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Neither Shaken Nor Stirred, Please
By Jim Anderson

Beer Mug Okay, okay. Everyone has a dirty little secret. You do. I do. Even the martini world has one or two. Their first secret is that martinis are really made with gin, not vodka. Their second is that, fashionable or not, after two of the things most people are ready for bed.

Now for my secret. One of the reasons I like to drink is for the narcotic effect of alcohol. No kidding. So when my friends want to go out to a martini bar, I search for a beer with a martini-like effect so I can "keep up" with them without having to reveal my Mr. Hyde side that magically appears whenever a bottle of Bombay is near.

These "skull-splitters" are readily available, and can already be found at some of the area's tonier establishments. But with the archaic and confusing alcohol-labeling laws in Pennsylvania, it's sometimes difficult to tell the mice from the men. Here's your Restaurant Report guide to high-quality, high-octane brews.

What's the Buzz?

Beer Tap Your basic Rolling Rock or Bud is around 4.5% alcohol by volume. (All following percentages are by volume.) Your basic American microbrew is around 5%. Your basic malt liquor is around 7%. Your basic Belgian beer is also around 7%. And your basic barleywine is around 10%. But don't confuse a 10% beer with a 10% wine -- the alcohols in these drinks are different, and you'll find that a 10% beer packs about the same punch as a martini. A real skull splitter.

Ale or Lager?

This question, as fundamental to beer as "red or white" is to wine, actually is less important at the high end of alcohol content. Lagers have a greater potential for high alcohol because their yeast is more resistant to the toxic effects of alcohol. Therefore, the strongest beers in the world are all lagers. Ales, however, tend to have greater aromatic character than lagers, so appear more full-flavored. Also, ales have the advantage of being able to be conditioned in their bottle, which makes them prime candidates for aging.

The $5.00 Barrier

Remember -- like martinis, these beers are best enjoyed in moderation. So, like martinis, premium prices are one way to limit peoples' consumption. And two bottles (or one large bottle) of any of the beers below is enough for anybody. Many of these beers are also quite expensive, ranging from around $30/case to $200/case, with most in the $50. range. Which may sound like a lot of barley, but let's look at the math: a $50 case of beer carries a cost per 12oz. bottle of about $2.20 (don't forget to figure sales tax into your cost). You can legitimately sell that beer for $6.00, which will earn you a lowly 63% profit, which isn't much next to the 71% you make on an Amstel Light. But the $3.80 dollar profit puts Amstel's $2.50 to shame! So don't worry about breaking the $5 per bottle barrier - your customers will realize the value after just one bottle.

A Glass Act

But don't forget, like with high-end martinis, these beers deserve a better fate than to be dumped into a frozen mug. For a nice presentation, use a goblet or red wine glass big enough to hold the entire beer, and pour the whole bottle at once for the customer. Not only will this keep the bar or table from being cluttered, but it saves some of the more highly-carbonated bottle-conditioned beers from overflowing their glass. When pouring a bottle-conditioned beer, take care not to agitate the sediment on the bottom of the bottle before pouring it, and pour the whole bottle at once, leaving about an eighth of an inch of the beer in the bottle. Many of these beers come in 750ml cork-finished bottles, which are perfect for sharing or serving with a meal. And you'll be surprised how easy they are to sell.


SKULL-SPLITTER SHOPPING LIST …

Lagers

EKU 28 (Germany) On the sweet side, with a lingering aftertaste. 12%. 12oz. bottles.

Reichelbräu G'Forns Bayerisch Eisbock (Germany) The only surviving true ice beer is very malty and well-balanced. 12%. 12oz. bottles. Samichlaus (Switzerland) The world's strongest lager is lightly carbonated and reminiscent of sherry. 13%. 12oz. bottles.


Ales

Courage Imperial Russian Stout (England) Superb concentration of malt flavors. 11%, bottle-conditioned. 7oz. bottles. Delerium Tremens (Belgium) Pale, spicy and deceptive. 9%. 12oz. bottles. Hair of the Dog Adam (Oregon) Complex old ale-style. 10%, bottle-conditioned. 12oz. bottles and draft. Kasteel Tripel (Belgium) Pale abbey ale is surprisingly light on the palate. 11%, bottle- conditioned. 750ml cork-finished & 12oz. bottles and draft. Piraat (Belgium) Dry and hoppy Flemish version of an IPA. 11%, bottle-and keg-conditioned. 750ml cork-finished & 12oz. bottles and draft. Rochefort 10º (Belgium). Astounding trappist ale with more flavors than a buffet. 11.3%, bottle-conditioned. 12oz. bottles. Rogue Old Crustacean (Oregon) Amazing cacophony of flavors resolve in the long finish. 10.5%, bottle-conditioned. 7oz. bottles and draft.

Samuel Adams Triple Bock (USA) World's strongest beer is a hybrid of styles. Very sweet and sherrylike. 17.4%. 8.5oz. cork-finished bottles. Scaldis (Belgium). Slightly sweet and wonderfully nutty. 12%. 12oz. bottles. Yards OG IPA (Philadelphia) Over-the-top variation on an India Pale Ale. 9%. Draft only.




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