It all began when I opened the bottle of Labatt Classic. It wasn’t the bubbles rising to the top of the golden liquid… no, it was the quaff! The crisp flavor acted as an ester driven time machine, transporting me back decades. Before retro-classic, before craft brewed, before micro-brew pub. This was the way it was.
And suddenly the memory returns.
I found myself in a cozy little food shop that specializes in Canadian and imported beers. There is Molson Export, Golden and that French Canuck juice known as Molson Brador. There is Cinci Cream Lager with a maple leaf label, mind you this was before they used the Handsome Waiter symbol. There is Labatt 50, a classic Canadian ale still being brewed today. There is Moosehead, and Grizzly and Iron Horse.
Across the pond selections had the usual suspects: Bass, Beck’s and Whatney’s (suddenly I recall Stingo, was it an ale or stout?). Buying imported beer at this time was a tricky affair at best. Often improperly stored, light and heat damage often occurred. I remember visiting the storage basement of a rock-college bar where they had cases of Heineken stacked to the ceiling, right next to the furnace. Many of the college crowd in those days actually thought that a skunky taste was the way an import was suppose to taste.
On the domestic front, there was the niche group who drank Rolling Rock straight from the printed glass bottle. It had it’s moment: from the glass lined tanks of old Latrobe… but all of that is gone. Rolling Rock is just a brand in the Budweiser portfolio, manufactured in New Jersey.
Seeking an interesting beer at this time was not an easy procedure. Besides an occasional local spring bock, most of the time was spent knocking back ordinary suds. And how mundane they were! Many decent regional recipes were compromised by marketing geniuses who thought it was wise to use less and cheaper ingredients to make more product. Before their demise, many a brand was not recognizable in its final form. Many years later, this lead to the retro-classic revolution: a brewing restoration of classic macro brands, using their original formulas. But back before 1980, when the President’s brother put his name on that awful Billy Beer, Foster’s which was made in Australia then, seemed like a decent beer. A husky adjunct loaded lager, in a 25 ounce steel can. In those days, that was strong lager for most people. For the more adventurous, there was Carlsberg Elephant from Denmark.
As we moved into the 1980’s, the demand for better beer began to take hold. Merchant Du Vin began importing unknown beers from England and Germany. Smaller, mostly unknown breweries began to be noticed: Anchor, August Schell, Yungeling. New beers from Holland, such as Alfa and Brand, began to appear. Even Ballantine’s India Pale Ale, stored in oak barrels in Fort Wayne, Indiana, could be found on shelves.
The craft brewed revolutions was just a few years away from really taking off. People such as Fritz Maytag and Jim Koch challenged the orthodoxy of the brewing industry. Soon an entire community was created to ensure that beer, one of the oldest and most noble drinks, would not allow its culinary dignity to be destroyed. Prosit!
This year’s “Our Special Ale” from the Anchor Brewery brings with it all the thirty two versions that preceded it, including the first five that the late great James D. Robertson pointed out, were not wassail. But since those early versions, the essential quality of Anchor’s Christmas Ale has always been the spruce essence that is present in one form another… at least in the 16 years I have sampled them.
This year’s edition gets to the core of the Anchor wassail experience. Rich in spices, quite malty this time, with an incredibly long dry finish. Poured into a non-stem pilsener glass, the rich brown color combined with multi-shaded foam makes this a first class holiday presentation. Although it is not super strong, the ale’s very full body make it difficult, even for the Beer Doctor. to drink more than one bottle.
I have been asked whether Anchor Special Ale would be a good beer to cellar. My answer: absolutely not. This very festive ale should be enjoyed during this season. Additional time would only diminish its amazing flavors. Happy holidays I say, on Saint Nikolas feast day. As always my only prayer is Thank You. The Beer Doctor.
In southwestern Ohio, much of the world is aware of Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield. It is a wonderful place to visit, but since I do not drive an automobile, my visits are rare, sometimes only twice a year. But fortunately for The Beer Doctor, there is a very good grocery store available to me by public transportation, only a neighborhood away. I am speaking of course of Keller’s IGA, an intelligent supplier of food, located not far from the University of Cincinnati. Keller’s has been written about by people visiting from as far as California. Besides having goods that much larger stores would not even be aware of, Keller’s has a selection of beer second only to the Jungle in Fairfield. Here you will find everything from Genesee Cream Ale to Three Philosopher’s from Ommegang. In fact, there are ales and lager from all over the country and world! Dutch and German brews you do not see very often. Special editions such as the Allagash 11th Anniversary, or Flying Dog’s Hunter Thompson inspired Gonzo Porter. Big bottles such as Kwak, Avery and Chouffe, alongside little bottles such as Scaldis. During this holiday season you are more than likely to find Breckenridge’s delicious Christmas Ale. A store that carries a full line of Goose Island, Bell’s and Great Lakes. Even retro classics such as Ballantine Ale and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Whatever area of the brew universe, Keller’s has you covered. Combine this with a first class meat, dairy and deli, and you have the makings for a wonderful party. If you are in/or visiting Cincinnati, stop in and see what I mean. Thank You: blessings. The Beer Doctor
Now that the USA Thanksgiving Day has past, I think it is safe to say that the Holiday season is upon us. For The Beer Doctor, the next moment I look forward to with anticipation is December the sixth, Saint Nikolaus Day, and what better time is there to open a bottle of Saint Nikolaus Christmas Bock Bier, from the Pennsylvania Brewing Company. This rich, dark, malty brew is certified rheinheitsgebot . It is a beautiful estery example of how complexity of flavor is obtained, using only the four classic ingredients.
Here in the Ohio valley we are fortunate to have a winter warmer from the Christian Moerlein Brewery known as Christkindl. A deep chocolate malt profile provides ample nutritious support for the season. The same can be said of Summit’s Winter Ale from St. Paul MN, Goose Island Christmas Ale from Chicago, or Old Jubilation Ale from Avery in Colorado. All of these rely on malts, hops and yeast, rather than spices. These are non-wassail Holiday beers. Special brews that reflect each brewery’s distinctive personality. On the west coast for example, Pyramid’s Snow Cap is to malt what Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale is to hops. There are many approaches to Holiday beer. My prescription is to seek them out and discover how different they are. As always Thank You. With the power of peace and love, The Beer Doctor.
The seeking for quality beer has a way of connecting people who normally would not know each other. For the beer doctor this has always been one of the most pleasurable aspects of the brewing world. In fact some of the kindest people I ever met, were discovered in the beer business. So I guess it should come as no surprise to me that I would wind up becoming beer consultant to a middle-eastern, non-alcohol drinking, Muslim.
My friend Nasser is a proud independent gasoline-convenience shop owner, who, in my neighborhood, is a pillar of this community. Not only does he provide many of the basic necessities of everyday living, but time and again I have seen him be of service to others, whether they were customers or not. In that regards, he is Mr. Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an African word that roughly translates: humanity to others. With Nasser, it is not an idea but rather a living action.
Nasser is a passionate individual. I have seen him angry, joyous, and all states in between. When it comes to ordering beer for his store, I am, as he once said to me: the teacher. Which is kind to my ego, but what is even better, Nasser seeks out the brews I talk about. Thus the other night he was happy to report that the Saint Nikolaus Bock Bier from Penn Brewing would be arriving this week. A beer I have read about for several years, but never had the opportunity to sample. Until later this week. And strangely, his tiny store with petrol pumps is one of the few places you will find Shiner 98 Anniversary, an authentic Bavarian style amber, that for me, is one of the very best beers available in the United States. Nasser knows. That is why he orders many cases of this fine brew, and people do indeed love it!
With the holiday season quickly approaching there are options at Nasser’s Marathon. Need to make a toast for the late Beer Hunter Michael Jackson? Nasser has the large bottle of Lion Stout from Sri Lanka, with MJ’s endorsement on the back label. Ready to rock into wintertime? There is Full Moon from Blue Moon, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2007, Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome 2007-2008, Sam Adams Winter Lager, just for starters. Good beer and good fellowship with others, that is also Ubuntu.
I do not mean to ignore the whole open-source linux computer operating system being generated by Canonical and Mozilla foundations. That is wonderful work too. The world wide web should be for everyone. But that is not my subject. Here is a suggestion: get a hold of some great beer and drink with friends joyously.That is the Ultimate Ubuntu of Beer. Again, my prayer is Thank You. The Beer Doctor
I recently attended a holiday preview trade show where Sam Adams representatives were kind and attentive. These were much younger people than myself, so the Beer Doctor found himself in the delightfully awkward position of knowing more about the history of Samuel Adams than they did! I have been drinking the different versions of the Winter Lager for at least fifteen years. I have seen, or rather tasted, the evolution of this wonderful recipe, from a raw dark wheat beer to the refined spiced dunkelweizen bock that it is today. A deep copper coloured pour with a malty-spicy palate. In fact, to not be coy about it, I would have to say that this is the best version of Winter Lager I have ever tasted. They seemed to have resolved the balance problem that for me, was present in the newly used and powerful Saigon cinnamon of last year. So overwhelming it was, that the lager was starting to resemble a wassail. But now Winter is refocused on its bock roots, where the spices are used to compliment, rather than take over. And no one could be happier than myself. My only prayer is thank you.
The Beer Doctor.beerdocwordpress.odt
It is incredible to me that I did not learn of Mr. Jackson’s death on August 30 until Tuesday, October 23. Perhaps this is an example of how big media barely notices important news simply because it is not lurid or sensational. This does not change the fact that a writer of considerable skill, who exerted far reaching influence on the brewing industry, has left us.
Let me be honest: without the Beer Hunter I would have never become the Beer Doctor, a title conferred upon myself by a pony keg owner who considered my knowledge on brew as a kind of marketing oracle, when it came to ordering beers for his store. “You’re the Doctor,” he said to me, a moniker that has been attached to me ever since. But it was Michael Jackson, along with James D. Robertson and Alan Eames, who got me formally started on the brew path of discovery.
Michael Jackson was the Samuel Johnson of my lifetime. His best beer writings will no doubt in the future, be seen as literary cultural artifacts of the highest order. Like J.R.Capablanca playing chess, or Isaac Stern playing the violin, Jackson’s compassionate humanity is something world memory will not easily forget.
Home brewers, craft brew distributors and everyday beer seekers, all found great inspiration from the Beer Hunter’s tireless chronicles for all things beer throughout the globe. It seems ironic to me that only recently I was complaining about large media ignoring most of what goes on in the beer universe, while setting up the web site: beerdoctor.org. Little did I know at the time that a giant of all things beer, was already gone. Beer=Proof=God=Love=Happy.
The Beer Doctor