Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Boardman Street Brewery will open soon.

It's getting to that time of year where my Beercraft partner, Bruce, opens the homebrewery. He and fellow berewer Bob Thomas make the best homebrew I've yet tasted (sorry, Pat, yours is good too). As a former commercial brewer, you'd pretty much expect that from Bruce.

I've been on the fringes of homebrewing, stirred a couple of kettles, that sort of thing. I've never really wanted to get deeper into the hobby. Maybe it's the six hours of weekend required to brew a batch, or maybe it's the long wait between brewing and consuming. Most likely, I've been spoiled by having Bruce's excellent beer at my fingertips, with little to no effort on my part.

Anyway, we're probably going to take a look at homebrewing in some upcoming columns, so if it's something you've been thinking about trying, feel free to use us as a source of discouragement.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Beercraft newspaper column #26: Women who love craft beer

What could be more of a guy thing than beer? Kicking back with a few brewskis is practically a ritual in the Cult of Guydom, along with belching and the scratching of one’s personal regions. Women go for froo-froo mixed drinks, alcopops (like Smirnoff Ice), or wine.

Actually, that’s not necessarily the case. Most women enjoy a cold one as much as any guy. And now, an increasing number of women are discovering, and brewing, craft beer. “Out of the 83 members of the Upstate New York Homebrewers’ Club, 8 are women,” says Kira Barnes, homebrewer and certified female.

Barnes, a cataloging librarian at RIT, brews beer and hard cider along with her husband, Thomas. The two of them are currently studying to become judges in the Beer Judge Certification Program. Upon completion of this surprisingly difficult course, Barnes will be sanctioned to judge beer competitions on a national level.

Not all female beer lovers aspire to such goals; a bunch of them, like Helen Bravenec of Austin, Texas, just like to swill beer. Bravenec, a violinist earning her Master’s Degree at Eastman, used to drink Miller Light, Coors Light, and other mass-market offerings. It was when she moved to Belgium that she started drinking the flavorful stuff.

Many women first develop a taste for lighter, sweeter beers. The fruit-flavored Belgian lambics are popular among the XX-chromosome set, as are witbeers like Hoegaarden and Blue Moon. But an increasing number like to delve into hoppier or more robust brews as well.

“I like my beers just slightly bitter,” Bravenec says, “but not over the top.” She lists Otter Creek Copper Ale, Pilsner Urquell, and good ol’ Saranac Pale Ale as some of her favorites.

Barnes prefers the more strongly and strangely flavored brews. Berliner Weisse, Okocim Baltic Porter, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, and the laughably strong EKU 28 all have a place in her pantry.

She points out that, like wine, a good beer appeals to more than one of the senses. “A beer has to be more than flavorful for me to like it,” Barnes explains. “If it's a style that's supposed to be clear, it should have good clarity; it should be pleasant to drink from the initial aroma to the aftertaste.”

So is craft beer finally getting its due with women? Barnes thinks so, and actively advocates for beer among her fellow females. “I was at a get-together in Kansas City with a woman who was drinking Michelob Ultra. She mentioned something about liking beer but having to stick to the low-cal stuff. I suggested she try New Belgium Skinny Dip, a summer seasonal brewed with coriander and lime leaves, which was only about 90 calories a bottle. She actually wrote it down, so I hope she followed up on it.”

In Other Beers:
The first, and hopefully not the last, Real Beer Expo took place on Alexander Street this past weekend. Festival organizer Joe McBane brought together what’s probably the largest sampling of cask-conditioned ale the area has ever seen. Altogether, 20 breweries had sampling tables.

Events like this are a perfect way to get your feet (and tonsils) wet if you wants to expand your range of tastes. They give you a little glass, and you just hold it out at each brewery table for them to fill. It’s kind of like…a beer buffet! Beerfet? Anyway, it’s a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and you learn a lot.

The fall season has brought with it the usual resurgence of pumpkin ales. These are brewed with actual pumpkin, and can be quite nice as a change of pace. The best ones, like Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale, have a nice cinnamon-clove essence. The lesser examples taste like someone scraped a pumpkin pie plate into your beer. Still, for a once a year thing, we can deal with a bit of excess.

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.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ale Expo wrap-up

From my view as a patron, the Real Ale Expo was an unqualified success. Not a huge crowd, but you'd kind of expect that for an outdoor evening festival in the autumn, the focus of which was cask-condition beer.

Still, there was a great variety, and the lighter crowd made for little to no waiting for your pour. I particularly enjoyed the cask condtioned Phin and Matt's Extraordinary Ale from the

So thanks, Joe, for putting together a great evening. I'll be disappointed if you don't repeat the Expo next year.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rochester Real Ale Festival

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Joe McBane, bar manager from has busted his ass to put together an ambitious project with potentially amazing results. The Real Beer Expo will take place on Saturday, October 21st, from 5-10pm.

This is huge. enjoys a cult following in the US, but still exists way out of the mainstream. This is the traditional "English Pint" style of ale that's carried over since before the Victorian Era. This is authentic ale, the way it was drank by the great people of our time: Naturally carbonated, not overchilled, cloudy with sediment.

20 craft brewereies will be represented under the tent in the lot behind the Sibley Building. If you're a fan of real ale, welcome to paradise. If you've never tried it, Isn't it time those horizons expanded a bit?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Avery Stout- completing the circle

Lately, I've found myself caught in a craft beer loop, a comfort zone with a circle of four or five micros to which I return again and again. It's still a decent variety, and I've grown to trust the quality of these breweries.

Last night, however, I happened upon a draft pull of Avery Stout from Colorado's and it was a treat. The beer is nutty and chewy, with a strong roasted flavor and enough body to back up what the opaque mahogany color and full aroma suggest.

Come to think of it, I've never had a disappointing Avery beer. I guess there's always room for my circle to get a little larger.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday's overrated beer: Stella Artois

On the surface, comes across as ironic- a mass-market light lager among a nation of ancient and singular beers, owned by InBev, a brewing juggernaut among farmhouses with vats in them.

But if you spend any time in Belgium, you'll see that the folks really like their Artois. Stella and inBev co-owned lager Jupiler make up the vast percentage of Belgian beer sales. I guess you can't drink Tripel every day.

Until the mid '90s, Stella was rare around these here parts. Times change, however, and now the beer is brewed in Canada and pumped to us through large-diameter pipelines, or so it would seem based on how quickly Stella has saturated the American market.

In truth, it's a pretty good beer. Fresh-tasting, with a grassy finish, Stella mekes a great summer cooler. But what makes it overrated is the same thing that makes it ironic: Stella rides the reputation of the Belgian brewing tradition- a tradition which, at least in its modern incarnation, the beer completely ignores.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Off topic: What is a fan?

My buddy Mike Cialini turns in a great analysis of Yankee Fans on his blog.

Being a true Yankee fan is more difficult than being a diehard supporter of any other team. Sure, it's great when they win, and we get substantially more to cheer about than anyone else's fans, but with each playoff exit, the torment that Yankee Fan has to endure by the smug and the envious is a heavy cross to bear.

Thing is, I could've been a fan of any team. My dad introduced me to major league baseball when I was six. He could've taken me to Exhibition Stadium, to kindle a following of the Blue Jays. He could've taken me to Three Rivers and I'd be bleeding Pirate...er... brown? yellow? But no, he took me to the Bronx, to see the team he had followed since the days of Mantle, Howard and Berra. He took me into the upper deck of the most amazing place I've ever been in my life.

Ths week has been harder on Yankee fans than most. The chemistry seems to be gone, or at least that's how the media portrays it. Joe hung on to his job by a D-train strap, A-rod had a season most players would kill for and is being inexplicably run out of town on a rail. And then Corey. As a student pilot myself, I can only say trust me, he died doing something he loved.

Now, back to the consumption of beer.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Beercraft newspaper column #24- Learning about craft beer

An adventure in flavor: learning about craft beer

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Perhaps you’re new to the world of craft beer, but would like to learn more. Perhaps you aim to be an authority on craft beer. Perhaps you’ve been saying to yourself, “I would like to become known around the pub as an insufferable, pompous jerk; the kind of patron that bartenders want to hit with a tap handle.”

No seriously, while those folks exist, most people are capable of developing a taste for craft beer and still maintain a pleasant cameraderie with their fellow drinkers. And the jump from big-brewery lagers to flavorful micros is actually comortably short.

Most craft beer newbies, however, run into two obstacles. One is taste aversion. Lager from national breweries is brewed to be consistent and palatable to millions of people, so they strive to make their appealing to the lowest common denominator. In contrast, microbrewed beer is avaiable in a bewildering array of styles, flavors, and strengths.

People just discovering craft beer also have to deal with myriad preconceptions, some based in fact and some absolute nonsense. It’s commonly assumed that all craft beer is stronger than the canned stuff, or that Bock beer is made from the leftovers scraped out of the kettles or that all English beer is served warm.

Ten minutes of conversation with an experienced bartender, or with the guy shoving the dolly at Beers of the World, will be enough to get you started separating beer fact from beer fiction. More adventurous people will just jump right in and dispel the myths with their tastebuds.

And a good place to start is with brown ale, a style that served as the training-wheels beer for lots of people in the know. It’s a darker, slightly sweet British style with very little bitterness. You can find plenty of different examples, from the imported Newcastle Brown to various examples from regional microbreweries. Brooklyn Brewing Company’s Downtown Brown ale is a flavorful standout, as is Long Trail Brewing’s Hit the Trail Ale.

Brown ale might wind up being your thing, or you might grow bored with the style’s relative blandness and long for beer with a bit more bite. So try pale ale. Expect a rich amber color, a floral aroma, and substantially more hop bitterness than brown ale.

The most famous example, of course, is Bass Ale. It’s available everywhere, and still sets the world standard for pales, even though you can find tons of imported and American microbrewed pales that blow it out of the water.

Pale ales are, in fact, one of the most common microbrewed styles. American hops lend a flavor that’s noticeably different from the British stalwarts. A nice example is Dale’s Pale Ale from Colorado’s Oskar Blues Grill and Brewery. You’ll know it when you see it on store shelves; it’s one of the few microbrews available in cans. You might also find yourself faced with a cool bottle of Fat Angel, from Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewing Company, and that’s not so bad on a brisk autumn day.

Once you’re enjoying these beer styles (could take a few pints, could take a few sips), the pantheon of craft beer will be a pleasure to explore. One of the best things about tasting beer is the staggering variety of flavors and styles. We, as drinkers, owe a great debt to craft brewers who constantly experiment, tinker with their recipes, and develop entire new styles of our favorite beverage. It never gets old.

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

Monday, October 09, 2006

Quiz night at The Old Toad

As is the custom in many English-type pubs, features a weekly quiz. I'm siting in its midst.

"Oh fun," you say. "A barroom trivia quiz." how much lighthearted entertainment that must provide.

Excuse me while I upchuck.

The Old Toad's quiz is like taking your SATs. The questions are impossible (Who was the Prime Minister of Portugal from 1832-1841, etc.) It takes an hour to administer a 20 question examination. It takes a second hour to review the friggin' answers.

And the quiz takers are more competitive than, well, something really competitive. They're all grad students and shit, and hair is removed from scalps after every incorrect answer.

Bottom line, it's a fun evening, providded you're two bars away.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Oh, by the way

I had a pleasant surprise at Thursday night- a brief coversation with head brewer for Brooklyn Brewing and the author of The Brewmaster's Table.

People were practically elbowing me out of the way to hang with the G-man, possibly the only "brewing celebrity" on the micro scene, but I was able to briefly discuss Brooklyn Blonde Bock, which is pretty darn good. Nice to see the guy makes it to the sticks every now and then.


Friday's overrated beer: Beck's

I've long had a personal bias toward German beer. My favorite styles, and the best examples thereof, come from Germany and the Czech Republic. For all of it's worldwide brand presence and high sales numbers, however, does not fare well in comparison with its teutonic competition.

This flagship of the German brewing industry is not a bad lager, but there isn't a single reason for it to enjoy such worldwide acclaim besides marketing dollars. Hundreds of other German lagers sport a more rounded malt character and better hop balance, but you'll never find them outside of Europe.

Beck's can usually be found at restaurants and bars that need premium a premium beer menu, but don't want to put a lot of energy into it. It's on the shelf next to Heineken, Sam Adams, Corona, and Bass. While I'd certainly chose Beck's out of that police lineup of beers, All I'd be able to focus on while sipping is "Man, this stuff is overrated."


P.S. Happy Birthday to me.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ideas, ideas, ideas.

OK, so I have to write a beer column that's due today. No problem. I work well under deadline pressure, and it's not too dificult to bang out 800 words of reasonably coherent prose.

But I lack the one necessary ingrediant: a topic.

So I'm calling upon anyone who A. likes beer, B. has happened across this blog, and C. is bored to such a profound degree that they'll take the time to hit the "comment" button and suggest a beer-related topic.

It's your unproductive work day. Make it count.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Beer in Buffalo

We're going up to Buffalo tonight to see one of my favorite bands, who've come all the way from The Netherlands to do a US tour.

While we're there, we'll get the opportunity to hang in some Buffalo beer bars. Now I have to make decisions. The Maybe the

Ah, screw it. Wherever we wind up, I intend to fill myself with beer from one of the most consistently good micros in the northeast.

So here's to good, groundbreaking indie rock and its perfect companion, beer. Maybe I'll even buy a T-shirt.