Can You Hear Me Now?

Merry Monks’ : Weyerbacher Brewing Co. : Belgian
Blithering Idiot : Weyerbacher Brewing Co. : Barleywine
Old Heathen : Weyerbacher Brewing Co. : Imperial Stout

To quote Sting (and maybe a million others), I am not alone. No, I consider myself in that crowd of blithering idiots who attempt to write about drinking a different beer a day for a year. Some of these colleagues have started with the best intentions, only to be crippled along the way. The path is not wide and it is rutted by ironic distractions, such as gaining weight in the waist while losing it in the wallet. There are also the full ranks of beer bloggers who wander casually through the adjacent aisles of opportunity, sampling and spelling. This is a vast army that hear the siren call, but, although they tread the right direction, they missed the unbridled thrill a year’s discipline unveils.

Or perhaps they fear that once they make that simple commitment to drink a beer a day for the beneficial illumination of the world, well, that they would find themselves addicted to the mountain trek, where crossing a simple Alpine meadow leads to the strut up a never-ending Matterhorn of continuous beer consciousness connoisseur commitment.

So familiar reader, where does your path lie? Will you stay in the band of merry monks, tripping lightly with their bowls of fruit–bananas, plums, a slight warmth of cinnamon? Are is your calling higher, much higher, to the something big boozy and warm, on some malted mountaintop, flicking caramel dusted figs into your thirsty mouth? Or can you find a more simple comfort in a step away from insanity, in the path of the old Heathen, a tad salty in his wisdom gained gathering hints of vanilla and cream, the chocolate in his pockets warming to the twilight air?

For those still looking for more guidance on the question, I leave behind these illuminated manuscripts:

365 Days of Beer–a pleasantly direct and knowledgeable account of beer drinking, peaceful almost to the point of being completely non-judgmental.

It’s Pub Night–not a daily account, but a detailed one, focusing on PacNW brews and drinking places and he offers the Six-Pack Equivalent Calculator, a crafty tool for pricing out growlers.

Small Beer–perhaps he doesn’t write everyday because of supply issues, or perhaps because of the lyrical ponderings of each review.

Left4Beer–not daily, but extensive, creating a deep inventory of traditional reviews

BrewPublic–kinda the Wall Street Journal of beer in Portland.

Kupko’s Mind. Bottled.–straight-out traditional style reviews, but a great selection of interesting brews.

Slosh Spot–the site itself is silly and confusing like a blonde drinking her first warm beer in college, but this particularly page linked here is still an attractive graphical account of beer drinking around the world.

The Brew Club–“We started The Brew Club in April 2008 as something fun to do at work” and they certainly have a bit of fun with it with their rambling accounts.

Brew 365–a daily beer brewing (not beer tasting) site, with recipes that reverse engineer your favorite beers.

Beer Mapping–for the lost and thirsty in all of us.

An answer to the most pressing of questions…

BottleTrek–a place to buy strange beers (for collection purposes only).

Blood, Stout, and Tears–a little history, a little opinion, a little slice of south Wales.

Firkin Pub–have pub, will travel.

A Bar with No Name–nice name for an otherwise pretty standard blog.

A Year of Beer–not to be confused with a blog with a similar sounding name, this is not a daily accounting, but it mixes personal perspective on beer and beer culture with more traditional tasting notes.

Tasty-Takes–beer and fish and everything else.

Hop Head and Porter–the leading ladies of beer, on video.

Beer Per Day–can’t figure out the calendar on this one, but the writing is both light and personal and the beers always interesting.

fuck yeah beer–pretty much the title says it all.

1yob–standard accounts in a daily record without dates, but nice pictures.

A Year of Beer (the video)–this is the way to do it.

The Year of Beer–maybe not THE beer website, it’s a multimedia exploration of what it means to drink a beer a day.

My Yearly Lesson Blog–more like different beers around the year, but still an nice archive of brew notes.

There are, I suppose, more beer bloggers than breweries.  All you can do is pick up a pint and pen.

Rating Merry Monks’: 76%
Rating Blithering Idiot : 74%
Rating Old Heathen : 78%

Posted in Bar Stories, Barleywine, Belgian, Stout | 2 Comments

Home Is Where the Hops Is

Tröegs Hopback Amber Ale : Tröegs Brewing Company : Amber

An athlete, a scholar, and a gentleman, Tim Gallagher was the star running back back in high school, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, and, even more importantly, a founder (with his brothers) of the Appalachian Brewing Company.  ABC was Harrisburg’s first brewpub and a pioneer in the earlier days of re-localizing brewing.

Bottled underneath beautiful labels featuring quaint woodcut prints of the Susquehanna river and surroundings, the brewery features a fine inventory of beers that certainly excel over any hometown product available back in those high school daze.  ABC’s fine Trailblazer Pale Ale, for example, certainly would trump my first non-Dad-let-me-take-a-sip beer: Colt 45.  In the big bottle.  Warm.  Fortunately I shared with my friend Frans, who was accompanied by his neighbor Sue, drinking beneath some trees in College Park.  The results were nauseating, but I made it home safely.

We all eventually graduated (before senior year) to drinking from a variety of cases–Schlitz, Schaefer, Miller, but preferably Molson Golden Ale–until we got smart enough to realize that all those bottles created a lot of unnecessary evidence.  So we found kegs and soon after my friend Craig forever won his knickname from the keg party where our friend Moose punched a hole though the basement wall.  Moose was a Golden Glove boxer; the wall was his temporary opponent. If we had been drinking ABC’s Rockville Rye, the whole house would have come down.

We all fortunately survived high school in tact.  I would not advocate the same educational path for anyone and it took several years in college to understand that much wonder can be found in simply sitting in the summer’s backyard taste-testing animals with my friends Don and Joanne.  We had a case of Wild Goose (a leader in quality and flavor), Catamount (long since defunct), and some beer I can’t recall with a dog on the label.  (I keep thinking Black Lab.) We called our next selection by goose, cat or dog.  Of course, if ABC had been brewing their Jolly Scot back then, we would have had a fourth animal in to vary the mix.

On the other hand, Olde Frothingslosh was never an animal.  She was a zaftig beauty queen and the prize centerpiece of my friend Jack’s beer can collection.  She stood on an Atlantic beach with a banner draped a mile wide across her shoulders.  Yes, she stood out amongst the multitude. Jack’s collection, stacked in careful shelves in the basement, was stunning visual proof that the beer world was infinite, even it it wasn’t completely accessible through the Camp Hill Beer Distributor.  I spent a couple of summers working there, hauling cases into the cooler, out to cars, and, once when insulted about picking up a keg, I even once punched out a 16oz er though the cardboard case.  It was not an Olde Frothingslosh.

Years later, I’m sitting in Tuscon with my friend Alex.  We’ll decided to visit their latest fad in dining and entertainment:  the beer garden.  The waitress was quite proud of the 30 bottles they have in the cellar.  “We even have a beer from America’s oldest brewery, a…Younglung?  a Youngster?”  A Yuengling:  actually I think it was a Yuengling 16oz returnable that I punched out at the beer distributor’s.  You may not ever be able to go home again, but beer teaches us that you may not ever be able to completely leave home either.

That sentiment never more evident to me that when I was sitting in a different backyard, one complete with swings and a small playground set, that also housed a family restaurant.  I was in Ingelheim am Rhein, taking a break from work and touring towns in the vicinity.  I had just come from the town’s graveyard, wandering amongst the headstones, and noting that the family names read like a roster from my high school graduation.  I was in a place where my ancestors (and my town) had left centuries before.  My German was rusty, but I spoke enough to order a local beer.  And, with the first sip, I knew I was home.

And since we’re in the home stretch now, what better time to return to stories of hometown brewing?  That’s why I’ll be discussing Troegs’ Hopback Amber.  It’s not that ABC is not worthy or available.  It’s just that the Hopback is perhaps one of the best ambers going–anywhere/anytime–and even more delightful if you get one of those minikegs and lug it home, toss it on ice and tap it over a long weekend spent at home.

So, forgive me Tim and your fine selection of beers if I take a moment to acknowledge your crosstown colleague’s spicy sweetness and zinging pine that balances out to easy thirst-quenching quality, akin to coming home again.  Especially in the home-welcome big 1/6 of keg can.

Rating: 77%

Posted in Amber Ale, Bar Stories | 1 Comment

Beer for Breakfast

Beer Geek Breakfast : Mikkeller : Stout (Imperial)

“Woke up this morning and got myself a beer.  The future’s uncertain, and the end is always near.”  Morrison’s lyric ost succinctly fuses drinking and a dark existentialism, to a backbeat…you can’t lose it.

In almost a year of beer writing, I have deliberately ignored the bleak underbelly of alcohol.It is not that I have not seen drinking’s devastating effects or can’t face the associated stories: I lost two friends to alcoholism. As a youth, I kept my awareness of their addiction at a distance, granting me a bubble of plausible deniability, while hoping that time would provide a cure. Time alone provides no cure for addiction.

Then there were near misses brought on by adolescent excesses.  Trudy Ellen****er in the hospital for alcohol poisoning.  Or when my college roommate and friend Don decided to start senior year by drinking until he passed out, every day, for a week.  A celebration, of sorts. Despite our protests from day one, Don made it to day five: he woke up in a nearby public park, staring up into the faces of a couple of paramedics called by strangers to the scene. Don shrugged the EMT of and walked home, where, fortunately chilled by feeling the shroud of death pulled up to his shoulders, Don called off the experiment.

Of course there are also times where the avoidance of tragedy in excess-inspired events create humorous results.  You can hear the chuckles lifting the car when my friends Ned and Craig, after drinking at the Blue Duck in Maryland all night, drove the backroads back home.  Outside of Williams Grove, they missing the 90 degree turn in the two laner, and landed the car on the adjacent railroad tracks.  Hear the howls of laughter when they saw the locomotive lights barreling toward them. And the guffaws when the train passed by on the other set of rails.

(There was no such excess and no tragedy at all when, in the parking lot outside the Eagle’s stadium, nephews Adam, Dan, Don T and I tried to blow up Bud Light cans with roadside flares. Pranks don’t require alcohol — actually the two mixed invite tragedy — but both pranks and drinking do help keep the serious tragedy of living at a safe distance.)

My nephew Adam brings along a small bottle of Heaven’s Hill to casual family events.  It serves as a totem substitute for my departed mother.  That plastic bottle helps put an ironic smile on us all, a gesture that smooths for us all the pain of dealing with her in her later years, when, following the untimely death of my father, she increasingly sought to put the tragedy at a distance by bringing the bottle closer.

It is a strategy that never works for no one. If the end is always near, even the bottle won’t keep it at a distance. But should you decide you need to wake up and get yourself a beer, can I recommend the Beer Geek Breakfast?  Imagine a creamy chocolate cereal (koo koo for CooCoo Puffs?), washed with a sip of coffee.  Imagine a balance of roasted malt grain across bitteriness without the acidity.  No single element overwhelming palate.

Still, I will be honest here in the review, if I haven’t already: my preference for breakfast beer would still be with the Founder’s, with a side of bacon

Rating: 84%

Editor’s note: There’s a bar across the street from the Ginger Man–which itself is a nicely stocked beer place, if you can push your way through all the white shirts blocking the bar–called Under the Volcano.  To read the novel the bar is named after is to experience the interlocking tragedy of alcohol and personal destruction.

Posted in Bar Stories, Best Brews, Stout | Leave a comment

In the Lion’s Den

Lowenbrau (original) : Löwenbräu AG : Lager

When I was in sixth grade, we studied Gregor Mendel and his science of little beans.  Mr. Kaufman, our science teacher, handed out corn seed to each of us, along with a little dirt, a Dixie cup, and instructions to bring the grow plant back in five weeks. Keep a record of your gardening practices. Implicit in the assignment was the promise of a reward for the tallest stalk.

Now, being of short farmer stock myself, I knew the deck in this nature/nurture battle was stacked against me.  Homegrown genetics would never be my strong suit, so I would need a secret weapon.  Three weeks in and with less an inch in skyness, I resorted to extreme measures, placing the seedling at the bottom of a closet with its only light source way high above.  Stretch, stretch for the light: that was the scientific theory at least.  (Later a girl in my class used a similar closet lengthening trick: holding on to the cloths bar, she dangled with cinder-blocks tied to her legs, all in an attempt to get the necessary quarter inch to meet the Marine’s minimum height requirement.)

All the light trick did was exhaust the poor corn thing.  So, feeling guilty and feeling like I was destined to lose anyhow, I started watering the seed with beer.  Dad’s Carling Black Label. If I remember right, the label mentioned something about made with corn, so the sympatico made sense at some level.

Now, I would like to say that the secret ingredient of beer made all the difference, but it didn’t.  Just created a really foul odor that prompted an inquiry from Mr. Kaufman: “What happened here?”

Beer happened. 

Beer happened. I got less than a week and probably more than a hundred stories about beer and its consumption.  Brief glimpses and repressed memories, like how Lowenbrau was the most sought after beer in high school, until Miller bought it and changed the formula.  The history of beer is often the history of change, occasionally disappointing.  But then there were rumors that original recipe Lowenbrau–this was the real European stuff–was still out there. And so the history of beer is also the singer of myth and legend and the pilgrimage to discover the truth.

I don’t know if this straw-fed, grassed up, lemon yellow liquid is the original, the Miller re-write or the re-original version. It certainly is as pleasant and as easy going I remember it to be and this version has that “this proves that there must be more than American lagers out there” quality — the missing link that bridged me over to sail into an ocean of ales — but I don’t know the truth of this version.

What I do know is that there are beer tales in the world.

Rating:  57%

Posted in Lager | 1 Comment

Miller vs Miller

Miller High Life : Miller Brewing Co. : Lager
Miller Genuine Draft : Miller Brewing Co. : Lager

Recently, back on prom night, my friend Robert took his date to a pre-prom dinner at the Steak & Ale.  He picked this elegant establishment, because, according to rumors circulate the then 12th grade, they would serve you.  Now Bob back then only drank beer that had no preservatives and, in his mind, Miller fit the bill nicely.

So when the waitress came around for the order, Robert was ready.  He leaned forward, smiled widely and said, “I’ll have a Millllllllllll…”





Ah, Miller.  I’ve never confused it with milk, but I’ve always thought Miller did carried the taste within the big three.  In the words of our seventh grade gym&personalhygiene teacher–another Bob who had earned the more appropriate nickname Flip–“if someone puts all these drugs on a table and holds a gun to your head and tells you that you have to take one, take the marijuana.”  (truth) If you substitute American lagers for drugs in this metaphor, then Miller would be maryjane.  Miller just tastes better.

But the question is, which Miller?  The champagne or the genuine?

From my tastings here, hell, it doesn’t much matter between them:  the High Life lies lighter in carbonation, the draft slightly more full-bodied and perhaps sweeter. Both have a sweet grass (not the hemp kind) quality, a breath of summer breeze, that adds a grace of flavor to a beer that’s designed for nothing to interfere with its drinkability. It is this sincere nod to trying to taste like a beer that makes Miller the king of American brews, as refreshing as a walk in the Rocky Mountains.

Beer epiphany:  even in the bottom, there lies difference.

Rating Miller High Life: 36%
Rating Miller Genuine Draft: 40%

Posted in Bar Stories, Beer epiphany, Lager, Nice Mug | 1 Comment

Oysters on Deck

Oyster Stout : The Porterhouse Brewing Company : Stout (Irish Dry)

The label warns that the skilled inclusion of oysters in the brewing process adds an indescribable character to this stout. They are not mermaids of deception; the oysters layer in hints of sea salt and kelp.

This is not the Bassomatic of stout and oysters. The blend works–nuttiness, stout charcoal, and ocean spray–and it helps to stave off my oyster withdraw.

Rating: 74%

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Threat from Down Under and Off to the Side

Tuatara IPA : Tuatara Brewing Co. : IPA

Sierra makes a nice brew (Southern Hemisphere Harvest) using Pacific Hallertau, New Zealand Motueka and New Zealand Southern Cross hops from the bottom side of the globe. So I expected something better than a painfully rendered IPA that uses bitterness as a weapon.  Perhaps the intention was lost in transportation.

Rating:  55%

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The Advantages of an Indefensible Country

Leffe Blonde : Abbaye de Leffe S.A. : Belgian

In honor of my friends Hiromi (she designed this site’ masthead) and John’s trip to Brussels, I’m drinking a Leffe Blonde. Actually, one doesn’t need an excuse to drink this most wonderful beer, but knowing I can do this in support of Hiromi’s European art opening makes the ritual ceremoniously special. Plus the bottle comes from Belgium, courtesy of my sisterinlaw (thanks Cath) makes all the planets align, the stars come out, and the world lifts closer to heaven.

Leffe may be sweet to candy, but I prefer to think of its as depth and richness, like butter toffee in the floral bouquet. It is the recipe born from years of conquest…conquest of Belgium by most of the rest of Europe.

Yum. So yummy, I once watched my friend Bryan down four of these in effort to figure out his life. He succeeded and is soon to get married in October. So I believe there is charm to Leffe as well.

Rating: 91%

Posted in Belgian, Best Brews | 1 Comment

Schlitz, thank you.

Schlitz : JOS. Schlitz Brewing Co. (Pabst) : Lager

Schlitz, thank you. Yes, Schlitz baby. The same Schlitz they used to advertise being brewed in the big tanks on Route 78, on the road home.

The very same Schlitz that, when served warm, has the unexpected medicinal effect that sounds very much like the beer’s name.

Schlitz, golden lord of sweet, real sweet satisfaction. And on draft here at Cooperfields. On draft, miracles.

But let me tell you that the vessel has no effect on the flavor, although the cool tap prevents the undesired medicinal effect.

So, thank you Schlitz, for I have paid my debt etched yesterday.

Rating: 45%

Posted in Lager, Nice Mug | 1 Comment

Just Plain Special

Extra Special Ale : Yards Brewing Co. : Amber

It’s special to call your amber by a name that deliberately confuses it with an Extra Special Bitter. This is not really an ESB, although it is a nice little amber. Laced with burnt brown sugar, it still exhibits a refreshing dryness.

It is generally a more interesting beer than yesterday’s pale ale by Yards, but I question the brewer’s overall enthusiasm for the challenge of making a distinctive beer, instead of focusing on strength through marketing. Some later day entrants to craft brewing in Pennsylvania adopted a colonial visual motif, likely trying to align with Sam Adam’s popularity. But few of their brews come together strong enough to stand out as special.

I retrack: not being special may be ok in a way. In the waning days of the blog year, I can imagine the Pennsylvania cooler stocked with regional beers that I haven’t had the opportunity to review: Old Reading, Lion’s Head, Stoney’s, Iron City (particularly their very tasty light version). There’s a cooler right next to it, filled with ice and the mega-regionals like Schaefer and Schlitz, as well as a few neighbors to the north, Genesee Cream Ale, Matt’s, Old Vienna.

And none of these beers–with the slight except of Genny–would taste special. (Maybe IC Lite.) But that’s okay at a major level, because these breweries fulfilled the critical mission of quenching the regional thirst cheaply.

So a tip of the glass to the craft brews predecessors.

Rating: 65%

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