Monday, July 23, 2007

I've moved the blog to here. That way, I could add a search engine to the page. -Mark

Set your bookmarks:

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Beercraft Blog, now with increased functionality!

You might want to update your bookmarks to poit to the enhanced Beercraft Blog.

The new site has search functionality, which is nice with a 300+ post blog.

I'm still getting used to the new system, and the look will be updated shortly. Right now, it just uses a generic theme. But hell, you don't come here for pretty layout, you come here to read about beer!

Anyway, I'll be posting on both sites for a while, just until the kinks are worked out. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to catch a bus to Cooperstown.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Beer in Europe- the travels of Mark, Part II

When last we left our intrepid travelers, they were catching a high speed Thalys train through the Ardennes to Germany. We exited the train under the overcast skies of Cologne.

There are lots of picturesque, stately towns in Germany, and Cologne is not one of them. You'd think any town with the worlds largest gothic cathedral would try to measure up with the rest of its buildings. This is not the case. The Dom (cathedral) is settled on top of a huge concrete slab, across the skateboarder-infested square from the train station. All the surrounding buildings on the south side are squat corporate lego-offices built in the '60s. North of the church runs the Hohestrasse, a cloned German pedestrian shopping street in which high-end boutiques mingle with kebab stands and lowbrow discount stores. On the Hohestrasse, you could be in any crowded city in Germany.

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The Cathedral and an inexplicable David

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The Altstadt and the Rhein seen from the Cathedral

That's ok, though. We weren't there for shopping or architectural wonder. We were there for the Kolsch.

Light in body, light in alcohol, and unique to Cologne, Kolsch is at once a unique beer style and a proud symbol of a city. "We served our Kolsch in .3 liter glasses," the bartender in an Irish pub told us, "and the locals got mad because they were too big."

You see, traditionally, Kolsch is served in .2 liter glasses (6.7 fluid ounces). When you finish one, the server doesn't even ask; he or she simply fills another one and marks it on your coaster. You have to tell them to stop. Because the beers are so small, it takes an army of servers, all running around with their special Kolsch-carrier trays, to keep up with demand.

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This beer gave me a complex

On the positive side, with such small, regular doses, it's certainly easier to control your buzz, which is something I had absolutely no interest in doing.

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My second Peters Kolsch of the evening

Kolsch is only brewed in Cologne, and several principal brewers vie for market share. Gaffel Kolsch is the biggest, and probably the only brand you'll find in the USA. There's also Sion, which is better, Frueh, which is better still, and Peters, which tastes the best. Each of these breweries has a beer hall on premises, where you can eat traditional meat-oriented German food to buffer yourself from the onslaught of beer shots.

Lumps of meat aside, I still woke up with a hangover.

Next post: Belgium Comes to Cooperstown

Monday, July 16, 2007

Beercraft newspaper article #43: Trappist ales

More on the beer trip tomorrow. I owe you guys the biweekly newspaper column. It just so happens that the subject matter meshes well

In Belgium, the quest for the Holy Ale continues

This column is being written literally hours before the start of a trip to Belgium. That’s right, gentle reader. We at Beercraft are so focused on bringing you accurate, up-to-date information on the world’s beers that we’re willing to travel across an ocean to find it. And we swear we’re not just using this column in an effort to write off a vacation in Europe.

Anyway, since the plane is leaving in three hours, let’s get down to today’s topic: Trappist Ale. And no, it’s not made by dudes in buckskin and fur hats with raccoon tails.

The Trappists are a monastic Catholic order that follow the teachings of Saint (not Pope) Benedict. They’re technically called “The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, but that’s awfully wordy for a beer bottle. Instead they take their moniker from the abbey of La Trappe. Most of their abbeys are located in Belgium, although the order has spread to other regions as well.

These guys are serious monks. They live a life of rigorous personal poverty. They remain silent as much as possible during the day. They basically do two things: work and pray. When not at prayer, they’re making products to support the abbey: Cheese, bread, even clothing. But the most famous fruit of their labor is the Trappist ale that has given Belgium international renown as the world’s beer Mecca.

Belgian law allows only six abbeys to sell their beer as Trappist ale: Achel, Orval, Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren and Koenigshoeven. There are numerous other “abbey ales” that are brewed by laic interests and not necessarily at the monasteries themselves.

For many, the beers produced by these six represent the holy grail of brewing. They are all exquisite, Brown or reddish in color, with a fruit and nut aroma and complex malt flavor. Each sip reveals more intricacy of flavor: a hint of coriander, caramel, is that… citrus? Trappist ales are more deep and complex than any other beers in the world.

Trappist and Abbey ales are categorically divided by strength. There’s Singel, which is already strong, Dubbel, Tripel and Quadrupel, which can tip the scales at a skull-crushing 12%. Hey, even a monk gets to live a little!

Unfortunately, Trappist ale seems nigh-impossible for brewers outside of Belgium to duplicate. Each abbey uses a proprietary strain of Belgian yeast, and they’re not giving it out to just anybody. Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown New York comes the closest, benefiting from the resources of its Belgian parent company Duvel, a longtime brewer of abbey ales.

Other American stabs at the Trappist/Abbey style have yielded good, if inauthentic, results. If your only exposure to “Belgian Ale” has been through a bottle out of the Saranac Summer Sampler 12 pack, it behooves you to try a glass of the Trappist stuff. It’s night and day (although we’ll happily down a few of the Saranacs too).

As you might expect for a beer style brewed by monks in only six abbeys in a tiny European nation, Trappist ale is not cheap. In a Rochester beer bar, expect to pay wine prices. But that’s the cost of greatness. If it’s cheaper in Belgium, we’ll let you know.

Although it seems doubtful that Delta will give us any on the flight over.

In other beers:
Old Toad General Manager Jules Suplicki has recently taken on the responsibility of beer selection for the bar, and she’s developing nicely. Using patron recommendations as well as those of beer distributors, Suplicki has built an eclectic lineup of excellent beers.

Last Sunday the Toad was featuring Okocim Porter on draft and Czechvar (the real Budweiser) as a bottle special. You just don’t find these beers in Rochester bars. Well done, Jules!

Suplicki’s predecessor in the Toad’s Cellar, Joe McBane, is hard at work hand-renovating his new beer bar, in the old Gregory Street MacGregor’s location. We recently had a look at the construction. He’s gutted the place. Don’t expect MacGregor’s when the new bar opens in August. Do, however, expect a fantastic beer selection!

Bruce is a certified beer judge and commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A beer too far- Mark's trip to Europe

For beer lovers, a visit to Europe is a mixed blessing. Finding oneself in a new country, a new city, surrounded by beers considered exotic back in the USA, it's easy to, shall we say, overdo it a bit. In fact, there's no alternative BUT to overdo it. There are so many beers to try in such a compressed period of time.

Such were the circumstances under which I found myself, debarking the 767, wearily trudging through the absurdly lengthy concourse of Brussels Airport, only to glimpse my first Leffe taps while still in the Arrivals hall.

This vacation was going to be trouble.

I am, however, a model of restraint and self-control. We dragged our jet-laggy asses into our hotel on the Boulevard Adolphe Max, in the heart of the busiest part of town, and had a nap before venturing out to experience cafe life in Belgium's first city.

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A blonde on one arm, a brunette on the other

Leffe Brown. Leffe Blonde. Orval. Duvel. Rodenbach. Westmalle. Achel. Some I've never tried. Some I can get here in Rochester, but nowhere near as fresh. It was like a candy store. Except the candy was Trappist and abbey ale. The beers that American beer lovers would savor and cellar here in the USA consumed as casually as Miller Genuine Draft by the Belgians.

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Christian Qvist, of Denmark, enjoys a Ramee

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More drinking with the Danes

Of course, the setting provides a great deal of the enjoyment. Sipping a Kasteel Brown at a cafe on the Grand Place, or a refreshing Jupiler in the Place du Sablon, or being taught a lesson by a crusty old bar owner about Boons Kriek (the best fruit lambic in the world) in his backwater Flemish tavern- it definitely adds a new dimension to beer usually enjoyed only abstractly, without context.

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the Hotel de Ville at night, viewed from the touristy Roi d'Espagne bar in the Grand Place

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A beer-drinking backdrop in the Place du Grand Sablon

Sure, the hangovers were mighty and plentiful, but such is the life of a beer lover.

We stayed in Belgium for four days before hopping on a train heading randomly west, only to find ourselves in another fantastic beer town sipping from 0.2 liter glasses in the shadow of the largest gothic structure in the world. That's a story for another post...

Beer School this week
Since I have lambics on my mind, that's what we're hitting this Thursday, 7:30pm, at Monty's Korner. The famous fruit beers of Belgium await your eager palates!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Back from Belgium and Germany

We just stepped across our threshold after two and a half ours of taxiing around JFK airport's tarmac. I've got lots to post (including the definitive best kriek) but I'm too tired to do so now. Tune in tomorrow!


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Beer fest and Beer school

Since I'm going to Belgium on Thursday, Pat Hughes will be assuming all Beer School duties. The topic: Award-winning beers. The Time: 7pm. The Place: Monty's Korner, Rochester.

While you're sampling some of the finest beers anywhere, you can rest assured that I'm conducting exhaustive research on Belgian brew in order to properly advise you, the consumer. Pics will be posted.

Oh, and look for the Victory Brew Fest at Monty's Krown on Saturday, June 30. Victory Brewing Company rep Steve German will be on hand with an array of cask, draft, and bottled things for you to try. Unfortunately, I will miss it, because I will be drinking trappist ales at the source.