Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

Category: Hop Press Articles (Page 2 of 11)

Portsmouth Craft Beer Weekend

A few weeks before the highly anticipated “Kate Day” I got an email from fellow beer bloggers 2beerguys. They told me they were working to create an entire weekend around the day where beer enthusiasts make their annual pilgramage to Portsmouth for a chance at snagginging the prized Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great. They reasoned, why should Kate get all the glory? And I’d have to agree. Working with local restuarants and other local breweries, they were able to put together some interesting events, and I was able to get in on one in particular – the Long Trail Craft Beer Dinner & Beer Wars.

The Portsmouth Gaslight is a popular restaurant who’s menu features specialty pizzas, and they’re well known for their outside tables and decks in the summer when the sound of live bands can be heard echoing throughout the streets of Portsmouth. Honestly, I haven’t been to this venue a whole lot, mostly because I always end up at the Coat of Arms. But I digress. What makes the Gaslight interesting is that its a three part place – there’s the ground floor, the second floor, and then some kind of a nightclub on the top of it. I’ve walked by many a night to see the glimmering lights of a disco ball flickering out the windows.

The beer dinner was structured around four courses and a dessert – each of the coureses (and dessert, actually) were pizza based, and they were paired with Long Trail brews at each course all for the unbelivably inexpensive price of $25.

The atmosphere of the third floor was very Portsmouth – lots of brick and windows so that you could look at the town. There was a giant disco ball on the ceiling, but thankfully, it was still and un-lit.

The 2BeerGuys gave us an intro and told us that each beer could be retrieved at the bar, and the pizzas would come out for each course. Interestingly, I watched my friends recieve the first course’s beer poured into the top of a pint glass! I worried that if I drank five pints of beer throughout the course of the dinner I’d be toast, so I asked for a half glass.

First Course – 4-tree island with Long Trail Ale, Fresh tomato slices, sauteed spinach, caramelized onions, and garlic topped with feta and mozzarellla cheese.

This pairing worked the best for me – the carmelized onions went with the malts in the ale, and neither overwhelmed each other. This is a pairing I would do myself over and over again if I could order it at the Gaslight on a regular basis. Delicious.

Second Course – Frank Jones with IPA, Hot Italian sausage, hot cherry peppers, pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese.

The Long Trail IPA, though tasty, is not nearly strong enough to hold up to italian sausage, hot cherry peppers and a whole lotta heat from this pizza. I felt like the pizza stole the show, and sucked all of the taste right out of the beer.

Third Course – Prescott Park with Belgian White, veggie pizza with onions, broccoli, mushrooms, and green peppers.

This one was interesting – I think the onions, again, helped a lot with this pairing. The Belgian Wheat was an interesting beer to pair with pizza – but the citrus notes were enough to keep it interesting.

Fourth Course – Pirates Cove with Double Bag, Grilled chicken and onions on a base of mixed tomato and bbq sauces, and topped with mozzarella cheese.

Double Bag is one of my favorites from Long Trail, and the barbeque sauce went very well here. I didn’t like it as much as the first pairing, but I would definitely try sweet pizza with another Altbeir, or even a brown ale.

Dessert – A dessert pizza with Brewmaster’s Coffee Stout.

Truthfully, I was too engrossed in my second watching of Beer Wars to try this pairing before it went away. I hear, from my friends, though, that it was a smashing success.

After sitting discussing the pairings with friends (both craft beer geeks and novices alike) I realized that regardless of how successful a pairing was, it still generated a lot of great conversation. A friend of mine even one a bottle of ’09 Kate the Great in a raffle, and I think the event was a success. I hope that towns like Portsmouth can follow this example and learn to embrace the growing beer culture in a similar manner.

Kudos for making this a successful Craft Beer Weekend event.

Seeking Extremes – It is in our nature

I often hear comments from those who have been in the beer industry a long time, or people who keep up with Beer Advocate and Rate Beer rankings about the dominance of so-called “extreme” beers. It goes a little something like this – “Gee, there are a lot of high ABV or high IBU or extreme beers out there lately. Why doesn’t anyone appreciate the great session beers anymore?”

Perhaps you’ve heard yourself thinking this very thought. Perhaps the thought continues. “If only beer writers/distributers/bar owners would focus on the session (6% ABV or under) or “regular” beers – there would be more great beers out there to drink instead of just an arms race of extremes.” Or perhaps it goes something like, “Brewers should only brew great session brews and stop trying to cater to the extreme tastes, etc. of the craft beer enthusiast/rater.”

This refrain has been echoed by brewers, too.

“Consumers’ and retailers’ lust for the latest and greatest undermines established brands and trivializes the category as a whole, sacrificing quality on the altar of novelty. One could argue that this is the direction the music industry, which is in deep trouble, has been going for years.” –Peter Egleston, from this article on The Full Pint

So, I pose several questions for you to examine:

What is the cause of this situation? Sure, there will likely be an ever-growing variety of beer to choose from, but there does seem to be a focus on one-offs, rarities, extreme beers with strong flavors, bizzare or high ABV. Some have even posed that it is that because of the writers that write about these beers.

“By doing little more than parroting the marketing-speak of advertising companies, Dan believes American beer writers are largely to blame for an industry and drinking public that’s more taken with gimmickry than artistry.” –Valley Advocate story interviewing Dan Shelton (Shelton Bros.)

All of this buzz got me thinking about my own habits, and the habits of consumers in general. When I go out to look for beer to review, like many the first thing I do is to scan the shelves for what I have not yet tried. And, in a limited market like Maine, I leap on what I can get. Sometimes, these are great regular releases, and sometimes I make a mixed six pack with the latest local seasonals. But, more often than not, a new shiny bottle of someone’s “imperial” this or “double” that catches my eye. It is human nature to seek out the rare, the new and the novel and I am certainly no exception. Marketers and product producers count on this type of behavior – and it’s no more common in beer than it is in clothing, video games or other optional (non-commodity) purchases. The argument, then, is whether or not these brews are less artfully crafted than their session counterparts and get by on their novelty alone.

So, then, are all of us craft beer consumers (regardless of whether they blog, rate or review or not) responsible for a drift towards the more extreme and rare? Of course they are! It is by nature that these are what is attractive – there is a certain thrill to finding a “treasure” at your local beer store. I really do think it’s inevitable that this will always be the case – you can’t make the same product these days and just keep going on and on forever without change. If anything, our attention spans are shorter and shorter every generation – the pace of information has kept up with our desires. And the craft beer industry produces enough variety that no one person could ever try it all – which is part of the allure, draw and challenge of being a craft beer reviewer. The difference, perhaps, between some of the people who see this perspective and myself is that I do have faith that the palates of the consumers writing about or reviewing beer can tell the difference between novelty for the sake of novelty and the artistry and creativity brought about by craft brewers.

But back to the original thought….Is the dominance of high ABV, rare, and “extreme” things a negative influence on the beer industry? or will it all shake out in the end?

“Someone commented to me that the beer culture there was going through a “teenage” phase, where the obsession was with big, badass, high-octane beers, and he was personally looking forward to a time when people began to rediscover all good beer, regardless of its ABV. Personally, I look forward to the day when the BA’s top twenty-five list contains more than two dozen Imperial this and thats and represents a broader spectrum of great beers. I think that day is coming.” –Peter Egleston interviewed on The Full Pint

I think honestly there’s a healthy dose of both going on here. If we consider the extreme brews to be gourmet food, and the session beers to be comfort food, we can see a space for both to exist. Comfort food is simple, delicious and when made well, can be the perfect meal that’s just exactly what you needed. It also takes some skill to get it just right. But will the existence of a new high-priced gourmet restaurant next to the diner that makes the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever consumed really have that much of an overall effect? I, for one, would hope that consumers should be smart enough to know where to go to get their desires met – whether that is at the counter of the diner down the street or at a private booth in the place with at 2-week wait for reservations.

A Thanksgiving Without Beer – A Run-in With “Blue Laws”

Sitting in my Aunt’s living room on Thanksgiving, I looked at the only remaining beer – some warm Budweiser that my Grandmother brought over – and sighed. Funny how the Pilgrims that we were thanking might have ruined my plans. How did I end up at a Thanksgiving with no beer?

As some of you know, there is a lot going on in my life. I have, essentially, five different jobs which is about to become six. I work a lot but I love what I do so I don’t mind at all. And as long as I’m not falling asleep at the wheel, then I’m happy to keep being busy all the time.

But then there are times where being busy really sucks. Like, the week leading up to Thanksgiving, for example. I wrote a post last week with the help of some great Hop Press’rs about beers to bring to Thanksgiving, but didn’t find the time to get to my favorite beverage purveyors before hitting the road for Connecticut to visit relatives. Thinking that I could find my carefully-thought out suggestions or find something like them in Connecticut when I arrived, I paid it no mind. I left early in the morning and stopped at the Stop and Shop around the corner from my Aunt’s house to get my last-minute beer purchases. When I found the beer aisle, I was very surprised to see a large, ugly, thick brown tarp covering the beer section. In peeling and faded vinyl letters it said, “NO BEER SALES SUNDAY OR AFTER 9PM.”

I looked down at my watch and noticed it was 11:30 am. On a Thursday. I thought, “Maybe I was trying to buy beer too early in the day and I’ll have to wait around until noon. That would kind of suck.”

I then asked a supermarket employee who responded gruffly. “No beer sales today. Blue laws. Can’t sell any beer at night. Or on Sundays,” I pondered this for a minute, reminding myself that it was the middle of the day on a Thursday until he said, “or holidays.”

Now, to back up for a moment, growing up in New York, I was familiar with the so called “Blue Laws” that restrict activities for religious or historical reasons. Originating (ironically) in Connecticut, these laws – especially concerning alcohol – took hold during prohibition across the country, but many have been completely repealed because of unconstitutionality. In my home state of New York, I remember not being able to buy beer before noon on Sundays, with the reasoning being that you should “be in church” on a Sunday morning instead of buying beer or drinking, so they restricted sales. As odd as that one is, I guess I can see the logic there. And is there really that much demand for anything on Sunday mornings? Most of the time I don’t get up until noon anyway!

But Connecticut, it seems, goes farther. The sales at night are supposedly to reduce drunk driving. Though that is a worthy goal, let us think about that for a moment. If you’re buying beer to consume at home (as most people are when they’re buying beer at a grocery store) then you’re not driving anywhere after consuming the alcohol, right? So personally, I’m not sure how the beer ban at night is helping the overall situation, but I welcome any state statistics if you can dig them up (I haven’t had any luck yet).

The part about this that was the most ridiculous, however, was the idea that selling alcohol on holidays is somehow wrong. I think this may come from the Puritan-esque misconception that all alcohol is 1) just for intoxication and/or 2) bad, morally wrong, or at the least a negative influence. Forget all of the benefits of pairing a glass of wine with dinner or dessert, or being able to actually enjoy good beer with turkey and all the trimmings. This confronts a fundamentally antiquated idea, and personally, I think it no longer fits in our American culture.

Blue Laws like these only serve to stifle the innovative, healthy and enjoyable things that alcohol can bring to a nice dinner, evening with friends, or otherwise. It also degrades some customs – such as bringing a bottle of wine to the host or hostess of a dinner party if the party falls on a state-sanctioned holiday.

While much of the blame for my beer-poor Thanksgiving does rest on my own shoulders for not planning ahead, imagine if craft beer enthusiasts, or even amateurs, read all of the wonderful ideas and wanted to try some pairing of their own? Well in Connecticut, at least, they’ve been cut off at the knees.

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