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 clich├ęs 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.