangers and Mash and a Kasu-marinated Tofu Salad. And guess what? It was all good, and there was nary a deep-fried element in the lot!

It doesn’t take much to bring in some good charcuterie and cheeses, or whip up a decent Bolognese sauce and marinate some tofu. And if you want a burger or chicken club, they are there, as well. It’s called variety, and it’s something that I believe most customers will appreciate.

Because after all, man cannot live on burgers and nachos alone.

Elysian Fields, Seattle, Pt. I

In Seattle for the Hard Liver Fest at Brouwer’s Cafe, Maggie and I met up with an old friend of mine and, after a cocktail in the outstanding Polar Bar at the Arctic Club Hotel, went for dinner at Elysian Fields, one of three locations of the Elysian Brewing Company. The experience provided two important lessons for present and prospective brewpub owners.

Lesson Number One concerns the special ale presented on cask in honour of the nascent Seattle Sounders Major League Soccer team, who were that night marking their home debut against the New York Red Bulls – a 3-0 victory for the newcomers, by the way. Said beer is called Golden Boot and, appropriately, it is a golden ale. And the key to the lesson is the kind of golden ale it is.

All too often, I find, populist ales at brewpubs reside in one of two categories: lame and lifeless or non-existent. The reasoning presented for those in the former class is “It’s for the Bud-Miller-Coors drinkers and that’s all they’ll drink, while the excuse for the latter is all-too-often “This is a brewpub; drink our beer or go elsewhere.”

Golden Boot Ale craftily skirts both categories by being an interesting yet approachable ale, full-flavoured but not overwhelming, of moderate strength, and possessed of hop complexity without straying into hop bomb territory. In short, it’s a very good beer, and one which should please both the average non-craft drinker and all but the most snobbish beer geek. In short, flavourful, friendly and fun, which is exactly what the vast majority of beer drinkers want in their glass.

Check back for Part II tomorrow.

“Imperial” This, Garrett!

Brooklyn Brewery brewer Garrett Oliver is notoriously agitated by any non-stout beer style deemed “Imperial,” be it an overly strong, extra-hopped IPA or so-called red ale. So I wonder what he’d make of this recent discovery by beer historian Ron Pattinson:

I stumbled across this wonderful example today in an 1868 price list: Imperial Table Beer. Let’s see, Imperial means really strong and Table Beer means something safe to give to the kiddies. So how on earth can a Table Beer be Imperial? The price, 2s 6d for a dozen pint bottles, implies a gravity of 1060-1065º.

Truly a conundrum, and news that makes the “Imperial mild” I seem to recall hearing about a while back seem slightly less ridiculous.

Welcome to the Temporary Home of World of Beer

Since I don’t seem to be doing too well at keeping World of Beer up to date while I pursue its redesign, I’ve decided to start a temporary blog to fill in the gaps. Over the next few months, and maybe longer, this is where you’ll find beer reviews, industry observations, news and notes and basically everything else that doesn’t fit into either of my other two blogs. (Those would be the primarily Canadian blog at that’s the SPIRIT and the hospitality industry blog at the Cheers website.) Welcome aboard and I hope you enjoy the ride.