Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Where are you, anyway?

It's not about being in the right place at the right time. We've learned that it's best to be everywhere, all the time.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

on music

You know what I want to see? I want to see Jack Black and Jack White do a music project together.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Wing Sauce Burritos & Negra Modelo

Negra Modelo Dark Beer
Cerveceria Modelo, S.A. DE C.V., Mexico, D.F.
This beer has corn adjuncts as per the Dugg and a rater on Beeradvocate. I couldn't verify this because the actual page for Negra Modelo seems to be under construction. No worries though, we're pretty sure they put corn in the beer.

~~ paired with ~~

Inspired by a burrito I had at Handlebar, I hit on one of those meals. You know, like Indian food. The type of meal where you just don't stop eating to talk or even breathe if you can manage it. In my mind, anything with wing sauce applies. Anyway, gather the following ingredients in amounts that would serve 1-2 burritos to each person in attendance. I used brand names to be helpful, feel free to follow your own whims. For example, the burrito I had at Handlebar featured seitan instead of the Chik'n Strips.

flour tortillas
rice (we like Jasmine)
olive oil for
sautéing, no more than a few Tbsps
Morningstar Farms® Meal Starters™ Chik'n Strips
- one package per person (you'll probably have some left over)
Frank's RedHot Buffalo Wing Sauce
- one 12oz bottle per 2 packages of Chik'n Strips
- if you can make your own, cool - the stuff in the bottle is like crack
halved and sliced sweet onion
shredded Jack cheese
shredded iceberg lettuce (I know, I know... just trust me on this one)
chopped or sliced tomatoes, whatever type looks best in the produce section
Annie's Naturals Cowgirl Ranch Dressing

Prepare the rice as per the package instructions. Sauté the Chik'n Strips (or whatever) and the onions in olive oil. I like my onions pretty crisp, so I add them to the pan after the Chik'n Strips have been sautéing for a few minutes. Drizzle the Buffalo Wing Sauce over the Chik'n Strips and onions fairly liberally; use about 3/4 of the bottle per 2 packages.

If you have a toaster oven, toasting the flour tortillas for a few seconds softens and warms them up. Yum. Lay down a bed of rice in the tortilla, top with the Chik'n Strips and onions. Dress with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and ranch dressing. Roll'er up.

Negra Modelo is a Vienna style lager. Metro's Dynamo Copper Lager is also a Vienna style lager, only we don't use corn and we do use hops. The NM is very, very dark brown with golden highlights. The nose is estery, chocolate/vanilla. There is no hop aroma. The use of corn reduces the amount of head-producing proteins. And, to increase shelf life, much of the protein occurring in the beer anyway is broken down during the mash. So what this means is there is virtually no retained head in the glass.

You're about to annihilate your palette with wing sauce, so spend a little time on the beer first. The flavor is mostly sweet, smooth dark malt. Again, virtually no hop flavor to be found. The finish is dry, but a second later you'll notice a lingering sweetness on the palette due to the corn adjunct.

The sweet flavors in this beer pair beautifully with the spicy wing sauce. This makes sense given that this beer is often served with spicy Mexican cuisine. After the heat of the spices, the beer is cooling and resets your palette for another bite of the burrito. See how dangerous this can be? Remember to breathe, but do it through your nose to free your mouth for chewing.

Our recommendation: if you do this right, your lips will be on fire.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Larry Bell, distribution, and the Chicagoland market

The Chicagoland craft beer community is buzzing... so to speak. We are once again able to purchase pints of Larry Bell's beer in several locations in the city and the 'burbs. To catch you up, Kalamazoo Brewing pulled out of our market due to a dispute with their IL distributor, National Wine and Spirits. Debate and rumors have been flying to and fro since.

Why do beer manufacturers need to use distributors?
This is due to the mandated three-tier system in IL. From Nicholas Day's article linked above, "The system, which stipulates that all alcohol has to pass through a middleman, was established to ensure that producers couldn’t run bars and limit consumer choice by exclusively serving their own drinks, a situation known as a “tied house.” Keep in mind that this is a good thing. This has kept us from being limited to haunting "Miller bars" and "Budweiser bars."

Why did Kalamazoo Brewing pull out of the IL market?
The problem Larry Bell ran into is described in Day's article: "... according to state law, NWS was entitled to sell Bell’s distribution rights to another wholesaler without his approval, and a few months ago it decided to do just that, in a deal with Chicago Beverage Systems— the Miller distributor in Chicago." It just so happens that CBS has been sited by folks in the local craft beer industry as a distributor that doesn't exactly have what it takes to sell craft beer.
Larry Bell started his brewery with $200, boatloads of luck, and endless hours of hard work. For what? To be sold to a distributor without his input? What if he didn't want to work with CBS? Well, he had (as far as we know) 2 options: work with CBS or pull out of the market.

Okay, so screw CBS. Why didn't Larry Bell just make a deal with a different distributor?
Agreements between distributors and beer manufacturers are very difficult to terminate. This is due to franchise laws and the Beer Industry Fair Dealing Act, which was written to protect distributors from being financially ruined by large breweries. Say a distributor busts their hump to get beer out there and promote for a brewery; the brewery succeeds famously as a result; and then the brewery dumps the distributor for a different one. That type of protection seems logical enough, but the incident with Kalamazoo Brewing has highlighted a bias in the franchise laws: they apply to the relationships between small distributors and large breweries. Smaller craft breweries don't have the financial clout to bring down a distributor, but the laws apply to us anyway.

Distribution sucks... right?
No. Getting into the craft beer industry takes a lot of work and planning. Add to that the stresses of putting together and managing a fleet of trucks - tickets, towing, accidents, CDLs, maintenance, etc.?!? No thanks. We got into the industry to make beer. That's enough to think about. Even if we were in a state that didn't mandate the three-tier system (coughWisconsincough), we would still make deals with distributors based on our business model. That, or we'd get a friend to start a distribution company. Anyone interested?

Larry Bell was quoted in the articles above: "Normally when you go see a distributor, they say, ‘We’ve gone out and tried the beers and we’re very excited about selling Oberon.’ Unfortunately, I got into a relationship with a wholesaler that didn't have our best interest at heart." And that's the key, folks. Distribution agreements can be profitable for everyone involved, provided the deal you make is fair. The best bet is to get into agreements with distributors who know how to handle craft beer and who are willing to work collaboratively with manufacturers.

Okay, blah blah. Distribution agreements are complicated. The most important thing is that we can now enjoy Larry Bell's beer at some locations in Chicagoland again. How?
A new company exists: Bells Brewery Incorporated. This company is entering the market with a new brand called Kalamazoo. The first beer available from this company is Royal Amber Ale. We haven't tried it yet, but some well-beerducated folks we know went out this week to taste it. Apparently, they loved the beer so much that they had to skip their reasonable dinner plans for late-night burritos. This, as you know, is a very good sign.

We at Metro Brewing are thrilled to have Larry Bell back in our market. No, really. We mean this. The more craft beer available, the more people are going to drink it. Craft beer drinkers like choice and variety, so why not have lots of both available to us? Sure, we might have to fight for taps that Kalamazoo Royal Amber Ale now occupies, but you know, that fight would exist either way. And really, we love Larry Bell's beer. Having a few local taps will save us lots of gas money and time since we won't have to make as many border beer-runs. Now, if we could just get New Glarus down here again...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Garlic Soup & Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale

Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale
Rogue - Newport, OR
30 IBUs

~~ paired with ~~

Garlic Soup, recipe adapted from Vegetarian Planet by Didi Emmons

olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
16-20 garlic cloves, minced
2 quarts veggie broth
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp fennel seeds
5-7 red potatoes, peeled and chopped
3-4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
black pepper
wheat baguette
Parmesan cheese

In a soup or stockpot, heat about 1-1.5 tbsp olive oil over medium heat.
Sauté the onions for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes.

Use a mortar and pestle to grind the herbs. Add the broth and herbs, let simmer for 15 minutes. Add the potatoes and carrots and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Add a few generous dashes of sherry, simmer for another 5 minutes. Take a swig of the sherry.

Season the soup with black pepper, salt, and a little more sherry. To serve, place slices of baguette on the bottom of a bowl. Ladle the soup over the top. Garnish with black pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Nothing is better than soup. Well, maybe beer. But other than that, nothing. This soup makes magic of the simplest veggies which are in ample supply in the winter.

And speaking of things that are comforting, Rogue in Newport, OR serves up 22oz bottles of their tasty specialty ales, one of which is Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale. The Rogue website informs us that this brew is part of their Signature Series with Chef Masaharu Morimoto.

Beautiful brown-red tones gleam from the glass. The nose is hoppy and spicy and blends well with the flowery herbal aromas of the soup. Roasted soba (buckwheat) adds a nutty flavor to the beer which is a little surprising, but pleasant. The huge amounts of garlic in the soup are also surprising, but pleasant. Coincidence? Maybe. Anyway, the nutty flavors blend perfectly with the garlic, inspiring me to begin imagining a sauce or something that combines garlic and nuts.

The hops reassert themselves in the flavor as well. The Dugg pointed out that every hop addition to this beer has been amped up; aroma, bitterness, and flavor.

The MBOSA finishes dry. Spicy dry. Bone dry. After a few mouthfuls of this beer, the sweet flavors of the carrots and potatoes in the soup taste new. As if you'd never tasted a carrot or potato before in your life. The beer reboots the palette.

Our recommendation: put on some pj's, ladle out a bowl of garlic soup, split (or not) a bottle of the
Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale, and spin up a DVD of a TV series you've been meaning to catch up on. For us, it was Battlestar Galactica.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gonzo Imperial Porter

Flying Dog Brewery, LLC
Denver, CO
9% or 9.5% ABV (different numbers on the website)
1.093 OG
80 IBUs

I'm a huge fan of Hunter S. Thompson. I dressed up as Raoul Duke for Halloween once; the Dugg served up a fine rendition of Dr. Gonzo, complete with the suitcase of drugs. I was hungover for 2 days afterward. Anyway, Flying Dog Brewery seems to base its marketing on all that is HST, right down to the packaging graphics by Ralph Steadman. So when I saw their Gonzo Imperial Porter on the liquor store shelf, I picked it up, natch.

Turns out this beer is not only an ode to HST, proceeds from the sales go toward erecting the Gonzo Memorial Fist. In true HST form, the PSA on the package reads, “Since they don’t serve our beer in prison, please drink responsibly.” More importantly, artwork on the packaging features a cartoon of HST declaring, “Ok! Let’s Party!” Indeed, let's.

I happen to be listening to Tom Waits, The Heart of Saturday Night while doing this review. I suppose it would be more appropriate to listen to Bob Dylan, but since I like Tom Waits better, I'm listening to Tom Waits.

The beer pours a beautiful dark, dark brown. I can smell the sweet, roasted malts as the beer fills the glass. At the end, I'm rewarded with a super smooth, milky brown head. Starting with my first sip, the bone-crushing amounts of malt in this beer slammed into the roof of my mouth and then evaporated right off my tongue. I was then left with enormous hop flavor in the aftertaste. Somehow, this beer is perfectly balanced for how much raw material went into it. Folks, this is a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall masterpiece of brewing. Huge. This beer has grabbed me by the face, but even so, I detected absolutely no off flavors.

Halfway through the glass… oh, I'm a very, very happy woman. The head has almost, but not completely faded. With each sip, this quaff gets even better. The malt and hops continue to catch my attention, even though by this point, I’m clicking my way through an online game of Euchre.

Okay, nearing the end of the glass and definitely feeling the 9.whatever%. Still smooth. The malt flavors linger on my palette now. Still some hanger-on bubbles in the glass. I'm not going to suggest a food-pairing or any other extraneous nonsense with this beer. If you simply must have something else in your other hand, I suppose a Mint Julep would work. Or maybe a grapefruit.

My rating: don't be stupid. Buy this beer.

American Beer (2003)

Directed and produced by Paul Kermizian, Six Hundred Films

The cast: Paul Kermizian, Jon Miller (director of photography), Jeremy Goldberg, Rob Purvis (sound recordist), and Rick Sterling (production manager)

Five friends pack up a minivan (bungee-cording a large amount of gear to the top), say good-bye to Teddy, Paul’s dog (sad!) and head out to visit 38 breweries in 40 days. And so we have a bockumentary that intertwines footage of interviews with professional craft brewers, road-trip sequences, and hilarious scenes in which the camera should have been turned off, but we’re so glad it wasn’t. While the idea of this trip is pure genius, the strategy to tether their crap to the top of the van is not. Within the first hour of the trip, the rooftop gear flies off onto the freeway, spewing toothpaste all over Jon’s clothes. Hence, their first stop is to some big box retailer to pick up a “Turtle.”

One of the earliest scenes in the movie shows Rick naming off beers in the cooler and handing them out to everyone in the van except for the driver, of course. Apparently they drove to Pluto on this trip, which is the only place we can imagine where a passenger might be able to have an open container inside a vehicle. (We find out later that we’re wrong. Can you guess where a car passenger can enjoy the contents of an open container in the US? Watch the movie to find out.) And, a note about road-tripping and drinking. The cast makes plain throughout the film that the person who has been tasked with the next spell of driving does not drink. Right from the start, the viewer is confident that this trip won’t end up in disaster.

Of course, the central topic of the movie is beer. Specifically, American craft beer. The production of craft beer requires the use of the following ingredients: malted barley, hops, yeast, and water. This brings to mind the German purity law, Reinheitsgebot. But American brewers have little use for silly old rules. We are happy and free to use ingredients such as candy sugar, squash, chicory root, coffee, liquorice and as Sam Calagione mentions in a sexy stoner drawl, St. John’s Wort. We completely agree with the notion stated overtly and subtly throughout the film: American craft beers are among the best and most innovative in the world.

The brewers interviewed in this film are the professors of all that is beer. One of our personal favorites is David Hoffmann of Climax Brewing Company in Roselle Park, NJ. If you have only one reason to watch this movie, he’s it. Sporting a beer-stained, purple polo shirt emblazoned with his logo and thick Jersey accent, David excitedly tells us the story of how he went from homebrewer to professional brewer. He thanks his dad, Kurt, for weaning him on good German beers such as DAB and Dinkelacker. (We even get to see a Dad in a couple of shots. He seems a little uncomfortable, but his pride is evident.) All of David’s craft beers came from his (begin Jersey accent) homebrewin’ days; he brewed so much beer, it wasn’t even funny (end Jersey accent… honestly, it couldn’t get any better). David also shows off his ingenious bottle filling system that he engineered and built himself. As he demonstrates the filler, precious beer is lost as the bottles are moved into and out of the contraption. David and Dad dutifully position small cups to catch the overflow which becomes the “breakfast of champions.”

Another brewer we loved to meet was Ray McNeill of McNeill’s Brewery in Vermont. Ray is a cellist, and he plays a mini-concert behind footage of the cast touring his brewery and bar. This really is a fantastic part of the film. As we listen to his beautiful solo, we see that his brewery is a hilarious clusterfuck of stairs, ramps, tubes and PVC pipes. Later, at McNeill’s (the bar), drunken hilarity ensues. Ray and the boys nestle in and get slurringly hammered. They drink and talk and laugh and drink some more. Round about 3am, Ray imparts the following wisdom: “No final word… no arrests, no injuries.” We couldn’t agree more, Ray.

To our great excitement, our personal heroes were interviewed: Dan and Deb Carey of New Glarus Brewing Company. To be honest, I’m a little intimidated by Dan Carey, one of the few American brewers who can legitimately call himself a “Brewmaster,” having completed the 4-year program in Germany. Once, at the Great Taste of the Midwest, I and a beloved friend ran hand-in-hand from booth to booth as last call rang out over the crowd. Our goal was to taste as much “last call” beer as we could. We ran and gulped. Hell, we gulped as we ran. Anyway, we get to the New Glarus booth and shakily hold our tasting glasses out for a last, final sample. I make an effort to steady my gaze only to see Dan Carey slowly shaking his head “no” with a faint frown on his face. Wiping away a small tear, I digress.

Dan and Deb Carey talk a bit about their cherry beer, Wisconsin Belgian Red. Ever wonder why this beautiful bottle with the long, drippy wax seal is so damned expensive? Deb points out that the “fruit bill” for this beer is $60,000. That’s what it costs them to cram 1.4 lbs of cherries into each bottle. Really, people, go to the store right now and buy this beer. It is some of the best, most unique beer to be found in a 750 ml bottle. Go ahead. We’ll wait.

During the interview, Deb waxes philosophical about a better culinary future. She asserts that people are buying better coffee, better food, better cheese, etc. Dan points out that people enjoy beer that is geographically local and has some personality. Damn. Right.

Another Midwestern brewer interviewed is Larry Bell, of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, MI. He started his brewery with $200 and a truckload of serendipity. After his interview, Larry cajoles the cast into going out for “one mug of beer” and a pickled egg. After footage of much partying, smoking, and wearing funny hats we see the fruits of Larry’s clever scheme: Jeremy passed out cold on the rim of a hotel toilet. Take it from us, the only time there is such a thing as “one mug of beer” is when you have somewhere to be after said mug. Even then, there’s always the chance of sneaking in another mug.

Other highlights from interviews include:

Fritz Maytag, of Anchor Brewing in San Francisco admits that “… the idea of actually owning a brewery, of actually making beer… was just absolutely magic.” We hear you, Fritz.

Ever wondered where Bernie Brewer, who used to reside in the outfield at County Stadium in Milwaukee, WI went? Well, when a new stadium was built and sponsored by Miller, it went all PC and removed Bernie, his mug, his slide, and his balloons. If you figure that one out, please explain it to us. Anyway, Lakefront Brewery has Bernie the Brewer’s complete chalet including the slide! Watching some of the guys coast down that slide brought back many childhood ballpark memories.

Mike Hale of Hale’s Ales in Seattle WA came up with the best promotional tool ever. He bought and refitted a double-decker bus with a bar and taps. He then sold his beer by inviting potential clients (beer retailers) out to his pub on wheels. We only wish we’d thought of it first.

Attention palate masochists: brewer John C. Maier of Rogue in Newport, OR reveals that his favorite is Mocha Porter. He developed this beer himself and it is “his baby.” Drink this beer now.

The cast wisely asked the brewers they visited about hangover remedies. One brewer answered, “moderation,” but we’ll just dismiss that suggestion as obvious and really, come on. When you’re in this business you learn out of necessity how to avoid hangovers, but the cold, hard fact is that hangovers happen. Anyway, other more useful answers included: drinking water; drinking all-malt beer; simply continue drinking; Frank’s kraut juice; Tylenol; greasy cheeseburgers; hair of the dog that bit ya; and as David Hoffmann gleefully offered, “drink more beer!” One brewer suggests smoking a joint as a hangover remedy. You can watch the movie yourself to find out who that is.

The cast shares with us some of the… funky side effects… of visiting 38 breweries and sampling so many of their offerings. Jeremy gains 10 pounds in the first 12 days of the trip. Later in the trip, and very late one night, he makes a phone call to a steak house in search of a 72 oz steak. Specifically, one that if you eat it all, you get it free. We never find out if they were able to enjoy that drunken meatfest. Speaking of things that are smelly, Paul reveals in impressive fashion what happens to the GI system after a night of beer-drinking. And we all know that drinking loosens lips… and tempers. One night, a shouting match erupts in the hotel room which continues until the sound guy loses his marbles and screams for everyone to shut up. After a short, tense silence, Rick quietly points out, “You’re freaking out Rob, man.”

By the end of the trip, everyone knew a whole lot more about beer. Jeremy went on to become the brewer at Cape Ann Brewing Co. in Gloucester, MA. Paul and Jon opened Barcade in Brooklyn.

If you like road-tripping, documentaries, craft beer, or any combination of the three, you will definitely enjoy American Beer. The editing of this film brilliantly offers a sense of travel and chronology while informing the viewer about craft brewing in sensible bites. Oh, and the music is fantastic! Bob Gilligan holds the music credit for the film; we salute him. Pedal-steel guitars are very, very cool.

on America

This country isn't built on get-rich schemes, it's built on hard work.

Writing a Business Plan - Torture and Triumph

Business plan. It’s self-descriptive. If you want to open a business, drawing up a road-map to your pending success is a good idea.

Specifically, a business plan is a document explaining what you want to sell and how you’re going to sell it. The two most important sections every business plan has are a financial plan and a marketing plan. Initially, you use this document to round up funding from banks as well as individual investors. Anyone who invests money into your business wants to have some inkling that you know what you’re doing. Yeah, some folks invest simply because they like you, or because they like what you’re doing, but it helps to show even these generous souls that you have concrete plans as to what you’re going to do with their money and more importantly, how you intend to make them more money.

Now, various friends and family members have been in business for decades and I’d be willing to bet that most of them haven’t sweated over cash flow statements or marketing strategies. In fact, they’ve told me as much. And here’s where you might expect me to launch into how successful they’d be if only they’d written a business plan, but I won’t, because I can’t. Many of them have and still run profitable businesses.

But the fact is we can’t run Metropolitan Brewing without a business plan. The Chicago craft beer market is full of savvy, smart drinkers. These people want and deserve fresh, tasty beers (done), that are distributed to places they like to drink and shop (done; with the right distributors), and marketed and sold to them in an appealing manner (um... what?). Breweries on both coasts and everywhere in between long to sell their beers here in this huge, thirsty market and they do so with gusto. See: New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, CO. I’ve never, ever seen a shipping palette at the front entrance of my Jewel loaded with craft beer before. My jaw hit the tiled floor and for too short a moment, the muzak ala Phil Collins faded into the shock hissing through my brain. We knew needed to start strong, hit the ground running, and all those other clichés that illustrate the notion of doing business with purpose and precision.

And so, we set about learning how to write a business plan. At first, Doug did all the work. He researched and he read and he wrote. We bought books that he read. We passed links to each other with yet more information to read and assimilate. He read other business plans. Not wishing to hog all the fun to himself, Doug eventually recruited me to lend a hand. We met with experts who helped us for free, and some who helped us for payment. We even went to a workshop or two. And so, we learned lesson #1: while a business plan has some key features, no one agrees on exactly how it should look. It was at this point that we realized that nobody was going to hand us an outline and tell us to insert the word “beer” anywhere the product was mentioned.

With four diplomas between the two of us, we were quite comfortable in a classroom environment, being guided gently through the learning process. But learning how to write this business plan was an agonizing process of self-motivated reading, researching, sifting, guessing, doubting, crying (well, that was mainly me), arguing, and endless hours of typing. Each new section was loaded with new information to learn and new questions to ask. We learned. We asked. And, as each section was finished, we realized that we’d gained more confidence about our brewery and how we planned to run it. I’ll be damned if we weren’t actually gaining confidence in ourselves, too.

Confidence points to the real reason for writing a business plan. Even though this type of writing calls to mind nightmarish all-nighters pounding out term papers in college, it does serve a real-life function. You’re forced to test the viability of your idea. Analyzing each aspect of your particular widget from concept to production to sales shapes the entire process in your mind. Systematically testing each of your assumptions leads to the ability to defend the defensible and dump the bullshit. In the end, you have in your hands this document that is your playbook; your strategy to succeed as a business owner.

And, a final point about your business plan: it lives and breathes with you and your business. All that work you did to plan out the next 10 years of doing business? Well, the reality is that everything can and does change. Stick to your core ideas and philosophy, keep an eye on your accomplishments and projections, but remain flexible. In a free market, the market will let you know what it thinks of your product. It would be wise to keep a proverbial ear to the ground and listen for any movements. You’ll never completely trash your business plan, but you will definitely revise and update it. The upshot is that you can change it as you see fit; as you accomplish what we see as the real American dream: getting paid to do what you love.