Thursday, April 23, 2009

Go fish

What we really mean to say is, take a trip to Shad Fest, but go for the beer.

Lambertville is pulling out the stops again Saturday and Sunday (noon to 5 p.m.) for the annual shad fest, and River Horse Brewing will tempt you with their Summer Blonde ale this time of year. Or if you want to go large, try their new Double Honey Weizenbock (brewed for Philly Beer Week back in March) and Double Wit Belgian ale, now in its second year as a seasonal (and new to being on shelves as a four pack).

The weather is supposed to be summerlike, in the 80s, so you can’t go wrong with the lighter, blonde brew. River Horse also has a quenching, unfiltered lager (they had it on tap back in the fall during their Oktoberfest, so maybe again in the spring). You’ll find them pouring a range of brews in the back lot of the brewery, and it’s pay as you go so you can get a full pint (just buy the glass).

There's a lot of local support for the brewery, and RH can draw a crowd with its brews. But they’ve scored some extra space this year, so you’ll have plenty of elbow room to enjoy the beer and food. We confess, the shad chowder really isn’t something to write home about, but there’s plenty of selection in the cuisine concession.

The great thing about going to Lambertville, as we’ve said boatloads of times, is you can explore the best of two beer worlds, since over the bridge (within walking distance) in New Hope is Triumph Brewing.

Pictured below is Triumph’s beer board pulled from their Web site. It looks a little sparse for them, but as of this writing, it could have been updated. With 80-degree weather, go for the kellerbier if you wander over.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jack in the green

Color the Union Jack green for Earth Day (April 22nd).

And by that we note, and echo from their Web site, things that the British-themed Ship Inn is doing to step up to the Earth and eco-friendly plate …

These are all things the Ship has done over the past two years there in Milford. Not a bad list.

  • Switching to grass-fed beef and hormone-free/antibiotic-free chicken
  • Locally roasted, organic, fair-trade coffee
  • Sustainable, wild-caught fish
  • Composting vegetable and brewery refuse
  • Installation of energy efficient windows
  • Consolidation of refrigeration for less energy usage
  • Spent brewery grain goes to local cows
  • Addition of more vegetarian items to the menu
And the future of the Ship holds:
  • Procuring organic grain for our brewing
  • Purchasing locally pastured meats and locally grown vegetables
  • Adding a bicycle rack

Sunday, April 19, 2009

After Beer Wars

Simple observation: All you really need to know about Beer Wars is that it’s an articulation of why you should support your local craft brewery – brewpub or bottler. Because they offer selection and styles relevant to the times. And because the mega brewers would love to crush them all, in the manner of The Godfather (“It’s just business...”) and by any means necessary.

But if you need more …

Beer Wars speeds through the rise of the big brewers after Prohibition and the demise of America’s brewing heritage, and how Bud, Coors and Miller warred with each other even before they met the likes of Samuel Adams and Sam Calagione.

Along parallel tracks, the film highlights Sam C’s success with his Dogfish Head brewery and the struggles of Rhonda Kallman, who spun herself off from the Sam Adams brand she helped build with Boston Beer founder Jim Koch to pursue her vision of Moonshot Beer, a caffeine-jacked brew she developed (and apparently has contract-brewed) as her own brand.

Sam C grows and lands on the behemoth brewers’ anti-competition radar; Rhonda wearily struggles for financing to keep her enterprise afloat, as she chases shelf space and tap handles, trapped in a frustrating cash-strapped cycle that makes attracting investors next to impossible.

From location to location, you follow the protagonists, and you're shown who the friends of the big brewers are (count Congress among them); you witness the National Beer Wholesalers Association preach the Gospel of Middleman and how we must believe that, 76 years on, the layer between brewer and consumer is still a swinging deal for everyone because it earned its stripes in the crucible of Prohibition’s crash. (We’d argue that the middle layer is vestigial.)

While Sam grows in both size and popularity, Rhonda continues to falter. And the mega brewers get more defensive over their market position. And so it goes.

Beer Wars isn’t a seamlessly done film. (Read an unkind, but accurate enough, review here.) It has some dodgy production values (soft-focus images that lost crispness because they were scaled up when they shouldn't have been) and uneven pacing that made you think the film was winding up, only to discover a particular summation was really a transition to another section.

Plus, it pretty much preaches to the choir, i.e. you probably went to see it because you’re into craft beer and didn’t think too much of the mega brewers’ dominance to begin with. (So is the film just a call to arms, a rally for the base?)

But all of that aside, Beer Wars does put under one tent the key elements of the longtime rant about bland beer made by overgrown giants who hold most of the cards. Writer/director Anat Baron deserves credit for committing that to something craft beer folks can point to, and she manages to tie human emotions to it all, even though her first-person documentary style at times comes across as too genial and fluffy. This is, after all, war.

Still, the film will recharge your disdain for the giant brewers who dumb-down beer (triple-hopped Miller Lite anyone?), and the wholesaler system that was forced down everyone’s throats to make the legality of alcohol under the 21st Amendment palatable after a bitter temperance movement that was rife with bootlegging and bootless government policy.

One point that the film didn’t even begin to pound nearly enough was the revelation that AB has sued Dogfish Head over the use of the words punkin and chicory in its names for a fall seasonal and a stout. There was no exploration of this, just a passing mention. Sadly, that's a blown opportunity to show how Goliath can throw sand in David’s eyes and make him cry uncle by forcing him to lawyer-up and waste precious capital defending a frivolous legal challenge.

Yet in the long run, we’re not griping about Beer Wars. It may keep the discussion going, even if it is just among the party faithful. Plus, we’re in New Jersey, where there’s a giant brewery in Newark and, in general, an unfriendly climate for craft brewers, à la arcane and arbitrary regulations.

NOTE: The photos are from the live-feed panel discussion moderated by Ben Stein that followed the film.