Monthly Archives: March 2013

Beer scribes re-constitute North American Beer Writers Guild

Meeting for the first time on March 29 at Craft Brewers Conference 13 in Washington, D.C., the reconstituted North American Guild of Beer Writers elected a board of directors.

Elected co-chairs were Don Russell, Joe Sixpack columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and executive director of Philly Beer Week, and Jay Brooks, of Cotati, Calif., columnist, author and editor of the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

Steve Hamburg, of the Chicago Beer Society was elected treasurer, while Ken Weaver, of Petaluma Calif., author and freelance writer, was elected secretary.

John Holl, of Jersey City, N.J., editor of All About Beer magazine and, was elected awards competition chair.

Alan J. Wax, of Dix Hills, N.Y., freelance writer and editor of was elected membership chair.

Ben Keene, of Brooklyn, N.Y., a freelance writer and editor of  the Where and Back blog, was elected social media chair.

Lucy Saunders, of Milwaukee, Wis., author and writer, was elected a director.

Stan Hieronymus, of Corrales, N.M., author, editor at and editor of, was elected a director at large along, Heather Vandenengel, of Boston, Mass., author of the Honest Pint on

The group is organizing a writing competition and planning future gatherings to coincide with the Brewers Association Savor eventnin New York City in June and Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, Wis., in August.

The organization offers three levels of membership: full-membership for writers, industry membership for those employed in the brewing or allied trades and associate membership for those interested in supporting the group. More information is available at the NAGBW website.

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Brewers Association Scherer Award Given to New Belgium’s Bouckaert

New Belgian brewmaster Peter Bouckaert wins Scherer Award.

New Belgium’s Peter Bouckaert wins Scherer Award.

The Brewers Association, the trade group representing America’s independent brewers, gave its 2013 Russell Scherer Award for Innovation in Brewing to Peter Bouckaert, brewmaster at New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, Co.

The award, presented March 27 at the BA’s annual Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, D.C. was first given in 1997 to honor Russell Scherer, who died in 1996 at 38 years old. A creative force in brewing in the nineties, Schehrer was a founding partner and original head brewer at Colorado’s first brewpub, Wynkoop Brewing Co. He was also one of the first brewers to produce mead, doppel alt, cream stout and chili beer.

Dick Cantwell, head brewer and co-owner of Elysian Brewing in Seattle, in presenting the award noted that Bouchaert has been experimenting with fermentation techniques and unusual ingredients, and cited New Belgian’s La Foliie sour beer.

Bouckaert joined New Belgium in 1996 after 10 years at Belgium’s Rodenbach Brewery, known for its sour beers . He studied brewing at Hogeschool Gent.

“Who am I to stand here? I have an amazing bunch of co-workers,” Bouckaert said in accepting the award. Bouckaert, a native of Belgium, said the United States “is the most inventive country in beer.”

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Croxley’s Ales restaurant empire 20 years in the making and still growing

Croxley's partners, from left: Ed Davis, Joe Mendolia, Chris Werleand Jeff Piciullo inside the new Smithtown location.

Croxley’s partners, from left: Ed Davis, Joe Mendolia, Chris Werleand Jeff Piciullo inside the new Smithtown location.

The owners of Croxley’s Ale House this week are marking 20 years in business with special beer and wing deals. They’ve built an empire of five bars from Manhattan to Smithtown and one more soon to open.

Twenty-three years ago, Jeff Piciullo and Chris Werle, childhood friends from Franklin Square, opened a bar in their hometown. They called it Piccadilly.

“A lot of people don’t remember it,” said Werle.  But can recall what the duo did next.

Croxley's logoThe then 23-year-olds had bigger ideas. They wanted to serve good beer — the craft beer movement was just taking hold in the New York area—and food. They sold Piccadilly after just two years and bought a small corner bar on the other side of their town on New Hyde Park Road.  They called its Croxley’s and it initially offered 12 taps of mostly British beers, later expanded to 18. Few other bars in the region offered that kind of variety. And it sold no Bud, no Miller, no Coors.

“We always liked tap beer better than bottled beer,” Werle noted, adding, “we wanted to evolve it into an eating establishment as well.”

Buoyed by their success in Franklin Square the pair bought a second location in 1996, in Rockville Center, which they dubbed Croxley’s American Ale House to capture beer drinkers’ newfound fascination for American craft beer. Of the 56 taps in the new bar, 36 were American, among them Brooklyn Lager Brooklyn Brown Ale, Sierra Nevada and Pete’s Wicked Ale. “We were the first to serve Brooklyn Brown on tap on the Island.”

Having conquered British and American beers, the pair decided they needed a place that sold Belgian brews. A trip to Belgian with chef Ed David and then Waterzooi in Garden City was born in 1998. “It became a hard core Belgian bistro,” said Werle, noting the Belgian-style menu and 22 tap beers—all Belgian. And next door, what is now Novitia, a wine bar with 100 by-the-glass offerings, soon followed.

New York City’s siren song was loud and in 2003 they opened in the East Village at 20 Ave. B with 34 taps. Recently, this location doubled in size.

And then in 2008, Werle, Piciullo and company brought their Croxley’s empire east, opening in Farmingdale with 66 taps and then late last year in Smithtown with 80 taps, many of them German.  They are awaiting permits to open an outdoor beer garden at the Smithtown location.

And they are awaiting permits to open a Brooklyn outpost in Williamsburg. Two years in the making is closer to realty.  “It’s about 85 percent done. We’re hoping to open sometime this spring.”  Noting that fixtures and taps are in, Werle says completion is “at the mercy of the [New York City] building department.”

Running their empire means 60-hour workweeks for Croxley’s owners. They usually can be found in one of the establishments on any given day. “We eat in all the stores. We drink in all the stores,” Werle noted, adding that he continued to order beers for each and every one of the bars.

Over the past two decades, the Croxley have dispensed hundreds of thousands of barrels of beer, Werle added. And they’ve also sold countless chicken wings. “It was one of the first dishes we had,” he said, “We had a really good recipe and it took off.”  Wing specials are offered at each of the Croxley restaurants.

Werle and Piciullo have ridden two waves of craft beer and now are enjoying a third. “This third wave is definitely here to stay. This one is so strong,” Werle said, recalling that in their early days they spent a great deal of time educating their customers one by one about the different craft beer styles. “Now, they come into the place with a full education and it’s great,” Piciullo said.

Added Werle, “It’s a fun time.”

To mark the 20th anniversary, Croxley’s owners are holding a beer bash at all of their locations on March 30, starting at 4 p.m.  They’ll be offering free pints of Croxley Anniversary Ale until the keg is kicked. After that, pints of the Anniversary Ale and Croxley Blond Ale will go for just $4.  There also are free buffets and the first 100 guests at any of the bars will receive a t-shirt.

Here’s where you’ll find Croxley’s:

Farmingdale, 90 Main St., (516) 293-7700

Franklin Square, 129 New Hyde Park Rd., (516) 326-9542

Rockville Centre, 7-9 South Park Ave., (516) 764-0470

Smithtown, 155 W. Main St., (631) 656-8787

Manhattan, 28 Ave. B, (212) 253-6140


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Brewers group honors Peter DiFazio, Congress’ small brewing champion

Congressman Peter DeFazio,

Congressman Peter DeFazio,

The Brewers Association, the trade group representing America’s independent brewers, gave its annual leadership award on March 27 to one of its own, Congressman Peter DiFazio (D-Ore).

The award was presented at the Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, DC, which has attracted more than 6,000 attendees from America’s 2400 small breweries.

DiFazio first was elected to Congress in 1986, is the dean of the Oregon House delegation. He represents southwest Oregon, long known as the birthplace of the modern microbrew movement. Oregon small breweries have about 11 percent of the market share in Oregon, which is the highest of any state.

BA Chief Operating Office Bob Pease called DiFazio an advocate for America’s small and independent brewers. “He not only someone who walks the walk, but talks the talk. … He’s been our constant champion in the halls of Congress,” Pease said. “He is the ambassador of craft beer on Capitol Hill.”

DiFazio is co-chair of the Congressional Small Brewers Caucus, formed in 2007, which provides a forum in which members and staff can learn about the science and art of beer and brewing as well as the relevant business, regulatory and societal issues.

In accepting the honor, the Congressman described Congress as “pretty bitterly divided and dysfunctional,” he said,  “Craft beer and those who make and love it can help fix Congress and save America.” He said he hoped to pick up support for the proposed Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce (BREW) Act, which would reduce the tax on the first 60,000 barrels small breweries produce each year to $3.50 per barrel from the current $7 per barrel rate.

DeFazio is not only a beer drinker, but also an avid home. He also serves on a beer-judging panel sponsored by the Washington Post.

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Passover spirits: San Francisco treats from No. 209 Distillery

For those who keep kosher for the Jewish holiday of Passover, a California distillery offers a gin and a vodka that meet religious requirements.  They’re definitely worth a shot.

Kosher for Passover gin and vodka from Distillery 209.

Kosher for Passover gin and vodka from No. 209 Distillery.

Why is No. 209 Distillery different from all other distilleries?

Because it may be the only distillery in the world producing certified kosher for Passover gin and vodka. Which is good news for those who would are to imbibe something other than wine during Passover, which begins at sundown on March 25 and lasts for eight days.

To be sure, there are other kosher-for-Passover vodkas, including Kedem; Zachlawi, from a craft distillery in New Jersey, and L’Chaim, an Israel product.  Alas, I did not taste these.  Nevertheless, I’ve found no other distillery that produces both kosher for Passover gin and Vodka,

No, 209 distillery is a small batch distillery on San Francisco’s Pier 50 and is owned by wine and food entrepreneur Leslie Rudd, who also owns Dean & Deluca, Rudd Oakville Estates and upscale kosher wine producer Covenant Wines. These kosher spirits are the result of Rudd’s decision to task the distillery to produce white liquors that could be enjoyed by observant Jews during Passover.

No. 209’s regular gin and vodka are made from corn ethanol, but grain-based alcohols are prohibited during Passover, because they are considered chametz, or leavened. In other words they’re the same as bread, which observant Jews are not allowed to own or consume during Passover.

The kosher gin and vodka, released in 2010 and 2012, respectively, are the work of No. 209’s “ginerator,” Arne Hillesland, and Covenant associate winemaker Jonathan Hadju. They’re produced under Orthodox Union (O-U) kosher supervision. Both are based on sugar cane, the same base used by Caribbean distillers to produce the white rum known as Rum Agricole

The vodka is a four times, column-distilled base spirit that is filtered through activated charcoal and combined with what the distillery claims is snowmelt from Sierra Nevada Mountains. Tasted chilled and straight, it’s smooth and sweet with no aftertaste. A 750 ml bottle retails for about $30.

Producing a kosher-for-Passover gin was more problematic. Not only could the distillers not use grain, but they also had to pass on several key botanicals that are not Passover approved. As gin fanciers know, it’s the botanicals that make gin, gin. Using the same sugar cane base spirit as used for the vodka, 209’s distillers used Juniper as required by law, but also eight to eleven different botanicals that all adhere strictly to Kosher dietary law. The juniper, from Tuscany, is blended with bergamot orange from Calabria, California bay leaf from Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder, lemon peel from Spain, cassia bark from Indonesia, angelica root from the United Kingdom and coriander seeds from Romania. Cardamom, an essential flavoring in 209’s regular gin, also was forbidden by the Orthodox Union, so the distillers recreated the flavor profile using the bay leaf and other botanicals.

Tasted neat, powerful, but delightfully sweet aromatics of the OU-okayed gin gave way to citrus notes, some sweetness, herbs and a pepper spiciness on the palate. The juniper is subdued. Nevertheless, still quite nice.  A 750 ml bottle sells for $35-$46 at spirits shops throughout the New York metropolitan area, and across the country.

Need a kosher for Passover dry vermouth to make a martini? No problem Kedem, the kosher wine behemoth, makes one.


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Thanks for an amazing first year

As marks its first anniversary beer has become the topic of choice.

What a year it’s been! Corks, Caps and Taps was launched just a year ago.

In that time I’ve written 81 posts —  this will be No. 82 . Not bad considering that this is just a part-time thing.

And, there have been 13,381 visits to the blog and 18,251 pages  have been viewed. More than three quarters of you are from the U.S., largely concentrated in metro New York — not a surprise, really. I’ve written about beer, wine, spirits and cider over the past year. Judging by the numbers, readers mostly have enjoyed reading about beer. And there will plenty more on that ahead.  I’ll be traveling this week to the American Brewers Association Conference in Washington, DC and writing about what American craft brewers  are up to.

To be sure, I haven’t forsaken my wine loving friends or those who prefer spirits.  They’ll get their due — as they happen. The craft beer world, it seems, is much more active.

I thank you for your readership and continued support.  I’m looking forward to another amazing year.

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Tasting notes: The ‘Odds of March’

Beware the Ides of March. These words from a soothsayer to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, with a slight twist may be appropriate for beer drinkers as well.

Today, for this Ides of March, I’ve put together tasting notes on some recently sampled brews that I’ve dubbed “The Odds of March,” because of the unusual ingredients that the brewers have chosen to include in their recipes, among them bacon, chili peppers, coconut, garlic, hazelnut flour, wattle seeds and an entire rack of spices.

These are the odds of March,

These are the odds of March,

You’ve got to hand it to American brewers for their willingness to experiment. But why must they foist these brews on us in large bottles that are sold at outrageous prices? Some the brews in this tasting are available only in 750 ml bottles that cost around $20 each — some more.

A few of these beers were enjoyable. Others were difficult to either swallow or to even overcome the notion of putting a glass to one’s lips.  But I did—with some friends in a tasting group known as Long Islanders for Fermentation Enjoyment.  Many in the group found the tasting altogether interesting, but some of the beers less than enjoyable.

Here are my tasting notes:

Fantastic Voyage from Perennial Artisinal Ales, of St. Louis, Mo., an 8.8 percent imperial milk stout brewed with coconut. A mellow, creamy smooth, opaque dark brown brew with chocolate on the nose and notes of roasted coffee mingling with hints of coconut.

Maracaibo Especial by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales of Ann Arbor, Mich. Is this 7.5% brew an American brown ale or an abbey brown ale?  I’d have to go with the latter, given the Belgian-style flavorings – cacao, cinnamon and orange peel used in this oak-aged brew. Cloudy amber in color with notes of cinnamon and apple on those, it comes across as yeast, spicy and extremely tart.

Birra Etrusca Bronze, a Dogfish Head collaboration with Italy’s Birra del Borgo and Birrificio Baladin.  This is an herbed, spiced beer brewed using a recipe based on the analysis of residue recovered from drinking vessels found in 2,800-year-old Etruscan tombs in Italy. Its ingredients include raisins, hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chestnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey. A handful of whole-flower hops were added, but Dogfish Head attributes the bulk of the bitterness to gentian root and the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin.  This copper hued brew offered up aromas that first suggested bubblegum, but soon turned to Patchouli, the musty scent popular in the Hippie era. On the palate, I can detect some sweet malt, but overall this is more like sipping dry, liquid incense.

Urkontinent, also from Dogfish Head, is an 8.1 percent Belgian-style dubbel based on Pilsner, Munich and chocolate malts and Belgian dark candi syrup. But any similarity to a Belgian dubbel ends there. To the grain bill, Dogfish Head has added wattle seed, toasted amaranth from South America, green rooibos from Africa, myrica gale from Europe and Hiveplex Honey from California. Quite a mix, but somehow it works to make a pleasant brew that’s medium brown with a mocha-colored head. There’s chocolate on the nose and a creamy nuttiness on the palate and flavors that recall chocolate-colored cherries.

Smoking Wood, an imperial, smoked, barrel-aged rye-based porter from The Bruery, of San Diego, Calif. This 13 percent brew, was concocted with malt smoked over beech and cherry woods and was aged in rye whiskey barrels. This is a dark opaque brown brew with a smoky, somewhat medicinal nose. Hints of vanilla and strong alcohol notes.  I’d love to revisit this after a few years of aging, when I believe it will mellow out.

Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Porter from Rogue Ales, Newport, Ore.  Reviews elsewhere give this beer either raves or rants. I’m with the latter group.  This 5.6 percent smoked beer named for the bacon maple donut popular at an Oregon donut chain is made with Briess cherry-wood smoked malt, Weyermann beech-wood smoked malt, house-smoked hickory malt, Great Western 2 Row, Munich, C15, C75 malts; apple wood-smoked bacon, pure maple flavoring and Rogue’s homegrown Revolution & Independent hops. Copper colors, there are aromas of French toast, bacon and maple.  Suggestive of a Denny’s breakfast in a glass, only one word comes to mind: Ugh!

Mama Mia Pizza Beer, a sessional 4.6 percent brew made with oregano, basil, tomato and garlic by Sprecher Brewery, Milwaukee. Appropriately named, this golden brew reeks of oregano, garlic and spicy tomato sauce.  It finishes dry. I doubt I could sip too much of this, but it’s okay as far as novelty beers go.

Ghost Face Killer from Twisted Pine Brewing, of Boulder, Colo.  If you can remember Ed’s Cave Creek Chili Beer from the 90s, this is nothing like it.  Ed’s had a simple jalapeno character.  This 5 percent beer, however, is brewed with six peppers: Anaheim, Fresno, Jalapeno, Serrano, Habanero and Bhut Jolokia. The last also is known as the ghost pepper; it offers 200 times the heat of jalapeno. The brewers say they had to wear masks and gloves to cut the peppers up for the mash. Pale gold in color, there the scent of raw peppers hot the nose. On the palate, this is a beer with hot sauce lighting up your mouth from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat. It’s a heat that lingers and lingers.  For those game enough to try it, small sips only are recommended.

Have you tried any of these? What do you think?

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Signs of spring: New beer standouts at the Long Island Craft Brewers Festival

Katie Joos taps a cask of Great South Bay Brewings' supper dry hopped  Massive IPA with Condzella hops

Katie Joos taps a cask of Great South Bay Brewings’ super dry hopped Massive IPA with Condzella hops, one of several special kegs available.

It was the first sign of the season: the Spring Craft Beer Festival at Long Island’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Beer fest logo

After days of rain and cool temperatures, on March 9 the sun shone bright, the sky was blue and the temperatures more moderate. Inside the Coliseum’s sprawling exhibition hall, bright smiles abounded on the faces of brewery reps and volunteers pouring beer and on the hundreds of attendees sampling their wares

And what wares. There were perhaps a hundred beers from more than 50 brewers— some of them familiar, many less so. A few brands were new to the region, among them Dark Horse, Horney Goat and Redd’s Apple Ale. Discovering new breweries and tasting exciting new products makes attending festivals, such as this event, produced by Starfish Productions of Bay Shore, worthwhile.

Volunteer Rich Thatcher of LI Beer & Malt Enthusiasts is all smiles as he pours Pabst Blue Ribbon

Volunteer Rich Thatcher of Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts is all smiles as he pours Pabst Blue Ribbon beer,

And while there were ciders, too, plus jerkies of all sorts, hot sauces, cigars, t-shirts and beer collectibles, beer, of course, was the star of the show. Among the brightest examples, at least for me:

— Reserve Special Black Ale by Dark Horse Brewery of Marshall, Mich., a rich roasty example of the style.

— Crooked Tree IPA, another Dark Horse entry. A big chewy, golden brew that screamed hops with some malt to back the big hop profile and a winey finish.

Euphoria, a 9% abv Belgian-style strong ale from Ruckus Brewing, a Manhattan-based contract brewer that plans to open in Allentown, Penn. Hazy gold in color, this delicious brew was smooth as silk and it’s high alcohol level deceptive.

New Burton IPA by Newburgh Brewing Co.  A balanced, British style brew.

Brown Ale by Newburgh Brewing Co. A deep brown, chewy brew with roasty notes and a bittersweet finish.

Saison by Newburgh Brewing Co, A cloudy golden brew with a spicy nose. Dry and herbal.

Fire Down Below, an Irish red ale by Spider Bite Beer Co.  It’s amber and it’s amply hopped as per the brewery’s trademark style.

Silver Anniversary Lager by Brooklyn Brewery.  A beautiful, well-balance 9% abv doppelbock that was among the best beers I sampled.  It’s an amber, full-bodied brew with sweet, juicy malt and caramel flavors intertwined with hops.

Timmerman’s Strawberry Lambic by Brewery Anthony Martin. Some Belgian Lambics are too sweet or too fruity. This pink-gold hued brew offered up a delicate strawberry nose and on the palate reminded me of strawberries and cream and surprisingly, no cloying sweetness.

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Long Island vineyard’s Kickstarter campaign exceeds goal; 2 weeks remain

The owners of a Southold, Long Island vineyard seeking $15,000 in crowd-sourced funds to plant an acre of “weird” grapes have exceeded their goal with more than two weeks to go.

Aided by a press bonanza that included an article on the online-edition of the Wall Street Journal   as well a story in this blog, the owners of Southold Farm & Cellar thus far have received 123 pledges for a total of $22,135 that will allow them to plant an acre of Teroldego grapes—and more.

The owners, Regan and Carey Meador, announced March 11 that if they add another 100 backers before their Kickstart campaign runs its course, the will allow the group to vote on the next variety of “weird” grapes. “The more people talking about and supporting what we’re doing, the more effect it can have influencing folks in the marketplace whether they are a new wine lover or a vineyard owner considering what to plant,” Regan Meador said on his Kickstarter page. “ We have all the confidence in the world we can hit this goal … ”

The Meadors, hoping to bring diversity to the Long Island wine market, plan to plant Teroldego, a red Italian variety grown primarily in the northeastern region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Süditrol, Italy, and other less-popular varieties, among them Syrah, Lagrein, Goldmuskateller, Albariño and Marsanne.

They’ve called their Kickstarter campaign, “Bring Weird Grapes to the North Fork”.

Meador estimated the cost of planting one acre of grapes at $15,000, excluding land costs, with another $5,000 a year per acre, to keep the vines growing.


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March 9 Nassau Coliseum Spring Craft Beer Festival to feature 50 breweries

Beer fest logoTickets still available for popular Long Island brewers fest.

Hard to believe it’s been seven years since the first Spring Craft Beer Festival at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island.

The March 9 event, put on by Starfish Junction Productions, always draws a huge crowd.

This year, more than 50 craft brewers from around the country will be pouring samples of more than 100 brews in the venue’s 60,000-square-foot exhibition hall.

A handful of breweries will be offering special kegs at select times during each session. Among them: Goose Island Bourbon Barrel Stout and Big John Imperial Stout, Great South Bay Massive IPA with hops from the Condzella farm in Calverton and Harpoon Director’s Cut.

There also will be samples of homebrews produced by members of the Long Island Beer & Malt Enthusiasts club.

Tickets remain available online for both the afternoon and evening sessions, but once sold out no tickets will be sold at the door.  The first session runs from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.; the second from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Advance tickets are $45 and tickets at the door, if available will be $55. Designated drivers get in for $12. The times can be found at this link.

Food will be available for purchase during each session.

Attendees must by 21 or older to attend and must show a valid photo ID at the door.

Are you going?  Look for me at the afternoon session.

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