Monthly Archives: December 2016

My New Year’s Plan (not resolutions)

Let’s be honest, the year ends on December 25.  For most of us, we gear our year toward getting to and past Christmas.  New Year’s Eve is just another excuse for people to drink too much (see St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween).  New Year’s Day is a day everyone gets off work to stay home, nurse hangovers, and watch sports.

So, why should I wait until next Monday to figure out my plan for the year?  I don’t like the term resolutions.  It seems like self-help flummery.  My plan this year is simple:  Learn something new every day.  To that end, every day I will: Meditate. Write, Read, Study.

If I do those four things, I should learn something new about myself, the world in general, and beer daily.  This will allow me to attain the things I want for my life.

I’m not going to bore you with the details.  I do have simple benchmarks I want to hit, but those should be easy if I do those four things consistently.

Meditation will be the key to all of it.  I’ve been sick and sleeping in the last couple of weeks.  First, I was waylaid by 3 separate viral infections and then I was waylaid by all the antibiotics I had to take.  So, I used last week, with no antibiotics in my system, just to sleep and rest as much as possible.  An unfortunate side effect of that is I didn’t meditate.  I can tell the difference in how my mind works from just a week of not imposing silence upon it and letting it rest.  Meditation clears my mind of the clutter and allows me to let go off all the things I can’t control and stay present in my own life.

My writing and my will to write grows stronger when I meditate.  Meditation allows me to focus on the ideas I have and the best words to use to express them.  My focus in my writing becomes clearer as my ideas become stronger and more fully developed when my mind isn’t cluttered with things that don’t matter.

Meditation and writing help me learn more about myself, but through reading, I gain a better understanding of the world around me.  Also, I love reading.  Any good long form writing immerses you in a different world and shows you through one story all of humanity.  As a writer, I’ve also found my writing gets stronger as I read more.  Through reading, I am reminded how much meaning words have and how important they are even as we live in a time when the world doesn’t think that is the case.

Finally, I want to pass the Cicerone exam this year, so I must study and that gives me the opportunity to learn something new about beer every day.  There is so much to learn about beer because it changes daily.  No man ever steps in the same river twice (Thucydides baby) just as no one ever drinks the same beer twice (unless it is a macrobrew).  That means I will be tasting more beer and writing about them here.

I am a person who loves routine who my friends and coworkers, I am sure, think is boring and unadventurous.  There is some truth to that.  I do love routine and sometimes fall into ruts so I don’t have to think about things outside of the important things in my life (writing and beer).  That is the key.  If you don’t read this blog or try to talk to me about something that I find interesting, you won’t get my intellectual curiosity and adventurousness.

So, that is what these four daily goals are here to indulge: my own curiosity.

One Beer Article You Should Read And Why, 12/11/16

I’m sorry there have been no posts the last few days.  I’m suffering through a head cold and sleep hasn’t been coming easy for me.

I wanted to write in response to and update to Bryan Roth’s latest in his series on diversity in craft beer.

The thing I like about craft beer (and US soccer) is that is a subculture of the greater US culture meaning it has all the same problems and issues we struggle with on a whole.  Sometimes the people within craft beer culture convince themselves that it is separate from and better than the larger culture.  That the people within craft beer are more enlightened and more inclusive.

That may be true, but it ignores that there are still strains and elements from the larger culture within craft beer.  Some of those elements reflect the sentiment of some voters in the last election that they are tired of talking about racism, sexism, and sexual orientation. They feel minorities and women should be over it by now and that discussing this stuff is the only reason it still exists.  These are the people who name a beer Panty Peeler and say it is just “locker room talk” and if it offends you, you are the one with the problem.

For a long time, the Brewers Association attitude towards diversity in craft beer can be summed up with, “…beer has no gender or race…” and then site statistics that show how far ahead other industries craft beer is particularly when it comes to gender diversity.  Craft beer has gotten more diverse as far as race in the last two years.  I’ve noticed it from behind the bar.  On the production end, movement has been slower.  Noticeable, but slower.  People within craft beer have been begun asking the Association to do more to accelerate that movement.

This where I think the Association is having a bit of an existential moment.  Does it exist solely to be a cheerleader for craft beer by holding events like GABF and Craft Brewers Conference and act as the lobbying arm of the industry?  Should it do more, can it do more, and does its membership want it to do more? Before it does anything, the Association needs to answer these questions.

In Bryan’s latest post he mentioned the possibility of the Association sanctioning members who use offensive beer names.  The Association is a voluntary member organization, so a good question is how far can you sanction members before they leave the group.  This is very similar to the NCAA’s ability or inability to sanction schools that violate its rules.  You must penalize just enough to make schools hurt, but not enough to make them leave.

So, what would sanctions look like?  Suspension from getting a booth at GABF and/or CBC for a year?  Suspension from the GABF competition for a year?

That doesn’t even get into the question as to whether we want the Association to be in the business of regulating the thoughts and words of its membership. This is where the nonexistent committee on diversity would come into play.  Each year with their annual report on diversity in craft beer they would list that year’s beer most offensive beer names.  In fact, that would lead the report and be the biggest part of the press release. Public shaming is what I’m going for in this instance.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 12/8/16

This will be short and sweet today. I’m trying to get over a cold and I need to rest before I head to work.

A couple of days ago, I wrote that the legacy craft brewers needed to be more nimble in today’s marketplace.  The newer smaller breweries can change direction and recipes at the drop of a hat and consumers are responding by expecting something new and different every week.  So, yesterday, New Belgium announced its new beer lineup for 2017.

What the hell?  I don’t mind that they got rid of Slow Ride, Shift, and Blue Paddle (which will be renamed).  They were serviceable, but won’t be missed by anyone.  They are coming out with a golden ale, sure.  The brewery is also creating a series called Voodoo for all its really hoppy beers.  Whatever.

It is the other two beers that give me pause:  Citradelic Exotic Lime Ale and Tartastic Lemon Ginger Sour.  Just soak that in.  The Citradelic is a beer already in production so I guess this one adds lime to it.  Because yeah.  I don’t know what is worse, having a bunch of dudes sit around and come up with a name for a beer like Date Grape or having a committee of people sitting around coming up with a name for a beer as asinine as Tartastic.

I understand that fruit flavored beers are a growing segment of the beer industry.  However, I can’t get over the feeling that they are gimmicks aimed at attracting people who don’t like beer.  Gimmicks almost always collapse under their own weight.  The people attracted to such beers aren’t long term consumers and they will eventually move on to another gimmick for another type of alcohol and all you’re left with is a bunch Tartastic Lemon Ginger Sour sitting on pallets in warehouses.

Legacy brewers: be nimble and more responsive to your consumers wants, but don’t forget who you are what you do.  You make beer, not umbrella drinks.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 12/7/16

First off, AB-InBev is henceforth known as Blandy.  Agreed?  Good.

This letter was written by a British craft brewer who is noticing the Borg-like infiltration of the nascent British craft scene by Blandy.  What I like about HonestBrew’s letter is that it isn’t flame throwing as much as it is determined.

This has been happening in the US for a few years longer than in Britain so you would assume that US craft brewers would be more mature about their approach to this infiltration.  However, I get the opposite feeling.

Blandy and its cohorts are not going to stop buying up brewers, retailers, and distributors and subsuming them to their wills.  That is their long-term business strategy.  Craft brewing’s response (our response) must be more than tantrums and flame throwing speeches/letters.  It must be a coherent and determined response equal to Blandy’s coherent and determined efforts to undermine everything craft beer has done.

I love this paragraph:

By hiding behind these brands, Blandy are tricking conscientious beer lovers into believing their hard-earned money is supporting the independent brewers who created this market. The reality? They are doing the one thing they know how to do well: dominate the market, reduce consumer choice and maximize their own profits. Make no mistake, in the long term this spells an almost certain end for the vast majority of independents.

This is one of the best and most succinct descriptions of what big beer is attempting to do.  This is a case where an entities actions while they have evil consequences they do not have evil intent.  What I mean is a virus is an organism whose only goal is survival and propagation.  To do both, is must infect hosts making them sick and sometimes killing them.  Large corporations and bureaucracies are simply organisms whose goals are the same as any organism including viruses:  survival and propagation.

So, in other words, think of Blandy and other big beer companies as mindless organisms who have no concern for the effects of their actions only their own survival.  How do you defeat a mindless virus?  You don’t run around screaming how evil it is and damning to hell anyone it infects.  You dig in and figure out how to keep yourself and others like you from getting infected while at the same time coming up with an antibiotic that can help those already infected.

One of the first steps for craft beer has to be to make sure everyone knows who is infected.  Especially consumers.  Honestly, some of these craft brewers who are purchased make good beer usually during the first year after purchase.  In other words, before the infection sets in and sucks the life from them. If you are a retailer or bar who supports craft beer, make sure you find a way for you customers to know what they are buying.

If you are a blogger or a writer who concentrates on craft beer, maybe keep a running list of craft brewers now owned by big beer companies like Blandy.

Change doesn’t happen because of slogans and fiery speeches.  Change happens because those activated by slogans and fiery speeches dig in, get their hands dirty, and work and fight for what they believe.  This is what we in craft beer must do now.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 12/6/16

We aren’t looking for an Earth-changing answer.

For the second day in a row, the article I want to write about was obvious.  Bryan D. Roth interviewed Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association about diversity in craft beer.  This is after Roth’s series of blog posts on diversity of the lack thereof in craft beer and Herz’s more recent column on the BA website, “Embracing Diversity in the Beer Biz.”

Both the Roth series and the newest BA column by Herz are introspective first steps to addressing diversity in craft beer in that they acknowledge there is a problem and that problem will have complicated solutions.

We have seen in this last election year that there are a lot of people tired of talking about diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation.  Most of those people are white, male, and straight.  That puts the Brewers Association in an interesting position of trying to promote diversity in a group that is very white, very male, and very straight.  Coming up with a way to move the industry forward without angering many of your members is a tough needle to thread.  But it is necessary.

Again, we are not looking for the answer that will make racism disappear forever and create a Star Trek-like diverse universe.  What the people who want to see more diversity in craft beer want is first, an acknowledgment that there is a problem and second, concrete steps and actions the industry can take to begin to find solutions to those problems.

That is what annoyed so many people after reading the first of Roth’s posts earlier this year.  He asked a simple question to start, basically, what is the Brewers Association doing to address diversity.  The whole panel seemed ill-prepared for any questions about diversity. The answers were honestly god awful and were basically: we’ve translated our manuals into different languages, we need more data, and beer knows no race, class, or gender.

Now, with Herz’s column and then the interview it is clear that they have thought about diversity and I suspect they have concrete plans and ideas, that they haven’t made public yet, of what they want to do going forward.  The one “concrete” thing mentioned was gathering more data.

Two things, first, brewers are very analytical.  You must in order to make good beer.  Anyone who has homebrewed has learned this lesson.  So, approaching them with numbers and data on any subject is a good idea.  However, second, if you have ever been to the Brewers Association website you know you can drown in the amount of data they publish.  If at this point you don’t have good data on race, gender, and sexual orientation in craft beer it suggests you have simply never thought to ask the questions about diversity you need to help you make craft beer more diverse.

Here is my one suggestion for the Brewers Association: Create a committee/commission/working group on diversity and give it real power to suggest ways the BA and its members can improve diversity within the industry.  Also, encourage the state guilds to create similar committees.  Even better, have the state guilds create diversity committees and then have a representative from each state committee make up the national BA committee.

It has taken the whole of human existence for us to get to this point in how we treat race, gender, and sexual orientation.  The Brewers Association is not going to discover the key to diversity, but it can move the beer industry a little forward in how it deals with the issue.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 12/5/16

Sorry, this is so late this morning.  We had the bar Christmas party last night.  For me, the blame goes to the Fullsteam Fearrington Coffee Pecan Porter and the Ass Clown Cul du Buffon Saison. I’m a little worse for wear this morning.

Anyway, I got lucky this morning in that I found an article right away that caught my eye.  This analysis of Boston Beer is spot on in its diagnosis of the major problem legacy craft brewers like Boston Beer have.

The article is right, changing your marketing, packaging, and logo are not long-term solutions to the problem of slipping sales for the large older craft brewers.  Their sales growth is slipping because they have problem hit their ceiling as far as market penetration.  Boston Beer, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Stone all have the same problem to a certain degree.  Everyone who drinks craft beer knows about you and have already made up their minds about you.  New logos and marketing aren’t going to change many minds.  What they have to hope for is brand loyalty from first or second generation craft beer drinkers. That is much easier said than done mostly because of the second problem.

Their second problem is a bigger issue: The continued growth in new breweries along with the nimbleness of small/local breweries.  New breweries are still opening every week.  Laws are starting to change in places large and small around the country from the city level to the state level that makes it easier for brewers to open.  So, not only do the large legacy brewers have to fight off AB-Inbev and MillerCoors, they have to fight off all the 5-10 barrel breweries opening down the street from their target consumers.

Not only that but the smaller breweries that are already open are much more nimble and able to provide craft beer drinkers with the new beers and new flavors they crave on a weekly basis.  Boston Beer can’t do that.  Sierra Nevada can’t do that.  When one of the legacy brewers releases a new beer, they are usually killing off an old beer to make room in the production schedule.  To get to that point, these larger brewers, as large companies, make decisions like large companies do: months of meetings and testing.  That is a no-go in today’s ever changing market.

Take the newest IPA style the New England style IPA.  These beers are hoppy and hazy to the point of looking like orange juice.  I think some of the legacy brewers are coming out with their versions, but it is going to be months after the style hit.  Smaller brewers already have their versions on the shelves and in their customer’s hands.

Here is a suggestion from someone with no business skills:  These large brewers must restructure to make themselves more nimble.  Most of these breweries use their brewing capacity and let their brewers experiment.  However, the problem comes in getting those beers out to the public in a timely manner.  These breweries don’t need more craft beer drinkers to know who they are, they need craft beer drinkers to think of them as craft beer.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 12/2/16

There are a growing number of ways to get news about craft beer.  There are lots of blogs out there started by craft beer fans all of varying degrees of quality.  This one, in particular, veers from pretty good to straight trash at times.

However, I think that is a condition of modern reporting in general.  The internet has created the ability for normal people to become their own news agencies.  When it is said too many of these people don’t have journalistic training, what is meant is, too many of these people have no bullshit detectors.

One of the biggest issues I have with the coverage of most things in the news is that too many journalists crave access or have no context for what they are being told.  This leads to the same problem: acting as stenographers instead of actual reporters.

I’m just going to keep this in the realm of beer, but a lot of the beer news websites and blogs I read can charitably be called aggregators.  They just gather in news from other sources and pass it along.  Sometimes they add their own comments and takes on articles, like this blog.  Too often, however, the articles they are passing along are at best press releases.

That is why it is refreshing to find good writers who write about beer without blinders.  You can read how much they love beer, but also that they aren’t blinded by that love.  They see the absurdity in the fun and the business sides of beer.  Here is one article in marijuana and beer and another on big beer in Texas by Jason Notte.  Other writers of note for me are Tara Nurin at Forbes and Bryan D. Roth of This Is Why I Drink.

Right now, in North Carolina, the big political argument surrounding its growing craft beer scene is brewery self-distribution.  There is a cap of 25000 barrels on how much breweries can distribute before they must sign with a distributor.  There are at least 3 brewers in NC who are right at the limit who want to continue to self-distribute.

I have been annoyed at the coverage of this in the news.  On one hand, you have writers (many of them very good writers) who write about craft beer because they love craft beer and have good relationships with the breweries and their staffs.  They publish almost without question the brewer’s talking points for lifting the cap.  On the other hand, you have political and business reporters who have good relationships with the distributors and their political allies (some of the most powerful politicians in the state) who repeat that sides talking points for keeping the cap.  At this point, I don’t remember anyone who has questioned the bullshit rhetoric coming from both sides.

Some half-assed writer somewhere in North Carolina needs to go through all the published talking points on both sides and parse them to separate the true ones from the bullshit ones.  I wonder who could do that?

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 12/1/16

This is as good an article as any to highlight today.  I don’t mean to sound so flip about the article.  It is well written and has good information.  It’s just an article about non-hoppy beer styles.

What do I like about this article?  First, it has a simple premise: If someone says they don’t like beer maybe it is that they don’t like hoppy beers, so here are some other choices.  The writer then goes through the list of all the malt heavy usual suspects breaking down their general flavor profiles to help a reader find something they like.

One of the things I ask when someone comes into the bar and says they don’t like beer is, “What about the beer you’ve drank do you not like?” Many craft beer drinkers do their non-craft friends a disservice when the first craft beer they have them try is a big IPA.  Imagine that the most exotic beer you’ve ever tried is a Heineken and someone hands you a juicy east coast IPA that looks like a glass of orange juice and tastes like pine needles and freshly cut grass.  That person may not react well.

Creating a simple premise is a key to writing a good piece like this. One of the things that annoys me about much of today’s entertainment (books, movies, television in this case) is that they are too high concept.  They seek to ask too many complicated questions sometimes without answering them.  That can be fun in a Lost kind of puzzle way.  However, a good narrative is relatively simple:  A character or group of characters is motivated to do something and the story is how do they do it.

By keeping the premise simple, you give yourself a much bigger field to play with as a storyteller.  Battlestar Galactica had a simple premise:  How does humanity move on after civilization is destroyed?  Keeping the premise simple gave the creators a huge canvas to ask big philosophical questions and explore characters in depth.

Sometimes as writers because what we do seems inconsequential, so we try to increase our importance by overcomplicating what we do.  I like this article because it doesn’t try to do that.  Simplifying things and breaking things down to their essential parts is an important skill in writing as well as life.

That is one the things writing has taught me.  When in doubt, simplify.  Cut things back. Cut things out. Get back to the core of the idea that you are trying to express.  That is why I think Hemingway became such an important writer to me.  I like a lot of people avoided Hemingway because of his misogyny and false bravura in his guise as “Hemingway, the writer.”  However, when you go back to the work, it is brilliant in its simplicity and ability to cut to the heart of a thing in as few words possible.  It is the same with Raymond Carver.

A rule I try to follow is: say as much as you can with as few words possible.