Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Feelin the Love in East Lansing

So last Monday I head out to Lansing for a Brewers Guild meeting. In fact, I'm in town early for a pre-meeting meeting, one of the luxuries of president-ship. Anyways, after a relatively grueling day, I'm tired, but trying to make the best of my time and see a couple of accounts while I'm in town. Stopped by Dusty's, who are big Mad Hatter fans, and while they are supporters, the bottle shop was a little scarce and they were out of Hatter draught in the tap room. I still enjoyed saying hello, and having some fish and chips with a bottle of Sundog.

It was the double-header Monday Night Football, so after dinner I headed over to Old Chicago to say hello and catch the end of the games. Bless their hearts, they were pouring three of our beers. Hatter, Paleooza and Ichabod. I don't care what size brewery you are, when you walk into an account that's pouring three of your beers, you feel good. It feels like it's all working. You have in fact, brought beer to the people. Now, a brewery our size, a little ways from home, in a city we don't get to enough, it feels REALLY good.

I ordered a Paleooza and introduced myself. I met Kim the bar manager and Carrie the bartender. We had a great rap about beer, Michigan beer, and how unfortunate it was that Dallas was ending my chances to win that weeks football pool.

I must confess to not being a "chain-guy." I'll save the soapbox for another time, but when it comes to bars and restaurants, I generally favor the independents. Have I decided to love the Lansing Old Chicago just because they're pouring our beer? Am I that easy? That transparent?

I don't think so, although it sure helps.

What I love about them, besides their charming personalities, is that they don't equate a franchise with "sameness" They don't have to keep the same selection as an Old Chicago in say, Chicago, or Minneapolis or anywhere else. Old Chicago Lansing has 14 Michigan tap handles. Fourteen! Impressive for any tavern, but outlandish for a chain franchise. I believe taverns and restaurants are where we should feel, see and embrace our local culture. A tavern offering part of their local and regional culture to their customers has gone beyond just selling to them. Its appreciation for culture enhances the community experience. I warned you about the soap box... Anyway, I applaud their independence. I give a standing ovation to the fact that their independence has brought them to be fans and supporters of New Holland. So, if you're in Lansing, really East Lansing, you should check them out.

I'd be remiss if I only sent you there, however. Crunchy's is a little bar near campus on Grand River. They are also huge supporters of New Holland and Michigan beer. They have an impressive selection that they keep pretty interesting and chock full of Michigan offerings. Don't be afraid of the buckets, they'll let you drink from a pint glass if you're nice.

Dusty's promised their Mad Hatter was on the way, so don't forget them either.


Denver or Bust - The GABF

We're heading out to Denver in the morning for the Great American Beer Festival. It's an interesting event, because it's where a brewery's worlds collide. Its a triple-banger, in that you have a public festival, an industry hang, and a competition all in 3 or 4 crazy days. I look forward to seeing all of our brewery and vendor friends - its always a good time and you can accomplish amazing things talking shop over a pint or ten at the Falling Rock. Or the Chapultapec. Or the Cruise Room. And yes, in case you're wondering, it IS a tough job.

We're bringing Black Tulip, Mad Hatter, Ichabod, Zoomer and Poet. A well balanced offering, if I must say so myself.

I'm feeling a little frazzled as I've spent my last week working on everything going on HERE, not thinking much about Denver. Denver won't wait though, so after a frantic morning, I'll be on my way. Wednesday nights brewer reception at Wynkoop will get it all rolling. I'll do my best to check in from the road, as I'm freshly committed to the world of blogging.


We've got wood.

This year's Dragon's Milk in its cool slumber. It's been conditioning in these oak bourbon barrels for a couple of months now, and we'll be racking it into stainless in the next week or so. We'll then work on getting it through a sterile filter before blending it, conditioning it another month or so and packaging in time to enjoy by early December. I love walking into this cooler; smelling and touching the wood. It reminds me what is so beautiful about being a craft brewer. It reminds me of our willingness to take on difficult, time consuming, frustrating and courageous projects.

We've enjoyed sneaking some other brands into oak too. We've only done a barrel or two here or there, so they've only been enjoyed at our pub or at special festivals, but the Barrel Aged Hatter and Barrel Aged Ichabod have both been the bomb. Maybe we'll get a chance to do more. We'll see after we hear from John how the filtration went.

Next week, we'll brand 'em

You may want to check out the The Third Annual Festival of Barrel-aged Beer, put on by the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, Saturday, November 12th, 1-5 P.M. in Chicago (guess who figured out linking again?)


Monday, September 26, 2005

The Barchive

I'm going to try and maintain this post as a tribute to bars gone by. A list of notable bars that are no longer. I may tear up a bit, but I'll try to steel myself.

I might give each bar I list here a post down the road, but today I'll just start the list.

Kelly's On the Green - Chicago - Greenview and Diversey; The only bar I know that had an alumni club after it was sold to Vaughans. My local hangout for years, I sold them beer, tended bar, played on the softball team, played music for the anniversary parties...a classic. It has since been bulldozed for condos. Cheers to Pato et al.

Augenblick - Chicago - Damen and Irving - another classic, close to home. Dark, smokey, filled with good beers, stiff drinks and attentive staff. Lost their lease in a somewhat predictable landlord-screws-the-bar suit. Now a Real Estate office (landlord's business). Former partner David Butler is now proprietor at the Edgewater on North Ashland. (5600?)

The Chase Tavern! - Chicago

Wise Fools Pub - Chicago

The Knollwood Tavern - Kalamazoo

The Opera House - Madison, WI

CW Michaels - Kalamazoo

I'll be back with more.....

Dayton & Columbus

The marathon continued on Saturday with Alefest Dayton. I have to say that it was starting to get a little fuzzy. Daydreaming and pulling off on the exit towards the beerfest, I was brought back to reality when a carload of Cincinnatians, more importantly River's Bendians, started honking and waving. Yes, it was Thursday's crew rarin' to go again. We rolled into the park, got things set up and welcomed 2,000 of our closest friends to drink beer and enjoy another summer day in the park. The SE Ohio beer community is cozy and growing. Lots of retailers, distributors and beer-folk all seem to know each other and work together.

Alefest Dayton was put together very well by friend and colleague, Joe Weisman. It was a blast seeing people from both tastings earlier in the week come by to say hello and clink a glass or two.

I have to share a funny story. I was grabbin lunch, sitting in front of the stage that was home to the local DJs. One of the DJs from the sponsor radio station got on mic to announce the winners of the celebrity blind tasting tournament. No, the celebreties weren't blind, the tasting was. He went on to describe that there were teams that were assigned the challenge of identifying beers by taste without seeing the label. They were to guess style, origin, brewery and brand. He announced that his team had won and went on to describe the process and the beers they guessed.

"Our first one was Pilsner Urquell, which we nailed....its sort of a European Amber...."


Maybe I'm turned from beer-geek into beer-prick, but c'mon, the style is in the name of the beer. I thought the blind-tasting was an intersting format, but it didn't do so well as an attention getter from the stage. Our friendly DJ reminded me of where we are in the public conciousness. We have people interested in knowing more or at least appearing to know more about beer, but they're not always completely informed. I'm all for bringing people into the process, especially media types, but we might want to be careful before putting a mic in their hand in front of a beer-savvy crowd.

Anyway...following the festival, the Premium boys, the guys from Belmont Station and our friend Gabe
had a great hang at Tank's Bar and Grill, a friendly local joint pouring Mad Hatter. I was wiped out and waiting for the second or third wind to roll in.

It came rolling in, but when it did, I was in Columbus with Andy and Gabe at a favorite of mine; the St. James Tavern. Then the Betty's crew joined us and well, it got late out. I'll share this advice with any of you that might end up drinking with Andy at the St. James. Don't play head to head, Texas Hold 'em after bar time with him. I also advise against playing pool with him. That is, unless you enjoy getting your ass kicked. Thanks for the couch, Andy.

Ohio - Cinty

I put on Elvis Costello's "Toledo" for this post, even though I'm writing about all points Cinty, Dayton and Columbus. What can I say, it's the only Ohio theme music I know of.

"But do people living in Toledo, know that their name doesn't travel really well,
and does anybody in Ohio, dream of that Spanish Citadel"

Anyway, thought I'd share some more tales from the road. A few weeks back I had a fruitful trip to Cinty.

Thursday night, I met our compatriot, Derek Zomonski of Premium Beverage, at Rivers Bend just north of CIncinatti. Derek has worked with Matt who runs the store with his sister, to set up monthly beer tastings. Some tastings are by style, some by brewery and some by season, whatever Matt and Derek decide. I was the featured speaker, so we were working through the New Holland portolio that night. Tucked in a large stockroom/office combo behind the store, there were banquet tables each set up with glasses, dump-buckets and pencils. If you weren't up front speaking or sitting at the tables you were practically sitting on the desk. I love the effort and the generous hospitality. Good people running a great store.

We had a good group - and an excellent tasting. We had some lively discussion as I took us through 8 of our beers. Plenty of homebrewers in the crowd.

A few beers with Derek afterwards and we called it a night.

Friday, we spent part of the afternoon calling on accounts before heading up to Jungle Jims in Fairfield. Derek has once again worked with beer-manager Dave and set up monthly beer tastings in the store. Customers sign up in advance and come in to hear either Derek or one of a series of guest speakers talk about beer styles, origin and flavors as they taste through 8 or more beers per two hour session. Held in Jungle Jim's cooking school, yes I said cooking school, we had around 45 or 50 people. Jungle Jim's is an experience any beer geek or foodie should not miss if they're anywhere nearby. I'll spare you the whole bio, but Jungle Jim's is a monstrous store, started as a roadside produce stand in the 70s. They pride themselves on brining food and drink from all over the world and creating a retail experience like no other.

The cooking school was a terrific setting, and the tasting was filled with an energetic group. I really enjoy the opportunity to taste through our beers, and wax poetic about beers and the beer industry in general. It seemed as the crowd enjoyed it to, seeing as they bought the store out of our beer moments later.

Special thanks to everyone involved and Derek - you're the man.

Friday, September 23, 2005


I've recently noticed how much I find myself thinking about, talking about and being impressed with the concept of balance. This has been something that has been part of my life for a long time, and it applies in so many instances. Time after time I find that when something is "on", where it feels good; whether it be your life, art, music, food, a relationship, or even a football is typically in-balance. When something is off kilter, or difficult to manage, or somewhat jarring rather than enjoyable, it always comes back to balance. It's always a dance to find what is out of balance and then make an adjustment.

I find that having balance as an objective from the beginning to be much more fruitful than going hog-wild after something and trying to balance the result later.

Why have I decided to include this in my beer-blog? In my opinion, balance has never been a more necessary and admired objective in brewing than right now. Extreme beers are taking over the consciousness of many. The beer-press, the beer rating crowd and many others discuss the extreme beers of our industry with fervor and debate.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not upset by the recent craze, nor by the beers - I just think it's a bit out of balance. I love big beers, I love session beers, in fact - I love lots of 'em in between.

I wish them all balance.

I wish them well balanced beers, no matter the strength, from well balanced breweries with well balanced portfolios. I wish them balanced discussion of their balanced selection of beers.

I wish them all balance.

I am in constant pursuit of balance. I'm proud of where I've achieved it and motivated by challenges yet to be met.

I'm writing simply to honor balance. Seek it, admire it, patronize it; in all things.

A good example, "All things in moderation, including moderation." - Anon.