Does This Smell Bad To You?

I was at a restaurant last night and overheard a server indicating to the bartender a particular beer did not seem fresh and what I observed was interesting. Before I tell the rest of that story I remember once a group of us were served a Pilsner Urquell which was so incredibly strong with rotten eggs (hydrogen-sulfide H2S) it was sickening and undrinkable. It nearly took an act of congress to get them to realize the beer was bad and take if off. Another time just after I gave a BJCP exam we went to a local taproom and the beer was off, we all agree, the manager basically ignored out statements. That might explain why I have not been back. Not too long ago I found and off pint and told the manage and sent notes to many on the brewing staff of that particular brewery. I never heard anything from the staff of the brewery, although that manager did indicate he would check it out the beer.

Back to last night. The bartender did not check the beer at all, they asked another patron who had it how it tasted to them and that person indicated it was fine. What I find flawed with that approach is the two beers were not poured at the same time and so something could have happened. It probably did not and the beer was probably fine, but the bartender should have tried the beer and decided if the beer was acceptable or not. I’m not sure what they teach in the Cicerone program, but I am pretty sure there must be some methodology for dealing with complaints of off-flavors and aromas in beer which is served. I know if it were my establishment I would immediately taste the beer and determine if corrective action needed to be taken. Since that didn’t happen last night I lost some faith in that establishment. I’ve never had a bad beer there, but should I happen to get one I’ll know somewhere in the back of my head they aren’t going to do anything about it and that is kinda sad.

Growlers – maybe

I noticed a local grocery store has now put in a growler filling station and we just had a new business open up which is primarily a growler filling operation. Truth be told I think growlers are a great idea for taking home a half-gallon of beer. The problem is once they are opened the clock starts to tick. Either your beer will be flat the next time you come to it or you get to consume 64 ounces of beer. Now normally I would say drink up, but I like variety so downing four pints of the same beer just isn’t all that appealing unless you are at a party or event where the beer isn’t front and center or you are bringing beer to share. I rarely have the same beer twice in a night and unless I am finishing a growler certainly don’t have it four times. A growler is not always the lowest cost either. 64 ounces is 5.3 bottles if the bottles are 12 ounces. The local grocery store is selling a growler of local pale ale for $10 when you could get a six-pack of the same beer for $8 so they really are not doing you any favors, in fact, they are making more on the growler fill than they make on the six-pack. Of course they did have to install the equipment and keep up the extra maintenance, but my bottom line is which is more economical and might taste better. In this case since they are local the growler and the bottle should both be similar in terms of freshness so I’d opt for the bottle. On a more obscure offering the keg might be fresher so that has to be taken into consideration.

I’ll occasionally still pick up a growler, but not without some thought. At least in NC I can use any old growler for the fill which is allowed by the establishment. Maybe I should stick one in the car for emergency purposes. ;)

Field & Stream Cary

Cary, NC is home to the newest Field & Stream store in the US. It is essentially a Bass Pro Shop Jr. or a specialized Dick’s depending upon how you look at things. As per usual I went to see what was housed in the firearm department. It was nice to see .22LR in stock, but I didn’t see any screaming bargains. I think this will be much like Dick’s, no reason to go in unless a sale is in progress or you need something specific. The firearm prices seemed high to me, I overheard a gentleman asking about a Marlin 1895 45-70 in SS and they quoted him $899 while the same firearm can be had for $700 or less in other stores and online. What I found hypocritical was the black guns in stock. You may recall after the tragedy in CT Dick’s pulled all their black guns and refused to honor a Black Friday deal on a rifle with hundreds if not thousands of customers. So I probably won’t return to Field & Stream unless there is a great deal I just cannot turn down. With Gander and Bass Pro already in the area and a Cabela’s on the way I just don’t see any reason to drive to the other side of the county without a compelling reason.

Do this, Do that, Now wait…how to not run a beverage service efficiently!

Last night we strolled into a wine and beer shop which had those wine vending machines and draft beer. So that is kinda where the shop stopped being much fun. The first thing our group had to do was purchase a card from them for $1 plus tax in order to taste any of the wines. Our group decided to put $10 on the card so it was $11 and change for the opportunity to use the machines. For some reason that seemed to take a ridiculous amount of time to achieve. Over to the side were beers on draft so we selected two we were interested in and waited for the cashier working on the wine card to determine how we go about procuring a beer. He indicated he poured them, so we waited and then he came over and got what we desired. He then indicated we should now pay the cashier and when I walked over to this wonderful young lady who was just a joy to be near she indicated I would have to wait because she was doing something else. I believe our draftsman could see my patience quickly diminishing and went to the other register to check out our purchase. It was $11.98 so I paid $12 cash and it seemed to take forever for that to be completed. Eventually I told him to add the pennies to the little cup at the register so I could finally start to enjoy my refreshment.

So let’s back up and figure out how to make this work better. First off would be to remove the stupid card vending BS. Either turn that into a CC slot or tie it into the POS (Point of Sale) system so one can check out at the register. Keeping up with a separate card for a little obscure wine shop in Raleigh, NC is a PITA. As far as the beer if someone has to go to the taps to pour the beer, why not have a POS register in that area so someone doesn’t have to move to the other side of the store just to buy a beer they already have in their hand. Heck, that person or register could be the one dealing with the wine cards if they are a requirement. The entire thing is confusing to me and seems poorly planned and laid out. I’m sure somewhere there is a hipster who loves the system and raves about it on Yelp and FourSquare, but I’m just not smelling what they are cooking.

On the bright side the store had a nice selection of sausages and cheeses so I may return to check those out, but I’ll be sure to get everything at the same time so I don’t have to deal with Mrs. Wonderful Cashier and her “the customer needs to wait until I am ready attitude.”

Note: Our group had a good time, but it had very little to do with the wine or beer and everything to do with the people we were with. We can have fun any number of places and most of them don’t require four different interactions to get two tastes of wine and two glasses of beer.

Is Wine Now Passé?

I gotta say I think wine is now the drink of the past. Don’t get me wrong, I grab a wine for a meal, but I don’t often sit around drinking a bottle of grape juice just to release tension and watch TV. For that I’m heading toward a beer or a Bourbon. Now most people, women especially, are not drawn to Bourbon, but I do see them out and about enjoying a beer. I don’t know if it is beer pressure from their friends or they are trying to be cool and hip, but most of the time when I am out and the dining experience or bar is casual the ladies are having a beer. Now when the ambiance is a little higher on the hog I might see a glass of wine in the hand of a woman, but more often it will be something made with spirits as opposed to a glass of wine. If the beer list blows at a particular restaurant I might have wine with dinner, or if it is a nice work related function, but typically I’m not getting all giggly over the wine selection at a particular establishment.

The thought hit me yesterday as I was walking through a warehouse club with a huge selection of wine and no one in the aisles. Well, actually, that is not true. There was me and another gentleman and he was just looking at labels as if he had time to kill and without any real purpose. When you are the only one swimming in a sea of wine in one of the largest wine retailers in the US you know wine is just not quite what it once was. I worry beer may eventually become the same way. I can remember when being a beer nerd was not cool, in fact you were the weird guy penning notes in the corner and driving halfway across the country to find a particular beer. Today the number of breweries is increasing so fast it won’t be long until we near the 4,000 mark in the US and we were at 3,084 in July. There cannot be enough taps for all those breweries and certainly is not enough shelf space for everyone to bottle and can their wares. I know Americans are thirsty, but where will we be once there is no more fresh beer around? I wrote recently about the lack of Shelton Bros in NC, but the real reason no one cares is there is plenty of local beer to take the place of those elusive and expensive brands shipped in from overseas. I like where we are, I’m a little worried about where we are going, but one thing is for sure, if wine is your thing you are now old school! ;)

Is the buying spree over?

I got to wondering if the guy buying spree is over in North Carolina and are aspiring shop owners foolish to open now. We all know sales have been at record highs for the last couple of years and I got to wondering has the bubble burst. I figured one good way to look at the data might be to take the NICS checks and see how many we have had over the past few years. Now that is a bit skewed because NC has at least 300K people who have concealed permits and no longer require a background check, but we gotta get data from somewhere. Luckily the FBI NICS checks have statistics so I selected the Total NICS Background Checks By State report. If you do it by individual month it varies wildly so I think it would be best to average the numbers over the months of data present. So let’s look at the average number of checks per month starting in 2010.

2010 – 27,636
2011 – 31,267
2012 – 40,755
2013 – 47,885
2014 – 125,176

Now there is are odd numbers in February and March of this year, numbers which are actually difficult to believe. Let’s eliminate those months and 2014 looks like 33,698. So if you take the FBI data as stated it appears the public has an insatiable appetite for buying firearms, but if you remove the two month which to me appear suspect it seems the appetite has been satiated. I can see no reason why NC would have more than 3/4 of a million checks in a two month period because that is more than any other state in the union. Kentucky has always led the nation in checks and their biggest month ever still hasn’t broke the 300K barrier.

So just looking at the data my thinking is sales are beginning to slow, but by no means are the good old days gone. The reason I say that is those with concealed permits are no represented in any check in NC and they are the people most likely to buy additional firearms. We may be seeing a slide in the number of checks as the population of concealed permit holders increases and checks are no longer required. It would be interesting to hear what the backlog is at various manufacturers today. At one time Ruger’s backlog was a year and was at roughly 2 million units. In May the number was 1.35 million so that backlog should have shrunk to 8 months and with the opening of a NC facility may have shrunk even further. While the market may be somewhat saturated with shops it still seems like the public will continue to buy.

Should I or shouldn’t I?

It’s a tough decision when you hit the liquor store and see the shelves filled with various Bourbons to figure out exactly which one is worth the price of admission. How does a fellow determine which one is worthwhile and which to avoid? I thought this morning I would lay out my methodology and you can take it from there. A long time ago my wife and I determined if you find something precious you should not hesitate and go ahead and purchase it. Now luckily in the world of Bourbon there are only so many crown jewels and most of them are above my pay grade. Yesterday I saw a 23-year-old Elijah Craig which was $200 and I never even made a move to grasp it. There is no way on the earth that bottle is so earth-shattering it can be worth that amount. So first find your upper limit and don’t go over. For me that arrives somewhere around the $75 mark. I might go higher if I know something is phenomenal, but when an outstanding Bourbon can be had for $40 or less why would I spend another $60? My wife and I also have a rule if it is $20 or less just buy it, no reason to spend time thinking. Unfortunately the really great Bourbons are typically higher than that so I’ve got a $30 rule in the back of my head. I like to concentrate on Bourbons from Kentucky. I’m sure other places can make a great product and some of the products I buy come from Indiana, but for Bourbon I try to use Kentucky as my source. So I typically do a quick Google search on the smart phone and try to see what people have said. Anything from good to great and the bottle hits the shopping basket if it is $30 or less. As with all things you need to exercise care because some people have no ability to taste or else they like turpentine, so pick a site or a group to visit to find out if what you see on the shelf is worth taking home.

When the price creeps above $30 I rely on the smart phone and online reviews or what friends have said. That can steer you wrong if the friend appreciates a Bourbon which is more harsh. I spent $50 on Woodford Reserve Double Oak and wish I had never even wasted my money. Knob Creek Smoked Maple was a $30+ mistake I hope I can use to make some sort of barbecue sauce. Once you figure out where your tastes and that of a friend diverge you can start to make some intelligent decisions. Yesterday I came across a $31 bottle of Bourbon I had never heard of before. The origin was Kentucky, but no amount of online searching yielded who actually made it. It must be the best kept secret in the world. The reviews were all positive to glowing so I put it in the basket and made it all mine.

It can be difficult to decide what Bourbon to buy and what to pass by, but typically I like the products from most of the major distilleries. Buffalo Trace Distillery seems to never let me down, the higher end Beam brands are not too shabby, Woodford blows IMO, Four Roses is great, and Heaven Hills puts out some nice Bourbons. Hopefully something in my thoughts will help you make your decision on which Bourbon is worth your time and which to skip.

Ruger Gunsite Scout

Ruger seems to always know how to get your attention. Last week they ran a contest to win a new unannounced firearm. Of course I didn’t win, but a fellow from the Greensboro area did. As it turns out the new product is a Ruger Gunsite Scout chambered in .223/5.56. Previously the rifle was only available in .308 and from all reports is an outstanding firearm. I think the new model makes good sense especially for those who don’t already have a firearm in .308 and don’t want to have to purchase additional ammunition for a single rifle. I’m already seeing some gripes about the magazine being proprietary, but in truth you aren’t going to be shooting hundreds of rounds out of a bolt-action guide gun so at most one might want a single spare magazine since this is not a tactical firearm. I remember the first rifle I used to hunt with was a single shot bolt-action Winchester .22LR. You made your shots count because it took too long to reload. That is how I envision a guide gun in use.

Anyway, the next time Ruger has a contest they should just go ahead and let me win. I think that is more than fair. ;)

I’m Done Pulling Weeds

Recently my topic was a Wicked Weed beer and basically my disappointment in their bottled offerings. Yesterday I pulled out the final two bottles I had purchased hoping for glory. First I pulled out Malice which is part of their Royal Cache Barrel Reserve Series and was touted as a 100% Brettanomyces beer with blood orange and tamarind. The beer was 6.796% ABV and all I got out of it was a bit of orange and hints of brett. I’m just not sure how you can make something so pedestrian and boring at the same time. It is as if they are trying to created training wheels brett beers. So I held out hope for the final bottle which had a price point of 15 beans. It was named Oblivion and was an 8.796% ABV sour red ale aged in wine barrels with blackberries and dates. In the end it was a mild and pedestrian red ale which had a nice tart nature, but only hints of dates. I was so underwhelmed I decided right then and there I was not going to buy anything else from Wicked Weed in the bottle because they are just too boring to be worth my time. I’ll certainly stop in the brewpub when in Asheville or if I find them on tap somewhere, but bottles from them are off the menu. When every bottle you have had from a brewery is boring, not bad mind you, boring, you just feel life is too short to be wasting time and money on boring. I’m done pulling weeds!

10 Affordable Bourbons For Your Bar

I was talking to a bartender the other night and they mentioned the company was opening a new bar and was trying to decide what they should have on the shelf to serve customers who want more than a bottle of Beam, Jack, or Wild Turkey. For years those were considered “top shelf” in most places and now they really are not, rather they are “call” rather than “well’ Bourbons/Whiskeys. Of course a well is the least expensive brand you can buy. If I were looking to have a well brand at a restaurant I would probably go for something like Ancient Age. Anyway, that got me thinking about what I would suggest if someone wanted to know what they could go to the local store and come home with that they would enjoy and would be higher end and affordable (more than $20 a fifth and less than $40 a fifth), so here is a list of ten by price as currently listed in the NCABC pricebook and the price point when on sale.

Old Weller Antique 107 – $24.95 ($22)
Elijah Craig – $25.95 ($23)
Buffalo Trace – $27.95 ($24)
Four Roses Small Batch – $29.95 ($27)
Bulleit – $30.95 ($28)
Eagle Rare – $31.95 ($29)
Maker’s Mark – $31.95 ($29)
Knob Creek – $35.95 ($29)
Woodford Reserve – $36.95 ($32)
Four Roses Single Barrel – $39.95 ($37)

Note: Some of these are pedestrian and at least one I do not like. That does not mean they should not be suggested since we all appreciate different things.

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