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Where next for the Maven of Malt?

Why am I in town? Whether it's Toledo, Toronto or Tokyo, there will be at least three reasons: to present a tasting; to promote my last book, and to research the next one.

This coming Friday and Saturday, March 8 and 9, I'm co-hosting Master Classes at WhiskyLive, in London. My partner in the double-act is Dave Broom (we play Siskel and Ebert in Whisky Magazine). The following weekend, on Saturday, March 16, I'm at Whisky Expo 2002, in San Francisco.

Back to beer, for public tastings at the Brooklyn Brewery, New York, on March 19; University of Pennsylvania Museum on the 22nd and 23rd; Monks Restaurant, Philadelphia on the 23; then on to D.C., where tickets to my annual National Geographic lecture and the Brickskeller birthday event are pretty much gone.

The media tour
When I hit town, I often get a call from the local daily, the alternative weekly, or the city magazine. A fellow journalist wants to interviews me, with a view to writing about me as a visiting author, or just to produce a story about a man with a "dream job". Naturally enough, after having spent an hour or two with him, I expect eventually to see his article in print. It usually does.

One such article, in The Wall Street Journal, neatly bridged my interests in beer and whisky by dubbing me The Maven of Malt. If you live in a cosmopolitan city, you will be familiar with loan-words from the Yiddish language. If you don't, or aren't, let me explain that a maven means something between an enthusiast and an authority. If we had such a word in English, we would not have "borrowed" maven.

When I visit a brewery or a distillery, and the people there take time to talk to me, show me what they do, let me taste their products, and answer my questions, they equally have a right to see the result.

They often ask: "Is this for your website, a book, an article, a lecture...?" Sometimes I do have a particular use in mind for the material. On other occasions, it is part of my continuous research. I happen to be in a city to present a lecture or tutored tasting, and find myself visiting two or three local breweries between times. At the very least, they should find their way into one of those ever-briefer entries in the increasingly crowded updates of my Pocket Guide to Beer. Or into the less crowded environment of this site.

I have always hoped to post here everything I write, as a reference source but, even with help, I never catch up with myself. Nor does my writing. "After you visit a brewery, write your story next morning, while you are having coffee in your hotel room before continuing your journey," I am urged. "Write at the airport...on the plane." I do all of that and more. The trouble is that every hour at the brewery generates 60 minutes of writing.

"Don't write articles - just brief notes," they say. Once I start writing something, I want to tell the story properly. Anyway, it requires longer to write short pieces: the compression takes time.

So, too often, I go straight from one city, state or country to the next, carrying full notebooks back to my office. By the time I open them, I have sometimes forgotten what half my comments meant.

Sometimes, the stories in a notebook never reach the printed page. The material might be excellent, but it eventually falls between the cracks as one editor and another demands a story that is more topical or seems more suited to his readers.

The diary-like jottings below are just a handful that did not make the paper in the past 12 months. I'll just call them Notes From The Year. If I visited your brewery, and you have yet to read of my impressions, don't give up hope. I haven't.

A year late and a dollar short

JANUARY

Washington, D.C.
In Europe, it's hard to find beers as hoppy as those made by some American micros. When I arrive in the U.S., I can't wait for the first downpour of Cascades. If I fly into D.C., it's usually Dulles airport, where there are several bars serving Old Dominion brews. On this occasion, I somehow found myself at Washington National airport, and renewed my acquaintance with Virginia Native.

Virginia
That airport pint (Terminal B, gate area): Virginia Native Dark had a deep reddish-amber color; a body so smooth as to be "slippery"; a good, solid, mat character; and a gentle, balancing dryness in the finish. A dangerous Dark: it had the strength of a Bock.

We beer-lovers are sometimes accused of being as bad as wine snobs and foodies. I may be guilty of this, but the year's first American meal was the culinary equivalent of a Norman Rockwell painting: Meatloaf cooked in brown ale, at a chain brewpub - Rock Bottom - in Arlington, Va. To complete the patriotic theme, I washed down my meal with the aromatic, fruity, Potomac Pale Ale. With dessert, there was the raisiny, chocolatey, Spout Run Porter. As a digestif: a toffeeish, warming. Strong Ale, at 9.5 per cent alcohol by volume.

Do Americans, upon arriving in London, desperately wish to meet an expatriate from their home country? Probably not. When people tell me they have a British friend whom I would surely love to meet, my heart sinks. Why travel 3,000 miles or more to socialize with someone I could have encountered without leaving home? Brits who try it bring it with them are the worst. (No, I don't drink tea, follow cricket, or yearn to be spanked by Margaret Thatcher). In contrast, Nick Funnell (a fellow Northerner, indeed a Yorkshireman), came to the United States to enjoyed the freedoms of brewing in the New World. The resultant symbiosis has been a satisfying experience for both Funnell and the American brewing scene.

Whenever I'm in the area, I like to taste the latest from Funnell and his brew-crew at one of the Sweetwater Taverns. This time, I was at Merrifield. The question of seasonal specials was exercising Nick. They shouldn't be produced by rote, he argued. The whole point of a special was to step outside the cookie-cutter. "We may be seen as a chain restaurant, but when I offer a special, I want it to say to our guests: "What do you think of that?!" In that spirit, so to speak, he presented the wryly-named St Nick's Weizenbock, its wheaty fruitiness reminiscent of a perfumy pear syrup. This was followed by Chipotle Porter, in which both the malt and the flavoring chilies were smoked over mesquite and hickory. First came the smoke, then the tingle on the tongue. Beautifully rounded beers.

On to Capital City, at Shirlington, where I enjoyed a spritzy Keller Pilsner with an intense late hop bitterness. I was also impressed by the Kölsch, brewed with 15 per cent wheat and fermented with a Weihenstephan yeast. My note said: "Soft malt character. Very well balanced. Develops substantial hop bitterness."

FEBRUARY

Italy
The city of Trieste is a place I have always wanted to visit. It was once the only port in the Austrian Empire, and after World War II an international zone bordering Slovenian and Croatia (in those days part of Yugoslavia) and Italy.

Its Austrian days are remembered in a lager identified simply as being in the Vienna style: reddish-bronze in color; freshly herbal, perhaps minty, in its (Spalt) hop aroma; lightly nutty in palate; with a lingering malty dryness in the finish. 5.25-5.5 alcohol by volume. In the same range, I tasted a lightly hoppy Premium Lager; a very lean, hop-accented (almost lemony) Pils; a fruity Pale Ale; and a creamy Strong Ale.

All are from the Theresianer brewery, named after a neighborhood of Trieste. Apparently it was the brewery quarter. As if the history and geography were not sufficiently confusing, today's Theresianer brewery is in Nervesa Della Battaglia, near Treviso. The brewery is owned by a family from Trieste who also import, roast and blend coffee. The Treviso area is better known for wine.

Theresianer's brewing consultant is Mario Criveller. As his name suggests, Mario is of Italian origin, but his base is the Niagara Falls brewing company. His brewery in Niagara, Canada, produced the first Eisbock in North America. The Niagara region is known for Eiswein.

I sampled the Theresianer beers at Pianeta Birra, one of the world's more stylish trade fairs, in Rimini, Italy. "Beer Planet"?

Sounds about right...

Coming soon: March and April


Published: MAR 4, 2002
In: Beer Hunter Online

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