Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Walking point

Curious about the Budweiser foray into ale? Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell can give you the lowdown on this beer due to get pushed in September by bartenders whose employers went out on a limb and put it on tap.

After some searing commentary regarding the brew's liner notes, Don's blog entry gets down to brass tacks and tells you how it tastes. (We won't spoil it, just read it for yourself.)

But our prediction: Budweiser American Ale will be DOA. Why? Just based on a comment made to us at a party over the weekend when we offered some Climax ESB for tasting: "No thanks, I don't do dark beers."

Neither do Bud and Coors drinkers, nor fans of skunky Heineken. They're like Tareyton smokers (would rather fight than switch). And people already drinking craft beer, who may be slightly curious about the new kid, aren't switching, either. They've got far richer landscapes to explore from sources far more reliable than one they've been looking at with disdain for better than a decade now.

Plus in the modern business world, new owners who financed a $50 billion acquisition are probably going to really trim the bottom line and clean up the balance sheet by concentrating on core brands and quickly kill the marginal performers in the portfolio. Budweiser American Ale has that sword hanging over its foamy head, we suspect.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sunny side up

enny’s and IHOP may think they have a lock on breakfast, but here’s an angle the two chain (blecccchh) eateries didn’t think of: a breakfast beer for the shorts and tank top months.

But Cricket Hill did: Jersey Summer Breakfast Ale. (And yes we know it's getting into late summer, late for talking about hot-weather seasonals, what with Oktoberfest just around the bend. But we had to track this brew down, and it took a little bit of time.)

To be sure, part of the charm is the name, but as a bottle-conditioned Belgian summer beer that’s aimed as a full-bodied first step for some folks not quite into the full-bore saisons yet, this is a quite-drinkable brew. And as far as sales go, it’s also pulling some oars this summer for the Cricket (Fairfield in Essex County), outdoing its inaugural year (2007) when it was a draft-only beer.

Like a lot folks at the Garden State Craft Brewers Festival back in June, we ordered breakfast – JSBA was the first keg at the festival to kick – a few times over. Then we set out to find it the bottle, in the 12-packs that CH uses to market its seasonals (maibock and porter are two others).

It took a while, since CH doesn’t have much distribution in South Jersey. But we finally got our hands on it by heading up to Spirits Unlimited in Red Bank (Newman Springs Road & Route 35). We’ve been enjoying it with some revved up summer foods, tangy ones and practically anything you can put jalapeƱos on.

Try it with our very own burger recipe: douse a lean ground beef patty with some Caribbean jerk seasoning, grill a pineapple slice on both sides (sear it so the sugars caramelize), top the burger with the grilled pineapple, then top both with a slice of melted pepper jack cheese.

Like a good Jersey diner, Cricket Hill’s got breakfast whenever you want it.

On the horizon

Owner Rick Reed says CH is gearing up for version 2.0 of their bourbon-barrel brew. This year's is a small batch of naturally carbonated ESB, with some twists, that’ll stay parked in Jack Daniels oak (last year’s was aged in George Dickel barrels) until it’s time to be racked into four or five firkins (we did say small batch, didn’t we?) and maybe into some growlers for faithful followers.

Meanwhile, CH also has a Festivus for the best of us. OK, rest of us. We just didn’t want to be so linear with the Seinfeld reference. But yes, CH’s Fall Festivus amber ale is also on deck. Rick says it “tastes like the colors of fall.”

And yes, the name is borrowed from Frank Costanza’s contra-Christmas holiday. You’ll probably have to supply your own pole though.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Two steps closer to beer

Our hops have taken two steps closer to becoming beer.

We picked them on Sunday, and friend of the blog/South Jersey homebrewer Julian Mason has set them out to dry in a screen frame he made.

Julian (who took the pics here) will brew with ours, plus some Cascades and other varieties he and his co-worker Gerry Mann have been growing since May (we planted ours at the end of March, hence our picking them now). That's a beer to looking forward to.

Our Centennials have a nice piney aroma to 'em and should go well with the Cascades. Makes you think of SlyFox's Phoenix Pale Ale (a Pennsylvania beer that's won permanent shelf space in our main fridge; yeah, this is a Jersey beer blog, but there's room for some outside influence).

For the record, we picked just under a half pound, basically off two first-year plants. We may get another 4 ounces of the remaining two plants we have in the ground that lagged behind. They've got cones beginning to mature on 'em, and one is still throwing burs that will bud up into cones soon.

That may seem like a small yield, but these, as we noted, are first-year plants, which expend a lot of their energy getting their roots established, as well as flowering. Plus, it takes a lot of hop cones to make a pound.

Still, they were hardy this season. Will be next year, too.