Your “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” And Other Beery News Update

The beery discussion this past week was woven with tales of travel. Don’t get me wrong. I think the whole idea of beer tourism is weird. If I travel, I save maybe 15 minutes every second day for thoughts about a beer. I like museums, beaches, shopping, seeing friends and family, wandering and napping too much to centre a trip around beer. But… that doesn’t mean you need to be like me. Going elsewhere to find new spaces to roughly replicate drinking at home and roughly familiar bars is great. And, as Nate above shows in the tweet of the week, it can be something that opens the door to lederhosen-based public silliness opportunities and “the best photo of me that’s ever been taken!” Which is good.

Jordan St. John went on one last Euro trip before the UK is, what, given the boot… turns its back? And he went to Brussels… which he found rather odd:

When travelling, you want to try to be positive, so putting this thought out of my head, I ambled along through bustling groups of tourists, instagramming along with them. It is in the nature of the tourist focused district to be reductive and sure enough every fourth store sold waffles and every fifth store sold chocolate. It took only a moment to realize that every sixth store sold beer and the dawning realization came upon me: “Oh, I’ve been rooked.” I’m not referring to the quality of the beers on offer, lest you think I’ve come unmoored. It is the depth, complexity, and overwhelming success that the brand of “Belgian Beer” has on a uniform basis.

Me, I was in Brussels for a week staying at a pal’s place in 1986 but stuck to the Jupiler and Guinness. Seemed all a bit heavy handed to me. Was told by a police officer in a long black leather trench coat to move along after the bars shut. Oh, and he had a machine gun. Still, Jordan also bought me a tie which I got in the mail and it was lovely so I thank him publicly. It says “Ind Coope Sales”! So his trip was not all for nuttin’.

Boak and Bailey have shirked their weekly new nugget obligations (again) while roaming around the land of lederhosen. I like this observation particularly:

Despite looking to British eyes like the garden of the nearby pub-restaurant, people were tucking into picnics they’d brought from home, unloading Tupperware and supermarket paper bags from rucksacks and baskets. (With typical German clarity, most of the beer gardens we visited had large signs explaining the rules pinned to trees: sure, bring your own food, but buy the drink from us, or be cast out of your community.) The garden itself also had a barbecue and a pretzel window. The chef tending the former rang a bell every time a rack of ribs was ready and seemed to be selling out, while even those who had brought their own tea were buying giant pretzels to go with it.

Travel writing needs more of this and less of the “my sponsor’s business is the best” stuff. Knowing where it is OK to have a beer in public and where you can eat a sandwich without offending is vital data.

Still on the travel theme, fellow Haligonian Rebecca Pate headed north to Iceland for an Arcade Fire show – and took a mo to report, as an aside to the main feature, on the state of the Reykjavíkjavíkian* bar scene:

The recent emergence of a craft beer culture in Iceland is tied into the country’s drinking history. Prohibition came into force in 1915 and effectively lasted until 1989. The original blanket ban on drinking became entwined with a sanction on beer specifically, as beer was closely associated with Denmark and the Danish way of life – it was therefore seen as unpatriotic for Icelanders to enjoy a pint. The day that the law was changed, the 1st March, is now celebrated annually as Beer Day (Bjordagur).

Perhaps most heroically of all, Lars went deep into rural Russia and undertook what might better be called “beer exploration” as opposed to beer tourism:

The village looked like any other village in Russia, really: a cluster of traditional wooden houses, neatly arranged in rows, with wide, grassy spaces (the streets) in between. The fields were ranged around the cluster of houses. We went down a couple of streets before finally we stopped in front of one of the houses that looked exactly like the others, except Marina was standing in front of it, waiting for us.

You know, every time someone writes a puff piece and calls their work a “deep dive” on social media I think to myself “that ain’t no frikkin’ deep dive – Lars is the deep dive.” Example. Note how Marina malted her own grain: “the malts are dried in a similar trough on top of the oven. So she makes very pale rye malts.” Which should be enough to put the  now well-dismissed “there was no pale malt before coke” fibbery to bed. The process is fabulously described. I want to now try this at home.

One last point on travel. Noticing a lot of people noting they are not traveling to the GABF. Is anyone still going? Why?

Not travel. I had this article about a new brewery in NH shared with me because of the headline but, as I also work in construction for a fair share of my time, this story is refreshing as it has the underlying theme of brewing beer as slowing down as opposed to adolescent manic passion. And the use of “local” rather than “independent” or other such PR claptrap is always good.

Fabulous footage of 1972 hop picking action.

And, finally, this sort of pointless picking apart of alcohol related health advice that is really verging on obsessive compulsive.  If you really prefer to die from a liver disease other than cancer, take comfort and keep pounding back the booze.

There. Another week’s update done. That was all very cheery, other than for the wee fibs o’craft stuff. As per. Want more? If Stan doesn’t pick it up again, if Boak and Bailey never get back from holiday you might want to check out what appears to be a German-sourced English language period update from Bier, Bars & Brauer now in its 23rd edition. Until next week , exeunt!

*No, really… it is… look it up… HA HA MADE YOU LOOK!!!

All The Good News Beer News For 03Q218

What day is it? The meds are making for a blur. Without getting overly graphic, the other day there were four hands within inches of my nose and two of them were working a thread and needle. Gums were tightened. Rearranged. Anyway, it’s not been a time for gulping buckets of ales and lagers but it has been a great time to wallow in both mild misery and brewing related social media with a slight sense that things are either not right or, you know, the meds… so…

First off, given Vlad’s news in the lead up to the Russian performance art event mimicking an election that he now controls a nuclear powered cruise missile as well as a submarine bomb that now hover and skulk amongst us all ready to strike if we… what… say bad things about him… well, in light of that the news about Russian barley seems a little less important. But, it is interesting to read how Russia has become a key bulk exporter of our favorite grain. I don’t expect this to directly change much – but indirectly, the overall market might get shifted in a way that benefits the Western beer buying public due to new malt quality barley flooding the market.

While we Canadians are (i) subject to the Crown-in-Canada and (ii) members of the Commonwealth, I can’t imagine setting the opening hours according to somebody’s wedding. Do my UK readers care?

Lew blogged.

Next, if you click on the thumbnail to the right, you will see a promotional photo for BrewDog* from, I am told via Stringers on Twitter, the year 2014. Yet neither of the Google Image searches for “BrewDog sexism” and “BrewDog feminism” are otherwise particularly productive. So… keep all that in mind as you read on about their great new PunkNotWorthy class PR stunt (coming just days on the heels of their million beer giveaway PR stunt) and then their still a teensie-weensie bit odd apologetic confessional. Why mention the “talented team of women at BrewDog” as you ask to be excused for an admittedly botched stunt? Being newbies to taking an actual stance on an actual thing exterior to their imperial corporate existence, it seems they also borrowed this from (or at least failed to heed the failings of) the sexist / not sexist stratagem behind last week’s gaff by Stone. The best that can be said now might be that it is bad if superficial marketeering. The best we can hope upon reflection is that it was an entirely miscalculated act of sincerity by a corporation that is fairly immune to simple sincerity. Further comment: Mhairi McFarlane, Craft Queer, and many more. And M. Noix Aux Bières made an interesting observation:

There’s something badly wrong with the beer media when a company messing up its marketing gets more coverage than their announcement, in the same week, that they messed up one of their recipes.

Is that all there is? Big bulk craft. Getting it fairly wrong. Again? Leaning on the PR. Again. Because that’s what big bulk craft does. Does anyone care about these globalists anymore? It’s great route to medium term millions but the long term often see weirdnesses arise. The yeasty yogurt non-movement of 2016, for example. If you need any further proof of that reality, look at the news released on Tuesday that Sierra Nevada is changing direction, dropping innovation, getting back to lean on its flagship SNPA and hiring a PR firm to flog it.  Subtext: branch plant expansion hasn’t panned out, sales have dropped, panic setting in, “let’s not let SNPA turn out like Sam Adams” muttered around the executive committee room during breaks even as they set out on that same path.

There is another way. A more thoughtful path. This interview of Francis Lam, host of NPR’s The Splendid Table contained this interesting tidbit about the relationship between good drink and food:

There are people who have a beautiful wine with every meal, but for a lot of people that act signifies something special. You have to eat, but you don’t have to drink, so the idea of having something at the table that is there, almost purely for pleasure, is meaningful. I think for a lot of people that signifies that we’re here to actually enjoy, rather than just feed.

This is an aspect of the beer and food pairing discussion does not focus on, giving all the attention as it does to restaurant settings. Simply gathering and enjoying. How rad. It is even more interesting when considered along with this column from the ever excellent Eric Asimov of The New York Times in which he discusses how austere herbal old school value Bordeaux go so well with food even if not separate sipping. It would be interesting to see unloved or less understood beers highlighted alongside foods served at home that bring out their better natures… but that would require craft beer and pop beer writers to admit (i) value matters and (ii) some prominent beers are, you know, sorta duds.  But you are not a slave to either trade associations or the other voices who would control you, are you. Have some pals over, treat them swell and see what works over dinner. After all, this is only beer we are talking about.

Infogramtastic news! This important NEIPA tasting graphic passed by my eye this week. Click for a larger size for the full details. This decade’s wide leg jeans.

Celebrity newbie brewer or local newbie brewer?

And finally, Pete added a strong contribution to the discussion about pay-to-play in beer writing** as sort of a wrapper around a disclosure statement about a drinky junket to Catalonia:

I’m going because I’ve been keen to check out the explosion in Spanish craft beer for several years now and think there will be some genuinely interesting stories, but haven’t been able to afford to do it under my own steam. Will my reporting of the trip be influenced by the fact that I’m being given hospitality? I don’t believe so (beyond the fact that I’m actually there, of course.) But any story I write about it will carry a disclaimer explaining that it’s been paid for by someone else, so the reader can make up their own mind.

While we have never met,*** Pete and I have gotten along as web-pals for well over a decade but don’t really see eye to eye on this in each instance… but we see the same questions the situation raises so it was good to read his commentI was wondering what your reaction would be!” For me there are two things: self-certification and subject matter control.

As I have said before, it is not up to the writer to suggest that they are the self-certifying measure of any reliability. Only the reader can judge the result. But as long as there is disclosing, the judgement is informed. When I hear of folk presenting as beer experts or, worse, journalists quietly running review-for-pay schemes or side-gigs as law firm holiday tap takeover party as partnering hosts but not openly disclosing, I tend to place their other work in, umm, context. I am entirely sympathetic to the need to make money in a minor niche like good beer but one person simply can’t be all things. Promote and influence or research and write. The key word being “or” of course.

The bigger problem is one Pete might be implying in passing: “…beyond the fact that I’m actually there, of course…” It’s not, in fact, that he is there. It’s that he is not somewhere else. Where no one else is. Where no trade or tourist association pays the bills for travel and hotel. Where the beer isn’t free. I put it this way:

I need to better unpack your thoughts. You sit near a line. Main general quib? Lost stories of the unjunketed topics. Explorations. The work of @larsga is best example. Deep down, though, perhaps I never admired you more than when you were mid-Atlantic alone on a container ship!

Lars Marius Garshol, without a doubt, has done more to exemplify what researching in the service of understanding beer and brewing should be than anyone else in this decade. He has spent what seems to be every spare moment and every dime on seeking out the rural, secret brewing patterns lurking in the countryside of the northern third of Europe from Norway to Russia. These sorts of creative efforts and the resulting independent focus is what leads to innovative, interesting and reliable writing.  He sets a very high standard for not only me, the playboy amateur armchair historian, but even places more driven and diligent traveling researchers like Robin and JordanBoak and Bailey, Ron and (yes, of course) Pete**** in rich context. But it is a shared context. Pete makes that very clear, sets out the whole picture and places himself in that picture at his own angle of repose. We all do that. It’s just that some do it better and more openly than others while a few don’t at all. It shows.

There. Another week in the books. Please also check out Saturday’s take on the news from BB2 as well as Monday’s musings from Stan. I look forward to their corrections and dismissals and outright rejections of some or all of what sits above. It’s no doubt what’s needed.

*Disclaimer: I got boxes of BrewDog samples a decade ago. And I think I may have bought one small can of their beer coming up on five years ago on this trip.
**Disclaimer: I got boxes of BrewDog samples a decade ago. And I think I may have bought one small can of their beer coming up on five years ago on this trip.
***Because I hardly ever go anywhere…
****In fact, if I had the money, I would fund them all to chase after narrow and likely hopeless projects knowing they would come up with some of the best finding and writings as a result.

The Problematic Third… No, FOURTH (!) Week Of The Intern’s Beery Links

Week three.* I understand this is when a beer blog intern really lets the side down. I mean there is gardening to do, day dreaming about ice cream making demands and quality napping time to be enjoyed. Me, I weeded the leeks and harvested the garlic just yesterday. I’ve no time to write my own stuff. I clearly need a need a break. Fortunately, others have been doing a particularly swell job keeping an eye on the ball so there has been lots to think about this week.

What Is Bad Aurosa and What Isn’t

First, my co-author-in-law Robin LeBlanc wrote an excellent piece on a beer which neither of us are likely to ever see on a shelf let alone buy. Aurosa, a Czech brand aimed at… women. All of them apparently. All at once. But that, as you know, makes no sense. Robin deals with this handily:

…the type of women they have in mind are a very specific subset. Usually white, thin, rich, and the type that identify deeply with Kendall Jenner’s instagram account. There is nothing wrong with this type of woman, but if you’re going to market to all women you have to acknowledge that we’re not all one type and that is why women don’t need a brand of beer specifically for them.

This has wider implications beyond this mockery attracting form of thick-headed sexism… which, BTW, can in turn attract casual hate.  The fact is beer is not manly and also not not manly. It isn’t noble or ignoble.  It’s a fluid that gives you a buzz for lots of your money which can be branded in any number of ways, even the quite stupid – and, as Maureen wrote about in 2009,  even the blatantly racialized. Why all the attribution? Money? Money.

I illustrate the tendency in reverse. One aspect of the chameleon-like status of gender and brewing has been the presentation of early brewing as all female, an argument often begins with a paragraph on that Sumerian goddess. It is that, yes, and more. And less, too. Jay some time ago posted a helpful list of all the goddess and gods and neutral deities of brewing. The list conveys the many labels cultures and eras imposed on the joy juice. We make of it what we want. Or someone wants to tell us to want.

As with many things about beer, along with the money I blame the alcohol but if we do consider the many faces and facets of beer and brewing over time and cultures, for me, the interest lies in the diversity of ways it acts as a conduit – a trigger even – for both the highs and depths humankind can come up with.

Lars Travels East So You Don’t Have To

Clearly driven by more than booze and cash, we have Lars. Is there any more dedicated beer researcher than Lars Marius Garshol? This week he is sending tweets from out front,  where the new ideas and ancient ways are to be found. The eastern front that is. He sent out this update on Tuesday:

On the road to Kudymkar. Car shaking so bad I can’t look out the window sideway, or I’ll be sick. Should be there in an hour or so.

According to wikipedia, Kudymkar is a town and the administrative center of Komi-Permyak Okrug of Perm Krai, Russia. Lars took himself there to document traditional rural farmhouse brewing techniques and his twitter feed is on fire. Well, it’s not. OK. It is not flammable. But it is a hot take! Fine, it’s not – as it is actually well researched and properly considered. Let’s just leave it that his work is fascinating and valuable. This one tweet is more marvelous that 98% of the entire internet. What did you do for beer this week? Not much, right?

Rich Brats Pay Others To Make Beer

Much has been made of the article in Forbes on the three sons of rich people who are starting a brewery. The reality that money speaks for money may underlie the very access to the publication. Fun making of the three lads and story’s errors is to be found at Beervana but the best thing is the plan they proudly describe to make “pilsnar” – it’s the bestest dumb thing about beer of all this week.

But the matter may have gone to far with this question posted by John Urch: “Have three more arrogant, hubristic people opened a brewery?” As we all know, the answer is yes (and you can all name them.) Often it is a requirement for big craft success.

Andy Crouch on the Need for Transparency

The release by tweet of Andy’s July 2017 column for BeerAdvocate has caught the attention of more than a few. There was even the obligatory if weak gotcha .gif sighting. In his column, Andy* argues that the problem with big beer buying into craft bigly is all in the disclosure:

…consumers have a right to know about this. If you’re a Big Beer-affiliated brewery, own that. Don’t hide it. In your company’s “About Us” or “Brewery History” page online, don’t omit that AB InBev owns you as almost every formerly independent and now High End brewery does. Don’t play cute about it with the press. Stop telling consumers nothing has changed. Anyone saying that is either lying or negligently naive.

I spoke up thusly: “Add transparency about contract brewing + non-ownership financial arrangements, too. Maybe records of health + safety orders.” See, what matters to me has little to do with ownership but plenty to do with interests. I don’t care to spend my money on bad employers or false fronts. If we benefit openness and transparency, let the light shine everywhere. I want to know who is getting paid by whom, who is contract brewing, who is cashing out, who isn’t a good employer, and whose civics are admirable.

Other Stuff

More fun hate on for BrewDog. Why do they make it so easy?

Our stunned Jim Koch quote of the week explains what his version of big craft thinks of some of its customers – those who like to think:

It’s a dilemma other nationally distributed craft brewers have faced, including Jim Koch, the founder of Boston Beer, which makes Sam Adams and has annual sales of $879 million. “If you make great beer,” Koch says, “and people love it and drink it, and more and more of them love it and drink it, the beer geeks will turn against you. You’re talking about roughly 5%, but they’re an influential 5%.

If you are reading this – heck if you are reading about beer at all – that’s you. Get in line. Money needs more money!

Presenting a far more coherent grasp on reality, Stonch returns us to the topic of pie and mash reviews, with Jeff’s deft hand giving grace to an otherwise modest corner of English culture found in a car park.

And finally, Stan wrote a well thought out piece on what it means to be a brewmaster. Another form of over-reach, self-promotion exposed in a way. Is that all this is about?

And there we end your Monday morning story time. The book is being gently closed, your blankey adjusted, you can finish off the last of that nice warming drink and go back to quietly dozing at the office for another summer’s week.

*No, it’s the fourth, you dope.
**Disclosure: we hung out once four years ago.

Russia v. Green Bay

Beer teaches. At least in the sense that you learn a few things when hunting for beer stories. Consider this latest decree from Vlad Putin:

A ban on consumption of beer in public places came into effect in Russia this month, but no one knows how effectively it can be enforced. President Vladimir Putin ordered the ban following months of parliamentary debates. Supporters of the ban, coming shortly before World Health Day Apr. 7, argue it could help rising alcoholism and indiscipline, particularly among the young. The new law bans consumption of beer in places like recreational parks, sports buildings, educational establishments, medical institutions and public transport. The fine for violation would be the equivalent of 3.50 dollars. Legislation passed in August last year had banned advertisement of beer. But consumption of beer, considered by many to be a soft drink, continues to soar.

Compare that to a 110 year old prohibition that continues in part of Green Bay, Wisconsin:

In a city with an image of pubs full of Packer fans enjoying a pint while watching the game, one neighborhood has firmly stayed dry. Not an ounce of alcohol has been legally served in public anywhere in a three mile-by-two mile area on the city’s west side where a 110-year-old law still bans the stuff out of fear that saloons might degrade the neighborhood. But area business leaders say the ban has crimped development. They hope voters opt to scratch the booze ban in a referendum Tuesday, when more than 20,000 residents will be asked whether to let restaurants and hotels serve alcohol.

Obviously there is a lot of middle ground but it would be interesting to see 50 people from each land dropped into the other.