Beer Prices Surged This Month In China

If you are one of those types who have a tribal belief in a “craft community” and associate with a form of alcohol like normal people believe in things like religion, political parties, model train layouts or materialist somnambulism comfortingly disguising the actual nature of human existence, well, you might be the sort of person who believes that big brewing companies are (a) out to get your tribe and (b) spend a lot of time thinking about your tribe. In fact, they are thinking about China:

Anheuser Busch, the producer of Budweiser, raised its wholesale price by nearly 50 percent from March 10. Harbin Beer is also planning to raise prices in April. Zhu Danpeng, an independent food and beverage analyst, said: “As consumers are seeking good beer, it is inevitable for beer brands to adjust their portfolio and raise prices for their mainstream products, mainly medium-end beers.” The cost of raw material is a major driver for the price surge. According to a statement from Tsingtao Beer, packaging material costs have gone up, pushing up production costs. Snow Beer also blamed increases in raw materials, packing and labor costs.

If you think about it, that passage looks a lot like the sort of press release big craft brewers issue from time to time.  There is a reason for that. It’s because what they have in common is that they are likely not really all that true.  As with craft, price increases like this are far more about reward and opportunity than expense. Just as US craft has regularly seen growth in revenue outstrip growth in production (per unit opportunistic inflation), sales revenue of major beer producers in China rose 2.3 percent in 2017 even though production was down 0.66 percent. In that arguably tight a context, why would ABInBev raise wholesale prices 50%? Obviously… because it can.

Here  is a power point presentation, a tellingly short power point presentation, on ABInBev’s plans for China. Key message: China big. ABInBev is right there and being big, too.  Last December it opened a new brewery in southern Fujian province that can produce an astounding 160,000 cans per hour. They are presenting their products like Bid as higher end consumables. And a few weeks later,   the ZX Ventures division of ABInBev opened another new brewery in Wuhan to brew bulk craft products  like Goose Island.  These are investments of whacking piles of money intended to make many many more whacking piles of money:

According to industry research website, the market share for premium beer is around 4 per cent compared with traditional beer. But this share accounts for more than 18 per cent of profits in the industry, while the market is expanding at the rate of 40 per cent a year. Eyeing the growing market, Mr Wang Deliang, brewery research director at the China National Research Institute of Food & Fermentation Industries, says that investment in the craft beer sector has been expanding in recent years as beer makers chase profits of up to 30 per cent.

Money. Whether in a tiny new US-based brewer’s taproom, Chinese-made craft or big bloated global big beer or any of the other forms of the front end of the trade these days, it’s about money.  Which is fabulous. Beer and money have always been twinsies. BFFs. If you don’t think so, look at a sector like big old US craft that is suffering, stagnating or shrinking. Left only to serve as finger wagging Oldie Olsons to the few left listening.

The lack of money may well be the root of all folk music but a future in beer it is not.

Your Mid-March Beer News For The Winter That Won’t Go Away

Andy Crouch captured the mood with this tweet on Tuesday:

We are tired. We are tired of slipping. Of sliding. We are tired of corduroy. [Except me. I’m not hating on the cords – just trying to fit in here – gimme a break.] Otherwise, it’s been a really quite week. Not one brewery has done anything stupid since last Thursday.  Well, Stone seems to be having shelf space quality control issues in Europe but, well, that’s par for the course for big international craft. And St. Patrick’s Day is coming up on the weekend but that will be ruined but 827 beer writers working for exposure and samples lording over the fun of drinking green bulk lager… but that’s for next week.

Deeply into the now, Mr. B has a new book coming out, Will Travel For Beer. Like any numbers book there is a hyper-inflationary aspect to the idea of going on 101 vacations about beer but I am sure there will be more than a few ideas worth planning one or two trips around.

It’s not the one beer a day I couldn’t manage but who can stop at the third chip?

This is an odd story. Apparently MillerCoors in the US has created a new demographic category for 21 to 24 year olds and is intent in trapping them for life in a haze of weird macro-made beer like things:

The purpose is to sell more beer, which has been losing business to wine and hard liquor for a decade. MillerCoors, the U.S. division of Molson Coors Brewing Co., is gearing its marketing to 21- to 24-year-olds, a slice of the population the company characterizes as “curious,” “pragmatic” and still virginal when it comes to drinking beer… MillerCoors says there are important differences between millennials and the new generation the beer maker created but hasn’t named.

Apparently, the answer for these poor fools is a fluid called Two Hats described as “a light beer imbued with fruit flavours.” Which (i) we have seen in one form or another before such as the cited Bud Light Lime-A-Rita yet (ii) still sounds uniquely horrible. Pity the short term career path of the team that came up with this one.

Did I ever mention I really can’t get too excited about the unhappiness of the good monks who otherwise play quite happily in the commercial marketplace? Think of the extra good work that could be done if one of the recipes were given to big beer to milk  for all it’s worth with all licensing residuals going to good causes. No, reselling is fine by me. If I can buy Harris Tweed, an actual craft product, from some one on eBay – why not beer? I mean, who would deny the joy of the best beer thing of the week – also found on eBay?

Boom! Now that we have dealt with matter haberdasherrific, be careful. This post from B+B may find you wanting to stroke your screen. Lovely images of malt being made 50 years or so ago.

If we are honest, GBH is now sort of on a different planet, no?

Finally, as Jeff notes, the US Brewer’s Association has put out its annual biggest 50 craft brewery and biggest 50 brewery list… except it’s not the biggest 50 breweries but the biggest 50 brewing companies. Which is odd for an organization supposedly celebrating small. EcoBart explained that the lay of the corporate landscape no longer allows for simply listing breweries – but then offered a tweek that might see number of brewing facilities listed under each FrankenKraftenCorp. Which gets to be confusing. TBN certainly was confused. I’ve plunked the entire list into this post down there at the bottom for your review. Look at it. Look!! The inclusion of Duvel Moorgat certainly sticks out. Andy hailed it all as the revenge of the East. Me, I applaud Bell’s for sticking with “Inc.” while all the world rushed to “Co.” Two years ago or so, the annual list was a helpful tool in following the breweries which had sold out. We don’t talk of selling out anymore. It is all too confusing. Which is another reason to buy from your local actual small brewery at the taproom where you can talk with the owner and the brewer.

Remember: Boak and Bailey Saturday, Stan on Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

**aka TTH.

The Final Beery News For This Winter Olympiad

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

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

One for team? Taken.

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

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

Web 2.0 update: not a good look.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Beery News For The Sudden January Thaw

Nothing slows down life as much as three weeks of the freezing weather that we are just about to get a break from. Well, that and regularly keeping track of the beery news again. It’s been since November since I started back up.  I was last August’s jaunt as Stan’s intern that did it, I suppose. Give me a few years. I might get reasonably good at it. Maybe. Sorta. Bet I pack it in come spring.

Anyway, first up, all that hope and rage you have balled up into the narrative that moderate alcohol is good for you? It’s very likely a crock. Why? Because “…low-volume drinkers may appear healthy only because the ‘abstainers’ with whom they are compared are biased toward ill health.” My take? If you regularly wake up hungover you are likely hurting yourself. Start with a few liver function tests.

Crap. Eric Asimov has mentioned Prince Edward County wines in The New York Times. I’ll never be able to afford to drink the local stuff now.

More bad news? Why not? The sudden shutting of central New York’s venerable Saratoga Brewing was covered in great detail by central New York’s venerable Don Cazentre. It’s not that often that beer business news gets covered as business news but Don is regularly the one doing it. Another form of the death of the dream of national big craft – along with, you know, less and less of the stuff being sold. Hail the new boss! Local murky gak in a sterile monoculture branded taproom where everyone wants to tell you about how great the beer is. Now, that’s my kind of entertainment.

Now, how about something positive? I definitely award the best long writing this week to the two part essay by Matthew Lawrenson on pub life for the perspective of someone with autism:

I’ve been told that people are wary of me due to my “beer blogging’s greatest monster” reputation and are surprised when I’m more anxious and less obnoxious than they’ve been lead to believe. All I can say is that, usually, things are rarely what people expect them to be.

My favourite thing about the essay is how plainly described it all is. Matthew treats the subject objectively, with the respect it deserves. Very helpful. By way of a bit of contrast, because it’s important to keep this dynamic, Jordan took on the argument being made by Canada’s macro brewers about our excise tax regime and found it seriously lacking, working both the numbers as well as his sarcasm skills:

…let’s do the math. Wow! The average price of a case of beer is $36.50 if you go by the examples that Beer Canada have used. Now, let’s see. 24 x 341ml = 8,184 ml. How many ml in a HL? Wow. That’s 12.218 cases of beer per hectolitre. That’s 293 bottles and a low fill! Hmmm. What’s $31.84/293? Oh wow. It’s 10.8 cents a bottle in federal excise!

I was left (again) with the feeling that all cost inputs deserve that level of scrutiny. It’s we the buyers and our cash that runs the whole industry, after all. Why shouldn’t we get a simple straight answer? Consider J.J. Bell’s news today that he is dropping Harvey’s from his pub’s line up because “They’ve been using their strong position in the local market to price gouge, pure and simple.” Now, that’s some plain speaking about value.

How did we get here? Maybe beer 5,000 years ago in Greece. Merryn Dineley ordered the article so I am looking forward to greater analysis that just the abstract but the reference to “remains of sprouted cereal grains as well as cereal fragments from the Bronze Age” sure seems interesting.

Not beer: Al Tuck. Listen for a bit. There you go. Feel better, right?

Coming to the end but still enough time for my favourite use of Twitter in beer-world for 2018. Josh Noel’s fictional life of John Holl started on New Years Day this way:

On a Thursday evening in 1986, as a spring storm pounded the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport, John Hall sat in an airplane on the rain‐glazed tarmac and did something he would recount for the rest of his life. He reached for a magazine.

Finally. All things come to an end. And speaking of ends – bumboats. Say it fast five times over out loud… in public: Bumboats!  Bumboats!  Bumboats! Bumboats! Bumboats!” Hah – made you do it.


Hopped Beer As Part of Elizabethan Naval Victualing

Another topic sure to capture the attention of the good beer crowd… even though it is becoming apparent that there are only good beer crowds now.  Or perhaps another topic to just shelter me from all the other stuff flying around. Hmm. Perhaps a contemporary account* of the romantic of life the sea will will add a bit of zip from the outset:

…their bread was musty and mouldie Bisket,
their beere sharpe and sower like vinigar,
their water corrupt and stinking, the best drink they had, they called Beueridge, halfe wine and halfe putrified water mingled together, and yet a very short and small allowance…

That opinion was from William Clowes, the Lord Admiral’s surgeon, reporting in 1596. Not quite the “yo-ho and a bottle of rum” thing the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean would have us think. But, if we are honest, we never suspected the life of the Elizabethan sailor was a kind one, did we? While a gallon of beer a day seems insanely generous, it’s not as compelling now we know it was like drinking vinegar.

So, what was going on between 400 to 500 years ago in the ships of the English navy when it comes to beer? One thing we know already is that they aimed at taking along a gallon of beer for each person on board for each day. We know that because, as I first wrote in 2014 and mentioned again in  the first issue of MASH magazine,  Sir Martin Frobisher provisioned his voyages in 1576-77 to the Canadian High Arctic with that much beer. This was a pretty fabulous expedition, funded by a company of investors made up of aristocrats and even “QE the 1” herself. So they also got to take along two firkins of prunes and other treats.

One other thing we always like to see is the reference to malt. If you click on the thumbnail to the right you will see a record from a record for 18 January 1596 from a sort of annual journal of notable events from the day in which the need to ensure the provisions of the navy was discussed at some sort of vague high level (aka “the Council”) and included malt among the other provisions including pease and cheese. Perhaps not a firkin o’ prunes but still a pretty good list of foodstuff for the ships. This is a very good thing as I have, in the past, noted malt in shipments to Newfoundland at around the same time. Which is very cool. Because to ship malt is to prepare to make at least ale if not beer. If they are shipping the malt.

In a set of papers entitled Elizabethan Naval Administration edited by Knighton and Loades and published in 2016, we see this passage in a report from Edward Baeshe, General Surveyor of Her Highnesses Victuals for Sea Causes** dated 23 July 1586. In it Mr Baeshe complains of losing money on his agreement to supply and is invoking, quite politely, a right to terminate early. He points out the prices he has had to put up with including malt at eight to twenty shillings a quarter as well as “hops from 13s 4d the 100 to 53s 4d the 100.” The report is made to the Right Honourable the Lord Charles Howard, Lord High Admiral of England with a copy to Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s principle secretary, so it is not a small matter. It seems Baeshe has supplied such victuals to the navy for forty years but is now having to stop seeing as he is losing money on the deal. A footnote from Messrs Knighton and Loades tells us that the price of all grain rose 71% from 1580 to 1586 so his case appears well founded. These were the years leading up to the destruction of the Spanish Armada. Another footnote related to 1562 tells of the nimbleness in which malt at scale needed to be obtained for government business:

Extra provisions were required in the north in anticipation of the Queen of Scots and a train of 1,000 en route to an interview with Elizabeth. Articles for the meeting at York or as far south as Nottingham, were concluded at Greenwich on 6 July. On 8 July the Privy Council*** ordered 200 quarters of wheat and the like of malt to be bought in Buckinghamshire and sent to Berwick. Arrangements were still being made on 12 July, but the meeting was cancelled three days later…

Scale and speed. Interesting to note how the movement of large quantities of malt was a thing, thinking back to 1600s Derby ale. We think of brewing only as an industrial process at scale starting in the latter 1600s but forget the earlier public sphere. Incorrectly. Henry VIII add four new breweries in Portsmouth to supply ale for his fleet.**** We know this because the BBC said so. Other naval brew houses were also built in East Smithfield and London. The four additional breweries built in Portsmouth in 1512 were the Rose, the Lyon, the Dragon and the White Hart and were reported to be “the goodliest” ever seen.***** the year after they were joined by ten storage houses to keep the ale the beer from spoiling before being loaded on board.

These were important brewing facilities. They sat on the one water source which, on 7 December 1562, became the subject of the following by the borough of Portsmouth:

Also where as many indiscret persons not considering the quenes ma(?) affayres nor their owne helthes nor ye comodity for the hole town, hath usid and yet do use to wash both bucks and up(r) clothes in the diche and springs of the iiij houses. We geve in charge yt none hereafter prsume to do the lyk in paine for x(?) for evry offense.

All of which is very interesting. You have a brewing complex that brings in large quantities of hops and malt and strategically protects its water supply. I was going to add more to this post but I think I am going to leave it here as an introduction so that I can go off and explore this a bit more. It leads in neatly to the idea that in the 1600s before industrialization there was certainly organized brewing at scale as we saw with Derby ale. It may be that bulk manufacturing for military purposes in the Tudor era is an early example that later gets applied or at least mirrored for commercial purposes in the next century.

One thing I want to see if I can find about is pre-hop ale use on naval ships. You will recall that the earlier we go back in the 1500s the closer we get to the practical acceptance of hopped beer. Which makes me wonder if there were ale brewers on board before a certain point, preparing fresh ale for consumption by the crew within days – like might be found on farms and estates or in contemporary brew houses. Gotta see what I can find out about that. In the meantime, more 1500s beer and brewing here.

*See Tides in the Affairs of Men: The Social History of Elizabethan Seamen, 1580-1603, page 298, 1998 McMaster University Phd Thesis by Cheryl A. Fury.
**Clearly the greatest title which was ever bestowed.
***Clearing up the “which Council?” question above.
****The first built by his father Henry VII in 1492. Note in a note: 1492 – Brewery ordered built by the King. Called the “Greyhound” it cost £145 and was probably situated in High Street.
*****See Tudor Sea Power: The Foundation of Greatness by David Childs (Seaforth Publishing, 2009) at page 96.


The Summer Intern Hands Back His Smock And Tongs

Well, that’s it. Stan will be back next week. It has been fun but it’s also required a fair bit of attention. Something I am not sure I could sustain month after month. I sometimes see beer writers use the word “fascinating” and realize I couldn’t muster up that emotion if I was handed a vial of Fascinex 150 pills.

How much greater the rip roaring fun one finds in beery records of the past like this real knee slapper of a joke to the upper right from the 11 December 1811 Kingston Gazette of this my dear old colonial town. This brain teaser from the same paper’s 4 December 1810 edition had me spinning for hours. What chance does one week today have against this sort of quality work from the past?

More International Mass Craft

Is it even news that BrewDog is setting up another branch plant, this time in Australia? My thoughts, what with another quarterly report and another slip in Sam Adams sales offset “by increases in our Twisted Tea and Truly Spiked & Sparkling brands,” that there is a diminishing return on such things but – as we know from our Bible story time – avarice will have its way. Just as there is no thrill seeing another run of the mill Sam Adams product on a beer store shelf here in Ontario, I trust and likely hope that my Australian cousins have enough local breweries to support that a carpetbagger would get at best tepid reception.

Somehow, Martyn’s fuzzy picture from the event captures the spirit of it all.

Hiding in Plain View

GBH has tweeted a link to a very interesting reddit post by Sixpoint Brewing on the recent “investment” in 21 Amendment by Brooklyn that is fun in its bitchiness but also very telling in one particular comment: “…with a path to full control.” See, when these things happen and people say “whew, it was only a 19.9999% investment so it’s OK” they entirely miss the point. Percentage share ownership means nothing. The BA definition was either writing by non-lawyers or was crafted to dupe. See, you can own 1% of the shares or 99% of the shares of something and still effectively control it outright through the terms of the agreement that is entered into when making the investment. It’s called a shareholders agreement and under them you can list decisions which can’t be made without the approval of this shareholder, you can name names as to which founding owner is now only a front man for the business and you can establish rights to future purchases of more shares – aka the path to full control.

Fuggles Or Fuggle… Or Fuggle’s?

Ron has posted a picture on Twitter of an 1850s brewing record that uses the word “Fuggle” which has spun off a bit of chatter about the nature of the notation. Martyn suggests it references the farm family rather than the variety. But I wonder when the variety became itself. Not that the record says “Fuggle” and not “Fuggles.” Late in 2014, Martyn posted a detailed description of his understanding of the genesis of the hop variety. Mr. Fuggle was traced through the Manwaring-Fuggle family tree. Note in his explanation at one point we had a strain named “Fuggle’s Golding” which makes the question even more fabulous.

And, Finally, In Other News

North Korea has revealed the best beer in the world and it costs six cents. Kim Jong Un is apparently nuts about it. I love how it is “suspected they drew particularly heavily on British and German know-how” because, as you know, that is what all the best beers depend on.

Could Mr Zyankali make his approach to drinks sound more boring?


Jason N. tweeted a very interesting fact about the relative successes of two supposedly “sell out” brands. Which makes me wonder why we like one faceless global conglomerate more than another in some sort of form of corporate anthropomorphism. Why do we care? Why do we kid ourselves?


That is it. Of the five weeks I was assigned, this was a bit of a quieter one. What with the dog days of summer, I suppose that was to be expected. First trick I learned? Have a draft started by Thursday with at least 60% of the post sketched out. Second, make sure you do not just overlap Boak and Bailey’s regular Saturday post o’links. Only you can judge whether I can claim to have been effective.

Well, only Stan can. I trust he will be back at the coal face today building his links for publication next Monday, 7 August. I shall be back to my own semi-coherent ramblings upon my ramblings.


The Problematic Third… No, FOURTH (!) Week Of The Intern’s Beery Links

Week three.* I understand this is when a beer blog intern really lets the side down. I mean there is gardening to do, day dreaming about ice cream making demands and quality napping time to be enjoyed. Me, I weeded the leeks and harvested the garlic just yesterday. I’ve no time to write my own stuff. I clearly need a need a break. Fortunately, others have been doing a particularly swell job keeping an eye on the ball so there has been lots to think about this week.

What Is Bad Aurosa and What Isn’t

First, my co-author-in-law Robin LeBlanc wrote an excellent piece on a beer which neither of us are likely to ever see on a shelf let alone buy. Aurosa, a Czech brand aimed at… women. All of them apparently. All at once. But that, as you know, makes no sense. Robin deals with this handily:

…the type of women they have in mind are a very specific subset. Usually white, thin, rich, and the type that identify deeply with Kendall Jenner’s instagram account. There is nothing wrong with this type of woman, but if you’re going to market to all women you have to acknowledge that we’re not all one type and that is why women don’t need a brand of beer specifically for them.

This has wider implications beyond this mockery attracting form of thick-headed sexism… which, BTW, can in turn attract casual hate.  The fact is beer is not manly and also not not manly. It isn’t noble or ignoble.  It’s a fluid that gives you a buzz for lots of your money which can be branded in any number of ways, even the quite stupid – and, as Maureen wrote about in 2009,  even the blatantly racialized. Why all the attribution? Money? Money.

I illustrate the tendency in reverse. One aspect of the chameleon-like status of gender and brewing has been the presentation of early brewing as all female, an argument often begins with a paragraph on that Sumerian goddess. It is that, yes, and more. And less, too. Jay some time ago posted a helpful list of all the goddess and gods and neutral deities of brewing. The list conveys the many labels cultures and eras imposed on the joy juice. We make of it what we want. Or someone wants to tell us to want.

As with many things about beer, along with the money I blame the alcohol but if we do consider the many faces and facets of beer and brewing over time and cultures, for me, the interest lies in the diversity of ways it acts as a conduit – a trigger even – for both the highs and depths humankind can come up with.

Lars Travels East So You Don’t Have To

Clearly driven by more than booze and cash, we have Lars. Is there any more dedicated beer researcher than Lars Marius Garshol? This week he is sending tweets from out front,  where the new ideas and ancient ways are to be found. The eastern front that is. He sent out this update on Tuesday:

On the road to Kudymkar. Car shaking so bad I can’t look out the window sideway, or I’ll be sick. Should be there in an hour or so.

According to wikipedia, Kudymkar is a town and the administrative center of Komi-Permyak Okrug of Perm Krai, Russia. Lars took himself there to document traditional rural farmhouse brewing techniques and his twitter feed is on fire. Well, it’s not. OK. It is not flammable. But it is a hot take! Fine, it’s not – as it is actually well researched and properly considered. Let’s just leave it that his work is fascinating and valuable. This one tweet is more marvelous that 98% of the entire internet. What did you do for beer this week? Not much, right?

Rich Brats Pay Others To Make Beer

Much has been made of the article in Forbes on the three sons of rich people who are starting a brewery. The reality that money speaks for money may underlie the very access to the publication. Fun making of the three lads and story’s errors is to be found at Beervana but the best thing is the plan they proudly describe to make “pilsnar” – it’s the bestest dumb thing about beer of all this week.

But the matter may have gone to far with this question posted by John Urch: “Have three more arrogant, hubristic people opened a brewery?” As we all know, the answer is yes (and you can all name them.) Often it is a requirement for big craft success.

Andy Crouch on the Need for Transparency

The release by tweet of Andy’s July 2017 column for BeerAdvocate has caught the attention of more than a few. There was even the obligatory if weak gotcha .gif sighting. In his column, Andy* argues that the problem with big beer buying into craft bigly is all in the disclosure:

…consumers have a right to know about this. If you’re a Big Beer-affiliated brewery, own that. Don’t hide it. In your company’s “About Us” or “Brewery History” page online, don’t omit that AB InBev owns you as almost every formerly independent and now High End brewery does. Don’t play cute about it with the press. Stop telling consumers nothing has changed. Anyone saying that is either lying or negligently naive.

I spoke up thusly: “Add transparency about contract brewing + non-ownership financial arrangements, too. Maybe records of health + safety orders.” See, what matters to me has little to do with ownership but plenty to do with interests. I don’t care to spend my money on bad employers or false fronts. If we benefit openness and transparency, let the light shine everywhere. I want to know who is getting paid by whom, who is contract brewing, who is cashing out, who isn’t a good employer, and whose civics are admirable.

Other Stuff

More fun hate on for BrewDog. Why do they make it so easy?

Our stunned Jim Koch quote of the week explains what his version of big craft thinks of some of its customers – those who like to think:

It’s a dilemma other nationally distributed craft brewers have faced, including Jim Koch, the founder of Boston Beer, which makes Sam Adams and has annual sales of $879 million. “If you make great beer,” Koch says, “and people love it and drink it, and more and more of them love it and drink it, the beer geeks will turn against you. You’re talking about roughly 5%, but they’re an influential 5%.

If you are reading this – heck if you are reading about beer at all – that’s you. Get in line. Money needs more money!

Presenting a far more coherent grasp on reality, Stonch returns us to the topic of pie and mash reviews, with Jeff’s deft hand giving grace to an otherwise modest corner of English culture found in a car park.

And finally, Stan wrote a well thought out piece on what it means to be a brewmaster. Another form of over-reach, self-promotion exposed in a way. Is that all this is about?

And there we end your Monday morning story time. The book is being gently closed, your blankey adjusted, you can finish off the last of that nice warming drink and go back to quietly dozing at the office for another summer’s week.

*No, it’s the fourth, you dope.
**Disclosure: we hung out once four years ago.

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.

“…Uncompromised Beer That Is Marketed Locally…”

I post this by way of adjunct to a comment that I made in my post the last edition of The Session. In that post I stated that all beer is, as a result, properly understood as local and personal and that the ecology is small and getting smaller with the return to more naturally scaled micro and happy tap rooms. The comment even received Stan approval status… so there.

Happy, then, was I when came upon this passage quoted below in the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery, 1989: Staplefoods : Proceedings, edited by Harlan Walker. It is actually footnote 30 to Appendix A to the chapter “Staple Foods of the American West Coast (A Semi-Historical Perspective; or, Cultural Change in Action)” by John Doerper.

Perhaps the best definition of “microbrewery” comes from Vince Cottone, Good Beer Guide, Breweries and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: Homestead Book Company, 1986, p.9. Cottone who prefers the term “Craft Brewery” describes this as

a small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients to produce a handcrafted, uncompromised beer that is marketed locally.

Curiously, despite the supposed local distribution of these brews, supermarkets in the Northwest commonly stock many Californian “microbrews” while California carry virtually no Northwestern beers.

My first observation was that we are back to that spot here 28 years later, back to beer “that is marketed locally‘ if we think of the current resurrection of the taproom. But then I looked at the other elements: small, handcrafted, etc. Other than the word “traditional” in the era of every twig and leaf being shoved in a brew pot, it seems to fit. Sweet to note, however, that how in 1989 interstate distribution was already creating inequality and bending the meaning of local.

So, is “that is marketed locally” an idea that could be returned to now that big craft and macro are merging, mating or in a battle to the death? It would be a bit hard for many to track given that the forces that peddle national craft and throw about the junkets are hardly going to speak in favour of it. But as consumers, is this a standard we should return to – one to insist upon?

Once we’ve done that, perhaps we can clarify what local means, too. The 100 mile diet sort of local? As far as a truck can drive in 48 hours local? Here in Ontario, getting to a definition with some semblance of reality is a problem. By common parlance and perhaps trade association politics, the entire 1.076 million km² is local unto itself. I suspect in a place like Portland, Oregon local might not even include the whole city.