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St. Patrick’s Day Beers on NBC

Did you catch John on Sunday Today in New York talking about craft beers for St. Patrick’s Day? Here’s some more information on the beers he mentioned. Slàinte! 

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Building a Better Briefing

March 10, 2011 We are in the process of building a better website and so you can expect to see a few changes in the weeks ahead.

The Beer Briefing will continue to bring you brewing news, insights and on-scene reporting. It’ll just look a lot nicer than it does right now. Thanks for your patience and please continue to check back. Cheers.

Indiana Breweries: Now Available

The most current and thorough guide to the 37 brewers in the Hoosier State is NOW AVAILABLE

Authored by John Holl and Nate Schweber it will start appearing on shelves within days and you can also order online.

Order the book via Amazon by clicking here.  Or on the Stackpole site by clicking here.

We’ve also set up a fan page on Facebook where you can follow the action.

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Recent Articles


A blog about an article about another article

Confused by the headline?

A few weeks ago I wrote an article for about the growing trend of nano breweries in the United States.

It was a lot of fun to write and I think it was well received.

On Thursday, friend of the Beer Briefing Julia Herz sent me an email with a link to an article in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette on the rise of nano-breweries in the Keystone State.

Reporter Bob Batz Jr. does a nice job featuring a few of the nanos in the state, including Beaver Brewing Co.

Then, he writes this:

In an article just published on the Brewers Association’s site, John Holl notes that nanobreweries, “sometimes referred to as pico breweries, or bucket breweries,” don’t even aim to grow big in size and distribution range. Some established brewers are starting nano operations as ways to carefully expand into other markets, try different things, and/or just have fun. He cites the Coney Island brewhouse of Jeremy Cowan, the proprietor of Shmaltz Brewing Co., whose He’Brew beers are contract brewed. The Coney Island spot, which opened last summer (making funnel cake beer and candy apple ale) and will reopen this summer, brews just one-eighth of a barrel at a time.

I love it! It’s an article quoting an article. Now, I’m mentioning it on the blog.

It’s all about sharing the news about good beer.

Now, we just need to see if we can get someone to write a blog about this blog which is about an article inside an article….

Read Bob’s full story here.

And you can follow me on Twitter by clicking here.


Nano Breweries—Talk of the Craft Beer Nation

Samuel Johnson once said, “We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice.”

There is a notion that professionally brewing beer can lead to big things. The general public thinks of breweries as hulking factories turning out millions of bottles a year. However, the overwhelming majority of the 1,600 U.S. craft breweries produce much less than 50,000 barrels a year. (One barrel equals about 31 gallons, or 248 16oz pints.) Read more »


Belgian Brewers Happy to Collaborate with America’s New Wave

Belgium is the holy land of beer and each year thousands of thirsty pilgrims make the trek overseas to visit the Trappist breweries, fulfill their love of lambics and sample great gueuze. American brewers are regularly among those visitors, there to unwind but also school themselves in the centuries old traditions that are the foundation of beer today.
It seems that the Belgian counterparts are taking notice to what American brewers are doing as well and regularly pay similar visits to see what the less encumbered by tradition folks are up to.

Occasionally, brewers from the two countries will collaborate. These partnerships are still somewhat rare given the collaboration frenzy that American brewers are in the midst of with each other but that makes the end result that more special.

Read the full article in the Ale Street News


Love and Beer

I did a quick television interview last week for local cable station News 12 New Jersey about beer for Valentine’s Day.

We taped at J.J. Bittings, a brewpub in Woodbridge, N.J. which has a wonderful chocolate cherry stout on tap.

I show up in the second half of the story to talk about the cuvee brut from Liefmans. We filmed a bit about Gamma Ray from Terrapin brewing (a wheat wine brewed with two types of honey) but it was cut due to time. Oh well. Next time.



Of Groundhogs and Noble Pils

A note came in from Sam Adams HQ this February 2, 2011, that the prognosticator of prognosticators, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow and, as such, Spring would arrive six weeks early. With the winter beating most of the country has received over the last few months this is certainly welcome news.

According to a press release from the brewery, Jim Koch, founder of the Boston Beer Co. which makes the Sam Adams line of beers, was in Punxsutawney this morning to watch the most famous rodent weatherman make his prediction. Last night, Koch was made an honorary member of Punxsutawney Phil’s Inner Circle, “a group of tuxedo-clad keepers sworn to uphold the grand tradition of Groundhog Day.”

It should be noted that – in pictures at least – Koch shunned the top hat and tails and wore his usual outfit of tan kahki pants with a blue denim button down shirt stitched with the Samuel Adams logo.

It is fitting that Punxsutawney Phil predicted spring, because the brewery is using it as a chance to promote their spring seasonal beer, Noble Pils.

This beer showed up in recent years as a nice alternative to some heavier “spring” alternatives. It’s brewed in the Czech style and comes out as crisp with a nice bit of hops on the finish. At 4.9% ABV, it’s a really nice session beer.

Noble Pils, Koch told me in an interview a few months ago, was first brewed as a wedding beer for his daughter who was married a few years ago. It was so popular, he said, that the brewery decided to add it to their regular lineup.

Available between January and March, Noble Pils, should make us all think of warmer times. That is something we desperately need right about now.

Samuel Adams Founder and Brewer, Jim Koch, was sworn in last night as an honorary member of Punxsutawney Phil’s Inner Circle, a group of tuxedo-clad keepers sworn to uphold the grand tradition of Groundhog Day. Jim was selected because of his passion for brewing beers that pair well with each season. Samuel Adams Noble Pils, his spring seasonal, helps hibernating beer lovers transition from winter to spring. As part of the Groundhog Day festivities, Jim and the Punxsutawney crew toasted Phil on the eve of his 125th birthday.


Man’s Best Friends—The Canine’s Role in Craft Beer

If dog is man’s best friend, surely beer is a close second. Often the two passions come together, be it through the bond many brewer’s have with their faithful companions, or the enthusiast who enjoys spending an evening at home with a great Russian Imperial Stout in his glass, and Rover at his feet.

Since I’m not a brewer, I fall into the second category. But recently, an outing with my dog put me in an interesting situation, which caused me to take a closer look at the deep role the canine persuasion plays in the world of beer.

Read the full story on

Pepper can’t be trained.



Talking Craft Beer on NBC in New York

Watch the video of John Holl talking about high alcohol content beers on Channel 4 in New York.
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Beers at 30 Rock

Looks like I’m confirmed to appear on WNBC’s Weekend Today in New York.

I’ll be on the January 15 broadcast airing in the 9a.m. hour.

The plan is to pour some beers that can help stave off a winter chill. My list is almost finalized and I’ll be sure to post a recap here once it airs.



Shmaltz for the Holidays

(This article first appeared in the Dec. 2010/January 2011 issue of the Ale Street News)


2010 has been a good year for Jeremy Cowan.


The proprietor of Shmaltz Brewing released his first book, a rollicking autobiography chronicling his childhood, foray into the brewing world, near collapse and eventual slingshot-like success. He opened a pico-brewery on Coney Island for the summer months and just in time for Chanukah has released a vertical bottle pack, from the last seven years of Jewbelation, his anniversary ale.


Oh, and he also won a silver medal – his first – at the Great American Beer Festival.


“This is by far the biggest year we’ve had, the most complicated we’ve ever had and the most successful,” said Cowan. “We were very ambitious.”


The best example of that ambition can be seen in the HE’BREW Holiday Gift Pack, which is a collection of Jewbelation years 8 – 14 and a bottle of the barrel-aged Vertical Jewbelation, a combination of all seven recipes and then barrel-aged in Sazerac 6-year rye whiskey barrels.


Keeping true to the shtick that has made Shmaltz stand out, the holiday pack comes complete with Chanukah candles and instructions on how to build a beer menorah from the empty bottles.


Back in 1996 when Cowan launched Shmaltz from San Francisco and bottled, labeled and delivered the first cases himself, it could have been easy to mistake the brewery as just another gimmick, a way to make a quick buck and one that would just become another piece of craft beer history. In fact, as he notes in his new book Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah: How it took 13 years, Extreme Jewish Brewing, and Circus Sideshow Freaks to make Shmaltz Brewing an International Success ( Cowan admits that the whole thing started as a joke with friends.


Soon however, Cowan realized that he could have a legitimate business and was not content to be just another fad or a joke label (although the bottle artwork and tongue-in-cheek phrasing helped propel that mantle) and backed up the product with quality made beer.


In a rapidly growing craft beer market with more choices than ever before, people were slow to respond to Cowan’s “Chosen Beer” and seven years after that first delivery, the young entrepreneur had lost tens of thousands of family and friends capitol investment funds and despite some beer name recognition was about to find his business become a brewery causality.

Cowan pressed on, sold his beer in New York by going shop to shop, bar to bar and eventually gained more and more traction and was able to turn the whole thing around.

Shmaltz now has seven full-time employees. The beers are made at the Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. in upstate New York and Cowan said they will likely produce about 7,200 barrels by the end of 2010. His beers are available throughout the country.


“I am proud of what we have accomplished,” he said in a recent telephone call from New Orleans where he was between sales calls and a promotional appearance.


There is no rest for the weary, however. In recent years Cowan has expanded his offerings beyond the torah and yarmulke and into the arena of weird, the circle of strange, the world of carnival sideshows.


Coney Island Craft Lagers launched a few years ago and now has three regular offerings, including the Sword Swallower Steel Hop Lager, and two seasonal brews. Proceeds from the sales benefit a non-profit corporation looking to rehab the Brooklyn seaside attraction.


Coney Island also became home this past summer to a 1/8 barrel brew house operated by Cowan and designed to be a side show much like its neighbors the Bearded Lady and Human Blockhead.


“It’s really a non-profit arts project,” said Cowan. “The idea is to show people how beer is made and to get creative with what we make.” This included the creation of a funnel cake beer and candy apple ale. The small brewery will return to Coney Island again in the summer of 2011.


In September Cowan continued his lucky streak and received further validation that his brewery was coming into focus when he took home a silver medal for the He’Brew RIPA on Rye in the wood and barrel-aged category beating out 75 other brews.


He joked that what he really needs after the last year is a nap. The reality is that the brewery is pressing forward with Cowan revealing that Shmaltz will establish a permanent barrel aging program with three specialty releases planned for 2011.


“We are going to focus on what we do every day and throw in some fun along the way,” he said.




It’s a beer with a lot of heart. Literally.

(This Article Appeared in the Dec. 2010/Jan. 2011 edition of the Ale Street News)


Celebrated chef David Burke has combined forces with the Boston Beer Co., makers of Samuel Adams, to create a limited release ale that is really unlike anything else on the market.


“I first wanted to make a beer with barbeque sauce,” said Burke in a recent phone interview. “Then we thought about oxtail in the beer. Then we moved over to the idea of beef hearts. They are leaner and bloodier. We wanted that meaty bloody note.”


Vegetarians beware.

David Burke, Jim Koch and some grilled beef hearts


Burke grilled the beef hearts with a little bit of rosemary, giving them a slight caramelization that added some depth to the flavor before adding them to the brew kettle. Because it was going to be released in the colder months Burke said they added ginger, cinnamon cloves and molasses, spices commonly found in Christmas cookies to give the beef a twist.


The end result draws a variety of curious responses from those who taste it. The ginger and spice comes on strong in the nose and with a medium mouth feel drinks smooth with the beef hearts coming on in the finish, almost like a butcher shop but not in an unpleasant way.


Burke is known in the culinary world for his inventive streak and groundbreaking cooking techniques. His restaurants and recipes are lauded by gourmands and fellow chefs and this ale has certainly helped bring craft beer to the attention of his patrons, who, he said, usually prefer wine with dinner.


The ale, known as Burke in the Bottle is currently only available at Burke’s restaurants in New York and New Jersey in 12oz bottles.


“Honestly, I was surprised at how good it was,” said Burke,” and people seem to like it too.”