Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Here comes a regular- Stammtisch

This article on in Spielgel Online's describes one of my favorite beer-related traditions.

When you walk into a German Kneipe (pub), you'll often see one table curiously unoccupied, even though the others may be full. Good table, too. Best view in the house.

Don't sit there. See that sign on or above the table? it says Stammtisch. In a bizzare custom that wouldn't ever go over in the USA, this table is reserved for a select group of regulars. It's theirs even when they're at home.

Now this sounds annoying, and if anyplace tried it here the cops would wind up getting involved, but being invited to sit at the Stammtisch is a privilege, and can lead to that rare kind of boozy fun that reminds us why we love beer in the first place.

As far as I know, the only Stammtisch in Rochester is at Swan Market. It's odd, but I'm proud when Oskar Meyer and Guenther Schwann motion me over to join their table. Prosit!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Happy Memorial Day

Ahh, Memorial Day, that sacred holiday where all across the great United States, folks honor those who fought for this Nation's freedom by getting trashed.

Personally, I'll be featuring from Lyon's Colorado, as a companion to my (a Rochester tradition). And I'll give a shout out to the men and women in the Sandbox. Wish I could buy you all a beer.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Friday's overrated beer: Sam Adams Lager

The American beer scene of a couple decades ago was pretty bleak. Imports were sparse and expensive, no micros to speak of, and the closest anyone got to actually appreciating it was "Bud Bowl." Then Jim Koch changed everything.

Never mind the fruity-looking patriot on the bottle. When first appeared, it was like the gates of heaven had opened. Balanced, dark, delicious, it quickly became a favorite among the trendy set and the beer afficianados. For years, Sam Adams remained a viable choice on any tap set.

Then something went wrong. Horribly wrong. Perhaps it's because they started letting Genesee (now ) contract brew the stuff. Perhaps it got lost in Marketing's frenzied push to increase the Boston Beer Company's product range. It just slid right of the hill. It's nice that tey use Hallertau hops and all, but what was once a flavorful, complex lager nows seems cloying, a tad syrupy, with a weird finish.

Sam Adams is still held in very high esteem, and granted, I haven't ordered one in about four years, so maybe it's good again. But for now, it goes on the Beercraft list of Overrated Beers.

Special Thanks to the guys from Spaten and the for this hangover. We enjoyed the event at the Krown last night. That the Spaten was excellent goes without saying. The Brooklyn Blond Bock was a very pleasant surprise. Nice job, Mr. Oliver and crew!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Thursday's beer from the other side of the world: Efes Turkish Pilsner

The country of Turkey is not renowned as an epicenter of great beer, so it was with some trepidation that we sampled Efes Pilsener. Our wory qulckly dissolved after the first sip.

First off, it is decidedly not a pilsner. With it's sweetish flavor and prominent malt character, Efes more closely resembles a Munich lager. It's also darker than a pils. All in all, it's not a bad beer. I would order this if I saw it in a pub.

So hats off to Efes, the best "beer from the other side of the world" we've talked about so far.

Sisters of Murphy tonight at Monty's Krown

Tonight's the night. Our is playing at 10pm, with the whole thing being sponsored, inexplicably, by

Along with punky-edged pub music, there will be great Spaten beers on special. If you're in Rochester, come down and drink a few from one of the finest breweries in the world.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Band practice & Canadian Shite Lager

Had our final practice for Thursday's show at Monty's Krown. My band, the Sisters of Murphy, are rarin' to go.

Problem is, I'm the only one who ever brings beer to pratice.

I'm sick of supplying the good stuff. Tonight it was straight Labatt Blue. My mouth tastes like Saskatchewan.

My ears are ringing. I'm going to bed.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Beercraft newspaper column #13: Hefeweizen

Hefeweizen: The best of summer beers

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

If you’re a beer person, you’ve probably noticed that some beers seem more seasonally appropriate than others. When you walk into the pub on a January night, fingers stiff and ears prickly from the icy wind, nothing is as comforting as a strong, dark imperial stout.

On a hot June day, however, it’s probably preferably to enjoy something lighter and more quenching. And we have Bavarian beer garden culture to thank for the most appropriate of all summer beer styles: Hefeweizen.

“Hefe” is German for “yeast,” and “Weizen” means wheat. That’s exactly what this is: a beer made with wheat instead of barley, and served unfiltered and cloudy with the standing yeast. The wheat base imparts a completely different, lighter character to the beer, and the methods used in brewing Hefeweizen result in a unique, delicious summer drink with a lot of visual appeal.

This style gets a special glass, and most bars who know their beer will have Hefeweizen glasses on hand. They’re really tall, curvy, and flared toward the top, amplifying the aroma of the beer. Very often, the filled glass is served with a lemon on the rim (Our advice: ditch the citrus. The Germans certainly would).

There should be a pleasant cloudiness from the yeast. As we said before, Hefeweizen is unfiltered, and that lack of clarity may put some people off at first. Rest assured it’s supposed to be like that.

A good Hefeweizen is slightly sweet, with good head retention and a characteristic banana and clove flavor combination. A bad one tastes like envelope glue. We decided to save ourselves the misery and review some good ones.

Paulaner Hefe-Weissebier is our favorite; the archetype of the style. On a summer afternoon, it’s absolutely sublime. It has a lush, apricot color and an intriguing, well-rounded flavor that really captures the spicy banana and clove essence. Sometimes you’ll see it on draft, but usually your best bet is to head down to Beers of the World for the bottled stuff.

Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse is the most available. If your bar has the style on draft, chances are it’s this one. That isn’t a bad thing; Franziskaner is very good. It sports the characteristic peach-to-orange color, with a nice thick head. The flavor is spicy-sweet, with a lot of citrus, and it’s very smooth.

Erdinger Hefe-Weizen is Paulaner’s regional rival for best Weizen. It’s a lot more dry, and will appeal to people who like the light wheat body and bite, but aren’t into sweeter beer. It’s also much paler than Paulaner or Franziskaner. Once again, you’ll be looking for the bottled version; we’ve never seen Erdinger distributed on draft in this region.

Hefeweizen is tricky to brew and few American examples are able to accurately hit the style guidelines, but we found a good one to compare with the old German standbys. Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat, from the Flying Dog Brewery of Denver, is a great domestic Hefe, with appealing cloudiness. It can’t stand with the Uber-hefes in terms of color or head retention. The flavor, though, is pretty much bang-on European. The guys who formulated In-Heat know their craft, and it pays off for the consumer. Enjoy this beer as fine American alternative to lager on a hot summer day.

If you’re buying Hefeweizen in bottles, remember to gently roll the bottle on the table before opening it. This circulates the yeast from the bottle’s bottom. If you skip this step, you’ll probably lose the signature cloudiness, as well as some of the flavor.

So pour yourself a nice big glass, sit outside in the sun and be thankful to the Bavarians for creating something as wonderful as Hefeweizen. Hell, they had to do something to atone for the invention of Lederhosen.

In other beers:
It is with great personal sadness that we lament the closing of MacGregor’s downtown location. For well over a decade, it has been a bastion of beer. With 85 taps, excellent, high-quality specials, and a friendly staff, MacGregor’s was as close to the perfect pub any we’ve visited.

The other MacGregor’s locations remain open and pouring; although none of the suburban spots can match the original Gregory Street bar for ambiance and conviviality. Still, they all have a huge variety of beer on draft, and they know their product.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com

The first podcast is recorded.

Well, fellow beercraft participant Rob Walsh and myself put together the first episode. It's a bit more amateurish than I was hoping for; we were using a laptop, and a cheap computer mic. Once Bruce comes on board with the podcast, we'll use a full Pro Tools suite in a studio.

So we reviewed a couple of American beers, including which was a real delight.

Hear more in the Podcast, hopefully going up this week. I look forward to feedback on the project.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Breath patrol?!?

I received a press release for poduct. It's described as " 'emergency equipment' for all beer/wine drinkers. It's recommended by Professional Taster Stephen Beaumont (worldofbeer.com), Ratebeer.com and South West Brewing News (USA). BreathPatrol does not mask but eliminates breath odor from alcohol, tobacco, garlic, onions and coffee. The Germans have had breweries for 25 centuries: Who better to create a great tasting and effective breath freshener?"

So, what we have here is an anti-DWI pill. I can't see how you'l fool a breathalyzer, since alcohol is metabolized through the lungs, but you might take away any reason on the part of the coop to administer the test in the first place. I guess it's also nice to be able to slam back a few at lunchtime then return to work without smelling like a brewery.

Thank you, Germans, for helping us bring alcohol back into the workplace and the driver's seat! Who better than you guys? Oh, and can you do anything about my B.O.?


Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday's overrated beer: Bass Ale

is ubiquitous. It's the oldest trademark in Britain. The bottle was depicted in a Monet painting. It's often considered the pinnacle of beer by people who rarely venture out of Busch-land.

And it sucks.

OK. Mayby it doesn't exactly suck, but it lacks body and character. Other English pale ales, such as blow bass out of the water (sic) in terms of body, balance, and general character of the beer.

I guess Bass' strongest positive is that it's available everywere. Mostr restaurants carry it, and you can get it in the British Airways Club Lounge (provided Snoop hasn't totally trashed the place). It's blandness also helps make it less of an acquired taste than many of the craft beers.

At any rate, you won't ever find it in my fridge.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Thursday's Beer from the Other Side of the World: O.B. Lager

The of South Korea makes this light, American style lager for both export and domestic consumption. After trying it, I kind of wish they'd kept it at home.

When we poured it, the cheap, cereal smell that wafted out of the glass simultaneously raised our eyebrows and lowered our desire to taste. But a hobby is a hobby, dammit, so taste we did. And we were not disappointed. Which is to say we were highly disappointed.

There is more rice in O.B. than in your average sushi bar. The cheap adjunct grain provides fermentable starches at a lower price and worse flavor than real barley. It's a technique used by American and Canadian macrobrewers for more than a century, but the Oriental Brewery makes even less of an effort to cover the thin, character-free taste than our domestic giants.

The result: a limp, pissy brew that's mercifully close to flavorlessness until the aftertaste maims your tonsils. If you're a poor Korean student, or a poor American serviceman, this beer will probably hit the price point for you. If you're looking for an exotic brew in your local beer store, rest assured this is not it, and I can think of another product named O.B. which is probably tastier than this, although it might leave you with cottonmouth.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

An Irish band & German beer

Our Irish band, the Sisters of Murphy, is playing at Monty's Krown on Monroe Ave. in Rochester Thursday, May 24. I sing, Bruce plays bass.

usually, we play one show a year (an Irish band...guess which day?), but this will be a rare appearance by the Sisters of Murphy in all our drunken, er, splendor.

The show is sponsored by Spaten, and we can expect at least a couple kinds to be on draft at a special price. Irish pub music, German beer, American swearing, sounds like a hell of an evening to me!


On the proliferation of "big" beer

American craft breweries are formulating high-alcohol, high-gravity brews at an increasing rate. seems the average microbrew afficianado has taken a liking to brawny, hangover-inducing out-of-balance ales.

Personally, I'm not a fan. Sure, in the winter I might grab a or but bang! there's your night right there. A couple glasses of an over-the-top beer will put you under the table before you even close the 20s on the dart board.

Some big beers are very tasty, but many go down like malt syrup. Some, in a halfhearted attempt at balance, taste like strangulation with a hop vine. I don't want to have to pull my uvula back into place with pliers every time I sip my beer.

Consumer perception is a large part of the big beer craze. People new to craft beer, or who stay locked in that "I won't drink anything I can see through" box equate higher strength beer as more "crafty." Like it's somehow a more exclusive product because the brewer left more fermentable sugar in the wort.

Thanks. For my money I'll take something I can session with, and enjoy a pleasant, leisurely evening with friends. For me, beer is a social thing, not a delivery system for drunkenness. If I want to get hammered on the first sip, I'll just order a shot of vodka.


Monday, May 15, 2006

R.I.P MacGregor's Downtown

I just learned that one of my favorite pubs, MacGregor's, has closed its Gregory Street location suddenly and without warning. I had a lot of great times, and great beers in there, and made some friends.

The other MacGregor's locations are still open, but they're far from downtown, requiring lengthy drives that one does not wish to take while consuming beverage. It looks like we'll have to find an alternative. Sigh.


The beercraft podcast

We're going to start a podcast, which will be every bit as exciting as hearing three guys making slurping sounds and waffling about beer can be. I hope to record the first episode this coming Sunday and pump them out on at least a biweekly basis. Let me know if there's anything you'd like to hear discussed.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

A bock oversight

Of course, we didn't find this out until after our article on Bock beer published.

Swan Market, on Parsell's Ave in Rochester, is now pouring Spaten Bock on draft. This isn't the Optimator Doppelbock (which they have bottled), but the honest-to-gosh golden Bock Lager.

If you live in Rochester, but don't know Swan Market, you're missing a treat. It's a little German deli in the middle of the 'hood. They make their own sausages and smoke their own meat in a 100 year old smokehouse. Wednesday through Saturday, they serve German lunches from 11:30-2. Vegetarians need not apply; even the vegetables have bacon in them.

There is NO better place in Rochester for beer drinking.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A shout-out to the Brewers

Not the Milwaukee baseball team.

Is there a more thankless job than Brewer at a microbrewery? You have to lug tons of heavy shit around all day, spend half your time up to the elbows in caustic as you sanitize, work around huge boiling vats even in the middle of summer, and deal with high waitstaff turnover that could give fuck-all about what you labor to create.

At the same time, the place where you work is always on the edge of closure, the owner only cares about maximizing profit so you're working all hours of the night. The owner thinks he's a brewmaster, so he's fucking with your recipes and criticizing your procedures. You're lucky to have the tiniest bit of health insurance, if any, and your place of employment could close down with no notice at any time.

Groupies? Yeah, you get them. 50 year old men with scraggly Jerry Garcia beards and graphing calculators peeking out of a shirt pocket, who always want a tour of the cramped dungeon you call a brewery, and go on for hours about every other beer they've ever swilled before pedalling away on their recumbent bicycles.

Yet you keep making beer.

Hey, brewers, thanks for loving beer and loving your craft. The job might be a pain sometimes, but some of us out there appreciate the way you guys do it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Overrated beer of the week

Since yesterday's post lionized Sheaf Stout, it's only fiting that today's should slam another Australian beer.

Yes, I'm talking about Foster's Lager, a beer so bland, so bad-to-ordinary, that you couldn't pick it out of the friggin' Pepsi Challenge. According to the Foster's website, "Its signature full malt character on the mid-palate blends well with a delicate creaminess and crisp, clean hop finish, creating a perfect balance to the beer." But according to me, it's Labatt Blue with a touch less corn flavor, served in a fat can.

The galling thing is, were it not for Paul Hogan and a vast marketing budget, Foster's would be as rare as Sheaf on American shelves. It bums me out that people buy the "G'day, shrimp on the barbie" hype, try Fosters, find it mildly less exotic than Utica Club, and from that moment on take a slightly skewed view of all beer.

Of course, if you like Foster's, by all means drink away. I don't mean to imply that Foster's fans are wrong or posess inferior taste. If this is your bag, enjoy.

That way, there'll be less for the rest of us.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Thursday's Beer from the Other Side of the World: Sheaf Stout

Australian beers, at least the exported ones, tend to be thin lagers with little to no personality. Picture Labatt Blue as pitched by Paul Hogan. Sheaf Stout, however, is a welcome exception. Although difficult to find, tracking down the Sheaf is well worth it. Bruce and myself happened upon it at the Map Room in Cleveland's Warehouse District.

It's a sweeter stout, with a tantalizing dry finish and a medium body. The flavors are quite complex and blend with each other well. Sheaf clocks in at 5.7% alcohol by volume; usually one would expect a stout with this much character to rate much higher on the drunkard scale. If you can find it, fill your fridge and enjoy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Beercraft newspaper column #12: Bock beer

Bock beer offers a taste of spring in the Alps

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Bavaria is the Mecca of beer. The Czechs and the English might disagree, but the fact is, there are more breweries in this southern German state than in any other country in the world.

Most of these Breweries earn their keep putting out Helles, or Bavarian lager. Many also brew a stronger seasonal beer for the spring months. Various myths and legends have linked the spring beer with the image of a goat. Indeed the very word Bock means “goat” in German.

It turns out that Bock is pretty popular, not only in Germany but around the world. We’re fortunate here in the northeastern US; not only can we readily get our hands on the German stuff, but many regional and microbreweries produce original interpretations of the style right at home.

So without further ado, let’s crack our first bottle, direct from the town of Einbeck, spiritual source of Bock beer. Einbecker Ur-Bock demonstrates all the traditional elements of the Bock profile.

The beer pours a caramel-amber color with a pleasant head that disintegrates to a fine lace on the sides of the glass. You won’t detect much aroma, but expect a whiff of malt.

The sweet flavor of malt dominates, but the hop presence is noticeable enough to round out the finish, so the beer isn’t cloying. Also, as can be expected from Bock, Einbecker has a full, substantial, satisfying body. It’s a fantastic beer for an evening out, but not so good after mowing the lawn on a hot day.

The most annoying thing about Einbecker is the size of the bottle. It clocks in at a measly 11.2 ounces. For a region as Beer-crazy as Catholic Bavaria, that laughable serving is downright Lutheran.

Bock is also brewed in Austria, notably by the Stiegl brewery of Salzburg. Their “Columbus” Bock straddles the line betwixt Maibock and Marzen (Bavarian festival beer…more on this in August). It also hearty mouth feel and a sweeter malt flavor, with even less bitter aftertaste than the Einbecker.

Not to get all wine columnist on you, but the flavor of Stiegl is pleasantly complex, with notes of toffee, hazelnut, and caramel. This is a wonderful dessert beer for people who have a slight sweet tooth, yet still like to drink strong things. It’s also the only Salzburg export that doesn’t have the name “Mozart” tackily slapped all over it.

Our next Bock beer had to travel all the way down the street from the High Falls Brewing Company. JW Dundee’s Pale Bock, coming off a gold medal win at the World Beer Cup (where it competed against the German stuff).

Dundee’s pours a light golden color, indistinguishable in hue from many lagers. There’s the slightest malt aroma, too. The taste is where it differs from the traditional German Bocks. It’s not as malt-heavy, with a dry finish.

This makes Dundee’s Pale Bock a real standout for its versatility. It’s a tasty, malty Bock that will refresh throughout the hottest summer months as well as during the spring. High Falls should keep this one in production for a while.

Next up: Stoudts Double Maibock, from the Stoudt Brewing Company in scenic Adamstown, PA. The name of this beer can be a bit deceiving; it’s as strong as a Doppelbock, but the flavor and visual characteristics of a Mai (May) Bock.

Like Dundee’s, the color is pale golden. It’s only when you taste the beer that you notice a more intense, sweet malt flavor very reminiscent of the German stuff, it’s actually a bit more syrupy; the malt has to camouflage an enormous amount of alcohol for the Maibock style.

As you can see, apart from a few basic style characteristics (sweet Munich/Vienna malt taste, substantial mouth feel, higher alcohol content), the profile for Bock is actually pretty broad, with room for many individual variations. This probably came about thanks to the hundreds of individual Bavarian breweries, each one with their own take on the town’s spring beer.

It’s almost the exact opposite of the trend in brewing today. Many of those small breweries no longer exist, snapped up by large German and international brewing conglomerates. And this is the main reason to appreciate Bock beer; in every malty sip, you get a taste of uncompromising brewing history. Prosit!

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Upper Monroe Homebrewer's Guild

What a perfect Sunday. I spent it nice and lazy, sitting on the porch with the members of the newly-minted Upper Monroe Homebrewer's Guild: Bruce, Bob, Chris & Patrick.

It was a treat to sample beers from four of the finest homebrewers in Rochester. And believe me, I sampled my ass off. The company was great as well.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Microbrewery movement growing in Denmark

Whe I visited Copenhagin in 1999, the bars had two taps: Carlsberg and Tuborg.

While the Danes have a great brewing tradition, the fact is they don't have a fantastic beer tradition. However Danish tastes are widening...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Thursday's Beer from the Other Side of the World: Asahi

After Dubya Dubya two, Japanese industry wasn't doing so good. Among the smashed and bombed steel refineries and materiel factories were the devastated guts of just about every other industry, including the bering biz.

As the breweries of Japan began their reconstruction process, many American consultant companies, such as Anheuser-Busch, offered assistance. In some cases, the American breweries bought stakes in the fledgling Japanese concerns.

That's why Asahi tastes so much like Budweiser. Rice, rice, and more rice lend it a clean, crisp, disturbingly neutral character, allowing it to go very well with delicate foods like sushi, but preventing the beer from ever being considered particularly good.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

More on Lambics from the New York Times

I posted our column on lambics a couple of weeks ago. If you want to read more, there's a good article in the online New York Times.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More postings soon

I've been dealing with some pretty heavy personal shit over the past few days. More beer stuff is pending. In the meantime, here is a picture of some Norwegian beer...