Monday, January 10, 2011

2010: One guy's perspective

We're getting a bit late for 2010 retrospectives at this point. I'd put together a bunch of notes to share with Suzanne Woods for some of her year-end content that she was assembling for her various writing avenues.

She used a couple of snippets, but then I looked at my detailed wrapup of 2010 and figured it might be something worth sharing with all of you.

I hear many say that they maintain a blog first and foremost to serve as a journal for themselves. The writing I do is more for you, for the industry, and for the sake of documentation and communication as part of the so-called public record.

There's a lot here. Some of it was written quickly and concisely, but still it all adds up to a 10-15 minute read. Maybe you'll find interesting some of the things that stuck out to me over the course of the year. Maybe you'll have some of your own comments to add. It's not all-encompassing, but rather some of the more significant things that stood out to me.


>> Beer Dinners. Anymore, who's not doing one? They're doing them at breweries from Union Barrel Works in Lancaster County north to Brew Works in Allentown & Bethlehem south to Stewart's in Delaware east to New Jersey's Iron Hill and all around Philadelphia. Restaurants, particularly the high-end ones not traditionally known for their beer affinity, like Amada, Barclay Prime, Simon Pearce, La Terrasse, Chifa, Parc, Le Virtu, Savona, Alba, and georges' are getting in on the act as well. Whether the chefs are discovering the wonderful interplay between the beer and food menus or the owners are simply following the trends, a week doesn't go by anymore in or around Philadelphia where there are not at least a beer dinner or two to choose from. It's been interesting to note, by the way, how the "sweet spot" for these four-, five-, or six-course meals hovers right around $60 in the city and surrounding suburbs.

>> Beer Hunting. The more I travel, the less I seem to find to bring home. Or, maybe a better way to put this is...the more I travel, the harder that I need to search to find indigenous beers that I can't find at home. While buying local and eating local (locavoring, if you will) is a popular way to go, Pennsylvania has been a favorite place for breweries from afar, both large and small, to distribute to. In one way, it speaks to our region's wide palate appreciation for beers all across the beer spectrum. Take relative newcomers to brewing like St. Somewhere and The Bruery or older ones like Terrapin and Odell. These are breweries, particularly the first two, with output that should satisfy more of their immmediate region and beers that I would, in the past, enjoy picking up when I travel to bring home and share with friends. Sure, getting them fresh from the source is always preferred. But, when they get delivered to my store shelves instead and I can determine that they're not much worse for the travel, it takes a bit off luster off the hunting down of these beers when I travel.

>> An app for beer. More establishments are getting in on the online world. Old static websites, ha! Outdated "what's on tap" lists, phlooey! Rattle 'n' Hum in Manhattan was one of the first I noticed to have a mobile app that would serve up beer lists, directions, phone number, and events. Later in the year, my "local", TJs, went one step farther than anyone I've seen to-date. TJs has always been just a little farther out on the real-time information curve. Whether it was immediately changing chalkboards when a keg changed or constantly updating their website with food, beer, and other related information, they've always been just a bit obsessive about information and the communication of it. Now, they've integrated a "digital chalkboard" with all of the other technology that they've already got running. Now, the system automatically updates the various "chalkboards" around the bar with the click of a name, location, price, ABV, and even the preferred glassware is all listed clearly on the board. You'll have to see it to believe it. Yards and Dogfish are just two more that have recently got in on the web/mobile app bandwagon.

January Am still grinning at our decision to brave the road conditions for Iron Hill's annual Belgium Comes to West Chester. Two feet of snow didn't deter a largely local (and walking) crowd from turning out and drinking up all that was available during one of the Philly region's finest winter beer events. For several reasons, one of the most memorable.

February Mother Nature conspired with beer gods. My flight was delayed by four days, enough to keep me from San Francisco Beer Week. Not that they needed me, because the birthplace of American Craft Brewing puts on a mighty fine display of their regional beer....which makes it all the more disappointing to have missed. Good thing it's coming back around next month.

March I called it the "story of the year (to-date)" back in March. The Philly Beer Raids or some other such euphemism for what was one of the State's biggest (hm, how to describe with getting into expletives?) P.R. disasters in the world of alcohol regulation and enforcement in some time. The Memphis44Resurrection team got put through the ringer for a few months, but all seem to have come out fairly unscathed, if not a bit more perturbed with the system as-is today. Unfortunately, the "anonymous tipster" was never publicly identified and the system never really changed as a result. So, then, what was it all for? Perhaps, in light the timing of these raids and fallout, we can be glad that PBW was pushed back into June in 2010.

April Was in Omaha, Neb. and discovered that Upstream Brewing is not just a couple of people behind a table in Colorado at the GABF. They are a living, breathing full-fledged brewery/restaurant that pours a stable-full of good beer, included an amazing lineup of barrel-aged and vintage beer selections. All in one of the last places that a beer geek might think to look. Omaha for steaks, college baseball World Series, Warren Buffett..must also add Upstream Brewing.

May Discovered Meddlesome Moth in Dallas, Tx. Located in the coming-'round former swampland of the Market District and ownership ties to the Flying Saucer southern chain of beer bars, Meddlesome Moth was inspired by a visit to NYC's Spotted Pig. This trendy spot houses a lot of artwork from local artists, a menu of interesting food for both the foodie as well as the less-than-curious, and a beer lineup of roughly sixty very interesting beers from around the world with a very focused attention to the locals too. Speaking of new discoveries and mega/multi-tap houses, City Tap House opened with great fanfare in University City. Many wondered about their staying power. The tap lines still look good, the kitchen is doing fine, and the Beer 2.0 Tasting Notes hold a lot of promise for the über beer geek. Sly Fox debuted their new Phoenixville location in conjunction with the ever-more-popular Goat Races and Bock Festival. The weather was as uncomfortable (heat and humidity) as could be imagined for the first Sunday of May, both for the Broad Street Run and the Goat Races.

June Philly Beer Week, of course. The debate will rage on until at least June 2011 as to what constitutes the "right" calendaring, number of events, and rules for gaining entry. Nonetheless, PBW held up its end of the deal for the third straight year, positioning and showcasing the Philadelphia region as one of the best places in the country to make, sell, and drink beer.

July Had to wait until the end of July to proclaim the best of July. Though, in truth, it's a perennial claim as one of the best events of the year. Belgium Comes to Cooperstown. There's always a new find or two every year under the big top, but the real allure to this festival is how the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Then again, what is the "whole"? Sit around the campsite all weekend. Try to drink as many beers during the Saturday tasting event as possible. Dance the night away to live music. Watch the movies projected on the side of a brewery building. Go into town (Cooperstown) for the lake, the Baseball Hall of Fame, or a local bar or restaurant. Go campsite-wandering to taste and share beer amongst friends and strangers. Mingle with brewers from some of the country's best...a few Belgian brewers as well. Throw a disc, a football, a baseball. Play corn hole, washoes, horseshoes, or smashcan (is that what it's called?). The point is, the weekend could be fun enough to do one or two or all of these things. A world-class brewery being nestled in the foothills of the Adirondacks makes Ommegang a pretty special place to visit any time of the year. And, it's about to get a makeover, complete with a cafe.

August Stewart's in Delaware turned 15, yet another in a long list of local breweries turning 15 years old within a year or so of each other. Stewart's has a new chef and talked of a new menu to complement Ric Hoffman's excellent products coming from the brewhouse. Speaking of 15-year-olds, Victory got even bigger in 2010 with more and bigger fermenters to add to their growing brewhouse. In August, they unveiled Victory Village coffee porter, a beer that at the time I called "a contender for top 10 new beer of the year".

September On the topic of "where beer geeks might not think to look", if McKenzie Brew House is not getting (back) on the radars of regional beer hunters, then I think some compasses need to be adjusted. McKenzie Brew House wins again at GABF. Not to detract attention from other local breweries, but these wins (particularly 3 in 4 years for Saison Vautour) and my experiences at two beer dinners that they conducted this year prove that the brew house (Ryan Michaels and Gerard Olson) have something quite special going on.

October Took a riverboat cruise on the Rhine and Mosel rivers with Steve Beaumont who just so happened to be conducting a Beers on the Rhine program. The cruise lasted 13 days and went from Amsterdam, Holland to Basel, Switzerland. Drinking up the pub culture in beautiful Amsterdam was special. Finding a former abbey along the riverbank full of grapevines that now houses a brewery and restaurant, stealing away to a local brewery in lovely Heidelberg, sessioning it up in spectacular Cologne at a few of their amazing Kölsch houses were just a few of the many beery delights that we discovered along the way.

November The November 13th weekend beer calendar illustrates exactly what we around Philadelphia are referring to when we talk about it being such a rich place to make and drink great beer. Cask beers, wet hop beers, barleywines, stouts, beer and food pairings/dinners, special events/parties, brewer and owner events and festivals were designed to make this particular weekend one of the year's best.

December The holiday dinner at Monk's is usually a December highlight to look forward to every year. Tom Peters and staff generously put out a high-quality meal accentuated by some of the best beers his basement has to offer. I'll go out on an early limb and project it to be my favorite beer event of December. Though, the draft list for TJs 7th Anniversary event gave Monk's a good run for its money.

Looking forward to 2011. There's much to think of for this year, some of which will only reveal itself as the year progresses and some that will develop out of seemingly thin air. Here are a few random thoughts here in early January on things that I'll be looking forward to this year.

>> Speaking of beer dinners, Janaury will feature Garrett Oliver and Brooklyn Brewery at Chifa. A world-class chef with world-class beer and a guy who literally wrote the book (arguably, one of the most noteworthy on the topic) on beer and food pairings should make for a most memorable beer dinner.

>> Philly Beer Week. I won't exclude myself when I say that there was a fair amount of skepticism about the rescheduling (now, apparently permanent) of PBW from March to June after two highly successful March runs in '08 and '09. With breakout "Philly Beer Weekends" and 30 other Beer Weeks popping up around the country (not to mention that good beer is becoming more difficult NOT to find in some of the most unassuming places), it will be very interesting to see how PBW '10 plays out.

>> San Francisco Beer Week. Am planning to attend, hopefully atoning for missing last year's. Of course, I have a running/beer event planned as well. More on this later.

>> More 15th anniversary celebrations around the region. River Horse, Flying Fish, Climax, Basil T's, JJ Biting, and High Point in New Jersey. Iron Hill in Delaware. Victory, Bullfrog, Manayunk, Church Brew Works, and Selin's Grove in Pennsylvania. 1996 was also a good year for Southampton in New York and Brewer's Art, Brewer's Alley, and DuClaw in Maryland.

>> Continued evolution of laws regarding beer distribution in Pennsylvania. Break up the case law, it's just about the most sensible thing to do. Level the playing field for all retail beer sales.


Rich Isaacs said...

When are you going to be in San Francisco for the Beer Week? I'm going to be there for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Bryan Kolesar said...

Still working on it Rich, hoping to finalize travel plans within a week or so. The schedule, you may have seen, just got officially released. You may see that my running event is scheduled for 2/13 at Social Kitchen. Will tell more once my plans become more concrete