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Friday, October 30, 2015

The End is Nigh

In order to locate a two-month period in which blog posts were as bereft here as they were in Sept and Oct this year, you have to go back to 2006. During these past two months, I've been on a national book tour while trying to complete a book manuscript. And so blogging has suffered mightily. Fortunately for all concerned, things are finally coming to a conclusion. My mid-November, it should be back to the normal level of randomness you have all come to expect.

However, tomorrow I depart for Miami to begin the final leg of the book tour. I'm arriving early so I can enjoy a bit of sunshine and Cuban food. Thereafter follow these stops, for anyone who happens to be nearby:
What else? Well, I did manage to do a bit of serious blogging while I was on the road, and you can read about that over at All About Beer in a post I promised last week after passing through Milwaukee:
The Pabst complex is so compelling because it’s so tangible. Capitalism is a violent and sometimes jarring force, and as quickly as it graces a business with the generative power to rise from the pavement, it can strike it right back down. For 15 decades, that brewery continued to grow in lunges, expanding capacity to remain lean and efficient, to gobble up more and more of the growing market. The excitement and energy we are witnessing in brewing now is no different than the one that visited the U.S. 150 years ago when German immigrants brought their brewing expertise and inspired drinkers with lager beer. But in 1996, the same calculus that fueled that empire also led to the decision to quit the place: beer could be made more cheaply elsewhere. In a pen stroke the buildings went dark.
Read the rest here.  Finally, Patrick and I have a new Beervana Podcast on the subject of cider. It coincided with the Cider Made Simple book launch last night (with very serious thanks to Nat West, Kevin Zielinski, Abram Goldman-Armstrong, and Silas Bleakley and Kristina Nance). In this week's episode, we do a survey course on cider. (At one point in the podcast, there's an inadvertent Happy Halloween from the producer. You have to listen to hear it.)

You can also listen to it on iTunes.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Wonderful Cider Event on Thursday

If you have even a passing interest in this cider phenomenon that has been on a slow boil for the past few years, I strongly encourage you to come down to Reverend Nat's this Thursday for what is going to be a spectacular evening. The headline event is the book launch for Cider Made Simple, but in fact, it's going to be a full-immersion cider experience, tickling your brain as well as your senses.

I'll begin by talking about the book and giving an overview of cider's terrain, including European archetypes as well as modern American expressions. I will be aided in this endeavor by four of the best cider-makers in America who will be in-house with their ciders as examples of this terrain:
  • Kevin Zielinski of EZ Orchards, who will have a traditional French-style cidre for us to try.
  • Abram Goldman-Armstrong of Cider Riot!, who will have an English-style cider.
  • Silas Bleakley of Rack and Cloth, who will be bringing an example of what I call a "modernist" American-style cider in Cider Made Simple.
  • And of course, the host, Nat West, who will have more than one example of what I call "experimental" ciders in the book.
During the program, these four gents will describe their ciders and discuss American cider-making. It should be an incredibly enlightening evening, and having this kind of expertise on hand, along with this range of ciders, is extremely rare. Whether or not you want to buy a copy of the book, do yourself a favor and come on by for some great cider and cider discussion.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Scenes of Mergers Past

I'm about to be booted from my Chicago hotel room, so I don't have time to explore this theme in detail, but I wanted to put a bookmark on something. Yesterday I spent a couple hours walking around (and photographing--more on that later, too) the derelict Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee. I keep hearing about how it's been redeveloped or under redevelopment, but basically the giant buildings--blocks and blocks of them--are gutted and idle, like a quickly-abandoned Soviet city. And it was quickly abandoned, 20 years ago, when the owners shifted production to a different facility, turning Pabst into a contract brew.

Each time I speak on my book tour, someone asks the same question: what's going to happen with the future of beer, with consolidation and so on? Wandering around that complex is a nice meditation on at least one potential future--and a likely one, at least for many of these quickly-growing young breweries. Capitalism is a violent and sometimes jarring force, and as quickly as it graces a business with the generative force to rise from the pavement, it can strike it right back down. The excitement and energy we are witnessing in brewing now is no different than the one that visited the US 150 years ago, and thinking it is a permanent, stable state is belied by the lessons of history. Anyway more on that soon. Meanwhile a couple of pictures to tide you over.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Beer Bible in Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Chicago

Next week I have the great pleasure to visit three great beer cities on the book tour, and if you're in or near any of them, consider checking them out. They all look to be special events.

Monday, October 19 at 7pm
Sugar Maple Bar, Milwaukee

I am especially excited to be returning to the Badger State, where from 1992-1995 I spent three glorious years studying Buddhism and drinking beer. Wisconsin is something like Oregon in that locals drink so much of the beer that a lot of breweries don't distribute very far outside the state (notably New Glarus). The Sugar Maple has an amazing taplist, and I'm psyched to slurp down some local specialties. I believe I'll be doing my standard talk and answering questions before signing books. Look for me in my motion-W hat, Packer fans.

Tuesday, October 20 at 6:30pm
Goose Island Taproom, Chicago

This is going to be a cool event. Goose's Brett Porter will be on hand as I do the usual talk and Q&A, and I hope we can coax him into a bit of Q&A about Goose Island and his activities as well. I've known Brett since the 1990s when he was at Portland Brewing, and this will be a homecoming of sorts, too. Note that the event is in the new taproom, which adds allure and sparkle.

Wednesday, October 21 at 7pm
Urban Chestnut (Grove Brewery and Bierhall location)

This is another one of those events I've been looking forward to since the tour was scheduled. At this very special stop, I'll be doing a tag-team conversation with Stan Hieronymus. Stan was a source of support and guidance as I was writing the book, and we have developed a friendship over the past five years. When we get talkin' beer, it's generally a geeky, fun time. You can't miss this one--I can definitely promise, because Stan, at least, is awesome.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Do We Call the Brewery "Widmer Brother" Now?

Just starting to see reports that Kurt Widmer plans to retire at the end of the year. The most shocking part of this news is that he's 63 years old. That must mean I'm ... 47! Good lord--time is a cruel taskmaster.

I'm sure we'll hear more in due course, but I see no reason to do anything but offer Kurt and Widmer Brothers the best on the news. Few people have meant more to Oregon beer than Kurt and Rob, and I don't think anyone begrudges them some time to go relax and enjoy. I'll leave you with a rare photo of Kurt pulling a pint last year after the Gasthaus reno. He was actually pouring my pint. Thanks, Kurt!


Blogging has been spotty at best around these parts, and I'm afraid that's likely to continue. I just finished up a ten-day leg on my Beer Bible book tour, and I'm home for six before setting off again. (If you want incredibly fragmentary, context-free micro-reports of my observations, you can always follow along on Twitter. How's that for a sales pitch?) The one piece I almost posted here last week instead went to All About Beer. So if you want to see what I discovered in lower Manhattan, that's the best I got.

More ... sometime.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

On Beer Pricing

Michael Kiser has a provocative post at Good Beer Hunting. It's a long piece and he makes a number of points, but the thrust is basically this:
I’m arguing for a greater tolerance among consumers and retailers toward the costs associated with certain beers, or the revenue opportunities they legitimately represent for those breweries in a wider spectrum of considerations. Otherwise, this industry you’re claiming you have passion for and want to see grow is being held back by your own narrow idea of “what beer costs."

I think there's some basic economic misunderstandings along the way--which (plug alert!)--you can learn about in our latest Beervana Podcast. But that's not my major concern. For me, the problem is that Micheal's looking at the consumers, not the breweries.

Somehow these guys stay in business.
Pricing is an interesting issue, and customers would do well to understand that some beers necessarily cost more than others to make. But here's where Michael and I part ways: the beer industry should not depend on the kindness of customers to keep them afloat. They are not charities we need to support with our dollars. And indeed, to do so perverts the market and keeps weaker (and less scrupulous) players in the game.

I'd point people to Oregon as a great rebuttal to his thesis. Here breweries must compete on both price and quality. Our supply is insane. Breweries that overcharge or make mediocre products don't sell a lot of beer. (Rogue is basically the only brewery that overcharges, and their Oregon sales have been in decline for years.) We have natural ceilings on what breweries can charge for standard and specialty beers, both in pubs and on the grocery shelves. Specialty beers can't fetch more than about $15 (in a very few rare cases slightly more) without getting stuck on shelves--and breweries in other states where super-premium pricing in the norm avoid Oregon. Why would we pay $30 for a wild ale from Allagash when we have Block 15, De Garde, Solera, Logsdon, and Cascade here at home?

Here's a good example. Josh Pfriem recently released his first batch of barrel-aged beers, and he sold cork-and-cage bottles (12 ounce), for under $10. The quality was spectacular. He priced the beer to earn a profit. And in this market, he needed to: as good as his Flanders-style beers are, he couldn't have charged much more for them. And yet Josh seems to believe he can make a profit this way, shocker of shockers. When I toured the brewery this summer, he took me to his barrel rooms (he has two), where all manner of wildlings lay ripening. Josh has spared no expense at the brewery--he even has a centrifuge, which I've never seen in a brewery that small--and is busy expanding the barrel-age program. And he can make a nice profit doing it. You could also look to Belgium, where the lambic-makers somehow manage to put together spectacular gueuzes (blends of vintage lambic, portions of which are aged three years) that they can ship to the US and sell for under $20.

No brewer in Oregon to whom I've spoken has complained about price pressures. There's no danger that Oregonians are about to see their wonderful beer go extinct. But even if there were price pressures, it's not the consumer's responsibility to subsidize (or even worry about) the brewery with inflated prices. Beer is a good, honest beverage and it is quite possible to make it well and profitably. If it weren't, there wouldn't be 3,500 breweries in the US with just a handful of annual failures. As the market tightens, the best breweries will, like Josh Pfriem, learn how to continue to brew spectacular beer and sell it at a price consumers will pay. That's how markets work. Not by charity.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Your Omnibus Friday Post

I'm getting on a plane for Philadelphia today, so let's trot through these points briskly.

Southern Oregon Shooting
As everyone in ear- or eye-shot of electronic media knows, there was another mass-shooting in Roseburg yesterday. Discussion of things like beer are highlighted by this event for their triviality, and everyone in Oregon is a bit shaken this morning. Not surprised--good Lord, no--but disturbed. Our thoughts are with everyone at Umpqua Community College.

Legalized It
In one of the more bizarre coincidences, yesterday also marked formal cannabis legalization in Oregon. Anyone 21 years or older can now walk into one of the scores of dispensaries across the state and buy up to a quarter ounce of Purple Haze. It's clear we've passed into a new era, because not only did the day pass without attracting much media attention, but dispensaries reported fairly normal (if busy) days--no lines around the block. No worries, though, beer fans, this development isn't likely to blunt* the growth of your fave beverage.

How wild is your beer?
In a rare Oregon-focused post on All About Beer, I travel to Parkdale and talk to Solera's Jason Kahler about the wildest of wild ales--those that are made through natural fermentation.
If you wanted to boil the whole of modern brewing to a single goal, it’s trying to gain as much control over the biochemistry of the brewing process—starting with keeping wild yeast out of the brewery. This approach seems fundamentally contrary to brewing wild, which requires the embrace of randomness. When I visited Cantillon back in 2011, Jean Van Roy—who is equal parts poet, philosopher, and brewer—put it this way. “It’s never the same. Never. You never know what you will discover. That’s why lambic is so fun. In French we have a sentence. We say, tout est dans tout. If I translate it: everything is in everything. In this brewery, everything is playing a role in the final product. Everything.”

This is not the approach of the modern brewer; it’s something closer to an alchemist—which Kahler acknowledged. “It’s kind of magical in my head. There’s obviously hard science behind it, but I don’t understand all that science, and I don’t think you have to understand that science.”
Beervana Podcast: An Econ-focused Look at Buyouts and Mergers
When Patrick and I conceived of the podcast, we thought it would be cool to incorporate his expertise--economics--into our analysis. Beer isn't a platonic ideal--it's a product, bought and sold on the open market. So too are breweries, which lately have been selling a lot more than some people would like. We tap Patrick's wealth of knowledge to discover whether this is anything fans of good beer should be worrying about. (Plus a fun blind-tasting of some of the, err, finer products of these large breweries that are doing all the buying.) I'll like the Soundcloud feed below, but you can also get the podcast on iTunes