Thursday. Beer. News.

News? You want news? Let’s get into this right away. Is this the worst thing ever done to beer? According to a stranger to me*, this is a pint of Guinness and Sprite, half and half sold in Seattle USA. It wasn’t his drink but someone else’s down the bar who explained  “it’s very English.” Yik. Good photo. Bad drink.

Lars is my hero:

A few years ago I put together a description of how to brew keptinis based on ethnographic sources. Martin Warren followed my instructions, but ended up with just black, unfermentable water. So when Simonas invited me to come to Lithuania to see keptinis being brewed, he didn’t need to ask twice.

Keptinis! 

Into the bucket ran what looked like porridge. The pressure in the keg was so high that what came out was pure foam…

Keptinis! Keptinis!!

A small controversy was set off in Ontario by new branding released by Steam Whistle – as noted by Jordan. The brewery announced its branding in this way:

While nutritional labels are not required on beer in Canada, Director of Marketing Tim McLaughlin says that Steam Whistle is “proud of what goes in our beer, and almost more importantly what doesn’t go into our beer.” The labels follow federal standards and display the beer’s ingredients – “pure spring water, select Canadian malt, European hops, Brewer’s yeast” – as well as calories, vitamin content, and other nutritional statistics.

The implication that Jordan sees is the one hidden in the phrase “what doesn’t go into our beer” – suggesting as it does that others may put other things in their beer. In fact, Jordan received a pestering email from the brewery “suggesting that I use the hashtag to discuss the relatively purity of Steam Whistle.” You know, many brewers do put other things in their beer. And many recognize that us of only water, malt, hops and yeast is just one approach to beer. In other news, I had a Steam Whistle Pilsner in 2005.

Modern Toss on modern beer. And BBC Archives on British Beer in Germany in 1974.** While I am no sure I can fully subscribe to the holistic romance of Jeff’s post on a purposeful meaning of “craft” (mainly because beer is functional) that last link makes a strong argument in favour of the argument.

In the “Worst Idea Ever, Worse Than Guinness and Sprite Even…” a line of wines has been produced, the branding based on The Handmaid’s Tale:

The product descriptions for the wines, dedicated to Offred, Ofglen and Serena Joy, are about as ill-conceived as the idea itself, a real achievement when taking into account the fact that wine matters as much to The Handmaid’s Tale as women (and gay people) do to Gilead. Yes, the show goes down easier with a healthy pour. But maybe not one memorialized with the white bonnet and “Of-insert-husband’s-name” formulations that viewers associate with torture and tyranny. 

Who would possibly think this was a good idea? Stupid thoughtless people, that’s who.

Interesting news from the courts. Most interesting because Beau’s did not participate in the trademark litigation brought against it. For those who would argue that beer and wine are different markets, this is a helpful and clear statement from the ruling:

…the parties’ goods would likely be sold in the same stores and restaurants in various provinces. For example, in 2015 and 2016, the LCBO sold both products. In addition, both products would be considered to be in the premium category given their prices; Steelbird’s wine is sold for $34 or $35, and Beau’s Kissmeyer beer is priced at $6.45 per bottle.

Speaking of rulings, one of those dumb marketing schemes rolled out by BrewDog was help to be inappropriate by the shadowy Portman Group, as The Morning Advertiser reported. Stung, one representative of the brewery’s Department of Poor Ideas suggested folk missed the nuance. Lesson: if you have to explain or even use the word “nuance” in a response, it likely never was nuanced.

Fourpure? Don’t care. Except could someone tell craft brewers that they can skip this stuff and admit it is about scale, wealth and ambition?

They see Fourpure and our beer as a primary focus here in the UK and as their sole production brewing facility we will benefit from all the time, expertise and investment required to succeed, and that means that everything around the brewery will be a little bit easier and a little bit better.

Life as a rich person usually is a a wee bit easier, little bit better yes.

I hope you’ve been enriched. More of the same next week. Don’t forget to catch up with all the beer news on the weekend with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then find out what happened in good beer and a few other things over the weekend with Stan next Monday.

*Ross Maghielse, Manager of audience development at Philadelphia Inquirer.
**Note the driving gloves. Fabulous.

Some Beery News Links For The Sudden Coming Of Spring

It is obviously a tough time here in Ontario and in Canada. The mass murder on Yonge Street in Toronto on Monday has struck hard and will affect many for years to come. It has come so soon after the  Humboldt tragedy. And for our house, a neighbour – dearly liked, always been good to the kids – passed suddenly. It’s a rotten end to a hard winter. Ten days we were in a two day ice storm and now suddenly it’s warm. It’s a hard segue, like any sudden transition. Yet when I read Jon Abernathy’s thoughtful warm memorial to his own father who also passed away recently again with little warning, we are certainly reminded there are bigger things in life than beer yet – as Jon put it – it’s hard but we are doing OK. I hope.

So, this weeks links are offered to give some lighter thoughts. One delightful small thing I saw this last week is this tiny 12 inch by 12 inch true to scale diorama of the old Bar Volo on that same Yonge Street in Toronto. It was created by Stephen Gardiner of the most honestly named blog Musings on my Model Railroading Addition.  I wrote about Volo in 2006 and again in 2009. It lives on in Birreria Volo but the original was one of the bastions, a crucible for the good beer movement in North America. The post is largely a photo essay of wonderful images like the one I have place just above. Click on that for more detail and then go to the post for more loveliness.

In Britain, after last week’s AGM of CAMRA there has been much written about the near miss vote which upheld the organization’s priority focus on traditional cask ale. Compounding the unhappiness is the fact that 72% voted for change – but the change needed 75% support from the membership. Roger Protz took comfort in how high the vote in favour of change actually was. Pete Brown took the news hard, tweetingcask ale volume is in freefall.” He detailed his thoughts in an extended post.  And B+B survey the response and look to the upsides that slowly paced shifts offer. The Tandly thoughts were telling, too. While it is not my organization, I continued to be impressed by the democratic nature of CAMRA, the focus on the view of consumers rather than brewers as well as the respect for tradition. I am sure it will survive as much as I am sure that change will continue, even if perhaps at an increasing pace and likely in directions we cannot anticipate. Q1: why must there be only the one point of view “all good beer all together” in these things? Q2: in whose interest is it that there is only that one point of view?

While I appreciate I should not expect to link to something wonderfully cheering from Lars every week, I cannot help myself with his fabulously titled post, “Roaring the Beer.”  In it he undertakes a simple experiment with a pot and rediscovers a celebratory approach to sharing beer that is hundreds of years old. Try it out for yourself.

Strange news from Central Europe: “In 2017, the Czech on average drank 138 litres over the course of the year, the lowest consumption in 50 years.” No doubt the trade commentators will argue self-comfortingly “less but better!” while others will see “less but… no, just less.” Because of course there’s already no better when we’re talking about Czech lager, right?*

As a pew sitting Presbyterian and follower of the Greenock Morton, I found this post at Beer Compurgation very interesting, comparing the use of Christian images in beer branding (usually untheologically) to the current treatment of other cultural themes:

To try and best create an equivalence I have previously compared being a Christian in modern England to being a Scottish football fan in modern England… On learning your love for Scottish football people in general conversation would automatically make two assumptions: 

a) You believe domestic Scottish football to be as good as domestic English football; 

b) You believe Rangers and Celtic (The Old Firm) are capable of competing for the English Premier League title…

The accusations and derision came from assumptions of your beliefs and the discussions would continue this way even after explaining that their conjectures were false. Talking about Christianity here is similar. By existing I am allowed to be challenged directly about my thoughts on sexuality, creationism, mosaic period text, etc.. and people often assume they understand my attitudes beforehand.

Personally, I think the Jesus branding is tedious bu,t thankfully, all transgressors all go to hell to burn forever in the eternal fires… so it’s all working out!

Homage at Fuggled to the seven buck king.

Question: what am I talking about in this tweet?
Hmm. Oh yes! The news that Brewdog is claiming they have brought back Allsopp India Pale Ale. First, it appears that someone else has already brought it back. Weird. Second, as was noted by the good Dr. David Turner last year, this can only serve as a marketing swerve for the hipsters. AKA phony baloney. Apparently, the lads have been quietly cornering the market in some remarkable intellectual property including, fabulously, spontaneity! My point is this. You can’t recreate a 1700s ale until there is 1700s malt barley and a 1700s strain of hops. [Related.] Currently, I would say we can turn the clock back to about 1820 if we are lucky given the return of Chevallier and Farnham White Bine. There is no Battledore crop and I couldn’t tell you what the hops might be even though there was clearly a large scale commercial hop industry in the 1700s, not to mention in the 1600s the demands of Derby ale and the Sunday roadsfull of troops of workmen with their scythes and sickles,”. The past is a foreign land, unexplored. Perhaps Brewdog have found a wormhole in time that has now overcome that. Doubt it but good luck to them.

Well, that’s likely enough for this week. Remember to check in with Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday for their favourite stories and news of the week that was.

*Note: see also the work of CAMRA and the protection of cask ale.

Your Weekly Beer News Considered And Consolidated For Exactly What Your Thursday Demands

I need to make sure I am less self-indulgent this week. Last week was a bit too… thematic without, you know, a solid theme. I deserve a rebuke from time to time. I thought Stan was helpfully chastising me in his comment… but I am not quite sure. You have a look:

I’m pretty sure Alan McLeod was lamenting the use of the term “deep dive” in his commentary on recent beer news last week. Fact is when I see the words “deep dive” I expect what follows to go deep less often than not.

I never do well with these sort of mathy statements. But then… I thought it would be “more often than not” if deep dives labelled properly were more common than the tawdry shams.  Doesn’t “less often than not” mean the shams outweigh the actuals?  And if you think about it – by their very nature – these summary things are more like strolls in the shallows, not deep dives at all.  Oh dear. I’ve been self-indulgent again. Must stop. Here’s some news.

My problem with the thesis on glitter beer by the entirely reliable Carla Jean Lauter is knowing the many really stupid and indulgent things which give me joy. They still remain sorta stoopid* despite my joy. I am reminded, in fact, of that passage from Thomas More’s early modern masterpiece Utopia:

They divide the pleasures of the body into two sorts—the one is that which gives our senses some real delight, and is performed either by recruiting Nature and supplying those parts which feed the internal heat of life by eating and drinking, or when Nature is eased of any surcharge that oppresses it, when we are relieved from sudden pain, or that which arises from satisfying the appetite which Nature has wisely given to lead us to the propagation of the species. 

In first year undergrad, someone in class asked what More meant by eased surcharge. Poop, said the prof. Or, now, glitter pee, I suppose.

Elsewhere, someone by the name of Gary, left in charge of UK grocer Sainsbury’s social media, was having a hard time at the end of last week but Matthew L stepped forward to straight-forwardly and helpfully explain the economics of chilling beer at the general retail level:

I’m closer to the shop floor realities of retail than Gary is, and I can explain why supermarkets don’t, as a rule, chill their entire beer supply and display chain.  As stated above, this might be a revelation to those who don’t work in my industry.

What a sensible explanation. And what a sentence from Stonch: “For an hour and a half, I was a fixed point among the shifting population of tourists, as I savoured glasses of each of the four beers poured at a simple bar.” While we are at it, what a photo and caption from The Beer Nut!

Good to see that sensible sweaters are big in Brussels. TBN actually had another point… which I liked. And I also liked this proclamation from Matty C about London. I usually don’t like proclamations, urban or otherwise, but this is actually a good one. It’s nice. Not quite Belgian millennial sweater nice but actually pretty close.

Speaking of almost Belgian millennial sweater goodness, if I were to pick a review to review as illustrating what a book review (and, yes, I know this sounds indulgent) it’s this review by The Tand of the new book by Stange and Webb. It even includes substantive arguments as to why one should trust the new book by Stange and Webb on Belgian beer:

The authors point out – and this is important – that they did not seek samples from breweries, but rather, went there and bought the beers. They are also keen to opine that, in an age of obfuscation and blurring of lines, often by large conglomerates,  the place of origin of beer remains important, as it adds to authenticity. This is particularly so in Belgium, where beer in all its diverse forms so often has a clear link to its local or regional roots. 

Some will still insist that paying your own way to prepare a book about beer is impossible. Sounds like a very good one. And what is a good “two”? Well, that’s the number of new good things you’ve learned so far about Belgium. Boom! Here’s something interesting which is not related to Belgium a confession from Boak and Bailey:

We’ve never been quite sure. Think it refers to a distinct grain / seed / breadcrust flavour derived from malt.

I think I can be helpful here… if the question is “what does a biscuity malt mean?” If you go way back into this blog’s archives you will find beer reviews like this or this.  And there you will see me using descriptors like biscuity and breadcrusty and pumpernickely. When I did that I sometimes actually went and got a biscuit or crust of bread to confirm my reference. But then… was it an arrowroot biscuit or a butter biscuit? Whole wheat or French? I also would find I wanted to describe something as raisiny but  then wonder is it a Thompson or Sultana? Words like this draw you into thinking about flavour. Based on your own actual experience. I think it is fundamental to learning how to taste things, about how I taste things.  You may have another path to the same end. There are likely many. But this is one I recommend.

Question: if you call a brewery “they” then don’t they then have souls?

Finally, our two nominees for “The Unhelpful But Beer-Related Semi-Science Story Of The Week“:

Australians Have Developed a Beer That You Can Drink in Space

Why Do Some Beer Bubbles Appear to Defy Physics?

There. I am done for now. There could be more to be said but I think I am done for this week. Yup. Feels like it. Done. Big Supreme Court of Canada ruling on buying beer and then transporting it across provincial boundaries being issued later today.  But that’ll deserve its own space and quiet consideration. So it will.

*St👀pid, even. Which, you know, owning the complete DVD set of Space: 1999 requires me to acknowledge. And the 200 lbs of men’s tweedwear.  

Your First Beery News Update For Spring 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Other Problem With The Young White Males…

One of the nice thing about being a child of Scots immigrants who ended up in Nova Scotia is I am quite comfortable not being white or WASP even if I am privileged. Stealth immigrants’ progeny. Growing up in Nova Scotia in the 1970s, I never fully understood some things like the way other Canadians ate. Corn flakes? Coffee? Strawberry jam? We were more into oatmeal, tea and marmalade even if the sun rose over the Atlantic instead of setting. We were in a class with a few others of the similarly situated. One pal who married a lovely English lady later told me that our family was good training for meeting his in-laws. Like them, we apparently were the only people he had met who could all sit around the same room in armchairs reading newspapers or books. Quietly. Drinking cups of hot milky tea. Quietly. Taking turns making it. Quietly.

Which is something I think about when I read about “white people” these days. I used to think that they were just people who didn’t know their great-uncle’s names or why the different sausages existed and meant something. “White” was not a culture so much as an absence of personal family culture. Don’t misunderstand. There was no missing the strong Acadian, Black Nova Scotian, Caper, LGBT, Lunenburg German, Valley Baptist or indigenous Mi’kmaq experiences and their battles for equality in the particular time and place of my upbringing. The fight was so visceral that “white” (that sad default setting) spoke to as much to a fundamental lacking of something core as it spoke to a political and commercial privilege. It was a grey space in a vibrant landscape with robust variety and political tension. But for beer that sort of “white” is now a looming problem without much upside:

“Generation Z marks a turning point, being the first generation to prefer spirits to beer,” analysts led by Javier Gonzalez Lastra wrote in the report. However, one segment of Gen Z still prefers beer to other types of alcohol: white men. For a long time, beer companies only needed to appeal to white men to grow sales. White men have historically made up a hefty part of the American population. They also drink more alcohol on average than women of all races, as well as more than men who are not white.

So… in addition to buying into a systemically discriminatory construct, the persistent dependency on these privileged dolts might have resulted in something of a hollowing out of long-term customer base prospects. Is an unspoken flaw of the “beer people are good people (are people like me)” construct not only the wonky dependency on the heralds heralding  “doot-dah-doooo!” long-trumpetingly from the ramparts of majoritarian bastions but willful blindness to a key expectation supporting those bastions has long been undermined? It’s not so much that beer has failed to be inclusive as it has more fundamentally missed the fact that “white male youth beer culture” will now never again appear in any college level Demographics 101 class syllabus as representative anything like a majority.

The actual majority of the market – and the growing population defining that market – is not white or male or young… let alone “and” and “and”… which is a problem. Like the place I grew up in, it is filled with others who are now off and doing what they feel like freely. Which is good. And which makes me ask… if I was investing in a new crafty brewery in any kind of competitive setting why would I even market to the  white and male and young if I had any interest in surviving into the mid-2020’s? That market has already been locked in and is going to fade. Like the damp corner of a basement carpet that’s where the unwanted saturation is. Why would I not entirely aim my focus on the others, the actual majority? Or, you know, open a craft distillery?

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.

Session 123: The Internet And Craft Beer

The trouble with the considering how the Internet and craft beer have interacted is that any old fool can stake a claim to knowing something, spend years rabidly building a personal brand and then – with no accreditation backing you but plenty of beer porn – hold yourself out as some sort of expert… and then expect folk to pay you and even (get this) come out to hear you speak as if in the presence of a special moment.

Me. That’s me right there. I’ve done all that. Fourteen years of it. Been quoted by The New York Times, too. All because of the Internet. In the January 2007 issue of Great Lakes Brewing News I got on the front cover with my article “Crafting the Internet: Beer On Line” which I am sure now springs immediately to your mind’s eye now that I mention it. (I used to do that sort of thing before I learned about the starvation wages of a freelancer.) It goes on for three whole pages and I take the time to generously discuss my beer blog, those of my friends as well as mentioning all the paying sponsors of the time that I could shoehorn in. What a corrupt wee jerk I was. What is it with this internet thing? Some things never change.

The interesting thing about the article is how essentially the structures of today are still the ones we use. BeerAdvocate and RateBeer are discussed as are pro writers like Lew as well as Mr. Rubin of the Toronto (Red) Star. Beers had started to be offered on line for delivery to your door. I complained that most “craft breweries” (look at me using the term that early) were behind the times, offering only an “email us” feedback loop for their customers – though I mentioned that Flossmoor in Illinois and Beaus here in Ontario had started up their own blogs.

2007. Framed. That serves as a reasonable benchmark for the question posed by this month’s hosts for The Session at Beer Simple:

This month, we’re taking on the internet and craft beer: is it a help, a hinderance, an annoyance, or all of the above?  How is beer drinking/brewing different in the internet age, and how is the internet changing the way brewers and craft beer drinkers do business?  

The odd thing about the question is the shortsightedness of the questions. Good beer in the sense of the micro brewing has been around for over three decades and, really, at least four if we understand the role of Peter Austin and the era of import bars. Similarly, as Boak and Bailey point out in their response to the question, alt.beer was founded around  July 1991. I would add BeerAdvocate was founded just five years after that. Plus, before use.net, the beer discussions of obsessives occurred in personal ‘zines and local newsletters whether published by CAMRA branches or that guy in New York whose name I can’t recall. Yankee Brew News was founded in 1989.

So, if we think about it, is the question really about how social media (post-2007) has affected craft beer (also pretty much post-2007)? If so, isn’t it a question about how social media has affected pop culture? I would think the effect on a craft brewery would be much the same as it might be in relation to a sports team or a pop singer. But the question as posed seems to include a unspoken bias or at least a foundation in unhappiness:

Just how fast do aleholes on message boards and elsewhere turn off prospective craft beer enthusiasts?

What an odd concept. As a third party observer why would one care if “aleholes” are turning off “prospective craft beer enthusiasts”? There is a word for both classes of person – strangers. Which is the problem social media has brought into all parts of the discourse. The presumption… no, the illusion of nearness. Brewers, bloggers, other fans and storytellers are all in the double bubble of the alcohol-laced social media construct. Associating what you find there with commonality or, worse, friendship is rife with peril. Some fools actually consider creaky big craft brewers heroes. Good Lord.

All beer is, as a result, properly understood as local and personal. The ecology is small and getting smaller with the return to more naturally scaled micro and happy tap rooms – and the slow collapse of big craft dreams much to its own surprise.

Should we be surprised? Has the internet lied? Or have we all lied to the internet?

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.

“It’s a Shopping Mall for Alcoholics Out There”

When I was a kid thirty years ago, maybe 22 or 23, I got in an elevator to find myself moving upward with the folk singer Ed McCurdy. I was likely a bit worse for wear. He looked at me and proclaimed just that – it’s a shopping mall for alcoholics out there. Meaning downtown Halifax. My old hometown. Haven’t been here for 15 years, since playing in an alumni soccer game in 2002. He was right, too. It can be a blur out there.

I drove across a third of North America to get here. 1600 km of highway up along the St. Lawrence and then, once past Maine, south through the forests to the sea. All to be at the funeral for a friend, one of the best loved pals in my broad gang of undergrad pals. Gone far too young.  Kept in touch on the phone when I had a business question he could help with. We played on the law school team, too. Once made a sweet long looping pass from my spot in the rear at sweeper that he took off on, scoring on the breakaway. Told me with a grin as he ran back “hey, you don’t suck as much as I thought you did.”

We may well gather after the service to share stories. Friends flying in from across the country. Friends I haven’t seen for maybe 30 years. Halifax will still be ready. Ready aye ready. I was out with my brothers for a bit of dinner last night and then had a beer later with a newer pal who moved here a year ago from where I’ve lived in Ontario for that decade and a half. We walked around, me telling him what used to be in the empty store front or the bustling bar, him being somewhere between patient or interested.

Actually looks much the same. The pubs are still full. And are actual pubs. Lights higher, music lower. Big tables of people talking, shouting, laughing. I had New Ross cider at one place, Hell Bay oatmeal pale ale at another. Ate a good bit of haddock at the Henry House. Ate a big plate of Brussels sprouts and bacon later at a place on Argyle near where The Graduate used to sit. Cheery chatting waiters working at a busy clip.

Fog is starting to lift. Might go find some breakfast. Schooner Books is still there. So is Taz Records. Good old town.