Your Mid-May Beery News Links Of Note

Did you see the game? I don’t know or really care what game it was but May is all about the games. Big ball games. I never am sure what the rules of big ball actually are but it sure is exciting this time of year. I think about that when I read about things like that it is America’s Craft Beer Week and think – how dull is that? And even nine years after “Hooray for Everything” it is still pretty much stuck in that same rut. What is it about beer that makes its promotion either offensive or deathly dull? I love that the vision for the event-like thing used to be:

…the week to inspire beer enthusiasts to declare their independence by supporting breweries that produce fewer than 2 million barrels of beer a year and are independently owned…

…given, you know, that the whole “fewer” thing is out the door and “independence” is such a dodgy concept it had to be converted into branding to patch over the difficult questions. Unless Andy is right and the schisms as just beginning. Anyway, to each their own. I suspect the real value is in brewery staff pep rallies, hot dog cannon sales and boosting the pamphlet manufacturing trade… that sort of thing.

What else… or, rather, what is actually going on? By the way, have you lost the ability to waste time on the internet?* Good question. Not me! Evidence? This weekly post. Further evidence? How about an immediately early morning bonus update mid-paragraph to highlight this amazing piece on how to do nothing in Chicago** for a whole day.

Ruh-ro: Saudi beer caps.

Yikes! “Microplastics in beer is no small deal” is real news. The Great Lakes seem particularly hit. I live next to a Great Lake. I drink its waters. It’s in the tap water. And therefore in me. I expect to hear it is very bad… or overblown. But not as bad as this was feared, I hope. I just can’t wait for the beer trade PR semi-pros to start handing out the medical advice on this one.

Gentle razzing amongst new urban central Canadian beer mags was received concurrently with emails describing the reorganization of the excellent third such publication launched just last year.  Offering best wishes feels a bit like hoping the kid will learn to ride that bike without losing a tooth or ending up in a cast at some point. Who will actually survive? Will any make it to issue four? Worth noting an utter lack of fidelity amongst the writers. Everyone seems just to write for everyone. Did I expect anything else?

Ontario.

Fabulous observation from the world’s most honest publican:Well… what is success anyway? BrewDog provides comparison and have again highlighted the now long-past-death of craft with the announcement that they are closing in on billionaire status… well, Canadian billionaire.  Sure the fingers get pointed at dear old semi-demi-delusional Humphrey but as far as UK craft brewing magnates go these days, Watt and Wham… err, Dickie… are leading the pack.

I was going to not bother with this Beavertown*** story as it is rather boring being another small brewery making the move to being much bigger on the way to being very much bigger. I figured Boak and Bailey would know more and get to it Saturday. But then they got to it on Tuesday… and then they got to be bizarrely labeled as both vaguely biased and, oddly but not uncharacteristically, apparently not biased enough… again vaguely. Non-story mock outrage. Sad. Nate gets it. Fan fiction of a sort, I suppose. Except I can only presume, as usual, it was preceded by a phone call and a back scratch. Which Cloudwater, jumping in on clumsily (and somewhat anti-democratically), seemed to prove. Nice bit of poor widdle cwaft performance art.****

Rather conversely, some real news here about the application of the law under the heady New York Post title “Winery owner busted for ‘illegal moonshine operation“:

“The discovery of an illegal moonshine operation in the heart of Brooklyn is nothing short of shocking, given how easy and inexpensive it is to obtain a distiller’s license in New York state,” said SLA Counsel Christopher Riano. Snyder was led away in handcuffs following the Wednesday raid, authorities said, and was charged by the city Sheriff’s Office with the illicit manufacturing of alcoholic beverages. The class-E felony is punishable by 1-4 years in prison.

Frankly, I am surprised we have not seen more of this, especially given the pervasive false “new e-conomy of 1996” style promise of the drinks PR trade: “don’t worry, it’s craft!” The handcuffing was a sweet touch.

Happier news: a piece on Valley Malt by Mr. Matthew Osgood. We used their product when we created a version of Vassar Ale with Beaus in 2012 which was, to be fair, a case of inspiration more than replication. Still, exceptionally yum.

Speaking about perhaps not journalism,*** sad to see the UK’s Morning Advertiser getting suckered into this bit of PR puff about “blockchain beer” – a tale not unlike the phony “open source beer” story that got me quoted back in 2005***** in The New York Times, an organ which I like to think of as the world’s newspaper of record. Bar-coding for provenance is also pretty much “new e-conomy of 1996” style. I remember being in a presentation twenty years ago for using it to prove where potatoes were grown. Amazed-balls! Decentralized server authentication through embedded cryptography is entirely different. But, you know, beer journalism so… whatever.

Wednesday, Pete wrote about alcohol in The Guardian this week but then I had to recalibrate my expectations early on when I hit this bit of health and politics:

This means we live in an age of alarmist misinformation about the perils of booze, with a growing belief that any level of consumption of this “poison” is potentially harmful. 

Unfortunately, Pete’s article turns out to not be about the effects of alcohol but the phases of a single drinking session. There is a phrase you need to keep in mind when working on electricity transmission contracts: “you have to obey the electrons.” Likewise, when you consider health and alcohol, you have to remember you are sitting in a human body and not a magic consumption machine. So, I am more inclined to think of this by Pete or this from Jeff than I am to buy into an idea that there is too much alarmist misinformation about the perils of booze.

Hmm. Seems like an inordinately unhappy set of notes up there. Remember when people used to call good beer a social lubricant? It was going so well for a few weeks but – whammo! – so much getting it wrong in so many ways.  Graft, innuendo and dipsomania all in one place together. Is this the end? Has something run its course? Or is the sign that something new is just around the corner? Well, for answers to those and many more questions you will have to wait until next week to see. Or tune into the internets on Saturday to visit with the, seriously, much more creative and informed, pleasant and positive Boak and Bailey.

*Can we even recall what it was like?
**Hint.
***Admittedly, the name alone poses a challenge to any Canadian. Not to mention this.  And… the icky.
****None of this was about “journalism v. opinion” with all due respect.  So, what do we call it? The assertion of status for some reason or another is a part of what I see. Which leads to the broader question: what is the point of following this sort of transient semi-contrived issue-skirting promotional writing if the point is, in an way, not ultimately what is written? Fortunately, having written inordinately about the Georgian era, I can see an attempt at a status-based construct over a merit-based construct from the next valley.
*****Have I ever mentioned that I was quoted in The New York Times in 2005? I have? Could I share more details with you?

Finally – A Quiet Week In Beer Thursday Links

Quiet. So quiet Stan is taking a month off. You know what he does in these little gaps of his? Not judging. No. Not me.  It’s election time in Ontario all of a sudden but, again like in 2014, I expect a quiet sleepy time for beer as debating point on public policy. That is our current Premier Kathleen Wynne performing the obligatory pouring of the beer back in the last 2014 campaign. Oddly, she chose an iconic brand from another province far far away. I shall make no such error. I am announcing my committment to offering you the best politicians pouring beer photos throughout the next month of campaigning.

Was it really quiet this week? OK, there were some spats. Folk not liking folk calling folk out. I don’t get into these personality things much so I can’t speak to the dynamics. These are all strangers to me. And then there was that whole “Monday of the Glitter Beer” argie-bargie. While there are good intentions involved, my position remains clear:

I really should have written “silly” and not “stupid”* for niceness’s sake… but my point would have really been the same. You dull a beer with murk and then add adulterating if likely benign elements to make up for the loss of beer’s natural jewel like gleam? But isn’t the real thing folk should understand is that it just doesn’t matter at all? I was a bit surprised by the glitter as a thing women use association argument as I think of glitter as a thing children use. Stuff on the craft shelf like the Elmer’s glue and construction paper. Hmm. Maybe it helps to be Canadian with pals in upstate New York. Let me explain. In upstate New York, adults eat hot dogs. I get it. I even do it when I am there. There is a rich history of ultra-local hot dog loyalties. But in Canada hot dogs are the food of a child. Like racing all a giggle towards a teeter-totter in the park. Or excitedly wearing a new ball cap with Thomas the Tank Engine.** That’s what hot dogs are. And glitter. Doesn’t mean its not worth taking pleasure in. Fill your boots! [I understand folk like to play “name the hops in the beer” too.] Frankly, any reason for a good schism is reason enough for me.

Jordan has been quiet. Now he says he will no longer be as quiet.

Hmm. Even though I have unjustly received the sting of the Protz, this situation is a bit odd.  A newspaper… well, a newspaper-like-thing sneakily reconstructing an apparently new interview and story from an old interview and story. How odd.

What else is going on? Kara Loo and Kelissa Hieber posted a good summary of events at this year’s US Craft Brewers Conference from the positive party line point of view. I say US even though the BA seems to be silently absorbing the Ontario craft movement and maybe other Canadian craft brewing regional discussions. Is that happening elsewhere, too? Me, I find the “Stronger Together” stuff a bit weird. One ring to rule them all. Who would have thought independent and small mean homogenization and centralized authority? Jeff likes “independent” but I just don’t get it at all. Hard to think of a vaguer word to frame a potentially stalling trade’s rebranding campaign around.

There is a good reason no one goes to watch three-legged races. The rope tying up the participants. I think of that often when I read folk trying to describe the economics of craft brewing while carefully avoiding any discussion of the owners’ take from these businesses. It’s all very well to tell sad tales of the actual hardships families of brewing staff face but why is that not partnered with the story of the lifestyles, cottages and fishing boats of the established and emerging craft brewery owners?

Speaking of quiet, will what might have been called in the 1950s or 60s eastern mystical mindfullness and beer be a thing? Well, it is a thing already – one that’s called “laying off the hootch” but you see my point, right? Andrew Jefford poses the question as it relates to wine in this way:

I would simply point out that there are, in fact, many points of similarity between the general practice of mindfulness and that of wine tasting.  You can indeed be a mindful wine taster; wine tasting at its most subtle and rewarding is a ‘mindful’ activity par excellence.

I get it. It’s about the immediacy of now. But I just end up having a good nap when I am achieve this sort of state of mind. Or staring at an ant crawling through the lawn. Up and down the blades of grass. Or reading a few travel posts by Ron. Why add alcohol? Isn’t the cool spring air sweet enough?

The Low House in Laxfield, England has been bought by the community just eleven years after it was the subject of a post on this here blog. Just eleven years. Coincidence?

Another month, another stage in the  case of Stone v. Keystone… and this is the point in the litigation that the non-lawyers eye will start to glaze over. See, Stone has moved to dismiss the counterclaim rather than answer it with a statement of defense to the counterclaims. Got it? Bored yet? You know, I took Civil Procedure from Tom Cromwell, a wonderful professor who later became a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada… and even I am getting a bit bored. Mind you, I think it was a Friday 8:30 am class so I likely only went maybe once every five weeks. As always, legal brain*** Brendan in Syracuse unpacks the situation.

Not beer: Living Colour.

Oh – and I did have a few beer.**** I especially am enjoying a small stash of Brouhaha, a nut brown ale from Refined Fool out of Sarnia over by Michigan. Lovely. He who is tired of nut brown ale is tired of life.

That’s it. Laters.

*I did poll the drinking age women in our house and they did go with “stupid” so…
**Not to mention, giving equal time,  1 Corinthians 13:11.
***He is such a brain.
****Remember – in Canada, the plural of “beer” is “beer” – like moose. OK?

The Difference Between Temperance And Prohibition

Looking around the law books the other day… OK, I actually hardly ever look at law books at all these days. Just databases… of cases. And when I should be working the search engine for the latest on “equitable estoppel” or “profit-à-prendre” I sometimes slip in a few phrases related to the laws of liquor. And sometimes I find a paragraph or two  like these from the ruling of the Ontario Court of Appeal in the case Re The Canada Temperance Act, [1939] O.R. 570:

There can be no doubt that the cause of temperance (and by temperance I mean temperance in its true sense, which is the antithesis of teetotalism and of prohibition) has made great strides since the Canada Temperance Act was first enacted [in 1878.] Open drunkenness which was not considered a disgrace at that time is so considered now. The most grievous blow which temperance ever sustained was the enactment in Canada and the United States of prohibitory laws in force throughout those countries, which brought forth the bootlegger and in his train the racketeer, who by illicit trafficking amassed millions of dollars and became a wealthy, organized and powerful criminal class.

Since the repeal of those laws, much has been done to overcome the evil, but it is yet by no means completely cured. Nevertheless I think no one would have the hardihood to suggest that an emergency, such as that described by Lord Haldane, exists in Canada.  At the present time each Province in the Dominion of Canada, with the exception of Prince Edward Island, has legislation regulating and controlling the sale of liquor within the respective provinces, and the validity of this legislation has been affirmed. In all these Provinces the sale of liquor has been made a Government monopoly and the traffic is regulated and controlled by Government Commissions or Boards charged with the duty of controlling the sale. In Prince Edward Island there is a prohibitory law. For these reasons, it seems manifest to me that the emergency, if any existed, has wholly passed away and that the foundation, and the only foundation upon which Russell’s case can be supported, no longer exists.

While the words of Justice Henderson appear in his dissent, they do address the idea that something normally managed under provincial law – like the liquor trade – can be legislated upon at the national federal level under its “peace, order and good government” power if there is a national state of emergency. For Justice Henderson, that emergency had passed by 1939. Blessed control, the state’s temperance tool, had ensured common open drunkenness never returned. For him, prohibition is by contrast the tool of wealthy, organized and powerful criminal class… and, apparently, Prince Edward Island where you couldn’t buy legal liquor until a decade later. So temperance and prohibition are opposites. The majority did not agree however on the facts, holding that there had in fact been no change of circumstances and, as a result, that the national Canada Temperance Act, R.S.C. 1927, ch. 196 remained valid.

If, as some argue, the federal government could now intervene to pass a statute – one to “correct” last week’s Comeau ruling – some sort of national interest would have to be invoked. It could be an interest like, theoretically, a booze related emergency which somehow silently has remained unchanged since the 1870s. That would require arguing, as the lawyers for the churches did in 1939, that “the menace of intemperance is still present.” Not likely now. And probably not really likely in 1939 if we think carefully about Henderson’s dissent. Provincial control boards managing the liquor supply created and still uphold the temperate way we all enjoy in modern society.

So if that national interest is not likely the one that could be relied upon,  what other national interest could there possibly be to justify a federal intervention into the local common sense approach administered by each province?

Comeau, Beer, Provincial Autonomy, The Crown And The Individual

Up in the night thinking. So, we had the big court ruling out of the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) about crossing the provincial border into New Brunswick with beer in your truck and few, clever beer writers and clever political pundits included, seems to have seen the unanimous decision coming. The heart of the decision in R. v. Comeau, by the way, is that the province has the power to provide that all booze in the province needs to be bought from the government agency. Which is what provinces do all the time – make laws for local application within their constitutional jurisdiction under their exercise of the bit of the power of the sovereign Crown assigned to each provincial legislature.

One problem that Canadians have at moments like this is that Canada is actually fairly hard to understand as an entity. The Constitution has something like 137 documents and there are loads of other unwritten rules. And at its heart it is a federation and not a unified state so the local bits called provinces are not subject to national oversight within the area of their local jurisdiction. There are powers and obligations assigned under our constitution to entities like the federal legislature, provincial legislatures, the Crown in other forms like the Governor-General and the courts and also the rights of the individual and indigenous peoples to  oppose or be immune from those other parts of society we call government.

I have had a taste of this as I practiced law from 1997 to 2002 in Canada’s tiniest province, Prince Edward Island, where it was a fairly common event to run into any number of ways the odd local rules under which the provincial jurisdiction was exercised. It was like a little constitutional science experiment. And unlike, oh, 100% of beer writers and maybe 99.9999% of political pundits, I also argued a constitutional case there proving, uniquely as far as I know, to the trial level judge that the province had exceeded its rights and offended the constitution by breaching the Charter of Rights and the protected political beliefs of individuals. I was on my feet for two days making my oral argument as I recall. You can find the ruling here. After I left PEI, it was again won on appeal on other grounds and, then, appeal to the SCC was refused.

The point is this. Provinces can pass internal laws that do not line up with the laws of other provinces. They are autonomous from each other except where there is a rule common to all Canadians that the local law offends. Now, PEI was once both hilariously and yet accurately called “too insular to be xenophobic” by the late great Harry Flemming – and this is expressed in all aspects of the law and how the culture responds to the law as an intensely local matter. So, you may have an ailment in PEI that is not covered by the public health system which is regularly provided for in all other provinces. When we lived there at least three men I knew died in the ambulance on route to another province because there was no cardiac surgeon in PEI. And you can find a ruling which can reference the environmental standards that might apply to crop spraying but then find a local aspect wins the day because:

Crop spraying, especially ground spraying,  is a common and ordinary activity on farms on Prince Edward Island… The type, severity, and duration of any “interference” was minimal and not what could be described as unreasonable in the context of a P.E.I. farming community.

Similarly, I recall a Crown prosecutor once telling the judge to disregard my submissions as lawyer acting for the defendant because I was relying on court cases from other parts of Canada. As relates to booze, while PEI has a strict liquor control government owned agency, as late as 2004 the culture also included well known illegal taverns.  It also even had a famous ban on soft and hard drinks sold in cans that only ended in 2008. I could go on (believe me, I could go on and one) but these are just examples of local nuttinesses which are all allowed within a province because it is a province.

The unhappy response to yesterday’s ruling by the SCC in Comeau appears to be largely based on the idea that somehow individual rights were part of the case. They really weren’t. The Comeau case was about a provincial offense related to bringing beer in to New Brunswick under a provincial law being within the power of that one province.  What was questioned was whether a right of all provinces related to free inter-provincial trade was offended.  The rights of the individual were not raised. They were only an implication.

They could have been raised. There is a lovely line of Charter cases related to personal autonomy from government impositions starting with the 1997 Godbout case in which the SCC determined that a municipality could not require staff to live in the municipality as that was a decision within “that narrow sphere of personal decision-making deserving of the law’s protection.” My own PEI ruling* referenced that idea in relation to the political beliefs of the individual. Other cases have discussed the concept of individual autonomy protecting the individual against government over reach in other contexts. And the problem for travelling with beer – and perhaps Mr Comeau’s lawyers – is that one of those other contexts considered was recreational marijuana use. Unlike in my case and others where the individual was able to resist the imposition of a restriction on their personal decisions, the SCC stated this in the 2003 ruling in R. v. Clay:

With respect, there is nothing “inherently personal” or “inherently private” about smoking marihuana for recreation.  The appellant says that users almost always  smoke in the privacy of their homes, but that is a function of lifestyle preference and is not “inherent” in the activity of smoking itself.  Indeed, as the appellant together with Malmo-Levine and Caine set out in their Joint Statement of Legislative Facts, cannabis “is used predominantly as a social activity engaged in with friends and partners during evenings, weekends, and other leisure time” (para. 18).  The trial judge was impressed by the view expressed by the defence expert, Dr. J. P. Morgan, that marihuana is largely used for occasional recreation.  Reference might also be made on this point to a case under the European Convention on Human Rights decided recently by the English courts under the Human Rights Act 1998 (U.K.).  In R. v. Morgan, [2002] E.W.J. No. 1244 (QL), [2002] EWCA Crim 721, the English Court of Criminal Appeal observed, at para. 11, that:

A right to private life did not involve or include a right to self intoxication, nor the right to possession or cultivation of cannabis, whether for personal consumption within one’s home or otherwise.

See also R. v. Ham, [2002] E.W.J. No. 2551 (QL), [2002] EWCA Crim 1353.  Recreational smoking is not on a par with other activities that have been held to go to the heart of an individual’s private existence.

I wrote about this ruling at the time stating:

This is a bit weird. If we are autonomous from the state, can’t we choose to be slackers? Are we not allowed to dedicate the core of our lives to the life of choice, even if the choice made is not the profound? If we are not granted each our own choice, we are not then each so much uniquely individual but individual as measured against some idealized standard of generic individuality. I bet if we looked into the brain of the judges the ideal standard might look a lot like the life they chose for themselves. Oddly, in many other areas of constitutional law, the individual is allowed to define him or herself – it is a subjective right. It looks like the subjective right to be slack is not good enough.

The law of marijuana use has clearly shifted since then as might have the right to be a slacker. But would the same 2003 rule in Clay apply if a Canadian sought to prove to the courts that his or her “narrow sphere of personal decision-making deserving of the law’s protection” should include the right to cross a provincial boundary to buy cheaper beer? Dunno. I do know, however, that this is not how the Comeau case defense was framed. It was not about Mr. Comeau about the individual. It was about Mr. Comeau as an example, an incident of a bigger thing, the trade in beer.

What is the take away? No where in any of this has any province barred the export of its beer to another province. As we know from our studies of Ontario’s brewing history especially in relation to the regulation of brewing during the deepest temperance years of 1916 to 1927, the making and shipping our of beer is not something provincial governments concern themselves with. The ban in about bringing it in, not sending it out.** So any province can make a local rule allowing beer from elsewhere in. And, in fact, it is allowed already… to a degree. The Liquor Control Act of PEI, for example, states this at section 33(2):

(1) No person shall have in his possession or keeping within the province any liquor that has not been purchased from a vendor under this Act.

(2) This section does not apply…

(b.1) to the keeping or having by persons of or over the age of nineteen years of liquor imported for personal consumption, not exceeding 3 litres of spirits, 9 litres of wine or 24.6 litres of beer per person;

So, there in Canada’s littlest province, the law actually allows you to have can have some imported booze. Just not an unlimited amount. Because that is the rule that is set by their statute passed by the legislature voted upon by the folk elected by the people. Democracy. If you want a law like that in your province, elect the people who promise to pass one. That’s it. Not a constitutional issue. Just one of the local law in each province. Take up your fight there.

*See para 65 of the Condon case – yes, my own Penge Bungalow Murders.
**Although wee PEI only allows export by brewers under provincial permit according to s.91(5) of the Liquor Control Regulations.

 

All The Beer News That Matters For The Middle Third Of April


Matters? None of this really matters all that much. Fine. Maybe posts like this are just the stuff you need to get you to – or through – the stuff that matters. Let’s go with that. It’s OK. A quiet week now and then is nice. No need to puff it up with claiming this post is a “deep dive” into this or that. Is that why so much get the head scratching these days? Is there actuallyan increase in beer media types tweeting about beer just because they want freebies“? Does that really matter? Yet… who thought that, by Wednesday, the TV ad up there from 1995 would matter so much now, twenty three years later? But it does as it’s a matter the center of a lawsuit that might end up maybe marking the end of an era. More below. Deep down there.

Before that – first, but not exactly unrelated – I find a certain sort of post, illustrated this week by one Pete, a bit… odd. You may not agree – which is fine – but let me express myself for just this one instance.  Please. What I don’t get is while he concludes that what he finds odd is an article motivated by the desire to “create specious claims” he spends a lot of time saying things like “that’s certainly food for thought” and “there are certainly some interesting points” which, for me, leads to the critique of the article sounding a lot like a sibling of the article. Which leads me wondering why the article, the one he didn’t like, would matter to Pete that much. It’s not like I don’t sympathize. I was shocked when I read about “The Secret Brewery Battle That Could Kill Manchester’s Booming Craft Beer Scene“! but then couldn’t believe my eyes when I read about “The Secret Brewery Battle That Could Kill Wales’ Booming Beer Scene“!!! Clearly there is less than 85% overlap between the two articles so… journalism can’t be dead! [Note: intracraft warfare now clearly out in the open with the use of “beer bullies” by one local Mancunian know-it-alls. Well… sometimes they do know something, right?]

All I mean is what we are all seeing around us is far more interesting : the expansion of craft by including and retaining anything claiming to be craft; freakshake pastry stouts, the churn of increased brewery closures aligning with the uncertainty tiny brewers bring; and the seven year itch that, yes, is hitting the craft beer monogamists. Being a spectator in a ripe time of transition behooves us all to spectate. Which sounds a lot like speculate but it’s really quite a different thing all together. Let’s just sit and watch for a bit. There. That’s better. [Note: if you love something let it go.]

Perhaps conversely… but maybe not, my own dear old hometown newspaper ran an article on my own dear old undergrad alma mater’s historic brewing studies – and it’s perhaps the most honest bit of beer related journalism I’ve read in yoinks. [Note: Apparently, we usually can’t handle the truth.] So much of what was made sounds horrible. Did anyone get an F for their project?

In an even more real case of matter… and perhaps even anti-matter,  I think we can all agree that we don’t need to check out the Royal Oak in Wigan. Don’t go. The back streets of Ron’s Amsterdam, however, are where the clever should aim there feet.  [Note: Ron hit the exact sweet spot for mushy not mushy this week. Govern yourselves accordingly.] And speaking of travel and also as a matter that surely matters, I would still be mesmerized even if it turned out that Lars has been stringing us all along, weaving an entirely fictional fraud upon us all with his northern farmhouse ale studies. “Koduõlu, the traditional farmhouse ale from the large Estonian islands in the Baltic“? Who researches that? Lars!

What else? Well, given my recent doubts as to the point of taproom fever, it has been playing the role of interesting subtext of the week. What is a taproom anyway? Beeson, J. is of the opinion that if the beer is not brewed on site surely it’s just a bar. Yet the utterly venerable Laxfield Low House in Suffolk clearly has a taproom yet does not brew. It is the room where casks are tapped and served on gravity. [Note: it has a taproom but is not a taproom.]  The Royal Tavern here in Kingston, Ontario has a sign over the door that says “Tap Room” but – even though the establishment predates Canada and was a haunt of our first Prime Minister – it’s just a bit of a hard dive.  Not Wigan Royal Oak hard… mostly… mainly. [Note: it has no taproom and is not a taproom but claims a tap room.] I suspect taproom is like curate, code for “modern thing or action which needs not be investigated and considered so much as put up with and outlived.” [Note: Did I mention I turn 55 next week. Does it show? If you call it “double nickels” it sounds way cool, too, just like “curate“!]

You know what matters? You, the kind reader. And this has to be the most heart warming response to a weekly newsy notes post ever:

OK, then. I will.

Finally, that matter at the top of the page. That 1995 TV ad way up top… that’s actually referenced in the Answer and Counterclaim filed by MillerCoors in the Stone vs. Keystone lawsuit archived at Syracuse, NY attorney Brendan Palfreyman’s website.  Much of US-based beer social media was humming about the contents of the Answer as well as Brendan’s analysis on Twitter. The bottom line is this. Stone launch a court action a couple of months ago claiming a bit of the moral high ground. But, as I noted last February, there is plenty of evidence of the use of “Stone” related to Keystone beer before their trademark was registered and under US law this is important. As stated at paragraph 29 of the Answer:

…Coors’ use of STONE and STONES predates Stone Brewing’s use of STONE. When co-founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner decided to adopt the moniker Stone Brewing in 1996, Coors was already selling Keystone beer nationally in cases labeled STONES and running marketing campaigns advertising Keystone beer as STONE. MillerCoors did not “verbatim copy” Stone Brewing’s trademark. If anything, it is much more likely that Stone Brewing copied the STONE name from Coors, since Keystone beer was already advertised as such in the market.

It sounds like bravado but at section 23 of the Answer, it states that Koch said the following in an interview about Keystone’s 1995 “Bitter Beer Face” ads (like the one up there at the top of this post):

Basically it was a misinformation campaign. It was designed to tell the American public ‘You’re not sophisticated enough.’ Let’s try to tell you that you don’t want better beer. It’s really a form of oppression. There’s just nothing short of it.

This is an amazing bit of evidence. Needs to be proven in court but, funny enough, that is what MillerCoors apparently is going to do. Watch the TV ad again. I had no idea there were “anti-hoppy” ads running in the mid-1990s. What is not to love about that ad? Well, maybe not if you like that bitter puckery micro beer. Which might cause a mid-1990s upstart with oddly strong impressions about what oppression means to take aim at the gargantuan brewery making fun of your dreams on the TV.  Wouldn’t that be funny if over two decades that attitude were now to come back to bite someone. Sometimes a particular stone is the best means to clarify what is real. Who knows? Let the court decide, I say!

So there you go. What looked like another dull week explodes again by my Wednesday deadline to send this baby to the printing shop… boom. No doubt there will be even more for you to consider from Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday.

A New Indigenous Beer Style? Watertown Cold!

Searching the on-line archives on a quiet day off, I found a very interesting bit of news in a June 5, 1988 article in the entirely venerable Watertown Daily Times  under the headline “Prohibition Invention Made in City” which describes one aspect of the local bootlegging trade when distributing Canada’s gift of beer imports was a boon to the good folk of upstate New York. The border area was, as would be expected, a hotbed of smuggling – but in the middle of the article there was this startling passage:

By 1925, even the New York Times carried stories stating that Watertown was the hub of illegal beer shipments. On Aug. 20 of that year, newly appointed Buffalo Divisional Prohibition Chief Romaine Merrick, who was assigned to northern New York, told The New York Times: “In the Buffalo District, I will have the largest distillery in the state. It is in Watertown.” The next day, The Watertown Daily Times wrote a reaction story, stating that only near beer, a legal beverage at the time, was known to be brewed here. 

Little did they know that sometime between 1919 and 1928, the owners of the brewery had constructed a secret cold-distilling and bottling operation worth $50,000, concealing it in a nearby garage. The federal Treasury Agents were amazed. They thought they had sealed off the area nine years before… Federal officials had found two huge vats in the basement of the brewery, where cold water, malt, hops and yeast were being mixed and allowed to ferment slowly into high-alcohol beer. The beer was then filtered through special paper that collected impurities, and piped to an illicit bottling operation nearby.

Now, as I wrote in Ontario Beer, we all know that even though Canada had a form of restriction on the legal sale of beer during our temperance era, there was never actual full on prohibition. Restrictions were largely imposed province by province. The breweries were not shut down as that was under federal law. And the era of temperance ended when the realization was realized that the breweries (and wineries… and distilleries…) were making masses of untaxed wealth off of the export trade. And the Canadian export trade was exporting into the USA. So, that the Feds, the G-men, were on the trail of bootleggers was normal.

But what was going on in that basement was not normal. What the heck was this cold fermented, filtered, high-alcohol beer? The 1988 story quotes a nephew of the final owner of the brewery who said “[e]veryone liked the beer…” and also Watertown resident Samuel Frazitta who said that it had a real kick to it and “tasted real good.”This is important to appreciate as these recollections were reported in the context of an area awash in the 1920s with good Canadian beer and liquor. But what was it? Apparently the secret brewing process did not require boiling the wort as that would have attracted the Federal agents far sooner.

There is more background in this 2017 article and in this 2014 report in Northern New York Business magazine stated that the equipment included “vats that contained 320 barrels of beer in various stages of fermentation” so not a tiny operation. After the end of prohibition, the brewery continued for about another decade as a legitimate operation under the name Northern Brewing Co and was known for its:

…malty, full-bodied, European-style brews, with high alcohol content and a head you could stand a spoon in. Specialties included Watertown Cream Ale, Old Style Lager, and Jefferson Lager Beer.

All of which is interesting. Notice the prohibition beer was made of malt and hops and not just some fifth-rate sugar thrown together to make some sort of hootch. It was both malty and enjoyable. Which is also reasonable as the operation during the prohibition era was actually making legal sub-2% alcohol beer. And reasonable given the brewery had three phases of legitimate brewing: Watertown Brewing Co.(1893 to 1901), Watertown Consumers Brewing Co.(1901 to 1920) and The Northern Brewing Co. Inc. (1933 to 1943). To these can be added the illegitimate operation from 1919 to 1928.

But what was the cold-fermentation, non-odorous brewing process that was used during the bootleg era? Certainly it appears to be a singular process, without replication elsewhere as far as I know. Maybe Stan or someone else knows more. Another indigenous hidden style. Heck, is it a new, mysterious hidden technique for the crafteratti to now explore, appropriate and, then, almost immediately ruin by loading it up with fruit flavours and glitter?  Maybe. Needs more study.

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.

Yesterday, I Bought Beer At A Local Grocery Store

Well, that was interesting. I was out grocery shopping yesterday and discovered that arguably the best Ontario beer selection in town is pretty much at a grocery store I never go to all that often. It’s a bit of a premium store. The sort of store where a can of something I can buy for $1.39 somewhere else sells for $1.64. But then I went down the beer aisle that has been added since the great beer reforms of 2015 and found myself happily surprised.

I bought a few things. Two ciders not available elsewhere. A few brown ales, too. Not much. But it got me thinking about how the reforms as well as the advent of our local craft explosion had changed my marketplace. Above you will see in red the seven outlets for take away beer in my fair city until maybe five years ago. Then, as noted in black, we started the local beer boom and suddenly there was Stone City, Riverhead, Kings Town, Maple, Kingston Brew Pub and Spearhead growler and can sales along with beer, cider and wine at two Loblaws, a Farmboy as well as Walmart. And, if I drive a little out of town, we have MacKinnon Brothers, Napanee as well as Gananoque breweries too. Have I missed any? Seven take away locations has reached into the mid-twenties. Still, laughably low for any other location in the western world.

Does beer begat beer? Not sure. Was I right to be suspicious when the reforms were announced? Well, it appears we have received four of the grocery store licenses instead of the two I predicted. But there are maybe pushing twenty or so grocery stores in our fair city of 125,000 or so.  Why can’t I buy beer at the places I regularly shop? Ben J noted that there were supposed to be “craft beer zones” in 25 other LCBO locations across Ontario. Don’t think this occurred – sorta like the earlier LCBO growler initiative that saw maybe eight taps provided for the entire province.  Jordan dismissed the idea that it would be just big craft and macro. He was right and also a bit wrong. The coolers and shelves have a good selection but no outlet is in any way comprehensive. I might have to go to four or five stores to actually buy all the beers I might want to offer if I was having a do or, say, a shindig. The nearest outlet is a 30 minute walk away.*

So, two cheers for the reforms of 2015 to date. We have a more complex market place but one that could easily be simpler. We are weeks away from the next election in the Province of Ontario. You would think this might be an issue but, as with the last campaign, I expect to it be unfortunately quiet. Some things are either too important or not important enough to be debated at election time.

*I lie. There is an outlet of TBS 15 minutes walk from my house. I rarely go there but decent beer is possible to find there.

This Mid-February’s Beery News Stories The Cool Kids Are Talking About

Starting with more Olympic beer news, apparently Team USA has jumped into the spirit led by Canada with it’s own variation, Olympian’s drunk Dad. Well played.

Speaking of drunk Dads, Ben has written extensively and not without a bit of flair on the endearing awful bars which he insists can be distinguished from the more hipster friendly dive bar:

They have cheap wing nights, karaoke, a clock counting down to St. Patrick’s day. Big corporate branding shamelessly adorns every sticky surface; a tacky plastic archive of years of visits from beer reps with expense accounts and a few kegs to unload. They’re the kind of places where the food is almost never what you want and exactly what you expect: big, fried, heavy, and available with inappropriate amounts of sauce for drizzling/dipping/Buffalo-ing. Where they serve Pepsi in heavy, branded 16oz shaker pints and they scoop the ice right out of the well using the glass…these bars appeal to a baser part of me that remains from a time before I knew better.

I tend to think of such bars (“dumps” in my parlance) fondly if I recall them in safety of the theater of my mind. The dumps of my youth. Ah, the places my pals passed out in. But… you know, now I actually hate a bad meal, a sticky surface. My pals passed out in a place like this! And, then,  it’s a vicious cycle as snooty Oldie Olson beats himself up a bit inside for being such a loser. I can’t appreciate an actual unselfconscious bar anymore. But maybe that is OK – as they are often just grim bars for the unconscious.

Again, the everlasting “good people” question. Personally, I have seen no evidence of better or worse. Elsewhere, the media analogously sift clues. Because that is what they do.

No. No, I actually wasn’t.

I have absolutely no way to account for its sales growth” is an odd thing for a good writer to write. [Not anywhere nearly as bad as the too often otherwise stated “trust me” but… still.] For me, the reasonable or at least knee-jerk answer is that seeking all-purpose axioms are a bit of a mugs game.* The only fact needed to be known is that Two Hearted Ale is lovely. By way of comparison, have a look at what wonderful wine writer Janis Robinson wrote about the problem with typicality. I like how she points out that focusing on type is a distracting problem caused by a conservative approach and mainstreaming. Yet, Jeff is right that a pattern seems to be offended by the beer’s success. Does noticing such things reflect a natural desire for the means to account for such things, for the seeing of sub-species, for the hope for “some sort of convention in naming and labeling“? Just because it is a weak draw for me and some… is it so wrong for others and some?

Next, it is either quite hard to find an exclusively all-male WASP panel these days or, I suppose, quite easy:


Finally, as we all heard at the first end of the week, Stone has brought a trademark action to defend its branding against MillerCoors for certain presentations of its Keystone branding. As you can imagine, the actual law is dull as dishwater – as it should be. The only attention grabbing is the needy “He’s Hip, He’s Cool, He’s 45” stuff from that annoying member of of Stone’s ownership group.  Bryan Roth has a very good roundup of a number of  legal perspectives on the case, summarizing views ranging from “it seems like a pretty decent case” to the arguments are “a bit thin.” Like others, I emailed one of those quoted, Brendan Palfreyman, to ask questions. Turns out he’s in Syracuse about 90 miles to my south and we now know we know people. He assured me that the wild eyed hyperbolic form of claims made by Stone in the court filings are actually normal forms of pleading in the States. Have a look yourself. Sad. The Queen would never have it. Apparently, MillerCoors could move to strike a bunch of the junior high puffy but it would actually be unusual – unlike here in Canada where we lawyers operate with that cool clinical confidence that the Crown requires. Bond-like. That’s us. So… we can probably expect a second helping of a whole heaping pile of knuckle headed rang-dang-doo in the Statement of Defence which could be issued as soon as a month from now. That should be fun. My take? There is no confusion ever going to be had in the marketplace between the two products which have co-existed now for about twenty years.

Oh… not beer: the history of slavery on Prince Edward Island.

*See “good people” concept above.

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.