Friday, December 22, 2006

The Latest on Saint Arnold's

It's been about a week since my last post on Saint Arnold's and the work they (along with other Texas Microbreweries) are doing to change Texas Legislation. As a recap they in essence would like to be allowed to sell their beer in their breweries straight to the public, without having to go through Distributors. No they are not asking to be able to sell an unlimited amount, only 5,000 barrels a year, which is not a lot in the grand scheme of things. In other words this is not some drastic change to the three tier system that distributors should be worried about (after all how has California Tasting room sales affected California Wine Distribution?).
The good news, as Brock is tirelessly working on getting someone to support the legislation in Austin, there are many newspapers and blogs that are picking up and covering the story. Here is a sampling:
The guys over at A Good Beer Blog (Canadians are writing about Saint Arnold's!) wrote about it and got some good replies.

Houston's Alternative news paper, the Houston Press has a nice story as well.

Houston's channel 11 KHOU ran a piece as well.

Finally the San Antonio Current ran this piece.

I'll again urge anyone that has any connections in Austin to help out in anyway you can. Even if you don't have connections you DO have a local representative in the State House that you can write to.
If you want to continue to stay up to date with all the happenings of Saint Arnold's quest be sure to check out their blog.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Quick Hits

A few notes from around the World Wide Web:

A-B has released what they are calling the first nationally available Gluten free beer. They call it Redbridge and it is made of Sorghum, a safe grain for those with wheat allergies. Sorghum is often used in making beers in Africa, and was probably one of the grains originally used in the first beers thousands of years ago.

Barry Schlacter at the Ft. Worth Star Telegram, has a good article on brew pubs in Colorado.

Lastly a very stupid article in the San Antonio Newspaper that states the reason America is obese is because of Beer and TV. (of course it has nothing to do with Fast food or the abundance of high fructose corn syrup)

Reinheitsgebot 1516

Allow me some leeway to rant a bit today on the Reinheitsgebot of 1516. In English this is the German Beer Purity law, passed in 1516 that states that only water, hops, and barley maybe used in making beer (Yeast was later added to the law once people figured out what yeast was). The reason the law was passes was becuase brewers were using adjuncts in their beer (rice, corn) so that they could make their beer cheaper, but sell it at the same price. So in affect this was one of the first ever consumer protection laws. It also helped the governement more effectively tax the beer makers. Over the years this law has been both praised and condemned. Praised because it keeps beer pure, condemned because it limits German brewers creativity. Its this last point that drives me nuts. How ANYONE can say that this law is limiting German creativity I'll never understand. Lets look at a sampling of beers that German's are making with just water, hops, yeast, and barley (and wheat):
Hefeweizen: German Wheat Beers
Kristallweizen: Filtered wheat beers
Dunkel Weizen: Dark Wheat Beers
Rauchbier: The famous Smoke Beers
German Pilsner
Alt Bier
Berliner Weisse:
A type of wheat beer brewed only in Berlin
Eisbock: Ice beer
Bock: We all know this style
Dortmunder/Export: A sytle of beer from the city of Dortmunder
Marzen/Oktoberfest: The beer traditionally brewed for that famous celebration.

Now thats a whole lot of different styles made with just hops, water, and barley. It doesn't seem to be limiting German's imagination any.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Two Uniquiely German Beers

A man can not live by Kolsch alone.....I think that's a famous saying......if its not it should be. I love Kolsch, but Germany has so many great different types of beer, so in the last week I have gone out and picked up two very different, but very German beers.
Kostrizer Schwarzbier: Schwarzbier is what we call Black Lager. If you think Guinness is dark, you've never seen a Black Lager, truly dark, truly amazing beer. This beer weighs in at a nice 4.8% alcohol. It pours a deep inky black, with good carbonation and a thick tawny foamy head, it looks almost like a cola. Nose is thick of roasted malts, caramel, cola, a bit of chocolate. The mouthfeel is thick for a lager, you get copious amounts of caramels, chocolate, toasted malts, great carbonation, helps spread the toasted characteristics around. Very good beer.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier: Rauch in German is Smoke, so this is a smoked beer, something we don't get to often in the states. The most popular brand in the states is the Alaskan Brewing Smoked Porter. Smoked beer uses smoked malts, instead of roasting the malts. Think of the smoked peat that is used in Irish Whiskey or Scotch. The beer pours a dark cloudy brown smokey color with a nice half inch brown head. The nose is a mix of dried burning leaves, and the smell of a just put out camp fire, and at the very end is just a bit of floral notes. The mouth is full of smoked meats, its like drinking a brisket (waaay better than it sounds I promise). After the initial shock of smoke comes some malty sweetness, with a bit of bitterness at the end, but this beer is definitely all about the smoke. Its an amazingly complex and completely different. I don't think I could drink a six pack of this, or even more than one in a sitting, but to go with a meal, and as a special brew this is incredible. I can't stop talking about how different this beer is.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Weekend Kolsch Run

This weekend as I was out among the masses (and MASSES) of people dong shopping (yes Christmas shopping is just as crazy over here) I stopped by a small Italian Pizzeria for some lunch and a Kolsch. The pizza was thick crust of tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, and peperoni. The Kolsch was Sion. The Sion was poured into the 0.3L glass, pale gold (not the pale sickly yellow of American Industrial lagers) capped by a half inch thick FOAMY white head. The nose was full of green grass, a little earthy, finished out by the smell of pale malts. Plenty of carbonation as copious amounts of tiny little bubbles floated their way up the glass. In the mouth there was plenty of carbonation to help cut through the acidity of the tomatoes and fat of the cheese. The flavor profile consisted of a bit of citrus notes, some nice acidity, the smoothness of pale malts, finishing with just a bit of hop bitterness. A very nice Kolsch. One that I would put at the top of the second tier of Kolsch's, with my top tier consisting of Pfaffen and St. Peters at the moment.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Book Review: Fermenting Revolution

Besides drinking great German beer, there is another opportunity for me while I'm here. I get to catch up on some book reading. In between walking around the city, touring museums, and of course drinking beer, there's always good opportunities to read a book (even in a beer garden while drinking a beer!) around the city. I picked up Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the world, by Christopher Mark O'Brien, right before I left for Germany. It was a couple of weeks before I was able to start reading it, and I finished it up last week. The thesis to the work is that by people supporting their local breweries instead of the huge corporate brewers, people support sustainable environments. Local brewers tend to use local ingredients for their specialty beers, tend to give back to their community, and use less energy (and therefore less fossil fuels) in getting their product to the consumers. I'll have to be honest, as this book leans WAAAAY different that I do. Not that I am a hard to the right wing kinda guy, but the author leans to a certain direction and that comes out in his book, sometimes to the detriment of his cause. Having said, that I did thoroughly enjoy the book.
The book does a decent job of covering the history of beer making, talks about how beer making was a Woman's job up until the 1500's or so when the men started to take it over. Through the story of American Prohibition, the rise of Industrial Lager, and Beervolution of the 70's.
Although at time one suspects he would rather everyone go back 1000 yrs where there was no technology and only people brewing at their homes, his general idea is a great one. However, there are some issues I have with the book.
There are some facts and figures that I am not sure where he gets them from. One of his most common quotes is that most Americans leave within 10 miles of a brewery. I find this hard to believe, since very few people in Texas, LA, OK, Arkansas, Mississippi, so on and so forth leave no where near a brewery as there are only a handful (if that many) in the entire state. I wish there were more, but there aren't. Throughout his book he touts the greatness that is Organic Products. While I agree that the more organic we can buy the better it is for the earth and ourselves I don't think he is being realistic. Unfortunately, right now organic isn't cheap, and its just not economically feasible for lower income families to buy organic, and its a subject the author doesn't touch on. He does the same thing when he talks about people using more energy efficient appliances. Again great idea, but until the prices come down its not always feasible for lower income families, who unfortunately can't think about the long term energy savings, they just need a Refrigerator.
Now on to the things I like. He accordingly does take the big brewers to task, from the late 1800's when brewers started using Coal and coal products to make their beer during the Industrial Revolution, thus beginning the pollution that we are fighting against today. However he does go into a lot of detail on the things that Coors, A-B, and MillerSAB are doing today to curb their wastes. Most of the big brewers are getting close to producing zero net waste which is an amazing statistic once you think how HUGE these corporations are. In fact Industrial breweries are the most of efficient of any industry. I like that he focuses on how local brewers are doing great things. From Saint Arnold's recycling all of their 6 pack containers and giving customers shirts, mugs, etc when they bring theirs back, to Great Lakes Brewery who uses the Fatty Wagon that runs on used french Fry grease and hauls customers from the brew pub to the baseball stadium (GREAT Concept).
Its a recommended book, that I thought was a fast read. Regardless of your political leanings, it gives you somethings to think about and if you weren't a supporter of your local brewery or brew pub you will be. In fact GO there, have a beer, and get a start reading the book.

Friday, December 15, 2006

2000 Chorus Domain Saint Michel

After my last few weeks of beer posts, I figured I would use this week to make sure that my wine senses stayed in shape. Earlier this week I posted my thoughts on a very nice German Riesling. Today? A very nice Bordeaux. One of the nice things about being in Germany is the opportunity to pick up wines from France, Italy, Spain, and others that I don't get to often or at all in Houston. This one comes from that jet setter of wine consultants Michel Reynaud. For the uninitiated, Mr. Reynaud consults for dozens for wineries all over the world. From California, to South America, to his home country France. His wines are normally rated incredibly high which leaves him open to some pretty heavy criticism that he makes wines to meet a style that will fetch high ratings from Robert Parker, Wine Spectator and all the others, instead of using the natural terrior to create great wine. Its an interesting argument. There are times that I want a wine to have that sense of place, that when you sip it, you KNOW where it came from. The best example I have is a Rutherford Cabernet. In most great examples you get this hint of mint, which comes form the eucalyptus trees that surround many of the vineyard of the area. However, you have to have respect for a man that makes great wine in all different settings, even if as some say they all taste the same. No one argues they aren't good.
The Wine: The wine weighs in at 13.5% which is about par for a good Bordeaux red, but far under a similar American Blend. Its AOC from Corbieres France. It pours a nice rich blood red in the glass, sediment falling to the bottom of the glass (no decanter here in Germany with me) The first sniff is of dark red cherries, raspberries, blackberries and some cassis. Another sniff and I get some damp earth, tar, and leather. The mouth is full of cherries, raspberries, a hint of mint, very berry, finishing out a little dry with notes of vanilla, and charred oak. Incredibly well balanced, not to acidic, not to tannic. Say what you will about Mr. Reynaud, but he made a great wine here. I'd grade it an A-.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

2004 J.L. Wolf Forster Ungeheuer Riesling Spatlese Troken

As you may have noticed my posts of late have been rather beer-centric. However I would be foolish to come to Germany and not partake of the incredible wine. Germany, the land of Riesling, is of course where I started.
The Winery: The J.L. Wolf's vintner is the greatness that is Ernst Loosen, they make Saint M Riesling as well from the states. Ernst Loosen was the 2005 Decanter Man of the year and is probably one of the greatest Riesling producers in the world. The vineyard Forster Ungeheuer is located in the Pflaz region of Germany.
The Wine: Pours a light straw yellow in the glass. Peaches, pears, apricots, honey dew melons limestone and a hint of granite fill out the nose on this beautiful wine. In the mouth there is a surprising effervescence and tartness. The taste is of limes, and stone, honey with a bit of dryness at the very end. A very characteristic German Riesling. A tad sweet but relatively balanced with the effervescence and stone flavors. Very nice.. B+

They fought the law and the law.....

This is the latest installment on Saint Arnold's mission to change Texas Alcohol Code. Last night owner and CEO held a Teleconference and asked certain bloggers to attend. I was invited, however due to the time difference and the fact that I can't dial 1-888 numbers from Germany I was unable to attend. However, I was able to secure some notes from the conference from one of the participants in the conference, Saint Arnold's own Evan.
The first part of the post covers the change in language that Brock is fighting for:

To the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, Chapter 12. Brewer's Permit, add in Sec. 12.05 the following:

Such a brewer may also sell ale and malt liquor to ultimate consumers for consumption on the brewery premises or in unbroken packages for off-premises consumption in an amount not to exceed, together with the annual sales of beer to the ultimate consumer by the holder of a manufacturer's license acting under the authority of Section 62.12 of this code at the same premises, 5,000 barrels annually;


To the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, Chapter 62. Manufacturer's License add in Sec. 62.12 (a) the following:

Such a manufacturer may also sell beer to ultimate consumers for consumption on the manufacturer's premises or in unbroken packages for off-premises consumption in an amount not to exceed, together with the annual sales of ale and malt liquor to the ultimate consumer by the holder of a brewer's permit acting under the authority of Section 12.05 of this code at the same premises, 5,000 barrels annually.

The next part are the notes from the Teleconference that gives some more details into the above wording:
1. SA History
Brock opened by talking about Saint Arnold, and how it was founded 12.5 years ago. It is now the oldest microbrewery in Texas, because 14 out of 19 have failed. I believe he said it's older than any brew pub as well. He then talked a little bit between the difference in a brewery license and a brewpub license.
2. Brewery license
Breweries right now can only sell to distributors. They can never sell directly to customers, however breweries under 75K barrels/year can sell to retailers as well (known as the Shiner law, because Shiner is the one who pushed it through the legislature way back when). However, this doesn't have a very large effect on their business.
3. What the legislation is that we're pushing for (will send under separate cover)
Breweries under 75K barrels/year can sell up to 5K barrels per year for on-premises consumption [sell a pint in the brewery] or for off-premises consumption [a 6 pack of a keg].
The 75K/year is based on the Shiner law, while the 5K per year is based on the brew pub license. So both these figures have precedents.
Brock noted that just Annheuser Busch brewed 14 million barrels last year, while Saint Arnold (the largest microbrewer in the state) will brew 14 thousand. In fact if you add the 5 microbrewers together (Rahr, Independence, Live Oak, Real Ale, SA), and they all did 5K/yr directly to retailers (frankly, all the breweries together are unlikely to do 5K barrels/year cumulative in the short term). Even if the 5 microbrewers were all to sell 5K directly to consumers, it would be less than .1% of the entire beer market in the state.
4. Wineries can do what we want to do.
Because the Texas legislature has recognized that wineries (all of whom are pretty much micro-wineries) in Texas needed commonsense beverage laws, HB2593 in 2003 allowed similar changes for the wine industry.
5. This change will help microbreweries in Texas immensely by helping them compete against non-Texas microbrewers.
* Used an example of a mid-Atlantic microbrewery: for years, their beach-area brewpub subsidized their unprofitable out-of-state distribution network. Eventually their distribution became profitable, but essentially Texas microbrewers are competing against microbrewers that have more favorable laws.
* Essentially, for microbreweries, it will allow them to sell a 6 pack to people after the Saturday tour (which draws about 250 people each week). It will allow them to sell pints at events at the brewery.
* Most of all, it will allow them to sell kegs. This is huge, because people call the brewery all the time asking to buy a keg. The distributor generally only carries Amber. Thus, it's difficult to get St. Arnold's other beers on tap for parties.
Brock emphasized that these small changes will have an enormous impact in the economics of opening and running a brewery.
It's a win-win:
* Distributors benefit (microbrews are better profit, and they will have more microbrews to distribute)
* Microbrewers benefit (profit margin is higher when they sell it themself. It helps make brewers profitable). They can compete on a level playing field against non-Texas microbrews.
* Most of all, consumers benefit by having more choices. Texas beer-lovers get to drink Texas microbrews.
* Will allows microbrewers to buy more equipment, create more jobs, and even generate a little more tax revenue.

As for who won? Saint Arnolds or the Law? Stay tuned.......

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Another Weekend another Kolsch

I tend to look forward to my weekends while living here in Cologne. One reason is that of late I have been working an overnight shift for my job (yes its actually NOT beer) and haven't been able to go out to much during the week. So when I am out on the weekend sightseeing, looking at the amazingly old churches, Cathedrals, museums and the like I tend to build up a bit of a thirst. And in Cologne, there's no better way to quench that thirst than a glass (or two) of Kolsch. This weekend I visited one of my favorite's, Paffgen on Friezen Str. Its smaller than some other breweries, and it feels a little homier to me. To have with my Kolsch I ordered a lunch of speck, potatoes, and split green beans. A nice hearty Kolsch fair.
The Kolsch poured an orangish yellow capped with a fairly foamy head. There was more bitterness in the nose than other Kolsch's. Less carbonation, with a smoother aftertaste, a bit citrusy even. As the beer went down in the glass it left a nice sheen of lacing in its wake, very nice. My overall impression of the beer was its smoothness. It partnered well with the starch in the potatoes, and the beans, but didn't have the carbonation for the fat of the speck. A solid if not spectacular Kolsch. One I will have again (and again....)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

More on the quest of Saint Arnold's

As a I posted a couple of days ago Saint Arnold's is going to Austin to help change the laws of the Great State of Texas. Well I am happy to report that this quest has not gone unnoticed. People, not just in Texas are taking notice and are writing about it. Here are just a few links to some write-ups, from Newspapers and blogs.

The Brookston Beer blog posts a short write up.
Over at Appellation beer they reference the Jimmy Stewart aspect of the story, and talk in a little more detail about Texas Beer law.
Barry Schlacter at the Star-Telegram has a write up in his weekly Beer column.
Finally Saint Arnold's themselves have written up a list of places that have mentioned their quest (including yours truly!)

Lastly just let me opine a bit more on Brock's quest and how important it is to Texas and beer drinkers in general. A few years back Texas passed a law that would allow Texas Wineries to sell small amounts of their own wine in their tasting rooms. The result was not lawlessness, or drunkenness, but higher profits for the wineries and an increase in tourism to Texas wine country (Hill country). To me this should be a slam dunk issue. Letting breweries sell some cases of their own would not only help small business profits, but as places like Colorado, and California can attest will increase tourism as people come from not only within Texas, but outside to taste some of the great beers that Texas has to offer. Texas should be about the small business, those people that are willing to take a chance, start something from nothing and being a bit of a maverick. Isn't that what Texas is all about?d
Let me close, by saying, if your reading this blog and support local Texas beer, try and support the quest of Saint Arnold's in any way you can. Whether that's by doing the simple thing of buying a six pack of Lawnmower or writing a letter to you State Representative, do what you can.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

St. Peter's Kolsch

I have spent a lot of my spare time visiting the numerous Christmas Markets around the town of Cologne. These are small groups of bungalows in various squares (or Platz) around town. One of the nice things about Cologne is that where there's a Platz there is more than likely a pub or Kolsch Brewery near by. So the other day when I had my fill of Christmas markets I decided to head into the near by St. Peters Brewery near Heumartk for a Kolsch and a bit to eat. I wasn't starving, just a little snack so I opted for the Halven Hahn, nice thick German bread with a huge slice of Dutch Cheese. I ordered my Kolsch and it came out in the traditional 0.2l glass. Bright golden with a thick pillowy and foamy head almost over flowing the glass, yet never cascading down the side. Great amounts of tiny little bubbles like a fine champagne. The nose had some nice green and grassy notes with a bit of stone minerality filling it out. The mouth had those same flavors with the greeness of the beer turning into hop bitterness at the end. As the head dissipated it left behind copious amounts of lacing sticking to the side of the glass. The carbonation was excellent and really cut through the fat in the thick slab of cheese. This maybe my second favorite Kolsch that I have enjoyed here, with Pfaffen still in the lead.

New's From Saint Arnold's

Even way over here in Europe I am trying to stay in touch with the local Houston beer scene, and I have noticed a couple of newsy items regarding Houston's own Saint Arnold's Brewery.
First they have an all new redesigned website, so go check it out.
The second news worthy item is much more important not only to Saint Arnold's, but to craft brewers all over Texas. Saint Arnold's Owner Brock Wagner, along with some of the other Craft brewer's are heading to Austin to help change some of the ridiculous alcohol laws that Texas has.
1) They want to be able to sell their own beer - this means being able to sell at the brewery! (would be nice at Saint Arnold's after a Saturday afternoon of tasting to grab a six pack or two or three)
2) Make it easier for Craft Breweries to open. In the great big state of Texas there are only a handful of Craft breweries and even less Brew pub's, to me this just isn't acceptable, Texans LOVE good beer.
Here is a link to Saint Arnold's Going to Austin blog. Check it out and try and support them in anyway you can.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Raise a glass and toast to Tuesday

That's right folks, today as much as any day is a great day to raise your glass and make a toast. And no its not just because today is Tuesday, its a much more important day to those of us who like to drink a beer, or glass of wine. Back on this date in 1933 the 21st Amendment was passed. This amendment repealed Prohibition, ending 13 years of of that failed experiment. Although forms of Prohibition still exist in some counties and parishes throughout the States, laws are passing every day that allow all of us to grab a pint at the local bar. So Raise your glass today, whether it be a pint of ale, a glass of wine, or a snifter of spirits, and toast to Tuesday.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


As most have read about now there is a new holiday beer out there that is banned in New York because the image of Santa on the label might lead children to drinking. I had built myself up to write a long rant on this topic and the role of Parental responsibility, freedom of speech, and the stupidity of American liquor laws, but then J over at Brookston Beer Bulletin beat me too it. So instead of me writing, I'll guide everyone over there to check out his well written piece.