Saturday, January 03, 2009
Remembering the Year 2008 in Beer
Good friends we have, oh, good friends we've lost---Along the Way--- So Dry your tears I say--- From top to bottom, the big story across the industry for 2008, was it the hops shortage? Maybe. Price increases? Absolutely. Business Model Viability was tested. It turned out to be more, way more than just the hops driving beer prices this year. I keep track of prices paid for the beer I've bought over the years. It's interesting to note that a mere eight miles from my house I can get a growler filled with one of Victory's mainstays for under $10, actually more like $7 and a 750ml bottle of great beers like their V-series for $7.50. These prices have barely budged over the past few years. Similar deals can be found up route 113 at Sly Fox and into the City at Philadelphia Brewing and Yards. Similar stories play out in your hometown continuing to make well-crafted beer the most affordable luxury there is today. Here's to buying local! The year 2008 got kicked into high gear quickly when Patty and I were in the Bay Area for Strong Beer Month and the Celebrator 20th Anniversary Party. With events spread across the two cities by the Bay in February, it's easy to see San Francisco Beer Week 2009 being a success. Then, in March, Philadelphia did it up big time. Philadelphia has been on the beer radar of most beer aficionados for many a year. In 2008, no less than a couple of hundred events from free tastings to dinner galas should have left no doubt of Philly's prominence in the beer world. As a testament to the success of Philly Beer Week, handfuls of cities followed suit planning their own take on Philly's template. 2009's installment promises to be no less of a success. August brought Belgium back to Cooperstown again, this year a few weeks later than usual. Ommegang hosted its must-do Belgian Beer Festival for the fifth year, to even greater success than ever. Even if the only measuring stick that you use to determine success is ticket sales popularity. A fun sidenote (not so side-notish for the riders) was my hosting of the words and pictures of the Ride to Cooperstown by six local riders over 350+ miles. During October, we took our second big beer trip of the year, this one to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. We fit in some touring around the state with the festival tacked on to the last 4 days of our 10 day trip. It will certainly be difficult to look at other beer festivals through the same eyes again. Here in Philly, December played host to a greater variety of beer events than recent memory can recall. It made for a quite the busy month, as if it couldn't get any busier! Jack correctly points out that January will pick up where New Year's Eve left off. The horizon for 2009 looks promising in the Philadelphia region, with two new beer bars with a heavy craft focus opening at the turn of the calendar; and they couldn't be in more different areas. Local 44 opened on January 1st on the doorsteps of West Philly, less than a dozen blocks from Dock Street and just a few more than that from 30th Street Station. Forty miles west in the hinterlands is the new Craft Ale House, which means that part of the Fertile Crescent is filling with a nice little triangulation from Ortino's (Zieglerville) to Craft Ale House (Limerick) to Union Jack's (Boyertown). The second installment of Philly Beer Week kicks off on March 6th and, with some refinements this year, looks to be even better than the first year's smashing success. On a much more individual level, the brewing world lost some of its leaders in 2008. The brewing world dealt with the loss of Bill Leinenkugel from cancer at age 87. His family's eponymous brewery was one of the first "micros" that I'd experienced somewhere around the early nineties. Matt Luhr (Dillon DAM, CO) passed away of an aneurysm at age 46. We'd driven by Dillon DAM on our way through Colorado backcountry, it was on "our list," but didn't have time to stop in. They then went on to win a gold for their english brown at this year's GABF. Right around the same time, longtime brewmaster Charlie Lieberman passed away at the age of 99. Closer to home here in the Philadelphia region, the biggest loss (figuratively and literally) came when Jay Misson of Triumph passed at the young age of 45. His impact on the brewing world, particularly the lager brewing world from Philly to New Jersey to California's Gordon Biersch was profound and he will continue to be sorely missed. Of course there were plenty of big, wow type of beers that left an impact on me this year. The continuation of the Proef collaboration did not fail to disappoint with Allagash doing the pairing this year as a follow-up to a phenomenal debut of the concept last year with Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing. Next year's collaboration will be with Bell's of Michigan and am already looking forward to this. Actually, I look forward to just about anything from de Proef. Speaking of Port Brewing. They brought some Lost Abbey beers to a Monk's Beer Dinner earlier in the year that took my palate for a joyride. Thinking Veritas, Cable Car, Angel's Share, and Amazing Grace. I tripped twice this year across the Isabelle Proximus that Tomme undertook with Rob Tod, Sam Calagione, Adam Avery, and Vinnie Cilurzo. This beer, if you ever stumble across it yourself, should be an immediate "yes, please!" Speaking of Vinnie, the 20th Anniversary celebration beer that they brewed in conjunction with Dave Keane from Toronado was also a great find. But finding it any longer will be near impossible except for those who may have hoarded what they found. And, speaking of Monk's Dinners, the always intriguing Utopias found its way to my lips, which is generally not a bad thing. Or, at Ommegang, when I ran into the incredibly complex and delightful Rosso e Marrone from Captain Lawrence. Speaking in Italian, though, reminds me of the great introduction that I had to many wonderful flavors in beers from Italy that showed up in more and more markets in 2008. Think chestnuts for starters. Also, just about anything from Jolly Pumpkin...and Struise...and...and... But, I lay all of those big, nasty beers before you to say that perhaps the one beer above all that has left a long-term mark on me in 2008 was the Black Bavarian from Sprecher in Wisconsin. I'd previously had their bigger beers, but until they began distributing to Pennsylvania in early 2008, I never had the Black Bavarian Kulmbacher-style lager. What have I been missing?! At just a tick under 6% ABV, this is the kind of beer with great flavor of medium "weight" in the mouth and low alcohol that will keep me happy all night long and prove to be a beer that makes converts out of the "I'm not a dark beer drinker"-beer drinker. Is there one thing that I experienced during the year that I wish I could banish. You'll laugh, but it's a word. I don't worry myself with too many pet peeves, but the word 'yummy' is one of them. One of them that I seem to have seen and heard more than ever this year. Somehow, seeing it in print makes me even more twitchy. What is it about delicious food and drink that turns our vocabulary into basic, childlike speak? Dunno, but I'm guessing now that you know just how it tweaks me, I'll be hearing even more of it in 2009, ha! (I've saved you some effort and already searched my archives to see if I'm being hypocritical.) Best Wishes for a Happy (and as Prosperous as possible) New Year to All!