Friday, February 8, 2008

Got you covered

While paging through some of the beer sites we normally check, we happened up this image.

It's the cover art of the New Jersey beer compendium Lew Bryson and Mark Haynie are making progress toward putting into your hands.

(We gave it the Apple iWeb-reflection Photoshop technique, which, yes, we're a fan of. And to think, just a mere seven or eight years ago adding scan lines over images was all the rage.)

As we noted earlier this week, and as Lew says on his blog, publication is still targeted this August.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Eat Drink Man Woman

These are some promotional clips we were asked to create for The Brewer’s Plate.

We’re very much flattered and honored that a topnotch, benefit event like this invited us to contribute something. We went last year and loved the food, the craft beers and what the event stands for (it’s a fundraiser for White Dog Community Enterprise’s Fair Food program), so when asked to help out, we happily said yes. A note of thanks to Benjamin – Ralph Archbold – Franklin, who contributed his time, and the Independence Visitor Center for allowing us to videotape there. Check out Breakfast with Ben some time. It plays to all ages.

Even if we weren’t involved, albeit in our small way, we’d still make this our don’t-miss event of the March 7th-16th Philly Beer Week.

And since March is overflowing with beer offerings (the Philly Craft Beer Festival is March 1st, while the Atlantic City beer fest is March 8th and 9th ), you might find yourself pressed for time, or cash to part with. So if you need to narrow your options to one, the BP again gets our vote. (Tickets are $50 for general admission – $60, after Feb. 15; and $100 for the premium, VIP admission.)

It’s bigger this year, 21 breweries paired with 21 restaurants in small stations, up from the 18 of each last year that attendees toured, sampling brews that complimented the food dishes. And it’s now at the Independence Visitor Center, at 6th and Market streets, having moved from the Reading Terminal Market.

Jersey beers on tap

A theme that runs through The Brewer’s Plate is locally grown and produced/locally served. The participating restaurants represent the cream of the Philadelphia region, and the brews come from a 150-mile radius of Philly, which means Jersey has a presence at the event: Climax Brewing, Cricket Hill, Flying Fish, River Horse and Triumph.

Cricket Hill and River Horse are newcomers to the BP and are serving American Ale and Tripel Horse Belgian style ale, respectively. Look for Flying Fish’s Farmhouse Summer Ale, a porter from Climax and a rye bock from Triumph (which as we know enjoys locations in Princeton, Philly and New Hope, Pa). Pint trek: Eric Nutt from Triumph tells us the Philly location is pouring a rauchbock now. Where there's smoke, there's good beer.

Aside from our home state brews, we’re looking forward to offerings from Troegs, Victory, Sly Fox, Iron Hill, Nodding Head and Yards. But truly, you can’t miss with any of the breweries that will be there.

Real food, real beer, real advice

Also on hand will be Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster and noted food and beer expert, Garrett Oliver (author of The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food), and Marnie Old, who, as one of the country’s leading wine educators and Philadelphia’s highest profile sommelier, is more widely known for grapes than hops. But she also knows beer, and last fall the Brewer's Association named her one of its three annual Beer Journalism Awards winners. Marnie was recognized for her article Beer Takes the High Road in the June 2007 issue of Santé.

She and Garrett will be leading tutorials on how to match beer and food. Classic pairings, we say.

Like the Brewer’s Plate and the Philly-area beer scene.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Can we get an amen?

Check out the recent sermon on the mash tun by Cricket Hill brewmaster Rick Reed.

When we called Rick last week to find out what his crew was taking to the Brewer’s Plate food and beer pairing in Philadelphia March 9 (Rick’s taking his American Ale), he steered us to this clip. (Runtime – 6:33; wish we had shot it, but alas, no we didn’t.)

First things first, it’s funny. Rick’s a humorous guy. He once told us that choosing between Bud and Coors Light was like deciding which Menendez brother you liked best.

Secondly, there is a point to the Lewis Black-like tirade Rick delivers during that Friday evening tour at CH’s digs in Fairfield (in Essex County). Watch the clip, he’s straight up in his commentary. (And yeah, labels that turn blue when the beer is cold? If you need that gimmick, well you probably also need that velvet rope at the bank to find the teller windows. Might we suggest Coors create a label that goes ding! like a microwave when the beer is cold.)

Picking up where Rick leaves off
Back during the NFL playoffs (remember them?), Daily Show sidekick Rob Riggle was shilling for Budweiser (A-B has a brewery in Newark, as we all know).

Rob’s funny in his blowsy and deadpan comic delivery on Jon Stewart’s show (his stuff from Iraq was hilarious). So, to be clear, we’re not shooting the messenger, just the message, which we found to be misleading and dumbed down.

In the spots, Rob, with chum-like bearing, walks us through what’s so haute about Budweiser, that it’s a difficult beer to make with a multistep process (how is it more difficult to brew than, say, Cricket Hill’s East Coast Lager? And brewing is a multistep process to begin with); that dark beers are cloudy (ever hear of wit beer? Did you know chill haze is perfectly fine in, say, British ales?); that cloudy beers are flawed (again, wheat beer anyone … kellerbier ... again, chill haze … ); and suggesting that all import beers are dark (wrong, and just not worth more preaching to the choir here; but for pete’s sake, even sour is a valid beer taste/style … and funny that the Bud spots bring up imports and dark beers to illustrate inferior when A-B has imports and amber beers in its portfolio) …

Disclosure: We never drank/never liked Bud during those old dark days of yesterbeer; we drank Stroh’s, and eventually Heineken, before moving on to flavor country, thanks to the craft beer movement. So yeah, it’s easy for us to shred Bud and not get winded.

So why throw a Lewis Black spaz over the Bud spots?
Well, you’d think the whole Bud/Coors/Miller vs. craft beer debate was worn out by now and not worth reprising. That is, until a misinformation campaign promoting a mass-produced, bland (cheap) beer pops up.

If we wanted to be really shrill, we’d say that drinking Bud is like being stuck watching "American Idol" when you want “The Wire” or “Deadwood.” Or like being forced to listen to Van Halen when Sonny Landreth has the guitar chops you need. Or that Bud is to beer what Olive Garden is to Italian cuisine.

But we won’t go that far. Because, like sour, hazy, roasted, hoppy or dark, bland is a beer style.

Just not ours. And hopefully not yours, either.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Milestones, Part 2

We’re not much on crowing about ourselves, but Beer-Stained Letter marked its first anniversary last week, Jan. 31st to be exact.

To give ourselves a perfunctory pat on the back, we headed to Firewaters in Atlantic City, not so much to toast the past year and usher in the next, but to dig into a couple pints of Baltic Thunder and chat with Victory Brewing sales rep Pete Danford, who was on hand for the draft release of the imperial porter at the bar in the Tropicana casino.

Baltic Thunder has grabbed some blogosphere limelight, owing to its artisanal Heavy Weight Perkuno’s Hammer ancestry (a bit of the beer’s history can be found here), and has now made its way to Jersey taps. Look for the dark clouds to form over P.J. Whelihan's in Haddonfield this month and High Street Grill in Mount Holly on Leap Day. It’s also in bomber bottles at package goods stores with good beer sensibilities.

Want three words to summarize Baltic Thunder? Try rich, velvety and inviting. But a heads up, Thunder has a clap, too, at 8.5% ABV. So, you can toss in a fourth word, too: hearty.

While at Firewaters, we ran into Mark Haynie, a founding member of the NJ Association of Beerwriters (more on that in a minute). Mark came to the BT pouring armed with a cellared bottle of Perkuno’s Hammer, offering a handy taste reference for those at the bar sipping Thunder. Many thanks, Mark. Hope to cross paths again soon, owe you a pint.

Comparatively speaking, Perkuno’s alcohol flavors are more up front than Baltic Thunder’s. And since we were watching “High Fidelity” when we wrote this, and patting ourselves on the back for having Jimmy Cliff on our iPod (watch the movie, you’ll know what we’re talking about), we'll say we can’t decide if PH is the Bob Dylan version of “All Along The Watchtower,” while BT is the seminal Jimi Hendrix cover. Whatever, both make the charts.

Speaking of Mark Haynie, he’s working on the New Jersey Breweries book with Lew Bryson. Mark says their efforts are being edited now, and Lew told us last month that it’ll probably be August (or sometime thereafter) when the book becomes available.

Speaking of this blog and books about New Jersey-brewed beer, writing a guide to the Garden State’s breweries, brewpubs and homebrewers market was the reason BSL jumped into the über crowded field of beer blogging.

But early on, it became obvious that gathering string for a book would take us a minimum of two years, three was more like it, to make up for five-year a gap in our tracking of the region’s beer scene. That’s about half the life of Jersey’s craft beer movement (we blame the hiatus on a mind-numbing five-plus years of working at the AP in Trenton and the subsequent demanding, all-over-the-place schedule; thankfully we said farewell to that insanity).

Nonetheless, when Lew announced in August 2007 that he was undertaking NJ Breweries, well it only made sense to stand clear and let someone with the time in, contacts and publisher do their thing. (Lew has written books on Pennsylvania breweries; likewise for Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and New York, and is/was a Keystone State member/founder of NJ Association of Beerwriters.)

We’re looking forward to the finished work on Jersey. And if you support the endeavor, buy a copy not from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Borders but at a book-signing; you’ll be supporting the author directly that way.

On camera
Meanwhile for BSL, stepping away from the book ambitions freed us up to pursue more video projects with New Jersey beer & brewers, which rather emerged as a passion and focus for us. (If you’ve appeared in the handful of vids we’ve done thus far, or have agreed to participate in an upcoming one, then we owe a huge debt of thanks.) Our favorite video over the past year was Oktoberfest (even though it’s a little off the top in the approach to the topic); our best work was the Brewers Guild festival on the battleship USS New Jersey. Our most successful videos have been on Rich Wagner’s Colonial brewing demonstration and an animation on Cricket Hill’s dart-throwing challenge, assembled from stills shot at the Philly Craft Beer Festival a year ago.

And as we noted last month, we have a few video projects under production now, plus more on the way. The camera never blinks.

Lastly, the focus of this blog has been more chamber of commerce-like to the Garden State’s microbrewing industry, championing those efforts, and not trying to gaze upon them with critiques and evaluation. For a state of nearly 9 million people, you’d think New Jersey would have a higher profile in the industry. Alas, no. Jersey’s micros and brewpubs are somewhat spread out, scattered, and we remain a state where the blandness of Bud, Coors and Miller still claims legions of drinkers, and observations like "at least they have Sam Adams (or Guinness) on tap" make you pine for the successes of Pennsylvania (and have you wishing you were in craft beer-friendly Philadelphia more often). Sigh.

So cheers and thanks to everyone who clicked on our site over the past year or took a phone call from us. Check out our new logo, but more importantly have a beer and salute the choice that craft beer provides.