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Archive for March, 2008

There is a discussion over at ratebeer right now concerning the views in the beer community of the beers from Fuller’s of London. Opinions differ, but there is one argument that I tend to support – they might not be the most adventurous of brewers, but they have a consistent quality, both for their bottled beers and the cask ales sold in pubs.

As I have stated earlier, I am all for exciting and extreme beers – I will try most beers once. But, on the other hand, there is a lot of bad stuff out there as well. 

To make some sweeping generalisations, the very top beers often come from small brewers – Jämtland in Sweden, Mikkeller in Denmark, Nøgne ø in Norway, BrewDog in Scotland. They make inventive and exciting stuff. Not too everyone’s liking, but they put a lot of care and knowledge into their products.

On the other hand, there are micros who have won fame among family and friends with their home brew, buy some equipment and think they can scale up everything and then be in business. They often make spectacular failures. We had one micro here in Norway that had 4 (!) different Christmas beers listed at Vinmonopolet, the state monopoly stores, last year. Not a bottle turned up. Even their two standard beers taste miserably of failure in organic chemistry.

It is tragic for those who have tried to establish a micro to make a living. But it of broader concern, too, as Vinmonopolet will be even more vary of dealing with upstarts. And the casual consumer will reach for the labels he knows to make sure the contents are drinkable on Friday night.

So I will continue to take the risk of getting bad beers on occasion. But if I want to offer a guest a beer at my home, I will make sure it comes from a brewery that has consistent quality. And the bottled Fuller’s ESB is a good example that it certainly does not need to be Carlsberg or Heineken.

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From the Los Angeles Times:

Seventy-five years after Prohibition, beer aficionados in Alabama are fighting for the right to brew and chug as they please. That’s raised the ire of Southern Baptists, who frown on alcohol in any form. As they jockey for advantage in the Legislature, one side quotes Scripture. The other cites BeerAdvocate.com. One talks morality. The other, malt.

Though this may seem like an only-in-the-Bible-Belt brawl, booze-related debates have flared recently in a number of states.

In Virginia, for instance, sangria was the talk of the statehouse after a Spanish restaurant was cited for illegally mixing brandy with wine, in violation of a 1930s-era statute. Idaho lawmakers may soon amend the criminal code to permit vodka sales on election days. And in Colorado, lawmakers have considered rescinding a law that bans supermarkets (but not liquor stores) from selling wine with more than 3.2% alcohol content.

…….

California does not impose special restrictions on beer sales. But across the South, many states have long tried to keep out high-alcohol beer. Those laws were overturned in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia in recent years. This year, campaigns are underway here and in West Virginia and Mississippi.

Free the Hops, which claims 750 dues-paying members, has introduced two bills in Alabama: one to legalize home-brewing and the other to permit sales of beer with alcohol content of up to 13.9% by volume. Last week the state House approved the measure raising the alcohol limit in beer; the Senate is expected to take it up soon. The home-brew bill has not been scheduled for debate.Arguing that alcohol can corrupt body, mind and soul, Alabama’s Southern Baptists, a politically powerful group, are fighting to derail the 13.9% bill in the Senate.

From the Free the Hops web site:

You may have never heard of Trappist ales because currently none of them are sold in Alabama. Yet our neighbor to the east, Georgia, sees all of these specialty beers plus many, many more. In fact, only 1 or 2 of the top 100 beers in the world (as rated by BeerAdvocate.com) can be found in Alabama.

And it might surprise you to find out that these fine ales made by Belgian monks are prohibited from being sold in Alabama. By law, they simply cannot be sold here. That is what FTH is trying to change. We want to give Alabamians the option to choose the Mercedes of beers.

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Don’t try this at home

Beer can houseThe New York Times writes about the Beer Can House in Houston, a landmark created by John Milkovisch, an upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad. From 1968 to 1988 he drank 50 000 cans of beer – and used the empties to decorate his house. It has now been restored at a cost of $400,000, and it is open to the public.

The article does not say if refreshments are available or how the restoration costs got that high.

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Best US Beer Bars

ForbesTraveler has a feature on what they claim are the best beer bars in the United States. I am sure there are other contenders for the title, but their selection does not seem to be off the mark. Nice photos to drool over for the armchair traveller, too. Maybe next year…..

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Atna brewery bankrupt

Another Norwegian micro has thrown in the towel. It is tough to compete with the big players in the domestic market. To be on lots of supermarket shelves and at the same time making sure the beer has a satisfactory turnover is not just something you can do in your spare time in a country with a geography like ours.

I don’t know enough about their operation to know what went wrong. Some of their beers were perhaps not distinctive enough to warrant a premium price – they were lacking the wow factor. The ban on all kinds of ads and other marketing makes it tough to be visible for your potential buyers.

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Some of the beer places I write about involve complicated treks by bus, train or taxi or long walks in strange neighbourhood. I am happy to tell you that this won’t be necessary in Bologna, as the beer shop La Tane del Luppolo is located just ten minute’s walk away from the main sights of the city, on the inside of the ring road that marks the old city walls. Bologna is an nice city to walk around in. Stylish without being too flashy, more opticians and hairdressers than other cities of its size, perhaps. People are still smoking, it even looks like cigarettes are seen as fashionabel accessories by some. It was 15 degrees, so I had a light jacket, while the locals were dressing up like Eskimo’s, as the song says.

But I digress, back to the beer shop. They have a good web site, which includes excel sheets of which beers are available at a given time. They also announce beer tastings and other events, though in Italian only.

I arrived just after the lunch break, and was warmly welcomed when I told them I was looking for Italian craft beers. They did not have any of the Panil or Baladin beers, but there are lots of other interesting brewers that deserve exposure.  The owner opened a few cartons of beers just in from the White Dog brewery, a micro to the south of Bologna run by an English expat that brews beers in British and US styles. There were also  interesting beers from Birra Del Borgo, including beers brewed with unusual ingredients like tea and tobacco (!)

There is a good range of Belgian, German and English beers – even some bottles from BrewDog in Scotland, including their excellent Paradox. Good to see that these beers are having such a a wide distribution, just a year after they started their company.

The customers tend to buy both domestic and imported beers. The shop has been running for about seven years, having moved to the present premises a few years ago. The room is dominated by a huge table, convenient when they have tastings, probably, but it leaves little room for shelves.

I bought a few more bottles than I had intended, but I managed to drag them all back to my hotel. After stocking up on Parmesan cheese, ham, olive oil and other delights of the area, my suitcase was way too heavy when I checked in the next morning. Luckily the staff at Bologna airport are more laid back than they are in Milan or Brussels!

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The bottom of the second glass

…….. The rage subsides about three quarters of the way down the first pint of lager. By the time I’ve seen the bottom of the second glass, the buttoned-up old misanthrope of the past few weeks is gone and I’m a human being again and back in the swim. I talk to this one and then that one, then to those people over there. And soon I’m genially greeting anyone who catches my eye, whether I know them or not. My sober view is that the world is a ship of fools. Two pints of lager and I’m back on the poop deck, spray on my cheek, wind in my hair, happy to listen with sympathy, energy and imagination to the succession of unhappy monologues that one is inevitably subjected to in this particular pub, which is full of New Age gurus and druggies.

……….

Last week’s bout of self-medication was fairly typical — instantaneous mental equilibrium, followed by a succession of people singing their same old songs to me — except that my crisis this month coincided with the full moon. The pub in the nearest market town is a dingy affair, though after weeks at home the string of multicoloured lights on the wall-mounted jukebox struck me as glamorous. I stood at the bar and drank alone until fully restored, and then I was open for business, as it were.

Jeremy Clarke – Low Life – The Spectator

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