“…Uncompromised Beer That Is Marketed Locally…”

I post this by way of adjunct to a comment that I made in my post the last edition of The Session. In that post I stated that all beer is, as a result, properly understood as local and personal and that the ecology is small and getting smaller with the return to more naturally scaled micro and happy tap rooms. The comment even received Stan approval status… so there.

Happy, then, was I when came upon this passage quoted below in the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery, 1989: Staplefoods : Proceedings, edited by Harlan Walker. It is actually footnote 30 to Appendix A to the chapter “Staple Foods of the American West Coast (A Semi-Historical Perspective; or, Cultural Change in Action)” by John Doerper.

Perhaps the best definition of “microbrewery” comes from Vince Cottone, Good Beer Guide, Breweries and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: Homestead Book Company, 1986, p.9. Cottone who prefers the term “Craft Brewery” describes this as

a small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients to produce a handcrafted, uncompromised beer that is marketed locally.

Curiously, despite the supposed local distribution of these brews, supermarkets in the Northwest commonly stock many Californian “microbrews” while California carry virtually no Northwestern beers.

My first observation was that we are back to that spot here 28 years later, back to beer “that is marketed locally‘ if we think of the current resurrection of the taproom. But then I looked at the other elements: small, handcrafted, etc. Other than the word “traditional” in the era of every twig and leaf being shoved in a brew pot, it seems to fit. Sweet to note, however, that how in 1989 interstate distribution was already creating inequality and bending the meaning of local.

So, is “that is marketed locally” an idea that could be returned to now that big craft and macro are merging, mating or in a battle to the death? It would be a bit hard for many to track given that the forces that peddle national craft and throw about the junkets are hardly going to speak in favour of it. But as consumers, is this a standard we should return to – one to insist upon?

Once we’ve done that, perhaps we can clarify what local means, too. The 100 mile diet sort of local? As far as a truck can drive in 48 hours local? Here in Ontario, getting to a definition with some semblance of reality is a problem. By common parlance and perhaps trade association politics, the entire 1.076 million km² is local unto itself. I suspect in a place like Portland, Oregon local might not even include the whole city.

Peter Pan As Craft Beer’s Archetype

Given we are in this “less research sharing and more blue sky dreaming, tea-leaf reading forecasting” era, I am less inclined to care all that much about what the mass of beer writing is broadcasting but this over at Stan’s is a very interesting thing:

This was, and in many cases still is, a familiar story. Hate your job? Become a brewer. This is an example of why J. Nikol Beckham writes in a new collection of essays that “the microbrew revolution’s success can be understood in part as the result of a mystique cultivated around a group of men who were ambitious and resourceful enough to ‘get paid to play’ and to capitalize upon the productive consumption of fans/customers who enthusiastically invested in this vision.” The title of this fourth chapter in Untapped: Exploring the Cultural Dimension of Craft Beer is a mouthful: “Entrepreneurial Leisure and the Microbrew Revolution: The Neoliberal Origins of the Craft Beer Movement.”

My immediate response was it might explain why today’s craft remains so male leisure-class driven:  because the entry to craft may require pre-existing privilege. Peter Pans? Which would also explain all the jockeying for position amongst the commenting classes, that irritation we may be seeing as the theme of mid-2017. Makes sense. Not only is craft beer writing a niche but access to publication and (not always a given) paid publication is as much drawn of that same leisure class as the brewery owners are. I commented to Stan thusly:

Well, I don’t know that we are seeing a lot of cultural analysis of the critical sort that identifies the issue of white, privileged, male and leisured in GBH or elsewhere as most beer writing these days is largely a celebration of the opportunities within this leisure class written by folk largely already in or aspiring to the same class – with, yes, tepid nods to those not in the class but no real suggestion of change. Half the discourse can’t even get on board of an anti-sexist branding movement.

How wonderful. I have had my head in a bit of a funk since the dawn of 2017 trying to get a sense of what was going on – but that is it! No wonder it makes me so uncomfortable.

Brewing As A Far Earlier Step Than Community

In the past I have noted how it is pretty silly to suggest brewing was the cause of middle eastern communities to come together to form civilization given what might have been formed could well have been a very nasty enslavement of otherwise happy hunter gatherers.  But the link is AWOL. Still, an interesting narrative has come out related to the Gobekli Tepe site in southeastern Turkey that is interesting and perhaps turns our assumptions about the origins of brewing on their head.

Gobekli Tepe is in the news at the moment because a carving there has been determined to be recording the flood narrative. The story of beer, however, may also be set out in the site’s archaeological record. Consider this:

Recently, further chemical analyses were conducted by M. Zarnkow (Technical University of Munich, Weihenstephan) on six large limestone vessels from Göbekli Tepe. These (barrel/trough-shaped) vessels, with capacities of up to 160 litres, were found in-situ in PPNB contexts at the site. Already during excavations it was noted that some vessels carried grey-black adhesions. A first set of analyses made on these substances returned partly positive for calcium oxalate, which develops in the course of the soaking, mashing and fermenting of grain. Although these intriguing results are only preliminary, they provide initial indications for the brewing of beer at Göbekli Tepe, thus provoking renewed discussions relating to the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages at this early time. 

And this:

“The first year, we went through 15,000 pieces of animal bone, all of them wild. It was pretty clear we were dealing with a hunter-gatherer site,” Peters says. “It’s been the same every year since.” The abundant remnants of wild game indicate that the people who lived here had not yet domesticated animals or farmed.

And this:

Since neither domesticated plants nor animals are known from the site, it is clear that the people who erected this monumental sanctuary were still hunter-gatherers, but far more organised than researchers dared to think 20 years ago. 

And this:

Seen from the point of view of nutritional science, there are some advantages in favour of beer. Its lack of oxygen and its low pH value make it less perishable than other cereal products (Back 1994: 16). There is an ongoing discussion about the question of whether most cereals would have been toxic before mankind adapted to them, adverse reactions to gluten proteins (coeliac disease) being the result of a missing evolutionary adaption (Greco 1997). Malting and fermentation could have been a method to weaken these toxic effects as gluten is debranched, agglomerated and filtered to a high extent through malting and brewing. Interestingly, there seems to be a natural lack of toxicity in einkorn (Pizzuti et al. 2006). Whether one of these aspects was known to PPN people remains unknown, but prolonged observations could have led to that knowledge.

If I have it correctly, this means beer existed well before agriculture. Wild grain made a tummy ache. Someone figures out malting makes less of a tummy ache. Malting become centralized over 10,000 years ago – and maybe ceremonialized in whole or in part – but people are still roaming, hunting and gathering happily. For maybe a thousand years or more.

I love it.

As I Consider Bert Grant, Torontonian

I have been thinking about the Torontonianness of Bert Grant,* the owner of the the first brewpub to open in America since Prohibition. We are told that after “a long career working in big breweries on the other side of the country, Burt* Grant moved to Yakima in 1981 to build his own brewery: Grant’s Brewery Pub.” This 1997 news item on that year’s sale of his brewery (which includes some timely puff about expansion tied with quality control all care of his new partners whose skill set including running a big tobacco firm) describes his origins in this brief passage:

The Scottish-born, Canadian-bred Grant, 68, began honing that palate at age 16, when he went to work for Canadian Breweries Ltd. (now Carling). His brewing career led to jobs in the hops supply business, which brought him to the heart of Washington’s hop country in Yakima, where he opened a tiny brewery in 1982.

On 3 August 2001, Michael Jackson published a rich obituary for Grant that is still there online which describes, along with a few of his odd character traits, his early hop obsession:

“When you were brewing Canada, ales were still very popular. How many units of bitterness did they typically have?” I once asked. “I don’t know. I hadn’t invented the scale,” he replied. He was reputed to carry a vial of hop oil, and to add it to glasses of Bud, Miller or Coors when they were the only brews available. He was said to have done this at meetings of Master Brewers in Milwaukee and St Louis, dismaying his peers. “Michael Jackson adds it to his coffee,” he is alleged to have said, in his defence. Did he really say that? I think that joke was coined by beer-writer and consultant Vince Cottone.

I am nosing around working on the hypothesis that I was discussing with Jeff on the weekend via tweet. And down one alley I found this fabulous passage below from the Fred Eckhardt Oral History Interview of July 23, 2014 stored as part of the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives Oral History Collection at the Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries. The interview of Fred Eckhardt (FE) was conducted by Tiah Edmunson-Morton, Tim Hills (TH), and John Foyston (JF):

FE: Yeah. Yeah. And then, the fella from England. What was his name? He was a nice guy too. Um…
JF: Not Michael Jackson?
FE: No, another…
JF: Oh. Was he a brewer here?
FE: Yeah, he had a brewery finally, over in Washington, and then here. I can’t think of his name either.
TH: Oh, Burt* Grant?
FE: Burt Grant! Yes.
TH: He was English?
JF: That was the “nice guy”. That threw me off. [All laughing]
FE: You knew him?
JF: Yeah, I knew him.
FE: And you didn’t think he was…
JF: Well, he was uh, a character, but see, you were an equal, and I was not. I was a mere sprout. So… [Laughter]
FE: [Laughter] You just got older recently. [All laughing] I’m not gonna tell everybody you were 67.
TH: Happens all of a sudden. But yeah, Burt was really early.

Beautiful. Makes sense. I have not read as widely about Bert Grant as I hope to soon but it is so nice to read that he was a bit weird, maybe uppiddy and a touch disagreeable. We are all so quick to praise and beatify to the point of blandification that coming across the mere human in craft is becoming sadly rare.

*Oddly, seeing his name spelled as both “Burt” by some sources like the interview transcription but “Bert” by Michael Jackson and The New York Times.

Session 123: The Internet And Craft Beer

The trouble with the considering how the Internet and craft beer have interacted is that any old fool can stake a claim to knowing something, spend years rabidly building a personal brand and then – with no accreditation backing you but plenty of beer porn – hold yourself out as some sort of expert… and then expect folk to pay you and even (get this) come out to hear you speak as if in the presence of a special moment.

Me. That’s me right there. I’ve done all that. Fourteen years of it. Been quoted by The New York Times, too. All because of the Internet. In the January 2007 issue of Great Lakes Brewing News I got on the front cover with my article “Crafting the Internet: Beer On Line” which I am sure now springs immediately to your mind’s eye now that I mention it. (I used to do that sort of thing before I learned about the starvation wages of a freelancer.) It goes on for three whole pages and I take the time to generously discuss my beer blog, those of my friends as well as mentioning all the paying sponsors of the time that I could shoehorn in. What a corrupt wee jerk I was. What is it with this internet thing? Some things never change.

The interesting thing about the article is how essentially the structures of today are still the ones we use. BeerAdvocate and RateBeer are discussed as are pro writers like Lew as well as Mr. Rubin of the Toronto (Red) Star. Beers had started to be offered on line for delivery to your door. I complained that most “craft breweries” (look at me using the term that early) were behind the times, offering only an “email us” feedback loop for their customers – though I mentioned that Flossmoor in Illinois and Beaus here in Ontario had started up their own blogs.

2007. Framed. That serves as a reasonable benchmark for the question posed by this month’s hosts for The Session at Beer Simple:

This month, we’re taking on the internet and craft beer: is it a help, a hinderance, an annoyance, or all of the above?  How is beer drinking/brewing different in the internet age, and how is the internet changing the way brewers and craft beer drinkers do business?  

The odd thing about the question is the shortsightedness of the questions. Good beer in the sense of the micro brewing has been around for over three decades and, really, at least four if we understand the role of Peter Austin and the era of import bars. Similarly, as Boak and Bailey point out in their response to the question, alt.beer was founded around  July 1991. I would add BeerAdvocate was founded just five years after that. Plus, before use.net, the beer discussions of obsessives occurred in personal ‘zines and local newsletters whether published by CAMRA branches or that guy in New York whose name I can’t recall. Yankee Brew News was founded in 1989.

So, if we think about it, is the question really about how social media (post-2007) has affected craft beer (also pretty much post-2007)? If so, isn’t it a question about how social media has affected pop culture? I would think the effect on a craft brewery would be much the same as it might be in relation to a sports team or a pop singer. But the question as posed seems to include a unspoken bias or at least a foundation in unhappiness:

Just how fast do aleholes on message boards and elsewhere turn off prospective craft beer enthusiasts?

What an odd concept. As a third party observer why would one care if “aleholes” are turning off “prospective craft beer enthusiasts”? There is a word for both classes of person – strangers. Which is the problem social media has brought into all parts of the discourse. The presumption… no, the illusion of nearness. Brewers, bloggers, other fans and storytellers are all in the double bubble of the alcohol-laced social media construct. Associating what you find there with commonality or, worse, friendship is rife with peril. Some fools actually consider creaky big craft brewers heroes. Good Lord.

All beer is, as a result, properly understood as local and personal. The ecology is small and getting smaller with the return to more naturally scaled micro and happy tap rooms – and the slow collapse of big craft dreams much to its own surprise.

Should we be surprised? Has the internet lied? Or have we all lied to the internet?

“Style” In Its Early Pre-Jacksonian Form

This label got me thinking. Its one of those old labels you see floating around the internets in places like this. But look at that pesky little word “style” sitting there in the loop of the beer. I am informed that the label is from 1914. About six years ago, I asked what it was exactly that Jackson meant when he first wrote about style back in 1977. I think today I am wondering why we think Jackson first used the word style as it relates to beer. Interestingly, I think the use on the label and the use by Jackson in 1977 are very closely related.

Hmm.  A few more examples for your cogitations:

You Stop Paying Attention For A Minute And – WHAMMO! – It’s May


What a busy run. I was out of town in a tall building talking about things for days, trying to get four sets of income tax returns in before the deadline, haggling over the extracting a child from a university dorm post-exams and even writing two brewing history columns for a magazine yet to be launched into the public discourse. And planting the vegetable garden. Radishes don’t plant themselves. April may well be the cruelest month and it is, in large part, because it always seems to fly by in a haze of tasks. Can I complain a bit more? Tra la. It’s May.

Things I need to do: blend. Ed sent me a bottle of diastatic brown malt ale. After I begged. My plan is to take a good brown ale or porter and compare and then mix a la Cornval. Maybe I’ll get to that later this week. That sounds exciting.

Things I need to do, the next: reflect upon the urban jungle. I did get out into the town briefly after a long day talking in tall buildings. Twice I had a pint – a lovely dimpled mug’s worth* of Granite IPA – at that place I visit regularly – as in 2009 and then again in 2013. I really am a sucker for Ringwood which, having been raised as a child upon the Granite’s work. It’s funny. I can call it yogurty and think “yum” while at the same time certain lagers can get lumbered as being yogurty yik. I suppose if I paid attention in any of the “off-flavour” seminars I’d have a better vocabulary about such things but I would rather throw myself down stairwells than do that. I liked it more than the average BAer did. Way more than the RateBeerbarians. Good thing I rarely take others seriously.

Things I need to do, furthermore: consider this. I heard while standing in a tap room that the same one brewery in eastern Ontario was seriously moving towards getting out of the 64 ounce growler trade altogether in favour of half size 32s. I found this very odd. Some sort of freshness claims were made. I was unmoved. Quarts over pottles? Perhaps if there was a better lobby group behind the pottle makers, surely a cottage industry clinging on to a traditional way of life. Support the half gallon.

Things I need to do, lastly: watch out. I worry. About the way of the world. About the weight of the world upon us all. But I don’t worry that much about Sam Adams. As Stan wrote, there has been a lot of worry leading up to and after the release of Boston Beer’s quarterly numbers which, as Jeff pointed out, were utterly brutal. If this were a sports team, the ownership would either sack general management or, conversely, back off and put the future entirely in the hands of general management. Unlike many a sorts team, this is just a brewery… and cidery… and alco-pop maker. So I care a lot less. Koch the Less Hairy is not any sort of hero.**(*) Nice enough I am sure, a bit weird what with the yeasty-yogurty thing… but it’s likely a good time for his retirement, actually. Watch out for folk who say too strongly otherwise. Ask if car service arrangements were involved. Gotta watch out for those sorts of things.

May. What shall I do in May?

*LOOK RIGHT! CLICK!!
**Craft beer writing really needs to stop drowning in superlatives of its own invention. Thank God I only practice in beer writing where the income is small but moral judgement enriches.
**(*)So… why does the asterisk have five points on the keyboard but six on the screen?