As July Turns To Face August These Are Your Thursday Beer News Stories

Last weekend saw the family head off to the Big Smoke for a Pixies and Weezer combo concert at an outside venue at the west end of  Lake Ontario. It was great. Stinking hot. 15,000 people. Me and a lot of other old guys having a scream-along to “This Monkey’s Gone To Heaven” and “Hash Pipe” which was great. The scene, the Budweiser Stage at Ontario Place,  was an absolute fleece-fest: a tall boy of Bud Light Radler selling for about 15$. I had a Bud with my bland black bean burger before the show. Ice cold it went down like an icy cold Bud. Which was great until it warmed to about 5C after a couple of minutes and then it got, you know, not so great.

I wasn’t really following up on Andy’s idea of taking time to try a classic this summer when I had that Bud. I wasn’t in a place where Bud existed when three decades ago so it does not fill a personal space like that. Not my classic. It’s gas station cooler 1990s New England road trip scenery to me. The beer I passed up. But I did have an old favorite on Friday… and it was an odder experience. Hennepin, which I have enjoyed since at least 2005, showed up in my local LCBO for about $11 for a 750 ml (behind a far worse label… updated branding fail.) I was up for this. We were having a slab of salmon for supper. But it was not the beer I wanted. Hot and heavy even though it was perfect eight years ago on another hot summer night. It’s not like the beer was off. It was lovely. It was just way more than fit my interests, my needs. Am I turning into a target for the low-no movement? What do I actually want?

Jonathan Surratt wins (or perhaps poaches) the “Shaming the Worst of Craft” award with week with the news he shared embedded in that photo to the right. Some gawdawful craft bar somewhere is serving beer in bowls. Could you imagine being served that? Do they serve the food in flute glasses? Do they expect people to pay with actual money? Boo!

Ben notes how a single beer craft brewery putting out a fairly acceptable product that sells well has created another single beer craft brewery to make a fairly acceptable product that sells well. I think of these things like I thought of the music of The Carpenters when I was in my teenage punk phase in the latter 1970s.  They made music that was safe enough for parents who did not like discussing bad things. Like “why Alan is listening to all that swearing?” Mind you, my folks didn’t listen to The Carpenters so I am not sure I will bother buying this beer. Especially as “bugle” is actually a well-known euphemism for beer induced gastric issues.

Is this #ThinkingAboutDrinking? I suppose the idea of thinking is that it’s not about being all positive, just supportive. Fight!

Now this is great: a service to us all. The current big craft and macro craft family tree. Then updated for more detail. Nice to see honesty in the placement of breweries like Sam Adams, BrewDog, Brooklyn and Founders in their natural state. Speaking of Sammy A, sweet dissection by Jeff of another slightly… smarmy GBH post* on the supposed risk of Jim Koch somehow losing status. The lack of institutional knowledge is amazing. Jeff’s point: “when Boston got too big, BA changed the definition.” My point was how Koch was actually an outsider to the main micro/craft movement, which Josh Noel noted and “Sex with Sam” confirmed. Why do we have to fudge things rather than knowing and writing about the actual history of the craft beer movement?

How to sit on a fence.

This is either a story about art v. the regulation of alcohol or it is a story about arts management not grasping the need to find a venue with a stage with a normal licence. I love the “Toronto the Good” half-news in the footnote:

Editor’s note: The Tarragon Theatre has now relaxed their rules for this particular show. Patrons are now able to buy beer up until show time.

AKA: accept what you have been granted.  In other Ontario drinks sales regulation news, Robin has written about how for a few weekends she worked as a beer selection advice giver in one of the few grocery stores with a limited alcohol sales licence.  The role and the context may appear odd. It may well appear odder still as the new provincial government has promised beer and wine** in every corner store! Mind you, the promise has no details. But it may well be that the brave new world promised in 2015 will have a best before date of maybe 2018. So, Robin’s notes may well end up being a valuable set of observations on the state of affairs at the front line in which turns out to be a transitional period. Fabulous information for the future beer regulation historian.

Brendan has shared news that:

files opposition versus beer (and other beverages) trademark application for STONEMILL

With so many breweries using the five letters “s-t-o-n-e” is no one going to point out to the courts how this “just waking up to the news that there are intellectual property claims to be made” approach might be a tad selective on the plaintiff’s part? BeerAdvocate lists 3267 beers or breweries with the letters in that order in their name. Because it is as common as a very common thing. If I don’t associate “Firestone” or “Stone City” with Stone why would “Stonemill” confuse me?

Let’s conclude our collective cogitations this week with a few thoughts about wine writing from Jon Bonné, Senior Contributing Editor with Punch wegazine:***

We assumed experts are meant to provide some kind of road map through an unknowable, confusing realm. We’re expected to help you find a bottle for dinner, and not complicate the conversation. But that has led us, at a time when wine is more interesting than ever, to trivialize its cultural value. We’ve sacrificed context—I mean real critical context, not the fanboy literature that passes for too much wine writing today—for comfort and a sense of belonging. I think Bourdain might look at the situation and point a blaming finger at many of us for failing to explain why one wine is worth more than another, or why certain wines are culturally suspect because they’ve been made with cynical motives. (Big wine companies love when we abandon context for the blind pursuit of deliciousness. Context is the enemy of fake-artisan wine, after all.)

The piece is interesting as it builds on the loss of Bourdain and that irritatingly bland idea of “woke” to get to the notion that context and value are important. It’s a bit too toggle switch for me. Things are complex even if fakers are all around. And I am already a bit sad to see Bourdain being used as a prop for the arguments of others. But I like the call to deeper learning. Hence #ThinkingAboutDrinking.

Upcoming week? The second half of baseball begins. Six or seven weeks until school starts. Use the time you have left wisely. As part of your path to wisdom consider stopping for a pause with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and again after the weekend with Stan next Monday. Laters!!

*Time for an incidental graphics update, too. Keep it fresh.
**Hard liquor, as we call it here, will remain at the surprisingly good LCBO, our government store.
***It actually calls itself “PUNCH” in shouty all-caps… but is font really identity? I mean if it was PUNCH would i have to italicize it? 

 

 

The Session 135: Recollections Of Beer Things Lost

For this month’s edition of The Session, Alistair Reece of Fuggled has answered the emergency alarm as Boak and Bailey have put it so well:

The Session, when bloggers around the world get together to write on the same subject, is a fragile thing, only ever one dropped ball away from disappearing altogether. This month’s was looking dicey until Al at Fuggled stepped in heroically to save the day, proposing for Session #135 the topic ‘Sepia Tones’….

You cannot be as much a crank as I am without having a solid point of reference for comparison. Actually, I don’t accept all that “Al the Curmudgeon” stuff by the way. In fact just this week, while watching  Rowan Atkinson in a much delayed broadcast of the first episode of Maigret this week, I was struck  by how much like his portrayal of the main character I am.  Much more the cool yet vulnerable observer of life who plays a quiet role keeping you all somewhat safer while, myself little observed, I move down wide chestnut-shaded avenues like him wearing fantastic grey flannel suits and fedora leaving the scent of modest yet fabulous pipe tobacco floating behind me. Knowing that… it is sad – or perhaps just self-congratulatory – that I used up the title “À La Recherche Du Bière Perdu” in March when I was contemplating a then mouth full of stitches so I can’t even layer this post with an entirely appropriate Proustian gloss as that would be repeating myself.  And I would not want to do that. My new inner Maigret would not do that.

Memory, as I learned in my days twenty years ago when I worked as a criminal defense lawyer initially of little brain, exists in the present and in the mind. We are bits and pieces gathered together in a shape like sea glass in a jar. A 8 mm film replaying a record of the past crudely spliced and haphazardly edited with our own conscious interjection only half guiding the process. We are in ourselves a fiction. Which is, one might suggest, why we drink. Not so much to forget as to pleasantly fill in the gaps. Which may be what Alistair is alluding to when he asks us to “get melancholy, drag up memories of good times gone by, and join us in this month’s Session.

The fiction we find each ourselves placed within is not all that different from the fiction good beer finds itself in. Today’s false claims of pink sludge in a stemmed glass, the phony history and personality cult aggrandizement driven and jockeying with the story tellers’ middle aged cramped ambitions for a reasonable retirement which outstretch any realistic opportunity for most.  The sins of a pleasure trade are always laced with compromise and money making. Was it better when I was young, pure and fresh? When discovery was in fact possible, when the new brewing was laced with something actual new?  I don’t know.

I can only know that it was my youth. Perhaps. The gang of pals out in our regular loud hot Halifax port city taverns. The bars in foreign lands. My first tripel served in a dimpled mug in a beer of the world outfit in France in my twenties when, again, backpacking through cheap hotels and hostels. My father passing me a half-pint of shandy in Ely in 1977 when I was 14 and, again, him handing me a full pint of cold lout three years later in a pub on Sauchiehall Street down from the sports store up the stairs, the same pub that I walked past three years ago but didn’t enter for fear of both having that memory disturbed and re-edited and, honestly, also the fear of a pub like that in Glasgow late on a Saturday afternoon after all the matches are over.

The sepia tones cannot fix certain things. Not the cringing inducing dumb things done when young, the thin boasts made to and of oneself, hovering too late at night or too late in life at the party. Those bits of medical advice recommending changes one picks up as the years pass. And, if we are honest, sepia can’t improve upon another clear headed early Saturday’s morning coffee enjoyed now far more often than a Friday night out at my age.

Does beer every actually grow up? Can it? Or is it a cheap Peter Pan promise of the Neverland injection that should last a few hours but, if you are unwise, the very thing that can trap you for years… or more… or even less.  But there I go again, post-Bean observing.

Newsy Beery News For The Thursday That Starts February

Tra-la! It’s February. Said no one ever. Now is the season of our discontent. And it affects the beer writing world. People are unhappy about this and that and writing posts mainly about “hey – it’s beer so just get through all the greater social issues and go back to where we were in 2012!!” I am not sure I am inspired. The blinkers sit tight on most beer writing. For years I have seen folk belittled not only for their gender but their state of mental health, their independent view, their stand on ethics, their hardscrabble decisions… I am inclined not to link to any of this for two reasons. First, it doesn’t seem very inspiring in that there is an underlying theme that somehow “craft” as a prime directive needs to be insulated from investigation or treated with kid gloves. Second, I keep coming back to the common thread in all the dysfunction is alcohol. Beer seems to have its fair share of bigotry and thoughtlessness but does that extra kick fuel the fire that bit brighter? Some of the comments at Ron’s alone makes it hard to debunk the addled nature of the discussion.

I did get some faith back from this post by Melissa Cole. She often swings widely but, in addition to a welcome and generous use of “we” as poised to “they” in this piece, in this particular paragraph she neatly makes a point well worth remembering:

There needs to be a clear acknowledgement that the male voice is still all-powerful in nearly every aspect of society. So perhaps it’s a good idea to think about using yours at a softer volume. Or to use it merely to amplify the vital messages women are sending about how we are frequently pushed aside or patronized or harassed in beer festivals, brewery taprooms, and bars—even if you think people really don’t want to hear it.

For additional points and a very informed approach to considering sexism in beer, the ever excellent braciatrix has provided a start for your library.

Not beer: Santos-Dumont.

The funniest reaction I have seen to this article on the looming hops glut was the one Stan mentioned from the BA econo-PR committee basically saying don’t worry be happy. I await Stan’s further thoughts.

The saddest truest footnote ever.

If anyone ever again says that Twitter is a poor medium for explaining anything, point them to this thread from Mr. B where he makes a clear argument in favour of a dowdy beer that has been reimagined. Speaking of Mr. B, he was a panelist on a TVO (Ontario’s public broadcaster) public affairs show, the Agenda, on the role of alcohol in society. While it was fair and represented a wide range of views, it was an example of how the concerns inside the good beer bubble are fairly irrelevant in the greater discussion – particularly in light of the partner interview broadcast on the same night. He did well but we need to stop mentioning the debunked J-Curve stuff. Folk don’t drink because they are sick. Not the other way around.

Finally and as proof we can all have a big hug Tinky-Winky moment, Mr. Protz has the news about the introduction of Chevallier barley malt into British brewing. Martyn has more on the background in this post from 2013. I have challenged the folks involved to get me some Battledore porter.

That’s it. A bit late today. But hey – tra’ la! It’s February!!!

Thursday Beer Links For Year’s End, Hogmanay and New Year’s Eve 2017

What can we say about 2017? Not as many celebrity rock star deaths as in 2016, I suppose. And we are not yet into the Putin war years. So, all in all a year to look back upon fondly.  It is the time of triumphalist beer pronouncements, whether by blogger or brewer, at bit at odds with the infantalization, death on the shelf and often resulting profiteering that really misses the key point: that being that the beer drinker really needs to be at unending war with the breweries she or he supports. If I have any message for you during this holiday season, it is that.

What else is going on out there? The Braciatrix has a very good piece about Vikings, brewing and Yuletide. One of the things I like best about her point of the post, which focuses on the roles of women in Norse brewing, is how there is a weaving with the roles of men in brewing. Given what I have learned and am still learning about Renaissance brewing in Tudor England and the Hanseatic Baltic, I suspect that the range of intimate scale household brewing to the ale house to public festive celebratory consumption to early industrial export brewing held places for both women and men, in contexts likely quite strange to we moderns. Fabulous stuff.

Also fabulous? Any post by Ron where he is wandering in and out of pubs. And any post by TBN where he is proving again that no more than about 50% of craft beer is worth it given the other better and often cheaper 50% of craft beer. Or a brewery tour post when Ed has to use the washroom.

Mr. Lawrenson has posted a rather special year in review,  one a bit unlike the others – not the least of which was him noting his own lack of activity. I quite like his Teletext tweets, especially how the medium de-aggrandizes the puff he like to waft away. There is so little rejection of the brewery owner as wizard theme going around in these days of the great schism and resulting gap filling that his commentary is always welcome relief. I look forward to more editions of his News in Brief in 2018.

Remember: pay your taxes. And quit complaining about paying taxes with your beer while you are at it. You want western civilization? Pay for it.

You know, much is being written on the murk with many names. Kinderbier. London murk. NEIPA. Gak from the primary. Milkshake. It’s gotten so bad in fact that even Boston Beer is releasing one, a sure sign that a trend is past it. Some call it a game changer, never minding that any use of that term practically guarantees something isn’t. They need to live as the hero in an exceptional time, I suppose. No such luck. My comfort is that the sucker juice of 2017 is so identifiable and so avoidable. My prediction? Clarified murk will be the hit of 2018. Which will take is full circle. To Zima. Then on to the low and no-alcohol ones.

Boom: “The late, great Don Younger (founder of the Horse Brass Pub) used to encourage beer competition by saying that a rising tide raises all boats, if that’s true than 2017 may be the year those boats began taking on water.

And keep your US craft in the US, thanks very much. We have more than enough of our own elsewhere.

Finally… you know, time was this would be when I was rushing around getting the Yuletide Kwanzaa, Hogmanay, Christmas and Hanukkah photo contest results are. How happy is the house that the tears and denunciations that went along with that are over. I found the prospect of transferring the entire set of contest posts to this the new site too daunting. Fortunately, the wonderful Wayback Machine has saved about 379 versions of the original website over the years and you can go browse the decade of 2006-15’s worth of the photo contest posts. To pique your interest and as a Yuletide treat, here are all the winners from the ten years including the favourite of all time from 2007 above which Stonch, then co-contest administrator, described this way:

First, the best image depicting some element of beer culture comes from John Lewington. He calls it “Two pints of bitter”. This is candid photo John took of two old boys enjoying their Sunday afternoon ale in a 17th century pub in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Perhaps they’re old friends, or maybe they barely know each other. When this photo was taken, it didn’t matter: they were immersed in their own worlds for a moment. It’s a beautiful photo, and my favourite overall.

Click on the image for a larger version of each year’s winner.

Contest Year
Photograph
Artist
2006
Dave Selden of Portland, Oregon
2007
John Lewington of England
2008
Matt Wiater of Portland Oregon
2009
Kim Reed of Rochester, New York
2010
Brian Stechschulte of San Francisco, California
2011
Jeff Alworth of Portland, Oregon
2012
Robert Gale of Wales
2013
Fabio Friere of New York City
2014
Thomas Cizauskas of Virginia (co-winner).
2014
Fabio Friere of New York City (co-winner).
2015
Boak and Bailey

There you are. Another year over and deeper in debt. Don’t go crazy at New Year’s Eve. There’ll be another one in 12 month’s time.

Session 129: Isn’t It Really A Case Of Local v Style?

This month’s question posed for The Session is offered by our host Eoghan of Brussels Beer City who has framed the question in this way:

…outside of large metropolitan areas, areas with a large craft beer culture, or regions without recourse to online shopping the spread of different or new styles can remain limited. That’s not even to mention the local or regional styles that disappeared in the last 50 years. And that’s why the theme of this month is styles missing from your local brewing scene’s canon. And you can take local as a relative concept, depending on your context – your town or municipality, county, region, even country if you really are isolated. And local also means brewed locally, not just available locally. Essentially: what beer style would you like to see being brewed in your local market that is not yet being brewed? Simple enough question.

This is an excellent question. Yet, as with all excellent things, there is at least one problem. A problem with this question is that it contains either a contradiction or at least a capitulation. “All the styles” is a globalist concept while local surely must mean more than “here” – it should mean indigenous. As we know, the canon is antithetical to the the concept of wonderful reality of indigenous brewing. If, as will no doubt be trotted out, the canon was instigated by Jackson – even though it was not his original plan – we can all blame him for the effect of the globalization of craft. But that would be silly. Jackson did not have that sort of influence. Good beer just moved along with all the other consumer products as part of the marketplace reformations of the 1970s whether it was related to cars which actually did not blow up or cheeses that actually tasted good. Good beer was just along for the ride.

The less wonderful aspect of this change called “craft” has taken globalism along a parallel path to the route previously taken by big latter 20th century industrial lager gak as well as latter 19th century German lager and latter 18th century Taunton ale before it. Beer moves. It has always moved. Globalism under the guise of craft beer styles is no different. It’s how you make money. It has some odd side effects. Like how globalized craft picks up and moved Ron to Chile for no apparent reason other than to generate massive hangovers and a broken watch. It generates the same beery events with their identa-issues all over the world fueled by simu-simul-craft. It isn’t just the antithesis of local. It’s the enemy.

Fortunately, even having avoiding the constructs of global craft and its false prophets, I shall not want. Micro and craft have also spawned the taproom and remembrance of indigenous beers past. In fact, we now have many excellent and uninternationalized beers which are local to me. I may have a few this Friday evening. As craft dies its death, so too goes its side kick style. In its place we are seeing hundreds and thousands of local expressions, each defying any concept of canon. Which means nothing here is missing. This is a time of plenty. Be thankful.

 

 

The Two Year Dead “Craft” Is Still Dead And Might Be Expecting Company

This graph… err… table to the left right was posted on the internets today by Jeff Alworth. It is tied by him to the piece in GBH by Bryan Roth about the meaning of IPA – which has the wonderful and likely most accurate thing about IPA or even craft I have read: “IPAs are what people want from me, you kind of have to give them what they want…” Jeff posted a piece himself on the now stone cold demise of of “craft” – an event I sent my funeral wreath and condolences in relation to over two and half years ago. Oliver Grey wanted it put out of its misery even further back.

The main point to focus on today, however, is not the disutility of the terms but the disutilty of the graph. It goes to a notion of abstraction and levels of abstraction. The graph offers a fabulous illustration of the failure to align levels of abstraction. You will see, yippee, that IPA wins in the race to top the craft beer style race.  The problem is not whether this is correct or not as we all know people who know nothing about craft beer who ask for an IPA. It’s the chardonnay of white wine circa 1999 in that respect. Code for (i) something that the drinker will like (ii) that the bartender will understand (iii) because the bar likely stocks it. Because “…you kind of have to give them what they want…”

The problem is that IPA is an umbrella term, even if a useful one. Consider the other terms in the list. “Craft Scottish,” “craft porter,” “craft dark beer” and even “craft amber” might for the average person reasonably all fit into “craft brown beer” as an umbrella term. “Craft IPA” on the other hand is known to include unspecified styles like IPA itself, DIPA, TIPA, BIPA, WIPA and any number of other Franken-styles designed primarily to ram the three letters “I” and “P” and “A” onto the label to ensure that the code speaking person in the bar orders one thus making the sale. Does this mean IPAs are not the most popular category? No. Does it mean I always know what I will get in the glass when I order one? The answer, compared to say pilsner, is also no.

As the ripples on the lake into which “craft” was flung a few years ago spread out to their limit and fade, we should be aware of how its fate was tied to it becoming an abstract concept prone to influence, interest and malleability. For me, IPA is half way down that same slippery slope.* I look for other words to guide me beyond the relative hop intensity flag that it waves. As has happened over and over, hop intensity itself fades as either or both an offering or a preference. You see it starting in the fruity murk that I have been, frankly, fooled a few times into ordering. As in the past, what is an IPA might be now or in the future be quite forgotten for the very reason that graph unintentionally demonstrates.

*…because, see, before badly used words are flung into the lake they slide down a slippery slope. Presumably there is a ramp involved near shoreline.

The Value And Adulteration Of Porter Circa 1757

I found this passage below in The General Evening Post of London, England of December 1, 1757. It’s a very useful passage because it reminds us of many things which are quite alive in the brewing trade of today.

Notice how the concern is framed from the position of the public. The natural tension is with the interests of brewers and the solution is the need for regulation. Brewers are “men of large capital” who use “other ingredients” – the fact of which is “notorious from the conviction of some brewers.” Brewers are also avaricious:

… a combination is forming amongst them to raise the price of beer…

This is an “additional tax which the brewers want to saddle on” the public. Sounds like something out of early CAMRA pamphets from the 1970s, doesn’t it?

Boak and Bailey have somewhat restated the question in terms of the craft era in their post today about “Experiences vs. Commodities” – a form of question which has been bounced around for at least as long as the terms “beer blogging” and “craft” gained popular attention in around 2006. Around 2008, we were introduced to the idea of single cask short run beers which promised in themselves to be an experience conveyed via 750 ml corked bottles for the mere price of merely $24.99. One Colorado comment maker* of the time indicated that the trend really started with La Folie by New Belgium.

Unlike Probus in the 1750s, the point of view of writers has not been clear cut. The responses in the comments to this post in from October 2007** are instructive and in some cases a bit startling. But that was when it was still quite fair – or at least somewhat credible – to say that craft was still a lot like little Bambi struggling on its wobbly legs, trying to make sense of the great big bad world. Too soon to speak of value. Now things are different. Craft has shattered into at least three general forms of market presence – local, big craft and international macro – none of which are in any real risk of going away even if players come and go.

Because of this, I would suggest that we need to heed Probus’s words published a quarter millennium ago and leave the views of ten years ago behind. Craft has become commodity and it’s going to be OK. It’s a commodity in the standardization of international styles such as IPA and murk as well as in single brands like Goose Island. You can find pretty much the same beer everywhere. And if you can’t you are still seeing the internationalization of the fib of “craft” pretty much everywhere. We cling on to outdated ideas about craft and the value of any beer at our peril. We miss the actual in favour of the hype. We chase the marketed (whether from the PR consultants or the semi-pro enthusiasts) in favour of the quieter, local and lovely. The experience? Yes, it is still about the experience but that includes learning from our experience.

[By the way, not sure who Probus was. Apparently, Thomas Chatterson used the pen name but he was born in 1752.]

*Scroll down.
**Again, scroll down.

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.