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.





The perils of isolationism

I’m not the first guy to say that the USA is the most exciting nation on earth for beer lovers. It’s obvious. Not only are Americans spoiled for choice of imports, but our thriving craft brewing industry is producing delicious versions of classic beer styles, and constantly developing new spin on old-world ideas.

But we Americans are prone to the same foibles about beer as we are to most other things. Geographic separation from the European nations in which classic beer styles were developed can foster a certain detachment from the originals. And, more worryingly, American pride and personal hubris can lead the students to believe they are now the masters (insert Darth Vader
breath here).

Case in point: This review on Beerjanglin’. Now this is a fine beer blog, which I regularly read. Hell, I’ve even knocked a few back with one of the principal contributors and hope to do so again. But their take on Pilsner Urquell goes beyond trashing the beer to the point of doing the reader a mild disservice. And behind the reviewer’s words, it’s all too easy to see a mindset that runs deeply through the American craft beer scene.

I’m not going to pick the review apart line by line, and reviewer Willie Moe definitely makes some good points, but his verbiage in the opening paragraph betrays his bias:

Why that would be Pilsner Urquell of course! Yes that’s right the original pilsner, the beer that changed how the world sees beer! This was the first ever pilsner, and every pils, pilsner, or pilsener is in some way formulated from the original recipe passed down through the ages from the gang at good ol’ Pils-Urq. Now, while it is tempting to start rattling off an ode to the pilsner style, I will refrain.

Now I’m guessing there’s not a lot of blonde beer in dude’s fridge. Ever. Were I to hazard a guess, I’d expect the writer to be a fan of (caution: cliche imminent) the more extreme beers. Dark. Bitter. High in alcohol.

If that’s the case, it’s totally cool. There are many damn fine beers out there that fit those characteristics and deserve paragraphs of praise. And this extreme territory is a place where many beer drinkers go once their eyes are opened to the sheer awesomeness of American craft brewing. But for someone who’s pretty obviously not a fan of the style to do this review is like having Me review a country album. I’m gonna hate it and my bias will shine through with every snide stroke of the keyboard.

I guess what gets me the most is the reviewer’s implication that people who drink Urquell are only trying to be seen drinking a glitzy European beer.

The Pils-Urq is offered in a shiny green bottle, with a label that screams, “CLASS!” Elegant and inviting, the bottle wisks you away to the old time Czech Republic, and it never felt so right. Nice lookin’ label, nice lookin’ bottle, so far, so good. Unfortunately that is roughly where the good times end. Because now it’s time to open her up and go in for the real thing.

I’m not stupid. I don’t drink Pilsner because of marketing. I drink it because, over the course of what my family would consider an alarmingly exhaustive study of the world’s beers, Pilsner Urquell has proven itself as the paragon of great Pilsner. Its crisp flavor, seductive bitterness and soapy head are like no other pilsner. And, frankly, I’d like to see a North American brewer come even close to the flavor, body and visual appeal.

Yes, it’s light-colored. Yes, it’s low in alcohol. Yes, it doesn’t present the raw IBU (Bitterness) numbers of Stone Arrogant Bastard. But let’s take a moment to consider the context. Those backward, yokelish Czechs developed (with a German brewmaster, incidentally) a beer that refreshed after a hard day of manual labor, that you could drink all night at festivals, and that could serve as a daily libation; a simple joy for a simpler time, and the perfect session beer for the times in which we now live.

Yeah, the green bottle sucks. I wish European brewers would stop doing that. It sounds like Beerjanglin’s reviewer got a poorly handled sample, but dude should know that from past experience with beer and give the brew a fair shake.

And I’d also submit that it’s important to drink beers like Urquell; archetypes of beer styles that have been consistently maintained for a couple of centuries. Because of the ingenious and experimental nature of American brewers, we change things over here. You don’t see much pilsner, you see IMPERIAL pilsner. Everything changes. Classic styles don’t remain so in the USA, they mutate into uniquely American takes on beer. Every now and then, it’s necessary to take a step back and give a nod to tradition.

Anyway, for my money, I’ll take my ‘alcoholic water’ and enjoy every drop of it. For some reason, I don’t have any difficulty perceiving Urquell’s subtleties of flavor, light bite of bitterness, and substantial mouthfeel. It certainly isn’t Great Divide Titan IPA, but I doubt that’s the benchmark its brewers are shooting for.

edit: Czech Pilsner is misunderstood in general on this side of the pond. How fortuitous, then, that Prague-based Evan Rail has started a Czech beer blog in the Prague Daily Monitor (English-language newspaper). Hurry up and familiarize yourself with this sublime style, before I have to launch an annoying, pedantic blog crusade. -Mark

Update on the Rohrbach move

Well, looks like the Holiday season will be a busy one for the Rohrbach Brewing Company.

The floor is poured and drainage is all set in their new Railroad Street facility, and they’ll be moving the brewing equipment over Christmas week. The move was supposed to take place sooner than that, but had been pushed back in order to head off any snags that would cause unforseen brewery downtime.

This is important, because Bruce needs every spare moment to keep the Tap and Mallet supplied with McBane’s Best Bitter. The new bar went through nine kegs of the stuff in it’s first two weeks of operation alone. Meanwhile, Rohrbach regulars are taking advantage of Bruce’s return and demanding the Stock Ale. If he doesn’t produce it quick they’re likely to come after his ass with pitchforks.


By the way, let’s all welcome fellow Crapchesterian Creamaledrinker as he begins his adventures in beer blogging. his handle refers to Genesee Cream Ale, a source of gastric distress for many a college student over the decades. Check out his shit so he gets a good start and doesn’t get discouraged.