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

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mark Your Calendars: Live Reports from the GABF

Excuse me if I have that "Kid in the Candy Store" look in my eye over the next few weeks. There is a legitimate reason: The Great American Beer Festival in Denver kicks off just four weeks from today.

From Sept. 28-30 the Colorado Convention Center will become the center of the known beer universe. The Brewers Association is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the event, which got its start as a small gathering in nearby Boulder, Colo. They expect to pour 1,600 of the nation's best beers from over 380 American breweries for about 30,000 attendees during four sessions spread across three days. This will be the largest selection of American beers ever gathered together in one place. Among the beers will be the GABF 25th Year Commemorative Beer from Boulder Beer and a collectible GABF can from Oskar Blues Brewery.

Also during the event more than 100 professional beer judges from the United States and abroad will evaluate more than 2,300 beers entered by more than 450 domestic breweries. Gold, silver and bronze medals in 69 beer-style categories will be awarded on the final day of the festival. The GABF medals mean something from a marketing standpoint for the winning brewers and they mean something to consumers. These are legitimate awards -- only 8.8 percent of the beers entered last year took home a medal. These are truly the best of the best when it comes to American beer.

If you cannot make it to Denver, I feel sorry for you, but we'll try to keep you posted on the sights, sounds and flavors of the festival. Lyke2Drink will be filing reports on a daily basis directly from the GABF. In addition to coverage of the GABF, you can expect reports from a number of the brewer sponsored events around Denver and visits to local brewpubs, distilleries and watering holes. It should be a fantastic event.

For more details and for ticket information visit www.beertown.org.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Canadian Company Buys Lake Placid Brewery

For the second time this summer ICBS Ltd. of Montreal has purchased a New York craft brewer.

Earlier today ICBS announced it had signed a deal to purchase Lake Placid Craft Brewing Co., which makes UBU Ale and Frostbite Ale. Lake Placid was founded in 1996 in the Adirondack Mountain community that has played host to two Olympic Winter Games. In June, ICBS purchased Ramapo Valley Brewery in the Hudson Valley. ICBS also recently purchased Maska Laboratories, which specializes in laboratory services for the beer, wine and food industries. The company works with major Canadian breweries and wineries providing quality control, formulation and product analysis.

Through its subsidiary ICBS Capital, the company provides funding and invests in companies, providing the capital and expertise to help companies grow to the next level.

While living in New York I had the chance to visit both Lake Placid Brewing and Ramapo Valley. Both make good solid beers, but the brewpub food operations and facilities at both could benefit from better management. Clearly, if ICBS brings funding for marketing and additional distribution, both Lake Placid and Ramapo Valley brands have the opportunity to expand beyond Upstate New York markets. It will be interesting to see if ICBS plans additional craft beer acquisitions.

Could Prohibition Make a Comeback?

The United States of America was alcohol free between the years of 1920 and 1934. At least that's what the law of the land said. You could still get a drink during those years, you were just breaking the law doing so. Most people credit Prohibition with helping to turn many law-abiding citizens into criminals and create one of this country's most enduring businesses: organized crime.

So why would anyone want to go back to the days when you had to go into the basement of a candy store or the backroom of a florist to get a beer? Few people actually advocate the outright elimination of beer, wine and spirits across the board. Yes, the Prohibition Party still fields candidates every four years to run for President and Vice President. But they are the exception. For the most part, the new kind of Prohibition involves people wanting to tell us where and when we can responsibly enjoy a glass of our favorite adult beverage. They don't like to see other people drinking and point to the behavior of a few drunks as the reason all of us should switch to iced tea. If you doubt me, consider these facts:

The Washington State Liquor Control Board today is expected to approve a ban of a number of beer and wine brands in several Seattle neighborhoods. Residents in several parts of Seattle, one of the cradles of the American craft beer movement, say they want to put an end to litter, panhandling and other problems they associate with street drunks. The proposal calls for two "alcohol-impact areas," one covering downtown, the Central Area, Chinatown International District, Belltown, Pioneer Square and Capitol Hill and the other covering the University District. The city's list of banned products would include 28 brands, all of them cheaper high-alcohol beers and fortified wines. The offending brands include Colt 45 Malt Liquor, Old Milwaukee Ice, Busch Ice, Steel Reserve, Cisco, Richard's Wild Irish Rose and Thunderbird.

Alcohol has been banned from the Green River around Asheville in western North Carolina. People complained that partiers had gotten out of control with "booze and tube" float trips down the river. Polk County voted to ban alcohol on all rivers in the county. Similar measures against floating happy hours have been proposed in Texas, Illinois and California.

Groups are placing pressure on San Diego lawmakers to ban alcohol on three popular beaches around the California city. This comes after voters said no to a referendum in 2002 that would have resulted in a one year trial ban of alcohol on the same beaches.

Activists in Columbus, Ohio, failed in an attempt to get enough signatures on petitions to get a referendum on the November ballot that would ban alcohol sales throughout the city's 7th Ward. They say they will keep trying and hope to have enough names in time for a special February election.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I've Always Wanted to Be in the Movie Business

Academy Award winner Francis Ford Coppola, who happens to make pretty good wine in addition to pretty good movies, is using profits from his California winery to fund his next picture. According to movie industry reports, Coppola decided to self-fund Youth Without Youth instead of taking normal Hollywood financial backing.

Any fan of Entourage will tell you that working through normal Hollywood channels would have required Coppola to compromise himself artistically. The movie is due for release sometime in 2007 and stars Tim Roth. Based on a story by Mircea Eliade, Youth Without You is a drama set in pre-World War II America. An incident turns a college professor into a fugitive. Coppola’s last movie as a director was the 1997 hit The Rainmaker, which starred Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, Claire Danes and Jon Voight. It was based on a novel by John Grisham. He has directed a few other “small films,” such as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The Cotton Club and Tucker: The Man and His Dream.

Tuesday Tasting: Going Vertical with The Glenlivet

Tuesday tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we make a virtual visit to Scotland to do a vertical tasting of four malts from a storied distillery.

I’ve had the opportunity to taste quite a few different beers, wines and spirits over the years. It is always interesting to compare and contrast the flavor profiles of different products from competing companies. It can also be extremely interesting to gather the products of a single firm together and do a tasting that examines a range of the products they have on the market. Not long ago I had the opportunity to bring together four different whiskies from The Glenlivet, a Speyside distillery that makes perhaps the most famous Single Malt brand.

The Glenlivet Distillery was founded by George Smith in 1824 in a rugged area of Scotland where illicit stills thrived when the English attempted to impose heavy taxes on distillers. It is said that the glen of the Livet’s spring water makes especially delicate whiskies. The mountain setting offers cool conditions that are favorable for distilling. Clearly a combination of factors help make The Glenlivet one of the most popular whisky brands in the world.

The company has eight different Single Malts on the market. Three in what they call “Travel Retail,” a 12-year-old “First Fill,” 15-year-old and 16-year-old “Nadurra;” Three in the “Core Range,” 12-year-old, 15-year-old French Oak Reserve and 18-year-old; and two “Ultra Premiums,” with a 21-year-old and a “Cellar Collection” that features a 1972 vintage that was released earlier this year. In tasting four of these whiskies it was interesting to see the wide range of flavors that can come from a single distillery.

The Glenlivet 15-Year-Old French Oak Reserve: This 80-proof Scotch is golden in color and starts off with a shot of smoke and pepper. There are hints of vanilla in the finish. ($50)

The Glenlivet 18-year-old: This 86-proof whisky has hints of green grass, honey and fresh oak. There is a combination of spices in the warm finish. ($70)

The Glenlivet Archive: This 21-year-old whisky is a tarnished brass color. There is nice oak and slight smoke up front in this 86-proof Scotch that gives way to a complex flavor of bitter chocolate and orange peel. ($130)

The Glenlivet Cellar Collection 1972: A cask strength whisky at 104.6 proof, it is amazingly vital for a whisky of its age. There are hints of floral in the nose and a solid peat-base to a classic Scotch flavor. Only 800 bottles were made available to the U.S. market in 2006. ($700)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Brown-Forman Buying Herradura

The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that Brown-Forman Corp. has a deal to buy Tequila Herradura SA for $875 million.

The deal would unite the Herradura and el Jimador Tequila brands with Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, Southern Comfort, Canadian Mist, Old Forester Bourbon, Finlandia vodka and other Brown-Forman brands. The deal would offer Brown-Forman a strong Tequila brand, while giving Herradura access to a strong sales, marketing and distribution team.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Virginia State Fair Wine Competition Results Announced

Results from the 15th annual Virginia State Fair Wine Competition were recently announced. We have to wait until Sept. 27th for the Best of Show to be announced at a gala scholarship fundraiser. For now we'll have to settle for knowing who took home medals.

Gold: Afton Mountain Vineyards, Estate Bottled Chardonnay, 2004; Afton Mountain Vineyards, Gewurztraminer, 2005; Chateau Morrisette, Cabernet Franc, 2003; Cooper Vineyards, Norton, 2004; Delfosse Vineyards & Winery, Cabernet Franc, 2005; Delfosse Vineyards & Winery, Chardonnay, 2005; Horton Vineyards, The Tower Series Cabernet Franc, 2002; Ingleside Plantation Vineyards, Ingleside Merlot Reserve, 2002; Ingleside Plantation Vineyards, Ingleside Virginia Gold, 2002; Lake Anna, Barrel Select Chardonnay, 2005; Oakencroft Vineyard & Winery, Oakencroft Merlot Reserve Monticello, 2004; Prince Michel Vineyards, Prince Michel Cabernet Franc, NV; Rappahannock Cellars, Cabernet Franc Reserve, 2004; Rappahannock Cellars, Meritage Reserve, 2004; Shenandoah Vineyards, Founder Reserve Chambourchin, Lot 03 NV; Stone Mountain Vineyards, Chardonnay Reserve, 2005; Stone Mountain Vineyards, Merlot, 2005; Tarara Winery, Tarara Winery Merlot, 2004; Waterford Vineyards, Barrel Select Chardonnay, 2005; Woodland Vineyard, Woodland Vineyard Chardonnay Barrel Select Virginia, 2005.

Silver: Autumn Hill Vineyards, Autumn Hill Chardonnay Vintners Reserve, 2005; Chateau Morrisette, Merlot, 2004; Cooper Vineyards, Viognier, 2005; Delfosse Vineyards & Winery, Reserve D'Oriane, 2005; Gadino Cellars, Moon Rise, 2005; Keswick Vineyards, Keswick Vineyards Rose, 2005; Lake Anna, Cabernet Franc, 2003; Prince Michel Vineyards, Prince Michel Dry Rose, 2005; Rappahannock Cellars, Chardonnay, 2005; Rebec Vineyards, Inc., Merlot, 2005; Tarara Winery, Tarara Winery Cameo, 2005; Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, 2004; Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, Chardonnay Reserve, 2005.

Bronze: Afton Mountain Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005; Ingleside Plantation Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, 2002; Ingleside Plantation Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002; Keswick Vineyards, Keswick Vineyards Heritage Reserve, 2004; Keswick Vineyards, Keswick Vineyards Norton, 2005; Naked Mountain Vineyard, Naked Mountain, 2004; Oakencroft Vineyard & Winery, Oakencroft Chardonnay Monticello, 2005; Oakencroft Vineyard & Winery, Oakencroft Viognier Monticello, 2005; Veramar Vineyard, Veramar Vineyard Norton, 2005; West Wind Farm & Vineyard, Pinot Gris 2005; White Hall Vineyards, White Hall Vineyards Petit Verdot, 2004; White Hall Vineyards, White Hall Vineyards Cabernet Franc, 2004; Windham Winery, Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004.

You can get more information on Virginia wines, including information on touring vineyards, at www.virginiawines.org.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Weekend Watering Hole: Great Lakes Brewing Co., Cleveland, Ohio

As a regular weekend feature, Lyke2Drink will visit some of the world's great watering holes. This week we head to Cleveland to visit one of America's great brewpubs.

Great Lakes Brewing Co.
2516 Market Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44113
(216) 771-4404

A brewpub is an extremely difficult business to run successfully over a long period of time. Some of my all-time favorites, places like Empire Brewing in Syracuse, Commonwealth Brewing in Boston and Dock Street in Philadelphia, served up great beer along with good food, but now they are gone. The restaurant business is notoriously difficult, while the brewing skills and marketing acumen required to launch a successful line of beers is hard to find in most small business teams.

That's why Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland is so impressive to me. Founded in 1988 as the first microbrewery in Ohio by brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway, the area around the restaurant featured a number of disused buildings and not much that would generate customer traffic. Great Lakes brewed about 1,000 barrels that year. Now several of the nearby buildings make up the Great Lakes campus. Some of the buildings used by Great Lakes were once the horse stables and kegging facilities for the Schlather Brewing Company, which dates back to 1878. Schlather once brewed up to 90,000 barrels a year and was one of 30 breweries in Cleveland. The first expansion by Great Lakes took place in 1992 and then in 1998, driven by increased market demand and regional growth, Great Lakes spent $8 million and installed a 75-barrel system capable of producing up to 70,000 barrels annually. You can now find Great Lakes' beers throughout Ohio and in Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The Great lakes restaurant is still going strong and now there is meeting and banquet facilities available.

Great Lakes is known for its award winning beers, including Dortmunder Gold, Burning River Pale Ale, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Eliot Ness Amber Lager, Holy Moses White Ale and seasonals like Conway's Irish Ale, Moondog Ale and Christmas Ale.

The brewpub is housed in a Victorian building that is a smoke-free environment. Originally The Market Tavern, which dates back to 1865, it became a popular watering hole for Cleveland's law enforcement officers, civil service employees and tradesmen. Its most famous patron was Eliot Ness, former leader of Chicago's "Untouchables" and the man credited with sending Al Capone to jail. The Taproom has a great Tiger Mahogany bar said to be Cleveland's oldest with a pair of bullet holes that legend has it were made by Ness. Below the Taproom is a new Beer Cellar, a beautiful turn-of-the-century "Rathskellar" complete with stone walls, a wooden bar and a viewing area of smaller brewing tanks. The Brewhouse is where most of the restaurant patrons are seated, but you can also enjoy a beer or a meal in the indoor/outdoor Beer Garden and in seating under trees in front of the Brewpub. Above the Taproom are two rooms available for private events known as the Market Room and the Rockefeller Room, which served as law offices for a young John D. Rockefeller before he got his start with Standard Oil.

The Great Lakes menu comes fully furnished with beer recommendations for every dish. The culinary team at the restaurant is not restricted by the rules of standard brewpub fare. You find things like a lobster and ricotta stuffed squash blossom appetizer, Stilton cheddar cheese soup made with Dortmunder Gold Lager and Alaskan halibut with yellow gazpacho sauce. You can also get a great bratwurst and pierogi plate or a wood fired pizza.

Friday, August 25, 2006

New Malt: Singleton of Dufftown

Do you have a friend who has tried just about every Single Malt on the market? If you happen to by flying internationally through London, Endiburgh or Glasgow, here's your chance to impress them. Diageo has launched a new whisky that will be sold initially only through duty free shops at these airports.

The Singleton of Dufftown will sell for $47.16 for a litre bottle. The 12-year-old Scotch was aged in Bourbon and sherry barrels.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Is Michael Mondavi the Next Walter Taylor?

R. Michael Mondavi has one of the most famous last names in American wine making. He just is not very likely to be able to use it on a wine bottle.

Two years he left the family business in a dispute he purchased the Carneros Creek Winery of Francis and Kathleen Mahoney in California's Napa Valley. Mondavi would love to put his name on the premium cabernet sauvignon he plans to produce.

There’s one little problem: Constellation Brands, the world's largest wine company, acquired the name when it bought Robert Mondavi Corp. of Oakville, Calif., for $1 billion in 2004. When you pay $1,000,000,000.00 for something you tend to think you actually own it. In a statement Constellation said the “Mondavi trademark is a valued and important asset, and we will protect that asset from anything which could result in marketplace confusion to the consumer.” That’s lawyer talk for “we’ll kick your ass in court.”

``At some point I would like to get the name on the wine,'' Michael Mondavi was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times.

Mondavi is more likely to find himself as this generation’s Walter S. Taylor, the late Finger Lakes winemaker, who launched the Bully Hill Vineyards label and signed bottles as Walter S. XXXX when the courts told him he could not use his name on a wine lable. Coca-Cola had purchased his family’s Taylor Wine Co. and the Atlanta corporate giant felt like it owned the name when it came to a wine brand.

Taylor was an eccentric rebel that I was lucky enough to meet early on in my drinks writing career. My wife, Sandy, and I visited his vineyard and had some wine with him after touring his home, which was filled with nude paintings of at least two of his former wives. Taylor was paralyzed in 1990 in an automobile accident in Florida where he would often go to paint everything from fishing boats to the space shuttle. He passed away earlier this year. Bottles of Bully Hill, which often featured Taylor’s paintings of goats, carried the tagline: “They got my name, but they didn’t get my goat.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sitting on a Bar Stool: The Greatest Drinking Songs of All-Time

There's a reason most taverns come with a juke box. I'm not sure what it is, but clearly music and booze go together. The mix is so powerful that over the years some of my favorite tunes have just happened to involve alcohol.

So I figured Wednesday was a good day to start a few debates. You'll see this list is pretty heavily country, but for some reason they tend to sing about drinking more than most. In my humble opinion, here is "The Top 50" of drinking songs:

1. Margaritaville -- Jimmy Buffett
2. All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight -- Hank Williams Jr.
3. Beer For My Horses -- Toby Keith/Willie Nelson
4. Tequila Sunrise -- The Eagles
5. Drinkin' My Baby Goodbye -- Charlie Daniels
6. Whiskey River -- Willie Nelson
7. One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer -- George Thorogood/John Lee Hooker
8. Friends in Low Places -- Garth Brooks
9. Double Vision -- Foreigner
10. Closing Time --Semisonic
11. It's Five O'Clock Somewhere -- Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett
12. I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink -- Merle Haggard
13. I Love This Bar -- Toby Keith
14. Family Tradition -- Hank Williams Jr.
15. I Drink Alone -- George Thorogood
16. Don't The Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time -- Mickey Gilley
17. There's a Tear in My Beer -- Hank Williams Sr.
18. Party Crowd -- David Lee Murphy
19. Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo -- Tracy Byrd
20. Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off -- Joe Nichols
21. I Like Beer -- Tom T. Hall
22. Two Pina Coladas -- Garth Brooks
23. Wasted Days and Wasted Nights -- Freddy Fender
24. Wasn't That a Party? -- Scooter Lee
25. Why Don't We Get Drunk? -- Jimmy Buffett
26. Tequila -- The Champs
27. Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof -- Travis Tritt
28. Captain Jack -- Billy Joel
29. The Last Shot -- Lou Reed
30. Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound -- Hank Williams Jr.
31. Set 'Em Up Joe -- Vern Gosden
32. Roadhouse Blues -- The Doors
33. Red, Red Wine -- The Replacements
34. Pop a Top -- Jim Ed Brown/Alan Jackson
35. In Heaven There is No Beer -- Polkaholics
36. Jose Cuervo -- Shelly West
37. I'm Gonna to Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home -- David Frizzell
38. Let's Go Get Stoned -- Ray Charles
39. Nightrain -- Guns N' Roses
40. Piano Man -- Billy Joel
41. Empty Glass -- Pete Townsend
42. Gin and Juice -- Snoop Dog
43. Dust on the Bottle -- David Lee Murphy
44. Alcohol -- Brad Paisley
45. Sunday Morning Coming Down -- Kris Kristofferson/Johnny Cash
46. Drink! -- They Might Be Giants
47. Don't Come Home A Drinkin' -- Loretta Lynn
48. Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers -- ZZ Top
49. Get Drunk and Be Somebody -- Toby Keith
50. Chug-A-Lug -- Roger Miller

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Craft Beer Sales Jump 11% in First Six Months of 2006

Craft beer has found its place in the American tavern and supermarket as a growing number of beer drinkers want an alternative to bland pale lagers. The latest statistics released earlier today clearly indicate the craft beer movement is as strong as it has ever been and picking up momentum.

According to the Brewers Association, which is based in Boulder, Colo., and has a membership of 800 craft brewers across the U.S., the volume of craft beer sold in America during the first half of 2006 rose 11 percent compared to the same period in 2005. This surge is even more impressive when you consider that craft beer sales increased by 7 percent in 2004 and by 9 percent in 2005.

"The rate of growth in the craft beer segment appears to be accelerating," said Paul Gatza, Director of the Brewers Association professional division. "This is the third straight year we've seen an increase in the craft beer growth rate."

"This growth represents strong performance by established craft brewers over several years," said Ray Daniels, Director of Craft Beer Marketing for the Brewers Association. "Unlike the early days of our industry, newly founded breweries do not add significantly to industry-wide production."

The last time the craft beer segment experienced double digit sales gains was in 1996. That was a time of rapid growth in the number of microbreweries and brewpubs across the country. In 1996 the number of craft breweries in operation increased by more than 35 percent, while overall volume increased by 26 percent. The number of operating craft breweries has remained relatively constant in recent years as sales growth has come from established craft brewers. Basically this means that in the mid-1990s, the growth in the industry came from expanding distribution of craft beer. The movement rapidly matured and a number of breweries closed and other labels were acquired by major national brewers. Now the craft brewing market is relatively mature, but the growth spurt since 2004 shows that consumer interest is still growing.

Craft beer sales in grocery, convenience, drug and liquor stores for the first half of 2006 as tracked by Information Resources Inc. (IRI) show volume growth of 12 to 13 percent and dollar sales up 15 to 16 percent, according to Dan Wandel, Vice President of Beverage Alcohol Client Solutions for IRI.

Brewers Association craft brewers meet two criteria: 1) classification as a small brewer producing less than 2 million barrels of beer per year, and 2) either their flagship beer or the majority of the beer they produce is "all-malt" and does not include corn or rice in the recipe. The first half estimate is based on interviews and public reports for at least 70 percent of the craft segment volume. IRI uses other criteria in determining craft status and bases their data on retail store checkout scan data.

Tuesday Tasting: Lavish Liqueurs

Tuesday tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we are sampling six different liqueurs from around the world.

Liqueurs occupy an interesting place in the drinks world. They are some of the most important ingredients in some of our favorite drinks. They can also stand alone as an aperitif, digestif or a good old plain shooter. The origin of liqueur goes back hundreds of years when the art of bartending and the science of medicine were often fairly close to one another. Herbal, fruit and root concoctions were blended with alcohol and handed out as remedies for a host of ailments. Even today some people will tell you that liqueur can help problems go away.

For this tasting I gathered together liqueurs from the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, Japan and Italy. They ranged in color from light golden straw to vibrant green. The flavors ranged even more dramatically.

Becherovka: If it were not for a beverage called beer this Czech liqueur might be the national drink. It is light straw in color and has a slightly medicinal nose. Once in your mouth this 76 proof drink is an herbal explosion that goes down very smoothly.

Unicum Zwack: The Shahs, friends from India who do not drink but know that I do, brought me this Hungarian liqueur that they had picked up in Europe as a gift when they attended my daughter's wedding recently. This 80-proof liqueur comes from a recipe that dates back to 1790. Unicum is an interestingly bitter liqueur that is a dark amber color. The liqueur is made using 40 different herbs and aged for six months in oak barrels.

Zen Green Tea Liqueur: This liqueur from Japan is relatively new to the market, reflecting the recent popularity of green tea. At 40 proof, it is very smooth, loaded with tea flavor and finishes slightly sweet. Made using Kyoto green tea leaves, the liqueur has a light lime green color.

Midori: This melon liqueur from Japan's Suntory is an intense green -- Midori is the Japanese word for green. The 42-proof liqueur has a sweet, candy like nose and is flavored like ripe cantelope.

Grand Marnier Cuvee du Cent Cinquantenaire: This liqueur from Moet Hennessy was first made to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Grand Marnier, the French orange liqueur. It uses as its base Cognac from Grand Champagne, some of it aged up to 50 years. It is very smooth, with the essence of orange clearly present and hints of nuts and oakiness.

Villa Massa Limoncello: This 60-proof Italian liqueur is a slightly cloudy yellow color when chilled, but tastes like liquid sunshine. Made from lemons grown near Sorrento, it has a balanced sweet and sour lemon drop flavor profile with the clear essence of lemons present throughout.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Beerfest: I'll Try to Look Away, But I Don't Think I Can

I was at the movies a couple of weeks ago to see "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" when a trailer popped on the screen for "Beerfest," which opens Aug. 25th around the country. I laughed a bit watching the scenes they had strung together, then cringed realizing that most of the people I knew would expect me to go out and see this movie.

Now I'm all in favor of good clean fun. I was, after all, waiting for Talladega Nights to start. Heck, it doesn't have to be all that clean and in the case of Beerfest it's not. This film is rated R for "pervasive crude and sexual content, language, nudity and substance abuse." Beerfest is from Broken Lizard, the people behind the 2001 film "Super Troopers." The story line of this movie is that two American brothers travel to Germany for Oktoberfest to spread the ashes of their grandfather, only to stumble upon secret beer chugging competition. The Americans want to beat the Germans, English, Irish and other teams at the event. There's even an all-female team from Scandanavia.We can all imagine the direction the script takes.

So why am I cringing about seeing this film? I think parts of it will be funny, but it will perpetuate stereotypes about beer drinkers and beer festivals that are mostly untrue. I'm not against making fun of beer drinkers (I'm OK with laughing at myself), but it could be accomplished more efficiently in a Saturday Night Live skit.

I think Beerfest will leave me kind of feeling the same way that Talladega Nights did. There were funny parts to that movie, but it missed its chance to be a real cult film like Slapshot or Animal House. Those movies can still get me to watch and laugh 25+ years later. I'm not sure why Talladega Nights did not hit a home run for me. I loved the Laughing Clown Malt Liquor sponsorship of Ricky Bobby's first car and the fact his delinquent father had a can of the sponsor's beer with him throughout the movie. I like Will Ferrell, he's a funny guy. So I hate to even say this, but he is clearly better in a supporting role than trying to carry an entire film. I absolutely love Ferrell in Old School and Wedding Crashers. I think Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was one of the worst comedies I've seen in sometime. I will give him credit for Elf, but you were required to suspend disbelief from the very start of that movie. The thing that would have made the Ricky Bobby and Ron Burgundy roles true classics is if they were played over the top, but in a way that was still believable. I did not get that feeling.

Beerfest will likely be a hit with the college fraternity crowd. Perhaps they should not allow anyone under 25 to attend without being accompanied by a college student.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Weekend Watering Hole: Coleman's Authentic Irish Pub, Syracuse, N.Y.

As a regular weekend feature, Lyke2Drink will visit some of the world's great watering holes. This week we head to my old home town to visit one of America's great Irish bars.

Coleman's Authentic Irish Pub
100 South Lowell Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13204
(315) 476-1933

I have a bit of a fond place in my heart for Coleman's on Tipperary Hill on Syracuse's westside. You can say that Coleman's introduced me one of the true love's of my life. No, I did not meet my wife at Coleman's. I had my first properly built pint of Guinness Stout at Coleman's while in college. Stout is my favorite beer style and a perfect pint of Guinness is hard to beat.

From the time it opened in 1933 with the repeal of Prohibition, until 1979 Coleman's was pretty much a standard blue collar bar. The lines would form early each St. Patrick's Day and locals would cram inside for a mug of green beer. Things changed in 1979, when Peter Coleman, the son of the founder of this landmark bar, undertook a major renovation and transformed Coleman's into an upscale pub with dark woodwork, stained glass, brass accents and superbly detailed appointments, including a small Leprechaun door next to the main entrance. This was well before the Irish Pub Company started shipping Irish pubs like Fado in Atlanta and RiRa in Charlotte lock, stock and mirrors from Ireland to the U.S. You just did not see attention to detail like this in 98 percent of the Irish bars in America. Coleman's is still a treat and Peter Coleman has been a one man urban renewal project in the neighborhood around the bar. You can recognize his retail locations and residential rehabs by the multi-hued color patterns.

Coleman's has a compact draught beer list, but there is something for everyone. I'd recommend you go with the Guinness, Harp, Smithwick's or McSorley's Ale. They still pour a great pint of Guinness. Coleman's has a good range of Irish whiskey, too.

With the rehab 27 years ago came a solid lunch and dinner menu. Two favorites to try are the Guinness Beef Stew ($13.99) and the Shepherd's Pie ($8.99). Coleman's regularly has Irish themed musical acts and it has a gift shop selling a range of items with the bar's logo. The inverted traffic light (with the green light on top) in Coleman's logo is a reminder of the historic signal just up the hill from the restaurant. When the city of Syracuse tried a couple of generations ago to switch it to the standard configuration so the green was on the bottom the heavily Irish neighborhood responded by throwing rocks to break the lamps so often that the city switched it back.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Is Canadian Football Stronger than American Football?

While the Canadian Football League may see the sport brought back to that nation's capital thanks to a brewery owner, the Chicago Bears have announced new plans to cut off beer sales and try to control rowdy fans at night games in the Windy City.

Frank D'Angelo, CEO of Steelback Brewery in Ontario, says he'd like to be the owner of Ottawa's CFL franchise and bring football back to the city. Football in Ottawa has a history that goes back to 1876. For most of those years the Ottawa Rough Riders played in the CFL until folding in 1996. In 2002, the Ottawa Renegades entered the league, but the CFL shut the franchise down this past Spring. Two other potential ownership groups have emerged, including at least one that has negotiated rights to the old Rough Riders name.

While everyone might be toasting the kick off next season in Ottawa with a Steelback, fans in Chicago may have to go without a cold brew during the second half of night games at Soldier Field. The beer-sales restriction affect two pre-season exhibition games and the Oct. 1st regular season contest against the Seattle Seahawks. Beer sales in most stadium areas will end 5 minutes into the third quarter of the night games. Fans in the V.I.P. Cadillac Club will be able to buy beer until 30 minutes after the games conclude. All fans at every game will be limited to one beer at a time per person. At day games, alcohol will be sold until the end of the third quarter, which is a rule that has been in place for several seasons.

After hearing about how some visiting Carolina Panthers fans were treated by Chicago supporters during both a regular season loss last November and play-off victory in January, the Bears might want to cut off beer sales during the pre-game tailgate parties.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Booze Briefs: All the News that's Fit to Drink

New York Wine & Food Classic: Two of my favorite wineries in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York took home the top honors in a recent statewide competition. Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars was named the 2006 New York Winery of the Year and Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards 2005 Dry Riesling beat out 702 wines to capture the Governor's Cup silver chalice.

While I was living in the Syracuse area, these two wineries were always on the list to visit whenever my wife, Sandy, and I would take a drive through the vineyards. Category awards were handed out to Chateau Frank (sparkling), Swedish Hill (white), Chateau Lafayette Reneau (rose or blush), Jamesport Vineyards (red), Baldwin Vineyards (specialty), Wolffer Estate Vineyards (dessert) and Hermann J. Wiemer (white). New York has 239 wineries.

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No Free Beer: South African Breweries has alerted consumers in South Africa that a widely circulating email promising 12 cases of SAB's beers for free if the message is forwarded to 10 friends is a hoax. Darn, I guess that delivery I was expecting won't make it in time for the weekend!

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Scotch in Play: Distiller Whyte & Mackay is said to be the target of United Breweries Group of India in a $862.7 million bid. Vijay Mallya, chairman of United Breweries Group and a member of the Indian Parliament, controls the Kingfisher beer brand and airline, French wine maker Bouvet Ladubay , American craft breweries Mendocino in California and Olde Saratoga in New York, McDowell's Brandy and the world's third largest spirits marketer.

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Put My Plastic Bottle in a Paper Bag: Wolf Blass Wines is launching Bilyara Reserve, a new Australian wine in PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottles. The Wolf Blass Bilyara Reserve line includes 2005 Bilyara Reserve Chardonnay and Bilyara Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are sealed with a screw-cap closure, which is a good thing because I'm not sure a cork in a plastic bottle is a smart idea.

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Cincinnati Delighted: Greg Hardman, the president and majority owner of Christian Moerlein Brewing Co., is on a mission to restore some great beer brands from Cincinnati's past. In May his company acquired the remnants of the old Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewery from Snyder International Brewing Group of Cleveland, which had owned the brands since 1999. Hardman's company has launched a retro version of Hudy Delight using the tag line "Show your Hudy...and I'll show you mine."

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Casualty of War: Vineyards face many challenges each growing season. Too much rain, too little rain. Too much heat, not enough sun at the right time. Pests range from birds to deer to insects to mildew -- now rockets. Israeli vineyards have been hard hit by the war along the Lebanese border. The Upper Galilee region is the Nappa Valley of Israel. At Kibbutz Manara, which supplies the Recanati Winery with much of its grapes, Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets have destroyed the vineyard manager's home and kept workers out of the fields. At least half the crop is a loss due to poor quality.

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Sapporo Makes Strong Bid: It looks like a major Japanese brewer will be playing a key role in the Canadian beer market. Sleeman Breweries Ltd., Canada's third-largest brewer, has recommended shareholders accept a bid by Sapporo Breweries Ltd. to take control of the company. Several bidders made offers for the company, including Molson Coors and InBev, which owns Labatt.
According to Sleeman officials, the sale to Sapporo would preserve more jobs at the company's four breweries than the bids by Molson Coors or InBev.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mail a Package, Buy Some Stamps and Grab a Bottle of Vodka

Back in the old days a citizen of the Soviet Union could count on a few things. The KGB would make sure freedom of speech was not a bother. The women's track and field team could win most bar room brawls. And there was always plenty of vodka. Things have changed, especially in The Republic of Tatarstan.

In the post-Soviet era some rules have been written as things come along. Tatarstan is a constituent republic of the Russian Federation. The Tatarstan Constitution says it is associated with the Russian Federation, but it also points out the republic is a sovereign entity.

Much of Tatarstan is rural and a key part of life for the last 500 years or so has been vodka. Small shops and roadside kiosks kept residents supplied with vodka and many used vodka as a form of currency. That all changed in July when a new Tatarstan law required individuals to obtain a license to sell alcohol. Most vodka stands closed, complaining the licenses were too expensive and the bureaucracy too daunting. Since vodka supplied profits to stores selling other needed items, the closure of shops in rural areas has been a major problem for some communities.

The old Soviet black market also soon emerged to fill the vodka void. The government did not like this idea so the Tatarstan Pochtasi -- the Post Office --applied for a license to sell vodka. The post office has long been a gathering place in rural Tatarstan, selling goods like general stores in rural America during the early part of the last Century. Now 24 of the 58 post office run shops in rural Tatarstan sell vodka, along side milk, bread and other essentials. Tatarstan Pochtasi officials plan to extend alcohol sales to 1,058 of its outlets in 44 districts -- creating a virtual state monopoly over vodka sales.

It makes you wonder if the art of letter writing will be revived in Tatarstan now that the post office has become the local boozer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Are Two Havana Clubs Better Than One?

When the communists took control of Cuba the government seized control of private businesses and many of the island nation's wealthiest families fled to others parts of the Caribbean and the United States. The subsequent U.S. embargo against all Cuban products caused, among other things, the supply of Cuban cigars and rum to dry up. If you lived close to the Canadian border, as I did until about a year ago, or were lucky enough to take trips to Europe or the Caribbean, you could still sample these products. Now a major Puerto Rican rum producer says it has purchased rights to and has the original recipe for the famous Havana Club rum brand and is producing it for the American market.

Bacardi relaunched Havana Club in the United States this month. It says it purchased rights to the brand from the Arechabala family, which controlled Havana Club prior to the reign of Fidel Castro and his friends. Not so fast, says the French drinks giant Pernod Ricard, which has had a joint venture agreement with Cuba Ron since 1994 to market Havana Club around the globe. They say they have rights to the brand and plan to file lawsuits against anyone trying to use the Havana Club name.

In what sounds like a legal argument that could grow into the next Anheuser-Busch Budweiser from the U.S. versus Budejovicky Budvar Budweiser from the Czech Republic international trademark dispute, this one has a few interesting twists and turns. In 1974, the owners of the Havana Club brand allowed their trademark to lapse. The Cuban government immediately registered the trademark, but because of the embargo, have been unable to sell Havana Club in the U.S. The Arechabala family claims the rum produced in Cuba is not made with the original recipe and is not a very good rum. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office told the Cuba government on Aug. 3 that the trademark they held in the U.S. was "cancelled/expired." Bacardi for its part says it is clearly labeling the Havana Club it produces as Puerto Rican rum so it will not mislead consumers.

While this dispute will continue to bubble along in the U.S. court system, the real interesting developments will come when either (a) Bacardi decides to try to market the "original recipe" Havana Club some place other than the United States, or (b) The U.S. lifts the embargo against Cuba and Pernod Ricard decides that it would like to sell the "Havana Club from Cuba" to a nation full of thirsty drinkers just 90 miles away.

Anyone care for a Cuba Libre?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tuesday Tasting: Reds from the Southern Hemisphere

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 taking a tour of red wines from south of the Equator.

Not long ago any serious discussion of red wine started and ended in one of four places: France, Italy, Spain or California. The wine world is pretty traditional in its thinking and no other producers were giving real cause for a change in the accepted wisdom.

That was then, this is now. A number of circumstances came together to leave a crack in the door and vineyards from other regions and they exploited the opportunity. Vineyards located south of the Equator are perhaps the most successful in crashing the party with shiraz, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and other reds that offer exciting alternatives. Wineries principally from five Southern Hemisphere countries -- Australia, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina – have the traditional producers scrambling to try to match quality and price.

What changed to rock the world of red wines? Like most major market changes, it was no single event. A grape shortage in California in the 1990s created an opportunity for Australians to help consumers discover that good red wine need not cost $40 a bottle. Chilean vintners soon would prove it need not cost $15 a bottle. About the time this lesson was soaking in, media reports surfaced of thousands of bottles of fake Italian Chianti and French Burgundy being discovered on the market, casting doubt in the minds of some consumers about the authenticity of what they had been drinking. The French made their situation more difficult when they stumbled politically in dealing with America. The U.S. Dollar faded against the Euro during the last few years, making price an issue for the higher end French and Italian labels. Then grape harvests in several of the major red wine regions reached near record levels, resulting in gluts in the market. The Australian wine surplus has consumers in that country feasting on $2 bottles of wine at the moment.

No longer does anyone question a bottle of Australian red wine brought to a dinner party. Consumers find adventure in trying a red from South African, a country that not long ago was virtually banned as a trading partner with the U.S. Southern Hemisphere winemakers have uncovered four keys that are helping them gain market share: value pricing that encourages trial; availability of popular varietals, such as merlot and shiraz; easy to understand labels; and good wine that matches what the casual wine drinker is looking for in a red.

Simply put, for a large chunk of American wine consuming public it is easier, cheaper and more enjoyable to drink an Australian wine than a French wine. They don’t need to try to figure out the mysteries of the Bordeaux, Burgundy or some other appellation. The labels don’t require experience with French pronunciations. If they are looking for a merlot, it says so on the label. For most entry to mid-level wines, they will likely pay less for a wine of similar quality. And, many experts argue the wine is closer to what the typical American palate wants in a wine experience. Besides, Australians are viewed as fun. The French? Well, they’re French.

Here's a quick tour around the Southern Hemisphere wine world:

Argentina: The wine industry in Argentina has been primarily focused on domestic and South American markets, so it can be hard to find an Argentine wine in the U.S. Most people are surprised to learn that Argentina out produces Chile and is fairly close to the U.S. in total output of wine. The first grapes were planted by Spanish settlers in the mid-1500s. Investment in the industry during the 1990s has pointed vineyards in the direction of internationally favored grape varieties. The results so far include some interesting blends, such as Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec-Merlot. Wine to try: Argento Malbec or Cantena Cabernet Sauvignon.

Australia: The first vines were brought to Australia in 1788. Several waves of European immigrants brought more vines and wine making experience. Equally important is that during the last several decades Australians have heavily invested in winemaking infrastructure and now rank among the most modern of any wine producing country worldwide. The technology, facilities and automation, coupled with some the best growing conditions on the planet, have meant abundant crops and quality wines. Tax incentives have caused over production and price cutting, which favors the consumer for the moment. Reds from the Barossa Valley are among the world’s best. Shiraz, an old world grape called Syrah in Europe, is Australia’s signature. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also do well down under. Wine to try: There are plenty of fine Australian reds, so it is difficult to go wrong. A good bet is one of the reds from Penfolds, which can range from the affordable to the pricey. Each is worth what you will pay for them.

Chile: Grapes were first planted in Chile by Spanish missionaries in the 1500s. No one is sure how much of the production went towards sacramental wines and how much was for general consumption, but centuries would pass before the next big evolution in Chilean wine. In the 1800s wealthy landowners began importing French vines and French winemakers. When phylloxera and other disease wiped out vines in Europe, Chile’s vineyards were not harmed. Political difficulties during much of the last century slowed the emergence of Chile as a wine producing powerhouse, but foreign investment arrived to bolster wine making in the country. Chile is recognized as a value wine producing region, but prices for some labels have been on the rise as the reputation for quality grows. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Carmenere are the reds to look for from Chile. Wine to try: Santa Ema Reserve Merlot says quite a bit about the quality wine being produced in Chile in a package priced around $10.

New Zealand: The first vineyard on New Zealand was established in 1835. It was not until the 1980s that New Zealand started to get noticed on the international scene and mostly for Sauvignon Blanc and other whites. About 75 percent of New Zealand’s wines are white, but Pinot Noir, along with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, from New Zealand are worth trying. The Hawkes Bay, Otago and Malborough areas show the best promise for reds. Wine to try: Felton Road Pinot Noir is a very fine red wine.

South Africa: The vineyards in this country were first established in the 1600s, but went through significant development under the British during the 1800s because wars made Continental wines difficult to import to the United Kingdom. Ignore for much of the last century, South African vintners did their own thing. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Merlot, South Africa produces the Pinotage, a blend of the Pinot Noir and Cinsault grapes. Wine to try: Goats do Roam, a tongue in cheek poke at the French Rhone reds, is a very affordable blend of pinotage, shiraz, cinsault, grenache and carignan. For a little more, try Warwick Estate Three Cape Ladies, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinotage.

Monday, August 14, 2006

George Washington Distilled Here

A team of architects, carpenters, archaeologists and historians are busy with a project in Virginia that covers a chapter of the life of George Washington that few people know. It has nothing to do with George Washington the President or George Washington the Revolutionary War hero. There is no tale about chopping down a cherry tree -- unless the wood was sent to a cooper for barrel making. It's all about George Washington the distiller. That's right, the Father of our Country was a whiskey maker from Virginia who operated one of the largest distilleries in America at the time of his death.

The ex-President built the 2,250 square foot distillery at Mount Vernon in 1797. Always a leader, Washington's distillery was among the largest in the U.S. at the time. In 1799, the year he died, Washington produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey, worth $7,500. Washington's relative who inherited the distillery leased it to a local operator and the facility was in use until 1814 when it burned to the ground. This piece of early American history would have been lost to the world without the liquor industry's efforts.

With the support of the Distilled Spirits Council and a number of whiskey makers, historians in Mount Vernon excavated the site of Washington's distillery in 2000. A dream team of master distillers gathered at Mount Vernon in October 2003 and, using a replica 18th Century pot still over an open flame outdoors, made whiskey from a recipe Washington used that called for a grain bill of 60 percent rye, 35 percent corn and 5 percent barley. The whiskey made that day is currently aging in Mount Vernon and will be sold to raise funds for the historic reconstruction project.

Distilleries have already donated $1.5 million towards the project and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars more through the sale of special commemorative bottles of spirits. The distillery sits next to a reconstructed grist mill, so visitors to Mount Vernon will be able to see how grains were ground and turned into whiskey at the site during the 18th Century.

"We're resurrecting George Washington's distillery with the highest degree of authenticity," said Dennis Pogue, Mount Vernon's chief historian and director of preservation. "In marrying our goal of authenticity to the requirements of modern building regulations, we're faced with a unique opportunity to do something no one has ever done in this country. The craftsmanship and detail that go into making this historic site come alive is truly original."

The reconstructed Washington distillery, which is three miles from his home, is slated to be dedicated on Sept. 27, 2006, and open to the public in April 2007. The facility will be a national distilling museum and the gateway to the American Whiskey Trail, which encompasses historic distilling-related sites in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. When completed it will showcase to everyone from tourists to school groups the fact that Washington viewed whiskey making as a legitimate business and a key component of the nation's agrarian economy, allowing farmers to convert grain into a marketable commodity. That certainly flies in the face of neo-prohibitionist propaganda about the evils of the alcohol industry. It also makes you wonder if Washington had retired from public life immediately after the Revolution and went back to Mount Vernon instead of serving as president if he would be more recognized for having his name on bottles on liquor store shelves next to Jack Daniels, Elijah Craig and Evan Williams?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Weekend Watering Hole: SandLot Brewery at Coors Field

As a regular weekend feature, Lyke2Drink will visit some of the world's great watering holes. This week we head to the Mile High City to visit the 2005 Small Brewery of the Year, SandLot Brewery at Coors Field.

SandLot Brewery at Coors Field
22nd & Blake Street
Denver, Colo. 80202
(303) 298-1587

There is nothing like a cold beer at a baseball game on a warm summer afternoon. Perhaps the only way to improve on the combination is when the beer in question is a fresh craft brew. That's why the SandLot Brewery in Denver was an instant hit when it opened in 1995, the inaugural season for the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

Tucked into the stands along the first base line, the SandLot Brewery is a brewpub that is open whether or not the Rockies are on the field. During games, you need a ticket to get into this bar. I made my first visit to the location while in Denver during the Great American Beer Festival a few years back. After striking up a conversation with brewer John Legnard, my traveling companion, Darrin Pikarksy, and I quickly found ourselves in a basement beer heaven. At the time, I had my doubts about what a brewpub owned by Coors might actually be contributing to the craft beer movement. We tried a range of SandLot beers, including a couple that had yet to be put on draught in the pub, and my doubts soon turned into enthusiasm for the quality of the brewery.

SandLot maintains a fairly lose relationship with Molson Coors, but the parent does watch the SandLot for ideas and trends. In fact, the Blue Moon brand actually got its start at SandLot as Bellyslide Belgian White. While it might be hard for a mega brewer to take a chance on a non-mainstream style brew because it happens to have a loyal following among patrons of a single brewpub, Blue Moon proves that it can work.

I'm not alone in wishing that Molson Coors would expand distribution of more of the beers from the SandLot. At the 2005 Great American Beer Festival, the judges named SandLot the Small Brewery of the Year and handed over seven medals for a range of brews:

-- Pinch Hit Pilsner: German-Style Pilsener -- Gold
-- Barmen Pilsner -- American-Style Specialty Lager -- Gold
-- Melvis Easly's Special Lager -- American-Style Specialty Lager -- Silver
-- Second Hand Smoke -- Smoke-Flavored Beer -- Silver
-- Most Beer Judges Are Bone Heads -- European-Style Pilsener -- Silver
-- Goat Rancher -- Bock -- Silver
-- Wild Pitch Hefeweizen -- South German-Style Hefeweizen/Hefeweissbier -- Bronze

The decor of the SandLot is a cross between a classic American brewpub and a sports bar. Typical brewpub food is highlighted on the menu, with burgers popular with many at the bar. My wish is that the SandLot would encourage more stadium operators. They all don't need to open brewpubs, but it sure would be nice to find more offering great microbrewed products along side the typical national brands they all pour.

I am planning to travel to Denver for the 25th anniversary Great American Beer Festival that runs from Sept. 28-30. Since Coors Filed is located almost midway between my hotel and the festival site, the SandLot makes a logical site to rest my legs along the way. With seven reigning medalist brews, it's almost like a mini-beer festival on its own. Now that is certainly an improvement on the already great American tradition of a ballgame and a brew.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Good Luck Brittany & Michael!

Today is a special day in the Lyke house, so I’m taking a little diversion from my normal blogging – but just a little. Today my oldest child, Brittany Elizabeth Lyke (that's me having a beer with Britt), is getting married to Michael Drew Wirth. I’m an extremely proud Father and thrilled to be having Michael join our family. I thought it would be neat to publish the column below that first appear in the January 2006 issue of All About Beer magazine. Please join me and my wife, Sandy, in wishing Britt and Mike a long and happy life together.

It’s My Round
By Rick and Brittany Lyke

Britt: Fathers and daughters share many bonds. In the case of me and
my Dad, we both laugh at "The Simpsons," love animals, played soccer in our youth, and went to college to become writers. And we each enjoy a good pint of ale.

Rick: This isn't surprising. Beer is in our blood. It’s not just from the pints
we enjoyed during dinners. It also has to do with good childhood memories of playing and laughing while our dads sat nearby and enjoyed a couple of cold brews. And it’s also likely because of our German-English-Polish-Mexican ancestors, who surely gave us DNA with genetic markers that resemble hops. The fact is, we each tasted beer early in life and decided it was pretty good stuff. In my case, it was in the early 1960s, when my mom and dad would sometimes let me sip the suds off the top of a fresh draft. In Brittany’s case, it was pure theft when a three-year-old blonde showed she was her father’s daughter one summer afternoon by quickly downing an unattended Matt’s Premium split.

Britt: Beer has always been around our house: in the fridge, in the garage or in
whichever hand my dad wasn’t using to flip burgers on the grill. It's on the guest list for birthdays, picnics, sporting events and dinners. At our house, beer's a social beverage that friends and family gather around. And while I did pay close attention to my mother’s makeup, jewelry and perfume, I also had more than a passing interest in my father’s most frequent accessory: a good, cold, pint of freshly brewed craft beer. I like to challenge the societal stigma of beer being ‘unlady-like’. I respect a woman who can walk into a bar, order a craft beer and enjoy her suds with just as much satisfaction as the guy sitting next to her.

Rick: When Brittany started going to school, I suddenly realized that not everyone shared my appreciation for beer. While programs like D.A.R.E. have good intentions, nearly all of the information about alcohol in our schools is highly negative and does nothing to reinforce the important messages about moderate consumption, which we tried to communicate in our home. I realized that Brittany (now 21) and her younger sister, Brhea (18) were growing up with beer and it was my job to make it a positive experience. Beer was not the sinister beverage they were hearing about in school. I wanted them to know the beer I enjoyed. Beer made by Belgian monks. Beer made by American craftsmen. Beer made in every corner of the world, by people who carry on a 5,000-year-old tradition.

Britt: My dad explained the positive aspects of beer to me at the age of ten, when D.A.R.E. had temporarily impaired my ability to distinguish between a responsible enthusiast and an alcoholic. I was pretty amazed, though, when I learned that beer was a staple beverage at medieval royal weddings, or that beer was on the very first ships that arrived in the Americas. I now sit with a happy smile when I see old sepia photographs of my relatives holding a beer during a celebration, because I can easily understand from where my tastes emigrated. Beer serves as a virtual link to generations of family I never had the chance to meet.

Rick: Both of my daughters are constantly impressing me, in so many ways. For example, I love it when we all go out to dinner and Britt decides to have a beer. I’ve never heard her call for a Coors Light or a Michelob Ultra. Those beers might be OK for the neighbor’s kid, but I’d feel like I hadn't really done a complete job as a parent if she didn't know the difference between an IPA and a stout.

Britt: My Dad's a loveable pushover who would do anything for his family. Plus, it's pretty cool when I take my dad to hang out with a group of my friends, and he decides to have a beer. I’ve never heard him call for anything that anyone in the room has even heard of before, let alone tried. When curious eyebrows are raised, we get to have a great discussion about the beverage in question, and I learn some new things from him. It’s great to have a parent who’s an expert about something as unique, yet so universal, as beer. Of course, I wouldn’t be doing a complete job as Rick’s kid if I didn’t sometimes try to find a beer he had never sampled.

Father and daughter Rick Lyke and Brittany Lyke live near one another along the North Carolina and South Carolina border.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Will the Cybernose Know Best?

Science is once again trying to eliminate the need for sommeliers and wine writers. Now they have enlisted a microscopic worm in the fight.

Researchers at the Australian National University, Monash University and CSIRO's Food Futures National Research Flagship are looking at how simple animals make sense of smells. They are focusing on the microscopic nematode worm as part of research into creating what they call the Cybernose. The goal is to create an artificial nose that will be highly sensitive to aromas using a molecular recognition system. The aim is to be able to judge the smell and quality of wine grapes.

The researchers say the current generation of man made electronic censors are not sensitive enough. They hope to find a way to use the sensory power of simple organisms such as insects and learn how they process information about smells and tell the difference between odors.

The researchers believe that by 2013 they will have a working Cybernose that Australian vineyards can use to judge grape quality and determine the optimum ripeness of grapes before they are harvested. The Cybernose might also be able to help wineries determine which grapes have aroma qualities that are favored by consumers, thus enabling winemakers to shift production towards grapes and growing areas with the highest money making potential.

I'm not sure I want a worm telling me which wine to drink. Then again, we've all purchased at least one highly rated bottle of wine only to find that the wine critic was the real worm.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

How Do You Like Them Apples?

When most Americans think about cider it is the drink that they had as a child at a Halloween party. Say the word cider to an adult in Great Britain, Ireland or France and you will likely get a knowing smile. "Hard" cider is a traditional drink that has sustained many farmers and rural communities in many parts of the world -- including the U.S. -- for centuries. Cider making not only provided a way to make a supply of home brew, it also allowed many to convert a crop into a commodity that could be sold for much needed hard currency.

The cider market in the U.S. is still just an afterthought tagged on to the craft beer craze in most places. A good multi-tap pub may have a draught cider available. In most supermarkets you can find a cider or two, most often living on the shelves somewhere between the microbrewed beers, wine coolers and malternative beverages like Smirnoff Ice.

At one point about a dozen years ago I remember being a little shocked to discover that the cider franchise in the U.K. was, on a market share basis, about the same size as the U.S. domestic craft beer business at the time. However, cider was in the midst of a decades long decline in traditional European markets, which now thankfully has been reversed. In places like
Kent and Herefordshire, traditional orchard regions, trees have been removed since the 1970s so that the number is less than a quarter of what it once was. Now farmers are planting trees to try to catch up with demand for cider. About 5,000 acres have recently been planted with apple trees.

It's not just Britain that is experiencing a cider revival. Magners, an Irish cider maker, has seen rapid growth that caused the company to buy apples from Britain.

Industry reports say cider sales in the U.K. jumped an amazing 51 percent in July. No one is exactly sure why cider is suddenly the apple of the consumer's eye once again. Some suggest that people who reached legal drinking age during the growth of what the British call "alcopops" (i.e. Zima and the like) prefer something other than a pint of bitter. Others point to hot weather and even the FIFA World Cup as reasons. The growth of organic foods and the idea that cider is healthy are also cited.

Cider is one of those "change up" drinks that is perfect for summer. Most hard ciders are not sweet, but have a crisp or even dry flavor. They are the perfect second six pack to bring to a party. I'm not sure a glass of cider counts against the old "apple a day" thing, but it works for me.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

There Used to be a Brewery

To paraphrase the old Frank Sinatra tune, "Yes, there used to be a brewery right here." Many a Londoner will be saying that in the years to come now that a property developer has purchased Young's Ram Brewery, a brewing landmark in the Wandsworth section on the British capital.

Young's announced two months ago that it would be leaving its south London home and merging brewing operations with Charles Wells in Bedford. The Young's website still promotes brewery tours and family visits to the stables where Young's famous hitch of horses is kept. If you get the chance sometime soon, go and get a glimpse of a piece of the brewing art about to fade into history. Minerva, a developer that specializes in creating office towers and shopping centers, has swallowed up the Ram Brewery for $131.7 million.

The reasons for the sale are many, beyond the 131.7 million that Minerva is providing. The brewery was older and there was not room for expansion on the 5.5-acre site. With the sale ends a heritage of brewing on the spot that goes back to the 16th Century. Apparently the Brewery Tap pub will remain, but the Ram Brewery will cease to exist. The sale is expected to be completed in 2008. Young's said it will use the funds to expand its growing pub and hotel empire.

While the Young's brand will survive to be brewed again, the end of brewing in Wandsworth is a sad one for all beer drinkers. The first pint of ale I had as a Syracuse University student while spending a semester abroad in London was at The Lamb, a Young's house near the University of London dorm where they allowed us to stay for a few days while we found flats. It was not the last pint of Young's that I would enjoy in the coming months.

Unfortunately, Young's joins a growing list of beers that are no longer brewed in their traditional homes. Rolling Rock is the latest example in the U.S. It is now made in Newark, N.J. No more spring water from the Laurel Mountains around Latrobe, Pa. Since so much of what goes into beer is water, it makes a difference. I also think it makes a difference when you think about the generations of families that took pride in brewing a beer who are suddenly no longer associated with the brand.

Many things go into what we drink. It's not that a sparkling wine from California is inferior to Champagne from France. It's just that they are different. They come from a different place and that is one of the reasons that a product like Generic Beer never got off the ground. Most of us want to know a little bit about what we are drinking and that starts with the place it comes from. You can find cheap 12-packs of Schlitz in grocery stores around the country, but it's not really The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Chinese Franchise Concept Could be Bigger than Hooters

I try to buy American, but let's face it: in today's world it is impossible to avoid products made in China. Add to it the fact that many of the beverages I write about come from around the globe and I tend to have a free trade mentality. Now comes word of a new bar concept from China that could take a serious bite (or gouge) out of the likes of TGI Fridays and Bennigan's.

According to the official state sanctioned China Daily newspaper, a new bar in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing allows customers to beat on employees -- for a price. The Rising Sun Anger Release Bar allows customers to smack around waiters and other staff, plus smash glasses, scream, shout and generally do what some Americans do every weekend. However, customers at the Rising Sun Anger Release Bar don't have to worry about retribution from some bouncer who has anger management issues of their own or taking a ride in the back of police cruiser.

According to China Daily, the bar employs about 20 men who have agreed to be punching bags for angry customers. The staff receives physical training and are given protective gear. Here's the part where it gets a little weird and I expect angry comments: the 20 employees will dress up like a boss, a woman or in other costumes so customers can feel more like they are taking their aggression out on someone they know. If that doesn't work, customers can also receive psychological counseling -- I'm sure from the bartenders, just like bars in America! Before you start thinking this place is a hangout for abusive husbands or former Tour de France riders jacked up on testosterone, owner Wu Gong, 29, says the bar is very popular with women working in karaoke bars and massage parlors.

Let me try to guess what you're thinking: "So, how much does it cost to open a can of whoop ass on that prick of a boss/ex-boyfriend/jerk who still owes me $100?" The Rising Sun Anger Release Bar charges 50 to 300 Chinese Yuan ($6.27 to $37.63) depending on how much anger you plan to release.

Tuesday Tasting: A Dozen Fine Rums

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 sipping some fine rum.

You don't have to be on a beach in the Caribbean to enjoy a fine sipping rum, but it doesn't hurt. Rum is an incredible spirit. It does marvelous things to virtually any type of fruit juice when mixed over ice. It can turn a bottle of Coke into a party. And, in finer forms, is perfect neat or over the rocks.

Man’s quest to brew, distill and otherwise ferment is an amazing study in persistence and making use of what God has provided from the regional harvest. In Northern climates, grains and grapes, along with various fruits and vegetables thrown in the mix, were found highly useful in creating a mind boggling array of beverages. Get closer to the Equator and plants like sugar cane, actually a tropical grass, and agave, an off shoot of the lily family, are used by industrious distillers to turn out potent potables. Regardless of the raw ingredient, in the right hands skill, patience and a laundry list of environmental factors can come together to make a drink that deserves to be savored.

Rum can be distilled from the fresh juice collected when cane is crushed or from molasses manufactured from sugar cane. In either case, the distilling process starts off with sucrose, which is different than nearly all other alcohol-making processes in which a starch is combined with enzymes and cooked to convert glucose to sucrose.

Rum is an amazingly flexible spirit that gives distillers a rich palette to use in creating flavor profiles. Aged rums should be thought of as cousins to fine Scotch or Cognac, not something to be consumed in frozen concoctions sporting tiny umbrellas -- not that there is anything wrong with that.

I recently had the chance to sit down with a few great rums and do some side-by-side tasting. I was amazed by the range of flavors in these fine rums. Any of these rums is worth the investment.

Appleton Estate Extra 12-Year-Old Rum ($30): This 86-proof Jamaican rum is a deep tarnished bronze color. It starts off with a pleasant butterscotch nose and has a long warm finish that lingers with hints of coffee.

Bardenay Small Batch Cane Sugar Rum ($20): This 80-proof rum from a small Idaho distiller is straw gold in color, with a clean nose. It warms the mouth and offers hints of butterscotch, walnuts and clover.

Dogfish Head Wit Spiced Rum ($34): This 80-proof rum from Delaware is tripled distilled. Its clear color hides the fact that it is loaded with citrus tones. Curacao orange peel comes through clearly with hints of coriander.

Oronoco Rum ($35): A smooth white rum from Brazil that starts off with a slightly cotton candy nose, hints of clover and vanilla, that finishes with touches of wood.

Prichards' Crystal Rum ($25): This 80-proof rum is distilled five times and offers a crisp, refreshing taste. The nose offers up an eggnog base and the flavor has a slightly sweet finish.

Prichards' Fine Rum ($38): This 80-proof Tennessee rum is amber color. The nose has a unique almost blueberry quality, while the flavor delivers rich and warm oak, spice and nut tones. This is a rum to linger over at the end of the evening.

Rhum Barbancourt Estate Reserve Oak Aged 15 Years ($36): This copper colored rum from Haiti has a smooth flavor profile with pleasing hints of cigar and leather, finishing with fresh wood.

Rogue Dark Rum ($28): This 80-proof rum from Oregon is double distilled and has a rich amber color. There is a slight hint of smoke in the early flavor profile, almonds and a pleasantly caramelized sugar finish.

Ron Anejo Aniversario Pampero ($30): This 80-proof rum from Venezuela is a dark amber color and serves up a rich vanilla nose that gives way to several layers of hazelnut, maple and oak flavors.

Ron Flor de Cana Grand Reserve 7-Year-Old Anejo ($26): An 80-proof rum from Nicaragua, it is the color of a new penny and has a slightly oak nose. It is smooth and mellow throughout with hints of citrus sweetness and bits of pepper mingled in its flavor profile.

Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva ($30): A blend of 15 year old rums, there are hints of almond in the nose of the amber-gold colored drink. Clear vanilla and oak tones come through in the profile.

Ron Zacapa Centenario ($40): An 80-proof rum from Guatemala blended from rums up to 23 years old, it is a deep amber Cognac color. A very smooth rum with hints of brown sugar, roasted almonds and refreshing vanilla tones. Truly one of the world’s great rums.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Can they Really Make Iron City in Milwaukee?

The late Frank Zappa is quoted as saying "You can't have a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer." Makes me wonder what he'd say about Pennsylvania these days?

Not long after Anheuser-Busch purchased the Rolling Rock brand for $82 million from InBev and moved production from Latrobe, Pa., to Newark, N.J., comes word that Pittsburgh Brewing, the bankrupt company behind Iron City, is threatening to sell off the assets of the company to out of state brewers. Pittsburgh Brewing wants a judge to throw out a five year agreement the company has with the International Union of Electronic Workers, which represents plant employees. If the bankruptcy court goes along with the plan workers can expect a 10 percent pay cut plus increased health insurance costs.

Rolling Rock and Iron City are old-line iconic brands. They said much about the hard working people of small towns and cities in that part of Pennsylvania. Nothing fancy, just good honest beer. They went down real good after a hard day's work. The green bottles and "33" symbol said Rolling Rock and millions of people who otherwise might have never heard of the place knew the name Latrobe, Pa. Iron City, first brewed in 1861, has a tradition of featuring championship sports teams on its cans. I was never a fan of the Steelers, Pirates or Penguins, but those who were still display those cans proudly as mini-shrines to great seasons.

Rolling Rock has left Pennsylvania. Is Iron City next?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Vodka War

There is a vodka war of sorts brewing in Europe. At stake could well be control of the $12 billion world market in the clear spirit.

On one side are the purists in the Baltic Sea region countries that form the cradle of vodka. Producers and politicians from Poland, Finland and Sweden want the European Union to adopt rules that say vodka can only be made from either grain or potatoes. These traditional vodka makers are pointing out one brand in particular, Ciroc, which is made from grapes by drinks industry giant Diageo, as threatening to dilute the heritage of vodka. There are other examples around the world that run afoul of the proposed rule, including Vermont Spirits Gold Vodka made from maple syrup.

On the other side of the argument is a group calling itself the Vodka Alliance of Europe, backed by British, Dutch, French and Austrian companies. They believe it is perfectly OK to allow grapes, beets and citrus fruit to be distilled into vodka.

While vodka can be traced back to Poland in the 1500s, no ancient king ever issued a decree regarding the ingredients allowed in a vodka still. Also, unlike Tequila or Cognac, that are defined as much by geographic boundaries as by ingredients, vodka long ago became a drink with many addresses. Trying to put that genie back in the bottle would be extremely difficult. Look at what Champagne producers go through in constantly arguing that other bubbly is nothing more than a sparkling wine.

Perhaps if they changed the name of the Baltic to the Vodka Sea they would have a better chance.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Weekend Watering Hole: Clark Street Ale House, Chicago, Illinois

As a regular weekend feature, Lyke2Drink will visit some of the world's great watering holes. This week we head to the Midwest to visit one of Chicago's best.

Clark Street Ale House
742 N. Clarke Street
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 642-9253

I have a habit when I travel of trying to find places that serve a wide range of beers, wines and spirits. I consider it "part of the job" as a drinks journalist, but the reality is that it can be a heck of a lot of fun. Usually, I'll do a few minutes of research on the web before heading to a city that I've either never been to or have not visited in some time. On other occasions, I'll ask for recommendations at my hotel or from business associates once I have arrived. Then there are the times that I just happen to find a great joint. That's what happened to me a number of years ago when I came across the Clark Street Ale House one evening while in Chicago.

The Clark Street Ale House is in the River North area, so there is usually a good crowd of younger professionals enjoying the place. On my first visit my luck was pretty amazing. I happened to pick a bar stool next to a sales rep from Bell's Brewery, one of the top craft brewers in the Midwest. He noticed I was looking over the tap handles and the beer list and asked what I normally liked to drink. I explained to him that I was in search of new beers and stuff that I normally did not get a chance to try in Upstate New York, where I lived at the time. The next thing I knew a pint of Bell's Kalamazoo Stout arrived in front of me. Imagine that! This rich, dark stout weighs in at 6.5 percent ABV and is meant to be savored. If it were not for the fact that I had to spend a good chunk of the next day working at a trade show, I think I could have closed Clark Street up that night trying all of the great draughts.

The Clark Street Ale House has plenty of wood throughout with a great big mahogany bar and huge windows that open to the city. There is a neat looking mural that will remind you of some great Germany and Czech beer halls. There is even a vine covered beer garden perfect in warmer weather months.

The Clark Street Ale House has about 25 draughts, with a nice number of seasonals and Midwestern gems in the mix, to go along with nearly 100 different bottled beers. There is also a solid selection of about 50 whiskies, many fine Single Malt Scotch labels, along with wines by the glass.

The Clark Street Ale House is one of those unique finds in a large American city: a friendly place that stocks a great selection of adult beverages at reasonable prices in an atmosphere that says "You're done for the day, sit back and relax."

Friday, August 04, 2006

The King is Flexing its Muscles

Is it just me or did someone wake up the giant?

Not to long ago the folks at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis were reporting something quite unusual: A-B sales were down 1.8 percent last year. This came not long after mergers formed InBev and SABMiller to put a serious challenge to A-B's place as the world's largest brewing concern. I guess you should not tug on Superman's cape and you certainly should not spit into the wind.

Let's review what the folks at A-B have announced recently:

1. They acquired the Rolling Rock brand for $82 million and moved production to A-B's Newark brewery.
2. They became the U.S. importer for Singapore's Tiger Beer.
3. They became the U.S. importer for Grolsch from the Netherlands.
4. They launched two organic beers: Wild Hop Lager under the Green Valley Brewing name and Stone Mill Pale Ale under the Crooked Creek Brewing name.(You won't find a mention of A-B on any of the packaging for these two brands.)
5. Widmer Bros. Brewing, which A-B holds a minority interest, acquired a minority interest in Goose Island Brewing. A-B distributors in the key Chicago market now have distribution rights to Goose Island's popular beers. This is similar to A-B's holdings and distribution agreement with Redhook Ale Brewery.
6. Under the A-B Specialty Brewing Group, the company ran consumer balloting in Ohio and New England to pick two "hometown" brews and launched Demon's Hop Yard IPA (brewed in Merrimack, N.H.) and Burnin' Helles (brewed in Columbus, Ohio).
7. They announced they were selling beer in Trinidad and Tobago.
8. They signed an agreement to distribute Hansen Energy Drinks.
9. Last holiday season they rolled out Brew Masters Private Reserve (8.5 percent ABV) and Celebrate (10 percent ABV).
10. They launched a seasonal line of beers with Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale in the Fall, Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale and Beach Bum Blonde Ale for the Summer.
11. They announced they were serving Front Range Fresh Hop Harvest Ale exclusively at tour centers at their breweries in St. Louis, Mo., Jacksonville, Fla., Fort Collins, Colo., and Fairfield, Calif.
12. They rolled out some serious line extensions during the last two years with Budweiser Select, Michelob Ultra Amber, Natty Up, ZiegenBock Amber and new flavors for Bacardi Silver.
13. They introduced Tilt, a berry-flavor malt beverage with caffeine, guarana and ginseng, and Spykes as two other forays into the adult alternative beverage category following the BE launch off the Budweiser franchise.
14. Michelob Marzen and Michelob Pale Ale both took home Gold Medals at the Great American Beer Festival last Fall. These brands are available as part of a Michelob sampler pack that includes standard Michelob, Michelob Honey Lager and Michelob Amberbock.
15. Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway purchased 43.9 million shares of the company last year -- 5.7 percent of the outstanding A-B stock. Buffet is pretty good at picking winners.
16. The company is selling 16 percent of its total volume outside the United States, thanks in part to brewing agreements in key markets around the globe. In some cases, it does not matter if they are selling A-B brands because A-B owns a 50 percent share of Mexico's Groupo Modelo (they have a little brand called Corona), 27 percent of China's Tsingtao and two years ago they acquired China's fourth largest brewer, Harbin. They now import Harbin Lager to the U.S., plus they brew Kirin Ichiban and Kirin Light in the U.S. for the Japanese brewer.
17. They announced they had secured exclusive television sponsorship rights to the NFL Super Bowl through the 2012 season, to go along with being the official beer of the 2008 Olympics, the FIFA World Cups in 2010 and 2014, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and NASCAR's Busch Series.
18. They are even heading into the spirits business to try to recapture former beer drinkers with a product called Jekyll & Hyde -- actually two products: a berry flavored liquor (60 proof) and an herbal liqueur (80 proff) that are sold together and designed to be mixed by the consumer.

I'm sure I've missed a few things they have done, but the list is pretty darn impressive as it stands. A-B's stock is up around 10 percent so far for the year and the company announced second quarter earnings shot up 7.4 percent to $638 million. During this time period the company broke its record for sales to retailers. A-B, which has had a long stated goal of controlling 50 percent of the U.S. beer market, estimates that it owns a 48.9 percent market share.

Could someone turn down the lights and let the giant rest for a little bit?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Looking for Votes in the Bottom of a Glass

Bellying up to the bar is one of those Every Man kind of things that politicians do on occasion -- often when it's election season. President Ronald Reagan made a memorable stop at the Eire Pub in Boston's Dorchester section in 1983, catching regulars by surprise. In a famous photo by Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe, The Leader of the Free World can be seen with a mug of Ballantine Ale chatting with locals. He is said to have finished the beer, washing down a hotdog with the brew. No doubt the nuclear football was close by just in case. In 1992, Bill Clinton visited the same bar on a campaign stop. Regulars still scoff at the fact Clinton posed with a pint of Guinness, but did not touch a drop of the brew.

Those type of photo-op visits have come to be the expected sort of thing in today's non-stop news cycle world. It sure makes better television than another stump speech at the local tractor assembly plant. Sometimes when the cameras are not around, politicians are more like the rest of us and end up just wanting to have a good time. Still, two recent reports of powerful people enjoying a relaxing moment caught even a grizzled journalist like myself a little off guard.

Case #1: The New York Times recently reported that during a Congressional visit to Estonia in 2004, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. John McCain and others in the delegation engaged in a classic of any trip to the Baltics -- a vodka drinking contest. No one has stepped forward to announce a victor, but Sen. McCain is said to have told some fellow members of Congress that Mrs. Clinton had impressed him as "just one of the guys." The contest was her idea, according to the news reports. (And I always thought that it was Bill who was the party animal of that couple.) Perhaps Clinton and McCain might decide to use drinking contests instead of debates if they end up facing off in the race for the White House in 2008.

Case #2: British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently visited California on what some in the U.K. called part vacation and part politics. On one evening he ended up at Skybar, an exclusive watering hole at the Mondrian Hotel overlooking Los Angeles. A number of celebrities and some Chelsea soccer stars were in the bar. Prime Minister Blair is said to have been seen talking with Cordozar Calvin Broadus Jr., aka Snoop Dogg. I cannot help but wonder if the subject of the (alleged) near riot in April at London's Heathrow Airport came up? During a layover on a British Airways flight to South Africa, Snoop and his large traveling contingent (allegedly) became upset that they all could not enter the first class lounge. Some (allegedly) had coach tickets. In the end, after some liquor bottles had (allegedly) been thrown through windows at the duty free shop and seven police officers (allegedly) suffered minor injuries (allegedly) battling up to 30 people, Snoop and five of his traveling companions were arrested. British Airways also banned Snoop from future flights.