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BUDWEISER BASHES CRAFT BEER: BECAUSE IT CAN

July 20, 2015 0 comments
Once the brewing giant AB InBev started throwing shade on the craft beer movement, the craft beer world was understandably up in arms over the insult. In response, those who make and enjoy craft beers continue to hammer the brewing behemoth—most notably for the company’s clear hypocrisy: making fun of craft beer and its adherents while heavily investing in small, independent craft breweries and trying to position some of those products as “craft.”

The fact is, I’ve often made fun of Budweiser myself. Even though it was one of the first beers I ever consumed, there is no sense of nostalgia associated with it—in fact, my memories are usually associated with post-party headaches (I used to blame the beechwood aging).

What has been a little surprising is the fact that after taking its initial shots, AB InBev has doubled down on its “let’s-chide-craft-beer-lovers” strategy, with new ads that celebrate Bud’s macro heritage.

With macro-brew sales slipping, this might seem like a pointless effort. But in reality, I don’t see what choice the mega-brewers have. As Chris Morris noted in a recent Fortune post, Bud is really preaching to the choir now—reinforcing the behaviors of long-time Bud drinkers who are slow to try anything new, and who generally see beer as a high-volume commodity, not something to be sipped and savored.

This might not increase sales, but it may help slow the erosion of its market.

After all, not everyone is an experienced or educated beer drinker. Some people simply like to drink LOTS of beer, and they cannot or will not pay craft beer prices. While there are lots of fine craft beer bars here in Akron, for example—I would also tell you that for every one of those, there are 8-10 other bars that slam out innumerable bottles of Bud and Miller Lite and Coors Light each and every night.

Sure, their customers may have briefly switched to Yuengling after it first became available in Ohio, but now the novelty has worn off and they are back to their old standby.

For these consumers (and boy, do they consume) it has always been about quantity over quality. To make the appeal clearer, you could plan out your weekly bar stops here in town and probably enjoy your “Dollar Domestics” night somewhere—at least five nights a week. That’s five or six 12 oz. bottles of beer for the price of a pint of something much better. That is, if you care about better.

The Bud ads are the equivalent of saying “Yeah—who’s the smart guy now? Six beers for the price of One? And ours will wash down that burger just as good.”

Most of us know the truth about quality. But this is the line of thinking that AB InBev is taking in speaking to its target audience. This is the same audience that ran the Sam Adams Rebel IPA off the tap at one of my local bars, after no one bought it and the barmaid characterized it as “undrinkable.” I know there was nothing wrong with it per se, only that it was a bitter, highly hopped IPA that was totally foreign to the palates of the “regular beer drinkers” who frequent that bar—and was quickly rejected.

It’s the same mind-set that takes umbrage at anyone trying to tell them what they are “supposed-to” like:
“Dammit, my dad drank Bud, and it was good enough for him. I’ve enjoyed it for years, and dammit, I’ll be dammed if any liberal, smart-alecky, thinks-he’s-better-than-me SOB is gonna tell me what I should drink or like. Same damn people that wanna take away my guns, tell me I gotta like gay people, or tell me where or when I can have a smoke. Hell with them. Give me another Bud.”

...then he goes out to his pickup with the Rebel Flag mudflaps and cranks up some Bro Country CD.

Okay – this characterization may be a little unfair. A similar attitude could be found with the college kid that never grew up; raised on dorm fridges filled with Bud, or PBR, or Busch—it may be all he ever feels the need to drink. The college degree did not include the finer points of beer brewing or consumption.

This is precisely why it may take years or decades before Big Beer cedes a really substantial portion of the market to craft beer. It took Prohibition, decades of TV advertising, force-of-habit, more advertising, and macro-beer economics to get to where we are today. The attitudes of most macro-beer consumers may never change, and AB InBev’s ad strategy seems to be designed to ensure that any change, if it does come, will come at the slowest rate possible.
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A BEAUTIFUL BEER WEEKEND IN MICHIGAN: PART TWO

July 13, 2015 0 comments
BOATS LIKE THIS AT BOYNE THUNDER: X 100
Well, after we left Bellaire, you might have thought the beer highlights of our trip were over. But not so. Our ultimate destination on Friday was Boyne City, at the far eastern end of Lake Charlevoix. While the Boyne Thunder Poker Run is on Saturday, the Main Street organization organizes a great street party, where people come from all over to check out awesome powerboats, cool cars and rat rods, as well as listen to some great music by the lake. Boyne city is one of those “perfect small towns” in which you can easily imagine yourself living.

We took in the sights, sounds and smells of the street party, stopped in at The Sportsman for a beer, then wandered into Boyne Country Provisions, a great wine/beer emporium and market. The carry-out beer choices here are incredible, and their individual bottle selection really shines – plus, you can mix-and-match a 6-pack and get 10% off, which is pretty standard at most bottle shops now.
After a walk over to the docks to gawk at the boats that would be participating in the poker run, we headed back to Boyne Mountain resort for the night. The next morning, we headed back to Boyne City, to see some more of the 100 boats making the run and then watch them run their “parade lap” off the seawall before heading west down the lake towards Charlevoix.

This is really an experience to see; you’ve got about 100 big boats, most are powered by twin engine big-block V-8s, but some of these monsters have triple engines, turbine engines, and multiple outboard engines. When they all start up, it’s gotta be as loud (if not louder) than any NASCAR race. They slowly roll out onto the lake to get into formation, which takes about 45 minutes; then they get up to speed—throwing 100-foot roostertails—and run past the lighthouse point seawall, around 150 yards out, at about 60-70 mph.  They would go faster (a lot of these boats can do over 100mph or close to it) but the resulting boat wakes would create multiple small tsunamis and drench the spectators at the seawall. As it was, we still got splashed a couple of times!

After this experience, it was time to drive west over to Charlevoix—where there’s a nice harbor and a narrow channel that allows access to Lake Michigan. At this point I have to mention that the weather was perfect. Low-to-mid 80’s…not a cloud in the sky…and little to no breeze, which made wave conditions great for the boaters.

OK. Now for the Beer…

THE PATIO AT LAKE CHARLEVOIX BREWING CO.
After perusing all the great stuff available at the annual Arts & Crafts fair in Downtown Charlevoix, we headed over to Lake Charlevoix Brewing Company and parked ourselves on the patio overlooking the marina. The brewery here is just a few months old; there’s also a newer tap-house next door—both places are excellent for soaking up the sun and some suds.

The wife and I managed to grab the last seat on the patio. There was no umbrella at our table, which is not so bad (I tan well) but drinking beer in the hot sun can catch up to you after a few. Nevertheless, I started with a Nutty Hobo, an excellent brown ale that went down ultra smooth; nice caramel touches, without the harsh hoppy bite that you might find in some American brown ales. As I've said before, it's a matter of preference--and where brown ales are concerned, I prefer malty over hoppy.

FRANKENMUTH BREWERY
After that, I switched to the Michigan Bleached Blondie, which was a nicely balanced, refreshing blonde with a slightly sweet, malty finish. Perfect for sitting in the sun on a hot day, great for drinking more than one—and I did. We tried the Liquor Store Nachos, which were great (slathered in cheese and smoked pulled pork) – a perfect pairing with the cold beer. Did I mention the service was excellent?

At this point we needed some walking and some time to recover so we could make our next stop. We considered overnighting in Charlevoix, but the wife talked me into a 3-hr drive south to Frankenmuth, MI—another great beer town and tourist destination. Years ago, there used to be a large Carling Brewery here, as well as the local Frankenmuth Brewery, which still runs a great and very popular operation. Thankfully, some of their products are available in Akron, though I was intent on trying some new styles if I could.


THE BAVARIAN INN - FRANKENMUTH, MI
So we headed off, got to town about dinnertime, checked into a hotel and started walking down Main Street. You could get fat here; we stopped in the Cheese Haus, walked past the fudge shop, a taffy shop, and then headed to the Bavarian Inn, where I had a couple tulip glasses of Strawberry Short’s Cake, which I did not remember seeing when we were up at Short’s in Bellaire. It was perfectly delicious.

While there, we sat at the bar in Michigan on Main, a spot at the Inn where they feature all Michigan-made food and drink. The service was unbeatable and the people we met there were incredibly friendly. Also, the wine and beer shop downstairs is not to be missed. While a lot of retail stores have trimmed their import selection to make room for the innumerable US craft beers, the Bavarian Inn had an excellent selection of imports—particularly German favorites—that are not quite as easy to find as they once were. As a result, I grabbed some up to bring home.

I was able to enjoy a Hofbrau Dunkel with our late dinner; by the time we got to the Frankenmuth Brewery, their kitchen was closed, but we stopped at a crowded wine bar across the street that (thankfully) had a few good beers on tap. A delicious pastrami pannini went well with that, and made for a great exclamation point to our Michigan weekend.  Prost!
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A BEAUTIFUL BEER WEEKEND IN MICHIGAN: PART ONE

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THE VIEW FROM THE DOCKSIDE - TORCH LAKE
Okay, you probably don’t expect a guy from Ohio to be raving about anything from “that state up north” – but I had one of my best weekends ever up in Michigan, enjoying some incredible views, gawking at awesome high-performance powerboats, and sampling some of the great beers that state has to offer.

As a brief note of explanation, I have vacationed in this area since about 1962, when my father started bringing the family up to stay on the chain-of-lakes just north of Traverse City, with beautiful Torch Lake being the most notable. Over the years, we’ve visited spots up-and down the coast, including Charlevoix, Petoskey and on up to Mackinac.

I think the last time we were in Bellaire, it was a Sunday morning; we were on our way back home and I believe Short’s Brewing Company was not open at the time. So I was determined to get there on this trip.

Our destination was Boyne City; for the third time, the wife and I decided to check out Boyne Thunder, which is a fund-raising Poker Run for high-performance offshore powerboats. There were over 100 boats registered this year, and not only can you check them out on the docks, there’s also a big street party on Friday night, right on the shores of Lake Charlevoix—featuring both hot boats and hot rods.

Before that, however, our first stop was at one of our old haunts, the Alden Bar & Grille, just steps from Torch Lake. The place was recently remodeled, and I have to say—while it is larger and brighter, it lost some of its “up north” character when they replaced the original knotty-pine wall paneling with new stuff. I’m sure it will look just fine in about 30-50 years, but for now, it just seems too “new.” Still, that didn’t stop us from enjoying a couple cold ones; I went for a traditional Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale (what else would you drink in Hemingway Country?) and having done that, we headed north along the east coast of Torch Lake to Clam River.

THE DOCKSIDE - FROM ACROSS CLAM RIVER CHANNEL
Clam River, where Clam Lake flows into Torch Lake, is home to The Dockside, one of the most popular spots on the chain-of-lakes. It’s right on Torch, so you have spectacular views and lots of action, as boats go back-and-forth down the channel. The place was crowded as you might expect, but the service was prompt and friendly—and my smoked chicken quesadilla was perfect. I washed that down with a delicious Short’s Bellaire Brown, not something I normally drink on a hot day when I’m sitting in the sun, but it’s smooth and light enough to go down easy and quench any thirst.

We spent about an hour or so enjoying the lake, then headed off to Bellaire to check out Short’s Brewery in person. Just as expected, the place was packed on the middle of a Friday afternoon, and I went with a flight of five beers, including Paper Thin Walls (which my wife really liked) Locals, Magician, Village Reserve and a Badankadank. All of them were great, and I grabbed a six pack of Locals and Bellaire Brown to take home with me.

SHORT'S BREWING COMPANY - BELLAIRE MI
The Brewery and restaurant are really first class, it’s easy to see why this place is a top regional tourist attraction. From the physical facilities to the beer packaging, it’s clear that there’s a solid, consistent line of philosophy and creativity running across the whole operation. Their success is a real tribute to the commitment and care that everyone demonstrates from top to bottom.
That’s all for Part One of our Michigan Beer Journey. Part 2 to follow.
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NEW! TWO CLASSIC BREWING BOOKS AVAILABLE

June 29, 2015 0 comments
As a home brewer myself, I've always been fascinated by traditional approaches to brewing, particularly those dating back to an earlier age, when brewers did not have the technology or tools that we utilize today.

In truth, the brewing of beers and ales may not be a complex task, but it is one where extra thought and care may result in a superior end product. This approach is evident in both of the classic works we have chosen to offer through our publishing partner, American Biblioverken. Together, they kick off our History of Brewing Series, which we hope will continue to grow with additional titles as time goes on.

The first, A Treatise on the Brewing of Beer, was written by E. Hughes and dates from 1796. It is a very modest work, extending but to 36 pages, but does include some insightful thoughts on the production of beers and ales via traditional methods. The second book, The London and Country Brewer, was originally published in 1736, and offers 100 pages of thoughtful advice on brewing, selection of malt and hops, as well as beer storage and transportation.

Upon reading, what does become clear is the realization that while modern technology does make brewing easier, and results in a more consistent product, it may not be absolutely necessary to produce a quality beer or ale, and that there is much "lost knowledge" from which today's brewers may still benefit.

In both examples,  the writing style is far more formal than modern ears may be accustomed to, and this may present a modest challenge to some readers. Nevertheless, the information as presented is logical, heartfelt and indeed, rather entertaining. To that end, we have retained all of the traditional idioms and spellings from the original edition, since they add so much to the overall effect of the works.

Both books are available at the links listed above, via Createspace, at $5.50 and $9.99 via the links above.  We'll post the links to Amazon in a few days, when they become available. The cost is the same at both sources.
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WHY AKRON NEEDS A BREWERY DISTRICT

June 28, 2015 0 comments
Not everyone knows it, but Akron is home to several high-quality breweries, with national and regional reputations; one (Thirsty Dog) has already indicated that they need further room to grow. Separately, none of these operations are huge. They all include production facilities and Tasting Rooms, where customers gather to sample their products and enjoy food and entertainment. Currently, most of them are spread out all around the city.

Every time I drive past the old Goodyear World Headquarters and factory, which is being redeveloped as the landmark East End project, I can't help but thing what a natural location this would be for a Brewery District. Gathered together, these breweries could create a strong destination attraction—a Brewery District—that would enhance the marketability and appeal of the East End location, allowing these brewers to use their “strength of numbers” to pull visitors from many areas.

A while back, I spoke to Fred Karm, owner of nationally-recognized Hoppin’ Frog Brewery, and his initial response was that he might be interested in such a concept, and could see some advantages. Of course, it would have to make economic sense, and some incentives might be needed to make it happen, but he seemed to find the idea appealing.

I have also spoken  to our current Mayor, and while he thinks it's a solid idea, the city has limited resources to get behind such a plan right now; what's more, we'll have a new Mayor come next January, and it's hard to get anything going during an Election Year. Nevertheless, it's an idea worth pursuing and one that I feel the developer, Stuart Lichter's Industrial Realty Group, should take a hard look at.

POINTS TO CONSIDER:

1) There are TONS of space available at East End for brewing operations and tasting rooms; tens of thousands of square feet. Plenty of parking, easy highway access (for out-of-town visitors). It’s a natural fit for these old buildings. Simply put, this location is high-visibility, and far superior to any place these breweries are currently located (outskirts of town, old, run-down neighborhood, etc.)

2) Existing and future Commercial/Office/Hotel development here – provides an additional customer base for these operations. (Goodyear-Hotel-major hospital-are already nearby)

3) Easily accessible from The University of Akron, too—by bus or bike. Some cities who have similar districts even establish a “brewery shuttle” – low/no cost trolley service to district from popular destinations.

4) A successful brewery district would also be an advantage for attracting out-of-region craft breweries to locate to Akron. The city could get in the game with other regional brewers who may want to expand their operations into the Midwest.

5) A district here offers a nice geographic balance to a popular area like Highland Square. While that area is certainly a natural for craft-beer loving Hipsters, there’s really no room for new breweries there. East End is about the same distance from Downtown, easily accessible by public transportation, and long term, provides an additional working/living option for that demographic.

Over the coming weeks and months, I'll be talking to more people about this--it seems like too good an idea to pass up.
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AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT...

June 11, 2015 0 comments
It’s no secret that in the summertime, my preferences generally turn to lighter beers, shandies, and the like. Like a lot of people, the combination of increased thirst and hot weather make me less apt to turn to heavier dark ales, stouts and porters—or beers with higher alcohol content.

If I’m in the pool or at the Tiki Bar, I’ll probably go with a Corona, a Radler, or a simple Lager-and-Lemonade. Occasionally, a berry beer of some type (always liked Abita’s Purple Haze) may suffice – and I was intrigued with a recent trial of Shiner’s Prickly Pear.

Since our backyard pool area has a pretty solid Tiki vibe going on, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sample Rivertown’s Hala Kahiki* Pineapple Beer. It’s actually one of the few craft beers that I’ve purchased in a can, aside from a six pack of Cellar Rats/Hopview Bernie Beer I enjoyed last Fall. The Hala Kahiki can looked fun, and I like pineapple…so it seemed like something worth a try.

And try it we did. What Hala Kahiki offers is a very, very light ale, with a sweet, fruity taste that goes down very easy. It is indeed very refreshing, and you could probably enjoy a lot of it on a hot summer’s day. That said, I would make two important observations: 1) it is a very light tasting ale – (read “light-beer” light) with no hop bitterness. That’s’ okay by me, but without the fruitiness, the ale would have little character on its own. 2) The pineapple flavor is there, but it is also very light. That may be a good thing, but it struck me that if I was blind testing this stuff and was asked exactly what fruit I was tasting, I might not be so sure.

In truth, the Kahiki’s flavor pales beside something like Hoppin’ Frog’s Turbo Shandy—which is a rich, golden ale with a clean, natural lemon flavor component. But then, the Turbo Shandy is at least 7 bucks for a 22oz bottle; you’d want to drink a lot of it, but you probably couldn’t afford it.

To sum it up, Rivertown’s Hala Kahiki is probably a good choice for any hot summer day. I would buy more of it (in fact, I just did today before I penned this post) since it’s easy to drink and offers a fun alternative to the typical summer shandy. Definitely worth sampling.


*According to the marketing blurb on the can, the name "Hala Kahiki"(hahlah-kah-hee-kee), originates from the Hawaiian words for pineapple.
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