Peter Pan As Craft Beer’s Archetype

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

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

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

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

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

Session 123: The Internet And Craft Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

May. What shall I do in May?

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

What A Difference A Year Makes – 2017 Edition

Over the holidays, I was thinking about what to do with this blog in 2017. It’s been a heavy slog over the last few months ensuring the important and favorite and representative bits of bits of 10,000 posts get across the River Jordan to the next bloggy life but that’s largely behind me now. What I need to do now is look ahead and take on the new opportunities that the coming year offers in style. It a bit of panache. Even. Maybe.

A lot can happen in a year. Last year this time we were still in the grip of learning that US craft brewery owners were (horrors!) not all evangelists willing to starve for the cause. No, the sweet taste of gravy was too much for many – or the actual goal all along. Click on the score card and have a look. You’d have a hard time filling that chart out properly now. You might need different colour pens. Funny thing –  no one really cares now. As is often the case with the leadership clique within even a small circle, they are barely missed as others are ready and willing to fill the gap. Beer is nimble like that. Beer itself is a survivor. The survivor. The rest of it all comes and goes.

Not sure blogging is surviving along with it. I could try out a new structural twist like the B+B “Breakfast Debate”… except I am only one person and I wrote my homage in two-fisted dialogue to The Compleat Angler with Max a few years back. But I like the idea. Keeping it fresh. These winter months are great for working on an historic era, for working through a data base. I have a notion to work away at the erroneous ideas that (1) temperance was some sort of trick played on the many by the few and (2) that, contrarily perhaps, it was all that effective. And greater early 1900s social history. I sit above a small outdated law library. It’s great stuff and holds masses of facts proven by evidence, tinged with authority. Rare.

I would also like to figure out a way to crack the nut of getting into the ledgers of contemporary craft brewing. What are they actually up to as businesses? It’s the only way to break the cycle of brewery owner cheery pozzy obvsy bios we’ve been stuck with for the last few years.* You would have thought that the craft sellouts would have taught a lesson but gate-keeping editors will have their way. The narrative must go on. And it will be even more popular in the new Trumptastic era. Boo to the questioners! Down with those losers asking “why?”!  Hmm. I would need to present it at a statistical abstraction. And I would need some helpful assistants in the business offices of craft breweries. Any takers? You can voice flabbergasted serious objections in the comments below and send me your non-disclosure agreement template to beerblog@gmail.com. Let’s talk.

What else can I do? We do? I am interested in another unpopular idea. What is it that makes us lose interest in novelty, makes us find a home in certain pop culture things like beer? Most folk I know have packed in chasing the beery tail. Novelty is for novices. Some lasting things are actually better. Think of it this way. I am a lucky man. I was 14 to 24 from 1977 to 1987 which means I was in the front row to a very strong point in pop and alt** music history. I have not been persuaded since that another period is superior but I also realize its not only the music I heard but that I was that age in my life when it was popular. I would hope those years were golden for each of us – though being 14 in 1977 was pretty sweet. Does the same idea work for good beer? Will we all just end up accepting Rochefort is fabulous or will today’s twenty somethings actually get a bit verklempt over memories of weird fruit flavoured gose thirty years from now? Could you imagine? It’s be like getting nostalgic over Mumford and Sons.

So. Any suggestions? Any idea I might explore? Conversely, any lakes you might, perhaps, direct me to jump into? I am for too entrenched to care if you take offense. Last year saw a peak in the “how dare you!” emails suggesting a personal slight directed to folk I really never thought that much about. Could you imagine thinking that much of yourself that you took the minute and 27 seconds of deep consideration it took from outrage to pressing send? Well, we won’t be having any of that in 2017, will we. Nope! And that is because this is the year where people get a grip, learn we are not each the centre of the beery world and get about doing what needs to be done!

Remember: it is only beer and, by way of corollary, you are only you. Well… fine. Can we at least start with this is the year we give it a try?

*aka “it’s amazing work – but, trust me, everyone is broke.”

**Is it too soon to use “alt” again?

Hello From The Blog’s Back End – And The Road…

It’s been busy at the system admin end of the blogging life even if not so active here out front. Since mid-October, I have happily shifted over 650 posts to the new WordPress platform and am starting to see a bit of daylight. There will be an opportunity to receive a bulk loading of posts in a few weeks but I wanted key posts well in place before that happens. To get the house in order. In doing so, I have had the experience of reliving my last 14 years or so as a public writer. It’s very instructive. There seem to be clear phases to my – and our – beer blogging, the fourth or fifth of which we are in now.

a. The first from maybe 2003 to 2006 was marked by reviews, by news items about beer taken from the news, by figuring out the lay of the land.

b. Then the beer blogging explosion of 2007 to, say, 2010 saw a lot of active discussion including plenty about the role of beer blogging. And the Xmas photo contest going full speed. Participation was riding high.

c. Next, we have the difficult period. The Oxford Companion to Beer was a problem faced in late 2011. In May 2013, we lost Simon, one of the brightest beer bloggers, the bringer of viciously accurate humour.

d. An about turn led me more deeply into history in 2013-15, building on the Albany Ale Project, as well as utter dissatisfaction with the state of things. The self appointed consulto-expert. The acceptance of the shoddy. The rise of unaffiliated certificate programs. Three books resulted. New York City history in the 1700s began to get unpacked.

e. Next and up to today, the sudden great collapse brought on by a number of things like the great buyout phenomenon, murk, short form social media, long long form amaze-balls storytelling, the deletion of old blogs and All About Beer sucking up all the beer bloggers ideas and then dulling them down for general non-boat rocking comfortable digestion without much resulting chitchat. Yet, despite this, this is now the time of the wonderful rise of the many and tiny and clever as well as, perhaps, a return to more of the substantive sort of books 2010 promised.

That image up there? It’s from the journal of the Napanee Beer Company’s Geordan Saunders. When I stopped in there yesterday while on the road for the first time to see how things were going since they opened last spring, we immediately had a “I know your face” and “And I know your face” moment. Four and a half years before he had popped into my office to ask me what I thought of his dream to be a small town brewer. Good thing I was helpful (or at least not a big wet neg) as their beers are fabulous – in particular their Blacklist, a schwarzbier. When I thought about it, at least three of those chats have now been followed by brewery openings in my area.

I don’t know if I am a great resource.  Geordan was kind to think I was. I do know, however, that reviewing all these posts and ensuring my favorites are well manicured and comfortably housed has led me to realize there is a point to it all. The collection as a whole traces the arc of something. Something continuously moving forward inveigling itself into the culture. It’s reminded me to be very hopeful.

A Good Beer Blog Renewed… I Hope

OK, so I posted this on Facebook on Saturday:

A bit of news about the blog. It will be gone by the end of the year. Seems like the dedicated server I have been living off for 13 1/2 years without paying a cent is going to be unplugged as it is a fire hazard… or a security risk… or just old junk. My servers masters are the best there are. And they likely know when time is up. I think I’ll back up all the content on a nice hard drive and put it all in a drawer. Not sure I actually need a dedicated website any more – you know, emotionally. Have to decide if I bother with a new site. ‘Cause Snapchat is where it’s at. And this space. It’s free. Maybe I’ll start a knitting blog. Or get better at the banjo. Or learn Finnish. All the things I might have done.

As it turns out I have been freeloading on an aging server. Once upon a time the artist Feist‘s website sat right next to my two blogs in the file folder tree. But now the code is old, the server creaky and reality has struck. I have been mooching on a private server. So… and with utter gratitude for 13 1/2 years of a great gift… it’s now time to move on and, so, we have A Good Beer Blog v.2 on WordPress. It’ll all be OK.

Soon, I will get the export of the archives and I expect everything will repopulate tickity-boo.  But there will be link rot. Of two sorts. All the internal links to other posts on the old beer blog will fail. And all the photos will need re-identification. So I need some priorities over the next wee while:

1. Christmas is cancelled. It’d be right about now that I would announce the rules for the impending Yuletide photo contest. I will now have other things to do in the allotted blog time in my life so it’s suspended for 2016-17;

2. Some classes of beer blog post are going to get more attention. The history posts over the last few years hopefully will be as good or better. That 2004 review of some tripel that I didn’t know was really a stout might look like hell.

3. I am going to bring over certain archives from my non-beer blog, genx40.com. Much of what I wrote there was about news of the day and whether I had a cold or not but some is worth keeping so it will find a home deep in the archives.

I hope this all goes well but it will take time. This place is pretty spare but it’ll be a while before I can turn to the problem of smartening it up. Any helpful household hints are most welcome. The funny ha ha URL was Craig‘s idea, by the way.

AGBB’s Proof of Pumpkinness Assurance Certificate

pump1The tweeted response from Nickel Brook Brewing this morning read “how bout them pumpkins?” It was sent in reply to today’s hurried announcement of A Good Beer Blog’s Pumpkinness Assurance Certificate Program. The program was launched after many many minutes of study and consumer outreach consultancy upon reading this post by the venerable Boing Boing which explains:

Pumpkin is too watery and stringy to can, and the USDA has an exceptionally loosey-goosey definition of “pumpkin,” which allows manufacturers to can various winter squash varieties (including one that Libby’s specially bred to substitute for pumpkin) and call it “100% pumpkin.”

WHAT??? Boing Boing was/were just quoting an article at Food + Wine which contains this bombastic statement: “pumpkin puree is not pumpkin. It’s squash.” Oh gourd – no… we live in a land of LIES!!! Now, as Stan testified a few days ago, pumpkin beers are more popular than the chorus of complaints would have us understand. He told us to look at what people are putting in their shopping carts. Sounds like he should have told us to look at what brewers are putting in their mash tuns.*

pump2How many pumpkin ales are actually being made of this year’s pumpkin patch crop as opposed to last year’s bucket of miscellaneous variety gourd glop? How many other ingredients in your beer could be treated with such callous disregard? I posted a tweet bearing witness to the scene at Cambridge Brewing Company near MIT in Massachusetts on 18 August 2013. See the volunteers at work. How many other craft brewers put in the effort that Nickel Brook and CBC are putting in? Speak up! Do you know of one? Send in some compelling evidence and we can issue an official Proof of Pumpkinness Assurance Certificate Notification. For an unnecessarily large fee I am sure I could even draw, sign and mail a certificate to someone. And make sure you ask to see the paper before you buy your next pumpkin ale. Accept no imitations.

*By the way, I get it. I have seen a Blue Hubbard Squash. I have even grown them. Ugly as sin even if tasty as all get out. No wonder they keep them hidden from view. Might make the greatest ale in the history of mankind but no one is putting that on the label.

Cream Ale: I Hate Records Revisited…

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.

Cream is like that. Folk think it has a specific meaning. Static in time. The general theory is that cream ales started as top-fermented ales that receive an extended period of cold-conditioning or lagering. Another source closer to the ground tells me that cream ales are now just blends of basic pale ales and basic light lagers. Could be. But that up there is an ad from 1830. It’s from New York Evening Post from 13 August 1830, well before lager was a twinkle in an Empire State brewer’s eye. Mr. Swan of Roosevelt Street had some for sale. So other than the seemingly odd juxtaposition of street name and date – what does it mean? There are two obvious first choice. Cream is rich and it also rises to the top. Hmm.

Six years later, the first or perhaps just leading American brewing industrialist John Taylor was placing ads for his Albany Cream Ale. Here is an ad that was placed in The Ulster Republican of Poughkeepsie, New York from 25 May 1836. Three years later, Taylor is advertising his Imperial Cream Ale and add the tag line “No mistake as to its superior quality.” Here is an example from the Albany Evening Journal of 4 April 1839. Which is interesting. Not a call to strength. A call to finesse. Ten years later, in an article about a new sarsaparilla works, Taylor’s Cream Ale is mentioned in the 21 July 1849 edition of the Plattsburgh Republican as an example of something the new sarsaparilla maker exceeds in production. It’s become common parlance for quantity as well as quality. Half a decade after John passes away, his sons are still prominently advertising their Imperial Cream Ale, now fit “for family use” as you can see was stated in the Albany Argus of 20 January 1869.

These are just snippets but they do show something of either an arc of meaning or perhaps a versatility. A claim more than a descriptor. Superior stuff. Was it creamy? I have no idea. I hate records.

Your Vital Links To Beer News For Wednesday Half-Day

craigbbcTwo days back off holiday and I am already taking an afternoon off. Slacker. Well, there was a need to do so but not really to do anything other than mind the wee one. Fortunately there’s afternoon baseball to watch online and lots of beer news to catch up with.

=> First, the best news of all is that I may have figured out a cure to the spam war. When I was in Maine I opened up the comments page on the admin to find myself facing over 5,000 pending comments needing manual deleting. I rolled up my sleeves and figured out a few new things. Result: no evil bad comments for a few days now. Even though the blog’s FB page has neatly stepped in, I can now state with confidence that the comments will be open… as long as this keeps working.

=> Jordan made an excellent point in passing over of FB which needs repeating: “I hope they take about ten percent market share. They will then be eligible for beer store ownership. That’ll put the cat amongst the pigeons.” He’s talking about SABMiller’s enthusiastic return to the Ontario beer market. While I remain unmoved, the petite reform MOU does state that “ownership of TBS will be open to all brewers with facilities in Ontario.” Get it on, SABMiller. Get it on.

=> I was not able to get my butt back down to Albany after driving through the last two weekends coming and going from Maine. Sad as one of the great leaps forward was held yesterday as the BBC programme “Great American Railway Journeys” was in town filming and included the Albany Ale Project as part of the story of its New York episode. As you can see, Craig aka “Showtime” had as natty a sports jacket as host Michael Portillo. Plus I got an email that read “I have spoken to my Director, Tom, and he doesn’t plan on you being on screen on screen on this occasion..” I should have known partnering with a former hand model would end up like this…

=> Another excellent edition of the “Drinker’s Digest” appeared over at Stonch’s place triggering a rather zesty discussion beginning with: “Tandleman has a point there will be certain people with vested interests who won’t be happy to hear it…” Tandy carried forth himself today. Which is associated with this comment on food blogging’s latest ethical crisis by a noted wine writer. As I mentioned in the alternative format, with all due respect, it isn’t at all just about disclosing receipt of resources and benefit as part of one’s writing. That’s just the entry point for the discussion unless you don’t care or don’t understand how it appears to reasonable people when writers accept resources for what they write from the subject matter of the writing.

=> Maureen speaks for me in relation to 80% of the beer books put out in the last five years: “Routson’s beer primer is no better and no worse than 50 others I’ve read in recent years. The usual suspects parade the pages: beer styles, brewing process, cooking with beer, pairing food and beer, “science-y numbers” with which to impress your pals, and tasting notes aplenty.” Personally, I would have used the line a bit ago when we were all supposed to care which beer went with the chilled shrimp and avacado wrap. Note: Jeff gets special dispensation as his book sat with the publisher for two years for some unknown reason. But we can stop with the identa-texts now, right? Write only original beer books starting… NOW!

That’ll do for now. It’s summer. There’s baseball to watch. And a new beer to try. Not telling which. I paid for it myself. No need to tell you anything about it. Bet it will be great. Not telling why.

A Summer Sunday Beer News Roundup