Thursday, February 28, 2008

Promised land in sight?

Stuart Carter at Free The Hops reports that House Bill 196, the Alabama Gourmet Beer Bill, will be up for a third reading and vote on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 4.

The bill would raise the allowed alcohol content in beer to 13.9 percent from 6 percent. Alabama is one of three states to so restrict beer. FTH and its supporters say the low limit keeps hundreds of top-quality beers off the shelves here.

His organization is urging all its supporters to call contact their representatives to express support for the bill.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Townsend: Thirsty, or just need more to drink?

In today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, beer columnist Bob Townsend writes about North Carolina microbrewer Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, which bills itself as "the dark beer specialist." The regular lineup consists of an amber ale, a brown ale, porter and stout.

Founder Paul Philippon is a former philosophy student who named the company after a well-known ambiguous image that can be seen as either feathered fowl or leaping leporid. A version of the image serves as the brewer's logo.

Philippon says viewers see the image differently depending on their perspective. He tells Townsend:

If you see a duck, it means you're thirsty. And if you see a rabbit, it means you haven't had enough beer.

Monday, February 25, 2008

First-round shocker

So, I only bothered to make one prediction in the Brewing News' March Madness-style National IPA Championship. True to the form I tend to follow in basketball brackets, I bombed out early. Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA lost out to Flower Power from Ithaca Beer Co.

Shows what I know.

Check out the first-round results here.

The only other two brews in the field I'd actually tried also lost this weekend. Harpoon IPA was bounced by the entry from Green Flash Brewing, and Flying Dog's Snake Dog IPA lost to Crooked Tree IPA from Dark Horse Brewing.

Can anyone out there give me a scouting report on these beers? Were their victories expected or surprising? And how, pray tell, can anything top the 60 Minute? I mean, it says right there on the 6-pack carrier "perhaps the best IPA in America." (or is that the 90 Minute?)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hops throwdown

March is just around the corner, which any college sports fan will tell you means there's a boatload of basketball headed our way. Well, the folks at Great Lakes Brewing News are taking that idea and running down the court with it, sponsoring the National IPA Championship, which kicks off Saturday.

Featuring hops instead of hoops, the contest will see brewers judging 32 American-brewed IPAs against each other in head-to-head pairs, through four rounds leading up to the final March 8 in Atlantic City.

Glancing over the tourney bracket, I see only two of the 32 entrants that I know are available in Calhoun County - the IPA from Massachusetts' Harpoon Brewery, and Flying Dog's Snake Dog IPA. There may be a few others in Alabama if you head toward Birmingham, and even more over the border in Georgia. The only other brew on the list I've sampled is the 60 Minute IPA from Delaware's Dogfish Head - knowing nothing of the others I'd have to put them down as a favorite for the finals.

As any basketball nut knows, March Madness means bracket contests, and the NIPAC is no different. Until noon EST Saturday, you can fill out a bracket online for a chance to win a case of the champion brew, T-shirts, posters and such.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Legislature update

The ABV bill approved Wednesday by the Alabama House Tourism & Travel Committee got its second reading in the full House today, according to ALISON, the Legislature's interactive Web site. It's set for a third reading, and hopefully a vote, on Tuesday.

By the way, the bill - HB196 - as approved by the committee, amended the proposed new alcohol limit for beer to 13.9 percent. The bill originally called for a 14.9 percent limit. Free the Hops and its supporters compromised on the limit to get more support for the bill. (Any way you slice it, 13.9 percent still lets more good beer into the state than the current 6 percent.)

The House took up one other alcohol-related bill today. HB77, which passed the house and now goes to the Senate, would introduce special drivers licenses for convicted DUI offenders who are required to have ignition-interlock devices installed on their cars. The devices check the driver's blood-alcohol level and prevent the car from starting if he's over the legal limit (Wikipedia has a good primer on the technology). The bill also would set penalties for trying to get around the devices, or loaning unencumbered cars to restricted drivers.

EDIT (2:46 p.m.) - I should note that SB116, the identical companion to the House ABV bill, also got a favorable review from its committee, and was read for the second time in the Senate today. Like the House bill, it's listed as ready for a third reading Tuesday, which is the next step before a vote. FTH's Stuart Carter says that may not happen until mid-March.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

ABV bill clears committee

Thanks to The Star's Montgomery correspondent, Markeshia Ricks, we've got the latest on the Alabama House ABV bill - it was approved by the House's Tourism & Travel Committee after a public hearing today.

Free the Hops President Stuart Carter, and John Little, an attorney who represents Huntsville's Olde Towne Brewing and founded the Auburn Brew Club, spoke in support of the bill. The Alabama Citizens' Action Program spoke against it, as they have in the past.

An advisory council to the committee recommended the bill's passage, saying it could help enhance visits by, for instance, Germans connected with Mercedes Benz's plant in Vance, who come from a culture more accustomed to beer consumption. (Editorial note: How about doing it for the Americans who are accustomed to drinking beer?)

The bill could receive its second reading as early as tomorrow; the earliest it could come up for a vote in the full House is March 26, Markeshia tells me.

Today's column

Also available at The Star's Web site,

Pitcher This: A brewery grows in Brooklyn

Local beer disappeared from Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1976. It took about a decade before someone had the idea to bring it back, and within 20 years, Brooklyn was finally brewing again.

That’s the short version of the history of Brooklyn Brewery, which turned the resurgence of craft beer into something of a brewing renaissance for the borough.

Brooklyn, according to a history of the company, was home to nearly 50 breweries in the late 1800s. Brooklyn has long been a haven for immigrants, and at the time German newcomers were in abundance. They brought their culture with them, including the brewing of beer — lots of it.

Brooklyn’s breweries began producing again along with the rest of the rest of the country in 1933 when Prohibition was lifted, but big Midwestern breweries soon rose to the top of the tank, distributing nationwide in vast quantities, slowly pushing out many smaller and regional beer makers.

By 1976, Brooklyn’s last two brewers closed up shop, and New York, like much of the rest of the country, drank whatever the big companies were selling.

Then, in a sense, an even tougher form of prohibition helped to engender brewing’s return to Brooklyn.

Steve Hindy was a correspondent for the Associated Press, posted in the Middle East through the late 1970s and early 1980s. In these Islamic locales, alcohol was strictly forbidden, leading Western diplomats to brew their own out of view of the authorities.

When he returned to the United States in 1984, he and his downstairs neighbor in Brooklyn, a bank loan officer named Tom Potter, discovered a mutual fondness for the Mets and good beer. Mets games, of course, were in good supply. Quality brews, not so much.

Hindy and Potter quickly settled on the solution to that quandary: Quit their jobs and start a beer company.

Brooklyn Brewery opened for business in 1987, with Hindy and Potter making deliveries themselves in the company’s one truck. Their beer was brewed under contract upstate in Utica, but Brooklyn’s name was back on bottles. In 1996 they bought a former ironworks and matzoh ball factory in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, just across the East River from Manhattan and set up shop. After two decades, Brooklyn was brewing again.

Today, the brewery’s ivy-covered walls house production of the company’s seasonal and specialty draft beers, though the signature Brooklyn Lager, Brooklyn Pilsner and most of the company’s bottled product comes from Utica.

You’ll find some of that product on a few shelves here, though it somehow tastes better fresh from the tap at the brewery’s weekend open houses. Still these two are worth a try if you can find them:

• Brooklyn Lager - The company’s flagship brand. A robustly malted lager with the sweetness you’d expect from its light brown color.

• Brooklyn Brown Ale - A more-highly hopped version of the traditional British style, made with all-American ingredients.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hearing Wednesday for ABV bill

The Alabama House Travel & Tourism Committee is getting together Wednesday for public hearings on a number of alcohol-related bills, including the legislation that would raise Alabama's alcohol-by-volume limit from 6 percent.

According to the schedule at the Alabama Legislative Information System Online, the committee's set to meet at 1:30 p.m. in Room 123 of the State House (that's the big building with the dome on top). The hearing, of course, is open to the public, and citizens may testify in support of or opposition to the proposed laws being discussed. More info on attending committee meetings is available at the Legislature's online visitors' guide.

I expect there will be a number of people there to speak both for and against the ABV bill, HB196. If you want to make sure your view is adequately represented, I urge you to attend.

There are three other bills up for discussion at Wednesday's meeting.
  • HB64 would specify that only people 21 could patronize or work in private clubs. It also would set the legal age for possession of alcohol in dry counties at 21 - currently, for some reason (unchanged old law?), the the law sets the legal age at 19 in dry counties.
  • HB278 would allow for the licensing of wineries in any county where wine is legally available for purchase.
  • HB260 would spell out dates, times & other regulations for the sale of alcohol at state parks, resorts and other facilities.

Trip's tapped out

I'm back in the saddle today, after a long trip back from New York.

We did make it to the Ginger Man Sunday night, and weren't disappointed. I had a Smuttynose IPA from one of the bar's nearly 70 taps. Nice stuff. There's a lot more in bottles, and there were a few casks on hand too, though I didn't get a chance to sample any. The bratwurst plate was great, as was the turkey & brie sandwich the Mrs. had. Beer fans visiting the city would be wrong to skip this place.

More on Brooklyn Brewery in tomorrow's column.

So tell me, what did I miss that I should have seen?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Beer vacation

So, the trip's not entirely about beer, but it was for this afternoon, at least. The Mrs. and I are in New York City for a long weekend, and we hopped the L train from Manhattan to Bedford Avenue today for a visit to Brooklyn Brewery, one of the country's most successful craft brewers.

There's a bar in-house, tours on the hour between 1 and 4 on Saturday afternoons, and a happenin' happy hour on Friday nights. The staff is hospitable and the tour's informative. The brewery was founded in part by a former correspondent for the Associated Press who got interested in making good beer when he was posted in the anti-alcohol Middle East, where fellow Westerners compensated by brewing in their bathtubs. That's a story an Alabama beer writer can relate to.

I sampled three brews in the tasting room, the East India Pale Ale (that's it in the photo), the seasonal Winter Ale and the trademark Brooklyn Lager. A few Brooklyn brews are available in bottles in northeast Alabama, but I've had bad experiences so far, with a number of purchases past their expiration dates and their flavor the worse for it. Getting it fresh at the brewery is another story, though. The IPA in particular was crisp and bitter and worth the plane trip, subway ride and walk to the brewery.

Look for a full report in this week's column, coming in Wednesday's Star (assuming I make it home to Anniston from NYC).

I'm in town through Monday morning. If anyone reading out there has any NYC beer suggestions I should try before heading home, click below to leave a comment. (We're thinking of having lunch tomorrow at the Ginger Man, not far from our hotel. Looks promising.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Roadblocks removed?

The folks at Free the Hops report that they've struck deals that may lead to the passage of a bill that would raise the state's ABV cap to 13.9 from the current 6. A couple of points of progress to report:

FTH's Stuart Carter says the Alabama Wholesale Beer Association helped negotiate a deal with Birmingham Budweiser's Pat Lynch. FTH had called for a boycott of products distributed by B'ham Bud because they said Lynch had stood in the way of attempts to change the law in the past. Pat Lynch confirmed to The Star that those negotiations took place, and that he does support the statewide bill.

Carter also reported today that the bill has the support of AWBA and of Anheuser-Busch, which produces the products Lynch's company distributes. The association and the brewer helped work out the deal, he says.

The compromise: the new ABV limit would be 13.9 percent, rather than the 14.9 percent currently specified by bills now before committees in the House and the Senate.

Meanwhile, Carter says his group it's no longer pushing the boycott of AB products distributed by Birmingham Budweiser.

Could this be the year Alabama gets access to some of the world's finest beers? We'll have to see what the lawmakers do. I'll be checking frequently for amendments to the text of the bills online, and I'll let you know what I see.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Legislation on tap

While Alabama may be behind the times in beer laws, we're on the cutting edge when it comes to transparency of the legislative process online. With a system called ALISON (for Alabama Legislative Information System ONline), Web users can track the status of any bill introduced in the Legislature. You can also read the full text of each bill, and see how it fares in votes on the floor. With so much going on beer-wise in Montgomery these days, I thought some readers might find it a handy resource.

There are a bunch of other features it would take too long to explain here, but here are the basics you'll need to check up on bills you're interested in: Go to ALISON, then click on "Bills" in the top of the left-hand menu. That'll expand a list of options below; click on "Status." That'll bring up a prompt to the right for the bill number you're interested in. Type it in the box and click "Get Status." Some brief info on the bill then comes up; to the left of that is a button with your bill's number. Click on that, and then look at the top of the screen, where options including "History," "Sponsors," and "View" are listed left-to-right. Options in white are clickable (anything in gray doesn't apply yet).

Now for those all important bill numbers:

House bill to lift 6-percent ABV limit: HB196
Senate bill to lift 6-percent ABV limit: SB116
House bill to lift limit in Jefferson County: HB53

The folks at Free the Hops say they also plan more local bills and a bill to address home brewing. I'll post the numbers here as I learn them.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Yesterday's column

Here's yesterday's column. Sorry it's getting up here a day late - I was out yesterday with the funk that's going around, and barely switched on my computer at home. (Note: Flying Dog's Road Dog Porter with a hot bowl of potato soup and a grilled Swiss cheese sandwich is a great pick-up when you're feeling low).

Pitcher This: Another round of battle over beer laws

Advocates for getting better beer into Alabama aren't letting last year's defeat keep them from trying again.

Free the Hops, a grassroots group dedicated to reforming state laws restricting the sale of beer, has once again introduced a bill to raise the amount of alcohol allowed in beer sold here. The Legislature opened its 2008 session Tuesday.

A similar bill made it out of committee in the House last year, but died in the Senate because there wasn't enough support to bring it up for a vote. It never came up in the Senate — like just about every other measure that died, which was most of them — because legislators there were too busy fighting amongst themselves for control of the chamber. Remember the punch that ended last year's session? (And those guys were sober - reportedly).

While last year's bill never got a chance to measure its support in either chamber, Stuart Carter, Free the Hops' president, has hopes he'll be able to toast the Legislature's close with the kind of carefully crafted, critically acclaimed but currently illegal beers he loves. He said the group made progress convincing lawmakers last year.

"Some legislators knew all the beers" available at a special tasting session the group hosted in Montgomery, Carter said. "A lot had never heard of them; they didn't know such things were possible."

Much of the resistance to changing the law appears to come from misinformation, miscommunication or outright disregard for the truth.

Opponents seem to imagine juiced-up rednecks driving the roads, guzzling higher-alcohol versions of the watery brews they think of as beer — the kind that comes in 12- or 24-packs of aluminum cans and bears a striking resemblance to tap water dosed with a drop of yellow food coloring.

Worse yet, they imagine juiced-up teenagers doing the same thing, winding wheels-up in a ditch.

The truth is, the beers Carter and the Free the Hops folks are after aren't likely to wind up rattling around in the bed of anyone�s pickup en route to a night of drunken mischief. They're looking for fine, full-flavored and pretty darn expensive beverages from tiny craft brewers across the U.S. and around the globe.

You're not going to catch your local ne'er-do-well or mischievous high-schooler chugging this stuff just like you won�t find them guzzling bottles of imported French wine. It's expensive, it's an acquired taste, and even when it's legal it's likely not going to be on the shelf at your local quick-rip. (The law, by the way, would allow the same alcohol in beer as is in wine sold here.)

"We're talking about the Mercedes of beers, here," Carter said. "The situation we're in now, you can get just about any Ford or GM, some of the Hondas, some of the Toyotas. That's nice, but we're all adults here."

If Carter and company are successful this time around, there'll be a lot more interesting beer to test drive in Alabama.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ale to the chief?

It's primary day here in Alabama. That means I voted this morning. It also means I won't be having a beer tonight, since I'll be here at the paper working. So, here's your politically themed post for the day.

It was said a lot about George W. Bush when he was first seeking the White House back in 2000: He was the candidate voters would most like to have a beer with. (Never mind that he says he gave up alcohol in 1986.)

But anyway, that phrase got into voters' heads and stuck. Apparently, the folks at the National Beer Wholesalers Association are fine with that. So fine, in fact, that they'd like to know who among the current crop of candidates you'd prefer to down a pint with.

NWBA is hosting a Web site that lets visitors record their choice for imbiber-in-chief. Currently leading the poll: Democrat Barack Obama, with 37 percent of votes cast.

Who would you prefer to have one with? Why? Is that any different than your choice for president? Click below to comment.

Catching up

I meant to post a link to this on Friday. The Birmingham News had a story on Free the Hops' Birmingham Budweiser boycott. Pretty well well done.

I spoke with Stuart Carter, FTH's president yesterday, and apparently the group is happy with the coverage. They feel the media has often gotten key points of their proposals wrong in the past, but that this story, in providing background on the organization and its goals, got it mostly right. An excerpt:

Beer can be sold in the same stores where wine is sold, but wine can be as much as 14.9 percent alcohol by volume. Robinson's bill would raise the allowable alcohol content of beer to the level of wine.

Hard liquors available at liquor stores can have much higher alcohol content. A pure grain alcohol, such as Everclear, is 95 percent alcohol by volume.

I was talking with Carter for tomorrow's column, by the way. It'll provide an overview of the group's plans for the Legislature this year.