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.

“Click Bait!” Not Really Code For Good Beer Criticism

monkey4This week’s craft beer tantrum has come in reaction to a very well written personal essay attacking a number of specified effects of craft beer snobbery. In particular, strong reaction has come from the mixed revenue stream writer / consultant / appearance fee good beer personality seats in the audience. I have absolutely no idea why this column caused those in the front pew to reach for the book of common prayer to announce “click bait!” as one. But it does make one sad given how this exemplifies at least part of the state of critical thinking about beer these days. Makes one wonder what that agenda behind the Sturm und Drang is all about. Consider this passage from the impugned opinion piece:

When I go to the pub I want to talk to my friends about their lives, our jobs, politics, funny things we saw on public transport that day. Ward says that “craft beer is a conversation”, which really gets to the heart of the matter: I don’t want to have a conversation with my beer, I want to have a conversation with my mates. Combined with our loose culture of buying rounds, this “beer-as-backdrop” phenomenon is why it’s important for tap beers to be sessionable and relatively inexpensive. Beer blogger Martyn Cornell’s exploration of sessionability pinpoints the crucial difference between a “craft beer” kind of beer and what I, from an Australian perspective, would call a “normal beer”…

While Martyn has not entered into the “clickbait-clickbait” din, he has disavowed the citation on a Facebook comments thread. Which is unfortunate. Because what is described is a perfectly reasonable and attractive experience of beer. Who would want to see that imposed upon? Hmm? What’s that? Not good enough for some? Why? I don’t know. Not sure they do. Frankly, the knee jerk reaction has gotten to be such a matter of rote. There is a such race to post something righteous on Twitter that actual reading of the text in question seems to be optional.

Which, without getting into the bushes too deeply given how little I care about the uni-clique¹, let’s think about two things Boak and Bailey have noted lately. First, during the craft beer emo-crisis of a few weeks ago (they are coming so fast and furious that they seem to be the hallmark of 2015’s discourse) they noted of another article: “It actually made us laugh; the author writes with flair; and, unlike other pure clickbait articles (‘craft beer sucks and people that drink it are dicks’) it has an argument.” Then, last week they wrote the following in their discussion of the London-centricity of the UK’s good beer discourse:

Where there is a gap in regional coverage is, unfortunately, the blogoshire. A few years ago, beer blogging was all but dominated by Leeds. Now, Leigh Linley has taken a job in the industry and temporarily put his blog on hiatus; Zak Avery posts infrequently (though it’s always good when he does); while others have moved to other parts of the country, had children, or otherwise run out of steam. By their own admission, Birmingham bloggers Dan Brown and David Shipman are both ‘semi-retired’. And our favourite Bristol beer blog hasn’t posted since 2013.

See, it is not just that blogging is dead but as a prominent beer writer has confided this week, we lack those now who “stir the pot occasionally. Lord knows the readers could use the perspective.” Which makes me wonder.² A long time ago the happy land of beer blogging suffered an outrage – the invasion of pro writers pretending to be bloggers. We found a measure of peace. But then beer bloggers went off in a few directions in the last couple of years. Too many for the available cash decided to make a living out of it. From that we have received many interesting books and articles but we have also witnessed the rise of the mixed revenue stream writer / consultant / collaborateur / appearance fee good beer personality chasing the tail of craft. We then have also seen, as B+B said, the loss of interest by the pure amateur out of boredom at, I suppose, the now dull lock step cultish homogeneity of the scene due to the previous group separating off. And we still have those game actual professionals who actually do well thought out, critical and carefully presented writing about good beer. What a business. What a state of affairs…

Does one despair, fight the power or make pitches to the patient but not infinitely resourced opportunities for a beer writing cheque? Not sure other than I am sure it is all more to be pitied than scorned. By the way, I hope you disagree…. which would require you to make up your mind independently and not follow someone else’s agenda like a drunken lemming. See what you can come up with. Make Stonch proud.

¹ Which reference may actually qualify me as a “clique baiter”… neato …

² See Mr. Chimp Head up there? That is the “Al is wondering” icon if you haven’t picked that up yet.

Al And Max Theatre Presents: “Sandwich Tongs!”


The scene: It is later in the afternoon on a Saturday in summer. Alan sits on a stool hunched at the dark end of the bar back near the hallway to the bathrooms. His face is bathed in the blue glow of the iPhone screen into which he stares. The bar room is busy but he does not notice. Only his fingers move across the little screen. An nearly empty pint glass sits by his right hand.

ALAN: Sure, Curator. Same again. Large glass, please.
BARTENDER: (pours beer sets down pint glass two thirds filled) Remind me why do you call me that?
ALAN: (looking up) You don’t really care, do you?
BARTENDER: Not really. Just makes you sound a bit weird and pompous.
ALAN: (face in screen again) Better me than you, brother… (mumbles to himself as he thumb types) Sandwich tongs! Yes! That’s it. (makes little snorting sound.)
ALAN: Nuttin’.

Alan sits up, stretches and drains half his two-thirds of a pint of something strong and brown and Belgian.

ALAN: Was Max in today?
BARTENDER: (pausing to think for a second) Nope. Not that I can recall.
ALAN: (draining half remaining half of his two-thirds of a pint, digging for his wallet) Who’s playing tonight?
BARTENDER: Against El Glorioso?
ALAN: Yeah.
ALAN: You, you are a beautiful man… (stands up, drains his glass) Catch you later!


Sad News Of The Loss Of A Great Guy

scoop1I have been on the road all day so am just seeing now that one of my favorite beer bloggers, Simon “Reluctant Scooper” Johnson of England, has passed away far too young. That’s my favorite of the portraits of himself he posted over the years. I never met Simon but we talked now and then through emails, tweets and blog comments. I completely enjoyed his writing. His optimism, bimbles and – perhaps more than anything else – his sheer interest and joy in so many things. And his humour. Here’s his bio:

A bloke who likes beer. What, you want to know more? OK. Ex face-painting clown, lives in the English Midlands, works with data, loves pork pie, hates couscous. Married with one barbecue. Knows some brewers and publicans. And politicians. And, ahem, “characters”. Has written for papery stuff like Beer (the CAMRA quarterly magazine), Gin & It (UK drinks journal) and Beeradvocate (US beer magazine) but is still holding out to be the pub reviewer for Country Gentleman’s Pig Fertilizer Gazette.

Not sure many others could have pulled off the craft rope post or levened it with a bit of meaning as he did. And he thought to give thanks, too. He loved Orval. He helped with the grunt work of the OCB wiki. A friend has posted photos of how he spent last Saturday with Simon, goofing around. His sense of infectious fun came through in everything he wrote. You know, were this rotten news today to turn out to be a massive wind up of us all on his part I would think it a classic. But it isn’t. It’s just rotten sad news.

His blog can be found here and responses to the sad news can be shared on Twitter under the hashtag #RIPscoop. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

“The Art Of Beer Alchemy” By Chas Chumley

Just in case there is anyone out there named Chas Chumley, I should explain. A couple of decades ago, The Kids in the Hall had a very brief skit of a man walking down the street in a leisure suit. He had a spring in his step and was winking, nodding and pointing at the people with a certain zest. He was, the skit went, zim-zam-zoodlin’. He was, in fact, a zim-zam-zoodlin’ sorta guy. For some reason I can’t recall, that sort of guy got dubbed Chas Chumley. Pretty sure the name was not in a skit but in our house Chas stuck.

Chas is a man with certain capabilities. He reminds me of the confidence that you can draw from Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis which came out four years ago. In that anthology of earlier essays, Amis gave household hints on how to save money when entertaining guest by controlling what was in the liquor cabinet and the punch bowl. Given the news in The New York Times about how certain brewers are working to increase the price of your good beer, I wondered what would happen if the combined the confidence of Chas, the wizardy of Amis and applied it to the cause of good beer at an affordable reasonable price. Here is what I came up with for starters:

⇒ Start with a quality base beer. Last night, I opened an imperial stout that cost $4.95 for 500 ml. It was excellent and part of its excellent was the lack of those added flavours inserted into the swankier imperial stouts the cool kids buy. You may find one to your liking for an even more modest price.

⇒ Learn how to cork a champagne style 750 ml bottle. Get a home corker like this. Go in on it with friends and the costs per bottle plummet.

⇒ Think of the added flavours found in large format beers pushing the $30 range as notes that can be added in the form of home brewed teas or syrups. Need an earthy note? Add a quarter teaspoon of water that has had your best compost soaking in it. Need a rustic dark chocolate thing in there? Buy 50 cents of chocolate malt, soak in some of the base beer for a day in the fridge and draw off a touch as needed.

⇒ Control the alcohol content. Depending on the strength of your base beer, a eyedropper or turkey baster worth of neutral alcohol carefully measured and added with care will help you reach your target. But get creative. Need that popular bourbon note, too? Add a drop of Maker’s Mark. Need a sour twang? Add a sixteenth of a bottle of Orval for mere pennies. Remember: a little goes a long way and saves you money.

⇒ Finally, rely on the power of aging. Blending your own deluxe imperial stouts at home may leave them with rough edges that time can heal. Burying the bottles in a back corner of the basement or even the garden will add that mellowness that is a mark of a fine bottle with a double digit price.

This should work. Years ago, Joe the Thirsty Pilgrim and I discussed the possibility of home lambic and gueze blending given the phenomenal news that one can actually buy bulk Girardin lambic by the ten litre jug for peanuts. The same principle applies to, say, those double imperial stouts with added cheddar, the new Cheerio infused DIPAs or any of the other fancy and expensive strong beers with flavours added showing up on your beer store shelf. Who knows? Maybe in your jurisdiction, this sort of blending could be legal for your favorite bar, too. House blend swank deluxe. Consider the possibilities. Share your household hints for better entertaining in the new style. Chas is listening. Chas cares.

Having A Go At Beery Long Writing With Max

I have a few things burbling away. First in line, as you know, Albany ale needs to be properly addressed – especially given Craig’s more detailed research and clearer organization of the topic. Having stumbled upon the forgotten center of brewing of America before the lager invasion, it’s worthy of a proper job. But I had a rotten 2012. Things got in the way of good intentions and an even better topic. Time passed. Colds and flues came in and out of the house. The cat died. And I watched as Boak and Bailey gave hints that they were doing some long writing about beer in post-WWII Britain. Funk deepened. Not that I have lusted for authorship but there are bigger ideas than a blog can capture.

And, there is the opportunity to write in a format that is not only longer but… weirder. I was thinking of something mixing both Lawrence Stern’s Tristram Shandy of the 1760’s with The Compleat Angler of 1653 with Dada and Duchamp added for good measure. Which naturally made me think of the man with the biggest drinking vessel I have ever seen. Surrealistically large. Max, the Pivni Filosof takes up the story:

I must say we are both very excited with this. We’ve been exchanging e-mails like two long distance lovers (minus the raunchy pics, fortunately) in order to give a shape to this project. It’s still too soon to say how long it’ll be or when it’ll be ready. What we are sure of, though, is that it will be something completely different to anything that’s so far been written about beer. The topics we are going to deal with, well, I guess those that follow our blogs can pretty much figure them out, and they will all be wrapped in a fun and perhaps rather surrealist narrative. The first words have already been smithed, the journey has just begun. We’ll see where it takes us. Be ready.

Not sure I am ready. But I do look forward to discovering how not ready I am. Especially the footnoting. I am hoping one will be scratch and sniff. A Kindle can do that now, right?