#CBC16 Off to a Grand and Boisterous Start

20160504_095028So, as a Craft Brewers Conference newbie, I thought I knew what to expect here at CBC 2016 in Philadelphia. While I haven’t been shocked by any revelations, I have to admit I may now be a convert to the “craft” cause on the heels of Allagash Brewing’s Rob Tod, who recently was elevated to the Brewers Association Chairman of the Board of Directors.

I have been an unabashed critic of the BA’s focus on who is and who isn’t making craft beer. To my mind, it isn’t about who is making the beer, but who isn’t drinking it: Young people by and large are more likely to opt for spirits and wine (call it the Sanders’ effect) over a stalwart such as beer. To me, I would rather negotiate for market share of the potent potables’ market than to tilt at the windmills of AB-InBev and Miller-Coors.

However, Rob pretty much summed up his (borrowed from departing director Gary Fish of Deschutes Brewery) simple mission statement: The BA is larger as a sum of the parts, and the BA defines not craft beer but craft brewers.

Let me state, that I support small businesses. I think that to shop local is the most patriotic gesture you can make. However, I don’t fault Goose Island or Ballast Point for living the businessman’s dream in a capitalistic society. However, hearing Rob talk about the BA’s influence on Capitol Hill (during an election year, no less) makes me a convert to the cause. Capitalism is all well and good, but without the BA, a lot of small brewers wouldn’t be here today. And what a shame that would be.

I hope to write more about the Conference in the coming days, but if you’re still thinking about coming out, there’s plenty more fun, friendship and important issues to share with your beer brothers and sisters.

Hope to see you here in Philadelphia.

Other news and notes from today’s CBC:

  • Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head) received the 2016 BA Recognition Award
  • The Odom Corporation (Idaho) was named Wholesaler of the Year
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing launched their Beer Camp 2016 with six food and beer pairings at Time on Sansom Street
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NYC Beer Week Wrap-Up Part 1

BeerWeekGrainsThrough a haze of amazing beer, people and NYC Beer Week events, I have emerged. While I didn’t go out every day this week, I did hit up several new venues and came to even more conclusions about what this “annual celebration” means for this city (more on that in Part 2, to follow). Rather than attempt to marry my activities to my thoughts, I’ve decided to sum up with a grade-school-style essay that might as well be called, “How I spent my Beer Week.”

Day 1 – Friday, February 21st

I guess I could say I’m getting too old to go out every night, but I think I’m just too lazy to go out every night. Not to mention the whole “beer makes you fat” thing (and to those opponents of this notion, I always joke, “Sure, beer doesn’t make you fat… but calories do!”). Anyhow, I had an awesome time hanging out at 508 Gastrobrewery with Brooklyn Brew Shop the night before, so I opted to lay low and hang with a friend at Williams & Bailey for East Williamsburg Restaurant Week (yes, there is such a thing, and it’s way cheaper than NYC Restaurant Week).

Day 2 – Saturday, February 22nd

I really hope that Clinton Hall finds its identity. I feel like it’s going through growing pains. On a positive note, the beer garden built from the ashes (or perhaps, more accurately, soggy mush) of Merchants NY Café still brings in an upscale FiDi crowd that would pay $8 for a Stella, so they’re really not gonna blink when they shell out $10 for Perennial’s La Boheme (Clinton Hall had the only keg of Jonathan Moxey’s wild sour in NYC). But does this crowd appreciate the delicacy of a flux capacitor (one of only two in NYC—the other at Tørst) or the fact that the bar is run by a Certified Cicerone (do these bridge and tunnel types even know what a Cicerone is)? I’ve met Abraham Merchant and he’s not one to fail; each of his Lower Manhattan restaurants has its unique style. That said, this bar is a cut above the neighborhood (and The Bitch lived there before she was Brooklyn-bound, so I know of what I speak!). I love hanging out there on a Sunday in the early evening, when there’s no one at the bar. But that’s kinda a problem, i.e. no one at the bar. A bar this good (and this pricey) will need the love of the NYC craft beer community if it is to succeed as an artisanal joint rather than just an excuse not to go to TGI Fridays one block east.

Day 3 – Sunday, February 25th

Since the only event I really wanted to attend was Caskalot but couldn’t bring myself to schlep back into Manhattan, I took a day off from drinking (shock!)

Day 4-5 – Monday-Tuesday, February 24th-25th

Honestly, I had no idea just how hard publicizing NYC Beer Week would be! On top of my own (gratis) calendar and Best Bets, I was doing last minute-outreach for NYC Brewer’s Choice. So, while I did drink some growlers, mostly I was working my ass off on these days.

Day 6 – Wednesday, February 26th

BrewersChoiceOkay, I have to admit there’s something not quite right about the state of beer drinkers in NYC. They’ll pay a small fortune to line up to be part of a clusterfuck at a warehouse-packed tasting event, but then won’t spring for what was arguably the best beer event of the week. Yes, I’m paid to promote NYC Brewer’s Choice. Yes, I know there are certain behind-the-scenes issues. That said, this year’s event blew it out of the water! The amazing food (from Luke’s Lobster, Reynard, Nordic Breads and Blue Island Oyster Co., among others) was paired with several dozen different brews made with local ingredients. Plus, beers were poured by the brewers themselves! Maybe it was because people didn’t want to schlep to the Wythe Hotel or maybe it’s just because NYC is still in its pubescent “let’s get wasted” phase, but I’ll never understand why the more interesting and sophisticated drinking+eating events don’t sell out. I said the same thing last year when Savor came to town: NYC has a long way to go with regards to beer appreciation, and I fear that NYC Beer Week is not doing anything to advance quality (of both beer and programming) in this regard.

Day 7 – Thursday, February 27th

Was heading to Spuyten Duyvil for Two Roads when I passed my favorite growler shop… pouring Two Roads. I stayed in and watched Elementary.

Day 8 – Friday, February 28th

Kristen_SonyaOkay okay… I admit that I’m not a fan of the bus system in NYC. However, after I discovered the B48 (which I rode two days in a row), I will have to rethink my loathe of traveling to South Brooklyn. I didn’t know what to expect (from both the transit option and the bar) when I headed out to Glorietta Baldy for their Women+Beer First “event.” Turns out, it was more like a theme, with $1 off draughts, homebrew, and some amazingly cool women hanging out. I grabbed a seat at the bar, only to discover with great luck that I was sitting beside Allagash’s NYC rep, Kristen Demergian. I pretty much put shit out there (as anyone who knows me will testify), and it’s no bullshit when I say how much I love Allagash. As luck would have it, Kristen had something up her sleeve (okay, it was in her bag): an unlabeled bottle of the new year-round beer (their first since 2007), Allagash Saison. I haven’t sampled it yet, but it will be available on the market March 21st, just in time for spring!

After Kristen headed out for another event, I ended up talking to the So half of KelSo: Sonya Giacobbe was in the house, and even offered to save me from the bus ride home with a lift back to North Brooklyn (but I was able to find my way to the northbound B48 despite her kind offer). And the Internet is a strange thing: I’ve “known” Beerded Lady Hayley Karl, but this was the first time we’d met up face-to-face.

An awesomesauce time was had by all, I think (and I heard after 10 you really couldn’t get in the place, so I guess I left just at the right time).

Day 9 – Saturday, March 1st

Yesterday, I wrote all about this. Without a doubt, Saturday’s outing was one of those “I’ll never forget…” experiences. The lagering caves of Brooklyn tour led by Josh Bernstein was not just a geek out moment for beer lovers, but a truly historical tour that harkened back to a simpler time. Of course, no cell service in the caves punctuated that.

Afterwards, I headed out with Good Beer’s Matt Cincotta to Fourth Avenue Pub, where I drank some of the same Peekskill brews that were being poured from the tanks when I visited the brewery in January.

Day 10 – Sunday, March 2nd

Went out for Bloody Marys early, came home, took a nap, stayed up too late watching the least interesting (and most predictable) Oscars ever. But at least Ellen didn’t drive me to drink.

Cheers to another NYC Beer Week that came to a close just in time for March Madness!

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Day Trippin: Peekskill Is More Than Worth The Effort

PeekskillinSnowIn about the time it takes to get from North Brooklyn to South Brooklyn, I was able to make it all the way to Peekskill, NY, yesterday, where I got to explore the vibrant beer scene that is happening north of the city. Of course, I’ve known all along that Peekskill Brewery was there, but for whatever reason, I never got up off my duff and headed up on Metro North. Then, I received an invite from the Malted Barley Appreciation Society to do a pub crawl through this quintessential Hudson River town, and I thought that was the perfect excuse to get out of town for the day.

Whether it was the weather (snow flurries most of the day) or the beer, the town was lovely and fairly easy to navigate (we had access to vehicles to get between the brewery and the restaurants, but on a nice day, I suspect walking would be the way to travel… it’s about 15 minutes on foot from the Metro North stop to town).

Getting to Peekskill Brewery is super easy. Just head left from the train, hang a right at the street corner, and then make a left before the overpass (maybe it was an overpass… it’s a two-minute walk). If you don’t have Google maps, just look for the bakery; the brewery is across the street on the right-hand side.

Although we were an impromptu gathering of roughly ten peeps, the folks at Peekskill were generous with their time, giving us a private tour (more on that in a moment). The real joy of going up to the brewery, however, is the beer! Peekskill has an interesting model, which brewer Ben Kulikowsky explained to us: They want to send just enough of their beers into the city to encourage us NYC residents to schlep up there for the “good stuff.” (That’s my phrasing, as it’s pretty much all good beer flowing out of Peekskill.) Thus, NYC will probably never get Amazeballs, but NYC peeps can hop on Metro North (I paid $23.50 r/t off-peak, not including any subway fare to get to Grand Central) and in roughly an hour be at the bar sipping from a dozen different brews (they also have “friends” on tap, but I don’t think anyone from NYC would be interested in Lagunitas that we can easily find in the city). No, the reward for your time is the unique beers that will never make it to NYC. (Re: money… the cost for beer and food is so much cheaper than your average craft beer bar in the city that you’ll probably break even on the train fare).

PeekskillMenuAnd the beers are only going to be more of a draw, moving forward. Ed Goldberg showed us the bottling machine on our tour, which will do some one-offs and limited brews only available at the pub or restaurant on the second floor (same menu in both places; pick your ambiance of choice). Ben explained that the brewery is taking a page from Captain Lawrence’s playbook and not offering bottles for sale that will end up on Ebay with extreme mark-ups. That said, they want to ensure that the trip is worthwhile, so they do hope the bottles will add even more value to drinkers who are commuting.

PeekskillCoolshipTankBy far the coolest (pun intended) part of our tour was getting to see the famous coolship tank. Right now, the regular tour doesn’t offer access to the tanks (they hope to allow crowds into the third floor area at some point). We were able to get up close and personal with the tank where wort from every single beer made at Peekskill goes to cool. I had no idea that they were using coolshipping for all the beers; I figured it was a “special” process. The brewery is set up so that the wort is pumped up two floors to cool and generally after an hour or so, it goes back down into its proper fermenter or bright tank. While all of us on the MBAS have seen more than our fair share of breweries, I think each and every one of us was impressed by the coolship equipment. (Ed said Peekskill has one of 10 coolship systems in the country, but Wikipedia lists only seven, including the best known coolship operations at Allagash and Anchor Brewing).

After our Peekskill tour (I should mention, the food here was great), we headed over to Birdsall House. Although we had missed brunch, we did snack on huge portions of bar foods (I had pulled pork nachos, others ordered fries served for both Americans and Canadians – i.e. with ketchup and mayo). The bottle list here is impressive, and—again—makes the trip worthwhile. Peekskill also seems to be a bit ahead of the City with regards to distribution; both the brewery and Birdsall already have Bell’s on tap, for example (I had the Cherry Stout). Be sure to take time out to appreciate the mahogany bar; our bartender said it dates to the 1930s. I only heard some of the history lesson, but I’ll be seeking more of it on my next visit.

If it’s cocktails you’re craving, their sister pub, Gleason’s is the place to go. The beer there is lackluster, but the flatbreads are outstanding. The two pubs are within easy walking distance of one another, but it’s nice to linger in the town center and appreciate, well, the smallness of it all.

If you time it right, you can do the entire tour in under eight hours (I took the 11:46 a.m. up and got back on the 6:35 p.m., which turned out to be an Express, so I was back at Grand Central about 7:30). The Bitch is Ecstatic about Peekskill, and I cannot wait to go back again soon. For all my pictures, please check out (and like!) my Facebook page.

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Hanging in Portland With the Beer Bloggers

20130725_220031For only the second time in my life, I find myself in Maine.

My first trip here was at least two lifetimes ago, like, back when my husband still loved me. We barely knew each other, but I “rescued” him from the demise of the Soviet Union. My sister was living somewhere in Maine, and it was a few days before the end of 1991. I remember little about the trip (without going in to the whirlwind of my Russian romance, it was a harrowing journey getting from Kazan by way of Moscow and Germany to JFK to Maine… all while not knowing if my intended would make it out of a country that was faIling apart). I was here for a couple of days and then crammed into the back seat of my parents’ car for a long journey back to their home.

I don’t think there was beer involved… and the Internet didn’t exist.

So here, in 2013, at the Beer Bloggers pre-conference, I will begin with a few observations.

  1. As with so many “writing” events these days, it’s hard to know the professionals from the amateurs to those who blog with a mission. I met Craig Hendry last night, one of those guys I didn’t know that I knew. I knew Craig was from Mississippi, and I joked we had him to thank for getting the recent homebrew law passed in one of the last states to proscribe homebrewing. Turns out, it wasn’t a joke! Craig is the guy!!! I had written about him when he was on Beer Sessions Radio a few months back. Craig admits that he’s no writer, but what he has accomplished in his home state goes far beyond recommending the next great IPA. That’s the power of a “free and open press.” It is a democratizing thing, and I’m embracing meeting people whose agenda may be different than mine vis a vis being a “beer blogger.”
  2. You might judge a book by its cover, but don’t judge a town by its bus depot. When I landed in Portland at the bus depot, I admit it: My first thought was, “What a dump.”The hotel we’re booked in is perfectly adequate (and by that, I mean, I’ve barely been in the room, and I’m forgoing a swim in their pool to write this!), but it’s conveniently situated next to the bus depot. I walked across a parking lot to get here. However, it’s far from what I had hoped considering I really did come for more than the beer and lobster (more on that shortly). Then we moved into the town, which is a quintessential old New England village: stone streets, old buildings beautifully kept, sea salt hanging in the air. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m currently reading Moby Dick with The Long Hard Book Club, but I wanted to linger here. Highest compliment I can pay? I’d like to come back for a week, tarry awhile, as they say.20130725_194719
  3. The sponsors know how to have a party! I hate to be blatant, and this is not an across the board reproach, but some people always want to look a gift horse in the mouth. When you attend an event such as this, the sponsors are key to bringing you here. They donate hundreds, even thousands, of dollars worth of product. I’ve done craft beer festivals that were underwritten by Corona/Modelo! I’ll toss back some skunk beer and say, thank you so very much. I don’t care that Cabot is in Vermont; the Cabot Annex team led by Candace Karu was gracious and welcoming. It was a perfect start for me (I got here late and missed the Allagash trip; my only regret thus far). I was doubly pleased to see all the cheeses carefully paired with Geary Brewing beers, because I really like Dave. Then—whoa!!!—I turned around and there was Dave! It made me happy to see him again, this time in his backyard instead of mine. And you know what? The London Porter paired with basil and tomato Cabot was excellent. As was the Sebago Brewing Citra Saaz Down paired with a lobster roll; the lobster brought out the hop notes while toning down the peachy-ness of the ale. Which leads me to this…
  4. I’m from Brooklyn, so I’m not drinking what you’re drinking. “I’m from Brooklyn” was a recurring theme for me last night. I approach beer from a metro/cosmopolitan point of view. When I’m out of the City, I want to drink one of two ways: something I cannot find in NYC (or online) and something local. I don’t want to drink your Goose Island, even if it’s the better, rarer stuff (a huge shout out to Patriot Craft Alliance for bringing in the GI and picking up the tab at The Thirsty Pig). I want to drink the Maine Beer Co.’s Peeper from a keg, fresh as it can be. I want to drink a local beer I never heard of, such as Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. And, yes, the Yakuza was the best (and my last) beer of the night! Try not to be a beer snob, and I’ll try not to remind you every other conversation that “I’m from Brooklyn!”
  5. Finally, Beer Peeps are the Best Peeps. Whatever our mission, and for whatever reason we are here together, drinking with like minds is the best. So, hat’s off to the organizers. Can’t wait to get down to Boston (I’ll be back, Portland!) and get into the meaty part of the conference.