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Monday, December 31, 2012

I Feel a Veto Coming

Update. I'm not alone. The New School designates this the worst trend of the year.

Brian Leppla has a post on Colorado's weirdest beers.  They are definitely weird, though it is a statement of our times that I saw Denver Beer Co. Swineheitsgebot: Coffee-Bacon Rauchbier and thought: another bacon beer?

That's not right.

A decade or two ago, I decided to reflexively refuse to sign and vote no on all ballot measures in Oregon.  Ballot measures are laws written by amateurs.  There's something delightful about the idea of direct democracy, but the implementation offers fewer delights.  From time to time I do violate this soft rule, but the burden of proof is on the ballot measure.  It must have been written expertly, have detailed all hidden costs and possible unexpected consequences, and be clearcut policy.  So I voted for Oregon's Death With Dignity law but not last year's seriously half-assed marijuana law.  (Steal Colorado's verbatim, put that on the ballot, and you have my vote.)

I think I must institute a similar policy with any experimental beer using crazy ingredients.  I'm going to start from the position that anything that might plausibly be sold as a candy bar, salad, or entree is not worth drinking.  If enough tweets and blogs come through praising the concoction, then maybe.  Meantime, you keep the caramel apple spiced ales and imperial orange cream stouts.  I'll have a nice porter instead.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Half-Satori to Occidental

Starting back in 2006, I started identifying my choice for the best new Oregon release of the year and called it the Satori Award.  Usual boilerplate:
In Zen Buddhism, satori is the moment of sudden enlightenment when the mind realizes its own true nature. The Satori Award, now in its seventh year, honors a debuting beer that in a single instant, through the force of tastiness and elan, produces a flash of insight into the nature of beer. I award it for the beer released in the previous year (roughly) by an Oregon brewery (roughly) for a regular or seasonal beer.  The inaugural winner was Ninkasi Believer followed by Full Sail Lupulin (2007), Cascade Apricot Ale (2008),  Upright Four (2009),  Prodigal Son Bruce/Lee Porter (2010), and Fort George 1811 Lager (2011).

I am in even less position to claim to know which release was Oregon's best this year than usual.  I had to spend the year drinking a lot of beer not brewed in Oregon and therefore did not sample a lot of beer that was--especially given that 48 new breweries opened in the Beaver state in 2012.*  I managed to get to Pints, Solera, Gigantic, and Crux which was miraculous in itself, but I don't pretend I even began to get a sense of all the new beers that came out.  Fire on the Mountain, no.  Harvester, nyet.  Sasquatch, Falling Sky, Rusty Truck, nein.  And even among those I did visit, it was usually once.  And that, of course, ignores all the new releases by established breweries.

That's a delightful Únětické 12, close in
character to this year's Satori winner. I
took the photo mainly to capture the
Svíčková na smetaně in the foreground--
it's the national dish of the Czech Rep. 
That said, I did try one beer this year that impressed the hell out of me, and it seems a shame not to give it a shout-out just because I was too busy to test it against others for Best In Show.  There's every likelihood it would have prevailed no matter how many beers I tried.  It's appropriate for a second reason, too.

This year I had the great pleasure of cutting a swath through lager country.  I sampled bocks, helleses, and dunkles at their source.  I tried rauchbier and ungespundet.  I went to Pilsen and Ceske Budejovice.  I went to one of the few breweries in the world where malting is done on-site and the light lager made from it is as fresh and grainy as you would expect.  All those breweries have been there for decades, but for me, it was the year of the lager.

The lager I'm about to identify would have fit in with some of the beers I tried.  It was crisp, light, but a bit cloudy; it had a soft graininess and a rich, tangy hop presence.  The beer was named for the unfiltered lagers of Bavaria, but in retrospect--I tried it before making my lager trek--it had more in common with some of the lagers I tried in the Czech Republic. 
Those beers have greater depths than most German lagers.  They depend more on the malt for character, and the malts are a bit sweeter, grainier, and fuller than they are in Germany.  The hops, too, are a mite louder.  I fell in love with the beers there, and it may be that one of the only ways I'm going to scratch my itch to have another is if this brewery makes another batch of Half-Satori-award-winning lager--as the owner, Ben Engler, promised he would.

So here it is, your 2012 (Half) Satori Award Winner: Occidental Kellerbier.  Occidental is off the beaten path for most beer geeks who seem to congregate within fixie-riding distance of Hopworks, Hair of the Dog, and Upright--though I know there's an outpost of you who regularly make it to Plew's.  For everyone who hasn't made it to Occidental, though, make a trek out.  Drink no fewer than two pints, and take a growler with you.  And tell Ben, who I always find pulling pints when I stop by for my own growlers, that he needs to bring Kellerbier back this summer. 

*Approximate figure. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ghost Beer

It began as traditions do, unintentionally, with an ill-defined start date.  The tasting of aged beers over a small (select one as fits your tastes: Christmas, solstice, winter, maybe-we-should-call-it Festivus) party.  Originally I used it as an excuse to raid my own larder, but this year, others brought rarities.  One friend has a batch of Jubel 2000s and gifted one.  I have another friend who, knowing he won't actually be able to leave his own beer alone, gives me some to cellar for him.  And the big treat was a ghost from the past: Roots Epic, vintage 2008 (the fourth in the five-year series--thanks, professor, for the generosity).  Roots died a couple years back and there was no 2010 vintage.  The brewery lives on, for a time, in these last bottles.  (Jason McAdam, one of the two men behind Roots, carries on at Burnside, which is some consolation.)

Epic, you'll recall...

is a truly hand-made beer. The long process begins when [owner] Craig [Nicholls] smokes a small proportion of Munich malt (small by percentage, but 55 pounds in total) over cherry wood that has been soaked in Glenlivet, cognac, and cherries. The final beer finishes out somewhere around 14%.
At first release, Epic is overly sweet.  I once asked Craig when he thought the beer achieved maturity and he guessed five years.  The '08 was just about in its prime then.  If you follow the link above, you'll find my notes on a flight of beers from the release of the last one, in 2009.  I called the '08 the "sweetest of all the vintages."  No more.  The bottle we sampled had become smoky and chocolatey.  There's no point in discussing it in too much depth--you won't be able to get a bottle, anyway.  It was an exceptional treat to end the year, but bittersweet.  Wherever you are, Craig, I hope all is well.

Craig (r) and I from 2009.  More pics here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

But I Feel Fine

Well, as you can see, the end has come.  Flames lick from from fissures opening from the pit of Hell and embers streak the sky in orange all to the crackle of gunfire and keening of death.  I kid.  Obviously we're dealing with a far more subtle form of the apocalypse*, an existential end, perhaps.  What is worse that a dramatic, fiery end?  Easy: a life of ennui.  

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work.

Okay, that bit about the muskrats needs updating, but Thoreau was on the same page, too.  Thus, in seeing a fiery-less world out there--one in which, cunningly, deceivingly, the sky is painted a rare eggshell hue, not orange--I can only conclude that the Mayans foresaw something so horrible that no one dare think it.  It is like contemplating eternity--eventually you realize torment is mundane things.

We have the last laugh, though.  For, in the absence of fire and nuclear fallout, we are left--even in our crushing ennui--the option of going to the pub.  A pint of sunshiny IPA and good conversation in a cozy, warm room.  We'll be fine.

Update.  This blog was just cited in one of those best-of lists you see around this time of year (you know, the kind I used to have time to do), which is actually pretty good evidence of the end of the world.  
*Unless you're the Speaker of the House, in which case it may feel more lifelike

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Quotable Michael Schnitzler

By now you probably know the drill: I'm working on a chapter and listening to an audiotape of a visit I made to a brewery.  Today we have Uerige and the wry, quotable Michael Schnitzler.  (He's a bit like the German Van Havig.)  It would be nice to be able to knit these into a larger narrative, but they're a bit scattershot.  But worth reproducing for your amusement.

On the question of why his beer costs more at the store than national brands:
“Beer prices are always political. Beer price is not funny; it is a serious thing.” 

On what has happened to Düsseldorf:
“In general, the altbier is in bad condition. The smaller breweries are successful, that is not a problem, but if you remove the big breweries that were far more original Düsseldorfer breweries—now Frankenheim for example is with Warsteiner, Diebels is with Anheuser-Busch, Schlösser is somewhere, nobody knows really, then altbier is [not doing well].  The former biggest Düsseldorf breweries, they started twenty or thirty years ago to quit brewing in the town. [Real estate] prices are so high that everyone says, come on, it’s not [worth it] to sell beer. Let’s put it out to rent. The same with Munich—it’s even worse than Düsseldorf. So the breweries were sold to Warsteiner, Anheuser Busch; so where is the echte Düsseldorfer brauerei, the real Düsseldorf brewery? That’s the problem everywhere.”

On the casks they serve alt in (this applies to many places):
“It is just the traditional style of presenting the beers in a nice way. We tap it manually and then we put the barrel on the bar; this is the special way we do it. But there is no fermentation; there is nothing for the taste.” This reminded him of an amusing story. “Now every barrel has a red ring [metal band]. A couple of years ago we had a green one, a yellow one, something like that. Nobody knows why. The regular customers they saw the barrels with the green ring on it and said, 'oh no, we cannot drink this one.'  Now we only have the red band.”

Monday, December 17, 2012

Genentically-Modified Yeast is Reinheitsgebot-Compliant?

An unidentified emailer (hat tip: anon) sent a link to a story at Chemical and Engineering News:
You often see copies of Reinheitsgebot at breweries like this
one at Paulaner in Munich.
[At Weihenstephan], undergraduate student researchers have slipped biosynthetic genes for caffeine into beer-brewing yeast so that one day we may drink a pint of beer and defy sleep at the same time.  The team has also inserted into the yeast the genes required to make the citrus flavoring limonene. And they’ve tinkered with genes to make xanthohumol, an anticancer agent that additionally blocks hot flashes in menopausal women...

But the project is also radical because genetically engineered food is controversial in Germany. Curiously enough, though, the new genetically engineered yeast could provide a loophole for German brewers who might want to experiment with beer additives without disobeying the Reinheitsgebot...  [I]n principle, brewers of the future could slip all sorts of interesting flavors into beer through yeast. They’d still be able to add the Reinheitsgebot seal to their bottles because the flavors wouldn’t be inserted as additives.
Two things.   One, I think it actually would violate Reinheitsgebot, which has resisted all kinds of innovations and forced brewers to do cockamamie things to, for example, adjust the pH in their mashes.  (No adding lactic acid!--you gotta make it naturally.)  I'm not sure what loophole the chemists think there is (that yeast wasn't originally included as an ingredient, maybe?), but I don't see it passing muster.

Secondly, and more importantly, Reinheitsgebot is, in this European Unionized age, more an artifact of culture and a brewing mission statement than an actual law.  Brewers adhere to it far more because it puts them in a centuries-long tradition of German brewing and because German drinkers themselves put serious stock into the notion of "purity."  There's just no way GMO yeast passes the smell test for being Reinheitsgebot-compliant.   I don't think even think Americans would go for it, much less Germans.

But I'll throw it out there.  What do you think--designer yeasts that make your beer more citrusy, blocks hot flashes, and gives you a caffeine boost.  Kosher?  An offense against God?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Craft Versus Crafty: The Brewers Association Misstep

 Note: Post has updates (and more updates, and more...)

Can you tell if this is a craft brewery?
Yesterday the Brewers Association sent out a press release that rehashed a point they've made many times in the past: big brewers are peddling faux craft and this just isn't fair.  I have no idea what provoked the latest sortie, but this time the complaint has a really tone-deaf quality.  Craft beer already inspires cultish tendencies, and BA plays on that in spades here--right down to some creepy doublespeak.  You can follow the first link to read the whole thing, but I want to cherry pick a few sentences: 

  • "An American craft brewer is defined as small and independent."
  • "Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace."
  • "[I]t’s important to remember that if a large brewer has a controlling share of a smaller producing brewery, the brewer is, by definition, not craft."
  • The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers.
The Brewers Association has for decades been attempting to create the mental category of "craft beer."  They branded themselves that way and have been aggressive in promoting their definition.  But now here they use the passive construction to assert a bland truth about how a craft brewer "is defined," as if this comes a priori from the universe.  You invented "craft brewer," BA, so please own it.

Next they invent another new fiction, the "craft beer marketplace."  There is no such thing.  Large breweries do not have to "seek entry" into this fictive universe.  They sell beer, right there at the tap handle next to the imported Corona and the local micros.  They do not have to trawl the finer precincts where pubs bar the door to their kegs.  Finally, BA makes the unironic assertion that the big breweries are blurring lines.  Really?  Because it looks to me like these lines are pure inventions of the Brewers Association.

The response to this dictat was, even among the hardcore geek community, mixed.  There were articles, sharp blog posts, and lots of social media debate. Perhaps you even participated in it.

Here's what disturbs me.  The two parties involved in this debate are trying to sell me beer.   The BA has crafted a very strong, emotional brand and has attempted to hijack language ("craft brewery") as a way of enforcing it. As I think anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a huge fan of small brewers and a big critic of many of the practices of multinational beer companies.  But I reserve the right to make decisions about how I think about beer.  I get to call Goose Island and Widmer craft brewers if I wish. I decide whether a company makes good beer, and I get to ignore who the owner is. The Brewers Association may attempt to define categories of beer to benefit its members, but we don't have to accept it as fact.

Should consumers be aware that macros are setting up side brands to sell beer to a different target audience than their regular customers?  Yes.  Should the Brewers Association get to set the rules about what good beer is, who gets to make it, and what we should think about it?  That kind of answers itself, doesn't it?  All beer geeks want variety in the marketplace, competitiveness, and exceptional beer.  The Brewers Association is a powerful player in making sure that happens.  But we, as consumers, not the BA, have the final say over what good beer is, what craft beer is, and which breweries get to be called "craft."


Update: More commentary from around the beerosphere: brilliant post from across the pond; another skeptic; a faux craft brewer responds, appears real enough; and yet another skeptic.

Update 2: The plot thickens, as August Schell gets in on the action.  This is a must-read, and echoes a point I made three years ago.  Eric Steen posts some good thoughts, too.

Update 3:  And the debate continues.  Chris Staten at Draft Magazine, gets nuancey.  Sanjay takes the Brewers Association to task, but Ashley mounts a spirited defense.  Brian Leppla considers the "craft" question, and Stan, who says he has nothing new to add, decides to add something anyway.  The Motley Fool thinks about it in terms beer geeks don't.

To wrap things up, I'll point you to a very nice piece by Eric Gorski in the Denver Post that, more than anything I've read, lays out all the points in the debate.  Several days after the fact, I think it's pretty obvious that as a matter of messaging, last week's press release was a misfire by the Brewers Association.  It was designed to persuade, and it backfired even among many of its most ardent supporters.  I don't think anyone is averse to promoting (or even requiring) clear labeling information about where beer was brewed and by whom.  The mistake was way the message was delivered--surely a misdemeanor, not a felony--and something I hope they address in future communication.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Books: IPA and For the Love of Hops

For the Love of Hops
Stan Hieronymus
Brewers Publications, 321 pages, $19.95

Mitch Steele
Brewers Publications, 352 pages, $24.95

Just in time for the holidays, Brewers Publications has two complimentary new books out.  BP publishes multiple series on different topics; IPA is the latest in their style series, while For the Love of Hops is likely to become the crown jewel in the "brewing elements" series.  Complimentary because, obviously, hops are the centerpiece of the IPA style.  I would love to spend more time reading and reviewing these books, but that will put this post well out into the post-Christmas future.  Instead, since these may be in your gift-giving plans, I'll do a quick-and-dirty instead.

For the Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops
First up, Hops.  It is a very deep dive into the history, genomics, and science of hops and is simply one of the best books about beer ever written.  Stan's a friend of mine, and BP sent me this book, so you should take that statement with the appropriate amount of sodium chloride.  But thumb through a copy and see if you don't agree. The thing about a subject like hops is that there is a ton of related but distinct information: technical aspects about the constituent elements of hops; the science of the way the elements interact not only with each other, but with human sense faculties; agricultural and brewing history and the story of how hop varieties came to be.  It's possible some people have their head around these disparate elements, but they are vanishingly few.  Stan has now given us the keys to the kingdom.  Although Stan's voice is reporter-clear and his descriptions are studded with quotes and stories, this is not an breezy read.  There's a lot of technical information in here, and you sometimes have to read paragraphs twice.  But that's good--Stan hasn't done a lot of filtering here.  He's spent months talking to the people who know the most about hops and in this book you'll find out what they told him.

IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale
Next up is the style treatment of IPA by Stone's master brewer, Mitch Steele.  It is slightly less revelatory.  Mitch (whom I've never met) has a tougher subject--IPAs are so ubiquitous that even the casual reader knows a lot about them.  There's a very long section on the history (137 pages) where Mitch relies heavily on Martyn Cornell and especially Ron Pattinson (whose charts are reproduced throughout) to get the story straight.  He adds another 15 pages on the history of craft-brewed IPAs. The rest of the book goes toward describing the sub-schools of IPA, brewing processes, and recipe formulation--pretty standard stuff for a BP style book.  Homebrewers are going to find a few tips and insights here, but most will have already spent quite a bit of time practicing the now well-known methods of mash and first-wort hopping, dry hopping, and so on.  The recipes may be the biggest draw--Mitch has selected a wonderfully diverse group (Firestone Walker to Fuller's), including several historical recipes. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Twelve Twelve Westvleteren Twelve

"But even without the whole story, if you take your time and pay attention to it, then you notice the difference," says Theijs van Welij. "And you really think, this is really one of the few quality beers that you should have tried in your life."
--NPR, "A Sign From Above"
A portion of the Westvleteren grounds open to the public.
Today, in what is likely a once-in-a-lifetime chance, you can go down to your local bottle shop and pick up a "brick" of Westvleteren 12.  The geeks are going crazy!  The cost is dear ($85 for six), but it goes to the monks at Sint Sixtus as a part of their capital fundraising effort to build a new roof.  So you could think of it as a donation in which the monks give you a token for your support.  I would strongly urge you to consider that when weighing the question of "worth."  (You might also compare it against the price of a plane ticket to Brussels.)

But if you do want to descend from the heights of the spirit, I have done a blind tasting of quads that included Westvleteren 12.  You can see how the august beer faired here.  Based on the results, you might think, nah, not worth it.  But wait!  Don't descend too far: there is more to consider when assessing "worth" than mere sensory data.

At eighty five bucks, you probably have a decent shot at getting your own brick, but you best scamper on down to the store with haste just to make sure.  At $14 a bottle, they're at least as cheap as you'll find them online, and you get the glow of knowing you're not dabbling in the gray market.  So go, spend profligately, and feel good about yourself.  You're helping monks.  In Oregon, these are your locations.  (A full list of all the retail outlets in the US is here.)

Corvallis Beer Supply, Corvallis
Market of Choice, Corvallis
Bier Stein, Eugene
Market of Choice, Eugene
16 Tons Beer & Wine, Eugene
Belmont Station, Portland
Beer Monger, Portland
Saraveza, Portland
Hop & Vine, Portland
John’s Market, Portland
Market of Choice, Portland
Market of Choice, West Linn

Oh, and happy 12/12/12.  You won't be celebrating another date like this for another 89 years, so enjoy it.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Delightful Hans-Peter Drexler

By far the most pleasurable aspect of writing a book about beer is getting to meet the brewers.  It's also the most frustrating, because it's the aspect I can never communicate very well.  I was digging around looking for information a moment ago and stumbled on this fantastic video by Schneider and Sohn which is all hinged to the words of Brewmaster Hans-Peter Drexler.  Every brewery should emulate this model--brewers are easily the best people to speak on behalf of a company's beer.  You get just enough of a taste of Hans-Peter in this that you can probably see what it was like to spend a couple hours with him in Kelheim. 

Introducing TAP X: Nelson Sauvin from Schneider USA on Vimeo.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Please Make a Note of It

Ah, December in Beervana.  Most places would be concluding their schedule of events by wintertime, but here we're just heating up.  Nothing a Portlander loves more than heading out into a 42 degree, pitch black rainy night (which seems to start at 3:30) for a pint.

I wish I could spend more time talking about the events below, but time ain't on my side.  You, however, should take the time to click the links and consider attending: all three get my highest recommendation:

The Commons One-Year Anniversary
Today and Friday, December 6-7, 5pm
Mike Wright has actually been selling his beer professionally longer ago than a year, but Beetje moved from the garage into commercial space and got a new name.  In the year since he opened the doors to the Commons, he's medaled at the GABF.  Special beers and a new release on Thursday.  Go say congrats.

Chef's Challenge Beer Dinner, Deschutes Brewery
Monday, December 10, 6pm
Celebrity chefs, local personalities judging them (including noted literati Lucy Burningham), and rare Deschutes beers.  And the proceeds go to Morrison Child and Family Services, so no post-feast guilt.  It's all good.

Humbug Lager Fest, Occidental Brewing
Saturday, December 15, noon
Portland's most overlooked great brewery hosts a fest with the most overlooked category of beers.  Eight beer-geek fave breweries, possible "celebrity" DJ's, and lagers.  You should drink more lagers.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

On America's Influence

It is always controversial to identify the United States as a source of influence or inspiration for brewers in other countries--even when it seems so manifestly obvious.  I was surprised, however, to see that this influence extended even to Germany and some of the most traditional precincts of the brewing world.  It's not that every brewery in the country is racing to embrace double IPAs, but it's also not the case that brewers exist in a black box.  Take for example this story from Hans-Peter Drexler, the master brewer at Schneider and Sohn.  He describes what happened when he took a trip to the US fourteen years ago.
“I saw all these American beers and it was a new beer world for me. When I started in the brewing [industry], people used to say, ‘Oh, the Americans are just like chemists and pharmacists. There are only a few breweries; it’s terrible beer.’ But I remember I was very impressed with the beers of Sierra Nevada. Very, very nice beers. That’s when I found Cascade hops, and I thought it should be easy to match the American citrusy Cascade hops with Bavarian-style weissbier. So we started to brew Edel-Weisse with them.” 
A little later he added:
“Five years ago when we started this transatlantic project [Hopfen-Weisse, with Brooklyn Brewing] I would say nobody was very interested in different beer styles, in American beer and Belgian beer. But now, more and more people talk about beer, they like to taste different beer styles, and they’re really interested in beers. For us, it’s a very interesting new movement.” 
And then a little later, this, which was kind of shocking:
"Some American versions of classic beer styles are more interesting than the European originals.  Marzen?  I found exciting American marzens that are more interesting than European originals.  Every two years I go to the US for judging in the World Beer Cup.  Mostly I had the Bavarian dunkles and marzen and German-style lager.  And then, when I see the results, I am wondering because the winners are American breweries."

He looked slightly exasperated after he said this, and I said, "but you were the judge!" and he laughed.  It prompted him to tell the story of an occasion when he got in a discussion at the judging table with some American judges about what the qualities of a Bavarian dunkles should be.  "And the winner of the discussion was me.  And the result, the gold and silver medals went to American breweries."
Obviously, influences ricochet around the planet and it's hard to ignore the fact that Americans are basically brewing European beer styles.  Americans constantly tap the riches of foreign countries to enrich our own culture--and food and beverage have always been ground zero for reappropriation.  (In the case of the dunkles Hans-Peter judged, you could say we were just trying to out-Bavaria the Bavarians.)  But it's also not true to say that all the influence is going only one direction, anymore. Even when we're talking about Germany.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Maybe Simple is Better

I spent last Friday under unexpectedly clear skies drinking beer at the Holiday Ale Fest.  As usual, breweries outdid themselves to spend special beers--big, barrel-aged, spiced, blended.  I was there with a group of eight people, which meant we did a pretty good job, collectively, of tasting most beers.  Looking back through the list, I see we missed a few, but we did all right.  Of all the beers we tried, two were group faves and also my personal faves: Terminal Gravity Festivale and Fort George's Three Wisemen.

Terminal Gravity held back a vintage 2008, so in one way this was special beer.  But it wasn't the age that made it special; indeed, while there may have been a very subtle melding of malt flavor, the beer tasted quite fresh.  The hops were crisp and sharp.  Fort George's imperial stout was also a bit special--it was aged in bourbon, tequila, and rum barrels.  But they weren't the reason that beer was so tasty, either.  It was just a really fine stout.

There were success all around.  Firestone Walker's Wild Merkin was an excellent beer just kissed with tart; Bayern's eisbock was delicious and not at all cloying; Golden Valley's Black Panther, though I had it late in the day, seemed quite deep and resonant; Coalition's Lost Glove, a no-tricks strong ale, is a tongue-pleaser. Oh, and the Hair of the Dog Jims they were serving ('08 and '09) were an absolute steal at two tickets.

But at the end of the day, as my mouth grew tired from spice (which was largely way overdone across the board), sugar, and fruit, I longed for the simple, clarion delights of beer.  There is something very elegant and wholly complete about malt, hop, water, and yeast that, when mixed in just the right proportions, require no further adornment to be fully realized.


Update.  In comments, Betty reasonably asks: "So, which beers sucked? I heard there were some real clunkers. Would like to hear about the bad as well as the good."  A fair question.  Bear Republic took the Big Raspberry with Prepare to be Boarded, a beer so saturated in cinnamon and nutmeg you felt violated.  From the aroma alone.  Crux's Snow Cave seemed to have been brewed with Bavarian weizen yeast--anyway there was lots of indistinct fruitiness that seemed isoamylish.  It had a slightly fetid aroma.  I have no idea what was going on there.  (Crux and Bear Republic are breweries I admire a great deal, too.)  Gigantic's offering was not bad, but I was already reeling from spice shock.  Same with Speakeasy's spiced porter.  Oh, actually, Santa's Little Homo, from Walking Man, was also a catastrophe.  Black IPAs clash enough as it is without subjecting them to the further horrors of winter spice.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Holiday Ale Fest Reprieve

Update.  John Foyston has a great piece about the fest in today's print edition of the O.  Go have a look.

Update 2.  I see that they're pouring Hair of the Dog Jim, vintages '08 and '09 at 2pm today.  I've attached a video of Jim hijinks from fests past down at the end of the post.

I've given myself the day off tomorrow to go to the Holiday Ale Fest, that event featuring the best beer and worst crowds of the year.  I've just pulled up the details for the fest and had a gander.  What I notice immediately is the heavy emphasis on stouts this year.  Of the 45 regular beers, 14 are porter/stouts (they're all big boys, so the style name is a matter of preference, not distinction).  Red ales and old ales (four each) are also well-represented, and surprisingly so.  Nobody brews old ales.

When you're looking at a list of beers, you have no idea which ones are going to be winners.  The barrel-aged raspberry tripel with roasted chestnut flour may suck and the unassuming porter may be the best beer at the fest.  What you can identify are the most interesting beers.  They are these:
  • Bison/Logsdon Cocoa Bretta.  What happens when you combine a chocolate stout and a brett-aged saison?  Sounds a bit like combining a hurricane and Miami to me, but we'll see.  (Interestingly, not on the website.  So maybe we won't see after all.)
  • Firestone Walker/Barrelworks Wild Merkin.  This is apparently an experiment to see what happens when you combine the two most disparate types of beer you can think of.  They came up with oatmeal stout and gueuze.  Well, stouts were once a sour beer.
  • Speakeasy Payback Porter.  Spiced like chai.
  • Commons Boysen. Okay, not so crazy--Belgian dark with boysenberries--but alluring.
  • Walking Man Santa's Little Black Homo.  CDA* spiced with cinnamon and allspice.  Also known as Alworth's Nightmare.
Lots and lots of interesting looking beers.  I want to give Gigantic special notice for Old Man Gower's Holiday Tipple, which is, I assume, a reference to Mr. Gower the druggist who almost accidentally poisoned someone until George Bailey noticed and stopped him.  Later, in the alternate, wish-I-had-never-been-born version of Bedford Falls Pottersville, George finds Gower, now a drunk and derelict since George wasn't there to save him.  What that has to do with the story Van and Ben tell of their beer I can't quite piece together.
"The recipe for this malty, caramel holiday beer was passed down to the brewer by Old Man Gower. According to the brewer, "It was Christmas Eve in the drunk tank. An old man said to me, 'Won't see another one.' And then we sang a song, The Rare Old Mountain Dew. I turned my face away, and he told me about this brew."
Anyone who has been and would like to guide me to must-try beers, I'm all ears.

*In case you missed the Amazing War for Cascadia (TM), go here first, then go here and finally go here.  It's uber fascinating. To get the full texture of the spleen--yes, Canadians do vent spleen--read the comments. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fifteen Chapters in Seventeen Weeks

Having completed various stints of travel, I sat down today to see what remained on The Beer Bible front.  It's worse than I thought.  In my brain, I had a more leisurely stroll through the final chapters before this project is due in May.  In fact, it's going to be a sprint.  I had a similar scenario last year, and it was a seven-day-a-week slog.  Although I love blogging and do it for pleasure, I anticipate things will bottom out here until about April.  It means I will be holed up, not visiting pubs/breweries or responding in a timely fashion to emails or reviewing much beer or tweeting or Facebooking reliably.  I won't be entirely off the grid, but it's probably best to plan as if I am.

See you in April--

Monday, November 26, 2012

What I Discovered in Maine

Post now updated with pics!

New England is known for beer and has one of the most well-developed craft brew scenes in the US. (Vermont and Maine are in the top five most-breweries states per capita, New Hampshire is 11th, and even populous Massachusetts is 22nd.) But there's beer culture and then there's beer culture. I learned on Saturday night just how advanced Maine is.

There's a little town near the New Hampshire border called Lovell. It's got a thousand people and is nowhere near any center of real population. Portland's over an hour away, and nearer towns include Paris, Berlin, Norway, and Poland--big names, but tiny populations. When you get to Lovell, there's a certain unmarked turn you can take onto a dirt road that leads , after a short drive, to an old farm. This is Ebeneezer's, a pub apparently famous among the beer intelligentsia but unknown to me.

The owners decided to try to recreate a Belgian pub, from the tchotchkes on the wall (here manifesting mainly as very cool breweriana) to 35 taps and dozens more bottles to moules frites on the menu. They did a fine job--call it White Mountain Brussels. The show-stopper and te reason to visit is the tap list. I was staggered to see TWO offerings from LoverBeer and another from Baladin--breweries most beer geeks haven't heard of. (LoverBeer only makes 500 barrels a year.) They had classic selections from De Dolle (Arabier), Silly, St Bernardus, and so on, a nice mix of styles and colors--and keep in mind this is just draft. Belgian breweries don't do much kegging, and of what they do, not a lot comes to the US. Beyond that, there are bottles aplenty, the rival of any bottle shop. The ambiance is great--cozy farmhouse--and I'm told they scatter tables outside during the summer.

I'm not convinced it's the best pub in America, as BeerAdvocate has done: the food isn't to the beer's standard, and the beer is insanely expensive. Nine bucks a pour for draft, and bottles drifting from the mid teens up. Cantillon was priced at $40 a bottle. That's higher than anyplace I've ever seen.


This is middle-of-nowhere Maine. I know there are tourists around; Maine is a three-season destination for vacationers. But there's no way a pub this far off the beaten path can survive without locals, and locals willing to pay a huge premium for the experience of having a Brussels pub nearby. It's amazing. I can't imagine a pub like that surviving in a similar place anywhere else.

As a sort of addendum, I ate last night in the Jolly Drayman in Bethel. It is an absolutely wonderful evocation of a British pub. Not a kitschy echo to remind yanks of their week in the Cotswolds, but a place for people who want a cozy pint in the kind of space British toss off with a shrug (but seem beyond the ken of most Americans). A nice selection of a half dozen beers and a cask engine. Again, a great experience, and one the people of Bethel (population 2400) are very fortunate to have. Not many towns that size do. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gobble Gobble

I am happily burrowed into a warm house in chilly Maine, a turkey roasting, pies baking, and of course beers chilling. Good times. May your day be merry and relaxing, too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Consolidation Watch: North American Breweries Sold

And the snowball that is Pyramid/MacTarnahan's/Magic Hat continued to roll along gathering new owners:

KPS Capital Partners, LP ("KPS") announced today that it signed a definitive agreement to sell its portfolio company, North American Breweries Holdings, LLC ("NAB" or the "Company"), to Cerveceria Costa Rica, S.A. ("CCR"), a subsidiary of Florida Ice and Farm Company, S.A., for $388 million in cash. NAB is one of the largest independently owned beer companies in the United States and the owner of a diverse portfolio of brands including Labatt, Genesee, Seagram's Escapes, Magic Hat, Pyramid, the Original Honey Brown Lager, Dundee and MacTarnahan's. NAB operates four state-of-the-art breweries and seven retail locations located in New York, Vermont, California, Oregon and Washington.

I'd like to write more, but I'm on the road (New England for the holiday) and Google's latest version of the iPhone blogger app is absolutely unusable. But please discuss. This is big news--at least at the level of augury. We're seeing the ghost of breweries future, I think.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hopping in the Saddle with Lucy and Ellee

A troika of local writers, beer and bike lovers all, have collaborated to create Hop in the Saddle, a guide to Portland's beer by bike.  Well, of course they did.  What two activities more define Portland than bikes and beer?  To Portlanders busy peddling to the next beer fest (see pic below of a recent Cheers to Belgian Beers), the two go together like coffee and stout.  But that's Portlanders.  To the rest of the US, where bikes are for kids and beer is yellow fizz, the concept is strange.  It's not the kind of project you pitch to Random House.  Indeed, in an era before DIY communications, Hop in the Saddle would have been a non-starter.

Fortunately, we do live in a better time, and so I asked the two authors, Ellee Thalheimer ( Cycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-day Tours in Oregon) and Lucy Burningham (you may recall her amazing NYT story about fresh hops) to describe the project and how they approached it.


Ellee begins describing how the project began: "Lucy was my editor for Cycling Sojourner. I wanted to have a brewery tour by bike in my Portland section. We didn't have room in the book, but it occurred to us that there could actually be a whole book on that subject only." Lucy adds, "that Ellee and I have been friends for a long time, and we’ve always shared an interest in riding bikes and writing (we met because we’re both Lonely Planet authors). We’ve been on all kinds of rides and adventures together in Portland and beyond. It seemed natural that we’d work together on a writing project someday, especially one that included bicycles."

Here I mentioned that I knew how hard it is to attract the attention of remote publishers both to the interest and potential market of a project like this.  Ellee and Lucy felt they understood the book's potential far better than a traditional publisher could. 
Ellee doesn't sugar-coat her opinion of publishing. "Traditional publishing is a broken, antiquated, slow-moving beast." She goes on: "Traditional publishing would consider this a micro-targeted readership probably. It seems these days they consider anything that will sell under 15,000 copies to not be viable. But I consider Hop in the Saddle's readership as a niche market, and I think there's a difference." Lucy describes the market: "When we came up with the idea for the book, I immediately knew we could market it beyond a micro-targeted readership of bike/beer fanatics. We’ve got one important thing going for us when it comes to expanding our readership: the city of Portland. People love this town. They love thinking about living here (if they don’t already), fantasizing about visiting and deconstructing the lifestyles of those of us who are lucky enough live here (hello Portlandia and The New York Times’ travel section). I think people elsewhere in the U.S. and even internationally will buy this book to get a taste of two of our city’s most important and defining cultures: bikes and beer." 
One way they launched the book was through a Kickstarter campaign.  I asked about that.  Ellee said the model isn't only--or maybe even mostly--about money.  It creates community.
"Kickstarter functioned in the same way, except our funders were our excited readership. To get things done, you have to creatively make it happen. The kickstarter didn't just fund us, however. It created a community around the project and was an excellent marketing tool." Lucy continues, "Not only did Kickstarter help us fund the printing costs for the book, by far our largest line item, it functioned as a marketing tool for the book and contributed to a nice amount of pre-sales. But I agree with Ellee that the model really helped us create a community of supporters who will still be rooting for us well after they’ve received their 'rewards.' I still feel humbled by all the support we received."
With a traditional publisher, all you have to do is produce a manuscript.  Ellee, Lucy, and graphic designer Laura Cary had to do everything.  Constraining or liberating?
They were in agreement on this point. Ellee first. "I feel liberated. In general, author compensation is not fair comparable to the high-level work they do. We had a great idea, innovative approach, and a fabulous team. If the book does well, we will actually reap the reward, not to mention the world will be a better place for our project. The fact that we as authors can be closely connected to our own success is a great feeling." Lucy: "Insanely liberated. I’ve been a writer and journalist for a long time, so I’ve spent my career writing for established publications, which informs my writing in everything from word counts to audience and voice. With this project I knew that if I wrote about the best food and beer in this town with total honesty, I’d be doing an important service in the best way I knew how. Like I said above, I think this book will appeal to a larger audience. With that audience in mind, I felt empowered to make the tough choices on what to include in the book (we ended up including 20 of the city’s breweries, for example, instead of the 50 existing). I wrote this book thinking about someone who travels to Portland for the first time from say, Japan, for the Oregon Brewers Fest. I hope Hop in the Saddle will help them get on a bike, which is the best way to explore this town, and find reliably fantastic food and beer."


Because I've been buried in my own work, I haven't seen the book yet--but I'm really excited by the project.  Traditional publishers have an important role left to play in book publishing.  But the truth is, they've never been very good at projects like this.  What makes a book like Hop in the Saddle good is its individuality, the fact that it's not made for a mass audience.  Lucy and Ellee, acting as their own champions for the project, get to make all the decisions about what to put in the book based on what they think will make it a good book.  There's a way in which it sucks to be a writer now--the days of big contracts and expense accounts are gone.  But the flip side is that writers get to follow their bliss.  This is the best recommendation I can imagine for Hop in the Saddle, and why it will be on my Christmas list this year. 

Reward their effort and pick up a copy yourself.  Also, Ellee and Lucy will be speaking about and signing copies of their books at Powell's on November 29th at 7:30.  That's not a bad place to pick up a copy, either. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Damned Green Bottles

On my recent trip to Europe, I managed to collect several bottles of beer.  Mostly these were rarities not available in the US, but I devoted precious space to beer widely available here--Budvar.  I wanted it partly for the bottle, but also so Sally could enjoy a beer that came on a jet rather than on a slow boat from Europe.  Bottled Budvar is pasteurized, but still, fresh is best.

You have read the title of the post, so you know where this is headed.  The beer, packaged in an admittedly attractive green bottle, was skunked.* None of this is shocking: that's what happens to beer in green bottles.  When I visited Budvar, brewer Adam Brož shook his head sadly when the subject came up.  It is, as with all breweries that use green bottles, out of the brewer's hands.  Marketing types think that green bottle is so pretty they just can't be bothered about what it does to the beer.

What is shocking--to me, anyway--is the fact that Budvar gets skunked in the Czech Republic.  Americans are so used to skunked European lagers that many consider it a part of their character.  It had never occurred to me, though, that natives are also getting skunky beer.  It's one thing to sell crap to silly Americans, but Czechs presumably know what Budvar tastes like.  Surely this is an outrage?

In any case, consider this a plaintive cry to all marketing types working in the beer industry: kill the green bottle before it kills your beer.  This is unforgivable.

* Beer takes on a skunky flavor when exposed to light, a chemical reaction resulting from the decomposition of certain chemical compounds in the hop’s isohumulones.  Clear and green bottles lead, almost inexorably, to lightstruck beer.  It is one of the most incomprehensible practices in the brewing world--like selling unrefrigerated milk. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday in Pictures: Cologne

Today's picture dump includes a few choice shots from the lovely city of Koln/Cologne.  Enjoy--

Many breweries keep a "library" of recent releases so they can track their beer and refer back to a particular shipment in case of complaints.  This is Reissdorf's. 

I was on my third glass of Fruh--you can tell by the tick marks left on the beer mat.

In Cologne, waiters carry trays around and replenish empties.  This works when 90+ percent of your beer (or all of it) is a single type.  Not recommended for a place like Apex.

German beer halls are just vast.  This is Gaffel.

They're called "stange" glasses, and every brewery has their own version--but they're always 2cl.  (At a euro eighty a pop, you can really tear through your budget with these little guys.)

If you ever go to Cologne, ascend the stairs at the Dom.  Spectacular.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Outsource Blogging

First, close to home, Ezra surveys the growler landscape.  You may be surprised to learn that growlers are the subject of HEATED CONTROVERSY.  Go see why.

Second, Boak and/or Bailey visited a BrewDog pub in Bristol.  I want to quote from their visit to this "shiny, new, and in the ‘organic corporate’ style pioneered by sandwich-chain Pret a Manger" which they say "certainly isn’t a pub."  Already you can see how things differ in the US and UK: that sounds exactly like a US pub.  Now consider what they found on their visit:
Beer was priced as we expected, with our favourite Punk IPA at (if we remember rightly) £4.20 for two halves, and tasted just as delicious as it does from the bottle....

Around us were students who’d ordered ‘whatever lager you have’, drawn, we guess, by the coolness of the bar rather than the beer; middle-aged men who wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Wenlock Arms; and parties of thirtysomethings not yet especially into beer apparently there for an experience. In case you were wondering, they’re the people who buy the super-strong beers in spirit measures at £6 a pop. From where we were sitting, they got their money’s worth, talking animatedly, swapping glasses, and finding much to marvel at: ‘It tastes just like sherry — I wouldn’t think it was beer if I didn’t know.’
See if you can spot the differences to your average pub-going experience in Portland.

Finally, I take you to the story of how Portland Center Stage, owing to reviews the found insufficiently sycophantic, have cut off the Portland Mercury.  Alison Hallett comments:
I can't say I'm hugely surprised by this—I'm often very critical of PCS' shows and of artistic director Chris Coleman, and it has long seemed a strange aspect of my job that I'm basically invited into peoples' homes in order to criticize the decor. Theater reviews potentially benefit companies in two ways: Publicity and promotional materials. PCS is presumably confident enough in their publicity apparatus at this point that they no longer feel they need the boost that coverage and listings in the Mercury provides, and there are enough websites these days that'll write glowing reviews in exchange for free tickets that sifting through my reviews to find the one sentence they can put on a flyer probably just doesn't make sense. The era of newspaper critics leveraging influence for access is over—companies no longer need to rely on a cranky critic to mediate their relationship with the public. At this point we're just very opinionated vestigial limbs.
(Wee backgrounder: Portland Center Stage is the big dog of theater in Portland, but has a the reputation of putting onartistically cautious, middlebrow productions.)   This is just a momentary reminder of the appropriately distant role journalists should have with the subjects they cover.  It obviously applies to beer, too.  The situation is a quarter-turn different when people covering beer don't also receive money from the breweries, but the dynamic is similar.  I will say that no brewery has ever behaved this badly to me for unfavorable reviews (which I do hand out from time to time, or did, when I was reliably doing reviews).

Good for the Merc.  They are consistently the most transparent and reliable news source in the city.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Okay, One More: Faux Craft

The stories about beeg beer keep comin', and I seem to find them irresistible.  Today's story, from Fortune, fingers faux craft like Blue Moon.  Greg Koch assumes the dragonslayer's pose:
As a craft brewer, Koch is especially miffed: "Craft brewers are creative. We don't follow trends -- we create them. We specifically went against the mass-homogenized, corporatized business model…. When that very empire, the multinational conglomerate, starts giving the impression to unsuspecting consumers that they're a part of our world, of course that's offensive. 

In response to those that say that it doesn't matter who makes a beer, Koch says: "Did the Milli Vanilli scandal matter? Why were people outraged? The music that people had enjoyed didn't change when it was discovered that an unknown singer was doing the singing. But people made clear that the truth is important and they don't like being duped."
This is a thorny subject, isn't it?  I have no particular dog in the fight.  There are good and bad things about big breweries and good and bad things about small breweries.  Small breweries tend to be more interesting, and their beer does, too--but that's not a given, and it's certainly not intrinsic to size.  And when you have a guy like Greg Koch standing in for the consumer, you elide one very important fact: he's selling beer.  Promoting craft beer is a way of promoting his beer.  These things are not coincidental.

If the Brewers Association and beer geeks have made a mistake, it's in muddying the water between beer and brewery.  It is gospel among certain segments that small is always good, big always bad.  The problem is, lots of small breweries make terrible beer, and a few big ones make spectacular beer.  But because folks like the Brewers Association (also far from a neutral party) promote this paradigm, many are willing to sign on.  I would propose a different theory:

The brewery tracks and beer tracks must be separated.  There are lots of reasons to support small breweries and to castigate (as I have done two days running) big breweries, but we shouldn't be fooled that it is identical to beer quality.  Indeed, while it's important to out faux craft--big breweries only hide their connection to their "craft" brands to hoodwink consumers--there's something very good about the trend.  Good beer is winning.  Big breweries are making more characterful beer because that's the direction the market's headed.

Koch says, correctly "If you want to listen to Milli Vanilli., I suppose that's a choice you get to make. Just know that you're making that choice."  True.  But you should also be aware that when Greg Koch is saying this, he's holding open his coat and showing you CDs of Nirvana.  Caveat emptor.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

While We're Talking InBev, See Today's Washington Monthly

I got a bit of private blowback on yesterday's post, so I should probably be wary about pointing to another anti-InBev screed.  Ah well, caution has no place on a blog.

The following sections are taken from a long article in the Washington Monthly, a left-leaning political magazine heavy on public policy wonkery.  I emphasize left-leaning, because the article takes a certain view--or any way the author, Tim Heffernan, does.  He thinks US beer regulation, which drives distribution through a third-party, works because it's inefficient.  It keeps prices high and makes market dominion hard.  He compares the US model favorably with the British model which he says drives up consumption and has turned the country into an 18th-century style hellscape:
It’s apparent in their hospitals, where since the 1970s rates of cirrhosis and other liver diseases among the middle-aged have increased by eightfold for men and sevenfold for women. And it’s apparent in their streets, where the carousing, violent “lager lout” is as much a symbol of modern Britain as Adele, Andy Murray, and the London Eye. Busting a bottle across someone’s face in a bar is a bona fide cultural phenomenon—so notorious that it has its own slang term, “glassing,” and so common that at one point the Manchester police called for bottles and beer mugs to be replaced with more shatter-resistant material. In every detail but the style of dress, the alleys of London on a typical Saturday night look like the scenes in William Hogarth’s famous pro-temperance print Gin Lane. It was released in 1751.
So okay, you may not like the set-up.  But the meat of his argument involves consolidation of beer companies at the mass-market end of things and does echoes the points raised in yesterday's post.  Like:
Prior to the 2008 takeover, Anheuser-Busch generally accepted the regulatory regime that had governed the U.S. alcohol industry since the repeal of Prohibition. It didn’t attack the independent wholesalers in control of its supply chain, and generally treated them well. “Tough but fair” is a phrase used by several wholesale-business sources to describe their dealings with the Busch family dynasty. Everyone was making money; there was no need to rock the boat....

Then, after eliminating everything it could at home, the new regime turned to squeezing more out of its increasingly nervous partners, the wholesalers. And, today, with only one remaining real competitor, MillerCoors, the pressure it can put on its wholesalers is extraordinary. A wholesaler who loses its account with either company loses one of its two largest customers, and cannot offer his retail clients the name-brand beers that form the backbone of the market. The Big Two in effect have a captive system by which to bring their goods to market. 
Heffernan goes on to describe some pretty rough tactics InBev used on distributors in Arkansas, and how InBev has skirted the law in California and New York.  I can't actually verify any of this and would of course welcome corrections.  Even if the truth is less dire, I don't think it takes a lot of imagination to envision a world where InBev also owns Modelo and SABMiller--that would surely be catastrophic to competition and would certainly make control of "independent" distributors more likely.  The thing is, except for stockholders and managers at InBev, there's really no one who benefits from monopolies.  It's just bad all around.  Let's hope federal regulators see the danger and nix any further InBev mergers.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Production of Soulless Beer

The phrase "craft beer" is rightly denounced for its imprecision.  It's hard to say what craft beer is or how it differs from non-craft (size, ownership structure, quality or type of beer?), but this extraordinary article in Businessweek illustrates exactly what it is not--cripplingly soulless beer from which every extraneous cent has been wrung:
For a number-crunching manager like [InBev CEO Carlos] Brito, an old, family-run company like Anheuser-Busch provided plenty of opportunities for cuts. He laid off approximately 1,400 people, about 6 percent of the U.S. workforce. He sold $9.4 billion in assets, including Busch Gardens and SeaWorld. AB InBev also tried to save money on materials. It used smaller labels and thinner glass for its bottles. It tried weaker cardboard for its 12-packs and cases. The old Anheuser-Busch insisted on using whole grains of rice in its beer. AB InBev was fine with the broken kind. “Our purchasing of rice has to do with how fresh the rice is, not whether it is whole or broken,” says Vallis.
In a telephone interview from Munich, Willy Buholzer, AB InBev’s director of global hops procurement, cheerfully insists that the company still brews the traditional way with Hallertauer Mittelfrüh. He says the reason that AB InBev stopped buying it was that it has a surplus. “We just have too much right now,” Buholzer says. “We need a break for a couple of years.”
A former top AB InBev executive, who declined to be identified because he didn’t want to get in trouble with his old employer, tells a different story. He says the company saved about $55 million a year substituting cheaper hops in Budweiser and other U.S. beers for more expensive ones like Hallertauer Mittelfrüh.
And of course
So much cash flowed in that by 2011 the company was able to pay down early a significant portion of the $54 billion it had borrowed to finance the Anheuser-Busch takeover. This triggered $1.3 billion in stock-option bonuses for Brito and 39 other executives that year.
The whole piece is a must-read, but--spoiler-alert--as the story unfolds, writer Devin Leonard takes it to its obvious conclusion.  The modern InBev is a shark that makes money by snacking on new acquisitions and wringing savings from them.  That's what motivates InBev's appetite for Modelo and why industry watchers think SABMiller is in their sights as well.  As Leonard points out, the man running the company, Carlos Brito, doesn't make and sell beer, he acquires beer companies.  If you happen to like beer in the portfolio Brito covets, this isn't good news.  (The article details violence done to Beck's and Bass, in addition to Budweiser.)

I don't know exactly how we should think about "good beer" and "macro" or "industrial" beer.  But I do know that we should think very poorly indeed about breweries mishandled like this.  It's a debased, degraded product and it's offered with contempt to consumers.  If you have friends or relatives who still drink Budweiser, forward them the article and tell them to switch to Yuengling or Sam Adams instead. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Very Green Beer: Coloradan THC IPA

That didn't take long:

A beer that will get you drunk and high sounds like a lethal combination, but it could be bubbling up in your neighbor’s garage.

With the move by voters to legalize adult marijuana possession, cultivation and sales in Colorado as part of Amendment 64 Tuesday, the likelihood of pot beer is out of the question for commercial brewers, but already in the works by homebrewers.
If you Google around awhile, you can see past experiments.  Apparently it's not the easiest thing to do (flavor problems, dosage problems), and if you live in Colorado or Washington, the point seems moot anyway.

On the other hand, this story (which also came via Beer Pulse) suggests that there may be financial possibilities in exotic experiments:
Hair of the Dog Brewing founder and owner, Alan Sprints, shared the news on Facebook that the total yield for two 375ml bottles sold through a silent auction (two separate lots) was $4,525.56. The higher of the two bids was $2,368.73, approximately $187 per ounce of liquid.
Dave's an eisbock, and a damned strong one at that. But it contains no active ingredients beyond ethanol.  Imagine if it were iridescent with weed. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday in Pictures: Dusseldorf

I have a nice cache of pictures from my most recent Europe trip (the ones I posted real-time came off my phone), and I thought it might be nice to post them on Sundays.  First up, Dusseldorf.  (Earlier blogging here and here.)

Uerige's Michael Schnitzler



Look again: that stained glass in is Uerige's pub.