Tag Archives: north carolina beer

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 3/4/17

The One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, is a cheat.  It is a quick way for me to come up with a topic to write about daily without having to do too much brainstorming.  So, when I can’t find an article I want to write about, it makes it kind of hard.

Anyway, here is an article about…wait for it…the NC distribution cap fight.  At least this one finally puts a number on all the money the N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association and individual distributors have given to NC legislators.  The total is almost $1.5 million.  That should explain all you need to know as to why progress has been slow.

I’ve been following this story since it started gaining steam 3 years ago, and I’m tired of talking about it.  However, I think the distributors are more afraid of the big beer companies pulling out of their contracts and distributing themselves.  That is a more realistic fear than the one of all these small brewers distributing their own wares.  It isn’t that much more realistic, but more realistic.

I just get tired of political fights whose conclusion is inevitable.  If the Supreme Court hadn’t stepped in, we would still be in a 40-year battle to finally get to marriage equality.  This is a much smaller and less important issue, but the conclusion is inevitable.  The politicians want to vote to raise the cap, but they get a lot of money from its opponents.  Eventually, the politician’s beliefs will win out and they will vote to raise the cap.  Wholesalers should spend less time worrying about how to stop the cap and more time trying to build good relationships with brewers.

Last thing, the distributors who treat brewers as if they are doing them a favor by distributing their beer are the ones who should worry.  I think the biggest change raising the cap will initiate is making distribution contracts fairer and forcing some distributors to treat brewers more as partners.

One Beer Article You Need To Read And Why, 11/20/16

Highland Cold Mountain was released last week.  It is a good beer.  It isn’t a great beer nor is it the best of its style.  I prefer Triple C White Blaze or Anderson Valley Winter Solstice.  But that’s just me.  While Cold Mountain may not top my list of beers, it does top another list.  It is one of the best marketed beers produced in the southeast.  The basis of their marketing is limiting production to increase scarcity.  It sells out quickly because there is a finite amount and it is spread all over Highland’s territory.  Without letting anyone know we had it, we sold all our bottles in less than a week.

This post isn’t about Cold Mountain, but it is about Highland.  After reading this article, it dawned on me that I grew up as a craft beer drinker with Highland.  I remember buying my first six-pack of Gaelic Ale back in 1996 after I moved back to Shelby after college.  However, over the years I stopped buying Gaelic Ale.  I really stopped buying Highland except for the Oatmeal Stout or the Mocha Stout.  Their beers were good, not great, and they didn’t do much to make their experience exciting for old and especially new craft beer drinkers.

That is why I have been so happy about the last year in the life of Highland.  Head brewer Hollie Stephenson came to Highland from Stone Brewing in January.  In that time, she has introduced the Mandarina IPA, which has already changed the trajectory of the brewery.  Now there are apparently four more new beers expected to all debut in the first quarter of 2017.  It would be an overstatement to say these changes have saved the brewery.  It wasn’t going anywhere, they still sell a ton of Gaelic.  However, it isn’t a stretch to say these changes saved the brewery from irrelevance in the changing craft beer market.

Twenty years is a long time and it is an eternity in craft brewing.  There is only a handful of breweries around the country 20 years or older that are still operating independently.  The thing that distinguishes the ones who are still around is that they have adapted to the changing beer world.  They survived the late 90s/early 2000s purging of bad business models and worst beer.  Now, they are managing to stay relevant in an ever-changing craft beer world.

Craft beer drinkers, in general, and newer craft beer drinkers are fickle.  They flit from style to style and brewery to brewery chasing the hot style.  They always seem to chase the next big thing.  However, if you look at the breweries that last, they have one or two beers at the core of their product lines that people always come back to.  Sierra Nevada has the Pale Ale.  Boston Beer has Samuel Adams. Highland has Gaelic.

It is like any business.  You must have that thing that people like and that you do extraordinarily well that you can count on in times of trouble.  Newer breweries should take note of that.  Try your hand at all the hot styles drinkers flock to, but have 1 or 2 beers that you know you do well and that people like.  Those two beers could be the difference between survival and watching some startup buy your used brewery equipment.

GABF 2016: What I Learned This Year

There is a history of writers going to other places in order to write clearly about their home.  The physical distance provided by leaving allows the writer an emotional distance to see his subject clearly and truthfully.  Leaving also allows the writer to look at his new home in comparison to his old one.  That comparison allows the writer to see his subject’s warts, dimples and all.

So, what did I learn about the Charlotte craft beer scene after spending 4 days in Denver?  The Charlotte beer scene is like a kid who just got drafted out of college to the NFL and Denver is the 10-year veteran playing the same position.  You can see all the potential in Charlotte, but it is nowhere near mature enough to think it can usurp Denver.

The Denver craft beer culture is as old as American craft beer culture.  Charlie Papazian and Charlie Matzen started the American Homebrewers Association in Boulder in 1978, two years after homebrewing was legalized, which would be the engine in the creation of craft beer.

Craft brewing didn’t come to North Carolina until “Pop The Cap” was passed and signed in 2005.  That is a 27-year head start for Denver and it shows.  Denver’s craft beer culture has a maturity and confidence that only comes with time.

The only way I can describe it is that each brewery in the Denver area has a confidence in itself.  Each one is unique.  That goes for the beer they brew and the style and ethos they project.  They each know what they like to do and they do it with little regard to what other brewers are doing across town.

I think a lot of the Charlotte breweries, particularly the newer ones don’t know who or what exactly they are yet. They are eager and they are testing boundaries every day to see what they like and what they are good at, but they are not there yet.

This isn’t meant as damning criticism.  It is meant as a reminder of how far Charlotte has to go to reach its full craft beer potential.  Just in the 2 years I’ve been around, I’ve seen a huge change and lots of growth in the number and the quality of breweries that are opening.  The future is bright because the potential is there and obvious for everyone to see.

What I don’t want to see happen is the scene in Charlotte becoming insular and closed off to the rest of the beer world.  People in Charlotte are rightfully proud of the progress made in such a short time, but that sometimes leads to an attitude of not acknowledging that there are other good breweries in North Carolina outside of Charlotte or Asheville. One only needs to look at the NC Beer Cup and the GABF results to prove that.  There are times I think some breweries coast on size and reputation and not the quality of the liquid in the glass.

GABF 2016: Notes On Day 3

4 days of drinking beer and wandering around an area seems like a great idea for a vacation (and it is a great idea for a vacation) until somewhere in the middle of day 4 you are looking at the grass under a tree on the disc golf course you are playing, and think, “I could lay there and take a nice nap.”

The last day of GABF and my last full day in Denver started like the others with a breakfast biscuit from Rise and Shine.  We watched the GABF awards ceremony as we lounged until it was time to leave for disc golf in Arvada.  It was a nice leisurely round. The group in front of us had speakers playing various EDM and the group behind us had speakers playing various 70s country songs.  That felt about right for a trip to Colorado.

There was lunch at another Snarf’s location, a final trip to Hogshead for me, and a nap for everyone.  Including Mattie, the greyhound. Then it was off to the final GABF session of 2016.

I like to think of the last session of GABF as Amateur Night.   The difference between Thursday and Saturday is stark.  Thursday you have the beer geeks all wanting to try different things and talk to brewers.  Saturday, you have all the college students from around the area and 30-40-year-old adolescents who all pregame before hitting the convention center.  Those two groups have one goal: Get as drunk as possible before 9:45.

I make my livelihood from people who like to drink.  I love those people, what I don’t like are the drunks who think getting a little inebriated gives them the right to act like the Republican nominee for president.  So, as the beer ran out and 9:00 hit, Dave, Ginny, and I decided to skedaddle and head home.  We were tired, the beer was running out, and the scene was generally degenerating into chaos.

I don’t want it to sound like the last night wasn’t fun. It was.  I got to try a lot more beers and talk to a few people I wanted to meet.  It was just the tail end of a jam packed 4 days.

Congratulations to all the brewers, particularly the ones from my beloved Tar Heel state.  North Carolina breweries picked up 17 medals at the awards ceremony.  The most the state’s brewers have won at any single competition and the 4th most by a single state at this year’s event. The surprise was the 3 medals won by Brown Truck Brewing out of High Point. Not only did win 1 gold and 2 silvers they were named Very Small Brewery of The Year.

I will actually have a more global 20000-foot overview of what I learned this week in Denver coming up either here or at Gravity Magazine. For now, I’m going to grab some breakfast and head to the airport.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 6/9/16

Thursday is here and the week is almost done.  This is my Wednesday because my days off are shifted a day off of everyone else’s.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 4/26/16

You know there is a point where you figure out, you are getting old.  The amount of sleep you need and your ability to sleep through the night is one area.  There used to be a time where I could go to bed at 2, get up 7, and be fine.  I try that now and my sleep patterns are screwed up for a week.  Needless to say, I may have to catch another hour of sleep before I go into work today.  Anyway, here are the Five Articles.  Good stuff today.

  • The idea that a compromise was possible in Colorado was a tad more hopeful than sensible. The reasons are articulated perfectly in this article.  One side is being asked to give up part of their business model and the other side is being asked to give up winning a ballot initiative that will give them everything that they want.  At this point, the liquor stores need to figure out what their business model will look like after this thing passes.
  • This is a really light article. Not that it wasn’t well written or bad, just light.  It felt like eating cotton candy.  It is the kind of piece that is well written but you won’t remember what it was about 20 minutes after you read it.  Do consumers prefer cans or bottles?  Most honestly don’t care.  For a retailer, cans are easier to store and last longer on the shelf.  Also, you should never drink out of the can if at all possible.  Beer always tastes better if poured into a glass.
  • Sometimes you see the headline of an article and think, “I agree with that.” Then you read the article and something about the writer’s tone annoys you and his path to the conclusion annoys you and you begin to think maybe I’m wrong with my position.  This is that article for me.  For some reason, I also don’t think the writer truly believes what he is writing and that is the greatest sin a writer can commit.
  • This is a good article on what to look for in a good IPA. There are too man IPAs right now.  Mostly, because they are the easiest style to brew.  That doesn’t mean all of them are good.  Most of them are drinkable and some of them are good and a few are great.  One thing the article didn’t mention is to beware of IPAs whose recipes have changed without the brewer telling anyone.  It is getting harder and harder to get hops in the quantities needed to make IPAs, DIPAs, and triple IPAs.  Your favorite IPA might not be the IPA you fell in love with.
  • Here is a tight little article about the beer of Western NC that doesn’t focus on Asheville solely.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 3/23/16

Back to work. Thank god.

  • Of course, the rate of growth slowed. It is idiotic to think a 22% increase every year was sustainable in any business.  Many in the industry scoff at the idea of saturation, but it is real and it will happen.  To think that level of growth was sustainable for a long period and/or that saturation in certain markets will not happen is a fundamental misunderstanding of business.  No matter how in demand your product is, eventually, it will stop being the next big thing. I’ve been saying this for two years, there will be a moment soon when many of the breweries that opened in the last three years will close.  Many of them will be brewers that make great beer, but have horrible business plans and many of them will have great business plans but horrible beer.
  • Here is one of the OGs of craft beer writing asking the question, “Why do I drink craft beer?” There are many facets to that answer. It is one I have been thinking about lately.  I plan on answering (or attempt to answer) that and why critics are/are not necessary for a blog post next week.
  • Distributors worrying that increasing the self-distribution cap is somehow going to cut into their business is understandable but overstated. Most breweries don’t want to self-distribute at a certain point because self-distribution becomes a second business they didn’t sign up for when they started making beer.  Many of the brewers I’ve met and talked to that do self-distribution, want a distributor so that they can expand their footprint without having to worry about trucks, drivers, and sales reps.  That is why I think along with increasing the distribution cap, the laws governing the contracts between brewers and distributors should also be changed to make it easier for brewers to get out of contracts with bad distributors.
  • Brewers have been adding fruit, lemonade, and other things to beer for hundreds of years. Sours are as traditional to beer culture as pilsners.  The idea that beer that doesn’t taste like beer is some new trend is absurd.  Maybe the addition of watermelon or habanero peppers is new, but not by much.  Coco Chanel once said something like, “Fashion is temporary, but style is forever.”  Use trends to augment your business, not define it.
  • Never go into a craft beer bar and ask a bartender to just give you their favorite. That can really badly for you.  Trust me, I’ve seen it.  Everyone’s palate and predilections are different.  Don’t assume your favorite flavor is the same as anyone’s.  Now, there is scientific research that tells us why.

Five Beer Articles You Need To Read And Why, 2/19/16

Friday is here. I have had better weeks.  People who generate drama in order to get attention and make themselves feel needed or wanted frustrate me.  More importantly, it makes my job harder.

Taste Test: Newgrass Brewing Hop Dab BIPA

Black IPAs are a difficult beer to pull off for brewers.  Some people think of them as really hoppy brown ales.  They are darker and much hoppier than any brown ale.  However, they are also a little more complicated than just changing the malt bill on an IPA recipe.  A good black IPA uses the bitterness of the roasted dark malts to help take a bit of the edge off the hoppiness of an American style IPA.

What is really impressive is when a new brewery can make a good beer when executing a difficult beer style, and black IPAs are a difficult beer style.

20160117_234207-2 Newgrass Brewing in Shelby, NC is a very young brewery just opening in August.  Yet, they already have found a consistency in the beer they make even as they create innovative new recipes.  Their Hop Dab Black IPA is no different.

Hop Dab pours a nice clear deep dark almost black.  It has a nice fluffy off white head that sticks around a while.  However, that isn’t the first thing you really notice.  Any good BIPA pours a nice color like that.  What will catch you is the aroma.  This is where Hop Dab sets itself apart.  The dry hopping for this beer gives it a big piney and resinous nose that is a good break from all the floral and citrus west coast beers on the market. This east coast hopping is why they call it a Vermont style BIPA at the taproom.  You also get a strong hint of the dark roast malt.

The taste mirrors the aroma.  The only difference is that while it has a very hop forward taste it is well balanced with the bitterness (think coffee and dark chocolate) from dark roast malt taking a bit of the bite from the hops while keeping the characteristic hoppiness.  That is the reason BIPAs are slowly moving into the mainstream of beer geekery.  You get the American style hoppiness while mitigating some of the hop bitterness that puts a lot of people off IPAs.

Hop Dab is a well-balanced beer from a young brewery that is starting to impress many in the NC beer world.

How does when and where you taste a beer effect the taste of the beer?  How do your preconceived notions of the brewery itself affect how you taste a beer?  To keep my feelings about this beer in check after the tasting that led to this review at the Newgrass taproom, I tasted it again in a different place and with another beer geek to see his reaction.  His mirrored mine, but that first question is still an interesting one.  You state of mind does affect your perception of what you taste.  As reviewers and judges, we must always be vigilant to make sure those preconceptions don’t mess with our objective reviews.

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

I had to miss yesterday’s Five Articles and the blog post I have planned.  That means I have a new post today and a new post tomorrow.  The plan is to have one Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  On to a short and sweet Five Articles for today.

There are two beer stories that fascinate me.  One is the fight over putting beer into Colorado grocery stores.  The other is the Georgia taproom law fight.  It is a fight and the fight makes little sense.  This was a bill that was doomed from the beginning because the language of the law was ridiculously complicated which let the Georgia Department of Revenue interpret the law however they wanted to interpret it and put the brewery taprooms right back where they started.  This is a good column discussing why it has been so hard to get a common sense beer law passed in Georgia.

Beer geeks standing in line waiting for special releases is not the same as Black Friday mobs.  It is more a bunch of geeky dudes standing around in a line making snarky and ironic comments to each other.  I have often said I will not stand in a line for any beer.  There is no beer I will waste my time waiting to overpay for something.

Texas A&M and College Station, TX fascinate me.  There is some quasi-military idea of what the school is that the people that go there love about it.  Every time I here someone who attended the school, it sounds like a weird place. Here is a beer story from there.

Here is a press release about how great the craft beer scene in Ireland.

Now for a podcast featuring Daniel Hartis talking about craft beer and Charlotte.