Your Mid-May Beery News Links Of Note

Did you see the game? I don’t know or really care what game it was but May is all about the games. Big ball games. I never am sure what the rules of big ball actually are but it sure is exciting this time of year. I think about that when I read about things like that it is America’s Craft Beer Week and think – how dull is that? And even nine years after “Hooray for Everything” it is still pretty much stuck in that same rut. What is it about beer that makes its promotion either offensive or deathly dull? I love that the vision for the event-like thing used to be:

…the week to inspire beer enthusiasts to declare their independence by supporting breweries that produce fewer than 2 million barrels of beer a year and are independently owned…

…given, you know, that the whole “fewer” thing is out the door and “independence” is such a dodgy concept it had to be converted into branding to patch over the difficult questions. Unless Andy is right and the schisms as just beginning. Anyway, to each their own. I suspect the real value is in brewery staff pep rallies, hot dog cannon sales and boosting the pamphlet manufacturing trade… that sort of thing.

What else… or, rather, what is actually going on? By the way, have you lost the ability to waste time on the internet?* Good question. Not me! Evidence? This weekly post. Further evidence? How about an immediately early morning bonus update mid-paragraph to highlight this amazing piece on how to do nothing in Chicago** for a whole day.

Ruh-ro: Saudi beer caps.

Yikes! “Microplastics in beer is no small deal” is real news. The Great Lakes seem particularly hit. I live next to a Great Lake. I drink its waters. It’s in the tap water. And therefore in me. I expect to hear it is very bad… or overblown. But not as bad as this was feared, I hope. I just can’t wait for the beer trade PR semi-pros to start handing out the medical advice on this one.

Gentle razzing amongst new urban central Canadian beer mags was received concurrently with emails describing the reorganization of the excellent third such publication launched just last year.  Offering best wishes feels a bit like hoping the kid will learn to ride that bike without losing a tooth or ending up in a cast at some point. Who will actually survive? Will any make it to issue four? Worth noting an utter lack of fidelity amongst the writers. Everyone seems just to write for everyone. Did I expect anything else?

Ontario.

Fabulous observation from the world’s most honest publican:Well… what is success anyway? BrewDog provides comparison and have again highlighted the now long-past-death of craft with the announcement that they are closing in on billionaire status… well, Canadian billionaire.  Sure the fingers get pointed at dear old semi-demi-delusional Humphrey but as far as UK craft brewing magnates go these days, Watt and Wham… err, Dickie… are leading the pack.

I was going to not bother with this Beavertown*** story as it is rather boring being another small brewery making the move to being much bigger on the way to being very much bigger. I figured Boak and Bailey would know more and get to it Saturday. But then they got to it on Tuesday… and then they got to be bizarrely labeled as both vaguely biased and, oddly but not uncharacteristically, apparently not biased enough… again vaguely. Non-story mock outrage. Sad. Nate gets it. Fan fiction of a sort, I suppose. Except I can only presume, as usual, it was preceded by a phone call and a back scratch. Which Cloudwater, jumping in on clumsily (and somewhat anti-democratically), seemed to prove. Nice bit of poor widdle cwaft performance art.****

Rather conversely, some real news here about the application of the law under the heady New York Post title “Winery owner busted for ‘illegal moonshine operation“:

“The discovery of an illegal moonshine operation in the heart of Brooklyn is nothing short of shocking, given how easy and inexpensive it is to obtain a distiller’s license in New York state,” said SLA Counsel Christopher Riano. Snyder was led away in handcuffs following the Wednesday raid, authorities said, and was charged by the city Sheriff’s Office with the illicit manufacturing of alcoholic beverages. The class-E felony is punishable by 1-4 years in prison.

Frankly, I am surprised we have not seen more of this, especially given the pervasive false “new e-conomy of 1996” style promise of the drinks PR trade: “don’t worry, it’s craft!” The handcuffing was a sweet touch.

Happier news: a piece on Valley Malt by Mr. Matthew Osgood. We used their product when we created a version of Vassar Ale with Beaus in 2012 which was, to be fair, a case of inspiration more than replication. Still, exceptionally yum.

Speaking about perhaps not journalism,*** sad to see the UK’s Morning Advertiser getting suckered into this bit of PR puff about “blockchain beer” – a tale not unlike the phony “open source beer” story that got me quoted back in 2005***** in The New York Times, an organ which I like to think of as the world’s newspaper of record. Bar-coding for provenance is also pretty much “new e-conomy of 1996” style. I remember being in a presentation twenty years ago for using it to prove where potatoes were grown. Amazed-balls! Decentralized server authentication through embedded cryptography is entirely different. But, you know, beer journalism so… whatever.

Wednesday, Pete wrote about alcohol in The Guardian this week but then I had to recalibrate my expectations early on when I hit this bit of health and politics:

This means we live in an age of alarmist misinformation about the perils of booze, with a growing belief that any level of consumption of this “poison” is potentially harmful. 

Unfortunately, Pete’s article turns out to not be about the effects of alcohol but the phases of a single drinking session. There is a phrase you need to keep in mind when working on electricity transmission contracts: “you have to obey the electrons.” Likewise, when you consider health and alcohol, you have to remember you are sitting in a human body and not a magic consumption machine. So, I am more inclined to think of this by Pete or this from Jeff than I am to buy into an idea that there is too much alarmist misinformation about the perils of booze.

Hmm. Seems like an inordinately unhappy set of notes up there. Remember when people used to call good beer a social lubricant? It was going so well for a few weeks but – whammo! – so much getting it wrong in so many ways.  Graft, innuendo and dipsomania all in one place together. Is this the end? Has something run its course? Or is the sign that something new is just around the corner? Well, for answers to those and many more questions you will have to wait until next week to see. Or tune into the internets on Saturday to visit with the, seriously, much more creative and informed, pleasant and positive Boak and Bailey.

*Can we even recall what it was like?
**Hint.
***Admittedly, the name alone poses a challenge to any Canadian. Not to mention this.  And… the icky.
****None of this was about “journalism v. opinion” with all due respect.  So, what do we call it? The assertion of status for some reason or another is a part of what I see. Which leads to the broader question: what is the point of following this sort of transient semi-contrived issue-skirting promotional writing if the point is, in an way, not ultimately what is written? Fortunately, having written inordinately about the Georgian era, I can see an attempt at a status-based construct over a merit-based construct from the next valley.
*****Have I ever mentioned that I was quoted in The New York Times in 2005? I have? Could I share more details with you?

The End Of March Is Already Here And I Do I Have Some Beer News For You!

Time. March 2018 is almost gone and I barely noticed it was slipping away. Q2 looms. Which is great as I hate winter but which is not so great as I turn 55 next month. Did I mention that thing about time? Still frigging cold outside, too.  That in itself should help you put the week’s news about fretting about beer in perspective. Come on spring. Hello? Anyone there?* OK, I get it… let’s see if the beer news is cheerier.

First, another vintage brewery necktie for the collection. Please – send me your neckties. I may not get samples and would stick nails in my eyes before I went on a junket but I will take your ties! That would make me happy.

Next, a number. 6,266!  Wow! That’s more than before and likely less than from a bit from now. That of course, is not the real news. It’s nothing like that deep insight that things are “normalizing” – whatever that is. No, the real news came out in a web PR release that came out a day after the infographic that unpacked the numbered with an inordinate level of honest detail in the section entitled “Per Brewer Growth“:

In absolute terms, per brewery growth was less than 200 barrels last year. In 2014, it was almost 900 barrels. To drop like that suggests both that many brewers probably aren’t seeing the growth trajectories of breweries from a few years ago, and that many brewers are declining. The table below shows the distribution of companies with 2016 and 2017 data (so excluding 2017 openings). I’ve starred the “more than 50% group” as a reminder that a huge chunk of them are 2016 openings—50% will average growth of 100% or more just due to when they opened in 2016.

2017 Growth % of Breweries
-10% or worse 17.0%
-10% to -1% 10.3%
+/- 1% 15.3%
1% to 10% 10.0%
10% to 25% 13.0%
25% to 50% 11.6%
More than 50%* 22.9%

The positive interpretation of the table above is that even in an extremely competitive environment, 73% of breweries were flat or up last year. The flip side is that 27% saw declines greater than 1%, and 17% saw double-digit declines. 

Interestingly – but that is actually not the story. Notice above that there is a category for “+/-1%”… that’s is a weird choice of measurement. Unlike all the other bands. If you remove it, and aggregate it with the categories above it you will see that 42.6% of breweries saw no discernible growth or actually saw significant retraction. Then, understand that this is a percentage of the number of breweries and not a reflection of brewery production.  Since 2014, as the infographic says, there have been over 2,500 brewery openings in the US. 800 in just the last year. As these breweries are going from zero growth to some growth, it is logical that most of the growth by brewery numbers is based in the tiny recent entrants. Old bulky big craft appears to be stagnant or worse. I think we have been coming to that understanding over the last couple of years but it’s good to see the BA set out the numbers that tell the tale. Good news that.

Speaking of old bulky big craft, medium-large US craft brewer Green Flash is pulling up stakes and hightailing it out of the “branch plant out east” business. Likely they found out, as many are, that folk out east have plenty of beer out east that tastes like beer made out east and they like it just fine. Interesting: “…this is a move that was made to solidify investments to keep San Diego’s operations above water.” Wow.

Pete Brown wrote a wonderful thing Tuesday all about how rough his last decade or so has been. Folk called him brave, honest and an example. All true. It’s also a huge success. Kind of a graduation day speech. See, I have had two or three dabblings with what Pete wrote so openly about and, so, I know (i) I still couldn’t write what he wrote and (ii) it’s a measure of his success that he did. Hooray! I am very pleased but also concerned given how many people in good beer I would describe as stressed out, unhappy, dysfunctional workaholic who soothed themselves by eating and drinking too much. Be careful out there.

In another episode of where are the beer bloggers of 2009, Jeff of Stonch [ … now of Rye … but presently in Lunigiana…] reviewed a  beer this week:

Unsolicited trade samples aren’t usually terribly good. In truth, if a brewery’s making good beer, those with an interest in buying it or writing about it will have sought it out themselves. Similarly, beers with obscure geek culture references as names – the type that leave one none the wiser even when explained in detail – also tend to be shit. This one, therefore, surprised me twice.

Fabulously honest writing. Unlike anything edited and sold for payment. Which makes one wonder why, as shared in the recently circulated NAGBW Newsletter 2018.3, that the topics for NAGBW symposium during the Craft Brewers Conference has the three topics for panel presentations:

– “Beyond the Byline”: book publishing and podcasting;
– “Editor’s Roundtable”: leaders from industry publications share insights; and
– “Industry Roundtable”: hear from industry pros about pressing topics in beer.

None of which will lead to be a better writer even if you become a more compliant, less individualized one. It won’t make a Ron. And we all do know there is no real money in beer writing, right? Don’t be doing this for making money from writing… please. And don’t be sloppy researchers. Ben hates that.

Speaking of sloppy research, the great thing about the debunking of myths about lambic (often seemingly peddled by the edited and published) by Roel Mulder of Lost Beers is how the actual far more interesting story of lambic is explained.  It’s younger than the industrial revolution, it has been brewed in a far wider set of locales and didn’t rely on old hops. It’s about as traditional as mass produced Porter in mid-1700s was. Fabulous.

So there you have it. Another week filtering the positive from the dreary, the genuine from the fake, real from the seeming, the worthy from the transient. Ahhh… annnnnd… nothing turns on it. I probably could have done better, too. If I had made the effort. Something similar will happen next week. And I will be there to check it out as will Boak and Bailey on Saturday just as Stan will on Monday.

*making the noise of knocking on a window pane.

Your First Beery News Update For Spring 2018

It all got messy mid-week. It was looking dull and then a number of big things happened. More about those things later. The best thing, a littler thing, is not really one of note – it’s that Ron wrote a few travel posts as he wandered about England as a Goose Island consultant. Not that I mind his recipes and quotations from rulings of the magistrate’s court circa 1912 but his real gift is capturing the normal life of a guy and his problem with beer. Consider the gorgeous photo he attached to one post which I have pilfered and plunked right there. I have dubbed it “Ronnui“: lovely wood and glass inside with unloveliness outside and across the road. And a man considering the emptiness of it all. You sense that even the umbrella he brought won’t be enough. A fire extinguisher serves as a warning to you.  Not the sort of thing you’ll see in one of the new dipso guides to global vagrancy. Editors don’t like that sort of detail. No, this is honest stuff. Click on the image, look upon Ron’s work and despair.

US big picture: 4,900,000 fewer barrels of beer were made in 2017 compared to 2016.*  A retraction of a little more than 2.5% and twice the drop for 2015.  What you will hear about will include how 30,000** more barrels were consumed at brewery taprooms.   That represents 0.6% of the total loss of overall production. Pick your top trends accordingly.

More big brainy stuff. I found a 2008 MA thesis on beer and tourism in Yorkshire. I found it as part of finding out more about York Brewery (1996-present) whose necktie I just added to the old man office wear collection. So not really really big stuff – but it is a 62 inch tie so that is good.

Biggish? In just two weeks two glossy quarterly Ontario-centric beer mags have been announced. Overlapping writers. Won’t last. Can’t last. Who will blink? Or will they both starve the other enough that each folds?

Pretty big. Dave Bailey announced the closure of  hi brewery, the much-loved Hardknot (2006-1018). I was not shocked but certainly saddened. I was one of those who this time last year was muttering at a laptop screen saying “don’t!… DON’T sell your house to save your business!” even though I was rooting for him and his family. While others missed the point entirely, Mark Johnson gathers together a fabulous remembrance of when, among other things, Hardknot was as big as BrewDog when both were small. Big news that:

Of all the comrades that e’er I had
They’re sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I had
They’d wish me one more day to stay.
But since it fell unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all.

Then? Good to see he is already planning his next phase, Guerrilla Brewing.

Big but not big. One thought that the ascendancy of  “juicy” or “hazy” to the preference of “NEIPA” or, the most honest, “London murk” was as big a day as when almost everyone got to join the US small craft brewers. What next, adding makeup sparkles? As if that would happen!

Conversely, the best thing of the week is this 1975 news item on the making of Traquair Ale. Plainness and excellence.

And one last thing… hmm… how about this. Is this you?

Recovered beer snobs, also known as “geeks” or “nerds,” are generally Gen Xers who’ve spent years swirling and sniffing taster-sized samples, waiting in line for Heady Topper, and posting pictures of their beer hauls. They’ve gone through a lupulin threshold shift that carried them from IPAs to 100-IBU imperial IPAs, and then on to sours because their palates had basically grown numb to anything that didn’t blow it to pieces. But, as observers predicted, they eventually got tired. They overloaded. They grew up. And they stopped wanting to think so hard about beer.

They grew up“! Fabulous. And not without some basis. Lisa noted that we are on the top of the craft beer cycle wheel again. Andy is noting the return to lite. I get it. I am not much interested in anything too strong and certainly nothing too cloudy, fruited or hopped. Did I grow up? Did you? Did Lew? No, not you…Lew! We all know you didn’t. He’s in the story bearing witness: “glassware is such a first-world problem.” Boom.

*my typo as to date fixed.
**See snark in the comments. I added links to BA and TTB documents that explain. The 30,000 figure is actually for unsold beer consumed in the brewery – staff drinking, spillage and samples? The increase in taproom sales (for both craft and macro) is 385,000 barrels or so. Or 7.85% of the overall gross retraction. But they are two separate sorts of numbers. The larger one is a retraction, the other a shift in format. Context: gin and whisky are up.

It’s March! It’s March It’s March It’s March News!!!

So… I like March. For years I proclaimed March in 89 font letters on one of my old blogs. I am far more restrained now. A place between two seasons. Did you see that it snowed in Ireland and the UK this week? Farmers out east call this the Million Dollar Snow* – the late storms that drench the fields on melting. And all brewing trade social media has been suspended over there for the last few days for pictures of snow laying thinly all about, just like the story told in the carols! Must be that EU Committee on Taking Photos of Snow (EUCTPS) funding grants finally kicking in.

First, right after last Thursday’s deadline, The Tand Himself** wrote about the inversion of reality that craft has become in the UK market and under their cultural version of the term’s application. Years ago Boak and Bailey discussed the vague and wandering UK use of the word “craft” and it seems like it’s wandered six steps further since then. While it is useless to get too caught up into it, craft now appears to mean “an expensive crap shoot enjoyed by folk many times you likely would not want to spend much time with” – or, you know, something other than what’s in the glass. Who needs that? The better  approach such clinky studies with a certain humility and thank God others are playing with just, you know, honesty. We are blessed and less affected here where craft can still range from $2.80 a tall boy to whatever the market might bear. Related: discount craft discussion #1 and discount craft discussion #2. Somewhat related: odd personal product placement posing deep and abiding questions about value.

Next, I like this footage from the BBC archive of a show discussing the 1986 about the new UK craze for trend in brown bread. Which is interesting. Context about trends in food and other social patterns should be always related to trends in beer culture. Me, I was in Britain for a good chunk of 1986 and remember both the good malty ales and my uncle complaining about all the whole wheat and vegetables suddenly in his diet. Related: drive-by expertise. Unlike branding, actual history and knowledge are reasonably identifiable things. Dr Caitlin Green, lecturer at the University of Cambridge in history, has posted a series of images of ancient drinking vessels. That drinking cup carved out of amber is one of the more wonderful things I have ever seen. By further contrast, consider this discussion of the poorly traced and argued history of lambic – part of our heritage of mob craftism. Why must this be so?

Back to today, interestingly how Ben noted a change in the demeanor of UK trade reporter James Beeson who wrote about his unhealthy relationship with alcohol on Friday and then how drinking swanky craft before 3pm on Sunday made him somehow “a winner.” I’ve often noted to myself how two classes of people seem to align their identity with drinking, alcoholics and beer writers. If you feel the first, the second is irrelevant – just as he openly explored in the thread that followed. No beer makes you a winner. It’s best to be well. And I wish him well. No one needs a millstone.

Do you see a pattern up there? Proper personal insight compared to something else, perhaps second hand. Yet Jeff manages this tension with care and perhaps a bit daring in his posts on sexism. It’s not his story to tell but it’s the story he can tell or host. Still, even with his own discussion on the fact it is not his story – and the reality that we each are only what we are – I just wish the posts didn’t have a male host as intermediary… so, I will pair this link to one from Nicci Peet who is making a documentary about women in all sectors of the trade and has even launched a Patreon campaign to support it:

If you’re here you probably know I’ve just launched a new documentary project photographing women (cis, trans, genderqueer, woc) in the UK beer industry. There’s a lot of talk and debate lately around sexism and inclusivity. Part of the problem is that there’s a lack of visual representation of the diverse range of women who work in the industry. When I say women working in the industry I don’t just mean brewers. If you have a passion for beer there are so many different routes into the industry. 

Both Nicci and Jeff’s very much worth your time. [Related for contrasting context.] And, just so we are clear, the #1 lesson on exactly how not to do it was brought to you Wednesday afternoon by Stone‘s Arrogant Beavis and Butthead social media intern:

 

 

 

 

The tweets are all now deleted – but for a hour or so defiantly defended. It makes one wonder why do they stick with the junior high locker room branding at Stone? It’s all about judgement of others with a passive aggression from a largely unwarranted stance. Don’t get me wrong. They make mainly pretty good gas station beer that’s reasonably reliable and know how to get the government grants for the branch plants. But apparently because that’s how the head office rolls if the intern’s tacit instructions are anything to go by. Time to move on.

*Unrelated.
**aka TTH.

The Final Beery News For This Winter Olympiad

Did I mention I planted peas and radish seeds outside the other day after shoveling a patch in the snow? I have hope and I have trust. Spring is keeking around the corner surprisingly early this year. There isn’t a day in the 14 day forecast with a high temp mark below freezing. March is upon us. And I made the news today… well, me amongst many others. Spring training games start tomorrow. And a good brewery is opening a fifteen minute walk from my house and I am off to the opening this evening. So, it’s a happy time.

Hmm. What is else is going on? Well, now that we are in the merrily saturated market, now that the local supply is diverse and inclusive, fabulous and fresh… what do we do when we consume the ales and lagers of others? Foreign beer is not necessary very now. But still it show up and often finds a place for no other reason than that its comfortingly foreign. I even bought eight Guinness the other weekend. Something something rose coloured glasses something… something something “stupid European boyfriend“…

One for team? Taken.

Speaking of teams, as shown to the right, Ben Johnson* won the Canadian beer Olympic social media moment with his screen shot and tweet of the spouse of Rachel Homan, one of our Olympic curling team members.** It is a fabulous image, the subject displaying his Canadian-ness in a number of key ways: the clothes, the way the hat is jacked down, the wide balanced relaxed stance and his “third and fourth” two-fisted macro lagers. Ben posted his tweet on Sunday evening and by Tuesday morning it had over 6,000 retweets and even made it into the realm of actual media. 8,000 retweets by Wednesday 7:00 am. Nutty.

Not beer: Slovenian wagon cart bits from 3,000 BC.

Web 2.0 update: not a good look.

News that England’s Fuller’s bought a smaller brewery broke on Tuesday morning and, in an amazing display of speed guru-ism, within minutes tribes were forming, one asking “why is this OK?” as the other says “it is OK!” – which is pretty much normal and not much turns on it. The acquired Dark Star charmingly tweeted

Yes, I predict we’ll do more one-off, small batch beers this year than in our history with their investment in our operation. Same brewers, same passion.

…which could be true but could also mean they’ll be shut by summer. Or not. A seemingly wise man considers the Otley alternative, you know the formerly award winning brewery, the former darling that disappeared late last week. Then the longer pieces came out within 24 hours. Another churned out rushed bit at GBH. A longer, substantive*** piece by Pete pops up… yet with the familiar assurance that Fuller’s is “a minnow in the world of corporate beer.” Hmm.  Yes, “weasel words” and then already “some redundancies in sales and accountants.“**** Yet, there is a sameness to it all.  And there’ll be more. Not just (or even primarily) in the ideas – not the content but in the pattern of comment. I can’t put my finger on it. Is that all there is?  If only someone was keeping track of the promises of the bought out and the later reality. And remember around 2013 when people were going to write fiction about craft beer? Have we dropped playing at being Hemingway to playing at being U.S. News & World Report circa 1993? Content. And plenty of it. Ever notice content sounds a lot like stuffing? You just know somewhere someone is writing another identical style guide for the Christmas market – and another twenty are writing articles to congratulate the long dead man for guiding it all still today, the hand reaching out from the grave. Creepy needy. Me, I am reminded of the stack of thumbed, even greasy magazines at the barbershop when I was a kid, only the top few being touched by those waiting.

There is another view. Ron gave a glimpse with this gathering of 1950s brown ale adverts. The prosaic hiding the poetic. Yet… still rose-tinted, no? Next? More art – this time a brief drama:

Craft Beer: Haha! Young kids today hate macro crap beer!
Macro Beer: Haha! Young kids today just hate beer. How’s your cash reserves, craft?

Interesting. The things you learn when you aren’t listening to a staff PR guy posing as an economist. Speaking of bad news, these are hard times in the lives of the one of the saints:

…Samuel Adams beers and Angry Orchard ciders hurt business… We remain challenged by the general softening of the craft beer and cider categories… A late-2017 survey of beverage retailers by Wells Fargo named Boston Beer as the year’s least innovative alcohol company.

Which isn’t exactly praise right there coming from Barron’s. Hmm.  How would you write a comforting column adopting the language of minnow based on that?***** Should we expect some redundancies in sales and accountants? Maybe. Because that is sorta where we are at as Q1 2018 looks out and sees Q2 coming on fast.

One final reminder: as you likely know, two other weekly news summaries are available with Boak and Bailey posting their round-up every Saturday morning UK time whilst Stan Hieronymus offers his thoughts on Mondays with little old me now plodding along mid-week. I have elbowed my way back into this clique over the last year so am quite grateful for their quite different weekly perspectives on this finite set of stories and should be back with more cheery thoughts of my own next Thursday… in March!

Update: bonus non-beer Quebec content because the phrase “…and it tastes like feet.

*Yes, the socialite Ben Johnson but not that Ben Johnson.
**Traitor curler!!!
***Beefy even. Based on actual experience. And much to be said about simply being interested in something more than others.
****Must have lacked passion.
*****But… but… passion!

What? More Monday Links? Why? Why Oh Why?

Not that I wanted to start up paying attention to the news about beer for this century again… but the time it takes to get one of these early modern posts out sorta leads me to wanting to provide some in-fill. I mean it is exciting stuff but how many tales of hegemonic Euro-explorer types getting scurvy half way across the Atlantic can you take? So…. here is some more Monday in-fill!

First, note that “Grainews is written for farmers, and often by farmers” and late last week they published a fairly detailed article on hop growing in Canada’s easterly and fairly northern province  of Quebec. An interesting and practical introduction to growing at the edge of viability. Note: “Craft brewers want good quality, but are not worried about consistency year to year…” Somewhat self-evident but interesting to see it confirmed at the farmyard stage.

News this morning has come that two huge Canadian conglomerates have swapped dozens of local and regional papers… and then promptly shut down many of them. And with those papers go a large number of columns including the excellent one on good beer in southwestern Ontario published bi-weekly by Ben. Sad to see but, as you can see from the list, this is a bigger shift hitting a wide range of communities, not just beer geeks.

I trust that no one cares about this.

Whenever I read about how awful UK beer prices are I stop and think how wonderful it would be to be pay what they pay for beer in the UK. We seem to have over 50% higher prices for decent beer and, given we tip, that prices is likely pushing 75% over the course of an evening out.

Prepare ye for the new style “sub-session” if this proto-fad gets traction:

With session beer having taken off in the US and the low-alcohol sector on the rise, Grundy and James hope that their new beer, with a lower ABV than is traditionally associated with session beer, will deliver in flavour what it lacks in alcohol. The pair are launching two new lager beers into the UK market: a Pilsner-style lager made with British malt and Saaz hops (2.1% ABV) and a dark lager (1% ABV) described as having “dark berry fruit on the nose” and a “coffee-like palate and smoky finish”.

Hmm. I fully expect this will be gak but, as we have learned from certain things named New England, selling gak with a backstory seems to be suddenly compelling to a significant sector of the beer drinking public.  My advice? If you want something with a coffee-like palate and smoky finish go to a diner that still has a few old guys sitting in the smoking section and have some joe.

Finally, the continuing testiness over who should write what about good beer has led to this fairly incoherent tweet from an other wise semi-reliable largely sensible source. Belief-based expertise extrapolation is a dangerous thing. But this sorta stuff breaks out regularly. Consider this from 2009 as well as this along with this from 2016. I sense we are in a slightly counter-reformation moment in which a retrenching is occurring, a rejection of a wide range of opinion is being played out. These are tight times. The other day, I responded to a known name over a spat involving another known name and my first observation was that I presumed one of the parties was stone broke. S/he was. Remember that and take it into account when these things flair. For all the niceness of good beer, the lack of the overall trade’s generosity to the thoughtful and independent writer is a bit astounding.

Well, that is it for now. Maybe I will do this again next Monday, too. Might the foray lose its rarity? Who knows?

How Many Brewers Are Actually Happy To Leech Off Ron’s Research?

This comment was left on FB by what looks like the owner of maybe the 4573rd most important brewery in the USA and I find it just stunning:

Ron Pattinson I recently brewed an AK recipe I believe you posted on Beeradvocate. We are a brand new brewery and I tagged you on social media in an attempt to point people in the direction of the great work you do. I did respond “guilty”. But I’m not so sure. Do you want to sell books or do you want to sell recipes? Is Barclay Perkins or the myriad other breweries getting a cut of your book sales? Is Eldrige Pope getting any of the ad revenue per click for their 1893 recipe? That nod I gave to you was out of respect. Not guilt. Rethinking that.

See, Ron is exploring how to get at least a cut of all the money he makes for others who use his brewing records research. He just put up a payment button which he stated was for those needing to atone for their guilt. Over a decade ago I realized there was no money in writing well about beer. And I’m lucky to be otherwise employed. But for years, I have encouraged his efforts in this respect and he has had some success. But only some. Do you like historic beer recreations? You owe a debt to Ron. Do you buy or sell beers styled as gose or a number of forgotten styles… even if the given beer is an abomination of the style? Thank Ron.

Ron is one of my favourite people who I’ve met through beer. Been lucky enough to have been out with him on three blurry weekends if I recall correctly. His work in brewing history speaks for itself. I actually don’t think of him as a beer historian so much as the chief archivist of the entire good beer movement. So, when some dope writes the sort of thing I cut and pasted above, it’s not only depressing. It’s a bit disgusting.

My next recommendation is that Ron hide his actual research for brewers, post about his findings but offer the details only to subscribers. It’s the least he deserves. Frankly, why the guy isn’t on long term consulting contracts for big craft brewers is beyond me. Except this is beer. Par for the course.

Gord Downie And Al Purdy’s poem “At The Quinte Hotel”

I love this poem so was delighted, on the day of his passing, to discover that our local lad Gord Downie had recorded his version of Al Purdy’s poem “At The Quinte Hotel” in 2011 or so. It is a great way to understand Ontario-ness. Once upon a time, I had the poem posted on the former version of the blog. But I was asked to remove it by Purdy’s publisher by way of one of the nicest cease and desist letters ever written. I also received an email over ten years ago from the late Roy Bonisteel, another famous Canadian, forwarded by a family member friend and colleague who wanted to clarify one point:

I like the beer blog….it’s very good. An interesting fact that a lot of people don’t know is that although Bellevillians are very proud of Al Purdy‘s poem about the Quinte Hotel…it is not the Belleville Quinte.  It is the Trenton Quinte…now called something else…where Purdy drank. At this same time I had a room at the Quinte when I was driving cab and working at the Courier. At that time we didn’t know each other…but year’s later over many a beer, talked about the fact that we had both been there at the same time. Tell your friend I’ll keep up with his blog.
Cheers,  Roy

One thing I love about that is that the bar is called a hotel in the title but a tavern in the text of the poem. I call any place a tavern or, better, a tav until I learn otherwise.

Book Review: 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey (Part 1)

It should be no secret that I have looked forward to the publication of 20th Century Pub by Boak and Bailey ever since the project was hinted at on their blog. The feeling reminded me of the release some years ago of Pete Brown’s Hops And Glory which I reviewed over four blog posts in 2009. What I think I find most similar between my expectations for these two books is the anticipation of work by authors who have proven themselves to be creative and committed in their previous books. I am only half way through 20th Century Pub but it has already exceeded even these expectations – so much so that I want to jump queue to tell you about their methodology and why I think you should just to email them and buy this excellent bit of work.

This book reminds me a bit more of their neither long nor short work, 2014’s Gambrinus Waltz: German Lager Beer in Victorian and Edwardian London than their perhaps more well known first book, later that same year’s Brew Britannia. I say that because the historical narrative is driven a bit more by the greater context of society than just the players involved. One of the odd things about the history of micro brewing and later craft beer is how personality drives the discussion. That is fine for early days when there were a few people (although sometimes not necessarily the same few people, the successful survivors, who self-identify) who were the actual pioneers. And, to be fair to those involved, the early days of craft appear to not have generated as many records considered worth retaining as we keeners today might have wished.* However, while it is fun to learn about these people and (as sometimes occurs) associated vicariously with them, it is far more interesting to understand how brewing and beer and pubs and taverns actual existed and exist in the greater context of society based on records which were created contemporaneously. For larger events it is best to seek out authority elsewhere.

Thankfully, their tale of micro brewing and craft’s origins in the UK, Brew Britannia, did just that and relies on primary documents from the time in addition to interviews of persons involved looking back from three decades later.  This book repeats that process and explores the subject matter from the wider range of sources. This is detailed and time consuming work – and the work undertaken shows in the result set out on these pages. An example. I have just read the chapter on 1950s estate pubs. To understand what an estate pub is you need to understand estates and to understand estates you need to understand British municipal planning principles of the first two-thirds of the 1900s.

I am somewhat familiar with this. I am a municipal lawyer. And some of you may have picked up that I am a dual national, Canadian and British. Many of my UK family when I was young lived in what we here in Canada would call “public housing” but in the UK the word for much of it was “estate” and they look at lot like what we might consider a condensed post-WWII subdivision when it wasn’t a low rise apartment building. My grannie, aka Bailee M’Leod aka Dad’s mother, as a municipal Labour politician was actually involved actively in the 1930s to 1950s in destroying slum neighbourhoods of the 1840s and building these sorts of forms of public housing. These events fed my bedtime stories, tales of the old country when they were not about Nazi bombings of the Clyde.**

Knowing that bit of the background, I am able to trust the point being made. Placing the particular point in its context is one of the great successes of this book. Boak and Bailey weave the the meaning of estate as they explain the estate pub, a somewhat sterile slightly spare Scandinavian set up that were allocated strategically through these new living spaces by municipal planning processes. Likewise, earlier in the book they contextualize the end of the Victorian gin palace and how it was responded to by the State Management Scheme of pubs introduced after WWI without the too common uninformed slag upon slag over the temperance movement. Judging from a seat in the future is one of the worst faults of a historian. Almost as bad as disobeying chronology. The authors here simple gather up sources and then unpack the narrative. Fabulous stuff. And not that simple at all.

I am taking my time, reading slowing. I am in the chapter on theme pubs, which related to the photo at the top of the page. In 2012, I wrote about the politician’s mother, my paternal great-grannie who goes by “Grannie Campbell” in our family. She loved drink and pubs and apparently she most loved the Suez Canal pub in Largs,*** which was coincidentally my mother’s hometown. The image I am guessing is from the 1940s and the bartender was former world boxing champ, Jackie Paterson. Given the book is about English pubs and not British ones, my submission of the photo did not make the cut. Saddened I was but then heartened by the rigor being imposed by the authors.

Buy this book.

*Somewhere I have an email discussion with Stan about the lack of records even from the early GABF days. Can’t find it. Probably deleted it.
**Including the story of the cousin who claimed Hitler saved his life when the air raid sirens woke his family up, got them running to the shelter only to witness the building explode before the bombs started dropping. Apparently someone had left the gas on.
***I only have one quibble with the book so far in fact – a Largs based quibble. B+B claim that the first espresso machine came to Britain in 1951. Being a child of a child of Largs I am well acquainted withe Nardini’s which opened in 1935. Uncle grew up as pals with Aldo. His Dad had a famous run in with one of the owners over an invoice for pebble dash. Italian ice cream parlours and cafe’s were an established thing even in 1935. Pretty sure they would have had espresso from day one given it also had an American soda bar and an electric dish washing machine.

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.