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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fire Hits F.X. Matt Brewery

A major fire has hit the F.X. Matt Brewery in Utica, N.Y., which makes Saranac and Utica Club among other products. Matt is also a major contract brewer for a number of brands.

Video of the fire and an interview with Fred Matt can be found at www.wktv.com.

The fire started in the canning area of the facility and was being fueled by packaging in that part of the historic brewery complex. The extent of the damage is not known at the moment and fire fighters continue to try to bring the blaze under control.

Many locals had started to gather for Saranac Thursday, an outdoor festival hosted by the brewery when flames broke out around 5 p.m. There are no reports of injuries or a cause of the fire at this time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sapporo to Brew "Space Beer"

Sapporo Holdings of Japan says it plans to use third generation barley grown from seeds of plants that were once stored for five months on the International Space Station to brew what it is calling "Space Beer."

The company says it will make 100 bottles of the beer later this year. It does not have plans to sell any of the beer commercially at this point. However, Sapporo says the test batches of beer are part of the effort to prepare for a time when astronauts could spend extended periods in space.

The barley for the beer is the result of experiments conducted by Okayama University which examined plants that could be grown successfully in space. Barley can withstand various temperatures and offers healthy nutrients that attracted the researchers.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cornell to Build Student Winery

The word that Ivy League Cornell University plans to have a student winery up and running in the fall almost makes me want to head back to school.

Cornell University says the 2,400 square foot winery on the Ithaca campus will teach students each step in the winemaking process, from selecting grapes to bottling. The school currently has 40 students majoring in oenology and viticulture.

Cornell says that New York's growing wine industry needs more formally trained winemakers. There are now more than 200 wineries in New York. The school expects this winemaking facility will be replaced in about a decade by a larger winery to keep up with interest in the program.

The teaching winery will allow students to work with small 25 gallon test batches as they learn about various aspects of winery operations.

Keg Fraud? Hang'em High!

There are few things we can count on in life. Getting the beer we order served to us should be a sure thing, but in Greensboro, N.C., authorities are alleging keg fraud.

According to the Greensboro News Record, two bar owners have been charged with substituting lower priced beer and misleading customers about what they were being served. David Edward Essa and Robert Christopher Martin were charged with three felony counts of obtaining money by false pretenses. The North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) Division investigated the University General Store, Spring Garden Bar and Pizzeria, and Westerwood Tavern after tips came in that labels on beer kegs were being switched.

According to ALE, analysis of samples taken at each location appears to show that the retail locations owned by Essa and Martin were selling lower priced suds and duping customers. ALE alleges that Busch Light was being sold as Bud Light and Keystone Light was being served up as Coors Light.

If the charges are proven, hopefully heavy fines will be put in place to send a message to retailers that consumers should get what they pay for when they order a beer. In the meantime, customers frequenting any of these fine establishments might want to think about ordering beer in a bottle.

Recycling Beer Bottles the Beck's Way

Let's say you run a brewery in Germany. Let's say it is a really big brewery. And because pretty much everyone recycles you get 76,800 empties arriving at your door every hour. By the way, while everyone recycles, they don't pay attention to the type, shape or size of the bottles they send back in each case. They leave the sorting up to you.

That's the reality for Beck's in Bremen, Germany. This video is courtesy of the Design World Engineering Watch website. It shows the technology created by Recop Electronic to do an amazing sorting and repackaging job.

At some point this job must have been done manually. How long do you suppose the average sorter stayed on the job?

Tuesday tasting: Summer Whites for Poolside Sipping

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 some white wines that are perfect for enjoying when alfresco when the temperatures spike.

In the upcoming issue of All About Beer magazine my Beyond Beer column is focused on ABC Wines -- Anything But Chardonnay -- because the summer is the perfect time to break away from the usual, leave heavy oak flavors behind and look for crisp, fruity wines. Here are 14 wines tasted for the article.

Albarino 2006 Salneval: This Spanish wine from Rias Baixas is light and refreshing. Nice floral nose and crisp grapefruit and lime citrus flavors. Perfect for the deck or poolside.

Ballentine 2007 Chenin Blanc: This Napa wine comes from a grape that got its reputation from the wines in the Loire Valley. Floral aroma, nice minerally base and citrus tones. Perfect aperitif to transition from the work of a long day.

Barefoot Moscato: A California value label that delivers a sweet white with plenty of peach, pear and apricot notes.

Bonterra Vineyards 2006 Viognier: Made from organically grown northern California grapes, this wine has an oaky nose and a dry fruit base to the flavor. It is a blend of 85 percent viognier, 11 percent marsanne and 4 percent rousanne grapes and aged for four months in French oak. Ripe apricots dominate a pleasant flavor profile.

Brennan Vineyards 2006 Viognier: Clean and crisp. This Texas wine has inviting honeysuckle aroma notes. Ripe fruit. A bit of grapefruit and plenty of apricot throughout.

Carta d’Imbarco 2006 Pinot Grigio: This Italian-style white is produced in the Monterey area of California. Fermented in stainless steel, this wine is crisp with a good level of acidity and fresh fruit. Nice cocktail wine.

Casa Nuestra 2007 Dry Chenin Blanc: Dry, apple and citrus backed wine with a nice level of acidity to match well with pasta and seafood dishes.

Kim Crawford 2007 Marlborough Pinot Gris: This New Zealand white is creamy and fruity. Peach skins, apple and pear flavors dominate.

Fontana Candida Frascati 2006 Superiore Secco: Produced from vineyards near Rome using malvasia and trebbiano grapes, this wine has an appealing floral nose and inviting citrus flavor.

Dr. Konstantin Frank 2006 Rkatsiteli: A rare find. An Eastern Europe grape that thrives in a small corner of the Finger Lakes. If you like Riesling and gew├╝rztraminer, then you will love this wine. Mango, spice and pineapple in a refreshing white wine.

J 2006 Pinot Gris: This Russian River white has an attractive floral nose and a nice dry tropical flavor bed. A great way to change the mind of a diehard chardonnay drinker.

Little Black Dress 2006 Pinot Grigio: Light citrus nose, hints of peach and green apple in a easy going flavor profile.

McWilliams 2005 South Eastern Australia Riesling: Very nice bouquet of jasmine and honeysuckle. Dominated by citrus, pear and apricot flavors.

Shannon Ridge 2007 Viognier: Produced in California’s Lake Country this wine is aged in neutral French oak and packs plenty of rich tropical fruit flavors. Mangos, pineapple, peaches dominate.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Beer Merger of the Century Could be On Tap

Rumors of an attempt by Belgian beer giant InBev to acquire Anheuser-Busch have been around for months, but now it looks like a potential bid might be just days away.

If InBev could pull off the deal it would create a massive $100 billion beer conglomerate with leading brands in most of the major beer drinking countries in the world. According to The Telegraph newspaper in London, InBev is working with the investment bank Lazard on a plan to raise $46 billion to make a bid for the brewer of Budweiser, Michelob and Natural Light.

Part of the plan might involve InBev selling off some assets or brands to create a funding pool. InBev brands include Stella Artois, Becks, Brahma, Labatt's and Hoegaarden, among others.

The InBev Board of Directors is schedule to meet this week to discuss the plan and could authorize a bid. While the Busch family is said to be preparing plans to ward off the bid, A-B is a publicly traded company and several major shareholders will likely push for the company to at least listen to offers. Barclays in the U.K. and Berkshire Hathaway, controlled by Warren Buffett, together own more than 11 percent of A-B. Shareholders can force consideration of a bid if 25 percent vote for a special meeting. Shares in the St. Louis company were trading at a 52-week high of $58 at the end of last week. While no formal offer has been made, the number floating around about the InBev bid is that it could be for $65 a hare.

A takeover by InBev has far reaching implications for the world beer market. A-B has made major investments in foreign brewers in recent years as it looks for growth. The company holds a 27 percent stake in Tsingtao in China and owns 50 percent of Grupo Modelo in Mexico, which brews Corona. Some reports suggest that one tactic A-B may use to fight off the InBev bid is to acquire more companies or a greater share of some of the companies it already has an interest in so that it can drive up the price InBev would need to pay.

Other reports suggest that once InBev has raised the funding for the deal, it will not want to go home empty handed from its shopping spree. If A-B fights off a bid, InBev could turn its attention to other brewers with one likely target being SABMiller. The Financial Times said that deal would be more complicated because SABMiller is still waiting for regulatory approval of its U.S. merger with units of Molson Coors Brewing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Democrats to Run on Beer at Convention in Denver

When the Democrats hold their nominating convention in Denver from Aug. 25-28 you can expect more than a few beers will be consumed.

Molson Coors Brewing Co. has become a "Presidential" level sponsor of the event, meaning they are providing at least $1 million in support for the convention. Molson Coors is also the official ethanol provider for the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

The company, through its Coors Brewing Co. subsidiary in Golden, will donate E85 ethanol fuel for the special fleet of General Motors flex-fuel vehicles at the convention. The fuel will be made from waste beer (is there really such a thing?) instead of corn. The waste beer is what is lost during packaging or judged not to meet the brewery's standards. Coors has been converting beer into gasoline since 1996 and produces 3 million gallons of fuel a year.

Molson Coors is also supplying beer for convention events. Based on the number of photo ops of Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama downing beer during recent primary elections, this might be one of the more popular donations received by the Democrats.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oskar Blues to Make Wash for Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey

When Flying Dog Brewery moved its production east one of the questions was where would Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey get its wash? The micro-distillery was located next door to Flying Dog, making it easy to pipe over the "beer" that would be distilled to make an impressive whiskey.

Enter another Colorado microbrewery: Oskar Blues Brewery. Oskar Blues will provide about 100 barrels of wash (3100 gallons) each week. Stranahan's, which has been in business since 2003, will distill that liquid down to about 300 gallons of spirit that will then be aged.

Stranahan's has been steadily increasing distribution and is now available in about 20 states.

Part of the benefit for Oskar Blues, besides a steady income for contract brewing the wash, is that the brewery will have access to used Stranahan's barrels that it will use for specialty beer production.

London Bans Booze on the Tube, France Outlaws Happy Hours and Alberta Parks Go Dry

Prohibition tendencies are not a uniquely American phenomenon. Three cases in point:

London Mayor Boris Johnson has decided to issue last call for riders of the Underground. Starting June 1, open containers are banned on the tube in the United Kingdom capital. While having a drink on the subway may not sound all that appealing, some London residents plan to mark the passing of the right by holding Underground parties on May 31. On Facebook some are organizing parties on the Circle Line trains before the ban hits, others plan to organize drink-in protests after the ban.

Meanwhile in France, the government plans to outlaw happy hours as a way to put an end to binge drinking. Proposals are also floating around that would ban bottle service in clubs and raise taxes on higher alcohol beer.

In Canada, Alberta Parks is considering banning alcohol at its facilities near Calgary. They say drunken rowdies are damaging park facilities and leaving trash behind.

Tuesday Tasting: Vana Tallinn

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we try some liqueur direct from the Baltic Sea.

In a recent Tuesday Tasting I mentioned that occasionally friends will bring me a bottle of something that I've never previously experienced. This time Eric Mower brought me a bottle of "likoor" from Estonia where he had gone to speak to a marketing conference. It was a get well gift after my recent surgery and a nice one indeed.

Vana Tallinn is a traditional drink of Estonia and popular throughout the Baltic countries. It packs a stealth punch in a pleasant package. The Vana Tallinn I sampled was 80 proof. Liviko also distills 90 proof and 100 proof varieties, plus a 32 proof cream liqueur.

The most important thing I can say about Vana Tallinn is that I would have never guessed it was as strong as 80 proof because all of the flavors and spices mask the alcohol.This is a dangerous shooter. You could be forgiven for thinking you were drinking a liqueur that is half as strong.

That said, this is a very distinctive and satisfying drink. It has an attractive reddish brown color. The first aroma out of the bottle is citrus, but the overall flavor is dominated by cinnamon with hints of vanilla and a touch of orange peel. The vanilla starts to take control of the fragrance the longer you linger over the drink.

You can sip Vana Tallinn as a nightcap or serve it on the rocks with some cream. It also is used in a number of mixed drinks, but you should try it neat to start.

If your travel plans do not call for a trip to the Baltic nations, you now are in luck. Matrics Importing has justed started bringing Vana Tallinn into the U.S. It is in limited distribution at the moment in Illinois and Maryland.

Monday, May 19, 2008

SABMiller Profits Up 23 Percent

For all of the talk about higher prices for hops, grain, energy, shipping, packaging and other assorted inputs that go into making beer, you would expect brewers would be having some difficult days. That's not the case at SABMiller Plc, which announced its annual profit climbed 23 percent.

The world's third largest brewer says it was able to take price increases to recoup the commodity price hikes. Sales in select European markets and the U.S. are up, helping to offset declines in China and Colombia. Additionally, the company is benefiting from shifts in the world currency market.

SABMiller's net income climbed to $2.02 billion, and sales jumped 15 percent to $21.4 billion.

Polish Customs Agents Decide to Destroy Beer Shipment Seized 11 Years Ago

Proving that bureaucrats are pretty much the same the world over, Polish customs officials in Gydnia have destroyed 90,000 cans of Japanese beer -- 11 years after the brew was originally seized.

The Poles stored the beer in a warehouse for more than a decade. It had been held by customs because health officials said the beer did not have proper labeling. The matter was in the courts for most of the time since and recently a ruling was handed down in favor of the Polish government.

It makes you wonder what would have happened had the courts ruled in favor of the Japanese brewer. Would beer drinkers in Poland been sipping beer brewed in 1997?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

New York Brewery Teams With Winery to Launch Riesling Ale

Just when you think you may have tried every beer style comes word that a Finger Lakes brewery and winery are getting together to make a brew using riesling grapes.

Three Brothers Winery, located just south of Geneva, N.Y., has contracted with Custom BrewCrafters in Honeoye Falls to make five beers under the Barley Yards Brewing label. Contract brewing is not unique and at least one Finger Lakes winery, Wagner Vineyards, brews its own beer. What is unique about this venture is that one of the beers will combine elements of beer and wine.

Barley Yards Riesling Ale will include grapes grown in the Finger Lakes, recognized as one of the top riesling producing areas in the U.S. Custom BrewCrafters makes contract beer for about 50 accounts around western and northern New York.

The Riesling Ale will be served when Barley Yards opens on May 24, along with Barley Yards East Coast Amber, American Black Lager, India Pale Ale and Raspberry Wheat Ale.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Drinks & Taxes 2008 v10: North Carolina Governor Wants 4 Percent Hike to Beer, Wine and Spirits Taxes

North Carolina is joining a number of states in deciding that increasing the tax on alcohol is a good way to balance its budget.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley has made a $21.5 billion budget proposal and wants to boost taxes on beer, wine and spirits to help pay for the 4.2 percent hike in spending.

Gov. Easley say the 4 percent tax increase on alcohol would provide $68 million to fund mental health programs in the state.

American Craft Beer Week: May 12-18

Just in case you need a reason to have a cold one, the Brewers Association has declared this to be American Craft Beer Week.

The May 12-18 celebration of American Craft Beer Week recognizes the part brewers play in communities around the country. The Brewers Association estimates craft brewers donated more than $20 million to charitable causes in 2007.

Breweries around the country have scheduled special events to mark the occasion. The Brewers Association is also launching Savor: An American Craft Beer and Food Experience in Washington, D.C., from May 16-17. The event features 48 craft brwers and focuses on matching food and beer.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Diageo Announces Brewery Closures, But Will Keep Guinness Production at St James's Gate Going

Drinks giant Diageo ended months of speculation with an announcement today about beer production plans in Ireland. The $1.01 billion plan keeps part of the company's famous St James's Gate brewery in operation.

Diageo plans to close about half of St James's Gate and shut down breweries in Kilkenny and Dundalk. The company will also build a new brewery at the edge of Dublin. Diageo Chief Executive Officer Paul Walsh is quoted in press reports that the move shows the company's commitment to the "spiritual home" of Guinness. The Dublin location is the top tourist attraction in Ireland.

Diageo plans to sell part of the site and the breweries in Kilkenny and Dundalk. Estimates are that the sale could attract between $750 million and $800 million. The St James's Gate site is where Arthur Guinness began brewing in 1759. He would later originate Guinness Stout at the brewery.

The new Dublin brewery would be for export production, particularly to serve the growing demand for Guinness in a number of African nations.

Drinks & Taxes 2008 v9: Wisconsin Legislator Proposes Hike in Beer Tax

Rep. Terese Berceau is being urged to reintroduce a bill to increase the tax on a barrel of beer in Wisconsin from $2 to $10.

The Marathon County Board of Health approved a draft resolution supporting the tax hike approved a draft of the resolution Tuesday that would call for an increase to pay for alcohol treatment, prevention and enforcement.

Wisconsin has one of the lowest taxes on beer in the country. During the last session, legislators decided not to act on Rep. Berceau's bill and it died when the session ended.

North Carolina Votes: One Wet, One Dry, One Thinking

The voting Tuesday in North Carolina got plenty of attention around the country, but two important votes on ending Prohibition received just minor coverage.

In Indian Trail voters approved the sale of beer and wine at restaurants, hotels and motels. It was a landslide, with 66.3 percent of voters approving of beer sales and 64.1 percent pulling the yes lever for wine.

Indian Trail Citizens for Progress supported the measure saying it would bring business to the town and cut down on the need for people to drive outside of Union County to have a drink with dinner.

In Denton, nine questions concerning the sale of alcohol in the community were voted down. The proposals ranged from allowing beer or wine sales on-premise to bringing an ABC store to the community. A little more than 500 people voted, with about 60 percent voting against each option. Members of the Bethel Baptist Church and a group called Citizens for a Drug and Alcohol Free Denton worked to defeat the proposals.

It was the fifth time in 18 years that proposals to end Prohibition in Denton have been defeated.

Meanwhile, a third North Carolina community, Taylorsville, may soon get the chance to vote in a referendum to allow on-premise mixed drink and beer sales. Taylorsville already allows off-premise beer and wine sales at grocery stores. The community has an ABC store.

Taylorsville is located in Alexander County, which is dry. There is a movement picking up steam in the county to have a vote to allow off-premise beer and wine sales.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Illinois Man's Last Request: PBR Me, ASAP

Some of us hope friends will lift a beer in our honor when we pass from this world. Others are making sure that they will.

Bill Bramanti's fits into that second category.

Bramanti, 67, of South Chicago Heights, Ill., showed friends and family just how much he loves Pabst Blue Ribbon last Saturday. The Glenwood village administrator held a party. The cooler was a little large and a bit odd, but it made the point.

It was the coffin he had designed to look like a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. You can check out the Southtown Star newspaper story if you need photographic evidence.

Bramanti is not ill and hopes to use the casket as a cooler during future events. He says it can hold 15 cases of beer and around 150 pounds of ice. When his time comes, the Pabst Blue Ribbon coffin will be ready and waiting.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Tuesday Tasting: More Finger Lakes Rieslings

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we sample six more rieslings from the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York.

Those of you who know me or who are regular readers of Lyke2Drink know that I work for Eric Mower and Associates, a marketing communications agency (www.mower.com). You may also recall that we have done some work with the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, a voluntary association made up of about 100 wineries in the region and grape growers. I play host for the FLWA Vintners' Roundtable, a virtual tasting conducted via conference call that links winemakers and food and beverage journalists. A recent session that included writers from Gourmet and Restaurant Business focused on Finger Lakes Rieslings. My notes for this Tuesday tasting come from that session.

Ravines 2006 Dry Riesling ($17): Anyone who says that Finger Lakes rieslings are all sweet has never tried this creation by winemaker Morten Hallgran. At just 0.3 percent residual sugar this wine has a nice floral nose and a lime and mineral flavor bed.

Prejean 2006 Dry Riesling ($12): Floral nose, honeysuckle with melon flavor notes. Jim Zimar has built a well balanced wine with 0.9 percent residual sugar.

Swedish Hill 2006 Dry Riesling ($15): After 20 years of growing grapes for others, the Peterson family launched Swedish Hill and had its first crush in 1985. This wine has firm citrus and pear notes with a pleasant floral nose. This dry riesling has 0.5 percent residual sugar.

Heron Hill 2005 Ingle Vineyard Riesling ($25): Winemaker Thomas Laszlo has created a nice balanced riesling with a slate mineral nose, and pear and citrus flavor profile.

Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards 2006 Homestead Reserve Riesling ($18): This wine has 1.1 percent residual sugar. Six generations of the Hazlitt family have been growing grapes on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. This riesling has pineapple and tropical notes in a semi-dry format.

Wagner 2006 Semi Dry Riesling ($13): This wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and has 2 percent residual sugar. It has a crisp peach and apricot aroma, with plenty of citrus and dried apricots in a long flavor profile.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Drinks & Taxes 2008 v8: California Assemblyman Wants to Boost Beer Tax by 1,400 Percent

California Assemblyman Jim Beall, wants to raise the tax on beer. That's nothing new given the recent movement by a number of states to balance budgets one drink at a time. What is new is that Rep. Beall's tax takes a pretty big bite, going from 2-cents a can to 30-cents a beer.

The 1,400 percent increase would mean the new tax on a six pack would be $1.80. It could raise $2 billion for the state's treasury.

Rep. Beall says that the tax hike would go to cover the costs that beer has on society. In order for the bill to become law, it would require a two-thirds super majority vote of the California legislature and it would face a public referendum.

The anti-alcohol Marin Institute has praised the proposal, while the College Republicans at San Francisco State University launched a protest against the measure.

UC-Davis Study: A Beer a Day Cuts Heart Attack and Stroke Rate by 40 Percent

A study by scientists at the University of California-Davis indicates that men or women who have a glass of beer a day can cut their risk of heart attack and stroke by up to 40 percent.

The researchers say a glass of beer raises HDL, which is the good type of cholesterol, while reducing the risk of blood clots forming in a heart artery.

The study points out that moderate consumption is the key to enjoying the healthful benefits of beer and other forms of alcohol.

Martha's Vineyard Town Stays Dry By Two Votes

If you travel to Martha's Vineyard this summer and develop a thirst, don't stop in Tisbury.

Residents of the Massachusetts town voted to remain dry by a count of 692 to 690. The April 15 ballot had carried a proposal to allow restaurants to sell beer and wine.

On election night, it appeared the vote had been a tie based on an automated counting of ballots. After a hand count of all of the ballots it was discovered that two which were previously believed to be blank were actually votes against lifting Prohibition in the community on the island off Cape Cod.

The vote was authorized after the issue had bubbled for more than three years.

Vermont Could Get Higher Octane Beer if Gov. Douglas Signs Bill

The Vermont House and Senate have approved a bill that will allow specialty beers with an alcohol by volume above 8 percent to be sold in grocery and convenience stores.

Rep. John Rodgers sponsored the bill which would improve the distribution of the beers in Vermont. Currently, only the 75 liquor stores in the state can sell beer above 8 percent alcohol by volume. This has cut sales of the beers.

To become law, Gov. James Douglas must sign the bill. Otter Creek Brewing has indicated it plans to launch a new beer if the law in Vermont changes. Another brewer, Shaun Hill, says he plans to launch Hill Farmstead Brewery and focus on classic high gravity brewing styles.

Euro Beer Time

SABMiller has contributed to our knowledge of the habits of European beer drinkers. In a report issued this week titled "Time For a Beer?," the company looks at the habits of drinkers in various European countries.

The survey of 7,500 beer drinkers in fifteen countries found that:

-- Most Europeans have a beer two or three days out of the week. In Spain, 31 percent of consumers said they drink beer most days of the week.

-- In Denmark locals arrive at the bar at 4:41 p.m., while in the United Kingdom the average time for the first beer of the night is 6:14 p.m.

-- In France the last beer of the night slides down at 8:33 p.m., while Germans stay out to 10:59 p.m. for that final brew.

-- Saturday is the most popular night for a beer (59 percent), followed by Friday (48 percent)

-- Not surprisingly, the Czechs are Europe’s biggest beer fans. Of the alcohol Czechs consume, 63.4 percent is beer. In France, beer is just 14.5 percent of the total.

-- The top beer drinking country based on percentage of the respondents in the survey who say they drink beer on a particular day varies across the week. Spain is tops on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, Belgium and Sweden tie. Romania is tops on Friday and Sunday, while Belgium holds down Saturday.

-- Beer drinkers in Poland are least likely to drink alone (96 percent), while the Dutch (21 percent) are most likely to drink solo.

Clos du Bois Raising Funds to Fight Heart Disease in Women With ToastToMom.com

May 11th is Mother's Day and while a e-card might feel a little cold and distant as a way to say thanks to that special woman in your life, winemaker Erik Olsen at Clos du Bois in California has come up with a way to make it socially acceptable.

Clos du Bois has pledged to donate up to $25,000 to help the 8 million women living with heart disease. For every e-card sent from www.ToastToMom.com, Clos du Bois will donate $1 to WomenHeart.

National Women’s Health Week is May 11th - 17th. At the site you can download heart healthy Mother’s Day recipes and wine pairing ideas, and each e-card enters you for a getaway for two to Sonoma wine country.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Session #15: Can You See the Light?

The beer blogging world is holding another edition of The Session today. This time around Boak and Bailey, a London-based beer blog, is the host. The topic for the 15th edition of Beer Blogging Friday concerns "the moment when you saw the light. At what point did you realize you were a beer lover / geek / enthusiast? What beer(s) triggered the conversion? Did someone help you along your way, or did you come to it yourself? In short; how did you get into good beer?"

For me there is an obvious "first time," but there is also the more accurate answer, which is constantly. I'll cover both because they are equally important in the formation of my geekdom.

My initial realization that good beer was great came when I was 16 or 17 years old. Mind you, the drinking age back then was 18 years old, so while I was breaking the law, I was almost legal. Fridays or Saturdays back in 1977 often meant finding a place that would sell you a six pack to take to a friend's house where the parents were away for the weekend. There were ample domestic six packs available at $1.09 or $1.19 -- you could even find some on sale for just 99-cents. I remember thinking even back then that the bottles, labels, caps and six pack holder had to almost cost that much (not to mention shipping, slotting allowances and taxes). But what high school student was going to argue with low priced beer?

The result was a steady stream of Gibbon's, Genesee Cream Ale, Stegmeier, Narragansett, Hamm's, Schaefer, Pabst, Blatz, MeisterBrau, Schmidt's, Old Milwaukee, Piel's, Carling Black Label and Red White & Blue ending up jammed into coolers and refrigerators for the evening's festivities. Some of it tasted OK, but by today's standards I'd bet it was pretty bad. There were a few good domestic beers around, such as Matt's Premium and Koch's Black Horse Ale, but they were usually selling for $1.39. The light for me got turned on one weekend when I must have been flush with cash. I decided to spend $3.79 for a six pack of St. Pauli Girl from Germany. My friends thought I was nuts, but once I tasted what was inside I never looked at beer the same again.

I know what you're thinking. St. Pauli Girl changed everything? Yup, remember this was the late 1970s and in Upstate New York -- and the rest of America for that matter -- there were no beers like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Bell's Kalamazoo Stout. In fact, at the time American brewers appeared to be in a race to see who could use the least amount of barley and the fewest hops. Thankfully, we've come a long way.

Fast forward 30+ years and I still experience beer epiphanies. They are not as surprising as that first taste of St. Pauli Girl, but they are no less exciting. I'm talking about getting a taste of Samuel Adams Utopius, Duck Rabbit Baltic Porter, Westmalle Tripel, Great Divide Yeti, Foothills Sexual Chocolate, Avery Hog Heaven, New Holland Mad Hatter, Cottonwood Endo IPA, Rogue Hop Heaven, Deschutes Cinder Cone Red or Orval.

These are beers that grab my taste buds and remind me that beer can still be a new experience. Thanks to my writing, I get exposed to more of these beers than most people. It would be easy to become jaded, but the sense of discovery that these beers bring keeps that from happening.

I can still see the light, only now it is often amber colored and has a hoppy aroma.