20071230

Help at the 11th hour



If you need a last-second inspiration for your New Year's Toast or a bit of verse appropriate to the moment, just go to my "Toasts & Crumbs" blog and scroll down. I think you'll find something you like.

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2008!

20071228

German beer market continues to dry up

German brewers and distributors haven't been able to find the key to stopping a steady decline in beer consumption in their country.

Beer consumption plummeted to a record low of 29.7 gallons per person for 2007, the eighth drop in the past nine years. The exception came in 2006 when Germany hosted the World Cup soccer tournament and the influx of foreign visitors helped push up beer sales.

Germany has 1,284 beer manufacturers, the largest number of any country, although on a per-capita consumption basis it trails the Czech Republic and Ireland.

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20071226

My 10 best beverage moments of 2007

In no particular order, here is a big chunk of my 2007 in review:

(1.) Best Drinking and Driving: Put down the protest signs. Some fellow writers and I did the drinking and the charter-bus driver did all the driving -- through Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia as we traversed the major portion of the American Whiskey Trail.

In addition to visiting such iconic distilleries as Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam, Labrot & Graham, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey and George Dickel, we hit some historic sites and got to meet a wide range of people in all those states. True Americana.

(2.) Best Ad Campaign: The bust-a-gut-laughing set of TV commercials for the Irish whiskey known as The Knot. (See the whole batch of them here.) They feature a bantam rooster sort of guy in a pub who takes no nonsense about whiskey.

(3.) Best New-to-Me Whiskey: I had already completed, or so I thought, an article on American ryes for the UK magazine Whisky when I received this hard-to-find gem as a birthday present. It completely changed my mind on which ryes were the best. Black Maple Hill Rye is tough enough to find in the 18-year-old version, but the 23-year-old takes special investigatory powers.

An initial burst of brown sugar, heat and spice quickly transforms into a mellow, oaky smoothness. Despite the richness there is an ethereal lightness one seldom experiences in hot ryes. Fruit notes such as apple and pear dance around the edges, but the palate responds again and again to the varied spices. Utterly splendid, and worth every moment you spend tracking it down.

(4.) Best Appelation Visit: After participating in a wine competition judging in Napa, CA, I drove to nearby Lodi to experience a region in transition from wine grape producing to winemaking, sort of what Napa was like 20 years ago. The region is dotted with third- and fourth-generation farm families who have been moving from mostly supplying major winemakers to developing their own wines and brands.

They’re working hard at making the Lodi brand known outside the Pacific Coast and trying to develop tourism and ancillary businesses along with it, just as Napa did in its early days

(5.) Best New Cocktails Tried: This was a very interesting category to narrow down. In the course of my business I try a lot of different drinks in the course of the year. Some are very complex, some very simple. I like simple better. In two establishments -- T-Bar at Charlie's Restaurant in Lake Placid, NY, and the Reluctant Panther in Manchester, VT -- I coincidentally ran into signature drinks created for each place by Las Vegas-based mixology guru Tony Abou-Ganim then used by the on-premises bartenders to spin off their own versions.

At T-Bar, I enjoyed both the Gondolettes' Blackberry Caiprosca, a simple drink with a complexity of flavors from muddled fresh lime and berries with citrus vodka. Bartender Laura Keaney's recipe switched it to a raspberry recipe to take advantage of the availability of plump local berries.

At the Reluctant Panther, the signature drink takes on the name of the establishment. It's a mixture of Belvedere vodka, freshly-made lemon sour, chambord, champagne and blackberries marinated in Grand Marnier. Bar manager John Cohen created a spinoff using Stoli Blueberry vodka, freshly-made lemon sour, Blue Curacao, Sprite and fresh berries marinated in Grand Marnier.

(6.) Best New-to-Me Beer: Toña, hands down. This Nicaraguan beer is a lager brewed by Compania Cervecera de Nicaragua (CCN), made with German yeast and malt, North American hops and Nicaraguan deep-well water. The chief brewer is Rudiger Adelmann, who formerly worked for Steinecker GmbH, a German company that designs and produces brewing and filter technologies for the beverage production industry.

When I served up Toña at a beer blind-judging session, among the comments were: "It's much smoother than the Budweiser, and with a bolder flavor. ... I'd drink this beer all night ... It's very rich and creamy. ... Plenty of taste but doesn't overdo the carbonation so it goes down easy. ... This is easy to evaluate: It's an excellent beer!"

(7.) Best News Story Comment: When I reported that an illegal cache of Jack Daniel's whiskey products, including some old and rare ones, had been seized in Tennessee and probably would be destroyed by the authorities, one of my readers e-mailed this perspective:

"When the authorities in Tennessee recover stolen art do they burn it?"

(8.) Best Host's Revenge: I've often wanted to find a way to get even with guests who reply to "What would you like to drink?" with the non-committal -- and unhelpful -- response "Anything" or "Whatever." A Singapore company called Out of The Box came up with soft drinks called "Anything," a carbonated drink, and "Whatever," a tea-based non-carbonated product. So, when someone makes the appropriate inappropriate reply, you can hand them a can of what matches their response. But that's only one level of revenge.

The second twist is that the flavors inside the cans remain a mystery. They could be cola with lemon, apple, root beer, lemon, peach, jasmine, apple, white grape and chrysanthemum , but there is no indication on the exteriors of the cans which flavor is inside. Gotcha.

(9.) Best New Old Beer: Most brewers strive to come up with something new. Sam Calagione, owner of the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery group in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, is using a 9,000-year-old recipe for his latest offering, Chateau Jiahu. He explained it this way: "Preserved pottery jars found in the Neolithic villiage of Jiahu, in Henan province in northern China, has revealed that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey and fruit was being produced that long ago, right around the same time that barley beer and grape wine were beinginning to be made in the Middle East."

So, in 2005, molecular archeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania asked Dogfish Head to re-create their second ancient beverage and Chateau Jiahu was born, and went to market in '07. It's an 8% beer.

(10.) Best New Old Distillery: No contest here. While some distillers were pumping millions of dollars into new or expanded facilities, the historic-minded folks at Mount Vernon, VA., rebuilt George Washington's original distillery, based on his diary accounts of the operation that burned down nearly 200 years ago.

Washington's rye whiskey has been recreated there, and the new structure is being used as a tourist attraction several miles from the mansion. I was privileged to be part of the invited group attending the official opening of the facility, and sampled some of the young rye.

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20071224

Nollaig shona duit!

That's in the old Irish tongue. Put in plain English, Happy Christmas!

If you're looking for toasts and salutations for the holidays that will make friends and family smile or laugh out loud, check my "Toasts & Crumbs" blog, the sub-title of which is "When Words Fail You, Try These."

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20071220

A different sort of 'green' beer

"Green" beer isn't just for St. Patrick's Day anymore. At least not at the Barrington Brewery, a brewery and restaurant in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

A solar panel to collect sunlight for power, recycled materials for the bar and the rugs, and other eco-friendly items have made this a "green" business to be reckoned with.

Capital News 9 of Albany, NY, has a nice video of the story here. You will, however, have to put up with a commercial before the story video begins.

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20071213

Miller plans craft-style beer collection

The Miller Lite Brewers Collection, a line of three craft-style light beers, will begin test marketing in February.

The lineup from Miller Brewing Co., includes a blonde ale, an amber and a wheat.

Miller Lite Brewers Collection will go into four test markets -- Baltimore, Charlotte, San Diego and Minneapolis. The target audience is mainstream light-beer drinkers.

“We’re seeking to establish a whole new category for the industry -- craft-style light,” said Miller Chief Marketing Officer Randy Ransom.

“Miller Lite is the perfect beer to introduce this innovative product because only Miller Lite provides the ideal balance of real beer taste and refreshment. And so it makes sense that we use our expertise to brew a brand with great craft-style taste and the refreshment and drinkability American beer drinkers prefer.”

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Minnesota craft brewer hits million mark

Sometimes it's fun withnessing an historic occasion. A local TV station in Minneapolis has posted a video covering the production of the one-millionth case of beer from Minnesota's oldest brewery.

August Schell Brewery of New Ulm, MN, which has been making beer and ale for 147 years, hit that mark on Thursday of this week with its run of Schmaltz's Alt Creamy Dark Ale.

A million cases may be just a drop in the mug to the brewing giants of the world (Anheuser-Busch, for example, sold 122 million cases last year), but it's a pretty significant mark for a craft brewery. Schell, still family run, calculated that one barrel of beer equals 13.78 cases, so the million mark was hit during the middle of Thursday's production run.

Ted Marti is the current head of the company. The Schell and Marti families have always been in charge and Marti says his two sons are interested in extending the managemenbt line to a sixth generation.

Schell brews four beers year-round, as well as seven seasonal brews.

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20071211

Hops/barley woes troubling brewers

A growing demand for hops and barley, a demand some growers and brewers fear might not be able to be met, is threatening both the production and price stability of beers and ales.

The Big 3 of American brewing -- Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors -- are in decent shape because of long-term contracts. They're getting the supply, but paying higher prices which in the next few months probably will be passed along to consumers.

The smaller operations and craft breweries aren't quite so fortunate.

A series of causes has affected market prices, among them bad domestic weather, a warehouse fire in Washington state late last fall that wiped out a huge stash of hops, a series of devastating storms in parts of Europe where many hops are grown, and the fact that many American farmers switched from hops or barley to more profitable crops after the brew ingredients market flooded in the late 1990s.

"It's going to affect the price of beer (here) by at least 10%, and that's a safe and probably conservative estimate," Greg Emig, owner of the Lafayette (Ind.) Brewing Co., told his local newspaper, the Journal & Courier.

The price of some hops, a flower used to stabilize and flavor the beer, has quadrupled and the price of malted barley, a key ingredient used during brewing, already has increased by 20% and could rise more, Emig said.

In Michigan, the Detroit News is reporting that a hops shortage has reached "crisis stage" for Michigan's 70 microbreweries. Prices are on the rise, and some crewers may shut down.

Microbreweries in Michigan are a $25 million industry that produces about 90,000 barrels of customized beer a year.

In Pennsylvania, things appear to be even worse. The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown quotes the president of a craft brewery in nearby Easton as saying, ''We use about 12 different varieties of hops, and they went up 350 to 400%, each one.''

Dan Weyerbacher, president of Weyerbacher Brewing Co., said that translates to an increase from about $4 a pound to about $23 a pound. The price of another essential, malt, also has gone up, from about 40 to about 80 cents a pound.

''Maybe your favorite craft beer will go up 30 to 60 cents a bottle, but for a quality-of-life item, that's not too bad,'' Weyerbacher said.

Of course, it's an ill wind that doesn't blow some good someone's way. As the CanWest News Service reports this week:

"Beer is becoming an international beverage of choice and Canadian barley is expected to continue to play a major role in fuelling the brew, an expert said. With consumption increasing worldwide and global production rising by 6 to 8% annually, demand will likely increase for malt barley grown in Western Canada, said malt and feed barley expert Al Morris of IMBM Winnipeg.

" 'Worldwide, it's just booming,' Morris said during a presentation at a CGF Brokerage and Consulting agriculture conference in Saskatoon. 'We need more barley in the ground to keep up with global beer sales.'

" China is Canada's largest international barley customer, and the Asian beer boom is already putting demand on the commodity, said Bruce Burnett, director of weather and market analysis at the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), which markets both barley and malt. While the call for Canadian barley is good, he said, there are some challenges when it comes to the high cost of transportation.

" 'Ocean freight rates right now are at record levels for the transportation of the grain, so that's causing some, I hate to say difficulties, but it is one of the factors right now that is determining what the Chinese demand for malting barley is,' Burnett said."

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They light up my life

In a crowded bar or party, some people might be a little bit concerned about mixing up their beer with someone else's. But the folks at a Redwood City, CA, company called Sentilla apparently are concerned about mixing up their coasters.

Of course, the very fact these beer drinkers are couth enough to use coasters is a plus.

If you'd like to get a look at the coasters in action, just click on the video below. If you like what you see and want to build your own coasters, the step-by-step process is explained on Inventor Spot.



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20071207

Letters: Where can I find Utopias?

Hi Bill:

I was reading your article ... while trying to find out where to buy Utopias.

Many sites point to samadams.comfor more details, but I have not had any real luck is finding who the distributors are. Do you know where I can find a place selling it? Thanks.

-- Joe Martin, Tallahassee, FL

Joe:

It's not the easiest product to find since it was made in a limited quantity. But, just between us guys, try this link.

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20071205

Prohibition repeal anniversary, or not?

Today is the 74th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. Or is it truly the day that hideous experiment in social control ended?

Beer historian Bob Skilnik has some strong thoughts on the topic, which he has posted online as he does from time to time in debunking other myths. Here's how he begins:

"December 5, 1933 notes a 'first' in constitutional history. It was on this day, 74 years ago, that American voters, through state referendums, added the 21st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It was the first time in our history that a constitutional amendment was passed, not simply by the will of legislators, but instead through popular mandate, i.e., the power of the U.S. citizenry. For some of us, December 5, 1933 might even be remembered as the end of National Prohibition. Unfortunately, there are too many writers and trade organizations who should know this, but have chosen, instead to revise U.S. history for their own purposes, and if I might, usually for self-promoting ones.

"You might recall my rants back in April when organizations like the Brewers Association, the A&E network, Anheuser-Busch, with its pimping of 'The American Brew' an hour-long movie commissioned by the St. Louis brewery, and beer geek sites like Beeradvocate proclaimed April 7 as the day that Prohibition was 'repealed today in 1933.' The Jacksonville Business Journal went so far as to proclaim that 'The 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect April 7, 1933 …' -- an amazing feat since the states hadn’t even gotten around to setting up constitutional referendums and state conventions to vote for delegates who would set the constitutional change into effect.

"They weren’t alone in repeating this historical inaccuracy, but the list of offenders would probably be longer than this entire blog entry. So once again, let me beat this dead horse of a canard one more time. The passages below are from my book 'Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago,' and gives the perspective of events leading up to December 5, 1933 from a Windy City perspective. But throughout the story, the thread leading up to the end of Prohibition can be found."

You can find his full essay here.

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20071201

Serving beer sky-high

If you're traveling on certain UK airlines in 2009, your drinks cart may be offering freshly-poured beer.

Thomsonfly and First Choice Airlines, which recently merged operations, have contracted for 23 Boeing 787 Dreamliner passenger planes to be delivered in 2009.

The Press Association of the UK reports that "Barrels of beer on the drinks cart to enable travellers to enjoy freshly-poured pints is one of the ideas being considered by (these) UK airlines" as part of the service on the new planes.

On a sort-of-related topic, if you'd like to learn how to make an airplane from used beer cans, just go here for step-by-step instructions.

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