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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.

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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 paper.li 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
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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!

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My Top 5 Beer Moments of 2013

JimKochWhile it’s far from original to have a year-end post, I do think that this generally is a time for reflection. Rather than a breakdown of my 10 (or 50) favorite beers, I thought I would recall some of the best beer moments I had this year. Dates are rough (because, you know, I was drinking at the time). Enjoy your beer, see you in the new year!

1. Launching Brooklyn Beer Bitch – February 2013

In some ways, I feel like I’ve been The Bitch (pun intended) a lot longer than I actually have. I have a strong tendency to measure myself by my failures rather than by successes. When I see “only” 35 posts here and how little I’ve fleshed out this blog over the past nine months, I have to remind myself that this is a brand new venture for me. And in addition to this platform, I’m pretty active on Twitter (where I have almost 400 followers, many of whom are big time beer peeps) and I’m starting to get a “name” for myself.

In truth, the whole Brooklyn Beer Bitch idea came from a place of desperation. I’d been swimming against the current of my own stream with regards to the whole “beer writer” identity. I don’t know why it took me so long to accept that being a beer writer is a great thing, and it doesn’t preclude me from being an author of fiction or memoir. It is where I make the butter to go on my bread, so to speak. As I came into acceptance, I was also struggling financially (beer writing pays for the butter, not the bread… sometimes it doesn’t even pay for the beer!). I was really depressed at the start of 2013, and—as is my wont—I couldn’t see a clear path through the chaos that is my life.

In February, I did something I hadn’t done in a very long time: I went for a very long walk. I used to walk miles and miles, typically around the Island of Manhattan, where the parks department has created something of an urban oasis (nearly the entire 32 miles can be walked along the riverfronts). However, I hadn’t kept up with the walking, which is very solitary when you don’t have a walking buddy (and my life is already solitary enough, thanks very much!).

Anyhow, it was on this walk that I had some time to contemplate what was making me so unhappy. The epiphany came when I realized what was really making me feel so down and out of control was the thought that I would have to move away, that I simply couldn’t (cue Frank Sinatra) “make it (t)here.” And while I basically loathed the four years I had lived in Manhattan, I actually like living in Brooklyn; I appreciate the vibe and the people and the diversity that is pretty much gone from my western neighbor borough. I had always viewed NYC as a weigh station between my old life that I thought I was going to have until “death did us part” and the next chapter that would take place in a location one hell of a lot less insane than here. The thought that I would miss Brooklyn and not be happier elsewhere came as a shock. However, with this realization also came a moment of clarity… If the thought of moving away from Brooklyn was bringing me down, the solution was simple: Don’t move.

On a parallel note, I had long back-burnered how to capitalize on the good work I had been doing writing about beer. I had vacillated between merging and separating my various writing identities, especially with regards to platform building, which is a lot harder than just doing the writing itself. Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do: Become the Brooklyn Beer Bitch. Merge with the city that I didn’t want to leave. Marry myself to this idea of staying in Brooklyn indefinitely.

As soon as I got home, I checked the URL and found that it was available. As so often happens when you ask the Universe for a solution, one presented itself. Of course, that solution has not been without ups and downs, but I haven’t even been doing this for a year! I think good things will come in 2014 (see below).

2. Attending the Beer Bloggers Conference – July 2013

I attended two writers’ conferences this year, and this was the second—and more financially rewarding (duh, beer writer!)—of the two. Not only did I make new friends both personal and professional and connect to some very cool industry peeps, I strengthened ties to my existing pro community. And although I didn’t make the score that some did, I did manage to get a couple of gigs out of these meetups that I probably wouldn’t have found if I hadn’t gone. Somewhat not surprisingly, I never really wrote about the BBC13 (it was on the “to do” list), but I did write about pre-gaming up in Portland here.

3. Drinking Utopias (10th) with Sam Adams’ Jim Koch – July 2013

I made some amazing friends and professional connections at the BBC, but if I had to pick one stand-out moment, it would be hanging out with Jim Koch in the barrel room at Sam Adams, sipping Utopias. I don’t even really consider this a beer moment, as Utopias is more like a fine liqueur. However, this will be one of those beer memories that will stay with me until my brain becomes non-functioning in one regard or another.

4. Getting my first national publication. – October 2013

In the November 2013 issue of All About Beer Magazine, I did an opinion piece that was heartfelt and revelatory (I even got some fan mail for it!). It’s one of my favorite beer publications, so I hope to write more for them in 2014.

5. The Bitch goes to Cooperstown – August 2013

This was the year I finally did it: I went camping! All joking aside, I don’t know if I’ll ever get another chance to go to Ommegang for their annual Belgium Comes To Cooperstown (BCTC) festival, but I hope to make it back if only to hang out with some of the most amazing beer peeps gathered in one place. You can relive the weekend with me here.

Finally, My New Beer’s Resolutions:

1. Write more regularly.

My goal is two blog posts per week, which may be unrealistic. As it is, I write regularly for four different blogs, so getting here twice a week may be more than I can schedule. That said, I do want to have a weekly post, so my goal in 2014 is to have at minimum 52 original blog posts each week (some reblogs to pad).

2. Keep the calendar up-to-date.

When I launched BBB, I didn’t plan on including an events section. Originally, I wanted to do some kind of podcast, but that requires more equipment and organization than keeping up with the blog, and we all know how hit or miss I’ve been there! When Mary Izett decided to move away from her “My Life on Craft” blog, the city lost one of its best resources for beer events. While I have yet to step into those big shoes, I hope to be more responsible about this moving forward. Goal #2 for 2014!

3. Write a beer-related book.

I originally got into beer writing with a book pitch, and it’s only taken three years for things to come full circle. I’m working on a pitch now (I recently pitched another solo title; this current pitch would be with a co-author), and I think it’s a book that isn’t already out there. My co-author already has a publisher interested, so I’ll keep you posted about this exciting development in my beer writing life.

4. Pitch more.

This is a more general writing resolution, which is to pitch or submit to contests on a regular basis. Again, I would like to pitch one piece per week (either for a blog, a magazine, a contest or elsewhere), but even bi-weekly would be a bounce from 2013.

5. To launch a monthly newsletter.

I have way more contacts than I do followers, so this seems the next best way to build the platform. Feel free to unsubscribe. Some day.

6. To lose weight.

Because, you know, it’s New Year’s. And I drink a lot of beer.

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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.