Beer, Wine and Spirits. Tastings and Travel. News and Events. Classic Flavors from Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries Across the Drinks World.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Random Notes from the Beer World

Sleeman Bids Expected: Canada's third largest brewer, Sleeman Breweries, will likely soon cease to exist. Molson Coors Brewing Co. and Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd., the two largest Canadian brewers, along with Royal Grolsch NV of the Netherlands and Sapporo Breweries Ltd. of Japan are expected to make formal bids for the Guelph, Ontario-based company. Sleeman, which has 7 percent of the Canadian beer market, announced in the Spring it was conducting a strategic review that might include the sale of the company. Molson Coors holds 42 percent of the Canadian market, with Labatt, which is part of InBev SA, holding 41.5 percent. If either are successful in bidding for Sleeman it would further consolidate the Canadian beer market.

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Great British Beer Festival: The 2006 edition of the Great British Beer Festival opens tomorrow in London. Hailed as the "World's Largest Pub," the festival has moved to Earls Court this year. A parade of horse drawn brewery wagons, antique steam carts and vintage trucks is being held in London to mark the festival. Last year 47,000 people visited the GBBF.

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New York Rolls Back a Blue Law: It will be easier to get a six pack of beer in New York for a Sunday barbecue. On July 30th it became legal for retailers to sell beer before noon on a Sunday. Now consumers can buy beer starting at 8 a.m. New York passed a law several years ago to allow liquor stores to open on Sundays.

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Oregon Festival Sets Record: Organizers of the just completed Oregon Brewers Festival estimate that a record 55,000 people attended this year's outdoor event. Saturday is said to have been the biggest in the 19-year history of the Portland celebration.

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Arctic Brewery: Greenland Brewhouse, located in the southern Greenland hamlet of Narsaq, is up and running. It is the first commercial brewery in Greenland. Salik Hard, the Greenlander behind the $679,000 brewery that makes a dark and a pale ale, said the brewery uses water from the arctic ice cap so that the beer is pure. The company is shipping its beer to Germany for bottling. It will be sold in several European markets.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Wine Tasting Robot

Scientists from NEC's System Technologies and Mie University claim they have created a wine-tasting robot. Sommeliers and wine writers need not worry -- at least yet. The concept behind the robot taster is to detect fraud through some basic analysis so that industry and government officials can check that the wine in the bottle is the same as what's listed on the label.

The device uses a microcomputer and light emitting diodes that fire infrared light at the five milliliter sample and the reflected light is sensed by an array of photodiodes. The scientists claim the wavelengths of infrared light absorbed by the sample create a report correctly identify the unique organic components of a particular wine within 30 seconds. Since the combinations of these components are unique to certain winemaking regions, the robot can even tell where the wine was made. Fraud on the world wine market with higher priced labels has always been a suspected problem.

NEC officials say the machine currently works for 30 different types of wine and work has started to extending the wines the device can recognize before it is commercialized.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Weekend Watering Hole: Henry's 12th Street Tavern, Portland, Oregon

As a regular weekend feature, Lyke2Drink will visit some of the world's great watering holes.

This week's stop is located in a disused Henry Weinhard's Brewery in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon.

Henry’s 12th Street Tavern
10 NW 12th Avenue
Portland, Oregon
(503) 227-5320


Portland beer drinkers tend to be a little jaded because they are surrounded by a nearly endless supplyy of great craft beer, but my hat is off to the people running Henry's 12th Street Tavern. This place has a well constructed beer list with 100 draughts ranging from easy to find domestics and imports to some hard to locate great microbrews. The wine list is not huge, but it is heavily fortified with some pretty good selections from Oregon, Washington and California. The food is an upscale mix of Northwest and Pacific Rim specialties.

If you are from east of the Rocky Mountains and making a quick visit to Portland, this is a great place where you can sample a range of drinks and food. It'll make you feel like you covered more ground than you actually did on your trip.

The exposed brick, large bar in the middle of one of the main floor rooms and subdued lighting sets a warm, friendly mood. The staff is fairly knowledgeable about the various beers and wines, helping first times separate the better selections. One of my favorite things about this bar is that the metal bar top has a frozen rail down the middle where you can set your drink to keep it cold.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The World's Top Brands

It was interesting to review the just released top 100 worldwide brands according to Interbrand and find just four alcohol brands on the list.

Budweiser was ranked 27th (26 last year); Hennessy 83rd (86); Moet & Chandon 87th (92); and Smirnoff 93rd (88).

What's that you say, no Heineken? No Johnnie Walker? Not even Gallo? It's all in the filters Interbrand uses when ranking the world's most valuable brands. Each brand must derive about a third of its earnings from exports on the international market, be recognizable outside of its base of customers, and have publicly available marketing and financial data.

The top five brands according to Interbrand are all U.S.-based: Coca-Cola, Microsoft, IBM, GE and Intel.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Barrel of Fun

This past winter I was the guest of Brown-Forman Spirits on a visit to the Canadian Mist Distillery on the Georgian Bay in Ontario. My travel companions for this visit to the Great White (and cold) North, a small group of drinks journalists, included John Hansell, Lew Bryson, Terry Sullivan and Bill Dowd.

We had an enjoyable session with Master Distiller Harold Ferguson -- I found out just how difficult it truly is to make a well-balanced Canadian whisky -- but the Kid in the Candy Store moment happened when we were taken into a warehouse holding 180,000 barrels of aging whisky. To those of us who ponder the liquid we drink, a barrel is much more than a temporary bulk container. It is very much like the womb from which distilled spirits, wines and even some beers are born.

If you doubt that a barrel has a maternal influence, remember that when Bourbon goes into the barrel it is a clear liquid that can best be described as white lightning. What emerges years later has color, character and charisma; molded by the level of char in the barrel and the natural influences of the oak into a drink that millions worldwide savor.

By law, Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey can only be made in new oak barrels that have been charred to give the wood the qualities that impart all of the color and much of the flavor to whiskey. Once brands like Rebel Yell, Booker's or Blanton's have been drained from the barrel, it is no longer of use to the Bourbon maker. Bonded warehouses in Kentucky hold between 3-4 million barrels of whiskey at any one point. That will keep us all in mint juleps for years to come and supply a steady stream of barrels to the world market.

Coopers make the barrels from American oak and handle the critical charring process. It takes only about one minute, but it creates the "red layer" which distillers say is the magical ingredient of the aging process Bourbon. The red layer is between the outer black part of the char and the wood, where an almost caramel-like substance holds the key flavoring agents.

Barrels from Kentucky go elsewhere in the U.S. for use in other products, such as brandy, or onto Scotland, Canada, Japan and India for whiskey, the Caribbean and South America for rum, Spain for sherry and Mexico for Tequila. A small number of Heaven Hill barrels end up in the hands of nearby Blue Grass Brewing for use in making Bourbon Stout, while home wine makers have also been known to buy used barrels for making corn cob and dandelion wines.

In the case of the warehouse I was visiting in Canada, the origin and destination of the barrels was a little more predetermined than most. Brown-Forman owns Bluegrass Cooperage, which makes about 350,000 barrels a year for brands like Old Forrester, Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniel's. According to Chris Morris, master distiller at Brown-Forman, after they are used once many of them head north for a stay of 9-12 years in Canada or they are dispatched to distilleries in the British Isles and elsewhere. The fact is that barrel management is an art and a science that costs drinks businesses millions of dollars annually and keeps distillers on their toes.

Depending on how it is being used, the next company may use the barrel several times before either disposing of the barrel (the thought of one of these fine casks spending its retirement years as a flower planter saddens me) or reselling them to the next user. With each use the color and flavor imparted will become a little more subtle and take on influences from what was previously in the barrel. That variation is exactly what the master blender is looking for as he puts together a blended Canadian or Scotch whisky.

Barrels not only travel extensively, but they tend to live fairly full lives. According to Greg Leonard, public relations director for American whiskeys with Diageo, an average lifespan for a barrel is somewhere between 40-60 years, depending on how many cycles (filling and emptying) the barrel undergoes. Diageo has approximately 10 million barrels in its inventory worldwide. After originally holding a Bourbon, some of the barrels might play host to a Tequila for a couple of years, while others that are used to hold whiskies that go into the blend that makes up Johnnie Walker Blue might house a Scotch for 60 years.

Diageo buys most of its new barrels in the U.S. from Independent Stave Co., whose coopers make American white oak barrels in Missouri and Kentucky for a number of distilleries. Oak became popular with both distillers and vintners because of the subtle characteristics it imparts to the liquid aging inside of the barrel. Oak trees that are used for the barrels might be 80 years old before they are harvested; domestically they mainly come from the Ozarks. The flavor notes from the oak range from vanilla to almond and butter to what can only be described as oakiness. American oak barrels typically cost around $100 new, while French oak barrels, which traditionally imparted more subtle flavors to wine, run around $300 each.

Getting just the right barrels is not just a critical part of the distilling process, it is now an increasingly important part of the marketing of distilled spirits, particularly Scotch. Some estimates are that about 80 percent of the barrels holding Scotch whisky once held American whiskey. The other barrels come from various sources, with the other traditional major source of cooperage coming from sherry producers. The new wave of "wood finished" Scotch means that you can find barrels in aging rooms that once held Port, Madeira, merlot, sauternes, Bordeaux and I've even read about some that were previously used for Tabasco hot sauce. Wood finishing means that after spending most of the maturation process in a traditional barrel, the spirit is moved for the final year or so to the finishing barrel. The change in flavor can be quite fantastic.

Glenmorangie has probably the widest selection of wood-finished products on the market, but they far from being alone. It is attractive to Scotch makers because they can release new line extensions and flanker brands very quickly in a world that usually requires a 10 plus year wait before something "new" is ready to bottle. Other distillers are joining the wood craze. One of the more interesting approaches comes from Buffalo Trace Distillery, which says it has about 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey aging at the moment. These whiskeys are all being shipped in 375 milliliter bottles and will retail for around $46.

While natural corks are still found in many wines, it is increasingly likely that you find a composite or plastic cork or even a screw cap being used to seal a quality brand. The oak barrel, however, is likely to remain an important part of the manufacture of quality spirits for decades -- hopefully centuries. For that we should all raise a glass to Mother Nature.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Pig Walks into a Bar

Well, actually at the Pub in the Paddock in Tasmania, Australia, Priscilla and P.B. are residents of the bar. They also happen to enjoy the occasional beer. That has sparked charges of animal cruelty. In the words of Liz Jackson of the animal rights organization Choose Cruelty Free, "It's not natural to give a pig beer." (OK, this quote creates a long list of possible jokes. I'm going to restrain myself.)

Pub Owner Anne Free told the Australian Broadcast Corp. that she waters down the beer so the pigs do not become drunk. Far from cruelty, Free says the pigs "look forward" to a beer or two. She's backed up by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who investigated and found the pigs were perfectly fine.

"Whilst it is a difficult pill to swallow, it's certainly not cruelty, unfortunately," said Rick Butler of the RSPCA.

Beer Advertising: Lite Laws

It has been at least five years since the last time I had a Miller Lite, Bud Light or Coors Light. The last time was similar to a recent party when I "got the chance" to sample Michelob Ultra. My wife and I went to a neighborhood happy hour and the cooler was filled with just one brew: Michelob Ultra. They had some wine, but I was in a beer mood and it was time to see what Anheuser-Busch was spending tens of millions of dollars to market. As a drinks journalist I am sometimes required to sample product I'd not normally stock in my home fridge.

While I don't consume light beer, I do get a healthy dose of light beer advertising thanks to the mega budgets of A-B, SABMiller and Molson Coors. I've been in the marketing business for the last 23 years, so I'm more than a casual observer of television and other advertising. It's interesting to see the creative direction of the light beer brands from the mega brewers -- certainly more interesting than drinking these brews.

Coors Light is currently bombarding TV sets across America with the Silver Bullet Express that delivers icy cold Coors Light to a non-stop supply of sweltering beautiful people to the tune of Love Train. They have even made a somewhat lame attempt to incorporate this theme into ads supporting their NASCAR sponsorship.

A-B always has something new in its creative pipeline for Bud Light. I found the "Magic Fridge" spot I first watched during the Super Bowl to be clever, but not something with legs for a campaign. They are now rolling out a series of Zagar and Steve television spots that feature a pair of odd couple roommates. Steve is a normal guy, with normal friends (in the world of beer advertising this means good looking). Zagar is a tribal chieftain of sorts who is closer to a cave dweller than modern man. You guessed it: all sorts of "fun" takes place with Steve and Zagar bowling, having dinner with beautiful women, etc. They even have a website at http://zagarandsteve.com and Steve has his very own blog about living with Zagar.

By far my favorite among the mega light beer ad campaigns is Miller Lite's "Man Laws" effort by Crispin Porter & Bogusky, a highly creative shop based in Miami. Miller Lite's "Men of the Square Table" (you can see them all at www.manlaws.com)include Bert Reynolds, Jerome Bettis, a rodeo cowboy, test pilot/astronaut, professional wrestler and assorted actors/comedians. One interesting addition to the group is Aron Ralston, the guy who cut part of his arm off a few years ago to free himself from a boulder that had trapped him in a remote section of Utah.

Reynolds at 70 shows he can still appeal to a younger audience as he leads the group in deciding "Man Laws" like "If you poke it, you own it."

It's still early to see if Man Laws will mean more sales for Miller Lite. I'm not in their core user group, but if I were to have to make a choice of which of the three mega light beer brands to buy at the moment I'd go with Bert's beer.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tuesday Tasting: Three Big Beers

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we're reporting on three great brews recently sampled at The Flying Saucer in Charlotte, N.C.

Rogue AltBier: Rogue is one of my favorite American breweries. They have a "push the limits, take no prisoners" approach to brewing. You may find one or two of the beers from this Oregon micro to be a bit over the top, but you will always remember the character of a Rogue ale. Rogue AltBier is part of the John's Locker Series of limited edition beers and is a tip of the hat to the style of brew made famous in Dusseldorf, Germany. This sample was on draught. Rogue AltBier is a dark brew with a very nice level of malt. If you've been scared away by the sometimes massive amount of hops in Rogue brews (I'm not), you'll find that the malt in this AltBier really balances out the firm hop character. I'd match this up with any traditional German meal and be quite pleased with the result.

St Sebastiaan Golden Ale Winter Solstice 2005: This brew came in a ceramic bottle that had the Flying Saucer logo and the "Winter Solstice 2005" designation stamped in blue. From the Sterkens Brewery in the Campine region of Belgium this beer weighs in at 7.6 percent alcohol by volume. It is blonde in color with a slight flowery sweet nose and lightly carbonated. The flavor was more dry than I had expected it to be and was very smooth.

Avery 13 Weizen Dopplebock: I've come to be a big fan of this Boulder, Colo., brewery and this seasonal did not disappoint. Brewed once a year in May, Avery 13 marries two classic German styles: weiss and dopplebock. At 9.5 percent alcohol by volume, this mahogany colored brew has hints of spice, toffee and fruit (figs?) in a wonderfully complex flavor profile. The 22-ounce bottle is large enough to share with friends, but you may not want to part with any of this nectar.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Quite an Expensive Round

Single Malt Scotch Whisky is one of my favorite drinks. Each projects an individual character that takes you to the place and time it was distilled. A Scotch released this past week also has the potential to take you deep into your bank account. Only 261 bottles of Ardbeg 1965 in hand-blown glass bottles with numbered wax seals are available world wide. With this kind of rarity comes a rarefied price: $3,873 per bottle.

The single malt is the rarest ever released from the Islay distillery. At 84.2 proof the whisky is said to have a smoky character with hints of sea mist coming through the flavor profile. The demand for the whisky among collectors and bars that pride themselves on having rare Scotch is expected to quickly exhaust the supply. Ardbeg has set up a lottery for those with the available cash and desire to taste a bit of history. You can throw your name in the hat by emailing oldkiln@ardbeg.com. More information is available at www.ardbeg.com/1965.

If you don't have the credit rating to afford Ardbeg 1965, you might want to check out Ardbeg 10 at around $50 per bottle or splurge for a bottle of Ardbeg Lord of the Isles, a 25 year old Scotch, at around $275 per bottle. Islay malts are among the boldest offerings from Scotland and deserve the respect they have earned from whisky lovers.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Weekend Watering Hole: U Fleku Pub Restaurant & Brewery, Prague, the Czech Republic

As a regular weekend feature, Lyke2Drink will visit some of the world's great watering holes. This week's stop is said to be the oldest brewpub in the world.

U Fleku Pub Restaurant & Brewery
Kremencova 11
New Town, Prague 1


This place has its fans, and some who believe it is nothing more than a tourist trap. When I visited a few years back I had an enjoyable evening with great beer, my first taste of Becherovka and some decent traditional Czech food at very reasonable prices. U Fleku traces its roots back to 1499. It is a large maze of 8 rooms and an outdoor beer garden. There is entertainment in the Cabaret, but it was not running during our visit. I suspect this part of the venue might be why some come away thinking this is more Disney than a legitimate stop on any beer traveler's quest to visit the world's best pubs. From what I saw, I think your experience at U Fleku is determined to a large degree by which room you are seated in. If you have a choice, go for the outdoor garden, Akademie, Vaclavka or Jitmice rooms.

U Fleku sells just one beer, a well balanced dark lager that comes in half liter or one-third liter mugs. The wait staff will keep your glass filled, so when you are ready to stop place a coaster on top of your beer or another round is sure to arrive. The Becherovka was one of the highlights of my visit to the Czech capital. It is an herbal liquor that is dangerously smooth for a drink weighing in at 76 proof. Becherovka is made in the Czech town of Carlsbad and originated in 1805. Like the beer at U Fleku, the Becherovka will keep flowing until you call a halt.

Prague is a beautiful city with a number of great traditional pubs. U Fleku is certainly one of the stops that should be on your itinerary if you are lucky enough to visit the city.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Fill Your Tank with Bordeaux?

Grape growers in many parts of the world are experiencing too much of a good thing. So much so that the European Union spends $624 million annually to convert wine into fuel alcohol for vehicles and factories. The term the EU uses for this is "crisis distillation," but it has become fairly routine. About one out every six bottles of European wine ends up being distilled. About a year's worth of wine is now in storage in Europe and likely headed for fuel distillation.

Europe's problem is not isolated. Encouraged by tax incentives and a growing world market for its brands, Australian farmers planted large amounts of vines. Now Australia vineyards are trying to get inventories back in line by sending non-branded wine to stores at the bargain basement price of $2 per bottle.

In the U.S. the grape supply is expected to be down 14 percent this year because of weather conditions around the country. Don't expect to see any shortages, but you may see some premium products go up in price slightly.

While a wine glut may give consumers some immediate price breaks, it causes headaches for winemakers and retailers. The challenge for the Europeans is multiplied by the fact that consumption in key domestic markets is down, while challenges from American, South American and Australian wineries continue to grow. The EU is pushing vineyards to make wine labels easier to read, similar to American labels, while they also push for vineyards to be plowed under. They are also encouraging vintners to make wines that are more accessible and less complex, pointing to the success of easy drinking wines from New World markets.

A recent report on the impact of global warming on traditional vineyard areas suggests that some of the problem could solve itself as hotter than normal growing conditions cut production totals. You could have fooled many non-U.S. vineyards that are swimming in juice.

Perhaps we all need to do our part to reduce the glut by cracking open an extra bottle of wine this week.

Is that a Good Pint?

I was out having a couple of pints tonight with my Brother-in-Law and frequent companion Darrin Pikarsky when we experienced the highs and lows of the average beer drinker.

At the Flying Saucer near the UNC-Charlotte campus we had a couple of fine draught and bottled beers (catch the best in the upcoming Tuesday Tastings review). These were fresh and properly chilled brews. We then headed to the Southend Brewery & Smokehouse. The Pale Ale and the Brown Ale were to say the least a disappointment. It's hard to imagine, but two of what should have been the better moving taps at this brewpub tasted like out of date beer. How does this happen at a brewpub? I've been to Southend before and had good beer and food. I'm not exactly sure why this visit was so bad, it just was. The off beer lost the Southend our dinner business.

We headed down the street to Mac's Speed Shop Barbecue and had a nice meal and two hefty pours of Chimay. It was great to taste beer as it was meant to be. Which leads to my main point. Too often consumers in the United States put up with poor service, bad selection and -- even worse -- product that has gone bad. We are not alone. In England a group called Cask Marque has taken on the task of inspecting and recognizing pubs that do a good job serving cask ale. In a report that was recently released, they took U.K. pubs to task for selling "“bathwater beer."

Cask Marque spot checked 200 pubs and found many serving warm pints. The idea of British beer being "warm" is a misconception. Real ale brewers recommend a cellar temperature between 51-55ºF (a bit warmer than we are used to in the USA, but still refreshing) for the perfect pint. But Cask Marque found pubs in Sailsbury, Wiltshire and Keswick pulling pints as warm as 73ºF. In a pub in Dartford a Cask Marque rep was served a 86ºF pint. That's somewhere around the temperature of a good hot bath, not a thirst quenching ale. On the plus side, Cask Marque hands out plaques to pubs that do it right.

Tonight we left the Southend with more than half filled pints on the bar. I would normally have said something, but we opted to vote with our feet. Too often in America consumers are not willing to stand up for good beer. We all need to reward pubs that consistently serve quality brew with our business.

Friday, July 21, 2006

U.S. Coast Guard Exits the Brewing Business

According to a story by the Associated Press, the U.S. Coast Guard will reimburse the federal government $227.23 of taxpayer funds spent by a Coast Guard Academy official who brewed beer for school functions.

An audit by the Homeland Security Department uncovered the Coast Guard's brewing operation, which included a beer labeled "Admiral Amber Ale." While no allegations of illegal activity were made, the audit pointed out it might be viewed as inappropriate for the Coast Guard or other government entities to be producing alcoholic beverages. The audit also rejected the claim that the homebrewing operation saved money over the cost of buying commercially produced beer.

Does this mean that the Army plans to investigate Hawkeye and B.J.?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

God is on the Side of the Drinking Man

There are some religions that ban any and all consumption of alcohol. There are some that use alcohol as part of sacred ceremonies. I know while doing yard work on a hot summer day I've said a few prayers for an ice cold beer. If you ask me, God is on the side of the drinking man -- and I think I have proof.

First of all, I've personally consumed the good works of a few talented Trappist monks toiling away at monasteries in Belgium and France. Just taste a Chimay, an Orval, where the religious started brewing during the 11th Century, or one of the other brews from these craftsmen and tell me God is not pleased by the results.

Bourbon as we know it would not be the same drink without the handy work of Elijah Craig, an ordained Baptist minister. In addition to founding Georgetown College in Kentucky, running several businesses and serving as pastor of churches in South Carolina and Kentucky, he founded a distillery in 1789. Legend has it that a fire charred some barrels at Craig's distillery and created the circumstances under which corn whiskey was aged for the first time in charred oak barrels. Without the Rev. Craig, Bourbon might be nothing more than white lightning. There is a very fine Elijah Craig 18 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon made by Heaven Hill that pays homage to the good preacher.

Want more proof? Just look at the number of mythical gods closely associated with alcohol:
Bacchus was the Roman god of wine.
Dionysus was credited by the Greeks with bringing wine to mankind. They still celebrate a three day festival in his honor each year in Athens.
Ninkasi was the Sumerian goddess of alcohol and known as the "Lady who fills the mouth."
Osiris was the Egyptian god of agriculture and two of its most important products: beer and wine.
Aegir was the Norse god of the sea and brewed beer in a kettle.
Spenta Armaiti was a Persian goddess charged with guarding the vineyards.
Mayahuel was the Aztec goddess of alcohol.
Mbaba-Mwanna-Warsea was an African goddess who produced rainbows to signal celebrations and was also the goddess of beer.

Then there are the Christian patron saints that keep those who make, serve and consume alcohol safe. There is a near legion of these fine folks:
Saint Luke (1st Century), Saint Barbara (d. 235 AD), Saint Medard of Noyon (470-560), Saint Adrian (b. 303), Saint Lawrence (d. 258), Augestine of Hippo (354-430), Nicholas of Myra -- also known as Santa Claus (4th Century), Saint Veronua, Boniface of Mainz (680-754), King Wenceslas (907-929), Arnold of Soissons (1040-1087) and Arnou of Oudenaarde (11th Century) are all recognized as Patron Saints of Brewers.
Wine, winemakers and vineyards have their protectors, including Vincent of Saragossa (d. 304), Urban of Langres (d. 390), Martin of Tours (316-397), Morand of Cluny, Goar of Aquitaine and Walter of Pontnoise (d. 1099).
Distillers have Louis IX of France (1214-1270), canonized for leading crusades.
Merchants selling beer and wine, vine growers and bartenders claim Amand of Maastricht (584-679).
Saint Brigid (475-525) was credited with turning dirty bath water at a leper colony into thirst quenching beer.
Saint Benedict (480-547) established the Benedictine order, whose rules include hospitality as a key element. This allowed monks to start brewing beer and selling it to locals and travelers.
Saint Columbanus converted Swiss pagans about to sacrifice a large kettle of beer by telling them God wanted them to enjoy the drink in his name.
Saint Arnold of Metz (580-640) is credited with saving countless lives during the plague by telling people to drink beer instead of impure water. It quenched many thirsts and sure beat the Black Death.
King Gambrinus is not an official saint of the Catholic church, but brewers claim him as their patron saint. It is said Gambrinus was king of Flanders and was the first to use hops and malted barley in beer. Historians argue that Gambrinus may actually have been Jan Primus (John I, 1251-1294) who was the Duke of Flanders, Brabant, Louvain and Antwerp. Others say he was Jean Sans Peur (John the Fearless, 1371-1419).

I know there have been a number of times I would have nominated a talented brewer, distiller or vintner for sainthood after trying one of their fine creations. Certainly those who turn grapes and grains into enjoyment for the masses deserve it.

About This Blog

I've been writing about beer, wine and spirits since 1980 when I was a junior at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. I sold a story to the Syracuse New Times, a local alternative weekly, on the history of brewing in the Salt City for $25. (Actually they may have paid me $15 for the story and $5 each for two sidebars. Hey, I was a student and it was beer money!) Once I had a "clip" for The New Times I became and expert and could sell my work to other publications.

Since that time I've managed to sell articles on alcohol and other beverages (along with travel, sports, management, business and other topics) to magazines big and small. Some you've likely seen, like Cigar Aficionado, and others you would only come across if you were in a particular line of business, like Hotel & Motel Management. Right now my two primary gigs are with All About Beer, a national magazine where I write the "Beyond Beer" column -- everything but beer in a magazine devoted to beer -- and a column called "The Business of Beer" that appears in several of the regional Brewing News brewspapers.

Beer, wine and spirits have been very good to me over the years. My main source of income comes from my work with a major regional marketing communications firm (disclosure: over the years I have worked on accounts representing several alcohol marketers, including Diageo (Guinness), Constellation Brands (a variety of wine labels) F.X. Matt Brewing (we named and launched the Saranac brand) and the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance. None of these are currently active.). Writing has provided a nice side income, plus an excuse to visit breweries, wineries and distilleries. I can honestly say that "I drink for a living."

The great thing about writing about beer, wine and spirits is that interesting stories can be found no matter where you travel. You can visit Trappist monasteries in Belgium where the monks brew beer. You can tour a number of wineries in California that are owned by actors and directors. You can enjoy a $1,000 mint julep at Churchill Downs during the running of the Kentucky Derby. Or you can just pour your favorite beverage in a glass and spend part of a Saturday evening on your deck with family and friends.

That's what this blog is going to be about. My goal is to further the discussion of great libations, talk about some of the issues facing beverage companies and drinkers, plus share a few fun stories. Thanks for coming along for the ride.