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.

If This Is Thursday That Must Be Columbia… Or Tunisia… Or The Beer News!

Big day around these parts as the lad graduates from high school today. Victory! Burn the text books!!! He’s outta there!!! Speaking of ceremonies, let’s just jump into the good news this week with that fabulous photo of a Great Lakes Beer* delivery to a wedding party last weekend. You ever notice the breweries you really like are, you know, really likable? Great customer service.

Speaking of fabulous, M. Lawrenson issued a fabulous edition of “News in Brief” last Friday and coined a classic: “Bud Gear Hunting“! I giggled all weekend over that one.  It is a wonderful thing to watch one man battle the humourlessness that good beer has fallen into. You know how people keep having to say “remember – beer is supposed to be fun!“? That sorta thing is needed to be said because it isn’t always much fun. And if you label this or that cynical, well,  you really need to get a fish.

Speaking of needing to get a fish, this vacuous response to a well placed query about shelf life QC was stunning… or stunned. Apparently (1) it is up to consumers to monitor the problem of stale dated beer on behalf of big craft (ie the ones with money enough) and (ii) the proper response to queries about why big craft can’t manage shelf life QC is:

And speaking of Collabs, that’s something we’ve been doing since 2004 or 2005. We’ve helped some awesome small breweries get attention they deserve, and have worked with some of the best in the biz. Super stoked to think about all the fun and great beer we’ve had over the years.

Now, that’s a wee bit cynical. Almost as cynical as attempting a pile-on while blurbering incoherently about “being indie” as if anyone cares. Folk should just try for likable more often. Who cares about “indie”? Better ti be likable. It is nice to be nice. Did you know Great Lakes Beer takes care of their own shelf stock to make sure that it’s fresh? Plenty of local brewers do. Because they can. That’s nice of them, isn’t it.

Refreshingly, there are actually clear headed people out there getting to the point of what makes for a great moment out in a pub and having a beer, people who are able to tell you what it is we really love about this whole obsession:

The result was a beer that warmed and lost its head too fast and by the end tasted like something that had been left on the bar for two hours. Of course, this poor bloke was alone and incredibly busy so he could be excused. Bollocks! No, I was the only client inside that pub and there were only two or three people outside.

Speaking of nice, the Drunk Polkaroo has been tweeting poetry.  “Open. Pour. Drink. Repeat.” is amongst his finest works. Ah, beer poetry. Beer Haiku Daily was a favourite of mine. Remember that? That was great. When people enjoyed just clean beer fun.

Here is an inordinately detailed discussion of Untappd that unpacks that craft-specific phenomenon of reluctance to acknowledge customer opinion. I’ve never bothered with Untappd but if you had you might want to have a look.

I am with Jason. As I said last week, it takes a bit of craft-quality amnesia to not understand that the microbrewers and then the craft brewers from the late 1970s to the early years of this decade were largely cloning the styles of Europe including, largely, the ales of Britain. So, while Matt is correct to suggest auslanders are reluctant to embrace UK craft, the diagnosis is not as suggested.  UK cask is one of the foundations of US craft and, frankly, UK craft has taken on wee too much cloning to stand that much apart. And hyperventilating. A bit of that, too. Not unrelated, there now is a Trappist brewery in England.

Serious but strong thoughts from Dr. Jackson-Beckham.

Finally, an actual serious story about the passing in Atlanta of Minnesotan Todd Keeling, a beer dispense system inventor, that Tom brought to my attention:

A fast-talking tinkerer and father of four was at SunTrust Park to install his beer tap invention when he died, his family told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday… Kuchta said her nephew was excited to learn that another MLB stadium wanted his beer tap technology, Draftwell, which was going to cut down pour times at SunTrust from a 14-second average to five seconds.

We engage in health and safety considerations throughout all the construction work I am involved with and we are always aware how dangerous familiar workplaces can. That is as true in all aspects brewing as any other industry. Very sad.

I will leave you on that note for this week. Remember to check out Boak and Bailey with the news on Saturday as well as Stan on Mondays.


*The one with the Great Lake being Lake Ontario and the location being Etobicoke and not the one with the Great Lake being Lake Erie and the location being Cleveland.

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?

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.


Al and Max and the Strange Blue Light

I have been playing with this addition to the adventures of Al and Max first shared with the world in 2014’s cult classic, The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer.  The five whole reviews of that first book left at Amazon have meant the world to me since that time. It is still available at a very reasonable $12.95 at Lulu and I assure you Max keeps every penny. He’s worth it.

I have played with the character of Al in a few posts a few years back but this larger piece has sat building itself in draft almost since the book came out. It is still in unfinished shape but I am not sure I will get back to is so… here it is. Oh, and you didn’t miss this post. I published it on 6 January but dated it to August 2017 when I last played with the draft.


1. The Shed

Alan was standing out in the backyard. He stood about ten feet from his shed, staring at it. He had gone out to put in a few more hours getting the garden ready for this spring’s seeds but for while now he had been staring at his shed. Again. His youngest child was staring at him from her bedroom window.

“Mommy!” she shouted downstairs, “Daddy’s staring at the shed again!”

He was. It’s true. He was just staring at the shed. He couldn’t get over it. It changed his life. How had Max and Ron materialized through the back of the shed all those times and now nothing? Then, what made that door to other places and other times close itself to him? He got mad for a while. Then a bit glum. Then, when winter passed, he found himself just staring. He had tried to find the invisible button, ran his head over every inch of the damn thing, kicked every half rotten board trying to figure it out. It was becoming clear that his portal was now just an outside closet full of little used tools and broken bikes.

“Come on in for supper, Dad,” the boy called, leaning out the back door.

“OK. I’ll be right in.” He didn’t move.

“Mommy! Daddy’s still staring at the shed!” his youngest shouted again a few minutes later.


He thought he had moved on. He was going to work. Keeping up with the laundry. You are never prepared for when a project is done, he said to himself. The porch gets painted. The manuscript goes in. The co-worker gets assigned to another job. Snow comes. Six months later you are so deep into the next job you’ve pretty much forgotten about the day to day crap the last one – and the one before that – stuck you with.

But then one night he had a dream. In the dream he was staring at the shed. That was nothing new. Shed staring dreams were common. They competed with that dream about the boss springing the grade 11 math exam on him without warning. But on this night the shed door was open. And there was something glowing at the back.

Al awoke. He couldn’t shake the idea that the dream meant something. He tweeted Max who, with the time change east, was already in the pub over in Prague.

@pivnofilosof: You had a dream about your shed? Again?

@agoodbeerblog: Yes… but it was more like the shed was talking to me in my dream.

@pivnofilosof: Have you been drinking?

@agoodbeerblog: No. Just put on coffee, why?

@pivnofilosof: I dunno. Maybe because you are tweeting me about your goddamn shed again?

@agoodbeerblog:Oh, OK. I suppose. But this time it was different.

Max read the messages from Al patiently. It had been weird. But he was Argentinian and understood weird. Al he went on and on, again, about the meaning of the dream. Well, Max really just sent tweets like “@pivnofilosof: oh yes?” and “@pivnofilosof: that’s interesting” as Al tweeted on and on for the best part of ten minutes. Max was in a pub on a sunny spring Saturday afternoon reading the paper and was enjoying himself too much to think all that much about a shed in Canada. Until that is Al got to the point.

@agoodbeerblog: It’s like the shed had a voice or at least wanted to tell us something.

@pivnofilosof: Us? It was your dream.

@agoodbeerblog: Us. You need to come over.

@pivnofilosof: No way. I am not starting this again.

@agoodbeerblog: I am not sure we really have all that much choice.

@pivnofilosof: What?

@pivnofilosof: WHAT?!??!

Alan was gone. Must have closed his computer. Screw that, thought Max. He was sick of the beer rant stuff. And a bit tired of Al. Nice guy but he hauled him though space and time and for what? The nonsense is still the nonsense and nothing is change. He read his paper a bit more, had another Únětická 10°.

Time to start thinking of supper. Before leaving for home, Max headed to the men’s room and, opening the door, he reached around for the light switch. Funny, he thought, it should be right there. He hand rested on a mop handle. No, it was a shovel. What the hell was a shovel doing here? He kicked something and tripped. “Why’s there all this crap in here?” he asked himself as he sat on his ass surrounded by junk in the dark. Max heard a voice calling.

“Hello?” Then the far end of the washroom the bright beam of a flashlight and a voice speaking in English. “Hello? Oh dear. Not a racoon at all. It looks like… Max?” It wasn’t the washroom. He was in Al’s shed.

“Fuck,” Max said. “Fucking fuck shit fuck.”

2. The Blue Glow That Spoke

Max was steaming. And bored. Hours had passed since he left Prague beer taproom. It was already midnight in Canada. He’d called home. Shouting and pleading in at least three languages Al didn’t understand. Arrangements could be made he supposed but until then here he was stuck with Al and that goddamn shed. They had been now staring at it for a few hours sitting on lawn chairs with Al going on and on about the shed. Max would be more than steaming and bored, however, if the shed in the corner of Al’s backyard wasn’t glowing a light neon blue. That was interesting. Weird even. Plus he has no idea how to get home.

“Maybe you should just walk into the light and let it envelop you,” said Alan trying to be helpful..

“Are you fucking joking? Walk into the light?” Max complained. “Let’s review how many times you get to do that in life. Once… and… oh, only the once.”

“Sorry,” Alan said, now remembering he had mentioned that idea about an hour ago. He looked at his beer. And the empty bottles by his chair. He now remembered he had mentioned it already a number of times. And everything else he could think of. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t ask for Max to show up like this… not really.

“I have to get home, Al,” Max said for the seventeenth time. “I really can’t be here!” Max swung around and knocked his beer over. He looked down, his disgust with the situation moving up another notch watching the excellent ale seeping into the ground. He stared. He stared at it some more. It was night. He was in Canada. He didn’t wanted any of this.

“I can get you another, Max,” Al said. “There’s plenty. What do you want?” Max didn’t respond. Al was worried. Al had been getting a little worried for a couple hours now. He thought Max was really going to lose it soon. And he was trying to figure out how to keep his neighbours from calling the cops if Max let loose with another string of his startlingly diverse multi-lingual foul mouthed language. But Max didn’t. Not now. He was just staring at the shed.

“Look,” Max said quietly. He was pointing. Alan looked. The shed glow was stronger all of a sudden. And the spot where the beer had spilled was now glowing blue as well. The light was moving, growing. A figure in blue neon had formed in the shed door. A big shaggy topped bearded guy with glasses, half see-through, half… half a blue glowing tweed jacketed, a very familiar figure. He moved towards them. Max decided he was reaching even his maximum weirdness capacity.

Alan and Max looked at each other, at the figure in the door and at each other again.

“OK… this is weird,” Max quietly whispered to Al.

“Holy shit,” said Alan not at anyone in particular. Then the scene went quiet as all three looked at each other not moving. The man in blue moved over to the chair that Max had been sitting on, grabbed the back and pulled a blue glowing ghost clone of it towards him. He sat down with a smile.

“Jackson. Jackson’s the name. I think. Or was. Or might be. Not quite sure,” the figure said rubbing his chin, brows a bit furrowed. “Any chance of a beer?” said Jackson’s figure with an almost fatherly smile as he looked around. Alan put a beer on the table and the ghost’s blue hand reached over and pulled back with a blue neon replica of the beer in his hand. He drank deeply, downing half the bottle in one long draw.

“So… why am I here… and, umm, why is… where is here?” Jackson asked.

“We have no idea… Micha… Mr. Jacks…” Alan said as he was cut off by the blue figure.

“Look… one thing you need… I need to… to understand. I am not sure…. I am not Michael Jackson. Not really. I am something like him but not him. I’ve been dead for a while now and, you know, what with that whole merging with the singularity thing… it’s really hard to keep track of how much of what I was is still what I am.”

Neither Alan or Max knew what to say. So they just stared.

“Plus you are projecting your expectations all over me. That’s a little disconcerting.” He rubbed at his chest as if he was getting itchy.

“Sorry. err, Michael…?” Alan said confused looking at Max. Max was just staring at the ghost in blue now. But he looked like he was getting into this.

“So…” Max was gearing himself up to ask, “so, you are a bit of Jackson, a bit of the universal and a whole bunch of what we think of you?”

“Maybe… Exactly! Couldn’t have put it better… I think..” The blue figure said. He congratulated himself with the rest of the bottle of beer. He waived the empty at all, obviously seeking another.

Suddenly, music was coming from the shed. A falsetto singing “we-hee-hee” to a 1980s familiar beat.

“Is that…?” Max asked.

“Yes, we are all filed alphabetically in there,” the blue ghost said. “I have to listen to that all day and night. The King of Pop. Not what I expected in the world to come. If he hadn’t died so young I wouldn’t have had to put up with him yet.” He made a motion as if to grab at his crotch and then rolled his eyes. Al passed him another beer which again was left in his hand as Jackson drew away the blue clone. As Jackson drank, Al could feel the real beer in his hand lighten as the contents disappeared.

“… the way-eh you make-a me feel…” drifted out of the shed quietly, echoing.

“So, if you aren’t Jackson… what should we call you?” Al asked as he handed the form another beer, not noticing he was now tapping his toe to the ethereal beat. Another clone of the beer came into being.

The Jackson-like form paused. “Hadn’t thought of that… need another name to describe this state of being, don’t I. Of non-being… I suppose you could call me Hunter. I recall something about that…” He drew on the beer, nodding approvingly.

“OK, how about we don’t, Mike,” said Max, clearly now exploring some limits. If he was going to be stuck here, he thought, might as well set some rules, enjoy himself.

Jackson didn’t take offense. “Sure thing. I am open to suggestions. How about Fred. I always liked Freds. You can call me Fred. Freddie Mercury. Always had a soft spot for him. Once in a while, I can hear a few notes from his direction when the crotch man gives it a rest for a bit. Fred Hill. Fred Flintstone. Yes, Fred will do nicely,” said the figure in blue with a smile.

“Fred the beer by Hair of the Dog… Fred  Eckhardt…” Alan continued listing out loud, still trying to be helpful despite the weirdness.

“Oh. OK, fine. I can’t be Fred,” said the figure as if he had remembered something quite important he had not recalled for some time. “Not Fred… he’s Fred… who am I?” he said trailing off. Looking around he added “… and where am I?”

“How the hell knows or cares… it’s not like I want to be here either,” Max snapped having gotten all a bit impatient as he stood to go get another beer. “Maybe we’ll just call you ‘you’ for now, if that’s OK. Let’s see how that goes.” He took a couple of steps towards the shed. “This is too goddamn freaky. I need to figure out how all this is going to get me back to Prague.”

“Prague?” The blue form asked? Alan made a quick face at the blue figure as if to say that was Max being Max, not to worry. He got a shrug in reply.“Prague is nice. I like Prague.”

“Me too.” Alan then realized he had never been to Prague, that he was making inane small talk with the semi-undead on one hand and, on the other, a magically transported Argentine wanting to be back in Prague. He got all weirded out again.

“So,” Max said rounding on the two seated figures, “my can you tell me a little about what brings you here this fine midnight?”

“Me?” the blue form asked, pointing at his own chest.

“Yes, you, for fuck’s sake. You!” Max said getting all pointy, raising his voice to match his irritation.

“Well,” he said, “it’s that anger of yours – it’s about that rant of yours. Your trips through time and space and the diary you published. It’s all come to our attention.”

“Your attention?” Max asked, “who’s that you, You? Are there other “yous” back in the shed?”

Al thought this “You” thing was already falling apart a bit. And he was worrying about the neighbours. Max was getting emphatic. He didn’t want to trigger that other sort of “Max being Max” thing.

“I was asked to pop by. I think. Yes, that’s it. I was asked to pop over and have a word. We just wanted to make sure that you two were not missing the point, losing your focus on what matter. You sounded so unhappy there for a bit,” he said. “It’s just beer, you know.” Jackson had another long approving draw on his beer.

Al could not believe his ears. Here he was. Looking at… the residue of what once was Michael Jackson… maybe, the spirit of the man who created the whole style nonsense, the one being on Earth who did more than any other to aggrandize the humble glass of ale – and he’s the guy who tells him that it’s just beer? Al’s mind raced, not knowing what to say.

“Oh, by the way… I can read some of your thoughts, too,” said the glowing blue man. “part of the whole other-sidey stuff. Sorry. Supposed to mention that. Quite interesting. Max, you have an absolutely filthy mind.” Turning to Al, he said ,”You can’t imagine…” .

“Oh, yes. Oh, yes I can,” Al replied, slapped again with the scarring experience of his travels with Max. So many new words. So many new bad bad words.

“Anyway,” the undead in blue said turning back to Max, “the general consensus back there,” he said pointing at the shed, ”is that your ranting ways have left you in a bit of a bind. You’ve snookered yourselves. You’ve come to dislike the thing you like, haven’t you? What’s the point of that?”

Max looked at Al and back at the speaker. “But you are… or, fair enough, were… the guy who started it all. Who got us into the predicament in the first place. Beer styles. Beer pairing. Beer expertise. You aren’t suggesting that’s all made up,” Max said, waving his hands around.

“No… no… well, yes… and no. I did have quite an interest in all that, I guess…” he replied a bit sheepishly. “But it was because beer was so underappreciated. You have no idea what it was like in the 1970s. I hardly have any idea. I can hardly remember it but what I do recall is that it was bad. Watney’s Red Barrel. You have no idea.”

“Yes, we get that, but how does that translate into what has happened to good beer? All the posing, the weirdo adjuncts, the overpricing… the communicators?” Al asked, wincing at the last word. “Surely, you have something to say about that?”

Max jumped in. “Let’s get to the point. How do you feel when people hold meetings and praise you ‘with many hosannas’ claiming there will never be another like you?”

“Didn’t work out too well for the last guy, all that hosanna stuff, did it?” he replied with a smile, turning to Max. “Honestly? It’s all a bit depressing, actually. I mean if I could be depressed. Which I can’t. Because I died. Or he died. Hmm… lets just say deadness resolves all that. It’s quite handy in a way…” He paused. “Don’t get me wrong. I spent my whole professional life looking for the next drink, the better drink –  and I made it… here… or at least not down there. That must stand for something. I clearly was not all wrong, lads,” he said.

“Yes, there is that,” Max agreed. Alan nodded.

“So,” he continued, “while I am not going to agree with you on everything you wrote, I do see that it’s a bit like the person who loses a loved one and then drops all interest in life. I mean, if I was such an example of someone who went out and made my personal curiosity about beer into my rich life’s work, then why is the proper response to my early and untimely passing everyone putting one’s feet up? Saying there won’t be another like that Jackson guy? Surely to G… sorry… surely, my example itself ought to serve as reason to go out in the world, follow curiosity and find new things that I never saw. You’d think that’d be some sort of legacy.”

“Not passion?” asked Max.

“Ha! I don’t see too many of those “passion” people up where I ended,” Jackson replied laughing, waving his blue empty bottle again. Al handed him another of his shrinking stash. “Well, no, that’s not true. Plenty of good folk like Robert Langridge. You see them.”*

Alan rubbed his chin, thrown a bit. “I guess I see what you mean. But isn’t there another problem with your legacy? Is there enough elbow room for the gang following your footsteps? I mean you were one of the few who has made a decent buck, made a decent contribution from just beer writing. Is there enough beer money flowing from the brewers to the thinkers and writers?”

Thinkers? Really? Look, grow up at bit, would you?” the glowing blue figure snapped. “You don’t have to die and sit for a semi-infinity in a place where time has no meaning mulling over stuff to know no one has a right to an income from an interest in good beer any more than you have a right to cash because you want to write. It has to be good writing to even be considered worth payment. Same goes for beer.”

“Exactly!” said Max exclaimed, “that’s my point!”

“Steady on, Max – it’s not all that profound,” The ghost paused and looked around. “By the way, any chance I could get a proper glass? Something of a goblet?” Jackson pulled a translucent litre can out from under his tweedy jacket and poured. “Your stash is fine, Al, but I brought my own just in case.” His translucent hand reached for the glass, poured and lifted a faint copy of the glass to his lips as the earthly one sat still empty before him.

“Does that really say ‘Westy 12’ on the can?” Max asked incredulously.

“And ‘Big Gulp’ and ‘As Seen on TV?’” asked Alan.

“It’s called heaven for a reason, boys…” the apparition said with a wink.

3. The Stars Still Stood Still

They talked. They drank. If time had had any meaning that night, hours might have passed. But as long as the blue figure was there, the mid-point of that night seemed to carry on, the stars holding their position in space even as the occasional comet raced by. The conversation carried on, Max showing less and less irritation and much more interest in what the blue ghost was saying.

“I remember realizing after enough folk I knew had died that they switched from being a subject to an object. Sometimes it happened immediately,” the visitor said. “One minute you imagine the next editorial meeting, based on the last one and the one before that. You don’t notice the guy in the chair next to you half the time but he’s a someone. Then you hear the guy’s kicked it and, just like that, he’s a character in your life. Locked in.”

“So,” Max asked trying to understand, “what you are saying is that not only are you not really you because you were something that is different than you are. And that on top of that you are locked in because what you are is pretty much all you can be?”

“Yup. That’s about it. Plus all that projecting. You have no idea. Folk project their expectations all over you after you bite it. It saps away the what you were bit by bit. The process of objectification I suppose. You guys aren’t too bad. You’re hardly draining me away at all now.”

“Yeah, I never read you that much – sorry about that,,” Alan said. “Nothing personal but I came so late to your books that I pretty much had framed my own ideas by that point. I am not sure what you stand for… stood for. I mean it’s all very fine to be the first at something but there’s not a lot that is mastered on the first go, right? Plus I came to good beer through Dave Line…”

“And I’m Argentinian,” Max said.

The other two looked at Max and then each other.

“OK… shut up… it’s complicated,” Max said.

Alan took another gulp of whatever was in his glass, looked up into the dark. And then asked “do you mind?”

“Mind? Mind being… blue? Dead and blue? No, not at all” he said as his blue hand waved away the notion in a glowing slash. “From this side of things you also have a good sense of what matters and what you ended up achieving. If you are lucky, it was something a bit useful. It’s a privilege and maybe even an obligation to do something a bit worthwhile. You know, I did get to teach a lot of people a good bit about something I really liked in life. Nothing wrong with that.”

“Nothing at all,” said Max. Alan just swallowed, then raising his glass to tap his neighbour’s. The blue outlined one just passed through, even as there was a quiet “clink” in the night.  They all sat and thought there own thoughts for a while under the unmoving heavens.

“OK,” said Al, “if we accept that it is good to be useful and share your skills, are there still opportunities and different views being excluded?”

“Never my aim,” the blue form said, “though the weight of the expectation to do so projects upon me terribly. Hardest stuff to bear. But, regardless of what people think, there is one single point that needed to be made which might seem like exclusion – beer was and remains disrespected compared to wine. You can repeat after me if you need to. Wine is more expensive than beer and is always been more profitable than beer. Wine is still held in high regard. Beer is taken for granted – dismissed. It may be because beer aim for consistency that they are considered a bit boring. Shifting the reputation of good beer was and remains critical. Folk like you two do nothing for the cause when you go on about the unbearable nonsense of it all.”*

Max and Al both visibly unimpressed at the idea of a “cause” but their companion was not to be deterred. “I have said it before and it remains as true today. Wine is never blamed for deaths on the road, family breakdowns or other social ills. It’s all caused by beer. So beer needs to be taxed to stifle demand, its advertising needs banned, its points of sale limited. These views are held by a surprising number of people with influence or power in bodies like the European Union. If I am going to find myself facing that sort of reality, I need to stand against it.”

“But isn’t that a bit done by now?” Alan asked. “Isn’t the day long passed where the cause needs boosters? We’re in the 5,000 brewery universe now. Every town of any size has a nano-brewing hipster or a good beer bar. Isn’t it long past time where we need to prop up the one-sided communicators with their identical blog posts about the same one junket? Good local beer stands alongside the good local wines made within an hour’s drive from here. The brewers and wineries even support each other. The wine is great. Oz Clarke’s writing about it, one of the up and coming underdogs in wine.”

“They make good wine around here? Really?” Max said. “Why didn’t you tell me? I like wine. You think I don’t like wine? Do you have some of this wine? How come you never told me about these wines? You thick headed freckled idiot.”

Al looked at Max, a bit surprised by his lack of hospitality. “You want some wine?” Alan asked Max, then looking at Not Fully Jackson. Seeing them both nod – and agree he was in fact an idiot – he went off to grab a bottle of local Riesling and a Pinot Noir from his stash. A few minutes later, he was filling his guests eagerly upheld glasses.

“Wow!” said the blue man holding up his glass of Devils Wishbone white. “That’s fabulous. Crisp acids, light fruit, creamy minerals.”

“Nothing wrong with that at all,” Max said, holding his glass up to the blue glow. “You really are an asshat for not telling me about this,” considering the wine with obvious experience.

“Fine,” said Al, “and it’s the limestone and loam that makes them that good – but the point is made. These are small local producers of excellent wines, no different that the small local brewers down the road. Good beer is like fine wine is like good cheese. Like good books and good… good… anything! But these days, it’s either overlaid with all this victim discourse or this needy even passive aggressive PR claptrap. You’d think we were talking about the endangered white rhino the way people go on…”

“…not to mention the pay for play whether in a bar’s tap line up or the contents of some of these communicator’s internet organs,” added Max, smacking his lips after dropping a second glass of Norman Hardie’s red. “You know, this would go well with a nice bit of manchego … or even lovecký sýr…”

“Or a good aged cheddar. You Canadians do a good job with that, you know. You wouldn’t happen to have… “ Alan was already walking again across the lawn back to the house to get them both some cheese, amazed how they well they were getting along.

“Grab some crackers while you’re in there,” shouted Max at Al’s back. “And olives if you have them…”

“Good call, Max” said Jackson approvingly.

4. The Path Forward

“You know, I knew you were going to say that” the blue form said.

“Of course you did. You can read our minds, remember?” Max said with a nod.

“Oh, yes. Of course. So where were we?” Al asked, nabbing that one last olive.

“Taste, local, good beer, good wine…” the blue man sighed, happy with the snacks. “It’s all about the same thing: is it good? When I started out, it was all so bad, so industrialized.”

Alan rubbed his the top of his head. “Bad? Isn’t beer always going through phases, being build up to a massive scale only to be replaced by the smaller and more agile? Even E.P. Taylor started out as a small disruptive force in brewing. It’s not about scale. You know, you once wrote:

Unfortunately people who take destructive and irreversible decisions based on “public taste” are usually ten years behind everyone else in their appreciation of whatever is at stake. People who quote “taste” to support their argument usually have no taste and no argument.**

“These days it’s not ten years or even ten months… ten weeks is old news,” Alan added. “It’s frenetic. So many brewers making so many beers with nothing lasting even long enough to be considered a seasonal anymore. Not to mention that craft beer has gotten so big.”

“And Big Beer’s gotten so craft,” added Max.

“You are quoting me to me, Al? What’s your point?” the ghost said. “Isn’t it enough that I am dead but that you quote the dead not living me at the now not living dead me?”

“Sorry. But it’s just that craft today is just a phase based on allegedly good taste as much as the next thing that passes craft by will be,” Alan said. “Craft craps on micro for not having the right taste. Big craft craps on big industrial for being supposedly “crafty” when the two are virtually identical. Whose taste can we trust if it all just marketing, just an argument?”

Craft? Ah, craft! So that really took off, did it?” the blue man rubbed his chin, “I remember using that back in 2003, probably earlier. It’s was still a fairly new word for microbrewing from just before I kicked the bucket, right?

“Well, it was all craft. It’s independent now. You’ve really have been dead for a while,” said Max who quickly – and somewhat surprisingly – regretted his rudeness.

“Don’t worry. It’s just a word” said Jackson a bit to himself. “…craft, dead… just words.”

“Craft,” said Al shaking his head. ”It’s become just another form of phoney, another bastardization of the simple goodness, a fraud on the honest price for an honest beer. Radler, for God’s sake…”

“They brought back Radler?” the ghost said taken aback. “I never thought craft would take on producing and promoting, a drink that looks like lemonade.”

“So much tastes like lemonade these days… and Gatorade… and…” Alan said.

“It’s all about finding the next trick to play on the consumer,” Max said, “the next junk additive to chuck in the next stupid packaging.”

“Adulteration? Adultery? Hint? Can anyone pick up a hint from the dead guy in the room?” The ghost of Jackson was holding his hands up with a shrug looking at Max and then Al and back and forth.

“I’m not following you,” said Al looking back and forth himself.

“Sixth commandment anyone?”

“Are you saying that the adulteration of beer was prohibited by God?” Max asked.

“Bingo!” shouted the unJackson. “Everyone thinks it’s about marriage but that’s already covered by number nine, the whole coveting thing isn’t it. No, the rule relates to the whole of life. Don’t mess with stuff pretending it makes anything better. As with marriage so with beer and any number of other things. People can smell a phony. Good beer has a hard enough time without the phonies.”

Alan and Max had no idea what to say. Then they did.

“Whaaaat?” they fell over each other saying.

“Wasn’t that exactly what we said after our trips in our diary about the state of good beer?” Max added.

“Look, I have to go. But I will be straight with you,” the blue figure said standing up. “It’s not like your little book set the word on fire or said anything everyone else wasn’t thinking already. But you seemed to have the right goal, the intention to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong about good beer.”

Al and Max shrugged in agreement as they also got up.

“See that blue glowing garden shed over there? Whatever that is – and I am not sure I am all that sure myself – well, whatever that is… it sure likes the whole right and wrong thing. I spent my whole life thinking about the good, the bad and the ugly of beer. Keep it up. But Max? Maybe a little less of the garbage mouth, OK?”

“Screw that!” Max said with a laugh. Ex-Jackson was walking back across the lawn.

“Well, it’s been fun but I must be going, gents. I can’t believe it’s this late in the…” He paused, considering how to explain non-chronology. His form was starting to lose some detail as he spoke the words. “That other Jackson fellow seems to have taken a break and I need to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s been good talking with you but there’s only so much guidance I can give you. Beer is complex enough yet so approachable that there are plenty points of view worth exploring.”

“Even the communicators, the storytellers?” Al called out as the blue form moved back into the shed, fading and merging with the blue glow.

“Even the commuuunicatooors!” they could hear his last words echoing from a distance. Then was only silence.

“… the way-eh you make-a me feel…” drifted out of the shed quietly, breacking the silence. Echoing.

“Was that a groan?” Alan said.

“Poor bastard,” said Max shaking his head, following towards the shed as the blue glow started to fade.

A moment later, he was gone as well, Al standing alone on the lawn wondering to himself if Max had meant to do that and where exactly he might now be.

*See Jackson, The Beer Hunter, “Sweet flavours from the cowshed”.
**See Jackson, The Beer Hunter: “Wine snobbery … and brewers who won’t learn or fight back” – Published in Print 1 March 2002, Brewers’ Guardian.
***See World Guide to Beer, page 204.

The Intern’s Beery Links For Mid-July

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

What’s gone on this week in beer?

When The Selling Out Game Has Some Weird Players

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

Cheery Not Niceness

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

Being Nice

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

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

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

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

Mentioning the Bad

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

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

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

Jet Setting

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

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

Other Stuff

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

Yes, Mirella. Very good tee.

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

AGBB’s Proof of Pumpkinness Assurance Certificate

pump1The tweeted response from Nickel Brook Brewing this morning read “how bout them pumpkins?” It was sent in reply to today’s hurried announcement of A Good Beer Blog’s Pumpkinness Assurance Certificate Program. The program was launched after many many minutes of study and consumer outreach consultancy upon reading this post by the venerable Boing Boing which explains:

Pumpkin is too watery and stringy to can, and the USDA has an exceptionally loosey-goosey definition of “pumpkin,” which allows manufacturers to can various winter squash varieties (including one that Libby’s specially bred to substitute for pumpkin) and call it “100% pumpkin.”

WHAT??? Boing Boing was/were just quoting an article at Food + Wine which contains this bombastic statement: “pumpkin puree is not pumpkin. It’s squash.” Oh gourd – no… we live in a land of LIES!!! Now, as Stan testified a few days ago, pumpkin beers are more popular than the chorus of complaints would have us understand. He told us to look at what people are putting in their shopping carts. Sounds like he should have told us to look at what brewers are putting in their mash tuns.*

pump2How many pumpkin ales are actually being made of this year’s pumpkin patch crop as opposed to last year’s bucket of miscellaneous variety gourd glop? How many other ingredients in your beer could be treated with such callous disregard? I posted a tweet bearing witness to the scene at Cambridge Brewing Company near MIT in Massachusetts on 18 August 2013. See the volunteers at work. How many other craft brewers put in the effort that Nickel Brook and CBC are putting in? Speak up! Do you know of one? Send in some compelling evidence and we can issue an official Proof of Pumpkinness Assurance Certificate Notification. For an unnecessarily large fee I am sure I could even draw, sign and mail a certificate to someone. And make sure you ask to see the paper before you buy your next pumpkin ale. Accept no imitations.

*By the way, I get it. I have seen a Blue Hubbard Squash. I have even grown them. Ugly as sin even if tasty as all get out. No wonder they keep them hidden from view. Might make the greatest ale in the history of mankind but no one is putting that on the label.

From “Beer Nerds” – Of All People

Shocking news from the front lines:

He also reveals that the angriest mail he gets is from “beer nerds,” of all people. It happens whenever he drinks a big-brand beer on his CNN show “Parts Unknown.” “The angriest mail I get is from beer nerds — people who are craft beer enthusiasts and see me drinking a cold, available beer from a mass production and they get really cranky with me, and they assume that I’m plugging it or something,” Bourdain told AdWeek’s Lisa Granatstein. “In fact, I just like cold beer, and my standards rise and fall depending on access to cold beer.”

I like cold beer, too, but not with this sort of firm sense of distinction. The header up there is a tiny paraphrase from an Australian ditto tale of the AdWeek interview. But the story actually has a quite detailed explanation of the way Bourdain approaches being Bourdain and, oddly, beer seems to play a role. In another response he states: “I have final approval on all this, so nobody is going to come in and say ‘Oh, by the way, you’ll be drinking a Tsingtao in every scene‘.” In fact, he seems to give beer nerds equally short attention as those who offer the opportunity to be “a spokesperson for every variety of gastrointestinal problem.” Yet not as bad Guy Fieri. Or Kobe meatballs. Which is somewhat comforting. Maybe.

How did good beer people get so… labelled? Such easy targets? I know – well all know thatthey did… but when did it happen? Is there a way to go back and fix it? Implicitly, Bourdain has lumped at least a significant part of beer fandom in a class with those who “bore people to death with something like your month-long program of drinking kale juice.” Or do you take comfort that he has a deep love for “processed or not particularly good, easily meltable cheddar-like stuff that I can make macaroni and cheese with“? Is the point, he is he and you are you and you don’t care?

If so… what’s been the point of all the craft beer PR spin over the last decade? Don’tcha care? I mean sure he can be dismissed as a strong personality but, given his obsession with quality and flavour and disdain for the phony, doesn’t Bourdain serve as at least some sort of barometer of good beer’s broader success? I mean if you can’t prove good beer is any good to such a beer drinking good food fan – what has the point been?

Your 2015-16 US Craft Brewery Dance Card

These are troubled times. One does not know what and who to hate or cheer on. Craft is either dying or transforming into something new and glorious. So you need some help. Click on the image for a bigger version. This is your cheat sheet. A notepad to carry with you at all times to make sure you know what you are supposed to think. You need to know what you need to reject.

* – no one really believes they are actually craft.
** – Actually Canadian, Belgian or something else but not ultimately US owned.
$ – sold out to big evil hateful brewing or money interests.
$$ – absolutely took big evil hateful brewing interests to the cleaner but still sold out.
+ – branch plant owner therefore just a small version of big multi-national brewing.
++ – just so big that it makes no sense to think of them as craft in any real way.
? – only allowed in craft so others could be retained in craft.
?$?$ – looking and hoping.

That’s just a start on my list. I probably missed a bunch. Let me know. If you click here you can get your own dance card to review, consider and annotate. Just make sure you use the dry-wipe ink feature on your browser so you can update this on a regular basis.

Scene From A Bar: Sandwich Tongs Or Not?

paulsbar“Have you always been such a crank?” the bartender shouted with his back turned.

I was used to this sort of thing. All I ask for is a proper pint glass for my beer and I get abuse. Same treatment every time. Who needs to drink their beer from a tiny glass trophy? Not me. Sure there isn’t that much different between a Chimay chalice and an old school beer US macro goblet from fifty years ago – but who wants to drink out of a little basin in a stick. Not me. I want a beer with a beginning and a middle and then an end. So I asked for the beer in a pint glass again. “But the brewery made this glass special for their beer. Wouldn’t they know better than you?” He was looking at me now, holding the thing up, wiggling the glass from side to side.

I thought about this for a second but then shook my head slowly. “You aren’t getting it, are you? It’s not that it’s just beer – it’s my beer. I just want to hold it without looking like a dingbat, smell it with plenty of nose space and drink it without ending up staring at the ceiling. Is that too much to ask?”

He gave in and placed the dark beer in front of me. The beer only made it half way up the sides. Which was fine by me. Lots of swirling room. It’s good to swirl your beer. There is something meditative about gently making circles on the bar with my glass as I sit slouched over it. Aromas making their way deep into my skull. Sip. Swirl. Sip. Swirl. Communion should be immersive.

“Hey Jerry!” The bartender looked my way. “How long have you been actually stocking those little fiddly snifter glasses anyway?” Instead of answering he walked right past me and pulled a book out from the shelf at the end of the bar then dropped it in front of me. He grunted something about page 110 and something about moron. It was The World Guide to Beer by Michael Jackson. First edition. Before he became everyone’s answer to everything related to beer, whether he said it or not.

“See?” Jerry said as he passed by my spot while he served another drinker. “Any more questions?” Like a 1970s Playboy centerfold, there they were in all their touched up slightly out of focus glory. Six Belgian beers, five of which sat in their own distinct forms of stemware. The rounded chalice of an abbey ale, the thistle shaped glass for a Gordon’s Scotch Ale. All great vintage beer porn. “A touch of elegance” Jackson wrote in the caption hovering over the pale lager.

“Touch of elegance? Sandwich tongs!” I shouted. Jerry turned and looked at me as if I had just shouted the words “sandwich” and “tongs” at him. “Sandwich tongs!!” I repeated now emphatically that I had his attention. “This is just like the caged cork bottle and the wax cap, Jerry, just a way to get another buck out of my wallet. It’s no different than the precious branding, the food pairing suggestions and the all the other crap I don’t need. Sandwich tongs!”

Jerry had given up listening half way through. He was serving someone else already. He didn’t even seem my little mime act called “Man Using Sandwich Tongs.” I went back to swirling and sipping for a while. Our universe was falling back into order. I was staring into the glass. He was selling beer. This dubbel was fabulous. Complex. Burlap and brown sugars. A sweater of a beer.

“Think of them like stereo speakers,” Jerry said to the top of my head. I hadn’t realized he was there. I looked up. “The beer is the music. You aren’t going to play jazz on something that is all bass. And you aren’t going to try to pound out heavy metal on something tiny and tinny. Each glass is shaped to suit the beer – even if it also has that branding on the side, too. It’s not like the brewery is asking you to drink the stuff out of the mouth of a chicken-shaped vase or anything. Would it kill you to try?”

Just before he walked away, he dropped a glass of the same beer I was drinking in front of me – in its branded snifter. “Sandwich tongs” I muttered at his back even if I got his point. I had had stemware plenty of times. But… never this one… on a side by side. I sniffed and swirled and swirled and sniffed. A sip from one. Then the other. Then the first again. This wasn’t bad. Not sure if I liked one better than the other but, yes, they were a little different. Hmm.

Swirl. Sniff. Swirl and sniff.