Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tax 'em Dano

Now that the primary election is over we wait for the big one in November. We will elect a new governor that could bring profound change to the commonwealth. One of the two tweeted his chances away by being stupid. The other is none other than Mr. Tax, Dan Onorato. He is the Allegheny County Executive who went to Harrisburg and received permission to add a Drink Tax to all poured alcoholic drinks in Allegheny County. How long is it going to be after he takes office that this tax is state wide?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sharp Edge Beer Festival

Well, summer is upon us and that means beer festivals. Pittsburgh is blessed to have the return of the Pennsylvania Micro Brewer’s Fest and towards the end (September) we can look forward to the Big Pour. Even East End Brewery will have an event. One well established festival is the European Beer Festival at the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium. I think they need mentioned because they are doing something nobody else is doing.

Back in the day, we were lucky to have a smidgen of brews. Even Guinness was hard to find here. Then the imports started to come in and people went for them like mad.

A lot of bars were slow to catch the wave but eventually all the good bars had a line of imports. Social networking sites were activated so people could spread the word when a new beer came to town. Back then it was called using the landline telephone to call your friends. It was fun to seek out bars that had something new. Every Friday was like Christmas morning with beer. But who drinks on Christmas morning? Then something happened to change drinking in bas forever; micro-brewed draft beer made in the United States. Just as we desired the imports we found new pleasure in drinking beers made in American, and on draft. Bottled beers from Europe could not compete and lost ground, sorry to say. But one tavern owner held his ground and put his bars on the map.

Jeff Walewski of the Sharp Edge is noted worldwide for his selection of Belgian and European beers. I separated Belgian beers because I don’t think you can find more on tap or in bottles that he has anywhere in the country. Most bars today focus on US craft beers but the Edge is all about the old world. Jeff’s festival, started in 1997, at the end of June is the only festival in the country that serves only European beers. This event gives a splendid opportunity for people to try beers they may never knew existed. There is a world of beers out there and you can find them at the Edge.

From my old notes I remember that the Sharp Edge was the second tavern in Pittsburgh to sell Cask Conditioned Ale. Kangaroo's was first but they did not know how to handle it and the product was removed. The third tavern to sell cask ale was the Fuel & Fuddle in Oakland in June 1997. First cask was Pretzel City IPA. They could not keep the keg at the proper temperature as the cask sat on the top of the bar and there was no room under the bar for a cooler. They purchased the one hand pump from Kangaroo's. I can’t say that I remember Kangaroo's but I think they were on McKnight Road.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

World Beer Cup

The World Beer Cup of 2010 was recently held in Chicago and something caught my eye when they posted the results. There were 90 categories in the competition, which indicates the number of different beer styles. The word Imperial was used in a great many beers entered, which also caught my eye. Three categories stick out that warrant a comment. Category 53: English style India Pale Ale, Category 83: Imperial India Pale Ale and Category 90: International Pale Ale.

English style India Pale is a historic style as it was the English who created this, unintentionally by the way. The word India was used to some degree to identify a style but also as a shipping label of sorts. The story behind this is rather long and for another forum. But it gets my point across that India Pale Ale is a historic beer style. India Pale was sent to several places around the world but primarily to India for the British clerks and officials. The “troops” that so many others write about would not normally drink IPA due to the cost. The word India in the original sense was used to identify the entity that purchased the beer and NOT the destination. October beer was bought by the East India Company for resale in India, Bengal and other areas under their control.

I do have problems with the word Imperial. It seems that any beer over 7.0952% is called Imperial. Although it originally identified a strong porter it too was somewhat of a shipping label. The word Imperial should never be used be used with reference to Pale Ale. But that’s just my opinion. Imperial is synonymous with the word Russia. London Porter was sent to many Baltic countries but its biggest buyer was the Imperial Court of Catherine the Great. Is it coming together for you?

The oddity of the World Beer Cup was the category of International Pale Ale. What the hops is that and when did we start using it? I can see American Pale Ale as it has more (and different) hop character than the UK versions. But what makes International Pale? Does it have water from the seven seas? Was it brewed in the International Space Station? Is it even sanctioned by the UN? What characteristics make International Pale Ale? In doing a quick Google search I see that the WBC are the only ones using this identification. I don’t know, maybe it’s me (it usually is) but I think we are running rampant with beer names now a days. I may quick drinking when somebody comes out with an Imperial Chocolate Wit.

Now that I have finished with my rant I shall offer a fun fact. No brewer in the UK is permitted to make an ESB except Fullers. The English drink only ordinary bitter and special bitter. Extra Special Bitter is a registered trademark of Fullers. Oddly this beer started as a winter-ale and was re-named as a bitter.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wine Stores

Let me say right off that I do not drink wine, nor do I buy wine from a stat store. A lot of people think that eliminating the state store system in Pennsylvania may be good for the consumer. I don’t know. Let’s take a look at a few things. It is my understanding that to avoid being a monopoly Pennsylvania must sell you any wine that is sold in the United States that is available on the open market. Beer distributors have no such requirement. If you special order a wine from a particular store you may have to buy a minimum order. Duh! Most businesses do this. The fact is that you should be able to buy any wine you want in Pennsylvania. As a business seeking profit, a beer distributor is free to tell me no. If I can buy any wine in Pa., why can’t I buy any beer? I know that beers need to be registered here, but do wine need registration? Why the discrimination?

If wine is sold on the free Market in private shops, those shops will not sell you what you want but rather what makes profit. They may also decide not to handle a brand just because they don’t want to. Demand could influence a manager but he is under no mandate to cater to customers. This is how merchants grow or fail. So the way I see it the state of Pennsylvania must sell me a wine that I want but a bar owner can tell me to get lost. Why the discrimination? So here is my question. If state stores were to be privatized, what guarantee do we have that one could go to ANY store and buy ONE bottle of ANY wine sold in the US cheaper than it cost right now? Is this happening in other states? I haven’t decided if I am pro or con on privatization of the state store system but should this occur do we really know what will come of it?

At The Bar

What’s on the bar next to your drink? I was sitting at an upscale Strip District bar when a man came in and placed his hat on the bar. The bartender politely asked to remove it from the bar. The bartender had experience with men’s hats and the creatures found living it them. Since then I always noticed if somebody puts a hat on a bar. I keep quiet about that but I see what the bar staff does: typically nothing, sad to say. One thing we do leave on the bar is cash. In the states one can leave money out on the bar, take two weeks vacation and return to fine it untouched. It is assumed that if you touch somebody’s money on a bar you risk broken bones. On an early trip to London I bought a round of drinks and left my money out on the bar for the world to see. My friend quickly updated me on English pub edict which one is to remove his money when change is returned. I never forgot that one. On a recent visit to a well-run London pub I saw a lad place a bag on the bar. When the bartender spotted the contents of the bag he asked the owner to remove the bag. It contained a pair of new, off the shelf shoes. I was ok with that but it was not proper. Nobody, including the bartender knew why, but it just wasn’t done. Speculation had it that shoes on a bar in a pub were bad luck.

So here is my question. What have you seen on a bar that you thought should be best left off? Remember, we not only drink on the bar but eat as well. Woman’s purses should be ok but what about shopping bags? Some men’s only bars have women (I though it was men’s only?) who dance to pay for the cloths they don’t have. I wouldn’t want to eat a meal in a place like that but I doubt that they have a kitchen anyway. The most bazaar happened decades ago. Friends of mine were drinking in a South Side tavern when a local gent approached them. He needed to use the gent’s room and asked them to keep an eye on something he had. When they agreed he promptly removed his false teeth, placed them on the bar and walked off. I would have put a hat over it.