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The Canonic Tonic — Part 1

Were we talking about gin? My favorite subject! Or maybe it’s tied with my favorite mixer, tonic water. When I was wee, my favorite place to be was behind a restaurant or home bar. My folks were in the food-service industry, so it wasn’t like I was some urchin making coin by spit-cleaning the glasses. Rather, bars were places with hanging crystal glasses, foreign and unique scents, endless ice, and magical guns that shot out soda.

Oh, I loved soda. Cola, especially, but the occasional spritzes of orange or lemon-lime sodas were just a touch away. I loved that the letters C, O, and L on the guns woudl dispense sweet elixirs of joy. Sometimes, there was an R for root beer, or G for ginger ale. So exotic! Root beer is every kid’s go-to for the harder stuff. Vanilla and birch and sarsaparilla! Drinking it was like becoming a cowboy, howdy. Ginger ale was sophisticated stuff, my monocle set upon my upturned nose. Yes, it was spicy and sweet, like the Boer War or whatever nonsense my prepubescent brain thought was just the end-all of English class and dignity.

S was always a disappointment. What was that, salted water? Yeah, it was bubbly, but it didn’t taste good, no sweeteners or caramel colors. Eventually, I would water-down my colas with seltzer and, eventually, learn to appreciate it for itself. I’ve written an article about it. You should read it sometime.

And then there was T. Younger me hated that stuff. Spritz it in a glass, and it smelled like 7-Up with something exciting added to it. Lemony? Sure. But what was that enticing scent? Quinine? Why was it there? To help people with malaria? This stuff must be magical! Instead, it was horrible. Absolutely undrinkable.

My folks spared me the forbidden knowledge of its use for pairing with gin (or, if desperate, vodka). So I was left with this undrinkable mess that had no place on the soda gun, which otherwise brought me so much joy. Occasionally, a one liter bottle would appear in my refrigerator. Surely, I thought, it’s soda, so it must have some redeeming quality. I would open it and smell that sweet, citrusy enigma, and think I must have misjudged it the last time I tried it. A sip, and a confirmation that I had not, would teach me once again to never trust the T.

And, when in time, I became aware of the possibilities opened to me once I learned to enjoy a tasty beverage, I still was of the opinion that tonic water was nastiness in a glass, and that my dear gin was the worst of of the Big Five (vodka, tequila, whiskey, rum, and gin—or what I now refer to as the Holy Quintuplet). When it was suggested to me to try a Gin and tonic, I literally scoffed. Tonic water was awful! Gin tasted like a bar smelled!

Try it. It’s grand. Somehow, the harshness of gin completely complements the astringency of tonic water. God is infinite in His wisdom. The Gin and tonic is cool, refreshing, and bubbly. It’s everything I wanted in a drink as a child, with something for the adult in me as well. The knowledge of this was censored as I skulked behind the bars of my childhood. That’s probably for the best, because as an adult, I take the Gin and tonic as a sign that the Universe is a benevolent place, and that the English managed to stumble into a lot of luck no matter how awful they were.

Wait. Where was I? Ah, tonic water. It still makes no sense to me. It’s harsh stuff. Most modern versions of it are sweetened to the point of absurdity. I doubt that 98% produced actually has quinine in it. Still, stick it with speed-rack gin and it’s tastier than half the concoctions any mixologist can throw together with just three ingredients, gin, tonic water, and lime. It can’t be mixed poorly. Put in too much gin? Still tastes good. Can’t ever have too much lime.

And it’s insidious. As I learned to enjoy the Gin and tonic, I learned to enjoy gin. My top liquor in the Holy Quintuplet is tequila, but gin is just slightly below it. (Thougtful readers may know my least favorite.)

Still, I knew, instinctively, that my tonics were subpar. I didn’t know what a good tonic should taste like, but I was sure that I hadn’t had it yet. Any time I came across something new, I would try it. Eventually, I would find that cane-sugar-sweetened tonics tasted better than the tonics with corn syrup. Listing quinine as an ingredient made the tonic exponentially better, which seems obvious, but I still don’t get it—quinine is nasty stuff. What I didn’t expect was that the less sugar used (not the same as sugar-free!) the better it tasted. And then I tried Fever-tree. I think I have more to say about that.

Posted in drunken missives, exposition.

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Gin Ag’in

It’s been almost five years since I wrote about my favorite gin, Bombay Sapphire, and four years since my positive gin experiences doubled when I tried Hedrick’s gin. Then, gin was getting the short shrift in the liquor store. Flavored vodkas—as if there should be such a thing—were dominating the shelf space, with and tequila and flavored rums squeezing in. Now, whiskey is the dominant spirit, but, lo and behold, gins are proliferating at quite a clip. I imagine that the complexity of whiskey has emboldened the palates of drinkers to the point where juniper and heat no longer scare them away.

Bottles of Bulldog, Glorious Gin, Greenhook, and New Amsterdam gin

One of these things is not like the other.
Photo composite of images from originating sites.

Bulldog Gin

  • Mellow juniper with lemon peel
  • Super smooth and bright herbal note
  • Very little heat

I came across Bulldog gin at a friend’s party. Chilled and alone, it was perfectly fine to sip, and paired with tonic water, it was sublime. It’s very smooth, and the juniper is held in check by a compliment of botanicals that play well together. In particular, I was able to taste the coriander, a woefully underused spice with a sweet lemony kick. (As an aside: Coriander is the fruit of cilantro. The herb and the spice taste nothing alike, and those that despise cilantro won’t find the soapy taste within the seed. In other English-speaking countries, cilantro is called coriander and coriander is called coriander seed. Why America wants to confuse the relation between the two is beyond me.) Bulldog, an English gin, was first launched in New York, so my friend was in the vanguard when he purchased it. Now available worldwide, it’s worth looking for.

Breuckelen Distilling Glorious Gin

  • Anise and citrus
  • Rich earthy herb with ginger kick
  • Warm pine

Is New York a hub for good gin? In my limited purview, it’s a great place. Brooklyn, in particular, is producing two astoundingly good gins. Breuckelen Distilling is notable for its superb wheat and rye whiskeys—more on that at another time. But its gin is a standout, with an earthy, herbaceous flavor, from rosemary backing up the juniper berries. Citrus notes are supplied by lemon and grapefruit, rounded off with the sweet spice of ginger. Many gins boast of the amount of botanicals, implying more is better, but Breuckelen’s Glorious Gin works magic with just the five, each one providing comforting familiarity while producing a complexity of flavor.

Greenhook Ginsmiths American Dry Gin

Essential!

  • Flowery with cinnamon notes
  • Buttery with light floral sweetness and unique spice kick
  • Smooth and herbal

Then, when I ask for recommendations, there is the gin that is always named by those that know their stuff: Greenhook Ginsmiths American Dry Gin. It’s a killer gin. Smoother than a 94-proof bottle has any right to be, Greenhook’s gin is spiced with nine botanicals, including elderflower, my currently favorite flavor. It’s exotic, but not alien. It’s welcoming in scent and buttery on the tongue. It’s a gin that can get prodigal gin drinkers back into the fold, and make the gin-wary into fans. It works beautifully with lime, which is just about the highest compliment I can pay any liquor. I get Bulldog and Breuckelen’s Glorious Gin quite often, but in between each, I’ll buy another bottle of Greenhook.

There’s something that each of these gins have in common—they all start with wheat as the grain used to create the mash for distilling. Knowing the little that I know of chemistry, I can’t wrap my head around what a difference the grain makes, but corn mashes fall flat on the tongue, where as these three wheat distilled gins all have a wonderfully velvety, buttery feel. I’ve become a grain-snob because of these three. Also, I’m a fan that I can usually find each of these for less than $40. Gin’s prices haven’t spiked the way whiskey’s has.

New Amsterdam Gin

Keep it corked

  • Orange peel with mild juniper
  • Unpleasant orange-ish
  • Mild, but that orange flavor lingers

And yet, I am stingy. My penny-pinching leads me astray. For $18 I picked up a bottle of New Amsterdam gin. New Amsterdam is less forthcoming about its ingredients, with its website noting that it’s “crafted with botanicals, citrus elements and a light touch of juniper.” The citrus elements taste like someone dropped a bottle of St Joseph’s chewable children’s aspirin into the gin. The sweet, not-quite-orange flavor is close to undrinkable. At half the price of the other gins, it still is not worth it. I’ve found some mixers that support, or mask, the odd flavor, but it will take me a long time to finish.

I’d almost think that it’s better to stick with what I know and buy reliable brands. But if I did that exclusively, I wouldn’t have tried the Brooklyn-based gins, sticking to my Bombay Sapphire. My world would have been smaller for it. I won’t let the one bad choice stop me from experiencing the growing world of artisanal gin.

Posted in recommendations, reviews.

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QnA with DnU: Paul Carlin from Long Beard Brewing Co.

It takes a good amount of blood, sweat, tears, and money—lots and lots of money—to open a brewery. It’s not always as romantic or glamorous as it seems, but there are still those that want to live the dream. Two of those dreamers, with their feet firmly set in reality, are Paul Carlin and Craig Waltz of Long Beard Brewing Co., established in 2012. With home-brewing experience and training in the brewing industry, Paul and Craig are ready to take that leap into starting their own brewery.

We got to ask Paul some questions about how Long Beard Brewing Co. started and where he sees it going in the near future.

  1. How did you get started and how did you get the name? Long Beard Brewing

    (Paul): Getting started was pretty much like most others—in the kitchen! I was a home brewer that, after some time, started to have luck with a few recipes. With a little encouragement, I decided to move ahead with this insane process of opening a brewery. I truly do think you have to be a little nuts to do this. Craig was easy to convince. We were working together as boat mechanics at a local marina on the north shore. We were passing each other, moving to different boats. I just asked him if he wanted to open a brewery, and he said yes. After that, we formed the company and started chopping away. We love this business. We really can’t think of anything else we want to do. The idea of being able to take a hobby you love to do and turn it into your business, to me, is the building block to the American dream. We are just lucky enough that it’s beer!

    The name came from a long brainstorming list we had going. In the end, my wife Melissa chose it. She said both you guys have beards so name it Long Beard. Then she looked at us with that “Duh” moment shaking her head. Simple as that.

  2. Do you have an idea of where you want your brewery to be?

    We are actively looking for a location in Riverhead. We feel, right now, it is our best option for a number of reasons. The first is it’s a destination spot. Riverhead has become a hub for craft beer on Long Island. You can’t argue that. We have done a lot of research and spoken to a lot of people to help make that decision. One of the more important aspects of our brewery will be our tasting room. We want people coming in droves! Being in Riverhead will make that easier. Look what’s going on there! You are in wine country, in a town that is putting effort in revitalizing main street and bringing in much needed business and tourism. The town, itself, is friendlier to our industry, and the beer tours will be always coming in with business. It just makes sense. The other reason is more in the realm of being around the other breweries. My partner Craig, besides our business, is also interning at Long Ireland Beer Co.. After conversations with Dan [Burke] and Greg [Martin of Long Ireland] about the benefits of being out there, Craig was able to convince me. Danny and Greg have been extremely helpful and instrumental in guiding us on the right path during this startup phase. They have been able to provide us with information based on experience rather then theory. To me, that is priceless. So, being close helps. Now, we just need to find the right spot!

  3. You purchased equipment before you had a location. Why in that order?

    equipment

    Equipment

    We started buying equipment last year [2013]. Even though we have not found the perfect location yet, we did not want to pass on a few great deals that happened to fall into our laps. We also bartered with another brewery for our mash tun and few other things. We figured less things to worry about later on down the road.

  4. Have you thought about what about what you’ll be brewing?

    We have a lot of great ideas and plans for our brews. In the beginning, we will be concentrating on our flagships. These, in our opinion, will be the main sellers and revenue producers in the long run. So, in the beginning will be our 90-min IPA and pale ale. For the first year, that will be the main production. We also have a milk stout and abbey weizen that will get placed into the mix from time to time. With that said, we do plan on releasing something special as a brewery release that will be in conjunction with our grand opening. A limited run. I’m actually very excited to work on this and can’t wait for the end product. We take pride in what we make and do not want to flood the market with twenty okay beers just to get a new product on the shelf every other month. We will perfect what we have and make sure quality is put in front of all else. When we are sure it is the best, only then we will bring it to the masses.

  5. Are you going to be at any future events this year?

    Paulandcraig

    Paul and Craig

    As far as future events, we do not plan on doing any until we are licensed. We would love to participate and get our beer and name out further, but in a way that is beneficial to us. Now, I understand these events are the best forum to showcase your company and product, but the way I have to look at it right now is from a business perspective. There is a cost to doing these events. Entry costs, product costs, transportation…, etc. It all mounts up. I could have the best beer, and everyone that tries it loves it. At the end of the day, there is no way to bring it to market yet. So, that great beer that everyone loved can’t be sold to them. We, at this stage, are a company that only has expenses. No revenue yet. The shows for us would be just lost money. Also, we are in the middle of an offering to bring on investors. Investors like to see money spent well and not show a trend of just needless spending. I want to be able to bring our brand to all. If there are no funds, I can not do that. However, that is this stage. Once we are licensed it is another story. As soon as operations begin, we will be out there pouring away. I look forward to it.

  6. What makes your beer vision different then the others already on Long Island?

    My vision is pretty intense right now. We know what we need to do to make a successful brewery. We have been given great advice and education from people who are doing it in this great business, like Danny and Greg from Long Ireland. Also, Mark from Brewtopia, now the Port Jefferson Hop Shop, has guided and given us a wealth of knowledge on doing great business within the brewery business. We want to put out brews that are going to be creative and packed with every ounce of our brand, but quality. That’s the goal. We want you to taste the pride we put into it. We want it to be about the beer and not the hype. If we can do that and continue to listen to the right people, our kids will have a brewery waiting for them. That’s my vision.

Thanks Paul! We can’t wait to try a Long Beard brew! Long Beard Brewing Co. has a brand-spanking-new website and can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted in qna with dnu.

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Ponies and Jiggers

We’ve got a lot of exciting events and premiers this summer on Long Island. Come visit, if you’re not local. Besides our wonderful beaches, we have great local crafters:

Mike McQuade and Jason Laan sit at a bar with a bottle of Old Whalers Style Sag Harbor Hand Crafted Rum

Mike McQuade and Jason Laan of Sag Harbor Spirits, courtesy of Flickr.

  • Sag Harbor Spirits, founded by Mike McQuade and Jason Laan, is Long Island’s newest distiller. Mike and Jason describe their Old Whalers Style Sag Harbor Hand Crafted Rum as “aged in old bourbon barrels and lightly infused with a blend of spices, fruits, and other natural flavors. This unique combination is inspired by the practice of old whaling ships storing the rum in barrels that had previously been used for coffee, exotic spices and fruit.” Long Islanders can find the rum at select bars and liquor stores. We’re eagerly looking to try a sample of this local elixir very soon.

  • Melba makes beer-brined pickles from her little garden for the past 2 years, but that won’t stop us from picking up a jar from Backyard Brine Pickle Co. Created by husband and wife team Randy and Cori Kopke, its pickles “…are hand packed in small batches using fresh, all natural, and local ingredients, some right from our own ‘backyard’ garden. No artificial preservatives, chemicals, or any of that weird yellow number 5 stuff…” It recently held a beer and pickle pairing event at The Lark Pub and Grub of East Northport, New York, and there have been rumors of a possible beer collaboration with our friends at Blind Bat Brewery, its soon to be neighbor in Northport.

  • Speaking of friends in craft beer community, Barrage Brewing has decided to do a bit more construction at its brewery at in Farmingdale, New York, building a new tasting/growler fill-room, away from the working brewery area. Soon, customers will be able to taste beers, fill growlers, and buy swag in a relaxing area with a bar and tables. Look for an official announcement soon.

  • We’re thrilled that Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. announced its 5th Anniversary/Grand Opening Peconic Event. Greenport Harbor has been building a secondary, expanded brewery location in Peconic, New York, for quite some time. Its original location, in the heart of Greenport Village, will still remain open. The anniversary event will take place on July 12, from 3:00–8:00 PM.

  • So how does one open a craft brewery? Start with homebrewing and make “The Perfect Keg.” Beer expert Ian Coutts, author of “Brew North,” shares his adventures, misadventures, and missteps as he proves that it is possible to brew the perfect keg of exclusively natural beer in a single year in The Perfect Keg: Sowing, Scything, Malting and Brewing My Way to the Best-Ever Pint of Beer. We’ve got our own copy and will share a review as soon as we finish this entertaining, educational book.

  • Hopslist But it can be difficult to find the proper ingredients to brew a great batch of beer. That’s why Julian Healey, self-described “guy from Melbourne, Australia,” created the The Hopslist. The Hopslist is a free resource listing over 260 different hop varieties. These listings include informative descriptions and a combination of tasting notes, analytical data, and retailer information. The style guide suggests what hops will make what specific type of beer, such as using Bramling and Vanguard hops for a rye ale. Helpful and extremely easy to navigate, The Hopslist is a great resource for both the beginner or seasoned craft brewer.

  • An interesting infographic was created by the folks at the Online Business Degree Guide, called The Business of Craft Beers and Microbreweries. Starting with some stats on the business of microbrewing, the infographic then walks through steps on how to homebrew. It’s a pretty slick infographic from a relatively odd source.

  • The burgeoning craft beer industry is the jumping off point for Bills and Brews. Host Matt Laslo couldn’t help but notice both the growth of craft beer in every state and the rising partisanship in our nation’s government. Finally having enough of the partisanship, Matt said, “Hell, why not pour some local hops on today’s bitter national political discourse?” and created a successful Kickstarter campaign. As the website states: “Bills and Brews is a chance to get to know lawmakers, their regions, and craft breweries through Laslo’s chats at pubs and breweries. It’s a place to check the talking points at the door. We want to celebrate what America’s doing right, in spite of our politicians doing so much wrong.” Cheers, Matt!

Right or left, we can all agree that summer is better with tasty beverages. Let’s concentrate on the real pressing matters at the family barbecue: Is there enough ice? We firmly stand on the side of “No, there is never enough ice.” Share your opinion, press release, or event by sending a link to Fervere.

Posted in ponies and jiggers.

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Hoptron home brew store to become Back Alley Brew Shop.

Patrick McHale

Photo courtesy of Rob Fleming (Facebook)

Hoptron Brewtique, in Patchogue, NY, recently finalized a deal to sell its home-brew store to Patrick McHale, who currently runs craft beer/home-brew sales at Hoptron. Patrick will become the owner around the beginning of May.

I asked Patrick for a statement about the change of hands and his new title, owner of the future Back Alley Brew Shop.

“I was super excited when the owners of Hoptron [Brewtique] approached me about the sale of the home brew store. They had initially hired me to manage the home brew aspect of Hoptron in addition to the bar, so I’ve been with it from the start. We were able to do a lot of great things for new, local home brewers, but the success of the bar was demanding more and more of their attention, to the point where I think they were [un]able to focus on the growth of the home brew store.”
“Knowing that the home brew store was my passion from they start, they kindly suggest selling to me, and luckily we were able to work out a deal that worked for both sides. Now that I can focus solely on Back Alley Brew Shop, I hope to make some improvements that will help strengthen and grow the local home brew community. Things like expanded inventory, more classes and lectures, a monthly bottle share for home brewers to meet and share brews and feedback, and a new website/blog (hopefully done soon!) to keep home brewers informed about local events as well as providing brew tips. I’d also like to start selling gifts for the beer enthusiasts that don’t home brew—bottle openers, shirts, glasses, books, even hop lip balm.”

Posted in freshly bottled.

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St-Germain

St-Germain

Essential!

  • Honeysuckle, citrus peel, green herb
  • Viscous and sweet. Floral, honey, and a touch of grapefruit
  • That floral sweetness intoxicates more than the alcohol

40 proof

The promise of spring and beautiful weather is captured in a bottle of St-Germain. The elderflower liqueur is sweet and floral with a bit of citrus peel and is unique amongst liqueurs in flavor and scent. Its a favorite of Mrs. Ferment, who voraciously hoards her bottle from eager seekers of St-Germain cocktails.

750 ml Bottle of St-Germain

The Precious. St-Germain.

It was out for a while before Mrs. Ferment and I came across it at the annual Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra Jazz Age Lawn Party two years ago. St-Germain sponsors the event and, therefore, is a major ingredient in the cocktails found at the soiree on Governors Island. There were two types of cocktails, the elegant St-Germain cocktail and the fruit-filled Sangria flora.

St-Germain cocktail

  • 2 parts dry, sparkling wine
  • 1½ parts St-Germain
  • 2 parts seltzer
  • lemon peel
  • ice
Fill a Collins glass with ice. Pour sparkling wine, St-Germain, seltzer, and stir. Twist lemon peel over glass, drop it in, and enjoy.

Sangria Flora

  • 1 bottle dry white wine
  • 1 cup St-Germain
  • 2 peaches, pits removed, sliced, skin on
  • 6 strawberries, sliced
  • 6 raspberries, whole
  • a bunch of grapes, cut in half
The fruit, while necessary, need not be these particular choices, so feel free to experiment. Put all ingredients into a carafe and refrigerate for 15–30 minutes. Pour over ice-filled Collins glass.

After the event, having enjoyed the cocktails immensely, both of us and our companions, Mr. F~ and Ms. P~, were eager to pick up a bottle as quickly as possible. We found a liquor store nearby that sold St-Germain for $50. This, to Mrs. Ferment and me, is the singular problem with St-Germain—its price—hence Mrs. Ferment’s previously noted hoarding. But we’ve found the liqueur worth it. It has a pleasant viscosity that matches its light golden color, like a honey syrup. There’s honey in its taste profile, too, along with floral honeysuckle and a hint of grapefruit. St-Germain is meant to be an ingredient, though. It’s a touch too sweet to have it as a singular apéritif. But lemon rind and a spritz of bubbly seltzer complement the liqueur so well that they’re both included in many of its cocktail recipes.

750ml bottle of Llord's Elderflower liqueur

The impostor. Llord’s Elderflower.

But we’re frugal here at DnU HQ, to say the least, so I kept a lookout for a generic substitute for St-Germain, another mythical but inexpensive elderflower liqueur. I found one with Llord’s Elderflower Liqueur, at a mere $9. Clear, and less viscous, Llord’s version has none of the subtleties of St-Germain. It smells and tastes like a cheap, sweetened vanilla rum, the type of vanilla flavoring that comes from burnt trees and not vanilla beans. Still, since St-Germain is more of an ingredient than a stand-alone, I decided to conduct a blind taste-test. I mixed two batches of the St-Germain cocktail, one with real St-Germain and the other with the generic. Then I walked away as a helper poured each version in to small cups; only she would know which was poured into which. She distributed these cups to six people, including me, four of whom had not ever tried either version before. Four of us, including Mrs. Ferment and me, preferred, by a wide margin, the St-Germain version. Mrs. Ferment and I were also not fooled by the impostor, since we had the real stuff in the past. Two of our testers actually preferred the vanilla-ish flavor of the LLord’s, specifically calling out the vanilla against the more citrusy flavor the St-Germain. Due to this, those two will never be invited to another DnU taste-test as I can no longer trust their judgment. (Only kidding. We love our testers, no matter how unsophisticated their palates may be.)

Mrs. Ferment and I had to concede that there was nothing like the real thing. We’ve since found St-Germain as cheap as $40 for a 750ml bottle. It’s liquid gold, so we try to stock up on it as we can. The dear sister of Mrs. Ferment gifted her a bottle for her birthday, slightly relieving our self-imposed embargo on making cocktails with it.

There’s a wonderful story behind the origin of St-Germain, and the French artisans who pick fresh elderflowers in early spring and hand-press them to release the flowers’ essence. And the marketing for it makes it seem like a drink popular during Prohibition. It’s all a bit hard for me to swallow, having a bit of knowledge about how anything mass-marketed is made and advertised, but, thankfully, St-Germain itself is not at all difficult to swallow, so I’m happily caught in its fantastic, romantic allure.

Posted in bar essentials, recipes, recommendations, reviews, taste tests.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T: InBev Buys a Brewery

Photo from Blue Point Brewery from Facebook.

Blue Point Brewery courtesy of Facebook.

When news broke that Anheuser-Busch InBev was buying Long Island’s Blue Point Brewing Co., I was blindsided like many people. As this was the biggest story in the past ten years for our local beer community, there was much debate that quickly devolved into extremes. On one side, Blue Point was the Antichrist, selling out to the devil; the other displayed a Pollyannaish attitude that all will be well. With arguments exploding in every online discussion, I stepped back from the fray, since it looked like there was nothing left to say. But after reading more articles and blog posts on the subject, I felt that many people were wildly missing the point. You know what they say about opinions and specific body areas, but I’m still sharing my own.

Yes, the customers and fans of Blue Point may feel sad and maybe a bit angry about the merger. Blue Point fostered the current “us against them” attitude within the craft-beer culture. That built customer loyalty and helped build a large fan base. Blue Point pushed that message on bottles, labels, banners, and other media. It was their brand identity. Was the fallout that came afterwards really that surprising? The lack of a statement from the owners, Mark Burford and Peter Cotter, didn’t help. Had they said something, it might have quelled the tide of venom. Possibly, they knew what was coming and are waiting to give their customers a chance to vent. The onslaught of opinion, even negative opinion, shows how much passion there is about Blue Point, its beer, and its business.

I, too, have concerns about this venture. I’ve had a personal experience with a corporate takeover that still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. AB InBev has a dubious track-record of recipe changes and plant closings. People who know the industry point to the example of AB InBev‘s purchase of Goose Island, a craft-beer aficionado’s favorite, which, so far, has not been entirely negative, but there’s a whole ’nother debate on the pros and cons of that acquisition.

So maybe it’s okay to be sad and ruffled, but it’s not okay to belligerent, hateful, or spiteful. Niko Krommydas, a columnist for Long Island Pulse, expressed this perfectly:

Stop. Everyone. Please. Stop. The New York Times wrote “Terms of the deal between Blue Point and the United States arm of Anheuser-Busch InBev were not disclosed,” so presently, we can only speculate.
MUST WE ALSO SPECU-HATE, THOUGH?

Unfortunately, there has been much hate, ignorance, and overall vitriol flung about, without considering the context of Blue Point— its history, and what it means to Long Island and the craft-beer industry as a whole.

As an example, Danny Fullpint of The Full Pint had this to say about the takeover:

[A]fter having the amazing, illustrious Heady Topper, I made up my mind that I would not be going out of my way to get a delicious Double IPA when I can get plenty, fresh, in my back yard. So why care about a portfolio of beers way below the caliber of Hill Farmstead, Maine Beer Co., Tired Hands, and other amazing North East craft breweries.
So when AB-InBev sets their sights on other mediocre to average craft breweries, I say they can have them, and they won’t be that missed.

Did those mentioned craft breweries just pop up into existence out of a fantasy vacuum where the market and consumers were magically there? Don’t modern craft brewers reap the benefits of pioneers like Blue Point who were around for 15 years, long before any of these new brewers made their first batch? Mark and Peter got in their van, driving bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant, distributor to distributor, asking them to give craft beer a chance, paving the way for micro- and nano-breweries to reach the same audience. Didn’t Blue Point’s business model give banks and local townships a reason to invest in small craft breweries? Didn’t it help convert the general public, one Toasted Lager at a time, proving that there was something else, something more then Bud-Miller-Coors? Surely, that long road wasn’t paved by craft-beer fairies.

 

Blue Point was, and still is, an inspiration to breweries on Long Island, New York State, and the Northeast, because it showed potential brewers, yes, it’s possible—you can make a living at this. While beer snobs scoff at Toasted Lager, it was revolutionary and award winning. Future brewers, sitting in a bar, looked up and saw that tap handle, a shining beacon stuck between the big, macro-brews. The Danny Fullpints should be thanking Blue Point for helping grow the craft-beer movement for those sweet Heady Toppers or whatever beer du jour they fancy this millisecond.

The Brooklyn Beer Bitch took the sale this way:

“Here’s the thing… You could drink a different good beer every day for the rest of your life. Period. And this expansion works in both directions. For every job that is lost on Long Island (and whatever Mark and Pete are saying—possibly in earnest—jobs will be lost at Blue Point), NY will gain a job [sic] thanks to Bell’s expansion (distributors are people too!). Not to mention the jobs that will be created in Michigan, which probably needs them more than we do anyhow.
…In the meantime, I’ll take Bell’s and AB can take Blue Point. It’s all good.

Bell’s Brewery, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, just starting distribution in New York, is the brewery of the moment. How many breweries has the craft-beer community ooh-and-aahed only to toss them aside for the next big thing? It’s not about the beer; it’s about community! And Blue Point has long been entrenched in the Long Island community. The angry mob seems to have to forgotten the time when eight local breweries met at Blue Point’s brewery to brew Surge Protector Sandy Relief Ale, after Hurricane Sandy sucker-punched Long Island and destroyed Barrier Brewing Co. It was one of the largest collaborations in craft-brewing history. All of it brewed, labeled, and packaged at Blue Point Brewing Company. $58,000 dollars was raised, and half the proceeds went to help Barrier rebuild, and the other half given to Long Island Cares. Let’s not forget about the Blue Point Cask Ales Festival, started in 2005. The festival has introduced many up-and-coming Long Island and New York regional craft brewers to the general public, acting as a catalyst for many small breweries—getting their brews known and becoming successful in their own right. Mark and Peter are ambassadors of the Long Island craft-beer community. They’ve offered insight, time, and help to many brewers, sharing their experiences and the challenges they’ve faced owning and running a business. They have donated much to local charities and their hometown, Patchogue, New York. So tell me what Bell’s Brewery has done for Long Island and its brewing community? It’s ok, I’ll wait.

The best article that I have read about this is from Jason Nottee, a reporter writing for TheStreet.com.

Blue Point was founded in 1998 and, along with Brooklyn Brewery, it was one of the few New York-area craft brewers to make its presence felt in the New York metro area during the early 2000s. Blue Point signage and tap handles found their way into bars, bodegas and liquor stores around New York City, Long Island and New Jersey. Its Toasted Lager and Hoptical Illusion became fixtures in bars where craft beer previously hadn’t ventured.

But what happened to Blue Point along the way is becoming a familiar tale in a growing craft beer market that has little respect for all but the oldest of its elders.

I recommend reading the entire article. It’s fantastic. It looks beyond the sale, describes the impact over the craft-beer market, and doesn’t engage in speculation. The last line in the article struck a chord.

As Blue Point made clear, all it takes is a tired, fading brewer to make such a sale possible.

Blue Point may appear like the old guard to a craft-beer community that has 2,500 breweries to choose from, but if we take a little time away from the beer-rating sites we can see them as they truly are—ahead of the curve, consistent, and winner of many medals. White IPAs are starting to gain in popularity—Blue Point released one in 2011. Their award-winning brews include: Hoptical Illusion winning in 2005; and, RastafaRye Ale winning in 2009 and again in 2013. There are many more awards to choose from.

Jason Notte and I conversed over Twitter:

 

 

He’s right; I wish more beer drinkers would admire these traits. Blue Point hasn’t changed that much from its early days, but its consumer base has changed. Newer, crazier, hoppier, rarer are the modern-day brewery hallmarks. Craft beer is becoming all about over-the-top and over-hyped. It’s a time where beerophiles show off their anointed brews on Instagram like they’re showing off their children on Facebook. Blue Point Brewery didn’t cater to that audience. Its focus was on hard work, craftsmanship, and consistent quality—not hoopla.

I don’t know why Blue Point Brewery sold to AB InBev, and, while money seems to be the major factor, we may never know all the reasons. I have my own suspicions, but, whatever I know or suspect, I wish Mark and Peter the absolute best. They have worked hard for this and have given their absolute all to Long Island and the craft-beer community for the past 15 years, and they deserve to reap the rewards. As Lauri Spitz, brewer and co-owner of Moustache Brewing, aptly put, “It’s the end of an era.” Indeed it is, but let’s have some patience and show some damn respect.

Posted in drunken missives.

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Four Years

Editor’s Note: On Saturday, Melba posted a nice notice for our four year anniversary on our Facebook page. We’re reposting it here as it expresses well our happiness at growing with our Long Island craft beer counterparts.

Four years ago last Saturday, we posted our first article on Drunk and Unemployed. Just two friends who have, over the course of 20 years, spent many a late night talking about (but mostly drinking) craft beer and cocktails. We weren’t sure where our interweb scribbling would take us, but we never imagined this.

When we started, we were lucky enough to be around when craft breweries, and distilleries, began to boom on Long Island. It was an exciting time, also nerve-wracking. We were never quite sure how these owners/brewers would receive us. But, to our surprise, we were welcomed with open arms. Brewers embraced and encouraged us, as they openly discussed their own struggles and passion for their craft and business.

We have watched with glee as breweries like Long Ireland, Greenport Harbor, Great South Bay, Barrier, and Port Jefferson grew from tiny tanks and one van to thousand-plus square-foot buildings and bottling lines. We continue to cheer for nano-breweries like Moustache, Barrage, Montauk, and Blind Bat as they work toward opening their doors or expanding. And we look over at the horizon at new breweries taking shape like Long Beard, Outer Lands, and The Brewers Collective.

And it has not been just the breweries. We can’t ignore the strong craft beer community that has been firmly established on Long Island for the past 20-plus years. It could have been easy for them to ignore us as just another blog, but instead they have lovingly dragged us to their well-stocked table and pushed us to learn more about craft beer everyday. Every. Day. (We are looking at you David Schultzer.)

We can’t believe that it took us four years, but we now realize that we are not alone anymore—we are part of a very special community and we do not take that for granted.

So to all the brewers, distillers, fellow beer writers/podcasters, distributors, adult beverage industry workers and EVERY imbiber who has supported and followed us we want to say:

Thank you. Thank you so very, very much. Cheers, and here is to another four years.

Posted in drunken missives.


Anchor Brewing Old Foghorn

Anchor Brewing Old Foghorn

Essential!

  • Caramel and nut
  • Rich, sweet toffee followed by hoppy bitterness
  • Strong bitterness

8–10% ABV

There are certain beverages that have achieved legendary status in my mind. They have the combination of great memories and difficulty in procuring. If I could find these legendary drinks regularly, they’d probably tip into the mundane and lose their shine in my memory. There’s an irony in that, but the fall from legendary isn’t that great, as I’m loyal to my favorites. All this is my way of saying, “Stop making these things hard to find!”

A bottle of Anchor Brewing Old Foghorn, next to a filled pint glass.

Old Foghorn by Anchor Brewing. Photo from Anchor Brewing.

The pinnacle of my legendary beverages is Anchor Brewing Old Foghorn. My friends, family, and the poor souls who would dare sit next to me at a bar know that Old Foghorn is practically my Holy Grail. There was a time that I was able to find this in my area regularly. That was close to twenty years ago. But for about one year, there were two locals where I could find it on tap—I’ve still never had it in the bottle. One of those places, Tubby’s, home of the $2 pint, burned down. The other, a deli that for some reason serves pints of beer, is still there, but, while have achieved legendary status of its own around here, has stubbornly refused to join the 21st century by having no web page and no longer having Old Foghorn on tap.

I’ve begged local beer distributors to get a keg or a case. I’ve offered to buy what ever inventory they get so it wouldn’t stay collecting dust in their stores. (This offer still stands!) I’ve sent tweets to Anchor Steam, asking if it knew where Old Foghorn was in New York. I’ve checked beer menus online, and considered how much it would cost to travel to another state where it might be more available. And for years, there was much disappointment and wistful thoughts about the fabled, legendary Old Foghorn.

But the wonderful Mrs. Ferment went to search for it, hoping to buy a six pack as a gift for me. She has a contact in San Diego who was unable to find it. Anchor Brewing is in California! Even in its home state, the beer is impossible to find. Imagine her surprise and delight when she searched Beer Menus and found Old Foghorn, on tap, at one unlikely place within 10 miles of DnU HQ. Road Trip American Ale House is a sports bar/restaurant that has 20-some-odd teevees all tuned to football. But they have a mighty selection of craft beer. I couldn’t believe it when Mrs. Ferment told me she found Old Foghorn. I was sure once we got to the restaurant, I would be told that no one ever heard of it.

A glass of Old Foghorn at Road Trip American Ale House

A glass of Old Foghorn at Road Trip American Ale House

And sure enough, the waitstaff had not heard of it, but that’s because no one ever orders it. It was there, on tap at the bar, as promised. At long last, I was going to get a glass of Old Foghorn. The wait between ordering and receiving was filled with anxiety that I grew out of my enjoyment of it. What if my tastes have changed radically from so long ago? When the beer was put in front of me, I could barely raise it to my lips.

But when I did taste it, twenty years of memories flooded across my tongue. Old Foghorn remains the best barleywine. There is not a hint of the coppery flavor that some barleywines have. The mix of bitterness to sweetness is perfection. It’s a strong beer, so there’s some kick to caramel malt, a hoppy heat that lingers on the palate. It doesn’t punch one in the mouth, like so many other hoppy beers, but lulls with the sweetness that turns sharply bitter when swallowing. The barleywines that followed in Old Foghorn’s footsteps don’t capture that balance.

I bought a growler of Old Foghorn at Road Trip American Ale House. The bartender was surprised by my interest, since it doesn’t sell. I’m saddened by this. With no financial reason to continue distribution in New York, it’s likely that it will be another twenty years before I come across it again. Or worse, Anchor Brewing may cease to make it, just like the second-best American barleywine, Monster by Brooklyn Brewery. I live in an IPA world, and it seems like barleywines won’t ever get the recognition that they deserve. The last glass of Old Foghorn that I pour out of my growler may be the final one that I get to drink.

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Great South Bay Brewery Snaggletooth Stout

Great South Bay Snaggletooth Stout

  • Espresso and cocoa
  • Coffee and dark chocolate
  • Bitter, spicy, and creamy

Currently available on tap and growlers only

When the trees start losing their leaves and I start seeing the first signs of my breath at night, my mind turns to winter beers: Dark, spiced ales; smokey porters; and chewy stouts. Sure, stouts and porters are popular enough styles that you can find them year ’round, but they seem best paired with chilly weather. Dark, intense beers force us to slow down and sip them like a glass of good bourbon. I love how they warm up in the glass, and their flavors and aromas intensify with each sip as I get closer to the bottom. I’ll bet you’re getting thirsty now.

Snaggletooth Stout label

Snaggletooth Stout label courtesy of Great South Bay Brewery from Facebook.

I went straight to the source and got a half-growler full of Great South Bay Brewery Snaggletooth Stout. It’s been a popular style since it was first brewed in 2010. According to the brewery’s website, Snaggletooth Stout is a 6.5% ABV, 61 IBU (International Bitterness Units) American stout made with flaked oats, roasted barley, chocolate malt, and Fuggle hops.

Snaggletooth Stout in my Great South Bay pint glass.

Snaggletooth Stout in my Great South Bay pint glass.

It has a deep black/brown appearance—think soy sauce—with a nice, light brown foamy head. Bringing the glass to my nose, I get the fragrance of strong espresso coffee and roasted malt with a hint of dark cocoa. The taste pretty much matches the aroma, a dominant coffee flavor with hints of dark chocolate and a mid-level bitterness, spicy but pleasantly creamy finish. Those looking for syrupy and/or chocolatey sweetness here are not going to find it.

Great South Bay Snaggletooth Stout is incredibly drinkable. It’s filling, but not too much that I wouldn’t order another pint. Right now, Snaggletooth is only available on tap, but I’m hopeful that Great South Bay will add it to its ever-increasing bottled beer line.

Update: On October 30, just after we published this, Great South Bay (GSB) announced that Snaggletooth Stout will be available in bottles. We’re not sure if this will be available year ’round or seasonal, but check the GSB site for more details.

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