REPOST: A Craft Brew Christmas Carol – The Ghost of Jackson Merrill

[As another Christmas gift to you, our wonderful readers, we present a reprise of last year’s Christmas series written by our own Puddin’. We’ll release new parts throughout the day today. Merry Christmas! Tom & Carla]

Jackson Merrill was dead. There could be no doubt about it. The certificate of death had been signed, the estate settled, and the corporeal remains tucked into the Earth for eternity, or at least until they ceased to be.

Merrill was as dead as yeast pitched into the boil.

His partner, Edwin Stinge, continued their brewing business for years following his death. The signs and logos of Stinge and Merrill’s Barrels remained unchanged thereafter, which observers assumed was intended as an homage to the deceased co-founder. In truth, Stinge cared little for the name on his business, nor the general appearances of his brand, so long as the bottom line looked fitter and healthier each year.

On the seventh Christmas Eve since the death of Merrill, Stinge sat in his office managing a baker’s dozen of spreadsheets on an aging hulk of a computer monitor that tended to flicker between too green or too brown. Before him on his desk lay an ancient ledger, being addressed by hand by the lean man with a sharp nose and perpetual scowl.

Stinge and Merrill’s head brewer, Bob Kolsher, sat in an aging frayed chair opposite the man’s desk, bolt upright and wearing the haunted look of a rabbit in the weeds, sensing a hawk’s descent.

“I said before, and I will say one last time, Kolsher, no more malt orders this year,” Stinge barked, frowning at his ledger.

“I know sir,” Kolsher said, “but demand for the Christmas Ale is up. We can’t meet the orders. I thought maybe one last batch.”

“Bah,” Stinge croaked. “Did I not explain as of the first of the new year we will not be actively brewing for Stinge and Merrill’s Barrels? How is it that although we have talked of nothing for the past month but converting to contract brewing, you’re still filing purchase orders requisitions for malt?”

“I just thought…”

“No, Kolsher, you didn’t. The point of converting to production on a contract basis, to relinquish the actual brewing of our own beers, is to avoid exactly these types of expenses. Our contractor has promised to brew our beers more cheaply than we can ourselves, which will allow us to focus on selling more beer via an increased marketing presence and better distribution channels. None of which is possible if we don’t stop wasting our time, energy, and precious capital on brewing.”

“I see, sir. I was just hoping to provide the boys on the line a pick me up, since many of them are expecting pink slips soon. Morale is low. They’d love to see another batch of…um…the Christmas Ale in the fermenter, especially since MegaBrew won’t be brewing it at all in coming years because they can’t replicate the recipe with those flavor extracts they use.”

“Bah,” Stinge said again, “I’m sure you’ll think of something next year to make with MegaBrew. And I’m glad to see the line workers are embracing the changes here with such a sense of maturity and rationality. Good for…”

A beige speaker on Stinge’s desk buzzed loudly, interrupting him.

“Mr. Stinge,” a woman’s nasally voice floated through it, “Mr. Paren Jr. is on line 2.”

“That will do, Kolsher. No more purchase orders. Start getting to know the MegaBrew fellows. As of next week, you’re no longer Brewmaster, but Executive Brewing Liason.”

Kolsher sighed heavily and shuffled out of the Stinge’s tiny office, looking glum.

Stinge reached the coffee brown rotary phone on his desk, thirty years old if it was a day.

“Good day, Mr. Paren,” he said evenly into the speaker.

“A good day and a merry Christmas to you, too, Mr. Stinge,” said the excited voice on the other end.

“Yes, Christmas. Indeed.” Sting rolled his eyes. “If you will excuse me, Mr. Paren, I have a good deal to see to before the end of the year, as I imagine you know. Could we perhaps dispense with the trivialities?”

“Trivialities? Christmas?” replied Mr. Paren. “I would never say so. In fact, we look forward to the season all year here at Paren’s Ales. We keep a festive outlook throughout, especially as our winter brews are some of our most popular all year. It brightens our days to know we bring such cheer to others, even in the face of all the extra work that means for us. No sir, I could never agree that Christmas was trivial.”

“Humbug,” Stinge replied, dismissive. “Did you call for a reason?”

“Indeed I did,” Paren replied, voice full of cheer. “I wanted to invite you to join our Christmas project.”

“Ah. Well, no, thank you. We’re not in a position to consider collaboration. Now, good…”

“Do excuse me,” Paren interjected, “but I know you and my father, years ago, discussed a special holiday brew. I’ve contacted a number of the other brewers in the region, and we’ll be meeting to tomorrow to plan a collaborative release for next year, in his honor. I do wish you would join us? It would have meant a great deal to him.”

“At this moment, Mr. Paren, I have neither the time nor the inclination to participate in such a venture. We are phasing out our brewing, which necessitates the limited release of our own Christmas Ale, so we certain cannot afford to work on a second one. Therefore, no, I will not be joining you. Good day, sir.”

“I am sorry to hear that, Mr. Stinge. Perhaps you will reconsider your position as time draw on.”

“I will not, Mr. Paren. Now, if you would please allow me to continue my work uninterrupted. Good day.”

“I see. Well, Merry Christmas, nonetheless, Mr. Stinge!” Paren cheered through the receiver.

“Bah. Humbug.” Stinge growled, dropping the ancient handset onto its base with a chiming clang.

As day became night, the staff left for the holiday, grumbling there was no Christmas Ale to share with their families at home. At last, shadows casting Stinge in an unpleasant gloom, he turned off the single lamp on his desk and left his cramped office.

Stinge took his supper in his usual pub, in the shabby corner booth by the kitchen, alone save for his Wall Street Journal. When finished, he stumbled back to his brewery, where he descended to the musty apartment he kept below the grain storage basement.

Merrill’s old apartment sat empty opposite his own, the pair of them having lived in efficiencies in the sub-basement in the lean years when the brewery first got its start. And even after Merrill’s premature demise, Stinge never had the two small units converted into one livable space for fear it might tax the company’s operating funds.

The single luxury Stinge had added was the installation of a tap for his personal use.

Stinge entered the apartment and turned on the room’s one overhead light. Setting his newspaper and ledger in their customary position on his desk, he procured a glass from the drainer by the small sink and made his way to the tap.

Placing the glass below the faucet, he reached to pour when at once realized the handle had become a miniature form of Merrill, looking up at him.

Stinge blinked several times to clear his vision and wondered at the alcohol content of the pint he’d had with supper. But there stood Merrill, to be sure, or a perfect little replica of him, right down to the fine tufts of grey hair and the pharmacy reading glasses worn on that old-fashioned chain. He was motionless, but seemed not a statue or other graven figure. No, it was Merrill, staring at him with flat dull eyes.

Moving in closer to peer at the tiny face of the apparition, it again became a simple wooden tap handle.

He poured himself a pint quickly and downed it in a three gulps, and then refilled the empty glass.

Heart beating fast, Stinge strode back to the door and checked its many bolts. All were firmly fastened. Looking around, he confirmed he was alone in his dim apartment. Content, he muttered, “Humbug,” for good measure and retired to his recliner.

Picking up his remote, he pressed the POWER button to watch the early evening news, but instead the room erupted in the ear-splitting screech of speaker feedback. Stinge grimaced and held hands to his hears to block out the vile noise.

In time, seconds or minutes, likely, that seemed wholly like hours, the sharp squeal cut off. The silence that followed was then replaced with the sounds of metal clanking and something being dragged across the floor.

The noise crept closer and closer.

“I don’t know what’s going on out there, but leave me be!” Stinge yelled, more sternly than he felt.

At last, when the clanks and clangs were just outside his door, each of his bolts was thrown open one by one, by some unseen hand. The door flew open and banged against the inside wall.

Through the doorway a spectral vision staggered, dragging around it a huge metal chain, beset with full- and half-kegs, small fermenters, boiling kettles, growlers, mash tuns, and every device ever concocted by man for the brewing or distribution of beer.

The vision was of Stinge’s old partner, Jackson Merrill.

“Jackson, by God, man, why do you trouble me?” was all Stinge could think to say.

“Because you trouble us, Edwin Stinge,” the apparition replied.

“But I haven’t troubled you in years, Jack. Certainly not since the day you left us.”

“I have not left you a day, even in all the time I have been among the dead.”

“Why do you come to me now, then? All the time you say you have been with me, I have neither seen nor felt you. Why darken my life at this hour on this night?”

“Do you believe me?”

“You must admit it sounds a little…”

Jaw gaping, the apparition moaned, so loud and deep that it could only be the groan of the dead.

“Jack, spare me!” Stinge exclaimed, huddling in his chair.

“Do you believe me?”

“Yes, yes! Please, now, tell me what you want and go.”

“Every living soul is meant to spread itself among its fellow man and bring to them whatever joy and comfort he or she can offer. And if a soul does not, or will not, in life, it is condemned to spend the afterlife roaming the world, watching all the wonder and delight it can no longer share.”

“So, then, you don’t spend each day with me?”

“Indeed, my days are wasted within our brewery, watching you squeeze each penny of profit from it, and with it the joy from the hearts of those who work there. At night, as you sleep, I wander the Earth, dragging the chain of my failure, witnessing the small wonders of life among others, and the sad regrets that I am too late to fix.”

“But Jack, you did exceptional work planning the future of Stinge and Merrill’s Barrels. In fact, everything is still on the track we set together. We’ve contracted out to a cheaper brewing operation and soon, after a few quarters of increased profits, we’ll begin preparing for an IPO. You were an excellent accountant of our business.”

“Business!” the spirit shouted. “Mankind was my business! But I was blind beyond our bottom line and could not see that what we made brought people together in joy. That making quality beer, something others loved and welcomed into their homes, enriched their lives. No, making my fellow brothers and sisters happier with the product of my labors should have been my business!”

Shielding half his face behind his hand, Stringe trembled. “How can I help you, Jack?”

“You cannot,” the ghost stated matter-of-factly. “I have not come for myself, but for you.”

“How’s that?”

“Listen, Edwin Stinge! I must go. You have been given this one night as the only chance to escape my fate. You will be haunted, then, by three spirits. The first will come with at the stroke of the midnight and will take the time of mashing out the sweet wort. The second will follow soon after, and will finish as the wort is finished boiling. The third will follow then, but as with fermentation, will begin at his own hour, and will take what time he needs to finish.”

“You won’t see me again, but do not forgot what I have said. Mind the spirits, Stinge, mind them well!”

Having left his message, the spirit stood and shambled, chains and accessories clanking in his wake, to Stinge’s tiny sink. To the man’s horror, his former partner then bent and flowed, hands first, then head, followed by shoulders, torso, etc, into the drain as if he were a liquid.

When the room had grown completely silent again, Stinge tip-toed over and checked the drain, eyes wide with shock. He found no remnants of Merrill swirling about. Stinge then examined his door, finding it tightly shut and all his bolts securely locked.

He felt his own forehead, wondering if perhaps he didn’t have a fever. Not feeling overly warm, though, he removed his shoes and climbed into his bed fully clothed.

In moments, he snored away, sleeping like the dead.

How the Grinch Stole Beermas

Every Brew
Geek in Brew-ville
Liked Beermas a lot…

But the Grinch
Who lived just North of Brew-ville,
Did NOT!

The Grinch hated Beermas, The Whole Beermas drinking!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite got his thinking.
It could be that beer sunk his head like a boat.
It could be, perhaps, he had the tastes of a goat.
But I think the most likely reason of all
Was that fun and enjoyment got stuck in his craw.

But,
Whatever the reason,
His craw or the booze,
He stood there on Beermas Eve, hating the Brews,
Staring down from his tower with a dry, mirthless frown
At the cheery, fun ruckus at the pubs in their town
For he knew every Brew Geek in Brew-ville below,
Was sipping beer samples, their cheeks all aglow.

“And they’re clinking their glassware!” he growled at his tea,
“Tomorrow is Beermas! I can’t let this be!”
Then he slunk in his seat, almost ready to cry,
“I must find a way to keep Beermas-time dry!”
For tomorrow, he knew…

…All the Brew Geeks about
Would run to their pubs and, with joy, order stout!
And then there’d be porters, spiced warmers, and pale ales!
That’s the thing he hated most! The pale, pale, hoppy ales!

Then the Brew Geeks, each one, would settle in with their beer,
There’d be cheer!  Then more cheer!
Too much CHEER! CHEER! CHEER! CHEER!
Then they’d crack open Belgians and rare, dark Imperials
Which you’d think, from the fuss, were some magic materials!

And THEN
They’d do something he liked less than pils!
Every Brew Geek in Brew-ville, ignoring the chills
Would stand close together, a jolly, thrilled host.
They’d stand glass to glass, and they’d offer The Toast.

They’d toast to their families, their dogs, cats, and friends!
And they’d TOAST! TOAST! TOAST! It never would end!
The more the Grinch cringed at the Great Beermas Toast,
The more the Grinch thought, “I must stop that the MOST!”
“Year after year, I’ve cringed at their glee!
I MUST stop that Beermas-time toasting!
…For ME!”

Then he got an idea!
An awful idea!
The Grinch
GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA!

“I’ve got just the plan!” The Grinch laughed, feeling smug
Then he made a Gambrinus crown and great mug.
“With this crown and fake stein, I look just like that drunk.
When I’m done, this year’s Beermas will be clearly sunk!”

“All I need is a wagon…
and a charger to pull it.”
But he knew he had neither, so how would he sell it?
Still, the old Grinch was clever…
quite evilly so,
So he rubbed his chin whiskers, and then he gasped, “Oh!”
His milking goat, Mutton, would do for the horse,
so he gave him the bit, and some blinders, of course.

THEN
He stacked some old barrels,
for rice and for grain,
on a creaky old pull cart,
left to rot in the rain.

He hitched Mutton to it,
then climbed right on top,
and they headed downhill
to where the Brews Geeks would flop

Their windows were quiet, no cheers filled the night.
All the Brews dreamt on soundly of ales with hop bite.
“Oh, I’ll give those loud Brews such a terrible fright!”
the Grinch said as he stopped at a house with a grin
Then he entered the place with a flat, empty drink skin.

He tiptoed ‘round the house, working hard to keep quiet.
If Gambrinus could do so, there must be nothing to it..
There was only one time that he eeped out a cry,
when he stubbed his right foot.  How that hurt, my, oh my.
Then he found their great steins, on their mantle, for filling,
and he scooped them all up. This was all just so thrilling!

The Grinch, grinning darkly, he slunk through the home,
Taking any mug, cup, glass or brew that could foam.
Pale ales and bitters, saisons full of bubbles!
Porters! Stouts! Spicy warmers! IPAs and dubbels!
All the brews went right in to his empty drink bladder,
with their beers and steins missing, he couldn’t imagine them sadder!

That wasn’t enough, though. No, he’d only begun.
He too stole their beer makings, to be sure there’d be none!
The Grinch took all their malt, and their hops and the yeast,
When he was done they’d be beerless for years, at the least!

He stacked up the loot on the pull-cart quite tight,
and with a turn back he said, “We can’t leave those kegs, right?”

So he turned a keg over and started to roll,
when he heard a soft grunt, like a sleepy cave troll.
With half-lidded eyes and an unshaven face,
he found himself looking at the Brew of the place.

The Grinch was now trapped by the Brew Geek awake,
and he wondered if, perhaps, this was all a mistake!
In his ‘hop-Lover’ shorts, the Brew coughed and said, “Dude,
Gambrinus, yo, Saint, this looks kinda rude.”

The Grinch, ever clever, nary wasted a blink,
but told a smooth lie, just as quick as a wink.
“This keg you’ve got here, it’s losing its pressure,
so it’s off to my shop for some testing and measures.
I’ll have it right back, a quick little trip.
In the meantime, perhaps you’d like a small sip?”
The Brew smiled wide and said, “Thanks so much, Dude.
I’d hate to lose something I carefully brewed.”
He took a quick pull from the keg he was rolling,
and was back off to bed without any cajoling.

The Grinch took their goblets, their cups and their bowls,
and left them with nothing, but barely their souls.
A thin drop of beer did he leave on the floor,
so tiny that even the bugs wanted more.

THEN
He did that same thing
As all the Brews slept

Leaving just
drops of brews
No one’s bugs would accept.

When the sun finally rose…
All the Brew Geeks still sleeping,
All the Brews still dreaming,
When he finished his creeping.
His pull cart was loaded with every Beermas time gift.
The beers! And the glasses! Oh, the Brews would be miffed!

With Mutton he headed to the top of Mt. Volstead,
where over the side all his loot would be shed.
“Ha ha! I’ve done it!” The Grinch grinned wide and mean,
“And they’re waking up now to a sad Beermas scene!
They’ll all stand there shocked, they won’t know what to do,
they’ll probably be slacked-jawed for a hour or two
All day long, they’ll be silent, without any brew.”

“Such wonderful quiet, it’ll be all around me,
and finally, AT LAST, I’ll enjoy my warm tea!”
So with hand cupped to ear, he listened for the Nothing,
but much to his startled surprise, he heard Something.
His quiet was missing, replaced with that something.

Way down there in Brew-ville,
believe it or not,
came a growing glad sound,
at least, that’s what he thought.
He stared down the mountain,
his ears perked up for sound.
Then HIS mouth hung open,
at the noises he found.

Every Brew Geek in Brew-ville, the young and the old,
Was Toasting the others, without beer, in the cold!
He HADN’T stopped Beermas at all!
Here it was!
Despite his dark plotting, they were all still a-buzz!

And the Grinch, with the Brew Geek’s beer kegs, cups, and mugs,
Gave the first in what would be a series of shrugs.
He scratched at his head and thought, “how can this be?
How could Beermas still come when the stuff’s here with me?”
And he thought and he thought and thought yet some more.
Until he thought about something he hadn’t before.
“Maybe Beermas,” he said, “isn’t just about brew.
Maybe Beermas, perhaps, is about fellowship too!”

What happened next…
is still up for debate.
But they say that the Grinch
took a sip of his freight.
He smiled and then realized that pale ale was okay,
And climbed back on Mutton and started away.

He gave back the beers to an elated Brew host.
And he…

…HE HIMSELF…
The Grinch, raised his glass first for the Toast!

In search of a good session

Sometimes, not often, mind you, but sometimes, the wicked Fates see fit to smile down upon me and bestow a special day. Not a ridiculous kind of Special Day (lottery winning-day!) or the kind of special day of questionable value (all the numbers of the calendar line up-day!), but the kind of "special" that means you get an unexpected night off.

For instance, every now and again, you look up after cleaning the dinner dishes and drill-sargeanting your way through the evening twin gauntlets that are the kids’ bath and bed times, and suddenly you realize you have the rest of the evening to yourself. You’ve got no other pressing matters to attend, no bills demanding a check, no plumbing in desperate need of maintenance, and no angry emails from the boss requiring immediate response. Instead, you’ve got hours to yourself for a little relaxation. Situations like this call for cracking open an abundance of tasty brews, which is a welcome change from your usual just-before-bed-cap that you hope to manage to enjoy before nodding off on the couch.

But it’s a school night, and the last thing anyone wants to deal with is an angry 6 AM alarm clock while stricken with a head stuffed with angry bees, or to roll into work resembling the intern whose typical Thursday night leads into showing up Friday morning with bloodshot eyes and enough club stamps that his hand looks like abstract art.

This is one of the many times that calls for a session beer.

Sessions, however, seem to be getting harder to come by, it seems to me.  Today’s (much appreciated) creativity by brewers more often than not leads to a complex, interesting beer that’ll knock flat on your…well, you know…if you aren’t pretty careful about it.

Before we go hunting for the perfect sessionable brew, we should probably take a few minutes and argue about discuss exactly how to define a session.  For me, three things are key:

  • Alcohol Content – Clearly, for a beer you can reasonably session, light to moderate alcohol by volume is key.  Of course, if you’d told me 10, or even 5, years ago that I’d be looking for the low-ABV bottles on the shelf at the store, like, ever, I’d have told you to stop getting stoned.  But, then, that was before I got old wise after  waking up on the wrong side of the Commodore and his companions one too many times. For me, a beer that can truly be sessioned should come in below 5%.  I know that some of the whippersnappers out there might suggest 6% as a more reasonable baseline, but honestly, if I’m really making a time of it, 6% is going to sneak up and smack me before long.
  • Gravitas – Some beers are just heavier than others, period.  And that’s okay.  But after just a pint or two, those big weighty numbers can easily have you feeling like Mr. Creosote, the guy who eats pretty much everything in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.  He explodes, you know (spoiler alert).  I don’t want to feel like that guy in the morning any more than I want to feel like Benji the Intern.  A good session brew, then, needs to be – as much as I hate to say this – less filling.
  • Flavor – That said, you definitely want it to taste great too (Ahem.  No, this isn’t a commercial).  But at the same time, when knocking back several of something, odds are good you probably don’t want it’s flavor to be too challenging.  It’s all well and good to try something funky and interesting, and I recommend you do so regularly.  But it’s not too hard after repeated drinks for that something funky to turn into, well, funk.

So, where does that put us?  Like I said, session beers can be difficult to come by these days, and the fact that it’s the middle of December, when spicy winter warmers are dominating every beer case and stack you’re likely to see for the next, um, month or so doesn’t help.  For me, I’m happy to quaff a few bottles of Stone Levitation Ale in such circumstances, which easily hits the mark at 4.4% ABV, has plenty of solid flavor and, yet, won’t sink your ship, if you know what I mean.  Sam Adams Boston Ale is also a session favorite of mine (make sure it’s fresh, though…that’s key).  It usually averages right around the 5% mark, is just about the right weight, and hits all the right flavor spots when I’m looking for a simple, tasty ale.

Obviously, there are plenty of other sessionable treats out there.  What’s your go to when you’d like to have a few, maybe, but don’t want to pay too high a price for it?

Pud’n

A happy, hoppy Thanksgiving from Hoperatives

It was just three little words.  Words aren’t scary, right?  It’s not like riding Space Mountain or living through the zombie apocalypse or facing off against an enraged grizzly while holding a full-sized ham.  Those things can really put the fear into you.  But words are, you know, words.

That is, unless you hear the three little words no beer drinker ever wants to hear strung together by someone wearing a white coat:

Elevated. Liver. Enzymes.

Hearing that can be pretty terrifying.

Trust me, I know.  The nurse at my Doctor’s office said them to me in late October.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably always assumed that you didn’t really need to worry about your liver unless you make, seriously poor life decisions regularly and wantonly.  And since I’ve never been the guy making a habit of tying on one on your average Tuesday evening after Alex Trebek wrapped up Jeopardy! the night, I kind of figured I’d be fine.  Especially since I am, after all, something like 80% German in ancestry.

I’m pretty sure my grandparents were born double-fisting full-sized steins.

Unfortunately, though, none of that saved me from hearing those dreaded three little words.

The good news was that when they said "elevated", they meant just a wee tiny bit.  As in, more likely to be a testing anomaly than "your liver currently resembles an adobe brick excavated from a 6th-century pueblo dwelling."

But I like my doctor because he likes to get to the bottom of things, even if they’re only probably testing anomalies.  So I gave up the malty brews and the hoppy treats (gasp!) for a couple of weeks as I submitted myself to life as a pincushion for medical science.  In other words, there were tests.  And more tests.  And then even more after that, just to rule out the crazy options. 

As it turns out, I’m not pregnant, which came as some relief.

In the end, though, the diagnosis wasn’t a testing anomaly, as I’d hoped.  It turns out I’ve got a touch of the fatty liver.

Medically, the condition is known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, which, let’s face it, is a much more pleasant sounding problem than "fatty liver".  You tell someone you’ve never met that you’ve got the fatty liver, they’re instantly going to conjure a mental image of you terrorizing an all-you-can-buffet like that gigantic Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and stumbling around continually three sheets – or more – to the wind (i.e., Captain Jack Sparrow on shore leave). 

Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis sounds unfortunate, but perfectly respectable.  "Fatty liver", on the other hand, basically screams, "fat, drunk bastard."

Long story, well, still pretty long, the good news is that I won’t be forced to take up temperance any time in the immediate future.  Which is good, because I’d make just as good a tea totaler as Batman would make a Kindergarten teacher.  I am, indeed, still allowed to drink, enjoy, and, most importantly, write about craft beer.  Moderation, of course, is the name of the game, as it’s always been.  More importantly, I need to avoid any meals that might hinge on the word ‘buffet’ or include enough saturated fat to feed a small tribal village for a week.

In other words, Skyline just became a rare treat.  But given the choice between a semi-regular Arrogant Bastard and a semi-regular three-way, I’ll take the Bastard for $200, please, Alex.

So why am I violating most of the known HIPAA regulations and boring you with tales of my liver on a national holiday?  Because when I sat down to contemplate this year’s Thanksgiving Day post, I didn’t want to do the usual thing about my Thanksgiving Day beer offerings and/or how it makes me happy to see my family enjoy craft beer.

Not because there’s anything wrong with that, of course.  But I wrote that post, um, two years ago.  I’m not that big a hack.  Yet.

Instead, I thought I’d take a moment today to actually be thankful for something.  And we have plenty to be thankful for when it comes to craft beer…especially here in Cincinnati.  For one, I’m thankful that the renaissance of craft brewing around here seems to be reaching a critical mass.  The all-local taps at Arthur’s Cafe is a testament to that.  It’s been a great year for beer, and there’re plenty more to look forward to on tap.

More importantly, though, I’m thankful that after hearing those three little words and spending a brief time as dry like your Uncle Milford’s scalp, I’ve given the green light to add some craft beer back into my life.

And if that’s not something to raise a glass of your favorite brew to, I don’t know what is.

From all of us at Hoperatives, then, to all of our fellow believers in better beer out there, here’s to a full glass, a full plate, a full stomach, and a happy Thanksgiving all around!

Pud’n

Required Reading Assignment: A Good Look at AB InBev

It’s been a while, I reckon, since we’ve offered a Required Reading Assignment around these here parts.  But then, I guess that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since we have a hard enough time just keeping up with the local beer news these.  I mean, have you really looked at the Growlers and Tasting report, lately?  The term paper I had to write as the culmination of research spanning most of my junior year in high school wasn’t as long as the weekly G & T.

Anyway, since today is November 1, I imagine most of us are probably waking up with at least a small dollop of remorse about that final (dare I say, over-the-top) pumpkin ale last night when the trick-or-treating dust settled, the kids were (finally) put to bed, and it was just you, a gross of leftover fun-sized Twix bars, and the remains of that six-pack in the dark. 

In other words, there’s a potential for a slow start this morning, which means it’s probably a good day to do some reading.

Luckily, I have just the thing for you!  My brother in the tweeting of beer-related things, @BradOnBeer tweeted a link to this Business Week article the other day about the merging of Anheuser-Busch and InBev: The Plot to Destroy America’s Beer.  Honestly, I think the title of the piece is a bit melodramatic, but it’s pretty good nonetheless.  You should read it.  As usual, you can just go do that now (in a new tab, obviously) while I wait here.

All done?  Great!

Admittedly, I suppose that to a large degree, this story is largely preaching to choir, especially for a blog that includes the subtitle, "Believers in Better Beer."  But, still, there’s a point to be made here.  For me, personally, as an advocate of craft beer, the hardest thing I find myself having to deal with is that idea that I’m one of those nefarious "beer snobs."  The term itself, at least in my mind, conjures an image of a haughty fellow with a long, possibly pointed, nose – decorated ridiculously by a pencil-thin mustache, a monocle, and a sneer – who makes revolted faces and regularly waves away IPAs because everyone knows South American hops pass their floral-scented prime on Oct. 15th.

I don’t want to be that guy.  No one wants to be that guy.  At least no one I know.  But when I occasionally crinkle up my nose at the thought of drinking a Bud Light, I’m nevertheless accused a being that guy, and should just shut up and let people like what they like.

By all means, I do think people should like what they like.  But by that same token, I also think they should know what they’re getting in regards to what the like.  And paragraphs like the one below illustrate exactly the point that many of the conglomerate brands are pretty much the modern equivalent of snake oil (in that they don’t care what’s in it, so long as they can convince you to buy it with a flashy sales pitch):

A former top AB InBev executive, who declined to be identified because he didn’t want to get in trouble with his old employer, tells a different story. He says the company saved about $55 million a year substituting cheaper hops in Budweiser and other U.S. beers for more expensive ones like Hallertauer Mittelfrüh. It is hard to say whether the average Bud drinker has noticed.

In other words, the executive team at AB InBev doesn’t seem to care much about the beer it makes, so long as you still buy it.  And, in fact, if they can make it cheaper somehow and still get you to buy it, well, that’d be just downright awesome, and they’ll happily giggle and skip all the way to the Ferrari dealership.  Oh, and when they’ve squeezed every drop of precious, precious profit imaginable out of a brand, they’ll just move on to the next brand (Pepsi, anyone?) like a swarm of cost-cutting locusts, until they’ve gotten all the cars, watches, and houses they can buy.

I realize, of course, that this seems to run counter to the post I wrote earlier this year in defense of Blue Moon, an SABMiller product.  But, really, it’s not; it’s the same argument applied to a different topic in somewhat different light.  Because, see, all indications are that Blue Moon actually cares about their brewing.  They see it for both the biological science and the art that is.  At AB InBev, however, many of the brands they’ve acquired appear to be tinkered with by financial and economic scientists, often without regard to how it might effect the end product.

And that’s where the line rests for me. 

That said, by all means, I do now (and always will) encourage anyone to like what they like.  Taste, obviously, is subjective.  But if I can manage, from time to time, to help someone realize that there are brewers out there making other beers that they’d like just as much but who care much, much more about what they’re putting into it rather than just what they’re getting out of you, well, that makes me smile.

Because, at the heart of it, at least when it comes to beer, I don’t think anyone should be little more than a source of revenue.

There’re plenty of other ways to be taken advantage of in life, why not at least patronize a brewery that cares about giving its absolute best to its customers, not its share holders.

Pud’n

Election 2012: Craft beer and the candidates

Since we’re knee-deep in the muck and mire of election season here in the US (and doubly lucky since Ohio is not only vital, but a swing state), I figured I should maybe take a look at a topic that’s been shockingly, utterly ignored by not only both campaigns, but the media too.  Namely, where does each ticket stand, respectively, on craft beer?

Paul Ryan – As both a Catholic and a resident of Wisconsin, you kind of expect Mr. Ryan to be a beer guy.  Oh, sure, he’s got to live up the squeaky clean image the Romney/Ryan campaign is trying to project and as an apparent P90X fitness nut, you don’t figure he goes for a couple of pints with the boys too terribly often.  Still, in a speech in Wisconsin shortly after nabbing the GOP Vice Presidential nod, he said, "My veins run with cheese, bratwurst, and a little Spotted Cow, Leiney’s, and some Miller."  Like him or not, you have to give the man props for putting New Glarus at the top of his list.

Mitt Romney – If you ask me, Mitt Romney doesn’t look much like a beer drinker.  I’d wager some 25 year-old scotch or a shaken-not-stirred Gibson is the more appropriate drink for the big cats he hobnobs with.  Wait, what?  Mormon, you say?  What do you mean?  You’re kidding!  At all?  Not AT ALL?  Ahem.  So, um, I guess Mr. Romney’s a teetotaler.  I’m suppose then that maybe homebrewing rights aren’t going to be a key tenet of his administration.  Sorry, Alabama.

Joe Biden – Now, just looking at Mr. Biden, you almost have to think of him as a party dude.  At least, I did.  I’m mean, he’s got a boisterous, all-smiles personality that’s largely reminiscent of a lifetime member of Animal House.  And not only that, but he’s Catholic too.  Everybody knows what we’re like, right?  In other words, can’t you see the Veep at a summer church festival with a tall souvenir mug, throwing money down on the Big 6 wheel and giving everyone that walks by a "thumbs up"?  Or is that just me?  Regardless, it’s way off the mark.  Our sitting Vice President also abstains from the evils spirits, and even enjoyed a "non-alcoholic" (less than 0.5% ABV) Buckler during the famous Beer Summit of 2009.  Something to keep in mind when he fires up his own, inevitable Presidential campaign in 2016.

Barack Obama – When it comes to our current Commander-In-Chief, one can see both pros and cons in his assumed beer preferences.  On the one hand, he seems positively jovial at the opportunity to engage in sharing a beer or two with his constituents.  Then again, given a choice of pretty much any beer in American to consume at the aforementioned 2009 "Beer Summit", Mr. President picked Bud Light.  All I can say for that is, well, at least at the time it was still an American company.  Either way, that’s not exactly the kind of response those of us who believe in better beer are looking from of the White House.  Then again, so what if he enjoys himself an American Light lager from time to time?  It’s not like a crime or anything.  Besides, what’s more important is that he’s turned the White House into a home brewery.  When you stop to think about White House Honey Ale and White House Honey Porter, it’s not hard to say that homebrewers, for sure, and craft beer drinkers, as well, probably haven’t enjoyed such a craft brew-friendly resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since Thomas Jefferson or one of the post-Revolutionary Presidents.

So, is any of this really going to factor into your decision when your time comes in the voting booth this November?  Admittedly, probably not.  There are certainly bigger fish to fry in this election.  But, then again, when you consider that craft brewing has been a incredibly strong growth industry over the past for years, an bright spot in a sluggish economy that’s been providing solid jobs for Americans, perhaps the candidates should look at craft beer with a slightly more analytical eye.

Obviously, the US economy is the Big Issue in this year’s election, giving us contentious debates of tax policy and deficit spending.  But if you look past all that, I’m pretty sure that there’s a lesson to be learned from the humble, thriving, craft brewing industry.

Of course, I’m not a economist.  But I did drink a craft beer drink last night.

Pud’n

Surviving the better beer desert

A few months ago, when summer was in full swing and I was living the family vacation high life (so not to be confused with the actual brand, High Life), I wrote a post about finding a brew in an unknown place to keep on hand for the duration of your stay.  The comments I received afterwards proved that I’m not, in fact, the only one who does it.  Finding local beer treats when you’re out of town is apparently part of the fun of traveling.

So what happens when you can’t find any?

A funny thing happened to me last week. Being a regular contributor for a highly regarded better beer blog such as this one means that occasionally I have an opportunity to write beer-related nonsense for other people, too.  Really, they should know better, right?  Then again, maybe that’s why I have I word-count limit.

Anyway, most recently, I’ve been offering beer-related suggestions for Cincinnati.com columnist Paul Daugherty’s blog in reference to whatever NFL team the Bengals will be facing that upcoming Sunday.  Last weekend, they played host to the Miami Dolphins.

So, great, I just had to come up a Miami-based beer or two.

Except, um, I’ve never been to Miami.  Still, I had no fear!  The best thing about being a believer in better beer is having plenty of better beer buddies.  Craft beer is, if nothing else, a deeply social, community-oriented, er, hobby?  Pasttime?  Obsession?  Ahem.  Whatever.  Point is, I sent out some feelers to my beer-loving friends, hoping to come up with a few suggestions.

"So, anyone ever been to Miami?" I asked. "What do you know about Miami beers?"

*crickets*

*tumbleweeds*

*deafening silence*

Um. Yeah.  Okay.  So I did some online research, and believe it or not, this time I used more than just Google.  Unfortunately, for all the extra work I put into it (like five whole minutes!), my effort was every bit as fruitless as a well-poured pint of beer ought to be.

Long story short, it looks like there might be a couple of decent places for craft beer in Miami, but nothing terribly notable and nothing that leaves the area.  Oh, they have a Gordon Biersch, which, you know, is fine, I guess.  Nothing really to write Doc about though.

In the end, I punted and made last week about enjoying local Cincinnati brews since the Bengals were at home anyway.  Thankfully, we’ve come a long way in the past five years or so, and we’re no longer drifting, parched and miserable, in that same boat of craft beer desolation.

So, did I miss something about Miami?  Does everyone actually just slurp up mojitos, or are there some awesome better beers hiding in the city somewhere that the internet doesn’t know about?  I’d love to hear, because I’m sure someday I’ll stop there on my way to a cruise or something.

What other better beer Saharas are out there?  Have you ever visited a place where your options were limited to, well, nothing worth drinking, anyway?  If so, let’s compile a list and draw up some kind of map indicating each dry spot with a "Here There Be Monsters". 

Because, like we all know from the old G.I. Joe cartoons, "Knowing is half the battle." 

And knowing that will put us one step closer to finding an oasis in the desert.

Pud’n

Mr. Bond goes Dutch

One night last weekend I was sitting comfortably in my recliner, sipping a Rivertown Roebling porter, and fast-forwarding through a DVR’d commercial break during whatever I was about to fall asleep in front of when something unusual caught my eye.  Maybe it was the music, maybe it was the man, maybe it was the action, who knows.  Whatever it was, I had to rewind and watch the whole thing from start to finish.

See, what I thought I’d happened upon was a new commercial for the upcoming James Bond movie, Skyfall.

Curious what commercial I’m referring to?  I gotcha…it’s this one here.  You should go watch it.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Great, all done?  Right, so, imagine my disappointment, then, when I realized that I’d taken the time to catch what is, in fact, a commercial for

…duh, duh, duh…

Heineken

*peal of thunder*

Ok, so, there are probably a few of you right at this very moment with your mouse cursor hovering above that Post a Comment button, all red-faced and ready to rip me a new one –  or perhaps even two new ones, time permitting – about how I’m terrible snobby beer jerk who shouldn’t be telling anyone they can’t like Heineken.

For those people: look, please, just calm down. We’ve been down this road before and believe me, I’m not telling you can’t like Heineken anymore than I’m telling you that you must like Bond movies.  Seriously, I’m not.  Yes, admittedly, I think Heineken tastes like thin, skunky, week-old dishwater with a terribly sharp, pungent aftertaste that you can’t convince me isn’t because of the green bottle*.  But that’s just my opinion, and I’ll happily respect yours.  Besides, that’s not the point here.  The point here is that, well, James Bond is, you know, supposed to be British.

Which is to say, look, if Bond is so key to English culture that he gets to parachute into the Olympics with the freakin’ Queen herself at the Opening Ceremonies in London, why in the name of the Union Jack isn’t he pimping some English beer?  It’s not like there aren’t plenty of English beers for him to pimp, after all.  I mean, think about it: England and Germany are probably the two countries with the most historical influence on beer culture, style, and tradition.  The Dutch, though, um not so much. 

Nevertheless, here we have a honest-to-goodness pop-culture icon from the same nation that gave us CAMRA who could be otherwise doing some awesome campaigning for a brew with more local ties, instead trying to sell us Heineken.

If you ask me, Bond should stick to the martinis, because his apparent choice of beer is a bit of a slap in the face to his countrymen.

And the Dutch should look into getting someone of their own to hock their beer. 

Or at least get that fancy robot lady back.

Pud’n


*Why, yes, I do find that Rolling Rock – the world’s other most notable green-bottled beer – does, in fact, have the same aftertaste.

A bit more about Arthur’s

When it comes to, well, just about anything someone can possibly write about, never let it be said that I was content to sit back and allow a few hundred words to suffice for a topic that I might easily run into the ground with a thousand more.

Wait, wait, wait.  Come back!  Please.  I promise, there won’t really be a thousand words in this post.  I hope.

That said, I feel compelled to add a few words about the announcement that Tom so effective (and more concisely) covered yesterday regarding the all-local tap transition coming soon to Arthur’s Café in Hyde Park.

I mean, holy cow, people, you do realize the significance of this right?  I mean, admittedly, it’s not quite as astounding as, well, sending a human being to the moon, or circumnavigating the globe by the power of the wind alone, or well, the Bengals becoming a source of civic pride, or anything. But it’s almost there.

Honestly, in my opinion, the magic isn’t so much that it’s going to happen, because, really, if you think about the current state of local brewing, someone was going to do it before too long.  Good for Arthur’s Café for being the first ones to seize the opportunity and make an event from it.  What amazes me, really, when I stop to think about it, is that we’ve gotten to the point that such a thing is a realistic – aka potentially profitable – possibility for a local bar.

As Tom wrote, this wouldn’t have been possible when he and Carla started Hoperatives.  For that matter, it still wouldn’t have been an option when I started writing for them nearly two years ago.  In a very short period of time, we’ve come what seems like a very long way in getting back some of past brewing glory.

Of course, that’s not to say we’re likely to ever return the city’s brewing industry to the levels seen back in our 19th Century heyday.  Some say that’s fine, so long as someday the name Cincinnati is spoken in the same breath as the other Meccas of America’s craft brewing renaissance, such as Portland, Denver, and San Diego.  And you know, maybe someday we’ll get there. It’s not like the brewers around town are hesitant to deviate from brewing with a single strain of yeast and a business plan that says you have to have a pale ale, a red ale, and a brown ale.  No, we’ve got award-winning brewers happily dreaming of experiments with crazy-sounding things like brandy barrels, local espresso, wild yeasts, etc.

But then again, maybe we won’t ever get that kind of notoriety.

Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t matter.  Because the best damned thing about this city (sometimes) is that we do things our way, to our liking.  In this case, that’s meant building a brewing industry focused on community, not competition.   It means that for Cincinnati Winter Beerfest, our brewers get together with their white mad-scientist lab coats and brewed something together, for everyone.  It means that when the taps at Arthur’s go all-local – not for an evening, mind you, or a weekend, or even a week, but an entire month – and representatives from each brewery come to the big event, there won’t be any nasty looks, snide remarks, or childish brewing melodrama between them.  In fact, from what I understand, they’re like as not to each get a round of the other’s brew and talk shop.

Cincinnati may not be the flashiest craft brew city in the US; it might not have the most breweries, or the biggest ones, and we might still have a ways to go to make that list above.  But we’ve come a long way, baby.  You can see it and feel it all around town.   And next month, just how far we’ve come will be made manifest in a line-up of shiny, familiar tap handles at Arthur’s Café in Hyde Park.

I, for one, am positively giddy that we’ve reached such a milestone, and that I’ve had the opportunity over the past few years to support our local brewers along the way.

And because that industry is comprised of good people make good products, I’m even happier to continue that support, whether that be at the bar, in the store, or heck, even with just with a bit of cheerleading.

It’s (finally) a new day for brewing in Cincinnati, and it’s got me me wondering how far, together, we can go.

I suppose the only way to find out is bottoms up!

Pud’n

Traveling Tuesday: Downtown Grill & Brewery – Knoxville, TN

Since it’s after Labor Day, and I guess we’re not allowed to wear white anymore, or whatever, I figured it was time to finally bring my series of summer vacation adventures to exciting new better beer locations to a frothy conclusion.  And I have saved the best for last.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a big believer in subjecting children who generally have trouble sitting still for half an hour to 12-hour cars rides.  Trust me, no one wins in those situations.  So, on our way home from our stay in Myrtle Beach, my wife, kids, and I stopped for an overnight stay in Knoxville, TN.  We almost had our hotel room given away, had some pretty decent pizza, and got to see the Sunsphere and World’s Fair park downtown.

That turned out to be more convenient for me than hot running water, because I’d had designs on stopping at the Downtown Grill and Brewery the whole time.

We arrived just about noon on Sunday, and the place was in full-tilt brunch mode.  We’d eaten breakfast already, though, so we got a sampling of appetizers – yes, obviously including the obligatory nachos – and I sampled a few of the brews.WP_000116

The nachos were tasty, and the While Mule Ale and the Woodruff IPA were awesome and both very clean. I enjoyed the IPA especially, as it leaned more toward the English variety of the style, which I tend to prefer.

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Downtown Grill and Brewery has two floors, with two distinct bars and dining areas. On the first floor a square bar takes up the center of the floor space, with dining arranged on both sides. There are more tables directly above the ones on the first floor, on balconies that overlook the central bar. In the rear of the second floor, though, is a relaxing lounge area with the second bar, pools tables, couches, TVs, darts, etc.

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Without question, DG&B was my favorite better beer stop of our vacation.  The beer was great, the place is housed in an old building with plenty of character, the people were incredibly nice, and the second floor lounge is the kind of place I could see myself spending hours and hours just hanging around with a bunch of friends and a few pints.  If you ever find yourself in Knoxville, definitely check the place out.

Oh, and if you get a chance, try the brunch menu.  The stuff looked good enough to steal from your wife’s plate.

Pud’n