Wednesday, October 2, 2013

End of Hyperboles…?

The recent government shutdown has people shaking their heads in disbelief over the dysfunction of their elected representatives. Washington seems not to be able to tie one shoe, let alone both, in order to step onto the political dance floor, which itself is a giant mess.

So who is to blame for this shutdown? The GOP is taking the brunt of the blame. The House of Representatives, under republic control, cannot pass along to the Senate, democrat controlled, a bill that leaves the Affordable Care Act (ACA) alone.  This is the "Obamacare" law that the Supreme Court deemed as constitutionally lawful. Yet, some want to repeal, limit or severely damage this law--namely the "tea party" wing of the GOP.  This wing has effectively infected the rest of the GOP, branding them as crybabies, ideological crusaders, and greedy assholes. It seems this label is not too far off the mark.

The democrats are happy to go  along with blaming the GOP, but they have some criticism to endure. Their plan to "keep the government open" is a quick fix bandage to pass along a budget crisis down the line.  They also refuse to negotiate with the GOP on anything so long as the latter threatens ACA--but this is a good refusal, although it may sound intransigent. The democrats could just sit tight and let the GOP crumble to its foundation. Perhaps this is what is needed.

Yet the blame should not stop there. As we all know, Congress is an elected body so it follows that those who elected it take some blame as well.  Maybe more should take more blame than others, but as a collective, this is the voters' fault. Call is mis-education, ignorance, laziness or entrenched traditional voting practices, but make no mistake, the electorate is dysfunctional.  The foundation of this dysfunction is the hyperbole.

If you think republicans are conservative big business, and democrats are liberal hippies, then you are part of the problem. Nothing ceases and prohibits dialogue faster and longer than hyperbolic categorizations.  To identify others, even yourself, as liberal, conservative, libertarian, communist, etc, then you are just feeding to this overall dysfunction.

There are two main problems with political hyperboles. One is that they are shortcuts around critical thinking, which affects more than the political arena.  Assuming knowledge of individuals (beliefs, actions, motivations, desires, thinking, tendencies, etc) based is dangerous and just plain wrong. As a scene in Good Will Hunting illustrates, no one can know the depths of a person (orphan in the case in the movie) from reading a book (Oliver Twist).  Hyperboles go beyond a stereotype and find the extreme examples to apply to others, making the assumptions that much more worse.

The other main problem is how this hyperbolic thinking is used by those in, or seeking, public office. Hyperboles are strongly held mainly because they are so extreme. If you're against something, and that something is so awful, then your resolution against it is stronger than it would be if that something were not so extreme.  For example, it's not enough to be against the United States, but it is rather easy and noble to be against the Great Satan. It does not take much persuasion (or thinking) to be against pure evil. This is the strength of hyperboles, and politicians know this. They will use this hyperbolic, electorate dysfunction to win elections. They prey upon the effects of hyperbole, namely the fears of what might happen if the hyperbolic assumptions were true and in office. Do we really want Satan in government? No, of course not.  This is just an example, but it illustrates to strong sense of opposition to such a thought.

Yet the electorate eats this up.  They do not want a tyrannical government, groups of armed gangs, moronic officials, or child-eating corporate monsters alive and well in the U.S. So they vote against them, even though they do not exist.  The government shutdown is just one effect of this hyperbolic, extreme "non-thinking".  It is the fault of Republicans, Democrats, and the People of the United States.

Next election cycle, don't jump to conclusions. Do a little research. And ignore the hyperboles the candidates through back at you. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Emotes of Senator McCain: Fuel to the Fire

In response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, Senator McCain went to Pravda to voice his opinion on the matter. Some have called McCain’s response “scathing” while a few see it as “stupid”.  I agree with the latter.

President Putin constructed his Op-Ed as an argument to deter the American people from supporting military aggression on Syria for its (alleged and highly probable) use of chemical weapons. It was a nice piece of writing even if it was not logically sound. Yet he ended his argument with a personal opinion on the American people, which served no purpose other than to elevate himself by lowering others. Of course, this last paragraph received the most attention, which is another consequence of the president’s mistake; taking readers elsewhere than his argument.

And here is where we find Senator McCain, ensconced in Putin’s last paragraph. McCain’s Op-Ed in Pravda (why Pravda??) serves only two purposes: to exacerbate a personal defensive reaction to Putin’s last paragraph, and to add fuel to the diplomatic fire between the U.S. and Russia.  In short, McCain’s piece was just that—a piece of ….

Not only did McCain ignore everything else in Putin’s Op-Ed, he also intentionally and unequivocally interfered with Russian internal affairs. It may be a nice high school debate tactic to focus on one aspect of an opponent’s argument in an effort to trump the whole argument, but in college this will not work, let alone international diplomacy. McCain did nothing to address the glaring holes in Putin’s argument, but instead underscored Putin’s statement that Americans (McCain included) think their exceptional when they really are not. The exceptional thing to do was to ignore that jab and concentrate on the issue at hand: SYRIA! 

As if that were not enough, McCain took it upon himself to scathe Russian internal affairs—namely Putin, Putin’s governing, Russia’s political system, and it’s mediocre international status. Where did this come from? Nowhere did President Putin mention anything of the sort about America in his Op-Ed. This is out of left—er, right—field. At the simplest level this is akin to calling Putin a poopy-face, at the more complex level, like international diplomacy, this can be seen as an attempt to usurp the presidency of Russia. Which is it?  Even if there is a middle ground, political gumption persuades people to pounce on whatever weakness they see. It should surprise no one if Putin counters with more intensity. The situation did not need fuel, and McCain was only too happy, or at least incompetent, to provide it.

So what is the lesson here? McCain simply let his emotions overwhelm his reason.  This is common with humans; we all have done it and probably still do it from time to time. Yet, McCain is a senator with responsibilities to his electorate and the country. Attacking Putin and the Russian system, at least, serves neither. To make matters worse, this response was not spontaneous.  McCain had days to think over his response, put it in writing, read over it, and could have ultimately scrapped it.

Emotions are difficult to manage and perhaps more difficult to understand. Actions predicated on emotions are rarely appropriate and often harmful. They do not aim to address, diffuse, solve or ponder a situation, but in this case to attack a perceived offense. What about Syria?  Apparently McCain’s attention fixates on how one person views Americans in a very general way, and ignores the deaths of 100,000 people.  Too bad. McCain needed more time to cool his jets, just like we all do sometimes.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Response to President Putin’s Op-Ed


Dear Mr. President,

Your recent article published by the New York Times received much attention internationally and within the U.S., its targeted audience. It is a bit refreshing to see a political leader speak to the public.

Typical of American journalism and political dysfunction, much of attention focuses on the last paragraph of the article. You know the one, about American exceptionalism.  And since this is where the attention is, let me deal with that last.

Let me start by saying I am confused as to what the violence in Syria aims to accomplish.  You say it is a "conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country”, but then say “Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern”.  So, this is not a strictly internal conflict. It would seem naïve to think other countries do not have a stake in this conflict and/or the outcome. International actors are involved, not just mercenaries and not just the United States. Events in Syria can, probably will, affect the international community no matter which side triumphs, if that is an appropriate term. In the 21st century, no internal conflict is strictly internal. Word gets out, influence spreads, interests shift and the world is involved, directly or indirectly.

So what do Syrians want? This civil war has raged so long and so violently that the opposition’s goal is foggy to us, and possibly to themselves. Nevertheless, a key component of their goal seems to be the removal from power of the Assad regime. Questions abound as to what would happen next if that does happen, or even if it does not. What happens when peace avails, no matter how long from now that may be? You mentioned there was not clear opposition and terrorist groups comprise some part of the anit-Assad movement. What happens if these forces seek retribution on Russia for incorporating a diplomatic pause or, hopefully, resolution?  How would Russia respond to terrorist plots against it planned outside of Russia?  This presents a slippery slope.

Let me touch upon the rule of law, which is crucial, but to follow it strictly because it “is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not” is an important point. I am sure many people would disagree: Jews of 1930s/40s Europe, African slaves of the Americas, or Cambodians in the late 1970s. People have a right to oppose laws that are bad, wrong, counterproductive, impediments, or just plain evil (all of which are subjective, which strengthens the complexities). Only dictators impose Absolute Rule of laws.  Whether the laws of and within Syria are any of these is not up to us to decide, though it is apparent that people of Syria have. Whether good or bad, human actions do not fit neatly into written laws, religious or otherwise.

Perhaps this highlights a difference between Russia and the U.S. that underlies the lack of communication between them, much to our dismay. For the most part, we tend to ponder the role of law, while in Russia the rule of law is, apparently, paramount. Gun control in the U.S. is a hot debate (although it shouldn't be “debated”) and laws respective to this are interpreted, challenged, altered, vetoed and re-written seemingly monthly. We have laws backed by reason; it is not uncommon for unreasonable or outdated laws to be ignored or removed (e.g. honking a car horn as you enter town to warn the horses). Unfortunately, Reason seems to be on vacation lately and extreme, almost fanatical, positions spring up in America on just about all issues. I see this in the international community as well, perhaps emboldened by U.S. unilateralism, or through international apathy. But the key issue remains: authority has no power unless it is vetted.

The use of chemical weapons violates international law—but so, too, would attacking a sovereign nation without provocation or U.N. Security Council approval.  A conundrum no matter who actually release the chemical weapons, which is probably close to impossible to prove.  Ignoring their use because of this possibility is easy; dealing with it is much more difficult.  Thankfully, Russia interjected in the predicament involving Syria and chemical weapons.  A needed pause, and hopefully a peaceful advantage is within reach.  This should include open dialogue, as you espouse, with the international community, including Syria.  Yet the international community does not have a monopoly on dialogue. Syrian internal dialogue is needed, as I am sure the government and opposition have disagreements. Realization of this dialogue is slim, but with great effort and commitment, it can be done. 

The United Nations was set up to assist in international peace, if not harmony. Yet it was built upon the ashes of World War II as you noted, but the world is much different now. Yes, international communication and bipartisanship is still important, but so, too, is internal violence: War is still war, it knows no boundaries. You agree, at least to a point.  I urge you, and others, to use the auspices and spirit of the U.N. to help resolve the Syrian conflict. Yes, it is an internal matter. It is also true that it is not merely internal. Perhaps it is time to have another look at international laws, the role of the U.N., the responsibility of nations, and the influence of militaries, all of which rely upon the Reason, Compassion and Education of human beings.

Ok, now to the last paragraph.  You are right about Exceptionalism; it can be dangerous. We can go back to 1930s Europe again to highlight this fact.   As for the average American, exceptionalism is less common that it used to be. There is nothing exceptional about endless bickering, embraced ignorance or endless finger pointing. The American public has, for the most part, lost its way. There was hope that the Age of Information would bring people, communities and nations together, no matter how different they, or their policies, may be.  Sadly, this has not turned out to be the case. Not yet anyway. We continue to slack on responsibility, empathy and listening.

You are also wrong. America has flaws, true, just like any other country.  Where America is exceptional resides in what America is built upon. It is the most culturally, racially and religiously diverse nation in the world, and we do not fight…much. While it is human nature is to focus on differences, Americans tend to (but not always, to be sure) find similarities among them and with others. Not only do we abhor human rights violations, even our own, but we strive to do something about it, which is not always easy, popular or internationally legal. The responsibility America puts upon itself is burdensome, but we carry on, insisting on Peace, Liberty and Freedom.  Sometimes our leaders (political and religious) prey upon such capacity and lead us astray. It takes effort to bring back our Founding Fathers’ resilience and wisdom, but we insist on it. Their ideals and principles shape our society. As such, our impulse, our gut reaction, is to, at least, question authoritarian offenses, and to fight atrocities.  Effectiveness of air strikes, not the motivation, against Syria is the main impediment.  This is the core of America, and that is exceptional.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Review: Hoppin Frog's D.O.R.I.S. the Destroyer stout

NOTE: 2012 bottle, about 1 year old

I've come to like the stouts from the Frog people, so this one was just beggin to be drank.

Pours a very deep ruby color, just about black. Nice off tan head, a bit soapy, some rockiness. Hops probably faded a bit on this one, but head retention was pretty nice.

Aroma is deep chocolate, soft and rich. Some sharp hints of coffee and toffee, roasted malt and black plum

Flavor is subtle in a way, and strong. The softness fantastic if a bit faded. Cocoa, molasses, leather, dark plum, coffee, toffee and hint of licorice. Very nice, hides the abv like a Wizard of Oz curtain.

Very nice beer, probably good i waited a year, I bet it was hot younger

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Brewers Only Dialogue

It's right around the corner. This biggest beer festival in the Western Hemisphere (I think): The Great American Beer Festival.  During the week of October 6-13 Denver, CO will be brimming with craft brewers from around the country, and beer enthusiasts from around the world.  Over 600 breweries bring multiple beers for three days, four sessions of beer sampling all in one place. Quite the experience, to say the least.  But that ain't it.  Denver has a fantastic craft beer scene, not to mention geographic scenery. There are many "smaller" events that take place during that week, most of these are special tappings or tasting parties. Falling Rock Tap House, Freshcraft and the Rackhouse usually have awesome events.

And while these events focus on enjoying great, sometimes rare, beer, this year there is another event that separates itself from the others.  The Great American Brewers Dialogue (GABD) will kick off its first installment on October 9th.  With so many craft breweries and their staff in town, it makes sense to try to gather them in one (or several) places to engage in group discussion about their industry. Rarely do brewers et al find free time to exchange ideas and talk about problems or obstacles they face. The GABD is a chance for them to air these out.

Since there are so many brewers in town, several locations will host these discussions simultaneously: Prost Brewing, Strange Brewing and Vine Street Pub are lined up now as hosts, with more to be added if the number of attendees pours in beyond venue capacity.

What makes this different than just a collection of brewers in one places is the addition of professional facilitators from OvalOptions for Conflict Management to help guide the groups through dialogue. These facilitators utilize methods to improve discussions, brainstorm, keep everyone engaged, and discover possible solutions to problems.  So now we have brewers gathered in one (or 3) place, where they can (re)connect with each other, focus on certain topics for discussion (each group decides their own topics), and professionals to help unpack and address concerns. Sounds like a good deal, even better since it is FREE!

It is only open to brewers and brewery staff to keep discussions open and confidential. Like everybody, brewers are reluctant to advertise problems they face. The GABD provides a safe space.  This should be fun and interesting!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Crooked Stave's Nightmare on Brett Leopold Bros Brrl Review

This one was tapped about 5 minutes before I got to the barrel room. Serendipitous it seems. 

Pours very dark brown, murky, almost black. Like a nightmare. Except it's pretty close to heaven. Large off white/tan foam, some rockiness. Head settles to a thick collar. Nice lacing. Rich, but a bit too frothy for a Baltic porter. Who cares, really? Besides the rating 

Aroma is full of stuff. Chocolate, leather, caramel, char, vanilla, faint florals, spice and some woodiness. Sour for sure. The aromas don't really come through until the first sip 

And yowza, that's a great first sip. Up front blast of sour dark cherries, then pure sour stuff with some funk spice. But the ending and finish are great. Chocolate, smooth caramel (like a Werther's candy), rich yet faint butterscotch just under the surface, vanilla, leather, blackberry...and on and on.

Served at cellar temperature as it hadn't cooled down since being tapped. Fine with me. Dammit, Jim, that's good

I can see this one as an introductory sour beer. Yes, it's powerful. Yes, it's complex. The sourness is intense, but the way it leaves and gives way to the other flavors is just shy of super duper. 

Firestone-Walker Pivo Hoppy Pils Review

Ehhh...not sure why this is listed as a German Pilsener since pivo is Czech. Yet the Saphir hops are German, but not noble, although they replace a noble. Confusing, but I'm rating it as a Pivo

Looks great. Light straw golden, good white head. Settles to a thin film. 

Aroma is hop forward, and more than just a little. The light biscuit malt is present in the background. 

A good tasting beer, a bit too much hops for a pivo pils. Still, it isn't overpowering. Spice and grassiness are at low levels. Malt is very thin. Nothing bad with this beer and would rate it higher if hops were tamer.

Pretty close the Czech pivos but a bit heavier and thicker.  A bit more hops that had more intensity than the Saaz. Not quite as clean, but good nonetheless

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Who Did the Terrorist Defeat: FoxNews or Sam Adams?

Recently, some FoxNews "commentators" revealed their thoughts about the recent Boston Beer Company television commercial.  I have several issues with this piece of "news".

These people attack Boston Beer Company for complying with industry standards about advertising, which prohibit any religious themes. Their verbal attack is enhanced by their sheer lack of intelligence and thought. First, "the terrorists have won" comment is so absurd that this guy must be joking, right? Maybe a bit, but he's at least upset about the omission of "god" or "creator" from the commercial. Let's see, who would be upset about someone else not giving props to god, that such omission would be "outrageous"? Perhaps a religious zealot.  Most certainly not a brewer. And are there any terrorists who are not religious zealots?? If anyone would be more likely to succumb to the mindset of terrorism it is this guy at FoxNews.

Of course, he doesn't stop there.  He ponders the notion that Boston Beer Co. is targeting the modern day Tea Party group....somehow.  This is not a coherent thought at all, just a random splat of paranoia. Another log in the fireplace that cooks fear and insecurity within about half the voting population. Apparently he forgets that a monarch in Colonial times was "god appointed" and that this very same Declaration of Independence seeks such from an English king.  (And let's skip that pesky freedom of religion thing in the Constitution, a document that FoxNews sets aside when it doesn't comply with their "thoughts", but is the basis of all other arguments they attempt)

Then they go on to attack the "bogus" "beer code guideline committee" as overriding the authority of the Declaration of Independence. Um, what?? The Declaration of Independence has no legal authority whatsoever (they're conflating it with the Constitution--which they ignore this time), and is a statement of...well...independence.  Apparently freedom of speech isn't something FoxNews cares to embrace.

But all this ignores Prohibition.  You know, that Constitutional amendment that outlawed alcohol (and beer), which was brought about through religious protests. The remnants of Prohibition are still around today--noticeably here in the Beer Institute's advertising code.  So, get this, because of religious zealots, beer advertisers are asked to NOT use religion or religious themes. The Beer Institute acquiesces to the sensitivity of the pious. Except, other religious zealots at FoxNews admonish the Beer Institute and Boston Beer for adhering to this agreement. While the former zealots ask someone not do something, the latter zealots want to force someone to do something.

So it boils down to this: based on industry standards of conduct formed to protect religious sensitivities, a television commercial does not mention any type of divine being, and the creators of said commercial are scorned for doing so by religious zealots who claim that other religious zealots have won. Seems the religious zealots have something in common.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Craft Beer Saturation: Lesson Learned, Lesson Followed?

A recent article from Time Magazine online mentioned some concerns over the rapid growth of the craft brewing industry. While this article barely scratches the surface of the concerns mentioned (it doesn't even touch others), it focuses on the associated industries' ability to accommodate this growth. Restaurants, bars and retail stores are finding it difficult to provide space for these new breweries and their new beers. As such, competition among craft breweries for this limited space is intensifying. Some see this competition as a very strong adversary to not only the continued growth of craft brewing, but its chances of sustaining its current status. In other words, after the Big Bang comes the Big Crunch.

This is not a surprising or unrealistic prognosis. Craft brewing saw a Big Crunch in the 1990s, so there's ostensibly no reason to foresee it not to happen again. Except there are several. One is that after the 1990s Big Crunch, say the last 10-15 years, the big breweries (Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors) refocused their targets on each other, allowing the few craft breweries who survived to build strong foundations.  Breweries like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and the largest craft brewer, Boston Beer Company, helped cultivate a resurgence of craft beer.  Under cover from the giant breweries' gaze elsewhere, small breweries crept back into the market, and this time they assessed what went wrong before to apply what they learned today.

The main lesson was that direct competition with the financial capital of big breweries is suicide. No need to attract attention from Bud, Miller, and Coors beating themselves up. Which is another point: the big breweries consolidated.  Miller, Coors and Molson merged (for lack of a better term), AB was bought by In-Bev, which just acquired Group Modelo. Meanwhile, the craft beer lover was not to be forgotten. The Internet plays a big role here as well.  Beer lovers took to cyberspace to advocate for better beer.  Websites like BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer are consumer driven, contain open forums and information on beer, beer styles, beer events and beer…you name it. The need for advertising through Super Bowl commercials, billboards and sporting event sponsorships became fleeting, and therefore big money was not the dominant weapon it once was.

While other factors differentiate today's craft brewing boom from the 1990s, the focus now is on how to keep it up, and to keep at bay the Big Crunch. Back then the competition was for tap handles and cooler doors, and this is still a part of the scene.  Yet it's not the whole picture. Perhaps the most unique characteristic of today's craft beer scene is the scene itself.

The size of breweries opening up today is relatively tiny. One brewery will not make a dent on the national share of the beer sales market. Places like Denver Beer Co and Hogshead Brewery reside in small buildings, like old auto mechanic garages, where their consumer base spans less than a square mile.  Restaurant tap handles and retail shelf space are not their primary concern. It is a different business plan than the big breweries and the craft breweries of the 1990s. Craft breweries are becoming the neighborhood hangout, which harkens back to Colonial days.

This is what can prevent a Big Crunch, if many craft brewers stay extremely local. If money is poured into competing for limited space, then big money can be lost.  Attention should be, first, on the beer.  Good beer will lure people in and persuade them to stay.  Next should be customer service (well, you need a tasting room first). Making people feel like friends, or guests, rather than customers is not a secret, but it isn't all that easy to do. Skills in personal interaction are rare in today's social media world, yet are vital to small business.  So, the people have come to drink great beer, and they're staying…what else can they do at these small breweries?

The brewery is not just a drinking hole; it's a gathering place for everybody, although only adults can enjoy the beer.  Atmosphere is important--otherwise people would just stay home.  Music, volume, space, table arrangement, outside seating, etc all affect the brewery. Some places provide board games, others have periodic group meetings. Accommodating designated drivers, children, pets and tourists have little to do with beer…but everything to do with a neighborhood brewery.

And this is working: These places are busy. Sometimes breweries cannot keep production ahead of consumption; there is more demand than supply. That's a good business recipe, yet it shouldn't be a sign for breweries to expand and start distribution. While a particular neighborhood is familiar with their brewery, many others are not, and to make them aware takes money and time.  Both of which are needed in the original location to maintain great beer, customer service and atmosphere. If they do this, then they have established a strong opposition to any Big Crunch that may occur.

Some believe that the lack of retail and tap space will hurt craft brewing, and this may be true for breweries looking for space.  But revenue does not have to come from distribution; on premise tasting rooms are becoming neighborhood hot spots.  While this may not provide short term profits, it can lead to long term, established success. People want to gather, mingle, talk, play and meet.  The neighborhood brewery is the perfect place, away from the labyrinth of distribution. With so many neighborhoods in the U.S. saturation is a long way off.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Would Our Founding Fathers Approve of US?

A recent article on CNN briefly outlined a Gallup poll asked people if they think the Founding Fathers would or would not view the current U.S. in a favorable light.  Basically, the poll, or rather its analyses, suggests that political affiliation has an effect on responses. Since a Democrat is in the White House, it seems Republicans think that the Founding Fathers would disapprove of our current situation.  It's not hard to imagine the responses of democrats if a republican were in the White House.

But would the Founding Fathers disapprove based on political party affiliation?  While there were some heated animosity between political parties in the late 1700s, I doubt the Founding Fathers would judge the country based on which party seated the president. One of the greatest aspects of the founding of this country was the ability for its founders to disagree in a "proper" way.

To illustrate what I mean, let's look at today's political scene. Who would argue that it is not a mess?  There is so much animosity, enmity and polarization that any effort of progress, learning, discovery and innovation is thwarted just as it begins. Today's politicians, and the American public at large, do not know how to disagree in a way that enables discussion, progress and problem solving that the Founding Fathers held as a foundation to Democracy and enlightenment.

Back then, people gathered to discuss topics large and small.  Perhaps that shared a pint of beer in the process.  If they could not gather in person, handwritten letters were sent, which sometimes took months to complete a correspondence.  As such, it was important to choose words deliberately to make a point, question or observation crystal clear to the reader. Thought was put into every sentence spoken and written, as well as heard or read.

And I think this is the main reason why our country's founders would vehemently disapprove of their country today. Mindless bickering, baseless accusations, and the sheer inability and refusal of some people to honestly listen to others. The zero-sum attitude of modern politicians and many voters is not healthy for any society, especially not for one as diverse as the modern United States of America.  We need to get back to face-to-face discussion, to listen intently to others--not to pick apart a statement, but to learn, entertain open dialogue, to add thought to instant communication, and to realize that diversity means that nobody will get all they want.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Beer Review: Firestone Walker Pale 31

This is a really nice, quaffable beer. Session? Yes. It's easy drinking with just the right amount of bite to demand notice, but not a tongue scraper. It looks delicious; off golden, clear pour with a huge white fluffy head. Spotty lacing.

Open aroma of floral and citrus with some light cracker underneath.
Flavors are light but powerful. Citrus zest blends well with the floral perfume-ness and the cracker brings it together nicely.

A bit light on the malt for a APA. This is almost like a light IPA. Very drinkable. Really liked this one.

Most of the beers that comprise my beer cellar are large bottles, 750ml or larger. Sometimes after work I want a beer that isn't a monster as far as size, flavor and booze.  Pale 31 fits this bill, but that doesn't make it a non-flavorful beer.  It's a great after work beer that tastes good and won't require a lot of time to drink.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Lake Dillon Beer Festival

This past weekend presented me with two beer festivals. The first was on Saturday in Dillon, CO.  The Lake Dillon Beer Festival--with bluegrass concerts--is one of my favorite festivals of the year.  It's not the biggest or best, but the location and music is just fine.  About 20 breweries were there at the Dillon Amphitheatre and for $30 I could try as much as I could in a 4 hour span. On top of that, many breweries sent their head brewers or sales (distribution) team. This made for nice, face to face conversations.

Some well known and larger breweries were there, like Breckenridge, Odell, Oskar Blues and Boulder Beer.  Their always popular and widely available.  For me, this is repeat territory, but I still like talking to them. Then there are the smaller guys: Backcountry Brewery, Ska, Renegade and Wynkoop.  And then the very small and/or new places such as Fate, Our Mutual Friend, Butcherknife, Big Choice, Strange Brewing, River North, Hogshead, and the locals Pug Ryans and Dillon Dam Brewery. Always good to grab some Backcountry beers, Alan Simons up there has good stuff.  It was also great to hang out with Jeff Griffith from Fate.  His Watermelon Kolsch was a hit.

It was also nice to see the Colorado Brewer's Guild with a booth. The craft beer scene in Colorado is booming and it needs representation on "the Hill".  Craft brewers also need access to, and knowledge of, valuable resources.  The Guild is doing its best to keep up; beer is growing fast 'round these parts.

Dillon is about one hour outside of Denver and far enough in the mountains to catch some awesome star-gazing.  Unfortunately timing was not on my side Saturday: a full moon (and the biggest of the year) lit up the lake and the sky. Darn. Still, the scenery was fantastic and the weather even better.

Nice place, fairly close, great scenery, friendly people, not all that crowded and good price all add up to a great time and a promise from me to return next year!

Dillon.  The fest is behind me

Music has started

Beer and the lake

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Beer Review: Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA (Bond St. series)

(not quite as juicy as the label depicts)

Great looking beer. Clear and bright copper. Large white foam, a bit soapy. Splotchy lacing. Quick swirl brings up the foam again.

Aroma is muddled. There are characteristics of passion fruit, grapefruit rind, pomelo, citrus and some green pine, but none grab the headlines. Instead it just seems vinous. Careful sniffing brings out the complexities, or are they simplicities?

Flavor is light and muddled, too. This is not a powerful IPA in aroma or flavor. While the flavor isn't bad, it's too vinous--so I think that's what it is--and less floral or fruity. But it's not earthy either. Just seems like the hops were dried or something.

Feel is light overall with slight bite on the end.

Expected more from this one. With that said, it's quite easy drinking and on a hot day, it won't leave a film that some IPAs do.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Beer Review: Odell's Woodcut #6

So, I'm going to try and post my reviews on this blog for posterity.  Since this is review #1,655, though, it may be a lost cause.  We'll start with this one:

Odell  Woodcut 6

I rarely rate according to price, but what exactly should a 'strong ale' taste like anyway? Since there really isn't a benchmark, I'm going with wallet affects. 

Pours a murky off amber/gold will huge head. This thing billowed up to about 3 fingers, off white. Looks ok, but the lacing seemed oily. 

Aroma is wood, aspirin, date and unripe apple. 

Tastes is wood and unripe apple. But mostly wood. Not a scratchy kind, just like a wet log. Subtle hints of vanilla and caramel on the end. But it's thin. Maybe some cherry?

The feel saves this beer a bit. It's got a bubble whallop to save the thinness of the taste. Really, what is this thing for 21 bucks (on SALE!)? At least the wood isn't too bold or scratchy, that would result in a drain pour. 
This is my first, and last, Woodcut I'll pay for. Not a bad beer, but horrible for the price

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Magic Hat / West Sixth Trademark Dispute: Settlement

The good news is that Magic Hat and West Sixth breweries agreed on a settlement to their intense, and public, dispute.  A joint press release stated that the parties have come to a mutually agreeable solution to the trademark problem.  Here it is in its entirety

"Official Statement
West Sixth & Magic Hat

The parties have a mutual interest in assuring that consumers perceive their products as distinct.

The parties have mutually resolved the issues addressed in the lawsuit in a manner that eliminates potential confusion about product origin and resolves the lawsuit in a mutually acceptable way.

To the extent West Sixth in any way represented that Magic Hat filed a frivolous lawsuit, that Magic Hat initiated litigation improperly, that Magic Hat was unresponsive in negotiating a resolution, that Cerveceria Costa Rica was itself involved in the dispute or its resolution, that Magic Hat claimed ownership of the numeral 6, that Magic Hat sued West Sixth after West Sixth had already acceded to its demands, that Magic Hat has no Vermont presence, or that Magic Hat sought to recover for or enjoin West Sixth from truthful public statements, such representations are retracted. West Sixth regrets that it in any manner communicated any inaccuracies, and hereby corrects those errors.

Both Magic Hat and West Sixth have agreed that this joint statement will be the last public communication from either side regarding the resolved dispute.

Each wishes the other good fortune and continued success."

So, there it is.  It seems the mediation worked, and the slight change to West Sixth's label was the removal of a compass / star image.  That's far as labeling goes.  But what takes up the bulk of this joint message is public relations mending.  Why is the biggest paragraph essentially an apology from West Sixth about its public comments during the dispute?  After all this time and threats of litigation, what comes out is a simple (relatively) label edit and a long, drawn out "regret". Does this seem odd?

In fact, no, it doesn't. At least not to those in the field of conflict management. To them, they see this paragraph of apology as addressing the main issue for Magic Hat: public image and possibly hurt feelings.  While the label dispute was the main issue, as soon as it hit the social media stream it became a side dish.

They're not alone. Even more recently the international, conglomerate brewer, giant corporation AB-InBev reportedly issued a cease and desist to extremely tiny, ma-and-pop brewery Belleville Brewing in the UK.  Now, Ab-InBev is the type of large corporation that can weather a flame war of public image on the social networks, so they probably aren't worried about this dispute's affect on their image. And as far as image goes, this can help Belleville...assuming it survives the legal costs. This dispute is a bit different from other brewing trademark cases because of the disparity of sizes between the disputants. This is not true with most other cases, where disparity in size may exist, but not to this extreme.

The fact is, most breweries involved in trademark (or other) disputes cannot afford negative press, litigation or drastic label changes. One may suggest that breweries refrain from hitting the social media airways that flame the dispute.  Yet social media is a weapon, and powerful enough to counter, or at least dissuade, the use of legal maneuvering. Plus, anything filed through the courts is public domain anyway, so the dispute is not reserved to privacy. This does not mean that relying on social media is effective or efficient. It creates an uncontrollable firestorm; a Pandora's box of back-and-forth. It can get ugly.

With Magic Hat and West Sixth, at least the label dispute is resolved and the public firestorm over (well, maybe not. Supporters of both sides, and fed-up neutrals, may still vent and foam over this mess). Both companies can go about making beer, and making a living.  That's the important part. Hopefully this situation serves as a lesson to other breweries in similar situations.  Hopefully.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Dilemma (and test) of Aging Beer: A "Scientific" Approach

Last night, some fellow beer geeks and I gathered for a beer tasting. Tastings aren't really uncommon, but this one had two aspects that made it boarder line unique.  One was the return of a beer geek to beer geek-dom. See, he committed himself to family, house and job for several years. The last time I drank with him was at his new house, at the time with quite an unfinished basement and his beer collection/cellar was a pile of boxes. Fast forward to last night, and the basement served quite well, equipped with a small fridge, couch, tables....all the things needed for a beer tasting.

Which brings us to the other aspect: the verticals.  Initially, this tasting's aim was to try the same beers, aged for the same amount of time, but in different "formats".  For example, we not only had most of the Stone Vertical Epic brews, but we had two of each.  For each set, one had been aged in cold refrigerators and the other aged at cellar temperatures or wine fridges. The idea was to compare and contrast the affects of these different aging techniques. Each of us (there were 8) got two pours from each Vertical year--one pour from the refrigerator aged, and one from the cellar aged version.  Pure science, of course.

(The Stones)

And it went...interestingly.  Not many of us were fans of these beers, refrigerated or not.  Probably because few, or none, of them were meant to be aged at all. But, that wasn't a requirement for this experiment (yeah, like we thought this up way back in 2003).

Prior to tasting, we had a little bit of a debate as to which version (fridge or cellar) would be better, or at the least, would there be any difference.  There was some disagreement, and the results were conclusive.  Cellared beer aged more rapidly than fridge beer across the board.  Also across the board, the beers did not hold up to even fridge aging.   Most were oxygenated and faded. We concluded that aging beers is, for the most part, overrated.  Two years was the common maximum duration to age a beer (a beer that can be aged), with 5 years being the extreme.

...But that wasn't all.  The unique aspect of this tasting was the other vertical tasting:
The Dark Lord (2005-2013)

That's a lot of strong beer right there, folks.  But, for science, we endured. And this vertical pretty much convinced us that aging is not all that great for many beers, eve the Lord.  While 2005 had a nice roasty characteristic, it was more of a result from oxygenation than the beer itself.  The 2006, 2007 and 2008 were not very good, while 2011 was agreed on to be the best of the bunch.  Most Dark Lords were aged at cellar temps as they were gathered from various sources.
A shorter vertical was the night cap:  Bourbon County Brand Stout (2007-2008)

So with the verticals and science concluded we had more beers to drink:
Midnight Sun's Monk's Mistress (oak aged)
Beatification batch 008
Supplication batch 002
Thomas Hardy's Ale 1993
Sophie Paradisi
Backcountry SaiZin
The Bruery Cuir
Cantillon Cuvée Des Champions
....and several homebrews

Quite the night!

Friday, May 31, 2013

A new Toad on the block

Last night we hit the newest Golden, CO brewery: Mountain Toad Brewing.  It's a cozy little spot with an open patio along the side. Still working out the kinks, like with the PoS system, but the beers on tap (there were only 3) were solid. No defects detected, which isn't the usual for new breweries.  Good location.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mediation Between Magic Hat and West Sixth Breweries

Magic Hat and West Sixth breweries go to mediation!   Well, sort of...

It is refreshing to see that the two parties in a trademark dispute are opting for mediation, according to reports.  Lawsuits and court processes are expensive, drawn out, unpredictable and uncontrollable by the parties. Mediation offers an alternative process that is quicker, less expensive, and retains control of the process to the parties. Unpredictability remains, but this is usually a good aspect allowing for the discovery of hidden or latent problems, and/or the creation of unique solutions. Hopefully, Magic Hat and West Sixth will benefit from this mediation, and I applaud them for their efforts.

What troubles me is the selection of a magistrate judge to serve as mediator.  Now, I do not know who this judge is, so I don’t want to…judge, but for the most part, judges are not mediators.  Sure, they can “mediate” according to their definition of mediation, but this falls short of the processes used by experienced mediators.  A common mistake is to assume that those in the legal profession (attorneys, judges, etc) are also seasoned mediators.  This is not true most of the time.  To be sure, some mediators are, or were attorneys and have changed professions. Yet, the experience gained in the court system does not translate well to mediation.

The primary distinction between mediation and litigation is the focus of advocacy.  Whereas the attorney advocates for her/his client and for a winning judgment, a mediator advocates for the mediation process and helps parties come to an agreeable resolution. The goal is not to prove right/wrong, legal/illegal, or decide who put forward a better argument; it is to overcome the dispute through a resolution that both parties agree on, and, for the most part, create.

Perhaps attorneys and judges realize this, and they probably do. Their challenge is to reach such resolution by using the most effective techniques during mediation. While facts and figures work well in the courts, they have little bearing in most mediations. Again, mediation is about resolving a dispute on agreeable terms by both parties, and not what the data influences. After years of argumentation, adjudication, and client advocacy, it is difficult for anybody to transfer to process-focused methods. This is not to say that some once-legal-minded mediators cannot effectively mediate, but merely to point out the fact that mediation skills are not easy to grasp and practice. Becoming a skilled and effective mediator takes time; it is a full time practice.

My fear is that the mediation West Sixth and Magic Hat will, reportedly, undertake may be more of an arbitration and less of a mediation.  That is, the mediator will hear the arguments and decide on a resolution for the parties, instead of the parties coming up with one with the assistance of the mediator. I could be wrong.  But if this mediation does not work, it will give Mediation in general a bad rap. And that will hurt everybody who becomes involved in a dispute, and that’s all of us.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Trademarks: Here We Go Again

It seems like we can't even blink between trademark disputes in the craft brewing industry. And it also seems like each dispute grows uglier than the previous.  Today, we see two breweries engaged in this ugliness: Magic Hat Brewing Co. and West Sixth Brewing, with the former suing the latter for trademark infringement. Social media sites just ooze of nastiness, mostly from supporters of each brewery, but occasionally from the breweries themselves--at least, they have not done much, if anything, to stop the flow.

Some of the rancor stems from the image of a giant beer company picking on a weaker one. And this does not sit well in a culture that has only recently become aware of the affects of bullying. Magic Hat is the playground bully; West Sixth is the new kid at school. The fight has begun.

Sadly, it could have been avoided. Private phone conversations, one-on-one discussions and even email would have been preferable to social media, lawyers' letters and lawsuits. Even though it sounds like attempts at personal contact were unsuccessful, going from discussion to lawsuit is a giant leap over some critical steps. Facilitated dialogue, mediation, and settlement conference are always options for disputants.  While more effective prior to retaining legal counsel, these options are still on the table.

Still, it surprises me that Magic Hat and its corporate connections have not figured out the power of social media. A power that can build and destroy. West Sixth knows this and are using it to their advantage. At least, so far. While I'm no prognosticator, this dispute will harm both breweries. And that's sad. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

ROY G BIV at Crooked Stave

I gotta say, I had a blast at Crooked Stave's release party of Wild Wild Brett Violet this past Sunday. While I didn't get there super early, 2 bottles of this rare beer ended up in my hands and later in my "cellar". Honestly, though, I would not have cared all that much if no bottles made it to my humble abode.  Why? Well, I'll tell ya...

If there is one "duh" moment I've ever had, it was on Sunday when I said, a little under my breath, that craft beer lovers really do love craft beer. I know, duh!  But really, looking back on that day, through pictures or stories, there endured that one constant. Craft beer lovers love craft beer, and because of this, grabbing two bottles of WWBV was just a bonus, even an afterthought. The brewmaster, Chad, spoke individually to each person purchasing WWBV, thus keeping the spirit of craft brewing alive: it's about the relationship, community and atmosphere, with great beer added.

See, the line stretched around the corner, and then the next corner of the building outside. It moved slowly. Waiting time to get a beer from Crooked Stave's rather small bar was about 20 minutes. To get a bottle was 3 hours, with many in line not getting even one before the bottles ran out. Tap times were discombobulated.  WWBOrange wasn't tapped (as far as I know) due to massive foaming. It was crowded. One bathroom was hammered with...well, beer-sidules.

But get this: I drank more different (and delicious) beers at this event than any other, maybe...maybe excluding GABF. When craft beer lovers get together, they bring craft beer. They dive into their cellars and private collections and offer bottles to beer geek friends and strangers. And most of these beers, if not all, are hind to find and obtain: i.e. the white whales.
Here, look at this:
This is just a glimpse of the bottle share...the lineup continues...

Beer wasn't the only thing brought along.  Cheese, grapes, water, soup, was a backyard gathering with friends and strangers who just love craft beer. It was a great time. It was Craft Beer fun.

Oh, and there was some sort of bottle release inside. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why I Love Beer

People who do not really know me think I drink a lot.  Just because I have reviewed over 1,600 beers online doesn't mean I drank them in 4 days. No. I take my time drinking a beer.  It's rare that I have more than 2 beers a night, and most nights I don't have any.  Of course, this was not always the case. 

While I didn't touch any alcohol until I was 21 years old, when I did start to drink it was mostly beer (Bud) with some shots mixed in. Still, I never drank alone. It was a social thing back then, and remains (mostly) so today, albeit with a little more style than yesteryear. I love the differences in making beer, the variety of ingredients and variations of combining them, and the spectrum of flavors; from super sour to malty sweet.

When I was younger, Cheers was my favorite TV show--still is. The closeness and camaraderie in that studio bar really hit home with me. Combine that with my history degree that highlighted the role of pubs and taverns through the Colonial days, and I started to see beer (and pubs) as an important social cog in the wheel of civilization.

Living in Denver facilitates this interest: The metro area has a ton of breweries, tap rooms, and beer bars, not to mention many beer geeks.  It's no wonder that places such as Denver Beer Co., Hogshead, Dry Dock, Prost and Strange Brewing Co are packed with patrons every night.  Consider that these places are not the only on-premise beer joints.  Denver is also home to several very large liquor stores that carry hundreds of beers.  If beer were the only factor, then people would be drinking it at home and not packing  the beer halls.  No, there is something more than just drinking beer.

People go to these beer venues to try new and good beer. And to mingle with their fellow citizens, meet new friends, tell and hear great stories, and have fun. This is one reason why I love beer.  It truly is a social lubricant. It helps people unwind, not from the alcohol, but from the joy of drinking good suds (the Colorado scenery doesn't hurt either).

More people should take advantage of what beer halls have to offer. The Pub Dialogues is an effort to do just this: Gather people to share beer and ideas about social, political and community issues. Colonists did it years ago, and look what came out of that.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Small BREW Act, Taxes and Craft Brew

The growth of craft beer as an industry has persuaded some to take notice as to what "craft" brewing really means and its role in the overall beer industry. While debates continue over craft v. crafty, production levels salience on definitions and independent v. corporate brewing, one issue has craft brewers seemingly debating each other, and that issue is tax.  More precisely, excise federal tax on the production of beer, no matter if it's craft, independent, neither or both. 
Basically the excise tax code is set up so that those breweries who produce more beer are taxed more on the federal level. Right now, that production level is 2 Million barrels per year (those producing such quantities are taxed more per barrel than those producing less).  On the ground, it currently means that all craft breweries do not pay this extra tax, but large breweries (like SABMiller and AB-InBev) fork over the money.
Yet, the growth of craft beer has pushed some breweries closer to this 2 Million barrel level, and therefore more taxation.  As such, or by coincidence, the Brewers Association has altered/updated its definition of craft brewery to include breweries producing up to 6 Million barrels per year (among other stipulations).  Following this, there have been efforts to alter/update the tax code.  Without getting into details, the new tax proposals seek to increase the production level to 6 Million barrels per year before enduring the full excise tax of $18/barrel. 
This has some people in an uproar (or at least discomfort).  Some claim that only a handful of large craft breweries will benefit from this while most of the other medium/small craft breweries will see little benefit, especially if the money saved by the large breweries is spent on marketing--giving them a leg up on the competition, which is the smaller breweries.  Are you following?  It's a bit complicated, so to summarize:  Craft breweries are getting bigger. Getting bigger means more excise tax.  Change definition of "bigger" to avoid this tax burden increase. Those "bigger" breweries benefit most, while smaller breweries see little gain. I think that's the gist of it.
This will be interesting to watch to see if a rift develops (or grows) between the handful of big craft breweries (like Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium , etc) and the more numerous small breweries (like Crooked Stave, Lagunitas, Foothills). It will also be interesting to see how the Brewers Association handles this disagreement.  It should be noted that the BA supports this new tax code, as well as a majority of its member breweries. Consensus is difficult to achieve in any industry, so we'll see how this situation develops, if at all.  Sources predict that this new tax code will not pass Congress.
It should also be noted that the main argument in favor of this proposed tax code is job creation.  With the money saved from the discounted excise tax (from $7/barrel to $3.50/barrel for production under 60,000 barrels), small breweries can re-invest in their companies, hire more employees and build up their neighborhoods.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

NCAA Paying College Athletes...

With the Final Four starting today, it seems like a good time to spew my thoughts on paying college athletes.  Notice: this is not the hashed-out version of my rant, just a glimpse.

In short, I'm against it. The big money maker is football.  Programs such as Nebraska, Alabama, Florida and USC can bring in millions of dollars.  On top of that, television contracts with such schools adds more dough to that pile.  The common argument in favor of paying athletes is that they are part of the product that sells, so they should get a cut. Otherwise, they are just free labor. Well, for one, no they aren't (free education and room/board).  Also, free labor (when not forced) is called "volunteering".  They don't have to do it.

Let's look a bit closer.

  • No one is forcing athletes to compete in college.  They are free to pursue other scholarships, grants, etc if they so choose
  • Other scholarship students (let's say in engineering) do not enjoy free marketing and promotion. Athletes, especially in football and basketball, have their skills displayed on TV
  • College athletes are on scholarship*, they get a free education as their payment.  IF they leave school early, that's their loss
  • Athletes are in no position to demand anything. A university offers an opportunity for compete athletically.  Just because some organizations pay people to play a sport, doesn't mean colleges are suppose to do the same
Now, if the proponent argument contains a notion that since a lot of money is being made, then it should be shared, I would agree.  But why does it have to go to the athletes?  Why not stipulate that a large % of revenue goes back to the school--for scholarships, buildings, overall improvement--or to the community, which no doubt shares the burden of student life?  Maybe allocate a good portion to education and research?  How immoral would that be....?

It's a ridiculous argument to say that football (for example) makes so much money and the athletes get none of it is wrong. If they don't like it, they can leave. A retort might state, "well, how else will they get an education?"  Please, how many leave early anyway?  And, is money THAT important?  Athletics, especially team sports, teaches a whole lot more than just how to make money. 

Bottom line for me:  athletes do get paid.  They get free education, learn lessons while competing, and receive free marketing.  And they can always refuse to do so.

* It should be noted that most student-athletes probably receive partial or no scholarship, but they make it work.  Perhaps a bigger slice of the revenue should go to them?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

What's More Important: Definitions or Beer?

What is a gypsy brewer?  How do they differ from regular brewers? Should they be held with the same regard as regular brewers?  These questions have come up, either directly or indirectly, in a recent blog from a brewer in Massachusetts. A gypsy brewer (or contract brewer) is one who uses other breweries' equipment to brew his/her beer.  Mikkeller is probably the most commonly known one, but there are many others. So why are they getting some heat?

The gist is that gypsy brewers are not real brewers since they do not brew the beer themselves and/or are not present when their beer is brewed. They do not own brick and mortar localities and rely on the talents of others for brewing their recipes. Financially, they have not invested or risked as much as those regular brewers, which makes them seem as just trying to get a piece of the pie with less effort.

These are opinions, based on facts.  It is a fact that gypsy brewers use equipment that is not theirs (or the bank's). It is true that sometimes they are not present when their beer is brewed. The opinions rise from there. 

But what is also true is the common claim, by brewers, that beer isn't beer until the yeast has done it's job: brewers make wort, yeast makes beer.  So, who are the real brewers?  Ok, so this is nitpicking a bit.  Yet, I think it's important to acknowledge the whole process before rendering opinions of absolute labeling.

Of course, we could look at new technologies and ask ourselves who the brewers really are. Push button computer software can follow the progress of the brewing cycle and make minute changes when need to follow a recipe. Some software can even be overseen and controlled off premise: that is, by the brewer from his/her couch at home. In this case, is the brewer still a brewer?

My answer is, who cares?  What's the deal with the focus on definitions of such trivial scale? Sure, I can understand the difference between sweating all brewing and picking up wort. I'm not saying brewing and gypsy brewing are the same. My question is why should it matter? Maybe giving credit where credit is due is the underlying issue.  If so, then perhaps labels on the bottles/cans can provide satisfaction.  I'm sure they are options to consider.

The bottom line for me is that if you admonish some beers for being "contracted", then you are missing some great beer.  AND doing disservice to those who actually did sweat all day making the wort. It's still great beer, those who worked on it got paid, and the yeast finished it off.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Craft Brewing: Cease and Desist

Now, before you get your hops in a bunch, I'm not suggesting the craft brewing industry stop what it's doing and discontinue its rapid growth.  Quite the contrary.  This little post aims to help (even a wee bit) the craft brewing industry by highlighting a small, yet worrisome problem: Cease and desist letters.
With this boom in craft beer comes the increasingly complicated task of each brewery naming a beer, creating artwork, and the business of branding.  Problem is, craft breweries are small and, thankfully, quite numerous. Their economic footprint rarely goes beyond a county, and as such attention to the aforementioned tasks is a bit lacking. That is, a small brewery in South Carolina has little means or motivation to research if a certain name (say, "Hopolicious IPA") is being used by another brewery across the country in Oregon. If a trademark was filed by the Oregon business, the its infringement can cause quite a stir.  To many people, it is difficult to justify trademark infringement against a small company thousands of miles away that is not in the same market, and does not plan to be.

But as a business, the Oregon brewery has a concern, and every right to defend its brand.  If it chooses not to pursue an infringement grievance, then it can be shown later on that it does not really care about its brand.  With that, another brewery years later (perhaps one in Oregon) can claim naming rights that this brewery might already have. In other words, protect the brand now to stave off future challenges--which may come from much larger, macro breweries.  Protecting a trademark is necessary, and understandable.

Unfortunately, the methods used for protection can incur damages. For one, a cease and desist letter from a lawyer is impersonal, which is anathema to craft brewing. For the most part, brewers are not business managers. If they encounter a problem, they like to handle it personally. Getting attorneys involved is seen as steely and cold.  It seems aggressive, and brewers do not react well to these perceptions (who would?).  In the age of social media the reaction can be swift, intense and ugly.

Still, legal counsel may be needed…just not right off the bat. For one thing, legal counsel is expensive. It can be slow and confusing. It takes control of the situation out of the hands of the parties involved. Probably the most unnerving is the fact that adjudication, if it comes down to that, is one-sided and the decision of one person: the judge. Who knows how a case will turn out? 

But options exist between not challenging infringement (doing nothing) and going to court. Personal contact is recommended first.  This can be easy, or rather challenging. If the latter, then many go directly to "lawyering up", but they don't have to. Mediation, facilitation and conferencing are options that are becoming more readily available to craft brewers.  These methods are cheaper than legal/court fees, quicker and retain control of the situation to the parties.  It's a good idea to at least give them a chance. Legal counsel is not refused or negated by these methods, so that is still an option if needed.

The hope is that name, branding, trademark dispute can be settled amicably, efficiently and effectively, while maintaining and strengthening relationships and perhaps create new ones.  There is no backlash to these approaches, whereas a cease and desist letter can (and has) create a firestorm or two.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What's the Matter with Craft Beer? Cracks in the Foundation

The Craft Beer industry is taking off; sales are rising, approaching 10% of overall beer sales, which interestingly have dropped. Craft Beer is growing, even through Recession. No doubt this is time for rejoicing for craft beer, craft beer geeks and tap rooms. But there are fractures in the foundation that are coming to light. How these are managed can either fix the cracks, or expound them.

It is important to note that craft brewing is a business and must take on certain business responsibilities. One is establishing and protecting a brand. For the most part a brand is a name. To differentiate beers consumers (for the most part) identify with names: Sam Adams (by Boston Beer Company), Budweiser (AB-InBev), Coors (MillerCoors).  If Boston Beer Company labeled one of their beers "Bud", AB-InBev would see this as trademark infringement (and so, too, would a judge).  This blatant example illustrates why trademark laws are in place.

However, in the business world of trademark infringement the devil is in the details. While "Bud" is an obvious example, Righteous is not, nor is Seven Seas. In these cases the breweries involved are geographically separate, their markets do not overlap. Ostensibly the struggle is to keep other craft breweries from copying each other, stealing names and taking advantage of others' successes.
While some of this might be true, we must look at the business side: protecting trademark.  For if a company does not protect its trademark, then it could lose it, if not now then later. So a brewery on the west coast must keep an eye out for similar beer names/labels emerging on the east coast, not for fear of theft of customers, but of losing trademark. If that happens, then larger companies that are closer can start using that same name/label, and no infringement of trademark can be claimed.  

So, to take "Bud" as an example (which was actually contested in court), if Boston Beer Company started using "Bud" to label a product, and AB-InBev did not claim infringement, then anybody could start using "Bud"…even MillerCoors. Brand recognition would be out the window as would fair competition.

While this may sound easy to avoid, it certainly is not. Trademark infringement disputes are going to happen. In a growing industry full of small companies, it is inevitable that names/labels will fly under the radar, only to appear in the form of cease and desist (CD) letters.
And this is how management of these disputes can either fix the cracks, or widen them. Sometimes the business decision is not best for the business, especially in a personal industry like Craft Beer, and with the explosion of social media.  Trademark protection is necessary, but it's not as black and white as a CD letter. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Craft and Crafty Beer

The Brewers Association recently announced that the time has come to draw a line between authentic craft beer and crafty beer. The BA wants clarity as to what companies produce which beers.  In other words, the BA doesn't want large breweries to claim to be producing craft beer when, according to BA definition of craft, they are not.

Ostensibly, the crux behind this debate is the definitions of craft and large breweries.  Is this simply a case of small companies trying to make a name for themselves? Or is it a case of large companies trying to dominate smaller ones?

The scale of production of a brewery is the central figure used to define “craft[1]” and “macro[2]”, but it’s not the only one.  A craft brewery cannot produce X amount of beer and still be considered "craft". But how does production affect the "craft" side of beer? That's a tough question for BA to address.  So, ownership is another factor, and its salience towards defining “craft” has increased in recent years for several reasons, mentioned below.

For the most part, craft and macro were separate and didn’t directly compete.  Anheuser-Busch's foes were Miller and Coors; Dogfish Head's (DE) foes were…well, that’s hard to say since their share of the beer market was less than 1% and localized.

But times have changed. Craft beer has exploded over the last 10 years, even during the Great Recession, while macro beer has expanded over the globe, into China and India. Today the number of small breweries in the U.S. has eclipsed 2,000 while the number of macros has decreased (due to consolidation) to a handful.  In that time Miller and Coors merged, Anheuser-Busch was bought by InBev and Boston Beer Company’s (Sam Adams) success has persuaded the BA to re-define “craft”.  The latter's growth has pushed the "craft" definition to new limits, literally.

While the big breweries were merging they were also keeping an eye on the small guys.  The latter’s success did not proceed unnoticed. The small breweries’ market share in the beer industry has surpassed 6%, while overall beer sales have decreased: Craft is going up, macro is going down. To assuage this, macros have taken to two tactics: compete with craft, or buy them (or both).
Buying is financially easy, but personally difficult. The beloved Chicago-based Goose Island brewery was bought by AB-InBev and ended that competition, and was greeted with intense beer-geek backlash.  And this highlights a dilemma: is Goose Island still “craft” even though it’s owned by AB-InBev?  And why would that matter? We’ll get back to that.

The other option, directly compete, is tricky, because in order to do so the macro company must admit there is a difference in terms between craft and macro, thus accepting the “craft” definition, and thereby admitting that there's a difference in product.  MillerCoors is attempting to compete directly by establishing smaller brew houses with their own brands and labels, like Blue Moon, Tenth and Blake, AC Golden. But why do they need to do this? Why not just produce the Blue Moon recipe under Coors labeling?  And here we are back to the question posited above: Why does labeling, and therefore ownership, matter?

First, we must establish that it does matter. The actions of BA and the macros establish that it does. And here we (finally) get to the core issues: product and livelihood. 

Product: The difference between the craft breweries' products and the macro breweries' products are vastly different. Craft breweries produce varieties of beer, while the macros produce, mostly, one. While craft brewers detest the product from macros, they do marvel at the consistency macros display on such large scale productions. In short, craft beers are more diverse, while more susceptible to production mistakes, while macros are consistent yet uniform. And this are the stigmas each carry.
Livelihood: The conflict attaches to the product, or perhaps more directly the stigmas.  Many craft beer geeks (their numbers are growing) don't see macro beer as "real beer", but as mass produced flavored water. They are defiant toward the macros and do not want any of their money going to these businesses. Macros know this, so they turn to tactics mentioned above.  If they succeed then the craft breweries will have direct competition with large breweries that they never really had before. And this threatens their passion and livelihood.

The key point here is that the BA and craft brewers do not wish to eliminate the competition. They are not calling for macros to cease production of certain beers. What they are calling for is the claiming of such beers by their owners. Those craft beer geeks want to support the small breweries, but are being deceived by small brewing operations owned (and operated) by the macros. And that is what the BA is trying to confront: displayed ownership of product. Why hide it? Be proud of your product is the BA mindset. Perhaps this sheds light on a larger difference in the modus operandi of marco and craft: To make money or make beer?

Further reading:
John Cochran of Terrapin Beer Company highlighting the complexity of brewing, beer and business.

[1] The term "craft" replaced the common term "micro" as the popularity of small breweries increased, and so too did their production, thus ushering in a need to change the definition
[2] Characterized as "American Adjunct Lagers" and commonly referred to as "BMC" (Bud/Miller/Coors)