The Mid-June Edition Of Thursday Beer News

June. The middle of June. Or, as we called it as children, the miggle. I am in the middle of a “very important thing” in my “real job” so my attention has been solidly on the hobby news.  Jordan said the nicest thing the other day when I mentioned I bought a pair of p’raps 1970s casual trousers* which used to be owned by the late financial manager of the Rolling Stones:

Alan, the cool thing about you is that beer is not even in your top five strangest hobbies

So true. Except I am not cool. I have teens so I am clear on that point. Yet… beer and drinks is a hobby to me. As it should be. A sauce upon a hobby. Life’s drizzled sauce upon an idle hour. No more. June. June lets you know that’s true. Hours and hours of idle are waiting for you in June. You can sit out in the yard and see five species of bee in June. If you know what you are looking for. As you sip on a beer. I have books about bees. And a pair of casual trousers which used to be owned by the late financial manager of the Rolling Stones. Life is good.

The big news around here (meaning on this planet) is how the wee Donnie T totalitarian love fest found the great big orange thing attacking Canada for acting like an actual nation state. “Boycott!” is being chanted in the streets. High school and undergrad soccer team pal o’mine, political journalist Steve Maher suggested a boycott of US drinks. It’s an easy matter these days given the excellent craft beer we brew not to mention our own Ontario wines.  I’ve probably been boycotting for weeks without noticing. I do have a bottle of bourbon in the wee cabinet – but it gives me a wicked headache, frankly. Five months until mid-term elections. Just five months.

Anthony Bourdain’s loss was deeply felt among good beer fans even though he summed up the state of craft beer with characteristically vicious wit when he coined the phrase “Mumford and Sons IPA” a couple of years ago. Let us remember that and use those words wisely with gratitude. Lesley Chesterman wrote a wonderful remembrance in the Montreal Gazette on Bourdain and her city. This set of thoughts illustrates how, for a certain set within a certain generation, Bourdain may have been as influential as Michael Jackson was for another certain set within another certain generation; the younger swapping the elder’s illusive (and now known insufficient) dream of establishing a unified theory for all beer, perhaps, for the illusion of the meaningful visceral peripatetic existence.** Each offering a route to being somebody. I say illusion, which you may take as deeply unkind, but I am also deeply mindful of the thoughts shared by chef David McMillan who actually knew him and saw the corrosive effects of his addictions:

“Sure, it all looks so glamorous when you see it as a one-hour TV show. But the one hour we did in Newfoundland took 15 days to shoot. We spent countless hours sitting in cars and planes, or just waiting in a tent in the rain. And we’re drinking every day — which is a constant state of the ingestion of depressants, and you can slowly get yourself into a depressive state.” McMillan knows from what he speaks. He did a stint in rehab and gave up drinking five months ago. “I was going down the same road as Tony,” he says. “I got to a point where I had really dark thoughts about five times a day. I used to think about it once a week, then once a day. Then five times. I decided that was enough. I was drinking like a Viking, every day of the year. I have three daughters. I wasn’t being a great father. I had to change. I’m 47. I want to be around for my daughters.

Which gives one an uneasy feeling when you read: “it was seeing those same qualities in Anthony Bourdain that gave me some hope for myself.” Or even seeing this.*** McMillan called Bourdain the captain of his pirate ship: “we were all the pirates … drug addicts, alcoholics, a motley crew of humanity from all quarters, especially those of us marginal kitchen workers.” Which makes you wonder whether we should really care about the price of beer around the world if you have to give up so much to actually need to know. Regardless, a sad loss. But be careful out there. The hobby sauce can make you dream.

Illusion. Chris Conway, a gift from Newfoundland to Toronto now seemingly re-gifted in return, considered a can of craft-brewed Milkshake IPA as one sat on an eastern Liquor Commission shelf and saw a possible perhaps unwelcome future:

Seeing this next to the mudslides and hard lemonade at the NLC makes me wonder if the destiny for Milkshake IPA is malt based alcohol juice/puree or a gateway to beers that taste of malt, hops, yeast, or water in any way. Can Molson make a Milkshake cooler that tastes like this?

I think Chris’s thought illustrates why this consideration of myth and wine (equally applicable to good beer) is hooey: “…the fact that propaganda doesn’t really matter: the stories add value to the experience beyond their demonstrable truth.” Consultant types might like you to believe this is true but, for me, there are enough fabulous facts about good wine and beer that we can confidently ditch the romantic tales. You have to wonder if it is the alcohol that makes the desire for myth?****

This, now, is an actual real thing. You see this in the TV sports highlights every week or so. The baby not dropped to catch the ball all while clasping the plastic cup of beer in ones teeth. The guy who chested the foul with a beer in one hand and a plastic tray of nachos in the other as he protected the young family, spilling nothing. Someone will no doubt note that she chose a darker ale. Craft lady baseball foul beer catcher. That is my nickname for her.

In your “somewhere it is 2004 now” update… hmm… a brewers’ advocacy group that meets a whopping two times a year in a tiny wee jurisdiction of 135,000 or so souls smacks of nothing so much as the need to spend a government grant. The timely reporting of the group’s first meeting is particularly sweet.

Boak and Bailey published a fabulous, extended and entirely interesting interview titled “Davey Jones, the Man Behind the Real Ale Twats” in which they explored a cartoon strip in Britain’s satirical magazine Viz. Jones described how he thought up the lead character:

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in pubs and the characters are sort of composites of types that I encountered. There was a bloke who used to come into my local in Newcastle who had a big beard and a beret and always seemed to be carrying several shoulder bags. He may not even have been a real ale enthusiast – I don’t think I ever heard him speak – but he had the right look, so I drew him. Probably very unfairly.

Probably accurately, too. Or at least characteristically… which is what you really want in a character. Did someone say character? I have a bit of that. And the trousers of the man who knew Mick’s money.  Lucky lucky me.

That’s it! Remember, if you find this lacking or even offensive, there is more weekly beer news to be enjoyed for the firm of the firm of Boak & Bailey each and almost every Saturday as well as my candidate for the Stan with the finest Renaissance-era Low Country last name each and less than every Monday. I might see him this fall.

Be safe. Be happy. But if you can’t, be safe. Laters.

*Troooo-saaaahhhssss!!!
**Congratulations. You have navigated to the end of that sentence. My grade 8 English teacher will be receiving comment cards for the next 30 days.
***Never quite sure who plays Christ in this analogy.
****Hobby sauce! Hobby sauce!!!

The Post Victoria Day Blues Edition Of Your Beery News Notes

Erg. I have post Victoria Day general body disorder. When one is a young adult in Canada, the May 2-4 weekend can lead to the three day hangover version of VDGBD but in my case it is merely a case of too much gardening. Joining the overwintered leek, kale, parsley, parsnip, garlic and green onion are new seedlings of red lettuce, beets, basil, romaine and radish. Hoeing and mulching and mowing and digging sessions along with timid pruning of the Pinot Noir filled the weekend after which a few well placed Sam Roberts Band ales from my local Spearhead brewery store hit the spot. I have no comment on the concept of the collaboration as that only affects what is outside the can as opposed to inside but as a nice brown ale at 4.5% it did the trick.

Gardening was on my mind in another way this week. If you don’t read the wine writer Jancis Robinson you are missing something. I say wine writer but for my money she is the best drinks writer working today. Consider this column she wrote on “premox” or premature oxidation as currently found in premium white Burgundies. There is a massive raft of information embedded in the writing  including very firm opinion – “One wine, a Boyer-Martinot Meursault Charmes, was as dead as a dodo…” to details on how global warming might affect the value proposition as to grape growing acreage in the Burgundian geography. Fabulous. When I tell Stan that wine making, for me, is at least as complex as brewing, this (along with working my own current second vinyard-ette) is what I mean.

Book news. Jeff says Barrel Aged Stout and Selling Out, the new history of Goose Island by Josh Noel, is a something of revelation, framing important things for we who are sitting as we are now here in this one year seemingly just minutes after the era of the great craft buy-outs:

Throughout the book, people on both sides think there’s a way to square this circle, to bring the best of craft and big beer together. The second half of BASSO lays bare why that was never possible. The good and bad of each approach are actually just the positive and negative qualities of the same thing. It’s just not possible to be both revolutionary and cautious. As the story plays out, these cultures clash, and one comes out triumphant.

Sounds pretty fabulous. Go buy the book.

Blogs are back! As with Jordan two weeks ago, ATJ renews his pledge to his blog and post a tale.  Blogging is totally back, baby. Jordan has even doubled his output with this tale of salty nuts. Totally. Back.

From the twitter feed “Picture this Scotland” comes this view of Glasgow in 1980:

Better than a Bill Forsyth film, that up there. Memories flood in. I remember my father when I was seven giving us a tour of the areas of Glasgow which were still bombed out from the war. Up there with the time when I was fourteen he took us to the square in his hometown of Greenock at noon on a Tuesday to watch the drunk men eat mittfuls of chips while simultaneously falling down. Did I mention Dad was a minister of the cloth? Note: The Squirrel has some history and seems to still be… active.

Well… except for there being no beer in California in 1927 and there being plenty of US dark lager both before and after prohibition…

The Chicago Tribune published an excellent article in the form of real beer business journalism on the fall and possible rise of Constellation’s billion dollar bauble, Ballast Point, a beer brand for me which always screamed “price too high!” for the quality one received. Apparently others agreed:

Michigan-based Founders Brewing Co., best known for its lower-priced, lower-alcohol All Day IPA, was roughly the same size as Ballast Point in 2015, but could end up shipping twice as much beer to wholesalers this year. Founders CEO Mike Stevens called the Ballast Point decline a “perfect storm” of high price point — a six-pack of Sculpin regularly sold for $15 — and what he believes to be a fading trend in fruit-flavored IPAs. “They were obviously just screaming to the top of the peak, riding that price point, riding their fruit IPAs. … Right when that (deal) went down, we kind of all knew that they were going to have to fix the price points because the consumers were going to lose interest,” Stevens said.

Mmm… fruit beer. Expensive fruit beer… Not sure I need a resurrection of that anytime soon. What’s next? Andy is lobbying for a gimmick free summer. That would be nice.

Conversely, news out of central New York… err… the Capital Region… finds the clock actually being turned backwards as a bricks and mortar brewery, Shmaltz reverts* to being a contract brewer – just as they had been prior to 2013. I was a regular buyer of their beer a decade or more ago so it’s certainly a brewer whose brands never suffered from someone else owning the steel. Happy story likely in the making. Maybe?

Ales Through the Ages II looks fabulous. Might I get there?

Ontario election time beer update! Suddenly serious contenders to lead the next government, the New Democratic Party, might review the rather slim introduction of beer, cider and wine into a handful of grocery stores across the province. Current Premier and solidly slipping third-place candidate Kathleen Wynne says expanding beer to more privates stores is just… just… well, “it’s not sensible”! And Doug “Did I Just Peak Early?” Ford says – beer sales everywhere! That ain’t happening but at least, as shown above, he wins the prize for the first beer pour at an election stop, part of Canada’s great “politician pouring beer” heritage. Note: someone’s angry. Note2: Ben says none of this matters. Two weeks to election day. Stay tuned.

Well, look at that. That was largely a fairly positive week, wasn’t it! No inter-consulto insult fests. No big craft hyperbolic pontifications. Am I growing up or something? That would be weird. Don’t forget that the beer news never sleeps and check out Boak and Bailey on Saturday. Stan is on holiday somewhere south of the equator… again. “Good Old South of the Equator” Stan. That’s what they call him. He’s posting from there. But not on Mondays in June. No, sirree. Not “Good Old South of the Equator” Stan.

*As reported by Deanna Fox, someone I have actually met.

Beer Prices Surged This Month In China

If you are one of those types who have a tribal belief in a “craft community” and associate with a form of alcohol like normal people believe in things like religion, political parties, model train layouts or materialist somnambulism comfortingly disguising the actual nature of human existence, well, you might be the sort of person who believes that big brewing companies are (a) out to get your tribe and (b) spend a lot of time thinking about your tribe. In fact, they are thinking about China:

Anheuser Busch, the producer of Budweiser, raised its wholesale price by nearly 50 percent from March 10. Harbin Beer is also planning to raise prices in April. Zhu Danpeng, an independent food and beverage analyst, said: “As consumers are seeking good beer, it is inevitable for beer brands to adjust their portfolio and raise prices for their mainstream products, mainly medium-end beers.” The cost of raw material is a major driver for the price surge. According to a statement from Tsingtao Beer, packaging material costs have gone up, pushing up production costs. Snow Beer also blamed increases in raw materials, packing and labor costs.

If you think about it, that passage looks a lot like the sort of press release big craft brewers issue from time to time.  There is a reason for that. It’s because what they have in common is that they are likely not really all that true.  As with craft, price increases like this are far more about reward and opportunity than expense. Just as US craft has regularly seen growth in revenue outstrip growth in production (per unit opportunistic inflation), sales revenue of major beer producers in China rose 2.3 percent in 2017 even though production was down 0.66 percent. In that arguably tight a context, why would ABInBev raise wholesale prices 50%? Obviously… because it can.

Here  is a power point presentation, a tellingly short power point presentation, on ABInBev’s plans for China. Key message: China big. ABInBev is right there and being big, too.  Last December it opened a new brewery in southern Fujian province that can produce an astounding 160,000 cans per hour. They are presenting their products like Bid as higher end consumables. And a few weeks later,   the ZX Ventures division of ABInBev opened another new brewery in Wuhan to brew bulk craft products  like Goose Island.  These are investments of whacking piles of money intended to make many many more whacking piles of money:

According to industry research website Chinairn.com, the market share for premium beer is around 4 per cent compared with traditional beer. But this share accounts for more than 18 per cent of profits in the industry, while the market is expanding at the rate of 40 per cent a year. Eyeing the growing market, Mr Wang Deliang, brewery research director at the China National Research Institute of Food & Fermentation Industries, says that investment in the craft beer sector has been expanding in recent years as beer makers chase profits of up to 30 per cent.

Money. Whether in a tiny new US-based brewer’s taproom, Chinese-made craft or big bloated global big beer or any of the other forms of the front end of the trade these days, it’s about money.  Which is fabulous. Beer and money have always been twinsies. BFFs. If you don’t think so, look at a sector like big old US craft that is suffering, stagnating or shrinking. Left only to serve as finger wagging Oldie Olsons to the few left listening.

The lack of money may well be the root of all folk music but a future in beer it is not.

Session 133: Hometown Proud?

For this month’s edition of The Session, host Gareth of Barrel Aged Leeds has asked us this question:

For this month’s edition of the Session, the proposed subject is ‘Hometown Glories’. Take this and run with it how you wish, but when thinking about possible subjects I had in mind an imminent visit to the place I spent my formative years and blogging about it’s highlights and wider beer scene. 

Being a gent of a certain age, I was struck by how similar this topic was to Session #15 “How Did It All Start For You?with a heavy dose of Session #9 “When Beer And Music Shaped My Life added for good measure. Which is fine but there is another problem. I am not sure I have a hometown. Our family moved when I was age 7, 8 and 15 before I went away to university at 18 to a city where my parents moved to when I was 21. As an adult I have received my mail and wages in eight communities including long stretches in Poland and the Netherlands – not to mention of months long patches of slumming around the UK with friends and family half-heartedly looking for work. So what to do?

Recently I realized that there was more to the story. I was trying to make sense of the storeroom in the basement. There are boxes and boxes of my late parents’ things down there and, working my way through the papers, I came upon my birth certificate. Oh. My. God. They lied to me and took it to their graves. I was horrified. Even though I spent my first years in Mississauga, turns out 55 years ago I was born next door… in Toronto. TORONTO?!?! The shame. The confusion. Yet, now I know why I love Johnny Bower so.

So, I am drinking a Pompous Ass tonight from Great Lake Brewing, Toronto’s other gift to Canadian beer… you know, other than me. At $2.65 CND it’s the right choice, fresh value craft from a legendary micro in its 31st year. One of the things that makes me hometown proud.

It’s March! It’s March It’s March It’s March News!!!

So… I like March. For years I proclaimed March in 89 font letters on one of my old blogs. I am far more restrained now. A place between two seasons. Did you see that it snowed in Ireland and the UK this week? Farmers out east call this the Million Dollar Snow* – the late storms that drench the fields on melting. And all brewing trade social media has been suspended over there for the last few days for pictures of snow laying thinly all about, just like the story told in the carols! Must be that EU Committee on Taking Photos of Snow (EUCTPS) funding grants finally kicking in.

First, right after last Thursday’s deadline, The Tand Himself** wrote about the inversion of reality that craft has become in the UK market and under their cultural version of the term’s application. Years ago Boak and Bailey discussed the vague and wandering UK use of the word “craft” and it seems like it’s wandered six steps further since then. While it is useless to get too caught up into it, craft now appears to mean “an expensive crap shoot enjoyed by folk many times you likely would not want to spend much time with” – or, you know, something other than what’s in the glass. Who needs that? The better  approach such clinky studies with a certain humility and thank God others are playing with just, you know, honesty. We are blessed and less affected here where craft can still range from $2.80 a tall boy to whatever the market might bear. Related: discount craft discussion #1 and discount craft discussion #2. Somewhat related: odd personal product placement posing deep and abiding questions about value.

Next, I like this footage from the BBC archive of a show discussing the 1986 about the new UK craze for trend in brown bread. Which is interesting. Context about trends in food and other social patterns should be always related to trends in beer culture. Me, I was in Britain for a good chunk of 1986 and remember both the good malty ales and my uncle complaining about all the whole wheat and vegetables suddenly in his diet. Related: drive-by expertise. Unlike branding, actual history and knowledge are reasonably identifiable things. Dr Caitlin Green, lecturer at the University of Cambridge in history, has posted a series of images of ancient drinking vessels. That drinking cup carved out of amber is one of the more wonderful things I have ever seen. By further contrast, consider this discussion of the poorly traced and argued history of lambic – part of our heritage of mob craftism. Why must this be so?

Back to today, interestingly how Ben noted a change in the demeanor of UK trade reporter James Beeson who wrote about his unhealthy relationship with alcohol on Friday and then how drinking swanky craft before 3pm on Sunday made him somehow “a winner.” I’ve often noted to myself how two classes of people seem to align their identity with drinking, alcoholics and beer writers. If you feel the first, the second is irrelevant – just as he openly explored in the thread that followed. No beer makes you a winner. It’s best to be well. And I wish him well. No one needs a millstone.

Do you see a pattern up there? Proper personal insight compared to something else, perhaps second hand. Yet Jeff manages this tension with care and perhaps a bit daring in his posts on sexism. It’s not his story to tell but it’s the story he can tell or host. Still, even with his own discussion on the fact it is not his story – and the reality that we each are only what we are – I just wish the posts didn’t have a male host as intermediary… so, I will pair this link to one from Nicci Peet who is making a documentary about women in all sectors of the trade and has even launched a Patreon campaign to support it:

If you’re here you probably know I’ve just launched a new documentary project photographing women (cis, trans, genderqueer, woc) in the UK beer industry. There’s a lot of talk and debate lately around sexism and inclusivity. Part of the problem is that there’s a lack of visual representation of the diverse range of women who work in the industry. When I say women working in the industry I don’t just mean brewers. If you have a passion for beer there are so many different routes into the industry. 

Both Nicci and Jeff’s very much worth your time. [Related for contrasting context.] And, just so we are clear, the #1 lesson on exactly how not to do it was brought to you Wednesday afternoon by Stone‘s Arrogant Beavis and Butthead social media intern:

 

 

 

 

The tweets are all now deleted – but for a hour or so defiantly defended. It makes one wonder why do they stick with the junior high locker room branding at Stone? It’s all about judgement of others with a passive aggression from a largely unwarranted stance. Don’t get me wrong. They make mainly pretty good gas station beer that’s reasonably reliable and know how to get the government grants for the branch plants. But apparently because that’s how the head office rolls if the intern’s tacit instructions are anything to go by. Time to move on.

*Unrelated.
**aka TTH.

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.

Laters.

A First Good Beery Question In 2018 To Ponder This New Year’s Day

People complain. People complain that folk complain. It’s quite odd given people complain all the time about the value of this or the value of that. From donuts to computers to cars to the location of your house, people question and complain every time that feeling creeps up where what was assumed to be worth it turns out to have been a bit of a bust. Given most don’t get a regular supply of vintage samples (or, for that matter, quietly get paid by brewers to review and comment back on the QT as a trade consultant) but, no, actually have to live with a limited set of bank notes from which to draw upon, the question of value is always relevant. Beer isn’t all that special. So, it was good to see this topic bust out over New Year’s Eve:

What are they talking about? Well, late model Fuller’s Vintage Ales, of course. See, yesterday a few hours before that tweeting session started by Boak and Bailey (but with an image which would have destroyed my thin veneer of dramatic tension just now) I opened and started writing about a FVA dated 2008 which led me to exclaim this:

Crash the Stash Day #2: Fuller’s Vintage Ale. Let me check around to see what to expect. Seriously? The brewery is selling these for £100 each? £100?!?!? Glad I spent $6.95 CND almost a decade ago.

This was only news to my conscious self as Martyn had alerted me to the fact almost a year ago when I started a post about working my way through my stash of maybe 16 or so bottles of the stuff from 2007 onward. So subconsciously, I was at least prepared. And I girded myself for the question through drinking these beers, aged and new, since at least 2005. But the reality is that at least from a theoretical point of view, even after having a pleasant enough 2008 era bottle yesterday, I have eight bottles left with an alleged value of around $750 Canadian.

I was pretty clear in my mind that the 2008 was not worth $170 CND or £100 that the brewery was asking. Don’t get me wrong. It was a very good beer and I am delighted that my 45 year old self left such a treat for my 54 self to enjoy over a New Year’s Eve afternoon. Don’t get me wrong. It was yummy. But it had no value which corresponded to what was being asked when I look at it from a few points of view.*

On a relative value scale, were I magically able to use it as free currency $170 would get me and the family a very nice dinner out with drinks at a reasonably good restaurant here in my fair city. Or five tickets to our OHL hockey team with beers and hot dogs and maybe a t-shirt. I would have much preferred those achievable experience to my 90 minutes solo with the ale in a tulip glass. Even though it was a very nice beer in a tulip glass.

As an opportunity cost consideration, I could have left the beer capped and watched its theoretical price rise over a few more years.  By drinking it I am destroying the future increased value, racing well past actual inflation. But that depends on the future buyer being there and the beer not only holding its intrinsic value as a consumable but increasing in sheer tastiness over time. One issue was it started to feel like it was past its best at nine years. Folk would be noting this in the G.D. social media therefore ruining my prospects. How dare folk chat freely?

On beer trading marketplace, if it truly had that value I should be able to sell it back to Fullers or at least my government retailer for something expressing the wholesale current value. It’s been kept in a cool dark cellar and subject to optimum protection. As usual, my claims to provenance were impeccable. If I go back through my tax records I would likely be able to find the receipt for buying it. I expect it would say I spent something like $6.95 CND. Yet… the box was gone and the label encrusted with a bit of mould. Who would want that? I couldn’t sell my Captain Scarlet Dinkie toys in that condition – and I wouldn’t anyway so stop asking. Any in any event, there isn’t actually a buy-back program. Because there isn’t actually a market for the inflation-laced price.

As for the bottle itself, it was a bit like me facing my fifty-fifth later this year. Maybe a bit past it but still performing well. Took a long time in the glass for the bitterness to face a bit to reveal the toffee and pale malt below. I noted as follows:

Plenty of pith, orange zest and minty bitter hops over toffee malt. Lingering bitter finish with a hint of licorice. Less of a cream heart than the 2007 opened a few weeks ago… I have the end of it in a tulip glass now an hour and a half in. It could easily be a very well-made well-designed fresh strong ale that I might buy for a regular price. In no way a disappointment like that sad Stone vertical.

Frankly, I enjoyed the 2007 I had a few weeks ago a bit more. So, is the idea that the brewery is selling at that value a good one or a bad one? Is this a rip off or a smart advertising campaign? One thing I like about it is how the sticker price gives me confidence that I did the right thing by sticking a few aside as I did. They are also saying, screw you white whale hunters – we control this marketplace ourselves. But that is like the silly idea of “brewer’s intention” or, if we are already mocking 2017, “brewery’s cartoonish can label designer intention” in that it doesn’t really give me much value related to the price point being offered. The drink itself has to stand up for itself. And it did. To a degree. But not that degree.

No, in the end the price being sought now is not reasonable. But it does give me the warm conceit that I was once a clever lad. And I can drink to that. And I might just as that 2009 is up next.

*And, frankly, can you disagree with me unless you’ve bought one at current offered prices? Hmm?

Maine: Interlude 2007, Allagash, Portland

Twenty-four bucks? What was I doing last decade? I have only a few of these aged big bottles left. I gave up a long time ago on trying to keep the cellar up. One of the few beers left from the days of glory, the era of beer blog ad revenue. I was throwing around the cash like a madman. Pretending that I mattered like some current era communicator. Stan actually mocked me about this beer in particular. But that was back in the day when folk weren’t questioning the fleece. Or at least when 2000 brewers weren’t making something good and sour for half the price. You know, the 75 comments under that post from some pretty interesting names are all… pretty interesting – but it’s as if they thought we would all be drinking $60 beers by now. Really? How did that turn out? Market forces thought otherwise. Bulk fine craft FTW!

It’s 40º C out there. Seven week drought might end tomorrow. Worst summer for rain since 1888. Nutty. I just need a reasonably interesting beer. I just need it not to suck. I pulled it out of the cellar, stuck it in the fridge by the orange juice and the milk bags. [Canada. Go figure.] Hey… it doesn’t. It’s good. Still and a bit thick but in no sense off. Fresh with a lighter lingering finish than expected. The colour of aged varnished pine. An orange hue at the edge. On the nose, warm whisky sweet with autumn fruit, brown sugar and grain as well as a fresh Worchestershired yogurty hum. Pear and fig. The baked fruit crisp you dream of. The second half pint pour generates a lovely subdued tang when rinsed about the gums. Like 90% barley wine with maybe 10% old gueuze. Or less. Just a hint. And all those whispers of rich deep malty grain huskiness still there. Lovely.

Am I glad I spent $24 for this nine years ago? I’m sure I don’t care. Do you know how much I have spent on diapers and winter tires since then? It makes me want. And I just want a thick bacon sandwich. I have asked a child younger than this beer to bring me a chunk of the slab of Vermont cheddar we are working on. Fabulous. Rewarding. The espresso of a grain field. Big BAer love and deservedly so.

“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.

To Be “Shelted” Is Not To Pay A Premium Price

With respect, Lew in this case is wrong:

“Shelted” is a word Canadian blogger Alan “A Good Beer Blog” McLeod made up three years ago, and from the context, I’m guessing it means “being asked to pay a premium price for a beer imported by Shelton Brothers.” (Alan’s a bit obsessive on price/value in beer, and the Shelton line is not noted for being underpriced.) Or maybe something similar, but vaguely more crude; you can do the interpretation.

Sharing: I used “shelted” long before three years ago if only in my heart of hearts and, in particular, long before I knew that the particular bunch in question were so oddly comfortable in being abusive like any one of that certain sort of moron who have built a successful niche in a small market. That is not what drove the creation of the verb. It was created because when I started buying imported good beers in the States I saw that the prices did not always make sense. Here in Canada you can get Orval for under four bucks while it is pushing or over six south of the nearby border. See, I can buy that beer in at least three jurisdictions and be back for lunch. I enjoy a competitive marketplace of sorts. Lew calls that obsessive. Go figure. But it’s neither here nor there. To be shelted is far from what Lew supposes. It means to be stuck paying too much because someone has exclusive control of the importing or other aspects of supply. It is to recognize the monopolist, the tyrant of the marketplace. See, perhaps unlike that lawyer Shelton, I am actually a practicing lawyer who buys a lot of things – from buildings to pencils. I don’t consider lawyers arseholes unless they came to law school as arseholes. But I do understand how prices, markets, law and taxation interact. So I naturally hate the monopolist, even the tiny ones… and especially the ones who are arseholes, too.

Which get us to the context of the need to consider “shelt”-ing this week. From my point of view, if you want to disagree with someone or something, you create a body of knowledge that contradicts the assumptions you are taking on. You build respect by learning how to respect the work and opinions of others. By way of comparison, when you refer to “ill-informed and emotionally fraught bloggers” or otherwise take a position of complaining tantrum-esque weakness you don’t do anything but point out your own failings. And entitlement. I love to see bad lawyers like that across the table. Their arguments are your playground. See, in yesterday’s statement, Shelton Brothers is very careful to play the victim card. They are “ridiculously small guys” and “the little guys” who represent “cute little foreign brewers” when in fact they are market corner-ers who have exclusivity over a large number of brands who the needy beer nerds are trained to covet. Some of the brewers they represent are truly wonderful and worth every penny. Some are not. Yet all seem to demand premium price in the US which I just don’t see being asked of us in Canada – though admittedly the selection is not as rich up here. We don’t have three-tier. And we also seem not to have those exclusive importer deals as Shelton Brothers might enjoy – along with many others – which see unnaturally inflated prices on the shelves. We have less of that “I just got took” feeling after opening another overpriced beer though, more than admittedly, we have it from time to time.

Which gets to the last point. Lew is also quite right. The new New York tax interpretation will lead to paying only a few pennies more per glass. And as New York state is in need of revenue that is a good thing. Time to pay the piper. Being shelted, however, has nothing to do with that. Being shelted is being asked to take your hard earned money and give it to support an importer who thinks you the beer buyer and this the beer buying discourse are unworthy… a crock… a dupe… or whatever an arsehole would call it. So, I have no issue with the call for a boycott for those that feel that way but just don’t do it over this tax ruling, over just Shelton Brothers and don’t go overboard. Get smart and do whenever you feel you have been shelted – whether by this importer or anyone else. And don’t worry if someone might call it obsessive especially when only you care about your own wallet. It’ doesn’t take much. Sure, find the lambics they don’t represent and enjoy that often they are a buck less and as good or better. But also notice how that self proclaimed craft beer guru in your own neighbourhood inflates their price through a swing top bottle with specially embossed glass or through jacking prices two bucks for the joy of having three cents worth of a rare ingredient added. Find the alternatives to the loud proclaimers, the self-defined, the brand conscious. Make a habit of not being shelted. But not because of any tax ruling or because Shelton Brothers have justly protected their interests. You should do it to protect those interests of your own against anyone.