Sly Fox takes over the Tap and Mallet

Tap takeovers continue to be wildly popular at the Tap and Mallet here in sunny Rochester,

and Sly Fox proved why. The boys from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania hauled 30 beers up, one for each tap on the bar.

Events like this really showcase a brewery’s versatility and brewing prowess. Lots of places can pump out good beer in the IPA/Pale ale range, but frankly not every brewery can also excel at Czech pilsners, Doppelbocks and Helles.

I love Sly Fox’s commitment to central European styles. Brewer Brian O’Reilly’s passion for lagers of all types shows through in the fidelity of his work, and makes him a role model for neophyte craft beer discoverers. His Helles is clean, his Pilseners crisp, and they would make a Bohemian proud (the ethnic kind, not the guy with the hacky-sack).

The Sly Fox Standard Pils stood out, bolder in body than the more generally available Pikeland Pils, more of a homage to the beer of the Czech Republic. A soft, bready flavor profile gave way to a crispy Saaz hop finish with nary a hint of off-flavor. This beer would go over fine in the beer gardens of Prague and Pilsen.

I was also quite taken with the Jake’s ESB. Extra Special Bitter is an increasingly forgotten English style. It lacks the trendy cachĂ© of IPA or strong pale ale, and just doesn’t seem to find its way into beer bars very often. However, Jake’s ESB is a prime example of what an ale yeast can do when properly nurtured. The beer is soft, funky and fruity, swirled through with pear and plum flavors, lightly sweet with a toffee malt character.

We’re gonna see a great deal more of Sly Fox; they just plunked down the cash for a major expansion that should make them a big player in the northeast market. That’s a win for anyone who likes good beer in this neck of the woods.



Irish Stout & pub music tomorrow

My Irish Band, the Sisters of Murphy, is playing an acoustic happy hour at Caverly’s Irish Pub in Rochester, NY tomorrow at 6:30 PM. I sing and pay the Stupid Little Pirate Accordion, and Custom Brewcrafters’ Head Brewer Bruce Lish handles the bass.

Come out and have some of the black stuff, it’s free (The beer, not the Concert).


Westvleteren 12It was our last night in Europe and, coming off a two-week odyssey through the most unique beer cities in Germany, we were a bit run down. Still, the daily drudgery loomed, literally, over the horizon and the twisty streets of Amsterdam still beckoned. Thus, my brewer friend Bruce and I found ourselves at an intersection of canal and cobblestone, looking dubiously at Cafe De Spuyt, and its sign claiming to offer “100 Beeren.”

To say the place was a magical wonderland would be a stretch, but it was cozy, age-worn and empty, save for the friendly proprietor. And this guy understood beer. His bookshelf contained works by Michael Jackson, Pete Brown, Garrett Oliver, Martyn Cornell, you name it. And he talked the talk as well. We had a lively, informed discussion about the American craft scene that really showed me how seriously Europeans are taking it.

Oh, and there were 100 beeren, colorfully labeled, from across The Netherlands and around the world.

The one that caught my eye, however, was the one with no fancy label, indeed no label at all. It was a plain brown bottle, with a simple cap, that came from the next country over. It actually took a minute to sink in. I was looking at the Holy Grail.

The placid fields around Poperinge, Belgium, belie the turmoil this land and its inhabitants endured 95 years ago. Back then, they were stump-riddled mud pits, blasted uneven by artillery and scarred by trenches slashed through to the Ypres battlefield. They certainly still dig up the odd explosive shell, but the earth here is level again. Farmers tend their crops. The villages are small and sleepy. The place is peaceful enough to have an abbey, where monks of the Trappist order pray and live a life of quiet faithful deprivation. They support themselves with what goods they can produce. The monks bake bread, which I hear is delicious, but they’re best known for the beer they brew. The abbey is called St. Sixtus, and it’s in the town of Vleteren.

The monks of St. Sixtus are a bit more hardcore than those of the other Trappist abbeys, who’d long been profiting from the enormous regard in which beer lovers held their ale. Distribution chains are in place for Joe Hophead to wander into beer stores all over the USA and walk out with a bottle of Orval or Rochefort. But the monks in Vleteren never got comfortable with mass worldwide distribution and an income stream that could potentially bring them into moral conflict with their code of a simple life and support of a modest abbey. They prefer to keep it close to home. If you want their beer, Westvleteren, you go to them.

They brew a light-alcohol Blonde, the Westvleteren 8, and, more rarely, the strong Westvleteren 12, considered one of the finest beers in the world by pretty much all beer lovers, many of whom had yet to try it. To buy it legitimately, you have to win something of a telephone lottery, then drive to the brewery and pick up your two cases maximum.

We found an easier method was to blindly stumble into a randomly selected beer bar in Amsterdam.

Does the Westvleteren 12 live up to its hype? In many ways, yes. It’s a deep, syrupy brew rife with plum and raisin character, carrying just enough of that Belgian funk to let you know what you’re drinking is special. However, it isn’t so many light years ahead of other excellent Trappist quads, such as Rochefort 10, that it justifies the trek to Flanders’ fields. It’s the scarcity that makes Westy 12 such a treasured brew, but it’s no fault of the abbey that the rest of the world is beer crazy.

The monk/brewers are not playing a marketing game of hard-to-get, they’re brewing from a simple ideal, with a simple purpose, and remain perfectly happy to follow a simple business model that seems tragically missing from today’s commerce ethos: They brew enough Westvleteren to support the abbey, and there are enough local people to make this possible. That is all they need.

I wonder if that would still work over here?



EDIT: Some changes occurred since the piece was written. Even Westvleteren is feeling the pinch and needs to inrease their revenue stream in order to maintain and upgrade the brewery. They have reached a deal with Massachusetts-based importer/distributor Shelton Brothers to import 7760 special gift packs containing 6 bottles of Westvleteren 12 and two glasses. At this point it’s unclear whether this is recurring or a one-time thing.


Brewer Dave Glor leaves Naked Dove

Naked Dove brewer Dave Glor is moving on.

Glor, worked with Naked Dove owner Dave Schlosser at the High Falls Brewing Company prior to their byout by venture capital firm KPS. He only recently joined the young Canandaigua brewery after a stint at New Belgium.

I wish Dave good luck in his future ventures. He certainly helped craft some great beers at Naked Dove.


Amager Bryghus pulls the Rug out

Amager RugporterThe Danish island of Amager contains Copenhahgen’s airport, part of the city, a monolithic bridge to Sweden and practically nothing else, except for a small craft brewery whose work is beginning to find its way to rust belt cities in the United States.

The cask handle for Amager Bryghus Rug Porter (Rye Porter), beckoned to me from the moment I sat down at the Tap and Mallet’s bar, directly in front of it. It’s an aunexpected find and demonstrates Bar Manager Chris Schultheis continued commitment to finding the unsusual and the excellent.

The cask method of serving is unusual for a beer of this type, but it works with the silky quality imparted by the rug (rye). The unexpectedly gentle carbonation gives the beer a slight metallic bite and allows the flavors to gently introduce themselves instead of crashing into your taste buds.

A thick mouthfeel blossoms into flavors of fig and date, coating the palate in a dark fruity smoothness before receding to a sharp hop slap at the back of the tongue.

All the while your nose is tickled by a highly intense, alluring sweet/sour aroma reminiscent of an imperial stout, and at 8.5% ABV, the Rugporter has the muscle to match some beers of that style. Those reasonable, rational Danes got it right again: Amager Rugporter is another excellent beer from the capital of the European Craft Beer Movement.


New beginnings

Surfers will tell you about waves, how you can go to a great spot, but there’s an element of luck in catching the good ones, and even the best will eventually release its rider and dissipate against the shore.

For the past 8 years, I’ve been surfing a wave of beer. And it was a great one to catch. My timing was fortuitous; my beer writing came of age along with the craft beer movement, which in truth rapidly outgrew my attempts to cover it with any authority.  Through beer writing, I have made many friends (as well as a few enemies),  laughed and shot the shit with a lot of fascinating people, and learned about business, entrepreneurship and the power of the human will. Oh, and I drank three lifetimes’ worth of awesome beer.


But as waves inevitably do, this one lost its energy. The scene blew up, and it continues to do so (we gained over 260 breweries in the last year alone) A new crop of beer lovers, many with more enthusiasm, drive and capability than myself, drove the new scene. Twitter and Facebook allowed me to shorten my writing into easily emittable chunklets. As for my print column, after 120 installments, I was frankly out of shit to say about beer.

This is all a roundabout, metaphorically tortured way of apologizing.

The beer scene is better than ever. There are more topics, interesting people, and wonderful beers than ever before. I’m sorry about the decline of my writing in both quality and quantity but I am not getting out of the saddle.

I’m moving the blog back to wordpress’ server; I’m sick of trying to run my own box in my bedroom and I can do more with it here. This is not going to be the permanent look, but it will suffice until I can get Photoshop up and running on this damn expensive new laptop, the purchase of which I’m using this blog to partially justify.

So bear with me. I’ve still got some chops, and new ideas are flowing. And I’m a really shitty surfer.