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Monday, April 12, 2010
Will Work For Beer

Article in Saturday's WSJ on workers in Denmark organizing to fight for one of their most basic rights (sub req):

Michael Christiansen, a truck driver turned union representative, is fighting hard to preserve one of the last, best perks of the beer industry: the right to drink on the job.

Mr. Christiansen's union brethren are wort boilers, bottlers, packers and drivers at Carlsberg A/S, Denmark's largest brewer. For a century, they've had the right to cool off during a hard day's work with a crisp lager.

But on April 1, the refrigerators were idled and daily beer spoils were capped at three pint-sized plastic cups from a dining hall during lunch hour.

"This is a right workers have had for 100 years," Mr. Christiansen says. "Carlsberg has taken it away without any negotiating at all."

This week, Mr. Christiansen led a strike of 260 Carlsberg employees at a distribution center in this Copenhagen suburb. On Wednesday, 500 workers at Carlsberg's Fredericia brewery in southern Denmark joined in. On Friday afternoon, Mr. Christiansen sent his men back to work temporarily after management agreed to renegotiate workers' right to free beer in coming weeks.

You gotta love that. Carlsberg is not stripping workers of their right to free beer during work entirely, they're limiting it to only three pints over the lunch hour. Cry Oppression!

Mr. Christiansen, a tall man with a salt-and-pepper goatee, argues the right to tip a cold one at work is as sacred as other rights enjoyed by Copenhagen-based Carlsberg workers, such as a year's sick leave at full pay, an average annual salary of $59,000 and two free crates of beer monthly.

At 2 p.m. here Friday, about 100 workers congregated in a parking lot full of empty beer crates and forklifts and agreed to temporarily end their strike.

"We need to keep our beer," said employee Juseif Izaivi, 32 years old. "I need a beer when I take a cigarette break."

Easy to sympathize with that guy's plight. What's a cigarette break without a beer?
The article goes on to explain that while almost all brewers once rewarded their workers with free beer at work, today very few retain that perk. Here's hoping that the Carlsberg workers win their fight to keep their beer benefit. The fact that there's still an oasis or two out there where you can enjoy a beer at work (in moderation of course) provides the rest of us with a chance to dream of what could be.


Friday, April 02, 2010
Thirty-Four Bottles of Beer...

It's hard for a local beer lover not to get excited when you see a story with the headline Target Field opening day roster includes 34 beers. Thirty-four beers to choose from to enjoy at the beautiful new outdoor ballpark? Can't get much better than that, can it?

However, as is so often the case, the devil is in the details:

Budweiser, an Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. brand, has sponsored the Twins for more than two decades, and it's no surprise that the stadium carries Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Select, Bud Light Lime and Bud Light Wheat.

I've yet to try Bud Light Wheat, but based on past experience with the brand I'm pretty confident in saying that we're off to an 0-4 start.

Other Anheuser-Busch-owned brews will be available, such as Michelob Golden Draft, Michelob Golden Draft Light, Michelob Ultra, Michelob AmberBock, Rolling Rock, Shock Top and O'Doul's Amber.

Shock Top is decent. So where does that get us, one for eleven?

There's plenty of room for other brands in the stands, and Miller and Coors products aren't verboten. Fans can purchase Miller Lite, Coors Light, Miller Genuine Draft and MGD 64.

Four more whiffs. Out of fifteen beer varieties listed so far, ONE is drinkable.

Local brews are also available: Finnegans, Schells Seasonal, Summit EPA, Summit Seasonal, Grainbelt Premium and Grainbelt Light. There's also Leinenkugel's Original, Honey Weiss and Summer Shandy.

Sigh. Local brews? From Wisconsin? Obviously, this grouping is an improvement to the previous beers mentioned. Finnegans, Schells Seasonal, Summit EPA, and Summit Seasonal are solid selections, although that could vary depending on what the seasonals are. I still like to quaff an occasional Grain Belt Premium, but I won't try to pretend that it's a good beer. Leinie's Original and Honey Weiss do nothing for me. I am partial to the Summer Shandy, although I'd prefer the Sunset Wheat for a summer offering.

The bigger issue though is what's missing. I know that Surly was considering tapping into Target Field, but they were worried about the price they would have to charge. Looking at what's currently available, I'd be more than happy to pay more for a better beer. Not that the current offerings will exactly be cheap:

Domestic beers are priced at $6 for 12 oz. glasses, $7 for 20 oz. taps and 16 oz. bottles and $8 for aluminum bottles. Premium drinkers will pay an extra 50 cents. Domestic 24 oz. cans are priced at $9.

In addition to Surly, how about Flat Earth, Lift Bridge, and Fulton's? The Twins attract a lot of outstate fans, so why not also offer selections from Lake Superior, Brau Brothers, or Mantorville? Support the local team and enjoy local beer.

Rounding out the beer list is Landshark, Guinness, Heineken, Heineken Light, Stella, Corona, Dos Equis, Samuel Adams and Amstel Light.

While I'm always happy to have Guinness as an option, it just doesn't seem the right fit for a ball game. Stella and Dos Equis are decent imports and the classic Samuel Adams Boston Lager is another solid brew. Again, considering the venue maybe Sam Adams Summer Ale would be a better choice.

So yes, Target Field does indeed offer thirty-four beers for thirsty fans. Unfortunately, according to my calculations, only about ten are actually feasible options for the more discriminating beer drinker. And of those ten, the majority are solid utility beers, not packing the kind of power to knock it out of the park taste-wise. More is clearly not always better.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Dog Head

Last week, while on a very short business trip to Colorado, I finally had a chance to enjoy a brew from the much-touted Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware. Why Dogfish Head is seemingly quite widely available in Colorado, but not at all in Minnesota is still something of a mystery. In any event, I picked up a four-pack of 90 Minute IPA at a liquor store near my inn. It's been described as the "best IPA in America" by some and I was anxious to judge for myself.

The verdict? It's a very good beer. Tons of delicious hoppy flavor which went down smoothly despite the noticeable heat (9.0% ABV). But not the best IPA in America. Out of a possible of 19 points, I'd give it a 17 which is still rarefied air. Bell's Hopslam is a superior beer and if I had to choose between a Surly Furious and a Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Furious would get my nod (homerism perhaps). Again, that's very good company to be compared with and I'd certainly love to have the chance to purchase Dogfish Head locally at my friendly neighborhood liquor store. Until then, I'll have to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.

Just to make sure I was being perfectly fair in my evaluation, I enjoyed another Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA on tap at DIA while waiting for my flight home. I even started a bit of a trend as some of the other airport bar patrons--their curiosity piqued by hearing the unusual name of the beer--also decided to give Dogfish Head a go. I'm sure they were as happy with their choice as I was with mine.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010
If You Brew It...

For the first time since December the Fraters Libertas Beer Ratings Page has been updated. It now includes four-hundred-and-twenty-beers from around the world and the states. I did manage to add one state to the geographic reach of the ratings by sampling a variety of brews from Hub City Brewing Company in Stanley, Iowa. It's hard to believe that it took me this long to rate a beer from Iowa, but when you think of Iowa, beer's not usually the first thing that comes to mind (insert joke here).

The three Hub City selections I tried were like most things from the Hawkeye state, decent but ordinary. Here's how they scored:

Pale Ale 11

Brown Ale 12

Oatmeal Stout 13

Among the other new additions to the ratings list are a number of high quality, heavily hopped beers that scored quite high including:

Bell's Hopslam 19

Founder's Centennial IPA 17

Founder's Red Rye PA 17

Lagunitas Maximus Ale 17

Mad River Steelhead Double IPA 16

Widmer Brothers Deadlift Imperial IPA 16

If you get a chance to score any of these impressive beers, I'd strongly encourage you to do so. They're going to require a higher investment on the front end, but the return on flavor more than makes up for the extra cost.


Sunday, January 24, 2010
The In Crowd

Play at yesterday's National Pond Hockey Championship was sloppy and soggy. Rain made the ice soft and by early afternoon the rinks were covered with half an inch of water. Hardly ideal conditions.

Still it was fun in a twisted sort of way and definitely will be remembered by all who experienced it. There's always a sense of camaraderie among the pond hockey players since we're all dealing with the same weather variables (bitter cold or rain and everything in between). I discovered a little extra camaraderie when I showed up yesterday wearing my Surly Brewing hat.

As I made my way through the maze of players in the warming tent, a guy popped up, pressed something into my hand, and whispered conspiratorially "Keep it down, man." I gazed downward to see that I was now holding a can of Surly Furious. He then informed me that he was part of the Surly team that was playing in the tourney and was glad to see me representing with my head wear. Since no outside alcoholic beverages were permitted in the tent, I quickly stuffed it in my bag and moved on. The circle of hockey players is relatively modest and tight. The circle of hockey players who love Surly is even smaller and tighter.

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Friday, January 15, 2010
Increasingly Surly

Just got that the good word that Glen Lake Wine and Spirits now carries four varieties of Surly beer. In addition to Furious and Bender--which previously had appeared on the shelves--they now also have Cynic and Coffee Bender (our beer of the week from a few weeks back). It's a good time to stock up now for this weekend's NFL divisional playoff games and you can never have too much Surly on hand. Vikings fans in particular will want to have some Cynic nearby.


Thursday, December 17, 2009
Vision Quest

A brief update on Beer Quest 2010, my effort to identify and rate beers from the twenty-three states that are not currently represented in the Fraters Libertas beer ratings by the end of 2010. I've received a number of e-mails with suggestions for beers from various states. Here's an update on the list with those suggestions included:

Alabama--Hurricane Brewing
Delaware--Dogfish Head

I received several e-mails specifically recommending Dogfish Head. It's a name I recognize and have seen it on store shelves, although regrettably not here in Minnesota. It is available in Wisconsin though so a run for the border (Hudson) may soon be in order.

One e-mailer hepped me to a great article on Dogfish Head's founder Sam Calagione that appeared last year in the New Yorker (yes, the New Yorker!):

Like most craft brewers, Calagione came to beer from something else. He grew up in Greenfield, Massachusetts, the middle child of an oral surgeon and the heir to a long line of winemakers. His father and his uncle used to drive to Worcester to meet the trains that brought grapes from California. When they got home, and the juice had been stomped out in the basement, Sam would help bottle it. The process seems to have stripped him of any reverence toward the product. His forefathers worked hard making wine, he recently wrote, "so that I might have the opportunity to produce a superior beverage."

Calagione was a bright student and a scrappy athlete (to keep his weight up for the football team, his father made him eat a cheesesteak every night at ten-thirty). But by the spring of his senior year, at Northfield Mount Hermon prep, he had so many demerits that he was expelled. His offenses were of the usual Animal House variety: flipping a truck on campus; breaking into the skating rink and playing naked hockey; "surfing" on the roof of a Winnebago, going sixty miles per hour down I-91. As a junior, Calagione sometimes waited outside a local liquor store and got customers to buy him a case of beer. Back at school, he hid the bottles in his hockey bag and sold them to other students at a profit. "I remember when I got busted," he told me. "The dean said, 'You think you can make a living doing this?' I didn't have the foresight to say, 'Yeah, maybe someday.'"

I've played a lot of hockey in my day. Ice hockey, roller hockey, pond hockey, street hockey, floor hockey, boot hockey, drunk hockey (not recommended), and hungover hockey. But I've never known firsthand--nor have any inclination to ever know--what it's like to experience naked hockey. The phrases "bad naked" and "shrinkage" come immediately to mind.

But there's no doubting the value of hockey bags in hiding booze. In college, we used to employ hockey bags to smuggle kegs into our "dry" dorms.

Iowa--Millstream Brewing in Amana
Kentucky--Blue Grass
Mississippi--Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company

Craig e-mailed to provide this particular suggestion:

You need to check out Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln, MS. In-state you would just say The Kill. Everybody knows about Kiln, MS as it is the hometown of Bret Favre although he lives here in Hattiesburg now. Well, when he's not kicking butt on the field for you guys!

I'm sure that the hordes of Twin Cities media who descended on Kiln late last summer are all too familiar with the charms of Lazy Magnolia beer.

New Jersey--High Point
New Mexico
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina--Palmetto
South Dakota
Virginia--Starr Hill
West Virginia
Wyoming--Snake River

There are still several gaps in the list and if you have suggestions for how best to fill them, please drop me a line. Your support is most appreciated.

UPDATE: A few more recommendations added (in red) from Mark, a man who we hope--at least judging by his disturbing crush on Janeane Garafolo--knows more about fine beer than broads.


Friday, December 11, 2009
Beer Quest 2010

The Fraters Libertas Beer Ratings have now been updated to reflect recent activity. The list now includes ratings of over four-hundred beers from twenty-six different countries around the world. Among American brews, there are now ratings for beers from twenty-seven states. Which means there are still twenty-three states not represented in the ratings.

In order to correct this imbalance and provide equal representation for the entire country, my 2010 goal is to try to rate a beer from each of the twenty-three states currently absent from the list. It's an ambitious goal as I'll have to average two new states a month to achieve it. I'm not even sure if there are beers from all fifty states available. Preliminary research on the 'net proved inconclusive.

Here's the list of states that I need to hit in 2010. If you know of a brewery in a particular state or if you have a suggestion for the best beer to rate from that state, please drop me a note.

New Jersey
New Mexico
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia


Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Ratings Game

The complete list of Fraters Libertas Beer Ratings has once again been brought up to date. It now includes ratings on over three-hundred-and-eighty-five beers from around the world (and the states) and links to all of the Beers of the Week. Notable additions that were not beers of the week include:

* Farm Girl Saison from Lift Bridge Brewing (14)

* Torpedo IPA from Sierra Nevada (14)

* Scurvy IPA (Arrr!) from Tyranena Brewing (14)


Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Savoring Summer

A couple of quick beer related notes:

1. Summit Brewing Company introduces a new, limited release line of beers:

The first in the series, Kölsch, is a traditional German style ale with a light, balanced, crisp and refreshing profile with just a slight fruitiness. The brewery has utilized only the most authentic ingredients available to produce this beer. There is 100% imported German malt; a blend of Pilsener and Kölsch malts from the Global Malt cooperative (a cooperative of 3 German Maltsters with a combined 6 maltings headquartered in Osthofen) and a small percentage of Caramalz from the Weyermann maltings in Bamberg. The hops used are also imported from Germany and are only grown in the Hallertau region of Bavaria. Hallertau Mittelfrüh are some of the most delicate, distinctive and highly prized hops in the world. Finally, the brewers have used a traditional top fermenting Kölsch yeast obtained from the world-renowned yeast banks at Weihenstephan in Bavaria.

Summit Kölsch is the product of these authentic ingredients combined with traditional mashing and brewing procedures in our German brewhouse, followed by a cool fermentation and a cold conditioning period. This yields the finest, most true-to-style example of this unique beer that the brewery could hope to produce, a perfect session beer for the final days of summer!

The Kölsch will be available in bottles and on draught for a limited time starting the week of August 10. The next beer in the Unchained Series will be available late Fall.

News that Summit is releasing a new beer is always welcome. News that it will be a Kolsch even more so as it is one of my favorite warm weather varities and one that's all too rarely attempted by US brewers.

2. I finally got around to trying Farm Girl Saison from Lift Bridge Brewing in Stillwater. While it's not exactly the most manly sounding beer out there, it is a tasty and refreshing brew which is ideal for summer drinking. Just the latest example of a local brewery making good.


Monday, July 06, 2009
Crafty Consumers

Americans choosing craft beer over major brands:

Beer snobs, look out. More people in the U.S. are becoming beer connoisseurs, or at least they are buying an increasing amount of craft beer.

According to statistics from Information Resources, inc., craft beer sales were up 9 percent from mid-May to June 14, while major beer brand sales were down 3.4 percent. The data comes from what has been scanned at a number of retailers, most of which include grocery and chain stores.


Monday, June 22, 2009
Hop To It

The July issue of Bon Appetit magazine is all about summer barbecuing. It also includes a list of the Top Twelve American IPAs to enjoy with your food:

The American versions, particularly those brewed on the West Coast, have been labeled "extreme beers," owing to their amped-up use of hops. And in turn, their devotees are appropriately called "hop heads." Take Lagunitas Brewing Company in Northern California, which helped pioneer the West Coast style in the mid '90s. "In hops and alcohol, we're bigger than the British," says Tony Magee, founder of Lagunitas. "We had to find ways to differentiate ourselves from traditional European styles. We love the flavor of American hops--they're so distinct with that resiny flavorful bitterness--so we took our pale ale and upped the malt by 35 percent and the hops by 40 percent. We figured if some hops is good, then more is better." The Lagunitas IPA has a pleasant amount of bitterness, with an IBU (International Bitterness Units) of 45.6. To give you some means of comparison, British versions hover around 30 IBU. Meanwhile in Minnesota, Omar Ansari at Surly Brewing Co. has turned up the dial on hops to a full roar for what he calls "a tempest on the tongue" with his Furious IPA, which has a whopping 99 IBU. At the Maui Brewing Co., the Big Swell IPA features a comparably modest 60 IBU, and is as refreshing as one might expect from a brewery in a tropical locale. But whatever their flavor differences, one important commonality that all American craft IPAs have is that they go remarkably well with food, particularly spicy and fatty dishes.


Friday, June 12, 2009
The Pint Is Half Full

Taking a break from the Beer O' The Week today. If all goes according to schedule, the series should resume next week. But the Beer Ratings Page has been updated and now includes three-hundred-and-seventy-four beers.

The Recommended Reading page has also been updated.


Thursday, May 21, 2009
There's No Disputing Matters of Taste

A couple of interesting crossovers between beer and other areas of life.

First off, Margaret e-mails to make us aware of the Catholic Beer Review:

CBR was formed by a few guys who share a love of great beer and started comparing tasting notes.

Beer may seem a mundane topic to those who don't venture far beyond the "tinted waters"--as the late Michael Davies (RIP) referred to the Budweisers and Miller Lites of the world. But in fact this drink is endlessly fascinating. Ostensibly it contains just malt, water, yeast, and hops. But the permutations that exist within just those basic ingredients are legion.

Beer also holds a venerable place in our Catholic history, with some of the greatest breweries in the world being founded and run by Catholic monks.

What's the appropriate cliché that sports announcers would use in this situation? Thanks JB. This is indeed right in my wheelhouse.

Also on matters of faith and beer, Ben Bouwman writes that beer needs no justification:

Christians should not drink beer that is of poor quality. The sinful phenomenon of excessive consumption is often found in tandem with beer that tastes awful. These types of beer do not contribute to aesthetic wonder, because they provide little at which to wonder. Their tastes range from facile to revolting, they are made cheaply with poor quality ingredients, and therefore, they must enlist the help of cheap advertising tricks such as images of scantily clad women or the "Lowest Legal Price" to lure young men like me to buy their beer. I pray that God gives us strength to resist these temptations.

Finally, Laura e-mails to note an intersection of conservative politics and beer. It seems that Phyllis Schlafly's nephew owns a brewpub in St. Louis that carries on the family name by offering a choice in beer, not an echo.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The Beer You Drink

Increased alcohol and beer taxes are being proposed at the Federal level and in many states. Even in such beer friendly climes as Wisconsin:

Brewers large and small joined together Monday to object to a proposed quintupling of Wisconsin's beer tax, the first increase in 40 years.

MillerCoors joined with smaller craft brewers, the Wisconsin Grocers Association, the Tavern League and others to argue that raising the tax in a recession was a bad move that would hurt the industry.

"You don't raise a tax just because it hasn't been raised in a while," said Rob Swearingen, president of the Tavern League.

Simple words of wisdom from a beer man. Great Wisconsin name too. Seems like the kind of guy you'd like to sit down in a tavern with and have a few.


Saturday, May 16, 2009
What's Brewing?

Part Two of Rachel Hutton's series on Minnesota's Beer Renaissance is out in this week's City Pages. This time she focuses on three new kids on the block.

Brau Brothers:

Brau Brothers' offering--they make five year-round beers, plus several seasonals--are rather eclectic, likely because of Dustin's brewpub background, which encourages a small-batch, experimental approach. While beer has only four basic ingredients--water, grain, hops, and yeast--its various formulations can create seemingly infinite flavor profiles. Dustin credits Surly Brewing for helping spur the local thirst to taste as many of them as possible. "Surly pushed the limits and made other beers more mainstream," he says, noting that even the most conservative drinkers were encouraged to at least trade their mass-market lager for a more interesting Summit or Schell.

I just happened to have quaffed a Sheep Head Ale from Brau Brothers' this evening and it was a hoppy taste treat.

Flat Earth:

Flat Earth's beers tend to be flavorful but not as outrageous as their conspiracy-theory-referencing names, such as Black Helicopter Coffee Stout; Bermuda Triangle, a high-alcohol Belgian, or tripel, beer; and Element 115, a California-style beer that originated during the Gold Rush but is rarely brewed anymore. The Williamsons named their Cygnus X-1 Porter after a song by their favorite band, Rush, and made it with malt rye--a grain that's as closely associated with Canada as its most famous band--which adds a slight whiskey-like dryness. Although Flat Earth's brewers have infused their porters with raspberry, peppercorn, peppermint, and hazelnut, and even oak-aged them by adding wood chips to the beer, their most unusually flavored brew is probably their Rode Haring Flanders Ale, which is the only sour ale being commercially bottled in Minnesota, as far as I know. It's tart and funky, with plenty of pucker, and it may be the local beer most likely to win over diehard wine drinkers.

And Stillwater's own Lift Bridge:

So far, Lift Bridge has produced two year-round beers. One is the Farm Girl saison, a French/Belgian beer that Lifter Dan Schwarz describes as a refreshing spring beer for farm workers. The beer had to have a high enough alcohol content to keep through the summer, he says, but not be so strong that it kept the workers from coming back after lunch. Farm Girl has a golden glow, a slight sweetness, and a hint of orange-peel bitterness on the finish. ("We see a lot of women like to drink our beer," Schwarz notes.) Farm Girl's sibling, Kimono Girl, is the same saison infused with lemongrass and loganberry to add fruitier, floral notes. While the Lifters have experimented with infusions of hibiscus, rose petals, and even roasted garlic, they want their main beers to be easy drinkers. "A lot of craft brewers tend to go toward the edge or extreme," Schwarz says. "We're trying to make something a little more balanced." (For events such as the Craft Brewer's Guild's Winterfest, though, they reserve the right to serve beers like the Facemeltör, a high-alcohol aged barley wine. "It would warm your whole face," says Schwarz. "It was a fun beer to do--but it's not good to have so much access to it.")


Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Beer City USA

Which city wide area do you think ranks #1 as Beer City USA?

Come on St. Paul. Time to represent.


Monday, May 04, 2009
Lime Flu

In Saturday's WSJ, Eric Felten wrote on a A Curious Treat From Down Mexico Way:

With Cinco de Mayo approaching there will be plenty of Margaritas and Mexican beer served in the next week. But it may be a good time to try out a quirky quaff popular in Mexico that has struggled to find an audience in the United States: The Michelada, a combination of beer, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass.

As previously noted here, I've enjoyed my share of Micheladas in Mexico over the years. While they are wonderful way to whet your whistle after a scorching day in the Mexican sun, I can understand why they haven't really caught on with American beer drinkers. My experience has been that after downing one Michelada, you're ready to go back to good old fashioned regular beer. While the combo of beer, lime, salt, and spice is good, it's not a well that you can go back to often after the initial draw. But perhaps I just wasn't using the right beer:

So, we have beer on ice flavored with lime juice, Worcestershire sauce and a Mexican hot sauce such as Cholula -- but what beer? The most traditional approach to the Michelada is to make it with a blond Mexican beer such as Tecate, Sol, Corona or Modelo Especial. But many prefer using a darker Mexican beer such as Negra Modelo, and I'm in that camp. To my taste, that sort of flavorful and slightly sweet beer stands up better to the savory and spicy sauces, let alone the ice, which are all likely to bully a lighter lager. Negra Modelo works well, but after trying a variety of similar beers, I settled on the Texas brew Shiner Bock as my Michelada beer of choice.

Interesting. I believe that all the Micheladas I've consumed were made with Sol. Using Negra Modelo, Indio, or maybe even a bock could improve its drinking repeatability. Will have to keep that in mind next time around. By the way, Shiner Bock is possibly the most overrated beer in America (although Fat Tire gives it a run in that category).


Friday, May 01, 2009
Song to Enjoy the Beer of the Week By


Friday, April 10, 2009
Truth In Beer

Paul e-mail to note that next Thursday there will be a live nationwide simulcast screening of the documentary Beer Wars:

Director Anat Baron takes you on a no holds barred exploration of the U.S. beer industry that ultimately reveals the truth behind the label of your favorite beer. Told from an insider's perspective, the film goes behind the scenes of the daily battles and all out wars that dominate one of America's favorite industries.

More on the screening for Beer Wars:

Fathom and Ducks In A Row Entertainment present Beer Wars LIVE with Ben Stein, a one night event taking you inside the boardrooms and back rooms of the American beer industry. The event will feature the exclusive never-before-seen documentary Beer Wars, followed by a riveting live discussion led by Ben Stein with America's leading independent brewers and experts.

Playing in movie theaters nationwide on Thursday, April 16th at 8pm ET / 7pm CT / 6pm MT / 8pm PT (tape delay), beer industry insiders will take you behind-the-scenes of their quest for the American Dream. Don't miss out on this entertaining journey that will reveal the truth behind the label of your favorite beer!

Beer and Ben Stein? How can you not like that?

Here's a handy list of where you can catch the screening at a theater near you.


Monday, March 23, 2009
What's In Your Bottle?

Writing at the Front Porch Republic, Susan McWilliams tries to draw a connection between bottled water, beer and civic life:

The news is dreadful: According to the Census, since 2006 we have been living in a republic where, for the first time in the history of the republic, Americans drink more bottled water than we drank beer.

Why is this important? It's important because beer is a socially oriented beverage, and bottled water is a privately oriented one.

There's a reason that beer commercials tend to include lots of people hanging out in a room together, and bottled water commercials tend to include lone individuals climbing things and running around by themselves, usually on a beach at sunrise--even though they are not being chased.

Drinking beer emanates, albeit clumsily and with all the familiar risks, from essentially social impulses. Most people drink beer to lower social inhibitions, to make it easier to have conversations with other people, to assuage loneliness, to grease the wheels for engaging in what my students euphemistically call "relationships"--in other words, to give a form and excuse for social life. You don't drink beer to improve your private, individual health.

Ahem, ahem. Have to beg to differ there. While there is an undeniable social component to beer, there is also a great deal of personal satisfaction to be had by indulging in a tasty brew. As someone with no social life to speak of, I can testify that my impulse to drink beer is not essentially a social one. In fact, her entire premise that beer is public and bottled water is private seems rather flimsy when held up to scrutiny.


Thursday, March 19, 2009
When The Going Gets Tough...

...the tough start brewing. Story in yesterday's WSJ details that despite the economy, people are still opening new mircobrewries:

Surprisingly large numbers of entrepreneurs -- some let go from corporate jobs in recent years -- have been starting microbreweries or brewpubs. Schools that teach brewing are being showered with applications from people interested in getting into the business. At the same time, enthusiasm for interesting new beers remains strong;, a Web site for beer enthusiasts, says its traffic has reached one million unique visitors a month, and is rising as much as 12% each month.

Last year, even as a recession gripped the country, 114 microbreweries and brewpubs -- restaurants that make their own beer -- opened in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association, a Boulder, Colo., trade group. That marked the highest number since 1999. Openings are expected to decline this year, but start-up activity remains robust, says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. The group estimates 200 microbreweries and brewpubs already are on the drawing board for the next few years.

Building a successful microbrewery or brewpub business has never been easy and I imagine the current economic conditions will pose a severe challenge for those just entering the game. However, the fact that so many are still willing to make a go at it is a good sign about the future of the American craft beer industry.


Friday, March 13, 2009
Don't Toast The Revolution Without Me

Just in time for the weekend, the Fraters Libertas Beer Ratings have been updated. The update includes four new beers from Minhas, which despite its name is actually a Wisconsin brewery. The overall verdict on their offerings is a solid, "meh." Better than most of the mass-produced American counterparts, but short of the quality product that true craft breweries are putting out.

Since many of the original beer ratings were done years ago, I also took the opportunity to go back and revise some of them based on my tasting experiences since then. This lead to some beers being rated higher and others lower.

And I am happy to announce that we have inked an exclusive sponsorship deal for the Fraters Libertas Beer Ratings with Glen Lake Wine and Spirits in Minnetonka. Whenever the store has a new or seasonal beer offering available, we will receive a keg, case, 12-pack, okay 6-pack to rate and review here. Intense negotiations are also underway to reach a similar accord with Glen Lake Wine and Spirits covering Single Malt Scotches. Developing...

Lastly, Wright e-mails to hep us to a Reason TV video celebrating The American Beer Revolution:

Today, although mainstream beers still dominate the market, more than 1,400 breweries in the U.S. produce more styles of beer than anywhere else in the world, and American beers routinely dominate international beer competitions.

So the next time you're at your favorite brewpub, hold your glass up high and celebrate the American beer revolution.

Viva la revolucion!


Thursday, March 05, 2009
Utter Madness

Matt e-mails to hep us to the WaPo's March Beer Madness.

File under: great idea, poor execution. The problems include:

- Why start with just thirty-two beers instead of sixty-four?

- The four "regions" (ales, lagers, specialty/fruit, and dark beers) are pretty lame ways to categorize beer. No true beer buff uses the term "dark beer."

- There's a definite East Coast bias, which I guess is understandable since it's put on by WaPo.

- The selection of beers leaves a lot to be desired. There are some fine breweries included, but their best beers usually aren't featured. With all the great ales out there, they should have come up with a much better selection in that region especially.

- Most egregious of all, there are two Bud products. I suspect this has a lot more to do with advertising than choosing the best beer. Even worse, both Bud beers "won" their opening round matchups. I think that Leinie's Honey Weiss is overrated, but c'mon you can't tell me that Bud Light Lime is truly a superior beer. Same with Budweiser's American Ale beating out Peak Organic Amber Ale. The '72 Olympic basketball gold medal game was fairly refereed compared with this rigged judging.

You can vote for your picks in the sweet sixteen matchups. If there is any justice, Bell's Kalamazoo Stout will end up on top.


Friday, December 12, 2008
'Tis The Season

Just in time for the holidays, the Beer Ratings Page has been updated. Fourteen new beers have been added, bringing the total to three-hundred and fifty-two judged so far.

I've also added a new category to each beer by using my best judgment on the seasonality. Some beers are made to be quaffed anytime. Others are a better fit for certain times of the year. Some of these calls are easy to make as the beer is obviously a seasonal selection like Summit Winter. Others are more debatable. While I prefer to drink porters in the colder months, there is no reason that you can't have one in July. On the other hand, cracking open a Corona in January in Minnesota is just plain wrong.

Before I get gloating e-mails from folks in California, Arizona, or Hawaii saying that they drink wheat beer year round 'cause it's always warm there, let me point out that this beer seasonality is based on the weather here in the Northern climes. And if you're on vacation in a warm weather locale, you go with the flow and drink what the weather there dictates.

I also took a few liberties by relating certain styles of beer with a particular season. For example, bock beers are not all brewed for the Spring. However, when I think of drinking bock I think Spring and hence the link.

My favorite newly rated beers of this batch were Bitch's Creek ESB from the Grand Teton Brewing Co. and Lost Arrow Porter from the Rush River Brewing Co.. Back in the glory days of Sherlock's Home, my favorite beer was a hand-pulled pint of Bishop's Bitter. Since it closed, I have yet to be able to find another brewpub bitter of its caliber and finding a top-notch bitter in a bottle can also be difficult. Summit, Sierra Nevada, and Full Sail produce good ESBs and you can now add Grand Teton to that mix. In fact, I might even give Bitch's Creek the nod for best bottled bitter that I have yet come across.

Like Surly, Rush River is a relative newcomer on the local brewing scene who seems to brew consistently excellent beers. Their Unforgiven Amber Ale is one of the best new beers that I've had in recent years and their Bubblejack IPA does that hoppy beer variety proud. Lost Arrow Porter is a rich, smooth, and hearty beer that is perfect this time of the year for curling up in front of a fire and keeping the cold at bay.

Speaking of that, Leinenkugel's Fireside Nut Brown is a nice addition to the Winter beer category. It too is very smooth and has a creamy (as in cream soda) flavor that I really enjoyed. I should also mention Surly's Fest as another new beer of note. I'm not a big fan of the Oktoberfest style of beers and ever since Summit stopped brewing their Düsseldorfer Alt, the beers of Fall haven't done much to excite me. Fest is definitely the best Fall varietal to come around in years.

Last but not least, I must acknowledge New Holland Brewing Company's Full Circle kolsch beer. Kolsch is one of my favorite styles of beer (especially in the Summer), but one that very few brewers attempt. Other than Lake Superior Brewing Co. in Duluth with their Kayak Kolsch and a handful of others there just aren't many kolsch beers around. Full Circle is a tasty and refreshing beer that is best enjoyed on a warm Summer's day (at least in my opinion).

Sigh. Only six more months of winter, right? Good thing we've got the beers to get us by.


Friday, November 07, 2008
Bitter News For Surly Growler Fans

No growlers at popular Brooklyn Center brewery after Jan. 1:

Surly Brewing in Brooklyn Center will stop selling beer growlers as of Jan. 1, 2009, because of continued growth.

Production at the popular brewery at 4811 Dushame Drive has increased to more than 3,500 barrels a year. State law prohibits the sale of growlers once breweries surpass that mark.

Owner Omar Ansari estimates the business will produce approximately 5,000 barrels next year. He said the 3,500-barrel production number is the limit for breweries or brewpubs to get a license to sell growlers.

A growler, as defined by Surly, is a "refillable, reusable glass beer jug" for individuals to purchase 64 ounces of beer to bring home.

Though the change will be disappointing for some customers, it's not really efficient to sell growlers with Surly's setup, Ansari said.

"It is pretty time consuming and a tiny part of what we do," he said.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Brew It Yourself

Saturday's First Team broadcast at the State Fair covered three of the B's that make life great: bacon, beef, and beer (baseball, booze, and broads will be the theme for another show). Our beer guest was Sean Hewitt (no relation to Ralphie) from the 2008 Minnesota State Fair Home Brewed Beer, Mead and Cider Competition.

Sean shared his extensive knowledge of home brewing with us. After he explained how cheap and how strong you could make your own beer at home, he had Saint Paul's undivided attention. And Sean agreed in principle to the idea of brewing up a special batch of Northern Alliance beer for a future event. The only downside of Sean's appearance was that he was unable to bring any samples with him. Next time.

You can listen to the entire interview (about twenty minutes) with Sean here.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

At long last, the Beer Ratings Page has been updated with eleven new entries (pushing the total up to 338 beers). Most of the new batch are summer brews (naturally).

One notable and tasty exception is Tyranena's Dirty Old Man Rye Porter. That's right, porter aged in rye barrels and yes, it is as good as it sounds. It's part of their "Brewers Gone Wild" series which means it was only available for a limited time.

A couple of foreign entries are also in the mix with Kokanee from Canada and Harbin from China. Both are light, easy drinking beers that for the most part meet their relatively low expectations.

In the meets medium expectations category we have Boulevard's Zon and Breckenridge's Agave Wheat. Decent craft summer beers, but nothing special.

A little bit better is a Surly's Bitter Brewer. And a notch above that are New Belgium Brewing's Springboard Ale and Fort Collin's Major Tom's Pomegranate Wheat. Although I rated them equally, I have to give an edge to Major Tom's. The fabulous label is not just fancy window dressing. Although I was initially a little skeptical of the use of pomegranate, the beer has a very unique and refreshing taste that combined drinkability with real flavor. Exactly what you want in a summer offering.

Finally, we have the return of Schlitz. Love the ads, love the look, love the fact that they went back to the recipe they used in the Sixties. But the beer itself? It's still Schlitz. I do prefer it to the mass produced American lagers of today and in general I would describe its taste as adequate. Enjoy it for what it is (nothing more) and you won't be disappointed.


Sunday, July 27, 2008
Just A Kiss Of The Hops

We had a small social gathering at the abode last night. Muddled up a batch of Ten Thyme Smash and the reviews were quite good. I know I enjoyed the two glasses I had.

As is the custom on such occasions, we also offered up a wide variety of beer for our guest's consumption: Labatt Blue, Amstel Light, Surly (Furious & Cynic), Summit (Pale Ale, Pilsner, & Hefeweizen), and a number of other summer offerings from such brewers as Boulevard, Big Sky, and Paulaner. So with all of this proliferation of fine brews on hand which was the most popular, at least based on what we ran out of first and what people kept asking if we had more of? Schlitz.

That's right baby, the beer that made Milwaukee famous is back with a classic bottle and taste to match. A taste that apparently is quite pleasing to the beer drinking palate. That's gusto worth going for.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Although I've never been a fan of Budweiser or the Anheuser Busch family of beers (I did enjoy a Michelob or two back in high school and a couple of kegs of Busch in college--from the next day's hangover you always knew [from head to toe] that you'd been drinking Busch the previous evening) and in general I'm a big proponent of international trade, the news that InBev Wants To Make Bud a Global Brand doesn't sit well with me. The notion that the rich traditions of the company that Adolphus Busch founded--the Clydesdales, the connection with the Cardinals, and yes even the commercials that have become part of American cultural lore--would fall into the hands of a group of cost-cutting Brazilians and Belgiums just doesn't seem right.

Yes, their beer tastes like swill. But damnit, it's our swill and I hope to see control of the company stay in American hands.


Friday, May 30, 2008
Beer Geeks

Stopped by The Four Firkins yesterday. It's a bit cozy and the selection wasn't quite as vast as I excpected, but it's still a beer geek's dream. And from the conversation I overheard while picking up a couple of premo beer selections, the level of said geekery was off the charts. Even though I have a fair amount of experience with and knowledge of beer, I felt like something of novice compared with the other beerheads milling about. If you're a local beer afficinado, it's def worth a visit.


Friday, May 02, 2008
Final Approach

You gotta love a Craft Brewery that can you fly to.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008
No Timing

The first Twin Cities speciality beer store is slated to open soon (May 24th). In St. Louis Park. Just down the road from the house where we've lived for almost nine years.

And are moving out of at the end of this month. Oh cruel fate, why do you mock me?


Monday, April 07, 2008
A celebration to last throughout the years

Celebrate '75 Years of Beer':

This year we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the modification of the Volstead Act on April 7, 1933, which allowed beer to legally flow once again in the United States of America. Not to be confused with the repeal of prohibition on December 5th, 1933, April 7 marks the date when beer was the only legal libation in the United States.

This April there will be special celebrations, special release beers, and general merrymaking across the country in honor of this milestone. Join your local brewery as we toast to the 75th anniversary of legal beer.

It would really be un-American not to crack one or two tonight, wouldn't it?


Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Do Taste Me Brau

The Fraters Beer Ratings Page has once again been updated. There are now over three-hundred-twenty-seven beers from around the world that have been tasted and scored accordingly.

The eight most recent additions are highlighted in red and for the most part are local brews. A trio from Flat Earth Brewing in St. Paul, a pair from Brau Brothers Brewing in Lucan, Minnesota (population 220), and an incredible hoppy (and appropriately named) Hop Whore Imperial IPA from Tyranena Brewing in Lake Mills, Wisconsin.

The first Brau Brothers beer I tried didn't do much for me. Frame Straightener is described as a "level and plum" Belgian Pale Ale. It was decent, just not very exciting. But you should never judge a brewery by one beer and the second brew from Brau did not disappoint. Their Cream Stout is tasty and incredibly drinkable (especially for that style of beer). It has such a deft finish that before you know you're at the bottom of your glass and reaching for another. A damn fine beer indeed. Nice work bros.


Saturday, January 05, 2008
Fifty-two Beer Pickup

Sampling a different Minnesota beer each week for a year and sharing your tasting thoughts with others? Brilliant. Check out Brew52 and sign up today to join the fun.


Thursday, January 03, 2008
The One Beer To Have When You're Having More Than One

Jim writes in with a drinking find:

I listen to you guys as often as I can on Saturday, and I know that you like beer. I was just in Salt Lake City on business and discovered a local beer that at first I thought was a joke -- "Polygamy Porter."

The label says "Why Have Just One?" and "Take some home to the wives."

I thought it was a fairly amusing marketing concept. No doubt, it is NOT sanctioned by any church organization. I plan to purchase some to bring home on my next trip in a few weeks. Keep up the good work!

According to the Mitt Romney campaign, the candidate's ancestors disavowed drinking this beer generations ago.


Friday, December 21, 2007
The Earth Is Flat

Last Saturday, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Williamson--owner of Flat Earth Brewing Company in Saint Paul--on the First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network. We chatted with Jeff about the state of the craft beer industry and sampled some of Flat Earth's tasty Belgian Pale Ale and delicious Cygnus X-1 Porter (yes Rush fans, that reference is what you think it is). It was another tough day in the lives of amateur radio hosts, but it was a sacrifice that we were willing to make.

You can listen to the entire interview here. You can pick up Flat Earth's excellent beer at a growing number of bars and liquor stores in the Twin Cities and throughout the state. Celebrate Christmas and New Year's the right way with some great local beer.

Atomizer Sez:
Having just polished off 22 ounces of Flat Earth's Belgian Pale Ale, allow me to do my best Rachel Ray imitation and say "Yum-o!" (no, I'm not gay...the lovely Atomizerette just happens to watch a lot of Food Network programming).

I heartily endorse this malted beverage product and encourage you all to try it. I also encourage you all to listen to Cygnus X-1 on the "A Farewell to Kings" release by Rush...very tasty as well.


Friday, November 30, 2007
What Is Your Quest?

Kevin from West St. Paul heps us to an article in the Wall Street Journal on the Holy Grail of beers (free for all):

The Trappist monks at St. Sixtus monastery have taken vows against riches, sex and eating red meat. They speak only when necessary. But you can call them on their beer phone.

Monks have been brewing Westvleteren beer at this remote spot near the French border since 1839. Their brew, offered in strengths up to 10.2% alcohol by volume, is among the most highly prized in the world. In bars from Brussels to Boston, and online, it sells for more than $15 for an 11-ounce bottle -- 10 times what the monks ask -- if you can get it.

For the 26 monks at St. Sixtus, however, success has brought a spiritual hangover as they fight to keep an insatiable market in tune with their life of contemplation.

The monks are doing their best to resist getting bigger. They don't advertise and don't put labels on their bottles. They haven't increased production since 1946. They sell only from their front gate. You have to make an appointment and there's a limit: two, 24-bottle cases a month. Because scarcity has created a high-priced gray market online, the monks search the net for resellers and try to get them to stop.

"We sell beer to live, and not vice versa," says Brother Joris, the white-robed brewery director. Beer lovers, however, seem to live for Westvleteren.

When Jill Nachtman, an American living in Zurich, wanted a taste recently, she called the hot line everybody calls the beer phone. After an hour of busy signals, she finally got through and booked a time. She drove 16 hours to pick up her beer. "If you factor in gas, hotel -- and the beer -- I spent $20 a bottle," she says.

Until the monks installed a new switchboard and set up a system for appointments two years ago, the local phone network would sometimes crash under the weight of calls for Westvleteren. Cars lined up for miles along the flat one-lane country road that leads to the red brick monastery, as people waited to pick up their beer.

"This beer is addictive, like chocolate," said Luc Lannoo, an unemployed, 36-year-old Belgian from Ghent, about an hour away, as he loaded two cases of Westvleteren into his car at the St. Sixtus gate one morning. "I have to come every month."

Two American Web sites, Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, rank the strongest of Westvleteren's three products, a dark creamy beer known as "the 12," best in the world, ahead of beers including Sweden's Närke Kaggen Stormaktsporter and Minnesota's Surly Darkness. "No question, it is the holy grail of beers," says Remi Johnson, manager of the Publick House, a Boston bar that has Westvleteren on its menu but rarely in stock.

Some beer lovers say the excitement over Westvleteren is hype born of scarcity. "It's a very good beer," says Jef van den Steen, a brewer and author of a book on Trappist monks and their beer published in French and Dutch. "But it reminds me of the movie star you want to sleep with because she's inaccessible, even if your wife looks just as good."

There's little doubt that no beer can possible live up that to that kind of hype. However, if I've ever in the area, I'm definitely going to try to get my hands on a bottle. Who can resist the quest for the perfect beer?


Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Quoth The Elder, "Furthermore"

It's a great time for beer lovers in the Upper Midwest. Not only can we read about Minnesota's glorious brewing past in the new book Land of Amber Waters, but we can enjoy the present with great local beers from Summit, Surly, and Flat Earth among others.

But we shouldn't limit our taste buds to Minnesota brews only. The Badger State is brewing up more than cheese, brats, serial killers, and inebriated Packer fans these days. Recently, I've had the pleasure of enjoying a couple of excellent examples of Wisconsin beer at its finest.

Rush River Brewing Co. just started selling their beer in bottles and it's now available at a selected liquor stores here in the Twin Cities. I've mentioned their Unforgiven Amber Ale before, but I'll say it again: this is indisputably the best red I've ever quaffed. So much flavor, so much taste. They also make a Bubblejack IPA that is a rich, hoppy dream.

A couple of weeks ago, I was offered a sample of Furthermore Beer at a local liquor store. The salesman explained that their Three Feet Deep Stout was made with peat just like it the ol' country (Ireland). Peaty? Why that sounds like one of the more common characteristics of Scotch. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Thankfully, probably not. But if you were you would realize what a killer combination a glass of Three Feet Deep Stout and a healthy draught of Single Malt Scotch make. A sip of this, a sip of that. Heaven on earth baby.

These beers and a couple of more have been added to the Beer Ratings Page, which now features ratings of well over three-hundred brews from around the globe. The Recommended Reads and the Chihuahua Orphanage Page have also been recently updated.

Last but not least, a rare wine pick. Believe it or not, I actually discovered this particular wine on a Northwest flight this summer. Yes, not everything about flying is negative. It took a while to find it around here, but it was worth the hunt.

Memsie Red from the Water Wheel Vineyard is an Aussie blend that goes for about fifteen bones a bottle. I'm not a wine snob like JB Doubtless by any means, but I know what tastes good and this a fine little wine.


Monday, October 22, 2007
Pumpkin Brau

Tim e-mails with a link:

Some guy brews beer in a pumpkin

'Nuf said.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007
I wouldn't drink anything called "Moland"

Big beer is about to get a little bigger. Today's WSJ reports that Molson Coors, SABMiller To Combine U.S. Operations (sub req):

Molson Coors Brewing Co. and SABMiller PLC plan to combine their U.S. and Puerto Rican operations, creating a beer powerhouse with annual revenue of about $6.6 billion.

The venture will be called MillerCoors. The two companies will share control of the venture, but because of the economic value of their respective units SABMiller will have a 58% economic interest to Molson Coors's 42% interest. The companies expect $500 million in annual cost savings.

The deal is expected to close by the end of 2007. Both companies' business will be conducted separately until the deal completes.

"This transaction is driven by the profound changes in the U.S. alcohol beverage industry that are confronting both of our companies with new challenges," said Pete Coors, Vice Chairman of Molson Coors.

MillerCoors? Why not Moors or maybe Ciller?


Saturday, October 06, 2007
Barley Whine

Forget about rising prices for gasoline, college tuition, and health care. I want to know when the government is going to do about this brewing crisis (WSJ-sub req):

That six pack of high-brow beer is about to come at a higher price, thanks to the sharpest surge in decades in the cost of the hops and barley that give each brew its distinctive taste.

Consumers could pay 50 cents to $1 per six pack more in the coming months for many small-batch "craft beers," as brewers pass on rising hops and barley costs from an unpalatable brew of poor harvests, the weak dollar and farmers' shift to more profitable crops. Other makers of craft beers, the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. brewing industry, say they may eat the higher ingredient costs, which will pare their profits.

I for one am not happy to pay more for better beer. Of course, since good beer is a staple of life, I will continue to do so, but damnit I will not be happy about it.


Sunday, September 30, 2007
What A Rush

One of the best red ales I've yet to encounter is Rush River Brewing's The Unforgiven Amber Ale. I've had it a few times on tap at Figlio's in Uptown and a couple of other places, but haven't been able to find it in liquor stores. Now, after a little research, I know the reason why. The brewery recently has relocated to River Falls, Wisconsin and is just starting to bottle their beer. I hope to be able to pick up a six-pack at a liquor store near me soon and sample their other offerings.

If you enjoy a tasty, full-bodied red, look for The Unforgiven in your neighborhood. You will not be disappointed.


Saturday, September 01, 2007
Beer Pong For The Elder Set

Have a beer with that bingo card:

You'll soon be able to mix drinking and daubing in Minneapolis.

The City Council voted 12-0 Friday to lift a longstanding ban on serving alcohol where bingo is played, a move that puts it in conformance with most of the rest of the state.


You can travel in style to bingo on the PedalPub:

The PedalPub offers tours of different Twin Cities neighborhoods -- mostly bar tours, of course. While it looks like a bar and even has a spot for a keg, state law prohibits drinking on the PedalPub. Its owners hope to get their contraption grouped with limos and party buses, which would allow drinks on board (anything non-alcoholic is allowed). Its newness -- there's nothing like it in the state and perhaps the country -- means the legal landscape is bumpy.


Thursday, August 30, 2007
Marks Man

Paul e-mails with a a video link that shows why you don't want to play beer pong with pro skateboarder Billy Marks.


It Ain't Munich...

...but it's better than nothing. Minneapolis Oktoberfest:

Enjoy Munich in Minneapolis complete with traditional German music, polka dancing and food and beer. The historic and quaint backdrop of Saint Anthony Main and the natural beauty of the Mississippi River bank make for the idyllic Oktoberfest setting. Admission and music will be free for all ages. I.Ds will be required to obtain a wristband for purchasing beer and wine.

Patrons will enjoy authentic German food from Kramarczuk East European Deli and an array of great imported beers in our Black Forest Inn Biergarten. In addition to the traditional foodbeverage and atmosphere, patrons attending Oktoberfest on the Riverfront will enjoy games such as the beer barrel roll and the Hammerschlagen (nail driving).


Saturday, August 25, 2007
Brewin' Up At The Fair

Fair contest is one sign that state is home of brews:

While booths for the jammaking and knitting contests sat quiet, their neighbors from the fifth annual Minnesota State Fair Homebrewing Competition turned out at 9 a.m. on a Saturday to get down to business downing beers.

They had their work cut out for them: The number of entries in the contest has quadrupled since it began in 2003 to 346 beers this year.

Culminating today with a best-in-show ceremony, the competition reflects a trend that's brewing statewide.

Homebrewing is bubbling over in Minnesota. Two of the biggest homebrew supply stores in the country are based in the Twin Cities, and so are several national award-winning homebrewers.

Now, that's something worth stopping by when you're out at the Fair. Better than all that crap on a stick.


Friday, August 24, 2007
After The Beers of Summer Are Gone

The Beer Ratings have once again been updated. We're now up to over three-hundred and twelve brews from all over the world.

Recent additions include a number of of beers from Asia as well as some excellent beers for warm-weather imbibing including Summit Scandia, Surly Cynic, Bell's Lager of the Lakes, Capitol Brewing Bavarian Lager, New Belgium's Mothership Wit, Hoegaarden Witbier, and Victory Sunrise Weisbier.

And especially for Diana from St. Louis, Sprecher's Pub Ale. I'm happy to report that the Pub Ale is pretty decent. Good flavor and very quaffable. Drinking a four-pack was a small sacrifice to make in order to gain a regular reader.


Monday, July 02, 2007
Brewed Just Right For Drinking

Today's Wall Street Journal has a story on the comeback of
Narragansett Brewing (sub req):

When Mark Hellendrung took the reins at Narragansett Brewing Co. two years ago, the brew -- sold in 16-ounce cans -- had earned the nickname "Nasty 'Gansett."

It was the official beer of the Boston Red Sox for much of the 1950s, '60s and '70s and was once the best-selling beer in New England. Named for a seaside Rhode Island town, Narragansett "was part of the fabric of New England," says the 39-year-old Mr. Hellendrung.

Then the recipe for the brew changed when the brand was bought out and production moved out of the region. And that alienated some fans. The brand "slipped almost into obscurity," over the past two decades, Mr. Hellendrung says, due, in part, to a lack of marketing.

So when Mr. Hellendrung bought the rights to the brand from Pabst Brewing Co. in 2005, he started working to revive the old favorite and differentiate his brew from the big national brands. His approach, like that of many small businesses that embark on brand revivals, has been to play on nostalgia and local allegiances, while simultaneously attracting new consumers who never knew the brand's glory days.

To do that, Hellendrung hit the streets:

In fall of 2005, the company started its marketing. In bar after bar, Mr. Hellendrung introduced himself and said he was bringing back Narragansett. "There was a whole generation of New Englanders who grew up on Narragansett beer," he says. "I felt confident that we would reconnect with older people."

He visited between 60 and 70 bars, restaurants and liquor stores each week, assembling displays, hanging banners and buying people beers. He began putting as many as 700 miles a week on his car. A comptroller and a promotions manager handled the day-to-day business in his absence.

In addition to those with fond memories of the good old days of Narragansett, the beer has also caught on with younger drinkers:

Vincent Hemmeter, who owns Vincent's bar and Ralph's Diner in Worcester, Mass., says the beer appeals to the same 20-something clientele who once drank Pabst Blue Ribbon at his bar. "It's anti-cool, so it's cool," he says.

Mr. Hemmeter says he sells bottles of the lager for $2 each. And he estimates that he sells nearly three times as much Narragansett as Pabst Blue Ribbon.

UPDATE: King heps us to the Narragansett Beer website and adds:

Hey Neighbor, have a Gansett was a famous line that Curt Gowdy would stick into his Red Sox play-by-play.

I had forgotten that Falstaff bought them out; we drank Falstaff as an upgrade from PBR. Such as it was. (Recall my legal drinking age was 18.)

If you visit the web page, you'll see their logo with a great credo, "Made On Honor, Sold On Merit."


Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Open Borders (for drinking)

Miller is going to import the michelada concept from south of the border to boost lagging sales. They're hoping that it will become a beer Americans will drink. From today's Wall Street Journal (sub req):

Miller Brewing Co., known for its conventional slate of American beers, is hoping a brew with a Mexican twist can help pull it out of a sales slump.

The Milwaukee brewer is launching Miller Chill, a 110-calorie beer flavored with lime and salt, throughout the U.S. this summer after a successful test run in Texas and several other states. Chill is Miller's answer to the michelada, a drink popular at Mexican beach resorts usually consisting of beer, lime juice and ice in a salt-rimmed glass.

Miller, since 2002 the North American arm of London-based SABMiller PLC, plans to spend more than $30 million this year on television and print advertising for Chill. TV ads in local markets included the slogan, "Se habla Chill?" ("Do you speak Chill?"). Miller is counting on Chill to help it reverse a sales decline in North America and regain market share in the face of brutal competition.

In the U.S., beer giants Miller, Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Molson Coors Brewing Co. are struggling to increase sales of their flagship domestic beers, as beer drinkers increasingly reach for imports and small-batch "craft" brews. Miller's prowess in the American beer industry has been gradually slipping since the 1980s, when Miller Lite held the lead in the light-beer wars with its famed "Tastes Great, Less Filling," ad campaign.

Last year, Miller Lite lost market share to the best-selling U.S. beer, Bud Light. Miller's other brands, such as Miller High Life and Miller Genuine Draft, have stumbled for several years. In the year ended March 31, Miller's earnings before interest, taxes and amortization slid 17%, making it the worst-performing of SABMiller's regional divisions. North American sales fell 1% to $4.9 billion.

The brewer hopes Chill, which it calls a premium light lager, will appeal to light-beer drinkers seeking more flavor. Miller is targeting 21- to 35-year-olds with the new brand, says Randy Ransom, Miller's chief marketing officer. "Consumers are looking for new and different ways to experience beer, and they're willing to pay for it," he says. "The core objective of this brand is to take share from competitive mainstream brands by giving light-beer drinkers a compelling reason to trade up."

At stores, a six-pack of Chill, sold in lime-green long-neck bottles, sells for $6.50 to $7, about a dollar more than a six-pack of Miller Lite.

While I'm sure Chill will have more flavor than Miller Lite (it's almost impossible not to), I'm a bit skeptical about trying to capture michelada in a bottle. I've enjoyed many a michelada in Mexico in the past and it is a refreshing, easy to drink concoction.

However, when you order a michelada in a restaurant, you get a salt-rimmed glass half full of fresh lime juice and a bottle of whatever beer you prefer to add to the mix (Sol is my usual choice). You can then pour as much or as little beer as you want to suit your taste.

How this is going to play out when it's mass produced and bottled remains to be seen. I'll give Chill a shot when it comes to a liquor store near me, but I doubt if will become one of my beers of summer.

Somewhat related to the subject of flavored beers, Henry e-mails on ginger beer and ale:

If you're ever in Detroit, try Vernor's ginger ale on tap. It has a spicy bite like none other. Vernor's is okay in cans and bottles but it's not as spicy or tasty--just as A&W root beer is better out of a tap. Vernor's used to be available in the Twin Cities, but I haven't seen a six-pack for years.

UPDATE: Bert e-mails with a tip:

Tell Henry, apparently a fellow emigrant Michigander (never "Michiganian"), that I consistently find Vernor's at Cub Foods. Not as good as out of the "tap", to be sure, but it's home away from home just as certainly as another Lions loss on Thanksgiving Day, or Rose Bowl loss to USC.

UPDATE II: Paul from Colorado, another Fraters regular, bellies up to bar and offers this suggestion:

One beer mixture that my better half likes a lot and I think it isn't too bad is a Black Velvet. Half champagine and half Porter. Try it sometime if you haven't.

Since I'm not a big bubbly drinker (and I don't think that special bottle I'm saving for the day when the Vikes win the 'Bowl will be opened anytime soon), I have not had the pleasure of enjoying a Black Velvet. But anything made with porter can't be half bad, so I'll have to give it a go one of these days. You serving porter at your wedding SP?


Monday, June 04, 2007
So Lazy And Surly

Diana from St. Louis e-mails:

My husband is conservative. I am a moderate liberal. :)

We both enjoy reading your beer assessments. There is one omission....Sprecher Beer, a small brewery in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Would you consider adding some of their beers to your list? I might even read your postings from time to time...

So if I drink a few Sprechers and rate them, she'll read our posts? Sounds like a win-win to me.

I've seen Sprecher beers in the store before and I'm sure I've tried at least one of their brews at some point along my long and windy road, but for some reason I have not gotten around to an official evaluation. Consider Sprecher added to my "to drink" list.

I've recently had a chance to enjoy some excellent seasonal beers from Bell's, Summit, and Surly and will be adding them to the ratings page shortly.

Speaking of Surly, I introduced the Nihilist In Golf Pants to Surly Furious the other night and he was smitten at first taste. Now, the NIGP ALWAYS enjoys a free beer and would happily quaff the most watered-down, tasteless swill if it was offered to him gratis, but he really seemed to savor the heavily-hopped flavor explosion that is Furious. In fact, he may even go out and purchase a four-pack of Surly for himself. Well...


Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Spring Cleaning

The world famous Fraters Beer Ratings have been updated and now include close to three hundred different beers. The list is now available by brewery name, name of beer, rating, and location brewed for ease of use. One of the new beers on the scene is Leinie's Summer Shandy, a very tasty, quaffable brew perfectly suited for the warming weather.

The Recommended Reading Page has also been recently updated with a number of high caliber editions. I've finally gotten around to reading Mark Steyn's America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It and it more than lives up to the rave reviews it has received.


Sunday, March 04, 2007
Cask And You Shall Receive

Since this Lenten season is a bit drier for me than normal, reading stories like the one in the Wall Street Journal on the rise of cask-conditioned beer in the U.S. (sub req) is not easy:

Microbrewers have tried everything from chili-pepper beer to raisin-flavored beer to lure drinkers from mass-market brews like Bud and Coors. Now they're trying their hand at a British staple, cask beer, that is only lightly carbonated and served via a retro hand pump. U.S. bars, in addition to serving American cask, are increasingly stocking English brands. This comes as more Brits are shunning these traditional ales in favor of U.S.-style beers.

For some beer geeks, casks are considered a more honest drink. They are served at between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with near freezing for keg beer. Because cold numbs your taste buds, cask beer has a fuller flavor. If you're drinking a cask pale ale, for example -- cask comes in the same range of styles as regular beer -- the bitter hops flavor is even more intense than with a normal pale ale. But for those accustomed to U.S. beers like Coors or even heartier microbrews, cask ale can be too harsh.

Wah, wah. What I wouldn't give for a hearty cask-conditioned ale. How many days until Easter?

UPDATE: Or Eic Felten writing about the history of the Bloody Mary also in the WSJ:

The Tehran meeting of F.D.R., Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin in 1943 was at times a bloody-minded affair -- in the strategy discussed and the cocktails consumed.

Stalin suggested executing 50,000 to 100,000 German officers once the war was won. President Roosevelt, assuming old Joe had to be kidding, joked that 49,000 would do. But the Soviet dictator was in dead earnest. Churchill argued that war criminals should be tried and get their due, but political mass executions were right out. The rest of the conference, Stalin needled Churchill repeatedly, insinuating that he harbored a secret love of Germans.

There was tension in the rooms, and Roosevelt and Churchill tried to ease it with an abundant supply of drinks. On the first day they met, F.D.R. mixed Stalin a batch of his Dirty Martinis, but it was in the evenings that the liquor really flowed, and none so much as the night of Nov. 30, Churchill's 69th birthday. There was much champagne and, according to the Chicago Tribune's reporter, cocktails that "looked like tomato juice were served. Probably these were the famous middle east 'bloody Marys,' made by mixing vodka and tomato juice."

I have never been particularly fond of Bloodies, because the drink, as practiced today, is rarely in balance. Sometimes you get a veritable salad of crudités stuffed into the glass. And almost always the drink is ruined by a heavy hand with the spice jars. The standard Bloody Mary seems to be a glass of Tabasco sauce tempered with horseradish.

If that's how you like your Bloody, fair enough. But every now and then it's worth getting back to the basics of any recipe as a touchstone to ward off excess.

For the record, I enjoy a dollup of horseradish in my Bloody.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Will Work For Beer

Drinking on This Job Is OK (WSJ sub req):

If drinking beer on the clock and traveling to Oktoberfest in Munich on the company dime sounds like a dream job, there are still nine days left to apply for the newly created post of chief beer officer at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel chain.

By yesterday, officials at Four Points's parent company, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., had received more than 5,500 applications from beer lovers in 31 countries. In addition, scores of current Starwood employees have signaled their interest in the part-time job that comes with no salary, but plenty of perks. While the job is a largely promotional gimmick for the moment, Starwood says it could evolve into a more serious position down the road.

Now that would make for a great intro. What do I do for a living? Chief Beer Officer. Hard to top that.


Monday, November 20, 2006
And When I Looked The Moon Had Turned To Gold

A couple of years ago, when I first noticed that Blue Moon beer was becoming increasingly popular, I was surprised that most people, including those who were regular Blue Moon drinkers, were not aware that it was a product of Coors. Today's Wall Street Journal explains that the mysterious background of Blue Moon is not an accident:

Candace Lawson loves Blue Moon beer. "It's the only beer I drink," she says.
But the 27-year-old Chicago bartender has no idea who makes it. "I just know it's a Belgian wheat beer," she says.

Except it's not -- or not exactly.

Blue Moon is indeed a Belgian-style wheat beer, and it has become a hit in the increasingly important segment of the market catering to fans of "craft" beers -- traditionally the products of small brewers. But what many Blue Moon drinkers don't know is that the beer is made in Canada by Molson Coors Brewing Co., the third-largest brewer in the U.S., after Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Miller Brewing Co.

Typically, linking a large brewer to a craft beer would be the kiss of death. But Coors has managed to have it both ways, relying on a "stealth" marketing campaign that rejects the macho TV commercials that offend many craft-beer aficionados. A Coors spokesman says Blue Moon has an agency -- Omnicom's Integer Group -- that creates the brand's point-of-sale materials, but "our marketing has been very minimal."

As have been any indications of ties to Coors. The approach seems to be paying off:

Industry estimates predict the company will sell between 400,000 and 500,000 barrels of Blue Moon this year. If so, that would make it the third- or fourth- largest craft brewer in the U.S., behind Boston-based Boston Beer Co.; Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, Calif.; and New Belgium Brewing Co. of Fort Collins, Colo.

Distributors credit the success of Blue Moon in part to its visual appeal in "on-premise" locations like bars. In what turned out to be a masterstroke of marketing, Keith Villa, Blue Moon's creator, decided that the company should suggest that bars to serve the beer with an orange slice garnishing the rim of the glass.

"When people saw a beer with an orange slice in it, it piqued their interest," says Jim Doney, president of Chicago Beverage Systems LLC. "They said, 'Hey, let me try one of those.' " As the beer developed a strong following in on-premise accounts, says Mr. Doney, distribution was then expanded to off-premise accounts, like grocery stores.

When you read something like this, it's hard to argue against the stereotype of your average beer drinker being about as sophisticated as Homer Simpson. Beer with orange slice? Me want try. with orange slice. Can Skittle-brau really be that far off?

While I'm not normally a big fan of adding an orange to my beer (lemon in a good hefeweizen is perfectly acceptable of course), I have to admit that it works with Blue Moon. On so many levels.

Although Blue Moon has been around for more than a decade, Molson Coors won't talk in detail about its strategy for the beer, citing a highly competitive marketplace. But as the beer has become more widely known, so, too, have some of Molson Coors's tactics: playing down the beer's connection to its corporate parent; avoiding TV ads; using distributors who know how to sell smaller brands; and targeting key markets and accounts.

The U.S. craft-beer segment is still relatively small, accounting for about 3.4% of the volume and 5.3% of sales in the U.S. in 2005, according to the Brewers Association, a craft-beer trade group based in Boulder, Colo. But the craft segment represents a desirable demographic of young, educated, affluent beer drinkers willing to shell out more for their brew. And big brewers are eager to tap this market.

Earlier this year, Anheuser-Busch introduced two organic beers, Wild Hop Lager and Stone Mill Pale Ale. Like Blue Moon, both play down their relationship to their parent. Stone Mill's label says it's brewed by Crooked Creek Brewing Co., and Wild Hop is marketed as a product of the Green Valley Brewing Co.

Would it be possible to come up with lamer sounding names? You can tell they were run through the corporate marketing grinder until every last ounce of authenticity was wrung out. They're utterly banal and completely indistinguishable. Yeah, I'll have one of them Stone Hop Pale Ales from Green Creek Brewing. Or whatever.

Miller, too, is trying hard to crack the craft market. In April, its Leinenkugel brand introduced Sunset Wheat. It is, for all practical purposes, a clone of Blue Moon, down to the use of coriander.

This is a little bit misleading. While Leinenkugel is owned by Miller, and is not a craft brewer per se, it has been brewing beer that comes closer to the craft than big brew category for some time (at least in terms of styles and flavors). And Sunset Wheat is hardly a clone of Blue Moon, although Leinenkugel's has copied the orange slice bit.

Mr. Thompson attributes much of Blue Moon's success to Molson Coors distributors, who he notes are very good at selling smaller brands. Blue Moon's success, he notes, has also been a slow process, taking more than a decade, but one that has earned the beer respect.

Die-hards don't consider Blue Moon to be a true craft beer. True craft beers must be produced by small, independent and traditional breweries, generally those producing fewer than two million barrels of beer a year. But even beer snobs admit to liking it.

"It is nice," said Jeff Meyer, host of The Good Beer Show, a podcast that often originates from the Heorot Pub and Draught House in Muncie, Ind.

The Heorot is a real beer lover's bar. It's got 53 draft lines, 350 bottled beers and plaques on the wall for anyone who has tried 100 different beers. Stan Stephens, president of the Heorot, says he has one rule: "No Budweiser, no Miller, no Coors." But he makes an exception for Blue Moon. "Blue Moon's real popular," he says.

Although I've been accused of being one, I don't consider myself a beer snob. I just happen to like beer with taste and flavor. Most of the beers that meet this standard are craft beers, but frankly I don't care who makes the beer as long as it's good. And Blue Moon is definitely that, especially on a hot summer day.


Monday, June 05, 2006
The Ratings Game

Recently, a number of e-mails have come in regarding our Beer Ratings. No doubt this deluge was due in no small part to the link that the gallant gents at Power Line provided earlier last week. They rate the great American novels. We rate beer. Works for me.

Anyway, let's hit the mailbag.

We start with Gary from Washington:

Appreciate your dedication to tasting beers and to your ratings thereof.

Please consider sampling Labatt Blue out of Canada. It is a pilsner, delicious, and life blood for me.

A link from Power Line led me to your site. I have added it to my blog favorites.

Yours, in the Brotherhood of Beer Lovers,

Jim from California offers a suggestion:

Nice job with the beer ratings. Someone, indeed, has to do such a difficult job.
Might I recommend my nephews' beer to sample. They are a small and growing microbrewery in San Francisco, called Speakeasy. Their best is called "Prohibition Ale", along with an India Pale Ale called "Big Daddy." You can check them out at:

Orest from Pennsylvania:

I happened upon your site almost by accident. I think the good folks over at Power Line suggested reviewing your list of brews. I'm glad I did. I've bookmarked it. Good stuff.

In looking at your list of brews, I discovered that you have a glaring omission: my favorite, Yeungling lager. If Rolling Rock, another Pa. beer, got a rating of 6 (and it's really overrated), Yeungling should get at least a 14. Hopefully you can pick up a case of Pottsville, Pa.'s finest export somewhere in Minn.

Tim piles on:

If you don't rate Yuengling you lose all credibility. It is, by far, the best American Lager out there. It's the only beer that has unseated Bud for best-seller in any county in the US over the last 10 years. If you haven't had it, you've been deprived.

Michael also finds omissions:

Great God Man!

How could you overlook any representative of Dogfishhead Ale? How about Allagash, or Rogue Half-e-weizen or Rogue Buckwheat Ale? Your list can't possibly be complete without Anchor Brewing's Old Foghorn, or Rogue's Old Crustacean.

All of the above represent the greatest heights to which the noble barley may be raised.

Dave provides a suggestion:

I discovered your beer ratings through a link at Power Line, and found them quite interesting. I noted one of the highest ratings was for Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I agree. That was my beer of choice until last year when I discovered Red Seal Ale from North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg, CA. I suggest you give it a try, if you can find it, and I'll be interested how you compare it to the Sierra Nevada brew. In my opinion, it is the best ale I have ever consumed.

And David asks a question:

Way back in the distant past of college, I was given some Mackeson (sp?) Stout from Scotland to taste. I enjoyed it much more than its Irish cousin, Guinness stout, but have not come across it in ages in any store I have been in. Do you know anything aboot it?

I believe that I tried it some years ago at a beer tasting party and have noticed it on occasion at stores. This guy seems to like it:

Because Mackeson makes a great beer, comparable in many ways to Guinness Draught. All I could think of on the first taste of Mackeson Triple stout is the taste of chocolate milk. It was smooth, creamy and wonderful and I enjoyed every taste. The only thing stopping this beer from being perfect for me, is that it's a little to sweet for my every day beer. So I don't think its going to replace my Guinness, but I think I will be getting it when I see it.

These e-mails raise a couple of points that should be addressed.

1. Just because a beer is not on the list does mean that I have not tried it. The vast majority of beers that are included in this ratings list were purchased locally and sampled in my basement bar. The ratings system includes six separate categories (head, smell, color, taste, aftertaste, overall) with different points scales for each one. It's difficult to remember them all when you're sitting in a bar sipping a particular beer and I haven't reached the level of geeky abandon where I feel comfortable whipping out a score sheet and evaluating the beer in a public setting. I have rated a few beers while traveling, but, in addition to the nearly 300 beers that I have rated, there are probably at least one hundred others that I've tasted at some point but not rated.

Yuengling is one of those. I've actually had Yuengling on tap in Key West of all places. It's a good beer, but I don't feel comfortable assigning it a numeric rating without running it through the ratings process. I'll see if I can track it down locally. I do appreciate suggestions for new beers to rate and make every possible effort to include as many beers as possible on the list. Remember, there are a lot of beers out there (Thanks God!) and it could take years to include them all.

2. All ratings are completely subjective based on my impressions of the beer at the time it was rated. My tastes have no doubt changed over the years and beers that I rated highly years ago may no longer be among my favorites. On a few rare occasions, I have gone back and revised the ratings of particular beers when further experience necessitates it.

3. Just because a beer is rated high doesn't mean it's always the right beer. The ratings are based on the overall qualities of the beer and typically the kind of beers that I prefer, heavier and stronger, with more flavor, will have higher ratings. That doesn't mean that these are the only beers I drink or that beers lower scores, say under ten, aren't perfectly appropriate for some situations. A blistering hot day for example call for a lighter, easier drinking brew.

UPDATE-- Dave e-mails again with another beer recommendation and a question:

Another suggestion is North Coast's Old 38 Stout. This is their version of an Irish Stout, and I like it much better than Guinness. One of my preferred beers has always been bock beer that some companies used to put out in the late winter. But it is virtually impossible to find, especially in the west. I recall that many years ago, the Stroh Brewing Company in Detroit (when it was still family owned) would put out a bock that was worth waiting for each year. Coors put out a bock some years back along with their winterfest beer, but they were only so so. If you have any suggestions on a bock, let me know.

I don't know how widely available it is, but the Schell Brewery in New Ulm, Minnesota makes an excellent Caramel Bock as well as a potent Doppel Bock. In addition, they hold an annual Bock Fest at the brewery grounds each February.


Thursday, May 25, 2006
Time For A Beer Run

Nineteen new beers have been added to the FL Beer Ratings list, including a couple of quality brews from Bell's (you wouldn't expect anything else) and a slew of suds from Sleeman's. Speaking of Canada and beer, the Oilers playoff run has led to a run on beer at bars in Edmonton:

Establishments throughout the city have been running low on suds during recent Oilers games because of beer-drinking fans knocking down brews.

Hockey fans drinking beer? If that don't beat all.


Monday, April 24, 2006
Your Beer Tastes Like Swill To Us

Two tasty tales appeared in Saturday's Wall Street Journal. The first concerned Anheuser-Busch's sponsorship of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Selling beer to Germans should be as easy as a penalty kick, but AB discovered that trying to slip Budweiser past Germany's beer defenders raised many a yellow card:

Anheuser-Busch Cos. has exclusive rights to sell and market its beer at soccer's World Cup, which will be held in cities around Germany for a month beginning June 9.

Being the official beer sponsor of the world's most-watched sporting event should give the company an ideal chance to promote its brand and to associate itself with the one thing Germans love almost as much as beer, soccer.

But the King of Beers has a king-size problem: Germans hate the beer and Anheuser-Busch can't even use the Budweiser name in Germany. In a country where brews are hand-crafted and richly flavored, many drinkers dismiss Bud as light, mass-produced and weak.

"We don't want Bud at our World Cup," says Johannes Schnitter, a 25-year-old student at the Freie Universität in Berlin, who has set up an anti-Bud Web site, "I'm not anti-American. This is just the worst beer you could imagine."

Not much wiggle room there.

Anheuser-Busch executives in St. Louis, Mo., realized they had a problem in late 2004. German newspapers were reporting that beer fans were furious about the prospect of drinking the American brew at the tournament.

You gotta admire a people who get "furious" about being forced to drink inferior beer. I've been there myself, but usually just bite my tongue and swallowed my outrage (and whatever tasteless brew I was being served).

In recent years this hasn't been as much of a problem, with more and more venues offering a choice of beers, including selections from the higher end. In a few cases, I've even been able to enjoy a little schadenfreude listening to the whining from Bud and Miller drinkers when the only beer available is of the microbrew variety. This was the scenario that played out at the beer garden at this year's Pond Hockey Tournament on Lake Calhoun, where the only beer to be had was Summit Pale Ale.

The ultimate example of this was when the Nihilist In Golf Pants got married (sorry to crush your dreams ladies) some years ago. The only beer that was made available to guests gratis at the reception was a couple of kegs of Summit India Pale Ale. Not only did he go with a microbrew, he went with one of the more hoppier, flavor-filled ones available. Needless to say, a sizable contigent of beer swillers in attendance were none too pleased with his selection. Which was probably the #1 motivating factor behind his choice in the first place. The man lives for schadenfreude.

The folks at AB were smart enough to realize that trying to cram their beer down German throats was not a good PR move and found a solution.

So Anheuser officials undertook an unprecedented act of beer diplomacy. Tony Ponturo, Anheuser-Busch vice president of global media and sports marketing and the executive who signed the World Cup sponsorship deal, flew to Bitburger's offices in the small town of Bitburg to discuss a deal.

He proposed letting Bitburger sell its beer along with Bud at the stadiums and at some promotional events. In return, the American company would gain the right to use the name Bud, instead of just Anheuser-Busch, on billboards along the fields -- and visible to viewers watching on TV at home.

Bitburger said yes. "For us, this is a way to make the brand Bitburger more popular," says Dietmar Henle, a spokesman for Bitburger Brauerei Th. Simon GmbH, the brewer.

"We could be bullies," Mr. Ponturo says. "But that's probably not smart."

Under the agreement, the name Anheuser-Busch -- not Budweiser -- will appear on key chains and hats given away at events. The company has printed a bar guide to direct people to bars that sell its beer. At the stadiums, drinkers who buy the beer will receive commemorative plastic cups with the World Cup logo next to the words: Anheuser-Busch. Bitburger will be sold in unbranded plastic cups.

I believe it is peace in our time.

The Germans drink more beer than people in the U.S. and nearly anywhere else in Europe, but there are so many beers that none holds a large share of the market, according to the German Brewers' Association, a trade group.

Imports tend to struggle because of Germany's beer purity law, known as the Reinheitsgebot, which dates back to 1516 and decreed that beer could contain only four ingredients: barley, yeast, hops and water.

Although the rule was struck down in 1987 by the European Union, which judged that it breached European law by restricting trade, it is still regarded as an article of faith by German brewers and their customers. Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser contains rice, as well as the traditional ingredients.

Rice in beer is just wrong as the German beer drinkers well know. The good news is, that despite their distaste for Bud, at least some of them know that good American beers do exist.

"Some of the American beer is quite good, including the microbreweries," says Franz Maget, the chairman of the Social Democrats political party in Bavaria, an area known for its beer. "I don't enjoy the large brands like Budweiser and Miller Light. They're too thin."

Exactly. One aspect of the story that you have to love is that the dedication of the German soccer fans is being rewarded. The dedication to drinking at all costs.

One recent Saturday, in the trendy Berlin neighborhood of Mitte, soccer fans crowded into the FC Magnet bar to watch Bayern München vs. Bremen on the big screen and to drink beer -- German beer.

Sipping an Erdinger wheat beer, Philipp Schrenk, a 36-year-old events manager, says he has tickets to see Spain play Ukraine in the World Cup. "The one drink connected to football is beer," he says. Thinking he had had no choice, he said he'd probably drink Bud during the game. "But it just feels wrong," he says.

When he found out that Bitburger would also be sold, Mr. Schrenk was relieved. "That's great," he says. "Now I will surely stick to the country and have a Bitburger."

And, even though it's far from one of my favorite German beers, come World Cup time, I'll raise a Bitburger in honor of German soccer fans myself.

The second story is Eric Felten's vision of the perfect bar, Blair's Blue Room:

The Blue Room's bartenders actually know their drinks. Not only can they recall the difference between a Rob Roy (two parts scotch to one part sweet vermouth) and a Thistle cocktail (equal parts scotch and sweet vermouth), but they can deliver them, reliably distinct from each other, time and again. Their trick for making precision drinks is the simplest and most obvious one -- measuring.

Next time you're out at a bar, take note of whether the bartenders measure properly or just pour away. Most eyeball the liquor as it goes straight into the shaker. The latter looks more professional -- like a chef who knows his ingredients so well that he can grab and toss a smidge of this and a pinch of that. It looks more generous too: Measuring each ingredient can be misperceived as being stingy with the cheer. But meting out the spirits in exact amounts makes for better drinks.

As New Orleans bartender Chris McMillian once told me, "Mixing drinks is more like baking than cooking -- having the exact proportions is the difference between success and failure." "Trader" Vic Bergeron was adamant: "My best advice is to make every drink as though it were to be the best you've ever made," he wrote in his 1947 Bartenders Guide, "and you can't do this if you don't measure."

I don't know where Blair's Blue Room keeps all its glasses, but they come in an inexhaustible variety of sizes and shapes, each suited to a particular drink. Ask for a fizz or a sour, and it is served in a proper Delmonico glass, a little bigger than a highball glass and slightly wider at the top than the bottom. Bigger still is the bar's Collins glass, and it also has the tall narrow cousin used for Zombies. There are silver cups for juleps and I've even seen them dig out a copper mug for a Moscow Mule.

The one glass the Blue Room doesn't have is what is now universally known as a Martini glass -- the stemmed glass with the conical bowl. Martinis at Blair's Blue Room come in the bar's standard cocktail glasses, curved like old champagne saucers, though with a slight flare at the lip. I like not only their glasses, but also that when you ask for a Martini, none of the waiters or bartenders would think to ask "vodka or gin?" Not that they are opposed to making Vodkatinis. It's just that they realize a Martini is a drink of gin and vermouth.

Amen. A Martini is made with gin. End of story. And Felten's point about the proper glass for the proper drink is well taken. He also includes two recipes:

1½ oz Scotch whisky
1½ oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel.

Rob Roy
2 oz Scotch whisky
1 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel

I'm enjoying a Rob Ray as I scribble this post. Unfortunately, Blair's Blue Room exists only in the fantasy world of Eric Felten's mind. Until we can all find our own real world Blue Rooms, the next best thing may be our own basement bars. Just remember to measure.


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Podcast Archives

This week on The First Team:

Brian and John continue to voice their heated rhetoric and troublesome vitriol.

Read Alli reviews



3/20--Rick Perriello
3/13--Nancy Pelosi
3/6--Harry Reid
2/20--Keith Olbermann
2/13--Larry O'Donnell
2/6--Barack Obama
1/30--Carol Shea Porter
1/16--Martha Coakley
1/9--Mike Malloy
12/19--Al Gore
12/12--Harry Reid
11/21--Al Gore
11/14--Nancy Synderman
11/7--Roland Burris
10/31--Levi Johnston
10/24--Alan Grayson
10/17--Rick Sanchez
10/10--Barbara Boxer
9/26--Ed Schultz
9/19--Jimmy Carter
9/5--Chris Matthews
8/29--Dan Savage
8/22--Brad Pitt
8/15--Chris Matthews
8/8--Barbara Boxer
8/1--Bill Maher
7/4--Al Franken
6/13--David Letterman
6/6--Harry Reid
5/30--Drew Barrymore
5/23--Jesse Ventura
5/16--Wanda Sykes
5/9--Alren Specter
5/2--Nancy Pelosi
4/25--Janeane Garofalo
4/4--Damon Greene
3/28--Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
3/21--Charles Grassley
3/14--Seymour Hersh
3/7--DL Hughley
2/28--Sean Penn
2/21--James Clyburn
2/14--Chuck Schumer
2/7--Nancy Pelosi
1/31--Nancy Pelosi
1/24--Richard Lugar
1/3--Caroline Kennedy

2008 Loons of the Week

2007 Loons of the Week

2006 Loons of the Week

the don of design

Adopt a soldier


Misericordia Orphanage

MN Patriot Guard

Soldiers' Angels

Spirit of America

Tee It Up For The Troops

World Vision



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