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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Book Review: Art of the Bar

There are dozens of cocktail recipe books on the market and just about any good bartender has probably given thought to finding a publisher and developing their own collection. Bartenders Jeff Hollinger and Bob Schwartz of San Francisco's Absinthe Brasserie & Bar did not just think about it, they created one of the more beautiful and interesting cocktail books to hit bookstore shelves in recent years.

The Art of the Bar: Cockatils Inspired by the Classics features the lavish photography of Frankie Frankeny to go along with classic and soon-to-be classic recipes, bar history and helpful hints on everything from glassware to garnishing drinks. A great theme throughout the book is how to use fresh ingredients and craft bases from fresh juices and syrups to make excitingly crisp cocktails.

The 143-page book from Chronicle Books has a list price of $24.95. It's worth that price just for the beauty of the photography. But The Art of the Bar goes beyond that by encouraging us all to make artistic concoctions such as the Paddle Boat and the Agave Rose. You may even find yourself gathering the ingredients to make a French 75, Sazerac or Opera after seeing them detailed in this book.

The Art of the Bar is not the most comprehensive volume of cocktails ever published. It was not meant to be. It is designed to inspire bartenders -- both professional and amateur -- the make something more than just a drink the next time they go behind the bar.

Why Wine Lists Look the Way They Do

When it comes to food and drink, Americans are a fairly predictable lot. There's a reason why hamburger, chicken and taco fast food joints congregate around the off ramps of interstate highways across this great land. We appear ready to accept an unlimited number of TGI Friday's, Chili's and Ruby Tuesday locations, but good independent restaurants struggle to make it from month to month. Even in great restaurant cities -- I just returned from one, Charleston, S.C. -- there are an abundant number of places that think just about everything must pass through the deep fryer on its way to the table.

You cannot fault the restaurateurs. We support these places by buying what they sell and we do the same thing when it comes to the selections that they offer up in the form of draught and bottled beer, wine lists and call brands for liquor. Just look at America's five favorite wine varietals according to ACNielsen: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, White Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio. Not a Riesling, Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir or Syrah among the top five? That says plenty when you talk about diversity and range of flavor.

Well I've made a resolution for the New Year and plan to follow it closely. If a restaurant decides that all I should be offered to drink is a house selection of mundane wines from a single mega vintner or the five beer taps should only include three light beers and two pale lagers, I'm going to order ice water with a lemon wedge. Doing anything other than this reinforces the poor bar management of the restaurateur by rewarding them with a beverage sale. I've even tried asking a few bartenders recently why their place ties up so many taps for beer that basically all tastes fairly the same. To a barkeeper the answer I've been given is a "I don't know, I don't do the ordering." I'm not looking for these places to suddenly start exclusively selling Belgian ales, I'd just like a little variety and maybe a local product or two. I recognize there are customers who want light beer, but why do they get three taps and the rest of us zero?

So the next time you visit a restaurant and ask them what they have to drink, if the wine list or beer list sounds like a generic airport lounge look the server in the eye and say: "That's all you have? I'll take an ice water and lemon." Perhaps if they start realizing they are losing sales (and tips) because of boring beverage offerings, things might change. Our taste buds can only hope.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Can Beer Make Winter Roads Safer?

The Town of Dedham, Mass., and Central Michigan University are just two of the places where crews will be spreading a byproduct of brewing and distilling operations on roads to reduce icing conditions this winter.

Ice Ban, which looks and smells like molasses, is applied to asphalt and concrete before snow storms. The treatment helps salt stick better to roads and melt snow and ice before it has a chance to build up and create traffic woes. One problem with traditional road salt is that it starts to become less effective once temperatures dip below 20 degrees. Ice Ban is said to help road salt to continue working until temperatures reach zero degrees. It also helps reduce the ability of ice and snow to stick to roads, making them easier to clear.

Communities using Ice Ban believe it may help cut road salt budgets by as much as a third. It is non-toxic, environmentally friendly and less corrosive to vehicles than road salt.

Wet or Dry, You Still Can't Get a Drink in Orchard City

In November, residents in Orchard City, Colo., voted resoundingly to end a ban on alcohol sales in the town, located 170 miles west of Denver. It was the last completely dry town in Colorado.

The vote authorizes the town to issue licenses to sell alcohol to restaurants and liquor stores, but not to bars or taverns. The Orchard City Board of Trustees must establish rules for alcohol sales, but since no one has applied for a liquor license the town leaders are not exactly feeling pressured to push forward with drawing up the regulations.

It may take sometime before the thirst of the town's 3,000 residents is quenched.

Friday, December 29, 2006

What Do Baseball Great Tom Seaver, Musician Carlos Santana and Porn Star Savanna Samson Have in Common? Hint: It's Red, White and Rose

Take a walk down the aisles of some wine shops and you feel like you are reading Page 6 of the New York Post or you've stumbled into Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.

You will find crooner Frank Sinatra, golfer Arnold Palmer and race car driver Mario Andretti. Rocker Mick Fleetwood, chef Emeril Laggase and actress Marilyn Monroe are there, too.

There are wines that are clearly marketing ploys, like the KISS This Red and Elvis Blue Suede Chardonnay. You might laugh at labels turned out for The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Madonna, Bob Dylan and Savanna Samson, but keep in mind that collectors are spending thousands trying to get complete sets of Marilyn Merlot. Fans hunt down bottles carrying the name of NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, the late Dead front man Jerry Garcia and NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka with little regard to the liquid inside.

There are some celebrity winemakers that are truly winemakers. Tom Seaver works the fields at his new California venture. Director Francis Ford Coppola, golfer Greg Norman and actor Fess Parker (the guy who played Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone) are heavily involved in their wine labels. Actor Gerard Depardieu comes from a French winemaking family.

The list of the famous with a hand in making wine -- or at least wanting to appear to be involved in wine making -- includes Soprano's psychiatrist Lorraine Bracco, NFL coaches Bill Walsh and Dick Vermeil, golfers Ernie Els, Nick Faldo and Mike Weir, F1 driver Michael Schumacher, NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, Olympic skater Peggy Fleming, musical artists Vince Neil, Sting, Barbara Streisand and Olivia Newton John, tennis star Lleyton Hewitt, and Hollywood's Sam Neill, Steven Seagal, Carole Bouquet, Dan Aykroyd, John Lasseter, Tom and Dick Smothers and Sofia Coppola. Some, like NFL great Joe Montana and musician Carlos Santana license their names for wines that help raise money for charities.

I'm pretty certain that 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide had little to nothing to do with the making of the chardonnay that carried his name and likeness turned out by New York's Millbrook Vineyards to mark the gelding's unlikely rise. (Funny Cide also has a beer, hot sauce and ice cream among his stable of products.)

It's hard to imagine who might end up on a wine label next. Donald Trump has his own vodka. There is a beer with the mythical Bigfoot on the label. Can Rosie O'Donnell Rose be far behind?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Coming to a Bar Near You in 2007: Sparkling Spirits

It must be that there just aren't enough bubbles in tonic or seltzer for some people. At least two companies are preparing to launch sparkling vodka, gin and perhaps other spirits in the United States during 2007.

International English Distillers already has a sparkling brand, Vodka O2, on sale in the United Kingdom and Canada. It plans to bring it the U.S. next year. U.K. drinks conglomerate Diageo is not far behind. They have found a way to add natural carbonation to vodka, gin, rum, whiskey and other spirits. It will be interesting to learn if Diageo has developed super yeast or if they have found another method. There has been no word on possible brand names or a launch schedule for Diageo's project.

There will certainly be an initial demand for these products created by the marketing hype of a "new" spirit category. However, the launch does raise more than a few questions. Do sparkling spirits really have long-term legs or are they a gimmick? Once the bottles are open, do they go flat if not consumed in one session? Are bartenders busy at this very moment coming up with recipes for fizzy navel? If you want bubbles aren't the 95 million in every bottle of Champagne sufficient? Would James Bond ever order a fizzy Martini?

I know the answer to the last one: It depended how much Diageo is willing to pony up to Metro Goldwyn Mayer for a product placement in the next flick.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Jimmy Buffett Teaming Up With A-B

He is connected to two restaurant chains -- the Margaritaville Cafe and Cheeseburger in Paradise, owns shares in the minor league Fort Myers Miracle and Madison Black Wolf baseball clubs, appeared on Saturday Night Live, performed the first concert in Chicago's Wrigley Field and sang on the south lawn of the White House for a birthday bash for former President Bill Clinton. Now it looks like Jimmy Buffett is about to get his own beer.

Anheuser-Busch has received approval for a label from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for a brew called Land Shark Lager from the Margaritaville Brewing Co. in Jacksonville, Fla. There has been talk of a deal between Buffett and A-B since the middle of this year. Land Shark Lager may be part of the next wave of flanker brands from the makers of Budweiser. The company has been working at a fever pitch for more than a year in rolling out new products aimed at various consumer niches. The approach to the massive Parrothead community, as Buffett's fans like to call themselves, could be overshadowed in 2007 if A-B follows through on another rumored move -- the acquisition of Sweden's state run Vin & Spirit, which makes Absolut vodka. The company announced cash flow and balance sheet moves this week that could be freeing up cash for a major acquisition.

Ironically, the A-B deal with Buffett has caused Crown Imports to drop its sponsorship under the Corona brand of Buffett's concerts in America. A-B holds a 50 percent share of Mexico's Grupo Modelo, which brews Corona. A-B recently signed a deal with Grupo Modelo to serve as the import agent for Corona in China.

Skip the Sommelier: Train Your Brain

Research taking place at two major United States universities suggests that humans have a better sense of smell than previously realized and that training olfactory senses can turn many people into experts on specific aromas. It may explain why some people are able to detect subtle differences between wines, beers and spirits, and are able to spot flaws more readily.

Researchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and the University of California-Berkeley have been engaged in separate research studies looking at how the brain tells the difference between certain smells, how we learn the differences between thousands of odors during childhood and if humans can detect small amounts of lingering odors in the same way that bloodhounds do in tracking a scent.

At Northwestern study subjects were asked to smell either a mint or floral odor for 3.5 minutes. After the exposure the researchers found the study participants were much better able to detect differences between either a range of various minty or floral odors, depending on which single smell they had been exposed to in the category. The new experts in mint or floral smells retained this ability for at least 24 hours.

The Northwestern researchers used functional MRI techniques measuring subject brain activity to find that prolonged odor exposure generated increased brain activity in the orbitofrontal cortex and created an enhanced response to the smells. The study, which will be published in the journal Neuron, suggests that the information stored in that area of the brain is constantly updated during our lives. The more activity in this part of the brain, the better the sense of smell.

In the Berkeley study, undergraduate students were placed in a field wearing blindfolds and headphones to muffle sounds. They were then asked to play human bloodhounds and crawl along the ground to follow a trail of chocolate perfume. The students were able to accurately track the faint odor. The researchers also found that humans smell in stereo. When the researchers blocked the participants ability to smell independently through each nostril, the ability to track odors dropped significantly.

The Berkeley study, which will be published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, was partially funded by the U.S. Army. The hope is that an electronic nose can be created to help located hidden explosives and land mines.

Name That Dog, Win a Trip to the GABF in Denver

If you have always wanted to go to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, here's a way you can do it and have a brewery pay your way.

Colorado's Flying Dog Brewery is running a contest to find a name for it's new summer seasonal brew, a Belgian-style white beer. The beer will be a traditional cloudy liquid, from the suspended wheat proteins and unfiltered yeast, and will use ingredients such orange peel and coriander. Flying Dog beers are available in 45 states.

If you are feeling creative, you can enter the contest at www.flyingdogales.com. The deadline is Jan. 19th.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tuesday Tasting: Nine Seasonal Brews

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we continue on our holiday beer odyssey, tasting nine Christmas and winter seasonal brews as we close out 2006.

Brew Masters 2006 Private Reserve: The folks at Anheuser-Busch put out this 8.5 percent alcohol by volume in a flip top 46.5 ounce bottle perfect for holiday gatherings. The beer has a slightly sweet malt characteristic, with a lingering alcohol flavor at the end of the brew.

Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter: This very dark black brew is thick and loaded with flavor. The North Carolina craft brewery has built a 9 percent alcohol by volume beer around rich cocoa, coffee, sweet fig and malty flavors. Perfect for the coldest winter evening.

Left Hand Snow Bound Winter Ale: They know a few things about surviving winter's chill in Colorado and this 7.6 alcohol by volume brew is a perfect example. This ale replaces the XXXmas ale in the Left Hand line up and is a rich reddish brown color. There are hints of several spices, with nutmeg being the clear dominator of the flavor profile. The ale finishes with a slightly malty flavor.

Michelob Celebrate Chocolate: Sold as part of a gift pack with a pair of glasses and the Vanilla version, this 8.5 percent alcohol by volume beer has clear cocoa flavors and sweet milk chocolate tones. The brew tends to be a bit too much on the sweet side for me, approaching cloying in the overall flavor profile.

Michelob Celebrate Vanilla Oak: The second half of the holiday gift pack is a lager aged on Bourbon barrel oak and uses fresh vanilla beans. At 10 percent alcohol by volume this beer is remarkably smooth with an attractive vanilla sweetness.

Rudolph's Revenge Winter Ale: From the Cropton Brewery in the United Kingdom, this ale is a cloudy red color. At 6 percent alcohol by volume it gives off a tart, almost black cherry flavor profile.

Scaldis Noel Premium: Known as Bush de Noel in its native Belgium, this unfiltered ale undergoes a second bottle finishing. The result is a truly amazing 13 percent alcohol by volume beer that is thick, rich and chewy. Multiple layers of flavor make this a perfect brew to share by a fireside.

Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale: This beer from the U.K. is a light brown color and is 6 percent alcohol by volume. Mellow and smooth with a good balance between the barley malt and hops.

Saranac Season's Best Nut Brown Ale: This marks the 25th anniversary of holiday beers from this Utica, N.Y., brewery. This brown ale has a slightly roasted characteristic and is a bit thin compared to most holiday beers. Still refreshing and enjoyable.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Holiday Cards from Dead Brewers

As regular readers of Lyke2Drink will tell you, I like beer. I also celebrate Christmas and I enjoy history. Even so, I find the way that Brad and Lynn Craig have combined the three to be, well, just a touch odd.

The Craigs are from southwestern Wisconsin and collect brewery artifacts. The Daily Isthmus in Madison, Wisc., reported this week that for the last 13 years the Craigs have sent out Christmas cards featuring photographs of themselves posed next to the tombstones of deceased Wisconsin brewery owners. Under the headline, "Season's greetings from a beer baron's grave: A breweriana enthusiast's distinctive Christmas card arrives," the paper reported that the Craigs visited the grave of Adam Schumacher (1859-1942), with memorabilia from Schumacher's defunct brewery in Potosi, Wisc., for this year's card. Last year it was Peter Fauerbach (1831-1886), the founder of a Madison brewery that closed in 1966.

I guess I applaud them for not sending out one of those Christmas letters and their cards have to be among the most unique that recipients find in their mailboxes each year, but the graves of dead brewers? I bet when they make it to heaven they will never have to buy a round.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Judge Gives Pittsburgh Brewing Time to Reorganize

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Chief Judge M. Bruce McCullough is not ready to declare last call for the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. At a hearing yesterday the financially challenged brewer of Iron City beer revealed that Unified Growth Partners(UGP)of Greenwich, Conn. was prepared to make an investment of more than $7 million in the brewery.

Judge McCullough approved $500,000 in interim financial from UGP and gave the brewery until Jan. 16th to file its reorganization plan. That plan is expected to include information on how the company will cut labor and other costs, while boosting marketing for its brands.

Creditors had been protesting the brewery's lack of a plan and financing scheme, but withdrew their objections because of recent payments and negotiations with the brewery and UGP representative John Milne, who will become Pittsburgh Brewing's chief executive officer if the plan moves forward.

Pittsburgh Brewing has been in and out of bankruptcy in the past. One of the moves the organization under Milne is said to be considering is the launch of a craft beer line up.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Chinese Government Blocks No Clothes Christmas Eve Alcohol Promotion

The Jixiang Ruyi Tobacco and Alcohol Co. had a creative idea to promote environmentally friendly packaging. They wanted to pay 284 people $1,280 in cash and prizes to complete a naked run through the streets of Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province. Unfortunately for interested spectators, Chinese police have banned the promotion.

Jixiang Ruyi had already run ads looking for men and women with "healthy bodies" to take part in the Christmas Eve run. The goal was to call attention to excessive packaging being used by some baijiu makers. Baijiu is a grain spirit that is often given as a Chinese New Year gift. Packaging for the gifts can be very elaborate.

The company defended the idea saying it would support the Chinese government's call for a substainable society. The China Central Television network reported that 1,700 people had applied for the run in just four days before the plug was pulled by the government. There was no word how many complied with the "healthy bodies" stipulation in the ads.

Whisky Fuels Scottish Economy

The 2006 Global Connection Survey prepared for the Scottish Executive shows just how big a hangover the economy of the country would have if Scotch whisky were not so popular around the world. According to the report, food and beverages are the most important trade goods for Scotland, accounting for $7.06 billion or 19.4 percent of the total exports in 2005. Oil and gas are excluded from the survey.

Of the $7.06 billion in food and beverage totals, spirits account for $5.9 billion -- the vast majority being blended and Single Malt Scotch. Overall exports climbed by $1.77 billion last year and the United States remains the leading buyer of Scottish goods. The next largest export sector for Scotland is chemicals, which had $3.5 billion in export sales during the year.

Brewing News: Dispatches from the Beer World

No Busch in NASCAR: Since 1984 NASCAR's Grand National Series, basically the Triple A level of stock car racing, has been sponsored by Busch beer. That will all end when the 2007 season finishes up next fall. Anheuser-Busch announced this week it has decided it will not renew the title sponsorship. NASCAR, which faced a similar challenge a few years ago when cigarette maker RJ Reynolds dropped the Winston sponsorship of the top level series, must now find a replacement. Sports marketers predict the annual price tag for the series could be as high as $30-$40 million. NASCAR fans are recognized as among the most brand loyal in any sport.

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What Everyone is Really Drinking: During my travels I'm reminded that for every great beer bar and even for every bar that has at least one craft beer on tap, there are dozens that offer nothing more than a few pale domestic lagers and light beers, with a token import tossed into the mix. That's why it comes as no surprise that the latest industry figures from Beer Marketer's Insights show domestic craft beer makes up just 3.5 percent of the 205.6 million barrel U.S. beer market. What makes up the rest of the 96.5 percent of the beer that people drink in America? Anheuser-Busch products account for 48.5 percent; SABMiller domestic brands hold 18.3 percent; Molson Coors domestics 10.8 percent; imported beers 12.5 percent; and regional brewers 6.4 percent.

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Big Hearing for Iron City: A U.S. Bankruptcy Court is expected to meet in Pittsburgh today and the fate of the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. may hang in the balance. Media reports say the company is likely to ask for an extension until February to have a plan in place to emerge from bankruptcy, but creditors are complaining. The company needs a $500,000 line of credit from a mystery group that the brewery says is ready to provide funding to help it modernize and fuel marketing programs. However, a number of creditors, including Jack Cerone, who owns 20 percent of the company, oppose the deal because it would place Pittsburgh Brewing Acquisition LLC at the front of the line among claims if the brewery should fail. Besides Cerone, others objecting to the plan include the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Duquesne Light Co. and MeadWestvaco Packaging Systems.

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Dutch Brewer in the Dessert: Heineken N.V. has acquired 49.99 percent of Socit'de Production et de Distribution des Boissons S.A. a Tunisian company. (SPDB). The joint venture plans to build a new brewery in Grombalia that will open in 2008.

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Baltika to Build 11th Russian Brewery: Baltika Breweries says it will spend $85.7 million to construct a brewery in Novosibirsk. Baltika, which has been the top brewer in Russia since 1996, says the new plant will be ready by the end of 2008.

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Czech Brewers Love Tourists and Exports: According to the Czech Beer and Malt Association, sales of Czech beer will be up 4 percent in 2006. The growth is fueled by export sales -- Germany and Slovakia are the two largest markets -- and thirsty tourists. The industry believes that beer consumption by Czechs has been declining, but visitors have been picking up the slack in domestic sales keeping the overall home market consumption flat. Tourists are estimated to drink 12.5 percent of the beer consumed in the Czech Republic.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lifestyles of the Rich: Naples Winter Wine Festival

How much would you pay to have dinner with Robert Redford? What would you kick in for a walk on roll in Grey's Anatomy? How much is it worth to you to be the first person in the United States to own the new Rolls Royce convertible? What if all of the money was going to charity?

I have been to a few charity wine auctions and we used to attend several fundraisers in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., during thoroughbred season, but the Naples Winter Wine Festival is in a very different league. All of the money raised during the Jan. 26-28 event goes to help the Naples Children and Education Foundation. Last year the event generated $12.2 million. More than $40 million has gone to charities since the festival was established in 2001.

You need to be wealthy, connected and lucky to even attend the Naples Festival. There are just 550 tickets and the event attracts not only the extremely wealthy residents along Florida's Gulf Coast, but wine enthusiasts from across America and internationally. Depending on what parts of the event you attend, tickets range from $7,500 for a couple to a four pack of seats for $20,000. If you want to have a private wine tasting with wine guru Robert M. Parker Jr. that will be extra. There are 71 lots in the auction, each one would be the star of most other charity events.

If the Rolls Royce convertible is not your style, how about a 2007 Bentley Continental Grand Touring Convertible; a 2008 Lexus LS 600h L hybrid sedan; or a custom 2007 Naples Winter Wine Festival Maserati Quattroporte? If driving is not your thing, you can bid on a two year lease of a Hawker 800-XP private jet.

If the Oscar winning Redford is not your favorite celebrity, how about breakfast at Martha Stewart's home along the New York-Connecticut border followed by a private jet ride to her Maine vacation property for lunch?

The seventh event at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort also has plenty of interesting wine up for collector bids. Big bottles are always popular at wine auctions. At the Naples event you can compete to buy a three-liter bottle of 1996 Screaming Eagle or a three-liter bottle of 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc. There are wine related trips to California, Burgundy, Tuscany and Argentina, to go along with golf trips to Scotland and shopping sprees in New York City.

While it may all sound a bit over the top, the reality is that it is a fun way to separate some rich folks from a small piece of their fortunes to support a good cause. The Naples Children and Education Foundation funds programs to help underprivileged and at-risk children in Collier County, Florida.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tuesday Tasting: Six Seasonal 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 continue our quest to taste holiday and winter brews, finding six additions to our list during travels around North and South Carolina.

You never totally know what to expect when you order a Christmas beer or a winter ale. The "average" of these cold weather and celebratory brews is a deep amber beer with a moderate to thin head, plenty of either hops or malt along with some spices, and a good ration of alcohol. The six pack of holiday beers tasted this week displays all of these characteristics and more.

Coors Winterfest: The folks in Colorado have been turning out a seasonal brew for longer than most. This year's edition of Winterfest is a smooth amber brew with some sweet hints from a generous amount of malt. If you are having a bunch of people over and want to serve just holiday and winter brews, this is a good step up brew for those who normally consume pale lagers.

Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout: This brew from Ridgeway Brewery in the United Kingdom pours with a healthy head for a bottled stout. The 8 percent alcohol by volume clearly comes through in the aftertaste. This is generally on the malty side, but a little thin.

RJ Rocker First Snow Ale: This draught from Spartanburg, S.C., is a golden color and medium bodied brew. The flavor profile is full of spices, including cinnamon, cloves and perhaps some orange zest. A refreshing change of pace.

Samuel Adams Winter Lager: This beer came out of the bottle a nice amber color with a decent head that stayed with the brew. Good malt, hints of spices and a body you come to expect from a Samuel Adams beer. With everything Boston Beer Company does across an amazing range of brewing styles, they can probably afford to take a few more risks and dial this one up a bit more. Still a very drinkable beer that will not disappoint holiday guests.

Thomas Creek Jingle Bell Bock: This Greenville, S.C., brewer has produced a brown dopplebock-style holiday beer that weighs in at 5.7 percent alcohol by volume. There is a nice balance between the hops and barley in this draught, with subtle hints of spice. Highly enjoyable.

Winterhook Winter Ale: The folks at Redhook Ale Brewery have produced an orange-amber beer that starts off slightly hoppy, but quickly fades. This 6 percent alcohol by volume beer gives off hints of ginger, nutmeg and perhaps some other spice, but nothing clearly dominates.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Whisky Bible: Blended Scotch is the Holy Grail

Single Malt Scotch gets most of the drinks media's attention when it comes to whisky from the United Kingdom. They tend to be heavily promoted by distilleries and they come with higher price tags than most blends. Single Malts are perceived as the art and craft of the distilling world. Now a world renowned Scotch expert has stirred up the Scotch universe by naming a blend as his Whisky of the Year for the first time ever.

Jim Murray, the author of the Complete Book of Whiskey and Jim Murray's Whisky Bible, has named Old Parr Superior 18 Year Old as Whisky of the Year. He awarded the blend bottled by MacDonald Greenlees Distillers and marketed by Diageo a 97 out of 100 points in the new edition of the Whisky Bible, matching the highest point total ever awarded by Murray.

Much of the Old Parr Superior production is sold in Asia and through duty free stores, meaning that it may be hard for average Scotch fans to locate. Murray named White Horse 12 Years Old as the Blended Scotch Whisky of the Year and Brora 30-years-old Fourth Release as the Single Malt Whisky of the Year.

Blended Scotch can be a very satisfying drink. Master blenders often use more than a dozen malts to create a blend. Turning out a great blend may indeed be more difficult in some ways than hitting the jackpot with a great Single Malt. I've never tasted the Old Parr Superior, but you can bet that I will keep a eye open for it during my travels.

Canadian Brewery Looks at Pittsburgh Penguin Purchase

Steelback Brewery owner Frank D'Angelo wants to expand his empire into sports and now that negotiations between the Pittsburgh Penguins, the National Hockey League and Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie have fallen apart, D'Angelo might get his chance.

Over the summer D'Angelo made an attempt to become owner of a new Ottawa franchise in the Canadian Football League. That effort failed, but D'Angelo and billionaire partner Dr. Barry Sherman have turned their attention to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The NHL thought it had a buyer for the Penguins and Balsillie had a letter of agreement in place to buy the club for an estimated $175 million from the ownership group headed by Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. The future of the club in Pittsburgh hinges on the construction of a new arena, which itself hinges on approval of a casino in the city to help fund the construction costs.

D'Angelo has told the media he would keep the team in Pittsburgh.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Big Foamy Head Podcast

The World Wide Web bubles with beer these days and this blog is just one example. New media beer journalists and people just wanting to have some fun and spread the word of good beer have launched blogs, website, podcasts and video podcasts.

Recently I was contacted by Dick Pepper who, along with another Rick, co-hosts a podcast called The Big Foamy Head. They have asked me to join as a guest at least on a temporary basis (you will discover why I went into print journalism when you hear the podcast) to share late breaking beer news.

Based in Memphis, Tenn., the podcast focuses on the three Big B's: Beer, Barbecue and Blues. The guys and their guests talk beer and barbecue, while playing some great music. It's worth a listen. Go to: http://www.bigfoamyhead.com.

You can check out my debut as the Les Nessman of The Big Foamy Head starting Monday night (show #57).

Russian Company Buys Irish Vodka Distiller

Russia is considered to be vodka territory, but one firm has gone to the Emerald Isle in search of vodka gold.

North-West Oil Group of Moscow has purchased the Danziger Gold vodka brand, which was started by the late film producer Harry Lee Danziger.

North-West paid an estimated $29.3 million for Danziger, which is a vodka with gold leaf added during bottling. The company bottles its vodka in Waterford and sells the product exclusively through duty free shops. North-West plans to invest in the brand and expand distribution. In addition to the vodka the company also acquired a liqueur and the John Ireland whiskey brand.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Battle Over the Word Glen

Do Scottish distilleries own the word Glen? When it comes to using the word on a bottle of whisky they apparently believe so.

The Scotch Whisky Association and the Glenora Distillery from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, faced off this week before the Canadian Trademark Commission over the issue. The closed-door trademark hearing last for three hours. In a battle that started in 2001, the Scotch Whisky Association has complained that the use of the name Glen Breton Rare Single Malt Whisky as one of Glenora's brands could mislead consumers and cause them to think they are drinking a whisky from Scotland.

Glenora has countered that the whisky is distilled in Glenville and the word Glen in the brand refers to that location. Glenora says it has held off on a marketing program until the dispute is settled. It may be three more months before a decision is released. The Glenora Distillery started production in 1990 and makes 250,000 litres of whisky annually. It is the only single malt in Canada.

While the Scotch Whisky Association must fiercely defend Scotch from foreign counterfeits, it is difficult to imagine that anyone could be misled by the Glen Breton Rare brand, since the label and box clearly state in large type "Canada's Only Single Malt Whisky" and "Canadian/Canadien" appears elsewhere, as does a portion of the Canadian national symbol, the red maple leaf.

If the Canadian Trademark Commission rules against the distillery, it might cause other well known "Glens" to have to change their names, including the 1992 movie GlenGary Glen Ross, former U.S. Senator John Glenn and the village of Watkins Glen, N.Y.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Beverage Bulletin: Notes from the Drinks World

Radical Winemakers: The French wine industry is going through shrinking pains caused by a reduction in domestic consumption and the growth of foreign competition. Now the Winemakers' Regional Action Committee is threatening more militant action, including attacks on shipments of foreign wine coming into France. The group is strongest in the Languedoc region, where proposed European Union market reforms are expected to hit the hardest. The region was the center of a winemakers revolt in 1907 when prices plummeted.

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Carlsberg Plans India Plant: Carlsberg, the Danish brewing giant, will build a new brewery in Rajasthan, India, to tap the growing beer market in the country. The brewery, expected to be operational in early 2008, is being developed in partnership with The Lion Brewery Ceylon Ltd.

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Some Truly Old Ale: A forgotten stash of 250 vintage bottles of ale -- some dating back to 1869 -- has been found in storage at Worthington's White Shield Brewery in Burton-on-Trent, England. The brewery plans to hold on to most of the collection, but a few bottles of 137-year-old Ratcliff Ale have been cracked opened and those trying the product say it tastes delicious. Among the brews in the vault are beers made to commemorate British Royal events, such as Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee in 1977. Now Worthington's, in partnership with the Campaign for Real Ale, is launching a search to find Britain's oldest bottle of beer. The holder of the oldest bottle will get to be a brewer for a day at Worthington's.

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Moonshine Still Flows: Traditions in the south die slow. That's why it is no surprise that Mississippi Alcoholic Beverage Control recently raided and destroyed a major illegal distillery in Hancock County. Officials say they raid about a dozen moonshine operations a year, most hidden in rural areas. An online survey by the Sun-Herald newspaper found that 81 percent of readers from southern Mississippi had tried moonshine.

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Japan Micro Brewer Launches Pink Brew: Working with a group of students from Fuji Women's University, the Ishikari microbrewery has launched a pink happoshu. Cana Story, named after the place where Jesus turned water into wine, is designed to appeal to young female drinkers. Happoshu is beverage with less than 67 percent malt content. Cana uses a beer-like base with a rice blend and the pink-colored juice from the shiso herb.

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Rumors Flying About Old Dominion: With an employee purchase now off, the rumor mill has Virginia's Old Dominion Brewing Co. possibly becoming part of the craft brewing collection that Anheuser-Busch has been amassing. One newspaper report has A-B and Maryland's Fordham Brewing Co. forming a joint venture to acquire Old Dominion, which was founded in 1989.

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Danish Brewer Goes Island Hopping: Royal Unibrew, Denmark's second largest brewer, has spent $26.5 million to purchase a 58 percent of Dominica Brewery & Beverages Ltd. and 92 percent of Antigua Brewery Ltd., along with 75 percent of Antigua PET Plant Ltd., a bottling operation.

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Fine Wine Prices Skyrocketing: Some people play the fine wine market like it is the stock market and for these lucky, wealthy few 2006 was a banner year. According to media reports out of Britain, some collectors are seeing one-year values appreciate by as much as 90 percent. One example cited is a case of Chateau Lafite Rothshild 1998, worth $2,420 at the start of the year and now valued at $4,625. The price increases are being driven by collectors of fine wine and professional investors who see the wine market offering better returns than traditional stocks and other commodities.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

My Kind of Politician: Las Vegas Mayor to Teach Martini Class

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, in the middle of his second four year term, will take a little time off to become an adjunct professor at the Community College of Southern Nevada to teach a one-time, non-credit class on a topic near and dear to his heart: making the perfect martini.

Martinis With the Mayor is part of the college's first Local Celebrity Forum promotion. Mayor Goodman calls himself the "World's Happiest Mayor" and once endorsed Bombay Sapphire, donating the fee to charity.

What is a Domain Name Worth? $3 Million if it's www.vodka.com

The Internet world calls them squatters. These are the individuals and companies that treated the emergence of the World Wide Web like a dot com land rush. They registered everything from the names of famous brands to Hollywood stars. Some people also registered words they thought a company might find useful down the road. Then they sat back and waited for the offers to come in.

Interbrew, now InBev, is said to have spent several million dollars a few years ago to acquire the www.beer.com domain name. Now the billionaire owner of Russian Standard Holding, Roustam Tariko, is said to have paid a company called U.S. Nett Corp. $3 million to take control of www.vodka.com. Russian Standard also paid a smaller, yet still hefty price to acquire www.vodka.ru from a Russian holder. By the way, U.S. Nett Corp. has been taken to court by several firms because it registered domain names for brands they held trademarks on and then tried to sell the domains to the trademark holders.

The companies buying these names are not buying content-rich websites. Often the sites are inactive or make money selling click throughs to other sites. So why are they worth millions? Go to Google and type "beer" in the search bar. It will be the first website to appear and that's worth something to a brewing giant like InBev. It's all about traffic and good real estate always come with a big ticket price.

California to Target Alcopops

Alcopops. Malternatives. Coolers. Whatever you call them, they are likely to get more expensive and be harder to find in California during 2007.

The California Board of Equalization, acting on a petition submitted by a group called California Friday Night Live (CFNL) that is said to be made up of teenage members, will look at plans to tax products like Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Silver as liquor and have them removed from grocery and convenience store shelves.

The result would be that malternatives would increase in price by $2 a six pack and only be available in liquor stores. Right now about 24,000 stores with beer and wine sales licenses can legally sell malternatives. CFNL says this move would help cut teen drinking because the sweet-tasting products are favorites among female underage drinkers.

The California Board of Equalization estimates that by reclassifying malternatives from beer to distilled spirits state tax collections will swell by $40 million a year. California would join Maine as the only other state that treats these products as distilled spirits.

Malternatives use a malt beverage based brewed as a clear, primarily flavorless beer. Many of the products use the names of famous spirits brands and are either flavored like classic cocktails or lemonade, tea or fruit-based drinks. The move to reclassify the products would require public hearings and likely legislation.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Last Call for the Bar Car?

Spurred on by a variety of lifestyle and cost of living issues, many people who work in Manhattan and the other four boroughs that make up New York City live on Long Island, along the Hudson Valley to the north or in New Jersey, Connecticut and even Pennsylvania. With this decision comes the daily commute and for many a ride on one of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) busy commuter trains. The rides will get a little longer for some if one MTA Board member gets his wish.

MTA Board Member Mitch Pally wants to declare Prohibition on Metro-North and Long Island Railroad trains. Many workers who board these trains at the end of a long work day face a ride of an hour or more before they reach their destination. Some buy a can of beer before boarding one of the trains or from a refreshment cart on board. Pally wants the practice to end.

Pally says he is concerned about rowdy behavior on the trains and drunk driving issues. There have also been several highly reported recent incidents of train riders being injured falling between trains and platforms. He plans to raise the alcohol ban proposal at the MTA Board meeting taking place today.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving and some comuter advocates have expressed support for the ban, while some riders see the proposal as another step by government to infringe on personal rights.

No Milk and Cookies in San Francisco

San Francisco advertising firm Goodby, Silverstein & Partners came up with a great idea for the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB), the folks behind the Got Milk? campaign. Simple "Got Milk?" posters would be placed in five busy bus shelters in San Francisco with hidden scent strips that smell like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. The idea was to induce cravings for a cookies and milk break among bus riders. It would have worked in most places, but we are talking about San Francisco.

Quicker than you can say "pass the milk," groups lined up to demand the scent strips be removed. They went after the San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Authority, the CMPB and the ad agency. Perhaps the most legitimate complaint came from people with allergies who said the scent strips might produce allergic reactions from some odor sensitive riders, although I have to question if the "normal" smell of a bus shelter is actually less offensive than the scent strips? Next came advocates for the obese, diabetics and, believe it or not, the homeless who said the Got Milk? campaign in the bus shelters was cruel to people who did not have food.

If groups like this can get the Got Milk? campaign pulled using these arguments, it makes you wonder what other legal products they might attack next. Some communities already have restrictions on where ads for beer, wines and spirits can appear. The idea that an ad should get banned because it might actual work to motivate someone to buy the product is amazing to me. I thought that's what good advertising was supposed to do.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tuesday Tasting: Three Seasonal Ales

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we taste three cold weather seasonal brews designed to warm us up during the harsh weather months.

The hunt for beers of the season continues this week. I was in Chicago at the end of last week and during some limited free time tried to find some Midwestern holiday brews. I'm sad to report that, while I had some great beer, the only holiday brew I was able to find was the 2006 edition of Anchor's Our Christmas Ale. I was surprised to find that it was the only holiday beer available at the Clark Street Ale House and my attempt to visit Sheffield's Wine and Beer Garden was thwarted by the odd fact that they do not open until 3 p.m. on Fridays. This was all the more frustrating because signs in the windows advertised they had Goose Island's seasonal celebration beer on tap. Like golf, the trek to Sheffield's was a good (albeit windy) walk ruined when we found the doors locked.

Anchor 2006 Our Christmas Ale: This is a dark meaty brew, with a nice roasted flavor and a good hop and malt balance. The dark thick head on the draught laced the glass perfectly. This San Francisco brewery knows what it is doing when it comes to making a special holiday beer. Running across this beer on an annual basis is certainly a holiday treat.

Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale: This Anheuser-Busch seasonal is 6 percent alcohol by volume and brewed at the company's Fort Collins, Colo., facility. I found the sweetness of the Madagascar vanilla beans dominated this brew, somewhat obscuring the Bourbon barrel oak. It was sweet, but not overpowering. The very fizzy head quickly dissipated leaving the red brew appearing a little flat.

Heavy Seas Winter Storm: From Clipper City Brewing in Baltimore this imperial ESB is 7.5 percent alcohol by volume. It had a rich amber red color and thick head. There is a dry, hoppy flavor profile with slight hints of roasted barley. Very smooth for a beer of this strength.

Icewine Gone Wild: $26,000 for a Half Bottle

Icewine is a sweet dessert wine and it appears one Canadian producer wants his cake and eat it, too.

Ontario's Royal DeMaria 2000 Chardonnay Icewine is being marketed at $26,000 per 375 ml bottle. That makes the wine one of the most expensive bottles ever sold. Winery owner Joseph DeMaria said he has already sold one bottle to a buyer in Japan and is in the process of making other deals. Only 60 bottles of the wine exist and DeMaria says he will increase the asking price for the wine as the supply dwindles.

Ontario, Germany and New York's Finger Lakes are the world's best icewine making regions. While the product requires just the right growing and climate conditions to freeze grapes for harvesting, it may soon be a little less rare. Vineyards in China, British Columbia and the Midwest U.S. have begun to produce icewine. Most icewines are either riesling or vidal, so the chardonnay icewine is not common. A very good icewine will typically set you back $50-$150 per half bottle and is a real treat at the end of a special dinner.

DeMaria's wines have won a number of internation awards and he has sold bottles from several vintages from his Niagara winery for thousands of dollars. The asking price for this wine sets a new standard for his winery.

Stoli on the Block

French drinks giant Pernod Ricard says it is close to acquiring the Stolichnaya vodka brand from S.P.I. Group, a Russian firm. The deal could be worth $2 billion.

S.P.I Group, was established in 1997, and holds the rights to several Soviet Union era brands in Europe and the United States. Soyuzplodimport has had a legal battle with S.P.I. over the rights to Stoli, but S.P.I. successfully signed a deal with Allied Domecq to market the vodka. Pernod Ricard acquired Allied Domecq and holds an option to buy the brand.

It is unclear whether Soyuzplodimport will try to block the sale.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Outsourcing Wine to China?

Lowering the cost of production by outsourcing jobs to lower wage economies is nothing new in America and other parts of the developed world. According to the China Wines Information Website (Wines-info.com), the next industry that might see an impact is wine.

According to the website more than 10 foreign and domestic wineries have been looking at the region around Penglai City as a potential site for vineyard investment. Among the visitors have been Italian and French winemakers.

Penglai is a coastal region located at the same latitude as several prominent grape growing areas. The soil is said to be excellent for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Gernischt, Carignan, Riesling and Chardonnay grapes.

A number of foreign drinks industry companies, particularly brewers, have made significant investments in China in recent years. The investments in China are likely to initially go towards meeting the growing demand of the domestic market, but clearly for higher ticket wines the target markets will be outside of Asia.

Belarus: Drunkards Prison or Worse

Parents have a duty to raise their children in a safe environment and provide nurturing care that prepares kids to be successful adults. Most civilized countries have child welfare laws in place designed to protect children from abuse and provide a safety net when parents are physically or mentally unable to provide the basics. A lawmaker in Belarus has made a proposal that may be just a bit over the line.

According to media reports from the former Soviet republic, Belarus Representative Viktor Kuchinsky has made a proposal calling for the forced sterilization of parents suffering from alcohol addiction. He also wants to send alcoholic parents to the edges of a polluted wasteland.

The Belarus House of Representatives is debating a proposal that would allow the government to remove neglected children from homes without a court order. Parents would be forced to pay for childcare for any children removed from the home and could lose their homes or apartments. Belarus is also considering a measure by which unemployed parents who have abandoned their children and do not accept job offers could be sent to prison.

Rep. Kuchinsky said he does not believe the measures go far enough, suggesting alcoholic parents should be shipped to "special camps" along the Belarus border near the radioactive exclusion zone created by the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine. He also called for public executions of foreign drug dealers.

California Wineries Booming, But is it American Wine?

Wine is a major economic driver for California. Last year the state produced 225 million cases of wine, placing it fourth in the world behind France, Italy and Spain among the largest wine producers. While the state's wine business is humming along, some grape growers are questioning the practice of blending foreign grapes with grapes harvested in the state.

A report by MKF Research LLC that was commissioned by the Wine Institute and California Association of Winegrape Growers, pegs the impact of the California wine industry on the state economy at $52 billion and $103 billion on the U.S. economy. The report says the industry generates 309,000 direct and indirect jobs. The state has 2,275 wineries and 4,600 grape growers. It is estimated that 19.7 million people toured California wineries in 2005.

All of this makes for a very healthy industry on the surface, but one of the groups that sponsored the MFK study is complaining about a practice it says has become increasingly popular with some California wineries. The California Association Winegrape Growers (CAWG) says wine imports to the United States are growing and some of that juice is going places that most consumers don't know about: products labeled as "American Wine."

According to the group, even though U.S. wine sales continue to grow at nearly 5 percent a year, California grape growers are destroying vineyards because it costs some more to produce grapes than what they can sell them for on the market. More than 100,000 acres in California's Central Valley have been ripped out in the past five years. Other vineyards have gone to crushing their own grapes and trying to market the juice to vineyards and home winemakers.

The CAWG says the culprit are wineries that may be buying cheap bulk wine on the international market -- much of it from Australia where a wine glut exists -- and then blending it with California wine. Under law, vintners can label the product as coming from the "American" appellation as long as the foreign grapes are 25 percent or less of the mixture. Complicating the debate is the fact that California does import some grapes from other states and it ships bulk juice to several states where wineries do not have the growing conditions or available vines to keep up with demand.

The CAWG says that while the law technically allows the practice of blending the foreign grapes and calling the product American, it questions if the practice is fair to consumers. It notes that other countries around the world do not allow the blending of domestic and foreign grapes.

Grape growers are frustrated by bulk wine imports for blending because it depresses farm prices and reduces the number of potential markets they have to sell their grapes. The CAWG is planning to launch a wine trade public relations blitz in the coming year to promote the quality of California grapes.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Grape Vine: News About Wine

French May Try to Block EU Wine Reforms: The European Union is ready to institute several measures that face objections from the French wine industry. EU lawmakers are considering elimination of subsidies for pulling out vines, so-called crisis distillation programs and grants for winemakers retiring from the industry.

The EU says the programs cost too much, do little to improve quality and have not had an impact on the wine glut in several nations. France, Italy and Spain, the largest EU wine producers, receive about 90 percent of the subsidy payments. Changes to the laws would have an impact on the 2008 vintage.

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NFL Takes the Tiger Out of the Fermentation Tanks: Jungle Juice Wine maker Elk Creek Vineyards has found out just how many lawyers the National Football League has on its staff. Saying that the orange and black stripes on the label infringed on the trademarks of the Cincinnati Bengals the NFL sent the winery a cease and desist letter. Elk Creek has stopped making the wine.

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Global Warming?: Are increasing temperatures being caused by man or is it a natural climate cycle? Some believe that the revival in the British winery business suggests it is a natural phenomenon. There are about 400 vineyards in Britain today, where it has been too cool to grow wine producing grapes properly for about 700 years. However, about 2,000 years ago during a period known as the Roman Warming and 1,000 years ago during the Medieval Warming, grapes for wine did grow in the British Isles.

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New Zealand Fallout: As a result over the controversy involving the difference between the Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc entered for competitions and the wine sold to consumers, the winery has withdrawn its 2006 sauvignon blanc from competitions and returned the medals it won with the wine. Brent Marris, Wither Hills winemaker, also resigned as judging chairman for the Air New Zealand wine awards.

Health Canada: Tax Booze Based on Alcohol Content

A study by the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria funded by Health Canada recommends lowering the taxes on reduced-alcohol beer, wine and spirits as a way to get Canadians to cut alcohol consumption, which the group says increases the risk of injury and chronic disease.

The study recommends taxing higher alcohol products at higher rates as a form of good public policy. The researchers at the University of Victoria say it is difficult to find lower alcohol beers in government run beer stores. It notes that in Australia, which has lower taxes on lower-strength beers, 10 percent of beer sales are on brews between 2.5 and 3.5 percent alcohol by volume.

The study says that beer, wine and spirits should not be taxed based on price, but rather based on alcohol content. It also suggested that tax incentives should be given to drinks companies to introduce lower alcohol products and that higher strength products face increased taxes. It also recommends that tax revenues from alcohol sales be earmarked for alcohol treatment and prevention services.

Something to Wash Down All of that Meat

On Friday night I was in Chicago with my daughter, Brhea, and her boyfriend Jake Koneman. We went to Brazzaz, a Brazilain steakhouse located on North Dearborn Street not far from the Grand stop on the Red Line, for dinner figuring two "starving" college students would enjoy the feast. We were impressed with the service, upscale salad bar and the array of eat-until-you-drop meats. The lamb chops, pork tenderloin and sirloin were big hits.

If you have never done a Brazilian steakhouse, basically the concept is that gouchos roam the restaurant with skewers of meat. You are given a puck that has "yes" on one side and "no thanks" on the other. If the yes side is facing up, the servers will stop and offer you slices of meat that has just emerged from the kitchen. The range on the night we were there went from shrimp and chicken to lamb and beef.

With all of the meat flying around you might suspect I would have went for a red wine, which many of the tables around us were enjoying. The list looked pretty good, but I decided to opt for two South American lagers that I had not previously tasted.

The Palma Louca pilsner from Brazil was a light golden color with a crisp hop finish. Quilmes Cerveza from Argentina was a pale lager that offered a clean finish. Both beers did an excellent job cleansing my palate for the next slice of meat. They would be perfect for the beach or a ballgame, but if you are looking for tons of flavor these are not the first beers you would pick. However, on this particular night in Chicago they were just what the butcher ordered.

Looking for Low Cost Holiday Party Wine? AOL Offers Five Picks

If you have ever been faced with managing an office holiday celebration or finding some affordable gifts for a bunch of people, you know the challenge when it comes to selecting a wine. You don't want to see people react to bottles of Sutter Home, but you also have to live within a budget.

Finding a good wine under $20 a bottle is not that difficult. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, can be found on the market. But what if the challenge is to find something under $10? The international wine glut is pushing prices downward, but my experience with sub $10 a bottle wine is that you better have tasted it before you decide it is good enough for guests and friends. I don't mind if someone knows I bought a bargain wine, as long as they think that I'm a pretty good shopper and came up with a great value that tastes pretty good, too.

The folks at AOL recently took on the challenge of recommending five wines under $6. They offered up Trader Joe's Coastal Cabernet Sauvignon, Amaicha Torrontes, Banrock Station Shiraz, Barefoot California Merlot and Barefoot Chardonnay. You can see information on each of the AOL picks at http://cooking.aol.com/food/best-cheap-wines.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Samuel Adams Looking at Options to Expand Brewery Operations

Boston Beer Co. is looking at options to increase its production capacity and may spend $200 million to build a new brewery.

The maker of the Samuel Adams line of beers has been considering a site in Freetown, Mass., but is also evaluating whether it should expand its two current breweries or acquire another existing facility. The company acquired the former Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewery in Cincinnati eight years ago and spent $7 million in 2005 to expand capacity at the plant.

Plans for the Freetown brewery call for a 700,000 to 1 million barrel operation. Costs for the plant have nearly doubled from original estimates. The brewery would employ about 75 people. The company has already secured a 20-year tax agreement with the community to help fund the project and the site has good water and sewer capacity, as well as access to rail and road transportation.

Founded in 1984 by Jim Koch, Boston Beer recently reported record quarterly profits. The company finds itself in an interesting place in its development as it starts to reach capacity at existing plants and it faces increased competition from both microbrewers and craft products rolling out of Anheuser-Busch and other larger producers.

Taking on the cost of building and running another brewery at a time when the national economy is sluggish is a challenging task. At one point in its development, much of Samuel Adams was brewed under contract at other brewers. Since then, Boston Beer has grown to be a significant player and is now in its third decade of operation.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

SABMiller Enjoys the Snow in China

(Photo courtesy of Vismedia.)

SABMiller Plc, the London-based brewing giant, has a number of big brands in markets around the globe, but which one do you think is the biggest? Miller Lite? Castle Lager? Pilsner Urquell? All good picks, but all wrong.

SABMiller's new top dog is a lager from China called Snow.

SABMiller holds a 49 percent stake in China Resources Snow Breweries. Sales of the Snow brand are up 91 percent through the first nine months of the year, rocketing the brand into the elite among big brews around the globe even though few people outside of China have ever tasted the product.

Budweiser from the U.S., Skol from Brazil and Corona from Mexico are ahead of Snow in world beer volumes, but it appears fairly certain that the brand will pass Brahma from Brazil, Coors from the U.S., Heineken from the Netherlands, Miller Lite from the U.S. and Asahi from Japan among the 2006 global sales leaders. Not bad considering it was just last year when Snow passed Tsingtao to become the largest brand in China.

SABMiller says that further consolidation of the Chinese brewing industry is required to make operating in the country more efficient. The country has 536 breweries. The company noted that a bomber sized 640 ml bottle of beer in China typically sells for around 12-cents. That results in the fact that while Snow accounts for 18 percent of SABMiller's volume, it contributes just 5 percent of the company's profits.

Brewing in the Dark? Pittsburgh Brewing's Creditors Growing Impatient

A potential shut off of water service forced Pittsburgh Brewing into bankruptcy last December. Now the maker of Iron City could see its electricity service cut off because of lack of promised payments.

Duquesne Light Co. has petitioned the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for permission to shut off power to the 145-year-old brewery saying the brewery had failed to make a $9,807 security deposit the court ordered paid in February and the company owes more than $45,000 for three months of service.

A year ago today the brewery filed for bankruptcy protection after the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority said it would shut off water over unpaid bills. The water utility says Pittsburgh Brewing still owes $55,000 on a $110,000 security deposit, plus $75,570 in back bills.

Pittsburgh Brewing claims to have new investors lined up ready to pump millions into saving the brewery. It wants the court to allow interim financing from that group so it can make it through the holidays, a key beer selling season. The brewery has refused to publicly identify the investment group, but plans to file a financial disclosure plan with the court on Dec. 20. That document is supposed to indicate exactly how Pittsburgh Brewing plans to fund its operation and emerge from bankruptcy.

Are You Beer Drinker of the Year Material?

We all have special talents. I recently heard a bit from a comedian who said she was sure that she was a prodigy in something -- she just had not discover what it was yet. Well, if beer drinking is something you do better than anyone else, your chance to get that 15 minutes of fame has arrived.

Wynkoop Brewing Co. in Denver has launched its 11th annual search for the Beerdrinker of the Year. No, this is not a chugging contest. Beerdrinker of the Year recognizes the most passionate, knowledgeable beer lover in the United States. If you have a beer drinking philosophy, love the history of beer and have been known to travel great distances in search of a rare craft beer, this contest is for you.

To enter you need to send Wynkoop your "beer resume" by Dec. 31, 2006. The 2007 Beerdrinker of the Year wins free beer for life at Wynkoop (highly useful during the GABF week in Denver!) and $250 of beer at their local brewpub or beer bar. They also win apparel proclaiming them The 2007 Beerdrinker of the Year and they have their name engraved on the Beerdrinker of the Year Trophy at Wynkoop. It's not quite the same as getting your name on the Stanley Cup, but you are more likely to be able to hang on to all of your teeth pursuing this honor.

The top three entrants will be flown to Wynkoop at the brewery's expense for the Beerdrinker of the Year finals, scheduled for Feb. 24.

Tom Schmidlin, a 36-year-old University of Washington biochemistry graduate student, devout homebrewer and self-proclaimed "yeast dork," won the 2006 Beerdrinker of the Year title. "Winning Beerdrinker of the Year gave me instant beer cred," Schmidlin says. "It's like winning the Nobel Prize for Beer."

Here's how to enter:

-- Resumes must include the entrant's personal philosophy of beerdrinking.
-- Do not enter if you are currently employed in the brewing industry.
-- Resumes with both rich beeriness and humor are welcomed.
-- Beer resumes cannot exceed three 8" x 11" pages and must be written in 12-point or larger font.
-- Resumes must include the name of the entrant's home brewpub or beer bar, and their T-shirt size.
-- Resumes created in Word can be emailed to Wynkoop as an attachment to beerdrinker@wynkoop.com

Beerdrinker of the Year resumes can be sent by mail to:

The Beerdrinker of the Year
Wynkoop Brewing Company
1634 Eighteenth Street
Denver, Colorado 80202

For complete contest details, more information, and a look at the resumes of previous Beerdrinker of the Year winners visit www.wynkoop.com.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

American Academy of Pediatrics Says Advertising at the Roots of Kids Ills

The American Academy of Pediatrics wants Congress to take action to stem what it calls a rising tide of advertising targeting kids. In a policy outlined in the group's magazine, Pediatrics, that was released this week it says childhood obesity, anorexia, early sexual behavior and drinking are all the result of the 40,000 television ads per year kids are exposed to, plus Internet, print and radio messages.

The doctors say that ads for alcohol make drinking appear cool. They want Congress to mandate that television ads for beer, wine and spirits be limited to just showing product shots without the use of cartoon characters or people.

The group also wants the government to cut the amount of commercial time on kids programs to no more than six minutes per hour, which is about half of current levels.

Chavez Placing Luxury Tax on Scotch

First it was a ban on street sales from beer trucks, now Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is taking aim at Scotch by announcing plans for a 15 percent luxury tax on whisky.

The cost of imported spirits have already jumped 50 percent since this summer, when the Chavez government imposed foreign currency restrictions and linked all transactions involving imports to the official exchange rate for bolivares.

Venezuela loves its whisky. It is the seventh largest market for Scotch in the world and sales have increased as oil wealth flows into the country. The Scotch Whisky Association pegs the value of Scotch sales to the South American nation at $145.2 million. It has aksed the European Commission to look into the situation as a possible international trade rule violation.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Tuesday Tasting: Four Holiday Brews

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. In this bonus session we taste four more holiday brews.

Holiday beers are among my favorites and I was pleased to get a home delivery of several this evening by my Brother-in-Law and good friend Darrin Pikarsky. In fact, a couple not listed below are safely stored in my fridge for tasting later in the week. I plan to keep reporting on holiday beers over the next several weeks. We did crack open four and found each to be enjoyable.

St. Feuillien Cuvee de Noel Belgian Special Ale: I think this is the first time I've had the chance to try an abbey ale from St. Feuillien Brewery in Le Roeulx, Belgium. It was an enjoyable experience. This 9 percent alcohol by volume beer had a nice rocky head and was a cloudy amber color. The flavor was slightly fruity with a very nice malty finish.

Cisco Brewers Celebration Libation: This winter warmer from Nantucket had a flashy fresh hop aroma and at first gave a wine-like flavor profile. The brewery uses cinnamon sticks, fresh ginger and honey from the hop yards in the brewing process. Even with all of this flavor, the brew finishes with an appealing dryness.

Very Bad Elf Special Reserve Ale: From Ridgeway Brewing in Oxfordshire, U.K., this pale, smooth beer is remarkably subtle for a product that some states have tried to ban because of its label art. It is pretty subdued for a holiday beer, but has a nice hop finish.

Wychwood Bah humbug Christmas Cheer: This red ale has a firm head. It weighs in at 6 percent alcohol by volume. It has a slightly sweet taste of dried fruits -- not quite figs, but along that line. A very pleasant holiday evening drink.

Tuesday Tasting: Leblon Cachaca

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we travel to Brazil to taste a unique sugar cane drink.

There are reportedly 4,000 different brands of cachaca poured in Brazil, but I readily admit that this is the first I have ever tried. The word means fire water and many of the typical brands are said to be just that -- raw and rustic. However, Leblon Cachaca is a smooth classy drink that fits very well with its rum cousins.

Leblon is made in Brazil, but aged and finished in France. It is a clear drink made from sugar cane. There is a slightly cotton candy essence to the nose, which soon fades into a smooth drink that is clean with faint hints of oak in the flavor base. This spirit is perfect for making many classic cocktails. I would recommend keeping the recipe simple. Plenty of fruit juice, some ice and you are ready to go. The company that imports Leblon is pushing a drink called the Caipirinha, which is basically a 2 ounces of Leblon, a muddled lime, two tablespoons of superfine sugar and ice. It is also pushed as a fine alternative in mojitos and Margaritas.

At $30 a bottle it makes an affordable and interesting addition to most home bars.

Scotch Prices Going Up? Blame the Chinese

The emerging middle class in China and the size of the nation's economy have already been cited as factors in rising crude oil prices. Now consumers from Beijing to Shanghai are being blamed for draining the world's liquor cabinet of Scotch.

Imports of Scotch to China have skyrocketed in just the last few years, up from $2.9 million in 2001 to more than $90 million in 2005. China is expected to join the world's top 10 Scotch consuming nations this year and, with sales up 84 percent last year alone, it appears Chinese consumers have developed a love for the Highlands.

The Scotch Whisky Association notes that distilleries currently have 18.5 million casks maturing so there is no impending shortage of Scotch. However, Scotch prices have crept upward and the demand of a major new market like China places particular pressure on a category of product that has developed its worldwide appeal through the exclusivity of Single Malts and through aging whiskies 12, 18 and 25 years.

While western luxury goods have long been enjoyed by Chinese rulers, the massive middle class now looks at famous brands as status symbols. This is particularly true in urban centers. The pure size of the market cannot be under estimated. The United States has nine cities with 1 million or more residents. China has 34 cities with at least 1 million people.

Monday, December 04, 2006

It's Nine O'Clock Somewhere

The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) says it wants to protect kids. It's pushing the European Parliament to vote new anti-alcohol advertising standards in what is called the Audiovisual Directive, which sets up legal guidelines for television stations operating in the European Union. The laws cover a number of things, including television advertising, product placement and sponsorship rules.

So what is the EPHA pushing for that will protect youth from Ireland to the Balkins? A ban on advertising alcohol before 9 p.m. The group claims that studies show that young people enjoy and remember alocohol ads. By prohibiting them before 9 p.m., the EPHA believes most people under the legal age for purchasing alcohol will miss the ads. The group notes that alcohol ads show people having fun and do not show the social and health consequences of drinking.

A ban on ads could also have an impact on sponsorships of sporting events and other promotions. A number of major soccer teams in Europe have alcohol brands as sponsors. Uniform logos and stadium signage might come under the law for broadcast matches.

The EU is expected to take up the Audiovisual Directive during the next two weeks.

The Great Beer Truck Robbery

On occasion you hear the tale of a beer truck driver gone bad. A delivery truck full of beer goes missing and a few months later police track down their man. Leave it to the British to do the underworld one better and teach us that if you are going to steal beer, you might as well steal mass quantities.

Over the weekend a warehouse complex in Gloucester was ripe for the picking. Four beer delivery trucks fully loaded with alcohol were apparently ready for Monday deliveries. Thieves had another idea. The nearly $500,000 in bottles and cans of Stella Artois, Boddingtons and Becks are still missing. Scotland Yard is still looking for the four Ainsworth and Martin Ltd. lorries.

Police have warned people not to be tempted by offers of discounted beer. The beer bandits may find stealing the beer was one thing. Just wait until they try to return the empties.

Take Time Tuesday to Toast the 21st Amendment

Prohibition. It was a reality in the United States from January 16, 1920 to December 5, 1933. In some so-called Dry Counties across the country it lives on today. In Zeeland, Mich., voters in November ended Prohibition, now businesses face potential boycotts for backing the measure.

Prohibition is most often promoted by religious zealots as a cure for all of society's ills. They ignore the fact that Jesus turned water into wine and that he offered his disciples wine at the Last Supper as a symbol of his blood, instead they paint all drinking as evil. There is little argument over the fact that the United States did not exactly become a utopia between 1920 and 1933.

Prohibition came to the U.S. after decades of work by militants to push an agenda and gain political clout. Rep. Andrew Volstead, a Republican from Minnesota and a teetotaler, wrote the law that enforced the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified by 36 states. He would be voted out of office in 1922 after 10 terms, but Prohibition lived on another decade. The Volstead Act was originally vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson, but Congress overrode the veto on Oct. 28, 1919.

It took years to reverse this mistake. On February 17, 1933, Congress passed the Blaine Act which effectively ended Prohibition by allowing what was known as 3.2 beer -- 3.2 percent alcohol by weight or 4 percent alcohol by volume. The 21st Amendment was ratified in December 5, 1933, repealing the 18th Amendment. Most places in the United States celebrated, but local option allowed some places to stay dry. In fact, Mississippi was officially dry until 1966.

In voting this year, a number of communities went to the polls to decide if Prohibition should continue. In places like Arab, Ala., and Togiak, Alaska, communities decide to continue bans on alcohol. In Marion County, Ark., and Rose, N.Y., voters decided to allow alcohol sales

In Zeeland, founded by Dutch Calvinists in 1847, a proposal to allow alcohol sales passed by a 1,425-1,385 vote, ending a 102-year-old ban. Don't expect a bar to open on every corner in the community, which had its only grocery store close and has a number of vacant businesses. There are 17 churches in the 3-square-mile city and the law says alcohol cannot be sold within 500 feet of places of worship. There are 5,800 residents in the community, located about 20 miles from Grand Rapids, and the law limits the number of liquor licenses based on population figures. Under the law that means a grand total of three businesses will be given the right to sell alcohol.

For some people in Zeeland, that is three places too many. They are talking about a boycott of any local business that applies for a permit and even mounting a recall movement to oust Zeeland City Councilors. So much for the will of the people in a free society as expressed in a democratic election.

So tomorrow my plan is to get up, go to work so I can pay my taxes and bills, return home and open a bottle of something good to enjoy with my wife over dinner. I think I'll toast 1933 and the good voters of Zeeland, Michigan.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

New Zealand Winery Caught in Judging Scandal

Although just about everyone involved is calling it an honest mistake, one of the top New Zealand wine brands finds itself in the middle of a controversy that caused a magazine to pull its top rating after it was discovered the wine submitted for judging was not the same as most of the wine available to consumers under the same label.

Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2006 received a five star rating and was named as one of the top 10 New Zealand sauvignon blancs by Cuisine magazine in a recent tasting. Then wine critic Michael Cooper thought he detected a difference between what he tasted in the entry bottle and a bottle he bought at a supermarket. Following a blind tasting comparing the two by Cooper and two other judges, along with a laboratory analysis by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research it was found that the wines were indeed different. The lab analysis showed that the competition sample and the supermarket wine had different levels of alcohol, sugar and acidity. In essence, these were very different wines.

Wither Hills, which is owned by New Zealand drink conglomerate Lion Nathan, has been quick to answer the charges. The company says that the wine sent to the publication for judging was from an early batch of the 2006 vintage. It says that 2,228 cases out of a total production run of 100,000 cases were from that batch. That means about 2.2 percent of the wine sold to the public was the same as what was sent to Cuisine. The wine sent to the magazine had already won several medals in other competitions.

In an open letter on its website Brent Marris, Wither Hills winemaker and director, wrote that "Wither Hills has never and will never create small batch blends for the express purpose of entering wine shows." It goes on to say that the Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc would not be featured in Cuisine because "the tasting bottles and those supplied to retail outlets were not sufficiently consistent with each other to meet the rules of CuisineƂ’s tasting review which specify they must be identical."

"There was absolutely no intention by me to deliberately present a wine to the Cuisine judges of a different quality to the wine you can buy off the shelf yourself. An independent audit of my winemaking process found no wrong-doing on my part and total consistency with world best-practice," Marris writes.

No matter what you think of the explanation, Cuisine's decision to pull the five stars was the right move. Consumers buying a wine that markets itself as one of the top 10 sauvignon blanc's in New Zealand, known for the quality of the varietal, have the right to expect they are drinking the very same world class wine that judges sipped.

It will be interesting to see if other major wine competitions verify the integrity of their awards programs by testing entry wines and retail samples. A high score from a major wine magazine or gold medals from key competitions can make a wine label. Prices for recognized wines often increase dramatically. Many wine stores will use signage to tell you which wines got a 90+ ranking or took home a medal. I have seen people going through a wine shop using the ratings in the Wine Spectator like a shopping list. Reputation is everything when it comes to the highly competitive wine world.

In the end, all of the competitions and ratings are subjective. Your taste buds need to tell you what you like. However, with the prices of many wines, these guides can help consumers decide how to spend their hard earned dollars. It would be nice to know that someone was policing the situation so we don't end up with a Yugo on our dinner table when we thought we were buying a Mercedes -- especially since we are paying for the luxury.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Shelton Brothers Runs Afoul of Maine Regulators

While it continues to battle New York officials, Shelton Brothers of Massachusetts is now taking the Maine Bureau of Liquor Enforcement to federal court because that state will not allow three brands the company imports to be sold in the state.

One of the beers, Santa's Butt Winter Porter, is also involved in the New York dispute. Maine regulators also feel that the label featuring Santa Claus will appeal to children. The other two beers are being censored because the label art features bare-breasted women.

Shelton is bringing the lawsuit with the help of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, saying the art on the label is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Les Sans Culottes, a French biere de garde, uses a Eugene Delacroix painting from the 1830s in the Louvre collection, "Liberty Leading the People." The label on Rose de Gambrinus, a Belgian lambic, has a watercolor painting with a naked woman.

Officials in Maine say they reject very few label applications each year and make decisions based on what people will be exposed to while shopping retail stores. While disputes like the New York and Maine rulings hurt Shelton's ability to get seasonal products on store shelves in time for the holidays, the publicity brings attention to the importer's products. News of the lawsuits have been picked up in a number of newspapers and television stations, as well as being carried by major wire services.