Saying “Goodbye” to “The Brick”

18 12 2010

Photo credit: WTOP.com

Today is a sad day for beer drinkers everywhere, especially me. It is the final day of The Brickskeller, that venerable Washington DC institution and mecca for beer lovers everywhere. After more than 54 years, The Brick (as it is lovingly called by its fans) will close its doors for the final time.

The Washington Post has a very good update and interview with its owner, Dave Alexander. It is an especially sad day for me. I worked at The Brickskeller for almost a year. And it is what inspired this blog. I met some of my best friends there (both human and beer alike) and I am so very sad to see it go.

Depending on whether or not you believe the hyperbole, the Brickskeller helped set the tone for modern beer culture. They claim to have been the first to host beer tastings in the late 1980’s and their final tasting was last week. They claim to have given such young upstarts as Sam from Dogfish Head the boost up they needed to become great. And nearly every beer bar on the Eastern Seaboard has at least one alumnus of The Brick on their Staff. Greg Engert of Churchkey DC is one of the most famous of the former Brick employees. His quotes have been in the Washington Post, The New York Times and on NPR. He once said that he respected The Brickskeller for being a “liquid library” teaching him everything he knows about beer. I would agree. After one year working at the Brick, I still had not tasted everything on the menu (the largest in the world according to the Guinness World Records), though I tried my damnedest.

There are a lot of reasons why the Brick went under. And I am sure no one knows exactly why. It would be easy to blame the slow economy. Others would blame mismanagement by the owners. I would like to think the Brick was done-in by its own success. When I moved to Washington DC in 2007, there were very few bars with a quality beer list. You could find some places with a couple good beers on tap. And most liquor stores and corner stores would carry the usual macrobrews. But by the time I left earlier this year, a new restaurant or bar was not taken seriously unless it had at least a dozen beers on tap. And they all had to be quality. Churchkey, with its over 30 beers on tap and six cask ales was hailed for its list. Pizza Paradiso had a beer list longer than their pizza menu. The Black Squirrel has worked to become the third brewpub in DC. The Biergarten on H St. has over a dozen German beers on tap. Meridian Pint only serves American craftbrew. And that doesn’t even count the dozens of new bars and others that have stepped up their game since I have left. Corner stores, liquor stores and grocery stores have all picked up their game as well. It is common now to find Magic Hat, Dogfish Head, and Flying Dog replacing tall boys and 40s in up and coming neighborhoods. All this in less than 3 years. When I first started at The Brick in November of 2009, DC was considered a “beer wasteland” that was starting to “get better” by a visiting brewer. By the time I left in the following Summer, Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada said that DC was a “world class beer city”. Greg Koch of Stone concurred by adding “no city in California has the quantity and quality of beer that DC does.”

And so, it is with a heavy heart, I say “goodbye” to the “Brick”. The new owners have promised to keep it as a beer bar with a trimmed down menu and an improved ambiance. But the name stays with the Alexander family. I wish them the best of luck and toast the loss of a good friend.

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I Bet I “Can”!

4 08 2010

Several times now, we have been praising the lowly beer can. We have become “canvangelists” and promoting beer in a can whenever possible. The benefits are great and the costs are low. The benefits are as follows:

  • They cost less than glass
  • They break less often
  • They weigh less than glass (resulting in less expensive shipping costs and a smaller carbon footprint)
  • No skunking
  • They get colder faster and stay that way longer
  • They are easier to recycle
  • The beer inside stays fresher, longer

People are hesitant about drinking beer from a can. People of an older generation may remember beer cans when they were tin. They remember the tinny, rusty flavors they imparted to the beer. But those days are over. The inside of the beer can is now coated in a plastic epoxy that prevents metallic tastes from entering the can. And even people who never drank beer from the old design may be hesitant as they associate beer in a can with cheap, uninspiring American lagers. But in the short time since Oskar Blues introduced craft beer in a can, the trend has taken off. And I have wagered with several tables a beer that I can name more delicious craft beers in a can than they can name cheap, uninspiring beers in a can. I even offer to let them count malt liquor. I have yet to have any one take me up on that bet. But I am going to prove my point here, today. Let us begin with the bland, cheap, uninspiring beers that most people associate with beer in a can.

Uninspiring Beers (By Brewery):

  • Anheuser-Busch

Budweiser
Bud Light
Bud Ice
Bud Ice Light
Busch Beer
Busch Light
Busch Ice
Hurricane High Gravity
Hurricane Ice
Hurricane Malt Liquor
King Cobra
Natural Light (Natty Light)
Natural Ice (Natty Light)
O’Doul’s N/A
Busch’s N/A

Total: 15

  • F.X. Matt

Utica Club

Total: 1

Photo Credit: Totsie 14 CC

  • Heinekin International Brewers

Heinekin
Heinekin Light
Tecate
Tecate Light

Total: 4

  • Molson/Miller/Coors Brewing Company

Foster’s
Miller Genuine Draft
Miller High Life
Miller Light
Sharp’s Miller
Coors’ Banquet Beer
Coors’ Light
Keystone
Keystone Light
Magnum 22 Malt Liquor
Milwaukee’s Best
Milwaukee’s Best Light
Hamm’s
Mickey’s Malt Liquor
Olde English “800” Malt Liquor
Red Dog
Sparks
Steel Reserve 211

Total: 18

  • Pabst Brewing

Colt 45 Malt Liquor
Lone Star
National Bohemian (Natty Bo)
Old Milwaukee
Old Milwaukee Light
Old Milwaukee Ice
Old Style
Pabst Blue Ribbon
Pabst Blue Ribbon Light
Schaefer
Schlitz
Schlitz Malt Liquor
Stroh’s

Total: 13

Grand Total: 51

And now we go on to focus on Craft beer and decent corporate beers. (Big, Big, Big Thanks to CraftCans.com for pretty much doing all the work for me.) According to CraftCans.com, there are currently 117 craft brewers in the world who are putting their beers in a can! They have a grand total of 283 individual beers in a can. That is more than 5 times the amount of beers in a can that the Big Boys are doing. And that is not even counting the very tasty beers in a can that corporate giants like A-B and Diagio are doing. If we included Guinness (Diagio), Boddington’s (A-B), Tetley’s, Belhaven Scottish Ale into the list, we are nearly at 290 tasty beers in a can. Let’s even say that my list above is incomplete. Let’s say, I happened to have forgotten or missed some 10 more uninspiring light American lagers, we are still nowhere near the amount of great beers that come in cans.

Still not convinced that great beers come in a can? Here is a list of some excellent breweries that have begun canning their beers.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company
Avery Brewing
Brooklyn Brewing
Caldera Brewing
Cisco Brewers
Harpoon Brewery
Lancaster Brewing Company
Maui Brewing Company
New Belgium Brewing Company
Oskar Blues Brewery
Pyramid Brewery
Saranac Brewing Company
Ska Brewing Company
Sly Fox Brewing Company
Spoetzel Brewery
Surley Brewing Company

Those are all some rather well known and highly acclaimed beers. Why would a brewery risk its reputation and profits on a beer can if they did not think it would help the bottom line?





Read This Book: Tasting Beer

8 04 2010

Tasting Beer: And Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest DrinkI
By Randy Mosher
Published by: Storey Publishing North Adams, MA 2009
Available in paperback at most bookstores and on Amazon

If I was ever invited to teach a college course on beer (byt the way: such invitations would be gladly appreciated and quickly accepted), Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer would be one of the main text books. Few people have been able to bridge the gap from homebrew god to mainstream beer legend. Mosher is one of them. Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head Brewery calls Mosher a “true beer evangelist” and his passion for the subject shows through.

Tasting Beer is a rich and fun read. Dense with history and science but light with humorous anecdotes. Lots of illustrations help illuminate the information. And chapters are short with many subchapters. In many ways, this book looks and feels like a textbook for a college course.

Running through the history of beer to the science of fermentation and the physiology of tasting, the beginning of the book is a crash course on why you should sip and savor your beer. Then Mosher continues on with everything one needs to know to joining the legions of beer geeks. Finally, he goes in depth on historic beer styles. Mosher was on the original board for the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) and helped form the modern beer style guide so you know he is familiar with the styles. There is also a very susinct chapter on food and beer. Do yourself a favor though, absorb the charts and graphs here and then go read The Brewmaster’s Table.

All in all, this is a great place to start. If you are just getting into beer, Mosher will walk you through the world of beer. He is your Virgil and on the other side, you will more confident, secure and knowledgeable about your beer drinking abilities.





A Decade of Beer Ads: The 2000’s

18 01 2010

Today is the sixth and final segment of a series of posts where we will hastily derive sociological statements about American Beer Culture through beer advertisements found on YouTube.

The 2000’s: The Decade Where the World Could Really Go For a Beer Right About Now- Let’s face it, the 2000’s were a pretty rough time for every one. It started with a recession caused by the Internet Bubble of the ’90’s bursting. A rough election between Bush and Gore. A spy plane crashing into China almost started WWIII. 9/11. Two nasty and unpopular wars. Another rough election between Bush and Kerry. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Another recession after the worst economic melt down in eighty years. And a rough election between Obama and McCain. If there was any decade where people could have really gone for a beer, it was that one.

Luckily, beer had hit a highpoint not seen since the early 20th century. The rise in a globalized beer market meant we can drink just about any beer made just about anywhere in the world. And the rise of the American Craft Brew scene meant we did not have to rely on Budweiser, Miller and Coors.

For the first time, Boston Brewing Company–makers of Samuel Adams–was able to start advertising nationally. Here is one where they explain why they chose the name “Samuel Adams”. Notice the not too subtle use of patriotism in a post 9/11 America. Even if the patriot message was evident, it was still a lot more tasteful than some other ads.

By the end of the decade, Sam Adams would become the most popular craft brewery in America. And other micro and craft breweries would begin displaying their own ads on TV and radio.

While craft beers were beginning to make headway into the beer market and as domestics began having to compete more and more with imported competitors, the antes would have to be upped.

Keystone Light played off its traditionally subtle taste as a positive trait in relation to the new “extreme” beers coming from craft breweries and imported from other countries with their “bitter beer face” campaign. Thus, creating the bane of my existence: when people ask me “is this beer bitter?”

But for the most part, beer ads became funnier and bigger with the success of Budweiser’s frogs and “Wazzup?!” Guys.

Here are some super popular and super funny beer ads from the 2000’s. Notice how they don’t mention what the beer tastes like. Or, sometimes, even what it looks like. They do try to catch your attention with funny slogans, characters, and stories.

Bud Light’s Real Men of Genius campaign was successful because it employed the growing trend of metacommentary found in postmodern culture. By taking the subtle and benign events of everyday life and upholding it as something exciting and honorable, we find humor in the ironic and hyperbolic.

True fact: the original name of the campaign was “Real American Heroes” but in the light of 9/11 and actual American heroes, it was hard to call “Mr. Too Much Cologne Wearer” a “Real American Hero.”

And Miller Lite continued pushing the sexy beer ad so far that they made an ad so controversial it became banned and brought the beer more publicity than the ad could have ever done alone.

The ads in the 2000’s weren’t very profound. But they were funny and entertaining. And there were a lot of them. And they worked. Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in America. And while other industries slumped during the decade, beer prospered. There are more breweries today than in 1999. And it does not seem to be going anywhere for a while. Anhueser-Busch and Coors have begun competing against craft brewers at their own games with Budweiser Ale and Blue Moon Belgian Wheat respectively. And, most importantly, we all had a good time. And isn’t that what beer should be all about?