Monthly Archives: August 2012

Labor and Beer

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When I did my Forty Day Forty Pennsylvania Microbrewery Tour two years ago (hence the name of the blog), it became a fairly predictable paradigm and pattern: Craft brewing, in old industrial towns, located generally in old repurposed factories.

Since Pennsylvania is one of the oldest states, I could practically chart the trajectory of the Industrial Revolution: craftsman, to factory worker, to white collar/white flight to the ‘burbs, to deindustrialization, and the rise of the strip mall. Think Harrisburg, Easton, Phoenixville,Bethlehem, Pittsburgh, Erie, Lancaster, Williamsport, Berwick, Philadephia, Chambersburg, etc. Kind of depressing and sad but with hope brewing. A faint pulse of innovation and imagination fermenting anew.

Mummified Main Street whose innards were sucked out by chains. Yet, now, a return of Craft. Full circle. Prior, very few breweries survived this spherical trajectory truncated additionally by Prohibition. Yuengling was one of the anomalies that did in Pottsville. Just far enough out of reach of the big boys, sheltered in coal country. Now, the largest independent in the U.S. The emergence of Craft brewing as a force to be reckoned with, ironically positioned above mainstream beers in both taste and price. Poetic justice.

The independent breweries before corporate suds domination were typically cheap and awful. We cannot romanticize how bad some of those beers were: Iron City in Pittsburgh, Schmidt’s in Philadelphia, National Bohemian in Baltimore, Knickerbocker in New York. The corporate model created consistency. Hard to love, but not nasty swill either. Inoffensive. Bland. But you wouldn’t go blind taste-wise drinking it.  Nothing to behold either. The light lager.

Craft beer now: Hands-on and high-brow. Out foxing the bigs with asymmetrical strategies. Taking the hammer and striking a blow for the working man who has been replaced by the machine. John Henry getting a good bit smarter, tools and techology, turned against the beer behemoths. What would Marx say? This development in beer gives me hope that getting smaller and smarter is actually how to grow opportunity.

We just have to stop giving our dollars to those who seek to deliver us mediocrity and tell us we should shut our traps and suck it down. Unthinking. Enough, enough, enough.


Row House Red

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My friend Tom Becker runs a Christian think tank of sorts here in Lancaster Pa called “The Row House” where “Nothing Is Not Sacred.”  

First, Christian and Think Tank can work as a hybrid. Not all evangelicals are cultural Do-Do birds. Second, the forums and events are an eclectic mix of ideas and performances. I saw a band earlier in the summer sponsored by The Row House called Listener and they are still moving me with their profound lyrics and music. Check out this tune. It will mess you up. Third,Tom has a mission to reach the younger generation with culturally relevant art (music, writing, visual). Fourth, he likes beer.

Tom texted me to let me know that Philadelphia Brewing Company has a line of brew called Row House Red. It is not often that someone mentions a beer that I don’t know about. I am aware of Philadelphia Brewing Company as I am a Philly boy. However, the Row House Red had slipped under my Rocky Radar. I  stay attuned to what is happening in Philly even though I reside two hours west.

Tom was excited about the namesake and half-jokingly and half-seriously was getting fired up about sponsorship, taking the coincidence as perhaps a divine appointment for collusion. He checked with me about whether I had any cred with Philadelphia Brewing Company and I do not. I had a case of their Walt Wit earlier in the summer and that is the closest connection historically. I believe one bottle is still in the Beer Fridge. 

As a follow-up, Tom invited me to a brewskie party on Friday night with 20somethings. Thus, I went to my go to distributorship here in Lancaster called Wheatland (named after former president James Buchanan’s estate Wheatland a few blocks away) and they had the Row House Red in stock!  Philadelphia Brewing Company has an interesting price point. Their cases sell for around $ 28 which makes them more than the Buds but less than other craft brewers. It is not a bad place to be.

So, Tom and I headed to the party on the south side of Lancaster City. Since I was walking for a good bit, the beer got jostled quite a lot. So, when we opened the bottles, they were foamy. Unusually foamy. Just a tip, even when the bottles are stationary, they still have a lot of head no matter what. Pour in a glass and let it settle. Drinking it out of the bottle is just not wise and totally bloating.

The taste of the Row House Red is almost Belgian. It is brewed with Belgian yeasts and is quite malty. With the foam, it is almost a milk shake. It comes short of a Belgian but for the price, it is a contender underdog for that prize of a good beer at a good price. It has a puncher’s chance for the belt of beerdom.

At the brewskie party there was a beer trough (an actual trough) and a toilet. A Judgment Day of sorts of beer that was heavenly and beer that was hellish. The Row House Red, although not ready for sainthood, definitely did not belong in the john. Definitely recommend this beer for your edification.     


Happy Brux Day

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In craft brewing circles, Russian River Brewing Company is considered the equivalent of a international supermodel who also has smarts. Stylish and innovative, they have been known to do unusual things to beer fashion and it works. Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and Younger are considered among the best beers in the world. Never had ’em.

In this Brux collaboration with Sierra Nevada, these California Girls come together to create a new taste. Think wine sensibilities on a beer stage.

In Brux, as is the case with many of Russian River’s beers, the Brettanomyces yeast is used in fermentation. Typically, this type of yeast imparts interesting flavors in wines and is often used in some Belgian styles of beer. Someday, Belgian beers will accompany fancy cuisine much as wine does today. The Brux’s subtitle is “Domesticated Wild Ale”, which seems to be an oxymoron, but the yeast is apparently very difficult to get out of the winery and brewery once it is given a chance to do its fermentation work. So, I suppose that is the wild part.

From what I read, Russian River did most of the ingredient design whereas Sierra Nevada did the actual brewing and distributed it through their national network. Russian River only distributes to one location on the East Coast which is in Philadelphia and then its brews are filtered out from there. Here in Lancaster County, there are no distributors on the list. The closet location is about an hour away east. So difficult to be in the beer wilderness. Although, civilization is finally coming.

A friend and I collaborated to celebrate his birthday at the Bulls Head Brewpub in Lititz. Although the salad was uncharacteristically lame (usually the food there is quite good), the beer rocked. Several days before I had seen a video online about the Brux so when I spotted in the fridge of the establishment, I thought it would be a nice present to share with my cohort. And since we can’t get Russian River in Amish country, the best we can do is the Brux.

We drank it down slowly. The taste and cost and ABV (8.3%) of Belgians make it wise to stroll slowly. If you want a session beer, don’t go Belgian. And don’t treat Belgians as sessions. We found the bottle to be at a high-level of taste where the flavor improved quite a bit and opened up once it got a bit warmer. Great beers don’t have to be chilled to the bone to be enjoyed or chilled because there is no flavor, where the coldness becomes the equivalent of Novocaine deadening the nerves of flavor.

Birthdays are once in a year events so I am glad we gave it a shot. We smoked some fine cigars while we sipped and solved many of the world’s problems.