This is not a beer blog. But we can commiserate with our hops and barley brethren and sist’ren on occasion. (I even posted about French microbrews this summer.) Looking at a recent story about beer is especially important since it sheds light the political construction of alcohol markets in the US.
The Chicago Reader has a cover story about how the owner of Bell’s, a popular beer from Michigan, has withdrawn from the large Chicago market because of distributors. Roll the tape:
Until October Bell’s was distributed in Chicago by Union, which is owned by National Wine and Spirits. (NWS is currently enmeshed in court proceedings; NWS vice president Greg Molloch says a gag order prevents him from commenting for this article.) Bell was happy at NWS. But according to state law, NWS was entitled to sell Bell’s distribution rights to another wholesaler without his approval, and a few months ago it decided to do just that, in a deal with Chicago Beverage Systems— the Miller distributor in Chicago. CBS is part of Reyes Holdings, the biggest beer distributor in America and, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, the biggest privately held company in town.
…People in the industry are skeptical about whether CBS can properly distribute these smaller brands. “What they do, before they started dabbling [in regional beers], they did very well,” says Laura Blasingame at the Map Room. She buys Heineken and Amstel from CBS. “Those brands are hard to mess up. CBS takes care of beers that don’t need as much love. I understand why Larry Bell would be nervous. I don’t know if they really know how to handle craft beer.” CBS officials didn’t answer questions on its approach to distributing craft beer.
State law says that a distributor can drop (or better yet, sell the rights to) a brewery at any time. But outside of identifying “just cause” like gross professional misconduct— such as selling beer past its sell-by date—there’s no easy way for a brewery to dump its distributor.
Check out the whole story. It has sad parallels to the wine biz…
Read it and weep–former coach of the Chicago Bears, Mike Ditka, has a new wine called “Mike Ditka Kick Ass Red.” [wire story]
Assuming that “kick ass” refers to the quality in the bottle and not an alcohol level higher than a Hail Mary, this is the first celebrity wine I’ve ever seen to include a direct testimony to quality on the label. In fact, it even trumps the need to talk about grape varieties! Hmm, $50 a bottle…I guess it’s not for tailgate parties.
UPDATE: the wine is a blend of zinfandel, syrah, petite sirah so it will have heft. A pinot grigio and chardonnay are also planned. No word on whether those are kick ass.
“I realize it’s subjective, but there need to be some guidelines that say, in order for a restaurant to get three stars–and I’m not talking about anyone in particular–you need to have a wine list.” -Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec) in a chef’s roundtable in November’s Chicago magazine. Hmm, nobody in particular? How about Micahel Carlson at Schwa, which is BYOB?!
“Anybody who wouldn’t have a wine program is leaving so much money on the friggin’ table, you’re crazy! That’s where all the money is.” -Charlie Trotter, same roundtable. How long until Michael Carlson gets a lease on a bigger location and gets a wine program?
“Beer, wine and liquor-based concoctions often have profit margins more than double those of food — making them just the ticket for a restaurant’s sagging bottom line. And the timing is right: Americans’ alcohol consumption, after dropping for nearly two decades, is on the rise again — due in large measure to recent effective marketing campaigns by wine and spirits makers.” -Wall Street Journal, 10/12/06
I took time out this week to “get saucy” with David Tamarkin (pictured right) of TimeOut Chicago. Well, I didn’t get too saucy. But we did discuss terroir as well as the business and politics of wine in France and America.
The funny thing is that David hid behind that wine glass the whole time we were talking. It’s a really big glass.
Do you ever wish you could bring your own bottle of wine to a restaurant to improve your selection and lower the tab? One word for you: BYOB. (Actually four letters more than an outright word.) Chicago has the BYOB bounty with a bazillion Thai restaurants, sushi, Mexican, and Indian.
For more traditional wine-food pairings, there are some Italian places and Schwa, where Michael Carlson was named one of the best new chefs of 2006 by Food & Wine magazine.
They’re all on my new map of Chicago BYOB restaurants. Surf on over and get addresses, phone, hours, a satellite view (check the street for parking) and even driving directions! As they say in the finest casual dining locations, “enjoy!”
See the new map of Chicago BYOB:
Holy goose: A Chicago Rabbi invokes the wrath of God if the City Council’s two Jewish members vote to overturn the ban. The measure was passed 48-1 earlier this year. [Sun-Times] Related: Goose gitmo
French women do get fat: A study finds that a third of French woman are overweight. Is it the foie gras? Or fast food? [Daily Mail]
British wine writer Hugh Johnson is against “bodybuilder” wines calling them “boring, without any useful purpose.” They remind him of “steroid-packed bodybuilders, merely made to win competitions.” But what would the Governator say? [Sunday Times]
Getting bigger: the AOC Coteaux de Languedoc also had its boundaries extended taking it a step closer to a regional appellation. But with a new regional AOC Languedoc due to be approved in a few weeks, one wonders why the duplication? [vitisphere]
Four more: The national committee of INAO, the French appellation regulatory body, has granted four more AOCs in the Loire. Enough already with the far-flung regions! How about adding varietal labeling too?
Chicago’s ban on foie gras sales in stores and restaurants went into effect yesterday. On Monday, 676 Restaurant and Bar at the Omni Chicago had an “outlaw dinner,” which included foie gras along with absinthe and hemp seeds, and duck breast sous-vide, a preparation that is currently experiencing a moratorium in NYC. Apparently at least one restaurant in bordering Oak Park is offering a foie gras getaway dinner.
But is the ban really going into effect? Three items for your consideration:
1) Allen Sternweiler of Allen’s The New American Café will file suit against the ban.
2) Didier Durand of Cyrano’s will practice civil disobedience by giving away the foie gras for free and then charging for the garnishes and wine that go with it.
3) The enforcement mechanism of the ban is citizen’s arrest!! “Alderman Moore says the mayor’s office will decide how this law is ultimately enforced, and they will likely rely on citizen complaints.” [CBS2chicago]
I suppressed my gag reflex and visited a foie gras goose farm
Pinotfiles assembled in Chicago over the weekend to assess the state of the grape. We traced its social, economic, and viticutural history across three continents and then tasted that variation in the glass.
We compounded the highly variable nature of the grape with yet another factor: bottle age. I was able to source many older vintage wines for the tasting through a local retailer of fine and rare wines so it was with relish that we could taste pinots with more maturity than you can normally find on the shelves of a local shop.
Although this sample was small, I’m tempted to say that California/Oregon pinots tend not to age as well as Burgundy. The 1997 Landmark was just this side of falling into oblivion. The 1995 Williams-Selyem was still very good with supple elegance but I couldn’t help wondering if it would have been better last year. Or the year before. By contrast the 2002 Stoller Vineyards had excellent fruit and lively spice from the tannins. A year or two might bring more balance to the wine but might it also make it less fun? Should American pinot be consumed in its youth?
Of course as soon as I reach for a generalization more data emerge to trounce it. The day before the big pinot tasting I had a 1997 Ken Wright Cellars, Guadalupe Vineyard (find this wine) that had an excellent finesse and was joy to drink. And a couple of weeks ago, I had a 1998 Dehlinger Pinot Noir (find this wine) that tasted as fruit forward as it did on release.
What are you experiences with aged American pinot?
Joseph Perrier, Champagne, NV Cuvee royale (find this wine)
2004 Whitehaven, Marlborough (find this wine)
1999 Daniel Rion, Vosne-Romanee, Les Beaux-Monts, premier cru (find this wine)
1997 Landmark, Van der Kamp Vineyards, “Grand Detour” (find this wine)
2002 Serafin Pere et fils, Gevrey-Chambertin (find this wine)
2002 Stoller Vineyards, Oregon (find this wine)
2004 Loring, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterrey (find this wine)
1999 Maison Champy, Corton-Bressandes (find this wine)
1995 Williams-Selyem, Allen Vineyard (find this wine)
1990 Domaine Leroy, Savigny-les-Beaune, Les Narbantons, premier cru (find this wine)
The 1997 Landmark, Van der Kamp Vineyards, “Grand Detour,” which had Helen Turley as a consulting wine maker for that vintage, did remind me of a line in Steve Heimoff’s book about the Russian River Valley in Sonoma. Local lore says that producers can add $5 that they can charge for each word on the label. But, hey, that could often apply to Burgundy as well.