Anatomy of a New Menu

We went live with a new menu yesterday.  It’s one we’re really proud of, and it was three months in the planning.  We hope you agree that we came up with exciting new items that you end up loving.

We think that you might enjoy reading about what goes into a menu change.  We won’t recite all the new menu items, because they’re on the menu tab of our website, and you can see for yourself when you come in.  Let’s talk why we do what we do instead.

Since we first opened, we have always strived to do better. Before we start deciding on what we’ll take off the menu and what we’ll add, we discuss in what direction we want to go.

We arrived at two goals this go-round:  we committed to changing our menu seasonally, and we committed to pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone.

For the longest time, we’d update our menu once a year or so.  The reason for that, in a nutshell, is because planning and executing a new menu is a lot of work.  Over time, though, this has proved to be unsatisfying.  Though not a huge restaurant sin, it kind of bugged us, for instane, that the meatloaf that served us well when there’s snow on the ground was also on the menu when it’s sweltering hot.

We wanted to solve that, and discussed what’s the optimal amount of menu updates in a year.  We almost committed to three menus a year, something we still might do in the future, but we decided that going forward, we’ll do two a year.

So, around April 1 and October 1 of each year, our menu will change.  (Now you know we were a month late in coming out with this menu!)

This will allow us the opportunity to use seasonal ingredients that aren’t always optimal year-round.  On this menu, we’re using ingredients such as fresh strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus.  We’ve got corn on the cob on the menu, as well as dill potato salad, utilizing fresh dill.

prepare

This fall and winter, we’ll be imagining root vegetables, hearty sauces and comfort food. Two menu changes a year allows us this flexibility, and it should lead to exciting future offerings.

Since we’re now committed to an updated menu twice a year, it also allows us the opportunity to stretch and take risks.  We know that many of you love what we do and would rather we leave things alone.  We get that.  It’s traumatic to see that your favorite item is missing from a new menu.

But, as Steve Jobs once said, “You don’t know you need something you’ve never had before.”  We get that too.

Since we’re changing our menu every six months, we can take some risks.  If it turns out that we misjudged the popularity of a current item that we pulled, we can get it back on soon enough.

Case in point:  our barbecue nachos.  We knew that there would be howling if we took it off the menu.  We were right.  However, as great tasting as it is, we weren’t satisfied that you were getting the best nachos we could provide.  We weren’t happy that when you got to the bottom of the mound, it’s mostly chips.  Because reworking this item to our satisfaction required time that was being used for new items, we decided to give them a rest.

Be assured that nachos will be back on the fall/winter menu, improved and exciting.

For us, the elephant in the room is always pricing.  Since we opened our doors, we have wanted to be a value proposition, in addition to providing kick-ass microbrew and barbecue.

As you know from frequenting grocery stores, food prices have gone through the roof. That hits us too.  Sometimes harder than the local shopper.  It’s a part of the business, and we don’t whine about it.  Not that we like it.

So here’s what we do.  Rather than just increasing all our prices and calling it a day, we double down on our efforts to bring you exciting new items that are cost effective and we drop those items that we can’t bring in a reasonable price.  Also, we sometimes just take the hit on some of our popular items, leaving the price where it was.

Case in point:  Smokehouse wings.  We left our Wing Nite pricing at 60 cents.  It’s harder and harder to do, but we want to keep our value position.  Next time you’re at Kroger, do a little research.  Look at the price of a pack of raw wings, then count how many wings you get.  We did that a couple of months ago, and it came out close to 50 cents a wing!

When you consider we brine, smoke and grill our wings, while everyone else in town just drops their’s in a deep-fat fryer, our wings truly are a value proposition.

Against this backdrop, we still want to give you bang for your buck.  We did two things starting with this menu that we’re really proud of.

We changed most of our bread to locally sourced.  While it costs us more, we are pleased that we now offer sandwich and burger rolls, and petite baguettes that are artisianally baked by Dan the Baker, right in our neighborhood, using no preservatives.

Most of our chicken is now locally sourced Ohio Proud, cage-free, hormone-free with no use of antibiotics.  We’ll continue to study how we can incorporate more items into this mix.

We’ll continue to look for other opportunities to do similar things going forward.

We’re committed to providing you the best we can offer on a daily basis. We’ll be doing two menus a year, and we’ll continue to research and plan for future items that will surprise, amuse and delight you.  And we’ll do it while always keeping your wallet in mind.

At the end of the day, you visit us because we make you happy.  There are plenty of options out there, and we’re working hard to make sure we compare most favorably. We’ll keep sweating out the details until we’re the doing it the best in town.

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Part Art. Part Science. Part Magic. (TM)
It’s not just a slogan.  The art and science are up to us; the magic is for you to judge.  We want you to leave with a smile on your face.  As always, let us know what you’re thinking.

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Cheers!
Brewdood

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Ch-ch-ch-Changes

We’ve been working really hard the last three months.  Really hard.

Today, we debut a new menu.  That’s the source for most of our planning effort this year, but we also did one more thing.  We changed our name.

So what are we up to here?  Everybody knows us as Barley’s Smokehouse & Brewpub. Why mess with that?  The change wasn’t done off-handedly.  A great deal of thought and discussion went into the decision.

logo oldofade

To clarify, I created and co-founded Barley’s Brewing Company downtown, in 1992.  The only craft beer in this town at that time was Columbus Brewing Company, solely distributing, and Hoster Brewing Company, a brewpub.  I have a bunch of great memories from my more than 20 years with them.  Them.  Still doesn’t sound right.

In 1997, I also created and co-founded Barley’s Smokehouse & Brewpub.  Exactly a year after we opened, my partner and I shut the doors.  For a variety of reasons (that I’ll save for my book,) it didn’t work.  My partner in the Smokehouse left, though maintaining her stake in downtown.

My dear wife, Saint Joan and I completely re-worked the Smokehouse and reopened three months later.  As we sometimes say around here, we opened in 1997, but we established in 1998.

With a lot of work, and a lot of help from a great staff over the years, the Smokehouse not only rose from the ashes, but has risen to institution status in CBus.

Just over a year ago, I sold my stake in Barley’s downtown to my partner.  The sale was entirely at my prompting.  (I wouldn’t want conspiracy theorists to get the idea that I was pushed out.)

Before the sale, I was involved in both locations.  After more than 20 years, just a little over a year ago, I was involved exclusively at the Smokehouse.

No common ownership between the two locations was a minor reason for the name change. The much larger reason for the change is that there is a lot of confusion between the two places.  The main reason is that both use Barley’s in their names.

While we have the legal right to keep “Barley’s” in our name at the Smokehouse, it’s become more apparent as time goes by that there’s confusion within the community using “Barley’s” interchangeably for both locations. We’ve had people show up to the Smokehouse to meet someone who’s waiting for them downtown.  If you look on Untapped, you’ll see beers that are only brewed at the Smokehouse represented as being brewed downtown.  And on and on.

So we’ve started the process of changing our name:  Smokehouse Brewing Company.

logo_color_new

Now when someone tells you they’re  going to Barley’s, you know they’re going downtown. Of course, we’d be shocked if you didn’t respond, “Well, I’m going to the ‘House.”  (insert smiley face here.)

We’re less excited about our name change, which really isn’t a tectonic shift, than we are about our new menu.  Next time I come up for air, I’ll post about what we’re doing on that front.  No, I won’t bore you with describing new menu items.   Instead, I’ll fill you in on what we did, and what you can expect in the future.

same old

If you have any questions, just let us know. We’re here for you.

Cheers!

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My Woody Hayes Story

Tomorrow, we serve a firkin of Woody Haze 101 for our weekly Firkin Friday.  I’m sitting here doing computer work, and I got to thinking about Ohio State’s greatest coach (in my mind.)

I attended OSU during the Hayes era, and was in the stands the first time an untested freshman, Archie Griffin, set in formation behind Greg Hare (I think.)  The game was against North Carolina, and this unknown ran for 239 yards.  O-H, indeed!

The second half was a bit of a blur.  You see, back then we were young punks who would live forever.  We would smuggle a fifth of 151 to our seats.   We’d order a Coke, and brashly pour half of it out, right in front of the vendor.  Our cups half empty, we’d fill to the top with that fiery demon rum.  We’d do that until our bottles were empty.  When the game ended, we’d head to High Street and finish our evening with endless buckets of beer.  We’d dip our glasses into a communal bucket until it was empty.  Like our earlier rum, we’d repeat until we couldn’t do it anymore.  In other words, until closing time.

I digress with this story so you know that I was just one of thousands of students who would do their rendition of Saturday Night in Columbus.  I studied, mostly, during the week, then I’d partake in “campus life” on weekends.  In other words, I didn’t stick out during those years; I fit in.  One of many.

Back to Woody.  Though I was, and still am a Buckeye fan, I wasn’t fanatic about it.  I wasn’t the one who could spout stats and rattle off the starting lineups of all the teams in the Big Ten.  But I thoroughly enjoyed following the trials and tribulations of those Buckeyes on the field.  My team. (Funny that to this day I remember:  239 yards. North Carolina. First home game.)

Even though I was only casually informed, it was impossible to not follow stories, rumors and the like.  Woody had a show (on WTVN 10, I think) every Saturday night after a game. He would pontificate on that week, followed by parading in some of his players.  You think they were coached on the field?  I can only imagine how they were coached in preparation for this show.  Each one was scrubbed clean, in a suit and tie, and would politely answer questions posed to them by Coach.

It was a bit corny, even then, but we loved it.  We loved to laugh at how they’d better answer correctly and with the right intonation, or we’d imagine the hell that would be unleashed after.

Anyhow, we’d get news that the rest of the country wouldn’t.  Player troubles.  Things that went on in the dorms.  That sort of thing.  But we’d also hear about Woody going to Children’s Hospital to visit sick kids.  Woody helping someone who was down on his luck. Woody teaching a military history course that he’d make his players take.

Like all of us, there was plenty of good to go with Woody’s bad.  His tantrums.  Impatience. He was human.  He was loved, though. One year, his players got together and bought him a truck.  Take that, NCAA.

I remember thinking this guy’s actually pretty cool.  For an old man.

Back then, we were cocooned on campus, most of us didn’t have a car.  We’d hear about places in Columbus, but for us, Columbus was campus.  Period.  Once though, we were curious about the Jai Lai Prime Rib Restaurant that was located on Olentangy River Road. Someone had a vehicle, so we took the trip.  We didn’t get any further than the lobby when we saw Coach.  He was with some recruits, taking them to dinner.

jai_lai_interior

Interior of the Jai Lai, in the days when it was expected you’d wear a suit and tie to dinner.

We froze in our tracks.  We couldn’t have been more dazed than if Mick Jagger was standing there.  Woody decked out in a suit and tie, as were the recruits.  The restaurant was rocking on a Friday night.  We were so intimidated that we turned around and left. Who were we kidding anyway?  We didn’t have enough money to buy dinner, and we were sure we could get our drank on cheaper on campus.

That night, I actually saw Woody Hayes in the flesh.  That’s not my Woody Hayes Story, though.

Fast forward to some time later.  I don’t remember the year, but it could have been about 1974.  Woody Hayes had his first heart attack.  The entire campus was shocked.  Would he be OK?  Would he retire?  This was big, kids.

It turned out to be a mild one.  He was out of the hospital in under a week.  Bullet dodged.

Shocker:  In 1974, I ran.  Not like a runner, mind you.  But I ran. Back then it was called jogging. I lived on 15th Avenue near Summit Street.  I would start there, run through the oval, then past the towers, headed toward the west side of Ohio Stadium, before turning to head home. That was my usual loop.

That day, I was heading north toward the west side of the stadium.  No one was around.  I think it was a Sunday morning.  In the distance, I could see someone walking from the stadium heading south.

Soon, the figure would get closer.  It was apparent I would be running past this person. The figure grew larger as we approached each other.  Holy Crap!  It’s Woody Hayes, fresh from his heart attack!  I was imagining he was watching film or just trying to get caught up. I was trying to think where he might be headed.

I had enough time to get my act together.  I decided I would say something to him.

“Good morning, Coach.  How are you?  You feeling good?”

Without missing a beat, he responded, “Son, it doesn’t matter at all how I’m doing.  The important question is ‘How are you doing?’ Are you studying?  Are you using your time wisely?”

OMG, I’m being coached!  “Yes, Coach.”

“Good.  You take care.”

I will never forget that 10 second intersection in my life. I remember it like it was yesterday.  Good guy, that Woody Hayes.  He actually made an impact on me.  All these years later, I still ask myself how I’m doing.  Am I living up to Coach’s expectations?

Corny?  Maybe.  In my book he’s the greatest coach that Ohio State’s ever had.  And yes, I’ve met Earl Bruce and Jim Tressel.  I’ve had conversations with them.  Both solid, upstanding guys.  You can just tell why they’d made it up the mountain instead of someone else.  Woody’s my main man, though.

All these years later, I find that Woody Hayes was born on Valentines Day.  In fact, I found out last year that he would have been 100.  Being a brewpub, we’re not exactly a go-to locale for lovers.  Especially on Valentines Day.

So Woody Haze 100 was born.  It’s my Valentine to Coach.  As are wont to say, we called it Woody because it was matured on sturdy oak; we call it Haze because it’s unfiltered.  Like the Man.

woody haze 100 cask

Woody because it matured on sturdy oak. Haze because it’s unfiltered. Like the Man.

Now you know the rest of the story.  When you order your snoot of Woody Haze 101 out of the firkin tomorrow, think about someone who was born in these parts on a cold February day and who would go on to be a legend.  We could do worse.

Cheers!
Brewdood

 

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Shitstorm

Ed note:  Allegedly, Savor Growl, a local carryout, purchased all of the supply of Bell’s Hopslam from competitor Giant Eagle, with the intent of creating a shortage and reselling it.  This post is not to re-hash alleged events that happened on the last weekend of January.  You’ll have to read it all for yourself.  There’s just too much.  Links are provided.  This post is intended to clarify the motivation behind my role in said events.  

Shit

On Saturday morning, I was at my computer putting the finishing touches on my Address for our fifteenth annual Robert Burns Dinner to be held later that night.

Just then, a post came across my newsfeed on Facebook. It’s a link to a Reddit post.

The internet being the distraction it is for all of us trying to get work done, of course I paused to click on the link.

Hmm.  A local carryout is trying to corner the market on a very limited release of a seasonal beer that carries a hefty price tag ($17.99 a sixer.)  Shit.

Then another post popped up.  “Savor Growl employee attempting illegal purchase of beer from GE…” (Giant Eagle.)

I went back to tidying up my notes.  “Next, let’s turn to Burns the patriot and an outspoken critic of the wrongs of the State…”  My mind was multi-tasking now.  Wrongs of the State.  What about wrongs of the individual?  That’s where it starts, right?

I couldn’t get these posts out of my head.  Great, I thought.  What I need right now is a distraction as I’m getting ready for a big night at the ‘House.

Prequel

I have been in the craft beer industry for going on a quarter century.  I have seen much as we’ve grown from zero to almost 3,000 micros and brewpubs today.  Well, 200.  That’s about how many there were when I got involved.

In that time, I have met the most on-the-fringe, bordering on lunatic, characters I have ever met.  If you put these characters in one room and didn’t know better, you might be scared for your life.

Individually, they are sharp-minded hard workers who have created a remarkable industry for you.  Perhaps the most remarkable industry in America.  They are, for the most part though, not Fortune 500 types.  They are rogues and rapscallions; artists and inventors; ziggers versus society’s  zaggers.

As a group, these characters are also the most upstanding, honorable people I have ever met.  This group collaborates.  They share.  They laugh.  They’re razor sharp. They don’t ask for handouts.  They know it’s their ideas, coupled with work harder than you can imagine, that will bring them satisfaction and possibly, success.

I am proud to be a small part of this movement, important in ways far beyond the contents in your pint glass.  I don’t think it’s hyperbole when I write that the liquid pleasure in your glass represents the American Dream.  It’s inspiration that leads to perspiration that results in innovation.  Our industry is very communal and sharing.  I can pick up the phone and can expect to get a call back from just about anyone in our business, including the heavy hitters.

Now I think: desecration.  My motivation in posting was to protect a really cool industry of like-minded individuals who, collectively is a gale-strength force.

Storm’s A Comin’

It’s not really a big deal, is it?  A retailer allegedly trying to corner the market.  I mean, capitalism and all.  Supply and demand.  The American Way.

Nope.  Alchohol is a highly regulated business.  The State of Ohio lets you know that obtaining a license is not a right.  It’s a privilege.  If what I read in the posts is true, Savor Growl broke the law.  Big Time.

We live in a three tier State, with laws written after prohibition to keep the alcohol that you enjoy–at your favorite watering hole or at your kitchen table–an orderly process.  The tiers: manufacturing > distributing > retailing.  Pick which tier you want to be a part of and stay out of the other two.  (There’s an exception for breweries, who can also self-distribute their products.)

Savor Growl allegedly bought product from another retailer for the purpose of creating even more scarcity and reselling it themselves.  That’s against the law.  More importantly, it’s just not cool.

You may not know, but we all scrap to get our share of sometimes very limited supply of a beer.  If that beer has a “must-have” reputation, it’s nearly impossible to get our hands on it.

So is the case with Bell’s Hopslam.  This IPA is one of the more sought-after beers in the country.  It’s ranked 19 in a list of the top 250 beers on beeradvocate.com At the Smokehouse, we were unable to get even one keg of it.  We understand. The beer is portioned out to the very best accounts.  Because we sell so much of our own beer, we don’t sell as much of others’ beer as we would otherwise.  We get it. We accept that we’re not going to get every gem that comes into our market.

Savor Growl is in the same boat.  Allegedly, they wanted to appear as one of those star accounts.  In the process, they broke the law.

Frankly, if true, it pisses me off.

We’re in a competitive enough business as it is.  But it’s a beautiful, even elegant business. We’d just rather play on a clean level playing field.

Storm

The Smokehouse really doesn’t have a dog in this fight.  We don’t compete with Savor Growl.  But I don’t like someone taking a public shit in my world.

So I decided to post on our wall.  On Saturday morning I posted, “We don’t normally get ‘political,’ but this is just despicable. Not to mention illegal. We are getting reports that they are reselling at $3-4 per bottle.”  I linked to the Reddit thread.

What happened next can only be described as surreal.  I went back to my work.  After awhile, I checked my post.  Almost 1,000 views.  Soon, thereafter, 2,000.  As this is being written, this post has had 7,904 views and a ton of comments.

My post is now referenced in the original Reddit post. Columbus Underground has started a thread. There’s a thread on beeradvocate.com. DrinkUp Columbus tweeted the story out to 6,000 people.  Miles Liebtag blogged about it. The story’s been picked up by BeerPulse, who tweeted it to 50,000 followers.  Savor Growl, for their part, has scrubbed their Facebook page of all posts and comments regarding this subject.

This thing went viral.

People don’t like cheaters.  Alleged, in this case.  But I am so proud of the craft beer community who showed this weekend just how passionate and protective they are.  The craft beer industry has had very little drama as far as shady shennanigans, so it would be a shame to not shed light on an alleged shady and illegal practice.

If this dust up helps elevate discussion and protect the reputation of craft beer, then my post on Saturday was worth it.

We all keenly feel frustrated over today’s “leadership” in Washington, DC.  It’s been said that the way to affect change is to start where you can make the biggest difference–at the local level.  Hello, local level.

Just remember:  innocent until proven guilty.

“But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”
–Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Cheers!
Brewdood

Bells’s Brewery, Inc:  (269) 382-2338
Premium Beverage Supply:  (614) 777-1007
Ohio Liquor Laws Violations Toll Free Hotline: 1 (877) 464-6677

A pic of the pallet of Hopslam purchased at Giant Eagle Friday night. About $1,800 worth.

 

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Rethinking Your Beer

This is perhaps the wrong time of year to write about rethinking your beer, what with all the holiday beers, with their myriad flavors, but I got to thinking about beer yesterday when I read that there’s a proposal before the Ohio House to increase the alcohol level in Ohio beers from 12% to 21%.  You can read about it here. And here.

While I’m certainly not against restrictions, and I’m definitely not against creativity, I’m a little nervous that we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  First, craft beer is still only about 6.5% of the entire beer market.  There’s a lot of work to be done to bring the other 93.5% of the market up to speed that craft beer is simply awesome.

We are fortunate to experience a time when the rules of what is beer are being rewritten.  Beer styles not seen in this country for decades are being brewed.  Porters, stouts, Belgian this and French that.  New beer categories are being created.  Even if you aren’t a fan of some of them, you are still a witness to this nascent revolution.  Imperial IPA, anyone?

However, most beer drinkers still haven’t digested what we’ve already done in the name of craft beer.  And some of us who love craft get stuck in our ways.  Some reasons we may not be ready for super-high gravity beers:

MACRO BEER COMMERCIALS TELL US WHAT BEER IS

Beer should be ice cold.  Beer is for partying.  Beer should have no aftertaste.  You should be loyal to one brand–theirs.  All these statements fail at elevating beer to what it is:  an extremely versatile beverage that spans the spectrum of everything from a reward for mowing your lawn to celebrating a milestone in your life to celebrating the season before you.

If a beer drinker gets all his education from commercials aired during a football game, us beer geeks will always be the minority.  More important, if we start offering beer that is turbocharged with double digit ABV, we will distance ourselves further from our macro-beer consuming breathern.

So what mistakes do craft beer drinkers make?

DISPARAGING REMARKS

There is nothing more annoying than someone who mocks you for what you do.  Whether it’s making fun of someone because she won’t try your five alarm chili, or chiding your buddy for drinking yellow, fizzy beer, you’re going to turn that person off. 

OK, you all get that.  But what about a beer geek poking fun at another beer geek because you’re drinking Turbocharged Bitter Badass and he’s drinking a pale ale?  That might even be a worse offense.

There’s a time and place for every beer and there’s no reason to trash-talk entire styles.  In fact, the best way to learn to appreciate everything that craft beer has to offer is to try it all.  Maybe you forgot how good a wheat beer can be.  Challenge yourself up and also challenge yourself down.  Enjoy them all as objectively as you can and appreciate them for what they are.

EQUATING HOPPINESS WITH BITTERNESS

I’ve heard it all.  People won’t drink an IPA “because I don’t like bitter beers.”  People who are disappointed with an IPA because it’s not bitter enough.  Liberally hopped beers are booming in popularity, and we’ve got some world-class examples here locally.  Most people still don’t understand hops, though.

Hops are a “seasoning.”   There are many variety of hops, and they all have their unique characteristics.  Bitter, yes.  Fruity, yes.  Pine-like, yes.  Hops are essential to a great beer experience.  However, bitterness is controlled by your brewer.

The longer hops boil in the kettle, the more the bitter characteristics come out; the shorter the boil, the more the floral, fruit, pine and other aromatic characteristics show up.  The art of the beer recipe is using all these components much like a composer uses instruments.  It’s all music, but you’d never confuse Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 with the Ramones’ I Wanna Be Sedated.

Don’t equate bitterness and hops.  Equate a bitter finish to early hop additions!

JUDGING BEER BY ITS COLOR

“I don’t like dark beers.”  Wha?

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve gotten to try a beer with their eyes closed.  “Wow, I don’t normally drink dark beers, but this is good!”  On other occaisions, I’ve poured a sample of Guinness and our Alexander’s Russian Imperial Stout for a comparative taste.

After drinking the RIS, the Guinness always tastes like water.  This is not a knock on Guinness.  It’s a dry stout and world-class.  But comparatively, a dry stout can’t hang with an RIS (and shouldn’t have to.)  Same color, two completely different experiences.  Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

OBSESSING OVER ABV AND IBU

While both ABV and IBU can inform a beer drinker of what he may be getting into, this information is less important than enjoying the experience.  Try to think about potential flavor, aroma and mouthfeel instead.  It’s more interesting to think of beer this way and gets you over the notion that you could be “wrong” about your assessment of the beer.

Get over these lab numbers (although we’ll continue to let you know what they are for our beers.)  When you’re tasting, think about descriptors like they do in the wine world.

BEER IS ONE DIMENSIONAL

Or maybe two dimensional.

Even though craft beer has made great progress in the last two decades, mainstream beer lovers still have a msiconception about beer.  For them, beer is either bland, yellow fizz water (I”m pretty sure they wouldn’t describe it like that!) or it’s bitter.

This makes sense when you think about it.  They either drink their favorite macro, or they’re handed a hop bomb from their buddy who says, “Here, try this.  See what you’re missing.”  I’m pretty sure if I started out with a 120 IBU triple IPA brewed with ghost peppers, I’d stick to my beer too.

Instead, why not offer them something more accessible? Here at the ‘House, we usually point someone inexperienced to MacLenny’s Scottish Ale.  It’s a little malty, with subdued hops, some toffee-like caramel notes to discover.  While many have graduated to many of our more challenging offerings, this one remains our best seller.

Why?  Because sometimes you just want a clean beer that refreshes.  Do your Bud Light mate a favor and suggest this one to him, if you ever hope for him to step into the world of craft.

PIZZA, PRETZELS AND WINGS, OH MY!

It’s an unfortunate misconception that beer goes with pizza.  Or pretzels.  Or wings.  And that’s about it.

Beer is arguably one of the most versatile beverages to pair with just about any food.  A hoppy IPA is perfect with spicy Indian dishes; a Belgian Trappist beer is a fine accompaniment to a standing prime rib roast.  Wheat beers are great with seafood, and the list goes on.

One of my personal pet peeves is that wine pairs best with cheese.  While I won’t argue that there’s a lot of enjoyment in those pairings, I’ll argue that beer goes better than wine with cheese.  I was with a group who went to Rockmill Brewing a year ago summer, and we took a bunch of expensive cheeses with us.  The pairings with Rockmill’s various offerings were sublime.

One simple reason beer goes so well with cheese:  the carbonation naturally cleanses the palate between each bite, setting you up for your next cheese.  Try that, wine!

MORE IS BETTER

There’s a difference between complex and obnoxious.  While some higher gravity beers are a wonderful trip, let’s face it.  90% of beer drinkers still find pale ale intimidating. 

To bring it all around, while I’m not against increasing ABV in the State of Ohio, I’m a little concerned.  Until we learn to appreciate the vast varieties of beer we already do have, and we show our macro-loving beer friends the way into our world, we just might be getting ahead of ourselves.  Can you imagine your mate trying a 16% barleywine as an introduction to craft beer?  It’ll make our job even harder.

Maybe this is all just a cautionary tale to my brewery brothers in Ohio, though.  We may some day be allowed to brew up to 21% ABV,   but that doesn’t mean we have to jump in with both feet.  Our time is better spent getting everyone to appreciate the world that is craft beer today, and save the ultra-high gravity tricks for another day.

Share your thoughts with me.  You’ll help shape the future of craft beer in Ohio.

Cheers!
Brewdood

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 60 Comments

Crafty Beers are not Craft Beers

This post is being written over several days.  To read new content, scroll down to where you haven’t read yet.  Cheers!

It’s sort of bugged me for years now that a local restaurant has gotten a free ride on the tails of craft beer.  There’s nothing wrong with the restaurant.  In fact, I’ve had some great times there.  It’s just that the public is under a misconception of who they are.  It got me to thinking about some of the sleight-of-hand in the beer industry in this country today.

If you’ve followed the craft beer industry, you know two things.

  1. The craft beer industry is exploding.  You can look just in Columbus to see it happening.  About two years ago, there were no craft breweries in Dayton; next year there will be 18.  And on and on and on.  The Brewers Association says that, as of June of this year, there were 1,165 brewpub, 1,221 microbreweries and larger players that bring the total up to 2,538.  Yowza!  When I started doing this for a living, there were about 200 brewpubs in the country.
  2. Macro breweries continue to see their sales decline.  If it wasn’t for craft beer, beer volume in the USA would actually be down in 2012.

brewery_count

One thing you may not be aware of is that there is a beer war going on right now.  It’s a huge fight.  The macros are doing everything they can to crowd the micros out of the market.  Next time you’re in the supermarket, take a hard look at the beer aisle.  You’ll see 90 percent of the aisle is macro beer.  The macros buy shelf space to keep the little guys out.  Maybe that’s just good business (we’ll leave that for you to decide) but there’s two things going on that are perhaps a little sinister.

  1. They make beers that appear as craft, but don’t mention the parent company behind the label; and
  2. They just buy up craft breweries and don’t tell you about it.

Again, that may just be good business.  But what’s not cool is that they are doing everything they can to cover their tracks and to market their acquisitions as “mom and pop” breweries.  They put a mask on these brands so you can’t tell that they are behind them.

While this is painfully obvious to those of us in the craft beer industry, it occurred to me that it may not be obvious to you.  So,  I present to you twelve beers that are more crafty than craft.  I’ll post one today and then periodically add others.

I’ll end this multi-day post with the restaurant here in town that I wish would not imply they are part of our industry.  But that’s for another day.

Today, I start with…

SHOCK TOP

This one you may actually know about.  If you look at the label, it’s brewed by Shock Top Brewing Company of Saint Louis, Missouri.  Cool, cool.  Except Shock Top was created by the marketing department of Anheuser Busch, now a subsidiary of InBev.

shock top

Telltale signs from the beginning include as massive marketing campaign to launch.  Craft brewers don’t have that kind of bank, nor is it the right vibe for a true artisan brewery. And nowhere does the label say AB is behind this beer.  Crafty.

OK, I’ll do two today.  Next we lift the veil on…

BLUE MOON

The Blue Moon Brewing Company was founded in Golden, Colorado.  I think you see where this one’s headed.

Blue Moon Brewing Company was a marketing concept for Coors.  Yes, it’s a real beer, but it was invented out of whole cloth to pretend it is a craft beer.  Coors created it.  Then they marketed it. Then they merged into MolsonCoors.

blue moon

MolsonCoors then merged into SABMiller/MolsonCoors (I think.)  Never along the way did the label say Coors.  Or Molson.  Or Miller.

Don’t get me wrong.  Blue Moon is drinkable. It has been a gateway beer into the world of craft for many people.  But it’s not craft.  A South African conglomerate owns it.  Oh, yeah, it’s sold in Canada as Ricard’s White.  N-i-i-i-ce.

LEINENKUGEL’S

I visited Leinenkugel’s some time ago in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.  It was a quaint brewery, founded in 1867, with a copper brewhouse.  It appeared to have seen better days, but it was quaint, in a good way, a respite from day-to-day city life.

leinenkugel's honey weiss - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

In 1988, it was purchased by Miller, now SABMiller.  There’s no real problem here, since they let the beer stay pretty much what it was.  (Well, until Shandy this and the rest.)  The problem here is that now that the rest of the country can get it, people who never heard of Leinie’s see it on the shelf and say, “Cool!  A new craft beer.”  Except it isn’t.  And it most certainly is not all brewed in Chippewa Falls.  And it is owned by one of the major beer conglomerates.

OLDE SARATOGA BREWERY

It’s located in Saratoga Springs, New York and unavailable in Ohio.  Consider this a head’s up in case it ever arrives here.  You can pretty much guess that a brewery that considers itself “olde” isn’t.
olde saratoga ipa - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

They were founded in 1997 and almost immediately got bought up by Mendocino Brewing Company.  Some of you may have heard of Mendocino Brewing and are asking yourselves, “Hey, that’s a craft brewery, so maybe this beer shouldn’t be on the list.”

Except…

MENDOCINO BREWING COMPANY

This craft brewery was founded way back in 1983.  They were one of the first micros in California.  These guys bought Saratoga to spread to the eastern part of the US, a reasonable move if you want to grow.

mendocino-brewing-craft-beers-that-arent-craft-beers-fake-craft-beers

But in 2001 they in turn sold themselves to United Brewery Holdings, the Indian conglomerate that makes Kingfisher Beer.  UBH now owns at least 70% of both Mendocino and Saratoga.  You won’t find that information on either sub-breweries packaging.  I’ve spotted Mendocino Brewing’s products at Trader Joes, rarely anywhere else.  Crafty.

GOOSE ISLAND BREWING COMPANY

Goose Island began as a Chicago brewpub in 1988.  Then they expanded with a production facility in 1995.  In 1999, they added a second brewpub in Wrigleyville.  Goose Island was the craft brewery in Chicago, making some memorable beers.  I remember enjoying their barrel-conditioned Bourbon County Stout at the brewpub as if it were yesterday.  312 Urban Wheat is wildly popular in the summer.  Their taphandles are distinctive.

goose island - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

Goose Island had it all.  But maybe all wasn’t enough.  They went and done it.  They wanted to grow faster and get into more distribution channels.  Who could do that for them?  Why, Anheuser Busch, of course!  Now AB-InBev, they bought 100% of the company, giving them a legitimate “craft beer label.”  Only thing is, now it’s just another brand in their arsenal that puts a choke-hold on truly artisan craft breweries competing for shelf space.  That, and the fact that GI’s packaging doesn’t mention AB-InBev anywhere.  The beer’s still good, just apparently not good enough to say you own them, bitches.

What is AB-InBev afraid of?  That the craft beer community won’t support a huge international macro brewer, led by a Brazilian known more for cost cutting than raising quality, and headquartered in Belgium?  Hmmm.

PYRAMID BREWERIES

Founded in 1984 with the name Hart Brewing, this Washington brewer’s signature beer is Pyramid Pale Ale.  In 2004, they acquired Portland Brewing Company.  Still a craft brewer up to this point, just getting bigger.  Nothing wrong with that.

In 2008, Pyramid was acquired by Independent Brewers United, the parent company of Magic Hat Brewing Company, Burlington, Vermont.  In 2010, the joint company was acquired by North American Breweries (NAB,) headquartered in Rochester, New York, at the Genesee Brewing Company’s headquarters.  A lot to follow, I know, but rather than tearing into the details of who’s who at this point, let’s cut to the chase.

pyramid brewery - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

In 2012, the entire organization was acquired by Cerveceria Costa Rica, a subsidiary of Florida Ice & Farm Company (FIFCO).  Who are they?  For starters, they’re not in Florida.  FIFCO is a Costa Rican food and beverage company headquartered in Heredia, Costa Rica, with a catalog of over 2,000 products sold in 15 countries.

Did you follow all that?  The point is that Pyramid is a small cog in the wheels of an international conglomerate.  You can’t call that craft, no matter how tasty the beer.

MAGIC HAT

Magic Hat Brewing Company was founded in 1994, in Burlington, Vermont.  It makes interesting beers with hipster labels that are works of art.  They have all the trappings of a craft brewery, and until 2010, they were.

Until they too were purchased by NAB (see above.)  Which means they too are another small cog in the FIFCO machine.  With not indication on their packaging that this is so.

Now on to a trio of craft brewers (with a bonus brewery!) who are craftier than craft…

REDHOOK ALE BREWERY

Located in the Seattle area, I first visited this brewery and brewpub in 1991.  It had a cool vibe and some really good ales.  It was founded in 1981, making it one of the pioneer craft brewers in the industry.

red hook brewing - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

On July 1, 2008, Redhook merged with Widmer Brothers Brewery, operating in Portland Oregon.  The merged company called itself Craft Brewers Alliance.  No doubt, the company was formed to gain production efficiencies in a capital intensive industry.

At this point, the merged company can still be considered a craft brewer.  Then Anheuser Busch acquired a stake in this company.  That’s not the whole story, though.  Read on.

WIDMER BROTHERS BREWERY

Widmer was founded in 1984 in Portland by two actual brothers.  At some point, they collaborated with Red Hook for several years through a licensing agreement whereby Redhook brewed and distributed their beers on the east coast.  Still craft at this point.

widmer brothers brewing - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

Already with a stake in Redhook, AB took a stake in Widmer Brothers as well.  AB at this time was quietly picking up stakes in craft brewers as a hedge against what turned out to happen: declining macro beer sales.  During this time, AB simultaneously launched a marketing campaign poo pooing craft beer.  Here’s a link to a summary of one such campaign.

OMISSION

Side note here.  Widmer has a separate company called Omission.  Omission brews all their beer gluten free.  If you go to Omission’s website, this information is clearly stated.

 

What isn’t stated is that Omission is also part of Craft Beer Alliance, partially owned by InBev.  Omission indeed.

KONA BREWING COMPANY

Kona was founded in 1994 and is supposedly the top-selling craft beer in Hawaii.  Only thing is… they joined the Craft Brew Alliance, formerly Craft Brewers Alliance.  Like Redhook and Widmer, they are now partially owned by AB.  Does it make sense now how a Hawaiian beer can make it to Columbus store shelves?

kona brewing - craft beers that aren't craft beers (fake craft beers)

AB owns 35% of Craft Brew Alliance.  These breweries still operate independently, are capable of making good beer and can still control their destinies.  So what’s the big deal?

For one, these beers, through AB’s distribution network, now help crowd out smaller craft beers on your store shelf.  Think about that the next time you’re in the supermarket and you see Redhook, Widmer and Kona alongside Bud, Bud Light, Bud-a-Rita (or whatever it’s called,) Michelob, Natty Light and all the other InBev beers.  Look how little space is left for craft beer.  This is by design.

AB really doesn’t care if their crafty beers don’t sell well.  They just want to make sure a competitor doesn’t get the sale.  Got that?

For two, there’s no mention that ABInBev has a significant stake in these companies.  It’s no coincidence that InBev does not support mandatory labeling to show alcohol percentage in beer.  (Today, it’s optional.)  If the casual beer drinker knew that his Bud Light was around 4%ABV and he could get a flavorful craft beer around 6-8%, well… InBev doesn’t want you to go there.

For three, with the world’s largest brewing conglomerate backing you, you can’t call yourself craft anymore.

CRAFT BEER ALLIANCE

If you find yourself thinking, “Hey, how can I get in on this action?” you’re in luck.  CBA is a publicly traded company on the NASDAQ.     Their ticker symbol is BREW.  Thank goodness “craft” is five letters, or they may have gone for that ticker instead.  In addition to InBev being a 35% partner, they also have two seats on the Board.  I wonder what they drink at those meeting?

Craft Brew Alliance

I don’t have anything against any of the beers I’ve mentioned (though I’d prefer to never drink many of them.)  I’m just showing a little transparency.  Openness and honesty is something you should associate with that pint of craft beer sitting in front of you.  Right?

The last beer I’ll mention just about breaks my heart, because this brewery makes some fine, non-mainstream beers.  I consider this brewery to have been a part of the American craft beer movement, even though it is our Canadian cousin.  It can no longer be called be called craft, though.

UNIBROUE

Unibroue was founded by Andre Dion and Serge Racine in 1990.  A hallmark of their beers is that they are bottled “on the lees.”  South of the border here, we call it bottle-conditioning.  Some yeast is left in the bottle to naturally carbonate the contents.  Cool. Sierra Nevada used to do this.  So did others.  It’s just really hard to control on a large scale with distribution partners who may not treat the beer with kid gloves.  So kudos to Unibroue for continuing to do this.  Their beer ages nicely as a result.

One of their beers is called “La Fin du Monde.”  It’s available locally, and I recommend you get a bottle or two for your cellar.  The name translates to “End of the World.”  I’d be OK leaving this planet with one of these.

unibroue

Alas, They were bought by Canadian brewer, Sleeman Breweries, Ltd, in 2004.  Sleeman is a macro brewer that’s slightly hipper than the US macros, but nothing a craft beer drinker would go out of her way for.  In any case, in 2006 Sleeman was purchased by Sapporo.  There you have it.  As The Vapors wrote…

“I’ve got your picture of me and you
You wrote “I love you” I wrote “me too”
I sit there staring and there’s nothing else to do
Oh it’s in color
Your hair is brown
Your eyes are hazel
And soft as clouds
I often kiss you when there’s no one else around…
(and then)
…I’m turning Japanese
I think I’m turning Japanese
I really think so
Turning Japanese”

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with the Japanese.  But I have trouble wrapping my head around the fact that when I enjoy a Fin du Monde, I’m drinking Japanese.  Especially when they don’t say so.

So that’s my rundown of beers that are more crafty than craft.  One of them is great; some of them are good.  I wish they’d stop making some of the others.  That’s not the point of this post, though.

I wish that every brewery was transparent enough that we knew who’s behind them.  I wish that the Big Boys didn’t make beer just to jam the beer aisle with beers just to keep really competition out and instead, let the marketplace decide.  I wish brewers would list what’s in the bottle on the label.  I wish for world peace too, but it is what it is.

Armed with a little information now, I mostly wish that you get the beer you deserve. There’s a whole craft industry waiting to serve you liquid art in a bottle.  Don’t settle for crafty when you can have craft.

I promised I’d conclude with a local reference to crafty trumping craft.  I don’t intend any malice here;  I merely want to provide clarity.  Because it’s bugged me. Since the start.

I’m calling you out…

COLUMBUS BREWING COMPANY RESTAURANT

First, go to their blog page and read what they say.  OK, they present an abbreviated history of themselves.  But. They state that, “we are the remaining brewery in Columbus’ Brewery District.”  That is a bald-faced lie.  They don’t brew anything.

If I may, allow me to elaborate on their history.

Some time in the late ’90s (I wish I knew the exact year) Cameron Mitchell (yes, THAT Cameron Mitchell) thought he’d get in on the craft beer craze.  His organization put together an upscale pub menu, and had a contemporary joint designed for him.  He also called it a brewpub.  Only thing is…

THEY DON’T BREW BEER!

Here’s what happened.  Cameron Mitchell made an agreement with the former owner of Columbus Brewing Company, Jeff Edwards, that he’d attach himself to the CBC brewery and also call himself CBC.  CBC (the brewery) would supply their beer, and look! We can make everyone think it’s a brewpub! Only it’s not.  It’s a pub.  It’s a bar.  It’s a beer bar. It’s a gastropub.  There are countless terms that can be used to describe the restaurant.

Cameron Mitchell subsequently sold the restaurant to the current owners, and Jeff Edwards sold his stake in the brewery to Eric and Beth Bean.  The original culprits are no longer involved.  Yet the current owners seem happy to let our community think they brew beer in their setting.  They don’t.

CBC Restaurant, please don’t call yourself a brewpub.  Running a brewpub is really hard work.  It’s like running two businesses.  It’s having two staffs.  It’s a mash up of two art forms.

And please don’t call yourself a brewery.  Columbus Brewing Company is a brewery. You’re not.  You don’t brew beer.

Just recently, CBC Restaurant has started putting some guest beers on tap.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that.  We do the same thing.  There’s a lot of good craft beer out there, so why not?

But I’ve had people come up to me and ask “if I’d had the new beer from CBC.”  Like Fat Julian.  CBC doesn’t brew Fat Julian, Actual Brewing Company does.  The confusion is getting worse.  (Full disclosure:  we had a firkin of Fat Julian at last year’s Mini Real Ale Fest and it was delicious!)

It’s time to blow the whistle on all this confusion.  CBC is neither a brewery nor a brewpub, and it’s very crafty that they don’t do anything to clear the air.  Great food.  Great beer. Crafty marketing.

Do the right thing, CBC Restaurant.  Stop the madness.  It would be really cool if you took Brewing out of your name completely.  It’s a chance to reinvent yourselves, while being more honest.  There, I said it.  I feel better.

Local Crafty Runner Up:  BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse (two locations)… nice shiny tanks, guys.  Too bad you ship your beer from out-0f-state, instead of merely using the tanks to make root beer.  Brewhouse indeed.

Cheers!
Brewdood

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THE BIRTH OF AN ANCIENT TRIBUTE BEER: KA AMUNET

(Our First Beer You Won’t Be Able to Experience at our Brewpub)

KA poster OHS mod copy

It started with a simple inquiry this past March.

Linda Pansing, Curator of Archeology at the Ohio Historical Center, sent me an email in March outlining a project that she’s working on.  OHS acquired a mummy from Egypt in 1925 from Dr. J. Morton Howell, an Ohio native, who was the first US ambassador to Egypt.  She has been on display since then, but very little is known about her.

It was decided that some investigation is in order, to learn what might be discovered.  In June, 2012, OHS partnered with OSU Wexner Medical Center and delivered her for CT scanning.

According to Dr. Joseph Yu, she is a woman who appears to have been in relatively good health up to the time of her death. There is no indication of osteoporosis or diminished bone density anywhere in the skeleton, which, combined with features of the skull, indicate she died at an age of between 35 and 45. Few Egyptians of her time lived beyond the age of 40, so she had lived a relatively full life. She was 5 feet 2 inches tall, which was an average height for Egyptian women at that time.

She was an attractive woman with a symmetrical face and nearly perfect teeth. She did have some damage to one of her lower front teeth caused either by a minor fracture or a periodontal infection.

She was evidently a woman of some means, because her joints do not show the damage that is typical of people who have engaged in a lifetime of manual labor. There are some traces of osteoarthritis in the knee, feet, and hands, but this would have been normal for a woman of her age. She suffered from an infection at some point in her life, possibly histoplasmosis, since the scan revealed soft tissue calcifications in the lungs, lymph nodes, and abdomen. There are no signs of violent trauma, so she appears to have died of natural causes.

Women’s options in life were limited as evident by the paucity of female hieroglyphic symbols vs. men’s. Women were designated as wife of, daughter of, mistress of, concubine of, etc. while men’s symbols include the myriad of jobs they did.  That being said we assert that females played a very valuable role, regardless of the lack of written recognition. In Ancient Egypt brewing was significantly important for providing needed nutrients to the family and this food preparation task was done by women.  Whether she did brewing as an occupation is unknown but we feeling that it is highly likely she brewed for the sustenance of the family at some point in her life, if not on a regular basis.

I have seen the 3D images of her, and they are stunning.

Over the past year, OHC has been piecing together information about her.  Their findings will culminate with an event on September 7.  It’s called Evening with Amunet.

The simple inquiry to us:  “Hum, I wonder if we could get someone to do a special event beer.”

My response was that this didn’t give us much time, but that we’re fascinated for the opportunity.  I started researching the subject, and discussed the possibility with Angelo Signorino, Jr, our Brewmaster.

“This is way out of my comfort zone,” was his response.  No kidding.

Since the request was pretty open-ended, it was up to us to determine what would be an appropriate beer.  At the start, we outlined a few goals:

  • The beer should reflect the character of what was actually brewed at that time;
  • Follow the spirit of whatever brewing processes we would unearth from that time; and
  • Develop a beer that would be palatable to today’s tastes.

During the following months, we found that any information about ancient Egyptian beer is sketchy and conflicting.  We found that there have been a few attempts to recreate an ancient beer.  Scottish & Newcastle Brewery did so in 1996, selling a very limited release of only 1,000 bottles, at $78 each.  They haven’t released details of what made their beer “ancient,” though.  Dogfish Head Craft Brewers came up with Ta Henket, using ancient techniques, but the yeast was obtained by flying to Egypt and catching wild samples from modern Egyptian air.  More recently, Great Lakes Brewing Company recreated a 5,000 year old Sumerian beer using clay pots.  They admit there was a lot of guessing going on.

So, what makes up an ancient Egyptian beer?  We were able to uncover a few tidbits.   The best known “recipe” for this beer comes to us in the form of a poem, inscribed in 1,800 BC and translated by Miguel Civil:

A Hymn to Ninkasi

Given birth by the flowing water ……,
tenderly cared for by Ninhursaja! Ninkasi,
given birth by the flowing water ……,
tenderly cared for by Ninhursaja!

Having founded your town upon wax, she completed its great walls for you.
Ninkasi, having founded your town upon wax, she completed its great walls for you.

Your father is Enki, the lord Nudimmud, and your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu.
Ninkasi, your father is Enki, the lord Nudimmud, and your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu.

It is you who handle the …… and dough with a big shovel, mixing, in a pit, the beerbread with sweet aromatics. Ninkasi, it is you who handle the …… and dough with a big shovel, mixing, in a pit, the beerbread with sweet aromatics.

It is you who bake the beerbread in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain.
Ninkasi, it is you who bake the beerbread in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain.

It is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates.
Ninkasi, it is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates.

It is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, it is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.

It is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes …
Ninkasi, it is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes …

It is you who hold with both hands the great sweetwort, brewing it with honey and wine.
Ninkasi, it is you who hold with both hands the great sweetwort, brewing it with honey and wine.

1 line damaged
You …… the sweetwort to the vessel. Ninkasi, ……. You …… the sweetwort to the vessel.

You place the fermenting vat, which makes a pleasant sound, appropriately on top of a large collector vat.
Ninkasi, you place the fermenting vat, which makes a pleasant sound, appropriately on top of a large collector vat.

It is you who pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Ninkasi, it is you who pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates.


From this poem, we learn that the Egyptians knew some form of malting and fermentation.  They likely malted their grain by partially baking barley bread loaves over an open fire and spreading the resultant product on reed mats.  They used “sweet aromatics” as part of this process, so we know they used adjuncts, probably dates and herbs.

They mashed their malt using “honey and wine.”  It is unlikely that they used much, if any, wine as we know it.  Wine was made for the aristocrats, not to be consumed by the masses.  Likewise, procuring and processing honey was laborious, hunting for it in the wilds.  It is unlikely that it was used to make common beer.  But the poem forms an underpinning to understanding the elusive ancient Egyptian beer.

From other readings, we learned that beer was brewed as a safer alternative to drinking water.  Even back then, the Nile was polluted.  We know that the Egyptian slave diet consisted of wheat and barley, both in the form of bread and beer, supplemented with peas, dates and grapes.  Beans and meat were a luxury.

Now, about our journey to brewing the beer you’ll get to experience on September 7.

First, we never intended to duplicate what we think the beer was.  We know that beer then was intended as a safer alternative to water.  It fermented in clay pots, with spontaneous yeast for a relatively short time—perhaps just days.  Hops would not be used in beer for another 6,000 years or so.

The result would have to be a rather sour, low alcohol beverage with little carbonation.  Your modern palate would not recognize, nor likely appreciate, this concoction.  We were uncomfortable brewing something that we knew would require spit buckets.  But still, we were intrigued.

In collaboration with Actual Brewing Company and North High Brewing Company, we formulated a recipe, using a Belgian-style yeast.

Actual owns a pilot brewing system that’s ideal to test on-the-fly, but at the time, their brewery was busy getting ready to go into full scale production.  That’s when we turned to North High Brewing Company as the third leg of this collaboration.  They own a brew-on-premise operation where anyone can come in and brew their dream beer.  It was an ideal setup for us.

One day in July, our Brewmaster Angelo Signorino, Jr and I met with Fred and the folks at North High Brewing to brew five variations on a theme.  Others came to witness this event, including Victor Ecimovich III of Hoster Brewing Company and Dan Cochran from Four String Brewing Company, among others.  It was a great play day.

Those test batches included combinations of coriander and lemongrass, both known to be indigenous to the area at that time.  We know that the Egyptians had trade routes as far away as Greece and China, so we also experimented with bitter orange peel, black peppercorns and juniper berries.  No hops were used.

Of the five batches, three were truly undrinkable.  Think blue cheese hiding in your son’s used soccer socks.  The fourth tasted like lemonade, only not so much.  The fifth was actually pretty tasty.

But with only a month before Evening with Amunet, we had hardly an option to get the beer brewed.  There simply wasn’t enough time.  We had intended that the beer we’d brew to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the Smokehouse in early August would have been this ancient ale.  But that beer had to be brewed earlier this summer.  We had no room in the schedule to squeeze this beer into our production schedule.  Actual was busy with their production.  What to do?  Honestly, we thought everyone was out of luck, after all this time.

It turns out, though, that all was not lost.  The beer we brewed for our anniversary celebration had a lot of the characteristics of what we were shooting for.  That beer is on tap now at our brewpub, known as Sexy Sadie Sixty Season Saison.

It was brewed with barley and wheat (√) we included coriander and lemongrass, indigenous to ancient Egypt (√) and we added cracked black peppercorns, bitter orange peel and fresh ginger, available from ancient Egyptian trade routes (√.)

We used a French Saison yeast, which is as good a guess as anyone’s as to yeast origin.  Remember, the Egyptians didn’t even know what was falling into their concoction.  So, we actually had a reasonable backbone for riffing this into homage to ancient Egyptian beer.

We didn’t have a clay pot, so we used our exotic vessel, a used oak barrel.  There, the beer matured for an additional month.  To that barrel, we added bacteria to impart a sourness that certainly was some of the character of an ancient elixir.

The oak barrel not being authentic, we departed authenticity a couple other ways to make the beer more palatable.  There are hops in this beer.  We thought that since we’re not 100% authentic, why not make one more whimsical departure?  We added black currants to the barrel.  Black currants certainly would not have been available to the Egyptians, but it is a fruit, we had some on hand, and after all, black currants are B.C!

KA is ancient Egyptian for beer.  We call our beer KA Amunet, our tribute to a remarkable lady who would be shocked to know that thousands of years later, she is not forgotten.  It took awhile, but she finally got a beer named after her.

We actually think there’s a chance that Amunet could have been a brewmistress.  Because she wasn’t born into nobility, and because she doesn’t appear shop-worn, she likely would have done something of value and great import to her society—like brewing beer.

What started with a simple request, then almost became the beer-that-wasn’t, ends up at the Ohio Historical Society as a feature to what looks to be a remarkable evening.  Like the beer we’ll be serving, it’ll be part art; part science; part magic.

This beer will only be available at Evening with Amunet on September 7.  Join us.  Click here for details and ticket information.

Cheers!
Brewdood

 

 

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Behind the Curtains of the Mini Real Ale Fest

Update April 26, 2013

All our firkins have been identified and we are set to go!  The last three to unveil themselves are pretty exciting.  First, Four Strings Brewing Company here in town let us know that they are bringing their White IPA, dry hopped with Falconer’s Flight and Citra.  This should be a nice floral, citrusy experience, especially as a firkin.

Then Eric Bean let us know that Columbus Brewing Company is releasing a firkin of their barrel-aged, coffee infused Steel Dawn.  Since this one is caffeinated, perhaps this one should be your first at the Fest, so you can keep your energy up to get through the rest of them.

Finally, we scored a special treat.  You know that there have been a bunch of new craft breweries planned and opened here in the Columbus metro area.  One of those, Actual Brewing Company, has not yet started their production runs.  They have been brewing many pilot studies, though.  One of them will be at the Fest.  It’s called Fat Julian, and it’s a Russian Imperial Stout.  This one’s been aging in a French red wine barrel.  I had a sample, and it’s good.  Real good.  I can’t wait to see what conditioning does to it.

We’ll all find out together on Saturday, May 4.

Cheers!

Note that all tribute art is now downloaded below.  To see the entire lineup, go here.  Click on any of the beers to find out more about them.  Since Actual isn’t in production yet, there’s no description of their beer; instead, we give you a short video of Fred Lee, owner and Brewmaster.  To purchase tickets. click here.

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Our tenth annual Mini Real Ale Fest X is May 4 this year.  It’s a lot of fun that day, but it’s also a lot of work for us.  It’s really a labor of love, because if we counted the hours it takes to put on this event, it would probably never happen.

We start at the beginning of the year by contacting craft breweries that have participated in the past (and that have sent beers previously that we really dug.)  Then we consider new players in the arena and contact them.  This starts the lo-o-o-ong process of lining up the field.

You probably guessed that craft brewers are really busy.  That pint in front of you when you order your favorite represents a lot of work by a lot of people.  As you can imagine, none of us have unlimited resources, so when we ask a brewer to participate, we realize that we’re asking him (or her) to put forth extra effort to accommodate us.  Most brewers don’t do real ale routinely, but they know it’s cool, so they think out something that would be memorable.

Case in point is Founders Brewing Company sending us their Founders Porter this year, but with chocolate and Thai chili peppers added for that extra dimension you won’t get every day.  We never dictate what beer gets shipped to us.  We allow the creativity of the participants to take center stage.  For that, we’re thankful that they take the extra effort for our festival.

As a result, we sometimes don’t know what’s being sent until days before the fest.  We try to keep you informed by updating as soon as we get information.  We know you’d love to know the entire lineup before you commit to a ticket (and we wouldn’t mind knowing early either!) but that’s the nature of the beast.

Then there’s the issue that some of the breweries don’t even own a firkin.  In those cases, we ship them one of our empties (at our cost!) then pay for the full firkin when it arrives.  It’s not cheap to secure these awesome real ales.

On a parallel track, we set up the on line ticket sales process, print tickets, design the pint glass and program.  One last labor of love that we do is create the graphics so you know what beer is where at the fest.  We call these graphics “tribute art.”

When we first started doing the Mini, we’d ask the breweries for graphics that would support the beer they’re sending us.  Company logo, and artwork that’s already prepared, etc.  What we found was that it was harder to get this information than finding out what beer we’d get.  In many cases, artwork didn’t exist, because we were getting a “one-off” beer crafted just for our event.

“Tribute art” is created for each beer at the fest.  Like the beers, these posters are also “one-off,” to be used that day for three hours, probably never to be seen again.  When we find out what’s going to be in a firkin, and the brewery tells us the name, we get to work.

Usually whimsical, we design a poster that we hope will match the beer.  The more unusual the beer name, the more likely the poster will be unusual too.

As of this writing, we know about 14 firkins that will be here on May 4.  The artwork is complete for those beers, and we’re previewing them for you below.  We sincerely thank you for your support of the Mini Real Ale Fest at Barley’s Smokehouse & Brewpub.  If you didn’t appreciate our efforts, it wouldn’t be worth it for us to do it.  But we love putting on


the show for you and we love you.

Oh yeah, one more thing… we also managed to come up with something new for the Fest:  Cherry Zoltar, an Imperial Porter that’s been bourbon barrel-conditioned on Michigan cherries.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 


 

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Ingredients Matter

This weekend, I learned again that ingredients matter.  Yesterday, I decided I wanted to make some gravlax.  For those of you who don’t know what gravlax is, it is salmon cured at a minimum, with salt and sugar.  I decided to do an experiment.

I purchased two salmon sides–one farm raised and one wild caught.  I don’t usually buy farm raised salmon, due to sustainability and environmental reasons, and I’d rather go without salmon than succumb to this alternative.

But I saw farm raised salmon at an outrageously low price, so I asked the fish monger to package me one of each.  The wild caught was a beautiful dark orange, and the farm raised side was a pinkish, well, salmon color.

The wild caught was nearly three times as expensive as the one from down on the farm, and I wondered, other than the issues mentioned, if it was worth the cost.

I made my cure using kosher salt, sugar, fresh cracked black pepper, the zest of an orange, lemon and lime, and a little vodka to pull it all together.  I covered the sides with fresh dill, then packed the cure on top.  The sides were wrapped in plastic, then weighted.

Today, twenty four hours later, I removed the skin and sliced the sides thinly and wrapped them for future enjoyment, saving a tiny slice from each to try.  The results were shocking.  The wild caught salmon slice was incredibly flavorful, and if I may say so myself, worthy of being on a plate in any fine dining restaurant.  The farm raised sample, on the other hand was, to put it politely, meh.

Ingredients matter.

You won’t see gravlax on the menu at the ‘House becaue that’s not our groove.  But there is something on the menu that you know well, and proves this same point–our smoked chicken wings.

Most places get frozen wings by the case (OK, ours come in cases too) and are bruskly dropped in a deep fat fryer until crisp.  Then they’re tossed in a sauce that likely includes corn syrup and stabilization agents.  Boy, do we wish it was that easy for us.

First, we immerse our wings overnight in a brine that we developed.  The next day, we lay them out on racks in our smoker and fire up some hardwood hickory.  We smoke them until the skin a a beautiful mahogany.  The final step is done when you order them.  We put them on the char-grill to give them an additional dimension.

We then toss with our own sauces made in our kitchens (yes, we have two kitchens back there) free of corn syrup or any additives.  We have won best wings in the city numerous times, when winning those events mattered to us.  We haven’t entered a competition in years…we’d rather spend our time making it right for you.

Ingredients matter.  I’ve known this for years, and I learned it again this weekend.  Today,  I started another little personal project.  I’m making my own bitters.

I love a good Manhattan.  This winter, I tended to use OYO bourbon, distilled in the Short North by Middle West Spirits.  Yes, it’s pricier than farm raised bourbon.  Wild caught bourbon always is.  But it makes a superior Manhattan.

I’m a little different in that I make a Manhattan 50/50 with sweet Vermouth.  Most make theirs around 70/30 bourbon to Vermouth.  But I don’t want the bourbon to be the star, I want the Manhattan to be the star, so I give equal billing to both.  The quality of the Vermouth can’t be skimped on in this case, so I use a high quality (more expensive) Vermouth.

The only other ingredient, other than the red cherry garnish to make it visually old school, is the bitters.  I like seven drops in mine.  No more, no less.  Those seven drops make or break my Manhattan experience.  I found a bitter this winter called Burlesque, made by Bittermens in Brooklyn.  It includes hibiscus, acai and long peppers, along with “natural berry flavor with other natural flavors, spices.”

Those seven drops make my Manhattan sing.  Inspired, today I ordered some ingredients. Gentian root, quassin bark, dandelion root, devil’s club root, black walnut leaf, and a host of other ingredients only known to the witch in Hansel and Gretel.  I’m out to make my own bitters.

These ingredients are organic or ethically wild-craft sourced.  I will be making at least 12 different infusions, using bourbon, rum and vodka.  Channeling my inner alchemist self, I will call these infusions Potion No. 1, Potion No. 2, Potion No. 3, etc, carefully noting what I’ve done in each.  After the potions are sufficiently infused, I will start blending them to get at least one glorious bitter, hopefully two.

Then next winter, I will add seven drops into my Manhattan, and I will add seven drops into Joan’s Old Fashioned.  And I’ll smile.  Why?  Because ingredients matter.

You may never get a chance to experience the results of my alchemy.  On the other hand, someday you just might be able to order a Brewdood Manhattan at the ‘House.  But only if I get it right.

Bitters: Cinchona Bark

Cinchona Bark, the natural source of quinine

 

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Prequel to Oysters & Stout

We’re hosting another Oysters & Stout this Thursday, February 28, and we’ll have a raft of porters and stouts along with fresh oysters on the half shell; smoked with garlic butter; and crisp fried.  We look forward to it twice a year, and hope you do too.

You might be wondering why we care about oysters in the first place.  People living in Columbus 100 years ago certainly recognized the importance of oysters.  Simply, they wanted to be a part of the world that they couldn’t.

When Columbus was founded in 1812, links to the more cultural and fashionable parts of the world were hard to come by.  Lucas Sullivan once brought back from Philadelphia a small gift to his son.  One orange–the first ever seen in Central Ohio.

Oysters became the symbol of affluence throughout much of the Midwest in the 1800s. Human nature doesn’t change much.  People want what they can’t have.  Oysters were hard to come by.  They spoiled easily (I hate to think of that smell) and had to be consumed quickly.  As if you had to guess, they were expensive too.

By the 1840s, if one was running for President, like William Henry Harrison, an “oyster party” was expected.  The Harrison party drew thousands.

Oysters at Christmas became something of a tradition.  In many homes at Christmas, one is still offered two kinds of dressing:  “plain” or oyster.

By the turn of the century, oysters were offered at fashionable restaurants in Columbus.  The Neil House was one, and another was the rooftop beer garden at the Great Southern Hotel.  There, you could order oysters, swig beers and smoke stogies all night long.  Oysters became a selling point, trying to prove that this or that establishment was THE place in town.

We host Oysters & Stout because this is one of the world-class aphrodisiac pairings in the world.  And they’re delicious.  Just as microbrew and barbecue go hand-in-hand, so do Oysters & Stout.

As you slurp down a few of these delectable mollusks this Thursday, think about our forefathers and what they had to go through to get the same experience.  You’re a part of Columbus history when you devour that sensuous muscle.

GM Dan Pollock shucking oysters at Oysters & Stout, Groundhog Day Edition, 2012

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