Friday, March 28, 2008

Kitsock: Hops tops grapes

Greg Kitsock's column in the Washington Post this week looks at beer-and-food pairing in advance of a big event happening in D.C. this May, SAVOR: An American Craft beer & Food Experience. Kitsock makes much of the beer-wine rivalry that's been growing as craft beer takes off. From his lead:

How often in a high-end restaurant have you been handed a wine list that runs on for pages, while the list of available beers could easily fit on an index card? Yet many brewers say that as a companion to a fine meal, beer is the equal of wine, if not its superior.

There's a mouthwatering photo with the story picturing a glass of stout and a plate of brownies made with the super-dark ale. Anybody else got any favorite dessert & beer pairings?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Beer is back. It's also in the office.

It's interesting that a local church group is advocating now for a ban on alcohol in Oxford (Thanks to Star reporter Andy Johns for the item below). April marks the 75th anniversary of the first legal brewing of beer after Prohibition. An Amendment to the Volstead Act allowed the brewing of beer up to 4 percent ABV in the spring of 1933, which quenched the nation's thirst until the full repeal of Prohibition that December.

By coincidence, a package arrived this morning here at the office from Anheuser-Busch. A PR rep from the company had asked if they could send along a CD of historical materials regarding the April 7, 1933 "Beer is Back" celebration. There's news clips, photos, industry data and an audio clip of August A. Busch Jr.'s address to the nation early that morning on CBS radio.

What I didn't know they were sending was a fancy wooden crate, and a five-pack (one of the bottles broke in shipping) of Budweiser. That's the goods pictured at right. The CD will be a handy refernece for next week's column. I'm not a big fan of mass-market American lagers, but I'll drink one of the bottles out of courtesy and curiosity. The other four will probably wind up in a grilling recipe for one of the newsroom's frequent outdoor cooking experiments. As for the crate, I'm not sure what to do with it. Any ideas? How about recipe suggestions for the remainder of the Bud?

Group urges Oxford council to ban alcohol

At last night's Oxford City Council meeting the deacons of Meadowbrook Baptist Church presented a letter to the Oxford City Council. The letter urged the council and mayor to consider banning the sale of alcohol in the city. The council did not respond to the letter.

My thinking is the council will not consider the proposal because restaurants (like all of the new ones built over the last decade) would be very unhappy to see their profits decrease when they can't sell beer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Is there a beer-lover in the world who hasn't imagined this before? A bar in Atlanta has tables with two tap handles each that customers can operate themselves. Here's a story from the AP (courtesy of MSNBC) on the system, at STATS, a sports bar. There's also an AP video report embedded below.

What do you think about it? The video shows there's plenty of variety in the bar, but you don't get to select the beer flowing through your taps unless you make a reservation for a specific table. I wonder what impact this would have on tips for the wait staff?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Another one for the ages

There's more coverage of the effort in some states to lower the drinking age from 21, this time in a story from USA Today. (We first discussed this a few days ago.)

The story says 77 percent of Americans are against the idea, citing a 2007 Gallup poll. The poll also found that 60 percent of Americans believe penalties for drinking underage should be tougher. Young people, men and people who drink were more lenient in their attitudes about the age limit and the penalties. Older people and women (and older women, especially) were less tolerant. 81 percent of women over 50 thought penalties for underage drinkers should be more strict. 77 percent of non-drinkers felt the same way.

What do you think? Should we be even tougher on people who get caught drinking before they're 21? Should the drinking age be lowered? To 19? 18? (It's worth noting that it's legal to buy at 18 in most of the rest of the world). Are there other ways to keep traffic deaths down besides prohibiting alcohol for adults 18-21? Should there be different ages for beer, wine and liquor?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Beer on the radio - nationwide

NPR on Wednesday aired a segment on the effort to lift Alabama's 6-percent alcohol by volume beer limit, on its All Things Considered program. The report was by WBHM's Tanya Ott.

It's a good, basic overview of the issue. Rev. Dan Ireland of ALCAP gets to say how afraid he is that expensive beer will get into the hands of Alabama teenagers. But that's quickly countered by Rep. Patricia Todd, who says teenagers are likely looking for the cheapest hooch available - just like she did when she was a kid (kudos for your reasoning and on your honesty, Rep. Todd).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Today's column

Here's today's column. The Bud Light commercial referenced is embedded below for your viewing pleasure. Here's a link, in case you need it.

Pitcher This: Use your head — Mastering the perfect pour


Say what you will about their beer, but the folks at Anheuser-Busch make what may be the best commercials in the business.

A couple years ago, they ran a classic Bud Light spot about properly pouring beer.

It began with three guys in a bar watching a friend pour his beer from a bottle into a tall pilsner glass in one smooth motion, leaving a perfect, frothy head atop the brew.

"How'd you learn to pour like that?" one buddy asks in awe.

As he gazes into his past, we see the pourer's memories of training, Kung-Fu-Grasshopper-style, with an older Asian man in the art of proper decanting. The master whacks his student mid-pour with a cane.

Pour down side, no good. Pour down center to release carbonation and aroma. Again!"

We see the student repeating his lesson suspended between two trees, then while being dragged by a running horse.

Now, AB should get credit for encouraging its customers to drink beer properly, from a glass. And they did a good thing trying to educate folks the best way to pour a brew. But their advice is just a little off.

To get the goods in the glass, one must both ignore the old master's teaching, and apply it.

Zen enough for you?

Yes, pouring your beer straight down the middle of a glass will help develop a head, important in getting the right amount of aroma from a brew. But pour it all down the middle and you risk foaming the head right over the rim.

Instead, start off pouring down the side of a clean, un-chilled glass, held at about a 45-degree angle. When you've got it about half full (or half-empty?), hold the glass straight up and pour right down the middle. For most 12-ounce bottled brews going into a standard 16-ounce pint glass, this will provide just enough head to fill the vessel.

Of course, every beer is different. The brewing process gives some styles and brands more fizzy carbonation, making for more foam when you pour. Hefeweizens and other wheat-based beers are particularly heady, and so there are special, taller glasses designed to hold them. With these, it also can help to swirl a bit of beer around the side of the glass before pouring in the rest.

Pouring faster and holding the bottle higher over the glass will develop more head. Pouring slowly and holding the bottle close makes for less.

Using a British-size 20-ounce pint glass leaves more room for error when you're pouring the typical American-sized bottle. But that's cheating, in my view. If you're going to use a British-sized glass, you might as well pour a full imperial pint, and you'll need just as much skill to do it right.

So for every beer you decant, it helps to know what to expect when you tip a bottle over the rim. And the only way to get a good feel for each brew's foamy tendencies, of course, is practice. Lots, and lots of practice (trees, horse and canings from aged Asian master are optional).


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Is beer holding you back?

Weird beer news from The New York Times: a Czech ornithologist has published a study that says scientists who drink more beer publish fewer papers.

Seems a little obvious at first: anyone who's spending too much time with pint glasses might not be spending enough time with test tubes. But the study seems to indicate that even scientists who drink just a few times a year are less productive than those who drink none. The study purports to study the interaction between social activity and scientific publication productivity. Beer drinking stands in as a measure of sociability.

I suppose I might be more productive at work if I quit drinking. But I do suspect my beer column would suffer.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Get a load (or two) of this, Calhoun County

I was considering a beer-related road trip to metro Atlanta today, but decided to stay home after seeing that that city's downtown was smashed by a tornado last night. Throw in a little tornado action here at home this morning, and it didn't seem like a good idea to travel.

I consoled myself with a stop by my local craft-beer-friendly convenience store to see if they had anything new. Man, am I glad I stayed home! The Grub Mart at the corner of Mountain & Pelham in Jacksonville had a big new display of craft and import brews. I'd seen none of these brands in the Anniston metro area before. On the shelf was: Anchor Brewing's Steam Beer, Porter and Liberty Ale; Atlanta Brewing Co.'s Red Brick Ale, Blonde and Peachtree Pale Ale; Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, Nut Brown Ale and Taddy Porter; plus some Hoegaarden, Bitburger and Tsingtao.

I hope my out-of-town readers will forgive the excitement. It sometimes feels like we're on the edge of Beer Nowhere here in the Anniston metro area. Up to now I had to drive an hour to Birmingham or Douglasville, Ga., to get any of that tasty Oatmeal Stout. Things seem to be changing rapidly, however, with great beer choices at a number of restaurants and a growing selection on store shelves.

Oh, and to assuage any doubt about what had me most excited, the photo at right shows me walking away with what I consider the night's prize ... Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout. Mmm ...

Friday, March 14, 2008

High hilarity from the House

I somehow missed this last week when the bill to raise the allowed ABV level passed the Alabama House. A Free the Hops member recorded the live audio feed of debate from the House floor, overlaid photos of the Legislators and FTH-related events, and added lots of text commentary - responses to what legislators were saying and notes on FTH and beer in general. The results are available for your viewing and listening pleasure on YouTube. The video's embedded below.

The legislators you'll hear include both supporters and opponents of the bill. The most entertaining of all is Rep. Alvin Holmes, a Montgomery Democrat, who rails against the bill, saying "The beer we got drinks pretty good, don't it? I ain't never heard nobody complain about the beer we have." He lists Budweiser, Miller and Coors, asking again, "It drinks pretty good, don't it?" (This is before he dragged the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks into his argument, a segment that, sadly, is no included in the video.)

Rep. Holmes, I'd like to officially go on record as complaining about the beer we've got. They may be fine for some, but no, the beers you listed "don't drink too good" as far as I'm concerned. I'm also not sure why you and the rest of the Legislature should get to decide which brews are good enough for me.

Anyone else want to complain? Click below to comment.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Good press from out west

The Los Angeles Times this weekend published a thorough look at efforts to change Alabama's beer-related laws, with a particularly close look at homebrewing's illegality and Free the Hops' efforts to raise the 6-percent ABV limit.

Stephanie Simon's piece is perhaps the best-written, best-researched story the press has yet produced on the state of beer in Alabama. Bravo.

One voice I'm glad to see represented in the story is that of an ABC administrator. I don't know that I've seen anyone in Montgomery express this before (and to be fair, I haven't yet asked them myself):

"What's done in a private home often goes undiscovered," says John Richardson, assistant administrator of the alcohol control board. "You can imagine how confusing it is trying to enforce this."

Here's hoping you don't have to worry about it much longer, Mr. Richardson.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Try it before you buy it?

How handy would this be?

Legislators in Washington state have approved a program to allow beer and wine samples in grocery stores, according to this concise item from the AP. It's designed to help smaller, local producers expose their product to the public.

How great would it be the next time you load up on free cheese or pizza roll samples at your favorite grocery or club store to walk an aisle over and wash it down with a quality brew? Don't get too excited, though; the samples are limited to 4 ounces.

EDIT: Here's a good piece from the Seattle Post Intelligencer on the industry lobbying effort that has brought Washington craft brewers success on the grocery-tasting bill and other matters.

Southern beer culture is a long way from the Pacific Northwest's, but I wonder if brewers here will ever become a force in Montgomery, Atlanta or Jackson. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How old is old enough?

How old is old enough to drink? That's the topic of a big ol' story the Chicago Tribune published Sunday. It looks at movements in several states to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to as low as 18.

The proposals vary from state to state - in South Dakota, petitioners want to allow 19- and 20-year-olds to buy beer with no more than 3.2 percent alcohol, while those in Missouri want simply to open alcohol sales to anyone 18 and older. Some folks in Vermont would like the age lowered to 18 for young people who take alcohol-education classes. In South Carolina and Wisconsin, lawmakers have proposed allowing anyone in the military under age 21 to buy alcohol, reasoning that if they're old enough to die for their country they're old enough to have a beer.

Obviously, there are plenty of people opposed to these efforts. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the American Medical Association, National Transportation Safety Board and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety all point to reduced traffic fatalities in the decades after Congress coaxed states into raising their drinking ages to 21 by tying the issue to highway construction money.

There's an interesting graphic with the Tribune story that shows each state's legal drinking age in 1984 when Congress began pushing states to go to 21. In Alabama, you could drink at age 19.

I'm a little surprised by all this. I wasn't aware there were so many people agitating to lower the drinking age. I'm sorta sympathetic to the logic of the cause. (If you're an adult, you're an adult, right?) But the impact on traffic deaths is hard to ignore. What do you think?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

New beers rolling in

I spotted something new as I took my customary stroll down the beer aisle at Winn Dixie yesterday, two offerings from Cable Car Brewing, an amber ale and a lager (that's the lager in my hand at the store, at right). Having never heard of the label before, I decided to look 'em up before taking the plunge.

There's not much on the Web, apparently because the brand is kinda new, and also because the parent company, City Brewing of LaCrosse, Wisc., doesn't have much of a Web presence itself. A message on the company's Web site says it's being redesigned. There's a little history at Wikipedia. City are the folks responsible for ... well, not much that I've ever noticed on shelves around here.

There are only a few ratings so far at and for Cable Car Lager (RB, BA) and Cable Car Amber Ale (RB, BA). The early consensus ranges from terrible to mediocre. Yikes. I'll eventually give it a try myself and let you know what I think.

It's interesting that several of the reviewers at both sites mention having picked the beer up at Winn Dixie stores, and that nearly all of the reviewers come from Florida, where that company is headquartered. (There's also one review from Cullman, Ala., and one from Little Falls, N.J.) The earliest was posted in late August last year. Clues, perhaps, to the brewery's roll-out or distribution plans for this brand?

Anyone out there tried it? Whaddya think? Familiar with any other City-brewed brands? Click below to comment.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Sweet relief

I had my first beer in nearly a week last night. I've been laid up at home since Monday, recovering from some minor surgery, and didn't want to consume while popping pain meds. It was also my first chance to get away from the house, so the Mrs. and I headed for dinner at the Vault, on Jacksonville's downtown square. A pint of Sweetwater 420 was just the tonic I needed to start feeling normal again (I'd asked for a Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan, but they were out. 420's fine by me).

I hadn't been by the Vault in a while. My last time there they were still serving all their draft in 12-ounce mugs or over-sized weizen glasses. I'm happy to see they've added proper pints (well, the 16-ounce variety anyway) to the menu. The manager tells me an expansion is in the works, with plans for many more taps to further their commitment to craft beer. I'm glad to raise a glass to that!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

About those teenagers ...

All the legislatin' earlier this week has me thinking about a main argument of those against raising Alabama's 6-percent alcohol-by-volume limit for beer. Teenagers, they say, will get their hands on gourmet beers and guzzle them down like Kool-Aid, leading to Lord-knows-what type of other dangerous behavior.

First off, I'm not sure why other people's inability to keep their children from breaking the law should limit my choice of legal adult beverages. But given that some teens do wind up drinking beer, I'll entertain the following question: Are kids gonna to flock to higher-alcohol gourmet brews if they become legal in Alabama? The answer: not likely, because while they may be dumb, most teenagers aren't stupid.

Let's say I'm a 17-year-old with nothing constructive to do on Friday night. I've got $12 in my pocket, and an older sister who's willing to pop into the local convenience store to pick up something for me and three buddies to party with. Let's also say it's 2009, and last year the Legislature saw fit to raise the allowed ABV limit to 13.9 percent (this could happen) and distributors are now stocking America's finest craft beers in every corner store (I wish, but don't count on it), including the gas station where my sister will be buying the beer.

I know that the station stocks at least these two beers: 24-can cases of Natural Light, and four-bottle packs of Dogfish Head 90 Minute India Pale Ale. Both cost between $9 and $12. Which do I tell my sister to buy? Let's analyze:

24 12-ounce cans of Natural Light at 4.2 percent alcohol by volume (according to That's six for me, and six for each of my friends. Or four 12-ounce bottles of the 90 Minute, at 9 percent ABV. That's one bottle for each of us.

If we're really planning to party I'll tell her to buy the Natty Light, won't I? One bottle of beer each won't fuel a fiesta for very long, after all, compared to the full six-pack apiece we'd get with the regular stuff.

But what if we're taken in by the label on the Dogfish Head, with its alluring mention of more alcohol? At 9 percent ABV, the four 12-ounce bottles contain a total of 4.32 ounces of alcohol. My buddies and I will sip 1.08 ounces of alcohol each, assuming the IPA's super-bitter taste doesn't make us spit it right back out.

By contrast, if sis gets us the Natty, at the much-lower 4.2 percent ABV, there's 12.096 ounces of alcohol in the entire case. My friends and I each drink 3.024 ounces of alcohol as we chug down our six light, "easy-to-drink" brewskis.

That's right. We wind up with three times as much alcohol in our systems drinking the "low-alcohol" Natural Light as we would with the "high-alcohol" 90 Minute IPA, for around the same price.

Now, I hope Alabama's parents can find a way to teach their children responsible behavior, including waiting until they're old enough to consume alcohol. But assuming those parents need the government's help keeping kids away from beer, it's not the expensive, hard-to-find, high-alcohol gourmet craft brews I'd be worried about. Of course, it's already illegal for kids to buy alcohol, and they're doing it anyway. I'm not sure how making it illegal for adults to buy the beer they like makes kids any safer.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Today's column

On the heels of yesterday's legislatin' in Montgomery, here's a bit about the efforts of folks to change another restrictive beer-related law. Also available in today's Star and at the paper's Web site.

Pitcher This: Help for brew-it-yourselfers


There are food fans who turn their noses up at anything that comes from a box, can or jar.

Pre-packaged spaghetti sauce? Give 'em a few ripe tomatoes and fresh basil — plus, for the hardcore, flour and eggs for the pasta — and they'll make you forget Paul Newman's known for anything but Cool Hand Luke.

And there are those who feel the same way when it comes to beer.

Buy it in bottles? Bah. Give 'em some malted grain, a handful of hops and a few weeks for yeast to work magic and you'll wonder why commercial brewers even bother.

Well, naturally, they bother because not everyone shares the passion homebrewers do for crafting it on their own.

Roughly half a million Americans make their own beer, according to the American Homebrewers Association, which itself has about 1,500 members.

While plenty of those folks are here in Alabama, by practicing their hobby they're unfortunately breaking state law. Making beer or any alcohol without a license from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is banned.

As usual when it comes to alcohol laws, Alabama is in a tiny minority of states that still restrict homebrewing. Congress made it legal in 1978 (it was allowed before Prohibition) and let states take it from there. To date, according to the AHA, you can brew without fear in 45 states.

Of course, plenty of people are brewing here. While most aren't doing it in total, fearful secrecy, many still worry, though the state hasn't enforced the law broadly in decades, according to John Little, founder of the Auburn Brew Club.

"They shouldn't have to worry, because really, we're not doing anything wrong," says Little, whose club claims 25 brewing members and another 40 who are interested in learning the art.

Little and others are advocating for a bill in the Legislature that would allow home beer, wine and cider production for personal use. So far, the Senate Tourism & Marketing Committee hasn't touched the proposal.

Little began brewing just over three years ago. He says he's never brewed the same style twice, and has made his way through nearly 70 of the 80-or-so beer styles recognized by the Beer Judge Certification Program. His goal is to brew them all. (He describes himself as "very compulsive.")

Little says he's drawn to the creative and scientific aspects of making his own. Those points draw lots of professional types to brewing, according to Little. He's an attorney. The Auburn club claims engineers, biologists, pharmacists and others.

Little is hopeful legislators will learn that such folks are the typical homebrewers. Irresponsible drunkards won't invest the money or time most homebrewers put into homemade beer, he says.

"It's not like you're producing cheap beer," he says. "It's a very expensive hobby."

Of course, if you're worried about the cost, there's always the stuff that comes in bottles.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Keep your eye on the bill

The fella I couldn't identify below (I allied him to the railroad and then retail industry below, probably incorrectly), wound up offering an amendment to HB196 that would prohibit low-cost, high-alcohol beer from being sold. He was worried about it getting into the hands of teenagers. I would counter that it's already illegal for teens to buy alcohol, and that no additional laws are needed to keep it from them.

Still, his amendment may have been accepted. Hard to tell right now. Keep your eyes on HB196 to see what it says in the end.

EDIT: I may have spoken too soon. Looks like the bill may not have gotten any changes. Here's a link to the roll-call vote so you can see how your rep cast his ballot. I'm disappointed to see that Jacksonville's Lea Fite voted "no."

It's passed!

HB196 passed!

EDIT: I think the vote was 48-42. Close, but enough to get by. Bring on the Senate.

Free the Hops' message board is acting screwy. Must be a lot of folks trying to celebrate online right now. And rightly so!

One hurdle down, another yet to clear today

The bill to increase the allowed ABV limit on beer sold in Alabama has passed the Budget Isolation Resolution vote, where a similar bill stumbled in the House of Representatives last year. That means it's now finally up for debate, looking for an up-or-down vote on the proposal itself.

It's now being discussed on the floor (I think), and you can hear it live via the House Web site.

I'm not sure who's talking now, but he's not making much sense. He said that we don't need more alcohol for the young people to drink. Dude, the legal drinking age in this state is 21. He also said that "you can buy anything you want tonight at the state store." Except craft beer, friend.

Now a representative of the Alabama Railroad Association (huh? or was it "Retail?") is asking who will set the standards for what beer will be allowed under this bill. Sir, isn't that exactly what the Legislature is now considering? He's also saying he wants protections against "cheap, high-alcohol beer" flooding the state. Bullcrap. How does the 13.9-percent beer allowed under this bill stack up against the 80-percent-plus alcohol in lquor the state government itself will sell me at my local ABC store?

Warning friends, this is difficult to listen to.

EDIT: I think I understand that the nonsensical gentleman I mentioned before is Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery. He's now sparring with the bill's sponsor, Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville. He's really off the rails now, somehow bringing the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 into his argument against the bill. Jackson didn't help a whole lot, (sorta) getting him onto that track by saying Free the Hops represented "Germans" who asked him to introduce the bill. For the record, FTH is a group of Alabamans who want access to the world's finest beers.

House votes on beer bill today

It's still a ways from becoming law, but if today's vote in the Alabama House of Representatives on HB196 passes, it'll be one big step farther than things got last year. The next hurdle is clearing the Senate, where an identical bill already has been approved in committee. Then it's up to Gov. Bob Riley to sign, and beer fans in Alabama can raise one big toast and enjoy more of the world's best beer.

Want to listen in on the debate? The Legislature has a live audio page for the House, here. All you need is a Web browser and Windows Media Player. According to the House rules, they'll get cranked up around 10 a.m.

EDIT: Looks like the House will actually convene at 1 p.m. today. Just a few more hours until the big moment. (Typing with my fingers crossed.)