Some Thursday Beer News After The Whole Green Flash Thing

I love the map above, a 1881 Isochronic Chart showing travel time from London under optimum conditions. Which should help understanding the travel time for casks of British beer from that year and perhaps quite a few decades before. Or at least it can be adjusted by a factor. In 1732 the ship Ann crossed the Atlantic, from London to the not-yet colony of Georgia in 88 days. Note how in 1881 Nova Scotia and a bit of Newfoundland are green, meaning transit could occur under ten days. Or about an eleventh of an Ann. Neato. More here.

Gary: Bass master… not Bassmaster. Got it?

Archaeologist Merryn Dineley, is making some great points on Twitter these days about the lack of respect and role of malt and malting through time, both today and and in particular in relation to the study of Stonehenge.

Yup.

Ha ha! Stone sued a party that had nothing to do with it. Will they pay their legal costs? Is that the reason for the delay?

The forces of “don’t worry, be happy” are out in force this week given that the news broke that the assets of Green Flash, the 43rd largest US craft brewery, have been sold off. As the Full Pint reported on Tuesday, this is part of the official memo that Green Flash President and CEO Mike Hinkley sent to over 100 shareholders:

On behalf of myself and the Board of Directors of GFBC, Inc. (the “Company”), I am truly sorry to report that the Company’s senior lender, Comerica Bank, has foreclosed on its loans and sold the assets of the Company (other than the Virginia Beach brewery) to WC IPA LLC through a foreclosure sale which closed on March 30, 2018.  As such, the Company no longer owns the Green Flash and Alpine businesses.  Comerica Bank is currently conducting a separate process to sell the Virginia Beach brewery. After a general slowdown in the craft beer industry, coupled with intense competition and a slowdown of our business, we could not service the debt that we took on to build the Virginia Beach brewery — and in early 2018, the Company defaulted on its loans with Comerica Bank.  

Note a few things. The shareholders were not aware of the decision made apparently by the main shareholder, the lender whose loan bounced. The were told after the fact. I expect that indicates that the lender got the power to do that in a loan agreement. It also might indicate that this was not the first loan agreement as gaining that short of shareholder control is not the stuff of ordinary loan agreements.  The failing of the business has being going on for some time. Also, these are asset sales.  This is not a foreclosure of the business.* The brewing company has not been sold off, just the assets of value. Including the “businesses” which would include the brands, the goodwill if any is left and all operational aspects.  So, the corporation has been stripped to pay the bank. Reason? Forget the other stuff – over extension of debt to move into the branch plant business. The only question that matters is whether others will be found to be in the same boat.

Craft was in the news for other reasons. The Wall Street Journal declared craft beer was “big business.” [Note: “big craft” was discussed in 2014.] I like this plain language sentence in the WSJ piece in particular: “[r]ecent years have seen a world-wide wave of beer consolidation.” No “sell out!” No “got gobbled up!” Just a plain language description of the business of beer doing what it has done for hundreds of years – consolidate.

One example of a consolidation was examined in far greater detail by the Chicago Tribune in Josh Noel’s excellent article “Goose Island Aims to Shake Off Rough Year with New Beers, Ad Campaign.” The only thing I didn’t understand was this passage:

Goose Island’s story is therefore returning to Chicago — an effort to tie the brewery not just to its hometown, but to cities in general: urban and bustling, with a dose of cosmopolitan and hip. “It’s something that can be owned and is differentiating for Goose Island,” Ahsmann said. “Think about it: Can you think of any other nationally distributed craft brewer based out of a city?” There are others, of course — Brooklyn Brewery, Boston Beer Co. and Anchor Brewing in San Francisco — but none that owns the idea of city in the way that Corona is beach or Coors is mountains. Ahsmann wants Goose Island to be that beer. 

If that is what Goose Island is doing under AB InBev it’s not speaking to me. I just thought Goose Island was about geese on an island. Monsieur Jonathan, Le Beerinateur, clarified on Twitter that is was a district of Chicago. Who knew? Without that context, there is no way I would think “gooseness” + “islandness” = “urban and bustling, with a dose of cosmopolitan and hip” because that math just doesn’t work for me even though I have been having the odd Goose Island IPA** since maybe 2010.  [Did all you all know this and not tell me?]

Is the lesson of both Green Flash and Goose Island that US craft and local/regional are more closely tied than big craft thought? Notte note: “It’s a fine lesson…

Celebrator ends its print run. I blame MySpace.

This is an interesting story. It’s about Catalonia’s burgeoning craft beer scene. It’s from March 2013. One key thing was left unexplored then: local sausages. No idea how they measure up compared to the sausages of other regions of Spain. That is not the point. You know, it would be nice to know what each junket sponsoring jurisdiction requires in its funding agreement by way of social media follow up content. That is for another day. Today, I am fascinated by the sudden fascination with Catalonian sausages.

You want a real beer vacation? Three words: Bavarian… theme… park.

My two favourite April Fool’s pranks: “Brewers Brace for Brettanomyces Shortage” and ^Greg, the Sunday intern for Boak and Bailey.

That’s it. I am down to the cheap shots and gags. It wears one down. More next week. Sure thing. You bet. Perhaps cheerier. No promises.  No comment.

U*This could be another aspect of the over all plan.
**Or something or other under that label.

I Don’t Understand The Taproom Math

There other day there was another one of those triumphalist announcements from someone or other on Twitter that brewery taprooms were changing US beer culture forever. Don’t get me wrong. I like them and fully understand this sort of outlook as described in The Guardian:

British craft beer makers are reviving the tradition of brewery tap rooms as an antidote to the national trend of pub closures and the dominance of big brewers. About a third of small breweries now run a tap bar, which lets drinkers sample their wares, according to a report by the Society of Independent Brewers (Siba), which also highlights a burgeoning micropub scene as brewers take over empty shops on their local high street.

That makes sense. It’s new* and there is nothing craft beer likes more than novelty. But the idea that taprooms are going to alter the basic landscape is problematic. Say we have 6,000 US breweries each with the potential to have a taproom. They will have on average likely no more than fifty seats. And if we are honest on average they likely have less than thirty seats. There are many tiny new breweries which, as I noted last week, are where the only real growth is occurring.

I shall now do the dangerous thing and apply some math.** Even going with the higher number, fifty seats times 6,000 breweries is 300,000.  In the whole of the USA.  Let’s say we get to 10,000 breweries in a few years. That would make it 500,000 seats. For 325,000,000 people. One taproom seat for every 65,000 people. I once lived in Pembroke, Ontario where there were 13 large taverns for 13,000 people. It was a reasonable estimate that there was one seat in a tavern for 10 to 15% of the community’s population at any given time. And on Friday night it was self-evident. That town liked to go out.

For taprooms to even hit a 10% level of community coverage, the US would need 325,000 craft breweries with a taproom average of 100 seats each. Fantasy. Never happening.  Which is good. Good beer is always going to be a niche product with a position and price point set by general market forces as well as reliable percentage of reasonably high functioning dipsomaniacs. That being the case, they really fill a spot like high-end cake shops or the fancy butchers folk go to only for a holiday roast.

Why do I care? My concern is, while there is certainly rural and small community infill opportunity, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to come into the market in the way that new breweries might come on line just two or three years ago. The best serve food which makes them really a brewpub but they all can’t offer the same thing, let alone afford the infrastructure of a kitchen.

One stat I would like to see tracked beyond openings and closures is the average duration of a craft brewery’s life cycle. Has the life expectancy shortened as many new players join in the game? As opportunities become more limited, as shelf space ceases to be an option it would be good to know how long a taproom focused establishment can expect to exist. And, accordingly, whether the investment is worth it.

*OK, newish… well, not really all that new.
**Please refer to the title of this post before you wag a digit. And even if I am off by an entire base ten order that sill means 32,500 breweries. Nuts. 

The End Of March Is Already Here And I Do I Have Some Beer News For You!

Time. March 2018 is almost gone and I barely noticed it was slipping away. Q2 looms. Which is great as I hate winter but which is not so great as I turn 55 next month. Did I mention that thing about time? Still frigging cold outside, too.  That in itself should help you put the week’s news about fretting about beer in perspective. Come on spring. Hello? Anyone there?* OK, I get it… let’s see if the beer news is cheerier.

First, another vintage brewery necktie for the collection. Please – send me your neckties. I may not get samples and would stick nails in my eyes before I went on a junket but I will take your ties! That would make me happy.

Next, a number. 6,266!  Wow! That’s more than before and likely less than from a bit from now. That of course, is not the real news. It’s nothing like that deep insight that things are “normalizing” – whatever that is. No, the real news came out in a web PR release that came out a day after the infographic that unpacked the numbered with an inordinate level of honest detail in the section entitled “Per Brewer Growth“:

In absolute terms, per brewery growth was less than 200 barrels last year. In 2014, it was almost 900 barrels. To drop like that suggests both that many brewers probably aren’t seeing the growth trajectories of breweries from a few years ago, and that many brewers are declining. The table below shows the distribution of companies with 2016 and 2017 data (so excluding 2017 openings). I’ve starred the “more than 50% group” as a reminder that a huge chunk of them are 2016 openings—50% will average growth of 100% or more just due to when they opened in 2016.

2017 Growth % of Breweries
-10% or worse 17.0%
-10% to -1% 10.3%
+/- 1% 15.3%
1% to 10% 10.0%
10% to 25% 13.0%
25% to 50% 11.6%
More than 50%* 22.9%

The positive interpretation of the table above is that even in an extremely competitive environment, 73% of breweries were flat or up last year. The flip side is that 27% saw declines greater than 1%, and 17% saw double-digit declines. 

Interestingly – but that is actually not the story. Notice above that there is a category for “+/-1%”… that’s is a weird choice of measurement. Unlike all the other bands. If you remove it, and aggregate it with the categories above it you will see that 42.6% of breweries saw no discernible growth or actually saw significant retraction. Then, understand that this is a percentage of the number of breweries and not a reflection of brewery production.  Since 2014, as the infographic says, there have been over 2,500 brewery openings in the US. 800 in just the last year. As these breweries are going from zero growth to some growth, it is logical that most of the growth by brewery numbers is based in the tiny recent entrants. Old bulky big craft appears to be stagnant or worse. I think we have been coming to that understanding over the last couple of years but it’s good to see the BA set out the numbers that tell the tale. Good news that.

Speaking of old bulky big craft, medium-large US craft brewer Green Flash is pulling up stakes and hightailing it out of the “branch plant out east” business. Likely they found out, as many are, that folk out east have plenty of beer out east that tastes like beer made out east and they like it just fine. Interesting: “…this is a move that was made to solidify investments to keep San Diego’s operations above water.” Wow.

Pete Brown wrote a wonderful thing Tuesday all about how rough his last decade or so has been. Folk called him brave, honest and an example. All true. It’s also a huge success. Kind of a graduation day speech. See, I have had two or three dabblings with what Pete wrote so openly about and, so, I know (i) I still couldn’t write what he wrote and (ii) it’s a measure of his success that he did. Hooray! I am very pleased but also concerned given how many people in good beer I would describe as stressed out, unhappy, dysfunctional workaholic who soothed themselves by eating and drinking too much. Be careful out there.

In another episode of where are the beer bloggers of 2009, Jeff of Stonch [ … now of Rye … but presently in Lunigiana…] reviewed a  beer this week:

Unsolicited trade samples aren’t usually terribly good. In truth, if a brewery’s making good beer, those with an interest in buying it or writing about it will have sought it out themselves. Similarly, beers with obscure geek culture references as names – the type that leave one none the wiser even when explained in detail – also tend to be shit. This one, therefore, surprised me twice.

Fabulously honest writing. Unlike anything edited and sold for payment. Which makes one wonder why, as shared in the recently circulated NAGBW Newsletter 2018.3, that the topics for NAGBW symposium during the Craft Brewers Conference has the three topics for panel presentations:

– “Beyond the Byline”: book publishing and podcasting;
– “Editor’s Roundtable”: leaders from industry publications share insights; and
– “Industry Roundtable”: hear from industry pros about pressing topics in beer.

None of which will lead to be a better writer even if you become a more compliant, less individualized one. It won’t make a Ron. And we all do know there is no real money in beer writing, right? Don’t be doing this for making money from writing… please. And don’t be sloppy researchers. Ben hates that.

Speaking of sloppy research, the great thing about the debunking of myths about lambic (often seemingly peddled by the edited and published) by Roel Mulder of Lost Beers is how the actual far more interesting story of lambic is explained.  It’s younger than the industrial revolution, it has been brewed in a far wider set of locales and didn’t rely on old hops. It’s about as traditional as mass produced Porter in mid-1700s was. Fabulous.

So there you have it. Another week filtering the positive from the dreary, the genuine from the fake, real from the seeming, the worthy from the transient. Ahhh… annnnnd… nothing turns on it. I probably could have done better, too. If I had made the effort. Something similar will happen next week. And I will be there to check it out as will Boak and Bailey on Saturday just as Stan will on Monday.

*making the noise of knocking on a window pane.

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.

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 Chinairn.com, 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.

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 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!

Session 132: A Homebrewing Conversation

For this month’s edition of The Session, host Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site has asked us to consider home brewing.  This is an interesting thing as we do not often get to consider, to reflect. To dwell upon. OK, who is kidding who? That is all I do.

I have had three phases of home brewing, the last of which is a decade in the past. The first, when I was in my mid-20s and between university degrees, was fun. I had been to the UK and picked up not only some books at the Pitfield Beer Shop but some rare equipment.  So, I was at the tail end of the UK-based Amateur Winemaker line of home brewing and never understood the attraction of Papazian – the relative flakiness and lack of technical information. More importantly perhaps, brought back a couple of five gallon polypin draft dispenser bags which, when filled, fit wonderfully into a milk crate. No bottles. Draught. When I bought my first house about 20 years ago, I went into home brewer big time brewing twice a month at least, making ten to twenty gallons of mainly low strength ale every four or five weeks. Last, when we bought this house I briefly revived the hobby.

Why did I stop? First, health. Home brewing – like that far more briefly followed hobby cheese making* – is basically cake icing making.  Gallons and gallons of beer – even ordinary bitter – sitting around the house represents thousands and thousands of surplus calories. I put on weight despite an otherwise healthy life playing soccer and working an acre vegetable garden.

And it is more than that. It’s all very fine to suggest that the problem with strong drink is that that it is a just buffer – that others suffer who are “those with difficulties that they hide with booze” – but we know better. Alcohol is the direct cause of deeper issues. In my first phase, the house basically became a free bar with a couple of draught taps. Those pals that hovered too much, as with any public house, were affected by that much drink. It did not take many months to realize it could get a bit unattractive even if it was interesting to figure out how cheap and easy it was to make a decent pint from malt, hops, yeast and water.

Cheap. Home brewing also was about saving money. When I was a college era party lad, it was great to pre-game for pennies. When I grew up and established myself, downing less and finally earning a decent income, my time became more important than the cash.  Why put all that effort into a task that was replicated by me heading over to the beer store and spending a bit of moo-lah? Additionally, the taking on of the task itself added a hazard to the house with young kids. Boiling a couple of gallons of maltose laced extract or shifting a full five gallon carboy are high quality occupational health and safety moments. It really no longer practically fit into life.

Finally, more and more good beer came into the world.  The move back to Ontario fifteen years ago situated me near a decent supply and the proximity to the international border with northern New York soon fed my cross-cultural interest in a wide variety of beers that I could never make – the fodder for the creation of this blog.  Why spend money and wait a couple of weeks shipping in the load of rare grains and other supplies from a quality home brew supplier when i could bomb down to Syracuse and load up?

So, what is left of the equipment gathers dust. No hobby for this old man.

*Downing a few pounds of the best cream cheese you will ever have over a matter of days is a great life lesson.

Your Thursday Beer News For That Day Just Five Weeks Before March

It gets like that in January. Counting the days to the warmer ones like prayers upon beads passed through the fingers. It’s time. Please be March soon. Please. Warmth. Now! Come on!! Time, like grace, arrives in its own pace I suppose.  Even calling this a Thursday post is jumping the gun a bit. These things get plunked together mostly on Wednesday. These things matter. Anyway, what’s been going on in the news?

I lived in PEI from 1997 to 2003 and am pretty sure John Bil shucked my first raw oyster. Love struck I wasCarr’s was an eight minute drive from my house and I often bought a dozen or two there to take out to the back yard and suck back on a Saturday afternoon. RIP.

Our pal Ethan and Community Beer Works are working with the owners of Buffalo’s Iroquois brand to revive a version of the venerable brew. An interesting form of partnership where craft leans of community pride in legacy lager.

Carla Jean Lauter tweeted the news Wednesday afternoon that Nova Scotia’s newbie Tusket Falls Brewing had decided to withdraw its Hanging Tree branding for one of its beers. Rightly so and quickly done as far as I can tell. That’s the Facebook announcement to the right. This was a good decision on their part but not one that goes without consideration. I grew up in Nova Scotia and, among other lessons learned in that complex culture, had the good fortune to be assigned as law school tutor in my last year to one of the leaders of the Province’s version of the Black Panther movement when he was in first year, the sadly departed, wonderful Burnley “Rocky” Jones. He did all the teaching in that friendship. I would have loved to have heard his views on the matter. See, Loyalist Canada was settled in the 1780s by the British Crown as a refuge for the outcasts, including African American freed former enslaved Loyalists, seeking shelter after the dislocation of the American Revolution. Court justice there as it was here in Kingston included hanging as part of that. Hell, in the War of 1812 at Niagara there was still drawing and quartering. As I tweeted to Ms Pate, another Bluenoser, the hanging tree could well symbolize peace, order and justice in Tusket as much as bigoted injustice elsewhere. Or it could represent both… right there. Were there lynchings in southwestern Nova Scotia? Some stories are more openly spoken of than others. Slavery lingered on a surprisingly long time here in Ontario the good. We talk little about that. And Rocky and others do not fight that good fight without good reason. We might wish it should and could depend on what happened in that place. But somethings are no longer about the story of a particular place. Somethings about beer are no longer local. And its not “just beer” in many cases. Yet, we happily talk of war. Q: could a Halifax brewery brand a beer based on the story of Deadman’s Island?

My co-author Jordan has made the big time, being cited as “Toronto beer writer and expert” by our state news broadcaster.* With good reason, too, as he has cleverly taken apart the fear mongering generated around the reasonable taxation of beer.

This is really what it is all about, isn’t it? Well done, Jeff. The setting, style and remodeling of his third pub, the
The Ypres Castle Inn all look fabulous. Good wee dug, tae.

I don’t often link to a comment at a blog but this one from the mysterious “qq” on the state of research into yeast is simply fantastic: “[t]o be honest anything is out of date that was written about the biology of the organisms making lager more than three years ago…” Wow! I mean I get it and I comments on the same about much of beer history, too, but that is quite a statement about the speed of increase in understanding beer basics. Read the whole thing as well as Boak and Bailey’s highly useful recommended lager reading.

Max finally gets a real job.

Gary Gillman has been very busy with posts and has written one about a very unstylish form of Canadian wine, native grape Canadian fortified wine, often labeled as sherry. Grim stuff but excellently explained. As I tweeted:

Well put. These were the bottles found, when I was a kid, empty up an alley or by forest swimming holes. I thought we had a few examples of better fortified wine ten or so years ago. But, likely as the PEC and Nia good stuff sells so well, no attraction to a maker.

Gary gets double billing this week as he also found and discussed the contents of a copy of the program from the first Great American Beer Festival from 1982. I have actually been pestering Stan for one of these off and on for years only to be told (repeatedly) that archiving was not part of the micro era. Tell me about it, says the amateur boy historian. The 1982 awards are still not even listed on the website but that seems to be the last year of the home brew focus.  Anyway, Gary speaks about the hops mainly in his post. I am more interested in the contemporary culture: which presenter got what level of billing, what the breweries said of their beers. Plenty to discuss.

More on closings. Crisis what crisis?  In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo. What’s it all about, Alfie?

That’s enough for this week. Plenty to chew on. See you in February!

*All I ever got was “an Ontario lawyer who reviews beers on his blog…” like I am some sort of loser…

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.

Laters.