Friday, September 26, 2008

What's brewing this weekend

A colleague who lives nearer to Birmingham offered to pick me up something this week on his regular trip to Whole Foods. He brought my request with him to the office today - a six pack of Sweetwater IPA, newly legal again in Alabama. The brewers reportedly adjusted the recipe, bringing the ABV back under 6 percent. Now if only someone would start stocking it in Calhoun County (the trucks have to go right past us from Atlanta to Birmingham, after all).

The sixer will be nice to have around for the weekend, though most of my consumption likely will come at the Berman Museum's Suds Fest (see last week's column about it, here). I'll have to hold a couple back for next weekend, when a beer-loving friend from Denver pops in for a visit.

What will you be sipping this weekend, and where? Click below to comment.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Raise a glass to Mr. Leinenkugel

Sad news from Wisconsin today: Bill Leinenkugel, former president of the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., has died of cancer. There's an obituary available online at

Leinenkugel helped his family's company, founded in 1867, survive industry consolidation that saw many other breweries close. A year after he retired in 1987, it merged with giant Miller Brewing, though the fmaily retained substantial control over the brand. It's now Miller's main entry in the craft beer segment that is leading growth in the brewing industry.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

For your 'Fest

Recognizing that the Oktoberfest season is upon us, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Bob Townsend this week runs down a list of seasonal craft brews whose release is timed to coincide with the annual foamy fall frolicking.

For the most part, they look pretty enticing. Shmaltz Brewing's Coney Island Freaktoberfest is a different story. Shmaltz went with a Halloween theme for this one, and may be doing everything in their power to deter you from drinking it: the head is pink, the beer is a "crazy" reddish-tea, and the alcohol content is 6.66 percent. (Mark of the beer?)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

German brewer sells authenticity

There's a story in today's New York Times on Rothaus, a state-owned brewer in Germany that has seen sales double over the last 15 years, while overall beer sales in the country have been declining. The success has come without a single TV or radio commercial. The story says many Germans seem to be drawn to the brand because of its non-corporate image. From the story:

“The ad agencies always wanted to seduce us into making not only a good beer but modern commercials,” said Thomas Schäuble, the head of the brewery and himself a native of the Black Forest region. “But people here in the Wild West of Germany are hard-headed,” he said with a chuckle.

There's also much mention made of the character in the brewery's logo. Birgit Kraft (apparently a German homonym for "beer gives strength"), as she's known, is something of an icon. That's her pictured above.

I don't believe Rothaus exports to the U.S. Has anyone out there reading had the pleasure of a bottle or mug?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Today's column: Brewing it our way

We Americans like to do things our way, even (sometimes especially) if old-world tradition frowns on it.

Exhibit A: the Berman Museum decides to throw an autumnal celebration of beer, holds it on one day in September, and does the whole thing indoors.

Oktoberfest it's not, but then, Anniston ain't exactly Munich.

The museum's fourth annual Autumn Suds Fest is set for Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. The proceeds this year will help support a touring exhibit arriving in October 2009, Mary Lee Bendolph: Gee's Bend Quilts and Beyond.

That national independent streak of ours goes for our beer, too.

For every established European style of beer, there's a few dozen American brewers concocting their own interpretations.

It's very proper that Suds Fest takes place at the museum, where relics from around the world are displayed alongside artifacts of American history. At this year's festival, attendees will get to sample established European beers, many of which epitomize their respective styles, then quaff a version from a domestic brewer.

Expecting that the more-local brew will always seem the worse for comparison with competition from across the pond? Think again. The old bias against American beer may have been closer to the truth in the past, but independent brewers a generation ago began a revolution that is still reverberating through the market. Now, even the big U.S. labels are getting experimental, moving into territory once dominated by imports and smaller insurgent American brewers.

Anheuser-Busch, for example, has been using its Michelob label to bring a range of different styles to market that may be unfamiliar to many American consumers. There's a porter, a hefeweizen and a pale ale. Michelob Marzen will be on hand at the festival, for comparison to the seasonal Oktoberfest offering from the venerable Spaten label from Germany.

Also, Coors has scored a major success with its Blue Moon, a version of a Belgian "white," or wheat-based beer, and a line of co-branded seasonals. Suds Fest participants will get to sample it alongside the "original" Belgian white, Hoegaarden.

Some of the craft brewers leading the major labels down that path will be represented, too. Brooklyn Brewery's Brown Ale will be served alongside the ubiquitous Newcastle Brown Ale from Britain, Sierra Nevada's seasonal Summerfest Lager will match up with the Czech Pilsner Urquell, and Sierra Nevada's porter will stand alongside the Taddy Porter from Britain's Samuel Smith.

Even one Southern brewer makes an appearance, with the 420 Pale Ale from Atlanta's Sweetwater Brewing served next to the U.K.'s Bass Ale.

The beer is being provided by three distributors, Alabama Crown, Bama Budweiser and Supreme Beverage. Served with the suds will be bratwurst and other beer-friendly food. Museum development director Lindie Brown says there will also be darts, giveaways, museum tours and a more social atmosphere than in years past.

To attend, make a reservation ($25 per person or $45 per couple) by calling 237-6261.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Today's column: Suds and sports: a winning combination

The new football season has at least this much in common with the just-concluded Olympic games: Both signaled their start with fire — at Beijing with the lighting of a giant cauldron, here, in a thousand parking lots with the flame of countless grills.

Food and sport are married in America like nowhere else, and nothing shows off that relationship so well as the tailgate parties that surround stadiums coast-to-coast this time of year.

Many of those fiery feasts are fueled, in more ways than one, by beer.

Perhaps in no other environment is beer so frequently used as a cooking ingredient as it is within hearing distance of stadium PA announcers. Of course, gameday chefs and diners may wind up drinking a few brews, too.

The National Beer Wholesalers Association offers at its Web site,, a number of recipes that involve beer as part of batters, marinades, glazes and sauces. They include, just to get you drooling, porter-glazed grilled sausages, pork skewers with pilsner and spices, stout-marinated sirloin steaks, even a sweet-and-sour potato salad made with bock.

Of course, some of these concoctions can get a little complicated to carry off miles from the comfort of one's kitchen, using the back end of a Chevy step-side as a countertop. Tailgate food is best when kept simple.

And it really doesn't get any easier than two old standbys, classic centerpieces of the moveable football feast: beer-can chicken and beer-bath bratwurst.

The brats can't be beat for flavor or simplicity. Grill the sausages over medium heat for five to 10 minutes, then add them to a stockpot or skillet (you'll need a side burner or extra grill space) filled with already-boiling beer and sliced onions and peppers. Cook another 20 minutes, then serve 'em on yeasty rolls with spicy mustard.

The first step in making beer-can chicken is my favorite: drink half a beer. Next, choose a dry seasoning for your bird and dump a tablespoon or so of it in the can. Then coat the outside of a whole fryer with your seasoning. Carefully insert the can, open-end-up, into the bird's nether regions, then carefully arrange your chicken on the grill, standing upright.

A little bit of extra technology can make the process easier: packing rubber gloves in your tailgate kit makes it much less disgusting to apply the dry rub on-site; a simple wire rack available for about $5 just about anywhere helps to hold the bird upright and the can in place on the grill; a nifty device called the Poultry Pal ($14.95 at holds the bird up even better, helps keep it from burning, and allows you to use your favorite brew, even if it's bottled.

Cook your chicken over low to medium heat until done. That normally takes at least a couple hours, so unless you get the timing right you could miss the kickoff.

Then again, the chicken should be so juicy and tender, you might not really care.