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Friday, June 04, 2010

Migration, We Have a Problem

Migration Brewing is a relatively short walk from my house. (Short walks now being defined by the literal stone's throw distance separating myself and soon-to-open Coalition.) As such, it was a very welcome arrival. When they opened, they hadn't gotten their own beers up and running, so I waited until they had a pale on tap. It was ... not good. No worries; it had been brewed at Lompoc, and I figured, let them get their own system going before making hasty judgments.

The good news abounded. The food was tasty, the space is fantastic, and the other taps were occupied by an extremely well-selected (if small) group of beers. If the dismal weather ever ceases, they're going to have wonderful seating--lots of picnic tables out front, and a garage door on one wall that will turn the inside out. All of that still stands.

But last night I went and had another pint and it was ... worse. They're currently pouring two beers, that pale and the one I tried, promisingly called Little Bitter. Rather than go in whole hog, Sally and I tentatively ordered the bitter and an Upright Four (which distressingly makes rarer and rarer appearances as other Upright beers supplant it). Good call. The Little Bitter was literally undrinkable. From a good six inches away, my nose picked up the diacetyl, but the really appalling thing was the strange, lacerating bitterness. I want to say it was a tannic bitterness, but that's not quite right. More like some kind of weed extraction. Looking at the website now, the stats suggest it would be painfully, undrinkably bitter (75 IBUs in a 4.5% beer), but this was beyond hop bitterness.

I note no other bloggers have actually commented on the beer, which I take to be the silence of kindness. I'm not interested in marking Migration with a scarlet letter, either, so consider this an intervention. Migration, I have confidence you can brew good beer, but you need to get on the stick. In Beervana, bad beer is a death sentence, and I want you around the neighborhood for a good, long time.


  1. No kind silence from me, I just haven't had time to drop in there yet. Man, I'm falling behind on the new breweries to visit list, better get my act in gear this weekend.

  2. Likewise, I haven't had a chance to try either of the Migration beers. I hadn't heard good things about the pale ale. This is the first I had heard of a second beer becoming available. I hope they offer up better product soon.

  3. It is not disgraceful to have initial problems brewing and make some bad batches before the kinks are ironed out - but it is inexcusable to serve bad beer. A cringe-worthy but apt cliche: you only get one chance to make a first impression...

  4. I think I blogged a much more favorable post about Migration than perhaps I should have when it comes to the quality of the pale.

    I compared the flavor profile to be like a "lighter HUB crosstown".

    I love the crosstown pale, and I think when I said "lighter" I really meant "less flavorful" or "watered down".

    Of course, no one reads my blog, so I guess it doesn't matter!

    The truth is, I've only been back once since the day they initially released the beer the first time - because it was a nice early spring day, the overhead door was open, and they were showing the US Olympic hockey game.

    The other beers on tap that day were really good, and I enjoyed the food, so I guess it was an enjoyable trip, but not special enough to break my routine of going to a couple of other bars most of the time.

    I want Migration to be great (and all the other breweries in town for that matter), but they DO have a way to go before they'll win me over.

    I think the big problem is that the bar has already been set a lot higher by other places in town, so you have to hit the ground running if you want to make it with a new place. It's not the kind of business that you can open at 50% and hope everyone will stick with you long enough to give you a chance to make it better.

    I hope I'm wrong. It's a good location, and they have a LOT of unused space in that building to grow if things work out for them.

    Migration just needs to figure out what special niche they're going to fill. With so many options, doing something so similar to what so many other places are doing better isn't enough.

    There's nothing special or different about the service, design, or theme of the bar, so the house beers are really the only way I can see for Migration to stand out. A mediocre pale isn't a great start.

    I'd imagine the problem really just comes down to money. Opening a brewery right takes a LOT of money, and unless you're creative in how how you cut corners, in the end, it's easy to come up with an sub-par product if you don't have the money to spend.

    Hopefully now that they have their own system ready to use, and the stress and chaos of actually opening is behind them, they can focus on cranking out some top quality brews, and start carving out their place in this already saturated city.

  5. I think this perfectly describes the situation at Migration right now. The MPA they had on tap the first few weeks was bad. I haven't been back yet, but the space is good, the people friendly and had no complaints about the food.

    The tap list was great otherwise, but I do hope that they build up a stable of good beers on site as it will be great for burgeoning brew scene on 28th.

    I would double this advice for Nations which sorely needs to come up with a good batch as well.

    Other than that though it will be exciting when Coalition finally opens the doors :).

  6. I seem to remember some blogger making the statement, 'We're in a market where you have to hit the ground running... and have your shit together...'

    Who was that guy? Oh yea! It was me!

    That said, can someone please give a description of these "NOT GOOD" beers. There are some of us who are curious how BAD, BAD can be. Maybe we should wait for a California or Washington Blogger to come through town wanting to try some of our new wares? ;-}

    New openings are looking rather bleak! First we have Coalition with it's beers that are "Approachable and balanced. There are a few twists here and there, however, a lot of our influence is from traditional English ales." Ho hum.... and now undrinkable beer from Migration. Strike one, Strike two! Will it be Strike Three or one for The Gipper?

  7. I tried to go there the other day for lunch, but they're only open from 3-12 during the week. I thought it was strange for a place surrounded by retail and housing to not have lunch hours, but oh well, maybe I'll catch them this weekend.

    I've known Mike (their brewer) for a couple of years, and I've had several very good homebrewed test batches of the stuff he's working on for Migration, so hopefully this is a fluke.

    As for the "bad beer = death sentence" thing goes, I have to disagree. Tugboat and Mash Tun are still going, and neither of them is going to win any awards for their beer any time soon.

  8. @chris:

    yeah, you know, I was only really thinking about this from the perspective of a beer geek. A brewery doesn't necessarily have to be a destination for the snobbiest of us to be viable. If their beers are, at the very least, not offensive to those that don't really care about beer as much as the people reading this blog do, they could just be a neighborhood hang-out for the average joe (that just happens to make beer), and do just fine.

    Of course, they certainly didn't open in an under-served area for that sort of thing.

    My sister's family lives literally just a few houses down from Migration. She doesn't know a good beer from a terrible one (or care about the difference for that matter), and she's only been in Migration once. There are just too many great places to eat or get a drink within a few blocks of migration.

    It would appear that I just came full circle... The beer isn't good enough to sway the beer geek, and the rest isn't special in a neighborhood full of great spaces and food.

    If Migration is a success with it's current formula, at least it will definitively answer one big question I've heard a lot of recently:

    Have we reached saturation?

    If the answer is "yes", I'd think you'd have to do more to compete.

  9. I have been to Migration a ton of times. Usually drinking the guest taps. I agree the initial MPA was bad but just as you said I decided to wait until they are brewing on their own system. Last time I was in they had I believe the 3rd batch of MPA on from 3 Creeks and I thought it was much better and so did my companion. So I was relieved. I have also tried some test batches from them that were even better.

    I have not had this Bitter though. That does not sound good.

  10. As a pub owner it's always interesting to see and hear the wide range of reviews your place receives. At Migration we are always open to constructive feedback and would welcome any of you to come visit our brewery to talk shop about our 6 week old brewing system. We look forward to hearing from you on our new beers coming out over the next few weeks...

    -Migration Brewing

  11. Migration folk, I will definitely be checking back in, and I am hopeful to see the brewing come on line.