As July Turns To Face August These Are Your Thursday Beer News Stories

Last weekend saw the family head off to the Big Smoke for a Pixies and Weezer combo concert at an outside venue at the west end of  Lake Ontario. It was great. Stinking hot. 15,000 people. Me and a lot of other old guys having a scream-along to “This Monkey’s Gone To Heaven” and “Hash Pipe” which was great. The scene, the Budweiser Stage at Ontario Place,  was an absolute fleece-fest: a tall boy of Bud Light Radler selling for about 15$. I had a Bud with my bland black bean burger before the show. Ice cold it went down like an icy cold Bud. Which was great until it warmed to about 5C after a couple of minutes and then it got, you know, not so great.

I wasn’t really following up on Andy’s idea of taking time to try a classic this summer when I had that Bud. I wasn’t in a place where Bud existed when three decades ago so it does not fill a personal space like that. Not my classic. It’s gas station cooler 1990s New England road trip scenery to me. The beer I passed up. But I did have an old favorite on Friday… and it was an odder experience. Hennepin, which I have enjoyed since at least 2005, showed up in my local LCBO for about $11 for a 750 ml (behind a far worse label… updated branding fail.) I was up for this. We were having a slab of salmon for supper. But it was not the beer I wanted. Hot and heavy even though it was perfect eight years ago on another hot summer night. It’s not like the beer was off. It was lovely. It was just way more than fit my interests, my needs. Am I turning into a target for the low-no movement? What do I actually want?

Jonathan Surratt wins (or perhaps poaches) the “Shaming the Worst of Craft” award with week with the news he shared embedded in that photo to the right. Some gawdawful craft bar somewhere is serving beer in bowls. Could you imagine being served that? Do they serve the food in flute glasses? Do they expect people to pay with actual money? Boo!

Ben notes how a single beer craft brewery putting out a fairly acceptable product that sells well has created another single beer craft brewery to make a fairly acceptable product that sells well. I think of these things like I thought of the music of The Carpenters when I was in my teenage punk phase in the latter 1970s.  They made music that was safe enough for parents who did not like discussing bad things. Like “why Alan is listening to all that swearing?” Mind you, my folks didn’t listen to The Carpenters so I am not sure I will bother buying this beer. Especially as “bugle” is actually a well-known euphemism for beer induced gastric issues.

Is this #ThinkingAboutDrinking? I suppose the idea of thinking is that it’s not about being all positive, just supportive. Fight!

Now this is great: a service to us all. The current big craft and macro craft family tree. Then updated for more detail. Nice to see honesty in the placement of breweries like Sam Adams, BrewDog, Brooklyn and Founders in their natural state. Speaking of Sammy A, sweet dissection by Jeff of another slightly… smarmy GBH post* on the supposed risk of Jim Koch somehow losing status. The lack of institutional knowledge is amazing. Jeff’s point: “when Boston got too big, BA changed the definition.” My point was how Koch was actually an outsider to the main micro/craft movement, which Josh Noel noted and “Sex with Sam” confirmed. Why do we have to fudge things rather than knowing and writing about the actual history of the craft beer movement?

How to sit on a fence.

This is either a story about art v. the regulation of alcohol or it is a story about arts management not grasping the need to find a venue with a stage with a normal licence. I love the “Toronto the Good” half-news in the footnote:

Editor’s note: The Tarragon Theatre has now relaxed their rules for this particular show. Patrons are now able to buy beer up until show time.

AKA: accept what you have been granted.  In other Ontario drinks sales regulation news, Robin has written about how for a few weekends she worked as a beer selection advice giver in one of the few grocery stores with a limited alcohol sales licence.  The role and the context may appear odd. It may well appear odder still as the new provincial government has promised beer and wine** in every corner store! Mind you, the promise has no details. But it may well be that the brave new world promised in 2015 will have a best before date of maybe 2018. So, Robin’s notes may well end up being a valuable set of observations on the state of affairs at the front line in which turns out to be a transitional period. Fabulous information for the future beer regulation historian.

Brendan has shared news that:

files opposition versus beer (and other beverages) trademark application for STONEMILL

With so many breweries using the five letters “s-t-o-n-e” is no one going to point out to the courts how this “just waking up to the news that there are intellectual property claims to be made” approach might be a tad selective on the plaintiff’s part? BeerAdvocate lists 3267 beers or breweries with the letters in that order in their name. Because it is as common as a very common thing. If I don’t associate “Firestone” or “Stone City” with Stone why would “Stonemill” confuse me?

Let’s conclude our collective cogitations this week with a few thoughts about wine writing from Jon Bonné, Senior Contributing Editor with Punch wegazine:***

We assumed experts are meant to provide some kind of road map through an unknowable, confusing realm. We’re expected to help you find a bottle for dinner, and not complicate the conversation. But that has led us, at a time when wine is more interesting than ever, to trivialize its cultural value. We’ve sacrificed context—I mean real critical context, not the fanboy literature that passes for too much wine writing today—for comfort and a sense of belonging. I think Bourdain might look at the situation and point a blaming finger at many of us for failing to explain why one wine is worth more than another, or why certain wines are culturally suspect because they’ve been made with cynical motives. (Big wine companies love when we abandon context for the blind pursuit of deliciousness. Context is the enemy of fake-artisan wine, after all.)

The piece is interesting as it builds on the loss of Bourdain and that irritatingly bland idea of “woke” to get to the notion that context and value are important. It’s a bit too toggle switch for me. Things are complex even if fakers are all around. And I am already a bit sad to see Bourdain being used as a prop for the arguments of others. But I like the call to deeper learning. Hence #ThinkingAboutDrinking.

Upcoming week? The second half of baseball begins. Six or seven weeks until school starts. Use the time you have left wisely. As part of your path to wisdom consider stopping for a pause with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and again after the weekend with Stan next Monday. Laters!!

*Time for an incidental graphics update, too. Keep it fresh.
**Hard liquor, as we call it here, will remain at the surprisingly good LCBO, our government store.
***It actually calls itself “PUNCH” in shouty all-caps… but is font really identity? I mean if it was PUNCH would i have to italicize it? 

 

 

Thursday. Beer. News.

News? You want news? Let’s get into this right away. Is this the worst thing ever done to beer? According to a stranger to me*, this is a pint of Guinness and Sprite, half and half sold in Seattle USA. It wasn’t his drink but someone else’s down the bar who explained  “it’s very English.” Yik. Good photo. Bad drink.

Lars is my hero:

A few years ago I put together a description of how to brew keptinis based on ethnographic sources. Martin Warren followed my instructions, but ended up with just black, unfermentable water. So when Simonas invited me to come to Lithuania to see keptinis being brewed, he didn’t need to ask twice.

Keptinis! 

Into the bucket ran what looked like porridge. The pressure in the keg was so high that what came out was pure foam…

Keptinis! Keptinis!!

A small controversy was set off in Ontario by new branding released by Steam Whistle – as noted by Jordan. The brewery announced its branding in this way:

While nutritional labels are not required on beer in Canada, Director of Marketing Tim McLaughlin says that Steam Whistle is “proud of what goes in our beer, and almost more importantly what doesn’t go into our beer.” The labels follow federal standards and display the beer’s ingredients – “pure spring water, select Canadian malt, European hops, Brewer’s yeast” – as well as calories, vitamin content, and other nutritional statistics.

The implication that Jordan sees is the one hidden in the phrase “what doesn’t go into our beer” – suggesting as it does that others may put other things in their beer. In fact, Jordan received a pestering email from the brewery “suggesting that I use the hashtag to discuss the relatively purity of Steam Whistle.” You know, many brewers do put other things in their beer. And many recognize that us of only water, malt, hops and yeast is just one approach to beer. In other news, I had a Steam Whistle Pilsner in 2005.

Modern Toss on modern beer. And BBC Archives on British Beer in Germany in 1974.** While I am no sure I can fully subscribe to the holistic romance of Jeff’s post on a purposeful meaning of “craft” (mainly because beer is functional) that last link makes a strong argument in favour of the argument.

In the “Worst Idea Ever, Worse Than Guinness and Sprite Even…” a line of wines has been produced, the branding based on The Handmaid’s Tale:

The product descriptions for the wines, dedicated to Offred, Ofglen and Serena Joy, are about as ill-conceived as the idea itself, a real achievement when taking into account the fact that wine matters as much to The Handmaid’s Tale as women (and gay people) do to Gilead. Yes, the show goes down easier with a healthy pour. But maybe not one memorialized with the white bonnet and “Of-insert-husband’s-name” formulations that viewers associate with torture and tyranny. 

Who would possibly think this was a good idea? Stupid thoughtless people, that’s who.

Interesting news from the courts. Most interesting because Beau’s did not participate in the trademark litigation brought against it. For those who would argue that beer and wine are different markets, this is a helpful and clear statement from the ruling:

…the parties’ goods would likely be sold in the same stores and restaurants in various provinces. For example, in 2015 and 2016, the LCBO sold both products. In addition, both products would be considered to be in the premium category given their prices; Steelbird’s wine is sold for $34 or $35, and Beau’s Kissmeyer beer is priced at $6.45 per bottle.

Speaking of rulings, one of those dumb marketing schemes rolled out by BrewDog was help to be inappropriate by the shadowy Portman Group, as The Morning Advertiser reported. Stung, one representative of the brewery’s Department of Poor Ideas suggested folk missed the nuance. Lesson: if you have to explain or even use the word “nuance” in a response, it likely never was nuanced.

Fourpure? Don’t care. Except could someone tell craft brewers that they can skip this stuff and admit it is about scale, wealth and ambition?

They see Fourpure and our beer as a primary focus here in the UK and as their sole production brewing facility we will benefit from all the time, expertise and investment required to succeed, and that means that everything around the brewery will be a little bit easier and a little bit better.

Life as a rich person usually is a a wee bit easier, little bit better yes.

I hope you’ve been enriched. More of the same next week. Don’t forget to catch up with all the beer news on the weekend with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then find out what happened in good beer and a few other things over the weekend with Stan next Monday.

*Ross Maghielse, Manager of audience development at Philadelphia Inquirer.
**Note the driving gloves. Fabulous.

Session 137: In 2005, I Had Seven Hefeweizens

One of the great things about the internet is the Wayback Machine. When I had to do some fancy footwork in 2016 to move the content of 13 years of two blogs in a matter of weeks, I spent hours and hours determining what I needed to save before the deadline hit and the server was unplugged. Months later I learned that it had all been saved, warts and all, care of the Wayback Machine, part of the Internet Archive project.

Which makes this entry for this month’s edition of The Session – ably hosted by Roger’s Beers – a few things: (1) a reminder that internet beer writing did not start in 2013 or so, (2) a celebration of non-fruit filled or gak-laced adulteration of a style and (3) a reminder that a fairly broad range of the style was available to Ontarians 13 years ago. Wow. Look at those photos. I really cared. Wow. Look at those spelling mistakes I just fixed. I really didn’t care all that much.

++++++++++

A real surprise was in store when I hit the LCBO the other day preparing for a dinner party on a stinking hot summer Saturday. They had actually brought in a bunch of extra hefeweizens, southern German wheat ales with a measure of yeast left in.

Rogue Half-E-Weizen: a loose rich white head falls to a white skim leaving generous lace over a slightly cloudly yellow straw body. Coriander and hops balance well, their bittering leaving some astringency while the lightly creamy yeast with its presence of banana intercedes. A medium light version of the style without the German commitment to full bore clovey creamy goodness. $5.05 for a 22 oz bottle.

Erdinger Weizen: I am a little unsure if this is a real hefeweizen as the labeling is “weissen” but the little neck sash says “mit feiner hefe in der flasche gerfeift” which in my hack German I take as “with fine yeast left in the bottle”. Even with that the nature of this beer still leaves me wondering a bit. White foam over cloudy yellow leaving no lacing. Light body without the phenol of banana or spice that indicate the style. A clean cream yeast without complexity but very refreshing.

Schneider Weisse: This is the business. One of my favorite beers that for some reason screams “lunch” with a cold cut sandwich. How many things scream that in life? It is rich and creamy good with lots of cloves and banana. A fine white head over medium brown with almost a greyish tinge. As befits the style, very moreish and heat-wave cutting.

Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen: this hefeweizen pours a tall egg white meringue over cloudy straw ale. A layer of hop astringency cuts and to a degree hides the yeasty phenol of banana and clovey nutmeg. Not as rich as others from Germany in the style though richer than the American cousins here. Lemony grapefruit in the finish.

Edelweiss Weissbier Hefetrüb: white foam over dark yellow or light brown cloudy ale. Simply lovely. Lighter than the Schneider Weisse with a lemony brightness it does not share. Clove aroma and banana-clove in the mouth. The brewery has had only 530 years to get it right. Clean finish with a nice drying hop astringency.

Saranac Hefeweizen:I am quite surprised by the quality of this beer. Not as creamy a yeast strain as the others but much truer than the other US version of the style from Rogue above and Harpoon’s version tasted in April. It would be worth comparing to Paper City’s Cabot Street. White fine rocky head over cloudy straw coloured beer. Quite pronounced clove over banana. Worthy yet the label says limited edition.

Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse: The last of this set, perfect on a summer warm evening with a game from Fenway on the tubes, soothing to aches and pains from old timers soccer. Neither lemony or particularly creamy, this is quite a grainy rendition of the style with both banana and clove as supporting class. Massive rich white head over cloudy dark straw beer verging on orangey. There is something savory as well in the palate, making me thing of soaking a pork roast in this one. Of the selection above, most like the Rogue with that beer’s untraditional use of coriander but the notes of spice here are in the yeast. Another amazing expression and, for what it is worth, one of the best logos in all of commercial trade.

What an enjoyable inquiry. Hefeweizens are, what, the Rieslings of ale? Like Rieslings with their minerally edge, hefes take a little time to learn about but they are a world unto themselves. And they both go with sausage and sauerkraut – a beer for both summer and fall.

Your Early July, Stinkin’ Hot, Off For The Week, World Cup Round o’16 Thursday Beer News

I tried to avoid the internet on the afternoon of Tuesday, 3 July, given every English beer blogger was (i) drunk and (ii) getting a little jingo-tastic. Not to mention getting ripped off. Good to see they didn’t choke… again. I’ll have the Saltire, the Lion Rampant as well as the blue and yellow Nordic Cross for their next game, Saturday.  If I can get out to the yard to set up the flag poles. It’s supposed to be well into the 30s Celsius today, over 40 C with the humidex.* That’s well past beer weather in my books. Pint o’ club soda with a splash of gin weather. Maybe.

The funniest thing of the week was when the BA “liked” this tweet from me about the BA wasting its lobbying resources efforts on personality politics.

Speaking of bad BA decisions, the idea of partnering  with a classic big macro, fast food chain at the Great American Beer Festival has boggled minds.  Nothing says “craft” like shopping mall food court quality chicken wings. If you read the book,** you would understand that the goal of the transition from micro to craft in the mid-2000s was using discourse control for the great cause of money. So, the idea that big craft could pass on an opportunity to team up with a firm like Buffalo Wild Wings is what we call a poor idea. There’s a lot of SNPA to sell in them there parking lot restaurant. Actual small craft might have many questions. My question is (i) did they put the opportunity out to the market?; and (ii) what did Applebee’s bid? OK, two questions.

Update: Of two minds. On the one hand, struggling to be pleasant while in a bit of a tight spot. On the other, marbles lost but quite likely for good reason.

Better news. Love the campaign. Need the change. Not sure about the accreditation. Who are the scrutineers? How many will be on the ground? What does accreditation cost a pub? If it does cost something (and how can’t it if it is to be done properly) who heads the scrutineers, oversees the standards and hears appeals to determine if allegations are valid. Who gets sued when the process goes wrong? Like when a pub, falsely rebuked, left with its reputation harmed? Does this overlap with a Human Rights Commission mandate?*** Managing this important process well is as important if not more to the integrity of the cause as raising the issue in the first place.

Better still. The Morning Advertiser published James Beeson’s strong argument for the one proper use of the term terroir in relation to beer:

In Tongham, Surrey, Hogs Back Brewery grows 15% of the hops used in its beer on the farm site – including an historic local variety not grown anywhere else in Europe – and sources a further 50% from within three miles of the brewery.

Fabulous. Fortunately, as the keen eyed might have noted, I live usefully close to one of the best examples of local focused brewing, MacKinnon Brothers. Best? They grow the barley, too. Best.  Wonderful. Makes me spend my money. How do you set yourself apart as a local brewer? The sort of brewer that doesn’t partner with BWW? Grow your own damn barley.****

Reminder: #TheSession is this Friday and the subject is German Wheat Beers. That is tomorrow. Tomorrow, folks…

Hmm… How to sell beer to anyone? Just like with the example of the Buffalo Wild Wings deal, the restructuring of good beer culture and concurrent redirection of focus from consumer protection to trade advocacy is almost complete. The latest NAGBW newsletter asks us to “spot great industry coverage” and the BGBW has only one category left for “Citizen Communicator” – whatever that is. I will have to have a word with Pete. Andy noted this sort of creeping problem as far back as 2008. In 2010, the BGBW goal was “to reward the very best beer writing, irrespective of where it comes from or where it’s going.” In 2011, there was only one BGBW award category with the focus on “the excellent work to promote beer which is produced by or on behalf of brewers, pub companies and other related organisations.” Not sure that is the case now.

Why do I care to have, you know, an opinion? Primarily because it all leaves the impression that good beer writing requires you to quit your job, chase the dough and either find a position in the brewing trade or at least go freelance which inevitably requires the junket to tell the naturally compromised junket’s tale. Original independent consumer-oriented personal interest writing is far more… interesting, no? Who are the best? Who needs to be celebrated a bit more? Not me. I can’t even get my Holls and Halls straight.

Conversely and for equal time, “why draw lines in the sand?” asks Matt. Isn’t the answer now and forever “Buffalo Wild Wings”?

Speaking of praising fabulous things, I think this is one of The Beer Nut’s***** finest posts, even though I am sure I say that every seven months. There are only two reasons that one should not post beer reviews on line: (i) you have read The Beer Nut and know you are never going to come close and (ii) you are a ‘fraidy cat who thinks “hmm… maybe I need to quit my job, chase the dough and either find a position in the brewing trade or at least go freelance…” Fat chance that sort of mindset is going to ever come up with this sort of sweet honesty:

The mere 4.6% ABV is further evidence of inauthenticity, but it really kicks in from the aroma: sweet and sticky like a lemon meringue pie. The flavour is pretty much the same, adding a touch of banana foam sweets. The whole thing is weird and artificial. Contrived; and bound to upset any Germans who come to Bar Rua looking for a weissbier. This experiment didn’t work out.******

Oh, that image up there? Best. Of. All. Elephants being fed buckets of Bass ale in 1931. What is not to love about the image of elephants being fed buckets of ale in the mid-war era? Whenever and wherever there is a schism in the good beer world I shall be on the side of images of elephants being fed buckets of ale!

What a week! I wonder if there will be any more soccer coming up on the TV… I wonder if Neymar has another limb to get amputated mid-match. Remember: you can catch up with the news on the weekend with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then find out what happened over the weekend with Stan on Monday.

*Hey, that’s Canadian!
**Or read this blog… ever…
***Our human rights laws in Ontario protect against discrimination in the provision of services and provide a cheap, professional and transparent process to bring a claim of discriminatory treatment in a retail business setting like the drinks trade. Employment situations, too, as with this example.
****Isn’t it time to pick sides in the craft schism? Isn’t it?
*****Surely one of Ireland’s greatest fluids-based pleasure writers. Anti-Jacksonian.
******Conversely, see the knots that can get tied over calling something “fine.”

Book Review: Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out, Josh Noel

My copy of Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business came in the mail from Amazon this week and I happily started into it while watching preteen softball on a June mid-week evening. The book, as the cover image to the right explains, is a history of Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company, creator of the barrel aged stout and most infamous of the craft brewers to cash-out.

The book covers the span of over three decades, tracing an arc from brewpub making English style ales to regional production microbrewery to big craft reject to brand asset within the portfolio of an international global conglomerate. It’s quite a remarkable thing.  Before I knew it I was 120 pages in. It is clear that author Josh Noel, a journalist with the Chicago Tribune covering a broad mandate, benefits from his skill as an investigative reporter but also as a native of that fair city. The beer and book both convey a sense of place as well as event.

It also, refreshingly, paints realistic portraits of the key players, warts and all – without the slightest bit of an unseemly tone. My first impression from the book, in fact, was that none of the players behind the rise and fall and then rise and fall of Goose Island were all that attractive. As Noel tells it, brewery founder John Hall comes across as a bit of an angry nutcase who came up through the corporate rat race, starting out as a cardboard box salesman. We read at page 79 that as early as 1996 Hall is described as planning to sell out to big beer. But he’s also someone who took a change with his accumulated wealth on a reasonable if calculated risk so the attitude makes sense.

Less sensible is the image created of John’s son Greg: drifter turned alcoholic brewer turned egotist face of the business.  To the mid-2000s, he frankly comes off as a poor little rich kid, even if politely described. Even Michael Jackson is given an cameo and a slag at page 30:

Jackson was a good message guy. He wouldn’t hesitate to criticize Big Beer. But when a small brewery released a flawed beer, no one knew it from Michael Jackson.

The point of these observations is not to be just unkind. As a result of such honesty – rare among craft narratives – the reader is provided with a basis for trust in Noel’s work.  That trust is bolstered by Noel’s deft description of the factors behind the mid-2000s shift from micro-brewing to craft brewing as the US gospel of good beer.  While Noel does unfortunately buy into the back dating of “craft”* to an earlier point when it was not either the ethos or in general use, he does explain how the first efforts of the Brewers Association starting with its formation in 2005 were aimed at control of the discourse through control of the language. Noel suggests it needed to do this for internal reasons:

By the early 2000s, craft beer was splintering into identities. It was cool, it was hip, it was counter culture, it was “you’re not worthy”…

Not to mention it was when brewers and society at large were uncomfortably witnessing 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.” Yik. Noel unpacks the tone of the times, unpacks the tension which existed between cottage industry “craft” and what the founders of the Brewers Association were really after and later accomplished: the creation of a single story of large efficient breweries where quality and consistency are the hallmarks. Thus the creation of heterogeneous and hegemonic big craft as an act of sheer control.

Tied to the BA’s interest in market control, efficiency and scale – a goal would have made E.P. Taylor glow with pride – are Noel’s observations on profit and wealth as a fundamental underlying goal. Be clear on this point. All beer has this as its goal and it applies to macro, old school micro, big craft as well as today’s  tiny taprooms. So we read that Goose Island’s 312 beer is a hit as much for the retro black telephone tap handle as the taste.  And that Matilda was pushed as it had twice the profit margin of 312! And you thought it was all about homage to the great brewers of Belgium. Chumps.

I am enjoying this book greatly. I may even post another follow up as I have in the past when faced with a book on beer that sits so far above the rest. If you have not bought this, skip a couple of six packs and get your copy now. Like right now. Now.

*Not to mention perpetuates the tooth-achingly saccharine phrase “cast of industry all-stars” at page 124 thus, likely unintentionally, appearing to trip over the line from keen observer to fan-boy-ish insider.