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Friday, May 31, 2013

Strange Wonders: Beer Fiction From Evan Rail

Evan Rail, 61 pages
Digital edition: $4

This is going to get long-winded, so I'll put the upshot right here at the top.  Evan Rail has out the third in his series of digital-only small books, but this one's a rarity--beer-centered fiction.  It's just three stories long, less than the price of a pint, and a wonderful choice for, say, that flight from Portland to Chicago.  You don't have to know anything about beer or be interested in it particularly, but for those who are, the stories add a layer of pleasure.  In addition to his work writing about Czech beer, Evan has published poetry and he has a gift for language.  He is especially good at inhabiting a different voice for each of the narrators of the three stories--a young homebrewer, a feral speculative fiction-writer, and a monk.  Good stuff I highly recommend.


There's that old joke--dying is easy; comedy is hard.  So is fiction--well, good fiction, anyway.  Focus tends to drift to plot, but that's the easy part. The difficult part is making the elaborate lie convincing.  It's part dream-weaving, part con job; the world must be fully-realized, constructed without flaws, and the protagonist has to talk and behave like a real person.  Make the slightest mistake and the illusion collapses.  The writer must remain behind the curtain, as well, spinning metaphor and simile well enough that you aren't reminded there's a little man back there pulling levers.

Triplebock contains three unrelated stories told by and about three very different men.  In the first story, which concerns the activities of a homebrewer young enough to still be living at home, protagonist Patrick is new to the world, feeling his way along as young men do.  He knows what he knows--brewing in Patrick's case--but the rest of the world he regards as a riddle yet to be solved.  The riddle of "The Grain Men" has a supernatural cast, and makes for perhaps the most satisfying plot of the three stories.

When you don't know a writer, you give him less rope.  I thought Patrick might have been a slightly reworked Evan Rail, and I smiled at the end of "The Grain Men."  It was written in the third person but otherwise had those markers of a fictionalized true story.  But I began reevaluating when I got to the second story, "An All-Beer Diet."  This was the story, told in the intimacy of first person, involves a particular kind of lout I have had some experience with: the jerk writer.  These are guys who are simultaneously a raw nerve of insecurity and incredible egotists.  D.K. Graeber is both a casual and quirky writer, but also a guy who secretly harbors the belief he's a gonzo Faulkner.  The story's set-up is that he's going to do lent on nothing but beer (a story we've become familiar with) as a PR stunt.  It rolls out from there as a character study.  His buddy's a more successful writer, and here's Graeber in one choice passage:
Since Todd was officially a fraud, cribbing a few lines from his agent’s press release didn’t feel so bad. It was more like the voice of the thing I copied, anyway, which was just so much more feminine than anything I could ever write. Todd could probably pull it off — frankly, his stuff can be quite girlish — but my prose cracks and blisters, roughneck.
It's really fun writing, again filled with lovely little details that make it seem wholly real.  But I was less fooled this time: these were not fictionalized accounts of the same person, not by a long shot.  The final story drives that point home.  Evan imagines the world of a very slowly dying European abbey with just a handful of brothers and an urgent need for funds.  They decide to get into the brewing game, relying on a confident outsider.  Again written in the first person, this story imagines the world of a modern monk trying to keep a tradition alive.  I have maybe too much knowledge about the subject here and there were a few details I questioned (it's likely I'm one of the few who will), but I was touched by his treatment of the reverent protagonist.  And this one especially seems as far from Evan--not to mention the two characters in the other stories--as one could imagine.  An impressive feat of empathy and imagination.

I feel I have to say something negative about the effort just for balance, so here it is: the titles suck.  That's about all I got.  As someone who has a hard time with titles myself, I recognize too-literal titling when I see it.  The cover of the book is a little under-designed, too, for my tastes.  But you see, when all you can complain about are titles and design, you're dealing with a pretty solid book.  And so it is.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Following Washington's Lead - Best Oregon Beers?

Our neighbors to the north are embarking on an interesting experiment:
A couple of weekends ago, more than 400 beers from almost 70 Washington breweries competed at the first annual Washington Beer Awards. Many of the state’s best breweries competed in just about every style category you can think of, and the best of the bunch were selected as winners. The results will be announced at the Saturday, June 15 session of the upcoming Washington Brewers Festival at Marymoor Park in Redmond.
Selecting the "best" anything is a dicey business, and Washington adopted the tried-and-true GABF method of professional judging.  (They even used the Brewers Association guidelines.)  I think it's a great idea to highlight a state's offering, and I'd love to see Oregon promote its beer with annual awards.  I'm not sure this is the ideal approach, though.

Washington is going to announce winners in ninety categories.  That may be great for Evergreen State brewers, nearly all of whom will be able to boast some award or other.  But it completely dilutes the effect for consumers.  A better system might be Britain's, which has just eight categories (mild, three bitter categories, golden, specialty, winter, and bottled); a Champion Beer is selected from among the category winners.  Obviously you wouldn't use those categories, but something like IPA, dark beer, Belgian-style, lager, wild ale, strong beer, and small beer, say, would be clear and meaningful. 

I would also include the public in voting.  Maybe an initial judging to select a certain number of beers in each category and then open voting.  You could do it during the month of July as a tie in with Craft Beer Month.  Maybe give SNOBs a ballot, too, and consider that 25% of the tally.  Or have professional judging, SNOB ballots, and general public ballots and average the three.  But I do think getting the public involved is a good idea--these should, after all, reflect the regional tastes of Oregonians.  That would be interesting to people outside the state who might wonder how, say, Boneyard IPA became Oregon's favorite. 

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Amercian Weissbeer Realized

In about a month's time, we acknowledge the country's 237th birthday, and in celebration, I plan on doing a series of deep dives into the nature of American beer.  It was one of the many interesting discoveries I made in writing the Beer Bible: there is American beer after all, and it's not an insignificant or purely derivative tradition.  Consider today the inaugural post in the series. 

Three months ago, I mentioned the riches contained in an old text by Robert Wahl and Max Henius called (charmingly) the American Handy-Book of Brewing from around the turn of the 20th century.  In it they mention some of the beer styles of the day and one caught my eye--American weissbier.  They describe it thus:
The material employed and method of mashing is usually quite different [from German methods].  Wheat malt is sometimes, but not generally, used.  Instead [corn] grits are employed, usually to the amount of about 30%."
W&H hated it, but they were bent on using Berliner Weiss as the standard; in the comparison, they found American weissbier wanting. But how did it taste on its own merit?  Whenever you read these old descriptions, that's what springs to mind.  Actually reproducing beer from the 19th century is nearly impossible: we use different strains of barley and hops, and our equipment has evolved.  Nevertheless, it's interesting to brew the beer as a kind of thought experiment.  Well, that's exactly what my Ohio correspondent did (he of Comet fame), and he sent me a bottle.  Thirty percent corn, twenty wheat, and fifty six-row.  To add authenticity, he used Cluster hops.  The procedure:
I also tried something new with this batch: I mashed on Wednesday night, and then boiled the collected wort on Thursday morning. Post-mash, I brought the wort to a boil, and then shut it off and went to bed.
The one decision I question--post facto--is that he pitched using the Duvel strain.  That decision had more to do with the beer's flavor than the corn: it adds a ton of estery character that muscles itself into the flavor foreground.  But the experiment was a success in many other ways.  It doesn't track as a German wheat in any way--there's a bit of yeasty turbidity, but one doesn't think either weizen or Berliner weiss.  It's much more cleanly American.  If you know corn is in the grist, you can find it in the flavor, but it's far from obvious.  I get more the sense of corn sweetness, which is a bit different than barley malt sweetness.  I was surprised to find that neither the six-row nor the Clusters roughened things up.  It was smooth and sweet. 

Corn is a native crop and one of the key markers of American brewing.  Beer geeks went slightly awry when they decided it was an abomination and affront to brewing; it's nothing of the kind.  Americans should reclaim it as an important part of our brewing heritage, and I'm reminded in experiments like this that it can offer something unique and indigenous to a batch of beer.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Help Save Bottler's Crypt (A Memorial Day Post)

I plumb forgot the post I had lined up for today--but fortunately, it's still today!  Nearby my home is a cool old pioneer cemetery called Lone Fir.  I was wandering around over there a while back and came across this wonderfully decayed old structure:

On one side was a most curious placard.  It reads:
"This ruin is the mausoleum of George F. Bottler.  George F. Bottler was interred here in 1865 by his brother, a Portland fireman.  He erected the crypt and lovingly memorialized his brother with a 6-foot marble slab reading, "Gently his ashes shall rest."  The mausoleum, now crumbling in the oldest part of Lone Fir, is one of the first structures built in the cemetery." 
All interesting but how, you might ask, is this relevant to a beer blog?  Read on:
"Many people may not be familiar with the early history of craft brewing in Oregon.  Portland's first brewery, the Liberty Brewing Company, was founded by Henry Saxer in 1852.  In 1856, George F. Bottler established the second brewery, naming it City Brewery.  In 1864, Henry Weinhard took over Bottler's interest in the business; Bottler died the following year.  Weinhard continued expanding the brewery until it was the largest in the Pacific Northwest."
The end of the story is a little sadder--but perhaps the beer geek community can help.  The final bit from the placard explains:
"Bottler did not have any other family in this country and, consequently, no one remains to help pay the expenses of restoring this decaying monument.  Metro [the owner of the cemetery] is working with Robert Dortignacq, an architect for historic structures, to repair it.  At this time, no funds are in place for restoration; grant funds or other funding will need to be secured.  Until then the mausoleum is fenced off for safety.  Lone Fir Cemetery is listed on the Department of Interior register for historic places.  For more information, call Metro at 503-797-1850."
I wonder if maybe an area brewer would have interest in holding a fundraiser.  One dollar for every bottle of Bottler's Ale goes to restoration?  Surely something can be done.

Fascinating Concept: Leasing a Nanobrewery

By far the biggest barrier to the aspiring brewer is cost.  Buildings and equipment can quickly tot up to the seven figures.  Thus did emerge the gypsy and nano brewer, folk who figured out a way to bring small amounts of beer to the market without the massive up-front cost.  But even nano systems aren't cheap--and the goal of any serious brewer is to dump the incredibly labor-intensive nano system as soon as she can raise funding for a bigger one.  The answer?  Lease a nano
You want to start your brewery now. You know you'll only be a nano-brewery for 1 to 2 years. You want to reserve your capital for purchasing your future "big" brewery. Lease costs can be expensed in the current tax year and not depreciated over time.* Save your capital and Lease A Nano!

Minimum one-year lease. $1,275 per month. Proof of insurance required.
It's a fascinating idea.  Even though the total cost for the year lease isn't nuthin ($15k), you'd be brewing with a far smaller initial investment.  Even if the whole thing was a debacle--the beer didn't turn out like you'd hoped, selling the beer was harder than you expected, and you found that brewing is hard, repetitive, sweaty work--you probably wouldn't lose your house in the process.

I'm not really sure how much more beer Portland can absorb, but the company is willing to ship it anywhere on the west coast, Idaho, or Nevada.  It'll be interesting to see whether ideas like this have a future.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Know Your Lagavulin

I'm sick today, so you get this refried news story--though it is a good one. 
In one case, a New Jersey bar allegedly mixed rubbing alcohol with caramel food coloring and served it as scotch.
In another, a bar is accused of pouring dirty water into an empty bottle and passing it off as liquor.
Those are some of the details state officials released today after a year-long investigation called "Operation Swill," which culminated Wednesday when more than 100 investigators raided 29 bars and restaurants across New Jersey on the suspicion they had been serving cheap alcohol disguised as premium brands.
I know that wine researchers regularly find that tasters can't tell the difference between a tumbler of plonk and expensive Burgundy, but really: who's going to be fooled into thinking that a $12 shot of dirty water is Lagavulin?  Bourbon, which is really just fermented, distilled Karo*, I could imagine, but good Scotch?

*I kid!, I kid my bourbon-drinking friends.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Like a Comet

There's a man who lives in Dayton, Ohio.  He homebrews.  He blogs.  Recently he was inspired by my post riffing on Wahl and Henius's description of funny old American beers, particularly an odd duck called American Weissbier, and so he brewed it.  In the extremely near future I shall discuss that beer, but today I'll mention the other beer he sent--a single hop IPA made with Comet hops.  It's a variety I mistook for one of the many new ones.  Turns out that's exactly wrong; it's more like an heirloom:
Although not very popular, Comet was one of the first uses of a North American wild hop for a new U.S. cultivar. Comet was an offspring of a wild male hop that was collected from Logan Canyon, Utah, and crossed with an English hop, Sunshine.
The USDA adds (this now slightly out-of-date) information:
Seedling selection of cross 6185 made in 1961 at Corvallis, Oregon. Relatively high alpha acids content; Wild American aroma that is objectionable to some brewers, highly resistant (perhaps immune) to Prunus Necrotic Ringspot virus infection, yellowish green leaf color early in the season. Released as high alpha hop primarily for production in Washington and Idaho. Acreage expanded to 635 acres in 1980 (1% of US production), but declined after 1981 following the release of super alpha hops. Comet today is no longer grown commercially.
Ah, but it is grown commercially!  I was about 17% into my beer last night when I began learning this info, fascinated as I was by the striking characteristics of the Comets.  To my palate, they are quite rough--when I saw the information about wild stock, I totally believed it.  There's a very slight touch of lemon, but it tends more toward rind than fruit, and it's supported by other beguiling elements such as cat, soap, and weeds.  The finish is especially rugged, with a long, raspy weedy bitterness.  I was drinking the beer with friends and was surprised to hear universal acclaim--though everyone described it in really different terms. Based on the hubbub on the intertubes, I take it that a large group of other people have taken a fancy to it as well, which makes me think that maybe its time has come around again.

At What We're Drinking, the Ohio homebrewer describes the hop this way.  (He used it in a saison as well as this IPA):
There is a slight earthy gaminess behind the citrus and tropical fruit that may throw off some people, but it still finishes clean and bright. While I want to say I prefer the Saison to the IPA, I can’t honestly admit that: each beer plays to different strengths in regards to this hop. The Saison foregrounds the earthy components of the hop (and it is a bit longer in the tooth), while the IPA highlights the complex citrus and tropical fruit aspects of it. Either way, I’m hooked: Comet is the hop de jour at this house.
I think there's something about American palates that like this hoppy rusticity.  We like our beers big and bitter, often hazy, and a bit of roughness adds to the experience.  It's a very American hop, and the wildness does accentuate some of these rawboned qualities.  My palate tends toward the delicate and I like the classics--German hops, EKG, Saaz, and Cascades.  Of the new varieties, I like the ones that are almost sweet with tropical fruit.  (Base Camp has a single-hop Meridian IPA that sends thrills up my spine with its fruit salad flavors.)  But Comets are a bit of native Americana, and possibly a great alternative to Clusters if you're making some of the old classics.  Not my cup of tea, but a hop to consider for your next 19th Century lager.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New Breweries Racing Up the Best-Seller Charts

A little birdie just sent me the OLCC reports for Q1 sales in Oregon.  (They're available online, but this bird chirps regular reminders to jog my memory.)  Below are the number of barrels sold in Oregon by Oregon breweries for the first three months of the year by the top twelve brewers.  Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out which of Oregon's 100+ they are. To boost your chances, I'll asterisk those breweries that were founded in the past seven years.  Full list after the jump--along with some commentary.
  1. 17,220.44
  2. 11,523.09
  3. 11,333.33*
  4. 6,744.48
  5. 5,370.23
  6. 4,665.61
  7. 3,270.33*
  8. 2,716.01*
  9. 2,582.65
  10. 2,048.79*
  11. 1,631.32*
  12. 1,585.95 *

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

One of My Periodic Posts in Praise of Cask Ale

A few months back, Laurelwood made the bold decision to scrap a big part of their regular line and offer more one-offs, including a rotating pale ale.  They also added a cask engine.  Unfortunately for me, it seems like some hop titan is always on cask, so I have mostly skipped it.  Yesterday everything came together, however, and they had the current pale ale, a 4.5% charmer weirdly called "Nail Pale," on both keg and cask.  Perfecto! 

If you want to understand the mysteries of packaging chemistry, I recommend conducting the following experiment.  Go to Laurelwood and get a pint of this beer in both forms.  They look the same, except that the sparklered cask pour has a tighter, more mousse-like head.  It might have been a touch cloudier.  But put your nose over the beer and the differences present themselves.  The icy keg pour has little to offer in scent, whereas the cask offers a vivid resinous pine perfume.  Warmth encourages volatile aroma compounds to lift off the beer.

When the beers enter the mouth, the differences get even more obvious.  At 30 BUs, Nail Pale is probably about five too many for a 10 Plato beer.  On cask, it's okay, though.  The architecture of the malt, mildly sweet, bready, and soft, cotton the hop zing.  And the hops, for their part, are full of juicy flavor.  The brewers must have added some salts, because it has a London-like minerality that stiffens the finish.  On keg, all the flavors are present, but it's as if they beer has been pulled taut so that they're in very sharp focus.  The carbonation both diminishes the malt's flavors and soft mouthfeel and sharpens hop bitterness.  On cask the beer teeters on the edge of balance but on keg it falls into hoppy imbalance.  What feels full and lush on cask seems thin on keg. 

Last week we talked a lot about balance and hoppiness.  In my comments, I should probably have admitted that the crime of overhopping is far more common than underhopping--at least on the West Coast.  That gateway misdemeanor leads to certain felonies, like misusing cask engines.  A cask isn't ideal for every beer, and they rarely work with big, hoppy ones.  Cask ale is different, but you have to be willing to appreciate the benefits it offers.  Souping up hops is not among them.  It's only with a beer like Nail Pale that you can begin to see what casks can do for a beer.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Hops Are Not a Problem

Yesterday Portlander Adrienne So penned a provocative piece in Slate called Against Hoppy Beer.  It created a predictable amount of hubbub on the intertubes and didn't seem to warrant a post from me, so I Facebooked it, whereupon a debate broke out.  The issue is nicely summed up by a slugline to the Slate piece is "the craft beer industry’s love affair with hops is alienating people who don’t like bitter brews."  Well, is it? So, arguing for the prosecution, offers this evidence:
Thanks in part to Grossman’s pioneering influence, the pale ale, and its hoppier sister, the India pale ale, grew massively in popularity. (Today they’re the third-best- and best-selling craft beer styles in the country, respectively.) This was a positive development, but some breweries went overboard. By the 1990s craft breweries like Rogue, Lagunitas, Stone, and Dogfish Head were all engaged in a hop arms race, bouncing ideas and techniques off one another to produce increasingly aggressive, hop-forward beers....
Most beer judges agree that even with an experienced palate, most human beings can’t detect any differences above 60 IBUs. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, one of the hoppiest beers of its time, clocks in at 37 IBUs. Some of today's India pale ales, like Lagunitas’ Hop Stoopid, measure around 100 IBUs. Russian River’s Pliny the Younger, one of the most sought-after beers in the world, has three times as many hops as the brewery’s standard IPA; the hops are added on eight separate occasions during the brewing process.
With respect to Adrienne (and Alan, who defended the position on Facebook): hogwash.  This is one of those cases of the beer geek mistaking the bubble for the world.  Most of the best-selling beers in the "craft" segment are all modest beers: Boston Lager, SN Pale, Fat Tire, Blue Moon (which to the average consumer is a craft brand), Widmer Hefeweizen.  Those beers alone account for something like four million barrels of production--something on the order of a fifth to a quarter of the entire segment, depending on how you characterize it.  Add to that the ton of wheats that sell like hotcakes (Oberon, Gumballhead, 312, Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat) and you're taking another big chunk of the market.  To think that the craft market is awash in only the Plinys and Lagunitases, you have to live in ... Portland.

Three other quick points and then I'll knock it off:
  • Bitterness is relative.  Adrienne begins by using mass market lagers as her baseline and notes that SN Pale was "one of the hoppiest beers of its time."  But that's only because at the time there were no other types of beer in the US.  A 37 BU beer isn't going to shock residents of Britain or even Germany.  That it shocked Americans was a testament to our debased state at the time, not Pale's hoppiness.  What humans consider normal changes over time.  Sometimes we like beers quite hoppy, sometimes we don't.  There is no Platonic ideal for the "right" amount of hoppiness, so it's impossible to norm it out.  (So's story begins with a Kentuckian shocked at 30 BU Hopworks Velvet English.  Ask yourself: who's out of step with hopping levels in this story?  If your baseline is Bud Light, 30 IBUs are shocking--but there's no world in which Bud Light should be the baseline for anything.)  Also, as a technical point, 60 BUs is nowhere near the threshold of human perception, and there's the further issue of the density of the beer.  A 60 BU barley wine is no hop titan.
  • Hoppiness isn't just bitterness.  Hop flavor and aroma can be intense, and when we say "hoppy," sometimes we don't mean bitter.  I wouldn't be surprised if the Kentuckian in the story was just shocked at the type of beer he was served.  Americans are making more richly layered, hop-forward--but not necessarily bitter--beers.  Recently I've heard young beer fans describe IPAs and pales not as bitter, but "sweet"--so rich are they in the fruit flavors of modern hops.  We have to define our terms.
  • Regions have different styles.  You could easily go to Brussels, order up that unpronounceable "gueuze" thing and declare it "too tart."  You could go to India and declare the food "too spicy."  These are preferences, not, again, some kind of measure against a Platonic ideal.  The United States appears to be developing a taste for hops, and I believe we may one day find ourselves with a hop-centric brewing tradition.  It's way too early to make that case now.  The opposite is true.  We are the most style-promiscuous country in the world, probably in the history of the world.  
 If you look around you and all you see are ultra hoppy triple IPAs and imperialized whatevers, you're very deep in the beer geek bubble.  In most of America, a surfeit of hops is not yet the central problem confronting beer culture.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The American Beer Market in Three Charts

Yesterday I was fooling around with Brewers Almanac statistics and came across three data points I think are critical if you want to understand the beer market in the United States.  I have put them into visual form for your consumption pleasure.  First up, we have the total beer market in the US (smoothed to avoid the chaos from 1919-1933) in millions of barrels.  You'll see it follows a nice upward trend before plateauing around 1980.

From the post-prohibition period to about 1980, you have an expected incline for a country on the move.  (We went from 150 million to 226 million.)  But then note the trend, even while the country continued to grow (roughly 310 million now) thereafter, when the total beer US market stayed right around 200 million barrels.  How is it possible?  We started to drink less:

That's a little bit bad if you're a brewer in the US, but not terrible.  As long as people keep coming, you can at least hold firm.  Except that you can't.  Since 1980, purveyors of beer have gotten quite a bit more numerous.  Behold what happens when you take into account the effect of imports and craft breweries*.  Then the number for the mass market beers looks a whole lot worse.

In the years I've been writing about beer, Anheuser-Busch has managed to sell about half the beer in America, and I think they're still doing that, more or less.  But you can see from these figures that they're only able to do it by cannibalizing or absorbing other mass market brands.  Imports now constitute nearly 28 million barrels--14% of the market--and most of that is stuff like Pacifico and Corona, which helps explain why AB InBev was so keen to snap up Modelo.  The amount of mass-market American lager has now dipped to about 150 million barrels--the amount they were selling 40 years ago when there were 85 million fewer Americans.  If the trajectory continues, that segment could well fall below 100 million barrels in the next forty.

Interesting times, no?

*These are a bit hard to estimate.  The Brewers Almanac gives good numbers on imports, but doesn't parse out "craft beer."  I've used Brewers Association members, which are exact, and added an estimate of extra-craft beers like Blue Moon and Shock Top and those breweries the BA has ejected from their membership roles (though I've probably low-balled it). 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Price of a Sixer, Adjusted for Inflation

The Brewers Almanac is quite a lot of fun if you love arcane statistics.  (Excise taxes broken down by state and by beer strength?  Check.  Percentage of beer sold in cans in 1962?  Check.)  This one was especially interesting: the estimated price of a six-pack of beer using BLS consumer price index figures.  "Six pack" here means national brands (those selling for around $5 now).  They used actual prices, so I ran them through the BLS's inflation calculator and came up with the following figures, based on current 2013 dollars. 

1955: $7.73
1960: $7.39 (-.39)
1965: $7.17 (-.22)
1970: $6.54 (-.63)
1975: $6.23 (-.31)
1980: $5.57 (-.66)
1985: $5.43 (-.14)
1990: $5.22 (-.21)
1995: $5.28 (+.06)
2000: $5.11 (-.17)
2005: $5.09 (-.02)
2010: $5.21 (+.12)
2011: $5.12 (-.09) (last available year)

Except for short blips where the price was essentially flat, beer prices dropped an average of about 70 cents a decade between 1955 and 1990 and have been flat since then.  The big question is whether Bill's adjusting his Portland Beer Price Index for inflation.  

Maybe This Beer's Just Not For Me

It has been five years since BridgePort first released Stumptown Tart, and in that time they've changed brewers and much of their line has turned over.  I therefore assume that Stumptown Tart is popular enough that they've brought it back for a sixth iteration.  Originally, the idea was to create an actual tart fruit beer with, you know, acidity.  Then-brewer Karl Ockert consulted with New Glarus' Dan Carey, who of course has his own pretty-popular tart fruit ales.  They used native Marionberries and brewed a large beer but, alas, just dumped in some lactic acid to achieve the tart part. 

It was a flop, but they retooled the recipe and next year came back with a fruit beer minus the tart.  Ockert used sour cherries in an effort to add a bit of acid, but it had wandered away from the wild-yeast sense of tart the geeks expected.  In subsequent years, BridgePort reissued the beer with a rotating variety of fruit, and the '13 vintage was brewed with blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.  And like the beers in the post-tart period, it's fine. 

It's a vibrantly-colored beer with a soft, blossomy fruit nose and a light, sweet palate.  The fruit is fresh and sweet and the beer is delicately wheaty.  I did find the finish, with a slightly tannic-bitter note, less than ideal, but it's a minor note.  Although the fruit changes year by year, there's a real coherence in the line.  If you like the Stumptown Tart, you'll like it every year no matter which fruit the brewery chooses. 

I, of course, want the tart.  Nothing showcases fruit so well as a little acidity.  In regular beers, the malt competes with the fruit, which becomes a little duller and more flaccid.  Acidity preserves flavors and aromas and deliver the fruit to one's mouth almost as if it were coming straight off the bush.  As I was drinking it, I was thinking: why not add a touch of acid malt or even do a sour mash?  I know the brewery doesn't want to make a wild ale, but this would surely give it some depth and distinction.

At one time, I would have been confident to say that these choices would make a "better" beer.  Something about traveling around the world and seeing how palates differ really highlights the subjective nature of "better," though.  If BridgePort took my advice, they'd very likely sell less beer.  More people, in other words, like it the way it is than would like my "improvements."  It's easy enough to dismiss the masses as untutored, to actually use this as evidence that it's a lesser beer.  But geeks are slaves to their own preferences, too; they love imperial stouts but give a shrug to helles.  The things different people like sometimes reflect different levels of discrimination and education, but a lot of times, it just reflects base prejudice.

So Stumptown Tart is not for me. Let's leave it at that.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Which Ingredient Exerts Greatest Influence?

I once said offhandedly to another beer fan (who may out himself if he wishes) that hops had the most influence on a beer. He contended the point, I believe arguing for malt instead. The issue came back into my consciousness last night as I tried a beer I was certain would be dominated by the malt flavors.  Instead, the yeast took the floor and muscled poor malt to the side. More on that beer in another post.  In the meantime, which is it--malt, hops, or yeast?

Argument for:  body of beer, the sugars, the hooch. No malt, no beer.
Argument against: as a matter of flavor, something of a pipsqueak.

Argument for: the mighty spice, rebuffer of infection, bringer of bitterness, flavor, and aroma.
Argument against: you can have a beer without hops, but not without malt or yeast.

Argument for: lagers, ales, and wild things; yeast determines beer's very nature.
Argument against: yeast schmeast; people made plenty beer before they even knew what it was.

The correct answer?  Water. Because, you know, yeast, malt, and hops piled up amount to compost. I kid. The actual answer is *.  All three are enormously expressive and their influences are easier to see in different beer styles. 

Hops are the biggest blowhards, no doubt.  They have the greatest capacity to overwhelm a beer--but in many styles they are nearly disposable.  Yeast provides the alchemy that makes beer spirituous, and they are the deep-thinking philosophical members of the trio because they do determine a beer's nature.  They are not far behind hops in their capacity to make a big impression, either.  Malt is the hardest case to make, but the gluten-free movement does an excellent job.  Barley malt's presence is subtle and you can easily overlook it, but the parade of sorghum counterfeits, thin, sour, and unbeery put proof to its importance.  

It is a debate with no answer, but a fun one to have.   Your opinion?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Better Alternatives to "Spokane-Style" Designations

Washington's No-Li Brewhouse recently made news by successfully winning federal approval for the designation of "Spokane-style" beer.  The definition of this "style" is that it must be brewed and bottled in Spokane and made with ingredients from within 300 (!) miles.  In other words, it's a federally-approved marketing gimmick.  Good for No-Li, I guess, but it's bad in just about every other way.  It conflates style and region and, with the 300-mile ingredients loophole, makes a mockery of "locally grown."  Instead of moaning, though, let's think how the idea might actually be retooled to bring some value to the general concept.  The first thing we need to do is split style and geography.

Beer By Geographical Indication
Although it is not quite so elemental as in the case of wine, ingredient sourcing is an important component of beer.  Barley and hops do turn out differently depending on where they're grown.  Ingredient-based certifications are common and pretty easy.  Here's how the US Patent and Trademark Office describes it (pdf): 
“Geographical indications” (“GIs”) are defined at Article 22(1) of the World Trade Organization’s 1995 Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights as “indications which identify a good as originating in the territory of a Member, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.” Examples of geographical indications from the United States include: “FLORIDA” for oranges; “IDAHO” for potatoes; and “WASHINGTON STATE” for apples. 
In the beer world, this is really handy.  When I visited France, young craft brewers at St. Germain resolved to only brew with French ingredients.  There were trade-offs: limited hop varieties and no organics.  Still, they applied for certification and now bottles have the government seal designating the Page 24 Hildegarde line as all-French. 

Americans could follow suit and designate their beer by region.  (States make sense, but I suppose you could have "Yakima Valley" as a designation if you could source the ingredients from there.)  This has many obvious downsides: 1) only Northern, barley-growing states could ever receive the designation (and even if states in the South could coax a hop crop into producing, it would never be a commercial prospect), 2) except for Oregon and Washington, it would sharply limit the variety of hops brewers could use.  On the other hand, it would have some substantial benefits, too.  It would: 1) encourage local crop production and create interesting opportunities for farmers, 2) bring biodiversity to brewing, including some probably wonderful new flavors to malts and hops, and 3) give brewers an additional hook to promote their beer locally.

[There would be a few issues to hammer out: yeast and malting.  In France, you can win approval if the barley is grown locally, even if it's malted elsewhere.  That seems sensible.  Yeast is an organism and in no way a product of terroir--so sourcing it from Washington or California doesn't seem verboten, but I suppose you could demand that the yeast be propagated on-site.]

Beer By Regionally-Specific Style
The other way to go is something they call "Traditional Speciality Guaranteed" (TGI) in the European Union.  This requires not only that the product use traditional (though not necessarily local) raw materials but also made in a traditional processing method.  An example is gueuze, one of the few beers granted a TGI.  To be called an oude gueuze, a beer must satisfy all of these conditions:
  • Use 30% unmalted wheat (that's part of the traditional raw materials piece).
  • Employ spontaneous fermentation.
  • Use hops aged at least one year.
  • Be refermented in the bottle.
  • Contain certain compositional elements measured by a lab, including the presence of brettanomyces, absence of isoamyl acetate, and the presence of other volatile acids (this test confirms the process and aging of the beer).
  • Contain one-, two-, and three-year old beer.  
This is an extremely high bar, and other styles have had a harder time agreeing on qualifying criteria.  To go back to the France example, breweries couldn't agree on how long the beer needed to be garded (aged) to qualify as bière de garde.  In Flanders, breweries couldn't agree how long red/brown beers should be aged on wood.  (Rodenbach led the charge but was also a stickler for high standards others couldn't meet.)

I could imagine the US establishing guidelines that would qualify certain beers for "specialty" designation.  Corn is the unique native ingredient in American (north and south) beer, and could be a key feature in this designation.  The US has a trove of old corn-using styles to dig into--cream ales, sparkling ale, steam beer, American weissbier, Kentucky common--should we want to offer such a designation.  Given the standard for gueuze, steam beer might be the best place to start.  Designating beers using corn would meet the ingredient criteria (but would, ironically, exclude Anchor), and there are several important elements to the process: the use of coolships, warm-fermenting with lager yeast, and krausening.  Kentucky common, championed by a brewery like Bluegrass for example (it was originally a style of Louisville), might be in a prime position to claim the designation. 

These designations tend to link the style to a place--Lambics to the region around Brussels--which is a big downside.  Should only San Franciscans be able to make steam beer?  Should Louisvillians be the only brewers to make Kentucky Common?  Doesn't seem quite American.  But then, when you restrict, you restrict.  No-Li didn't mind that everyone outside Spokane was cut out of their definition (poor Cheney).  It might be worth designating some of the old styles if only to revive them.


The Spokane case is a bad one: god forbid we have a separate, useless designation for every city with a brewery in the US.  (Wait, is that Milwaukie beer or Milwaukee beer?) But it might be nice if it sparked interest in something more valuable.  These are a couple options.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Politics of Beer

Below is an astounding takedown of an American politician using the fulcrum of beer.  I'm going to quote it at length, but I'd like to point out that it's not actually partisan.  The charges leveled here could apply to any congressman or senator in the country.  There's just two pieces of info you need to know to understand the context.  The first is that the politician is from Wisconsin, where Miller is the sacred local brewery. (The dynamic is identical to Detroit and GM.)  The second is the precipitating event, when said Wisconsin pol turned up at Belgian gastropub in DC and was chagrined to learn that the 115 different available beers didn't include Miller Lite.  Then comes the takedown:

Such a man of the people!1

It's worth noting that [the politician's] tastes in alcoholic beverages do not always run along such downscale lines. In 2011, [an opponent] confronted him drinking a $350 bottle of wine at Bistro Bis2, a swanky French restaurant catering to the political elite3. ("Its regular guests include Senators, Congressmen, celebrities and powerbrokers looking to dine in the ambiance and luxury of one of Washington's most popular restaurants," boasts its website.)

Bistro Bis probably does not serve Miller Lite4, which likely forced [the politician] to instead order $350 wine as a fallback, as most Miller Lite fans do when their beer of choice is unavailable. And you can see why he mistook a Belgian brewery for a French restaurant. The one time he was publicly confronted at Bistro Bis is probably the only time he has ever patronized a European restaurant of any kind, and he probably naturally assumed that all European restaurants are French5, 6
 Let's break this down:1) beer is the people's drink, the tipple of the (choose your meme) 47 or 99%.  2) Wine is the drink of the upscale, though permissible if vinted in, say, Fon du Lac, WI, and French restaurants are, it goes without saying, suspect.  3) Especially when patronized by political "elites," a term of art politicians only use when referring to the opposition party.  4) Ordering Lite was an especially nice touch, as its workingman cred is as unimpeachable as its likelihood of being on tap in a gastropub is remote.  5 and 6) This is a deft slam by the writer, who simultaneously evokes American crassness and our ignorance of the foreign world--hanging it around the politician's neck--while reminding readers of a time when America inexplicably targeted France as History's Greatest Monster in the period before the Iraq war. 

This is why I do my best to avoid dragging tarnished politics into the wholesome beer world.  It's more amusing when politics tries to drag beer into its world in an effort to polish things up.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Battle for the Mass Market: Coors Batch 19 and Kräftig

The mass market is definitionally the thing people buy the most of.  Wonder was the king of breads once; now its parent company is bankrupt.  Since prohibition, very light, sweetish lagers have been the mass market style, but they're slipping.  One of the ways big beer companies have responded (aside from the constant stream of gimmick products and packaging changes) is to enter the "craft" segment and beat the insurgents at their own game.  But this has the effect of hastening the demise of their extraordinarily valuable base brands.  The other option?  Double down and keep the mass market right where it is.  Beer companies that want to own that segment are doing it by moving toward stronger, more flavorful beers--the opposite direction they've been going in the last forty years.

This year marked Budweiser's extremely high-profile roll-out of Black Crown, very much a legacy product. There are a couple other recent entrants that are a little lower-profile.  One finally made it to my grocery store shelves this year: Coors Batch 19.  Looking for a way to make a fuller-flavor beer that is still recognizably Coors, the brewery started digging around the archives and found a beer from 1919--the last gasp before Prohibition--that was to their liking.  What they found in basement logs was reworked to become Batch 19.

It was a beer made with Chevalier barley, an English type that was grown in California in the 19th century.  It was apparently not a great barley and was almost commercially extinct by 1919.  One source compares it to Scottish bere/bygg, a landrace variety optimized to grow on the sides of crags in the Scottish moors (I kid ... slightly). The varieties of hops, which might well still be available, were not listed.  Coors maestro Keith Villa, in an interview with Lew Bryson, said, "Hops, we didn’t know what they were using. They didn’t note the variety of hops until the 1940s... The hops were only noted as 'imported' and 'domestic.'"  The domestic hops were almost surely Clusters, which are still available, but not prized.  Imported could be anything, but if they came from Germany, they would still be available or, if not, decent substitutes could probably be found. Coors didn't go that direction.  If you look at the label, you'll see Hersbrucker and Strisselspalt.  Lew, doing some nice reporting, got Villa to admit there's a bit more, too: "I stuck in a little bit of Cascade to round out the fruitiness. There’s a little Mt. Hood, and some Hallertauer Select. They added hops at the beginning, towards the end of the boil, and right before the end of the boil."

The beer Coors made would definitely never be confused with a typical mass market lager.  (In the accompanying photo, we compared it to Pabst.  You see the difference.  While I'm huddling here in the safety of this parenthetical, I'll explain why we were drinking Pabst.  Sally has been mentioning our great mass market tastings and everyone kept asking about Pabst, which I didn't include.  So we got one so she could try it.  Pabst is ... basic.)  The malts are the most characteristic.  Villa calls his malt "Moravian," but it's not only grown in Idaho, it's "improved every year."  Well, it tastes American to me: husky and rough. This is a seriously full-bodied beer.  That is, of course, what the geek wants, but I'm not a fan.  Perhaps Germany spoiled me, but to my palate rough malts are bad malts.  Nevertheless, it does taste very American, and my guess is it does probably taste a bit of the old Chevalier.  This is a beer designed to both appeal to a craft-compromised palate and also keep the focus firmly on American lagers.  The rollout has been slow and deliberate, and it will be most interesting to see if it succeeds.

The next product is every bit as fascinating.  One of the famous Busch family has opened a new brewery to make exactly the kind of beers his family has always made.  William K. (Billy) Busch is one of the sons of August "Gussie" Busch Jr.  He only worked briefly for the family brewery and then was part-owner of a distributorship in the 90s.  He sold his portion, though, and was therefore not party to the non-compete clause signed by the Busch family when InBev took over Anheuser-Busch in 2008.  Which means he can proudly link his new beer, Kräftig, to the family heritage.  There are two beers and although they are brewed to the standards of Reinheitsgebot--no cereal grains--they are firmly in the American mainstream.  It's currently contract-brewed in La Crosse, WI, but Busch plans to build a large production brewery in St. Louis.  Kräftig is a 5% lager with 13 IBUs, and Kräftig Light is 4.2% (exactly standard) and 9 IBUs.  This video pretty much lays out every talking point in the business plan--including some not-so-subtle shots at the guys across town.

So what's at stake? Anheuser-Busch brews 15 million barrels of beer at their St. Louis plant--more than all the craft beer produced at the 2000+ craft breweries in the country.  They have 20 plants in North America.  Then you have MillerCoors, which adds tens of millions of barrels more to the equation.  Mass market lager is huge business.  If you have this kind of volume, you really don't want the market to turn to IPAs because your brand is not IPA.  I have long expected mass market lagers to become more flavorful as they compete in a market where people expect flavor.  These are just the two data points, but it looks like the big companies are thinking the same thing, too.  They need to save the segment they dominate.  And they ain't gonna do that by brewing IPAs, shandies, or witbier. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

A Tune-up and a Question

At long last, I have had a chance to swab the decks on this garbage scow of a blog.  In a radical move, I've dumped the blogroll over in the left-hand column.  This was how we did things back in the early 2000s, when the internet was still run on a telegraph-based electronic chassis.  It was a stupid way to link between sites, and I mean that in the technical sense; it was not dynamic.  Links sat over there as the source sites mouldered or went off line.  No one clicked on them.  I have joined the late 2000s by adding the dynamic blogroll, which will take you to newly-updated posts.  Two categories, local and not local.  You might actually use the new version, and other bloggers will appreciate the traffic.

I'm also sorta halfty considering throwing the adsense widget back onto the site to see if I can earn my $4.93 a year.  As a now-unemployed writer, I can't sniff at a potential free pint of beer, even if it is just once annually.  The question is: how irritated would this make you on the following scale:
  1. I will refuse to come here so long as you have that abomination staring back at me.
  2. I think it's junky, cheap, and lame, but that's the nature of the internet.
  3. I probably wouldn't even realize you'd added it.
  4. I love this blog and not only do I support the idea, but I'll click the links so you can earn more money, you big, beautiful genius.
 I'd post this as a poll, but polldaddy has gone Wordpress and I don't have the time to find a widget.  But I would appreciate the feedback.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A Return to Regionalism?

Let us review: long ago, beer was a local product.  It was made in a town and drunk largely in that town.  Rare was the beer from another place--and it was just too expensive to make and ship to displace local beer.  Came the 18th and 19th centuries and their attendant technological breakthroughs, and beer got big.  Porter circled the globe.  Breweries powered by steam grew geometrically.  Even then, local beer dominated.  Then in the 20th century mass markets won out.  Regional breweries declined and multinationals seized counties, countries, continents.  In the US, everything became inverted so that the presence of a tap handle by a regional brewery was the rarity--mostly it was the standard national brands in every bar from Portland to Portland.

A few weeks ago, Harpoon sent me a press release announcing the 20th anniversary of their IPA.  Twenty years!  For an IPA, that's quite a thing.  I distinctly recall the first time I tasted this beer.  It was round about 1996 and I was meeting my future wife's family.  Mainers, they had mostly migrated south to the capital of Red Sox nation.  Sally's brother fetched a beer from the fridge and it was brightly-colored and bore a name perfect for Massachusetts (I thought of white whales).  There was no Sam Adams in the house--this was not regarded as an authentic New England tipple.  Harpoon IPA, that was the city's beer.

By modern standards, Harpoon is a pale ale, not an IPA--just 5.9% and 42 IBUs--but it was impressively ahead of the curve back then.  Dry-hopped with Cascades, it's round and caramelly (tres 1993) but quite sprightly with hops.  I think both he and I had placed a lot of faith in that bottle.  We both wanted it to meet with my approval, to illustrate that Boston had a Portland-worthy beer.  We were so pleased it did.

In England, if you travel more than 100 kilometers in any direction, the beer changes.  Actually, the crap beer is drearily the same no matter where you are--icy Kronenberg and Guinness and so on--but the cask beer reflects the place.  The entire island of Great Britain is no bigger than Minnesota, so I found this surprising.  I got Fuller's in London, Harvey's in Brighton, Greene King in Suffolk (okay, you can find Greene King everywhere, but this subverts my thesis so let's move on), Marston's in the Midlands and so on.  I was charmed by that and thought it one of the ways that Britain was superior to the United States, but it occurred to me much later that the United States is actually now very British.

If you go to a pub in Boston, you'll find mass market lagers, probably Sam Adams (a brewery that, no matter what locals think, is loath to cede the city), and Harpoon.  If you go to Chicago you'll find the mass markets, Goose Island, and what, Three Floyds?  (It's been too long.)  You come to Portland, Ore, and you'll actually be lucky to find a mass market beer in some places--otherwise it's a sea of locals.  The interesting thing is that you can't get Harpoon in Chicago,* and you can't get Three Floyds in Portland, and you can get almost nothing brewed in Portland outside the Pacific NW.

When I visit Boston, I always want a Harpoon.  It's a beer I associate with the city.  I know there is a ton of great beer in New England, and I also have a bird-dog's sense of flushing out something new.  But the first thing I want is the standard, the tuning fork for the region.  It's pretty hard to maintain the kind of dominance that was possible in the 90s, so probably Harpoon's flagship is no longer the Boston beer.  But it's one of them, and I have to wait until I'm on the East Coast to get a bottle.  And having to wait, having the beer be a part of that very particular point on the globe, makes it all the more special when I finally do.

Happy anniversary old boy, I hope you're around another twenty.

*I see Harpoon has made it to a half dozen pubs in Chicago, but again, as this subverts my thesis, let's forget it.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Old-School Barley Wines and Other Thoughts

Fred with the BridgePort Old Knucklehead that bore
his likeness.  Credit:
In the year of Deschutes' birth, 1988, I was twenty years old--which is to say well into my drinking career.  The Northwest was getting into hops by then, but the trend hadn't cohered into the categories we have now.  When breweries wanted to stagger you with hops, they tended to go big and brew barley wines*.  In retrospect, this was an interesting layer in the sediment of craft brewing.  By today's standards, those early barley wines weren't especially huge--seems like nine to eleven percent was the range--but they were crazy unbalanced.  The hops were screaming banshees of grating Chinooks placed atop a gelatinous goo the flavor and consistency of caramel sauce--everything was baled together with the razorwire of higher alcohols.  A lot of these came in wee nip bottles, which was a kindness to the customer who had to handle the damn things with tongs and gloves.  Let them age a few years and they softened into the texture of worn saddle, but that was as gentle as they ever got. (Old Crustacean is still made to what looks like a pretty classic recipe.)

So that was barley wine. 

A few weeks past, during the time my blogging was quick and cheap, I got a bottle of Deschutes collaboration Barley Wine Ale.   The conceit of was that:
Deschutes Brewery, North Coast Brewing Company and Rogue Ales have teamed up to create a traditional barley wine as the first in Deschutes Brewery’s Class of ’88 collaboration series. Each of the three breweries working on the project brewed their own interpretation of that original recipe. The Class of ’88 Barley Wine was based on the guide lines published in renowned beer connoisseur Fred Eckhardt’s The Essentials of Beer Style, which was originally published in 1988.
I must report with ambivalence that Deschutes' reboot isn't the least bit old school.  It's much more along the lines of what we now, in this much more taxonomically-precise era, would call a double IPA.  Barley Wine Ale has a snickerdoodle malt base and a rich fruitiness that is accentuated by melon-papaya hopping.  (In 1988, melons and papaya were available mainly in fruit and candy form, and certainly not humulus lupulus.  We also had to walk barefoot in the snow for 14 miles to get to a pub in order to procure a bottle of molten barley wine.)  The alcohol is very well hidden, coming in just at the end, when the hops turn spicy.  It has a mousse-like satiny body, quite rich, which is the one way in which it deviates from the modern imperial IPA, but it is not a caramel bomb, as beers of the 80s inevitably were.

If you actually want something that evokes the 80s--in a palatable 2013 kind of way--you might prefer Babylon, a beer Ninkasi calls a double IPA.  The malt bill, though, which relies heavily on bready Maris Otter, actually makes Babylon more reminiscent of those crazy old barley wines.  It's not an exact match: there's no caramel (the rest of the grist is a melange of malts from different brewing traditions) and the hops are a lot more marmalade-y than alley-catty.  There are El Dorados and Horizons--modern--but also old-timey EKGs, Fuggles, and Targets, which also remind me of the old days.  But it is quite a bitter blast, and the malting is thick and syrupy (if short of gelatinous).  For those of you who are younger than me--something like 60% of the population--and who live the terrible, benighted lives of plenty, Babylon isn't a bad place to start.  Throw in a splash of gasoline for the full effect.

As a last comment to the geezers, I invite you to mention your own recollections of the 80s and their hoppy beers.  Perhaps I'm just misremembering the beers of the day.  This is unlikely, but I'll entertain the question.

*Barley wine, not barleywine.  That latter term came about because the government wouldn't allow Fritz Maytag to properly label his first batch of Old Foghorn.  Apparently they believed it would confuse consumers, who might mistake it for Chardonnay. 

Thursday, May 02, 2013

This First Thing Isn't Good, But This Other Thing Is

I'm in lounging mode, so expect blogging to continue to limp along lamely for a few more days.  In the meantime, here are a couple of things that caught my eye.  First up, from Yahoo, an article on "dying careers" young people should avoid and the new, glamorous jobs you should pursue that are taking their place.  Number two on their list:
Dying Career #2: Reporter
They say a species must adapt or die, and with the trend of the Internet replacing print journalism (you are reading this on the computer, after all), media folks who don't adjust might not survive too much longer. In short, many reporters could be going the way of their typewriters soon.

Projected Decline: Reporter and correspondent positions are expected to decline by 8 percent from 51,900 jobs in 2010 to 48,000 in 2020, for a total of nearly 4,000 jobs lost, says the U.S. Department of Labor

Why It's Dying: The Department of Labor says that because of the trend of consolidation of media companies and the decline in readership of newspapers, reporters will find there are fewer available jobs.

So, if you have a hankering for writing, you might look into...

Alternative Career: Public Relations Specialist
In the new world of Facebook, Twitter, and all things Web, the public image of a company has never been more important, and so the role of public relations specialist is a vital one...
This is so rich with cynical self-parody that I don't think further comment from me is necessary.

Our next topic is a good deal less bleak--indeed, it's downright hopeful.  Hat tip to Stan and Alan.

I love the idea of "farm breweries" and wonder if that couldn't work in Oregon, too?  The idea is cool:
Farm brewery license holders must use New York raw materials. Through 2018, 20 percent of the raw materials must come from the state. In 2023, that jumps to 60 percent, and after that, it goes to 90 percent. The phase-in period recognizes that New York hops and barley growers and malters can’t yet meet demand.
And it might even justify something that, in the Spokane case, just seems absurd.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Yes, it's that long. 

*Context, for those of you who don't live in my brain.