Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Support local, or support best?

In a recent issue of BeerAdvocate the magazine a reader (and fellow BeerAdvocate member) clarified his position on the 'support local' idea.  In his feedback column (which is a limited space to write one's position) he stated that there one should support whichever brewery produces the best beers. In other words, don't support local brewers just because they are local; crap beer is crap beer, no matter who makes it.  I can understand this viewpoint, and agree with a point.

On a level playing field his point is valid. Just because one brewer is local doesn't mean he/she deserves our money, time and effort. Yet, this is the real world. The playing field is not level.  Big, chain breweries can afford the nuances that smaller, local guys cannot provide. When is comes to beer, maybe this is quality control, or sufficient production, or it could be that they cannot afford the extra electricity is takes to operate ceiling fans. Whatever the discrepancy may be, it is important to note that the local businesses of brewing cannot compete with the chain juggernauts head to head, and especially right of the starting line.

A local brewer needs to tweak recipes, brewing times, batch sizes, minimize expenditures (overhead stuff like AC), and still, perhaps, work another job.  Basically, they need time to fine tune his/her product. To do this, they sell their initial product to consumers, who in turn like it, love it, or hate it. Sometimes this version of the product isn't up to snuff, and the tweaking begins. They cannot take as much negative publicity as the big chains, and need more patience from consumers.  Sure, Flingers (see: Office Space) can provide quick service, comfortable AC, satellite television, and ice cold beer; that's expected from them.  But they have the capital to provide those.  Locals do not: They must start off slow and build up.  They need support.

But why should we support their business growth?  What's in it for us?  Several things:

  • After fine tuning their product, local brewers can provide awesome beer that is unique to them
  • Money spent on their beer, at their business, is kept local (for the most part. Credit/debit card acceptance costs a LOT of money to run and maintain, and that money goes elsewhere)
  • A local business values its customers more, and more personal attachments build
  • Customers can experience the growth themselves. They can witness how the beer changes from recipe to recipe, and be a part of the evolution of a particular brewery: the life of a beer
So, sure, I understand that if a brewery continues to make bad beer, or just beer that you don't like, to avoid them (or not support them).  But keep in mind that brewing beer takes time, patience, tweaking, and money. 


Friday, July 27, 2012

Great Beers of the Great NorthWest

Upon reviewing my trip to Seattle/Portland/Bend/etc I've come to the conclusion that I missed too much and must return.  I knew this going in; there will be something, some great beer, some awesome brewery, some fantastic beer bar, that will go un-visited.  And so it goes.

Living in Denver, CO I know this "missing" all too much. Visitors, friends, beer geeks ask for my advice as to where should they go in Denver for great beer. It's not a simple answer, especially given the time frame.  Two and half days in Portland isn't enough.  Two weeks may be enough...maybe I'll find this out sometime.

Here are some of the awesome places I visited, and will visit again:  Hair of the Dog, Cascade Barrel Room, Green Dragon, Deschutes (Portland and Bend), Bridgeport, Bend Brewing, Burnside, Belmont Station, and BeerMongers.  It's all about beer, folks!

Cheers!  Great NW!

Friday, July 6, 2012

White Whales...that don't breath

In the craft beer world, residing in the Geekdom area, there is a category of beers called "white whales".  Borrowed (or taken) from Moby Dick, a white whale in the beer world is a beer that is elusive, rare, and pretty darn delicious...if caught.  At least, it used to be.  Today, the last factor of the white whale equation, deliciousness, seems to be fading in its salience.

This can be seen on trading forums online (BeerAdvocate and RateBeer for example).  Some beer geeks will trade (beer or $$) for un-sampled, hard to find, limited released beers.  Take AC Golden's Hidden Barrel Apricot and Peche beers.  These were severely limited releases and some beer geeks offered other rare (and widely appreciated) beers in trade. But this raises a question.  Why would someone trade a known great, rare beer for an unknown beer?  I think the answer resides in the "rareness".

Which brings us back to Moby Dick.  That white whale was unique. The story was in the hunt for the, mammal, and what it took to carry out this necessity. Same here with beer white whales.  Increasingly it's more about the hunt...the rarity...than the beer itself:  The achievement of capturing such elusive brews.  I don't mean to say that white whale beers aren't good.  Most likely, there are fantastic.  But who knows until they are sampled?

While the AC Golden Hidden Barrel Apricot was a good beer, to me the white whale status should not be applied.  Yes, it's very rare. Yes, it's good. No, it's not fantastic; which means it wasn't worth the $20+ price tag, or a trade for other, established whales.  For me, I don't hunt the whales any more...not that I did so with rampant fury yesteryear.  My thrill is traveling to places where a beer is made, sipping on it in its 'native environment', and chatting with the locals.  In 2 weeks I'm going to Portland, OR and get me some Hair of the Dog goodness.  That's my whale, but it's more like a Blue than white.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Homebrew Update

Actually, this isn't an update since I've never posted on homebrewing per se on here.  But I've been brewing with some friends for about a year now with promising results. Of the 20 or so batches, only 2 were horrible and 3 were really good. The rest fall in between.  Our latest saison used the beast yeast 3711 from Wyeast Labs and exploded a few bottles.  Tweaking the formula we changed yeasts to the 3724 Belgian strain and it turned out purrty good. Used this recipe/beer for a wedding beer for a good friend of mine. The reception to the beer was good, but to the idea of homebrew Bridal Brew was great.  People loved the idea and the custom labels I used featuring a picture of the happy couple.

And I think that's what I like about homebrew.  In addition to it being a creative process, there's also the creative utilization: wedding gifts, Xmas presents, beer cellar additions, etc. I plan to think of more ways to "use" my homebrew aside from drinking it.

Here are the beers from that wedding:

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Craft, Macro and the In-Betweens

Since early this century, craft beer has grown into a force to contend with in the adult beverage industry.  The number of craft breweries today approached 2,000 in the U.S. alone, with overseas craft breweries popping up from Zealand to New Zealand.  For the most part, this is a new industry, not simply one that has grown. This presents several questions:
  1. How was it established?
  2. How did it grow?
  3. Why did it grow?
  4. What does this mean for those breweries that already existed
  5. How will this affect competition in the industries (beer, wine, spirits)
Well, this is a blurry question for it is difficult to pin the establishment of a new industry on one particular moment or person. BUT, Fritz Maytag deserves credit if we were to pin somebody, with his resurrection of Anchor Brewing. From there, breweries like Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams), Sierra Nevada, Leinenkugel's, Pete's Brewing Company, and New Belgium helped cultivate the new industry. Word spread of beers that tasted different than the mass marketed, and quite similar, macro beers from Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors and the like. 

The trailblazing effect of these breweries was two-fold. More breweries popped up, and the public's attention was captured. But that's just a portion of the answer. The diversity of America (well, this is my belief anyway) was ripe for plucking by brewers who brewed diverse beers. Finally, those who liked Belgian beers could find some form of them in the States. Same for those who like German, English and Scottish styles of beer. And as time went on the U.S. brewers crept ever closer to matching the quality of their Old World inspirations. 
The new industry grew based on the difference, variety, diversity and culture of craft beer. Yes, culture. Lemme explain. With craft breweries came brewpubs and homebrewers (thanks President Carter). This culture was more of a clique, and cult to some. Craft beer lovers would gather to discover new beers, compare home brew recipes, and ponder life in general. Today, this culture is quite noticeable. Culture is strong, and resists intrusions. More on that later.

Those Existing Breweries:
At first, this new industry meant nothing. To the large brewers this new beer was just a fad, and a very small one at that. Coors then introduced Blue Moon, and they saw its sales numbers sky rocket. Soon Guinness became more popular. A-B joined in with their Michelob "flavor" line, then with Shock Top.  Miller gained control of Leinenkugel's.  Other smaller breweries were bought up, gobbled up, torn up by the big guys. Rolling Rock became A-B property. And recently a beloved Chicago craft brewery, Goose Island, was sold to A-B (which itself was bought out by InBev).  All of this to get a market share of the new market, or to stop the surge of the smaller guys from grabbing a piece of the bigger pie. Whatever the motivations, the big brewers notice the growth of craft beer, and they react with their considerable weight, power and money. (we now see James Bond favoring Heineken and not martinis.  Makes you wanna yell.....KKKAAAAAHHNNN!!!)

Law is one arena where competition is getting...competition. The 3-tier system, excise tax, interstate commerce, on/off-premise sales and consumption, etc. are just several areas where laws affect brewing, beer, consumption, sales and the economy. The big brewers cannot compete with the culture and quality of craft beer, and craft beer cannot compete with the distribution and volume of big brewers. Deciding the tipping point may just be the laws that govern both.
But it's not just breweries who are affected by this 'craft culture'.  Craft spirits and local wineries are gaining momentum. Flavored spirits of odd flavors (marshmallow vodka?) are exploding across the scene. The blandness, even the simple comfort, of non-flavored, base spirits are not attracting the same audience. Consumers want something different, they want quality--or at least diversity--product. They are no longer satisfied with brand loyalty and commercials that use frogs, dogs, comics or celebrities (see: Bond/Heineken above) and not the product itself. 
If one thing craft beer has done for the consumer is that it's made them realize that flavor is important. If a company chooses not to focus on this in their adverts, then it is quite likely this is due to the "familiar" flavor of their product (see: Bond/Heineken above...again). 
What is for sure: the established wine, beer and spirit labels have taken notice to the growing demand of flavor, quality and attention to detail that craft beer has spawned (or awakened).  There may just be a conflict brewing...


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Diageo and the BrewDog "un-winners"

Recently, a scandal rocked the beer world.  The Scottish brewery, BrewDog, won the Bar Operator of the Year award at The British Institute of InnKeeping (BII) Scottish Awards on Sunday May 6, 2012.  At least, they should have. See, the judges said so, but sponsor Diageo decided to ignore the judges and hand the award to someone else.  Essentially, Diageo used their leverage to “persuade” BII presenters into doing their bidding. This did not go over well with BrewDow, the BII, beer lovers and the judges.

Diageo is a large international conglomeration of wines, spirits, and beer. Notably, their British Isles beer influence comes in the form of brands such as Guinness, Smithwick’s, and Harp.  BrewDog, on the other hand, is a small nascent Scottish brewery that has, and pronounces, a reputation of going against the grain. In their own words, they are a “beacon of non-conformity in a (sic) increasingly corporate desert”.  The only thing these two companies have in common is that they make beer.

So why did Diageo refuse to award BrewDog as per the judges’ ruling? Apparently, only the Diageo representative at the BII Awards knows the answer, because Diageo corporate headquarters released a statement/apology saying the actions of said representative does not reflect in any way Diageo values. Still, this plays into the waiting hands of BrewDog. What better way to highlight their “against the grain” attitude than tangible evidence that it is affected the “grain”?  And BrewDog knows this, and has fired off several tweets, blogs, etc berating the Diageo action and apology.  So much so, that Diageo has pleaded with BrewDog to cease the ‘witch hunt’ of the involved representative.  There is no indication that BrewDog will heed this plea. Why should they?

But what’s the big deal, really? On the surface, it seems that it is just fun and games and BrewDog sees as an opportunity to promote themselves, play the victim.  Yet, below the surface, there are interesting factors. For instance, craft brew in the British Isles has changed in the last 40 years.  The small English pubs that produce their own beer are virtually non-existent. Those breweries mentioned above (Guinness, et al) are not in the hands of the original owners.  Real Ale almost disappeared, but thanks to Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) this tasty beer ‘style’ has come back.  But its return, and specifically CAMRA’s strict adherence to Real Ale, has been called into question by BrewDog.

While BrewDog has nothing against Real Ale, they would like to see more options in the U.K. other than Diageo and Real Ale. BrewDog makes very different kinds of beer than those two.  While it used to be a struggle between macro-beer and CAMRA, BrewDog enters to challenge both…or at least co-exist with them.  This latest issue at the BII is a rather obvious uppercut to BrewDog’s platform…but the punch missed.

Another issue is the market.  While craft beer still only makes up roughly 6% of the total beer sales, it is growing. And if you have 94% of the market, why not gobble up the remainder? If craft beer sales continue to grow, then that number can reach 10% maybe even 15% in a few short years.  That is enough for the big brewers (Diageo, AB-InBev, SABMiller, Heineken, Tsingtao, Carlsberg) to take notice and alter or implement some new plans. One can see this in the new labels (and their varieties) Anheuser-Busch and Coors are putting out: Blue Moon, Bud Light Lime, Shock Top, Wild Blue, Batch 19, Colorado Native, etc).  They want a piece of the craft beer pie, and if they can't make the bee, they'll buy it (see: Goose Island). Sadly, they see craft beer and beer in general, as a line item and not a passion.  Craft beer is growing because craft brewers make interesting and delicious beers.  Not because they add flavors and syrup to an already bad beer. BrewDog knows this. So, too, does Diageo. A bigger fight may be on the horizon.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Kali-Ma and the Beer (Label)


Burnside Brewery out of Portland, OR was scheduled to release a beer today called Kali-Ma. Instead, it went back to the labeling line. The reason for this is the name and label art, which have upset some in the Hindu community. See, Kali-Ma is a religious symbol in Hinduism and represents power, destruction of evil and empowerment (although these vary).  The label depicts something different. The brewery swiftly issued an apology and declared to change the name and label.  In India, the nation’s second largest political party and largest conservative party, Bharatiya Janata, demands an official American apology from the U.S. ambassador.  Now, it’s an international dispute that sucks attention away from other issues.
While some may chalk this up to misunderstanding, ignorance, overreaction and/or ‘looking for a fight’, it is still important to take a closer look to discover the triggers of such a dispute. What is really going on? Well, we may never fully know, but shedding more light below the surface will discover important aspects.
  • Burnside did indeed show ignorance as to what Kali-Ma means with many people. While their take on it stemmed from an Indiana Jones movie, they didn’t follow up and dig just a hair deeper
  • Not digging deeper is an accident, though, and not an intension.  The labeling of the beer based on their research (or lack thereof) shows negligence at worst, not an act of offense or purposeful degradation
  • Nevertheless, minimizing and misrepresenting a religious symbol can upset many people. Religion maintains a deep meaning in many peoples’ lives; it’s how they live their lives, how they identify themselves, and how they attach worth to their being
  • An apology was offered and seemed accepted by the Hindu community—at least in the U.S.  This apology contained a reason for the naming of the beer and regret that it offended others. What it did not contain was admission to negligence. A tough pill to swallow, but apologizing for offense only addresses the symptom, not the cause. It showed sympathy without empathy
  • Enter politics. The aforementioned political party in India demands the summoning of the U.S. ambassador to India “and make him apologise for this” [1].  Unfortunately, a forced apology is not an apology. It has no meaning.  It’s all show.  In this instance, the demandseems to be the focal point.  Political capital is available to those who persuade, or at least stand up to, the world’s only superpower.
Summary: An honest error in research begets offense to a religious community. After a swift and sympathetic apology, politics enters resulting in an escalation of the dispute to an international row.  The brewery should have done their research. The politics should have never entered.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Barrel Aged BarleyWine tasting

A group of us beer-geeks decided to drink a shit load of BA BarleyWines. Nothing like strong, high abv beers.  Of course, we just couldn't drink BA BWs...throw in some BA Old Ales, Stouts, One-off lager and a hurtful ghost chili-pepper beer for good measure:

Goose Island King Henry
Dry Dock Blighs
Pelican Mother of All Storms
Hoppin Frog Barrel Aged Naked Evil
Deschutes Mirror Mirror (2009, but not infected, we had good luck)
Schafly Oak-aged Barleywine
Firestone Walker Sucaba
Firestone Walker Abacus
Hebrew 15:15
Central Waters Bourbon Barrel Barleywine
Central Waters Y2K
Backcountry Bourbon Barrel Barleywine
Backcountry Barleywine (both of these in unlabeled bottles thanks to Alan the brewer!)
Great Divide Barrel Aged Hibernation
Surly Darkness
Cigar City Marshal Zhukov's
Founders KBS
Founders Breakfast Stout
Westy 12 (Westvletern)
Stone Old Guardian
Town Hall Milk Stout (growler)
Bells Quinannan Falls Lager (nice palate cleanser and rare bottle with a cool story behind it, thanks Corey!)
New Glarus Cranbic
New Glarus Apple Ale
North Coast Old Stock Cellar Reserve
Saint Arnold Divine Reserve
Twisted Pine Ghost Face Killah 

Just about every beer was fantastic. The Mirror Mirror seemed infected (hollow and light) and the Ghost Face Killah just hurt. 
Good times, good beer, great beer geeks. 

I think the next tasting will concentrate on Saisons!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pub Dialogues briefing

Last night was OvalOptions' first session of the Pub Dialogues. Held at the Wynkoop's Mercantile Room, the atmosphere was great and anxious. Discussing the topic of Taxes and R.O.I. people shared opinions, concerns and generated some great ideas.  We gathered feedback, which was almost all positive. Participants loved the exchange and marveled at the skills of their group facilitators. Several had "more fun" than they thought they would and anticipate the next session.
Negative feedback was the parking, day of the week and desire to stay longer.

Overall, this was a success on a relatively small scale. We hope to have another session at the Wynkoop in about 6-9 weeks, or possibly at another venue. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Pub Dialogues

On January 31st at the Wynkoop will be OvalOptions' first session of The Pub Dialogues; an effort to bring people out of the chat room and into the pub.  Online dialogue, discussion, chat, forums and the like have just about killed debate, discussion, communication and dialogue about important (even trivial) topics. The Internet has affected the real world, from presidential elections to neighbor to neighbor relations. People have forgotten how to talk with each other.

It's FREE   6:30pm-9pm

The Pub Dialogues is a facilitated group discussion centered on a topic chosen in advance by OvalOptions. This session concerns taxes and their return on investment (R.O.I.). Where should tax money go?

The Wynkoop is Denver's staple brewpub, and they are generous to allow use of their Mercantile Room for this occasion.

Grab a PINT and bring your EARS!  All ages welcome, 21 to drink alcohol.