Hey, Wanna Hear Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione Talk Microbes And Drink Beer?

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Living in Cambridge has its perks, including access to nearby Harvard University and its core of interesting programming. In between looking up the next Harvard hockey game and perusing the David Brooks lecture, I came across this unexpected and unusual gem that I have not seen elsewhere on the web.

“Man and microbe: Exotic ales since the birth of civilization.”

Hosted by the Microbial Sciences Initiative (somebody knows how to party), the event is free and open to the public but requires tickets, which go on sale today (1/19) at noon. The event will be held at 5pm on February 2 (the day before the Extreme Beer Festival here in Boston). Sadly, I cannot attend but I imagine it will be a good time. A beer tasting follows the seminar.

Sam’s event looks to be a touch more interesting than the next seminar, “Recent developments in extracellular electron transport and electromicrobiology”, but perhaps less interesting than “Dinosaurs, martians and mammals: Nihilistic thoughts on the origin of virulence.” Now that’s a title.

Available by phone (617-496-2222) and internet (http://www.boxoffice.harvard.edu) for a fee. Tickets can also be picked up in person at the Harvard Box Office (Holyoke Ctr.).

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The Lord Hobo Lives…

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After many months of negotiations, bankruptcy proceedings, gut renovations, and fights with the local licensing commission, the Lord Hobo finally opened to the public last Wednesday. Initial reviews were positive, with some inevitable sniping on various restaurant (*cough Yelp*) and local sites. We stopped by last night for dinner and a few drinks and to check out the long-awaited addition to the neighborhood.

In terms of design and decor, starting with the exterior, I like, as I’ve mentioned before, that the old Windsor Cafe and Pickwick Ale signs remain exposed. I have no idea whether this will continue as the Lord Hobo appears to have no signage of its own, but it’s a nice touch of history and I hope it stays and gets restored. Walking past tall curtains to enter, the room looks as if The Dirty Truth, The Moan and Dove, and The B-Side got together Three Bars and a Baby-style and had a child. With the Dirty Truth’s color and general design scheme, but without the tall ceilings that plague that establishment, you get more of a local Moan and Dove feeling, but with the B-Side’s buzz and general layout. While it looks largely like the B-Side, a review of photos of the renovation demonstrates a complete gut rehab of this troubled location. The square U-shaped bar design remains and was packed two deep, even on a Monday night, with folks drinking beers in various glassware and even cocktails, which was a nice sight.

As to the beer, the draft list is 40 deep, split one third for domestic crafts and two-thirds imports. In the domestics, a good range of styles are represented, with sizes and ABV’s listed on the menu. Perhaps a touch heavy on IPA’s, never a bad thing for hop-friendly Boston, the list ranges from big, boozy beers, down to reasonable session beers (including two low-alcohol beers from nearby Cambridge Brewing Co., also a nice neighborly touch). Prices are about what you would expect, with pints starting at about $5.50 if local (of which there are a couple beers from Massachusetts (the aforementioned CBC, Pretty Things, Mayflower, and Will Shelton’s High n Mighty) and quickly moving to $6.50/pint for out-of-town beers, with several 12-ounce offerings ranging from $5-7. As with how the Moan and Dove and Dirty Truth often operate, there are no other beers from New England or even the Northeast.

Moving to the massive imported section, this is where the list starts to shine but for a quirky reason. With the sole exception (to my eyes) of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, every other imported brand on the draft menu hails from the Shelton Brothers lineup. That’s 23 drafts from the Shelton lineup. Now perhaps the regulars at the Lord Hobo will lap up the domestic crafts versus the imports at a rate of 3 or 4 to 1, but with the recent sale of the Shelton’s Massachusetts distribution operations, it remains an open question as to whether this pace can be maintained. A look at the most recent price book shows that the Shelton’s brands from La Resistance have not yet been integrated into the Craft Brewers Guild portfolio so Lord Hobo owner Daniel Lanigan is drawing upon his long relationship with the Shelton’s in order to make this list work. If the imports heat up, as well they should considering some of the gems he has available, it’ll be interesting to see whether any shortages occur (especially with the Cantillon line) and how the recent distributor sale will shake out for the lesser known brands in the Shelton’s import lineup.

While the Belgians represented on the menu are impressive and it’s quite rare to find the Nogne brands on tap anywhere in the country, it is Lanigan’s continued affinity for traditional German beers, especially those from Franconia, that make this list special. Often a fixture on the menus of the Dirty Truth and the Moan and Dove, but in smaller numbers, his list contains eight German lagers (nine if you add Victory Lager from the domestic craft side of the ledger), including the brilliant Mahrs Ungespundet (which sadly kicked right as I arrived), a kellerbier, and several pils offerings. At around $8 for a half-liter, these beers aren’t perhaps the cheapest offerings but I doubt you will find them as reliably fresh and well-serviced as you will here on a regular basis.

We ate as well but I hesitate to comment at length on the culinary operations as of yet. The place has been open less than a week and the kitchen needs time to even out its short but intriguing menu. As many others have reported, the Lobsta Mac & Cheese is quite something and will likely serve as many patrons’ dinner option.

In some final observations, the service (especially at the table) tends to be uneven and waits should be expected, but again, these speed bumps will inevitably improve as everyone gains their respective footings. One curiosity you will inevitably notice is that the servers uniformly watch you like a hawk when you put your glassware or plates down. It turns out that something went awry in the finishing of the attractive tables and bar and so you, oddly, may find your server laying out full napkins across your tables and even black mouse pads to protect the tables. The joys of opening a restaurant…

Across the board, the Lord Hobo is an impressive offering, having vastly improved upon the B-Side in many respects (one visit to the bathrooms will convince you of that alone) while not having lost touch with its core charms. The hipsters drinking $3 PBR pints have disappeared and have been replaced with folks drinking $98 bottles of Bordeaux and $10 Cantillon half-glasses. For all of you B-Side cocktail loyalists, of which I know there are many, we didn’t try any of the new offerings but they looked quite good and the bartenders took care in making them so I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Is Lord Hobo Open?…The Website.

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So anticipated and long-awaited is the opening of the Lord Hobo beer bar in Cambridge that someone has put together a bit of a spoof website playing upon the delays. Surfing on over to, IsLordHoboOpen.com and you’ll get the answer that many diners and beer lovers around Boston and Cambridge have been asking for about six months. Hopefully this website will be short lived in its utility. Long delayed by a series of unfortunate events, from a liquor license fiasco with the Cambridge Licensing Commission, to ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, to a physical structure that by many accounts was rotted to the core and in need of considerable repair, there remains no firm date for the Lord Hobo to open. A few dates, most recently one in October, have been suggested only to come and go with no opening. A menu has been posted on the bar’s bare bones website, leading to a lot of unnecessarily snarky responses over at the Chowhound site.

Work on the exterior a while back resulted in the unveiling of a decades old sign for Pickwick Ale, similar to one that can be seen outside of Doyle’s in Jamaica Plain. I hope that piece of beer history survives the overhaul of the bar.

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But Who Will Think Of The Innocent Pumpkins…

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Fall is a fantastic season if you enjoy change, beautiful scenery, and crisp outdoor happenings.

Fall is a terrible season if you happen to be a gourd…

Pumpkin Protest...

Somewhere around mid-Autumn, the Great Pumpkin Slaughter begins. And perhaps ground zero for the decimation of innocent pumpkins is the Cambridge Brewing Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The brewers blow through dozens upon dozens of 10-barrel batches of the pub’s Great Pumpkin ale. And to make each batch, the brewers have to hand-cut 150 pounds of pumpkins. This is a near-thankless task that the dedicated brewers (Will Meyers, Megan Parisi, and Kevin O’Leary) hope will one day be automated…or that there will be an international pumpkin plague that wipes out the gourd, leaving only happy hoppy beers in its wake.

Tomorrow is the second annual Great Pumpkin Festival at CBC (from 4 pm – 1 am) and here are the details…

This event will feature 6 CBC Pumpkin brews alongside 14 Pumpkin beers from breweries like Elysian, Iron Hill, the Alchemist, Dogfish Head, Southern Tier, Allagash, Jolly Pumpkin, and more!

Executive Chef David Drew has also whipped up an amazing pumpkin inspired menu.

And of course The Great Pumpkin Festival would not be complete without the sacrificial tapping of the 150 pound giant pumpkin filled with “cask? pumpkin beer by robed monks and offered to the masses.

$10 gets you in and your very own “Great Pumpkin Festival 2009” limited edition glass. Then, it’s in to the festival to buy tickets to sample the brews honoring the great gourd.

And don’t forget your costume…it is Halloween after all.

‘Tis the season to celebrate the slaughter of your favorite gourd…

(image courtesy of Will Meyers’ wonderfully creepy imagination)

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A Passion for Beer: Suzanne Schalow and Kate Baker…

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While beer bars such as the Toronado, Brickskeller, and The Publick House captivate beer geeks and the media, hundreds of lesser known publicans endeavor everyday to spread the gospel of better beer to their customers. In the Boston-area, beer lovers need look no further than the Cambridge Common for such an underappreciated beer bar, where several dozen beer dinners, tastings, and other special events happen every year. At the heart of the Common beats the passion of its managers, Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow. This beer-dedicated pair presents thirty taps, fifteen regularly rotating, selected from their deeply cultivated relationships with like-minded local breweries. “I love the fact that we have so many local crafts on tap,? says Baker. “New England is full of so many amazing craft breweries and it’s an honor to be able to showcase them at the Common.? They recently spent their vacation traveling to breweries and festivals throughout New England trying new beers.

Education, access, and experimentation are the big three secrets to their enthusiastic operation. Schalow and Baker treat regulars like family and help nudge some of these relatives to transition from macros in ice cold glasses to new craft beers. “Well, as we say around the Common, ‘changing the world, one beer at a time,’? says Schalow. Under their leadership, the Common also promotes a philosophy of fair pricing on food and beer, a rarity in price challenged Boston. Baker, the Common’s beer buyer who is also known as the Keg Shaker, also oversees the kitchen and its use of beer in cooking, having previously cooked at the Boston Beer Works brewpub.

The pair half-jokingly dreams of turning the Common into a brewpub. But until that day, Schalow and Baker just look forward to learning more about beer to aid their teaching efforts. In addition to their pub work, they recently helped found Women in Beer, a group of dedicated beer lovers, including men and women, who work to celebrate the contributions of women in the beer business. While Cambridge Common may not be on most beer geek radars, it should be. As Schalow notes, “Those of us that love craft beer are really all in this together, just a bunch of geeks on an incredible journey.?

–Article appeared in Issue 31 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

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