Your Mid-March Thursday Beery News Update

What a week. I can’t really get into it but… what a rough week. Not Elizabeth May rough but rough enough. Brendan Palfreyman Esq. has not had such a bad week. He seems to be on holiday along a sunny bit of the US Atlantic shoreline from whence he tweeted the photo of the week. I commented how pleased I was that fancy was apparently not as good as good in that bar’s parlance.

Good news! “Craft beer” has now been defined… by the UK’s SIBA. Note that #3 disqualifies most faceless bulk craft.

Cellar palate“? That sounds really bad. Could you imagine the doctor telling you that you had that? Great-uncle Louie had shed knee back in the 1950s. That was bad. Oh… oh, it’s not a medical condition:

Suffering from ‘cellar palate’ means that you’ve become so immersed in a local style that you become blind to the faults or shortcomings in the wines. It’s a condition more commonly associated with winemakers, but it can affect anyone tasting lots of wines from a specific region, such as wine critics or even holidaymakers.

No doubt a condition that afflicts most beer nerds as well. Well, maybe it’s called tap tongue. I recommend a month on bracing pots of tea. Rare teas. Intoxicatingly fabulous teas. You’ll go tea crazy! Then you end up with tea tonsils and you need to hit the wine to straighten yourself out.*

Speaking of things to learn from wine fan culture, Matt has been exploring the way of the vinous and…

I learned that wine is just as fallible as beer and that this was reassuring to me. And maybe we need to figure out how to better communicate faults as constructive criticism to help both industries improve.

I agree. And I dump and I spit. Getting loaded on tasting samples is for chumps who depend on convincing folk that beer culture is unique when it is patently not. Try spitting next time you are out and about. See what happens.

Jeff invited Matt Meador of the now defunct Oregon Beer Growler magazine to share his thoughts about the fate of publications like his:

…back at the 2019 Oregon Beer Growler, we were fighting a battle we didn’t win. Our challenge was perhaps best illustrated by one well-established Oregon craft brewery who refused to advertise with us. Each month, the brewery’s marketing people would repeat: “we don’t need to advertise our beer, it sells just fine without advertising.” This highly successful brewery — as was its right — was solely focused on a hard return for any advertising expense. That’s okay, I guess — it’s sound business to spend carefully. But this brewery saw no value in supporting the publications devoted to promoting and celebrating the Oregon craft brewing industry.

Years ago, early on in the life of this fifteen year old blog, I remember writing an established beer writer complaining about how it was that – for all the money in beer – there was no money in writing about beer. Lesson? There is no money in writing about beer. That in itself is a #MoneyMakerMarch message.

Did you watch BBC’s broadcast of Inside the Factory that focused on brewing? Was it any good? I am blocked online so have to wait until 2023 when it will be shown on TVO, Ontario’s educational channel.

Good news! Dann and Martha are back and they are making Jack D’or again!

I can’t get too worked up about the “secret lies that macros tell” approach to this recycling big story, now this week in The Guardian out of the UK:

The British craft beer report, due to be released by small brewers’ trade body the Society of Independent Brewers (Siba) this week, will say that 98% of drinkers do not believe a global firm such as Budweiser owner Anheuser-Busch InBev or Molson Coors can make craft beer. The findings cast doubt on the credentials of a growing number of beers bought or launched by major brewers, such as Camden Town, Fourpure, Goose Island, Meantime, Hop House 13, Blue Moon, Lagunitas and London Fields. The report said 43% of 2,000 survey respondents believe craft beer has to be made by a small brewer…

Of course big macro can make craft beer industrially! Most craft beer is brewed industrially. Have you actually visited a craft brewery? Massive things filled with management driving around in golf carts, evil robots and computerized equipment in much the same way as macros are. Truck fleets and logistics staff just like the macros. Bank accounts with funds for advertising and junket payments… just like macros. That’s craft today. You want good beer, find yourselves some micro. Mmm… micro brewed beer, that’s the stuff. Owner still working on the floor, a decent level of variation from batch to batch – and right in your neighbourhood. Don’t let craft fool you.

Josh Noel has written on the tale of Goose Island’s disappearing Honker’s Ale, a sad reality about which I shared a “beer writer’s scoop”** two weeks ago:

Honker’s was among Goose Island’s oldest beers, but never the most popular at the brewpub. That would have been an accessible beer most approximating Bud or Miller, such as Lincoln Park Lager or Blonde Ale. But when deciding what beer to lead with in liquor stores, bars and supermarkets, Goose Island needed to differentiate itself. Sierra Nevada had done so with a pale ale. Samuel Adams did it with dark, hearty Boston Lager. Goose Island opted for Honker’s Ale.

A sad loss for us all… well, in theory. Days of future passed beer. In the sense that we are now back in an era that loves green beer filled with adjuncts and adulteration. That could be the name of my new craft beer bar – Adjuncts and Adulteration.

Speaking of the colour of beer, this post by Rach Smith on the meaning of, the purpose of boring brown bitter from an ornithological point of view is worth a read:

…the winter sun had lingered as it held off the evening from drawing-in any closer, just a little longer than it had the previous day. Shadows were being cast high in the trees against a backdrop of holiday-blue sky. I shot up from my comfy seat and ran upstairs to get a better view of the fancy birds bobbing around outside my window. Curiosity had got the better of me. Only, they weren’t fancy at all, they were just sparrows.

Dirty birds. That’s what I call house sparrows. Invasive. Bullies. Reminds me of something. Now, white throated sparrows? Chipping sparrows. I can listen to those all day. Indigenous sparrows. At home in my yard any time.

Well, that’s it for this week. Rash and rushed. That’s what you’ve come to expect from me. Make sure you make time for the more thoughtful thoughts from Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday. Laters!

*Sing along. Look at those guys singing almost 50 years, just better well groomed hipsters.
**That rare combination of following up on someone else’s work yet still getting it not quite right.

That’s It! February Is Over And We Can Now Go On With Our Lives And The Beery News

What a week. I’d tell you about it but that would be telling. On the upside, February is over and that is always good. I never liked it. Icy sidewalks, dirty snowbanks. Elsewhere, daffodils are popping up and buds are bursting. Here, I am convinced every step outside is my last. I haaaaate winter now. The stinkin’ head cold I’ve been dealing with tops it all off. To remind me of happier winter moments past, above is a wonderful photo from Andy Macpherson from the 2015 Xmas photo context of exciting snowy action with him and his pals at Bucktail Brews, a New Jersey brewing project in planning. I hope it works.

News of the week? First up, I don’t disagree with this from @tonitwopint but…

A lot of conversation was generated around Founders, but their situation is indicative of a much larger issue. The conversation needs to continue on a larger scale. If the overall culture of the beer industry were inclusive, it would make it harder for places like that to thrive.

… but you do see two sorts of issue dilution (aka responsibility deflection) being thrown about in such matters: (i) brewery X’s fault needs to be understood in the context of other brewers and (ii) craft brewing needs to be understood in the context of greater society.* Yes and no. Founders may be indicative of a larger issue but it’s also pretty clear that Founders itself alone allowed a culture of bigotry to foster. A particular circumstance which should not be lost. Not cheery but important.

Endtimesy news from Nate.

Timelessness: a study of a back alley tavern from A London Inheritance

In no doubt a move intentionally timed to break the hearts of those interested in #FlagshipFebruary, one of the actual flagships but one not mentioned in the campaign has taken a huge if not fatal hit:

One of Goose Island’s original beers, Honkers Ale, will no longer be on sold on shelves soon. Once a flagship when Goose Island was a locally-owned, craft beer pioneer in Chicago, Honkers Ale is being reduced to being offered only in its brewpubs, according to a post on the Guys Drinking Beer blog, which broke the news. “Honkers Ale was one of the first beers to really put Goose Island on the map. We love this English Bitter style beer! Honkers Ale is not being discontinued and will still be served at our brewpubs…”**

Honkers: a beer so beloved by me it got passing reference once in 2010. RIP.

Entirely crappy news with the filing for bankruptcy by All About Beer magazine and especially the news that plenty of people are left holding the bag. Interesting discussions here and here on what the point and best business model for running a beer magazine in North America is these days. Sad. Actually, just kinda sad.

Speaking of #FlagshipFebruary, even though use of the hashtag went from about 1,000 a day on Twitter to about half that over the  course of the month, I was pleased to see how positive the outcome was. Not just a rear guard action at all. As I had hoped in mid-January, it moved sufficiently off its actual stated mandate to keep interest up rather than beating the dead horse of beers like Honkers no one much cares for anymore. This past week, we have a love letter to a mild, an example and a style which has never been any sort of flagship related to craft. And we had that lovely personal essay by Jay in which the beer is entirely incidental. Wonderful. Now onto that ray of hope, #MoneyMakerMarch when we explore how beer actually works.

In perhaps related beer junket news, a planeload of freebie tourists and cap in hand journalists drinking freebie beer filled the toilets of a plane mid-Atlantic. Such a useful illustration for future reference. Kind of a gross one. Again, grimness prevails.

An interesting bit of intra-provincial comparison went on in Canada’s other national newspaper this week with an article on opening times across our fair land. Ontario, where I live has the latest start – 11 am. Anything earlier, as we learn in school is Satanic. Which is why I do not understand the taverns and dives of New Brunswick opening at six in the morning. Who the hell has to drink in public at that time? Apparently, New Brunswickers.

You know that what follows on social media will be a bit of a grumpy mess, a bit off one’s marbles when it is introduced with the notion that notwithstanding “the steady descent of Twitter generally into a platform for people to get furious over trivia and hurl abuse at people they don’t know…” as if perhaps one did not oneself participate at that level but, never the less, that is what Pete Brown did when he took off on a personal one-legged hopping finger pointy race to explain three reasons why some beer costs more:

But looking at the sheer ignorance of the people we were debating with, two things occurred to me. One, yes, it’s probably not worth bothering engaging with people who for some reason have chosen to spend their precious time on this planet arguing with people they don’t know about subjects on which they are entirely ignorant. But two, the frequency with which this particular attitude surfaces suggests that perhaps we’re at fault too. It’s not just on social media: in pubs and bars, when there’s some strong, rare beer being sold in thirds or halves only, there’s always someone who works out the cost of a pint (even though you can’t buy a pint) and decries how outrageous it is.

The… err… challenging thing is the three reasons (ingredients, time, techniques) are not really (i) explained in terms of the effect of value relative to similar competitors nor are they (ii) explained in the context of fadism-based hyper inflation*** nor are they (iii) explained in terms of the specific effect ingredient, time or technique have on the price. Are they 1%, 5% or 50% variables on overall price? Why can’t we have this explored at a proper level of detail? Apparently understanding price and value are separate issues. [Ed.: we are now having another personal fugue state experience for a mo… and… and… we are back.] Well, if the goals is arguing “on the side of the industry people defending and justifying the expense of some beers…

That’s it! A bit all endtimesy when you look at it. Frikkin’ February. I blame you. In mere hours it will be March. Joy shall reign! Maybe I’ll even have a beer. Can’t quite be certain if I’ve even had one single beer over the last seven days. Rotten stinking February head cold. Soon, I’ll probably rush to plant radishes so I can stare at the small first patch until it’s clear that nothing is going to grow until a few more weeks have passed. Weeks more waiting. Joy delayed.

What do I have to live for until the soil warms? Well, what other than Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday? Surely that is enough for anyone. Though an early spring might be nice, too.

*Though it is fabulously educational to search for “founders” and “racist” on Twitter.
**Isn’t it always fun when the J. Jonah Jameson breaking the news lines are used? Especially when followed by gooey fanboy exclamation marks.
***One of these days, I’ll pull my gueuze and lambic purchases receipts from say ten years ago when I could afford the stuff. I’d bet fifty cents that the price has doubled compared to the lowest decade of general inflation in centuries. Further, note… yet note.

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.

All The Good News Beer News For 03Q218

What day is it? The meds are making for a blur. Without getting overly graphic, the other day there were four hands within inches of my nose and two of them were working a thread and needle. Gums were tightened. Rearranged. Anyway, it’s not been a time for gulping buckets of ales and lagers but it has been a great time to wallow in both mild misery and brewing related social media with a slight sense that things are either not right or, you know, the meds… so…

First off, given Vlad’s news in the lead up to the Russian performance art event mimicking an election that he now controls a nuclear powered cruise missile as well as a submarine bomb that now hover and skulk amongst us all ready to strike if we… what… say bad things about him… well, in light of that the news about Russian barley seems a little less important. But, it is interesting to read how Russia has become a key bulk exporter of our favorite grain. I don’t expect this to directly change much – but indirectly, the overall market might get shifted in a way that benefits the Western beer buying public due to new malt quality barley flooding the market.

While we Canadians are (i) subject to the Crown-in-Canada and (ii) members of the Commonwealth, I can’t imagine setting the opening hours according to somebody’s wedding. Do my UK readers care?

Lew blogged.

Next, if you click on the thumbnail to the right, you will see a promotional photo for BrewDog* from, I am told via Stringers on Twitter, the year 2014. Yet neither of the Google Image searches for “BrewDog sexism” and “BrewDog feminism” are otherwise particularly productive. So… keep all that in mind as you read on about their great new PunkNotWorthy class PR stunt (coming just days on the heels of their million beer giveaway PR stunt) and then their still a teensie-weensie bit odd apologetic confessional. Why mention the “talented team of women at BrewDog” as you ask to be excused for an admittedly botched stunt? Being newbies to taking an actual stance on an actual thing exterior to their imperial corporate existence, it seems they also borrowed this from (or at least failed to heed the failings of) the sexist / not sexist stratagem behind last week’s gaff by Stone. The best that can be said now might be that it is bad if superficial marketeering. The best we can hope upon reflection is that it was an entirely miscalculated act of sincerity by a corporation that is fairly immune to simple sincerity. Further comment: Mhairi McFarlane, Craft Queer, and many more. And M. Noix Aux Bières made an interesting observation:

There’s something badly wrong with the beer media when a company messing up its marketing gets more coverage than their announcement, in the same week, that they messed up one of their recipes.

Is that all there is? Big bulk craft. Getting it fairly wrong. Again? Leaning on the PR. Again. Because that’s what big bulk craft does. Does anyone care about these globalists anymore? It’s great route to medium term millions but the long term often see weirdnesses arise. The yeasty yogurt non-movement of 2016, for example. If you need any further proof of that reality, look at the news released on Tuesday that Sierra Nevada is changing direction, dropping innovation, getting back to lean on its flagship SNPA and hiring a PR firm to flog it.  Subtext: branch plant expansion hasn’t panned out, sales have dropped, panic setting in, “let’s not let SNPA turn out like Sam Adams” muttered around the executive committee room during breaks even as they set out on that same path.

There is another way. A more thoughtful path. This interview of Francis Lam, host of NPR’s The Splendid Table contained this interesting tidbit about the relationship between good drink and food:

There are people who have a beautiful wine with every meal, but for a lot of people that act signifies something special. You have to eat, but you don’t have to drink, so the idea of having something at the table that is there, almost purely for pleasure, is meaningful. I think for a lot of people that signifies that we’re here to actually enjoy, rather than just feed.

This is an aspect of the beer and food pairing discussion does not focus on, giving all the attention as it does to restaurant settings. Simply gathering and enjoying. How rad. It is even more interesting when considered along with this column from the ever excellent Eric Asimov of The New York Times in which he discusses how austere herbal old school value Bordeaux go so well with food even if not separate sipping. It would be interesting to see unloved or less understood beers highlighted alongside foods served at home that bring out their better natures… but that would require craft beer and pop beer writers to admit (i) value matters and (ii) some prominent beers are, you know, sorta duds.  But you are not a slave to either trade associations or the other voices who would control you, are you. Have some pals over, treat them swell and see what works over dinner. After all, this is only beer we are talking about.

Infogramtastic news! This important NEIPA tasting graphic passed by my eye this week. Click for a larger size for the full details. This decade’s wide leg jeans.

Celebrity newbie brewer or local newbie brewer?

And finally, Pete added a strong contribution to the discussion about pay-to-play in beer writing** as sort of a wrapper around a disclosure statement about a drinky junket to Catalonia:

I’m going because I’ve been keen to check out the explosion in Spanish craft beer for several years now and think there will be some genuinely interesting stories, but haven’t been able to afford to do it under my own steam. Will my reporting of the trip be influenced by the fact that I’m being given hospitality? I don’t believe so (beyond the fact that I’m actually there, of course.) But any story I write about it will carry a disclaimer explaining that it’s been paid for by someone else, so the reader can make up their own mind.

While we have never met,*** Pete and I have gotten along as web-pals for well over a decade but don’t really see eye to eye on this in each instance… but we see the same questions the situation raises so it was good to read his commentI was wondering what your reaction would be!” For me there are two things: self-certification and subject matter control.

As I have said before, it is not up to the writer to suggest that they are the self-certifying measure of any reliability. Only the reader can judge the result. But as long as there is disclosing, the judgement is informed. When I hear of folk presenting as beer experts or, worse, journalists quietly running review-for-pay schemes or side-gigs as law firm holiday tap takeover party as partnering hosts but not openly disclosing, I tend to place their other work in, umm, context. I am entirely sympathetic to the need to make money in a minor niche like good beer but one person simply can’t be all things. Promote and influence or research and write. The key word being “or” of course.

The bigger problem is one Pete might be implying in passing: “…beyond the fact that I’m actually there, of course…” It’s not, in fact, that he is there. It’s that he is not somewhere else. Where no one else is. Where no trade or tourist association pays the bills for travel and hotel. Where the beer isn’t free. I put it this way:

I need to better unpack your thoughts. You sit near a line. Main general quib? Lost stories of the unjunketed topics. Explorations. The work of @larsga is best example. Deep down, though, perhaps I never admired you more than when you were mid-Atlantic alone on a container ship!

Lars Marius Garshol, without a doubt, has done more to exemplify what researching in the service of understanding beer and brewing should be than anyone else in this decade. He has spent what seems to be every spare moment and every dime on seeking out the rural, secret brewing patterns lurking in the countryside of the northern third of Europe from Norway to Russia. These sorts of creative efforts and the resulting independent focus is what leads to innovative, interesting and reliable writing.  He sets a very high standard for not only me, the playboy amateur armchair historian, but even places more driven and diligent traveling researchers like Robin and JordanBoak and Bailey, Ron and (yes, of course) Pete**** in rich context. But it is a shared context. Pete makes that very clear, sets out the whole picture and places himself in that picture at his own angle of repose. We all do that. It’s just that some do it better and more openly than others while a few don’t at all. It shows.

There. Another week in the books. Please also check out Saturday’s take on the news from BB2 as well as Monday’s musings from Stan. I look forward to their corrections and dismissals and outright rejections of some or all of what sits above. It’s no doubt what’s needed.

*Disclaimer: I got boxes of BrewDog samples a decade ago. And I think I may have bought one small can of their beer coming up on five years ago on this trip.
**Disclaimer: I got boxes of BrewDog samples a decade ago. And I think I may have bought one small can of their beer coming up on five years ago on this trip.
***Because I hardly ever go anywhere…
****In fact, if I had the money, I would fund them all to chase after narrow and likely hopeless projects knowing they would come up with some of the best finding and writings as a result.

Another Year, Another Bunch Of Beer News For Thursday

OK, I still seem to be doing this. I did regular weekly news blog post years ago but never thought I’d find myself coming back to it. It’s like 2011 again. Is it because beer news is less boring? Not really. Is it because I am a slacker? Likely. Let’s see what the lazy man sees this week.

Very oddly, a Super Bowl beer and cheap snack crap pairing article a published a full month too early. It’s such a useless thing it’s rather sweet: “Barbecue chips give you the sauce without the meat“? Wow!

Story of 2018? More breweries are failing as more come into being. I am quite content to understand that we have moved from an era of growth to one of stasis and churn. The story of closure linked above does give concern whether we have given false hope through funding flawed dreams from the public coffers. Could it be that we, the people will be holding the bag as more come and go? Good chance that’s the case.

Two years ago.

Looking less further back, Pete gave us the best farewell to 2017 by cutting and pasting stuff accumulated through the year. Good to see that he has to note in passing the question of junkets and, let’s be honest, not all that convincingly.*  A gaffaw at an annual shareholders’ meeting. It remains a question needing questioning even if, in a pleasure trade like beer, no one really loses an eye. Sure sure. Is it that junkets don’t matter because good beer ultimately is not that important? Could well be. Why not? And it that is the case, can we really care if the ownership of a pub chain expresses a political point of view? Who cares?

Speaking of “no one cares” news: Hanson.

Two excellent observations on beer history writing from merryn: (i) errors – I presume we are burdened by errors because, in case you didn’t notice, we are writing about alcohol; (ii) The history of civilization? Because maybe we needed to gather and gorge and not kill each other.

“No more highly viscous wort” news.

Bryan Roth has written the piece of the week, exposing in some detail the intense culture of the shit-wallowing pigs inflicting itself upon a corner of craft beer and… apparently a shadow social media world of mock piggery. Hmm. [Ed.: The Beer Nut has actually captured an image of events in progress.] Though I still am a bit unclear on the slight hesitancy to draw obvious final conclusion – I would not have written “building friendships through participation in memes and challenges for fun” so unadorned – Roth’s take is at least brave if messy and frenetic especially in the tight world of US craft Caucasoid maleness. The pressure to stroke the buffer of phony “community“, to toe the line imposed on self-evident observation is often sad if impressive. Backlash. For a view from another, read this: “That was a nice chat, honey. Now send Tom over. I want to actually order a beer.” Now, that was pretty clear.

Best non-beer thing? The Telharmonium.

There you are. Good things and bad things. A normal week. Adjust your perspectives accordingly.

I had also meant to praise Pete in equal measure his identification that there is no such thing as a beer expert, something I raised three years ago. Stan caught it in his blog post today. Which makes me wonder if Stan is now moving in on Thursdays. (By the way, I just realized I have the power to update Thursday bullet point news all the way though each Thursday. So good to self-publish.)

The Intern’s Beery Links For Mid-July

Ah, the mid-July week off. Nothing teaches you more about how life is a fleeting interim stage than July. The poppies and irises are already in the past. The last of the early radishes have long been dug under. Time is passing. One day you wake up and discover you are a 54 year old intern for some guy named Stan. Hmm.

What’s gone on this week in beer?

When The Selling Out Game Has Some Weird Players

The BeerCast has posted an excellent unpacking of the sale of the discount shelf of London Fields (mothballed) brewery by an experienced guest of the Queen to those oddest of flatmates, the Danes of Carlsberg and the Empire State folk at Brooklyn Brewery. Expect a shedding of everything associated now with the name and then a massive leveraging of the name. For a mere four million pounds, most owners of craft beer won’t get out of bed in the morning. Given the situations of all involved, this deal looks like and smells like money all around.

Cheery Not Niceness

I enjoy these teletext messages from Matthew Lawrenson on Twitter. They retain his snappy direct humour but it’s like the words are coming out of the mouth of Tinky-Winky. I love the format he is developing. Thirty years ago visiting family in Scotland, I would sneak into the TV room to play with the remote, exploring teletext. Checking the weather forecast for Skye in multi-colour dot matrix… then checking out the soccer scores. All while the TV plays on underneath the text info. Magic. As a form of brewing and craft commentary this singular and effective. This one was posted Friday morning my time here in North America. Note the author. And the cheeky image.

Being Nice

I am less certain about this conversation one Twitter – while making no comment on the particular conversation.  It’s the pattern. You see it quite often, a double form of delicacy. The desire to speak discretely of a brewery or bar doing something wrong being jumped upon for either (1) not name the names or (2) raising the real issue without naming the names. I am never quite sure what makes folk more upset, not getting all the juicy gossip or finding fault with a craft community member without first satisfying a level of procedural test for bringing evidence before a criminal court. Yet, it is only beer. I dunno. Folk seem happy to slag airlines and coffee shops. It seems a particularly southern Ontario concern but you see it pop up in England, too. In this case, the misapprehension that brewery or bar staff have some deep loyalty if not a monogamous bond with the boss seems the root of the problem.

Oliver Grey expanded on this concern mid-week. He primarily discusses the tribal divide between big craft and big beer, framing it from the perspective of Campbell’s narrative structure:

I get it, the hero of the story needs a villain to triumph over. I wrote about it at length. But it’s important to remember that to the villain, the hero can often look like a terrorist. For every story a perspective, for every perspective a truth. Therein, the issue slumbers.

Seeing as he has to deal with fools like this, I get the point. But there is the greater risk that is engaged with far too much in beer – the Hosannas, all the Hosannas. Given alcohol makes you initially feel good, it is not unexpected that people like saying nice things about it but taking the next steps of treating it like something beyond criticism and discord has always struck me as a bit weird, leaving ideas and interests unexamined. Give me cheery naughtiness anytime.

Mentioning the Bad

Jeff Alworth made a promise on Friday that definitely borders on the niceness question:

…enough of the excuses: Boak and Bailey are right, I should be writing about bad beer more often. I’m actually going to start looking for them. Rather than just writing scathing reviews, though, I’ll use it as an opportunity to discuss why I think the beer is bad, because “bad” is in many dimensions an objective evaluation. A good brewer may fail to execute on a vision, which is one kind of bad. A mediocre brewer may compose an uninspiring recipe, a different kind. Or the beer may have faults and off-flavors, a kind of bad that is now rarer, at least in these parts. Beer may be bad because of technical, aesthetic, or other reasons–and there’s actual value in discussing the nature of the problems.

I am delighted by this declaration, if only because it is framed as contrary to the Jacksonian model we have inherited. I would note that it is not what was first given that was inherited but what was later devised. Change is good. Let’s change some more, please.

Jet Setting

In an effort to bite the hand that feeds me (not), I wonder about this tweet:

It’s not that I equate this sort of event with junketeers who dash off to lap up the gravy and PR before regurgitating some or all, then claiming to be clever. My question is whether this is simply another form of the internationalization of commodity craft, that globalist mono-culture that leaves nothing local in its wake. I would be thrilled to hear about what local beer questions and successes were discussed in South Africa by South Africans. Not sure I will.

Other Stuff

Interesting to see that Diageo via Guinness USA has a money flow to another beer site on the internets. GBH calls it underwriting. Beervana calls it sponsorship. This pays for interesting writing. Good. Also interesting that this goes largely uncommented upon especially compared to other funds flowing from other big drinks empires into smallish bank accounts. Just to be clear, I have happily spent sometimes shockingly generous sums for running ads on this website and its predecessor. To be fair, they were largely from outside the brewing world due to my (way back then) huge following. I call them ads. In the glory days, it paid for a lot of travel. Still, interesting quiet little pay packet play.

Yes, Mirella. Very good tee.

And finally, the best use of a GIF ever. Thanks Zak. This is going to end up dumber than “crafty” isn’t it.

Eephus, Bricks And Mortar – Left Field, Toronto

imageIs it just me or are samples you don’t ask for different? A wee giftie. A few brewers still send me stuff like these two beers from Toronto’s Left Field Brewery. I don’t hunt them out anymore and get so few these days it hardly matters. That’s what I tell myself. I still pure, right? Let’s be honest. Years ago, though recent enough to have been in this house, two separate UPS vans met face to face on the street where we live. They laughed over how they were sick of dropping of stuff at my place. Each driver had a box packed with various beers sent by gracious and keen distributors anxious for approval, when once this blog was the sort of place read, I am told, by the staff of the New York Times Food and Drink section. Now? Let’s stick with that word – different.

I still get samples I don’t write about. Some free beer is still just that Heineken Light sent in a cheap beach cooler with a 57 cent AM/FM radio built into the side. Or it’s an oddly foul crap craft that should never have been made. In an embossed bottle made so badly that the extra trim cuts you, leaving you will bloody palm. That was a great one. Beer from Left Field are nothing like that. With Game 4 between the Cubs and the Tribe on, they certainly fit the evening’s entertainment given the brewery’s baseball themed branding. The neck label is shaped like home plate. The names are usually linked to the game.

Not so with Bricks and Morter, a special release coffee porter. The back of the expensively presented painted bottle describes it as a tribute to the history of their neighbourhood’s brick trade. The coffee is from a nearby roaster, added during the final stage of extraction. I am told. The beer pours a deep cola with a thick, mocha coloured head.  One the nose, sweet dark coffee. In the mouth, a thick ale – bitter dark coffee made more so with a dose of twiggy hop. A small nod to licorice and eucalyptus. There is husky, rough texture to the beer that works, accentuating the espresso. The result is a 6% dark ale full of flavour that comes across as a light version of an imperial stout.

Eephus is an old friend. When I drink it I feel like I am cheating on The Whale, CBW’s flagship brown ale. I like brown ales.  Two years and a season ago in June 2014, I was out with Ron and Jordan on a rare trip to Toronto. The evening struggling to understand what good beer meant in that place at that time was well capped with Grizzly Beer, a solid comforting thoughtful brown ale at Bellwoods. Eephus was Left Field’s first beer and one that signaled good things. This bottle, like its sibling above, displays a fresh powdery texture that conveys goodness, thickness. A touch lighter at 5.5% there is no adjunct between you and the ale, unless you consider oats a novel ingredient. It’s flaked oats and not oat malt, by the way. Only a partial fermentable, a body builder that gives a silky touch. I will say that the hop profile is a bit more flowery, a bit more bitter than I recall from earlier happy sessions but it sits well in this incarnation.

An Eephus, in case you are wondering, is a slow looping trick pitch rarely trotted out, meant to throw off a batter. “Spaceman” Bill Lee would use when he was an Expo or a Red Sox.

The Dreary Reality Of Those Disclosures

Even starting to type this post initially weighs upon me in my pre-coffee haze.* Really? Has it come to this? Thinking about beer writing again? I suppose I am somewhat insulated from the quandary by being well past it. Few people consider the comfy role of the post-popular writer. Sure, it is as much a self-imposed circumstance as one caused by market forces but I am decidedly not as interested or interesting as I once thought. Yet… does this not also free me up? I mean, I actually like to think about ethics, having written codes of conduct and advised regularly on how to keep on the right side of many lines. Actually, you know, working with the stuff. Still, I’ve liked to keep away of such things around here… at least since around 2008. Haven’t I? But, then, Jessica and Ray today sent out a newsletter this morning which contains this:

A couple of newsletters ago we wrote about disclosure, advertorials and so on, suggesting among other things that beer writers and bloggers ought to make a statement of ethics on their websites so that readers know where they stand. We’re pleased to say (though we take no credit for it) that a few such pieces have shown up since… You might not personally agree with the positions those writers or organisations take in each case but setting out a position is in itself an ethical act. Good stuff.

First ethical question. I am under the simmering impression that what happens in a newsletter is supposed to stay in a newsletter. While publicly shared with subscribers, it’s not pasted on the front page of a blog. But their newsletter isn’t like.. those other newsletters. It’s actually interesting. And anyway I take comfort in Canadian law that lets me post the content of others for matter of review and, especially, given I am citing and quoting for purposes of exploring an idea I am also comfortable that I could not be giving offense. But I did not ask permission. Out of a principle founded on the marketplace of ideas.

Which is an interesting turn of phrase. The marketplace of ideas. There has always been a sort of an Edwardian Olympics aspect to writing about beer – particularly since the advent of blogging over a decade ago. It has gurgled beneath this topic without the manhole covers ever being lifted. Because good beer is an accessible joy juice topic it invites amateur hobby writing interest. Because it is pleasant and compelling it drives the dreams of frustrated careerists. And because beer generates great gobs of money, it’s as ripe for allegation that the left pocket has been as directly sewn up next to the right pocket as any topic this side of knitting blogs – those hellholes of graft and corruption. Which is the core of the second ethical challenge: great opportunity lays all about us. And – given great names in beer writing have accepted exclusive sponsorship and content creation contacts from large breweries – not a hypothetical.

So, they often write disclosure statements as Ray and J’ rightly encourage. Great. If you had subscribed to the B+B newsletter you’d even know which great examples of these statements they linked to. I pass on spilling the beans on that. Not because they are not good examples but because they are just the start of your job as reader. What is great about these disclosures is they are big red flags with the words “Start a’Judging NOW!!!” pasted upon them. See, once you know who took the Carlsberg money or the flight to an personal attendance with Jim Koch then you know why the articles that follow are so often plump, dull and somewhat smarmy. Honestly, nothing is as bad as the post-disclosure post. As enthused as the plagiarist who lifted his text from Peter just back from Damascus. Laced with horrible conceits like “the colors in the morning were orange and magenta like a sherbet” – all combined with an earnest hope that somehow transparency creates nobility. It doesn’t really, does it. Just a bit more honesty. Like that honest dot of marmalade on the tie of the man who was just at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. The mark is upon it.

Me? I think of reading this sort of writing like I think of drinking a brewer’s beer. I don’t need to know the samey opinions and self-reverences of the brewery owner. Some see it as wizardry to cut and paste what’s offered but the fact is their either beer sucks or it doesn’t. It speaks for itself. Same with writing. I’ve seen economic development webinars which include Asheville consulto panelists so, having heard them, I now assume every story pitch on that town’s beer scene comes with a flight and a hotel booking. Similarly, once these disclosures are made – once the ever thin argument that “journalism has changed” is trotted out – from there on out the presumption that each post offers invention gets replaced with the expectation that somewhere a PR strategist munching on his morning’s toast is pleased. Another job well done.

Remember: there is nothing wrong with this. These days dabbling in boosterism for one sort of benefit or another is pretty much within the range called norm. Until this era too has passed** I say “Viva the Freelance PR Apprentice!” Welcome to the marketplace of ideas. Somebody has to do it, its a reasonable step to something else and not everyone can actually be original. Has my understanding of good beer ever been increased by a post-junket essay? Can’t think of when or how. But thanks to the disclosure statement I can place my expectations in the appropriate context as I start my reading. And it is all about me – we the readers get to judge, not the writer. Gotta be careful. Think of this, too. Will the opposite lift its head one day soon, a bit of benefit flowing to slag a competitor? Does it happen now? Bet the knitting bloggers do it.*** Now, that would be interesting. And to much the same effect. Just directed messaging.

*I picked this up, half written up after work. Edited it for niceness.

**Please let it pass so that the promised silver age of beer writing may begin.

***Knitting bastards.

Soon Men In Vans Will Be Rounding Up The Bloggers

monkey4Boak and/or Bailey tweeted the news from the UK:

Publicans are being urged to share their views on the use of online review websites like TripAdvisor as part of a government backed probe on the impact of the sites. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) – the government’s business watchdog – has launched a consultation on the sites as a result of concerns regarding their trustworthiness and impartiality. The CMA will investigate specialist review sites, web blogs, video blogs, social media, trusted trader sites, retail platforms and retailers’ own websites. It will also look at the roles media companies, online reputation managers and search engine optimizers play in helping businesses promote themselves and manage their image in relation to blogs and review sites.

I typed that quote out by hand to make sure we were reading the same thing. See, the Morning Advertiser has this widget that blocks copying but here in Canada – being a freer more confident land even if laden with poorer marmalade – we have rights to quote bits of copyright work for criticism or review which seems quite apt with this article. So let’s have a bit of a critique and review, shall we?

Let’s be honest. What isn’t stated and should be equally followed up if the media are going to advocate for resorting to the use law to inquire about such things, is what role the well funded pub owners and breweries themselves play. Having had masses of beer delivered to my house over the last decade along with masses of invites to clinky drinky events as well as the odd junket – as any decent beer writer has – one is well aware of the keen interest bar owners and breweries have in building and maintaining a happy and even merry relationship with those in the media who discuss their beers positively. Many a free beer has also been passed across the bar to me once someone spills the beans, sometimes not even me. I often decline and lay down the sordid lucre – but actually understand the accepting soul may be then offered something called collaboration which sounds far too earth for a Dudley Do-right like me. An actual news source that was giving the reading public a full 360 degree description of the situation might mention that. So why are only publicans being reported as being urged to comment but not beer writers or others aware of these common pub and brewery incentives? Takes two to tango, no? Sometimes apparently more if we use all our fingers and toes and include the distracted press.

4859This is the point where I claim purity. Fully. Fundamentally. Every good beer blogger knows the line. I may have received these gifts by FedEx but, as with Christ’s beneficence offered through the holy sacrament of communion, I approach each chalice with pure intent and leave fully pardoned. To celebrate this, I am sipping a glass of La Formidable, a juicy 6.9% beer recently couriered to my house by Beau’s All Natural, operators of “B-Side Brewing” which is an interesting portfolio of beers they are brewing here under license and with participation of brewers from outside of Ontario. I even can identify the lovely lass who directed the beer my way. The thugs in vans won’t get the name, though… not immediately at least. [Run!] Jordan gave the beer a review, too. I can’t match his sense of 1980s TV sci-fi cartoon-isme but suffice it to say that when I consider this a lot like Headstock but different, too, that is a fine thing. A very fine thing. Maybe with a bit more of this and a little of that but it’s like comparing Jimmy Cowan to Paul Coffey in a way, no? Where Jordan notes clove, I get a bit of minerality like a Urzinger. But that is him. And me. I mean some one person has to actually taste the stuff, right? Of course each view will differ. As long as, you know, the blogger doesn’t just cut and paste the PR content emailed along.

Morning Advertiser by comparison? One has to acknowledge that the full of the publication begins “The Publican’s…” so there is a choir to be sung to, isn’t there. There are denominations and congregations. God’s house has many rooms. Does that make excuses? Perhaps. But does it also open up the question of the role of trade publications in “trustworthiness and impartiality” within the beery discourse? Why not? If we are going to go about investigating things, why not? Glass houses.

Ontario: Uber, Nickel Brook Brewing, Burlington

uberWhat a minefield this beer presents me. Not only do I know and like the brewer but his mother lives nearby and his auntie works where I do. How could I possible give an opinion unbouyed by positive thoughts? Then again, it’s not like I am all Jimjunkety or anything. No need to stop using the bathroom mirror. Then, besides that, there is the question of what others might think of me – which can be odd and disconcerting – not to mention likely wrong. How dare I try something not conservative? But more importantly, what does it mean about this style? What does this beer in this place and time mean?

You will recall the the best expression of what style is was Jackson’s first go at it, before he went bad Aristotelian creating the mess we live with today. Originally, a style of beer was stylized after an example, a great beer. I think it is fair to say that practically speaking that example is the Weihenstephen Berliner Weiss I wrote about for Session 19 – if for no other reason that for a long while this was the only example you were going to lay your hands on in North America. That is until micro went craft. So, is this homage or dommage to the style? Should I care?

The beer pours an effervescent clear light gold. No head at all. On the snort, you get apple cider and cow poo of the nicest kind. In the mouth, a light and lightly astringent texture holds flavours of apple, meadow grass, minerals like a good Mosel, fresh lemon juice, a little cream of wheat like a good gueuze and a little little something vegetative like fresh cabbage or cauliflower. A really lovely sipper and at 3.8% a beer you can sip for a good long time.

What a relief! No ethical qualms!! Priced at $7.95 for 750ml, this is about twice as much as the brewers hefty IPA Headstock, one of the best values in beer in Canada. The BAers give it lots of positivitay… which is good.