Tales From The Crypt Of Early Micro

I am working on a relatively new database to me, a newspaper and magazine archive covering a little over the last thirty years. Grinding common beer words through the search engine of any new database is always fun but in the shadowy world of the recent past it can also be surprising. I don’t actually write all that much about the origins of of the micro brewing industry but, as we know, the shifting sands and rearguard revisionist retelling of all the genesis stories should be enough motivation for anyone. And it turns out there are interesting tales to be told from the point in time when “micro” was battling with “mini” and recently deceased “craft” was just a gleam in some PR committee’s eye.

First, set the scene. In Albany, New York’s Times Union of 16 July 1986 we have the staff byline story “Abrams Sues Big Breweries” – this particular Abrams being New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams:

The state attorney general filed an anti-trust suit in federal court Tuesday charging the four major beer breweries and their distributors have virtually suffocated competition and created unnaturally high 6-pack prices. The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn names Anheuser-Busch Inc., Miller Brewing Co., G. Heileman Brewing Co. Inc. and the Stroh Brewery Co. breweries and the New York State Beer Wholesalers Association, which he charged control 80 percent of the New York state beer market. The four companies distribute almost every big-name beer in New York, including Budweiser, Michelob, Miller, Schlitz, Schaefer, Colt 45 and Schmidt.

The story states that the lawsuit, which charged distributor and breweries were engaged in an actual conspiracy to control the beer market prices. The interesting thing is that this is the sort of thing that big craft suggests it triggered but this story is effectively pre-micro.

In another tale from that same month we read, again in the Times Union, a story of accusation. In the 7 July 1986 edition, we can find the headline “Boston Beer Seller Claims 3 European Imports Impure” which is pretty funny given there have been false and well proven accusations about competition in the brewing industry since, well, pretty much since beer was invented. The story by Bart Ziefler of the Associated Press starts in this way:

A tiny Boston beer company is taking on two giant international brewers, claiming the top European imported beers couldn’t be sold in West Germany because they don’t meet that nation’s beer purity law. In a series of radio and newspaper ads, Boston Beer Co. has challenged the the quality of the Beck’s, St. Pauli Girl and Heineken beers sold in this country. Beck and Co. of Bremen, West Germany, which brews Beck’s and export- only St. Pauli Girl, denies the claim. Netherlands-based Heineken, brewer of the No. 1 import, acknowledged that its contains corn and they don’t try to sell it in West Germany, according to the Boston Business Journal. “It’s sort of common knowledge among brewers that the beers are doctored,” said James Koch, whose company began selling Samuel Adams beer a little more than a year ago. “If you’re going to bring beer from that far away and have it drinkable, you’ve got to do something to stabilize it.”

Really? Corn as the crisis in craft? Excellent. Can’t we just admit we like corn sometimes? Is this PR campaign where the phobia related to the one ingredient “whose name may not be spake” came from? Sweet last line in which Koch states that he said he hoped to make Sam Adams truly a Boston beer next year by opening his own brewery. Correct me if I am wrong but, according to wiki wisdom, the brewery wasn’t bought for another eleven years and it was located in Cincinnati.

The Buffalo News of 8 November 1991 included a particularly excellent “state of the nation” report by Dale Anderson from the 1991 Microbrewers & Pubbrewers Conference at the Hyatt Regency in that fair City… two months before, in September. Under the lengthy headline “A Little Beer – Microbreweries, Producing Specialty Beers in Small Quantities Are The Talk Of The Industry” we learn a lot of things… and not just that there was the term “pubbbrewers”:

1. “Two American breweries — Sierra Nevada in California and Red Hook in Washington — actually have outgrown the “micro” designation.”
2. “The biggest concentration of brew-pubs on the continent, meanwhile, is in nearby Ontario, where there are about two dozen in the Toronto area alone.”
3. “These small-scale operations have little effect on the big brewers… Instead, they have moved in on the imported specialty brands.”
4. “One reason Queen City chose to brew at Lion is that it could put foil wrapping on the necks of the bottles and other breweries couldn’t. “We sat back and said we didn’t want to run a microbrewery with a pub attached,” Smith says, “so we followed the path of Jim Koch with Samuel Adams in Boston. The tough part is predicting four or five weeks ahead of time what we’re going to need.”

You can click on the article for more but it is interesting that the acknowledgement of out-growing the category as well as contract brewing was so openly stated and presented simply as a sign of success.

Less familiar perhaps than the other stories is the weird 2002 tale of the “Sex For Sam” sponsored by Samuel Adams Beer in which “prizes were awarded to people who had sex in unlikely public places.” Unlike the many references to Mr. Koch the Ascendant in the media of the time, this is not one that weathers the passage of time so well. In the New York Post of 7 November 2003,  William J. Gorta and Bill Hoffmann reported the story a year later after events in question – when the resulting criminal processes were concluded:

The Virginia woman who scandalized St. Patrick’s Cathedral by having sex in the pews as part of a sleazy radio stunt that revolted the city will not go to jail. Loretta Lynn Harper, 36, was sentenced to 40 hours of community service as part of a plea deal in which she admitted to disorderly conduct. Prosecutors took pity on Harper because her boyfriend, 38-year-old Brian Florence – her sex partner in the church tryst – died suddenly of heart failure last month.

Turns out the great idea was a joint project between Boston Beer and the soon to be fired WNEW-FM shock jocks Opie and Anthony. An FCC fine of $357,000 was levied against the radio station. The final two lines of the story is classic:

WNEW had no comment on the sentencing. A rep for Opie and Anthony and Sam Adams President Jim Koch did not return calls.

Wise. But a little more detail is provided in a gossip column in the New York Daily News of 29 August 29, 2002 which I provide in full for reasons of review of the delightful manner in which the gossipy tidbit was framed:

Opie and Anthony had a beer buddy rooting them on in the studio while they encouraged the St. Patrick’s Cathedral sex stunt that got them canned. Jim Koch, the head of Boston Beer Co., admitted he was on hand during the taping and issued an apology on the company’s Web site Monday. “We at the Boston Beer Co. formally apologize to all those upset or offended by the incident on the Opie and Anthony show and by our association with it,” wrote Koch. His company backed the show’s “Sex for Sam” contest, which promoted a trip to Boston to the company’s annual festival for couples who had public sex. The Samuel Adams brewer even called Lou Giovino, the Catholic League’s director of communications, to apologize. “I spoke with him twice since Monday,” Giovino told us, “And we’re satisfied with his apology.” But Giovino didn’t seem content when we told him he could listen to Koch’s studio hooting on the Smoking Gun’s Web site. “Oh, boy,” he sighed.

The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there. “Oh boy,” indeed.

One last tale. A little less… ripe and perhaps more in tune with where the future was actually going. In the 2 November 1996 issue of Newsweek magazine, there was a short piece headlined “Hobbies – It’s Beer O’Clock” in the regular Cyberscope column authored by Brad Stone and Jennifer Tanaka.

Seems like it’s hardly ever Miller time anymore. Now that America has developed a taste for microbrewed beer, The Real Beer Page (http:realbeer.com) should find a natural audience. It’s a one-stop destination for dozens of links to microbrewery home pages, beer Web zines and a database of brew pubs with a search engine to help you find one in your neighborhood. Cheers.

Dozens! Imagine. Particularly sweet is the note that the caption to an accompanying image was “Suds on the Menu” because no one loves an early web pun more than me. I also like the reference to “beer Web zines” which what I really should have called this place – A Good Beer Web Zine. Where are my Hammer Pants?

Al and Max and the Strange Blue Light

I have been playing with this addition to the adventures of Al and Max first shared with the world in 2014’s cult classic, The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer.  The five whole reviews of that first book left at Amazon have meant the world to me since that time. It is still available at a very reasonable $12.95 at Lulu and I assure you Max keeps every penny. He’s worth it.

I have played with the character of Al in a few posts a few years back but this larger piece has sat building itself in draft almost since the book came out. It is still in unfinished shape but I am not sure I will get back to is so… here it is. Oh, and you didn’t miss this post. I published it on 6 January but dated it to August 2017 when I last played with the draft.


1. The Shed

Alan was standing out in the backyard. He stood about ten feet from his shed, staring at it. He had gone out to put in a few more hours getting the garden ready for this spring’s seeds but for while now he had been staring at his shed. Again. His youngest child was staring at him from her bedroom window.

“Mommy!” she shouted downstairs, “Daddy’s staring at the shed again!”

He was. It’s true. He was just staring at the shed. He couldn’t get over it. It changed his life. How had Max and Ron materialized through the back of the shed all those times and now nothing? Then, what made that door to other places and other times close itself to him? He got mad for a while. Then a bit glum. Then, when winter passed, he found himself just staring. He had tried to find the invisible button, ran his head over every inch of the damn thing, kicked every half rotten board trying to figure it out. It was becoming clear that his portal was now just an outside closet full of little used tools and broken bikes.

“Come on in for supper, Dad,” the boy called, leaning out the back door.

“OK. I’ll be right in.” He didn’t move.

“Mommy! Daddy’s still staring at the shed!” his youngest shouted again a few minutes later.


He thought he had moved on. He was going to work. Keeping up with the laundry. You are never prepared for when a project is done, he said to himself. The porch gets painted. The manuscript goes in. The co-worker gets assigned to another job. Snow comes. Six months later you are so deep into the next job you’ve pretty much forgotten about the day to day crap the last one – and the one before that – stuck you with.

But then one night he had a dream. In the dream he was staring at the shed. That was nothing new. Shed staring dreams were common. They competed with that dream about the boss springing the grade 11 math exam on him without warning. But on this night the shed door was open. And there was something glowing at the back.

Al awoke. He couldn’t shake the idea that the dream meant something. He tweeted Max who, with the time change east, was already in the pub over in Prague.

@pivnofilosof: You had a dream about your shed? Again?

@agoodbeerblog: Yes… but it was more like the shed was talking to me in my dream.

@pivnofilosof: Have you been drinking?

@agoodbeerblog: No. Just put on coffee, why?

@pivnofilosof: I dunno. Maybe because you are tweeting me about your goddamn shed again?

@agoodbeerblog:Oh, OK. I suppose. But this time it was different.

Max read the messages from Al patiently. It had been weird. But he was Argentinian and understood weird. Al he went on and on, again, about the meaning of the dream. Well, Max really just sent tweets like “@pivnofilosof: oh yes?” and “@pivnofilosof: that’s interesting” as Al tweeted on and on for the best part of ten minutes. Max was in a pub on a sunny spring Saturday afternoon reading the paper and was enjoying himself too much to think all that much about a shed in Canada. Until that is Al got to the point.

@agoodbeerblog: It’s like the shed had a voice or at least wanted to tell us something.

@pivnofilosof: Us? It was your dream.

@agoodbeerblog: Us. You need to come over.

@pivnofilosof: No way. I am not starting this again.

@agoodbeerblog: I am not sure we really have all that much choice.

@pivnofilosof: What?

@pivnofilosof: WHAT?!??!

Alan was gone. Must have closed his computer. Screw that, thought Max. He was sick of the beer rant stuff. And a bit tired of Al. Nice guy but he hauled him though space and time and for what? The nonsense is still the nonsense and nothing is change. He read his paper a bit more, had another Únětická 10°.

Time to start thinking of supper. Before leaving for home, Max headed to the men’s room and, opening the door, he reached around for the light switch. Funny, he thought, it should be right there. He hand rested on a mop handle. No, it was a shovel. What the hell was a shovel doing here? He kicked something and tripped. “Why’s there all this crap in here?” he asked himself as he sat on his ass surrounded by junk in the dark. Max heard a voice calling.

“Hello?” Then the far end of the washroom the bright beam of a flashlight and a voice speaking in English. “Hello? Oh dear. Not a racoon at all. It looks like… Max?” It wasn’t the washroom. He was in Al’s shed.

“Fuck,” Max said. “Fucking fuck shit fuck.”

2. The Blue Glow That Spoke

Max was steaming. And bored. Hours had passed since he left Prague beer taproom. It was already midnight in Canada. He’d called home. Shouting and pleading in at least three languages Al didn’t understand. Arrangements could be made he supposed but until then here he was stuck with Al and that goddamn shed. They had been now staring at it for a few hours sitting on lawn chairs with Al going on and on about the shed. Max would be more than steaming and bored, however, if the shed in the corner of Al’s backyard wasn’t glowing a light neon blue. That was interesting. Weird even. Plus he has no idea how to get home.

“Maybe you should just walk into the light and let it envelop you,” said Alan trying to be helpful..

“Are you fucking joking? Walk into the light?” Max complained. “Let’s review how many times you get to do that in life. Once… and… oh, only the once.”

“Sorry,” Alan said, now remembering he had mentioned that idea about an hour ago. He looked at his beer. And the empty bottles by his chair. He now remembered he had mentioned it already a number of times. And everything else he could think of. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t ask for Max to show up like this… not really.

“I have to get home, Al,” Max said for the seventeenth time. “I really can’t be here!” Max swung around and knocked his beer over. He looked down, his disgust with the situation moving up another notch watching the excellent ale seeping into the ground. He stared. He stared at it some more. It was night. He was in Canada. He didn’t wanted any of this.

“I can get you another, Max,” Al said. “There’s plenty. What do you want?” Max didn’t respond. Al was worried. Al had been getting a little worried for a couple hours now. He thought Max was really going to lose it soon. And he was trying to figure out how to keep his neighbours from calling the cops if Max let loose with another string of his startlingly diverse multi-lingual foul mouthed language. But Max didn’t. Not now. He was just staring at the shed.

“Look,” Max said quietly. He was pointing. Alan looked. The shed glow was stronger all of a sudden. And the spot where the beer had spilled was now glowing blue as well. The light was moving, growing. A figure in blue neon had formed in the shed door. A big shaggy topped bearded guy with glasses, half see-through, half… half a blue glowing tweed jacketed, a very familiar figure. He moved towards them. Max decided he was reaching even his maximum weirdness capacity.

Alan and Max looked at each other, at the figure in the door and at each other again.

“OK… this is weird,” Max quietly whispered to Al.

“Holy shit,” said Alan not at anyone in particular. Then the scene went quiet as all three looked at each other not moving. The man in blue moved over to the chair that Max had been sitting on, grabbed the back and pulled a blue glowing ghost clone of it towards him. He sat down with a smile.

“Jackson. Jackson’s the name. I think. Or was. Or might be. Not quite sure,” the figure said rubbing his chin, brows a bit furrowed. “Any chance of a beer?” said Jackson’s figure with an almost fatherly smile as he looked around. Alan put a beer on the table and the ghost’s blue hand reached over and pulled back with a blue neon replica of the beer in his hand. He drank deeply, downing half the bottle in one long draw.

“So… why am I here… and, umm, why is… where is here?” Jackson asked.

“We have no idea… Micha… Mr. Jacks…” Alan said as he was cut off by the blue figure.

“Look… one thing you need… I need to… to understand. I am not sure…. I am not Michael Jackson. Not really. I am something like him but not him. I’ve been dead for a while now and, you know, what with that whole merging with the singularity thing… it’s really hard to keep track of how much of what I was is still what I am.”

Neither Alan or Max knew what to say. So they just stared.

“Plus you are projecting your expectations all over me. That’s a little disconcerting.” He rubbed at his chest as if he was getting itchy.

“Sorry. err, Michael…?” Alan said confused looking at Max. Max was just staring at the ghost in blue now. But he looked like he was getting into this.

“So…” Max was gearing himself up to ask, “so, you are a bit of Jackson, a bit of the universal and a whole bunch of what we think of you?”

“Maybe… Exactly! Couldn’t have put it better… I think..” The blue figure said. He congratulated himself with the rest of the bottle of beer. He waived the empty at all, obviously seeking another.

Suddenly, music was coming from the shed. A falsetto singing “we-hee-hee” to a 1980s familiar beat.

“Is that…?” Max asked.

“Yes, we are all filed alphabetically in there,” the blue ghost said. “I have to listen to that all day and night. The King of Pop. Not what I expected in the world to come. If he hadn’t died so young I wouldn’t have had to put up with him yet.” He made a motion as if to grab at his crotch and then rolled his eyes. Al passed him another beer which again was left in his hand as Jackson drew away the blue clone. As Jackson drank, Al could feel the real beer in his hand lighten as the contents disappeared.

“… the way-eh you make-a me feel…” drifted out of the shed quietly, echoing.

“So, if you aren’t Jackson… what should we call you?” Al asked as he handed the form another beer, not noticing he was now tapping his toe to the ethereal beat. Another clone of the beer came into being.

The Jackson-like form paused. “Hadn’t thought of that… need another name to describe this state of being, don’t I. Of non-being… I suppose you could call me Hunter. I recall something about that…” He drew on the beer, nodding approvingly.

“OK, how about we don’t, Mike,” said Max, clearly now exploring some limits. If he was going to be stuck here, he thought, might as well set some rules, enjoy himself.

Jackson didn’t take offense. “Sure thing. I am open to suggestions. How about Fred. I always liked Freds. You can call me Fred. Freddie Mercury. Always had a soft spot for him. Once in a while, I can hear a few notes from his direction when the crotch man gives it a rest for a bit. Fred Hill. Fred Flintstone. Yes, Fred will do nicely,” said the figure in blue with a smile.

“Fred the beer by Hair of the Dog… Fred  Eckhardt…” Alan continued listing out loud, still trying to be helpful despite the weirdness.

“Oh. OK, fine. I can’t be Fred,” said the figure as if he had remembered something quite important he had not recalled for some time. “Not Fred… he’s Fred… who am I?” he said trailing off. Looking around he added “… and where am I?”

“How the hell knows or cares… it’s not like I want to be here either,” Max snapped having gotten all a bit impatient as he stood to go get another beer. “Maybe we’ll just call you ‘you’ for now, if that’s OK. Let’s see how that goes.” He took a couple of steps towards the shed. “This is too goddamn freaky. I need to figure out how all this is going to get me back to Prague.”

“Prague?” The blue form asked? Alan made a quick face at the blue figure as if to say that was Max being Max, not to worry. He got a shrug in reply.“Prague is nice. I like Prague.”

“Me too.” Alan then realized he had never been to Prague, that he was making inane small talk with the semi-undead on one hand and, on the other, a magically transported Argentine wanting to be back in Prague. He got all weirded out again.

“So,” Max said rounding on the two seated figures, “my can you tell me a little about what brings you here this fine midnight?”

“Me?” the blue form asked, pointing at his own chest.

“Yes, you, for fuck’s sake. You!” Max said getting all pointy, raising his voice to match his irritation.

“Well,” he said, “it’s that anger of yours – it’s about that rant of yours. Your trips through time and space and the diary you published. It’s all come to our attention.”

“Your attention?” Max asked, “who’s that you, You? Are there other “yous” back in the shed?”

Al thought this “You” thing was already falling apart a bit. And he was worrying about the neighbours. Max was getting emphatic. He didn’t want to trigger that other sort of “Max being Max” thing.

“I was asked to pop by. I think. Yes, that’s it. I was asked to pop over and have a word. We just wanted to make sure that you two were not missing the point, losing your focus on what matter. You sounded so unhappy there for a bit,” he said. “It’s just beer, you know.” Jackson had another long approving draw on his beer.

Al could not believe his ears. Here he was. Looking at… the residue of what once was Michael Jackson… maybe, the spirit of the man who created the whole style nonsense, the one being on Earth who did more than any other to aggrandize the humble glass of ale – and he’s the guy who tells him that it’s just beer? Al’s mind raced, not knowing what to say.

“Oh, by the way… I can read some of your thoughts, too,” said the glowing blue man. “part of the whole other-sidey stuff. Sorry. Supposed to mention that. Quite interesting. Max, you have an absolutely filthy mind.” Turning to Al, he said ,”You can’t imagine…” .

“Oh, yes. Oh, yes I can,” Al replied, slapped again with the scarring experience of his travels with Max. So many new words. So many new bad bad words.

“Anyway,” the undead in blue said turning back to Max, “the general consensus back there,” he said pointing at the shed, ”is that your ranting ways have left you in a bit of a bind. You’ve snookered yourselves. You’ve come to dislike the thing you like, haven’t you? What’s the point of that?”

Max looked at Al and back at the speaker. “But you are… or, fair enough, were… the guy who started it all. Who got us into the predicament in the first place. Beer styles. Beer pairing. Beer expertise. You aren’t suggesting that’s all made up,” Max said, waving his hands around.

“No… no… well, yes… and no. I did have quite an interest in all that, I guess…” he replied a bit sheepishly. “But it was because beer was so underappreciated. You have no idea what it was like in the 1970s. I hardly have any idea. I can hardly remember it but what I do recall is that it was bad. Watney’s Red Barrel. You have no idea.”

“Yes, we get that, but how does that translate into what has happened to good beer? All the posing, the weirdo adjuncts, the overpricing… the communicators?” Al asked, wincing at the last word. “Surely, you have something to say about that?”

Max jumped in. “Let’s get to the point. How do you feel when people hold meetings and praise you ‘with many hosannas’ claiming there will never be another like you?”

“Didn’t work out too well for the last guy, all that hosanna stuff, did it?” he replied with a smile, turning to Max. “Honestly? It’s all a bit depressing, actually. I mean if I could be depressed. Which I can’t. Because I died. Or he died. Hmm… lets just say deadness resolves all that. It’s quite handy in a way…” He paused. “Don’t get me wrong. I spent my whole professional life looking for the next drink, the better drink –  and I made it… here… or at least not down there. That must stand for something. I clearly was not all wrong, lads,” he said.

“Yes, there is that,” Max agreed. Alan nodded.

“So,” he continued, “while I am not going to agree with you on everything you wrote, I do see that it’s a bit like the person who loses a loved one and then drops all interest in life. I mean, if I was such an example of someone who went out and made my personal curiosity about beer into my rich life’s work, then why is the proper response to my early and untimely passing everyone putting one’s feet up? Saying there won’t be another like that Jackson guy? Surely to G… sorry… surely, my example itself ought to serve as reason to go out in the world, follow curiosity and find new things that I never saw. You’d think that’d be some sort of legacy.”

“Not passion?” asked Max.

“Ha! I don’t see too many of those “passion” people up where I ended,” Jackson replied laughing, waving his blue empty bottle again. Al handed him another of his shrinking stash. “Well, no, that’s not true. Plenty of good folk like Robert Langridge. You see them.”*

Alan rubbed his chin, thrown a bit. “I guess I see what you mean. But isn’t there another problem with your legacy? Is there enough elbow room for the gang following your footsteps? I mean you were one of the few who has made a decent buck, made a decent contribution from just beer writing. Is there enough beer money flowing from the brewers to the thinkers and writers?”

Thinkers? Really? Look, grow up at bit, would you?” the glowing blue figure snapped. “You don’t have to die and sit for a semi-infinity in a place where time has no meaning mulling over stuff to know no one has a right to an income from an interest in good beer any more than you have a right to cash because you want to write. It has to be good writing to even be considered worth payment. Same goes for beer.”

“Exactly!” said Max exclaimed, “that’s my point!”

“Steady on, Max – it’s not all that profound,” The ghost paused and looked around. “By the way, any chance I could get a proper glass? Something of a goblet?” Jackson pulled a translucent litre can out from under his tweedy jacket and poured. “Your stash is fine, Al, but I brought my own just in case.” His translucent hand reached for the glass, poured and lifted a faint copy of the glass to his lips as the earthly one sat still empty before him.

“Does that really say ‘Westy 12’ on the can?” Max asked incredulously.

“And ‘Big Gulp’ and ‘As Seen on TV?’” asked Alan.

“It’s called heaven for a reason, boys…” the apparition said with a wink.

3. The Stars Still Stood Still

They talked. They drank. If time had had any meaning that night, hours might have passed. But as long as the blue figure was there, the mid-point of that night seemed to carry on, the stars holding their position in space even as the occasional comet raced by. The conversation carried on, Max showing less and less irritation and much more interest in what the blue ghost was saying.

“I remember realizing after enough folk I knew had died that they switched from being a subject to an object. Sometimes it happened immediately,” the visitor said. “One minute you imagine the next editorial meeting, based on the last one and the one before that. You don’t notice the guy in the chair next to you half the time but he’s a someone. Then you hear the guy’s kicked it and, just like that, he’s a character in your life. Locked in.”

“So,” Max asked trying to understand, “what you are saying is that not only are you not really you because you were something that is different than you are. And that on top of that you are locked in because what you are is pretty much all you can be?”

“Yup. That’s about it. Plus all that projecting. You have no idea. Folk project their expectations all over you after you bite it. It saps away the what you were bit by bit. The process of objectification I suppose. You guys aren’t too bad. You’re hardly draining me away at all now.”

“Yeah, I never read you that much – sorry about that,,” Alan said. “Nothing personal but I came so late to your books that I pretty much had framed my own ideas by that point. I am not sure what you stand for… stood for. I mean it’s all very fine to be the first at something but there’s not a lot that is mastered on the first go, right? Plus I came to good beer through Dave Line…”

“And I’m Argentinian,” Max said.

The other two looked at Max and then each other.

“OK… shut up… it’s complicated,” Max said.

Alan took another gulp of whatever was in his glass, looked up into the dark. And then asked “do you mind?”

“Mind? Mind being… blue? Dead and blue? No, not at all” he said as his blue hand waved away the notion in a glowing slash. “From this side of things you also have a good sense of what matters and what you ended up achieving. If you are lucky, it was something a bit useful. It’s a privilege and maybe even an obligation to do something a bit worthwhile. You know, I did get to teach a lot of people a good bit about something I really liked in life. Nothing wrong with that.”

“Nothing at all,” said Max. Alan just swallowed, then raising his glass to tap his neighbour’s. The blue outlined one just passed through, even as there was a quiet “clink” in the night.  They all sat and thought there own thoughts for a while under the unmoving heavens.

“OK,” said Al, “if we accept that it is good to be useful and share your skills, are there still opportunities and different views being excluded?”

“Never my aim,” the blue form said, “though the weight of the expectation to do so projects upon me terribly. Hardest stuff to bear. But, regardless of what people think, there is one single point that needed to be made which might seem like exclusion – beer was and remains disrespected compared to wine. You can repeat after me if you need to. Wine is more expensive than beer and is always been more profitable than beer. Wine is still held in high regard. Beer is taken for granted – dismissed. It may be because beer aim for consistency that they are considered a bit boring. Shifting the reputation of good beer was and remains critical. Folk like you two do nothing for the cause when you go on about the unbearable nonsense of it all.”*

Max and Al both visibly unimpressed at the idea of a “cause” but their companion was not to be deterred. “I have said it before and it remains as true today. Wine is never blamed for deaths on the road, family breakdowns or other social ills. It’s all caused by beer. So beer needs to be taxed to stifle demand, its advertising needs banned, its points of sale limited. These views are held by a surprising number of people with influence or power in bodies like the European Union. If I am going to find myself facing that sort of reality, I need to stand against it.”

“But isn’t that a bit done by now?” Alan asked. “Isn’t the day long passed where the cause needs boosters? We’re in the 5,000 brewery universe now. Every town of any size has a nano-brewing hipster or a good beer bar. Isn’t it long past time where we need to prop up the one-sided communicators with their identical blog posts about the same one junket? Good local beer stands alongside the good local wines made within an hour’s drive from here. The brewers and wineries even support each other. The wine is great. Oz Clarke’s writing about it, one of the up and coming underdogs in wine.”

“They make good wine around here? Really?” Max said. “Why didn’t you tell me? I like wine. You think I don’t like wine? Do you have some of this wine? How come you never told me about these wines? You thick headed freckled idiot.”

Al looked at Max, a bit surprised by his lack of hospitality. “You want some wine?” Alan asked Max, then looking at Not Fully Jackson. Seeing them both nod – and agree he was in fact an idiot – he went off to grab a bottle of local Riesling and a Pinot Noir from his stash. A few minutes later, he was filling his guests eagerly upheld glasses.

“Wow!” said the blue man holding up his glass of Devils Wishbone white. “That’s fabulous. Crisp acids, light fruit, creamy minerals.”

“Nothing wrong with that at all,” Max said, holding his glass up to the blue glow. “You really are an asshat for not telling me about this,” considering the wine with obvious experience.

“Fine,” said Al, “and it’s the limestone and loam that makes them that good – but the point is made. These are small local producers of excellent wines, no different that the small local brewers down the road. Good beer is like fine wine is like good cheese. Like good books and good… good… anything! But these days, it’s either overlaid with all this victim discourse or this needy even passive aggressive PR claptrap. You’d think we were talking about the endangered white rhino the way people go on…”

“…not to mention the pay for play whether in a bar’s tap line up or the contents of some of these communicator’s internet organs,” added Max, smacking his lips after dropping a second glass of Norman Hardie’s red. “You know, this would go well with a nice bit of manchego … or even lovecký sýr…”

“Or a good aged cheddar. You Canadians do a good job with that, you know. You wouldn’t happen to have… “ Alan was already walking again across the lawn back to the house to get them both some cheese, amazed how they well they were getting along.

“Grab some crackers while you’re in there,” shouted Max at Al’s back. “And olives if you have them…”

“Good call, Max” said Jackson approvingly.

4. The Path Forward

“You know, I knew you were going to say that” the blue form said.

“Of course you did. You can read our minds, remember?” Max said with a nod.

“Oh, yes. Of course. So where were we?” Al asked, nabbing that one last olive.

“Taste, local, good beer, good wine…” the blue man sighed, happy with the snacks. “It’s all about the same thing: is it good? When I started out, it was all so bad, so industrialized.”

Alan rubbed his the top of his head. “Bad? Isn’t beer always going through phases, being build up to a massive scale only to be replaced by the smaller and more agile? Even E.P. Taylor started out as a small disruptive force in brewing. It’s not about scale. You know, you once wrote:

Unfortunately people who take destructive and irreversible decisions based on “public taste” are usually ten years behind everyone else in their appreciation of whatever is at stake. People who quote “taste” to support their argument usually have no taste and no argument.**

“These days it’s not ten years or even ten months… ten weeks is old news,” Alan added. “It’s frenetic. So many brewers making so many beers with nothing lasting even long enough to be considered a seasonal anymore. Not to mention that craft beer has gotten so big.”

“And Big Beer’s gotten so craft,” added Max.

“You are quoting me to me, Al? What’s your point?” the ghost said. “Isn’t it enough that I am dead but that you quote the dead not living me at the now not living dead me?”

“Sorry. But it’s just that craft today is just a phase based on allegedly good taste as much as the next thing that passes craft by will be,” Alan said. “Craft craps on micro for not having the right taste. Big craft craps on big industrial for being supposedly “crafty” when the two are virtually identical. Whose taste can we trust if it all just marketing, just an argument?”

Craft? Ah, craft! So that really took off, did it?” the blue man rubbed his chin, “I remember using that back in 2003, probably earlier. It’s was still a fairly new word for microbrewing from just before I kicked the bucket, right?

“Well, it was all craft. It’s independent now. You’ve really have been dead for a while,” said Max who quickly – and somewhat surprisingly – regretted his rudeness.

“Don’t worry. It’s just a word” said Jackson a bit to himself. “…craft, dead… just words.”

“Craft,” said Al shaking his head. ”It’s become just another form of phoney, another bastardization of the simple goodness, a fraud on the honest price for an honest beer. Radler, for God’s sake…”

“They brought back Radler?” the ghost said taken aback. “I never thought craft would take on producing and promoting, a drink that looks like lemonade.”

“So much tastes like lemonade these days… and Gatorade… and…” Alan said.

“It’s all about finding the next trick to play on the consumer,” Max said, “the next junk additive to chuck in the next stupid packaging.”

“Adulteration? Adultery? Hint? Can anyone pick up a hint from the dead guy in the room?” The ghost of Jackson was holding his hands up with a shrug looking at Max and then Al and back and forth.

“I’m not following you,” said Al looking back and forth himself.

“Sixth commandment anyone?”

“Are you saying that the adulteration of beer was prohibited by God?” Max asked.

“Bingo!” shouted the unJackson. “Everyone thinks it’s about marriage but that’s already covered by number nine, the whole coveting thing isn’t it. No, the rule relates to the whole of life. Don’t mess with stuff pretending it makes anything better. As with marriage so with beer and any number of other things. People can smell a phony. Good beer has a hard enough time without the phonies.”

Alan and Max had no idea what to say. Then they did.

“Whaaaat?” they fell over each other saying.

“Wasn’t that exactly what we said after our trips in our diary about the state of good beer?” Max added.

“Look, I have to go. But I will be straight with you,” the blue figure said standing up. “It’s not like your little book set the word on fire or said anything everyone else wasn’t thinking already. But you seemed to have the right goal, the intention to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong about good beer.”

Al and Max shrugged in agreement as they also got up.

“See that blue glowing garden shed over there? Whatever that is – and I am not sure I am all that sure myself – well, whatever that is… it sure likes the whole right and wrong thing. I spent my whole life thinking about the good, the bad and the ugly of beer. Keep it up. But Max? Maybe a little less of the garbage mouth, OK?”

“Screw that!” Max said with a laugh. Ex-Jackson was walking back across the lawn.

“Well, it’s been fun but I must be going, gents. I can’t believe it’s this late in the…” He paused, considering how to explain non-chronology. His form was starting to lose some detail as he spoke the words. “That other Jackson fellow seems to have taken a break and I need to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s been good talking with you but there’s only so much guidance I can give you. Beer is complex enough yet so approachable that there are plenty points of view worth exploring.”

“Even the communicators, the storytellers?” Al called out as the blue form moved back into the shed, fading and merging with the blue glow.

“Even the commuuunicatooors!” they could hear his last words echoing from a distance. Then was only silence.

“… the way-eh you make-a me feel…” drifted out of the shed quietly, breacking the silence. Echoing.

“Was that a groan?” Alan said.

“Poor bastard,” said Max shaking his head, following towards the shed as the blue glow started to fade.

A moment later, he was gone as well, Al standing alone on the lawn wondering to himself if Max had meant to do that and where exactly he might now be.

*See Jackson, The Beer Hunter, “Sweet flavours from the cowshed”.
**See Jackson, The Beer Hunter: “Wine snobbery … and brewers who won’t learn or fight back” – Published in Print 1 March 2002, Brewers’ Guardian.
***See World Guide to Beer, page 204.

Fascists, Racists, Pinkos, Brewers And…

Not much inclined to write for the last week or so. Late 1970s nuclear fear retro followed quickly by 1930s Nazi fear retro. Seems our neighbours to the south hired a moron and he is turning out to be a fabulous moron attracting other morons to flit about his flame. Like last summer, one barely knows what to reach for but, perhaps unlike last summer, one knows one might need to. What to do in these troubled times? Perhaps explore how fascism, communism and racism (perhaps bundled as “totalitarian supremacism“?) has been known to brewing over time? Let’s see.

Earlier this year, Hungary witnessed a bit of a political controversy over the appearance of Heineken’s red star – which Hungarian law considers a totalitarian symbol. As might have been expected, it was apparently as much as anything about contemporary politics and the time-honoured role brewing money plays in that game.

Totes Supps can also show up in more unexpected ways. In 2016, a brewery in Bavaria was accused of offering a Nazi friendly lager named Grenzzaun Halbe, or Border Fence Half. Priced at 88 euro cents a bottle, it was considered code for HH or Heil Hitler. The brewer in the usual way explained “insisted the name and slogan were not directed against migrants, but referred to defending Bavarian culture“* but, oddly, also said they had lent resources to the refugee influx.

Then there are the old boys who, you know, just say those sorts of things. Yesterday, Jason Notte provided a bit of a walk down memory lane offering the legacy of US brewing mogul Bill Coors who was apparently quoted in 1984 for providing such comments as “…one of the best things they did for you is to drag your ancestors over here in chains…” and “…they lack the intellectual capacity to succeed, and it’s taking them down the tubes” though the resulting libel suit against a newspaper that had the gall to report his words was dropped. The old git is still with us apparently, turning 101 the other day. Other similar substantial claims were made against the brewery in those days. Interesting, then, that three years later this was an opinion reported by the Syracuse Herald-Journal of February 10, 1987 just when Coors was entering the CNY market:

“When you buy their product you are, in effect, inviting the Coors people into your home,” said Joseph Welch, executive secretary of the Greater Syracuse Labor Council. “I think anyone with a conscience wouldn’t want those kind of people in their homes.”**

But these brewers can also be ingrained into the movement. If we go back a bit further, one can look at what brewers did during the time when fascists were actually in the ascent. To the right is a very handy graph with the somewhat vague title “Birra Peroni’s strategic response to institutional pressure” from the 2016 book Accounting and Food: Some Italian Experiences by Sargiacomo, D’Amico and Di Pietra. I say vague given it illustrates, in part, this business decision from 1926 to the regime’s fall:

…the Fascist government tried to control production and balance demand and supply by controlling the supply side…. In this context, the company’s strategic response may be viewed as a compromise. Giacomo Peroni, former president of the earlier Unione Italiana Fabbricanti di Birra (Italian Brewers’ Union) was put at the helm of the new association. As the managers of the new association, Giacomo could act as an institutional entrepreneur and therefore bend the institutional change to his own and his company’s interests. In fact, despite the need to reduce the company’s production volume as imposed by the Fascist government, in his role Giacomo Peroni managed to avoid such cuts and toss them off on his competitors. This is suggested by the fact that it was precisely in those years that the company increased its production volume and sales. 

Suggested?*** Hmm… Apparently, Peroni also fed demand from what are described as the “new African colonies” aka the invasion of Ethiopia. Nothing like a captive audience. Note: Peroni continues as a brand now owned by Japanese brewer Asahi, achieving apparently some recent success.

And we do also recall that the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch did lead to the army being called out, an arrest, a trial and a five year term. Well, then someone gave Hitler a pen in jail and he wrote down his evil which was shared after an early release.

What does all this prove? Well, as you can see in the footnotes, we can laugh at it. We can also support the democratic processes that stand against it. But that totalitarian supremacist is going to keep popping up. No point in pretending, offering a beer and dreaming that people are good. Some people are very bad. Having lived though an number of genocides at the youthful age of 54 – from Cambodia to the Balkans – I don’t expect that evil to change. But if we understand that it is an insidiously corrosive, inveigling tendency we should be aware that it needs being watched out for and given proper response.

*See here for more.
**See here for more.
***See here for more.


Half Hours On Earth, Seaforth, Ontario

I’d like to say that I visited Half Hours on Earth a few weeks ago but it was more like a drive-by shooting. Except I was only shooting with the iPad camera. See, it was summer and the kids at camps and cottages on the Lake Huron shore. My only job that week off was to get them there one weekend and get them back on the next one. Thirty-two hours of driving all in all. I needed some joy and a stop like this on a long haul is just the thing I needed. But I only had 12 minutes so I was in and out after asking 57 questions and coming across as a weirdo. I am used to me so it was fine.





Seaforth is a small crossroads ag supply town in south western Ontario that looks like a lot of the other small crossroads ag supply towns in south western Ontario that I married into. Lovely orange and tan brick houses and main street buildings. Gingerbread gothic revival churches sitting prominently on a grid of squares drawn on a map in the 1830s, long before the people arrived. All cooled by the shade of large hardwoods planted over 100 years ago – or maybe a dip in the river when it’s a hot one. The whine of cicadas interrupted by blizzards on an annual cycle. Alice Munro country filled with quiet towns laced with the quietly unhappy but satisfied enough. It’s not where you would think you would find great beer but a few weeks back Robin and Jordan declared it the best new brewery in the province and I went all in. I found the brewery and its two owner operators in the lower level of a grain depot by a rail siding. Here is what I thought.

Green Mind: The name is like a Third Doctor serial. Except it needs to have “of Doom” added at the end. I bought a quart jug, aka a small growlers. It provided me with a great follow up to a GLB Canuck and a Friday evening mow of the lawn. At heftier 7.1% its the biggest of the beers I bought, surprising similar but also the senior to the province’s favourite craft beer. Not a sour bomb so much as a weedy raggedy-arsed maybe even pissed-off IPA.  Pale malt sweet base under bitter greens. The lavender brett fitting beneath the lush ditch weed bitter herb hop. Remember. I just mowed the lawn. A bit of Chinese mustard green burn. Not really arugula black pepper bitter but green and sharp like a salad full of salad greens you never heard of. Quaffable. I quaffed. Rounded by the wood not a hint of any cheesy Chardonnay oak. Robust but not heavy. Extremely satisfying dry stinging nettle note in the finish. Cloudy but not milky, mustard – tan coloured ale under a rich clingy fine whipped egg white head. Sweet cream and herbs on the nose portending the unexpected. A thinking person’s ale. Or at least a person having a good think after mowing the lawn on a Friday. Lovely.

Jez: 5.6% rosehip rosemary farmhouse. Herbal lemonade on the nose. Smell like the sorbet/sherbet I want in my life. Cloudy dark lemon ale under rich white whipped head. Dry yet moderately full. Plenty of bright acid, lemon juice, rose hip giving both a bit of body and a seam of earthy slightly sweet must. Very attractive, vinous. Citrus rise at the start, lime and white grapefruit pith. Deftly confident if not bold. Could have been overbearing if a few element had gone astray. Could poach cod in this. With baby leeks and smashed new spuds. I came back to this one. As I thought about this beer, I agreed with myself about how brilliant the use of rose hip was.  Earthy but not mushroomed.

Corrigan: I believe I learned that this was the same 5.6% base beer as the Jez but with coriander and lemongrass. The lack of the earthy non-mushroom tone makes a great difference. This is all bright and light. The piccolo of citrus notes with a relatively slight herbal presence compared to Jez. The lemongrass adds green hues to the middlest middle where another brewer this summer or last might have placed cucumber. Very attractive…. again. The bretty lavender effect frames deftly. Did I use deft again, too? Sure did. A very much quieter sour beer but well worth leaning in a bit and paying proper attention.

Mingus Dew: I bought a full growler, a pottle to those who know. Quarts and pottles. Can’t we just call them that? This pottles-worth was drained in the backyard of the in-laws who were away out east on holiday. We were feeding grapes to the unwelcome rabbit who had set up shop, eating all their garden plants. Rather cheeky. It was the perfect antidote to a stinking hot day in a quiet town, another southwestern Ontario ag supply town. At just 3.8%, a dry hop table sour that offers no dangers, just promises. And opportunities. Dry citrus tang on the nose. Slightly clouded light golden ale under a rich rocky lace leaving head. I should pull the two emergency bottles of that Girardin with the black label out of the residual stash to see how they might compare. This is lovely. Yes, simple lemon but, as with GBL, there is that measured cream backbone from the light malt.

Pod Six: Last but not least. Again, I believe this is the same 3.8% base beer as Mingus Dew with sea salt rather than dry hopping. Side by side, very interesting. The most obvious difference is how the salt adds a slight coating to the lips. Next, it slightly takes the edge off the acid. It might contribute to a more restrained aroma. What, after all, is the smell of salt? A miner might know. The choice of sea salt is interesting as just down the road is Ontario’s salt supply at Goderich. I want to fill a jug with this beer and mild garden herbs. Parsley. Chervil.

We actually chatted a bit. Not what you would call an interview or anything. The kids were in the car. With the AC on. You can read the newspapers for that sort of information. Owners Kristen Harburn and Kyle Teichert grew up in the area. People I know probably know people they know or at least were at the same buck and doe. I asked how it was they got into sours and told me of trips to Buffalo to find Belgian sours, the empties of which were on display. I pointed at a few with strong memories for me, especially Brise-BonBons from Fantome which introduced me to hoppy and sour ten years ago. These beers are the the love child of that.

They ship their beers. You can order them and they stick them in the mail. I will do that. Likely today. After all, I am just about out. If I think of the thrill I had in the fall of 2007 finding myself in Dexter, Michigan getting an hour of Ron Jefferies’ time at the end of a busy week and then getting a case of quarts (and a woolly winter hat) to take away at $5.99 a bottle, the idea of getting beer this fine delivered to my door has a Jetsons’ tone to it here in Ontario the monopolistic. I like this future.

When Steam Was King… It Was Common

Two years ago – well, 23 months ago, I wrote a brief passing thing about the concept of “steam” beer in a post about another thing, cream ale, but given this week’s sale of Anchor, makers of steam beer who proudly proclaim they are San Francisco Craft brewers since 1896,  to an evil dark star in the evil dark galaxy of international globalist beverage corporations, I thought it worth repeating and expanding slightly. Here is what I wrote:

Adjectives from another time. How irritating. I mentioned this the other day somewhere folk were discussing steam beer. One theory of the meaning is it’s a reference to the vapor from opening the bottle. Another says something else. Me, I think it’s the trendy word of the year of some point in the latter half of the 1800s. Don’t believe me? Just as there were steam trains and steamships, there were steam publishers. In 1870 there was a steam printer in New Bedford, Massachusetts. A steam printer was progress. Steam for a while there just meant “technologically advanced” or “the latest thing” in the Gilded Age. So steam beer is just neato beer. At a point in time. In a place. And the name stuck. That’s my theory.

And here is what I would like to add. To the right is a news item from the Albany Gazette of 10 March 1814. As I have looked around records from the 18o0s for example of the use of “steam” I describe above, I found this one describing a steam battery both early and entertaining. I assumed on first glance that this was some sort of power storage system. In fact it is for a barge loaded with cannon. 32 pounder cannon which are rather large cannon indeed. Well, all cannon are large if they are pointed at you I suppose but in this case they are significant. For the nationalist vexiologists amongst you, I can confirm that the proposed autonomously propelled barge system of cannon delivery was reported six months before the Battle of Baltimore. Were they part of the sea fencibles? Suffice it to say, as with steam publishing and steam train engines you had steam based warfare by battle barge.

Next – and again to the right – is a notice placed in the New York Herald on 11 September 1859 indicating that John Colgan was selling three grades of ale and perhaps three grades of porter after “having made arrangements with W.A. Livingston, proprietor of steam brewery…” This appears to be an example of contract brewing where Livingston owns the brewery and contract brews for the beer vendor, Colgan. Aside from that, it is a steam brewery. Livingston’s operation was listed in the 1860 Trow’s New York City Directory along with a number of other familiar great regional names in brewing such as Vassar, Taylor and Ballantine. And it lists over two pages a total of four steam breweries, including Livingston’s. Which makes it a common form of industry marketing.

“Steam” is quite venerable as a descriptor of technology. If you squint very closely at this full page of the Albany Register from 29 January 1798 you will see steam-jacks for sale. It is also a term that moved internationally. In the New York Herald for 15 September 1882, you see two German breweries named as steam breweries. And again in the Herald, in the 10 August 1880 edition to the right, we see the sale of the weiss brewery at 48 Ludlow Street details of which included a “steam Beer Kettle” amongst other things. One last one. An odd one. If you look at this notice from the Herald from 14 June 1894 you will see a help wanted ad seeking a “young man to bottle and steam beer.” Curious.

What does any of it mean? Well, steam beer and common might have a lot more to do with each other than the just the name of a style.