Sunday, September 30, 2007

Michael Jackson, Na Zdraví!

I'm not going to make it out to a pub this evening to drink a toast to the great Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson, so I'll just have recognize him here.

For those who don't know, MJ passed away last month, and his many fans have set this day aside as a day of remembrance.

In the Czech Republic, we say, Na Zdraví. That's NAHZ-drah-vee to you Mr. Jackson.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Oktoberfest & the Dirndl

Oktoberfest just would not be Oktoberfest without the ladies and their dirndls. Long ago, the dirndl was the customary dress of the working class, but by the late 19th century, dirndls had become fashionable in Bavaria and Austria. Today, dirndls are hardly everyday dress for women, but it is quite common for women to wear them not only to Oktoberfest, but for special occasions of all sorts. (A woman wearing a dirndl has been likened to a Scotsman wearing a kilt.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Oktoberfest Barmaids

Oktoberfest simply would not be Oktoberfest without the dirndl clad barmaids. And I must say that these women are absolutely amazing. These women probably serve 1000s of the 1-liter sized beers every day during the course of the festival, and they are able to do it with a smiling face and pleasant attitude.

Could I carry all these glasses in one shot? Methinks not.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ludwig & Therese: Oktoberfest Royalty

Oktoberfest, of course, traces it origins to the public nuptial celebrations of the Bavarian Prince Ludwig and his bride Therese. They were wed on 12 October, 1810; and the festival that followed lasted 5 days, climaxing in a horserace, which proved to be so exciting that another festival and horserace was scheduled for the following year. (It wasn’t until 1896 that brewers became an integral part of the Oktoberfest celebration.)

But who were these people? Ludwig and Therese. Well, I can’t say how they felt about beer, but Ludwig was certainly what could be called a lover of beauty, be it in art, architecture or women. During his reign as King of Bavaria (1825-1848) he commissioned many new buildings for Munich, many of which are considered to be the most beautiful in Munich today. He was also the patron of the artist Josef Stieler. One of their more ambitious projects was the “The Gallery of Beauty,” which is comprised of portraits of Bavarian women whose beauty Ludwig considered worthy of memorializing. Ludwig is also well known for his many amorous love affairs, frequently with women in the highest reaches of Bavarian society. Personally, I’m struck by how much he reminds me of Hugh Hefner.

Without digging into the German history section of the library, I can’t report too much about Therese. Though I can guess that she was an unhappy woman. I doubt she shared her husband’s joie de vivre attitude, and she appears to me (in her portrait) to be a stern woman. I don’t think it would be much of a jump to conclude that theirs was a passionless marriage, the result of political expediency. Which, for me, makes if all the more ironic that the site of Oktoberfest, the Theresienwiese, is named in her honor. I’m pretty sure Ludwig would love the modern Oktoberfest, but I somehow think that Therese would disapprove.

A note: Ludwig should not be confused with his more famous grandson, Ludwig II, the truly eccentric king who nearly bankrupted his family by building private castles all over Bavaria and sponsoring the work of composer Richard Wagner.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Oktoberfest 2007: Let the Beer Drinking Begin

The world's original Oktoberfest takes place in the Bavarian city of Munich. Technically, the tradition dates back to the very public wedding celebration held to celebrate the marriage of the Crown Prince Ludwig and Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen in 1810. Not necessarily by design, but by happenstance, annual celebrations evolved over the years into what we now know as Oktoberfest.

The first Oktoberfest that we would recognize dates to 1896, the year in which the famed beer palaces were added to the celebration. There are 13 local breweries in Munich, and all of them host a "palace" featuring their best brews.

Friday, September 21, 2007


The Moosehead story starts back in 1867, in the town of Turtle Dove, Nova Scotia, when a housewife by the name of Susannah Oland decided she would try her hand at home-brewing in an effort to entertain some family and friends. Her first brew was a dark ale and proved to be very popular with nearly all who had an opportunity to drink it. John Oland, the husband, encouraged his wife's efforts, and soon after the couple began selling Susannah's beer commercially.

Their first real brewery was opened in 1869 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Shortly there after, however, John Oland tragically died, leaving Susannah Oland to manage the brewery by herself; her eventual success would make her one of the most successful businesswomen of the 19th century.

During WWI, the Halifax brewery, which was located near a military munitions depot, was destroyed beyond repair when there was an accident at the depot, which killed 2000 and destroyed everything in the area.

In 1917, the present Moosehead brewery in St. John, New Brunswick opened. And today, the brewery is still owned and operated by the Oland family (the 6th generation), making it one of the most successful independent breweries in North America.

To read my complete review of Moosehead Lager at Helium, click HERE>>>

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Blatz from the Past

Valentin Blatz was the son of a prominent brewer in Germany, who, as a young man, decided to make his own way in the world in America. He arrived in 1848, and by 1851, he had settled in Milwaukee, WI and had married the widow of a Milwaukee brewer. The Blatz brewing empire was about to begin.

By all accounts, Blatz was an innovative and successful brewer, becoming one of America's first nationally known brands. We can only guess, but it's likely that Blatz was one of America's better beers in the 19th century.

Blatz was able to survive Prohibition, but it was clearly not the same brewery and simply could not compete in 1950s America. Blatz went out of business in 1959, and its assets, including its name, were purchased by the Pabst Brewing Company.

Today, Blatz is owned by Pabst, but brewed under contract by Miller.

Which makes one think, . . . if the Milwaukee Brewers baseball stadium, which is called Miller Park, was constructed 100 years earlier, would it have been called Blatz Park?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Molson Canadian

Molson Canadian is a lager style beer which is the flagship brand of the Montreal, Canada-based Molson Brewing Company, a division of the Molson Coors brewing group. Molson is the oldest extant brewery in North America, having been established in 1786.

The brewery's founder, John Molson, left England for Canada at the age of 18 with little more than a "how to" book about brewing, money from his inheritance (both his parents had died), and a dream of opening a brewery in Montreal. His timing could not have been more perfect. As a result of the American Revolution, the British military presence in Canada was high, and refugee Loyalists from the former 13 American colonies were flocking into Canada. And these people not only proved to be the core of his early customer base, Molson even found his bride among the Loyalist refugees.

So, from the beginning, Molson was a success, and today, the Molson Brewery carries nearly 40% of the Canadian market. In 2005, Molson merged with the American brewer Coors to create a name that only a stockholder could like, Molson Coors Brewing Company, which has also proven to be a success, at least on Wall Street. The promised cost-cutting materialized better than expected, and they have effectively taken advantage of the slumping US dollar. So, even though its stock price is at an all-time high (as of this writing), analysts still have a "buy" out on Molson Coors (as of this writing).

To read my complete review of the beer at Helium, click HERE>>>

Monday, September 17, 2007

Peach Pit in Prague

This place is no joke. It's in Prague, on a little, hard to find street in the Vinohrady district. The interior is nothing like the Peach Pit on the television show Beverly Hills 90210, but it does takes its inspiration from the show. Yellow walls, covered in those old-fashioned vinyl albums, with some Art Deco ornamentation and furniture, along with some American flags.

It's not a restaurant, it's not a pub, it's more of a small, neighborhood, theme, music club. The kind that opens at 4 in the afternoon and closes at 3 in the morning.

In regards to beer, it's what's called a "Stella pub." It Prague, pubs only display one brand sign, and if that brand is Stella Artois, that means that the pub serves the Czech beer Staropramen, Stella Artois, and Hoegaarden.

Check out the website of Klub Peach Pit, here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Generic Beer

This beer looks pretty tasty, eh? I purchased this small can of suds in Prague for about 15 cents. I have no idea by whom or where it was brewed, but it is marked with the brand of the Belgian supermarket chain Delhaize. In the Czech Republic, the stores were called Delvita. I use the past tense here because Delhaize recently pulled out of the CR and Slovakia. The store where I bought this beer is today a Billa, an Austrian supermarket chain.

Not that I have to say, but this beer was awful.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Great Moosehead Beer Mystery

About three years ago, 15 August to be exact, a guy by the name of Wade Haines left the Moosehead Brewery in New Brunswick, Canada with a tractor-trailer loaded with 54,000 cans of beer bound towards Toronto. Neither Haines nor the beer arrived. What exactly happened has never been fully explained. The truck was found two days later in New Brunswick, but the beer was gone, as was the Haines. About a month later, the police would eventually track Haines down; he explained that since he thought he was going to be fired, and because he was frustrated with his girlfriend, he spontaneously decided to quit his job, and so he abandoned the truck in tact in a parking lot. The police didn’t believe him, and Haines was charged with the theft of $57,000 worth of beer. In the media, the police mocked Haines as being a “dumb criminal” because the stolen cans were ultimately destined for the Mexican market and were labeled in Spanish, which according to police, would make it impossible for anybody to fence the stolen booty.

Now, there is little question that Mr Haines is a tad on the stupid side. He has a criminal record for petty theft and even started referring to himself as the “beer bandit” while awaiting trail. The larger issue however is the stupidity of the police. Haines was clearly part of a larger conspiracy, but I wonder if the cops up there in Canada ever thought to ask Haines about it, or perhaps give him a little incentive to flip on his co-conspirators. Instead, in the end, Haines was prosecuted and sentenced to the max, about a year and a half in prison. Which brings us to the larger mystery, where’s the beer?

Nearly 8000 of the 54,000 cans were found soon after the theft, apparent victims of transit accidents. Presumably, the beer, which was packaged on pallets, was transferred from the tractor-trailer to numerous smaller trailers, trucks, and vans. But what about the remaining 46,000 cans? It’s been three years and the cops still have no idea what happened to those 46,000 cans of Moosehead beer.

So, who’s really the most stupid party here? The Canadian authorities assured the public that the beer could never be sold because of the conspicuous Spanish language labels. But if the beer could not be sold, where is it? Do they really want us to believe that somebody’s got 46,000 cans of beer (which has gone bad by now) buried in his back yard?

Of course, one can only speculate as to what happened to the beer. But the fact that this case is on the books as only partially solved doesn’t speak very well about the quality of police work involved, at least by those in charge of the case. And police assurances that the beer could never be sold in Canada due to the Spanish language labels or be smuggled into America because it lacks a proper manifest is both naïve and comical.

Then there is the matter the victim of this crime, Moosehead, which actually profited from it. One can assume that the cargo was insured, but more importantly, the great Canadian beer theft was reported on internationally and gave Moosehead countless thousands of dollars worth of free advertising. Moosehead even incorporated it in their own advertising, and today, three years later, has a page on their website dedicated to the theft.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Package Store

Ah, . . . the package store! Young people today, reared on buying their beer at supermarkets and convenience stores, have been denied the classic beer drinking experience of the packie. Historically, the packie is a direct result of the 21st Amendment, which while repealing Prohibition, also allowed for all sorts of local regulation. And so, the package store was born. Created specifically to sell alcoholic beverages, they were usually located apart from general shopping districts and relegated to the less desirable areas of town. They were called package stores because the display of labels of beverages containing alcohol was not permitted in public, so these stores would "package" your wine, spirits, or beer, in accordance with local laws.

The packaging laws created in the 1930s have evolved, but they are still very much with us. Nearly all of the laws today regarding drinking in public are not concerned with the alcohol in the bottle but with the label on it. And that's why, people to this day, have been left to drinking out of paper bags.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Even Spock Drinks Heineken

I doubt that Leonard Nimoy, when he signed on to portray Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series back in 1966, foresaw this. I also doubt he got any money for this Heineken ad.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Švejk, Barroom Philosopher

When visiting Prague, it's nearly impossible to not encounter one image or other of Josef Švejk, the hero of Jaroslav Hašek's seminal comic WWI novel The Good Soldier Švejk. The Czech people were reluctant participants in the Great War, and there was no soldier more reluctant than Hašek's Josef Švejk. Part genius, part idiot, Švejk is a barroom philosopher without equal.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mother Knows Best . . .

Above all, I think beer means having a sense of humor about life.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Black Stuff: Guinness

The Guinness brand of beer was founded by Arthur Guinness at the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland in 1759. Inspired by the porter style of beer that was popular in 18th century England, Guinness created a beer in which the malt barley is roasted in a distinctive way that gives Guinness its dark color and unique taste. Guinness began to market its beer as a stout, and today, the name Guinness is largely synonymous with the style of stout.

Guinness Draught was created in 1959, and its complex texture and creamy head would ultimately make Guinness one of the most well known beers in the world. (Guinness Draught should not be confused with Guinness Extra Stout which is far more bitter and closer in taste to what beer drinkers drank in the 19th century.) Today, there are three types of Guinness Draught: the original Guinness Draught that is served on tap, Guinness Draught Cans, and Guinness Draught Bottles.

The tap style of Guinness Draught is by far the most popular. Served up in pubs and restaurants around the world, its two-tone white creamy head and black beer base is widely considered the world's most beautiful looking glass of beer. In regards to taste, it is full-bodied, yet incredibly smooth with just the slightest hint of caramel. Guinness Draught differs from other beers in that the delivery system that pours the beer is an integral part of the process that creates the look as well as the taste. When a Guinness is pulled at a tap, the beer is infused with a special blend of nitrogen and carbon dioxide and pumped through a special filter-type plate. Guinness refers to this process as the "surge" system which requires a two-part pour that takes two minutes to complete. Because of these complexities, the quality of Guinness Draught from the tap can vary from pub to pub and is dependent upon the bartender pouring your glass of Guinness properly.

To read my complete review of Guinness Draught at Helium, you can click HERE>>>

Friday, September 7, 2007

Harp Lager

Harp is a lager style beer whose home brewery is called the Great Northern Brewery and is located in Dundalk, Co. Louth in the Republic of Ireland, which is strategically located about half way between Dublin and Belfast. Harp was first introduced in 1960 as a result of the efforts of a consortium of six different breweries in Ireland and the United Kingdom. During the 1950s, lighter pale lagers from Europe, such as the Dutch Heineken and the Danish Carlsburg had made serious inroads into the markets of Ireland and the UK, nations known for their heavier, darker ales. To answer this challenge, the Dundalk brewery was purchased and a brew-master from Germany, Herman Muenster, was brought in and charged with the task of creating a "continental" style lager using Irish resources. Harp Lager was the result.

Today, there is an element of romance associated with Harp, and that is nearly entirely due to its associations, perceived or real, with the brewing legend Guinness. The fact of the matter is that Harp is less a Guinness product than an acquisition made by Guinness. It is true that Guinness was one of the original six owners that purchased the Great Northern Brewery for the purpose of creating Harp, but it was not involved in the creation of the beer or the management of the brewery. Over the course of time, Guinness did ultimately obtain sole ownership of Harp, and at least in North America, Guinness and Harp were frequently marketed together, leading many to believe that Harp was brewed by Guinness and was actually just a lager version of Guinness. Since the Diageo group purchased Guinness, Guinness and Harp are no longer marketed together, but Harp is still prominently advertised as being "from the brewers of Guinness."

You can read my complete review Harp at Helium by clicking HERE>>>

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Michelob Ultra

Michelob Ultra is a lager style beer brewed by Anheuser- Busch, which is based in St. Louis, Missouri. It was introduced in 2002 and is a variant of the high-end Michelob brand that Anheuser-Busch first introduced in 1896.

Michelob Ultra is what can be called a "niche" beer in that it specifically caters to a very narrow consumer base. And that base can best be described as active, health conscious women. (Michelob Ultra is the official sponsor of the LPGA.) Michelob Ultra is a low calorie, low carbohydrate beer, containing 95 calories per 12 oz. serving and only 2.6 carbs per serving. (On the UK bottle, the words "Low Carbohydrate" are actually emblazoned on the front label.) In regards to alcohol content, it contains 4.2% (ABV).

Fairly judging this beer is an endeavor fraught with pitfalls. Michelob Ultra has been categorically panned by proletarian beer reviewers all over the internet, but what these pundits fail to appreciate is the fact that Michelob Ultra is not intended to please them. This is not a beer for people who like beer. This is a beer for women who don't drink beer. Or more specifically, this is a beer for women who drink wine because they dont have any other viable alternative. And when considered in its proper context, Michelob Ultra tastes like a success to me.

To read the rest of my review at Helium, click HERE>>>

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mickey's Fine Malt Liquor

Mickey's is a lager style beer which is part of the SABMiller brewing group and is brewed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Mickey's is most well-known for its green wide-mouthed bottles and is presently an official sponsor of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Mickey's labels itself a "malt liquor," and the reasons for this have as much to do with marketing the beer as they do with the convolutions of American law regarding alcohol.

The commonly held belief is that any beer containing more than 5% (ABV) cannot call itself as a beer and must instead be labeled a "malt liquor." This is simply not true. In nearly every instance, the "malt liquor" appellation is completely voluntary. While some states have restrictions in regards to the use of the word "beer" on labels, the laws that require the "malt liquor" label are obscure and vague and basically non-applicable.

Beers that call themselves malt liquor are characterized by the use of dextrose which allows the yeast to ferment at a higher level of alcohol. So, as a rule of thumb, malt liquor contains more alcohol. But that is not always the case. Mickey's for example contains only 5.6% (ABV). While that is very strong for a lager, it is not significantly stronger than many ales, porters, or stouts. (Most malt liquors are 6% - 9%)

To read the rest of my review of Mickey's at Helium, please click HERE>>>

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Inflatable Pilsner Urquell

The culture of beer is just a little more fun in Europe. It just seems to be a more integral part of family life. It is common for breweries to sponsor small festivals in city centers aimed at the whole family; and of course, part of that is creating temporary beer gardens in urban squares.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

From Jamaica: Red Stripe

Red Stripe is a lager style beer brewed by the Desnoes & Geddes Brewery in Kingston, Jamaica. When the brewery first opened in the former British colony in 1928, Red Stripe was more of a traditional red ale, but sales of the heavy beer never gained any substantive momentum, and the ale was discontinued in favor of a lager in 1938. The new lighter lager was much better suited to the Caribbean climate and tastes, and the new Red Stripe lager became the best selling local beer in Jamaica. It is presently owned by the Diageo brewing concern and is distributed by Guinness.

Historically, Red Stripe has been bottled in a bottle known as a stubby. It is short and squat with a short neck. The Red Stripe stubby is brown and features a painted red and white label. But for some inexplicable reason, when Red Stripe was first exported to the U.S. in the 1985, the brewery switched to packaging its beer in a green long neck bottle. The results were less than satisfactory, to say the least, and it wasn't until the brewery decided to stay true to its traditional brown stubby and discard the green long neck that sales began to pick up.

Today, Red Stripe relies on aggressive advertising to maintain sales. Its motto is direct, "hooray beer!" and the brewery spends a lot of money in an effort to represent itself as an integral part of Jamaican culture, regularly sponsoring reggae festivals, the Olympic Jamaican bobsled team, and the like, generally attempting to ingratiate itself in the world-wide public perception of Jamaica as a destination of smooth, relaxed times.

To read my complete review of Red Stripe, please click HERE>>>