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John Rybicki & Juan

07/11/2014
by Ding
2 Comments

Hilton Head Brewing Co., 2014 – Light at the end of a VERY dark tunnel

Each year since 2001, often as a result of multiple visits, I have been reviewing and writing about the catastrophe that HHBCo. has become over the years. During that 13 year period, I have probably visited the island and HHBCo. in excess of 20 times, and a pretty extensive list of my previous thoughts can be seen here – you should read that post first.

HHBCo. taps

HHBCo. taps

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The Session

06/06/2014
by Ding
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Session #88 – Beer Mixes

When I first read the announcement post for Session #88 on Boak & Bailey’s blog, to be honest, my heart sank. They suggested that in preparation for Session #88 that we, the bloggers, go out and drink some of the beer mixes from Boston’s 1976 list, namely;

  • Lightplater – bitter and light ale
  • Mother-in-law — old and bitter
  • Granny — old and mild
  • Boilermaker — brown and mild
  • Blacksmith –stout and barley wine
  • Half-and-half – bitter and stout, or bitter and mild

For all intents and purposes, for massive parts of the United states, draught (and often bottled) bitter and/or mild is simply not available, so this means that 5 of the 6 of the concoctions on the list were immediately out of my reach. As a result, and because I have never really been a fan of mixes from either a taste or a philosophical point of view, I decided that I would pass on the drinking and simply write about my experience of dealing with them when growing up in England.

The overwhelming thing that I remember about them was the different names that they were given depending on where you were in the country. I only really remember a couple of common ones from the Southwest, and I would love for others to chime in with their own, particular, regional names for these two plus whatever they remember.

  • Half a bitter and a bottle of light ale – A light split or light and bitter
  • Half a bitter and a bottle of brown ale – A dark split or brown and bitter

One of the tactics associated with these was that the drinker would be attempting to get more beer for his money. The idea was that the barman would pour half a pint of draught bitter into a glass and hand it to the the drinker. Then, the opened bottle would be passed to the patron. However, this was in the days when many pint glasses did not have the half-pint mark on them, so the barman had to guess the volume of the half. They often overestimated and as a result, the drinker got quite a bit more than a pint for his money. In fact, this became quite a common tactic where people would order these mixes just to get ‘more’ beer. In another economic twist, the pubs that I worked in used to simply charge the light and dark split drinker, for a standard pint of bitter. This was routinely cheaper than the half a bitter and bottle that they were actually getting, and again, favored the drinker.

I read the T.E.B. Clarke quote on the Boak & Bailey post with interest, since this was exactly what used to go on with real, farmhouse scrumpy in Devon when I was growing up. Most of the cider producing farms around Exeter would make two types of cider; sweet and dry. Those of you the know real cider (not the BMC equivalent that is so popular and pushed everywhere in the USA now), know that it is a mightily unforgiving drink, and those two varieties were often close undrinkable in their unmixed form. Combining them took the edge off the sweet and the dry, just enough to make convert the drink from your worst nightmare to the nectar that it is!

I know that Boak and Bailey wanted to avoid cocktails, and with good reason, but I wanted to list a few here simply for my own peace of mind and to try to educate the Americans on what Shandy really is. Not only do they screw up a lot of beer stuff (@sessionbeer for example), now they’ve now moved on to abusing cider and shandy – my life is a constant struggle! Anyway, here’s a few more that don’t qualify for Boak and Bailey’s purposes in Session #88 but that I wanted to put out there and list for my own completeness. I’d be curious if people at home have other names for these, too.

Lager Shandy – somewhere between half and three-quarters of pint of standard, draught lager topped up with lemonade (no, not American lemonade, British lemonade which is similar to Sprite)

Bitter Shandy – somewhere between half and three-quarters of pint of standard, draught bitter topped up with lemonade (no, not American lemonade, British lemonade which is similar to Sprite)

Note to America: Real Shandy doesn’t come in bottles, OK?

Lager Top or Lager Dash or (less common) Lager Splash – Standard pint of lager with literally a splash of British lemonade topping the pint off

Bitter Top or Bitter Dash or (less common) Bitter Splash – Standard pint of bitter with literally a splash of British lemonade topping the pint off

Lager & Lime – Standard draught lager with a dash of lime cordial added

Lager and BlackStandard draught lager with a dash of blackcurrant cordial added

Snake Bite – Half a standard draught lager and half a standard draught cider

Purple Nasty – Snakebite with a splash of blackcurrant cordial

Purple Nasty Special – Purple nasty made from a ‘premium’ (read, ‘high alcohol’) bottled cider such as ‘K’ or ‘Diamond White’ and ‘premium (read, ‘high alcohol’) bottled lager such as Holsten Pils or Kaltenberg Pils, with a double Pernod and Blackcurrant in the glass! GULP!

 

 

01/25/2014
by Ding
8 Comments

Atlanta Cask Ale (#ACAT) 2014

So here I am, on the morning of another Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting (#ACAT), but this time I am not getting ready to head to the event later in the day. The #ACAT of 2014 will be the first one that I have not attended since the inaugural gathering. The reasons for my decision not to attend today, are outlined in this post that I wrote on this same morning, 12 months ago. I vowed not to return in 2014 and I am good to my word.

The post from 12 months ago summed up the whole situation for me then, but this years event brings with it some irony. In 2014 there seems to be more, traditional British casks* than ever before, so 2014 probably represents the #ACAT that I would have been most pleased with.  However, despite that, I remain steadfast and principled, and my decision leaves me at great peace.

*I say that, but when one looks at the list, there’s a LOT of beer that although I assume will be undefiled, still sits at ABV’s that are WAY above what showcases cask well, and is from breweries like Thornbridge who, in a number of instances, are FAR from ‘traditional’. I’m certainly not missing out on any, subtle, REAL @sessionbeer!

I hadn’t given #ACAT another though until about two weeks ago when a few tweets and emails came my way. Below is one of the conversations that I had on Twitter with my friend @Carny93. Like the post from a year ago that sums up my position from this time last year, the conversation below sums up my position right now. 11 beers from the UK, presumably not defiled in any way whatsoever, are not going to allow me to compromise my principles in relation to the abuse of cask ale that #ACAT has supported in the past. I just won’t do it. As I say below, my principles override my hedonism.

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A little later, @robsterowski sent me the tweet below, suggesting things are ‘looking up’ (the link in his tweet points to this).

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I followed up with a number of tweets to @Ilkleybrewery to ask them what their thoughts on the previous abuse of cask ale at #ACAT, is. Unsurprisingly, I got no response. If I were a traditional, English brewer, I would not be sending MY cask ale to #ACAT, as I would not want to be associated with a gathering that allowed a brewer to put Hostess Cup Cakes in a firkin, and call it real/cask ale. I don’t pretend to know what Michael Jackson would think of this, but I have a pretty strong feeling about how he, and others like him, would rank this practice.

Finally @NateDawg27 chimed in and I repeated what I had said before about knowing/assuming that Ilkley (and the others from the UK), would presumably not be abusing their casks with Walmart purchased ‘confection’ like the Americans, but that even so, I simply cannot support the event, even if it means on missing out on some really good beer. The principle is that important to me, and in any case, how on earth can I, with a straight-face, square the juxtaposition of artisanal beer with ‘beer’ infused with this? SERIOUSLY?

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2013 was the year that cask ale in Atlanta died for me, and this years line up does nothing to resurrect it for me.

 

01/21/2014
by Ding
7 Comments

Pant-wetting fanboys and the US beer scene

Last night I got into a bit of a clumsy discussion on Twitter that ended very unsatisfactorily for me. Frankly it was my own fault, and I wanted to clear up my thoughts a little.

In a nutshell, I responded to this article in the NYT by sending the Tweet below to @HillFarmstead.

Tweet Hill Farmstead

I’m rather proud of that tweet since I think it sums up a significant sector, and a very large part of the mentality that holds back the American beer scene. I stand by it and I think that it is actually a pretty accurate assessment of where things stand in US beer ‘culture’. My mistake however was to not make it clear that my criticisms were not necessarily directed at any specific brewery, and not necessarily at Hill Farmstead. I say ‘not necessarily’ since it could be that my criticisms do fit them, but at the same time I do accept the fact that I don’t know them well enough to be able to make that assertion with any certainty.

Having said all of that what I feel is undeniable is this; many breweries, of all sizes, are secretly rubbing their hands with glee at the non-discriminatory habits of the ignorant, craft beer buying public in the US. There is a huge immaturity that grips, and in many ways drives, the market here in America. Punters are continually happy to buy rare (small distribution) beer, regardless of the quality of the product, and are content to pay premium prices for the privilege. As a result, many breweries deliberately influence supply by simply making things ‘one-offs’ and ‘limited’. It’s difficult (probably impossible) to tell where any brewery truthfully stands on this, and of course they would never let on, but my bet is that they all love it, since it drives up demand and hype, and can make the success of their product largely independent of quality – in short, it’s a very convenient truth for them!

All of this applies equally to breweries that are producing great beer and crappy beer – they ALL benefit. Hill Farmstead (and many others like them) is definitely benefiting from this pervading ‘culture’ regardless of the quality of their product. I’m not saying that Hill Farmstead’s beer is not good, I’m saying that to a large degree, that by limiting supply that it actually doesn’t matter! That’s my point, and at its heart it’s a criticism of consumers and not brewers.

Of course, the ones that stand to gain the most in the short to mid term are the players that are producing mediocre beer, since in such an environment they can continue to sell it regardless of whether it is good or not. One would think that the market will eventually correct itself, but for now, the ignorance that infects such a large part of the American craft beer buying public shows no sign of letting up, and even weak brands can continue to do OK, and in some cases, actually thrive.

I have absolutely no reason to doubt the sincerity of Shaun Hill as a brewer, or the sincerity of his motivation, but capping at 150,000 gallons per year forever, is a very convenient marketing tool in the current atmosphere that pervades the American brewing scene. At best, it’s a happy coincidence.

12/22/2013
by Ding
9 Comments

Ding’s Christmas Wish List 2013

Here I go again with my annual Christmas wish list. The things I want Santa to deliver to my beer world.

It goes without saying (I think), that the old chestnuts of me wanting the abuse of cask beer via the addition of crap (i.e., treating a cask as a Randall), and the misuse of the term @sessionbeer, remain front and center for me, and as such I decided to leave them out of the list this year. They are not seasonal or fleeting ‘wants’, rather they are ubiquitous. Also, I’ve decided to leave out some of my more curmudgeonly wishes. Don’t get me wrong, they still exist and some remain the most important things for me, but I’m just not mentioning the annoying, hype driven scene, geeks and hipster culture that is associated with so much of the American beer scene, the lack of public transport or a whole host of other things that bother me on a daily basis.

So, what does make the list this year? Still some old favorites (with maybe a new twist), and some newer thoughts as the American beer scene continues to lurch from one hysterical, unsustainable, ill-advised fad to the next.

10. I’d like to see an arrest of the upward trend in beer prices in bars. Sure, wouldn’t we all? Of course, this is related to a larger question of economics that has nothing to do with beer per se, but for me, it’s getting to the point where the value is being lost. I’m lucky in as much as I have very few restrictions on what I can afford, but nevertheless, I’m now at a point where the value is very seldom realized for me. It’s beginning to make me think twice about spending money on draft beer.

9. I’d love a European, online retailer to somehow get a business model that could reduce the cost of shipping to the USA. Right now it’s REALLY difficult for me to justify the shipping cost of getting some of my favorite English and European beer to the USA. There are a number of really nice stores out there, but nobody can really give me a financial model that will work. Not necessarily their fault I understand, but it’s so frustrating to have a cart filled and then have to abandon it when I see the shipping costs.

8. #9 would become increasingly less of a concern if I could get some of the beers listed below, in the USA.

Cotleigh, St. Austell, Sharps, Leffe products other than Blonde and Brune, Pelforth Brune, more Adnams (Ghost Ship) and BUNCH of other English and Belgian brews that are far too numerous to mention.

7. I’d like to see some UK style Weights & Measures legislation in the US, including a federal legal requirement to display pour sizes and prices on beer menus. Far too often I come across the proverbial, ’14 oz pint’, and whole bunch of other ambiguous nonsense. I know Americans often cry about regulation, but would it be OK for gas stations to start the dispensing of random volumes? I think not. How people in the USA are not up in arms about this as it relates to mixed drinks, remains beyond my comprehension.

6. I hope that we start to see some breweries actually close. Just because you’ve home-brewed since 2006 it doesn’t make you fit to be a commercial brewer, and nor does it necessarily make your beer any good. The market is close to saturated at the consumer end of things, and there’s a LOT of mediocre, poor, bad and also really OLD beer on the shelves in many stores. I don’t pretend to know the intricate economics of the market, but what I do know is that there a plenty of brewers that are making beer that isn’t very good, but continues to sell because the market loves novelty and shiny things – this is a reflection of the immaturity of the market. I’ve said for a long time that this hurts the discerning consumer as well as the ignorant one, as good beer can get squeezed out of shelf space at the expense of poorer (but newer) product. The consumer market in the USA is still ignorant enough for corrections not to automically and naturally take place. For now, the market will not correct itself.

5. I’d like to see a growler store in West Georgia. Douglasville would be the obvious location, Villa Rica would be better for me! I think there is definitely a market for this on the west side, but I guess there may well be a lot of legal obstacles, out here in the sticks. Frankly, I don’t fill that many growlers these days, so for me it be less about the ‘need’ for it and more about the convenience, and the fact it would bring a little increased beer profile to this hopelessly barren part of the world. I find it quite odd that there has been no word on one out this way, given (a) the preponderance of growler stores in and around Atlanta right now, and (b) the fact that they have turned up in places as equally provincial as Douglasville, GA.

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12/18/2013
by Ding
9 Comments

Me on (in) Draft (Magazine)

Last Wednesday I received an email from Chris Staten. Chris is an editor at Draft magazine. He asked me to respond to a few, simple questions about my public beer persona for an article that he was putting together. I didn’t think much about it, was happy to respond and help, and shot-off some quick answers a couple of days later. Given the relatively trivial nature of the request (and my associated fairly simple response), I was more than a little surprised to see his article on Monday of this week. It was completely dedicated to me and what I have to say about beer.

I don’t know Chris, and in fact the only time I had ever encountered him was when he wrote a Session 79 post when I was hosting earlier this fall. When I read that post of his I wasn’t that impressed, and I said as much in my round-up post. Draft magazine has also been off my radar for a number of years (over 6, in fact). I only ever bought one copy of the magazine, the Jan/Feb 2007 issue with Mike & Mike on the cover. I still have that magazine, and I dragged it from the depths of the bookcase to check to see if my memory is as good as I think it is.

I seemed to remember vowing not to buy Draft again, since in my estimation it was a lifestyle magazine for young men, and not a serious beer publication for people of my age or my level of interest in beer. A quick glance back at the issue that I own, made me realize that my memory is just about perfect!

Rather than a serious beer article being featured on the cover, we get Mike & Mike. On page 15 we have this (that) months ‘Draft Lass’. The delightful Amy Jo Kurkendall (23) is featured, shall we say ‘prominently’. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a sucker for a pretty girl as the next man, but this lady and her chest is not something that I want in my beer magazine – there are other publications that one can purchase if that is what one is looking for. Following the delightful Amy (who certainly is delightful), we have articles on Après Ski, traveling in Vietnam, top 10 places to have a beer, a golf tournament, Kitboarding (an extreme sport, apparently), pizza, Mike & Mike from ESPN, Cowboys (and other ‘sexy’ jobs) and a guide to adventure. All of these articles have relevance to beer ranging from zero, through spurious, and ultimately on to weak. I like Mike & Mike and Amy has some obvious charms, but in 2007 Draft was most definitely not a magazine dedicated to beer – I dropped it and never picked it up again. In 2007 I was in in my early 40’s, and I would guess that even then I was about 15 years past their target demo. I have no idea if things have changed over at Draft.

So what about the content of this particular article in December of 2013?

Ding on Draft

Ding on Draft

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The Session

12/05/2013
by Ding
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Session #82: Beery Yarns (a REDUX)

Here’s my Session #82 post. This month Steve at Beers I’ve known asks for Beery Yarns. If you recognize this post, you’re right, this is a cheat. I’ve posted it before, but this is such a great story that is close to my heart, I wanted to give it another airing to a wider audience.

And you thought The Bruery’s Partridge ‘IN’ a Pear Tree was something to get excited about!

11/12/2011 by Ding

If you are interested in beer and live in the USA, you’ll know that The Bruery’s Partridge In A Pear Tree is a beer that has provoked a whole bunch of that typical, American beer geek hysteria that I hate so much. It’s a beer that I thought of much as I prepared to write this post. At the end of the post, perhaps you’ll see why.

In 2009 an American, anglophile colleague of mine here in Atlanta, GA, gave me a hard-copy article from the NYT that was published in July of that year. He thought that I would be interested in it, and ostensibly he was absolutely correct. It was kind of him to think of me and I was interested to see what it was all about. However, my mood changed dramatically when I unfolded the paper and saw the beautiful picture and first few lines of Henry Shukman’s text. It was a piece from the travel section about pubs in the Cotswolds, and my state of mind at that time would not allow me to read the article – LITERALLY. I was so homesick in terms of English beer and pub culture that I knew that if I did read it I would get so upset that I would feel even more depressed about my beer plight than I already did. As a result the paper got filed in the office.

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11/29/2013
by Ding
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Twisted South – the article that never was

In February of this year I was asked by a person that follows me on Twitter to write a counter-point article for Twisted South magazine. After 0ver 9 months of being told that ‘it will be published soon’, I’ve given up. Here’s what I wrote all that time ago.

‘The South’ and ‘beer culture’ in the same sentence? It’s counter intuitive to me, and I might even say oxymoronic.

I suppose that I should examine what I consider to be ‘beer culture’ before moving on. This isn’t an easy thing to do. Defining ‘culture’ of any description is fraught with subjectivity, so any ‘definitions’ need to be loose, non-specific and flexible enough to be non-prescriptive.

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11/26/2013
by Ding
4 Comments

Why I’ve stopped going to The Brick Store

After my decision last January not to attend Atlanta Cask Ale ’14 this coming January, the very event that I thought would be the one that kept me sane in terms of real ale in America, I started to reflect upon my role in the Atlanta beer scene in general. Ten months on and as we are approach that time of year again, my reflection has continued and deepened. While I have been contemplating where I stand, I found myself thinking about the time I have spent at The Brick Store over the years. As I was doing that, I realized that in the last 12-18 months I’ve hardly been in the building (at least not compared to the amount of time I’ve spent there in the past) and I began to ponder.

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