Imperial, Yes, But Cream Ale Was Also Light As Well As…

The more I get into the records referencing cream in 1800s New York brewing, the more obvious it is that the term was pervasive. It illustrates excellently, as a result, how branding existed independent of those claims to copyright we suffer from today. In law, there is an excellent and better word for such stuff that applies as much now as then – puffery. Claims made as to quality that are never ever really expected to be challenged. Look at that ad from the Jewish Daily News of 30 November 1916 again. Imperial Cream Ale. Is that the same as the Imperial Cream Ale of the Taylors of Albany from the early 1830s to the late 1860s? Or is the cream just a puff?

That image to the upper right? It’s a part of a column in the Plattsburg Republican from 21 August 1858 entitled “Items: or Crumbs for all kinds of
Chickens.” Is that puffery? Seems a bit more than that. Cream beer is being lumped into a class: non-intoxicating drinks. Sounds like a bit of a vague concept but at the same time the courts in New York State were struggling with the same term as it related to lager and the wider issues related to acceptance of the German immigrant wave in the middle third of the 1800s.

The book De Witt’s Connecticut Cook Book, and Housekeeper’s Assistant from 1871 includes these two recipes, one after the other, on page 100. The first for “common beer” has yeast added, the second, for “cream beer” doesn’t. Is “cream” then code for no alcohol? When I was a kid out east in Nova Scotia, one of my favourite things was cream soda. There were two types as I recall. Pink or clear. Pink was like drinking candy floss. Clear was like drinking candy floss… but was not pink. I hated pink cream soda. I was a clear cream soda man. Crush, if you have it… but only in Canada. Pop… soda… soda pop… was a class of soft drink that morphed out of beer. In the 1850s you could speak of California Pop Beer. In the 1830s you could speak of the Lemon Beer of Schenectady. In the excellent short book Soft Drinks – Their Origins and History by Colin Emmins, small beer is described as a progenitor of British soft drinks along with spa waters, syrupy uncarbonated cordials and that favourite of George III, plain barley water. [Continuum. Perhaps continua.] Consider the simple lemon…

The earliest English reference to lemonade dates from the publication in 1663 of The Parson’s Wedding, described by a friend of Samuel Pepys as ‘an obscene, loose play’, which had been first performed some years earlier. The drink seems to have come to England from Italy via France. Such lemonade was made from freshly squeezed lemons, sweetened with sugar or honey and diluted with water to make a still soft drink. 

It appears that 1660s lemonade plus small beer could be a cause of that fancy 1830s upstate NY lemon beer. Could be. There would be other intermediaries and antecedents. Think of how the sulfurous spas of Staffordshire in the late 1600s, saw the invention a drink introduced the local hard to swallow spa water into their beer brewing. Is this how it works? Isn’t that how life works?

When you consider all that, I am brought back to how looking at beer through the lens of “style” ties language to technique a bit too tightly for my comfort. The stylist might suggest that in 1860, this brewery brewed an XX ale and in 1875 that brewery brewed an XX ale so they must be some way some how the same thing. I would quibble in two ways. Fifteen years is a long time in the conceptual instability of beer and, even if the two beers were contemporaries, a key point for each brewery was differentiation. The beers would not be the same even if they were similar.

Layered upon this is the fact that “style” is an idea really fixed somewhere in the 1980s after Jackson’s original expression which was altered in the years that followed. The resulting implications are important given how one must obey chronology. This means if (i) Jackson’s 1970s “classics and cloning” idea didn’t last more than ten years until (ii) the more familiar “corner to corner classification” concept comes into being then the application of “style” to brewing prior to the 1970s (if not 1990) is also a challenging if not wonky practice. Brewers brew to contemporary conventions even though they are but points in a fluid continuum. You can’t conform to an idea that doesn’t yet exist.

All About Beer published the article “How Cream Ale Rose: The Birth of Genesee’s Signature” by Tom Acitelli on 17 August 2015 which, as we can see above, contains an origins narrative for cream ale which (though very condensed so somewhat unfair to parse) is now really not all that sustainable:

Cream ale is one of the very few beer styles born and raised in the United States. Predating Prohibition, the style grew up as a response to the pilsners flooding the market via immigrant brewers from Central Europe. Cream ales were generally made with adjuncts such as corn and rice to lighten the body of what would otherwise end up as a thicker ale; brewers also fermented and aged them at temperatures cooler than normal for ales.

I think I am good until to the word “the” in the second sentence after the comma. If style can be applied to the concept at all, cream ales at best probably represented styles. They were not a response to pilsners as they predate Gillig and were in mass production happily in their own right though the mid- and latter 1800s. They became made with “adjuncts such as corn and rice to lighten the body” but so did ales as our recreation of Amdell’s 1901 Albany XX Ale illustrated. The last sentence may well be fine.

BUT! – now notice the gem of a wee factual trail actually setting out as the specific origin of Genesee Cream Ale as related to Acitelli:

His father and grandfather, a German immigrant, had been brewers in Belleville, Illinois, about 15 miles southeast of St. Louis. Bootleggers had approached his father, in fact, about brewing during Prohibition, but he demurred. Clarence Geminn himself was completely dedicated to the craft, according to his son, a fourth-generation brewer. “Saturday and Sunday he would go into check on things,” Gary Geminn told AAB from his home in Naples, New York. “Summer picnics had to wait until the afternoon; any outing had to wait.” As for the exact formula behind his father’s most enduring beer, no one’s talking—obviously not the brewery itself, nor did the beer’s progenitor.

Mid-west Germans? Now that starts sounding more like the parallel universe of cream beer than cream ale. Does its DNA include Germans moving to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, then on inland into Kentucky in the early 1800s then into the Mid-West later that century only to back track to upstate NY by the mid-1900s? Can we draw that line? Either to connect or perhaps delineate? Maybe we need to be prepared to do both if we are seeking to understand events prior to the point of conceptual homogeneity that is achieved with the crystallization of style when MJ meets what becomes the BA.

As for cream? It’s a lovely word. So many meanings. So many useful applications. So many more leads to follow.

Why Does Craft Beer Hate St. Paddy’s Day?

Eight years on and still we read about the abomination of green beer, the correct spelling of the drunken holiday and holiers than holy insisting Guinness is not what it was. Lecturing. Nothing like keeping it dull, craft. Way to go.

Let’s be honest. It’s a “spring is coming” fest. It’s a “I don’t have to study for final exams quite yet” fest. On the drive in this morning, a lovely sunny morning recovering from the last few days of deep cold and whipping winter storm, I saw two of the local university gits standing at the shoreline,
gazing out upon the head of the St. Lawrence backs to the road wearing matching baseball jerseys, white with green pin stripes. Their jerseys were both numbered “17” and the name above the number was “WASTED” on both. I expect they already were. By noon, they have gathered in herds. Tomorrow I shall rise early, just about when I trust they will be hitting the hay… or the floor… or wherever.

Every seven or sometimes thirteen years, the 17th of March lands on a Friday. You might see ten in a reasonably long life time, fewer in your adult years. One – or two, if you are lucky, at most – during the time of your greatest stupidity as a bar crawler. Short of death or injury, breach of liquor law or crime – is it so bad, craft beer cognoscenti, that the young have their good time? Is it so bad that the beer is green and cheap or that the beards lack moustaches?*

*Well, I never got that facial hair bit but you get my point.

A User’s Guide To Dealing With 2017

It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
               “That is not it at all,
               That is not what I meant, at all.”

 

It’s tough writing in 2017 about a pleasure hobby like good beer. Remember 2016 when all the celebrities were taking their final exit from this mortal coil? When norms in US politics collapsed? 2016 made sense compared to 2017. Bryan Roth captured that sense of doubt when he struggled this week with what appears to be the word of the moment, authenticity. His coda was excellent: “I have no idea what just happened here.”  

Stan responded in his flickering light bulb of a blog’s Monday links commenting “[b]ut that’s not the rabbit hole. Authenticity is the rabbit hole.” He went so far as to shout out in dispair, even in paranthetically “[i]t might be time to bring back the Good Beer Blog chimp.” Good thing Stonch is off social media for Lent. He haaaates Mr Chimp Head. The inclusion to the right is completely gratuitous.

My take is this. Like J. Alfred above, we search for both a meaning in and a validation of our experience. We humans do that inherently even when we stand in the face of apparent meaninglessness. We seek solace. For some, solace is found in the spectrum that runs from nostalgia to anti-novelty as B+B discussed earlier this week. We hope we can convince ourselves that milds, bitters and stouts without all the phony pricey additives are better. Such things are more grounded, more rooted into… something. Authentic. But, as those of you who like me have participated in construction contracts with grounding issues know, things need to be grounded into something. Not all stone has acceptable conductivity. Authenticity is like that. Authenticity is not a characteristic but a quality of a characteristic.* It needs its own grounding.

Even having made myself a student of brewing history – largely out of sheer dismay at the state of what I saw as good beer culture – I am not sure what that grounding, however, might be. In the face of this year’s confusion, there is such a rush on opportunistic self-congratulation, guru-label affixing and tantrums over what the young and happy are up to. Authority wants its place at the head table despite the sense that the centre cannot hold.** Hasn’t held. Private correspondents still complain that what is considered good writing to the dull editor, under the guise of keeping it light, often seems to seek compensation conformity with an extra expectation of a nod to deemed authority or even a scratched familiar back. Oh dear.

Yet, out there in the actual marketplace what was expected a few years ago is simply no longer a viable expectation.*** Things are far less dull on the ground. The other day, I had a beer so thick and murky I immediately thought that it would be perfect for my kid who likes wheatgrass and kiwi smoothies. Which, when I thought about it, is exactly the point – and its immediate market.

The craft schism has occurred. It is done even if not complete. Not only is it impossible now to be a beer expert it may be impossible to be an expert even in one of the growing number of sub-classes. With all due respect to the honest and excellent exertions of even Mr. B, the beer atlas approach is now too old, too slow. Too big. The global style guide no longer provides hope to those wanting to understand their immediate surroundings. That tower of Lego lays shattered and scattered around the crying child.

This is, however, a situation laced with hope. Two months ago Stan wrote an incredibly (well, if it wasn’t so credible) well put observation in one comment thread that I was busily filling, as I am known to do:

To return to the notion that you “don’t seem to be learning from all this plump and very nicely packaged writing,” doesn’t the reality that you’ve been reading and commenting in this space for so long factor in? I certainly feel that way. There are a lot of things I feel like I’ve been many times over that are “gee, look at that, it’s new” to many others.

 
New! New marketplaces. New techniques. New fans. New interests. What care they for the pioneers and their lessons framed in their acquired comforts?  They might as well be those who invented coke, who first plucked a hop blossom. Who cares? Fortunately, good beer is so forgiving and so varied, the real excitement’s in what’s to be had today and tomorrow. And near. Why buy a plane ticket when a bus ticket will do?

Authenticity? It’s in the context. And more and more that context is local and varied. If you read someone still writing about the beer community or industry in the singular you know they’ve slept through the shattering schism, dreaming their dreams of global conformity. Or wasted time at the moveable buffet meeting the same entourage encountered at the last fest or city. Forget that. Be brave. Explore your own corner of the world instead. Find that dimpled pint of mild or stemmed thimble of fruited gose. See how the new beer fits in your world before wishing away the hours over the pretty story told by someone else about some place else. Dare.

As Expected The Beer Health News Ain’t Good

In these exciting new times, we are suddenly aware of the need to sift the news, seeking out the alternative facts and hidden interests to cast aside. It’s normal to want to be on the winning side but, as this stuff gets layered by the shed load, we need to take a responsible approach and act like adults.

As much as anything, this applies to the brewing yap-o-sphere. Fortunately some folks are putting their big boy pants on and debunking the fibs, as we see today in Outside magazine’s article “Sorry, Folks, Beer Isn’t a Health Food” in which we find this particularly telling observation:

…sometimes research—especially on nutrition—is overly reductionist. Food writer Michael Pollan opines about the dangers of studying single nutrients in his 2007 book, In Defense of Food, saying, “A nutrient bias is built into the way science is done: scientists need individual variables they can isolate. Yet even the simplest food is a hopelessly complex thing to study, a virtual wilderness of chemical compounds, many of which exist in complex and dynamic relation to one another, and all of which together are in the process of changing from one state to another.” As you’ll see, some of these beer studies look at only a single compound within the beer and extrapolate results from there, when really, there is likely more going on.

Every time some altfactiod blurts out onto social media about the magical properties of beer, the interested mid-rangers gather like sharks to a wiff. Hallelujah!  If life were only that easy.

I thought of that nutrition point when I went through Pollan’s books back then but didn’t make much of it. I thought of it again this week when, again, a saw a photo of a good young keen beer writer with the slightly jaundiced hue. I worry. A few months ago, Maureen Ogle tweeted a link to a study that talked about how beer health studies were so selective, never took the net effect into account. I lost the link but remembered the lesson. Your health? It’s operating on the net effect.

That article? It’s got a great conclusion. Let me ruin it for you. Beer’s pretty okay. Beer isn’t the new kale.

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.

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?

Towards A Tree Of Brewing Traditions

Lars and I are talking on twitter at the moment about a construct which would better define the diversity and generation of brewing traditions than style. The style construct is prone to too many weaknesses, such as:

a. artificiality: a style is what is accepted to be a style as opposed to when one asserts itself as one and operates best only in the last 40 years since its early first steps,
b. lack of relative scale: each style is presented as an equal,
c. independence: style lack the key expression of chronological dependency and contemporary cross-influence, and
d. over distinction: styles present themselves as being too separate, ignores the normal sort of overlap and blurred lines.

Could a tree diagram better express the organic aspects of brewing? Think of those rock family tree posters or a chart setting out a linguistic tree. Could such a construct better describe the dynamic nature of brewing history? I was playing with the idea of a poster based on a Gantt chart for the histories of breweries in a specific region, like perhaps this handy spiral version describing geological time but that doesn’t seem reasonable above a certain scale. The tree would express time on the X access, diversity on the Y. Ideally, like Google maps, one could drill down into it to find finer levels of relationship or draw back to higher levels of abstraction.

These need not replace style but could go some way to break its tyranny or at least give it context and competition.

Will Corona Suffer Because Of A New Nativism?

I am seldom happier to not be an American as I am today. Don’t get me wrong. I love the USA and live in a border town. Friends and family abound below the line. But that was a tough thing to watch yesterday. A birth of something? Maybe an end to more than is immediately obvious. Maybe something like this:

Rob Sands, CEO of alcoholic beverage giant Constellation Brands, came to New York City on Wednesday to talk about Corona beer and Robert Mondavi wine. And before he even took the stage, the company’s stock took an 8% nosedive. That’s because investors are worried about what Donald Trump’s victory could mean for Constellation Brands stz-b , owner of a Mexican brewer that targets an American customer base that could potentially face deportation.

Nativism has a long track record in the arc of American history and has crossed paths with the brewing industry. In the early 1840s, new German immigration to New York City led to tavern brawls and court cases. Interestingly, earlier German brewers seemed to have an easier go.  Likely due to the lack of greater contextual pressures like the disappearance of clean water in Lower Manhattan. Plus the intervening Jacksonian worldview.

Corona is certainly the leading Mexican brand facing the US consumer in the grocery and convenience stores.  Is it prone to neo-nativist slur? Would another beer be more patriotic in the new Trumpian society? Could be. Just a thought – but could be.

Session 117: I Predict More Predictions Ahead

sessionlogosmThis month’s edition of The Session finds us being asked by Beer Means Business to think to the future:

Over the last 10 years, numerous topics have been presented and the bloggers who discussed them expressed a rich diversity of perspectives or specific areas of interest. Therefore, I refrain from giving you further ideas or examples. There are no limits in time, space or nature either. I would like you to let your imagination free, and capture ONE thing you think we will see MORE of with an explanation of the idea.

Forecasting is a pretty tedious affair. What we will “see more of” is all a lot of folk are writing about these days. The last year has seen the rise self-appointed seers unaccountably yapping about fascinating topics like “a bubble is coming” to “there is no bubble coming.” Oh… and the brewery who brought me, fed me and watered me is going to be important to you. Personally. Soon. Count on it. You know, this sort of forecasting appears to be largely a matter of explaining how what ever is happening today will continue. My favourite one is how ABInBev is, again, in peril of imminent collapse. As it dismantles big craft. Wow. We need a word for that. Beforecasting? Borecasting?

None of this sort of writing matters – but I expect to see more of it.  It’s the packing styrofoam of beer writing. The filler between the interesting bits. I wish it weren’t so. I wish folk would be a bit braver in putting their own ideas into the discussion. I wish publications were a bit more risk taking and independent. I wish the actual business of beer were explored like any other industry of comparable impact. There are a lot of big brains out there. Good brains. And not just moaning negs like me. Folk who can create the better next thing.

I am not holding my breath. Because I need to breathe. But I have hope. I am a hopeful person. As I move blog posts from the old blog system to this one I am reminded how much richer the discussion was from, say 2007 to 2013. So I know it can be done.

The Fluidity Of Good Beer’s Paradigm Shift

Two bits of related US big craft beer industry news this week. First, Japan’s Kirin has acquired about 24.9999% of Brooklyn Brewery for an undisclosed sum on largely undisclosed terms. Second, Stone Brewery is laying off 5-6% of their workforce. How about we look at the latter first. Part of the news release states in part:

…the onset of greater pressures from Big Beer as a result of their acquisition strategies, and the further proliferation of small, hyper-local breweries has slowed growth. With business and the market now less predictable, we must restructure to preserve a healthy future for our company…

This is interesting. For some time I have been going on about the schism in craft beer. So long I bored myself with the obviousness of it. This statement confirms it. There are three sorts of craft: macro craft, big craft and micro craft. The one in the middle has the shortest shelf life. Boosters will deny it, but the sales slump for big craft has been a thing for a while. So steps have had to be taken and this is what it looks like after things change at the heart of a business. They are not alone. Remember, just last April, Stone tried to suggest that the outside investment funds they took on were “craft” investments. Silly PR committee. No one believed it. The immediate response today from Jason Alstrom reflected what might be going on: “Typical corporate response … Does not sound like Stone at all. They are having a tough time wearing those bigboy pants.” The CEO is blamed but the Board and ownership set out the tasks for the CEO to complete. Likely for very good reasons given the tired brand and founders.

In the other notable story, Brooklyn has taken Kirin’s cash. The transaction’s obvious and awkward effort to avoid hitting the 25% share level led me to review the Brewers Association’s definition of craft. An American craft brewer must be independent and to be independent…

Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

Notice that careful placement of “or” in that definition. Clearly, it is possible to control more of a craft brewery than owning the same relative measure in shares. How does that occur? By the transaction for the sale of shares including a shareholders’ agreement that effectively bars the corporation from doing many things without consent of the otherwise minority shareholder. As a result, the BA’s 25% ownership rule is meaningless in the world of creative financing and investment. Strings shall be both pulled and used to tie things down. Jason Notte commented on Twitter on the distinction between ownership and control as a factor in establishing the independence of a brewery:

I often wonder how deeply @BrewersAssoc dives into the details. They have a lot on the plate without auditing every deal.

The Devil is in the details, they say. If the Brewers Association is not able to keep up with the implications of the realities of business like investment terms why bother having the definition at all. Maybe that is the plan for 2017. These are, after all, the days and months of change. The big names of big craft are mostly moving out as the money moves in. It seems that only the man of yogurt is sticking around to bask in the twilight of these dusky days for big craft even after cashing out in his own way. He must be holding out for something more – but what?