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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

News You Can Use

Today, for reasons described in the first bullet point below, you get a newsy/newsish roundup.  They are nevertheless items of real, if perhaps small, interest, so read on.

To Europe
On Friday I decamp to Europe.  I will be there exactly two weeks, traveling through Herefordshire and Somerset, Normandy, and the Basque country to learn about cider.  I will blog on the road, in that loose and scattered way one does when confined to spotty wi-fi and an iPhone.  What you'll miss in elegant turn of phrase and deep insight--hallmarks of this blog*--you'll get in immediacy and foreigness.  Anyway, that's the plan.  I've done my best to locate cider talk on the weekends to avoid losing my beer-centered (and titanic*) readership, but this is going to be two straight weeks of cider. Give it a look anyway and see if it's interesting.  Expect the first post from Bristol over the weekend.

About that Craft Beer Bubble
Okay, this is a red flag.  From a press release by the Brewers Association today:
At the end of December, the Brewers Association counted 2,722 brewing facilities in the US, an increase of almost 400 from the end of 2012....   It is interesting to note that 2013 marks the first year since 1987 that microbreweries outnumbered brewpubs in the country.
The number of breweries is interesting but essentially meaningless.   The United States could easily accommodate thousands of brewpubs scattered across the nation's cities.  It cannot accommodate too many thousands of microbreweries, though, because there are a finite number of grocery shelves and tap handles in the world.  Microbreweries, according to the Brewers Association definition, make less than 15,000 barrels but sell at least three-quarters of their beer off-site.  Those 1,376 microbreweries might only be able to produce 2 million barrels of beer--1% of the market--but they run into a bottleneck when they send them off-site.  A stat to watch.

Peter Austin is Dead
A small item from across the Atlantic caught my attention:
THE founder of Ringwood brewery Peter Austin – widely credited with saving the microbrewery movement in the UK as well as introducing it to America and popularising it worldwide – has died aged 92. 
In the US, we tend to think of ourselves as sole inventors of craft brewing, but Austin's name should be put next to Fritz Maytag's and Jack McAullife in the official history of the brewing renaissance. 
Mr Austin set up the famed brewery in 1978, aged 57. He came from a brewing family; his great-uncle was a brewer in Christchurch and his father worked for Pontifex, which was the leading brewing engineering firm in the country....
In 1982 Mr Austin hired Alan Pugsley to train to brew and work with him on brewery start-ups.  They installed more than 120 breweries in 17 countries, including Siberia, China, Nigeria and South Africa. The equipment for the Siberian brewery was lost in the Russian railway system for two years before finally turning up in Dudinka. 
Roger Protz also has a lovely remembrance.  

A New Era of Beer Writing Dawns
Okay, it actually dawned when Evan Rail published Why Beer Matters as a Kindle Single.  It matures a bit more with the release of a new Kindle book by good friends-of-the-blog Alan McLeod and Max Bahnson (aka Pivni Filosof).  I haven't read it (see item one of this blog post), but I've scanned it and what you will find in between its digital covers is not typical.  Beer book writing is being driven ever further in the Sunset Magazine direction favored by publishers (soothing words about an indescribably delicious world depicted in deep-focus color photography), so weird oddball books have zero chance of being published.  The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer is a weird oddball of a book--a rant placed inside a fiction.  It may not be getting universal acclaim, but credit Alan and Max with following their bliss.  If you want more writers to do that, consider spending the four bucks on their book.  It will encourage others. 



  1. Thanks for the tip. I love a good beer read.

  2. What you're saying here is that you're going to be sitting in pubs drinking scrumpy and perry. Swoon.

  3. I think Stan's review was a very good one. The book is something experimental and, unlike sensible Evan, a whooping 173 pages on Kindle. I had no idea. Maureen posted another review at Amazon:

  4. I'm reading The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer and expect to post when finished. As you say, it is oddball, a rant inside a story. I'm enjoying it. There's a lot of truth there. Good stuff, I think.

  5. Ted, yes indeed. You know any shouldn't-miss places in Herefordshire, Somerset, or Bristol? Boak and/or Bailey have me visiting the Grain Barge in Bristol. But I wouldn't expect that I'll go to just one pub. I'll be there a full day.

  6. There’s something I must confess as an author. While writing, I don’t think I saw the book as a fiction. To me it was basically a rant in an unconventional setting. On the other hand I did see Alan and Max not as ourselves but as characters that are caricatures of ourselves. So, there you have it, it was a work of (oddball) fiction all along. I like that idea…

  7. Jeff, don't forget some beer on that trip, including in France!

    Excellent point about the contribution to craft brewing of the late Peter Austin. So many early craft set-ups were indebted to him. It proves yet another key link between early craft brewing and British influence. There are other examples, e.g. tasting Stone Pale Ale recently, I was struck how similar it was (IMO) to Red Tail Ale from Mendocino which in turn to me seemed an attempt to honour the English ESB style or at least flavourful pale ale style. Those two beers aren't really APA (stylistically), they are more English than American. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Liberty Ale were more the keynotes for the later APA and IPA explosion, but this intermediate stage, extending e.g. to beers by Shipyard and Geary on the east coast, or Yards say in Philadelphia, can be explained IMO by English influence. Many early craft brewers, even if they didn't use an Austin set-up, travelled in England to gain understanding of classic top-fermented styles. English and American brewing are welded forever now and this means the influence goes the other way - but it started in Albion.