The Brooklyn Growler

"Life is all skittles and beer." — Tom Lehrer

Thee Brooklyn Growler on Zuckerfaceplace

Just a little administrative love note here… As some of you might be reading this site on an RSS reader, The Brooklyn Growler can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter*. Click ’em and see!

*I tagged this post with “facebook” and “twitter” and felt like a dorkaloofus.

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Ohio Beers for the Ohio Holidays

Been a little while. I had some computer issues before Thanksgiving. Let’s just say there was wine involved. Well, all right, so the whole story is that I had a pizza in the oven and was trying out a new pizza stone that smoked up the apartment. A window was opened. A fully full glass of red wine sat on the computer desk a foot away from the machine, which sits on a little lift thingie. The wind kicked up the curtains. Obliteration. Wine all over.

Not a half hour earlier, the cat – wearing his ungainly holiday sweater – had spilled a glass of water over my wife Audrey’s laptop. We dried that one out all right. Mine had to go to TekServe to have red wine cleaned out of its innards.

In the meanwhile, a freelance job was offering more work at a better rate. I closed out the days before Thanksgiving first on an ancient iBook, then on a friend’s computer, and then on a dried-out laptop doing my best not to lose my mind. My laptop is now back at home playing the one track with all of the frog noises from that one Neko Case album.

There’s some Xmas-light action on the lower-side of the screen that I have decided I have no choice but to find visually exciting for now. So, otherwise, my laptop is A-OK. Well, it also smells like David Bowie’s breath during the late-seventies.

That’s what I get for drinking wine, I guess.

Anyway, here are some beers that I’ve had since I last posted.

Oatmeal Stout; Samuel Smith; Tadcaster, Yorkshire, U.K. (I was inspired by the Birch Oatmeal Stout Dave made.)

Woody Creek White Belgian Wit; Flying Dog Brewery; Frederick, Md.

Premium Czech Lager; Czechvar; České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Over the Rhine Ale; Christian Moerlein Brewing Co.; Cincinnati, Ohio

Edmund Fitzgerald Porter; Great Lakes Brewing Co.; Cleveland, Ohio

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Annals of Homebrewing: Birch Oatmeal Stout for the Holidays

Originally the idea was to make up an Xmas homebrew for all of our friends and family. As far as the ol’ pocketbook goes, it’s not a bad idea. Logistically, though, packaging up a few bottles of homebrew and mailing them off to faraway places is just asking for your Xmas gifts to explode in the back of a USPS truck.

(Ask anyone who has knocked over a sixer of homebrew in the closet and see what they’ll say about mailing the stuff. Volatile. Yeast can be volatile.)

But so it’s still getting to be the time of year when a stout really hits the spot. My friend Dave and I got together at his place this past Friday to get a beer going. Pictured above was the main impetus for a new brew – home-grown cascade hops from our friend Steve’s garden in Ohio. Dave received them a few months ago and had kept them in the freezer.

We decided to do an oatmeal stout with some birch shavings to add some extra flavor. A little bit of birch wrapped up in a packet with some hops smells amazing, by the way. The birch, as well as the ingredients, were all purchased from the excellent Brooklyn Homebrew in Gowanus.

We once watched a video of a mustachioed dude demonstrating some homebrewing techniques. Before he got started, the guy cracked open a beer and said something to the effect of, “If you want to brew a beer, you need to drink a beer.” Brewing is only part of it. Sitting around Dave’s kitchen, drinking too many beers and talking shit is the experience.

It’s what made me re-think my approach to this site. I started this thing because, first of all, I like beer. But it’s also a workshop experiment. I have acquired many bad habits in the last few years from my professional writing and editing. I lost my voice trying to emulate someone else in order to survive. Like a beer, this blog will take some time to get right. But that’s what I’m after. I want to be right.

Anyway, we’re going to move the brew over to some of Dave’s soda kegs before both of us depart for our Thanksgiving holidays. By Xmas we should be well and drunk on this stuff. I promise to keep you updated.

Filed under: homebrewing, , , , , , , , ,

Sunday Foto Dump: State of the Universe

Apparently, I’m not very good at updating these Brooklyn Growler branded Friday Photo Dump™ posts. I miss writing a new one on Friday and then think I’ll plug in a post to auto-pop on the next Friday. When that doesn’t happen, I promise to hit it next time.

Which made me re-evaluate my approach.

Friday Photo Dump. Yeah. I only decided to give this style of blog post a name back when I was thinking that I’d update it regularly throughout the week. Here was the idea for this blog from my Kickstarter proposal:

Malty Maudlin Mondays – Kind of a morning-after thing about news missed over the weekend as well as a round-up of drinks that should not have been consumed over the weekend but were.

Trappist Tuesdays – A weekly review of a Trappist beer that has already been effectively reviewed over at Beer Advocate.

Wet-Hop Wednesdays – This was going to be difficult because, offhand, I know of one wet-hopped beer. It’s about the challenge, I guess.

Trappist Thursdays – Because the chances of me remembering to hit Trappist Tuesdays are pretty slim.

Friday Photo Dump – See above.

Storm King Saturdays and Sundays – Which isn’t the title but rather a rule. I don’t work on weekends. Although it is Sunday night and I’m writing this. I cannot be trusted.

This blog is beginning to take proper shape in my head. It’s about a life as it encounters beer. “Here then is a map of my life,” as Auden said in his common reader. Hey, that would be a great lede!

So tying things down to a particular weekday gets it wrong.

Preamble sorted. Here are some pictures of beers whut have been drunk over the last few weeks by me. (P.S. These are just the ones I remembered to photograph.)

Stone Brewing Co., Arrogant Bastard Ale, Escondido, Calif.

Groupo Modelo, Modelo Especial, Mexico City, Mexico

Unibroue, Maudite, Chambly, Quebec, Canada

21st Amendment Brewery, Brew Free or Die IPA, San Francisco, Calif.

Thank you for reading this far. There will be more to come.

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Writing a Love Letter to Bar Keepers Friend

Being a neat freak, I know in my heart that no matter how neat my home might be – it is not neat enough. There’s a scratch on the fridge or a nick on the cabinet or a bit of grime that just can’t be removed from around the edge of the sink.

These are the things that will eventually lead me to my doom.

I’ve always liked washing the dishes. You can have physical proof of accomplishing something. The dishwasher also exceeds this need. Try as I might, though, you can’t run everything through a dishwasher.

Say you have a copper-bottom pan that is scorched from pan-frying dumplings. You can toss it in the dishwasher – I have – but it won’t do you any good. What do you do?

Flash-forward to 1892. A chemist in Indiana is cooking some rhubarb. The pot has become tarnished from years of cooking a bajillion things that aren’t rhubarb. He cooks his rhubarb; eats it, presumably. Later, he’s washing his pot. Lo and behold! The pot is no longer tarnished. What’s going on? he says to himself. The chemist retires to his study with the pot. He’s sprawled out on his swooning couch when all of a sudden it comes to him–

Oxalic acid!

He creates a powdered form of oxalic acid – one of the main components of rhubarb – and goes on a cleaning jag that only ends once he’s polished every tarnished pot and brass fixture in his home. One thing leads to another, and the chemist has begun selling this talcum-like powder to local saloon keepers. They love it.

This magical cleaning elixir is thus dubbed Bar Keepers Friend.

Back to my dumpling-scorched pan. A little bit of water. A sprinkle of Bar Keepers Friend. A swipe from the steel-wool brush. OMFG! Quesclamation marks fire above my head. How could something ever become this clean?!

With all the time you’ll save using Bar Keepers Friend, you could be writing nutso things like this.

Filed under: news, , , , ,

San Francisco’s Anchor Steam Beer: From Cheap Suds to Well-Heeled Duds

Breweries are creatures that need a lot of space.

You can find San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co. down where the streets begin to give up their sidewalks. If you make the trek by foot, as I did, you are reminded that breweries are most definitely objects that occur in the more industrial parts of town. Anchor Brewing is only a few blocks away from San Francisco’s Berry Street Gravel Co. for instance.

This isn’t to say that the neighborhood surrounding the Mariposa Street brewery doesn’t have its share of gourmet restaurants and gyms these days but that in walking my way from Union Square to Anchor Brewing, I was reminded of my wanderings around Brooklyn searching for lost breweries.

Anchor is best known for its Steam Beer. Founded in 1896, the brewery was originally known as the Steam Beer Brewing Co. Steam Beer is a distinctly West Coast beer style. Historically the beer was produced with lager yeast and fermented without refrigeration. It’s a cheap beer, basically.

Steam Beer is also known as California Common Beer. The Anchor Brewing Co. copyrighted the name “Anchor Steam Beer” in the eighties. But the similarities between Anchor Steam and its ancestors are in name only. Anchor Brewing was one of the first U.S. breweries to lead the microbrewing renaissance of the seventies. We’ll get to that.

Steam Beer Brewing was purchased in 1959 by Lawrence Steese and Bill Buck, a duo whose enthusiasm for beer was not matched by their proficiency at brewing it. The only champion of the beer was Fred Kuh who was the owner of the Old Spaghetti Factory, which was a café that served Anchor’s beer.

The beer produced by Steese and Buck could be politely described as foul and inconsistent. By 1965 the two were about to throw in their brewing aprons and call it a day. Kuh wasn’t prepared to let the brewery go. By the fifties and sixties, Anchor was one of the very few “little breweries” still in operation in the U.S. and he wanted to see this tradition preserved.

Enter Fritz Maytag.

Maytag is the great-grandson of Fredrick Louis Maytag who founded the Maytag Corporation. Wanting a challenge that would match his ambition, Fritz Maytag was attracted to the brewery. At Kuh’s urging, he purchased a fifty-one percent stake of it in 1965. What he now had was a dilapidated brewery known by locals for producing a sour and undrinkable concoction.

His intentions were to make the best beer in the world. Noticing that many of his friends bought expensive imports when out at bars, Maytag realized that he needed to aim his product at people who were willing to spend a little more for something a little better than a Budweiser.

After finding himself unsuccessful at peddling Anchor beer as it was, Maytag also realized that for the brewery to succeed it would need to brew beer using only the highest-quality ingredients. San Francisco was also an important component to the beer and by naming his particular brew something that heralded back to the city’s brewing traditions, Maytag could look forward as well as back. It’s a move that you see again and again in the microbrewery world where some form of a pre-Prohibition recipe or style is updated with high-quality ingredients. It could be argued that Anchor was the first U.S. brewery to figure this one out.

The end result was Anchor Steam Beer – steam beer for the well-heeled.

Maytag has often been dismissed as a rich kid who used his personal resources to keep a brewery afloat that would have otherwise completely failed. It’s not something that Maytag has ever denied. But as Maureen Ogle notes in Ambitious Brew, “a focus on Maytag’s name and inheritance obscures the brewer’s prescience. The signs were everywhere for those who took the time to look.”

And they certainly did. Without Maytag’s persistence and vision, not only would a beer tradition have been lost, but the microbrewing industry would have lost an early champion.

Most importantly – Anchor Steam is a pretty great beer.

Filed under: beer history, breweries, , , , , , , , , ,


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November 2010