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Off to the races

Jon Clancy Photography

Jon Clancy Photography

If you’re interested in beer (who isn’t?) and running (who is?), then you might want to check out the Craft Brew Races on Saturday, Aug. 1, in New Haven. It will be at Edgewood Park at the corner of West Rock and Whalley avenues. The race starts at noon and the fest runs from 12:30 to 4 p.m.

It’s the second time the 5K road race — followed by a craft beer festival — will occur in The Elm City. Companies such as Samuel Adams, The Traveler Beer Co., and Sketchers sponsor the race/drink series. There are others all around the country, including Austin, Tex.; Boulder, Colo.; and Newport, RI.

“Each Craft Brew Race makes a donation to a local non-profit organization and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance” in New Haven, according to a press release from Gray Matter Marketing, which also sponsors the event.

As for beer, the event features more than 45 breweries, 30 of which hail from Connecticut. Some slated to appear include Two Roads, Beer’d, Kent Falls, Stony Creek, Firefly Hollow, New England Brewing, and brewery-to-be, No Worries.

There will be food trucks, local vendors, and live music to digest as well, with parking at Southern Connecticut State University, lots 8 and 9 on Farnham Avenue.

Courtesy of Gray Matter Marketing

Courtesy of Gray Matter Marketing

Registering for the race and festival onsite costs $65. The festival by itself costs $55 at the gate. However, it’s cheaper to buy before July 31. For more information, go to www.craftbrewraces.com/newhaven/.

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Among all to choose from, which CT beer should I bring?

A selection of (mostly) CT beer from Bottle Stop in Torrington, Conn.

A selection of (mostly) CT beer from Bottle Stop in Torrington, Conn.

After 10 hours of driving I just have a couple more to go before I reach Asheville, NC. That’s where the Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference is being held this year. And if you think bringing a gift to a friend who has everything is pressure, you can sort of imagine how I felt when I needed to choose a Connecticut beer for our bottle share.

There are plenty of choices, at least compared to how CT beer was just five or six years ago. So many questions: Would they want to try something exotic? Do they want the most bitterest of bitter? Do they want the one with the weirdest ingredients? Bottle or can?

In the end I didn’t overthink it. I went toBottle Stop in Torrington and scanned my choices (see picture). I chose the Ginga’ Ninja by Black Hog of Oxford, and because it’s my favorite, the Porter by Back East.

Looking forward to a fun few days!

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Beer Bloggers Conference 2015

Beer Bloggers Conference

Just a day away and I’m packed for the annual Beer Bloggers and Writers conference. This year it’s in Asheville, NC, an amazing city for beer. I’ll be spending three days with like-minded writers and drinkers. I’ve gleaned a bit about them over the year via Twitter, but now I’ll have a chance to learn from them during panels, network with fellow authors. I plan to update my blog to reflect my experiences. Stay tuned.

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Rediscovering 1984’s “The Great Beer Trek”

Stephen Morris' "The Great Beer Trek" (photo from Amazon.com)

Stephen Morris’ “The Great Beer Trek” (photo from Amazon.com)

Back in 1984, Stephen Morris wrote a travel book — Amazon (The Stephen Greene Press) — that’s funny and conversational in tone, with just the right amounts of statistics and historical context to feed the mind without weighing it down. The topic? Beer. Or more specifically, as the subtitle denotes, “A Guide to the Highlights and Lowlites of American Beer Drinking.”

He took his journey, roughly from Boston to Yakima, Washington, with his pregnant wife and dog (Guinness) in a Chevy van. It’s a rather regimented journey that takes him throughout New England, down to the “wastelands” (his word) of the Southeast, though the Midwest, down to Southern California and up the coast to the Pacific Northwest. Morris, with whimsical illustrations by Vance Smith, meets brewers, brewery owners, and die-hard drinkers to create a snapshot of the macro- and micro-brewery scene was like in the late 70s to early 80s.

What a world away it seems from today, where you can’t drive a 100 miles before hitting a few breweries along the way. In the world of the original Great Beer Trek (there’s a revised version from 1990 that I have not read), you get the feeling of despair throughout: the best days of America are behind them here, with nothing but rotting or stumbling hulks of breweries to remind us of glory days past. The independent breweries that do exist are under darkening clouds of purchase from breweries like Anheuser-Bucsh, Stroh, Schlitz, and Heileman. The book reminds me of Blue Highways by William Least-Heat Moon (1982), in that it’s about trying to rediscover an America that seems to be fading into some sort of collective imagination.

Morris peppers his story with little profiles of important figures in American beer history: F.X. Matt II, Rudolph Schaefer Jr., and even revered beer writer Will Anderson. He does his best to get past the supposed grandeur of Big Beer, and is even sympathetic of the large breweries that were taking over the landscape.

While in Wisconsin, Morris chats with Bill Leinenkugel, who invites the author to take part in a taste test. Morris noted Leinenkugel’s “competitive curiosity” about the other beers that Morris had tasted on his journey. He wanted to know how they tasted in comparison to his. “There are too few independent brewers to anyone to wish anyone else ill,” Morris writes. “None of the small brewer’s beers are sold in the other’s market, so there is no real competition. Within a context of mutual support, however, each one wants to be the best. Man has an innate need to strive for excellence, and the need finds its finest opportunity for expression in the field of brewing.”

I came across the book at a tag sale, and it caught my eye because I wished I’d read or even heard about it months ago when I was putting together my own book about Connecticut beer. I would have used some of Morris’ observations about Hull’s Brewing in New Haven, which had just become defunct when he was writing the book. He expresses a sense of responsibility for the demise of the beer that he made jokes about while growing up and drinking it. “No need to search deeply for the cause of Hull’s ignominious demise,” Morris writes. “I murdered Hull. Who scorned the local beer in favor of the more prestigious national brands and imports. Who made jokes about Hull’s ‘Export Piss?’ Who assumed there would always be a local beer associated with old school days?”

I certainly recommend tracking this book down if you’re interested in the history of American beer, or if you just want to be taken for a fun ride in a Chevy van with a dog named Guinness.

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Standing still at the brewery

Just hanging out during a Thomas Hooker open house on June 5.

Just hanging out during a Thomas Hooker open house on June 5.

It’s be a fun month of book promotion, and not because I’m filling a swimming pool with cash from all my sales. It’s been fun because I’ve been able to be a solitary figure, oftentimes just silent and unobtrusive, observing people drinking and making merry.

Let me give you an example. It’s a busy Saturday afternoon at Shebeen Brewing in Wolcott. I’m set up in a large room with communal tables, sitting on a high stool behind a table filled with copies of my new book, “Connecticut Beer: A History of Nutmeg State Brewing” (The History Press). After trading niceties with owner Rich Visco and some staff members, I’m left with my wife to just… hang out. We’d just driven up from New Jersey, so after three hours in the car we’d already conversed all we’d need to for one day. A few nice folks stopped by the chat, but after a while it was just the two of us, sitting behind a big table, watching people drink.

In a way I felt like a judge, and sort of felt like I needed to rate the merriment. For the loud foursome playing Cards Against Humanity, I’d give an 8 out of 10… that one woman’s laugh dialed it down from a solid 9. The hippy couple bonding over samples of what appear to be the pale ale get a 6; they could use a little more animation.

In other scenarios, like at Overshores Brewing in East Haven, I’m off to the side with my little stack of books. During their anniversary party, I was privy to several conversations, including one about a gent who’s keen on starting up his own brewery. This is one I’ve heard before, but it never fails to excite me too. You get caught up in their energy and confidence.

Meet the author... at House of Books in Kent.

Meet the author… at House of Books in Kent.

Books stores and libraries have a different vibe. They’re much quieter of course, and even though the events I’ve taken part in include beer samples, they never get too rowdy. There, I’m the focus, as in “Meet the Author” (or sometimes, Stare Bemusedly at the Author). But I still get to surreptitiously listen in on broken bits of conversation. I think there’s something about being surrounded by books that puts people on their best behavior, and perhaps makes them feel like what they say needs to be “important.” I’d love for there to be more breweries with bookstores in them; reading and drinking are two things I love to pair.

At Thomas Hooker Brewing in Bloomfield I had a chance to observe a group of bearded guys enter into the most animated of conversations. They were part of the Connecticut Facial Hair Alliance, whose motto is, “Life’s too short to spend time shaving.” By quietly standing back and observing, I got to see a rookie bearded guy mistake (getting foam in your mustache) and a sly veteran’s trick (he brought his own straw for samples).

So if you see me at an event and I’m standing behind my pile of books looking out of it, I’m really just taking it all in.

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The book tour is on

It’s been a blast so far promoting “Connecticut Beer.” I’ve been to Overshores Brewing in East Haven, Shebeeen Brewing in Wolcott, and Backstage in Torrington. I’ve been to Thread City Hop Fest in Willimantic, and today I’ll be in Goshen at the Celebrate Northwest Connecticut Festival.

This week is busy too: I’ll be at Prospect Public Library with Matt Westfall of New England Brewing Company doing a reading, talk, and tasting.

There’s more to come. Just keep an eye on the Twitter and my events section of the blog.

Sip well!

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The books have arrived

books in boxes

It looks like it’s going to be a busy week for me. Now that the advance copies of Connecticut Beer (The History Press) have arrived, it’s all so very real that I’ve reached another milestone in this journey. My plan is to lug these puppies all over the state looking for people with the good taste and foresight to purchase them.

The next step is promotion, and I’m looking forward to a fun night on Wednesday at City Steam Brewing. At 6 p.m. I’ll be signing books with Ron Page, the brewer there who also wrote the forward to the book. On Friday, I’ll be down in Branford, signing at their first-anniversary party, then on Saturday I’ll be in Wolcott, signing at Shebeen Brewing’s second anniversary party. I’ll be wrapping up the weekend on Sunday at the Thread City Brewfest in Willimantic.

Last week I had a chance to talk to Leeanne Griffin, who writes for the Hartford Courant and CT Now; it was a bit weird to be on the other side of the interview, but she’s a pro and I think it went well. Now I get to feel like my subjects do and wait for the story to hit the web and get inked.

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Getting ready for the big release

It’s less than a month to go before the big release. “Connecticut Beer” (The History Press) is set to hit the shelves (real and virtual) on Monday, April 27. I’ve been in full party-planning mode for a few days now. I’ve been approaching promotion much like I did the writing of the book: create an Excel file of possible events and reach out to contacts.

I’m not alone in this venture, luckily. I’ll be working with a representative from Arcadia Publishing, which owns the History Press.

Our first event is two days after the release. On Wednesday, April 29th, at City Steam in Hartford, we’ll be having a signing and toasting to the great Connecticut brewers that help make our state’s beer happen. See you there!

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‘Connecticut Beer’ book update

Connecticut Beer cover

I’m very excited to say that things are getting real here in terms of Connecticut Beer (The History Press). My contact at Arcadia Publishing, which owns The History Press, has contacted me about getting media exposure and planning book signings and other events. All that’s left is to sign off on some copyedits that I (and some dedicated friends) made.

The publishing target date remains April 27th, and the book is already available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

I’ll share more details as they come, including book signing parties, collaborations with other authors, and any coverage of the book. Thank you for your support, and I hope you consider buying Connecticut Beer!

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Beer containers of the near future (a listicle)

In the cyclical world of beer, it was inevitable that cans would be the popular vessel again. Everyone’s aware of their ability to economically shield beer from dreaded, skunking light. Everyone loves to take them to picnics and ballgames. Everyone loves to pop a top.

It seems as if the future of beer containers is not at all returning to tradition. The question is: which of these will enter the regular rotation with bottles and cans and glasses?

1. The bladder

You’re at a party and enjoying a great conversation. In one hand you’ve got a paper plate of pasta salad and in the other… a pint of a freshly poured double IPA. You’re trying to concentrate on what the woman with the smoky eye shadow is saying, but all the time you’re thinking, “This conversation would be going so much better if I could drink this beer, eat this food, and listen to this woman talk about ottomans, in that order.” Alas, you’re living in the present, and that’s not going to happen.

Clearly, you are not alone, and there’s a movement afoot to follow in the footsteps of cyclists when it comes to refreshment. Breweries are already road testing the bladder at bike shops from Santa Monica to San Diego. Marketing the bladder  — it’s basically a cold temp-controlled, kidney shaped sack that you wear over your shoulder like a backpack — has been a bit of a challenge. First of all, there’s the name (Mango Brewing keeps calls it “the sack” without much additional popularity). Continue reading