Tag: wall street journal

Big Beers

I’d already written about celebratory homebrew (that wasn’t so celebratory), so for the holidays I decided to go with something more reliable, albeit less historic: giant beer bottles. My picks were arranged, in the paper at least, from smallest to most monumental. Fin du Monde, a house favorite and plenty punchy, seems featherweight compared to Stone’s Double Bastard, which comes in a three-liter totem, complete with a padlocked swing-top cap. You know, so you can’t sneak in a midnight tipple. I thought about sabering off the cap, like they did in the Times, but I didn’t want to waste a drop. This is beer, after all, not Champagne.

Black, Light

My high school drama teacher loved Goethe (whose didn’t?) and so I avoided both of them. I didn’t know Young Werter was a beer snob. He got sick in law school and recovered, the story goes, with Schwarzbier. Tipsy and atrophied, he became a writer instead. Some bottles of Köstritzer have a picture of him on the label, pensive, opulently hatted, sudsy glass Photoshopped into his hand.

Follow his example: Drink black lager. I picked the best in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal.

BBQ Beers

I’ve been known to fire up the grill on Christmas, so for me, outdoor cooking knows no seasonal bounds. Still, summertime grilling, and drinking, are institutions, at least in newspaper food sections. And so I wrote about them.

First, for Bon Appetit, I subjected a friend’s dinner party to the spectacle of beer-can chicken. When I say use indirect heat, I mean it. Beer will bubble out of the bird, and all over the coals. One trip to the fridge, and your chicken’s on fire. It’s a spectacle, like I said.

But what to drink while aimlessly poking the grill? I stocked the Wall Street Journal‘s ice bucket with lighter fare (a Dortmunder, a pale, a saison), the all-rounder Brooklyn Brown, and, for those whose burger is naked without bacon, a smoky rauchbier. I even got to drink some Hennepin on camera while Skyping into the Journal‘s afternoon news show. When you’re serving beer-can chicken, lingcod, steak, sea urchin, and roasted prince mushrooms, it’s good to stock a versatile bar.

Bull Session

My Wall Street Journal story on session beers got a bit of flack from people arguing that “true” session beers must be less than 5.0% ABV. As evidence, they cited their own blog manifestos. The 5.0 argument is, at best, supported by a dubious CDC definition of a “standard beer” as 5.0% ABV, and at worst, totally arbitrary. There’s nothing standard about craft beer. The average ABV rating of all 30,000 beers on Beer Advocate is almost 6.0%. No brewer I’ve ever talked to designs so-called session beers with any such guidelines. If the brewers don’t care, why should you? Arguing that a delicious 5.1% beer can’t be called a session beer, but a 5.0% one can, is a waste of precious drinking time. And session beers, if they’re about anything, are about drinking.

Molto Birra


Italian beer can be great, but not always. We tried a lot of bottles when I was working on this article, and they were all interesting, and expensive, but we found a few duds. Some had gone a little sour. Some were old. Inconsistency is expected with such a small industry. The biggest Italian craft brewery, Baladin, is 1/15th the size of Dogfish Head, and Dogfish Head isn’t even that big.

But beer is booming there — Italy had 65 breweries in 2000. Today there are 279. That’s not as explosive as the biggest spike in American craft breweries (200 opened between 1993 and 1994) but it’s something. Both booms produced some sub-par beer, but the difference with Italy is range. A flooded market forced American craft brewers to specialize; Italian brewers are making weird stuff right out of the gate.

I asked Sam Calagione what it was like collaborating at the new Eataly brewery with Teo and Leo, the brewers at Baladin and Birra del Borgo, guys who brew with stuff like kamut, myrrh, and ginger.

“We picked fresh thyme in the hills behind Leo’s brewery, threw it in the brew kettle. I put a jalopy brewery in my truck and drove up to Boston, met the guys at a nondescript warehouse, and fired up some test batches. It all happened in person, over pasta and good beer. Teo doesn’t even use email.”

Leo does. He wrote to me that brewing with Sam went like this: “When I was brewing with Sam I was telling to Sam the idea and Sam went crazy for that!” That’s about how it works in our house, too.