Once Upon A Time I Was Stan’s Summer Intern

It happened so fast:

I officially endorse this idea. “What I did on my summer vacation.”

What idea? Covering for Stan has he blows off July’s obligations and skips the Monday beery links stuff. And he deputized me. Me?!? The good news is I have done this before. Stan likely started out just copying my old Friday links from about a decade ago. You know, when blogging was cool. Not like now. Now, when it’s like slipping out quietly to attend the CB radio fan club meetings.*

To be fair to what he privately calls Team Stan – and in line with the terms and conditions he surprisingly sent me via email immediately after he tweeted – I might need a few hints. So little of what is written these days has any oomph that I might need guidance to a hidden gem. But, let’s be honest: anything Lars writes is fabulous and will always make the cut. Twitter outrage? Not so interesting. There. You have your marching orders. Send me links via beerblog@gmail.com.

Five Mondays. That’s all. Let’s see what we can learn.

*All foreseen 14 years ago.

 

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?

Beer Politics, Policy And Civics

As I had modestly mentioned a couple of times over the last few weeks ago, the election of Mr. Trump to the Presidency could lead to a couple sorts of beer nationalism in support of his muddled form of neo-protectionism: an anti-import reactionism and pro-American jingoism. With the report that he will try to convince a free trading Congress to pass a 20% import tax on Mexican-made goods as a way to pay for his useless wall, my first suggestion now seems to be at least be a possibility. It’s a policy. A bit of a weird one* but one that might, however unlikely the chances, become law. Political victory leading to imposition of policy that shifts the civic reality.

On Monday, Brian Roth published a post entitled “Do You Want Politics in Your Beer?” in which he uses his Tweets’n’Graphs methodology to discuss what he described as “a brewery’s political activism” and then posing, a bit cautiously, whether it is good when breweries share their beliefs in this way. This morning, Michael Kiser posted on a rather similar topic in his “Critical Drinking — The Beer Politic.” While it jumbles the function of his site as a consulto-blog and certain hero breweries in their reaction to Trump, he answers Bryan’s question (without acknowledging the prior post) much more enthusiastically and very much in the affirmative – but still like Roth all a bit too brand focused .

Trouble is, fretting about appearances isn’t really about beer and politics, is it? Almost four years ago Craig posted an excellent survey of the connection between brewing and actual politics over the centuries of New York’s history.  In his post “Albany Ale: The Politics of Beer” he describes how seven Albany brewers from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries engaged with political office and partisanship. Even the great John Taylor got involved:

The 19th century would see the election of not one, but two, brewing mayors of Albany. The first was John Taylor in 1848. Taylor owned what was at the time the largest brewery not only in Albany, but in the country, Taylor & Sons. Upon completion of his tenure as mayor, Taylor served on the board of water commissioners, starting in 1850. He and his compatriots were responsible for overseeing the first municipal water system in the city.

You can read the rest but, as you do, think about whether what Roth and Kiser were driving at: the taking of public positions and its effect on reputation. For my money, while they can wrap it in phrases like “the brewery’s decision to focus on its own measure of authenticity” or “[t]his is why so many of us fought for and supported the rise of local breweries” they still both seem to conflate (i) the brewery as a business with a brand and (ii) the brewery owner as a citizen with a full life beyond the beer and also (iii) the taking of actively advancing a position in favour of either the business or as a citizen through political engagement.  These are different things. Forget worrying about what a small segment of your customers think about your brand’s reputation. Any citizen who is also a business owner who doesn’t engage with the implications of being governed is ignoring one of the greatest dangers to that business’s success. And courting disaster.

Isn’t the reaction of customers to brand secondary where a local craft brewery finds its local municipality, for example, spending taxes to attract big craft competition to town or, for another, supporting fracking and putting the community’s water table at risk? Of course it is. Why wouldn’t the sensible brewery owner protest, pound on the Mayor’s office door or even run for an upcoming council election if their business, their interests were being placed at risk? They all should. That’s about getting beyond the, yes, quite important move from complaisance to complaint that I see Roth and Kiser discussing. That move can and, I would argue, should justify – if not demand – not stalling but then moving on to actual politics.

It doesn’t mean you have to go all 1920s Dan O’Connell take over the Albany County Democratic Committee, rig elections and leverage the Hedrick Brewery to be the town’s boss.  But would it kill you to write or call those who represent you in the political realm?  Would it hurt too much to maybe pass on that next bit of indulgent “beer travel” and the tripping haze of new fun bar after new fun bar and, instead, travel to sit in a committee room where a policy you hate and want stopped is being discussed, waiting your turn soberly to put your ideas on the record for the five minutes they give you at the microphone?

Getting political is about waking up, being adult. Doesn’t really matter where your interests or political preferences lay. You think the big craft carpetbagger brewery that received the regional branch plant tax break wasn’t engaged in politics behind the backs of the local brewers? I bet the local craft community wishes it had laid the earlier groundwork that might have seen them receive the funding for expansion instead. Which would have required them being actively political.

*Given it will mean that Americans and not Mexicans will still pay for the wall as additional markup on their import of Mexican goods. His own party’s leaders are already mocking it.

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.

The Fourth Internet

It has been a long time since I have been interested in an idea about the internet but this article linked to by kottke

The fourth Internet is scary like Darwinism, brutal enough to remind me of high school… If the first Internet was “Getting information online,” the second was “Getting the information organized” and the third was “Getting everyone connected” the fourth is definitely “Get mine.” Which is a trap.

It sums it up neatly. The end of information. The prostitution of data space. I am not sure it has caused me to consciously draw away from writing on this blog but it may have contributed. “Getting mine” includes those paywall spaces, too. Fees are necessary, agreed, but what ever happened to micro payments? Surely PayPal could be harnessed to let me reach newspaper articles for four pennies a piece. Not that I had high hopes all these years ago. I compared blogging or Web 2.0(a) to CB radio when it was mainly a hobby. Over eleven years ago as it turns out.

Perhaps it is because I make a little money from writing now. I used to make money from blog ads and now make money from book contracts. I am regressing into old media. Because it is reliable. Should I add a question mark to that? Because it is reliable? If I titled this post “Twenty one ways the fourth internet will make you angry… and then leave you amazed!” I would fit in better these days.

Session 75: Brewing Business In 157 Words

It’s Session time again. Or it was Friday and now it’s Sunday 8:02 am. See, there’s things to do. Gardening, smoking pork, napping, sitting. So, it was with deep regret that I realized I needed to post something for this the three quarter-ish of a century edition of these, Les Sessions. The question this month is a bit, err, specific:

Creating a commercial brewery consists of much more than making great beer, of course. It requires meticulous planning, careful study and a whole different set of skills from brewing beer. And even then, the best plan can still be torpedoed by unexpected obstacles. Making beer is the easy part, building a successful business is hard. In this Session, I’d like to invite comments and observations from bloggers and others who have first-hand knowledge of the complexities and pitfalls of starting a commercial brewery. What were the prescient decisions that saved the day or the errors of omission or commission that caused an otherwise promising enterprise to careen tragically off the rails?

Hmmm… a tad particular, no? A wee bit off the point of the plan. Seeking business advice from beer bloggers? Let’s see. What did Stan write? Oh, cheater pants. He inverted the question and pointed out how brewing the beer is not the easy part. Good thing that is true or I would have a real issue with Stan this month. A real issue.

So, …”first-hand knowledge of the complexities and pitfalls of starting a commercial brewery.” What can I say. You could do worse than read the blog How to Start a Brewery (in 1 million easy steps) from one of Canada’s more successful craft brewers, Beau’s. Go look at the beginning, 25 May 2006 when they were about 65 employees smaller. Here’s the first batch being brewed. Here’s when the yeast died at the customs office. Read on. You will likely find there were no prescient decisions. There was panic and scramble, beer and patience. And luck. Lots of luck. And good taste and humour. Brewers who lack the skills at those sorts of things, well, don’t make it.

Oh, I cheated as much as Stan did. Damn. I’ll have to have a word with myself.

Thinking Back To Blogging When We Was Young

I heard the news about Aaron Swartz like everyone else. And then I heard another way as way back when I started blogging I belonged to the Berkman Thursday discussion group through the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. I still get the digests via email when something is posted coming up on a decade after it was busy. This week I received this:

It is with great sadness that I share with you the news that one of tech’s bright minds and a blog group participant, Aaron Swartz, has left us. Many people are sharing thoughts about this amazing fellow. I’ll share a few links below. Some local memorials have already happened and more are yet to come. Since Aaron was on the MIT Mystery Hunt team sj and I and several other blog group folks are on, we are tentatively planning a gathering during the Hunt. If you’re participating in the Hunt, keep an ear out for more info.

It was sad news. I knew the guy was young but when I look back I really had no idea that in my late 30s I was in a chat with folk then only a little more than a third of my age. It was interesting stuff and the discussion was hopeful. There was lots to dream about. I saved stories to my blog like this one from 2004 about how blogs might make money one day. I wrote hopeful things this even though for the life of me I have no idea now what I meant to be saying. I argued. And on Thursday evenings for a while I would fire up the computer, turn on the speakers and listen as the Berkman bloggers’ group talked. There was a chat function – was it on IRC? – that allowed anyone to participate. So I have this dim recollection of chatting about blogging with a lot of people including Aaron. Maybe I just listened or watched his words pass on the screen.

At some point I got less interested in the theory. An argument point developed that somehow folk were able to appropriate the works of others. I didn’t disagree with the point as I had no clue what the heck was meant. The idea generally faded but it took a number of years for the fine points to come to the surface. No one speaks of a “mash up” world any more like in 2004. But Aaron did, I think.

I won’t connect dots and I don’t expect you would either. As was pointed out, there was depression involved. At least one pal of mine died at his own hands due to depression. It’s sad. Does not take a grand design or conspiracy or even anything that makes very much sense. But when I think of the keen interest I had a decade ago and the voices that I listened to in pursuit of that interest, his was in the forefront. And he was so young. As young as my kids now. Sad news.

None

Vic… Let Me Tell You A Little Something About Me

Canadian Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews has found himself caught in a 1998 style flame war that would be the pride of usenet. As the Federation devolves, this is the sort of thing that entertains. Most fun is not the fact that it appears his nemesis is related to an opposition party but the surprise experienced by so many Canadians this evening that someone in the opposition has the gumption – I said it, gumption – to, you know, oppose:

An IP address connected to what is known as the Vikileaks30 Twitter account — which has been burning up the Twittersphere with claims about Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ personal life — originates within the House of Commons. In a bid to determine the origin of the account, which posted a string of tweets online offering alleged details relating to Toews’s divorce proceedings, the Ottawa Citizen undertook an investigation on Thursday. An email was sent to the writer of the Vikileaks30 Twitter account, containing a link to a website. The website was monitored by the Citizen and only the author of Vikileaks30 had the address of the website. About 15 minutes after sending the email, Vikileaks30 opened the link and visited the page, leaving behind an IP address that belongs to the House of Commons.

Sadly, the needy CBC hipster class of Canadian sees all and learns nothing, considering it “…lovable inclusiveness…a very Canadian kind of protest.” Mr. Taylor is really only upset that his gang did not think of it first.

“I Am Less Free Today Than I Was 30 Years Ago…”

That is a shocking sentence to read. Gets the brain going. Here is the nub of an excellent post over at the always excellent The Last Exile:

Globalization was suppose to make us all free and rich. Although, it has not worked out that way for most of us. I am not any richer and my wages face a constant erosion from the rising rates of taxes and the general cost of just about everything while the corporate tax rate continues to slide ever downward. I know for a fact; I am less free today than I was 30 years ago. Canadians generally do not have any babies anymore; mostly because they cannot afford to when it takes a 2 person income just to raise a small family with ordinary expectations. We never really discuss that in this country, and if the topic does manage to come up in public dialogue, somehow the dominate ethos manages to give the impression that a woman who works outside the home rather than rising her children at home does so for selfish avaricious reasons rather than the fact that taxation, housing and transportation costs now claim a much larger percentage of family income than they did 30 years ago.

Add to that list communications device fees. I pay over $250 a month for home phone, internet, cell phone and cable TV. I could cut it but with the range of ages in the house it’s not a practical solution. I am a bit shocked at electricity hikes added to natural gas bill, too. Again over $250 a month combined. If I ever created that stand alone blog dedicated to complaining about society’s broken promises called Where the Hell is my Jet Pack??, I might write about these things or think about them more.

Why don’t I? We are fortunate and a bit unconventional as fosterers and for other reasons, I suppose, but if I thought about it, I might have expected the sort of financial status we have now to have been the lifestyle in my late 30s rather than my late 40s. But maybe I don’t care. Maybe the money or other resources go to intangibles and non-investments. Like better cheese. Like tanks of gas for wandering weekend road trips. I think I am better off. But who knows. I don’t think I think about it all that much.