13 May 2009 @ 8:17 AM 

Tiny Spoiler alert: If you have not seen J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek reboot yet and care wildly about a throwaway line about 20 minutes into the film, you may want to stop reading now, but I promise that this post is actually about beer.

Behold this scene. Kirk meets Uhura in a bar. Aww. They’re… like.. kids! How cool! The whole clip lasts just a minute and doesn’t give away anything about the film if you haven’t seen it yet. Go ahead. Watch it. I’ll wait.

Fun, eh? “That’s a lot of drinks for one woman!” Nice pickup line, Jim. It’s hard to imagine that you actually do get all the girls. I’ll tell you what, though. I barely noticed it the first time through; the mention of three “Bud Classics” nearly took me out of my seat.

For years, sci-fi has been responsible for motivating the minds of inventors and that is particularly true for Star Trek. There’s a reason that there are cell phones that look a lot like the communicators you see in Star Trek. There’s a reason that there are actually scientists working on matter transference. One person thought it up in their wildest dreams and a fanboy scientist somewhere that actually knew his shit about physics said, “Holy shit. I bet I can do that.” I hope that, instead, this is one of those instances where 30 years from now I have to explain that reference to the younger generations.

“See.. back in the early part of the 21st Century, our country – in fact, our world – was dominated by just a couple of major beer companies that made some really bland stuff but were incredibly powerful. At that point, the companies had been around for 150 years or more and it seemed like there was nothing anybody could do to crack the market beyond a really specific 10% or so. This ‘Budweiser’ was one of them. Of course, that was back before we ran out of oil and the megabreweries couldn’t figure out how to ship 200 million barrels of beer quickly and cheaply and business started shifting back to local taverns.”

Bud Classic? Really? I mean.. I get the throwaway joke. It’s like Coke, Coke Classic, etc. It’s in the future. They’re in a bar. Bud Classic. A-ha-ha-ha. I also know from an interview with Jimmy Kimmel (start at 5:36) that the engine room of the Enterprise was actually Budweiser’s factory, so you probably felt like you had to throw in a little product placement. But you know what? There are a lot of beer factories out there with lots of rooms with lots of pipes that aren’t A-B that would have been equally as good, and those vats wouldn’t have been filled with Bud Light, they would have been filled with Awesome. A “Sam Adams Classic” might have been a really great touch, actually.

I do appreciate that you’ve got a woman – and what’s more, a black woman – coming in and ordering a beer (and a shot of bourbon!). Uhura has frequently been cited as a source of inspiration to others. People have called her a role model. We can only hope that this reinvention of the character will continue to follow suit! But… a Bud Classic?

“I don’t want none of that fancy new beer! You get me a Bud like they made it back in the good ol’ days in the 20th Century!”

Can you imagine a future in which our tastes as a species are so unrefined as to hearken back to old Budweiser?

No! I refuse to believe in a future in which the dominant beverages, even in a dive bar in Iowa outside of a landside space station, are Bud Classic and Slusho Mix. Jack? Okay. I’m fine with that. (I’ll have a taste of that 150-year, thanks!) But I refuse to believe that in a future where space travel is possible we, as a society, are so damned pedestrian.

You hear me, Abrams? You could have put anything in there! She could have said “I’ll have the Nendefarian SPACE Ale!” and I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but feed me a line about Bud Classic and I start seeing your future in a much more Blade Runner-esque “it’s always dark and foggy and rainy” kind of way. That future isn’t a beacon of progress and a place of peace where anything is possible, but one where we’re finally mindless drone minions to our corporate overlords.

I reject this bleak vision of our drinking future. My future holds great beer. Besides, in a real future Iowa, it probably should have been Dos Equis Classico.

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Categories: marketing, media, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 May 2009 @ 09 24 AM

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 11 May 2009 @ 9:35 AM 

So what the eff is that? A fair question.

It is the result of House Resolution 753.

Resolved, That the House of Representatives–
(1) supports the establishment of American Craft Beer Week as a celebration of the contributions that American craft brewers have made to the Nation’s communities, economy, and history; and
(2) commends American craft brewers for providing jobs, improving the balance of trade, supporting American agriculture, and educating Americans about history and culture of beer while promoting the responsible consumption of beer as a beverage of moderation.

It is your tax dollars at work. Suck on that, Prohibition!

The Brewers Association would like you to sign the Declaration of Beer Independence, but I can’t get behind it. I like its message about supporting local and regional breweries, but I don’t like that it’s got little industrial-political tinges in there. “I want to know why I can’t get more local brews on my shelves!” Well, because the local distributor is an A-B house and if they need to pull something off the shelf to put the new Sam Adams Longshot package on, chances are it’ll be a small local brew that nobody really knows about and not Bud Light with Lime. So.. I guess I know why. Or I think I know why. I don’t have to demand it. I can just go support the places that DO have good beer.

American Craft Beer Week

However! This is a week to enjoy a local beer. You! Go support your local brewery! Drink a local beer! No imports this week, Guinness 250 be damned! Go find Brewery Events in your area and hopefully you will have more luck than North Carolina which has… two! [grumble]

I guess my local establishments will have to get my patronage just on my own awesome merits as a consumer.

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 08 May 2009 @ 9:39 AM 

Lemme tell you a story.

Every restaurant, bar, and brewpub knows the importance of good waitstaff and bartenders, but I’d like to underscore this with personal experience: my personal story as a consumer and NOT as an enormous beer geek with a huge ego.

I currently get paid by UNC Chapel Hill. Every Friday that I can, I like to take myself out to lunch. Since it’s closest to campus my usual stop was the Top of the Hill. Great burger, decent brewpub (even if they all share a similar character that I can’t, for the life of me, pin down), and a revolving door of stunningly beautiful waitstaff who can’t be bothered to tell me the time of day. I don’t know why. I’m unobtrusive, I tip really well, and sometimes I want to talk about the beer. How bad is that? (I should note: The assistant brewmaster recognizes me on sight, says hi, and talks beer with me – even did at the CBC. It always makes me smile. Great guy.)

After a while, I got a little irritated with waiting for the waitstaff at TotH and decided that, long lunches be damned, I was going to head down to the Carolina Brewery. Mind you, this requires me to go get my car, go find a place to park at the brewery, have lunch, then drive back and walk in from my parking garage. I cannot, in any way, eat my lunch in under an hour there. In order to do this, I have to come into work early or leave late… at least in theory.

I still go back to TotH occasionally, but not often. Why? Because the Carolina Brewery makes me feel loved.

Of course, there’s still a revolving door of waitstaff and bartenders. After all, it’s a college town. You can’t keep people around for that long. Since the 2nd or 3rd week that I’ve been going there, when I walk in the door I am generally greeted with, “Erik! What’s up?” (The exceptions are when there’s somebody new behind the bar.)

Why on earth would I want to go anywhere else?

On Tuesday night, I was out at a different bar enjoying a few lovely Belgian beers when I ran into my normal Friday lunch bartender. He was watching a show across the street at the Cat’s Cradle, and had come over to the bar I was in for a drink. He was wearing a Carolina Brewery Flagship IPA t-shirt. “Hey! Erik!” He introduced me to his lady friend, we shot the shit. He asked me if I knew what the pint night at Tyler’s Taproom was that night and then gestured to his t-shirt with pride. “See you Friday!” he said as he left the bar.

Brewpubs, take note: This guy is a model representative for his brewpub. They couldn’t ask for a better employee, and it should be rewarded. Happy, friendly, interested in his customers and proud and knowledgeable of the beer that they serve. It makes me a loyal (and frequent) customer.

Hell, I can’t wait to go to lunch today.

What about you? What makes a great bartender/waitstaff in your estimation? Where are they?

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Wow. So, predictably, we’ve started to see some backlash from the I Am a Craft Brewer video (embedded here, in case you missed it). There was a little right after it came out, but for the most part there was a lot of fawning. As it has been pointed out, the video has “gone viral” (though I’m not sure that a constant push into the memestream can be considered “gone”) so it is now subject to John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. It’s started off fairly low and, in some places, almost polite, but for a real view of what you can expect in a few weeks, go take a look through some of the Beer Wars comment threads (though it looks like a lot of the REALLY negative comments were deleted).

Myself? I love it (especially the snappy 3-minutes version). But then, I’m its target audience; I was present when it was played as a toast at the beginning of Greg Koch’s keynote. However, there are some fair points being made that bear inspection. Here’s a short sum, and my comments.

  • This video is missing its audience. Or rather, it hit its audience, mostly dead on, and then, for better or for worse, got pushed outside of its audience. It was made for an audience with knowledge of the subject and the industry politics. I recognized most of the people in the video on sight. Even most of your knowledgeable craft beer geeks will watch half of this video going, “Who the hell is that chick? Check out that dude’s beard! Do they make beer in that van?” One of the things I learned in my years of theater is that if you’re too self-referential in your scripts you turn people off because they just don’t get it. (Example? Saturday Night Live.) It’s possible that this video is a little too self-referential for the general public audience. I’m not sure that it is, but I have a hard time telling. Regardless, some people are going to see it and like it and some people aren’t. Even across the CBC when it was first shown there were probably a solid bunch of people who were underwhelmed. My main reaction to this is: meh – big deal. You can’t make all of the people happy all of the time, you can just wish that the unhappy people weren’t so goddamned noisy.
  • Greg Koch is getting a lot of face time. Yep. Like one of the blogs I linked to up there, prior to the CBC and this video what I knew about Greg Koch is that Stone makes beer I like to drink (and that I love his taste in plaid jackets). Now he feels like a minor celebrity. Bad? Not really, except that, by nature, celebrity breeds criticism. Part of me wonders how much of this is by design or by mistake. Greg was the keynote speaker of the Craft Brewers Conference. Presumably, it’s because Stone is a rising star and an innovator and was asked to do it. He’s a creative dude with a history in entertainment in L.A. and had an idea for a video. He followed through with it. He’s also pretty plugged into the internet, pushed his ideas out through his intertube hole and thus you get instant internet celebrity (just add troll). I think the new cut of the IAACB video is a lot better precisely because it has a lot less Greg Koch in it. It’s not that I don’t like him, but it seems a little less about him and a little more about the community, that way. On the other hand, you also have to figure that 99% of the country has no idea who the hell Greg Koch is. If the video did get played during the Superbowl most people would just think he was some random actor, anyway.
  • Craft beer is being passed off as a snobby drink. Sure works for wine, though, doesn’t it? Oh yeah, and a lot of liquor. Why shouldn’t beer be on a level playing field? Is craft beer the Apple of the beer world? I don’t think so. For one thing, market share isn’t even comparable and I don’t have an beerPod. It’s more like the linux of the beer world. But I can sure see how someone could get the impression that it’s the hoity-toity beer. We (beer geeks and/or brewers) come off as a little snotty sometimes, and maybe we should work on that. At the same time, nobody’s going to be an evangelist for our products for us. I see no good reason to stop preaching. If we make a product that we think it superior why would we characterize it as anything but that?

Arguments it being over-produced and/or poorly written are kinda moot. There’s no way to satisfy that. So.. what.. it should look shitty to have cachet? If it had a really awful script it would be more awesome somehow? There’s no argument to this.

The only thing that really bothers me about all of this chatter is how much is being taken out of context and re-hashed for the sake of argument and criticism, either out of the video or out of GK’s keynote. Come on, guys. Anybody can pull quotes out of a long text and find something about it to argue. Walk through a city sometime, I’ll give you 10 minutes before you run into some crazy dude on a street corner that gives you a pamphlet telling you that you’re going to go to hell for something that you enjoy based on one random quote they pulled out of some random religious text. 10 minutes of solid research and you can completely deconstruct their argument. Let’s not play that game. Constructive criticism offers both pros and cons and includes suggestions on how the subject could be improved. Anybody can be an asshat. I do it every day.

On the other hand (this is like my FAVORITE phrase, lately), a lot of people think this is a good little movie: If you REALLY think it sucks, then by all means: How can it be improved? Is the message wrong? What’s the right message? Is it too long? Too short? Too shiny? No story? Are your dreams of what craft breweries are like shattered knowing that they own bottling lines?

It’s not like I can do anything about it, but I’d love to hear how it could be better rather than just hear about why it sucks.

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 04 May 2009 @ 4:13 PM 

If you’ve got your ear anywhere near the ground around beer news, chances are you’ve heard a little about Bell’s Brewery and their fight with local distributors. Their first fallout was in the state of Illinois (a fallout that indirectly managed to get Bell’s distributed here in North Carolina) and now they’re in court in their home state of Michigan.

2006_10_bells

I bring it up because traditional business news and beer geeks sort of approach this from two incredibly disparate angles. Most beer geeks will see that Larry Bell is bringing an Anheuser-Busch InBev distributor to court and say: “YEAH! The MAN is trying to keep the good beer DOWN! GO BELL’S! DOWN WITH THE THREE TIER SYSTEM!” – which isn’t entirely true, but is an admirable sentiment and only really takes in part of the picture. Then the Wall Street Journal publishes a piece titled “Eccentric Brewmaster Takes Distribution Fight to Court” which might not be the kind of view that somebody who’s trying to win a court case wants in the Wall Street Journal. It’s informational, and it’s a good (if short) article.. it’s just.. meh.

(Yeah, yeah. The Cafe. Yeah, Eccentric Day. I know. But saying it yourself in and around your brewery for branding of your cafe and product is a lot different than having the WSJ use it in the title of their article to describe you. Don’t you think?)

To sum up, if you haven’t been keeping up: Larry Bell is taking Classic Wines Ltd. to court for attempting to transfer (sell?) the Bell’s account to M&M Distributors Inc., an Anheuser-Busch InBev distributor. Bell’s contends that M&M “lacks experience selling craft beers and didn’t articulate to Bell’s a ‘coherent’ marketing strategy for its brands.”

So, to me, the suit is really about a brewery’s right to control its distribution. In the state of Michigan. I hope our side wins.

(Aside: This is one of those instances where the whole “State’s Rights” thing is actually somewhat of a pain in the ass. Interstate commerce is pretty damned common these days, you’d think that a Federal boilerplate/guidelines for distribution laws would be a nice thing to have. C’est la vie.)

In case you’re not up on distribution laws, a lot of them are a right bitch. In some states (this is an anecdotal example – take it as such), once you, as a brewery, are contracted with a distributor you are very much stuck with them. They now have all the rights for distributing your product and you have no control whatsoever. They can put your product in a hot warehouse, they can not get you tap handles, they can put it out on warm display or whatever. Your rights are that you can keep making beer and selling it to them when they want more. If they want more. If you pull out because you think they’re doing a crappy job they can charge you an amount that they say your contract is worth. It can be upwards of millions of dollars if they’re really out to screw you.

Basically, you have to trust a distributor to do right by you. Some distribution companies are awesome beyond belief. Some are unscrupulous asshats. Thus is the way of modern corporate America. They’re not always the most awesome people to deal with.

On the other hand, at some point you, as a brewery, need a distributor. Many states won’t let brewers self-distribute, they’re required to use a third-party. But even if you can self-distribute how much of your time and income is going to get tied up in buying trucks, hiring drivers, and spending time in establishments trying to wheedle a tap handle off of some guy who doesn’t care if you make good beer can you give him an extra keg under the table, because that’s what the A-B guy does? You just can’t do it. Sure, if you’re in a state where you can do so, you can start your own distribution outlet, but it really is a whole separate business. If what you really want to do is make beer, what you really don’t want to do is be a salesman for an array of different brands 5 days a week.

So, as a beer geek, appreciate your distributors (to a point) even if (sigh, yes) they’re A-B or some such crap, because they are getting good beer in for you. Hold your retail outlets accountable for problems with it, because they’re the ones in the best position to push back against the distributors if the beer that they’re delivering has been handled poorly. They’re also the ones that are in the best position to demand different brands and standard delivery procedures.

Even more so, support your local brewers who are fighting their asses off to get good beer into your hands.

Finally, the people who are really in the position to fix distribution laws are your state senators and representatives. Teach them to like craft beer, and there will be more and better beer for you.

As for Larry Bell? I have to say that I really see him as a brewer’s rights crusader. The guy is, plain and simple, sticking to his principles and his love of good beer and making things better for all breweries everywhere, even if he is just going one state at a time. I really hope that everything turns out in his favor, because it just means good things for the rest of us.

If you have some time to read stuff take a moment to read this story from the Chicago Reader about Bell’s pulling out of Chicago because of distribution laws. It goes over the history of distribution and a lot of the problems and bullshit tricks distributors like to play. Well worth reading.

In addition! Here’s an article with a lot of great specifics on Kalamabrew: Beer making, brewing and microbrews in Southwest Michigan.

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