Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Centennial celebration

OK, that headline is definitely the cart before the horse, because our Centennial hop bines still have burs coming in all over the place. But so are the cones from those first burs that came in a month ago. That means more pictures (FYI: The photos open huge.)

These are first-year bines that are producing quite well, so it makes us wonder if this year has been a favorable growing season. Maybe it's just beginner's luck.

Meanwhile, in the glass:
Backyard sources for beer this week – Flying Fish Farmhouse Summer Ale and a growler of Tun Tavern's Tun Dark. We're going north next week and scouting for Cricket Hill's Jersey Summer Breakfast Ale, among other prospects.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Battlefield Earth

ho to cheer for in this one? The one who makes forgettable beer but clever Super Bowl commercials, or the other behemoth who yells "Stella! Stella!"? (Here's a fresh dose of news from the front.)

We drink none of Anheuser-Busch's line, and only a clutch of InBev's (like Bass, when we're consigned to those bars that the thought "Well at least they have Guinness/Sam Adams/Bass ..." comes to mind. But Bass just doesn't taste the same anymore).

Honestly, the deck – as far as sympathy goes – is stacked against A-B (we heard it called "payback" by one Garden State craft brewer). There are so many things about Bud we've long hated, even before the '90s beer revolution around here, and nearly every one of them has to do with how Bud tastes. Bud may be bland, but there is a taste there, and it's called wretched. (The last Bud we drank was a year ago, and that was at a Tria Fermentation School session, when the presentation was about malt, and the speaker used Bud to illustrate – not perjoratively, however – that Bud's kinda bankrupt when it comes to malt stylings.)

A-B also casts a long shadow in New Jersey with deep pockets, and any cynic in the Garden State can tell you deep pockets paves your way when you want things in New Jersey. A-B's presence in Newark is almost like they breathe all the air so none of the Garden State craft brewers has enough to do anything but turn blue. That's hyperbole, of course. But A-B can spread around a lot of free sports-logo barware, T-shirts and posters and other co-oped advertising, things that would take a big bite out of the craft brewers' budgets.

But let's not rush to make a whipping boy/easy target out of Bud and its sire. Everyone with a homebrew set-up and a refrigerator overloaded with the micro of the week from Joe Canal's has done that, and hurled a few stones at Miller and Coors to boot. (Disclosure: We've done it; still do. And our refrigerators are overloaded with micros, etc.)

Let's look at InBev, without getting too analytical (or even too serious; remember, we endorsed Stephen Colbert for president; still do.) InBev has a sterile-sounding corporate name that looks more like a New York Stock Exchange ticker symbol. So minor points to A-B for corporately relying on the German family moniker and at least putting a human face on things. And InBev right now is the evil corporate raider, the opportunistic aggressor.

If we were jingoistic, we'd note that Belgian-Brazilian InBev is also a foreign invader, but St. Louis-based A-B's ownership bloodline isn't pure, nor its holdings apple pie all-American, so that statement is just dumbing things down. This is the 21st century and global economics, and besides, the Chicago Skyway toll road is owned by an Australian-Spanish corporate mashup.

But really, this A-B/InBev battle, as it carries on, is starting to make us yawn already, and it's still early in the going. It's hard not to think of A-B and InBev as two giants from warring planets sent to Earth to duke it out in a fight to the finish. Only it's two giants duking it out with corporate lawyers on the boardroom-corporate raider battlefield, and probably somewhere down the line some people are going to get screwed out of their jobs (if $4 a gallon gasoline doesn't do it first).

Maybe it's time to go watch (or read) "Barbarians at the Gate." At least that's interesting and entertaining.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Oktober sky

If you’re a fan of Oktoberfest beers … we’ll let’s just say, if you aren’t then you’re missing one of the best beers on Earth.

That’s worth repeating: If you aren’t then you’re missing one of the best beers on Earth. But anyway, the best news for the lazy, hazy days of July is that the Oktober sky is in sight, the Märzens are coming; they're being brewed this month.

And in the Garden State, the go-to Oktoberfest beers come from the brewers with strong connections to Germany: High Point and Climax.

In Butler, the logo on the exterior brickwork may give a nod to the 220-foot obelisk in Montague Township at New Jersey’s highest elevation (1,803 feet), but just off the brewhouse, the thick, Blackletter text, “Ramstein,” above the bottling line says Germany. So does the beer: Malts, hops and yeast from Bavaria. (FYI: High Point's beer brand itself is a nod to the U.S. Ramstein airbase and is symbolic of German-American cultural unity).

Owner Greg Zaccardi says High Point’s brewing of their annual Oktoberfest (alas, it’s available draft only, but well worth the trek to find) commences next week. Release date is Sept. 1, with an annual barrel tapping/open house set for the second Saturday in September.

Greg learned to brew in southern Germany; his wife is German, and as you could imagine, he frequently travels there (in fact, he just got back from a June trip).

Zip across Route 78 to Roselle Park, where Climax Brewing has its Oktoberfest already in the lagering tank. Brewer/owner Dave Hoffmann says he got an early start this year (the beer's available draft and in half-gallon containers) and is targeting it for the beginning of August. He plans another batch on the heels of the initial release.

Dave is of direct German extract. Chat with his dad, Kurt, and you’ll enjoy a rich, German accent, unspoiled by years of living in the U.S.

Oktoberfest is Sept. 20-Oct. 5. So why rave about beers that are a month away from your stein, while we're still in the farming saison? Because these two Oktoberfest beers go fast. Best to keep 'em on the radar.

Check out the results from this year’s North American Brewers’ Association competition. The Tun Tavern won a silver medal for brewer Tim Kelly’s Belgian brown ale and a bronze for Tun Dark, a dunkel-like interpretation lagered for a month and a half, with a hint of hop bitterness and maltiness that's not too sweet. Congrats, Tim.

We’ve been getting into the hops horticulture lately, and here we go again, this time with our own Centennial hops. We found the first well-defined cones on one bine on Sunday, and noticed on Monday more cones were taking shape.

Like The Beatles sang, it won't be long. Yeah, it won't be long.