Beer News For The Week When You Learn 1/52nd Of All Human Thought Relates To The Super Bowl

Well, that was quite a something. The game was dull and boring the halftime show was worse. But it’s over. And, really, you only get one “Prince in the rain for your halftime” experience in a lifetime. It’s all degrees of sucking from there. Otherwise, three weeks to March. That’s all I know… so, let’s go crazy with some beery news on a Thursday.

In a surprise move, the beer ads on the Stooper Stupor Super Bowl broadcast actually triggered actual discussion. It started with the odd message from ABInBev summed up neatly with this tweet.

To be clear, Bud Light is not brewed with corn syrup, and Miller Lite and Coors Light are.

Which immediately pissed off big corn. So MillerCoors sent corn farmers their beer! Since then we have been reminded that much high test US craft also relies on corn sugar to boost its strength. This is called chaptalization in wine and it is not considered good. Mainly because it is considered bad. But with US craft beer it is apparently considered – on the near highest authority – to be very good. A rice v. corn debate then broke out. It was exciting. Me, I was caught up in the moment and noted that “138 years of a massively popular rice-based beer and its cultural place still confuses some commentators.”  Stan piled on historically and noted with both flair and panache:

On January 30, 1881, well before A-B took aim on beers brewed with corn, the author of a full-page article in the Chicago Daily Tribune chose the side of rice in the rice versus corn debate. The author stated, “Corn beer is not a drink for Americans or Germans. It is good enough for the Spaniards, Greasers, Indians, and the mongrel breeds of South America.” Instead the author lauded the exceptional crisp taste that resulted with rice, and added, “for years the ‘blonde,’ or light colored beers have been fashionable and grown into public favor in America.” The author also suggested most breweries in Chicago used rice, while Milwaukee brewers used corn.

Me, I’m pro-corn since at least 2008. And I am pro–rice, too. And Jeff’s from sugar beet farming stock. So we are all the better for the whole thing.

Changing gears but still on the general theme of “Knowing v. Not Knowing What’s Real” last Saturday England’s newspaper The Telegraph broke the news that no one had considered ever before – that there is a craft beer bubble! To be fair, the article mainly focused on the bubble from an investor’s point of view.

“There is still growth, but the market is now much tougher for new entrants,” says Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst at market research group Mintel. “The number of brands is outstripping the growth and now people with money are wising up to the market. If someone asked me to invest in a craft beer company now, I’d say ‘no way, that ship has long sailed.’”

Hard to disagree with that.* And in Colorado, a fourth brewery had announced its closing – the fourth just since 2019 began. Remember: money likes money, not fads. Apparently thermometers are sorta fads… or at least not traditional…. or someone was having a bad day. Speaking of making money, there was an interesting follow up to the news last week of Fuller’s sale. Head Brewer, Georgian Young tweeted:

Thank you @Will_Hawkes it has been a strange week with so many uncertainties for some colleagues but my great team @FullersHenry @FullersHayley @FullersGuy along with the Engineers, Tech services, Quality et al are looking forward to the next chapter friends

Then the former Head Brewer, John Keeling, tweeted: “Today I took people on a Fullers Tour, not sure if there will be many more.” Melancholy days even if the future is arguably… well, hopefully no less as bright.

Attentive readers will remember Robert Gale. He won the 2012 Christmas Beery Photo Contest. Well, Robert is living with Crohns Disease and recently had a stoma  – or alternative nether region – installed. He recently tweeted about a post he placed on his blog with this fabulous invitation to readers: “Here’s my experience when I tried beer for the first time since having a new bum installed“! Here is his post entitled “Beer and Stoma.”

Once upon a time, an anonymous brewer berated R(Hate)Beer on this here blog. Now, with the announcement that it has been fully owned by ABInBev, he is not alone.  Which is a bit unfair but not entirely unfair. Oddly, the former principle owner wrote on the competing – and for my money superior – BeerAdvocate:

RateBeer is a quality-focused organization, and our value to the community has always depended on our integrity, and willingness to put in greater effort to produce more meaningful scores and information. I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to serve you all. It’s been a great pleasure meeting so many of you in person, and through this more fully understanding our important role in industry, and the joy, pride and responsibility felt by so many out there in RateBeeria.

That’s nice. As I have reminded you all often, always remember there are people out there behind the blogs, forums, tweets and… what else is there? People. And money. People and money. And beer. People and money and beer.

#FlagshipFebruary is one week in and – boy oh boy – are there ever more days in the month than actual flagships out there, aren’t there. We learned that macro brewed Euro-imports are allegedly flagships. We learned that a brewery can have eight flagships.  And another can have a sexist flagship. We learned that it’s  departure lounge beer, “stupid” and a “legacy craft promotional thing.” It’s cloudy and new, too! We also learned that all the sponsorship were only to make sure the writers chosen to write blog posts got paid.  [Ed.: we are just having a personal fugue state experience for a mo… and… we are back.] That’s nice. The upside is that it did not die a dumb death.** And this one won me (even with the “moule frites” for mussels and fries***) by proving this is not just, not solely #OldBeerForOldGuysFebruary. Plus I was reminded how wonderful McAuslan Oatmeal Stout is from a modestly priced can. Fabulous! The downside is we still have no idea what it all really means other than some sort of odd booze-laced homage to the Counter-Reformation. Whatever it is, what it is now won’t likely be what it is a couple of weeks from now. Stay tuned. I’m rooting for it. Really. Like almost 50/50 on the upside. Well, except for money for writers. I’m 100% on that especially given how much money they are getting each!

That is it. Early February ice storm out there as this goes to press. Need to shuffle along not knowing exactly when my feet will be cut out from underneath me. Meantime, look to Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday for updates on these and many more good beer news stories.

*Some always try.
**An actual phrase in our household: do not die a dumb death. Like the award winner “Doubt it, Ralphie!” which I thought was a line from some forgotten early 1960s TV comedy until Dad told me that when there was a neighbourhood kid who hung around when I was maybe four who just lied all the time. Name? Ralph.
***I just can’t shake the sub-motif of Turgenyev’s Fathers and Sons.

Your Thursday Beer News Notes For The Week Winter Showed Up

I should not complain about having to shovel snow on the 20th of January when its the first real snow of the winter. It’s not that tough a life. Five weeks to March today means it won’t be all that bad from here on out. What effect has this on my beer consumption? Not so much in volume but now is the time when a pint of stout and port is added to any sensible diet. I say “a” pint with care given the concoction should be somewhere in the area of 10% alc. Yowza. But when does great reward comes without some risk?

Not long after last week’s deadline for news submissions, Ed tweeted that he had “[j]ust been sent an excellent article on rice malt beer 😉” The study describes the potential of rice for brewing and sets out an optimized malting program allowed water saving.  Which is cool. But it is also cool that it is about the use of rice which, except for corn, is the most hated of fermentables. This is despite the fact that rice beer came to Canada about 93 years ago – well after it was brewed in the U. S. of A. – a fact which has been fabulously preserved for us all in the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case The King v. Carling Export Brewing & Malting Co. Ltd., [1930] S.C.R. 361 at page 373 about the production of beer during the era of US prohibition:

I do not think we can accept the suggestion that there was no market for lager beer in Ontario. The learned trial judge dwells upon the fact that rice beer is peculiarly an American taste, and infers that it is not sold in Ontario. The evidence in support of this does not proceed from disinterested sources and I wonder whether the boundary line so sharply affects the taste in illicit liquor. In truth, it is stated by Low that it was not until some time in 1926 that the respondents began the manufacture of rice beer, and we are not told at what date, if ever, in their brewery, rice beer wholly superseded malt beer.*

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we stopped calling it “American-style lager” and just called it rice beer… or corn beer as the case may be? Will it take another century to pass for good beer to admit this fundamental reality of North American brewing culture?

Beer at the Post Office? Thanks Vlad!

I am still not sure what to make of #FlagshipFebruary.** Like a lot of you, I have been making up alternative hashtags like #GoldenOldieAles, #FlogshipFebruary and #PartyLikeIts1999. But it’s earnestly offered and, you know, as long as there isn’t a secret spreadsheet being sent around to members of the good beer PR-consulto class prearranging who are going to each write about this or that fabulous flagship as a way to artificially drum up interest and maybe future paying PR gigs, I think we might actually come away with a reasonably good taste in our mouths.

It reminds me a lot of by far the most successful of such hashtags, #IPADay created in 2011 by this blog’s friend Ashley Routson aka The Beer Wench.*** But (and this was not really the case in 2001 so laugh not) I would argue was easier to determine what an IPA was in 2011 than figure out what “flagship” mean today. As I am l not clear what a flagship really is, I asked some questions like if the Toronto brewery Left Field consider their oatmeal brown Eephus (1) their foundation (2) their flagship (3) both or (4) neither. They wrote:

We’d be comfortable calling it a foundational beer. We don’t really refer to any beer in the lineup as a flagship. Along with a few others, it’s one of our year-round offerings.

Seefoundational does not (usually) mean flagship. More evidence? Consider this September 1990-ish beer column on the state of affairs in Lake Ontario land. It mentions the venerable and largely forgotten Great Lakes Lager. Foundation? Sure. Not the flagship. That’s now Canuck Pale Ale. You know, flagship might also even be a slightly dirty word in the trade. A tough row to hoe for the industry marketers behind this scheme. But hope lives on eternally in such matters as we learned from the new CEO of Sierra Nevada who, faced with the task of turning things around for the musty ales of yore, stated:

…he’s bullish on Sierra Nevada’s prospects heading in 2019 and he’s projecting 5 percent growth. He believes that advertising will help turn around Pale Ale’s negative trajectory, and that continued growth for Hazy Little Thing, combined with increased focus on Hop Bullet and Sierraveza, will propel the company forward this year.

Advertising! How unlike beer macro industrial crap marketeers!! If that is the case, me, I am launching #FoundationAlesFriday come March to get my bit of the action. Join my thrilling pre-movement now.

Beer so horrible that it can’t really be called beer is rising in popularity in Japan as sales of the real stuff and the semi-real stuff drops.

Elsewhere, I tweeted this in response to the wonderful Dr. J and I quite like it:

Well, the multiplication of “style” to mean just variation leads to a dubious construct that bears little connection to original intent and leaves beer drinkers more and more bewildered when facing the value proposition of fleetingly available brands however well made.

Let’s let that sit there for a second. Fair?

Send a furloughed US Federal employee a beer. Or help with some unplanned bridge financing for an out of luck new brewery.

Even elsewhere-ier, Matt Curtis is to be praised and corrected this week. Corrected only in the respect that he wrote the utterly incorrect “in true journalistic style I was too polite to say” in his otherwise fabulous piece**** on what it was like going booze free for three weeks:

As I walked down Shoreditch High Street on my way to an event from the British Guild of Beer Writers showcasing alcohol free beers I passed some of my favourite bars and restaurants. I found myself pining to sit within them, simply to soak up the atmosphere. In that moment I felt that merely the sound of conversation and conviviality would sate my urge to drink more than any can or bottle of low alcohol vegetable water that has the indecency to call itself beer.

Lovely stuff.

Note: an excellent lesson in what it means to understand beer.  “It’s what [XYZ] told me…” is never going to serve as reliable research. Just ask, beer writers! Ask!!! Conversely, this article in The Growler serves as an excellent introduction to the 18 month rise of kveik on the pop culture commercial craft scene. I say pop culture commercial craft as it has been around the actual craft scene for a number of hundreds of years. Much more here from Lars.

How’s that? Enough for now? Winter getting you down? Remember: things could be worse. I think so. Don’t forget to read Boak and Bailey on Saturday and then Stan on Monday if you want to stay on top of things. Perhaps he will update the impending contiguous v. non-contiguous acreage rumble we’ll all be talking about in a few weeks.

*Buy Ontario Beer for more fabulous facts like this!
**Though I do like the concept of the pre-movement.
***Note: I make no comment on the wide variety of beer “wenches” or “nuts”… or “foxes” or “man” or any such other monikers. At least they don’t claim to be an expert.
****The current edition of Boak and Bailey emailed newsletter contained this bit on Matt’s experiment: “…it all seemed pretty reasonable to us. But even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be any of our business. We did wince to see people in the business of beer berating him for his decision, and winced even more deeply when we saw people nagging at him to break his resolution.” I agree that this is sad and, I would add, smacks of the nags shouldering the alky’s burden themselves.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max finally gets a real job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I Consider Bert Grant, Torontonian

I have been thinking about the Torontonianness of Bert Grant,* the owner of the the first brewpub to open in America since Prohibition. We are told that after “a long career working in big breweries on the other side of the country, Burt* Grant moved to Yakima in 1981 to build his own brewery: Grant’s Brewery Pub.” This 1997 news item on that year’s sale of his brewery (which includes some timely puff about expansion tied with quality control all care of his new partners whose skill set including running a big tobacco firm) describes his origins in this brief passage:

The Scottish-born, Canadian-bred Grant, 68, began honing that palate at age 16, when he went to work for Canadian Breweries Ltd. (now Carling). His brewing career led to jobs in the hops supply business, which brought him to the heart of Washington’s hop country in Yakima, where he opened a tiny brewery in 1982.

On 3 August 2001, Michael Jackson published a rich obituary for Grant that is still there online which describes, along with a few of his odd character traits, his early hop obsession:

“When you were brewing Canada, ales were still very popular. How many units of bitterness did they typically have?” I once asked. “I don’t know. I hadn’t invented the scale,” he replied. He was reputed to carry a vial of hop oil, and to add it to glasses of Bud, Miller or Coors when they were the only brews available. He was said to have done this at meetings of Master Brewers in Milwaukee and St Louis, dismaying his peers. “Michael Jackson adds it to his coffee,” he is alleged to have said, in his defence. Did he really say that? I think that joke was coined by beer-writer and consultant Vince Cottone.

I am nosing around working on the hypothesis that I was discussing with Jeff on the weekend via tweet. And down one alley I found this fabulous passage below from the Fred Eckhardt Oral History Interview of July 23, 2014 stored as part of the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archives Oral History Collection at the Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries. The interview of Fred Eckhardt (FE) was conducted by Tiah Edmunson-Morton, Tim Hills (TH), and John Foyston (JF):

FE: Yeah. Yeah. And then, the fella from England. What was his name? He was a nice guy too. Um…
JF: Not Michael Jackson?
FE: No, another…
JF: Oh. Was he a brewer here?
FE: Yeah, he had a brewery finally, over in Washington, and then here. I can’t think of his name either.
TH: Oh, Burt* Grant?
FE: Burt Grant! Yes.
TH: He was English?
JF: That was the “nice guy”. That threw me off. [All laughing]
FE: You knew him?
JF: Yeah, I knew him.
FE: And you didn’t think he was…
JF: Well, he was uh, a character, but see, you were an equal, and I was not. I was a mere sprout. So… [Laughter]
FE: [Laughter] You just got older recently. [All laughing] I’m not gonna tell everybody you were 67.
TH: Happens all of a sudden. But yeah, Burt was really early.

Beautiful. Makes sense. I have not read as widely about Bert Grant as I hope to soon but it is so nice to read that he was a bit weird, maybe uppiddy and a touch disagreeable. We are all so quick to praise and beatify to the point of blandification that coming across the mere human in craft is becoming sadly rare.

*Oddly, seeing his name spelled as both “Burt” by some sources like the interview transcription but “Bert” by Michael Jackson and The New York Times.

Still Not Backing Down For Four Hundred Years

What a great ad. It basically sums up everything about American brewing for the last four hundred years. It’s so absorbing you hardly notice how weird the music is. Part movie soundtrack when Gene Hackman smashes the Mopar though downtown. Part Eminem run through the graphic equalizer. It sounds like it starts at a point about a minute, fifteen seconds into the crescendo that started in last fall’s “Choices Have Consequences” ad. And the message builds, too. Poor widdle cwaft thinks that it is all about the big bad brewer running scared but it’s not. It’s gleeful assertion meeting commercial reality. The upstretched middle finger to some. The assertion of tribe to many others. An umbrella for those who buy the 80% or more of beer that is still light, inexpensive and easy to drain. It’s lovely. The greatest part of the loveliness is, however, not just its in the design elements of the presentation but that it addresses the same set of themes which have consistently sprung from or imposed upon brewing on this continent ever since warmed water was poured over cracked grain by our first founders around four hundred years ago.

=> Beer creates aggregation. Obviously the ad is about might. Brewing in North America has always been about the generation of might. A powerful place within the industry. Leveraging the wealth it generates out into society. It took a few generations of the pre-industrial pre-Revolutionary Dutch brewers of New York state to achieve it. It took brewers like John Taylor a lifetime in Albany of the mid-1800s. It took E.P. Taylor about a few decades in the mid-1900s. And it took a decade for microbrewing to spawn millionaire and billionaire big craft from 2005-15. Through co-operation, collusion and control brewing creates the opportunity to generate wealth, independence and even power. This is good as it is success. Sipping is not so good for success.

=> Beer is a means to an end. Not only does brewing aggregate but it does so in a repeated similar pattern. If you follow Michigan brewer Larry Bell on Facebook you will notice he spends a lot of time not brewing in Michigan. He in on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico or some such place. Interestingly, members of the mid-1750s Dutch brewing dynasties did the same thing. Anthony Rutgers IV was a privateer and lived on Curacao tending to the Hudson valley Dutch plantation trade that extended well past the British invasion as well as the American Revolution. Beer actually appears to dislike folk not improving their station in life. It attracts money too readily. Big craft branch plants on the east coast or in Europe are just another form of expansive market control that beer has always undertaken.

=> Beer is cyclical. Just as Mr Bell is retracing the wake in the warm water Mr Rutgers sailed in the 1700s, brewing repeats itself in overlapping cycles. Anything that imposes on the production of grain seems to restart the clock. The Hessian fly causing the deprivations and hardships of 1788-90 are not unlike the relationship between the Civil War and, as with the standard rules of baseball, the development of a homogenized taste for premium lager… not to mention the later dominance of industrial light lager after World War II. It also takes on and defeats – or at least holds down – the challenges of traditional brewsters’ beer houses, self-sufficient estate brewing, temperance drinks, imports, brew-your-own operations, micros, home brewing and now new nanos as they come forward each in their turn. These things come in waves but brewing continues. It knows it needn’t back down.

=> Beer is responsive. It needs to react to external forces. The overlapping cycles are not determined by brewing. It is the natural response of brewing to reassert itself in the face of crisis to maintain production and profit. It also reflects simple cultural change. It’s not by chance that micro brewing takes off in the 1980s concurrent with factors like the variety of cable TV and androgyny in pop music. It’s the decade that the range of choice explodes. Micro brewing follows that greater trend. Had the pioneers of micro not come forward rest assured other pioneers of micro would have come forward in the same cities in pretty much the same way. Beer responds in the late 1700s and early 1800s to scientific advances in agriculture in the same way. The Agricultural societies which arose after the end of the War of 1812 gave stability to the new farming lands and spread the news about scientific brewing just like cable TV informed consumers that they wanted the new beer because they wanted new cheese. Beer is responsive because it is one man – the ancient everyman – now carrying the keg, now armed with stainless steel at scale. He (or she) is fighting ocean going container ships stacked with uniformly Heineken green cargo boxes.

=> Beer is pervasive. Because brewing has transitioned in response to societal change over and over it has earned its place. Unlike, say, the mustards on the grocery shelf the aggregating tendency of beer needs a team. It asks for loyalty and gets it. Why would inexpensive joy juice not? It’s the mild affordable anesthetic that gets you through life. Tribal affinities are natural whether they are constructed of the cult of craft or light lager in the NASCAR stands. It’s heavy metal and new country. Craft and social media. Trains in the late 1800s sent out the message of better cheaper beer than the local brewer was making or charging. Trains from places like St. Louis and London, Ontario carrying casks branded with names like Anheuser-Busch and Carling reaching out from larger and larger breweries placed near those other train tracks which reach out into the grain fields. Beer informs you about both progress and legacy. It’s where you’ve been and where you are going. Get in line.

=> Beer resists. Because beer wants to keeps its rewards it pushes back and fights. If the fluid in the Bud ad up there was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale you would not have to change out many of the other elements. The boosters would just have to swap places. It does not like to hear other points of view. Big craft – including its co-opted communicators – is as much in lock step as the Bud ad as much as the 1600s to 1700s Dutch then 1800s to 1900s German brewing dynasties, each taking care to include all the cousins in the benefits. The business formula is too certain, too successful to do otherwise. No wonder we have identatext book after identatext book. Beer likes puff. We already see discussion in craft like this has fallen away. Disagreement is now disagreeable. It’s all the Borg. Bud is truly not backing down. No beer backs down. Because? America.

I love it. I had a Bud on Thursday night. I have one a couple of times a year. About as often as I have mashed turnip. They are both unpleasantly bitter and they are both cultural touchstones. Neeps are the ultimate statement of Scots cuisine. Bud is America. I get four clear phases: sweet rice, lumber, dirty bitter hop and a stale finish which more of that sweet rice quickly remedies. You are not supposed to like it. Turnip? It’s not yummy either. You are supposed to accept it like the other realities of life and be grateful for the comfort it brings. Bud tells you about North American life, too. It’s not fussy. Lemon flick. It meets you on the level. Given the existing kit that’s long paid off, it’s easy to make following instructions out of readily available resources – even as it tells you it’s difficult to make. You need to rely upon its word on that point even though you can make an acceptable substitute for less in your own kitchen. You can actually make good beer easily in your own home. But you don’t. Because you are part of something bigger. Something that works. The same way. Every. Time.

Divisive “Local” Craft Culture Clash Marketing

My own favorite local.
 

Stan linked to this story a few days ago. It got me thinking… but not fast, “get me to the keyboard” thinking. It was this bit at the beginning that got me mulling:

I was watching a video online when it was interrupted by a commercial for Budweiser. The name of the spot was “Do You Know Where Your Beer Is Brewed?” Soft guitar music played while clips of idyllic landscapes and sunrises peaking over breweries slid across the screen. Nothing out of the ordinary there. The gentle voice of the narrator says, “With 12 breweries spread all across the United States, your next Budweiser is closer than you think.” Budweiser hangs its hat on the fact that it can produce the same beer at 12 facilities and it will always taste exactly the same no matter where you drink it. No small feat, to be sure. But then the voice adds, “You might even say we’re America’s largest local brewer.” My eyes narrowed and my brow furrowed. ‘What in the heck is this?” I exclaimed. “That is our word!”

Our word? There’s a lot of weird words in there. Not the least of which is “our” – whose the hecks is that referring to? Don’t get me wrong. I like the work of the author Jeff Baker just fine. He’s the manager of the Farmhouse Bar and Grill in Vermont. Nice place. Real nice. Just not my local. Because “local” can mean that, too. The distance of the drinker from the drink.

But that’s not his point. It sorta illustrates mine but that’s not really the goal of where I am going. He is asking about local ingredients. If you want that world, go back 200 years and have a look at the Vassar day book with local beer being made of local grain and hops being sold back in small batches to the farmers and tavern keepers of the central Hudson Valley just getting back to some sort of normal after the devastation cause by the Revolution. This is the mid-1830s book but in the 1808-11 book the economies of beer are clearly still defined by the cart horse. That is actual local brewing. Are we willing to go there? Doubt it. You don’t really want local. You want some local. Now and then. But you want the global economy beer made with the best ingredients brewed on the newest, bestest equipment. Right?

Craft beer and macro are not all that far apart in this respect. Brewed on computerized stainless steel to a scale and upon a recipe that meets the needs and budgets of their respective clients. The only actual local thing that is reliably present at the brewery is the staff. Hard to be a brewer who lives over 45 miles from the brewery. There’s a hint by the way. If the person discussing the beer in your glass doesn’t live about that close, not a brewer. Sales guy, likely… owner, sure… but that’s all. Both use good foreign malt and distant, shipped in hops. Both tweek their water and yeast to match those found elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong. I like “local” just fine. It just means, for me, the bok choi and beets I have growing out there in the yard. Not beer.

When anyone in beer – whether Bud or craft – claims a word like “local” or “small” or “real” there is marketing going on – even if only to a small circle. Even if only to the speaker. It’s all unnecessary. When I think of Bud, I think of the brewery at Baldwinsville, New York to my south where local people earn a decent wage. If I have a decent hoppy IPA, I think of the three nations and seven generations needed to make the beer exist. Beer is global and has been since at least the 1400s when the Hanseatic League was beginning to ship Baltic brewed hoppy beer to the Low Countries. Except for odd examples like postwar agricultural collapses like Vassar faced in 1808. Except for that, it’s been beer or large parts of it hauled out from the hold as often as not since the Dark Ages. Good non-local beer.

Michigan: A Two Hearted Ale And Then A Miller

When we got to Lansing it was too late to do anything like shop for beer. We had a hotel pool to cannonball into, then a supper to find as well as a baseball game to attend. The tickets seven rows back of home were nine bucks, my Two Hearted Ale was four-fifty with dinner and huge mug of Miller at the game was six. It was all good. The Miller was perfect on a hot hot evening, sweet corn and grainy barley with none of the off tastes like boiled veg and damp cardboard that too many of the basic macro brews get labeled with. Cooling with no bothersome strength to speak of. A craft beer would be spoiled by the temperature that I wanted with this stinking mid-western humidity.

More Vital Information On Third-Category Beer

I suppose that if I ever tried it or if it had a name that did not sound like something out of Blade Runner I would have less of a fascination with that fluid in Japan that is called “third category beer.” This article in the The The Daily Yomiuri, however, is full of tidbits that make me wonder what this stuff is really like:

“Faced with gasoline and food price hikes, consumers are looking for better deals on some products. Third-category beer, which is often made from soybeans, corn and peas, is priced cheaper than regular beer and happoshu low-malt beer. Beverage makers are fiercely competing to keep prices low, while trying to produce tastes close to that of regular beer. The key to third-category beer’s success is the low price, and shipments surpassed those of happoshu beer in May. A 350-milliliter can of third-category beer sells for about 140 yen at convenience stores, about 20 yen less than happoshu and 75 yen less than regular beer.”

How excellent: “…close to that of regular beer.” Yum. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had similar clarity in our macro-brewing? How many beers would have to call themselves happoshu that now hold themselves out to be beer from barley?

Book Review: Great American Beer. Christopher O’Hara

This is a handy neat smaller format hardcover that the publisher was kind enough to FedEx me this week. And I am glad they did as this is a dandy guide to its exact topic: post WWII, pre-micro revolution pre-branding US beer. The author gladly admits this in the introduction:

The antithesis of the recent microbrewery revolution in America, this was a time when the major beer powerhouses took control of the brewing industry and, in the grand spirit of American industry, relentlessly quashed the small, independent producers that relied upon local support. This story is about the Americanization of beer, where homogenized brands – grown through a mixture of political clout, industrialization, and marketing might – became the best loved, and most heavily consumed beer brands in the world.

This is an unapologetic book in a time of review and perhaps revision. As Ken Wells discussed in Travels With Barley, despite all the efforts and successes in the craft brewing revival, this is a continent of lovers of beer-flavoured water making that still the primary cultural phenonmena to be grappled with when considering beer.

This book tells the story not so much of how that occured as who was involved. And it does so with style and wit. It is a primarily a series of fifty 500 to 200 word essays on the individual brands that made up the wave of oneness that is macrobrewing, from Bud to Blatz to Utica Club. Because this is as much pre-brand as pre-craft, there are no discussions of those “Bud Draft Dry Light Ice” sorts of beers that popped their heads up starting in the late 1970s – the word Light…or rather Lite…does not appear in the table of contents. This is a book that argues for a golden age and makes a pretty good argument for it. Even with the eighteen page history, this is not academic tome or a deep dive into the culture but, as you can expect, that could be an issue which, once raised, might be legitimately greeted with a shout of “academic, schmacademic.”

The book heavily relies upon images of the collection of beer stuff collector Erik Amundson, which you can see at the web site www.taverntrove.com. This is good and well handled as the advertising, packaging and other flotsom and jetsom of the brewers played such a huge role in differentiating a homogenized product. It is presented attractively along with well-written, informative text providing a book for the beer fan not scared to be presented with the phrases like “trendy imports” and “craft snobbery”. I’d say get it.

Beer Science: Pabst Against Pabst

pabst2

Ever since my pal portland came up with the phrase beer-tasting water, I have been a little too obsessed with Pabst Blue Ribbon. But then I realized I had a unique opportunity to perform my sort of science experiment: a side-by-side comparison of a PBR from the US against one brewed under license in Canada by Sleeman of Guelph. Even though any possible outcome of this project will not advance the human condition one bit, I took on the challenge.

pabst1First, I noticed the price. A six of Canadian PBR is $7.50 at the LCBO. The US version was $4.60 at a gas station on 12E, east of Watertown, NY. I knew I was getting ripped off, too, as I had seen $3.29 for the six at another place that was sold out. Then I noticed the cans. There is clearly more blue ribbon on the PBR stateside. Does this matter? I suppose not. Both also have the River Plate red sash which is quite natty.

pabst3To be honest, the beers taste pretty much the same – sort of bland, the pablum of beers yet without off flavours and somehow comforting. Like pablum, no self respecting adult would look forward to the taste but, once presented with it (like a new father feeding pablum to his little baby for the first time and scraping it off his hands knees and forehead), one is less turned off than one might expect. Yet the Canadian version, right in all pictures, is clearly a notch lighter and by the end of the glass as it warms and the bubbles die away it maybe even more watery.

What have we learned? Not much. Except I have ten more in the fridge.