Putting The Cat Under The Cow For #MoneyMakerMarch

I didn’t plan to make every post for #MoneyMakerMarch build upon an idea set out in William Least Heat Moon’s foundational article on the micro brewing movement, “A Glass of Handmade” from the Nov’ 1987 issue of The Atlantic, but today I thought of this passage:

The New Albion Brewing Company, of Sonoma, California, the first true American micro, went under because it began bottling before it was financially able to produce beer in quantity. In distribution Jonah must face the leviathan. An industrial brewer can make distribution very difficult for a small brewer (sometimes by illegal means). One solution: eliminate distribution altogether by running beer from the maturation tank to the customer’s glass, or, as The Venerable said, “Put the cat under the milk cow.”

What a fabulous image. Put the cat under the cow. And what was the boom of brewpubs in the late 1980s is now the boom in taprooms. So, it was with huge interest that I followed up on Stan’s tweet this morning leading to a post at the The Mad Fermentationist, the semi-official news outlet of Sapwood Cellars of Columbia, Md. on just exactly how they are making money running their brewing and taproom operations to maximize a reasonable return. And what honesty do they bring to the discussion:

Most of our IPAs and DIPAs work out to $100-150 per ½ bbl keg. Self-distributing these beers for $200-250 there would be no way to make enough to cover rent, pay ourselves, and fund expansion. However, being a retailer of our own beers means we get $800-900 for that same keg sold by the glass and growler. It makes sense for us to charge a reasonable price ($7-8 for a 14 oz pour in a 17 oz glass) and have consumers return rather than charge a dollar or two more and end up having to self-distribute kegs (with the added effort).

Read the whole thing. Then consider how this is an example of open book brewery operations, giving secrets away to the competition. And to the drinker.  Now I know that $.80 of Whirlfloc and six cents of Zinc Sulfate Heptahydrate go into every 10 barrels of their Pillowfort ale. Didn’t before. There is really no reason for any brewery not to take this step in eager transparency. They even go so far as to say that while other breweries stick to percentage markups, they do not. Competitive advantage? It is now.

Any other open book brewers out there? Let me know so we can spotlight them as part of #MoneyMakerMarch. Meantime, go read the post. It’s fabulous.

“…107 Tons Of Beer And Six Tons Of Canary Wine…”

Later this summer, we are spending a few days in Baltimore. Looking forward to it in many ways including things beery… including brewing history. We know a bit about Baltimore and beer already. See, in the 1620s there was a brewery at the first Lord Baltimore’s colony at Ferryland, Newfoundland. And in their voyage of 1633-34, the Ark and Dove apparently carried 107 tons of beer and six tons of Canary wine to what would be the second Lord Baltimore’s colony at St. Mary’s City, Maryland. It would appear likely, then, that the pattern of settlement in the latter might include replication of provision seen in the former for that necessity for the community, brewing.

But can I find a list of the ships’ stores? Not a chance. There is a book The Flowering of the Maryland Palatinate from 1961 that appears to have a reference at page 15. There may even be a list of provisions in this article from the state’s historical society. But Lord Goog is either not so wicked or has not yet found a way to make a buck at displaying these full documents to me. Drag. You would think that lists of ship’s stores from early modern period trans-Atlantic sailing would be the hot item of the internets. The 1670s evidence is there for northern Canada. But Maryland? No. I blame Gen Y. I often do. I know it is easy but that’s why blaming them makes so much sense.

Baltimore Pit Beef For Christmas

Highlight of the last bit of 2007 (and have you realized that we are 3/4s though the first decade of the 21st century?) is going to be a trip to Baltimore. I got invited last Christmas to write a chapter of a book called Beer and Philosophy and now we are invited to the book launch.

Being a 20 watt bulb in the brightly lit world that is beer writing has a few perks and none is so perkier [Ed.: wow, did that came out wrong!] than the genial clan of more senior writers who will answer important questions like the one I posed to Lew Bryson about where to find the best BBQ in Baltimore:

The thing you want in Bawlmer is pit beef, a sinfully delish pile of rare, juicy beef piled high on a roll. There are several of these joints out on Pulaski Highway (like in this catty review: I liked Chaps, so there, nyah. I understand Big Al’s is closed now…sigh. More at this Chowhound link which also makes reference to the Double T local chain of diners (WELL worth your time for breakfast, my friend) and while some of them are not in the most savory of locations, the beef is nothing but. Pit beef is kinda like spiedies in that for some odd reason it’s never really traveled, but is definitely worshipful in situ.

Fabulous. Having already, in 2007, checked the wonderful western NY sandwich called a “weck” off my list of local US foods, the prospect of pit beef adds another layer of glowing orange to my vision of the next Yule. I found a great article from 2000 in the New York Times that further elaborates the concept:

Pit beef is Baltimore’s version of barbecue: beef grilled crusty on the outside, rare and juicy inside and heaped high on a sandwich. Several things make it distinctive in the realm of American barbecue. For starters, pit beef is grilled, not smoked, so it lacks the heavy hickory or mesquite flavor characteristic of Texas- or Kansas City-style barbecue. It is also ideally served rare, which would be unthinkable for a Texas-style brisket. Baltimore pit bosses use top round, not brisket, and to make this flavorful but tough cut of beef tender, they shave it paper-thin on a meat slicer.

Then there’s the bread: the proper way to serve pit beef is on a kaiser roll or, more distinctively, on rye bread. The caraway seeds in the rye reflect the Eastern European ancestry of many Baltimoreans in this part of town and add an aromatic, earthy flavor to the beef. Finally, there is the sauce. No ketchup, brown sugar and liquid smoke, as you would find in Kansas City. No Texas-style chili hellfire or piquant vinegar sauces in the style of North Carolina. The proper condiment for Baltimore pit beef is horseradish sauce — as much as you can bear without crying. And speaking of crying, you need slices of crisp, pungent white onion to make the sandwich complete.

This is all so excellent. One of my gripes as a Canadian is that there are few actual local foods. We can speak of Quebec cuisine (whether lowly comforting poutine or the selection of game that you do not get in English speaking Canada) and we can think of the seafood of Atlantic Canada but these are entire ranges of food based on local resources. A phenomenon at far too high a level. No, what I love about traveling in the US is that local thing on a bun that is made only in that neighbourhood or those couple of counties: Rochester’s garbage plate or the various regional BBQs of the Carolina, the pinnacle of one of which Lew encountered this week. Where is our Fat Boy fish sandwich with a wild blueberry frappe? Our humble hot or our bap and square? Where is our Chocolate Boston – which I have learned is made even more over the top at Purity Dairy by placing an entire sundae on top of a milk shake?