The Thursday Beery News Update For Fire, College, Style and Being Fifty-Six

I picked that picture up there of a fire in France earlier in the week, the night time warming of the vineyards at Chateau Figeac: “rows and rows of candles on the vineyard to protect the vines from frosty nights…” Here’s perhaps an even more stunning image, the French Côte-d’Or lit up at night form above. I spent three weeks in Paris with pals in 1986, weaving from art galleries to bars to cafe’s to our small family run hotel. We were there so long we got grief from the owners for being so bad at getting to know Paris, for wasting the experience that we were being told where to visit and that led to me, a gawky probably hungover 22 year old, staring at the blue glass at  Notre-Dame. Lovely then. Sad now.

Let’s go! Diageo has done a good thing:

The maker of the iconic Irish stout Guinness has announced it is removing plastic from beer packaging. Plastic ring carriers and shrink wrap will be removed from multipacks of Diageo’s beer products – Guinness, Harp, Rockshore and Smithwick’s. They will be replaced with 100% recyclable and biodegradable cardboard.

Excellent. And here’s an excellent suggestion for a gravestone, one that speaks to one of our lingering and perhaps pre-Christian rituals.

I am a bad man. I missed a post by a co-author, mainly because it came out two Thursdays ago, exactly when I am in a post-update publication funk. It’s Jordan’s post on the things he has learned creating and running a college course about beer:

How do you create something unique from scratch?  For one thing, it’s continuing education, which means that it’s nights and weekends. It has to be affordable. It’s a self selecting group of students and they have presumably been through a long day at work or a long week at work by the time they get to you. It has to be instructional, educational, and entertaining enough to hold their interest. It probably needs to be a little interactive and there has to be room for discussion. That goes for all 67 hours of class time from the preview workshop to the last week of the last class.  So there I was: anxious about public speaking, with no experience teaching, tasked with creating and administering 67 hours of content, and just bloody minded enough to think I could pull it off.

Speaking of structures, Jeff wrote and excellent thing on the development of flash in the pan styles and by excellent I mean he stated something that I have long considered the case:

With trends, there’s a push-pull, and the pull is what establishes the style. First breweries gamble with something new—that’s the push. With a style like gose or a technique like kettle-souring, the push may last for years before a brewery scores a hit. But then that organic interest comes and customers start asking for the new thing. Brewers have been pushing saison for 20 years and Americans are just not taking the bait. But hazies? That’s all pull now. Even brewers who hate them feel compelled to offer their ravenous customers what they want. 

Pay attention to that push. Many folk deny it exists, saying its all demand driven. As if there ever was a public outpouring demanding a gap needed to be filled by Black IPA or sugar coated breakfast cereal gose. Officially absolving the beer drinking public from these sorts of abominations of marketing is a welcome thing. And the distinction between trend and style also fits better with the original Jacksonian intention of style to be an emulation of a classic. Good stuff.

Speaking of writing excellent things, Evan Rail has been tweeting about writing longer writing beery-wise as part of his process of writing a new piece of longer writing:

As a writer, you’re constantly doing short-term, short-gain work, which makes it really hard to get ahead. The work that brings real satisfaction — and which often makes for long-term success, financial and otherwise — is hard to fit into the day-to-day grind.

It’s the same for the amateur boy beer writer. Time is the commodity I simply don’t have. I’ve put in 24 hours since 36 hours ago. Frankly, I was glad to get a number of posts on beer and 1400s Bristol this winter but if I had my druthers I would do that sort of research and writing all the days of my life.

Politics? Here in Ontario, we have a particular form of conservative government which is dedicated to changing the way we get our booze and dope. It even affected the annual provincial budget to the point I have to go into work today to look at some beer law, an interesting puzzle. This was a telling tweet:

Number of times Doug Ford’s budget mentioned the words “alcohol” or “beer”: 46. Number of times “poverty” was mentioned: 0. Priorities.

That being said, we regularly regulate these things at the provincial level and alcohol has been at the forefront of cultural policy at many times in our past, not only from the 1870s to the 1930s the period people can’t cope with. Ontario, the true foundation of all hoppy beer trends. Buy our book Ontario Beer for the full story. Seriously. Grow up. Buy it. Pretend it’s my birthday.

A short post this week. But lots of good stuff to share. And it really is my birthday. On a Thursday before a four day springtime weekend. “W” to the “oooot”! And this is the one I have been waiting for. Fifty-six! Remember when you were nineteen and you couldn’t wait to be fifty-six? As you reflect in the arm glow of that, don’t forget Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday. Each a gift to us all. See you next week!

These Are The Greatest Mid-April Beery News Notes Yet!

Howdie! It’s definitely spring now. Definitely. I’ve planted radish seed and the snow’s all gone.  More planting to come this weekend.  It’s a busy time in the beer world with the great retreat having begun in earnest. The Craft Beer Conference is going on in Denver so plenty of hope and new instructions* being delivered. And, in a real sense, nothing immediately new has actually been done under the umbrella of craft has been done for quite a while. Whither glitter 2.o? No one knows… or perhaps cares. Not Martin Taylor who posted the photo of the week up there on Wednesday, clear glowing golden goodness.

Oh, speaking of the Craft Brewers Conference, apparently they hauled an old rocker (who, for some reason, is a brewery cross-branding project) out to speak to them all and he regaled them with a few sexist jokes! Fabulous. Conversely, all hail the greatest mind in the beer world over at least the last decade:

…the ruination of nomenclature leaves you with no power to describe things.

How many times have I said that very thing? Never? You’re probably right. But I like it.

In exciting rule of law news, the Canadian federal government has announced it is changing the rules barring inter-provincial trade in booze! Too bad it is regulated at the provincial level as last year’s Comeau ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed. Will there be a constitutional conference on all this? Likely not. Somehow, somewhere a bilateral agreement between two will start the ball rolling. My bet? Nova Scotia and Manitoba!

Neolithic malting techniques explained!

Next up, Thornbridge Brewery in the UK announced a new take on beer and, in a move I trust might be appreciated by our last quote giver up there, it’s a step back of the best sort:

Seeing as the current beer market is awash with Citra/Mosaic US-style IPAs, I wanted to create a beer that uses only British ingredients that was slightly different.  I took the concept of German Kellerbier, a timeless, classic style of unfiltered lager, which is as close to cask conditioned real ale as the Germans get, and put a British spin on it to create our new beer, which we named Heartland.  Kellerbier is known as a fresh-tasting, highly drinkable style with flavours drawn from the yeast (as it would have been served direct from the tank) with a fine bitterness.

Read the whole thing. I have never wanted to have a glass of a new beer more. That sounds entirely yum.

One a word: why?

More research has been published in The Lancet showing that regular alcohol is never a good idea if avoiding health issues is part of your life plan. Note again: no j-curve. You are just trading off long term health for short term jollies. Which can be quantified apparently. I am sure your favourite beer writer will disagree with the medical opinion – but who takes health advice from a paid booze trade advocate? Oh, some of you do? Interesting.

Speaking of things that set of craft crybabies, in even greater neg the UK’s newspaper The Independent has asked the questions we all want answered. Has craft actually succeeded in making beer no fun? Has good beer gone uttlerly boring?

Another day, another press release with the words “craft beer” in the title – perhaps the second or third this week. This time, a madcap alternative to craft beer fun runs, craft beer mini golf, craft beer rafting, craft beer cycle tours, craft beer billiards, craft beer haircuts and craft beer yoga: a new London “craft beer hotel” from the people at BrewDog. It’s apparently a revolutionary place with “craft beer in every room”. Please excuse me for a moment while I consign said email to subfolder “CRAFT CRAP.”

It’s true, isn’t it. Who thought a decade ago that ten years of money and ego could actually succeed in making beer so boring? But they have! I like the article’s tag line… sub-title… whatever you call it: “Big business has killed the authenticity of small-batch brews.” I probably have not paid a nickel into the BrewDog coffers for half a decade so you can’t blame me. I like micro and local too much to bother with big craft.

The Beer Nut again takes one for the team and compares discount Italian lagers. Sadly, the better one will never make our side of the Atlantic.

Martyn has written an excellent post on an unexcellent thing… the disappearance of the word “bitter” from the English landscape:

Exactly when it started happening I’m not sure, but bitter, once the glory of the British beer scene, is disappearing. In the place of all those marvellously hoppy, complex bitters and best bitters we once sank by the pottle and quart, we now have brews sold under the same brand names, made by the same breweries, very probably to the same recipes, with the same ingredients – but describing themselves as “amber ales” instead.

Fortunately, Ontario is behind the times so our old school local preferences are still out there to be enjoyed: sweetish husky pale ales, nut browns, dark ales that might be milds but no one has bothered to inquire.

Finally, we here in Ontario and across Canada heard the news of the sad early passing of Joel Manning. Ben Johnson wrote a fitting warm remembrance:

To a person, anyone I’ve heard speak of Manning is likely to note that “he is a good dude.” He was affable, open, steadfastly committed to helping people in his industry, and always willing to talk. He was also, in every sense of the word, a professional brewer. Manning began brewing beer at age 20 when he was hired as a brewing assistant at the original Amsterdam Brewpub in 1986. He worked his way up to Brewmaster there in just three years and held that position until 2004. In 2005 he took over as the Brewmaster at Mill Street Brewery and remained in that role until his retirement last year. He worked in the beer industry for 32 years.

There we are. Another week has passed and if it had a theme in good beer, it was one of loss, both welcome and deeply sad. I hope it’s a better week ahead. Taxes loom** but so does the four day Easter long weekend. Did I mention the 150 garlic that overwintered outback are suddenly popping up green? So there is good in the world. I expect more of it to be reported by Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday. You should, too.

*Surely, independent malt.
**Which I still do by hand and pencil and paper for four tax returns for some unknown reason…

Your Thursday Beer News Update: Buy-Outs, Bad Press And Bisulfite Bother

Ah, April. As lilacs breed out of the dead land, we watch baseball beginning. Seven months ahead of baseball baseball baseball. People get spring fever and, as a consequence, sometime buy very big hats. Craig has been brewing Albany Ale again with local brewers C. H. Evans, fabulously holding up the side for the project. I think that collaboration dates now back over five years when his hat was not so tall. I also captured the moment by celebrating the very nice breakfast that I had the next day. All so excellent.

Best boozy April Fool’s Day joke. Best letter to the editor.

I find this bit of craft amnesia really strange. The idea that Allagash White stood alone with haze without reference to Pierre Celis and Hoegaarden is a bit sad. Like people suggesting that sparklers weren’t invented as a way to flog poor beer, I suppose.  Or the idea that micro/craft didn’t start beyond the USA. But, as an entire counterbalance… an antidote even, consider Nate’s incidental beer pictures in the Czech Republic or consider Lars live-baking the mash on so-me or, best of all, consider Martyn finding an ad for US hops being sold in the UK in the 1790s! Wow! I am renewed. Redeemed. You can see that I am a sensitive I might not be alone.

A sensitive man…

I am not alone. Jeff at Beervana is a bit fed up, too, with some of the latest news. He captured the mood of these buy-out PR notices with his Mad-Libs, fill in the gaps form for any craft brewers planning to take advantage of any moolah-laced opportunities:

[ _______________ ] announced today an agreement to acquire a majority interest in [ ________ ]-based [ __________ ] Brewing Company.

I found this refreshing, especially in the context a so much fretting about “rumours” which seem to the UK blogging English for knowing something but living under slightly less freedom of speech than we enjoy in North America, if we trust (as I do) the theme as illustrated by @totalcurtis. I blame an over concern with the interests of lawyers, as perhaps illustrated by Boak and Bailey. I’ve never heard of bloggers facing legal problems over sharing trade information but, well, that’s what it feels like on my side of the gown and wig.

They do raise another point: “…the question of people’s feelings.” I usually don’t put that much stock into this personally* either but then I was reminded of the thought when I read this in a review in The Guardian of Pete Brown’s new book:

Brown moved from advertising into “beer writing”, which is not much of a shift. Beer writing purports to be a branch of consumer journalism. Producer journalism would be more apt. He is forever being invited to judge competitions (beer of course, and cider, veg, pies, cakes, anything). He goes to tastings. He opens food festivals. He attends events…  The proximity of writer/critic to maker or artisan is worrying. Beer or wine or food writing often becomes a sort of dissembled advertising, or advertorial, which doesn’t announce itself save by its gushing enthusiasm and self-congratulation.

Now, even if I am a sensitive man, I point this out for the general concept not the particular. My copy of Pete’s book will come to my house in a few weeks as the release has been delayed in Canada. And I won’t review it because it’s not a beer book. But I do think the review in The Guardian was extremely mean spirited. And not in the A.A.Gill, a hero of mine, sense of mean spirited. Not even in the Pete Brown sense of a teensie mean spirited.  It was actually a bit cruel. Demeaning even.* But the general observation on beer writing set out above? Not too far off the mark for a sadly significant part of beer writing. As you know I have thought and written about for years so don’t… just… OK, fill your boots – what the heck. You gotta be you, too.

Independence.

In other news, Garrett Oliver made The Sunday New York Times. And then an interesting discussion broke out on Twitter between him and Matt C. on the meaning and value of “local” including this comment:

It’s complicated for sure. But there is an extent to which asking a brewery to “double-down on local” is like asking a 12 yr old to “double-down on adolescence.” These days “local” can mean only breweries from your own neighborhood. I can walk to five breweries from my house…

I like the point. But is it what people want today? And isn’t that the only point? The discussion started with this from Matt C and goes along through a large number of threads. Worth thinking about.*** And worth thinking about in the context of all the above and below which is really about how a wide range of writing about beer takes many forms. It’s all fairly robust even if we collectively have not caught up to that realization.

Picking hops in 1800s Wisconsin.

Confession time. I am down to maybe having one or two beers a week. Work pressures? Health concerns? Nope. Allergies. Now I am a sensitive man so I am comfortable sharing with you that more and more I am having histamine reactions from beer like many folk get with red wine. The problem has always been there but I managed it by avoiding naturally high sulfate beers like Burton IPAs or anything Burtonized.  For example, I get a headache during the first Sleemans. Always have. Hard water brewery. Then, as with one really good eastern Ontario Porter,**** I started noticing a reaction from some craft breweries that I put down to smaller newer places using sodium metabisulfite (the pink powder home brewers use) as part of the cleaning regime. That one gives me a set of thrilling achy reactions down the throat. But, recently, I have noticed a new class of randomly sulfate laced beers: some of the ones with fruity flavours added. For decades, I avoid anything that is a flaky pastry treat  that’s foil wrapped  for freshness and boasts of “real fresh fruit filling” because that stuff has actually put me in the hospital a few times. Has anyone else noticed this? I know… I am a sensitive man. And it’s not that I mind. Good for the wallet and the waist. Great sleeps, too.

Not unrelated.

That must be enough for this week. This busy week. The week that BeerAdvocate magazine wrapped it up for good. Where will we end up? Back here?

But the bartender is not quite
so sensitive as I supposed he was
the way he looks at me now
and does not appreciate my exquisite analogy

Now, it was brought home to me a long time ago that beer poems and beer history and critical essays about drinking culture will not really buy beer or flowers or a goddamn thing…

and I was sad
for I am a sensitive man

Uncertain how to cope with it all? Read Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday. That might help.

*Honestly, without being the slightest bit pointy fingery, I could not imagine writing “imagine how those team members feel learning the news from Twitter, or on some poxy beer blog” myself but that is why they are they and I am me and, beyond that, there are far more vulnerable voices out there. Too sensitive. But what can you do. Beer is made of flowers.
**Compare to this review in The Observer. Covers the same ground but seems to have no grudge. Odd. And, as I say, cruel.
***And worth hauling out again when someone once again says with a vapid flourish that you can’t explain thing in detail or have a civil discussion on Twitter.
****Which I mention only after I have had the reaction corroborated by someone else I recommended the beer to who had the same odd response.