Monday, January 26, 2009

Birra Italiano -- Updated and updated again.

Tomm Carroll bought back a bunch of beers from his recent Italian trip (click on "Italy" in the sidebar) and he graciously shared them with a bunch of us last night. Added to the mix were some beers he and Scott Burnell had picked up here in the states.

So here's what we drank...

(Click on the picture, it is quite impressive)

and not a Peroni or Moretti in the bunch.

These are the beers, basically from right to left -- format is:
Brewery (region), beer, abv% (notes)

  • Piazza dei Mestierei (Turin), Manet, 5% (a Kölsch style ale but unfiltered)
  • Borgo (Lazio), , 4.2% (a Saison with Shiu Hsien tea leaves)
  • Ducato (Emilia Romagna), Nuova Mattina, 5.8% (a Saison with ginger, corriander, green pepper and chamomile)
  • Piccolo (Liguria), Seson, 6% (a Saison with juniper chiotto peel, coriander, cane sugar and matured in Chardonnay barraels)
  • Como (Lombardia), Birolla Malthus, 6.5% (ale with chestnut meal and honey)
  • Baladin (Piozzo), Nora 2006, 6.8% (ale with kamut, myrrh, ginger, orange peel)
  • Montegioco (Piedmont), Quarta Run, 7% (ale with fresh peaches)
  • Italiano (Turin), Scires, 7.5%, (ale with cherries)
  • Torino (Turin), Birra di Natale, 7.4% (Winter Warmer with honey)
  • Maltus Faber (Genova), Brune, 8% (Belgian style brown ale)
  • Montegioco (Piedmont), Demon Hunter, 8.5% (Dark ale)
  • Grado Plato (Fasano), Chocarrubica, 7% (Stout with carob and cacao beans)
  • Troll (Vernante), Shangrila, 8.5% (ale with 12 Himalayan spices: tandoori, curry, anise, etc.)
  • Lambrate (Milano), Ghisa, 5% (Stout with Weyermann rauch malt)
  • Almond'22 (Abruzzo), Torbata, 8.7% (Peat smoked barleywine with chestnut honey and orange zest)
  • Baladin (Piozzo), Xyauyù Silver,13.5% (Oxidized 2005 barleywine using a sherry process)

As is usual with these sort of things, my notes got shorter, more cryptic and less legible as the day wore on. So I'll just hit the high points.

First, all of these beers were well made and tasty. None of them had any major flaws and if you get a chance to taste any of them, I would do it.

The first beer, Manet, called itself a Kölsch and while it was a close as any American version I've tasted, it didn't have the "snap" of an authentic Kölsch.

The most in artful comment was made when I tasted the Nouva Mattina Saison. "It reminds me of soap" I said, which usually is the kiss of death in a beer tasting.   What I meant was the combination of spices reminded me of those fancy soaps you find on a little dish in the guest bathroom of somebody whose house actually has a decor. I liked this beer, so I meant it as a compliment. Really.

The Torrino Birra di Natale called itself a "Winter Warmer" and it was clearly inspired by Samuel Smith's "Winter Warmer."  It wasn't a clone and I'm sure it wasn't intended to be, but you could taste in inspiration. 

The Troll Shangrila (made with Himalayan spices) was the most unusual beer. My only written comment was "Wow!!"  I would like to try it again with food, there was so much going on there you need so other flavors to compliment and contrast.

The Lambrate Ghisa (with smoked malt) didn't really work for me. You often get a bit of smokiness in stouts from the roasted grains and it I didn't think they went well together. 

The Maltis Faber Brune suffered in comparison with the other beers, I think, because there were no special ingredients. I would like to taste this one again, but by itself or at a start of a tasting.

The star of the tasting, by (I think) unanimous consent was the Baladin Xyanyù. It reminded me of a well aged 10+ year old Stille Nacht. More, please.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Schwebebahn in Wuppertal

For years I've heard of the railway suspended over the Wupper River in Wuppertal. Called the "Schwebebahn" or "floating railway" it is the oldest operating monorail in the world.

The Schwebebahn is part of the local transit system. The ride is quite smooth as you'd except, but you do notice the swaying around a turn and when you enter or exit a car.

This doesn't have anything to do with beer, (except that you can take the Schwebebahn from the Wuppertal main train station to the Alter Markt Schwebebahn stop if you want to visit Brauhaus Wuppertal) but I thought it was so cool I'd share some pictures.

First off, the river Wupper is not as wide as I had imagined -- I couldn't really figure out how they suspended it over a river, but -- with all apologies to Wuppertal -- its really the size of a large creek.

The track passes over some pedestrian bridges

Train entering a station

Train arriving in the station

Train departing a station

More station views

Train approaching the Alter Markt station

Closeup of the drive/hanging mechanism

So remember, as a wise man once said "Einmal im Leben durch Wuppertal schweben" (Once in your life you should float thru Wuppertal).

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I'm having a duches with my mango jalapeno sausage.

-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Brauerei Schwelm (Updated)

A few years ago a new Altbier appeared at my local beer shop: Schwelmer Alt from Brauerei Schwelm. It was a decent enough alt -- no Uerige, but that's no shame because most alts aren't.

When I decided to visit Wuppertal I looked at nearby towns to see if there were any other breweries around to visit. Two or three birds with one stone, as it were. Schwelm showed up as the next stop on one of the trains from Düsseldorf to Wuppertal, so I decided check it out.

The brewery used to be owned by the megabrewer Veltins and it was slated to be closed. A man by the name of Dr. Lohbeck bought the brewery and has continued the brewing tradtion dating back to 1830.

I knew it was a quite large brewery and that there is no tap room there, but there is a pub just down the street that is the "unoffical" tap room so I figured it was worth the time to check it out.

After arriving at the train station it was a pleasant 10 minute walk to brewery. Not really much to see, except they do like red paint.

Brauerei Schwelm

The brewery courtyard

Around the corner and down a block or so is the Braustübchen.

Braustübchen, Schwelm

The first bad sign was literally a sign on the door -- think of the international sign for "no smoking" and remove the diagonal line. I think it means "smoking required" because everybody inside, including the bar maid, was chain smoking. The German state of North Rhine-Westfalia as an exemption in their no-smoking law for small, single room pubs that don't serve food. And that is what we were in.

They had two Schwelmer beers on draft, an alt and a pils. The alt was how I remembered the bottled version only better because it was fresh. Not much bitterness, a little on the sweet side but not so much that you couldn't drink a bunch of them if you wanted. The pils was also hop-deprived and suffered for it. There wasn't really any malt there as well so the primary taste sensation was "wet"

The pub itself was nice -- it had a late 60's early 70's vibe and looked like a place were you could spend a pleasant afternoon drinking beer and chatting with the locals. But the smoke was overpowering. There were only about five or six other people, but they were smoking non-stop and there wasn't much ventatlation. The two beers were small (.2 liter) so they were quickly drained and it was off to the train station to return to Düsseldorf and a few final Uerige.

Along the way, I noticed another place -- Altdeutsche Bierstuben -- that served the Schwelber beers. It is a hotel resturant and has a biergarten in the back so it's likely it is a less smokey place to drink. If I ever return to Schwelm, I'll do my drinking there.

Schwelmer Pils and Alt

Wuppertaler Brauhaus

With my internet problems some pictures for now. More details later....

This is a brewpub in a former public swimming pool. Very interesting design inside.

They had two beers on draft -- Hell and Dunkel. They also do seasonal beers, but it was between seasons so two beers were all they had. Both beers were very clean and well made. The Dunkel has a very malty finish, but is not too sweet, as some have been on this trip. The Hell is unfiltered and smooth. I think it needs more hops -- and that is not just my West Coast pallet talking -- but it is a very nice beer. Later, when talking to the brewer he implied he might like more bitterness as well, but his customers didn't go for that, plus he was a little worried about adding more hops as the yeast provides some bite as well.

Wuppertaler Hell and Dunkel

Internet Problem

First of all, I think the Sticke yesterday was maybe the best I have had. I often find the Sticke to be a bit on the sweet side, but this version and enough bitterness to compensate.

Posting may be light -- I am having problems with my 3G modem -- it will not let me logon to blogger (and any other https site).

I am off to Wupertal to check out the brewery and the Schwebebahn.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What is Sticke?

I realized that some of you may not be serious beer geeks, so some background may be in order. For those of you who are serious beer geeks you can use that great invention -- the page down button.

The tradional beer in the area around Düsseldorf is called Altbier -- the literal translation is "old beer." It is a top fermented beer ("ale") as opposed to the newer bottom fermented beers ("lagers") for which Germany is most known.

Within Düsseldorf are four small(ish) breweries that still produce this beer. My favorite of the four is zum Uerige. Unlike most American brewpubs, they basically brew only beer. They have an old tradition of occasionally brewing a stronger version that is served in place of the normal beer. The price is the same -- it is sort of a "thank you" for regular customers. This special brew was brewed perioidically and not advertised in advance. The word "Sticke" is the local dialect for "secret." The only way you knew it was coming was the day before they'd post a sign that says "tomorrow Sticke" (it actually says "morje Sticke" which is the local dialect again.)

A sign of good things to come

When the day comes, the "morje Sticke" becomes "hütt Sticke" or "today Sticke."

Good beer to be had today

Luckily, the "secret beer" is not so secret anymore. At Uerige it is served the third Tuesday in January and the third Tuesday in October. A bunch of us have been coming to the October Sticke every year since 1998.

The three other breweries do something similar. Brauerei Schumacher produces what they call "Latzenbier" three times a year, while Brauerei zum Schlüssel does a "Stike" in later October. The third brewery, Brauerei im Füchschen brews a Christmas beer. It is available in bottles during the month of December but only on draft on Christmas Eve. Needless to say, that's not one I've had or am likely to. The principal is the same for all of these: they are stronger (6-7% instead of around 5%) and are served for only a day (or until they run out) at the same price as the regular beer.

And in closing, a picture of one of the three "serving stations" -- I'd call it a bar except there is no to sit to stand -- at Uerige. They go thru an amazing amount of beer each day.

Heaven, one glass at a time

The First Sticke

Just one word -- Hops!

Actually three words: Hops, hops hops!

I like this beer!

Update: I only managed 7 at the first sitting. Time to go for a walk, maybe have some coffee. Back later for more.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Bastard Nephews of Kölsch

Really only two of the beers fit that description in name: Bönnsch and Troilsch but I'll include the Michel in the mix, since I drank them all the same day.

I have to say, the Bönnsch was by far the best beer I had of the day (except, of course, for the Uerige at the start). It is too bad that it is the farthest from Düsseldorf because I could make that a regular stop when I am in the area. I am glad I stopped at the other two, and if you were looking to make an all day excursion its not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Siegburger Brauhaus

If you take the high speed ICE train from Frankfurt to Düsseldorf, the train sometime stops in Siegburg/Bonn. The other times in passes thru at a high rate of speed. Nevertheless, as a town that I visited -- in a most fleeting way -- I was interested to discover that it had a brewery.

About .75 km from the Siegburg train station, along a pedestrian shopping street is the Siegburg Brauhaus (also known as Seigburger Abteibrauerei after the Abbey in town)

Siegburger Brauhaus

It is a typical modern German brewpub and except for the decor, not that different from a typical American brewpub. The brew house is the middle of the room, open for all to see and from the smell of boiling malt lingering in the air, they had brewed earlier in the day.

The brew house

They have three beers on draft -- Michel, a Kölsch style ale; Siegburger, an amber lager; and a seasonal, which was a schwartzbier today.

Michel, a Kölsch style ale

The Michel was very Kölsch-like. It was less bitter than the Cologne examples I like, but very drinkable. However, it is not such an outstanding version that I'd travel past Cologne to drink it on a regular basis.

Siegburger, an amber lager.

It may be hard to tell from the picture but the Siegburger is unfiltered, which is a good start in my book. If it had been more attenuated it would be a nice Märzen style beer, but as with the Troisberger at the last brewery, there was a little bit too much residual sweetness.

Seiburger Schwarzbier

Thier seasonal beer for January and February is Schwarzbier or "black beer." This one wasn't all that black, not really all that much darker than a typical Bavarian Dunkel. There was a nice roasty taste to it, but again, it would have been a much better beer if it had been drier and not so sweet in the finish. Of the three, though, it would be the one I'd order again.

Those of you who know me will laugh when I say this, but not just speaking as a West Cost Hophead, I think all three beers could do with a little more bitterness. I don't know if that is a local taste, the taste of the brewer or just reflects how expensive hops have become recently, but a little more bitterness would have improved all three.

Just as I was getting ready to leave, I noticed a sign behind the bar "Happy Hour 4-6pm" For €1 you could get small glass (.2 liter, same as a Kölsch glass) of any of the beers. I thought about staying but it had been a long day and I had a ways to go to get back to Düsseldorf.

Stadt Brauerei Troisdorf

Well, I ended up not taking the bus and that probably was a mistake. I guess I had just missed one and it was going to be a half hour before the next. I ended up on the wrong tram line and by the time I got it all straightened out the bus probably would have been quicker. Oh well, that is why traveling is an adventure.

When I finally got to Troisdorf, I turn on my new GPS, a Garmin Nüvi 770 and started walking in the direction suggested by Google Maps. By the time I found the brewery, the GPS was still trying to find the satellites. Since I had had in on a little while earlier in Bonn, that seemed a bit long, Walking thru Troisdorf was not walking thru a skyscraper canyon.

Anyway, in a building next to the City Hall (Stadt Haus) was the Stadt Brauerei Troisdorf. In some German towns, the brewery is actually municipally owned, but in this cases it was a private brewery just next to City Hall.

Stadt Brauerei Troisdorf

They brew four beers here, as shown on their sign -- even with pictures of the different glasses!

The four beers of Troisdorf

The inside was quite large, with at least two large rooms. Being as it was early on a Monday afternoon it was pretty empy. The brew house sat in the middle of the room as is typical in these modern brewpubs.

The Troisdorf brew house

The bar

They served all the beers except the Weizen i .3 liter glasses, so I ordered one of each in order to do side by side comparisons. The weizen only came in a .5 liter glass and so I skipped it.

Three of the four beers of Troisdorf: Troilsch, Troisdorfer, Troi-Pi

I started with the Troilsch, the bastard nephew of Kölsch I'm come to try. The glass said "In the Kölsch Style" and had the tag line "Pure. Pale. Clear." It started out very much a Kölsch but it wasn't as dry in the finish as a Kölsch usually is. Usually a Kölsch is cold aged for a period of many weeks which helps attenuate the beer. I have a feeling a small brewpub such as this didn't have the capacity to age the beer that long. That is often true of American brewpubs as well.

Next up was the Troi-Pi, a pils. It was clean and dry (maybe that was what was using up the lagering tanks). I would have liked it better with a more bitter finish, but it was not out of line with many German Pils.

Finally came the Troisdorfer, a unfiltered amber lager. It also was a bit under attenuated, but it had a nice caramel malt finish that actually went well with the sweetness. Its not a beer I could drink a lot of (it would fill you up) but it was a very pleasant finish to my visit.

Then it was back to the train station to visit Siegburg.

Brauhaus Bönnsch, Bonn

Before I headed off to Bonn and parts south to investigate the bastard nephews of Kölsch, I stopped in at a big department store in Düsseldorf, the Carsch Haus. I wasn't shopping for anything -- in the basement they have a food court with a "mini-Uerige." This little stand opens when the department store opens -- 9:30 -- a half an hour before the brewery on Burgerstrasse opens. It is also convient to the subway station if you are headed for the train station, as I was.

Uerige at the Carsch Haus

The marque over the door is from a mash tun they used in the 50's -- it is amazing how small it is. Inside they serve Uerige from wooden barrels just as they do at the brewery. It is not unusual to see a couple come, have a beer and then one goes off shopping while the other stays for another beer or three. Usually, but not always, the husband stays -- Hey, this is Düsseldorf where you're just as likely to see a group of women drinking at the brewery as men.

Inside Uerige Carsch Haus

Then it was off to the train station to catch my train to Bonn. It is about an hour away, passed Cologne.

Brauhaus Bönnsch is not far from the train station, in about 10 minutes I was there. Unfortunately I was too early -- they weren't open yet. Well, Bonn is known for a few other things other than Bönnsch, one if which is the birthplace of Beethoven. The Beethoven Haus is about 300m from the Brauhaus, so I wondered down.

Beethoven born here

The museum was open and I stuck my head in, but there was an admission fee and they didn't serve any beer, so I went back to the brewery.

My destination in Bonn

Since they had just opened, I was the first one there. It turns out whomever was on duty the night before hadn't drained the beer line, so it took a couple minutes for the beer to come, but it was worth the wait. The Bönnsch is perhaps most famous for its beer glass -- it is the same size as a Kölsch stange -- .2 liter -- but it is angled and has what looks like a pistol hand the side.

Bönnsch Glass

The beer is very much in style of a Kölsch but unfiltered. It is very, very drinkable, and with the added benefit of an easy to grip glass, I can see one consuming mass quantities. I generally like unfiltered beers -- they somehow taste "fresher" to me. If Bonn was closer to Düsseldorf than Cologne, I definitely drink Bönnsch over most Kölsch.

The also have a wheat beer. In the interests of science, I tried one. It was a very nice wheat beer but nothing worth an hour train ride. The Bönsch was much more interesting, so I had a couple more. Hey, they are served in small glasses.

I come from a mathematical family, so as I headed back to the train station, I happen to notice and plaque and had to take this picture:

Max-Planck Institut für Mathematik

I also passed the ZOB -- Central Bus Station or "Zone of Bus" as I call it, and saw there was a bus directly to Troisdorf, my next stop. It takes about 20 minutes longer than the train, but with the train I have to change at least once and so decided to take the bus.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Brauhaus Alter Bahnhof, Oberkassel

Brauhaus Alter Bahnhof, Oberkassel

This is in a former streetcar station across the Rhine from the Altstadt. In former days it was a brewpub owned by the same family that owned Brauerei zum Schlüssel and the Gatzweiler Brewery (which was later sold to Carlsberg). Over the years it has opened and closed under a number of different names. I think the last time they were actually brewing there it was as "Gatz Brauhaus."

Every few years I take the U-bahn (except it's a tram once it leaves the Altstadt) over and see what is happening. The place has always been closed, but from time to time there were signs of activity. Don't know if it was the dregs of the last place or the next place getting ready. In any case, there was no beer so I quickly lost interest.

Today when I stepped off the tram there were signs of life. The lights were on, I could see people sitting at tables and a sign that said "Brauhaus Alter Bahnoff." My pulse started to quicken, my mouth got dry anticipating that first taste of a new beer -- but my hopes were cruelly dashed. The menu in the window said "Schumacher Alt, Krombacher Pils, Schneider Weisse."

Now there is nothing wrong with Schumacher Alt, but I don't need to take a tram across town to drink it when it is closer to go to the brewery on Oststrasse or the "Im Goldenen Kessel" taproom in the Altstadt. To give them credit, the Schumacher was served the proper way, via gravity feed from a barrel. At noon on a Sunday it was a little 5 liter barrel, but it was a barrel.

The bar (this is a 10 liter barrel that went up later)

Since I had come this far (all of a 10 minute tram ride) I had a couple glasses of Schumacher and a Strammer Max (open faced ham and fried egg sandwich) and headed back to the Altstadt.

The mash tun is still there, but it is now decorated with clowns. The brew kettle used to be next it but that is now gone. The new owners have upgraded the place a bit -- the last time I was inside I remember it being a bit run down.

Good use for mash tun?

The First Uerige

Me drinking that first Uerige, taken with laptop camera

There is nothing like that first Uerige. At 10:30am on a rainy Sunday morning the place is pretty quiet.

I feared for the worse when the conductor told us that our train was ending in Cologne. But As we got off, on the platform opposite was our replacement train. We ended up being only about 2 minutes late into Düsseldorf.

The hotel, Hotel Niku, is about a fifteen minute walk from the train station. As expected, my room wasn't ready (there is a big trade show in town and reasonable hotel rooms are hard to find). I asked if there was somewhere I could change clothes and I was directed to a bathroom. A four foot square bathroom. If there was a hidden webcam, I have no doubt my gyrations would be a big hit on YouTube. Or Not.

Of course, by the time I got changed and transfered all my electronics (which I didn't want to leave laying around) to my daypack, the receptionist told me the person in my room had just checked out and I could store my bag there. The room is modern and nice, but not a whole lot bigger than that bathroom.

Hotel Niku, Düsseldorf

About four blocks from the hotel is a tram line that runs right to the Altstadt. Fifteen minutes later I had a beer and a bowl or hearty goulash soup. Life is good. At least until the jet lag hits.

Obergäriges Hausbrauerei zum Uerige

I thought I would wander over across the Rhine to Oberkassel to see what is going on at the old Gatz brewpub at Belsonplatz. Details to follow...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Travel Status -- On my way to Düsseldorf

7:45am Saturday: At LAX and all seems to be on time. I have a short-ish connection in Detroit so any delays are a problem. Fingers are crossed

5:00pm EST: Made the connection in Detroit by about 5 minutes! Of course now we sit and wait to be de-iced.

8:00am Central European Time: Plane landed early, the bus for Terminal 1 was waiting and when I got to the train station there was a train to Düsseldorf leaving in 10 minutes. I am on a roll, but I'll probably get to the hotel too early to check it. I'll have to think of something to do to kill a few hours...

I spoke to soon: the conductor just announced "Due to technical problems this train will end in Cologne." I knew things where going to well!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Düsseldorf, Here I Come!

If you read this blog or are a beer geek you've heard about the special beer brewed by Brauerei zum Uerige in Düsseldorf - Sticke. For the past 10 years bunch of us have tried to be in Düsseldorf on the third Tuesday in October, one day when the beer is served. We've missed it a few times, but they have always saved a keg or two for us when we come later.

Well, the Stickebier is also served on the third Tuesday in January -- and that is next week. I managed to get a decent airfare (for these days, that is), my twin goals of drinking beer in other places and keeping my frequent flyer status converged and a bought a ticket.

So watch this space next week (hopefully) for some reporting on the trip. I have a couple of free days and I thought I'd visit some nearby breweries:

Side Trip 1: Bonn, Seigburg and Trioisdorf. I've always wanted to visit Brauhaus Bönnsch in Bonn, but never seem to have had the time. The brew their version of Kölsch (the beer of Cologne -- or Köln), called of course "Bönsch." They designed a special class for it, basically a Kölsch stange with a hand grip. You see a picture of it next week.

Since I was headed out that way (its an hour train ride from Düsseldorf) I thought I'd make a few stops on the way back, if I have time. In Troilsdorf, the Stadtbrauerei ("City Brewery") brews a beer they name "Troilsch" -- I think you see a theme here.

Depending on the connections back to Düsseldorf I may have to change trams in Siegburg, which just happens to have a brewery, Siegburger Brauhaus so I'll make a stop if it's not too late.

The other free day I thought I'd head to Wuppertal which in addition to a brewery (Wuppertaler Brauhaus) is famous for a suspended railway that runs down the middle of the river. I've always wanted to see it, this is my chance.

On the way back, the train passes thru Schwelm, which is home to Privatbrauerei Schwelm which is an "old" brewery (1830) that was formerly owned by the mega-brewer Veltins. They were planning to close it but it was bought by a weathly man with an interest in beer and he has turned it around. We sometimes get their beer in Los Angeles (in bottles) so I thought I'd see how it tastes when its at home.

So watch this space for beer updates.

And you think I'm crazy?

I know some of you think I'm crazy because I take extra trips (usually with beer involved) just to keep my high level of Frequent Flyer status.

Well, this grasshopper bows to The Master...

This past year Aeroflot made an error in loading fares into the worldwide reservation system: Dubai (via Moscow) to Toronto, in Business Class for about $1000. Aeroflot is a member of SkyTeam which means miles can be earned on Northwest, Delta, Continental, etc.

So The Master bought 3 round trip tickets back to back, plus a round trip from Central Minnesota (where he lives) to Dubai to get things rolling (and, of course, to get home)

He did this from January 1 to 11th. Except for a couple of half day or so stays in Dubai, he spent that whole time either on an airplane or in an airport. The Business Class lounges in Dubai and Moscow had showers, so that was taken care of. They also have food and drinks plus he was fed quite well on the flights. I have an image of Aeroflot flying aging Tupolev airliners with spartan service, but it turns out they fly mostly modern Airbus planes and even a few Boeing 767's and their service is on par with any modern airline. Who knew?

He flew across the Atlantic 8 times for nearly 58,000 air miles, and with Business Class bonuses, he earned over 78,000 status miles to reach Northwest Worldperks Platinum level (the highest published level in their frequent flyer program.

I am humbled.

You can read The Master's day by day trip diary here

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Beer Number

Sometimes I will ask someone "How is the tap selection at Joe's Bar & Grille?" and they can answer things like "good", "crappy", "great" etc put that doesn't really convey much information unless I know their tastes in beer.

What I really want to know is how good a chance is there that there will be something I would enjoy drinking.

After sitting and staring at the taps at too many places, I've come up with a "Beer Number" concept and I could use some help in refining it.

A couple of points before I start:

1) It is not really of use for specialty beer places. Its more to identify those places that have 30 beers on tap and nothing worth drinking or only a few taps but worth a visit. So comparing the number of two specialty beer places doesn't really make sense.

2) I am trying to make it as objective as possible -- I know it's impossible to make it totally objective but I want to avoid injecting too much personal bias.

3) It is built on the premise that in general smaller breweries make better (or more interesting) beer than larger breweries.

OK, here is how it works: Each tap handle at a places gets assigned a number:

If the beer is advertised nationally on TV/Cable it gets a -1. The theory is they are spending money on advertising and not the beer. I understand that some places need to have a mass market beer or two for but one or two negative points shouldn't hurt them too much. But lots of them means that most of the beer they serve is mass crap and they probably don't move much of the good beers so it likely not it the best of shape.

If the beer is a "craft beer" (and I realize that is subjective) it gets a +1

If it is a large brewer but not one advertised nationwide in the US then it gets a zero -- doesn't help but doesn't hurt. In this category would be most of the "imports" -- beers like Newcastle, Guinness, Bass, Becks, etc. Now some of those I would personally give a -1, but if they don't advertise they get the benefit of the doubt.

In addition, like in Ski Jumping, there are style points:

+1 If the beer is a seasonal. I think this is good for a couple of reasons: it implies the taps change periodically. And even a large brewery's seasonal beer can be interesting.

+1 If cask beer. I won't be as doctrinally strict as CAMRA -- cask breathers allowed. But keg beer served with a beer engine gets no bonus -- maybe even a deduction :)

+1 If a rare beer, not usually found on draft in the area.

There is a place that I often go to lunch, a neighborhood sort of place. They have seven taps: one is Bud Light (-1) and another Murphy's Stout (0). There is always Anchor Liberty, a beer from Firestone and usually a beer from Stone in San Diego. The other two rotate though one is usually a wheat beer (American style) or some light ale. I would say there is on average a least one seasonal so the "Beer Number" for this place would be 5 of 7.

Another place nearby that we often take out of town guests -- good food, good service and a great view of the Marina. They have 25-30 taps -- lets say 28 for discussion's sake. They get at least -8 for the mass market beers and usually have three +1 beers: Anchor Libery (which even after 10 years they still list as "Anchor Steam Liberty" :( ), Widmer Hefeweizen and a beer from Kona Brewery (more on that later). So they score -5 of 28. Not a good sign.

Now some questions for the collective:

1) How do you score contract beers? Myself, I would treat them like any other beer brewed at that brewery. The Kona beers on the mainland are brewed (I believe) by Gordon Biersch so I would give them +1

2) How do you score beer brewed at a smaller or specialty brewery that is owned by a large brewery or brewing group? Again, I would make my decision on the brewery (and the beer), not the owner.

3) Do you count taps or beers. Some places my have (say) four Budweiser taps because they serve a lot of that beer. I would score that a -4 (one for each tap). The only problem is another place (the new Father's Office in LA) has 72 taps -- two each of 36 beers. Their score would be inflated.

4) How do you score beers like Pilsener Urquell, Leffe , etc that may have once been decent but are nowhere near what they once were, but are still better than mass crap? One way might to give them 0 if they advertise on TV in their home market and +1 if they don't -- that would count them as a craft beer.

One suggestion I have had was we have a maximum score -- that beyond a certain point there is really no new information and the the places like the Yard House with 200+ taps the beer quality will start to suffer.

Any thoughts?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Brit Beers on the Patio

Sometimes, when you can't travel to the beers, the beers have to come to you.

When in Belgium last month, we traded some beers bought in Bamberg to the Black Haddock for some British Winter Warmers. And a member of our homebrewing club, Mike Steinberg, has in-laws in Britain who always bring him beers when the come to visit, so on New Years Day he brought his (quite large) stash over to share. Tom Rierson and Luis DiStefano were there as well, as they helped carry the beers from Bamberg and from Belgium.

Brit Beers on the Patio

We sorted them roughly by alcohol, which means we started out with some older, lower gravity beers. There was some concern they might not have held up (they were all at least a year old, probably two in most cases) but they held up very well, which attests to the skill of the brewers (and the quality of the bottling line :) )

The beers in order (* means it was from the Black Haddock):

Otter Brewery, Beautiful Daze, 3.6%

Moorhouse, Black Cat, 3.4% -- a beer I've often had at the Great British Beer Festival but this was the first time in the bottle.

Wye Valley Brewery, Dorthy Goodbody's Stout, 4.6% -- another one I've had on cask at the GBBF. Won the label contest, hands down.

Hop Back Brewery, Entire Stout, 4.5%

Red Rock Brewery, Dark Ness, 4.5% -- a good beer but hard to categorize (if you are into that).

*Whitehorse Brewery, Rudolf the Red Nosed, 4.8% -- the first of the new beers. We were a little disapointed, but that probably was due more to its placement after some darker, richer beers. There was nothing wrong, just seemed a little un-interesting.

Dorest Brewing Company, Jurrasic Ale 4.7%. An organic beer made with NZ Hallertauer hops. Very good but the hop profile was a little unexpected for British style ale.

*Bateman's Rosy Nosey, 4.9%. The second of our winter warmers. Very nice, fairly hoppy for a Brit Beer and a nice 'cracker' hint to the malt profile. Tag line says "Compliments any Turkey" but it didn't say anything to the turkey's at the tasting table :)

*Wychwood Brewery, Plumduff, 5.0%. A very interesting beer, brewed with spices and primed with plum juice. There was a definite non-estery fruitiness, but we wouldn't have made it out to be plum without reading the label. A split decision here -- I like it a lot but others thought it was a bit too strange.

*Bateman's Victory Ale, 6.0%. An old favorite that I haven't had in the bottle for a long time. We used to be able to get it in LA but I haven't seen it in a while. For me, my favorite of the tasting so far.

O'Hanlon's Brewing, Thomas Hardy's Ale 11.7%. Tom had brought a 2004 bottle and I had a 2005 handy, so we did a side by side to ring in the new year. The 2004 was almost flat while the 2005 was very carbonated. Other than that, they were pretty similar, as was expected. The 2004 had a trace more oxydation but not really that much.

Mike still had about 10 beers left, but everybody was ready to quit so we adjourned for another day.

Tomm and Danise in Italy: Friday, January 2

Our last day in Italy. Not exactly ready to come home, but growing tired of moving from town to town with increasingly heavy luggage (additional beers) in this cold weather.

Speaking of which, we relocate from Torino back to Milano this morning, pick up beer we stored at Milano's Stazione Centrale, and check into another nearby hotel for our last night here.

Never got inside this Duomo 2 weeks ago so we visit today -- after a quick pizza lunch and an overpriced draught of Peroni Grande Reserve Red (rossa) at 6.6%. It is only a bit more golden than the brand's Nastro Azzurro (see photo below) with barely more taste.

After checking out the Duomo, something like the 6th largest in Europe, we wander the area we hadn't seen before and have one final meal -- pasta pesto, magnifico! The beer selection at Café Martini is boring, so while Danise opts for the ubiquitous Danish brew Ceres, I choose wine for only the 2nd time on this trip, a mildly dry Barolo, 2004, from something called Cantina del Terre.

It's an early evening for us as we have an early flight home tomorrow. Plus we have a LOT of beer to pack to bring home (see photo) in our luggage. To lighten the load, we share a bottle of Chocarrubica while we pack and toast birra artiginale dei Italia!

The haul -- all but two on the right are beer

Submitted by Tomm Carroll

Tomm and Danise in Italy: Thursday, January 1

We awake in Torino just about the time LA is popping the cork to welcome in 09.

It's an overcast and bitter cold day (temps just above freezing), an most things are closed, but that does not prevent us from getting out to investigate. We walk along the main drag, Via Roma, as well the two main squares it leads us to: Piazza Castello and Piazza Reale.

On the latter, the majestic Royal Palace is open to visitors. We duck in to check out the free stuff (the grand staircase and views on the excavation of the original -- 1645 -- foundation) to get out of the cold, and then drop by the nearby Cattedrale di San Giovanni, home of the Holy Shroud of Turin. The shroud is only put on display very rarely, so we can only see some well-lit photographical images of it; I remain a skeptic of the "miracle."

Next, it's a chilly walk over to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in a structure built in the late 1800s, at one time the tallest building on Earth with a spire rising 552 feet over Torino.

Fortunately, a Cantelonean restaurant across the street, Samoa, is open, so we can warm up and refuel. Fortunately, there are some surprising beers with which to wash down our pizze and calzone: Estrella, an OK lager from Baecelona's Damm brewery, Leffe Radieuse (the only time I've seen this red beer outside of Belgium), and yet another Italian sweet lager made with maze, G. Menabrea e Figli.

Fortified one again, we brave the crowds and take in the Cinema Museum, one of the few facilities open into the evening on Jan. 1. It puts to shame similar museums in the US and UK I've been to, with interactive exhibits ranging from shadow puppets to modern filmmaking
technology. The focus is on Hollywood films, but there clips, stills and posters from world cinema as well. It's a multi-level Disneyland of Cinema winding upwards into it's conelike roof.

We leave at closing, 8 pm, and now it's time to visit the last brewpub of our trip, Birrificio Torino, which Google Maps on my iPhone shows to be only a 14-minute walk away.

A large converted space (formerly a bakery) in an otherwise commercial/industrial section, Birrificio Torino has 3 main beers: Clara (a nicely balanced Helles at 4.8), Rufus (a mildly malty 6.8 reddish bock) and Torino) a malty blond back with earthy notes at 6.9%). A seasonal Birra di Natale was unfortunately "finisima."

Birrificio Torino's Clara, left, and Rufus.

Manager Stefano Pombia is working tonight and he takes us on a tour of the 8-year-old facility and even presents us with a bottled version of their otherwise unavailable Xmas beer. Grazie!

Tomm with a Torino and Stefano Pombia.

By the time we taxi back to the hotel at 11 pm, the place is packed.

Danise and Rufus

Submitted by Tomm Carroll