Best Balm for your Beer: Keeping your lips in shape for winter imbibing

LipBalmsAs autumn sings her last chorus, the season is quickly shifting into those chilly months where many of us situated in the Northern Hemisphere have to deal with the reality of chapped lips (I suppose the same applies to the desert regions of the world). While women beer drinkers may suffer the conundrum of whether to drink wearing lipstick (The Bitch is soooo not gonna go there), the reality is that you want to protect your lips while still being able to drink a great craft beer.

So, in the honor of science, I have undertaken the very subjective task to testing leading lip balms with regards to how they hold up under the stress (and taste and aroma) of drinking beer. This is actually something I’ve wanted to explore for a couple years now, ever since I figured out that some of my random lip balms really interfered with my joy of drinking. I figured there are probably tangible differences between brands, so I set out to find the most popular brands and rank them accordingly.

The parameters:

  1. I only tested one beer against all five balms. The beer I chose was Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA, which I purchased in bottles from my local bodega. I shop there pretty regularly, and I often get the Belgian IPA. I didn’t want to go with a beer that I didn’t know well; I also didn’t want to pick a wildly hoppy or malty brew. The Raging Bitch Belgian is strong enough to cut through mild flavors, but not so overpowering as to blow my palate out before I got to balm number five.
  2. I drank from a glass. I chose a standard goblet that I picked up (I didn’t steal it, I swear) from Lucky Pie in Denver when I was there earlier this month.
  3. Balms were chosen based on ubiquity: I picked major brands (with one notable exception, see below) and I tried to get as neutral a balm as possible (i.e. minimal scent, flavor). I deliberately avoided anything too “girly,” not because “girly” is a bad thing, but because healthy lips are not gender specific. I also didn’t want to choose some new age Brooklyn-based lip balm that sells for $400/ounce and can only be bought on Bedford Avenue. Think ChapStick, not PigLardLips (I made that up… I think).
  4. Balms were tested for four main characteristics: Scent (and how that scent affected the beer), Feel (greasy, smooth, sticky, etc.), Taste (both in terms of licking my lips and in terms of affecting the flavor of the beer), and how much of a Smear was left when my lip touched the goblet.

And the results follow (in the order I tried the balms; note: I was careful to remove all of the balm before trying a new one)…

Lip balm: White Labs 15 SPF

Okay, so White Labs is the outlier. They were giving these lip balms away at the Great American Beer Festival, so I figure they really should know better. Turns out, they do. This balm wasn’t half bad.

  • Scent: Smells of well-chewed Wrigley’s Spearmint; didn’t affect the nose of the beer
  • Feel: Glossy, a bit slippery
  • Taste: Very faux mint with a sweet aftertaste; didn’t seem to affect the beer unless I licked my lips
  • Smear: Slight lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 2nd Place. Honestly, there was one balm that was the definite winner, and one that was the definite loser (keep reading). The middle three were pretty interchangeable. I ranked White Labs lip balm as second for two reasons: one, they’re White Labs (come on!); and two, I would definitely do some serious kissing before, during or after drinking with this lip balm on. It’s a nice kissing lip balm, with little to interfere with the beer.

Lip balm: Blistex Medicated 15 SPF

Maybe there’s an unmedicated Blistex (I don’t believe there is). The medicinal quality of this (and the next) balm was not ideal for beer drinking. That said, there are times when you want more of a warming balm for your lips. So, how did it work with beer?

  • Scent: Slight wintergreen/camphor; definitely interfered with the nose of the beer: I felt like I was drinking on Vick’s Mentholatum
  • Feel: Almost none… for about 20 seconds; then my lips got so warm that I didn’t really want to drink at all; after about five minutes, the warmth died down and was no longer particularly noticeable
  • Taste: Negligible, but the beer seemed more bitter when drinking, as though a lingering sweetness in the balm was bringing out the hoppiness in the beer
  • Smear: Probably the least noticeable on the goblet

Final verdict: 3rd Place. If you wait for the burn to subside, this is a nice balm. Probably only for when you really need a medicinal edge (i.e. your lips are already chapped), but good to use in a pinch. The fact that it is only minimally greasy helps a lot.

Lip balm: Bert’s Bees with Vitamin E and Peppermint

Honestly, I think you either love Bert’s Bees or you hate them. They come in a variety of flavors; I don’t even know if this is the most neutral version available. The effect was very similar to the Blistex balm, the trade-off being that the Blistex balm seemed to have less of an effect on the actual process of drinking the beer (despite my sense that the hops were more pronounced with Blistex).

  • Scent: Slight mint; didn’t affect the nose of the beer
  • Feel: Instantly strongly warming; didn’t seem to wear off as quickly as the Blistex
  • Taste: Stale chewing gum; despite the lingering warmth, the flavor of the beer was unaffected
  • Smear: Minimal mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 4th Place. This really came down to that warmth, which is great if you’re walking outdoors during a blizzard but is rather distracting while drinking. I probably won’t give up using Bert’s Bees, because it’s my go-to balm, but I may reconsider if I’m doing a festival or drinking beers that are new to me.

Lip balm: ChapStick Original 8 SPF

When I was growing up (my age is showing), ChapStick was this nasty white clumpy stuff that we all were forced to don and we all universally hated. Well, this is not your mother’s ChapStick. Still white in color, the balm’s texture is light and protective without being messy.

  • Scent: Slightly herbal; I can’t quite place the aroma, but it’s very neutral; no effect on the nose
  • Feel: Pleasant gloss with no greasiness whatsoever
  • Taste: Very slight candy flavor, possibly vanilla; no effect on the taste of the beer
  • Smear: Slight lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 1st Place. This balm was a surprise. I bought it mostly because it’s ChapStick, and to do a comparison without it would be ridiculous. I didn’t expect it to be just what The Bitch ordered: It coats the lips without interfering with drinking at all.

Lip balm: Carmex Original

Uh… this was downright awful

  • Scent: Medicinal; totally got into the nose of the beer, too
  • Feel: Greasy; it felt like I’d kissed an otter that just survived the Valdez oil slick
  • Taste: NUMBING!!! Not a choice for any beer I can think of; totally leeched into the flavor of the beer
  • Smear: Noticeable lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 5th Place, but might as well be dead last. I knew this was a long shot going in, but I was disgusted by how this worked while drinking. Limit your Carmex to the ski slopes. Keep your ChapStick for your beers.


Brooklyn Beer Fests Beckon

BrooklynPourSo, it’s not too late to get your Oktoberfest going, and there are two “the bigger the better” drinking events upcoming with a Brooklyn focus that really look to be worth the price of admission (sadly, The Bitch will not be in attendance at either of them: In the case of the former, I’ll be raising my glass to toast friend and NYC beer event savant, Chris O’Leary’s fifth anniversary of his blog—in my best Rowan Atkinson impersonation: It is so much more than a blog—Brew York, New York. In the case of the latter, I’ll be at GABF).

First up is this weekend’s Brooklyn Pour. Put on by the Village Voice and held in Williamsburg(h)’s historic bank (you know the one I’m talking about if you take the J/M or bike/hike across the Williamsburg Bridge), Brooklyn Pour is one of the better-produced large-scale drinking fests. The Voice (almost) always manages to get the perfect balance of vendors, and this year’s Brooklyn Pour will feature some excellent European brews (two words: Ayinger Marzen) in addition to hyper local beers from new breweries like Braven (which is slated to open sometime this fall; local boys doing the gypsy thing). In all, they’ll be serving up more than 125 beers from 70 breweries.

Note that tickets will only be available online until tomorrow (Friday, September 26th) 2 p.m., so buy yours before the door price tacks on an extra $10. And while I don’t often recommend VIP, for Village Voice events, the cost is worth it: you get in an hour early, so you’ll miss the long lines (if you pay VIP, obviously, show up before the VIP doors open at 2 p.m.) plus you get your food included. Tickets are $85 for VIP (four-hour tasting) or $55 GA (3-6 p.m.; food available for additional purchase). Get them here.

On the day after GABF wraps in Colorado (October 5th), the inaugural Brooklyn Local Craft Beer Festival will take place at 420 Carroll Street in the trendy Gowanus/Carroll Gardens crossover neighborhood in south Brooklyn. Weirdly, despite being a stone’s throw from The Other Half, the BLCBF thus far has no actual Brooklyn artisanal craft breweries on the line-up. While I support their efforts to get away from the Brooklyn behemoths (including, well, you know, Brooklyn! as in Brewery), it’s odd to me that a festival calling itself Brooklyn Local Craft doesn’t have any. I’m hoping that a few more truly local brewers will come on in the final week leading up to the event.

Which isn’t to say the event won’t have some very cool, lesser known craft beers. It will. Most interesting among them is Long Island’s (kinda like Brooklyn, I suppose) Lithology Brewing Co., which currently is only serving its beer on the festival circuit (they expect to open their brewery to the public in early 2015). And for those of us who live in Brooklyn, this is also your opportunity to get some great brews from The Bronx (Gun Hill Brewing), Queens (Finback) and Staten Island (Flagship) without a two-hours-in-each-direction commute. They’re also offering punch cards for logging your brews, a very handy thing to have when you get too buzzed to do a proper Untappd check-in. GA tickets are $47.50 (including the fee) for six hours of drinking (noon to 6 p.m.). Food is available for additional purchase.

So, enjoy Brooklyn while I’m drinking in Manhattan and Denver! Have one for The Bitch.


San Diego Send-Off: Smoked Beer Dinner at Ballast Point

ColbyChandlerBPI have a bias to admit: I’m not really big into hype. Whenever I hear about a “must have” beer or brewery, I generally exert too much effort and find myself disappointed in the end product (read: my quest to find Heady Topper). It’s not that the hype isn’t warranted; many times it is. However, by the time I get around to “the real deal,” my expectations are so great that I’m invariably left thinking, “Is that it?”

The opposite can also be true: When I go in with diminished expectations, I can be truly surprised by what I discover.

Among the options on the APlus Limousine tour prior to the San Diego Beer Bloggers Conference were excursions to both Green Flash and Ballast Point. The majority of the group wanted to seek out beers that were not distributed nationally, so both these breweries were left off the pre-excursion itinerary. Thus, when a group of bloggers wanted to visit both these spots after the conference closed, I was happy to tag along.

The big surprise came at Ballast Point. We chose to visit the smaller brewpub in the Little Italy section of San Diego. We were warmly greeted by Tasting Room Manager Amber Crocker, who noted that she was preparing for a beer-pairing dinner later that afternoon. Seeing as I had yet to eat (and already been drinking up at Green Flash), I thought a beer dinner might be a nice change of pace. I asked her the menu: Smoked foods with smoked beers. Not The Bitch’s favorite combo. But when in Rome…

Executive Chef Colin MacLaggan mans the grilling station at the Ballast Point Smoke Beer Dinner on August 24, 2014.

Executive Chef Colin MacLaggan mans the grilling station at the Ballast Point Smoked Beer Dinner on August 24, 2014.

After a brief detour to the Salivador Dali Argillet Collection (which was amazeballs… if you are in San Diego, be sure to check it out at Meyer Fine Art; the installation has been extended through September 27th), I returned to the back patio at Ballast Point, where nine taps were flowing with recommended food pairings from Executive Chef Colin MacLaggan.

It wasn’t long before Ballast Point’s Specialty Brewer Colby Chandler joined me; while the rest of the group was inside the brewpub ordering off the menu, Colby chatted with me about the pairings and then took all of us on an ad hoc tour of the brewery where he poured the Pale Ale Infused with Smoked Serrano Peppers right off the tank. It was so much spicier without the food pairing (see below) and that’s what makes beer such a cool beverage: the fact that food can completely alter its flavor profile.

At $50, the dinner was one hell of a good deal, and the pairings ranged from interesting to intense. And if Amber, Colin and Colby are the status quo for staff service at Ballast Point, the company will continue to expand both in southern California and across the nation (and, yes, the Grapefruit Sculpin on tap is incredible).

The dinner was arranged as a walk-around event with five different stations, so I could start with (and repeat) any course I chose. However, the courses basically went in the following order:

An amuse hors d’oeuvers that was passed around on trays to pair with a can of Even Keel that was handed out at the check-in: A smoked onion, blue cheese tart with mustard seeds reconstituted in the same beer. I think I had five of these, they were so good (and about the dimension of a quarter… hey, I told you I hadn’t eaten all day!).amusetartBP

First course was freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell with a choice of three mignonettes:

  • Smoked shallots in a white balsamic vinaigrette
  • Avocado and cilantro
  • Raspberry

OysterBPHonestly, this was the least appealing of the courses for me, and the beer pairings didn’t really help the cause (somewhat surprisingly, this was also the only station that had a queue, with people coming back for multiple oyster servings). I tried three oysters, one with each mignonette, and paired with the Lung Fish Oak Smoked Helles. I know very little about west coast oysters, but I do know that August is not an ideal month in general for fresh oysters. For whatever reason, the bivalves were incredibly briny and, when combined with two of the three mignonettes (only the avocado/cilantro combination really worked for me), completely overpowered the delicate flavors of the Helles. I went back for a fourth oyster (avocado mignonette) to pair with the San Salvador Oyster Shwarzbier with Herbs, and this was a much better pairing, although the brine of the oyster was still very much the dominant flavor.

The second course (which I had fourth) was a perfect pairing: Chilled Cucumber Gazpacho with Smoked Foam paired with the aforementioned Ballast Point Pale Ale Infused with Smoked Serrano Peppers. This beer was hot hot hot… but I had no idea until I drank it a second time straight from the tank without the gazpacho. The cucumber completely neutralized the spiciness without diminishing the flavor of the beer. A+ to Colin and Colby on this combo.gazpachoBP

The third course was a revelation: Grilled Spanish Octopus with mushrooms, cherry tomato, Shishito pepper in a Banyals vinaigrette over garlic puree. This was paired with the Smokescreen Beachwood Smoked Helles. On its surface (and maybe this is where expectation really comes in to play), I should have hated this pairing. I mean, I am no fan of octopus, finding it too chewy and just damn weird to look at . And the Smokescreen was the closest thing to a rauchbier I drank all night (not a beer I ever enjoy). However, the chef treated the octopus for 48 hours before cooking it over an open flame. The result was a lobster-esque tenderness (Colby likened it to string cheese), and the earthiness of the mushrooms plus the smokiness of the Shishitos brought out so many subtle flavors that this was genuinely a gourmand’s dream come true. And the beer was perfect. Best in show for this pairing. I had two servings, I liked it that much.octopusBP

Another course being served by Chef Colin at the same grilling station was a Smoked Pork Rib served with a “Carolina style” smoked beer BBQ Sauce over honey slaw and cornbread crostini. Paired with Abandon Ship Beechwood Smoked Marzen, this pairing brought out both the salty and spicy notes, although I didn’t detect much Carolina in the sauce (that would be mustard based, I assume?). Either way, another excellent match between beer and food.smokedribBP

Finally, dessert was served with a trio of beers:

  • Sour Wench with Raspberries (too soda pop for my taste)
  • 2012 Sour Wench with Marion Blackberries (much nicer version of the Sour Wench)
  • 2011 Boob Check (the cancer awareness collaboration beer they made with White Labs)

dessert_BPThese were paired with a baked “crispy” shortbread over which was poured fresh berries and smoked rose petal curd, topped with a dollop of rosemary cream. The outside of the shortbread had been coated in sugar, and the rosemary cream was a delightful addition, particularly to someone like myself who doesn’t particularly care for sweet desserts.

There was a tenth beer that was supposedly available—the 2010 Three Sheets Barleywine—that I didn’t try to track down, so I don’t know how it tasted. By that point I was with Colby checking out the brewery, and I’d had quite my fill of great food and optimal beer pairings that this dinner offered. I liked this smoked-smoked idea so much that I recommended it to my NYC client, and he’s going to be hosting a smoked beer with food pairings dinner next month.

To see all my San Diego pictures, including more from Ballast Point, please visit (and like) my Facebook page.


Alan (far left) and Ryan (far right) on the per-excursion tour with Michael Puente.

The Bloggers Check In: Day 6 in San Diego

While a lot of participants at the Beer Bloggers Conference typically bail on Sunday morning (owing to too much beer or early transportation taking them out early), one of the more interesting features of the conference is the blogger reports from various writers around the country that wraps the conference every year. It’s a quick (each blogger has five minutes) check-in on the greater beer blogging community, and the reports range from funny to serious, informative to supportive. (Note: The titles are mine, but they sum up each of the seven presentations.)

First up this year, Emily Sauter of CT beer review blog Pints & Panels: Responsible Beer Reviewing

Clip art courtesy Layout Sparks.

Clip art courtesy Layout Sparks.

Like many of the bloggers, Emily posts beer reviews on her site, and she has three basic practices she tries to follow in her beer reviews that she shared with the attendees. These were:

  • Use Common Sense – all palates are different; what I like is different than you (Tip: don’t review what you don’t like)
  • Be Knowledgeable – Be concise, know where your beer comes from, become Cicerone or BJCP certified
  • Celebrate, Don’t Hate – Give the brewery the benefit of the doubt; if the beer tastes gross, try it again in a month or in six months and if still bad, try to find something positive to say (e.g. “this is the best beer they’ve produced thus far”)

And always end your Powerpoint presentation with a dinosaur (you had to be here to appreciate this joke).

Kendall Joseph of Beer Makes Three (where he blogs with his wife in Nashville, TN): How becoming a Certified Cicerone improves your blog

I got to know Kendall and his wife June a bit on our pre-conference excursion with APlus limos. Aside from being leaders in the Nashville craft beer community, the couple prides themselves on being well educated. While Kendall’s presentation about how “easy” it is to become a Certified Cicerone was a bit tongue in cheek (his tips included studying 2-3 hours per day for 9-12 months; and pay for the off-flavors kit), he outlined the merits of what being Cicerones (June is hold her Cicerone Beer Server certification) brings to beer blogging:

  • Credibility – “I’m a student who is learning, always; the more you learn the more you don’t know”
  • Access – “I get to know the people in the breweries, I get to know the distributors”
  • Opportunities – Kendall spoke of a new restaurant that is launching a beer and food pairing program, for which they’ve hired Kendall to curate

Among his more serious study tips: Learn all 86 styles in the BJCP manual, memorize the Brewers Association’s Draught Beer Quality Manual, do blind tastings, and read good books (Randy Mosher, John Palmer, Garrett Oliver, etc.). And have a healthy respect for the test.

Katherine Belamino of Passports & Cocktails: How to create a niche in blogging

Katherine works with a partner remotely (she’s a travel writer; Steven Grams is a beer writer) who relate beer, wine and spirits to travel adventures. They focus on the feature story that goes beyond one particular beer and its flavor and ingredients. Her main goals in writing include:

  • Why would someone want to go to a brewery when on vacation – Her features go beyond the taste to a feature story that will be meaningful beyond an individual beer
  • Her blog looks at events and programming and then gets hyper-local that is related to travel – e.g. if there’s an event, they write about the destination itself, but they also encourage visiting the breweries and distilleries/vineyards related to the event

A good spin on the beer blog, going beyond the taste and ingredients to know the story behind the brewery.


Alan (far left) and Ryan (far right) on the per-excursion tour with Michael Puente.

Ryan Newhouse and Alan McCormick (from Montana Beer Finder and Growler Fills, respectively): How to launch your own beer week

Ryan joked that he and Alan “represent 100 percent of the Montana beer blogger scene,” but they’ve already made a huge impact by launching the Missoula Craft Beer Week. The beer week was a bit of a happy accident when Alan was inadvertently cc’d on an e-mail related to the Garden City Brew Fest on the 20th anniversary festival. They chimed in, “Let’s expand to a craft beer week.” With 45 breweries in Montana, they had only six weeks to put the 2013 beer week together. It was necessarily small with only 15 official events (a lot of tap take-overs and “visit your local bar” outreach). By year two, there were beer dinners and more creative programming (“how do we get hot yoga and cold beer together”). A mere year later, the late-April/early-May beer week launched the innaugural Craft Beer Cup as their marquee event: Nine bars, 11 breweries, and nine holes of putt putt – each bar built its own course – that raised almost $1200 to go to Missoula Food Bank.

Carol Dekkers of Florida’s Micro Brews USA: Bringing volunteerism and reaching your local beer scene

If Ryan and Alan are Montana’s craft beer ambassadors, Carol Dekker is Ambassador of western Florida (FL has 100 breweries). She started her presentation by quoting conference opening speaker Julia Hertz: “Make craft beer approachable.”

Crowler2In Carol’s St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay community, the demographic works against the Brewers Association’s norm with 25 percent of the populace over age 65 (the majority of craft beer drinkers are currently under age 45).

Her blog is more about bringing craft beer to the general population (Tampa-area beer gardens are both family- and dog-friendly) while dealing with controversial laws (no growlers larger than 32 oz.). She poured beer from Cycle Brewing’s “crowler,” a 32-ounce can that can be filled and sealed at the brewery. She also offered ways to gain more traction in the online beer community (her tips: Get a account, where you can create your ownenewspaper – hers is Brew News Daily – that gets populated from keywords; and join as many Facebook groups as possible and interact with them because one post goes out to thousands of viewers as opposed to only your personal followers).

Finally, Carol gave her spiel on the importance in volunteering, especially for events (March 7-15, 2015, is Tampa Bay Beer Week, you’re invited!), as volunteerism is a key part of bringing craft beer to the masses.

Brandon Fischer 365 beer.comHow to grow your blog with smarter posts

For most bloggers (Brandon’s focus is on beer reviews), there are two issues impeding growth: a small audience and past reviews that don’t “get the love” and pretty much disappear from your readers. His task was to address two main goals:

  1. Make content more attractive and accessible for the every-day beer lover
  2. Make content “stickier” without “selling out” to beer makers that just want product placement

He also didn’t want to forgo his creativity just in order to create more content. After determining that “everyone reads lists (e.g. buzzfeed),” he decided to to compile his existing reviews into lists (e.g. five beers of summer, five best regional beers, five beers to drink during a zombie apocalypse). This is allowing him to take old content and infuse it with fresh life with a minimal investment (the lists link to the previous review).

Craig Hendry of Raise Your Pints (among others): Using social media to affect beer regulation

While Craig began blogging in 2007, its his recent work in Mississippi on the legislative level that has made him a star in beer circles. It was through his organizing that Mississippi finally is able to homebrew legally (the 50th state to allow homebrewing), plus the relatively low 6.2% ABV limit was lifted this past year. Craig’s recommendations for ensuring success for craft beer in your state:

  • Look for legislative updates that might affect your local brewers (he suggested following the “Support your local brewery” alerts at the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer website)
  • Monitor your state’s legislative website (search for beer, brewing, alcohol)
  • Be vigilant and offer assistance to your local brewers guild (they are probably more involved in day-to-day operations of their breweries to stay on top of deadlines/changes in legislation
  • Understand your state’s legislative process (you can attend any session if you’re in your capital area); the more you know about the whole process of bills and strategies to get bills passed, the more advocacy you can do
  • Promote positive laws, work against bad legislation
  • Steer the discussion – help drive what’s being talked about in the public via Twitter/FB

San Diego Day 3: A Six-Hour Tour

APlusLimoOne of the things I really enjoy about craft beer people is the age range (I wish I could say I enjoy the diversity, but with a few notable exceptions, we’re largely a majority-male, white, educated group). However, I’m certainly in the mid-age range and I remember Gilligan’s Island fondly, a sitcom based on the notion that a group of strangers head out on a boat for a three-hour tour, only to get caught up in a maelstrom and lost to a desert isle. Without going too far into the premise of the show, Thursday in San Diego was reminiscent, as about a dozen beer bloggers showed up a day early to take a six-hour tour courtesy of APlus Limos and led by our generous host, Michael Puente. Thanks to APlus, we could get around to see more of the amazing breweries San Diego has to offer, including:

  • Societe Brewing Company – A bit of a mash-up between old-world Belgian styles and new California hoppy beers

    The barrel aging room at Societe.

    The barrel aging room at Societe.

  • White Labs – The die-hard beer geek’s personal piece of heaven; had we been stranded here, I would have died happy
  • AleSmith Brewing – Arguably the best drinking spot in San Diego (and go ahead and argue, if you like), where I met Kevin who has offered to drive me to Lost Abbey on Sunday (hi, Kevin!)
  • Benchmark Brewing – With an emphasis on sessionable and table beers

Along the way, we also stopped by a Mexican fast food place; the verde burrito might have been the best I’ve ever had (dunno how I will be able to eat Brooklyn Mexican ever again!). While any of the venues (Council Brewing was also a stop, but I had already drank my way through most of the line-up on Tuesday) would warrant its own blog post, I have to say that White Labs was the most unusual and delicious stop.

For those who may not know, White Labs is the premier harvester of yeast in the U.S., possibly even the world. Their scientists have written the definitive book on yeast, and their tasting room offers up beers named by style and yeast strain (hence, the best beer I’ve had thus far, a porter on cask with the designation WLP028). You can also order a flight of a particular style of beer with four different yeast strains. My porter flight included:

  • WLP006 Bedford British Ale Yeast
  • WLP051 California Ale V Yeast (from northern CA)
  • WLP005 British Ale Yeast (maybe because it was a porter, this was the best of the bunch other than the cask)
  • WLP862 Cry Havoc pitched as a lager (licensed from the king of homebrew himself, Charlie Papazian)
  • Bonus brew: the cask porter made with vanilla soaked oak spiral (I had to ask: rather than aging in barrels, the soaked oak piece is added to the fermenter), vanilla beans, honey and cocoa nibs

BBC14_APlusI also drank the Frankenstout, an eighth generation beer that is made using all 96 varieties of White Labs yeast (don’t ask me how they manage, only that we joked about a sterile mop!). The thought that there are that many yeast strains in a single beer is somewhat outside the scope of my mind to encompass, but the beer was great.

In fact, White Labs (which has long been on my bucket list to visit, and partially why I decided to come to San Diego for the Beer Bloggers Conference) really illustrates the brewers axiom: Brewers make wort; yeast make beer. The variety of flavors among the same beer with different yeast was incredibly broad. I would happily go back to White Labs just to try their flights on a regular basis. As it stands, I have APlus to thank for getting me there safely and in comfort… along with 13 of my beer blogging buds.


Getting my Tourist on: Day 2 in San Diego

ChessPieceThus far, my routine has been pretty solid: get up and work for a few hours, head downstairs to the hotel gym, write up my blog, then head out for more beer!

Yesterday, my route to beer was pretty convoluted, but I knew Wednesday would be the only truly free day I had to explore the city. When I told several people I wanted to walk from the hotel—which is situated in the Mission Valley—they all suggested using public transit or hiring a cab. I think that San Diegans don’t understand the concept of NYC: we walk everywhere. If it’s less than 10 miles, I’m not too worried about it. But even the hotel concierge cautioned me about the schlep, to which I asked her, “Is there a sidewalk?”

Not only was there a sidewalk, but the vigorous walk through the foothills was just what my beer belly needed. Thus it was I headed out mid-day to find Balboa Park, home to the San Diego Zoo and a lot of very cool museums, art installations, walking trails and awesome flora. I had two regrets for my journey (and neither had to do with the hike up Texas Street): I wish I had left earlier, because Balboa Park deserves a day all to itself; and I wish I had brought sunscreen, because my face got pretty badly burned.

After wending my way through the largely residential University Heights, I found myself on the edge of the park. What started out somewhat inauspiciously (the main entry hosts a huge parking lot, not much of a greeting), I found my way to the Pedestrian Mall and a remarkable artists colony at Spanish Village Art Center. Gail Woods, a polymer clay artist, explained to me that the artists’ center has been there since 1937 (briefly overtaken as a military barracks during WWII) and hosts 37 studios with 221 juried members of the Village. Each of the studios has art for sale by multiple artists who work in a similar medium (e.g. there was a studio with woodwork where eight different artists’ work was on sale). My favorite area was the Sculptors Guild, with sculptures ranging from inches tall to larger-than-life glass mosaics. This was where I bumped into former Bronx resident Roxanna Maria, whose maritime sculptures were among my favorite art pieces in the Village. Gail told me that the New York Times listed Spanish Village as one of the top 10 places in America for Christmas Shopping, and I can understand why. I could have spent hours here, but since they close at 4 p.m. and I didn’t get there until nearly 3 p.m., I was limited in my time to explore.

CoolTreeWhich was true of most of Balboa Park; most of the indoor exhibitions had free admission, but they all closed by 5 p.m. Nonetheless, I was able to explore some off-the-beaten-path routes, including a boardwalk that led down into the forest and past this amazing tree (no idea what kind it is, maybe a Baobob tree; leave a comment if you recognize it).

AsDTJohnnyBrowns the park was slowing and my thirst was growing, I found my way to downtown—yay! skyscrapers!—and to Downtown Johnny Brown’s, which a friend recommended. While the beer list was good, I’m not sure it was worth going so far for a beer. However, they had free food at happy hour (and I was one of their few customers), and they pointed me in the direction of Krisp Beverages, a grocery store with a large bottle shop. I was looking for Russian River, which they didn’t have, but what they did have was a selection of homebrew supplies right in the bread aisle! Yes, you can pick up liquid yeast with your cheese and charcuterie!

I scored a few bottles of beer from brewers I can’t find in NYC: Left Coast Brewing, Coronado, and Knee Deep among them. And although it took me awhile to flag an overpriced taxi, I was happy with my day of touring San Diego. Sometimes it’s good to be a tourist!


Here in Hop Heaven… My First Trip to San Diego

This is what 30 years... and 30 pounds... looks like! Living it up with my personal tour guide in San Diego!

This is what 30 years… and 30 pounds… looks like! Living it up with my personal tour guide in San Diego!

I ended up coming to this year’s Beer Bloggers Conference in large part owing to the location. While I thoroughly enjoyed BBC13 in Portland, ME, last year, the easy (and fairly inexpensive) transportation was a key reason for my being in attendance. There is nothing easy about getting to San Diego from NYC (okay, well, there are plenty of non-stop flights, so it’s not like I was gonna walk here), but I had never been to the city and it was certainly on my bucket list to get out here and try some local SoCal brews.

My initial impression of the beer scene here is that it’s light years ahead of NYC. The very first beer I had was at Council Brewing Co., a nano-brewer run by (female! yay!) brewmaster Liz Chism. Chism, who works the brewery along side her husband Curtis, is a sign language interpreter by day, amazing homebrewer by night. I was stunned to hear that she had no formal training, because her beers are truly outstanding. This isn’t to say that homebrewers don’t make outstanding beers, only to say that these beers would stand up against any eastern large brewers’ beers.

Council Brewing Co. brewmaster Liz Chism.

Council Brewing Co. brewmaster Liz Chism.

My friend Brian, who I hadn’t seen in 30 years, took me to the off-the-beaten-path brewery housed in an industrial park. I started with a flight that included three different IPAs. While their homonymic IPA, Chizzam!, was outstanding, it was their Quorum IPA with Jarrylo Hops that was bringing in the locals (it had just been poured). I’m a beer lover and not a judge, but this was the least IPA-tasting IPA I think I’ve had. There was zero nose; I mean, like, none! Even Liz admitted to a low-scent beer (it was getting busy at that point, and I was more interested in catching up with my friend than quizzing the beer maker, but I’m guessing no additional hops added to the fermentation). Even the flavor was not overly hopped. The Yakima Valley experimental hop (pronounced yar-I-lo with emphasis on the “i”) is very subtle, despite having a relatively high AA (~15%). I would have guessed it was a hoppy Belgian style ale, and not an IPA at all.

But it was the third entry, their Gavel Drop IPA made with New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops that made me feel like I was no longer in Kansas—er, Brooklyn—anymore. Very intense aroma and taste. Initially, after the subtlety of the Chizzam!, I was put off by it. But after finishing the delicious (and deceptively high in alcohol) Pirate’s Breakfast Imperial Oatmeal Stout, the Gavel Drop really grew on me.

BelchingBeaverMoving on, Brian took me to Tiger!Tiger! where I paired Hops of Hope by Noble Ale Works (again, outstanding) with a spicy house-made bratwurst and poutine (which was the only thing that was less-than-impressive). Already pretty tipsy at this point, I was escorted around the corner to the wickedly named Belching Beaver (sadly, they were out of the ladies’ tank tops), where I managed to chill my palate with one of their famous milk stouts (I had the Peanut Butter, a great dessert beer).

Brian told me that even though Council opened three months ago (their grand opening was a mere two months ago), they are far from the newest brewery in San Diego. I don’t know much about the politics to opening a brewery in California, but the quality and quantity of beer means that I will be able to dip my toe into the waters but slightly. I’m going to head out in a bit to explore some more (this is my only full free day, and I’ve spent the entire morning working). Can’t wait to see what further treats the craft beer world of San Diego has in store for The Bitch!


First Annual Taste of Bushwick Scorecard: A for Effort; C for Swag Bag

This has been an incredibly hectic (and beer soaked) couple of months for The Bitch. I recently cleaned up both my cameras (phone and Canon) and realized just how many amazingly cool events I have attended without reporting on a single one of them. This has everything to do with the fact that I recently moved (from what was once uncool Williamsburg to what is currently uncool Bushwick). I was deliberately trying to get out in front of the gentrification in order to maintain a level of rent that is not spiraling out of control at exponential speeds.

But damn if I’m not in a culinary desert out this way. So, when I saw there was going to be a Taste of Bushwick within walking distance (keeping in mind that I now average 5 miles of walking every day just getting back and forth from the L Train, which was a mere two blocks from where I previously lived, so my idea of “walking distance” is probably a lot farther than most peeps’), I was only too happy to fork over some money and be in attendance (I probably could have finagled a press pass, but I have been so busy with work—another reason why I have been remiss in my events coverage—that I didn’t have time to track down a contact person).

So how was this inaugural event?

First the good: Despite having only a baker’s dozen worth of vendors, there was plenty of delicious food to go around. Offerings included:

  • A raw bar with sushi-grade fish atop an artisanal pickle, along with an excellent cantaloup soup from French Bistro Mominette
  • Arepas and milk shakes from Arepera Guacuco
  • Chicken wings courtesy of Fritzl’s Lunch Box (more on that below)
  • Sliders from Tchoup Shop @ Heavy Woods
  • A Boar’s Head hot dog cart
  • Tortillas from Los Hermanos Tortilleria
  • and other food offerings from Northeast Kingdom, Café GhiaCafeteria La Mejor, and  wine tastings from Archie’s Bar+Pizza

TasteofBushwick4Wines from two vendors—The Bodega and Henry’s Wine & Spirit—and a couple craft beers from The Sampler were complemented by Sixpoint served from the bar at the venue, The Bushwick Starr.

The standout food was beyond a doubt Chef Dan Ross-Leutwyler’s Salsa-Brined Chicken Wings with Queso Cotija, Scallion and Sesame. Upon having a first bite, I was blown away by the incredible flavors; I was literally ready to lick the paper plate on which it was served. Instead, I went back for a second one. Thinking it was just me (How on EARTH do you do that with a chicken wing?!), I was relieved to hear someone else call her wing “addictive as crack.” Furthermore, I learned from an attendee who is a frequent guest of the Irving Avenue restaurant that they serve great burgers. I’ve been seeking a new burger joint since the move and—as I discovered a few days later when I paid Fritzl’s a visit—they have an amazingly impressive bottle list for a joint as small as they are (lovely back yard for dining under the stars).

Thus, I was thrilled to be at an event that not only offered up so much in tasty delights but also introduced to the thriving (albeit small) restaurant scene here in central Bushwick. I’m sure there will be more to come to my new hood in the coming months.

Another positive was the venue. I had no idea The Starr was even there. I am all about supporting arts where and when I can, so it’s fabulous to see an independent theater doing cool things so close to home. One of their art initiatives includes puppetry, which was cleverly woven in to the event with two actors dressed all in black with finger origami cranes and flamingos flying around the attendees.

All-in-all, this was a very successful event, punctuated by the appearance of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, whose comment, “Galileo got it wrong: Brooklyn is the center of the universe!” resonated well with the crowd.

So, where did the organizers come up short? Without a doubt, it was the poorly curated “swag bag” that they were selling for an additional $40 purchase. I get it. This was an event designed to raise money for the venue, but this description:

A limited-edition Taste of Bushwick tote bag, filled with over $200 worth of awesome local items, including goods from Roberta’s Pizza, FINE & RAW Chocolate Factory, Brooklyn Grange, Bucolic Bushwick, Boswyck Farms, Circo’s Pastry Shop, Sweet and Shiny, and more.

TasteofBushwickSwagThe contents of the bag were probably worth exactly what I paid for them, but certainly nowhere near the $200 claimed. And the quality was spurious (while I love the idea of getting heirloom seeds from Brooklyn Grange, it’s almost July… seeds should be started by mid-march if you’re planning on letting them grow outside; maybe they think I’ll want to be harvesting tomatoes in September, but I doubt the quality or quantity I’ll get from seeds planted mid-way through the season). Lard soap? Glad I’m not a vegetarian. A can of Sixpoint and a bottle of Anchor IPA? Okay, but those would have cost me $4 at the corner bodega.

I know these kinds of VIP bags are designed to be something of a promotional gimmick, but this wasn’t VIP pricing; the cost of the bag actually was more than the cost of the (early bird) ticket. If you want to upsell, then at least be honest as to the worth of what is in the bag. Retail pricing that might be reasonable at an art fair (I will undoubtedly never open the comic, although my son will probably use that Bushwick Starr Frisbee), really shouldn’t be the price point for selling a $40 gift bag.

That said, I can’t wait for next year’s event, as Bushwick continues to grow and mature on the foodie (and beer) scene. More photos can be found on the Brooklyn Beer Bitch Facebook page (like me!).


Been Thinking About Homebrewing? No More Excuses With D-I-Y In-Loft Class

2s-2There are typically three kinds of craft beer lovers:

  1. Those who brew;
  2. Those who don’t brew;
  3. Those who would like to brew but don’t because of [insert relevant “good excuse” here]

If you’re like me, you fall into the third category. I’ve brewed beer, but I never really got into it for three main reasons:

  1. Unlike many New Yorkers, I cook most of the meals for me and my family, and brewing beer is just more cooking.
  2. Like many single parents, I do nearly all the cleaning, and brewing beer is just more cleaning.
  3. As a typical Brooklyn resident, I have a small kitchen and almost no storage space, so I cannot possibly fathom brewing beer at home.

When I brewed beer, it was at Bitter & Esters, which solved all three of the above excuses but isn’t particularly convenient, as I don’t live anywhere near its Prospect Heights location (nor near easy transit to get there). And when it comes to a typically crazy NYC life, convenience is probably the umbrella excuse for why many of us who would like to brew never really get around to brewing.

Well, as if answering a prayer, the great owner/brewers behind Brooklyn Brew Shop, Erica Shea and Stephen Valand, are hosting a Beer Making Class on Wednesday, May 28th, and they’re using a regular stove top just like you would in your own apartment! Now you, too, can learn from some of the best brew peeps (they recently started selling their beers in small batches, collaborating with 508 Gastrobrewery) and actually see how to brew in a typical Brooklyn space.

Not sure how to keep your equipment sterile when you have cats? I’m guessing they’ll help you out with that. How to cool your wort in the world’s smallest sink? I’ll bet they have a bathtub/shower solution for your problem. Afraid you’ll have to hire a personal arranger specialist just to find a safe place to store your bottles while they ferment? If anyone can solve your most aggrieved apartment issues, it’s gonna be Erica and Stephen.

While there are lots of “Beer 101″ classes available, this is one of the first I’ve seen that addresses brewing in an authentic living space. If you have brewed before or not, there will be a bunch of cool people checking out this class, enjoying some Brooklyn Brew Shop beers (they’ll be pouring Strawberry Rhubarb Strong Ale and Six Hop IPA), eating snacks, and mingling with other beer-loving folks.

Oh, and did I mention that for $40 they’ll even throw in a copy of their new book? You’ll leave with a head full of stove-top brew-making knowledge, a full belly of food and beer, and your very own signed copy of Make Some Beer: Small-Batch Recipes from Brooklyn to Bamberg. The book features more than 30 original recipes inspired by the couple’s travels to popular craft breweries from all over the world, including Goose Island in Chicago, Ommegang and Brooklyn Brewery in New York, Ranger Creek in Texas, and many more.


Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Class
Wednesday, May 28th, 2014 (7:30 PM – 9:00 PM) – $40 ticket here
Address will be sent upon purchase.

Hope to see you there!



Where’s the Fire? Fireman’s Brew hits NYC.

BrunetteI really dislike the term “gateway beer.” There are a couple of reasons for this. First off, I think there’s room in the craft beer world for all types of brews. I’m not particularly fond of barleywines, for example (one day I am going to go to the Alaska festival where—under layers of furs and surrounded by huskies and malamutes—I will, no doubt, thoroughly enjoy a big beer in the right environs… but I digress). The point is, some people like to drink (or make) beers that are not particularly challenging on the palate. That’s just the kind of beer they like.

However, the other reason why I don’t like this term is it can let a brewer off the hook, quality wise. If all you’re trying to do is cut into Anheuser-Busch’s clientele, I don’t really count you as a craft brewer. You’re just a charlatan making shitty beer that only shitty beer drinkers will ever want to buy. Good luck to you, now be on your way!

Fireman’s Brew out of Woodland Hills, CA, has a cool story. Or a hot one. Back in 2000 after working on putting out a particularly nasty brushfire, two Los Angeles firefighters were thinking of what any sane—and slightly scorched—individual would be thinking: Where can I get a nice cold beer after a day like today? The slightly ironic joke of “extinguish your thirst” became the impetus for starting a brewery. Now, 13 years later they’re available in 12 states including NY. They’ve recently made their way into the Brooklyn, Queens and, now, Manhattan markets.

Last night local rep Rob Keiley (himself a proud member of the FDNY) was pouring the company’s three flagship brews: The Blonde (a 5% ABV Pilsner), The Brunette (an 8% ABV Dopplebock), and The Redhead (a 5.5% Amber Ale). None of these beers was remarkable, but all were decent. They were being offered at The Mason Jar, which has a long row of sticks featuring the aforementioned A-B offerings along with various Sam Adams (or SA affiliates). In other words, not a craft beer bar.

Jeanne Beach and Rob Keiley of Fireman's Brew.

Jeanne Beach and Rob Keiley of Fireman’s Brew.

But Rob told me that the beer is also at Salty Dog in Williamsburg, along with a few other traditional craft beer bars. And I can see why. Their story is just too good to dis on this beer. With five percent of proceeds going to the Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Fireman’s Brew plays right into the craft beer ethos.

And, honestly, the beers are reasonable offerings, along the lines of what you’d find in many brewpubs. While the Pilsner wasn’t as crisp or hoppy as I would like, both the Doppleboch and the Amber were solid entries. The latter in particular was full bodied without too much alcohol, and reminded me of what I would typically drink at Heartland Brewery. Certainly the beers were better than any mass produced lager being poured at The Mason Jar.

Another aspect to Fireman’s Brew is their “on duty drinks”: coffee and sodas that they market directly to firehouses (you can also buy their non-alcoholic drinks online). These are brewers who are selling to their own kind: hardworking men and women who risk their lives every day. And just want a nice cool one at the end of a shift to wash the soot out of their mouths.

If I had a bone to pick with this beer, it wouldn’t be its quality (which is fine) but the hesitance to be forthcoming about their brewing process. They are some hybrid of contract brewer working with an unnamed brewmaster from an undisclosed facility. I have no issues with gypsy brewers or contract brewers, but you either name the brewmaster or the brewery where the beer is being made. I think that concern—far more than taste—is what will cause craft beer drinkers to shy away from the brand.

UPDATED; Jeanne wanted me to know that Fireman’s has a partnership brewing arrangement with their Mendocino brewing facility where brewmaster Don Tubbs creates beers from their own recipes. Fireman’s Brew used to brew in Los Angeles before outgrowing their previous facility. Thanks to Jeanne for reaching out about this! And looking forward to more of Don’s beers.

So go ahead and do your heart a favor and try a Fireman’s Brew if you happen to see it at a craft beer bar near you. It may not be the best craft beer you have this year, but you’ll feel good drinking it all the same. Or buy one for your buddy who only likes Coors. Just don’t let The Bitch hear you telling him it’s a “gateway beer.” Cheers!


Broken Bow Brewery Takes A Bow In NYC

brokenbow_lrLast night I had the great pleasure to welcome a new brewer to New York City, when Broken Bow Brewery came to town with three of its kegs. The family-owned brewery opened to the public in Tuckahoe, NY, less than a month ago after a nearly year long construction process. Among the beers they debuted at Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village were:

  • Marbledale American Pale Ale,
  • Broken Heart Stout,
  • and Broken Auger Lager
Head brewmaster, Mike LaMothe, was there to talk about the beers along with his wife, Betsy, and his sister, Kasey, who is Broken Bow Brewery’s Head of Microbiology & Quality Control. The LaMothes have created a series of beers that are meant to be conversation starters, in that they are very sessionable, meaning you can throw back a few and still speak without slurring your words (the menu said the beers were low-to-mid 5%+ ABV, but the stout in particular felt less than 5%).

Now, I make it a point not to judge a beer. To my mind, craft beers made with love and sweat generally are all good. Many of them are great. I would never want my opinion to a beer’s taste to reflect badly on a brewer’s efforts. That said, I thought the Stout was really nice; a nitro pour that was creamy and just perfect for our crappy 94-degree weather. As the rain began (and the temperature finally cracked), I switched to the APA, which was a bit hoppy for my taste (it seemed more like a session IPA). I switched to Barrier at that point, but as the food I had paired with it was not a good match, I sent it back and went for the Lager.

Mike says the Lager is their most popular beer. I can see why. It’s very flavorful (and, yes, by that point it was my third beer, but I still wasn’t slurring, just becoming more chatty, so I think my beer senses were not yet comfortably numb) and not too pure. Mike told me that the brewery isn’t set up for lagers, and I joked to him, “What do you do? Surround the fermenter in charcoal?” By that point, I was buzzy and the jokes started to fly. As Mike and Betsy are expecting their first child in a few months, I regaled them with stories of raising kids. I also was very excited to talk to Kasey, who is not just a woman in beer but a female scientist in beer. Somehow or another we got to talking about “brewing with her yeast,” which led Betsy to suggest a T-shirt for women brewers that would read: Try My Yeast!

Ultimately what made the night great was the beer. For team LaMothe, it’s all about family. And they made me feel like one of their own, and I was happy talking to them for the better part of an hour drinking their new brews. I can’t wait to make the trip up on MetroNorth to visit them on their own turf. New York City beer peeps should definitely seek them out if they find any of their beer on tap locally.

And if you head up to the brewery, please find out how Mike is making his lager in a cold fermenter. I never got past the charcoal joke! The Bitch wants to know.

Updated 9/14: Mike just e-mailed me saying they just heat up the bright tanks to make the lager, but he wishes he’d considered charcoal before spending all that money! It would be an interesting experiment, but probably wouldn’t improve on the BBB (hey, look we have the same initials!) Broken Auger.


Virgin No More… The Bitch Goes to BCTC

Ommegang1For those who have never been, Ommegang’s annual “Festival about Nothing,” Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, is one of those key beer events that you really must undertake at least once in a lifetime. It’s not about the beer, which was excellent, or the Brewery, which is happily situated in the bucolic Catskill Mountains, or even the cool beer peeps you’ll meet while there, of which there were plenty.

No, going to this “Woodstock of Beer” festival is so much greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, it is the camping out under the stars in the middle of nowhere with beer and barbecue that really makes this outing a must for any beer lover. While I don’t know if BCTC is one of a kind, it certainly is unique.

As it was my first time there—not to mention my first time camping—my perspective is one of a newly deflowered virgin… and perhaps I’m basking in the glow, but here are my main takeaways from the three-day festival, which ran August 3-5.

Pick the right campmate or go it alone, and pack appropriately.

Your tent is probably the only privacy you’ll get all weekend, and while you may spend almost no time in it, you’ll be in close quarters with someone who is drinking. A lot.

And when it comes to packing, there are people who bring in couches and entire campsites, complete with cookstoves. However, you have to haul it in and out. The experienced peeps have dollies and wagons. Also, the weather is variable; last year temperatures were nearing 100 and this year it was low-50s at night. That’s really hot and really cold if you aren’t prepared. Preparation should include bug spray, sunscreen, and plenty of water (Ommegang had some, but finding it wasn’t easy and plumbing was nonexistent).

OmmegangKegsPace yourself.

The real beer scene is not in the brewery or at the revered tasting. The real beer scene is at the individual brew tents. Many breweries are in attendance, and they all have beer (I visited Empire, Sixpoint, Brooklyn Brewery, and Slyfox, among others). You can (and probably will) start drinking Saturday morning at dawn and could still be drinking until early morning on Sunday. That’s when the festival is at its best.

You also want to time your shower (everyone said to get in line early, which wasn’t bad, but I had my best shower around 3 p.m. on Saturday when no one was in line and water pressure was consistent). And speaking of water… for some reason this year (as opposed to 2012, apparently), there were almost no sink stations. The portapotty situation by 1 AM Sunday made me think the R-train is one of the cleanest places on Earth. I could have bartered my hand sanitizer for Westvleteren 12 at that point. You can save yourself scary dreams and God knows what else by bringing baby wipes and cleanser.

Your flashlight is your friend.

Someone gave me the head’s up to bring a flashlight. My lovely campmate brought an extra for me, as well. However, I took a nasty spill when I cut between tents (they’re everywhere, so it’s almost impossible not to cut between them). I hadn’t even been drinking (much) at that point, but it never occurred to me to monitor my path to the john. I tripped over a tent rope and down I went. In other words, it gets really really dark.

The entertainment is a mixed bag.

The VIP dinner was probably better than I will assess here, but considering it was an upsell, I won’t do it again if I return to BCTC. The food was meh and the beer was readily available throughout the festival (i.e. nothing rare or exceptional – a line up of Ommegang standards and La Chouffe). But the band? The band was so loud I thought my eardrums would start bleeding! I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to play at that decibel, but the worst part was it precluded any table conversation. I met some nice people at the dinner—at least I think so—but we were literally screaming in each other’s ears to be understood.

Weirdly, the mainstage bands were way quieter. Perhaps it was the same sound system that was dispersed over an open space (the VIP dinner was under a tent). I could hear the music at the venue, but it really didn’t reach the campsite. More fun was the late-night bonfire and midnight fireworks. My campmate took to the Ferris Wheel, which had a really long wait but entitled her to bragging rights over all of us who didn’t make it on. And I don’t know if there was a movie Saturday night (per the program). After the Friday night “movie” turned out to be old Seinfeld episodes, I lost all interest in media.

And speaking of Seinfeld, the festival is apparently directly tied to the show. I never watched it (although I got some of the references because anyone of drinking age would have been aware of the culture zeitgeist the show held in the mid-90s), so I missed the “inside jokes” and thought the “Festivus” angle was lame (even I know that Festivus is a Christmas-type alternative holiday).

If you don’t have Verizon, you might as well leave your cell at home.

Verizon was king at the festival. The AT&T peeps were a mixed group of mopiness, with a bit of sour grapes thrown in to the mix (my favorite quote was “I guess that’s what you get for an extra $20/month!” I didn’t have the heart to tell the guy that I pay $40 for my smart phone as part of a family plan). However, I could get up to 4G at certain places on the grounds. That said, even my service was sketchy. The charging tent was a cool addition, and the guys working the tent probably didn’t get enough tips to justify all they did to keep us charged up.

OmmegangPorkMaking new friends was the best part of BCTC

I already mentioned that the best way to drink beer was wandering from tent to tent. Well, I found my new peeps at Olde Burnside Brewing Company from East Hartford, CT. Not only did they share their beer… they shared their coffee! Coffee was one of the more difficult items to find (next year, I’ll use my super growler to bring coffee). After I was generously presented with a cup of coffee, I was offered a Saison Dupont for my second hand. Then I was offered breakfast (I passed), lunch (I missed the Jambalaya so they whipped me up a lobster roll instead) and dinner (slow-roasted pork shoulder… AMAZING!). It was meeting people like Jason, Jaime, Tim, Jack and the rest of the Olde Burnside posse that really makes me want to go to BCTC for years to come.

The beer was pretty good, too.OmmegangEmpties

I’m not going to break down the beers I drank. I haven’t even completely updated my Untapp’d check-ins. That’s how much great beer there was. However, I did find a couple beers that were worth the effort of getting to Ommegang (more on that below). My major score of the day was Lava. I didn’t even know it was going to be there, and I’ve been wanting to try this beer since Draft Magazine awarded it with the Best Beer of 2012. However, My absolute favorite was the Stone Reason Be Damned, an 8% ABV Belgian-style abbey ale, aged in red wine barrels. I really hope I can track some down in bottles to enjoy again soon.

Trust your GPS.

Cooperstown is in the middle of nowhere. As in “nowhere near a major highway.” One of the car mates said this was his fourth year and every year he had arrived via a different route. We went two different ways per the GPS, and on the return trip we ended up smack dab in the middle of the Catskill Park. It was gloriously beautiful, and probably didn’t add any time to the trip home. Other than being unable to find coffee en route, it was well worth the detour. Especially for folks who generally have concrete and skyscrapers as part of our daily view.

You can see the photo album (and “like” The Bitch’s Facebook page) here.

Too much beer? PLENTY of time.

Too Much Beer, You Say? Pshaw!

Too much beer? PLENTY of time.

Too much beer? PLENTY of time.

We interrupt today’s regularly scheduled blog post about the Beer Bloggers Conference ’13 for some breaking news. Splashed all over my newsfeed today is a report written by Ken Christensen in Crain’s New York Business sounding the alarm that there is over-saturation in the New York City craft beer market and the bubble is about to burst!

Quick, hide your kegs hide your BCS… craft beer is hitting a saturation point!

Whoa, there, Bessie! Let’s just take a little looksie, shall we, at the claims that portend such devastating news for local beer drinkers.

The article quotes Manhattan Beer’s Robert Mitchell, who harkens back to the 1990s shake-out of the craft beer industry, and claims “there’s clearly not enough room at the table…”

Interestingly, Ray Daniels, Founder of the Cicerone Certification Program, refuted this very thought a mere 24 hours ago at the BBC. During his keynote address, he said there were two main causes for the 90s contraction:

  1. Anheuser-Busch made a calculated stink about Sam Adams/Boston Beer not brewing in Boston, which caused a major PR fallout for craft brewers trying to present themselves as “the little local guy”;
  2. The beer sucked.

Daniels (not alone in this opinion) actually said the second issue was the real reason why craft beer in America blew up almost 20 years ago. No one wanted to take a chance on new beers, because the last new beer they had was terrible. The 2013 new beers are invariably high quality when it comes to craft beer that is distributed and marketed for off-site consumption (i.e. non-brewpub beer).

Which brings us to “saturation,” a point that Christensen seems to believe we’ve reached. He writes,

“(NYC craft brewers) need to find a place to sell their brew, too—and face competition from about 100 craft breweries in the rest of the state and 2,600 across the country, according to the Brewers Association.”

Those numbers do not hold up. In fact, the Brewers Association breaks down breweries by brewpub (i.e. only selling for onsite consumption, with a few growlers possibly walking out the door), microbreweries (which may well be self-distributing a handful of kegs each week to the neighborhood bars) and regional craft breweries. Only this latter group will profoundly impact the market saturation. In fact, from 2011 to 2012, the US saw only eight new regional craft breweries come online (while non-craft breweries barely changed, losing one brewery). The number of true nationwide breweries that make up Christensen’s 2,600 that will make an impact outside their immediate geographic region are a mere handful.

If you look at the largest number of “breweries,” you’ll find that from 2,416 existing breweries (all types as of March 2013) nationwide, 1,124—nearly half of all breweries in America—were brewpubs. Not only are these brewpubs not going to be major factors in the beer wars, their numbers are unlikely to change. The average life expectancy of any restaurant in this country is not particularly long. For every new brewpub that comes into existence, chances are overwhelming that another one will go out of business.

With regards to the 1,139 microbreweries that make up the other half of the extreme craft beer growth, a slow, steady business model that takes years to establish profitably is probably more likely to be the case than an overrun of the market. A prime example is Rockaway, which puts out 12 kegs a week on a two-barrel system. While Christenen quotes Ethan Long, his co-founding partner, Marcus Burnett, recently told me that the brewery is happy with their current rate of growth, and they have no immediate expansion plans; again, this microbrewer is satisfied with the street traffic and local restaurant scene.

Now let’s look at the numbers that came out from the Brewers Association today regarding drinking habits. “American craft beer dollar sales and volume were up 15 percent and 13 percent, respectively,” the BA announced. This despite the fact that overall beer sales are down, meaning more beer drinkers are switching to craft beer.

Graphic courtesy Brewers Association

Graphic courtesy Brewers Association

Finally, consider that per capita, New York State ranks 39th in the nation for breweries based on population. Our nearest neighbors rank 45th (New Jersey) and 33rd (Connecticut). We are nowhere near the capacity of Vermont (#1) or Colorado (#2).

And speaking of Colorado, has Crain’s New York Business looked at the economy of Denver recently? It’s booming, and it’s doing so under the leadership of a former brewer Governor! This country needs entrepreneurship. It needs jobs! Especially in NYC.

Anything that brings in more business opportunities to a city whose median household income (2010 census) is a mere $57,000 sounds good to this Bitch. And craft beer is creating those jobs, not just in breweries and pubs, but in advocacy and marketing and accessories (one can never have too many koozies!). Keep in mind that craft beer lobbyists and public beer advocates such as the New York City Brewers Guild and Patriot Craft Alliance didn’t exist back during the last craft beer growth spurt.

So, while I’m no glass-half-full Pollyanna, I embrace the “onslaught.” I say, there’s plenty of peeps in NYC to drink what all the new brewers have to offer. Just make sure it’s made with the best ingredients (preferably local when feasible), and I don’t think you’ll have any trouble at all selling your stock.