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Peter LaFrance

Friday, July 23, 2010

Call of The Wild


The brewers of Brussels, incorporating indigent yeasts and microbes in their fermenting process, produce a sour beer that defines the word “unique”. These beers are called Lambic and Geuze (a blend of Lambic beers aged in wood casks), and are famous world-wide today. These are truly the wildest beers available.

In the same way that the aromas of banana and cloves mark a wheat beer as Bavarian, the unique sour beer tang of the Lambic is the mark of the genuine item.

The appeal of these brews for mature the drinker is in the sharp sour tang that is the unique character of these brews. This flavor also acts as an aperitif and appetite enhancer. Younger drinkers perceive the flavors as exciting and relish the jolt the sour notes deliver. They also appreciate the rather hefty alcohol by volume content. This same “warmth” is also appreciated by the mature drinker as an after dinner treat when sipped contemplatively.

However, it is only the mature drinker, and only those over a certain age, who can remember beer before the Belgians.

Once, a Belgian bier was a rare treat. The bottled Belgian brews sought by United States beer drinkers in the late 1980’s were limited production products in bottles that were neither 12 oz. or 16 oz. or any other familiar size of beverage bottle. A good number of them didn’t even have labels… just different “coloured” crown caps. This drove importers to distraction when the brewers wouldn’t even consider bottle labels… let alone the labels as regulated by state and federal government agencies in the United States.

And then… a change in marketing “Belgian” beer when Stella Artois was introduced to the United States market.

But that’s another story…


Wednesday, July 21, 2010



The recent mention in the beverage trade press of a “table keg” or “table tap” system has caught the attention of a number of multi-unit casual restaurants. I seem to remember a sports bar in Atlanta, GA for a few years ago tapping that idea and getting mentioned in the same media…

Nevertheless, the concept of fresh brew served from a fresh keg is not a new idea. There is a thing called “cask” beer.

This is beer, or ale, or porter or Lambic or any other fermented malt beverage you beer-police want to be mentioned or not, that is served directly from the container to the glass via gravity from an open tap in the face of the container.

There is an art and science to serving a beverage such as the above mentioned. There is a set of stoppers, pegs, and even engines involved. All of this takes time to get used to if you are serving the brew and even more education if you are going to keep it served at the best it can be served. Knowledge of biology and botany and the life-cycle of yeast are essential if you are a beverage manager and want your customers to enjoy that special beer.

“They have cask beer at my local… How can I be sure it is a real cask beer?”

If it is served from a container familiar to beer drinkers as a wood beer cask or “Firkin” that is sitting at a slight angle behind the bar, and the libation is poured directly to the glass from a tap in the container, it has a good chance of being true cask ale. If there is a trace of yeast in the brew it needs no more identification criteria. Try it…

“This is just like my favorite… just a little more flavor… kinda’ nice though… refreshing…”

Let’s go! Not the real thing my friend…


“This stuff’s cloudy… and a little flat… and it’s not cold… and…”

Shut up. That’s what real beer tastes like.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010



It is almost instinct that prompts my anticipation for cellar-temperature (50F) ale or a keller-temperature (40F) lager-style brew. It is the same instinct tells me that a cheese, fruit or soup is being presented at its optimum temperature. This instinct has been honed by education and experience to a keen appreciation. Nevertheless… there are times when I truly enjoy ice-cold American mass-produced, straw-colored, lager-style, and fizzy beer.

The scenario must be seaside or mountain rural rustic. The experience should be something shared with no more than three other souls, two of whom may be canine.

The subsistence level should be essential and the cuisine hearty, preparation involving little more than boiling, roasting or grilling.

Any of the four seasons, in any intensity, will suffice. However, I prefer either late summer or mid-autumn.

Rather than a rural lifestyle a la Richard Olney, my preference is for a Jack London slice of life.

This is not a reaction to the effete, rather a reflection of affection for the mountains developed during my years at university. There I also developed affection for ice-cold canned malt beverages a la mode.

Combine the rural setting, the tranquil environment and the rustic cuisine and the subtleties of specialty brews loose to the essential quenching properties of an ice-cold beverage with the mild but not debilitating properties of it being a relatively low-level beverage alcohol. This is the beverage that fits into that experience.

And, as I remember it, the song goes… “To everything there is a season and a beer for every purpose under heaven.”



Monday, July 19, 2010

It Tastes Just Like Chicken


“Close your eyes… take a sip and you won’t be able to tell the difference.”

The brand manager was telling me why the fact that his beer, with as much color as a glass of New York City water, was a good beer to drink.

He was right.

Miller Clear Beer tasted just like Miller High Life but without the color.

My question to him was… “Who drinks beer with their eyes closed?”

He had no answer.

This brings me to the observation that although a “beer” can look like many things it should not actually look like water. Water should not taste like the food chemists idea of lemon, lime, cherry or orange. Water should taste like water.

What does water taste like?

Actually there are probably as many “flavors” to water as there are water systems in whatever country, province, state, town or village the water comes from. There is “hard” water, with minerals dissolved in the trip to the surface of the earth, usually a natural spring. However, there are parts of the world where the spring water is saltier or picks up other minerals on the trip from the well to your tap. Of course there are the odors and flavors that water treatment plants add to the ideally “tasteless” beverage.

All of this understood; if the water is ice cold and quaffed with gusto there should be no doubt that it is water you are drinking. If there are flavors they should be trace flavors and not obvious… water should be water.

This brings me back to the Miller Clear Beer.

Yes, it was brewed as a beer is brewed it did not look like a beer.

It looked like water. Eyes wide open, I was expecting water. What I got was what passes for the house-flavors of Miller High Life.

I was confused and my taste buds were also.

When it comes to flavor experiences, any confusion is bad.

It leads to misunderstandings and the next time someone tells you that “It tastes just like chicken.”…

You will never believe them.

Saturday, July 17, 2010




This week beer has made the headlines of news media in the United States and Canada.

The folks in South Carolina had some beer celebrating…


The folks in Chicago made a statement…


and the Canadians know basketball or beer…




Monday, July 12, 2010

Fourth of July Beer... Conclusion


The Fourth of July Beer of 2010 was… Pabst Blue Ribbon in 12 oz. cans, on ice.

Here is how the decision was made.

As I was standing in front of an open cold box that stretched half a city block long, stacked with cases of canned beer, my mind returned to its "Happy Place"...

For some reason, this time it went to the slate and field-stone front porch of the house where I spent my teen-age years. Sheltered by three two story tall cedar trees, it was a refreshing refuge from the slate covered two-story, Tudor-style, non-air-conditioned dwelling that it was attached too. For additional comfort a Pawleys Island rope hammock was strung on a green aluminum frame. (Should the folks be out of town and a cooler filled with equal parts canned Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and ice cubes in easy reach of my hammock haven, there was no better place on earth.) It was a happy place…

That is where my mind landed when a “happy place” was needed at 1400 on 4 July 2010, standing in front of more brands of beer than I could count. I actually made an effort to do that but gave up half way down the length of the cold box. Instead, I focused in on the “suitcase” of the familiar Pabst Blue Ribbon logo and told my beer-brain to go on vacation.

Later, less than fifteen minutes later, handing one to the cook and then taking the first sip from the ice cold can in my own hands, I knew I had made the perfect choice of beer.

True genius!


Friday, July 2, 2010

Fourth of July Beer (3)


One of the advantages of living here in Brooklyn, NY is the access to some of the best beer brewed in the United States and Canada.

I am not saying that Brooklyn Brewery is the best.

The day I find the best of anything will be the saddest day in my life. The search will be over and the thrill of the hunt crushed in the grist mill of reality. However, the reality of the best ever being found is so remote that my fears are left in the trouble basket near the door.

That noted, my point is more to the selection of bars, taverns, bodegas, cafes, and other food and beverage retailers that cater to established distinct neighborhoods that reflect as many diverse cultures as there are in the world.

It is said that there are actually more languages spoken in Brooklyn than in the rest of the world because in a few communities there are folks old enough to have spoken languages that are no longer spoken in their native land.

Those cultures that treasure beer as essential to the good life are represented in the mélange that is Brooklyn, NY. Thus the lagers of Latin and Central America, Western and Southern Africa, and the Caribbean are readily available. The golden richer pilsner-style lagers of Germany and the modern nations of the old Bohemian principalities can be found as easily as the selections offered by the Big Three brewers. There is also a real market for United States “craft” beers that might be the largest in North America.

(So, why are there only one brewpub and three “craft” breweries in all of New York City?)

Knowing all of this I react as anyone in my position would do. Since the cook-out is Sunday and today is Friday I will make a note to “Get beer for cook-out from the wholesaler on Court Street tomorrow.”

And now I will enjoy the rest of a truly beautiful morning…

Stay tuned for more in the search for the ideal beer for a summer cook-out…

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fourth of July Beer ( 2 )


Now that I know the venue (outdoor cook-out in a country environment with a swimming pool), the menu (grilled chopped meat, sausages of beef and pork, chicken parts and the salads and condiments traditional to a cook out), and need (a case of 12 oz. canned beer), all that is left to do is choose a retailer, purchase it and get it to the event.

Did you ever think that choosing a case of beer was so involved?

The parameters to the choice of retailer are accessibility, choices of products and a significant range of price points available. In other words… how much trouble to go get, select and pay for the beer? Here in Brooklyn, within ten city blocks, there are two dozen small groceries, three beverage distributors, and three specialty shops that stock beer in cans.

Most of the small groceries are owned by first or second generation immigrants and are supplied by one or two beverage wholesalers. This limits the selection to products that are fast movers because of major media advertising and promotion. However, in cases of one reason or another, a real beer bargain can be had. A quick scan of a dozen cold boxes or so might result in finding a six of a canned Colorado brew.

For the present that will remain a possibility in my decision-making process. A “sure kill” is what I am looking for. I seek a nearby retailer with a huge selection and a range of prices from a few dollars for a “suitcase” to a four-pack that costs $100.00(US) a “case” of four.

There is one particular retailer that probably fits that description exactly.

Stay tuned, it’s a beauty of a day so I’m on our way…