BREAKING NEWS FLASH: I guess I should have checked the Virginia ABC website last night before I posted this, but INDEED Founders KBS has received label approval in the Commonwealth, meaning that the distributor, Hop & Wine Beverage, LLC, should be able to start shipping to NoVa retailers within the next day or so.

BTW, the official name of the beer in Virginia is: KBS HIGHLY ACCLAIMED FLAVORED STOUT ALE BREWED WITH CHOCOLATE & COFFEE IN BOURBON BARRELS. Ahhhhh, bureaucracy!

You heard it here first (probably)!


(The following was originally posted 11:30 p.m., Sunday, June 6, 2010)

Is that light we see at the end of the tunnel concerning the long-awaited release of Founders KBS in Northern Virginia or is it just a steam engine racing toward us to dash our dreams to bits?

A knowledgeable source informed me late last week that officials at the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has given the green light to whatever was holding up KBS on their end and that the Virginia ABC officials should be able to take action soon to allow the sale of the Michigan bourbon-barrel-aged, chocolate-oatmeal imperial stout formerly known as “Kentucky Breakfast Stout” in the commonwealth in the very near future.

When will that be, you may ask? Well, the Beermudgeon got out of the prognostication game a long time ago, especially when it deals with predictioning when (or how) a governmental bureaucracy will act. But we’ve got our fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, think of it this way — the beer’s distributor, Hop & Wine Beverage, LLC, is aging the beer for us in their lovely, temperature-controlled warehouse in Sterling, Va., at no added cost (we hope). When we finally get it, it should be quite lovely.


Maybe I’m a little late coming to this party, but I’ve been reading about a nascent battle brewing among the people who deign to be the gatekeepers of beer terminology and I thought I’d wade in with my two cents.

To wit: Should dark, hoppy ales such as Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, Southern Tier Iniquity and Laughing Dog Dogzilla be called Black IPAs or Cascadian Dark Ales?

First of all, the obvious answer: Who cares? But that shuts off the conversation and would make for a boring column. So how about this?

The naming of beer styles seems full of nonsensical or outdated terms already. Is a “barleywine” made from squeezing the juice from kernels of barley? Does an India Pale Ale come from India? Or must it be brewed for the India market to be authentic? What about Russian Imperial Stouts? The Czars have been gone for nearly a century — where’s the empire? And what about the application of the word “imperial” to just about every style to connote extra strength or hoppiness? What the heck is an “imperial mild” anyway?

Terrapin Capt'n Krunkles Black IPA

Terrapin Capt'n Krunkles Black IPA

So, I guess that’s my way of saying that despite the apparent oxymoron of a “black India pale ale,” I don’t really see a problem. First of all, I think most people refer to the style as “black IPA” rather than “black India pale ale.” The thought of “pale” really doesn’t enter into it. Second, anyone who already knows what an IPA is can immediately grasp what a “black IPA”  is — a hoppy, dark ale. Beyond the minor semantic conundrum, it’s very straightforward. No more confusing than, say, “plastic glass” or “jumbo shrimp” or “military intelligence.” (My apologies to the late, great George Carlin.)

Now, for the suggested alternative: Cascadian Dark Ale. This raises several questions: What is “Cascadia”? Who wants to order a “CDA”? And, most important — what does it taste like? “Cascadia” apparently is an appellation taken by denizens of the upper Northwest U.S. around the Cascade Mountain chain, an area also known for hop growing. But not the only place for hops. Lots of breweries around the country are starting to grow their own hops. so, already, the “Casacadian” nomenclature falls apart. Honestly, this seems mostly like an attention-grab on the part of those who live in Oregon and southern Washington. Nonsensical to the rest of the world and unlikely to gain any significant traction.

For a middle-ground compromise, how about “India Non-pale Ale” or India Not-pale Ale (INA)? Nahhhhh, this, as with most compromises, leaves an acrid taste in the mouth.

Let’s leave the bitterness to the beer, not the name.

For those of you interested in the continuing travails of Founders KBS in Virginia, here is the “real scoop” as provided by Founders Brewing Co. President Mike Stevens, posted to Beer Advocate on April 22:

“We had made a label change on KBS that forced us to re-submit for label approval at the federal level. Our first attempt for approval was denied and we had to make further changes. Those changes have been made and re-submitted yet again. The delay has been at the fed level and not the state. We have hired an attorney in DC to help expidite this approval and expect we should see that approval with in 1-2 weeks. After this we need to submit it to VA for acceptance. I am not worried about any delay at the state level as the state simply approves all submittals that have been approved by the feds so this turn around is literally days. My hope is that KBS can be released for sale in the next 2-4 weeks. Sorry for the delay and hopfully we can fix this problem quickly.

Mike Stevens
Founders Brewing Co.”

Dear Sam and all the Off-Centered peeps at Dogfish Head Brewing:

I am sure you don’t remember me, but we have met on several occasions, most notably at RFD and the Brickskeller in Washington, D.C., and the first-ever SAVOR event held in D.C. in 2008. I own a copy of your book, Brewing Up a Business, I’ve toured the Milton brewery, I’ve visited the Rehobeth brewpub on several occasions, I enjoy trying all of your beers at least once and I was an earlier adopter of your Alehouse restaurants in the D.C. area.

I especially enjoy Aprihop, 90 Minute IPA (more on that later), Festina Peche and the so-called 75 Minute IPA (at the restaurants). Raison’ d’Etre is also delicious and a great (make that superior) alternative to an unnamed bicycle-based beer from Colorado, in my humble opinion. To put it more succinctly, I like Dogfish Head. More to the point, I want to like Dogfish Head.

But …

I became beer manager at a prominent wine and beer store in Alexandria, VA, in October 2008, where Dogfish Head has been one of the best selling brands for years. All the beer-geeknoscenti (my affectionate term) count on us to get all the new releases when they become available. Regular customers who are Dogfish Head heads follow your online release schedule and expect us to have your beers when the schedule says they will be there. And, of course, they expect the year-round beers to be on our shelves, well, year-round. Unfortunately, that has become a bit of a crapshoot over the past year or so.

As of this writing, I haven’t been able to order Palo Santo Marron since mid-February and it has been out of stock since early March. 90 Minute IPA has been unavailable from our distributor for more than a month and this isn’t the first time that we have had to go for extended stretches without 90 Minute. Your so-called “occasional rarieties” have been even more problematic. Beginning with the release of Sah’tea last year (for which I had to wait for more than a month after your local rep assured me that it would be delivered the next day), these releases seem to be more and more off-schedule and, more importantly, in increasingly shrinking amounts. When we receive things like Burton Baton, Olde School Barleywine and Immort Ale, we are told that we can get one or two cases maximum at a time. This means that I can either sell 12 4-packs of Burton or 48 individual bottles every four months or so, leaving many of my (and your) loyal customers emptyhanded. Personally, I’d rather you released Burton once a year in amounts that would satisfy all my customers instead of dribbling out a case or two per store and forcing me to play umpire.

I am somewhat at a loss to understand this, let alone explain this to our customers. Is the brewery trying to produce too many different beers without sufficient capacity? Is it trying to reach too many new markets without providing enough beers for its already-established customer base? Has Dogfish Head become more of a culture of personality than a craft brewery concerned more about getting an article in The New Yorker or putting on bocce ball tournaments or opening Manhattan beer bars than it is about making quality beers that its customers can drink?

I guess the point I am trying to make here is that we retailers are your frontline troops. If you don’t supply us with your ammunition, we get killed or we use someone else’s ammo. If someone comes in asking for 90 Minute IPA, for the last month I have to tell them we can’t get any from the brewery and suggest that they try somthing else, such as New Holland Imperial Hatter or Founders Double Trouble or Avery Maharaja or Oskar Blues Gubna, etc. etc.

Popularity is a two-edged sword. It’s great when everyone is asking or your products, but it’s frustrating to customers and sellers alike when we can’t supply your coveted brews in a timely manner. Is it asking for too much? I hope not.

Very Truly Yours,

The Beermudgeon

Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

After a hard day of tasting wines at the Siema/Vino 50 event in downtown DC, one, of course, must wind down with beer before heading home. I found myself walking down Seventh Street NW to the relatively new Iron Horse Tap Room where they have a fairly impressive tap list, including Victory’s Golden Monkey, Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute IPA, and, the topic of this posting, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout.

This is no beer for the beginners or the faint of heart. Weighing in at a huge 13 percent ABV, this is a beer that is proud of its alcohol content. It makes no pretense to hide it. Rich and luxurious, with a full bourbon-ey vanilla nose, accentuated by hints of coffee and chocolate, this is a beer to be savored, not quaffed. Tasted from the tap, it is clear that the bottle that is waiting in my beer cellar will have to wait for several months before seeing the light of day.

Perhaps next winter, my friend.

“My Oberon! What visions have I seen!”
— Shakespeare, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” Act IV, Scene 1

Summer in a bottle!

In my last major posting, I was, perhaps, a bit too Beermudgeonly in my comments toward Old Dominion Brewing Co. My intent with this blog is not just to talk negatively about things, but to also accentuate the positive (to steal a phrase). And what more positive can we discuss than the Beer of Summer, Bell’s Oberon?

Oberon and I go back … back … back … (sorry, Chris Berman),  to when it wasn’t even called Oberon. What’s that, you say? That’s right, originally the quintessential American wheat ale was known as “Solsun” back in the early 1990s, until the makers of “Sol,” the Mexican cervesa, sued for copyright infringement and, rather than waste a lot of money fighting the battle, Bell’s changed the name. (Geez, what am I, a history teacher or something?) Anywho, that’s how we got Oberon, named after the king of the fairies in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

So, what about the beer? It’s traditionally released the last week of March by the Kalamazoo (O.K., Comstock), Mich., brewery and generally is available until mid-September, although it is available year-round in Florida. As I said before, I find it to be the quintessential American wheat beer — not a Belgian wit, not a German hefeweizen, but an entirely American creation. Until recently when other breweries have tried to duplicate or steal some of Oberon‘s success (I’m talking to you, Leinenkugel‘s Sunset Wheat), perhaps its only peer was Widmer’s ironically named Hefeweizen.

Oberon is an unfiltered wheat beer, meaning that when poured, you get a somewhat cloudy, golden brew in your glass that has a citrusy aroma and a rich-yet-light flavor that says “summer.” (Sorry, don’t know how else to describe it. It you are looking for flowery descriptors such as those you would find in Wine Advocate, you’ve come to the wrong place.) One serving suggestion that I do have: before you pour the last inch of the bottle into your glass, swirl it around to release the wheat and yeast sediment that have settled at the bottle of the bottle — the schmegees, as I like to call them — and pour them into the glass for the proper cloudiness. As Larry Bell himself was once quoted, “If God had meant us to drink filtered beer, he wouldn’t have given us livers.” (Or something like that.) Finally, though the purists may scoff, I’m not averse to adding a wedge of lemon or orange to the brew, especially on a very hot summer day.

The Wall of Oberon

This year’s Oberon, sampled immediately after it was off-loaded the delivery truck, is the same as it ever was — bright, cheery and summery. Which brings up the final issue I will address: Does Oberon vary from year to year? Some beer snobs … I mean geeks … I mean aficionados, claim they can tell differences from year to year. But according to the only source I trust on the subject, Mr. Larry Bell, the Oberon recipe is the same today as it always has been. The only possible variation could come from nuances in the different batches of wheat or hops used in the brewing process (but when I suggested even that to Larry, all I got was an eye roll). If you want to claim your palate is so finely tuned that you can tell the differences in different wheat crops, fine, go ahead. You’re a better person than I, I guess.  Me, I’ll just sit back, crack another Oberon and ENJOY.

Oberon Cometh!

Posted: March 30, 2010 in Stuff about beer
Tags: , ,

Just a quick note to say that Bell’s Oberon Ale, which I personally consider to be summertime in a bottle, is being released this week and will hit the shelves of my store, Rick’s Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, on Wednesday.

Oberon Minikeg Art

Bell's Oberon Ale: Summertime in a bottle

We’ll be holding a special tasting of Oberon as soon as it arrives, so come on by a have a sample and pick up your first six-pack of the season!