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What Do We Do Now?

There was a great disturbance in the craft beer universe a month ago.  In the latest of a series of purchases by big beer, Wicked Weed Brewing in Asheville, NC was purchased by AB-InBev.  This had reverberations far beyond North Carolina where Wicked Weed was seen as the leading light of the state’s craft beer by many.

Luckily for me, I had the Cicerone exam to study for and recover from which afforded me the opportunity to organize my thoughts and opinions on the sale.  I did read the writing and opinions of others and can say much of what I read was cogent and interesting even when I may have disagreed with the writer’s conclusions.  However, too much of the writing degenerated into the, “I’m more CRAFT then you” didactic that is part of too much online discourse.  Too many craft supporters take the position that if you don’t agree with every point they’re making you are at best a big beer apologist or at worst a sellout like Wicked Weed.

That line of writing, discourse, and thinking is boring to read.  More importantly, at a time when craft beer is at a very important flexion point in its existence, it bogs the conversation down into needless finger pointing, keeping the conversation from moving forward into, “What do we do next?”

What do I think of the sale?

I am of two minds when it comes to the Wicked Weed sale or the sale of any other craft brewery to big beer.  First, is my business mind.  It tells me that neither I nor anyone else should presume to tell another person how to run their business.

While there are nebulous obligations to the craft beer collective and concrete obligations to the affected employees, in the end, the owner/brewer of the brewery must do right by the rest of the ownership group/investors.  You invest in a fledgling company or start up because you believe you will see a return on that investment at some point.  From a business perspective, this current moment in craft beer is a good time to sell a brewery.  The number of new breweries popping up is beginning to create greater and greater competition, that hurts future growth and current margins of breweries.  Cashing in may be the best advice for many breweries and their investors.

Also, in all honesty, if you are not an investor or a member of the ownership group of a brewery, you have no real idea what the original business plan promised potential investors and you have no idea what the other internal machinations lead a brewery to sell to AB or other big beer company.  You cannot attack someone who starts a business, builds it into a successful national brand, and then sells that business for a profit.  In almost any other business sector that is applauded.

Second is my small business/buy local/craft beer mind.  There are national coffee chains close to my apartment with slightly cheaper coffee and tea, however, I walk to a locally owned place a little farther away that has more personality and keeps my dollars in the community and appreciates my business.

So, while my business (i.e. intellectual) mind understands these decisions and accepts them, this second mind, while not angered is disappointed and saddened.  I am disappointed that we are losing a successful locally owned business to a conglomerate that treats beer like any other factory-made commodity.  I am saddened by the fact that much of the Wicked Weed beer you buy in 3 years will be a hollow facsimile of the Wicked Weed beer you can buy today.

This second mind knows that craft brewing is a creative endeavor and respects and honors the work it takes to make it creatively and financially.  The second mind believes that craft beer is about more than money.  It is a business and everyone wants to succeed, but as Greg Koch, founder of Stone Brewing, put it in this article, craft beer is more of a foot race then a hockey match.  Each craft brewer is running their own race pushing themselves and by extension everyone else by doing their own thing their own way to the best of their abilities.  Big beer treats beer as a zero-sum game where you win or die.  That point of view is not only antithetical to my personal beliefs, it stands in stark opposition to the founding principles of craft beer.

No craft brewer gets into brewing to make money.  The hours are long and there is no guarantee the yeast will create the beer you want or expect.  Brewers do this because they love that part of the challenge and they love how brewing allows them to express themselves.  This separates them from their investors who may not have the same almost romantic vision of brewing and expect to make money from this venture.

We must accept both realities as part of craft beers future to ensure its continued growth.

Back to Wicked Weed. I understand the sale, but I don’t like it.  Sometimes the money they offer is too great to turn down.  This sale like almost all the others before it is understandable and defensible on a business and intellectual level as individual business decisions.  They are, however, against everything the craft beer ethos espouses.

Where are we right now?

First, big beer companies are going to continue buying craft breweries.  That is part of a long-term strategy that will not change and is exacerbated by a business environment that makes some craft brewers ripe for buying.

Second, we know that capital investment in new and existing breweries is increasing as the segment matures as a business.  Many of these investors no longer just want to say they own part of a brewery to be cool but want to turn their investment into a profit.

Third, the almost exponential growth we saw in the last few years in the number of craft brewers is leading to equally exponential growth in competition for tap handles and shelf space among craft brewers.  The larger, regionally focused craft brewers are beginning to get squeezed out of the marketplace not necessarily by big beer and their many tentacles but by the mass of extremely localized small breweries that they inspired.  Many of those larger brewers have been faced with flat if not negative growth in the last year.  That is why this business environment breeds these sales.  For some breweries selling means recouping an investment now when that may not be possible in a few years’ time.

What do we do?

The first thing to do as a craft beer fan is to start simple and start local.  Let your love of craft beer inform your buying decisions of what and where you buy.  If you have local breweries near you, frequent them.  Buy their beer, their growlers, and their swag.  If you go to a local brewery and their beer isn’t as good as you had hoped, don’t frag them on social media. Send a personal email or letter to the owner/brewer expressing your concerns in a thoughtful and respectful manner.  We must be the ones who control craft beer.  Not the faceless conglomerates who could just as easily be selling ball bearings rather than beer.

Another thing you can do is join your state brewer’s guild or the Brewers Association as an affiliate member.  Most state guilds have this option to raise funds and create a group of supporters and volunteers.  For as many issues as you may have with some of the day to day decisions the Brewers Association and state guilds make, they are organizations whose expressed reason for existence is to support and promote independent craft brewers.  Give money, get a t-shirt, get newsletters, and get discounts at members taprooms for stuff you wanted to buy anyway.

Finally, bloggers, writers, and podcasters should try to be more Thomas Jefferson than Thomas Paine.  In every revolution, there is a time for rhetoricians to spit hot fire from the blog post or podcast microphone.  However, there is also a point when that loses its effectiveness.  You need equally iron-willed and no less committed people who will create and implement the ideas and theories that make the revolution’s goals self-sustaining.  Too often, online discussion about craft beer ends up with everyone talking in circles, saying nothing, and going nowhere.  However, for craft beer to continue to move forward through this time of growth and upheaval, we all need to step off the hamster wheel of online discourse and offer something thoughtful and new.

I don’t think big beer is evil, much in the same way I don’t think Hurricane Katrina was evil.  However, there are two things.  First, many of their business practices and the actions their distributors perpetrate in their name are detestable and contemptible and are rooted in the fundamental belief that this is a zero-sum proposition.  Every time we hear those stories we should challenge big beer in ways large and small. Second, AB will turn Wicked Weed into another one of its stable of beers with just a little twist to make it stand out in its sea of mediocrity and that is what is maybe the saddest part. What Wicked Weed could have become will never be.

Hello, again

It has been over a month since I posted and wanted to let everyone know everything is well.

I took some time off to study for, take, and recover from the Cicerone exam.  I found studying for the exam and working 50 hours a week at my job was exhausting so I’m currently on a mini-vacation. However, there will new posts coming in the next day.

I will post my thoughts on the Cicerone exam and the thing I learned studying for it.  I will tell you my palate is better then before, but I realized some other interesting things studying styles.

I will also have a post on my thoughts about the Wicked Weed sale.  I am actually glad my break to study occurred during the sale and the resulting social media outrage. I not only took a break from writing but also a break from Twitter in a meaningful way.  That may have saved my sanity during that week.  Anyway, I just wanted to drop a post and let everyone know what was going on with me.

Stay tuned to this space later today for the new post.

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.

rmoses

November 24, 2016

There is no One Article today.  I’ve decided to take the day off from it, but before I start enjoying lots of food I am starting research on my state alcohol law project. The one thing I can say after just two hours of research is that all state alcohol laws and regulations are overly complicated. There are usually multiple state agencies in charge of rules and regulations and multiple state agencies in charge of enforcement.  That doesn’t include the additional layers of rules, regulations, and enforcement at the county and city levels.  This is before I’ve even gotten into how the laws regulate the actual the 3-tiered system.  I’m only looking at the who creates and enforces each state’s rule and regulations. This is giving me a headache. I think I need first lunch and a beer.

Yet Another Update

I’m no longer moving.  I’m no longer trying to get my cable/internet/phone working (at least for now).  I’m no longer buying crap for my new apartment.  I am now home.  I’m still getting my voter registration sorted out, which is made ridiculously difficult to keep that scourge of voter fraud from occurring by silly hoops to jump through (check out Media Matters for more statistics, but from 2000-2014 of the 1 billion votes cast there were a grand total of 31 cases of voter fraud).

Now with all that crap out of the way, I can concentrate again on writing and beer (and reading Ulysses and Hamlet).

I have a beer review in the hopper and I hope to get another one for next week.  So, I am back on my plan to do 1 or 2 reviews a week (working on my palate so I can take the Cicerone exam) and writing 1 or 2 other blog posts per week.  The Five Articles will start back on Sunday.

It feels good to be back and it feels even better to be home.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 3/21/16

It doesn’t matter how long I may stay away from the Five Articles, they always seem to come back to the same thing: the changing nature of alcohol laws in this country.  I tried to link to a few articles that talked about this specifically in Mississippi where the slight changes to the laws have led to a jump in the number and profit of Mississippi breweries.  Now, the brewers are trying to drag the laws from the 20th century into the 21st, but you can’t read that because the newspaper with those stories restricts access to those who have paid for a subscription.  Onto the articles you can read.

What Kind of Week It Has Been, 3/20/16

Before I get into what I wanted to write about today, I wanted to say something.  I’ve been gone for a while from this space.  I am an obsessive workaholic with trust issues.  That means I sometimes throw myself into my work to the point of physical or mental collapse and ineffectiveness.  That is what happened last week.  Through my own stubbornness and issues, I managed to simultaneously work too much and fuck up almost everything I touched while doing so.  It was a nice trick.  Anyway, last week has passed and now onto whatever the future holds.

The one thing managed to do successfully this past week was read.  I’m reading a couple of books right now, but the one I that has the most to do with my beer writing is Better Living Through Criticism by AO Scott.  Scott is the chief film critic for The New York Times.  He is a good read as well as a good reviewer.  What he attempts with this book is explain what a critic’s role in art is and how you can use that to make your enjoyment of art better.

I have long considered good craft beer and good craft brewing to akin to art.  At its best, it is an expression of the skill and creativity of brewers as they find ways to express themselves within the boundaries of what brewing is.  If it isn’t then we should all just drink Budweiser.  The best thing and most damning thing about Budweiser is that you can drink a Bud from any of its breweries around the world and it will taste the exact same as one from another brewery.

This is way of viewing brewing that many if not most, even in the craft beer community, do not have.  Beer is a product. A commodity to be manufactured, sold, and consumed.  When your job is to sell beer, it can be hard to remember how creative a brewer can be and should be.

Recently, I tasted a beer from a brewer who I respect more than most others because of the creativity and risks that brewer always takes with his beer.  I hated this beer.  It was an attempt that was unsuccessful as a commercially viable beer.  As a person tasked with selling beer to bar patrons, I was annoyed that this expensive beer was bad and unsellable.

As a writer who aspires to be a beer critic, I am fascinated by this beer.  Tasting it, I saw exactly what the brewer was trying to do and I could also see why it was not successful.  I struggled with how to define what was wrong with the beer in a different context then, “this is bad.”  What was bad about it; why did it turn out wrong; what was the brewer attempting; was he successful with that attempt; if he was successful, why didn’t the beer work.

I’ve always gravitated to reviews of beer and other acts of art that were more than just is this good or bad.  I want more than some star rating or whatever.  I want more than this sucks. That is all that most consumers and bar owners care about, however if we are to grow as a beer drinking community there has to be more than that.  We have to ask the next logical question after a beer is declared to suck:  why does it suck?

In his book AO Scott lays out three questions at the base of what a critic does.  I am paraphrasing here to gear the questions more towards beer, but here they are:

  1. Did you taste and feel that?
  2. Did you like it?
  3. Be honest.

To me, the most important part of that is, Be honest.  As a critic, you must be honest about what you taste, what you feel, and how it affects you.

To do that a critic must develop the skills to identify what he is tasting and the vocabulary to describe it.  They must also have the skill to do that in an effective and clear manner.  Again, above all else the critic must be ruthlessly honest with himself first and foremost.  That means understanding your predilections but not letting them define you or your criticism.

As humans, I think one of our jobs is to accept our mistakes and the bad things that happen to us and use them to grow and keep ourselves in the life we want to live.  For me, weeks like last week, remind me of the things I hold important to the life I want to lead.  I am reminded to remember every decision I make has to be with purpose, and that I must live consciously and stop coasting.  Trying to understand beer and place in a context of our shared humanity is how I choose not to coast.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 2/25/16

This will be quick.  I have another blog post that was supposed to be up yesterday to finish editing and post before I leave for work.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why Post-Super Bowl Edition, 2/8/16

Yeah, don’t read any articles about beer today. Why?  They will all be about crappy commercials and Peyton Manning drinking Bud.  The commercials were all expensive. You can tell because it costs a lot of money to come up with the almost psychedelic insanity of some of them.  The beer commercials were what you would expect large multinational companies who sell beer to come up with for their biggest night.

At least, the Shocktop commercial was funny because of TJ Miller.  The Bud Light commercial was a lot of hype for not much.  The Bud commercial was what you would expect from Bud, “We’re the biggest, therefore we’re the best.”  Any other beer commercials I don’t even remember.  Of course, the best advertisement for Bud was after the game when Peyton Manning said he was going to drink a lot of Bud before announcing he is retiring.  I will only say this in response, why don’t one of the many high-quality Colorado brewers send Peyton a truckload of their beer that is better then Bud with a note that says, “You can do better than Bud. Thank you, Peyton.”

Anyway, as you can tell at  this point I didn’t feel like writing a full Five Articles today.  Partially because there was nothing to really write about today.  There are plenty of articles about the Super Bowl ads and Peyton Manning drinking Bud.  There are a few articles about more states in the South moving their beer laws into the late 20th century, but that is nothing new.  The other reason is I had a very long and exhausting week.  I had planned to bear down and start my writing schedule, but multiple 12-14 hour days at work left me ragged out and semi-coherent.  Yesterday was the first that I turned on my computer in a week.

Not to worry dear friends, I should have a review coming up today and I will be writing about a chocolate and beer pairing we are doing at Craft next week.  That will go up probably tomorrow morning.

Anyway, I have some Gravity work to tidy up before I write my review.  See you in a bit.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 1/24/16

There are days when the beer news is a desert of silly fluff pieces and “this is the world of craft beer” stupidity.  Today is one of those days.  Currently, my car sits at the bottom of my driveway.  I came home last night and was only able to get the back end off the road.  The roads all the way to my house from work were clear, but my driveway was/is a sheet of ice.  At some point, I have to get out to go to the grocery store. The sun is out so things will start melting soon.  Anyway, here are five beer articles to read. These are the most interesting of a bad lot and I am full of the necessary sarcasm and snark.