Things REALLY Unsuitable for St. Patrick’s Day

I thought I had hit on the high points of St. Patrick’s Day unsuitability with this post. Turns out I wasn’t even close! Here are a few highlights from the current issue of Las Vegas magazine, all being promoted for St. Paddy’s:

– A place called Nine Fine Irishmen is offering free admission to their event to anyone wearing a kilt.

– The Rockhouse at the Imperial palace is featuring green frozen piña coladas!

– $5 Jäger bombs at the PBR Rock bar. Yep, nothing quite so Irish as Jägermeister.

– The Red Shamrock — yes, Red Shamrock — at Tabú Ultra Lounge, which is Jameson, amaretto, simply syrup and cranberry juice.

– But the best of the lot is a St. Patrick’s Day feature at Rice & Company in the Luxor, which will offer a green sushi roll called the Lucky roll. Green…Irish…sushi. Yum.

 

Things Unsuitable for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is a week Saturday. I know this because as in years past, but with a ferociousness never before seen, drinks companies from all over are filling my inbox with press releases explaining why their beer/booze/cocktail is what everyone should drink on St. Patrick’s Day. (Thus far, at least, I’ve not received any such missive from a winery, but there’s still a week to go, I guess. Anything is possible.)

Now, I’m not a big St. Patrick’s Day fan, being someone who: a) fails to see the fun inherent in getting falling down drunk; and b) drinks because I like it and/or am enjoying myself with friends, rather than it being an arbitrary day on which a massive marketing machine tells me I must find some place Irish-looking and drink stout and Irish whiskey — or worse, lager adulterated with green food dye! — until I’m legless. Call me a killjoy in you must.

But I’m really not out to ruin anyone else’s fun, just to suggest that at very least the spirit of the day should as much as possible be observed. And that does not mean imbibing the following:

1) Heineken tapped from a home-dispense system. Yes, it’s true, I have actually received a press release explaining that THE thing to drink on St. Patrick’s Day is the famous Dutch beer poured from the ridiculous Krupps home mini-keg tapping device that works only with Heineken mini-kegs. Why someone would buy one of these things in the first place remains a mystery to me, but why someone would do so for an Irish celebration in beyond understanding.

2) Vodka. Multiple companies have sent me missives explaining why their vodka cocktail is THE one to drink this St. Patrick’s Day, but my favourite is the one which suggests making something called the Irish Gold Cocktail, which involves flavouring a sugar syrup with bay leaves and then blending it with vodka and sparkling wine. I suppose the pale green sheen is what’s supposed to make it “Irish.”

3) A Grasshopper. Dale DeGroff calls the Grasshopper a suitable after-dinner drink, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. But for sipping daintily while others around you are quaffing pints of stout? Not so much.

4) A Mojito. I’ve read the release three times now and I still don’t understand how they can possibly make the connection between St. Patrick’s Day, leprechauns and a Mojito, but they do.

 

Farewell 2011, Welcome 2012

Yesterday sort of got away from me and today will largely be spent assembling tonight’s gala dinner ingredients, so my “Looking Back”  series of posts will continue next week.

Am I sorry to see the back of 2011? No, not at all. Although in many parts it was a great year, it also presented some definite challenges, both personal and professional. Besides, why look back when the future remains unwritten?! I am confident that 2012 will be both challenging and rewarding, and my wife tells me that the Year of the Dragon, which begins auspiciously enough on her birthday, is set to be stellar!

So take care of yourselves and your loved ones, all. Spend tonight with just the right mixture of abandon and restraint, and welcome tomorrow with anticipation of what is to come!

Review: America Walks into a Bar, by Christine Sismondo

Disclosure 1: I am very late with this review. Reason being not the appeal of this read, but rather the odd way my life sometimes rolls. Basically what it boils down to is that I read AWIAB in two parts, then procrastinated dreadfully until now.

Disclosure 2: I know and like Christine Sismondo. She is a lovely lady with a wickedly sharp sense of humour. I have tried, however, not to let that influence my review, although of course it has.

Now, the review…

I have read more than one or two books about the history of bars and taverns in America, including the terrific but heavily academic Taverns and Drinking in Early America, by Sharon V. Salinger, which Sismondo cites in her extensive bibliography. My conclusion from this experience is that it is very difficult to be both illuminating and entertaining in such a tome.

Somehow, with the exception of the first chunk of Part I, Sismondo manages to do this, and it is to her enormous credit that this is a remarkably info-packed book that seems like a light read.

What AWIAB does is guide readers through the development of American society, cultural and political, via the barroom, and in this lies Sismondo’s greatest deception. For although this book is billed “A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops,” it is actually more a history of revolution and emancipation, suffrage and gay rights, all viewed through the prism of the nation’s watering holes.

So while we are learning about such barroom “innovations” as the trough in front of the bar that allowed men to – ahem! – relieve themselves without needing to abandon their drink, or the glass-free bar that charged only for as much booze as you could slurp through a hose in one breath, we are also getting the inside story on how America came to be what it is today. And also the inside scoop on the many, many interesting characters who got it there.

What may surprise readers is how closely American bar history and assorted other histories intertwine and, indeed, are to a large extent dependent upon one another. But despite the lengthy history of Puritanism, temperance and prohibition in the United States, the nation has never been able to divorce its development from the seductive allure of the demon drink, and as Sismondo teaches us in America Walks into a Bar, stands today as a better country for it.

Drinking (and Everything Else) May Cause Cancer

Here’s a line from a just-released study on alcohol and cancer risk assessment, led by Paule Latino-Martel, a cancer researcher at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research:

“It can be concluded that there is no level of alcohol consumption for which the cancer risk is null. Thus, for cancer prevention, the consumption of alcoholic beverages should not be recommended.”

Fair enough. I live in a city and am exposed to carbon monoxide fumes every time I leave my condo, so I guess we can also say that, for cancer prevention, leaving my home is not recommended. Neither, I would suppose, is staying put, since who knows what sort of possible carcinogens are pumping through the air vents in my building, or seeping in from other condos where people might be smoking, or worse!

So I’ll move to the country and become a teetotaler, except that the methane from my neighbour’s cows could be carcinogenic, I suppose, and the exhaust from his tractor certainly is. Plus, what about the pesticides the fellow down the road is spraying on his canola crop? Surely carcinogenic.  Best move again, perhaps to the north.

Oh crap! The ozone layer is depleting most rapidly in northern climes, which means that I’ll be an almost sure candidate for skin cancer at some point. Or it might be the diesel exhaust from my snowmobile that will get me.

Final word? For cancer prevention, living should not be recommended.

Enough With the Post Below

We have had our fun and expressed our incredulity with and regarding Steve “Pour Fool” Body, the “I don’t drink wine with food” bore exposed below. Now I leave the subject, and Mr. Body, with words from his own comment over at Joe Stange’s Thirsty Pilgrim blog:

That is what criticism is all about and everybody has the same remedy for someone they think is an idiot: Don’t Read Them. Problem solved.

I do, and I won’t. Farewell, Mr. Fool.

An Open Letter to Steve Body, the “Pour Fool”

Dear Mr. Body;

Your blog has recently been twice brought to my attention, first by Rose Ann Finkel after you justly praised the beers of the Pike Brewing Company, and then by my friend Lew Bryson, who penned the defense of session beers you mistakenly attributed to some unnamed shop owner in Bellevue. I see that you have been writing about wine for some time, perhaps less so about beer, and I assume that you are eminently qualified to do so.

I would, however, like to correct a couple of what I see as erroneous positions you have chosen to take.

First, your “stated aversion” to “sessioning.” (I agree that “sessioning” is, at least, a flawed word, but until something better comes along it is, unfortunately, all we have. I deplore the use of nouns as verbs.) A session is, as Martyn Cornell observed in your comments section, a social rather than a drinking occasion, in which more than one beer might be consumed, perhaps as many as five over the course of an elongated session. It is not binge or over-drinking.

I assume that, as a wine writer, you have from time to time enjoyed a bottle of wine with another person over a meal. Perhaps you have partaken of two or three or more bottles with a group. This is the wine equivalent of a session and something I have enjoyed on numerous occasions with my wife, family and friends, even Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine (and one guy I know who is both). Occasionally this leads to overconsumption and great joviality, and a taxi or subway ride home.

I see nothing wrong with that, just as I see nothing wrong with a session infrequently lasting a bit too long. Alcohol is made for celebration, and as one of my writing heroes. M.F.K. Fisher, once suggested, it is important to approach such occasions “with the right mix of abandon and restraint.”

Next, I must comment on your approach to your work, “the same kind of repetitive labor as the guy who looks at the potato chips coming along on a conveyor belt and snatches out the burnt ones.” I am also a professional taster, have been for more than twenty years, except I come to the trade via beer and have thus, I suspect – and apologies if I’m mistaken on this front – sampled far more beers than you. Yet I still view my work with wonder and amazement, and get a thrill each time I find myself in front of something new awaiting discovery.

I have never seen a potato chip QC line, but I’m assuming it is as tiresome and repetitive to oversee as you suggest. My work is anything but that. Rather, tasting for me is akin to wandering through the finest and largest art gallery in the world. Sure, some works are flawed, others are badly hung and fatigue does sometimes set in, but the excitement of coming across a Monet or a Warhol or a Rembrandt makes every step prior well worthwhile, and its prospect keeps the frisson alive.

Finally, on a purely technical note, I would like to encourage you to cease your practice of spitting when you taste beer. Unlike wine, aftertaste is a vital component of beer and one which may only be appreciated by swallowing. It will mean limiting the number of beers you can assess at any given time – I suggest a maximum of ten – but I believe you will find your assessments to be far more accurate.

You may even find yourself moved to try some of the beers you rate again, and again. Perhaps even over the course of a session.

Cheers,

Stephen Beaumont

Ontario: Beer Store Reveals the Beer Boutique

If you live and drink in southern Ontario, you may have heard that the Molson and Labatt controlled Beer Store (TBS, which is responsible for some 85% of the beer sold in the province) has decided to step into the last century and open an off-shoot called the Beer Boutique, the first outlet of which premiered in Toronto’s Liberty Village last night.

(I know, Sapporo also has a stake in TBS, since the ownership of the erstwhile co-operative is doled out by market share, but let’s face it, control still rests with the big boys.)

Curiosity drove me to attend the media launch, which was packed with print and electronic media, not to mention brewery execs and salespeople. Said I: “Only in Ontario could the opening of a nice beer store be a media event.”

And the Beer Boutique is a nice beer store, make no mistake. Ringed with coolers, atmospherically lit and evidently set up for the future hosting of tasting events and such, TBS has pulled a page from the LCBO’s playbook and created a pleasant environment in which to purchase beer. But that’s it! This is not revolutionary, it does not feature any brands unavailable elsewhere, it is not (as yet) expanding the range of beer choice in the province and it does not offer domestic and imported craft beers any competitive advantage. It is a nice store with beer, period.

The Beer Boutique may improve on some of these fronts over time as more outlets open — I had to leave before the speechifying — but for now it remains just a nice place at which to buy beer. And almost anywhere else in the beer drinking world, that ain’t news.

“The Most Famous and Most Popular Beer in Belgium…”

The above is how began a press release I received yesterday. Actually, I suppose it really began with the headline, one which read: “Calling All Beer Connoisseurs…”

It was about the imminent arrival to a local pair of beer-themed restaurants of a new and limited-availability Belgian draught beer, the aforementioned “most famous and most popular” in all of Belgium.

Its name? Jupiler.

For those unfamiliar with Jupiler, it is indeed the best-selling beer in Belgium, but that doesn’t mean it has anything going for it. Hell, the best-selling beer in the US is Bud Light, and I don’t see “beer connoisseurs” clamoring for that one as if it were some special release of Dark Lord or Pliny the freaking Younger. Best-selling beer in Britain? Carling! (It is still Carling, isn’t it? Confirmation, please, my British friends.) Best-selling weissbier in Germany? The utterly underwhelming Erdinger. Etc.

I’ve never made notes on Jupiler, but I have tried it. It’s as dull and boring as any mass-produced lager, aiming to not enchant with flavour, but flow quickly down the throat as coldly and inoffensively as possible. You want a review? Check out Non-Snob Beer Reviews.

Even so, there are hundreds of thousands of people living or working in the downtown core of Toronto who know only that Belgium is a country associated with beer. For them, the promise that Jupiler is big in Belgium will be read as a glowing endorsement. And as familiar as they are with bud and Coors Light and Molson Canadian — now  available in a low-cal “Sublime” lemon and lime flavoured version! — they will probably gulp it back at $7.52 a glass and think they’re drinking something special.

More’s the pity!

Michael (Hopleaf) Roper’s Take on the Goose Island Deal

Michael Roper is the owner of Chicago’s renown Hopleaf, a beer bar and restaurant par excellence. We’ve been exchanging emails lately and he included in one his Facebook musings on the Goose Island sale to Anheuser-Busch InBev. Subsequently, he granted me permission to reproduce his essay here.

This is a very worthy read, folks. I don’t agree completely with everything Michael says, but I do believe most of it is spot on.

My Thoughts on Goose Island/AB Inbev

by Michael Roper, proprietor, Hopleaf, Chcicago

There is a lot of buzz about the purchase of our hometown Chicago brewery, Goose Island by AB/Inbev.  Some are wishing them well, but more are not.  I believe that is unfair and I would like to tell our customers why I think it is unfair.

It is hard to overestimate the positive effect that Goose Island has had on Chicago’s craft beer scene.  After the failures of Chicago Brewing Company, Golden Prairie, River West, Pavichevich/Baderbrau and others, it seemed that there was a curse on home grown beer in Chicago.  One brewery proved otherwise. A combination of prudent growth, good products, shrewd business practices and smart marketing made Goose Island the first successful craft brewery in Chicago.  For many years they were the only one.

With the crowd pleasing flagship Honkers Ale and in later years 312 paying the bills, Goose Island was able to give us the many great Reserve Series beers that were and are world class brews.  We at Hopleaf have been proud to serve them for years. Goose has been a pioneer in American oak aged beers and aging in whiskey barrels.  Great beer has brought great success and many honors.

AB/Inbev knows what they are getting with Goose Island and what they are getting is a brewery that does what they can’t do.  They can’t make beers like Matilda, Sofie, Juliette, Bourbon County Stout, Père Jacques or Madame Rose.  They can’t even make anything like Goose Island IPA or Oatmeal Stout.  They have given up trying and purchasing a Brewery like Goose is more a symbol of surrender than might be obvious. This is the only way that they can bring good beer into their portfolio. It is a smart move for them.  The last thing that they will want to do is to screw up a good thing.

I am sad that Chicago loses a home grown, family owned, local success story.  It hurts my local pride a bit in the same way that Marshal Field’s becoming Macy’s, First Chicago becoming Chase or the Milwaukee based Bon-Ton’s takeover of Carson Pirie Scott took away something truly of Chicago, built and run by Chicagoans.  Goose Island won’t be all ours any more.  The Hall family will not own them.  That makes me sad but I am not one of those who said I’ll never go into Macy’s again.  All that would do is give us a giant empty store on one of the most prominent corners of the city.  Things change and change is not always bad.  I am not going to suddenly reject Goose Island beers over this. What good would that do?

Goose Island needs a new brewery.  Their Fulton Street Brewery is cobbled together in rented space never designed for brewing.  It is not nearly big enough and is land locked.  It will cost 50 million dollars to build a new brewery in Chicago. In times like these, I know better than most from my own expansion financing woes, that capital is hard to come by. There are investors who would love to provide capital but they bring obligations and expectations that are often no less onerous than a takeover by someone like AB/Inbev. They could be far worse.  Do we know anything about who invests in the expansion of any of the craft breweries that are growing now? I don’t think so.

At John Hall’s age, he may not want to take on 50 million in debt. Why would he?  What will happen now, is that Goose Island, with John Hall on board as CEO, will get their new brewery, IN CHICAGO, paid for by people with very deep pockets.  It will probably be a fantastic brew house. They have lured Brett Porter, former head brewer at Deschutes to take the helm.  He did a fantastic job there.  A brewer of his caliber would not have come here to preside over the decline of Goose Island.  He will probably do great things here.  I welcome him with open arms to Chicago.  We all should.

I know that these takeovers don’t always work out.  Sapporo’s takeover of Unibroue has not been good for their beer.  On the other hand, Duvel/ Mortgaat’s purchase of Ommegang, Chouffe, and Liefman’s has been a good fit; in fact in the case of Liefman’s it probably saved them from extinction.  If I detect that Goose Island is not the beer that it has been, I will drop them like a rock.  I don’t expect that to happen. It could even get better. I am going to give them a chance and I hope that others will too. If they brew great beer with quality ingredients in a new brewery in Chicago that employs our fellow Chicago residents, they stay involved in the community, and continue to innovate while brewing the beers we have already embraced, what is so bad about that?  It is good.  If they make AB/Inbev a better company, how can that be bad?  It means that we have won.

Victory for the good guys would be if McDonald’s uses organic potatoes, non trans fat oil, pasture raised beef and unconfined chickens.  Victory is when Walmart pays attention to the working conditions in the Third World Nation’s factories that supply their merchandize.  Changing the way the big guys do their business is far more effective at making a better world because that is where the volume is. Every little improvement that they make has vast effects. I want the big beer companies to make better beer.  I want more people to drink better beer. I want beer to gain the respect that wine has as an accompaniment to great food. I want people to drink less but better. I want beer to lose its frat party intoxicant image. That will happen a lot faster if big beer companies make beer with integrity.  It can happen.  It might not, but I am going to hope for the best.

Finally, this was a tough decision for the Halls to make.  I don’t envy what Greg  will face when he goes out in public over the coming months. After a spell consulting with the new owners and brewers, Greg Hall is going to move on.  I predict that we will see him in a role somewhere in Chicago doing something to further our craft beer scene. Whatever he does, I wish him the best.  I also want to thank him for his inestimable contributions to craft beer in Chicago.  We would be so much the poorer if there had not been a Goose Island and a Greg Hall here. I am full of hope that Goose Island will continue to prosper in Chicago brewing great beer and making us proud. I hope that everyone will be fair and give them a chance.  If the liquid in the glass changes for the worse, we can all vote with our next purchase of another brand of beer.

BS From the BA

The United States Department of Agriculture has released a new set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, something I would normally note with about as much interest as I would a statement from the Department of Health and Social Services. But then the forces of the Beer Institute, the Brewers Association and the National Beer Wholesalers Association combined to release a joint statement commenting on the Guidelines, and my BS detector went wild.

(You can find the dietary guidelines here. Most of the material regarding alcohol is in Chapter 2.)

Here’s what I see as the most offending part of the statement:

The idea of a ‘standard drink’ is misleading to consumers since it does not reflect how liquor is served or consumed. Not all alcohol is equal, meaning one alcohol beverage can have significantly more or less alcohol content than another. For example, depending on the proof of alcohol used, the mixer, and the bartender’s pouring habits, a so-called ‘standard’ mixed drink may contain 2, 3 or even 4 times more pure alcohol content and calories than the average light beer. It is common knowledge that two martinis consumed over the course of two hours could certainly produce a different effect than two light beers consumed over the same period. Furthermore, the false premise of a ‘standard drink’ is even more confusing considering that significant variations in alcohol concentration exist among the three product categories and even within each category. Beer remains the beverage of moderation with an average ABV of under 5%, compared to distilled spirits, which average between 35 – 40% ABV.

This kind of gobbledygook may be fine for the Beer Institute and the NBWA, since their members are primarily concerned with big-selling beers like Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite, each of which is below 5% ABV, as the statement suggests. But for the BA, whose members are responsible for the vast majority of the so-called “extreme” beers, this rings especially hollow.

Let’s look at some of the problems I see:

Not all alcohol is equal, meaning one alcohol beverage can have significantly more or less alcohol content than another.

Very true, and something that applies equally to beer, wine and spirits. Singling out a drink with spirits as having potentially 4 time the alcohol of a light beer, however, is ridiculous, as you would require close to 5 ounces of 40% alcohol spirits to hit that level, and how likely is that to happen, especially without the imbiber being aware of what’s going on in their glass?

(And incidentally, one pint of 12% alcohol barley wine will also meet that lofty mark of 1.92 ounces of pure alcohol.)

It is common knowledge that two martinis consumed over the course of two hours could certainly produce a different effect than two light beers consumed over the same period.

Assuming said martinis were 3 ounces apiece, of course! And the same could be said about two glasses of Californian cabernet or zinfandel, some of which hover in the realm of 14% – 15% ABV, or six 4 ounce tasters of high-octane craft beers.

Furthermore, the false premise of a ‘standard drink’ is even more confusing considering that significant variations in alcohol concentration exist among the three product categories and even within each category.

By which the statement is implying that alcohol content varies wildly among spirits, which are the main subject of the statement. In fact, spirits are without question the most consistent in their 40% ABV, while craft beer is almost certainly the least consistent and thus the most unpredictable in its effect. (Particularly given the habit most restaurants and bars have of not listing the strengths of the beers they carry.)

Beer remains the beverage of moderation with an average ABV of under 5%, compared to distilled spirits, which average between 35 – 40% ABV.

If you look at beer in terms of volume, yes. But if you count up all the individual brands of beer on the market today and work out the average alcohol content among them, I’m betting the picture would be much different. Further, comparing alcohol contents of beer and spirits is ridiculously disingenuous, since the former is normally consumed in 12 and 16 ounce portions — a bottle and a pint — while the latter is typically served in 1.5 or 2 ounce portions.

Now, I like beer, as I’m sure all visitors to these pages know, and I support the BA in its efforts to further the craft beer gospel across the United States and around the world. But considering the members’ products they represent, their signature on this release smacks more than a bit of throwing stones in glass houses.

Beer-Holes

As most San Francisco Bay area beer aficionados will know, last weekend was the always much-anticipated release of Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Younger, a one-time-only beer that usually sells out the day it is released. Once it’s gone, that’s it for another year.

I was at said launch last year, and while I enjoyed the beer, I didn’t much care for the chaos, crowds, confusion and wait times for service. I wouldn’t do it again, but that’s just me. The beer, as I noted, is good, very good, even, but no beer is going to make me go through that kind of circus.

Others, however, obviously feel otherwise, as this year’s release was as crowded and boisterous as ever, according to those who attended. Which is perfectly fine and great for those who attended and for Russian River, the owners and operators of which go to great lengths to make things go as smoothly as possible.

Then this happens. Via the Burgundian Babble Belt, the Boggle About Beer blog and Nathalie Cilurzo herself, co-owner of Russian River with her husband Vinnie, I learn that some douche apparently smuggled some Younger out of the pub and put it up for sale on eBay. (The posting has since been removed, which suggests to me that either the beer was fake – which is where my money lies – or the seller was sufficiently humiliated by the reaction that he/she removed it from the site. Or maybe whoever it was took someone’s money and made a quick sale. Who knows!?)

This does happen, of course. There are those who want to try rare and virtually unobtainable Beer X at almost any price, as the legions of listings on eBay will attest, and if someone wants to buy a bomber bottle of some hot and talked-about ale or lager – ha-ha, just kidding about that lager part! Let’s face it, the geeks only want ales – and pay through the nose for it, well, more power to them.

But this one is different. Nathalie and Vinnie expressly served this beer as draught only this year, with no take out allowed, because they wanted to serve as wide-ranging a clientele as possible, and hopefully have some fun in so doing. Even so, according to Nathalie’s post on the subject, people were caught slopping beer into a canteen or bottle and trying to smuggle it out of the pub! Never mind that said beer will ultimately have all the integrity and appeal of the dregs of last night’s unfinished and unrefrigerated pint.

Collecting beer reviews, or “ticking,” as it is sometimes known, is always going to happen in our current culture of craft beer, and for those who enjoy it, I say go for it! But when the character of the beer is as compromised as would be a canteen of hastily and surreptitiously decanted ale, then the tickers have gone too far and become, as per the title of this post, beer-holes. It’s one thing to want to taste the beer, quite another to be willing to sample it after it has been subjected to all kinds of abuse. What’s next? Smuggling some out in your mouth and spitting into your friend’s eagerly awaiting gob?

One of the main beer review sites has as its motto “Respect Beer.” Exactly!