Return Of The $125 ‘UltiMAte’ Beer Dinner…

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The Massachusetts Brewer’s Guild has just announced plans for its second annual beer dinner. For the price of a mere 125 bucks you can “[m]ingle, drink and have fun with the founders and brewers from Massachusetts’ best breweries.” To be held on February 27, 2010, at the Exchange Conference Center on the Waterfront, the ticket price includes a dinner prepared by Executive Chef Rich Vellante of Legal Sea Foods and limited release beers and pairings from 22 local breweries. I didn’t attend last year’s event, but word from attendees and the accompanying photos suggest it was a pretty industry heavy event. Here’s the menu if you’ve got a little extra green in your wallet this year.

Venison, black bean and pumpkin chili with cumin crema

Wachusett-Blueberry Ale / Mercury- Ipswich Stone Cat Winter lager

Fish tacos “street-style�
Blue Hills Brewery- Imperial Red IPA / Cape Anne Brewing- Fisherman’s Ale

Chopped salad: romaine, olives, chick peas, beans, olives, New England
artisan cheese and candied bacon
Sam Adams-Boston Lager / BBC- Raspberry Barley wine Style Ale / Mayflower- Porter

Bailey’s Blonde Ale braised short ribs with soft polenta
Cisco Brewers- Bailey’s Blonde Ale / Haverhill Brewery- “Joshua Norton� Imperial Stout

Sticky toffee pudding with ginger ice cream
Harpoon Brewery- 100 Barrel Series Ginger Wheat / Cape Cod Beer- Porter

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A New Way Of Looking At ‘Best Of’ Lists…

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One diligent (or bored) reader over at BeerAdvocate compiled his own Best of BA list, taking the top beer from every style listed on the site. Whereas the ratings sites tend to heavily favor a small number of styles (with Imperial Stouts dominating) to the exclusion of many others (lagers generally speaking), it provides an interesting and across-the-board look at what reviewers consider to be the world’s best beers.

Uerige Doppelsticke
Schlitz Gusto (60’s Formula)
Tröegs Nugget Nectar
Brooklyn Lager
Kuhnhenn Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine
Sixpoint Sweet Action
Coffee Bender (Surly)
Schlafly No. 15
Pliny The Younger
Humulus Lager
Black Tuesday
Sculpin India Pale Ale
Dad’s Little Helper Malt Liquor (Rogue)
Alpha King Pale Ale
American Darling
Victory At Sea (Barrel Aged) Imperial Porter
Coffee Stout (Central Waters)
Melange No. 3
Ølfabrikken Porter
Rare Vos (Amber Ale)
Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel
R&D Golden Ale (New Glarus)
Trappistes Rochefort 8
DeuS (Brut Des Flandres)
Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien
Bodacious Black & Tan
St. Nikolaus Bock Bier – Brewer’s Reserve
Three (Surly)
Lagunitas Sirius Ale
Reality Czeck
Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel
Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold
Trappist Westvleteren 8
Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel
Kuhnhenn Raspberry Eisbock
The Perfect Storm
Bitter Brewer (Surly)
Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale
Merrimack Mild
Cambridge House Abijah Rowe IPA
Landlord – Strong Pale Ale
Portsmouth Whipper Snapper
Fuller’s London Porter
Blackheart Stout
Fuller’s 1845
U Fleku “House Beer”
Samuel Smith’s Organically Produced Lager Beer
Hevelius Kaper
Blue Point Extra Special Bitter
Girardin Faro 1882
La Folie Wood Aged Beer
Guinness Special Export Stout (John Martin – Belgium)
Wisconsin Belgian Red
Prima Pils
Girardin Gueuze 1882 Black Label (unfiltered)
Live Oak HefeWeizen
Baladin Nora
Great Lakes Wolfhound Stout
Brian Boru Old Irish Red
Koshihikari Echigo Beer
Mönchsambacher Lager
Mühlen Kölsch
Weihenstephaner Kristallweissbier
Cantillon Blåbær Lambik
Phunky Duck
Samuel Adams Light
Clausthaler Golden Amber
Spring Bock
Ramstein Octoberfest
Three Hour Tour
Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel
Augustiner Bräu Lagerbier Hell
Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout
Old Stock Cellar Reserve (Aged In Brandy Barrels)
The Great Pumpkin
Trappist Westvleteren 12
Aecht Schlenkerla Fastenbier
Vanilla Bean Aged Dark Lord
Founders Red’s Rye
Saison – Brett
Death And Taxes
Berkshire Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale
Old Chub – Scottish Style Ale
The Wind Cried Mari… Scottish Heather Ale
Smokestack Heritage Porter
La Fin Du Monde
Great Lakes Eliot Ness
Harvest Dance (Boulevard)
Our Special Ale 2009 (Anchor Christmas Ale)
St. Bernardus Witbier

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The End Of The Year: A Time To Express Less Cynical Thoughts…

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With fire-colored leaves gently falling from the sky and intensely fresh and cooling breezes cascading, autumn is the season many people secretly long to enjoy. Despite the inevitable and unavoidable promise of a chilly future, the atmospheric changes of scenery often more than make up for what follows. It also doesn’t hurt that the changing landscape is accompanied by a much anticipated bevy of seasonal beers, from soul-soothing Octoberfests to insanely popular Pumpkin ales.

As I have been accused from time to time of being too critical of the craft beer world, I thought, at this contemplative time of the year, that I’d take a few moments and reflect upon some of the things I am thankful for when it comes to the beer world. From modest, ambitious, and even naïve origins, the beer industry has seen incredible changes in the short life-span of better beer. And we can never take for granted the bounty of incredible flavors, aromas, and textures that talented and passionate professionals, everyone involved from grain to glass, have made available to us.

I am most thankful for simplicity. In an era of bigness, from hops to barrels and alcohol, the surprising complexity of what appear the most simple keeps me coming back for more. Whether it be single hop or malt beers, these singularly expressive offerings acutely capture the essence of their carefully chosen ingredients, demonstrating a clear beauty that can often be lost in more complicated yet less complex attempts.

I was also very pleased to see craft brewers venturing into the world of lager beer. Often a good barometer of what is happening in the industry as a large, this year’s Great American Beer Festival played host to a sizable increase in German and Czech-style pilsener beers. While plenty of Double IPA’s filled the floor, strongly hopped yet artfully crafted pilseners matched their presence. It’s a guilty pleasure to watch craft brewers branch out from the alemonopoly and extend an olive branch to this long-neglected wing of the beer family. I hope to see these creative folks draw greater inspiration from many of the less-represented lager styles at next year’s festival. Maybe craft beer drinkers will someday respond in kind and end lager discrimination forever.

Thanks should also be given to the enterprising craft brewers who took a giant risk in putting their flavorful offerings into the once-dreaded coffin of good taste that was the aluminum can. Starting slowly with a handful of breweries across the country, from the New England Brewing Company to the 21st Amendment, with Oskar Blues and others in-between, this was a sizable gamble that paid off big. An excellent receptacle for protecting delicate craft beer, cans have long stood as an icon of mega-beer. By donning the uniform of big beer, craft brewers have shifted the paradigm and demonstrated that great beer can come in many forms.

After more than two decades of brewing top-notch craft beer, I am also pleased that the Boston Beer Company doesn’t just seem content to brew hundreds of thousands of barrels of its flagship Samuel Adams Boston Lager and popular summer seasonals, such as its Summer Ale. Despite its success and growth, Boston Beer has never lost the urge and passion to innovate and the brewery continues to engage in an eclectic assortment of projects that push the brewing envelope, perhaps long after they became a financially good idea to do so.

And finally, like Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family praying for Old Mister Scrooge, I wish the best for the big brewers, who continue to brew and release new beers, even with their varying degrees of success. It is a testament to the growing strength of the craft beer industry that these breweries have been driven to improve the flavor profiles of their products, even if many beer enthusiasts continue to dislike their efforts. But with the benefit of places like the Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field and the AC Golden Brewing Company, we can see glimpses of how different the future might really be for beer.

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Draft Magazine Surveys The World, Reports The News, Calls Everyone ‘Massive’ Drunks…

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I occasionally review other blogs (usually through the excellent aggregator at Real Simple Beer Syndication) so it was with a light chuckle that I came upon these two news updates from Draft Magazine’s online news blog.

The first post, which informed readers that brewer and pub owner JD Wetherspoon would be offering its customers pints of Greene King Ruddles for the cut-rate price of 99p, also noted the criticism of this cheap drinking campaign.

Some of the country’s citizens are worried the sale, which runs from January 4th through the 19th, will encourage binge drinking, a massive problem in the UK.

A short while later, Draft also reported on the allegation a Russian doctor has made suggesting that the country’s largest breweries are adding “pure alcohol” to their beers to speed up fermentation. Of this, Draft reported:

Russia, which has a massive drinking problem (citizens drink 18 liters of pure alcohol per year), is raising taxes — profiting Carlsberg — in an attempt to curb alcoholism. This latest news is only the tip of the alcohol-industry corruption iceberg.

Now, I’m only noting the humor in casting such flat aspersions at entire nations in back-to-back posts. I’m otherwise putting aside the issues of how these parties define binge drinking, where such alcohol abuse stats come from, whether this particular Russian doctor has any objective basis for his serious claims against some well-known international brewers, whether the underlying numbers regarding Russian alcohol consumption are actually correct (WHO numbers suggest this would be a pretty substantial jump–nearly two-fold from recent years and that the per capita alcohol consumption rate of Russians, at least as recently as 2004, was substantially less than that of Germans, Czechs, Danes, Spaniards, and the Irish, just to name a few European neighbors), and the little unsubstantiated editorial tidbit dropped at the end…

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Very Quiet Around Here Lately…

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…and it will continue for some time. A combination of a substantial legal work load, the holidays, and final touches on my book have led to a serious dearth of posts here. I’m back from my vacation and returning to work so perhaps when I knock out my final book sections we’ll get back to the world of beer.

And there are some interesting subjects to cover. During my time in Chicago, I had a chance to stop by the city’s largest (Goose Island) and smallest breweries (Half Acre) and both have great stories to tell.

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