Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bars on the Brain - Pt. II

Part II in our bars special is located in Minnesota:

The Muddy Pig
162 Dale St. N
St. Paul, MN

In an area only twenty years ago home to dangerous vices like hard drugs and illicit gambling, the Selby-Dale neighborhood of Saint Paul has now begun to embrace simpler vices: coffee and beer for example.

The neighborhood's transformation from slum to one of Saint Paul's more desirable neighborhoods is nearly complete with all the hallmarks of gentrification: coffee shops; a co-op; a new pizza joint; and its own neighborhood bistro, the Muddy Pig.

I think that bistro might be too lofty of a term for the Pig; I would describe more as a "beer bar." While the Pig does have an extensive selection of foods, it's the extensive selection of beers that will keep you coming back.

The Pig has rotating tappers pouring local favorites such as Rush River and Summit, domestic winners like Bell's and Left Hand, and Belgian delights like Delerium and Rodenbach Grand Cru.

Besides the tappers, the Pig has a decent selection of mostly Belgian bottles. There are the stand-bys like Chimay and Corsendonk, as well as some rare bits like De Ranke XX Bitter and Cuvee Angelique.

If I lived in the Selby-Dale area, I certainly would frequent the Muddy Pig; however, living across town, I would be more tempted to venture there if the food kept pace with the beer selection. Should you find yourself in Saint Paul it would certainly be wise to stop in and see what delicious taps the Pig has rotated in.

Links of Interest:

The Muddy Pig

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Bars on the Brain

It's been a while since I've graced the pages of the interwebs with some fresh beer material; what can I say, it's summer and I'm busier drinking beer than writing about it.

But, I do feel a slight obligation to the readers, so I'll provide two beer-bar reviews over the next two days; here's the first.

The Palm Tavern
2989 S. Kinnickinnic Ave
Milwaukee, WI

The Palm occupies a very unassuming facade on Kinninckinnic Avenue (known in local parlance as "K-K") in the vibrant Milwaukee neighborhood of Bay View. While on the exterior the Palm looks very much like any other dive bar that slings south-side sauce, the interior and vibe are distinctly different.

Wisconsin's capital city, Madison, has banned smoking in bars for a few years now, but Milwaukeeans are still free to light up at will...but not at the Palm. The establishment is smoke free; there are no ash trays on the tables, and consequently, you won't smell like one when you leave.

Upon entering the Palm, the bartender may hand you a menu that has nothing to do with food. Instead, the menu details the impressively extensive selection of taps, bottles, and big Belgian styled bottles, and an equally impressive collection of scotch whiskey, if that's your thing.

The draft menu is limited, but qaulity. Featuring selections from La Chouffe, Bell's, Left Hand, and Anchor, the taps are a good place to start. The bottle selection, going on for pages, is where to look for something exotic, or to find your old micro-stand by.

The Palm Tavern is certainly unique for a South Side pub, and is a welcome staple on K-K. If the Palm isn't your scene and you'd prefer a PBR and a cigarette, you can try the less classy, but definitely fun "Lee's Luxury Lounge;" it's right across the street.

Links of Interest:

The Palm Tavern

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Overlooked? Not by BOTB!

A recent article in the Minneapolis City Pages (the Twin Cities' version of the Village Voice), discusses the "overlooked" beers of summer. Note that both the highlighted beers in the article were covered by BOTB in preperation for the summer, here and here.

It's the kind of quality that BOTB readers have come to expect.

I guess the difference here is that he was raised in Wisconsin and learned to love beer at an MIT house party, and I was raised in Wisconsin and learned to love beer sitting on Dad and Grandpa's laps.


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Monday, June 16, 2008

Beer of the Weekend

There was no beer of the week last week, so of course, I have to deliver something special for the Beer of the Weekend. Well hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen, because I'm about to say the unthinkable:

Summit's Hefe-Weizen is better than this years batch of Bell's Oberon.

I'm no fan of Summit, and though truth be told, I think Bell's is a little overhyped, but Summit's Hefe this is year is truly tasty, and this year's Oberson is nothing special.

At first, I thought possibly it was just me; that maybe I was judging poorly, or maybe I got a few bad taps; however, after several Oberons on beautiful days, I have to admit that it's been better in the past. I'm not sure what it is, but it doesn't seem to have as much aroma, nor enough hops bite. Looking to the future, next year's may also suffer.

I still like Oberon, but Summit's Hefe is just a little better. It has a really nice fruity aroma, a properly carbonated body, hints of banana in the flavor, and a crisp hops finish. If I could make one critique, it's that the color is a little too light. It's still not of the magnitude of a Franziskaner, but it's darn good.

Links of Interest:

Summit Brewing

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Micro Brew Tax Credit

This article from the New York Times on microbrewing in Ireland references a program by the Irish government to give tax credits to small brewers.

It's something that I have been saying the city of Milwaukee should do for years. So I today I emailed Milwaukee's mayor:

In this age of globalization, Milwaukee is no longer just competing against Chicago, Minneapolis, and Madison, but also Guadalajara, Kuala Lampur, and Tianjin. In such a light, it should be obvious that this "great place on a great lake," needs to sort out any competitive advantage it can get. In order to sustain the image and quality of life in Milwaukee, the city must continue to attract capital from outside its borders. For this reason, I propose the Brew City Tax Credit.

Few cities outside of Munich have the brewing legacy that Milwaukee does; indeed, the city is known the country over as "Brew City." Though perhaps cities such as Portland and Seattle in fact have more breweries in them today, still they do not command the name, nor will they ever command the history. It is a title that many ad agencies would toss out in an effort to attract tourism and market a city, but alas, Milwaukee already has it.

But what is Milwaukee doing with it? Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz still cling to their Milwaukee heritage, but their presence in the city is long gone. Despite being the namesake of the Milwaukee Brewers' stadium, Miller has long been owned from outside of Milwaukee, and its new merger with Coors could further distance it from the city. Aside from Lakefront Brewing and the Milwaukee Ale House, there are few brewing operations left in "Brew City."

To attract both tourism and jobs, Milwaukee should actively encourage the development of small scale brewing within the city. The tourism ads would write themselves; a simple "visit Brew City" would obviously reference Milwaukee, no need to try to brand the city as such. Brew city buses could take people around the city to various brewing sites. The Summerfest grounds or Veteran's Park could host a Brew City Beer Tasting.

As far as the logistics of the plan, I leave that to you, the politicians. Whether it be free media for the brewers, property tax relief for spaces running such operations (a piece I consider essential), assistance with condemnation of suitable properties, or all of the above, I am no position to make those decisions. I am in a position to say that capitalizing on Milwaukee's history and heritage in a way to attract jobs and tourist dollars is a "no-brainer."

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Beer of the Week - Summer Beer Edition

Summer has finally arrived in full: sunbathing, BBQs, vacations. And nothing makes these activities better than a refreshing beer in hand. With that in mind, BOTB presents its Summer Beer Guide.

Spaten Lager - Munich, Germany

A delicious lager in the Munich helles style, Spaten's Premium lager is a standard setter. It's malty enough to have deep flavor, not overly hopped, but slightly lemony and grassy, making for a smooth body, and clean enough to chug on a summer day; it's really all about the high quality malts in this one.

Haacker-Pschorr Weisse - Munich, Germany

Another beer from Bavaria, this Weisse is good year round, and great in the summer. All wheat beers ring off the palatte a little bit more in the summer months, and Haacker-Pschorr's is no exception. Lemony fruitiness all over this one, so you don't even need the lemon garnish. It has the most beautiful head you've ever seen, a gorgeous cloudy body, and smooth over everything. Clean, crsip, and highly sessionable, this is the epitome of a summer beer.

Saison Dupont - Tourpes-Lueze, Belgium

A farmhouse ale brewed in a style that was meant to hold up during the warm summer months prior to refrigeration, Dupont is heavier than the previous two beers. Brewed with ample malt and hops, this beer pours with a heavy white head, but flows crisply and smoothly over the tounge. There are certainly yeast notes in here, with earthy fruit flavors like pear. Dupont isn't spiced, letting its malts and hops stand out, which they do, competing with any food pairing (so a simple paring like cheese would be ideal). Sip this Belgian treat in your back yard on a starry night.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Beer of the Week, 99 posts of beer on the wall

It's a special time here at BOTB. The Beer of the Week has come early, and it's also the 100th post of the blog.

Obviously there is plenty of material contained within the first 99 posts, so you'll forgive me if I'm rather brief with this one.

Amber and I are off to Mexico for several days, and in honor of this fact, the beer of the week, and indeed the weekend, is Pacifico.

Pacifico is not so good as to justify a full review here, but needless to say, it's head and shoulders above Corona, Tecate, and Modelo. A smooth lager with a medium body, Pacifico goes down equally well on a hot southern beach, and in a Mexican joint on Milwaukee's south side.

Next time you're in the mood for some beer from south of the border, Bebe Pacifico!

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Beer of the Week

Located in Amhearst, Wisconsin, Central Waters Brewing has gone through many changes since its inception in 1998, including owners, brew kettles, and location, but the Oisconsing Red Ale has been there since the beginning.

Named for the Algonquin word for the Wisconsin River, this beer pours a ruby and amber color with a small white head. Subtle lacing appears, and the head refreshes itself after each sip.

The beer has a subtle nose, but it's there if you "look." There are notes of roasted malts, subtle caramel, and just a hint of flowery hops.

Oisconsing has a medium body, smooth and caramelly in the front, with biscuit and graham in the middle, with just a nick of hops on the back. It's a solid amber somewhere between a Fat Tire and an Oktoberfest style.

Owing to the medium body, relatively mild alcohol, and subtle hops, it's highly "sessionable." Although I have a bevy of delicious beers in my refrigerator at the moment, I find myself reaching for this one more than I expected. This is another quality outing from another one of Wisconsin's hidden gem microbreweries. Go Badgers!

Links of Interest:

Central Waters

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Don't Worry, Be Grumpy

Some of you out there in beerland are so into your hobby that you plan side-trips to brewpubs and breweries on your travels (or entire trips if you're die hard). In that spirit allow me to point out a charming destination in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.

Mt. Horeb, affectionately known as the "Troll Capital of the World," a nod to the town's Norweigian heritage and Main Street which is lined with troll sculptures and nicknamed the "Trollway," is a classic Midwestern small town with a population of 5800. It lies about a 30 minute drive from the state capital, but is much further than that in terms of lifestyle.

The town's Main Street retains many original buildings, antique shops, a bakery, and most notably, the Mustard Museum.

Most beer lovers out there also carry an affinity for fine mustard, and as such, this is a required stop. The Mustard Museum features mustards displayed from around the world, and offers an equal sized gift shop where one can taste hundreds of mustards and of course purchase.

Right around the corner from the Mustard Museum is our featured attraction: The Grumpy Troll.

The Grumpy Troll was opened in 1996 in the former Mt. Horeb Creamery. The pub has 8 beers on tap including a wheat, an IPA, a Red Ale, and a Stout. The CCCP Stout and the Maggie IPA are the standouts in my opinion, but should you have trouble deciding, they sell a sampler featuring all 8 beers (plus a special brew if you're lukcy) in 4oz sample sizes.

The restaurant features a giant menu with plenty of dishes for the carnivore and vegitarian alike. The bratwurst is delicious and comes slathered in sauerkraut, accompanied, of course, by side of delicious mustard.

The Troll is a nice addition to the town's charming Main Street, and adds a destination for beer lovers and hungry townies and tourists. While the brewpub only has a few standouts, that's more than I can say for many brewpubs, and on the whole, it's well above average and worth visiting.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Beer of the Week

Ok, so I know that I've been letting the blog slide a little, but I'm getting it back on track. Without further ado...

There's been a delay on this, I realize, but loyal quaffers, it was worth the wait; this BOTW is one of the best beers I have ever had.

Wheat beers, whether the Belgian Wits or the Germans Weisses occupy a strange and delicious corner of the brewing world. Miles away in taste and appearance from the Belgian Ales and the German Lagers, wheat beers vary as much as their cousins, ranging from blond to brown, and from refreshing to rich.

The Bavarian wheat tradition in particular, is an interesting slice of brewing history. The first brewery established with the specific purpose of brewing wheat beer was built in the Bavarian village of Schwarzach around 1520. Ludwig X of Bavaria had granted Hans Sigismund of Degenberg, his official steward (also a Duke), the rights to produce wheat beer for the province.

In 1567 a law was passed banning the production of wheat beer, but the Degenbergs were grandfathered in. When the line of Degenbergs died out, Duke Maximillian gained their wheat beer rights. The law of 1567 was still in effect, though it was not enforced on the princes, making Maximillian's operation a wheat beer-opoly, and guaranteeing a steady revenue stream.

While here and there licenses were granted for local breweries to produce their own wheat beer (with a fee of course), it wasn't competition that brought down the wheat beer monopoly, it was fashion and technology.

In the mid-18th century the Munich dunkels & helles, as well as the Vienna lagers and Czech Pilsners came on the scene. The new lagering methods and brewing techniques allowed the easy production of high quality beers year round, and the thirsty drinkers of Prague, Vienna, & Munich gravitated to the delicious new pilsners and helles, as well as the recently perfected dunkels. Weissbier quickly became the beer of the upper-crust, and out of fashion.

As the market collapsed, Georg Schneider saw opportunity. With the Dukes losing incentive to protect their wheat beer rights, Schneider easily wrestled it away from them and set up weiss brewing of his own.

Schneider kept the style alive, and being the only weiss show in town, did quite well. Indeed, his relatives still operate the brewery baring his name to this day.

Schneider-Weisse produces a number of wheat beers including our BOTW, Schneider Aventius. Aventius is a Weizen-Bock, that is, a strong wheat. Also known as Weizenstarkbier, Aventius clocks in at 8.2% ABV, pretty serious for a wheat beer.

The beer pours a brown-ruby color, with a nice thick two-finger head.

It has an easily detectable nose with strains of yeast, vanilla and banana. The smells are sweet and much more penetrating than even other wheat brews.

The Aventius has a medium-heavy mouthfeel with yeast and wheat notes, sweet caramel malts and a crisp carbonated, though only slightly bitter finish, leading you back for more. Although the beer is 8.2%, the alcohol presence doesn't manifest until you've finished the bottle. This is, without a doubt, one of the premier wheat beers in the world. An appreciation of wheat beer without a sampling of this gem from an originator is an incomplete appreciation.

Highly Recommended.

Links of Interest (German):

Schneider-Weisse Aventius

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Beer of the Week

My god, this winter has been so goddamn long that I'm starting to lose it. I feel like I live in Canada, except that I don't have guaranteed health care and I never got good at hockey. It's a good thing that Minnesota has finally started cranking out some decent brews to get us northwoods faithful through.

Flat Earth Brewery, a new St. Paul brauhaus that I mentioned back here, has been quietly invading bars and liquor stores around the Twin Cities Metro. Last night I had the good fortune to share a few pints with a good friend at the Sample Room, a Northeast Minneapolis institution of which Chef and TV Personality Anthony Bourdain had this to say:

that's another good one. I'm sure his business model wasn't, 'There's a huge demand here for traditionally made pâté, so I'm opening!' It was more like, 'I love pâté, I want to make it old-school, I'm going to create the market and hopefully people will join me.'

Indeed the Sample Room prides itself on its homemade and interesting foodstuffs, and takes equal care to make sure their taps are interesting and fresh. As a local, fresh, and delicious brew, Flat Earth's Belgian Style Pale Ale made the cut.

The beer pours a clear and beautiful amber color with a minimal white head that leaves considerable lacing along the way.

The beer has a faint yeast smell mingling with a sweet fruit aroma. It has a very dynamic nose that refuses to fade as one is drinking the beer.

A medium body ripe with tight bubbles awaits you as you quaff the ale, greeting you with a little yeast up front, some carmelly biscuity malts in the middle, and very subtle finishing hops in the back. The malts will hang on until the finish, but the final taste is quite dry, with notes of grain.

The alcohol is a touch low for the style at 5.2%, but that makes this beer all the more chuggable, with enough flavor to keep you coming back, but not too much as to overwhelm the senses.

Congrats to Flat Earth.

Links of Interest:

Flat Earth

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Beer Pressure

I was at the liquor store recently, perusing the stacks, when I happened to overhear a conversation from a Frat Boy type, and his not quite as preppy, skateboard-hoodie wearing friend. The stageplay was approximately this:

Frat Boy walks down aisle of refrigerated beer and promptly and decisively selects a six-pack of Corona light.

Hoodie Friend is taking his time, mulling over the selection at hand. After some time he selects a 12-pack of Pilsner Urquell.

Frat Boy makes a face of disgust and confusion usually reserved for finding a dead hippopotamus in your suburban backyard.

Frat Boy: What the fuck is that?!?

Hoodie Friend: What?

FB: Seriously, what the fuck are you drinking?!?

HF: It's Czech.

They both walk to the register. FB checks out and pays with cash. HF pays with a credit card, which is taking a small amount of time.

FB: Seriously man, what the fuck are you buying!?!?

HF is not making eye contact with FB and does not respond.

There is lesson to be learned in this exchange: don't let anyone make you feel bad about drinking the beer you want, especially when the beer you want is so obviously superior that you probably shouldn't even dignify their comments with a response (I'll also point out that it's not 1985, and Pilsner Urquell is a fairly common beer available at almost every liquor store in America).

When someone mocks you for drinking beer from a champagne bottle, take it in stride. When someone announces the superiority of Budweiser, let it slide. When someone offers you a Mich Golden Light, run and hide.

The bottom line here is that you do not have to bend to their Beer Pressure! You are your own individual and no one has control over your taste buds but you. Just say no!

To illustrate point, please consult the following video. I'm sure that the kid in this can relate...his friends are trying to get him to drink Budweiser.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Beer of the Weekend

After a weekend of revelry, it was nice to enjoy Sunday on a beautiful rooftop deck in downtown Minneapolis. Of course, sharing the deck with some friends and delicious beer really took it to the next level.

I usually hold off on the Wits and the Hefe-Weizens until the weather gets truly sticky, but this has been a long hard winter, and a day in the sunshine called for a sunshine beer. The sunshine this week was provided by Mother Nature and Mothership Wit via New Belgium Brewing of Colorado, perhaps best known for their Fat Tire beer.

The Mothership pours a hazy yellow color with a minimal white head. It smells of corriander, typical of the style, with hints of orange and other citrus.

The beer is medium bodied with a crisp, tangy taste and a nice blast of carbonation. There are definitely hints of lemon and spice, an the brew finishes with a zip, slightly less sweet than a Hoegaarden.

Mothership is not the best Wit in the world, but it's damn good for an American version and another strong outing from New Belgium.

Links of Interest:

New Belgium Mothership Wit

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Beer Tax

A California assemblyman is proposing an amendment to the state constitution to raise the beer tax 30 cents per can or bottle ($1.80 per sixer or $7.20 per case if you scholars did the math).

I guess I don't have a problem with taxing beer in order to help pay for some of the enforcement and health issues that beer brings, but the "per can" tax is a bit excessive, especially since it taxes beer and not wine or liquor. Let me propose an alternative method of taxation to suit Assemblyman Jim Beall's needs.

For argument's sake, let's assume that all beer is 5% alcohol, and all wine is 11% alcohol in order to hit the mean of both beverages.

Since Mr. Beall wants to get 30 cents per 12 oz can, what he really wants is 30 cents per 0.6oz of alcohol, which is the real cause of the aforementioned problems. Since a bottle of wine is usually 750ml or 25.37oz, and has an assumed alcohol content of 11%, that would mean that at Mr. Beall's level of taxation, every bottle of wine in the state of California would carry an additional $1.40 in taxes or $16.80 per 9-liter case.

According to the Wine Institute, in 2007 California sold 192.1 million 9-liter cases in the US alone. Being that California is about 12% of the US population I am allocating 23,052,000 of those cases to California, not taking into account that Californians probably drink more wine per capita than Texans.

That would mean that California wine's share of the tax would be $387,273,600, which does not include French, Italian, Chilean, Australian, or Argentinian wines.

So there you have it Mr. Beall: in order to make this tax more equitable, go ahead and propose a $387 million tax on a highly visible, wealthy, and beloved California industry.

Unless that is, are you beholden to this industry? I mean, I'm sure that some of your wealthy San Jose supporters own vineyards, or stakes in vineyards. I'm sure that you wouldn't want to piss them off! Also, I'm willing to bet that a large portion of your donors enjoy drinking wine, being that people with higher degrees and salaries seem to gravitate towards wine. You probably don't want to piss them off either!

Advocating for this bill could easily be seen by your competitors as a cheap shot to raise state capital by targeting the poorer "Joe Average" beer drinking population while letting the industry and your donors, who are much more able to pay mind you, off easy. You wouldn't want to do that.

My suggestion is this: stick to your Democratic guns and advocate the much more progressive $387 million tax on Napa Valley.

See how that works out for you.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Beer of the Weekend

Due to another action packed week, I did not have time to write a proper BOTW, so you'll just have to accept another BOTWE in its place. Rest assured, this BOTWE was worth the wait.

Due to an anti-clerical attitude in France in the 19th Century, the Catsberg Abbey Community relocated into Belgium, just a few kilometers away from their original home. The monks acquired some land in the village of Watou, and set up shop worshipping God, and also making cheese. Apparently the monks missed their native soil, however, because when the religious climate improved, they decided to abandon the Belgian operations and return to France in 1934.

The cheese making had required the monks to set up a factory in addition to their abbey. When the monks left, the cheese factory was acquired by Evarist Deconinck and expanded.

After World War II, the monks of the Trappist monastery St. Sixtus, decided they wanted to commercialize their beer to reach a greater audience, and happened to meet with Mr. Deconinck. After some negotiation, they reached an agreement where the monks would brew beer within the abbey for themselves, and a few taverns in the immediate area that were associated with the monastery, while Mr. Deconinck would contract brew their recipe for consumers under license for a period of 30 years.

A brewery was constructed next to the cheese factory, and with a little help from the brewmaster of Westvleteren, the Sixtus beers were born.

The brewing agreement was renewed in 1962 for another 30 years, but was ultimately terminated in 1992 following the formation of the International Trappist Association (ITA). The ITA, an association of Trappist Abbeys insisted that to bear the Trappist name, the beer must be produced within the abbey. Rather than adopt the changes necessary to be labeled "Trappist" the commercial beer was renamed and is marketed under the St. Bernardus name in reference to the name of the Abbey founded by the original fleeing French monks, "Refuge de Notre Dame de St Bernard."

A recent addition to the St. Bernardus cannon is the Witbier. Created by legendary brewmaster Pierre Celis (the creator of Hoegaarden), the beer pours a cloudy light yellow color with a fine white head.

It has a distinct yeast smell mixed in with whiffs of lemon zest and coriander. The smell is actually quite noticeable, even after the initial pour.

The taste is an earthy spice in the front and malt and yeast in the back. I'm not sure exactly what the spice is, other than to say it has an earthy character like clove, but not exactly.

It's medium to light bodied and really smacks off the palette, almost too chugable. The carbonation is airy and the tartness is just enough to really notice before being smoothed out by the yeast.

This beer is new to me, and I've only had it in a bottle. I look forward to finding a bar with a beautiful patio and drinking this beer the entire summer. Cheers to St. Bernardus and Pierre Celis!

Links of Interest:

St. Bernardus

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Happy New Beer, etc.

On Monday, brewers around the country got together to commemorate the ending of Prohibition by drinking some beer. The event is no doubt historic, and deserves a celebration, but there was something in the CNN article covering the event that stuck in my proverbial craw.

The article featured the "anti" side of the celebration, a spokesman from the alcohol industry watchdog group, the Marin Institute, who stated, "[Beer] is the product of choice for underage drinking."

Beer is not the "product of choice" for underage drinking. Wine is not the "product of choice" for underage drinking. As a matter of fact, nothing is the product of choice for underage drinkers because they don't have choice.

Choice is the thing that we deny underage drinkers. The cannot walk into a liquor store, peruse the aisles and decide on beer versus whisky; they take what they can get.

To demonize beer in this context is to remove responsibility from parents, teachers, mentors, and law enforcement and lay it at the feet of a beverage and its makers who are in the business of selling it and are legally authorized to do so.

To demonize beer in this context is to remove responsibility from groups such as Marin Institute, certain religious groups, and politicians looking to score easy points for the social and cultural climate they create around alcohol and beer.

We could be creating media literate youth; we are not. We could make alcohol part of the greater fabric of our culture, and leave it to our social groups to regulate and educate; we are not.

Alcohol is a luxury product, that is, it's something that we don't necessarily need. It is not housing, infrastructure, fuel, water, or electricity. As such, we should be giving consumers more credit in policing themselves. If we want people to use alcohol responsibly, then we should be be given the responsibility of showing our youth that in context.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Beer of the Weekend

Being that there was no Beer of the Week last Friday, we have to make it up to you loyal readers with a beer of exceptional quality from this weekend. To do so, I reached once again into the Belgian section of the local liquor depot and pulled out a selection that is both delicious and easily attainable.

Located in the town of Dinant, the Leffe Abbey was founded by the Premonstratensian Fathers in 1152 and was originally named the Abbey of Notre-Dame. The Fathers changed the name of the Abbey in 1200, drawing the name from the river near which the Abbey sits.

The monks have brewed ales on this site at least as far back as 1240, the date of the first written record mentioning the brewing activities. The brewing operations continued unabated until 1789, when French revolutionaries declared the Abbey property of the state. Although the Abbey was sold off here and there, brewing mangaged to continue on site until 1809.

After years of scraping by selling ink, incense and other trinkets, Father Abbot Nys met with brewer Albert Lootvoet and decided to restart the Abbey's brewing operation in 1952. Although since acquired by international brewing giant InBev, the Abbey still receives royalty payments for their famous brews.

Our BOTWE is probably the most easily procured of the Leffe portfolio, Leffe Blond.

The Blond pours a light Amber-Orange color with a nice tight white head. The smell is yeasty with a sweet smell reminiscent of ripe bananas.

This Leffe has a full mouthfeel, smooth, almost oily with the perfect amount of carbonation. I would call this medium-bodied, about where you'd expect a Belgain blonde.

The taste is slightly sweet, with a definite yeast presence; although, not to the extent of say, Unibroue offerings. You taste those bananas and perhaps pears, with a slightly bitter and spiced finish.

While some may not consider this a session beer, its relatively reasonable ABV (6.5%) and easy drinking medium-body make it ideal for sipping in the crisp spring air. It's not the best Belgian blonde you will ever have, but it definitely sets a standard.

Links of interest:


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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Beer Pairings, Wine Pairings

A recent article in the Texas based Star-Telegram reviewed a new book titled: He Said Beer, She Said Wine.

The book feature noted Sommelier Marnie Old, and Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, discussing which beverage goes better with food, and suggesting pairings for your entertainment.

You can read the entire article should you so choose (I might purchase the book), but here is a small list of featured pairings to get you started:

Sushi and ...

Beer: A wheat beer such as Avery White Rascal. The malty backbone stands up to wasabi, but it's subtle enough not to drown sushi's delicate flavors. About $10 a six-pack, at Central Market Fort Worth and Southlake, Market Street, some Majestic stores, Whole Foods and Hall's Grocery.

Wine: A French Champagne such as Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut Champagne. Flavors are complex but won't overwhelm sushi's subtle flavors. About $45, at Central Market Fort Worth and Southlake; Applejacks Liquors ; Liq-O-Rama in Saginaw; Majestic liquors at 1004 N.E. Loop 820, Fort Worth; and some Tom Thumb stores.

Sirloin steak and ...

Beer: A brown ale such as Chimay Premiere. Calagione considers a complex, fruity brown ale a better match than a dry, tannic red wine. About $11 for a 25.4-ounce bottle, at Central Market Fort Worth, Market Street, some Majestic stores, Whole Foods and Hall's Grocery.

Wine: A Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon such as Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon. Classic match for steak on the grill: a big, complex red. About $50-$56, at the Fort Worth and Southlake Central Markets, Two Bucks Discount Beverage Center, Liq-O-Rama in Saginaw, Market Street and some Tom Thumb stores.

Glazed ham and ...

Beer: An English old ale such as Theakston Old Peculier. Sweet and salty flavors need a smooth, mellow beer partner. About $7-$9.50 a six-pack, at Central Market Fort Worth, Fossil Creek Liquor, some Kings Liquors stores, some Majestic stores, Cost Plus World Market in Grapevine, Market Street and Hall's Grocery, Dr. Jeckyll's Beer Lab.

Wine: A delicate pinot noir such as Sanford Pinot Noir. A soft, silky red for a salty-sweet meat. About $30-$32, at Central Market Fort Worth and Southlake, and some Tom Thumb stores.

Scallop ceviche and ...

Beer: A traditional or new-world light lager such as Full Sail Session Lager. A light, warm-weather beer for a light, warm-weather dish. About $13 for a 12-pack at Central Market Fort Worth and Southlake, Whole Foods, Market Street, Hall's Grocery and some Majestic stores.

Wine: A New Zealand sauvignon blanc such as Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. Lively tartness stands up to the citrus that defines this trendy dish. About $15-$18, widely available, including major supermarket chains.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Strong Beer growing Stronger

According Euromonitor International, both brewers and regulators are keeping a close eye on the increasing market share of "strong" beers, classified as those having an ABV greater than 6%.

While the article focuses on India, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe, as a Yankee I can definitely report that strong beers are on the rise stateside as well.

While they may never get to the Indian level, where three of the four top beer brands are considered strong beers (one of which is subtly titled "Knock Out," a branding strategy that I'm sure social conservatives in the US would love), the number of "strong" offerings from importers and domestic craft brewers are certainly growing.

The article also mentions consumers drifting towards these strong beers because they believe them to be a better value, a sentiment that I can agree with. With fuel and raw material costs driving up the price of craft beers, strong beers seem to offer a strong craft made flavor, while competing more with the price point of wine (where they look cheap) than the price point of Pabst.

As the American economy continues to swoon, and the price of crude continues to increase, look for American craft brewers and consumers to move their tastes towards stronger beers. Hopefully the Federal government see this as a sign of the times, and not a new stream from which to extract extra tax revenue.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Beer of the Week

In homage to my new home, this week's beer comes from a suburb of Minneapolis, courtesy of Surly Brewing Company.

Surly is relatively new to the brewing game, having been on the scene for about two years, but has started with a bang. The young brewery has been featured in Gourmet magazine and was rated the #1 brewery in America by Beeradvocate magazine, quite the praise.

Surly produces two year-round brews, and both are excellent. Furious is a solid, medium bodied, well hopped ale, and Bender is our BOTW.

According to Surly, the Bender is an amalgamation of styles: part porter, part brown ale, part APA. After a few Benders at the bar last night, I decided that Brown Ale is the tag that a beer gets when the brewers don't know what the hell to call it, likewise with Amber Ale.

This brown ale is a little browner than one might expect, pouring an almost black color with a nice off-white head.

One definitely picks up hops in the aroma, but it doesn't slam you in the face, which considering the style, is not a bad thing. There's definitely some oatmeal in the nose, almost like an oatmeal stout. Surly says the oatmeal is for smoothing out the finish, which it does, but it also gives it quite a pleasant smell.

The beer has a nice medium body with almost perfect carbonation. It has a nice defined presence, but you don't have to work to get it down. Its perfect body and 5% ABV make it an outstanding session beer, keeping you coming back for more.

The brew has a solid roasted malt base with the oatmeal really smoothing it out and mingling with the hops at the end of the taste. The beer is complex yet crisp, easy to drink, yet satisfying: a true acrobat in the art of brewing balance.

Surly is only available in the immediate area, so if you're outside of the Twin Cities or Duluth, have someone send you some, or better yet, come to Minneapolis and raise a few pints.

Congrats to Surly Bender as our Beer of the Week.

Links of Interest:

Surly Brewing Company

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Own Personal Heaven

Or your own personal heaven if you go to the STAT sports bar in Atlanta.

The bar features about 30 tables that have their own individual taps. The taps run up a tab based on a per ounce setting (a full pint being $4), and the taps have certain restrictions such as ID verification, and a waittress check in to make sure you aren't too wasted.

Contact your elected representatives; we need this legal everywhere!

Full story here.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Beer of the Week

Wisconsin is home to many fine ambers: Sprecher Amber & Lakefront Riverwest Stein to name two.

Capital Brewery in Middleton brews a sturdy repertoire of beers in the German style including various bocks, Oktoberfest, and our BOTW, Wisconsin Amber.

Wisconsin Amber is a rich malty beer with just a hint of hop bittering and aroma. It pours a color true to its name, with a minimal white head that leaves some lacing on the glass.

The beer is carmelly and sweet, with just enough hops to even it out. It's loosely based on a Vienna lager, and is definitely hopped like one.

The mouthfeel is quite nice, with a medium body, soft carbonation, and a clean crisp finish. One could definitely have a few of these in one sitting.

From the perspective of a lager, there are few in the US that can match Capital and Wisconsin Amber is no exception. When judged against beers of similar style, WA stands out, and drinks easily.

Remember this one come fall; it's perfect paired with a crisp breeze.
Links of Interest:

Wisconsin Amber & German Beer Fish

PS: This BOTW is dedicated to my own Wisconsin Amber, who is moving away from her home in Madison to join me here in Minneapolis. I couldn't be happier.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Can Beer Predict the Election - Pt. II

A month ago we posed the question: Can beer predict the election?

Indeed, it seemed that the beer question held some sway in the minds of voters.

But how does wine fit into that equation? Do the vit-elite carry the same weight as the brew-letariats?

According to CNN, who is, thank God, still doing relevant journalism such as this piece, Senator McCain wins out over Senator Clinton among beer drinkers, while polling at a virtual tie versus Senator Obama.

Among the wine sippers, Senators Clinton & Obama each win handily. It is my professional cerevisapolitical estimation that the beer poll is in fact more accurate.

Will suds swing the election? Stay Tuned.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stars and Taps Forever

These flags were created as part of an ad campaign for the Sunset Grill & Tap in Boston.

Clever. Could I get one with hops in place of the Canadian Maple Leaf?

Via Neatorama

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Beer of the Weekend

Since we did not have a beer of the week to guide us over the St. Patrick's holiday weekend, let me offer some suggestions on the day of Green itself.

The First Leaf of the Clover: Avoid "green" beers unless you're trying something organic. Green beer is only good if you're interested in seeing a sorority girl make bright green vomit.

The Second Leaf of the Clover: Avoid Killian's "Irish" Red. It's so Irish that it's made by Coors in Colorado. Don't let that sellout Killian fool you; his family hasn't made that beer in decades.

The Third Leaf of the Clover: Avoid Finnigan's "Irish" Ale. Made with Potatoes? Do you know why the Irish ate so many potatoes? Because they had to. Have you been to Dublin recently? I think their economy is doing well enough to leave the potato thing behind. At least it's made in St. Paul which is a little more Irish than Colorado.

The Fourth Leaf of the Clover: Stick with a few pints of the black stuff. Guiness has single-handedly made stout the most known beer style behind a lager. They've been doing it for over 200 years and have brought Guiness to the far reaches of the globe. Its relative low alcohol and calorie content make it the original session beer: you could have 8 imperial pints and still not fall off your stool, but yet, the medium-light body is full of creamy stout flavor.

Take a cab, and Éirinn go Brágh

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Beer May Help Prevent Alzheimer's

Yet more proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, here.

How can you argue with that beard? It must be true!

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Beer of the Week

Due to a new job and a new residence, BOTB had to take some well deserved time off. Having settled into our new digs however, a celebratory beer was in order, and it turned out to be our beer of the week.

Singletrack Copper Ale is our second BOTW from the original Colorado microbrewery, Boulder Beer. The bottle and the name are obviously linked to bicycling, perhaps a jab at cross-state rival New Belgium Brewing, whose "Fat Tire" ale also features a bicycle on the label, and also is a similar tasting amber ale.

The beer pours a light copper color (hence the name) and has a small white head that has some retention throughout. No doubt, this is a fine looking beer.

The beer has a light nose of malt biscuit, with some floral hops mingling in there, however not as strong as say, Fat Tire.

Singletrack tastes incredibly well rounded: a nice sturdy medium bodied malt base, with just enough hops bittering and aroma to make it stand out. If it were just a tough sweeter, it could pass for a British ESB, but perhaps because it is not as sweet, I actually enjoyed it more.

Singletrack is definitely a session beer: not too heavy, but flavorful and distinctive enough. I could almost see myself drinking one for a break on a nice long bike ride.

Cheers to Boulder Beer for its second Beer of the Week.

Links of Interest:

Boulder Beer

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Temporary Hiatus

Beer on the Brain will be taking a temporary hiatus while I get aclimated to a new position and living situation.

Beer related rantings will resume before the end of March.

Chug on, loyal readers.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

More People Drinking Better Beer

"Information Resources, a Chicago company that tracks the sale of beer and other grocery products, said craft beer sales rose 16.7 percent from $493 million in 2006 to $575 million in 2007, marking the second straight year of double-digit increases....The Great Lakes Region — comprised of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio — saw a 28.1 percent increase in sales from $54.4 million in 2006 to $69.6 million in 2007. Sales for the region have more than doubled since 2003."

Full story here.

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Monday, February 25, 2008


This weekend I had the unfortunate displeasure of attending Capital Brewery's Bockfest, held on their grounds annually in Middleton, Wisconsin.

The event celebrates the special limited release of Capital's blonde bock, as well as their Maibock, which is supposed to herald the arriving of spring. It generally features a band, contests, and for some reason, fish that are thrown off the roof into the crowd below. In other words, it has all the makings of a good time: unfortunately, it wasn't.

Bockfest was a tragic victim of its own success. We arrived at 12:30, a mere half an hour after the taps opened, and the grounds were already well over what should have been its capacity. The "grounds" were essentially just a series of large lines; in fact, I would guess that 90% of the people actually at the event were waiting in a line.

Perhaps line is even too generous of a description; it was more "totally disorganized mob waiting for beer." There was absolutely no order to the lines, which made waiting in them, or even finding the end of them, extremely challenging.

Now, I don't mind waiting in lines for things; I've been known to frequent a crowded bar. But the prospect of getting beer in these particular lines was slim; they didn't seem to be moving, and stopping interlopers from accessing the mob at all points was impossible. We waited in line for 90 minutes before we gave up and left.

My primary gripe was of course the lack of access to beer. A secondary gripe was in the crowd that the event seemed to attract. This wasn't the beer lover class that I see at the Great Taste of the Midwest, or other beer related events; this was a weird mix of sorority girls, UW college drunks, and small town folks bussed from outlying bars who had bought ticket packages to get there and get beer. It felt more like Milwaukee's Summerfest on a Friday night than a beer celebration (full disclosure: I have NEVER had trouble getting beer at Summerfest, no matter how crowded it gets; I'm definitely not slamming the 'fest).

All this for the privilege to pay bar prices for beer!

I'm not sure how Capital can save this event, but it definitely needs to be saved from itself. My advice would be to sell pre-sale tickets. I think this would have the effect of limiting attendance, while guaranteeing admission to those who are genuinely interested. If Capital wanted to keep costs for attendees down en lieu of the door price, they could lower beer prices slightly. I'm sure that although the attendance would be lower, the brewery could clear as much revenue by actually selling more beers to fewer people.

As it stands, I would advise anyone to avoid Bockfest until Capital can save it from itself.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Beer of the Week

I know that I am somewhat heavy on the Wisconsin beers on this blog, but what can I say: it's the land of my birth, and it happens to make some damn good beers.

I am relocating soon, from Madison to Minneapolis, so the beer will probably take on a more national beer scene scope, but fear not, many quality Midwest beers will still be featured.

With all that said, our beer of the week once again comes from Wisconsin, this time from Rush River Brewing in River Falls, near the Twin Cities on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. Rush River was founded by two native Midwesterners, Dan Chang from Milwaukee, and Nick Anderson from Minneapolis.

I first encountered Rush River while living in Minneapolis a few years back. I saw an Amber Ale I had never seen before on tap at a local watering hole. I asked the bartender about it, and he said he wasn't sure, but thought that it was from Minnesota. I took a gamble and was pleasantly surprised by the balanced character of this delicious American Amber.

Fast forward a few years, and I get an email from a loyal BOTB reader:

"Have you ever heard of Rush River? Their Bubblejack IPA is awesome! Pick up a sixer when you get a chance!"

Whoa, whoa, whoa. IPA? Sixer? These were things I had never seen from Rush River. It became a mission to investigate. I was passing through Hudson, Wisconsin (also near the MN-WI border), and stopped at a liquor store to check the local wares. Sure enough, Rush River's "Bubblejack IPA" greeted me on the shelves.

Bubblejack, although it sounds more like a "Cannabis Cup" winning strain than a beer, is truly representative of the India Pale Ale style. It pours an unfiltered cloudy orange color with a minimal white head. The smell is fainter than some IPAs you'll come across, but the hoppy aromas of grapefruit and floral citrus are definitely there.

The taste is very well balanced, with the hops standing loud and proud, but not slapping you in the face. We all know that an IPA should be well hopped, which Bubblejack is, but it isn't like some beers that hit you over the head with a hop-mallet. There are some notes of graham and bread in there, and a subtle malt body too. At 6% ABV, this IPA is definitely right in the alcohol range of the style.

Judged against other IPAs, it's not as fragrant as it could be, and perhaps just slightly (ever so slightly) over-carbonated, but the balance is perfect, and the body and overall complexity of the flavor are awesome.

Cheers to Rush River; hopefully we'll be seeing more of your quality brews around in the near future.

Links of Interest:

Rush River

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Can Beer Predict the Election?

In the ridiculous realms of the "blogosphere" and the "punditocracy" you'll often hear about the infamous "who would you rather have a beer with" test for presidential hopefuls. Does such a question actually hold sway? Can it accurately predict the outcome of an election?

Prior to the 2004 election, The Economist released a survey showing that Americans would rather have a beer (or coffee for you puritans and mormons) with George Bush than John Kerry by a margain of 56% to 44%.

Another poll, the Zogby/Williams Identity Poll, showed that 57% percent would prefer to quaff a beer with Bush, who ironically is a former alcoholic.

For this election, the National Beer Wholesalers Association is putting that very question to the masses on the internet, and last I checked, Barack Obama had a commanding lead over all other contenders with 43% of the vote. John McCain comes in a distant second, drawing only 20% of the beer drinking electorate.

At a recent campaign stop in Wisconsin, Mrs. Clinton stated that the country doesn't "need to have a beer with the next president. We had that president." But in a savvy move in the beer loving Badger State added "But you know I'd be happy to have a beer too. We can talk about how to solve our problems. (here)"

But if any state could be gauged by the beer poll, it's Wisconsin, a state where beer drinking is as interwoven into the state's identity as cheese and Green Bay Packers football. Wisconsin held its primary last night, drawing out over 1 million Wisconsinites in below zero temperatures, who in fact confirmed the results of the beer poll, with 58% of the Democratic vote going to Obama, 622,303 votes overall, nearly triple the votes for Republican front runner John McCain.

If the beer question remains as accurate as it was in 2004, and as accurate as it reflected the Wisconsin primary, then the American populace will soon be toasting to the first black President in the history of the United States.

Cheers to Obama for handily winning the beer-loving Badger State last night.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Obama Slamma

When politicians and alcohol mix, it's often a terrible combination: (insert Ted Kennedy joke here).

However, in Kenya, the fame of a certain Kenyan-American is creating a whole new kind of political brew-ha-ha.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Beer of the Week

We've been talking about lagers this week, and briefly touched on the golden pilsner and pale lager styles that dominate the tastes of the beer drinking world. Many American beer snobs don't want to give these styles the time of day, perhaps having been soured to the style having come of beer drinking age in a country full of mass-produced flavorless light lagers. But a well made pilsner or golden pale lager is a thing of craft brewing beauty, and one needn't look further than the German pioneers to find a delicious example.

Paulaner Bräuerei of Munich, named for the founder of an order of beer making monks, has been brewing beer since the 1600s. Paulaner is probably best known for their "Salvator" (latin for "saviour") doppelbock. In fact most German (and some American) doppelbocks still use the "-ator" suffix to denote the doppelbock style.

Besides it's legendary doppelbock, Paulaner also produces a Pils (pilsner), a delicious weiss, and an oktoberfest märzen that might now rival the Salvator in popularity in America. Paulaner also makes a delicious Munich style helles (pronounced "Hell-us"), known in America as "Paulaner Original Munich Lager" that is our Beer of the Week.

The Paulaner Lager pours a beautiful rich golden color with a minimal head that leaves some lacing as you drink it. It smells fresh, crisp, and clean, with a hint of malt, and a trace of fresh cut grass type hop aroma. Being this is a pale lager, the aromas are faint, so take a sniff before you start to drink it.

The taste is surprisingly malty and rich, with a nice medium-bodied mouthfeel. The carbonation is lively, dancing around your palette. Its 4.9% ABV, combined with its crisp finish, makes this is a beer you could certainly "session" (drink many a pint) with. That said, please quaff in moderation.

If you have a friend that is a macro drinker, and you want to introduce him/her into the larger world of delicious beer, Paulaner's lager might be a good introduction. It has better ingredients than most American macros (no rice or corn in here), has a more complex malty taste, but yet is still a beer you can have a few of and not be overwhelmed. Here's to the Germans for creating the perfect "everyman" beer.


Links of Interest:

(I would put the link to the Paulaner website here, but having visited it, you won't really get to much info from it unless you can speak German. Even the "Facinating Facts" section of the English website version is totally in German.)

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

More Lager, Please

We started a discussion of lagers on Tuesday, but of course, there is much more to say.

As I mentioned, lagers have been brewed in central Europe for the last 500 years. In fact, in the days before refrigeration, Europe was divided into ale and lager regions: the mild climates of England and Belgium lending themselves to ales, and the mountainous inland regions of Bavaria and Bohemia lending themselves to lagers.

Like ales, there is not just one variety of lager, though you will often times find beers labeled as if there were. There are bocks, maibocks, doppelbocks, Munich helles, dunkel, oktoberfest, pilsner and more.

Leading up to the Beer of the Week, we'll focus on the pale lager family for now. Pale lagers encompass the vast majority of commercially successful beers around the world, from Miller High Life to Red Stripe to Heineken; however as any beer drinker can tell you, there are considerable differentiations even within this family.

The birth of pale lager begins in one of the points of the "golden triangle of brewing," Munich, Germany (the other two points being Plzen, a.k.a. Pilsen, and Vienna). In the mid 1800s, Spaten Brewery of Munich was run by Gabriel Sedlmayr. Mr. Sedlmayr embarked on a tour of Europe to see what the brewing world had to offer, in the hopes of improving his own brewery's techniques. He brought back some of the pale malt stylings of the pale ale brewers in England and applied them to his brewery. It wasn't an overnight success, but Joseph Groll, another German brewer, took some of these techniques over to Plzen, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and created what would be an overnight success, a revolution in brewing that will probably never be topped.

As the story goes, the brewers of the city of Plzen dumped a whole batch of ale into the river, that they agreed had been contaminated by wild yeast, bacteria, or both. They decided to take advantage of some of the new techniques being used in nearby Munich to make more stable beers.

Groll was hired to bring the German lagering method to the thirsty citizens of Bohemia, and arrived to find an ample supply of hops, lagering caves, and the proper yeast needed to make a good lager. Groll didn't settle for the same old style they were making over in Deutschland, he upped the ante.

Groll eliminated the roasted barley, and kicked the hops up a notch. The resulting brew was golden, crisp, and refreshing. The uniquely clear and golden beer was so popular that the brew and the technique spread, eventually acquiring the name of the city, Plzen, or Pilsner. Pilsner Urquell, still brewed to this day in Plzen, is the result of Groll's ingenuity.

We can talk more about Pilsners later, but needless to say, it was a huge success. Nearby brewers in Dortmund took notice and modified the style to create the Dortmunder Export style we know today, and it took a little while, but brewers back in Munich, including Spaten, took notice of Pilsner's success and made their own adaptation, known as a helles, German for "pale."

More to come on the Munich Helles variety tomorrow.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why Not Lager?

A friend of mine, a reader of this blog asked me once, "Why is it so hard to get a good pilsner in America?" Since a pilsner is but one style of the lager family, and it seems that in the American brewing revolution, all lager beers are rare, the question might well have been, "Why is it so hard to even find a good micro lager?" The answer lies in the production methods that differentiate ales from lagers.

As you may or may not have noticed, the West Coast and Colorado factions of the microbrew scene are extremely heavy on the ale side of the fence. While most of us can appreciate a good IPA or American Amber, the divide is not simply a matter of taste.

Lager, German for "store" or "stock" (not "to age" as some people may tell you), is a family of beer styles produced in central Europe for the last 500 years. Lager is differentiated from ale in the yeast that is used to produce it. While ale yeast ferments at the top of the tank at warm temperatures, lager yeast ferments at the bottom in colder temperatures.

As amazing as it may seem, this is a result of humans breeding yeasts into two ideal strains. While bakers yeast and brewers yeast were once the same thing, a long process of selectivity and mixing with wild yeasts produced the two major brewing strains we know today.

The low temperatures needed for lager beers (0-5 degrees Centigrade) mean that in order to brew these styles, the brewer must have an environment in which there is a cold and constant temperature. Unless you have access to some caves, setting up an area for this cold brewing is prohibitively expensive for home- and microbrewers.

If you are of the grassroots brewing movement, chances are you honed your skills on ales, not lagers, and your recipes and habits are suited as such. Thus, if you were to start your own brewpub or micro, you probably would not have the equipment or experience necessary to produce a decent lager.

Additionally, lagers have to be lagered...that is, stored. Lagers must be stored for weeks or even months to attain their unique flavors. Capital Brewery of Wisconsin produces a doppelbock called "Autumnal Fire" that takes nine weeks to finish its cycle; two beers I recently reviewed take an amazing nine months to finish. Therefore, it is also expensive for microbrewers to produce a beer that is sitting around a long period of time before it can be sold. The cycle is longer, eating up more of the brewery's space and resources, and making demand forecasting much harder.

The combination of difficult production conditions and storage requirements make lagers a tall order for small brewers, though many small brewers do produce good lagers. We'll talk more about the family of lagers and good lager beers later in the week.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Beer of the Week

Winter has been raging this year in Wisconsin, and I've needed a lot of beer to get through it. Most of them have been of the winter warmer stripe, but I need to mix it up now and again. Variety and beer are, after all, the spices of life.

Kalamazoo Brewing of Michigan is home to the Bell's family of beers. Perhaps best known for their "Two-Hearted" IPA and their "Oberon" summer seasonal, Bell's also makes a winter seasonal, which interestingly enough is a wheat ale called Bell's Winter White.

The Winter White is in the Belgian Witbier style, although in my opinion, it's a little thicker and a little sweeter. If you're going to market a wit as a winter style, those are both good things in my estimation.

Like most Belgian wits, it smells of orange and corriander. It pours a hazy orange color, kind of like a Blue Moon, and has a dense white head that quickly fades away. The mouthfeel is a bit heavier than a normal wit, and the carbonation is nice and noticeable. There is definitely that yeast presence in there (it's a mix of Hefe and Wit yeasts) and a tangy sweetness finishes it out.

I've had better wits, but for an American, and for this "winter-modification" that Bell's has done, it's really quite good. If you need a break from sweet ales and heavy stouts this winter, try out Bell's Winter White.

Links of Interest:

Bell's Beer

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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Beer is proof God loves us...

And so is the sun. The sun allows us to grow barely and hops, heats our planet, and makes life possible. Solar energy is the oldest form of energy on our fine earth, and for at least the next 4 billion years, it is also renewable.

Other than basic horticulture, what does this have to with beer?

Well a brewery in beer and hippie friendly Oregon has gone and combined two of my passions into one operation: brewing, and renewable energy.

The Lucky Lab Brewery of Portland uses a solar thermal system to heat up the water, which for brewing must get up to 160 degrees. I was wondering how this system could allow for the brewing of beer in winter, but according to the Lucky Lab's website they were able to get the water to 145 just last week, and the system is also supplemented with traditional heat.

I have to say that I was impressed by the 145 degree achievement in the grey Portland winter, and I'm sure that the system will have absolutely no trouble come summer. Given the vast amounts of hot water needed to run a brewery, the Lab is truly that: an experiment in environmental efficiency for small scale brewers. After a few years of operation, the Lucky Lab will be able to provide a real world example of carbon free heating, and give other brewers a cost/reward example as well.

I've never been to the Lucky Lab, but I can guarantee that I will make it a point to go the moment I set foot in Portland. I applaud their efforts from a brewing and environmental standpoint, and wish them nothing but hot water and cold brews.

If you live in Portland, or know someone who does, tell them about the Lucky Labrador.

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Beer of the Week

Our BOTW this week is another high alcohol bock from Germania. Schloss Eggenberg Urbock 23 hails from the Schloss Eggenberg Brauerei in Austria, and like this week's BOTWE, EKU 28, is kept in the cellar for an astounding 9 months.

The resulting bock is perfect for winter consumption: high in alcohol, smooth, and creamy. Coming in at 9.6% ABV, the Urbock 23 is potent, and the smell and taste reflect it.

The nose has a mingling of alcohol, honey, and fruit bursting out from a nice dense white head; lacing is very nice. The mouthfeel is thick and ueber-creamy, perhaps even creamier than the EKU 28. The carbonation is perfect, and the alcohol dryness at the end is the perfect stop punctuation for a honey-like sweetness that seems to mingle with rum.

I've heard this brew refered to as the "cognac of beers" (not to be confused with "the champagne of beers"), and rightly so; this is a beer that is meant to be sipped, savored, and shared. Prost!

Links of Interest:

Schloss Eggenberg Urbock 23

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lakefront Brewery - The Tour

I love touring a brewery; it really puts you in touch with the family and community aspect that most craft brewers seem to cultivate.

Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery has all the elements that I would want to experience in a good brewery tour: it's in a nice old "brewery like" building; the employees are nice and definitely seem to love their jobs; the tour is easily accessible; and of course, there is a large amount of fresh beer to be had.

Although the brewery is in a "great place on a Great Lake," Lakefront's facility is not actually on a lakefront, but rather, near downtown Milwaukee on the Milwaukee River. The building is an old brick warehouse, surrounded on the street by a hill, an old rusty train bridge, and the "renewal" of Milwaukee's downtown, condos.

You enter through two large wooden doors and pay the very reasonable $5 fee and are then presented with some very cool wooden nickels which entitle you to free samples from the bar. The bar is in a very large room that is artificially divided in the center and filled with tables. The room doubles as a banquet hall where people hold weddings and other events, and has a nice old Milwaukee aesthetic, albeit sparse.

After you have quaffed a few of Lakefront's offerings, you head downstairs into the brewery itself. The passageways inside the brewery are narrow, so make sure you get to the front of the pack if you want to hear what is going on.

Besides walking past fresh bags of malted barley and giant vats, there is some visual candy of the unexpected sort, especially for baseball fans. Lakefront acquired some relics from Milwaukee's County Stadium and preserved them inside the brewery, a proper place to house relics of the Brewers if you ask me.

The Brewers mascot is a happy fellow who looks like a Swiss/German immigrant and is named "Bernie Brewer." Bernie used to reside in a chalet fitting to his teutonic appearance, and slide into a giant frothy mug of beer upon home team homers, but alas the chalet went the way of the "two-fisted slobber" when County Stadium was torn down. In the Brewer's new home of Miller park, Bernie does not have a chalet, nor does he slide into a large beer mug, which is all the more sad considering the namesake of the stadium.

I thought that I would never again be able to experience this glorious icon of my childhood and of Milwaukee's history, but the good people at Lakefront have preserved it for us. Within the brewery are not only the entire chalet, but also the beer mug, as well as the front of a giant faux-keg with "Go Brewers" on it. Ladies and gentlemen, let me assure you that I have been to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Titletown, and actually standing in the chalet (that's right, it's open to the public) was an equally great sports moment in my life.

After the completion of a talk on the brewing process, an "in brewery" sample, and a discussion of kegging, including jokes about the bung and the bung hole, we were in for a real Milwaukee treat: we got to sing the Laverne & Shirley theme song while a bottle with a glove on it spun by. I must say to the beer lover and native Milwaukeean, it was epic.

After this you head back upstairs for some more sampling as well as nice surprise: a free glass pint with a proper Lakefront Brewery logo on it. All this for five dollars.

The information side of the tour is not lacking; however, it's not really overwhelming either. The spoken part of the tour is not the main reason to go here though: it's the total experience. This is an old warehouse, in brew city, with old baseball lore and TV sitcom kitsch built in! It really doesn't get a whole lot better than that. Try the "East Side Dark" and the "Riverwest Stein" while you are there: two beers that are named for two classic and dynamic Milwaukee neighborhoods, and have classic and dynamic tastes to match.

Thank you so much to the people at Lakefront Brewery for making this a totally unforgettable experience for Amber and me. Cheers!

Links of Interest:

Lakefront Brewery Tour

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Beer of the Weekend

Winter is starting to wear on, as those of us in the upper Midwest have been treated to alternating thaws and snow storms. You might wonder what, besides severe drought, hurricanes and earthquakes, keeps us from moving to warmer climes. Well in Wisconsin, we have good friends and good beer to get us through, and I have found a delicious gift from Kulmbach, Germany to help us make it to April.

Kulbacher Brauerei produces a number of different brands, the one familiar to me being their EKU Pils; however, we're not here to talk Pilsner because obviously we need a little more than that to make it through the winter. Rather, let's talk about an Eisbock.

An Eisbock is similar to a regular doppelbock, except after lagering for an astounding nine months, a layer of ice is removed from the vessel, effectively concentrating the flavor and alcohol (11%) of the beer.

Kulbacher's eisbock is called "EKU 28," and is an outstanding example of an the style. The beer pours a light copper color, with a small head. The smell is very fruity, with hints of honey and caramel, and a slight tinge of alcohol. The mouthfeel is very creamy, with some of the carbonation mixing in, and amazingly, the alcohol is not very noticeable. I've had Belgians and barleywines this strong, and I have to admit, in comparison, the alcohol in this just disappears in the flavors. There are strong tastes of fruit, mostly raisins for me, and a syrupy sweetness that is just cut perfectly and subtly by alcohol at the end of the sip.

And sip you should. This beer is no joke at 11% ABV. I would have a few of these at the end of the night, maybe after a meal. I know from experience that this is not a beer you should wrangle with without a proper meal in you. Besides, it goes excellent as a post food digestive, or as we in Wisconsin might appreciate it, as a winter warmer.

Links of Interest:

Kulmbacher Brauerei (English)

PS: Thanks to Dane101.com for the link.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Beer of the Week

Our beers of the week here have been heavily focused on American brewers, mainly from Wisconsin and California, but our friends across the pond invented the brewing game, and certainly can still make a proper ale.

Fuller's brewery, properly known as Fuller, Smith, & Turner, is headquartered in West London's Chiswick district on a site where beer has been produced for over 350 years. FS&T produce a wide variety of award winning British styles, including their flagship "London Pride," a "London Porter," and our BOTW, "Fuller's ESB." If you need a refreshment on ESBs, we discussed them back here.

Fuller's ESB has always been a good beer to quaff during winter, as it was actually introduced as a winter beer in 1971 to replace a now defunct beer called Old Burton Extra. ESB has all the elements of a good winter brew: a solid ABV at 5.5% (strong for a British draught), a strong malt base, and noticeable but balanced hop back (in this case the traditional Kent Goldings and Fuggles hops).

The beer pours a rich beautiful deep amber color with a minimal white head that fades away, but leaves a white ring throughout. It has a rich toasted biscuity maltiness, even revealing a hint of Oktoberfest-like caramel. For a member of the pale ale family, this bitter doesn't have much bitter bite. The hops are there, but you can tell they've been used more so for flavoring than for bittering. The mouthfeel is smooth and creamy with just the perfect amount of carbonation to let the flavors shine. I recommend getting it on tap when you have the chance.

Very British, and very excellent.

Links of Interest:


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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Doing it Wrong

A while back BOTB raved about a new local establishment called Brasserie V. Well the Capital Times has caught up with us and finally got around to reviewing the place. Allow me to draw attention to one specific portion of the review:

"The restaurant is known for its selection of Belgian beers, but we started off with a couple of glasses of red wine, the rich Terrazas malbec ($6.50) from Argentina and the domestic 14 Hands cabernet sauvignon ($6). Both were decent, reasonably priced choices."

Whoa, whoa, WHOA!

First allow me to point out that the American Heritage Dictionary of the English language defines a brasserie as:

"n. A restaurant serving alcoholic beverages, especially beer, as well as food." (emphasis added)

And the Random House dictionary defines it as:

"noun - an unpretentious restaurant, tavern, or the like, that serves drinks, esp. beer, and simple or hearty food." (emphasis added)

The etomology of the word comes from French, brasser "to brew or to malt," and that from Old French, where a similar world, bracier, meant "brewery."

The idea that this is an establishment that focuses on beer is implicit in the name, and should go without saying; but, people are saying. Again, from the review:
"The restaurant is known for its selection of Belgian beers..."(emphasis added)

People in the community are noting that this is a place in which one should take note of the beers offered, especially of the Belgian variety, but yet:

we started off with a couple of glasses of red wine, the rich Terrazas malbec ($6.50) from Argentina and the domestic 14 Hands cabernet sauvignon ($6). (emphasis added)

So, you go to a place that is intrinsically a house of beer, a place that is known for having rare imported beer, and you order a glass of red wine? For god's sake, you don't go to a steak house and order the veggie plate! You don't go to the Waffle House and order fucking pancakes! You don't go to Red Lobster and order...well you don't go to Red Lobster at all.

I don't really care if you don't really care for beer, when you are a restaurant critic you can take your nose from viticulture's ass for 5 minutes and partake in other alcoholic beverages, every bit as nuanced, especially when the house is known for them. I think that people who are interested in actually going to Brasserie V might also be interested in sampling some of the wares that make this an interesting place to dine, and thus, might look for said information in the review.

Poor form.

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Beer of the Weak

This is only our second installment of "Beer of the Weak," mostly for the reason that I would rather keep this a blog about beers that are great, versus a blog on beers that suck; however, in this case Miller has forced my hand.

During the summer, I found a distinct pleasure in kicking back on the couch with the windows open and following my local baseball team, the Brewers, on the television. These telecasts were inundated with an ad for a ridiculous new Miller product, "Miller Chill."

A variation on the Mexican tradition of a cervesa preperada (prepared beer), Miller Chill is a light lager that has lime and salt added to it, in the mode of the traditional serving method of terrible Mexican beers like Corona and Tecate.

Sounds like a terrible idea right? Well I figured that this product would quickly fade away, especially once the winter set in. I was wrong. Yesterday I saw an ad proclaiming that "even in winter, you need refreshment," or something equally banal.

This is yet another beer that never should have been. Now I'll admit that when you're sitting on the beach in the hot Mexican sun, having a light lager rather than stout makes a lot of sense; especially when, if you are actually IN MEXICO, you probably don't have all that much choice. I will also acknowledge that being in that sun drenched atmosphere, the idea of a lime in one's beer sounds refreshing. But how much of one's life is spent sitting on the beach in Mexico? If it exceeds one tenth of one percent, consider yourself fortunate, and fortunate enough to buy a better light lager than Miller Chill and fortunate enough to have someone apply the salt and an actual lime to the beer for you.

Aesthetically the beer is repulsive. As if you couldn't grasp the "with lime" phrase on the bottle, they had to make the bottle green, perhaps also trying to capitalize on the "Ecto Cooler as nostalgia" market.

As far as the lime juice is concerned, have you ever used that lime juice that you squeeze out of a lime shaped container? Not that great right? That's what it's like. Fresh limes actually floating in and mixing with the beer is much better.

I guess it's hard to say what the beer actually tastes like because it's obscured by the lime and the salt. Needless to say, as a brewer you're not going to be overly concerned with brewing a high quality lager when you're just going to pollute it with, what are in the culinary world, STRONG tastes like lime and salt.

I really hope that this beer does soon fade away, and I hope that Americans will be able to cope with their increased workload of having to arduously squeeze their own limes into their beers. Once again I hope that Miller takes their energies off of gimmicks and puts them into drinkable beers.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Beer of the Week

It's been a big beginning of 2008 for me: I got engaged, I was offered a large law school scholarship, the Packers are in the NFC Championship. So it's only fitting that this beer of the week is equally big.

Sprecher Brewing, originally from Milwaukee but now in a suburb, is perhaps best known for a soda of all things. Their root beer is known far and wide, and rightfully so; it's delicious.

But this old-world style brewery offers much more than just pop. They have a delicious dark lager called "Black Bavarian," a decent Oktoberfest, and an excellent amber lager, simply known as "Sprecher Amber." But none of these beers are "big" enough to be this week's BOTW. We need something big, something strong, something that reeks of old brewing lore. I turned to a rare offering from the brewery: Czar's Brew, Russian Imperial Bourbon Stout.

I love a good imperial stout. This beefed up version of a English stout featured high alcohol and hops content to preserve the brew for its long sea voyage through the Baltic. Coming in at 11%ABV, Czar's Brew certainly lives up to the "unapologetically strong" aspect of the imperial Stout.

The beer is black, but not as thick as I was expecting, much thinner for example than Leinenkugel's Big Eddy Imperial Stout or Fuller's Breakfast Stout, which both pour like motor oil. In fact, if I had one complaint about the beer, it's that it's too thin.

The head is small but persistent, and leaves some lace on the glass. It's not as dark as the heads on the aforementioned stouts either.

The nose is amazing: bourbon, wood, chocolate, berries, it's all there. Some bourbon barrel beers smack you in the face with whisky aroma, but this one blends it nicely. Some styles are better suited for bourbon aging, and stouts are definitely one of them.

The mouthfeel is thin as well, and slightly dry. At 11% the alcohol dries the taste a little, but it isn't overpowering. A semi-sweet chocolate taste and bourbon mix and mingle.

This definitely a bold beer, and I would buy it again, but if I could offer some suggestion to the brewer, it needs to be a little bit thicker and it's way overpriced. It's going to be hard to find this one out there; there were only 1000 liters produced. It's expensive, but compare the experience you'll have drinking it to that of a fine wine, and you'll be more accepting of the price.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pabst Americana - Natty Boh

Like Grain Belt is to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, National Bohemian, or "Natty Boh" as it's affectionately referred to, is interwoven in the history of a great American city: Baltimore. The beer's slogan, "From the Land of Pleasant Living," paid homage to the good life enjoyed by the residents of this city on Chesapeake Bay.

First brewed in 1885 Natty Boh was a Baltimore staple and emblematic of both the city's working class, and the incestuous fate of so many regional breweries.

Natty is much like a Hamm's or a Pabst: a pale American lager that isn't going to wow you, but has a little more flavor than a Bud Light. It's perfect to wash down a sausage and makes a great compliment when watching sporting events.

In fact, beer and sports have always gone hand in hand in Baltimore. When local competition was fierce in the brewing industry, announcers for the Orioles or the Colts (they were in Baltimore back then) were paid by the breweries to mention the beers. Another local brewery, Gunther's (which was eventually bought by Hamm's), paid the Colts announcer to exclaim "Good as Gunther's" whenever the team converted a successful extra point.

Going further, at one time the Orioles were owned by the then president of National Brewery, Jerry Hoffberger. Natty was served in the now defunct "Memorial Stadium," solidifying the beer as nostalgic for legions of current Baltimore sports fans.

Like Hamm's, National came up with an image for its star beer that would turn into an advertising icon, and in this case, an icon for the city itself. "Mr. Boh," the one-eyed (for whatever reason) mustached mascot for Natty Boh, was used by the brewery post-WWII, and was huge by the time of the reemergence of American breweries in the 1950's. The mascot itself was retired in the 1960's, but the image of Mr. Boh is still on bottles of Natty to this day, not to mention all over Baltimore. From bar memorabilia, to signs, to T-shirts, Mr. Boh is still around, and can currently be seen proposing to the Utz potato chip girl. Good choice Mr. Boh.

National Brewery merged with the Canadian brewer Carling in the 1970's, and the facility in Baltimore was closed, with production being shifted to a facility in the Baltimore suburb of Halethorpe. In 1979, National was acquired by G. Heileman of Wisconsin, which, like the earlier profiled Lone Star, was then subsequently sold to Stroh's of Detroit in 1996.

Laden with debt, Stroh's was broken apart in 1999, with most brands, including Natty Boh, being sold off to Pabst. Pabst still brews Natty Boh, but production is no longer in Maryland. The bulk of the stock is contract brewed in North Carolina, and some is brewed in Pennsylvania.

Natty Boh is still very much alive, and still very much a part of Baltimore, but there's a sadder side to it too. It's yet another bit of local flavor that was chewed up a spit out by the forces of corporate consolidation and globalization. The prize beer of Baltimore is no longer even brewed in Maryland, gone to cheaper, larger facilities for contract brewing. While it may just be an average American macro, it's one of those breweries that's more than that. Ask a few Baltimore natives and I'm sure you can find one with a soft spot for the good old days of the National Brewery and Natty Boh.

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