Monday, July 30, 2007

While I was out

Faithful readers may have noticed I skipped a week in the column's publication schedule earlier this month. I had a good excuse: I was on vacation ... drinking beer. Well, I didn't drink the entire time. I attended a family reunion in upstate New York. Since there's a brewer in the family who happens to run a brewpub & brewery near where the reunion was held, it was proper to have a pint. Or two. Or three.

I don't feel there's a professional conflict of interest in telling you about my second cousin's business. For one thing, few of my readers in Alabama are likely to trek to New York state to try his stuff. And for another, while I know who he is, I don't think Peter knows who I am, and I wouldn't expect him too. It's a big family and I'd guess he's not as interested in newspapers as I am in beer.

Ellicottville Brewing Co. is the place, and they make some tasty stuff. One of the most interesting offerings is their blueberry. It's got a lot more heft to it than the other blueberry I'm familiar with, Sweetwater Blue. Order EBC Blueberry off the tap in any local establishment, and it comes with a heap of blueberries in the bottom of the glass. You can probably just make them out in my glass in the photo at right. I'm not ordinarily a proponent of actual fruit in beer, but this was nice. Gave me something sweet to chew on while I waited for the next pint. Or two. Or three.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


The Vault Deli & Pub, now open on Jacksonville's historic Public Square (see Matt Kasper's story from Friday's Star) is the latest Calhoun County establishment to offer selections from Atlanta's Sweetwater Brewing Co. I was happy to see their 420 Extra Pale Ale on tap when I first ventured in a week ago. I've now had Sweetwater beers from the tap at Mellow Mushroom in Oxford (420 & Blue), Cooter Brown's Rib Shack in Jacksonville (Blue) and seen it advertised at Milestone Mill in Anniston (Blue). It's great to see this nearby microbrewer starting to make inroads here.

The Vault appears to have made a commitment to offering one of the best quality beer selections in the area. In addition to the Sweetwater, I saw taps for Guinness, Newcastle and Coors' Blue Moon (plus the obligatory Bud Light). The bottle menu includes a good selection of micros and and imports. For Jacksonville, that's pretty good. Here's a toast to a new business that caters to good taste.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Raising a glass

Since we're going digital as much as we can here at The Anniston Star, and since I don't have room for all I want to say about beer in my twice-monthly column, Pitcher This, I figure a blog is the natural way to provide my readers all the beer news they can stomach, with no last call.

It's also a way for you readers to fire back at me. Got your own thoughts on a brew I've mentioned? Think I've had a few too many after reading my thoughts on your favorite ale? Add your own comments after any of my posts. And feel free to e-mail at, anytime.

For starters, here's my most recent column, published on Independence Day, about the Founding Fathers' love of a good pint. Cheers!

Pitcher This: Red, white and brew

Published: July 4, 2007

It is illustrative of the depths of genius possessed by the founders of our great republic to know that many of those great men thought as much about what they drank as they did about the foundations of government. Now to be fair, not everyone who signed the Declaration of Independence was a master brewer. But the man who wrote it certainly knew more than a little about that "pursuit of happiness," as did many of his compatriots.

Stanley Baron's 1962 book Brewed in America: A History of Beer and Ale in the United States contains exhaustive chapters on the founders and their relationship with beer. It's deeper than you might expect.

Thomas Jefferson, for instance, after penning the words that formed our nation, then serving as its president and retiring to his estate, Monticello, turned his mind to establishing a stronger domestic brewing industry.

Baron details Jefferson's dealings with Captain Joseph Miller, who helped him start a brewery using native malted corn.

Jefferson's aim in brewing beer, Baron says, was to wean Americans off the hard stuff. "I wish to see this beverage [beer] become common," Jefferson wrote to a friend, "instead of the whiskey which kills one third of our citizens and ruins their families."

George Washington had a thing for beer, too, according to Baron. In addition to fighting for a government that took no orders from Britain, he didn't want any porter coming over the Atlantic.

"We have already been too long subject to British prejudices," Washington wrote the Marquis de Lafayette in 1789. "I use no porter or cheese in my family, but such as is made in America."

The first president apparently was fond of porter - a dark brown ale - produced in Philadelphia, the country's first capital.

Another founder, Benjamin Franklin, often is credited with a famous quote calling beer a divine gift. "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

As fun as it is to imagine raising a pint with Franklin - in my estimation the coolest founder by far - it turns out he never said it; or at lest he wasn't talking about beer.

The quote comes from a letter, written in French, by Franklin to an abbot, in 1779, during his time as ambassador to France. Thanks to, a digital archive provided by The American Philosophical Society and Yale University, I've read them myself. And thanks to Google's online translation service, I've understood them:

"Here is water which falls from the skies on our vineyards; there, it enters the roots of the vines to be changed into wine; constant proof that God likes us, and that he likes to see us happy."

So Franklin probably preferred wine to beer. Well, he also wanted the wild turkey to be our national bird in place of the bald eagle.

There's no accounting for taste, they say.