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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Three Sheets: A Show Worth Saving

I just finished watching a review copy of "The Second Annual Three Sheets New Year's Eve Pub Crawl from London" with comedian/drinker Zane Lamprey and have come to the conclusion that Three Sheets has to be saved.

Three Sheets ran for three seasons on a network called MoJo HD, which could be seen by a few lucky digital cable subscribers adventurous enough to surf beyond the traditional networks. MoJo shut down in early December, but still exists online. If you want to catch the London New Year's show, you need to visit www.mojohd.com. The show will start streaming on Jan. 1st at midnight eastern time and be available on the site for a month, so you don't have to interrupt your party tonight to watch the 45 minute episode. It is worth the time as Lamprey covers everything from what goes into making Beefeater Gin to the magic of craft cider. Pints of real ale, shots of Bourbon, glasses of Tequila, cocktails using Scotch, various shooters with vodka and aquavit, and assorted other libations are also consumed. Lamprey's liver should get a bonus for this episode.

You may recall MoJo also ran a show called Beer Nutz. For everything that was wrong with Beer Nutz (just how many times can you appear amazed by the basics of brewing beer?), Three Sheets manages to hit its marks. The host is entertaining. The show travels to exotic locations. You get introduced to fun places to drink. And, most of all, you learn about rare drinks and drinking customs from locals.

Three Sheets has made it to about 50 places so far where drinking is a serious sport, from Bavaria to Brazil. Lamprey does not take himself at all seriously, but still gets across a steady flow of information while managing to get buzzed. It's sort of like a drunken Rick Steves travelogue. Some of the humor might be considered frat house style, but not everyone with a glass in their hand approaches the topic of alcohol with the professionalism of a Jancis Robinson.

With MoJo off the air, Three Sheets needs to find a home for its fourth season, which just finished filming in Tahiti, Tanzania, Tuscany, New Zealand, Newcastle, Iceland, Poland, Lithuania and Namibia. With the flood of "reality" television garbage out there -- do we really need another "Real Housewives" show? -- Three Sheets offers up some much needed surreality.

"The networks need to stop looking at Three Sheets at face value. It's not just a show about a guy who travels around the world and drinks," Lamprey is quoted as saying in a press release promoting marches held earlier in December in Los Angeles and New York to catch the attention of a new network. "It's more than that... I also eat. We're going to show the TV execs that this tried and proven show has a bevy of the world's most loyal, dedicated and endearing fans."

Pass the snake wine and here's to Three Sheets finding a new home in 2009!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lager Library: The Beer Guide

The Beer Guide, edited by Josh Oakes, has more than 2,700 beer descriptions and ratings culled from RateBeer.com.

Savory Press has published the soft cover book for $9.95. It allows you to take along the thoughts of 30,000 RateBeer.com contributors in an easy to carry package. The book also includes a beer and food pairing guide by Stan Hieronymus.

The neat thing about the book is that you can quickly get ratings for everything from Schlitz malt Liquor (one star: "It's like watching a mime get run over") to Westvleteren Abt 12 (five stars: "Wonderfully madeirized malt with raisins, prunes and dates in aroma and nice spices wafting through.").

Friday, December 26, 2008

InBev Plans Major Brewery in Northern India

InBev might be cutting jobs in St. Louis, but they plan on adding production capacity in India.

The Belgian-based brewing conglomerate plans to build a new brewery in northern India in either in Haryana or Rajasthan. Plans are for the brewery to be completed during 2009. InBev sees the Indian market for beer as a growth opportunity and currently its brands are available in just a few major cities. The new plant will help the company expand distribution.

InBev wants to produce 3-4 million cases annually at the brewery. Brands slated for the brewery include Tennet's and Becks.

U.K. Brewery Plans Monthly Beer Releases

It's exciting to walk into your favorite pub and see a tap handle you have never encountered. This sense of discovery helped fuel the microbeer movement as consumers looked for the next great beer. What brewers give up in loyalty, they get back in trial.

Most American craft brewers have figured out that seasonal releases mean additional sales, but one British brewer has taken this practice a step further. They plan monthly new beer releases during 2009.

Wye Valley Brewery, a cask ale producer founded in 1985 in Herefordshire, U.K., says it will use local ingredients, including honey and nettles, to turn out the monthly brews.

The brewery plans to use most of the new ales to recognize Hereford icons. One will be named for the Mappa Mundi, the largest known medieval map in the world.

Troops in Iraq to Get Super Bowl Beer

It will be a few weeks before we know who will play for the NFL championship, but some troops in Baghdad are already cheering for the big game.

General Order No. 1 bans U.S. troops from drinking alcohol in Iraq. Not only is the order meant to try to restrict alcohol use -- which many Muslims find offensive -- it also sounds like a pretty good way to maintain a sober force in a war zone. Still, it would be a boost to morale if off duty troops could relax with a beer.

In perhaps what is only the second exception to the rule since the war began, troops will be able to enjoy a beer during the Super Bowl. Troops will be able to have two servings of beer only during the Feb. 1st game. The beer must be consumed in dining facilities where soldiers can watch the game.

For many troops in the middle of their second or third deployment having a cold beer while watching the game is one small bit of normalcy in the midst of the mayhem. I suggest when we all crack open our first beer on Super Bowl Sunday that we say a toast to the men and women on the front lines.

Kentucky Vodka Paving Way for New Bourbon

In about four years you will have the chance to taste a new Bourbon from Barrel House Distilling Co. Until then, you will have to settle for Pure Blue Vodka.

The new Rockcastle County distillery plans to start selling its vodka in early 2009. Barrell House ultimately wants to build a name for itself as a craft distiller of Bourbon. But while vodka can go from the still to the bottle, whiskey requires aging in oak barrels.

While Barrel House Distilling's partners watch the clock, Pure Blue Vodka will provide cash flow for the company.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday Tasting: Ten More 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 dive back into the seasonal beer pool for a few more Christmas Ales and Winter Warmers.

The seasonal beers are out in force this time of year and I have been able to taste ten more during the last couple of weeks. I was lucky earlier today to show up at The Flying Saucer in Charlotte after some final Christmas gift shopping at the exact time they were tapping 2006 and 2007 kegs of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale to go along with a 2008 keg they had on draught.

Sierra Nevada 2006 Celebration Ale: This brew was a bit cloudy, but it had a very smooth flavor. The hop character has mellowed and the beer has a bit of a creamy flavor profile.

Sierra Nevada 2007 Celebration Ale: This vintage also poured cloudy, so it might have something to do with the kegs having just been moved around to be tapped. The 2007 had more hop bitterness, but overall this was a smooth beer. Perhaps a slight pine tinge to the end of the flavor.

Sierra Nevada 2008 Celebration Ale: Clear amber color, with a nice floral aroma. Nice crisp hop flavor that stays throughout.

Bad Elf Winter's Ale:
From the Ridgeway Brewing Co. in the United Kingdom, this 6.0 percent alcohol by volume beer is a light golden color. Good hop crispness without being overpowering.

Harpoon Winter Warmer: A nice rich bodied beer with plenty of malt and a blend of nutmeg and cinnamon to pull off the holiday feel. Good to go with a holiday meal.

Mendocino Winter Seasonal Imperial IPA: A true hop monster, this 7.5 percent beer delivers a memorable IPA experience. This maybe just a one or two bottle experience because of the huge flavor profile.

Rogue Yellow Snow:
This beer pours a nice orange copper color. Floral and herbal nose. Good hop character with touches of citrus. The bomber bottle is great to share with a friend.

Samuel Adams Winter Lager: I had this in the bottle and on draught during the last week. The bottle is pretty much a straight forward German-style bock. A nice beer, but not a big holiday offering. The tap version is maltier and has some nutmeg and cinnamon notes. If you get the option go with the draught.

Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome: I don't recall this beer being so light in color in previous years. I also don't recall the brewery using a brown bottle in the past. Is this a recipe switch? The beer had a thin head, but it hung around. The beer had a light hop character with some malt notes coming through. On the lighter side of what I would expect for a winter beer.

Victory Storm King Imperial Stout: OK, I know this dark giant of a beer is available year round, but I'm convinced this should be a winter seasonal. I was lucky enough to enjoy it on draught, where the head was a chocolate brown and remained thick. Weighing in at 9.1 percent alcohol by volume, the brew has substantial amounts of roasted malt flavor and good hop character to balance the experience. This is a great winter warmer, even if you can buy it during the summer.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Drinks & Taxes 2008 v14: California Governor Wants to Tack Nickel Tax on Beer

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has become the latest politician to decide to try to close a budget gap on the backs of beer drinkers.

California faces a $40 billion budget gap. Gov. Schwarzenegger announced the 5-cents per beer tax hike proposal saying it would generate nearly $900 million to pay for state programs.

Drinking Can Help Boost Omega-3 Levels

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that a daily drink can boost blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a heart healthy compound.

The study was conducted among men and women in Italy, Belgium and England. The researchers found those who drank alcohol in moderation had levels of omega-3s. The participants in the study who said they drank wine showed higher levels of the beneficial compound.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Drinks & Taxes 2008 v13: New York Governor's Budget Pushes Big Beer Tax Hike

New York Gov. David Patterson has rolled out a new $121 billion state spending plan and it includes 137 new taxes and fees for Empire State residents and visitors.

As you can imagine, Gov. Patterson decided that beer drinkers should not be immune to this orgy of revenue enhancements. The plan calls for the tax on beer levied by the state to more than double, increasing by 24 cents a gallon.

Thinking of switching from beer to soda? Don't bother. The proposal contains a new 18 percent on sugary carbonated beverages, which the state claims is designed to cover the health care cost for obesity. Can a tax on the Buffalo chicken wing be far behind?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Will Screw Cap Wines Destroy Biodiversity?

I've always felt a little strange opening a bottle of wine that has a screw cap closure. In fact, I'm not a big fan of synthetic plastic corks. It turns out I'm not just a snob, I'm also an environmentalist.

A BBC Natural World documentary is set to air next month that quotes a World Wildlife Fund study that suggests up to 75 percent of the Mediterranean's cork forests could disappear in the next decade. The culprit is not global warming. It's the screw cap.

As wineries increasingly turn away from natural cork, the market has declined. Farmers facing economic ruin by the falling demand for corks are ripping out trees to plant other crops. Many of the farmers are then finding that the land that used to support cork forests offers poor growing conditions for other crops. Some of the areas have turned desert-like.

When cork trees are removed, wildlife habitats are also lost. The World Wildlife Fund says species such as the Iberian lynx, black storks, booted eagles and European cranes are threatened by the dwindling cork forests.

Wineries have been turning away from natural cork for economic reasons and because of the problem of wines becoming "corked" -- a condition where wine develops an off flavor as it ages. Scientists have traced this problem to a chemical called trichloroanisol. Cork producers in Portugal are attempting new sterilization methods to rid the cork of the chemical and eliminate the problem.

Cork is harvested by stripping off the bark from a live cork oak, which requires more than four decades to reach maturity. The tree is left standing and the bark grows back in nine years, when it can be stripped again. A mature tree can yield 4,000 corks.

Banks Might Just Take a Bath on Anheuser-Busch InBev Deal

It took a consortium of 19 banks to help finance Belgian brewing giant InBev's $52 billion acquisition of Anheuser-Busch Cos. Now those lenders have started the process of selling some of the $45 billion in debt on the open market and they are finding investors more than a little skittish.

Reports are that few buyers have come forward during the initial offering, which coincides with a deepening global financial system crisis. It does not help that the deal is highly leveraged, and that corporate stock values along with loan prices have slipped since the deal was first announced. Banks in the U.S., Japan, England, Germany and other countries have a piece of the financing for this mega beer merger.

The banks are rumored to be selling the loans at approximately 90-cents on the dollar, but may need to discount the debt further. Early indications are the market for corporate debt will be depressed in 2009.

In weighing the risk of coporate loans, investors look at the credit worthiness of the borrowers. Anheuser-Busch InBev is said to be planning to repay a $9.8 billion bridge loan later today, which should be viewed as a positive sign. The company also is selling more than 890 million additional shares of stock to help finance the repayment of acquisition debt. The dilution of the stock caused some investors to dump shares and the price has dropped in recent weeks.

The Belgian company has also been busy reducing costs by cutting hundreds of jobs at A-B, many at the former St. Louis headquarters, and looking at possible deals to sell off parts of the company, such as the Busch Gardens amusement park unit.

Drinks & Taxes 2008 v12: Wisconsin DAs Want Alcohol Tax Hike

How do you solve the problem of overworked district attorneys? According to the Wisconsin District Attorney Association (WDAA) you raise taxes on liquor and beer.

The group says that high case loads and low pay mean that Wisconsin district attorneys don't stay in their jobs for long. The pro-prosecutors group points out that Wisconsin has one of the nation’s lowest alcohol taxes rates and suggests that the 6.5-cent tax on a gallon of beer could easily be raised to 8 cents without anyone even taking notice.

The WDAA says the millions raised by boosting the alcohol tax could be used to hire more than 100 new prosecutors and raise salaries for existing DAs. The group says the new prosecutors could be used to fight drunk driving in the state.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tuesday Tasting: Woodford Reserve 1838 Sweet Mash

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 the third release in a limited edition series from Woodford Reserve.

While I was in Europe last month the good folks at Woodford Reserve released the latest in their Master's Collection series, this time a revival of a historic whiskey making technique. I was disappointed to have to miss the launch event, but lucky enough to secure a tasting sample of the whiskey. I was just able to get around to tasting it this evening. Like the Woodford Reserve Four Grain and the Woodford Reserve Sonoma-Cutrer Finish that came before it in this series, this is a unique whiskey experience.

Bourbon whiskey is traditionally made with what is called the sour mash process. What this means is that a supply of the spent mash -- grain, yeast and water -- or "sour mash" from a previous batch of whiskey is mixed with a new mash mixture. The use of sour mash is said to create a more consistent Bourbon from batch to batch.

The 1838 Sweet Mash is produced using 100 percent fresh ingredients, so it is a "sweet" and not a "sour" mash. Woodford Reserve believes this to be the first Bourbon to use this process since prior to Prohibition and perhaps the first in 150 years.

The resulting 86.4 proof whiskey is a bright amber color. It has a clear maple syrup aroma that opens to reveal oak notes. The flavor hits quickly with some holiday pie spices, hints of almond, more maple, a touch of tart apple and a finish that carries through the oak and some raw grains around the edge.

I still rate the Woodford Four Grain as one of the best Bourbons I've had in recent years and the 1838 Sweet Mash is a very respectable addition to the series. There are 1,045 cases of the Bourbon being sold in 25 U.S. markets and Canada at $90 a bottle.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Can Beer Deliver Quebec Sovereignty?

Four decades ago radicals calling themselves the Front de Liberation Quebec set off more than 200 bombs, kidnapped politicians and gathered weapons readying for an armed insurrection to gain sovereignty for the French-speaking province from Canada. In the mid-1970s, Parti Québécois' René Lévesque became the Premier of Quebec through peaceful means via the ballot box.

While progress has been made to protect and promote the French language and regional culture, Quebec is still part of Canada and polls suggest less than 40 percent of provincial residents want to break away. While sovereignty is not a hot issue in the elections slated for next week, many still harbor the hope for independence for Quebec.

Now a beer called l'Independante has been launched to raise funds to support sovereignty efforts. A group of 22 separatists helped fund the brewing, with the goal of getting at least 100,000 Quebec residents to consume at least one bottle of l'Independante a month. The beer first hit store shelves in October and so far reports are that just 38,000 bottles have been sold.

Jacques Leduc, a retired high-school teacher and one of the people behind the beer is quoted in Toronto Globe & Mail as saying, "People who drink it will be posing a political gesture. It would be a symbol of a people who want a country."

If You Drink This Brew, Do You See Little Green Men?

Sapporo Breweries "Space Beer," first reported here back in May, is now a reality -- but only available to a select few "beernauts."

Sapporo has brewed about 100 liters of "Space Barley Special Brewing Beer" and has selected 30 couples that will be given the chance to taste the all-barley malt beer at events at its breweries around Japan.

The 5.5 percent alcohol by volume beer was made from barley grown using seeds from barley that had been grown in a laboratory on board the International Space Station. Various crops have been studied in space and the barley was grown in space through a joint research project by the Russian Academy of Science, Japan's Okayama University and Sapporo Breweries.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Tuesday Tasting: The Twelve Beers of Christmas

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 12 seasonal brews that roll out just in time for the holidays.

Normally, I would have been quite satisfied heading into the holiday season enjoying the collection of unique beers gathered for our family Thanksgiving celebration. The list was long and ranged from continental lagers to American pumpkin ales. The sampling included Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock (finished on cocoa nibs harvested in northern Bolivia), Dogfish Head Theobroma (honey, ancho chiles, ground annatto, Soconusco cocoa nibs and cocoa powder) and New Holland Pilgram's Dole Wheat Wine (offering up plenty of flavor and spunk). But the week also served as one of the best launching pads I can remember to one of my favorite beer season: the annual release of Christmas ales and winter beers.

Things got started on Thanksgiving eve with a meeting of the Charlotte Beer Club at the Common Market, a neighborhood spot in Charlotte, N.C., that has one of the best selections of beer in a compact space anywhere in the U.S. The best way to think of this place is as a general store for beer. If they don't have it, you likely don't need to drink it.

The Common Market usually has a couple of very nice beers available on draught and then the Beer Club members will also buy larger format bottles and pass them around to try. I started with a Cold Mountain, went to a N'Ice Chouffe and then had verticals of Anchor and Scaldis holiday offerings

Highland Cold Mountain Winter Ale: This was a very nice reddish brown ale on tap. It has a good malty base and some background spices coming through in the flavor. It actually got better as it warmed in the glass. I had a hard time determining the exact spices coming through in this beer and it was obviously a blend of several. My best guess is that it may have some cinnamon and all spice in the mix. A solid effort from this North Carolina brewery.

N'Ice Chouffe: I traded some Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg with a Charlotte Beer Club regular for a healthy pour of this dark Belgian ale. This is a wonderful malty, fruity brew that is spiced for the season. I quickly identified the vanilla used in flavoring the beer, but several of us just could not put our finger on the second primary spice in the flavor profile. According to Don Russell's new book "Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest and Most Unusual Holiday Brews" its thyme. Thanks Don, mystery solved.

Next, the Common Market sampled 2006, 2007 and 2008 vintages of Scaldis Noel and Anchor's Our Special Ale.

Scaldis Noel 2006: This brew has mellowed with age. Gone is some of the sweetness and fruit, but in its place is a warming flavor that has a slightly tangy note at the start. The bottle we tried poured fairly cloudy.

Scaldis Noel 2007: A very nice beer, even though it appeared that yeast was suspended in the glass. Mild fruity notes. Good level of warmth. After tasting the three years I felt like this beer was meant to be laid down for at least one year.

Scaldis Noel 2008: Sweet, fruity and young. Nice red copper color and a decent head. It is unfiltered in the large format bottles, which explains the cloudy nature of the older vintages. This is an 11 percent alcohol by volume beer, but it drinks nice and smooth.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2006: This beer is just starting to mellow slightly, but few would guess it had already been in the bottle for two years. Dark brown color, thin head. Touches of citrus and spice in the flavor profile. If you have a magnum of this beer, you can certainly hold it for a year or two more if you store it properly, but it drinks nicely now.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2007: Still very lively in the magnum size bottles being used at this tasting. Brown-red in color and good head. I was at the brewery last fall while this vintage was being bottled. Interesting spice nose, with perhaps a hint of juniper coming through. Good balance of malt and hops.

Anchor Our Special Ale 2008: This is the 34th year that Anchor has been making its Christmas ale and I think this is one of the best I've had from the San Francisco brewery. Nice mahogany color. Great malty nose. Hits of hops and spices blended to make this a great beer to serve with a holiday meal. It could easily replace any red wine you might be thinking of serving to guests.

The following brews were tasted over the weekend and were all from bottles:

Bell's Christmas Ale: This ale is made with 100 percent Michigan barley and is bottle fermented. It pours slightly cloudy amber in color with a nice tan head. There is a nice fruity base to the beer, with hints of toffee. I'd suggest this beer as a before dinner aperitif.

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve: Nice red color. Head starts very strong and thins a bit. It has a heathery nose. There is a good level of hops throughout -- this is obviously a Rogue ale.

Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale: From Anheuser-Busch, this was an amber colored beer with a light fluffy head. There was a slight hint of vanilla in the flavor, but if you are a big fan of oak aged beers, you will not find the hint of whiskey you might expect from the name of this beer. This is not a bad tasting beer, but it is on the lighter side for a winter brew.

Corsendonk Christmas Ale: A dark Belgian ale that provided a moderate head, which stayed throughout. This beer opened nicely as it warmed a bit. The nose offers some spice notes and a hint of toffee sweetness. I detected figs, biscuit cookies and brown sugar in the malty flavor with some slight balancing bitter notes.