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WHAT’S NEXT? EXCREMENT ALE?

October 19, 2012 0 comments

IS THIS REALLY WHAT IT'S COME TO?
Having spent most of my working life in advertising, I know only too well that marketing is often about dreaming up some gimmick that will get people’s attention.

Now you don’t need to get their attention for long; maybe just long enough to get noticed—or if you’re really lucky, long enough to make a buck or two.

So it was with a bare smile that I noticed the recent introduction at GABF of Wynkoop’s Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, reportedly brewed with real (roasted) bull testicles. What started out as a joke last spring morphed into reality, as beer drinkers took the April Fool’s day jest seriously and started asking about the nutty brew. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the brewmasters at Wynkoop decided to bag it and deliver a tasty, palatable package.

Reportedly, the 7% ABV brew tastes pretty good, which is certainly a relief. I’m sure a lot of beer drinkers gravitate toward this sort of crazy stuff—inspired by an “I dare ya” attitude toward brewing big, brash, ballsy beers made with all kinds of crazy ingredients. It used to be stuff like chile peppers, unusual herbs, bananas…but these, while out of the ordinary for beer, were still commonly enjoyed foods. Now I feel we’re gravitating toward even stranger stuff—not for the taste possibilities—but for the shock factor. Like the beer recently made with yeast from some the brewmaster's beard.

I’m all for fun and experimentation. But I’m also kinda wondering how long before we see Donkey Wang Weisse, Armpit Ale or Bird Poop Pilsener. Gimmicks can be fun. But enjoying a simple great beer can be a memorable experience that lasts a lifetime – or at least one you’ll want to return to now and again.
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REMEMBERING YOUR WORST AND BEST BEERS EVER

October 12, 2012 0 comments

            When you’re writing about beer, you feel it’s only fair to let people know a little bit about your background and tastes, so they can put your commentary into a context that makes sense. With that in mind, I thought I might share some thoughts about the worst and the best beers I have enjoyed up to this point—which includes about forty years of beer drinking.

            It’s important to keep in mind two things here. One, it’s quite possible that I have yet to come across the absolute “worst” or “best” beer, since we never can really know what the future holds. Two, when categorizing these beers (especially when you’re talking best beer) other factors come into play, like the impact of the moment, the color of one’s memory, and the context of drinking. Think of it this way: that ice cold Coors Banquet beer you had when after you just finished mowing the lawn in 100+ degree, record-breaking heat 15 years ago might be remembered quite fondly. Likewise, the first really good beer you had of a certain type might be remembered as the best, even though you may have had better examples since then.

THE WORST

            This one’s easy. I was working at an ad agency near Cleveland, and a new Indian restaurant was just opening up in the ground floor space in our building. To help introduce themselves and build word-of-mouth business, the new proprietors invited most of the other tenants in our office tower downstairs one late afternoon for a buffet, where we were encouraged to sample a variety of their dishes. The food, as we all had hoped, was really excellent, and after sitting at a table for a few minutes, one of our hosts graciously came out to offer us something to drink.

“Well, a beer would be nice,” I replied. “If you happen to have any.”

            My host's eyes lit up. “Oh yes, of course,” he said. “I have just the thing; I can bring you some beer from India!”

            He returned a moment later, cracking open a tall, 16oz. brown bottle with an ornate gold label and majestically pouring into a tall pilsner glass. I looked at the label, which said World Famous Bombay Beer. I thanked him as he stepped away to help another table.

            Now, before I disparage any hard-working brewer on the subcontinent, please understand that I seriously doubt this beer is a relation to any currently-available beer of this name—blonde or otherwise. This was, after all, over 15 years ago.

            As I raised the glass to my lips and took some long gulps (the food was a little spicy, after all) the girls who worked in the media department observed my reaction carefully, since they were thirsty too, and were wondering if they should follow my lead. As I swallowed, I could see the looks on their faces, no doubt mirroring the confusion, bewilderment and revulsion on my own.
           
            “What…thefuckisthisshit???” The words were hard to pronounce, since my mouth was probably contorted into the shape of a dog’s anus. Which was kinda what this beer tasted like.
           
            “What is it?” asked the girls. “Whatsa matter? Isn’t it any good?”

            I set the pilsner glass down in front of me, took a long look at it, and then inspected the bottle label again, just to make sure it did, in fact, say “beer.” Crazy as it seems, I actually found myself tasting it again, as if to confirm my disbelief.
           
            “This,” I announced slowly, “is-absolutely-the-worst-tasting-beer-I-have-ever-had-in-my life.”
           
            “That bad, huh?” someone asked.

            “Yes,” I confirmed. “You know the Ganges River, where all those people go to bathe before they go into the Hindu temple? I think they stand downstream and collect the water for this beer there.”

            In fact, after some consideration, I surmised that it wasn’t that they collected water from the Ganges to make the beer, but that the dirty water itself was actually in my bottle. It didn’t even tasted like beer—truly an indescribable mouthful of—something. Worst part was, it was a 16oz. bottle to boot. I left the other 14oz. on someone else's table.

THE BEST BEER I EVER HAD

            If you recall what I said at the top of this article about remembering your best beer, then it certainly applies to this example. By the early 1980’s I had enjoyed plenty of decent beers and some very good imports, though there was not a lot available at the time. But after Merchant DuVin started importing more obscure, high-quality beers from overseas, better stuff could be obtained. Trying to save money for our first home, I found a second job working the drive-thru section at the best beer shop in town, called The Outpost.

            I can still remember coming home one night after work with a few bottles of Samuel Smith’s Pale Ale, from the Old Tadcaster Brewery. This was back when it was still in a clear bottle, and I can recall pouring this lovely brown ale into a small juice glass, gazing in wonder at it’s beautiful creamy head and savoring the rich, fruity esters that tickled my nose. The taste? It was absolutely delicious…like drinking a bite of grandma’s apple pie, but not as sweet, of course.

            What a revelation that was. Who knew that beer could be that good—or that a single bottle of “the good stuff” could give so much more satisfaction than any 12-pack of ordinary American pilsner could ever muster? Like most people who have tasted today's well-made craft beers and suddenly had their eyes opened, that first Samuel Smith’s was my own real eye-opener.

            Since then, I’m sure I’ve had beers that were probably every bit as good, maybe even better. But certainly, none have been more memorable…and that is what makes it the best for me.

            If you have a memory of your worst or best beers, feel free to share them in the comments; I’d like to hear about them.
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HELL IN LISTENING: BEER REVIEW PODCASTS

October 9, 2012 0 comments

The previous post brings me to one of the most useless phenomenons I have come across: the beer review podcast. I can think of few things more uninteresting and offensive to a person who is thirsty than to hear two guys sitting in the kitchen or the garage talking about the beer they happen to be drinking. I’ve done a lot of searches on iTunes and Podcasts and Stitcher to see what’s available, and while there are a few good beer shows out there, I have yet to find any that present reviews in an entertaining and interesting format.

No—what you typically get is two smarmy guys sitting around injecting dull beer commentary into their equally dull small talk—but making lame attempts to be funny. The strange thing is, a lot of these guys all seem to sound the same; like some clones of the Sklar brothers—trying to bounce what they think is clever and witty repartee back-and-forth, but offering only perfect tedium.

To add to the offence, a lot of these podcasts go on for a couple of hours. As a former producer of radio commercials, I have a firm belief that effective editing can improve most anything. But a lot of these jackasses think that listening to them drone on for almost two hours is somehow entertaining. Unbelievable.

In fact, the only part that is funny is listening to some of the tasting commentary:

About a strong IPA: “Mmmmm…hoppy! For sure…”

A Doppelbock:  “Well…the first thing that hits you is the malt. Very rich malt  taste.”

Any Christmas Ale: “Lots of spice here. Some citrus notes…cinnamon. High gravity – for sure.”

AKA - THE RECORDING STUDIO
Really? Why don’t they just read the freaking label to me? Maybe if they provided a clear, concise and intelligent beer review that lasted about 15 minutes, they might get a few more subscribers. C’mon—who the hell has two hours to waste on this kind of crap?

So far, I’ve been talking about audio podcasts, but some of the video podcasts suffer from the same issues. The real difference is that we can see that the participants are generally well-fed, sport some version of facial hair, and are (just as we suspected) sitting around a kitchen table, or in the garage out back.

Again, I’m not saying that audio or video beer review podcasts are a bad thing. But it’s clear that the Craft Beer Scene has inspired a few too many of them, a few too many that are alike, and a few too many that are of questionable quality.

If you know of one that is really good (or any good beer-related podcasts out there) please let me know. I’d be happy to listen – and even recommend it.
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THE PURGATORY OF BEER REVIEWS

October 8, 2012 0 comments

When we first put together this site, we needed to decide what kind of topics we wanted to cover and discuss on our posts. Commentary on whatever is happening (or not happening) in the beer world seemed the obvious choice; for myself, being slightly older, occasionally grumpy, clearly opinionated and naturally suspicious of  “craft beer hype” – this made for a perfect fit. I also do not find that every new brewery opening or bottle roll-out merits coverage—at least not in a post. We do tweet a lot of this news on Twitter and some finds its way onto our Scoop.it feed, but we generally don’t comment on those news items unless there is a bigger issue involved.

Which brings us to the topic of Beer Reviews.

First of all, let me say that I do think beer reviews by knowledgeable and expressive tasters can serve a purpose—particularly in weeding out beers that some drinkers might not care for. Personally, I don’t really like most bitter, over-hopped beers, and if a reviewer notes this as a characteristic, I’ll know to pass on that specific bottle or pint. Of course, I can always offer my own views—I consider my palate as experienced and nuanced as most people—but I’m content to defer to those who have some actual judging background, and who can offer opinions colored with a little more technical accuracy than my own.

I might add here that the only things more yawn-inducing than beer reviews are the Twitter accounts of people who do nothing but tweet whatever beer they happen to be drinking. Warrants an instant unfollow. Do they really think I care? I mean, an occasional untappd share is one thing—but throw in a comment, a thought or an opinion once in a while.

My feelings on reviews being what they are, it doesn’t mean I won’t ever review a few beers (yes, send me a sample, you might get lucky) but god knows you can find beer reviews just about everywhere else on the Internet. Why add to the noise? Beer reviews are a dime a dozen. Some are helpful and interesting. Some are pretty useless…like most beer-related podcasts. Which will bring us to our next post…
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CRAFT BREWING IN AMERICA: SEE SHARK. JUMP SHARK.

October 1, 2012 0 comments

I’m certainly not the first and I know I won’t be the last to talk about “jumping the shark” as far as craft brewing in America is concerned. Last year, there were numerous posts about it when the Hanson’s beer-making project became public. People have talked about it with the growth of beer-drinking among middle-aged women. They discussed it when someone realized Abita was now available in 46 states (and that’s a problem?)

First of all, let me say that while some people seem to be just waiting for the “craft beer trend” to fade away, I am not one of them. Even among those who love beer, however, there seems to be some strange desire to be the first to accurately pinpoint the date, hour and place where the “high water mark” of the craft brewing movement could be notched into the pier.

Trouble is, there’s almost never a single event that marks a transition like that. Usually, it is a series of small, sometimes barely-noticed developments, often followed by a whopper or two—that signals an important change. I remember working in the computer industry in the late 90’s – like everyone else, I was all over the internet, looking for the great opportunities during that boom period. Now, I’m no economic or business genius, but at the time, even I started wondering where everything was heading after reading about some of the deals that were going down.

People were getting crazy money for “me-too” internet plays, after a major segment pioneer had already established a strong customer base. There were plenty of stupid business plans based on unrealistic models, vapor-ware products, poor research or a general lack of business sense. It couldn’t be sustained. More people started to question the numbers…recognize the hype…and pull back their money. Those who didn’t lost most of what they had. That was the Internet Bubble.

Now I think it can be said that brewing is clearly a different type of industry. But what focused my initial thoughts on this subject was a recent article in the Washington Post (Craft Brewer with a Cult Following”) noting that Cabinet Artisanal Brewhouse agreed to a distribution contract that will place its beer in 35 states and Europe in the coming months. This is may not seem unusual; it’s only when you note that the proposed output of the brewery is only 1500 gallons a month does the whole thing seem a little silly. It’s also noteworthy that the brewer—according to the article—has only brewed a handful of test batches. You’ll find a lot of “there are plans to…” and “there is talk of…” bits and pieces in the press release, er—uh, I mean article—all  of which sound strangely familiar.

I then started looking back through my Twitter stream over the past couple of weeks. Am I reading more about deals and investments…not only in new craft breweries, but in the beers themselves? Just a couple of weeks ago, Stan Hieronymous tweeted Sure sign of a craft beer bubble?” – linking to an article in thestreet.com about the “10 Best Beer Investments for Your Cellar.”  Are we starting to see a few brewers more concerned about achieving cachet and cult interest among a very few well-heeled “cellar beer investors” – rather than producing something great and memorable that a lot of people can actually drink and enjoy?

Is this exotic beer even going to be enjoyed at all—or is it going to sit in a cellar as an investment, or sold on a secondary market for a profit? Perhaps the primary question here: is the beer actually good enough to warrant any “investment” interest at all? Is it all just about marketing?

Sure, it’s possible to be successful doing both things—that’s been proven. But something just doesn’t feel right about this. And before you think I’m too eager to blame the brewers, don’t forget that a lot of those people who brought us the Internet Bubble didn’t know shit about the Internet. They were outsiders, who didn’t understand the fundamentals of the web, the limits of technology, or even the behavior of the average consumer. They just wanted to cash in on the explosion of interest and make a quick buck.

It concerns me that we might have a little bit of this now creeping into the craft beer world, too. So much concern with “exclusivity”…”investment potential” …”exoticism and rarity.” I’m just worried that people with no real interest in beer, beer culture or brewing may be starting to have a disproportionate effect on the industry—at the expense of the actual beer drinker.

Some say we already had an initial craft beer bubble over a decade ago–and there is much evidence to back them up. Even here in Akron, we had our share of local brewers expand and spring up; Burkhardt’s brewpub grew, moved to a bigger location and went out of business. Blimp City had a great product – then promptly disappeared. And there were others. Maybe some people had the right idea—but had it a little too soon. Regardless, good beer didn’t go away.

No, what we have seen over the last decade is not so much the growth of a fad as what I would characterize as a long term, inevitable sea-change in the beer market, and of course, beer culture. I feel secure we’ll never go back to the pale, tasteless world that was American Beer in the mid-70’s, and I think the big brewers, more than anyone else, know this. Things have never been better…or crazier, or wilder, or more experimental, or more segmented, or more flavorful, or more local. Can it be sustained over the long term? Mostly, I think; the pendulum may swing back toward simplicity, lower alcohol and faithfulness to style  at some time in the future, but even so, like most things—the truth will always be found somewhere in the middle.
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AMERICA GOING FOR QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

September 27, 2012 0 comments

With the recent release of a beer study by market research firm Technomic, it appears that Americans are slowly turning away from lowest-common-denominator beers to embrace higher-quality (and more expensive) craft beers. As a result, the overall quantity of beer sold in the country is slightly down, while there have been higher sales number for imported beers and American-made craft beers. As most anyone familiar with today’s beer scene would tell you, it reflects what we are seeing in bars, grocery stores and refrigerators across the US.

Yes, the Beer Giants still dominate advertising and sponsorships, and they may always have a death grip on the general public’s brand awareness. But craft beer in America is here to stay—even if people do worry about their being too many new breweries—and the lineup available even at the average grocery store is an inspiration to most any beer lover. At my own local grocer, the selection is probably 4 times as large as it was 10 years ago, and they are even selling draft beer in growlers now (though sadly—not at my neighborhood branch).

I must admit I was also happy to see Yuengling on that top sales list (#16 – over 10 million cases sold, just a fraction of Bud Light’s 269+ million) since I think it’s a very good product and now is happily available in Ohio. Many local bars have in on draught now, and since it has been introduced in our area, has become a common replacement for basic lagers like Bud, Miller and Coors. Why? Well, it tastes better—though still relatively familiar—and is also offered at an accessible price point for the average customer. Even Yuengling’s Light product is touted by one of my local barkeeps as being more flavorful than a standard Bud (this is indeed true) and once they have sampled either Pennsylvanian lager, it may be only a hop-skip-and-a-jump before they’ll check out a Yuengling Black & Tan.

I do believe that older, “traditional” beer drinkers can be educated. A thoughtful combination of the right product and the right price makes entry into the craft beer world easier for those who don’t want to immediately plunk down several dollars for an exotic tri-hopped IPA or seasonal spiced pumpkin ale. Yuengling has expanded its distribution in the right places and at the right time, and is seeing major growth as a result. A-B may try to get in on this taste shift with their “Project Twelve” craft-beer scheme…but my take is that a lot of beer drinkers will see it more as a temporary marketing gimmick than a genuine change in philosophy. Regardless of how these new “test’ beers taste, what happens afterwards? Do you think you’re going to be able to buy that bottle of amber named after a ZIP code next year?
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I’M OLD. I NEED SESSION BEERS.

September 21, 2012 0 comments

There seems to be an ongoing discussion—well, controversy for some—about whether there will ever be an increased demand for session beers in the U.S., what exactly constitutes a session beer, and what is the point of the whole matter anyway.

Part of the discussion seems to revolve around the simple issue of drinkability, since it has become apparent to most responsible craft beer drinkers that it might not always be a good idea to sit around all night imbibing high-powered hop bombs. Another part might be a reactionary response to a contemporary craft beer culture which insists on throwing everything including the kitchen sink into the brew kettle. That approach may, in the best cases, provide something worthy of note, and in the worst…well, we’ve all tasted that at one time or another.
  
I’ve said it before, these exotic recipes can definitely provide some level of individuality to a brew, but they can also serve to cover up a lot of mistakes. Don’t get me wrong; I was never a fan of Bauhaus architecture, either (Less is More) but I figure there was a good reason the Germans came up with the Purity Law. So, while the current crop of heavy, high-hopped, high ABV brews continues to hold sway, I can’t believe that over time, the pendulum will swing just slightly toward beers that maintain quality and flavor while allowing increased enjoyment in quantity.

Of course, any movement won’t be led by younger folks in their 20’s and 30’s. They’ll drink whatever they want anyway—because they can. But I’ve been enjoying beer for some 40 years now; good beer for about 35 years, and while I enjoy tasting today’s “big” beers, I just can’t slam them one after another without settling down on the end of the couch and nodding off. In other words, I’m like a lot of baby-boomers who made their way through the decades-long Rise of Craft Beer; there’s a time and a place for everything, and for me, now seems to be the time to find some good, reliable session beers.

The last beer I made was a simple brown English ale, about 4 or 4.5% ABV. I bottled most of it, but some of it went into 2-liter plastic bottles, and I found I could easily polish one of those off in an evening while listening to a baseball game on the radio. Easy to drink, enough flavor to keep me interested—it still remains my basic “go-to” beer style.  

Nowadays, if I’m in a bar and there’s nothing extraordinary available on tap, I will generally get a Newcastle Brown or lately, a Yuengling Lager—which is reliably good, reasonably priced, and clearly superior to the mass-market swill that a lot of people tolerate. Indeed, the general pattern for me now might be to try out a “big” beer first and then switch to something lower-octane (but still tasty) as the night moves on.  After all, I’m not concerned with trying to impress anyone—so if you scoff at my choices, drop dead.

Even when friends come over to visit, very rich, high-gravity/ABV beers may often be served after a meal, in a sampler-sized glass—almost like a dessert. This provides an easy, restful opportunity to focus on the product in question and discuss its merits.  If those friends want more, they can certainly have it; but eventually most will find their way back to something tasty, moderate, affordable and reliable—and that, perhaps, is the simplest definition of a session beer.
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THOSE DAMN KIDS FROM THE PROJECTS

September 19, 2012 0 comments

Predictably, lots of people are already dismissing the effort by the Evil Empire (read Anheuser-Busch) to try and associate themselves with the culture of craft beer with the pending release of their “Brewmaster Project Twelve” sampler pack. Featuring three beers - a deep gold pilsner, a light amber lager and deep amber lager – the sampler pack is set to be released on Oct. 29 in a 12-pack containing four bottles of each of the special brews.

The beers are named after the ZIP codes where they were created and are the result of a program undertaken by Budweiser brewers nationwide earlier this year. The 12 Anheuser-Busch brewmasters at each of Budweiser's 12 breweries were charged with creating their own unique beer recipe. Dubbed Project 12, the original beers were narrowed internally in July from the original 12 down to six, and finally--down to three.

According to A-B:
"Project 12 was a way for our world-class brewmasters to have fun experimenting with new ingredients, flavors and brewing processes to bring beer lovers some new options inspired by our flagship beer," said Peter Kraemer, a fifth-generation brewmaster who leads Anheuser-Busch's brewing operations in North America.

To make this all legit, the company is requesting feedback from curious beer drinkers regarding the three winning brews, via a QR code on the package, as well as an in-pack tasting guide. The Project 12 packaging will also include tasting notes and details about each beer for in-home tastings.

I have already heard lots of hissing from craft beer fans, assuming the beers could never be any good, or dismissing the whole effort as nothing but a marketing ploy. I’m sure marketing—and the desire to generate any kind of interest in the face of slipping sales—is a primary consideration for A-B. But regardless of how you feel about that, I would at least caution that, if out of fairness only, it might be best to reserve final judgment until one has actually tasted one of these beers.

After all, I’m sure the individual brewmasters at A-B who have been tasked with this effort do actually care about beer, and have become quite skillful at making it within the parameters of quality and quantity that their employer demands. These sampler beers may not be what they would freely cook up in their own basement, but given a huge brewing facility, corporate directives, mass quantities, and large-scale economics, this might be the best that they could do.

Will it make any difference? Not to most people. The worst that could happen is…nothing. The best? Well, if enough Bud drinkers tried an even slightly more flavorful beer and decided they liked it better that the standard brew, either A-B would make more of the new beer, or the Bud fans might go on to try something else that has more taste. Like a craft beer
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UH…IT DIDN’T START OUT SKUNKY

September 18, 2012 0 comments

With all the beer-rating apps available for smart phones, there’s never any shortage of viewpoints when it comes to the quality of one brand of beer or another. Of course, there have been websites and blogs with taste-tests and ratings for years, too (something I have chosen—for now—not to bore you with) resulting in the fact that there are plenty of opinions out there, should you ever need one to help shape your beer-drinking decisions.

Me? Usually it’s whether I think the label is attractive or not. Or the tap-handle, if we’re talking draught beer.

But I digress. What does tend to irk me is how many “raters” or commenters will take what we know to be a perfectly good beer and whine about how it smelled skunky—as if that quality was brewed into the beer at the outset.

The recent example I came across was a rating on Pintly for Stella Artois, which I have enjoyed for many years, and still do upon occasion. I’ve been lucky enough never to have had a bad one (most were on draught) or an old one in the bottle. And that is the key.


Having sold beer, I know the importance of regular stock turnover and rotation. And everyone should know the effect that things like light and age have on beer. So if the “rater” a) didn’t notice that the bottle may have been dusty, or - b) wasn’t fully confident of the beer’s freshness, they may have wanted to delay final judgment until a proper sample could be obtained.

It’s not uncommon to come across a beer with a strange, unpleasant or slightly-off taste / smell, even when fresh. But generally-speaking, skunkiness should be a red flag that says “dammit – this beer is past its prime, or hasn’t been stored properly.”  That’s probably not the brewery’s fault, though it’s true some styles and some bottles (green) are more susceptible to this odiferous condition. For more on this, check out a nice article here.

You would hope that an educated beer drinker would realize that it was more likely that the particular “sample” was skunky, rather than the “beer” being skunky—and perhaps not representative of the product as originally produced. To some, that’s a fine line, but bad things can happen to beer after it leaves the brewery and before it gets to your mouth.

Which, in the end, is a pretty good endorsement for the idea of enjoying your local craft beer, anyway. It should always be fresh. Right?



Note: I did come across a story headlined "Skunky Beer Recalled by Stella Artois" in 2010 - but that problem was not skunkiness at all (innaccurate headline) but a "sour" taste due to a production problem...and none of that beer reached US shores, anyway.
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ASHEVILLE GETS A CRAFT BEER BEAT-DOWN

September 17, 2012 0 comments

I had to smile a little when I came across this article and the accompanying comments on Fast Company, highlighting the fact that Asheville, NC had been selected as new East Coast home to not one, but two—of America’s largest craft breweries, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium. The piece touted Asheville’s “beer friendly infrastructure” and a number of other factors, such as its “active outdoor vibe.”

Now I know Asheville is a great town, and a nice place to live, and I’m sure the quality of life it has to offer was an important element in both breweries’ choice. But the fact that—in at least New Belgium’s case—the final choice came down to Asheville and Philadelphia made it clear that they had not simply focused on finding a bucolic, small-town, beer-friendly atmosphere. I suspect that additional deal sweeteners, like state or local tax credits of some sort, were also an important contributing factor.

Regardless, the real trouble with the article was not its content, but the headline: Asheville: The New Craft Beer Capital of America?”  Asking that question was like pulling the pin on a grenade, stuffing it in a pie, and serving it to a table full of people who take their craft beer very seriously. You just knew you were gonna get some on ya…

Of course, it wouldn’t take long for a few readers in Portland and Denver to log in and deliver a verbal beat-down in the story comments, reminding everyone who has the most breweries, beer festivals and uber beer kultur:

“It's like giving the finger to Portland, Denver, San Diego, etc. So please stop using phrases like "Beer City USA" and "The Craft Beer Capital" as it's just inappropriate and simply not true.”

“Um No. The craft beer capitol of America is Portland, OR with more breweries than any other city in the world. That would be 51. And there are 120 brewing companies operating 153 breweries in Oregon. You got a ways to go Asheville.”

“I'll add while we have 23[breweries] in city-limits in Denver (not including metro area suburbs), there are 89 (read: EIGHTY NINE) all within a 60-mile diameter in the area.”
 
Well. Okay, then…

The one poor Asheville defender was eventually reduced to admitting that the notion of the town being a Craft Beer Capital was not to be taken seriously. And while defending the region’s craft beer culture, they went on to beat a general retreat, noting that “Asheville is in a relatively unfashionable and...undesirable area.”

Residents of Portland or Denver should never be so self-conscious as to feel the need to go off on any little challenge to their openly-acknowledged craft beer mightiness. Besides, the fault here was not with fair Asheville, but with reporter or editor who penned that silly headline. Nevertheless, nothing can be left to chance when one’s Beer Honor is at stake.

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THE PERFECT PUB. OR NOT.

September 12, 2012 0 comments

There was an interesting back-and-forth in the Telegraph a few days ago, starting with Adrian Tierney-Jones’s observations on what makes a perfect pub, followed by Harry Mount’s next-day semi-rebuttal, where he characterizes most pubs as “a little inadequate” – prefaced by the admission that he doesn’t like pubs very much to begin with. The exchange seemed a little like one guy ruminating on what makes up an ideal IPA, while another one responds with “IPAs suck anyway and besides—I prefer wine coolers.”

I’ll let the real Englishmen fight this one out, regardless of the fact that my mother’s maiden name was Moneypenny. The comments on these stories—as you might expect—were as entertaining as the original content. A lot of readers worried that the future of the pub as an English institution was already in jeopardy, due to high taxes and regulations such as the smoking ban. Here were some of the best:

“Make sure there's Liver & Bacon on the menu, plus Stew and Dumplings, Pork in Cider and other such stodgy old favourites.  And the stuffed head of a vegan above the bar.”

"Personally, what makes a good pub is no TV/gaming machines/juke box/musak, and a pint of well kept real ale served by a barmaid with a cleavage you could land a helicopter on."

"It's simple. Pubs are going out of business because they serve crap beer. This is because most landlords are generally very lazy and don't clean their pipes frequently so the beer sticks to your teeth.”

Rule Britannia.

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PERSPECTIVE – A BEER BIOGRAPHY

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Like many people, I have come in and out of what I might call “beer culture” many times since my first beer forty years ago. I can still taste that first one—thin and slightly fizzy, mildly bitter, half-warm in the can—quickly shared before we got on a bus for a high school trip. Almost as memorable was how bad that single can of beer had made me want to pee over the next 25 miles to the amusement park.

But what I remember, or perhaps appreciate most about the 1970’s, was that I can recall when most beers tasted pretty much the same. As anyone will tell you, short of Prohibition, it was truly the low point in American beer history. In seeking something different, we were forced to settle for “Cream Ales” (ooohhhh, never had one of those before, sounds tasty) or strong malt liquors with exotic, Latin-sounding names (remember Maximus Super). Of course, there were still some quality local brews here and there, but you couldn’t find them at the store.

My college years started on a good note, too—when my first roommate showed up and introduced me to a dorm-fridge packed full of the original Coors banquet beer, unpasteurized and straight from Colorado. This was back when it was not sold east of the Mississippi, and was, for a teenager, the golden nectar of legend. A damn fine beer at the time.

Later, with a little extra money in our pockets, my friends and I became enamored of imports, and although there weren’t that many available in little Oxford, Ohio (Heineken, Bass Pale Ale, Lowenbrau {brewed by Miller), St. Pauli Girl, Carlsberg ‘Elephant’ come to mind) they did allow us to understand what higher-quality, more flavorful beers should taste like. That was what we drank at the beginning of the month, when we had money. After the 2oth of the month, it was back to Little Kings, Miller High Life, or maybe even Falstaff. One of my best college drinking pals was Joe Conway, whose brothers Pat and Dan went on to found Great Lakes Brewing Company several years later.

At the turn of the late 70's-early 80's, however, there was something else going on. Long before the idea of craft brewing had even taken hold, a few of America’s brewers were starting to roll out or re-introduce older-style brews, some with names from out of the past. They were slightly richer, a little more flavorful—and the marketing, which promised a more traditional,  retro-brew didn’t hurt either. Beer drinkers began to take notice of names like Christian Moerlein, Andeker, Henry Weinhard, Jacob Best…and though there were fits and starts, by the dawn of the 1980’s it was clear that at least in terms of choice, things seemed to be taking a slight turn for the better.

Of course, the establishment of Merchant du Vin in 1978 and the expanded availability of high quality imports was going on as well, followed shortly by the emergence of American “microbreweries” as typified by Fritz Maytag’s Anchor Brewing. In the early 80’s, I had a second job at a drive-thru and carry out that had by far the best selection of beer in Akron at the time. This not only allowed me to try a lot of different beers and ales, but also to learn the importance of stock rotation and how various factors can affect beer freshness. I also bought books about beer, started collecting beer steins, and became intrigued by the idea of brewing my own beer. But that didn’t happen for another 10 years, after someone bought me a beer kit for Christmas.

My first batches were a rich brown session ale, very similar in character to Newcastle Brown. It was delicious, and I happily bottled quite a few batches before stashing the equipment away in the basement several years ago. Since then, work and life have conspired to soften my interest in beer. I still always seek out quality over quantity, and try to add to my stein collection when I can (though I am running out of places to put them).  Whenever I get together with friends, they’ll sometimes ask what kind of “shitty beer” I brought along—not to disparage what I have in my six-pack, but more in joking reference to the fact that—whatever I might have, no one has probably heard of it.

My point being here is that every beer lover has their own history, or “beer biography.” As a result, each one brings a number of beliefs, experiences, prejudices and sometimes crazy notions to the table, usually constructed over years of home brewing, months of taste-testing, or decades of simple beer enjoyment.  I am no different, and it clearly colors my views and my writing.

I suppose all of this goes back to my first post.  We do indeed live in Great Beer Times, and it’s easy to get caught up in the glory of new brewery openings, unending beer reviews, brewer celebrity-watching and ongoing style controversies. But perspective ensures that I don’t forget that there was a time when all beer did taste pretty much the same—though discerning drinkers could sort out and appreciate the differences even then.

It also tends to ease any over-enthusiasm for the “next big thing” and ground one’s expectations—knowing that it’s easier to hide mistakes when you’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the brew kettle. If you think that means I don’t like a lot of today’s big, heavy beers, you’d be wrong. But like most things, bigger doesn’t always mean better.

Besides, I’m older now, and I can’t enjoy those big beers as much. They don’t mix well with my blood pressure medicine anyway, so now, after a while, my eyelids get heavy and I just fall to sleep. That’s now part of my beer biography.

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BEER SPOILED

September 10, 2012 0 comments
No, that doesn’t mean that my beer spoiled. What it does refer to is the notion that in reviewing a lot of beer writing and commenting on the web, it seems to me that a lot of people have been spoiled by all the great beers and ales we have available today. With so much diversity, quality, hype and analysis of today’s products, it seems easy for the beer novice to be quickly overwhelmed—even intimidated—by technical jargon, detailed style descriptions, historical references and expert opinion.

While all of those things certainly have value for anyone who is truly interested in beer and beer culture, I’m not so sure they are absolutely essential for the simple enjoyment of beer.  After all, I’ve often felt that the only beer that really matters is what’s in your glass.

Think of the new beer drinker—one that has recently discovered the world of better beers and ales. Who, having divorced himself from common Buds and Lites, has set a course for true beer knowledge and fulfillment. Must they not soon be asking themselves:

Will I be able to coherently and accurately describe my smell and taste sensations to others?

Will my descriptions and opinions be in line with those of the acknowledged experts?

Can I provide compelling and expansive discourse on regional styles, local breweries, and hop varieties?

Will I be able to count some of today’s “rock-star” craft brewers as being among my personal friends?

Have I tried this style, or that one? On draught, or in a bottle?

Indeed—will I ever be able to taste every brand of beer and ale that is currently available, so I can rightfully claim to have knowledge of every beer made? It’s so damn hard when they keep opening new craft breweries!

Of course, while those are interesting questions for people who desire to be true scholars of beer, they may be overkill for the average person who is simply seeking to understand what makes up a good beer, how to serve it and how to enjoy it. A little perspective can explain what I mean.

I’ll continue this discussion in my next post -
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About IBN

September 5, 2012 0 comments
We created International Beer News as a way to celebrate our interest in beer, home brewing, beer culture and associated topics. The plan is not to spend a lot of time loading up the site with endless product reviews (though we will sneak one in now and then) or listings of every single new product release, brewery opening, festival or award handed out.  We find it easier to just tweet a lot of this information...plus we have news updates via our scoop.it feed or a "10 Next Events" listing HERE.

You'll find, well....whatever comes to mind.

Our Feature Articles and Commentary may be the most important content we have to offer. These are usually provided by our Chief Editor, Mark Schweitzer - who has been consuming beer since 1972, understanding it since 1982, and brewing it at home since 1997.

As he says, "I remember when all beer was pretty much the same, and when the only interesting beer you could get was an import...and most of those were from Canada. For beer lovers, it's probably never been better than it is right now. We need to enjoy the quality, variety and sheer energy that make up today's craft beer world--without drowning in too much hype."

As for everything else here, you'll see news that we think is appropriate, or that we feel has been overlooked--but the goal is to bring you a broad spectrum of information that might be interesting or helpful. 

That means you'll see a little bit of everything, from regional beer news across the USA, to obscure bits and pieces from the other side of the globe. Whatever you find here, it will be written or personally selected as something we actually care about - or feel to be of high quality.

If you have news or information that you want to share or pass along, be sure to contact us:



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Advertising - Supporting IBN

September 3, 2012 0 comments
There are ways you can support the mission of International Beer News, but the most straightforward is advertising with us. Of course, since we are just starting out, our rates are very modest - but you may want to get in early before rates increase down the road. We have a number of options available, and can help you find one that best meets your needs and objectives. Among the options:

SLIDER ADS / 1 Primary, 1 Secondary Spot available - weekly and monthly inventory. These are our most prominent ads - interspersed with our "slider" news/link content highlights at the top of our Home Page.

TOP SIDEBAR AD / Right above our Twitter feed - 250 x 250 - linked

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POST ADS / These are clearly marked as such; if there is a topic or post subject with which you would like to see your product, service or event associated, let us know. This is a banner at the bottom of a post story, approx 700px wide and 80-100 px high. The ad will appear with the story in perpetuity, since they are inserted as part of the post.

SPONSORED POSTS / These may be available on a very limited basis, and if so, are clearly marked as such [advertorial]. Contact us to discuss.

Questions can be directed to the following email or phone:


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The Next 10 Beer Events

September 1, 2012 0 comments


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Connect with IBN

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We love to hear from our visitors and make connections all across the beer-loving world...that's why we make it a little easier to share our content via the Google Translations services widget, located on our Home Page. There's also an RSS feed of posts available:













As you can see, you can follow us on Twitter, find us and "like" us on Facebook, subscribe to our weekly newsletter via Paper.li, or just send us an email at the email address below. You'll also find the rest of our contact information here, including our Google Voice phone number; if you want to send something to our physical address, shoot us a message and we'll send you the info.
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