31 Jul 2009 @ 8:23 AM 

Next week – starting tomorrow, actually – is beach week. As in: I am going to the beach and will not be updating the blog. Twitter? As I can. Truthfully, I’ve found that the Jersey shore is pretty light on decent beer selection, so it might be slow. With any luck we’ll be able to make a trip to Flying Fish, but I haven’t heard from them.
Ahh.. sunrise.
However, upon my return on Monday the 10th, look for an installment of “crazy ideas that Erik thinks would make the craft beer industry better.” I’ve been cooking this one up for a while, and I’ll get a whole week to write about it, so buckle your seat belts!

Consider this the blog’s “out of office” message.

‘Til the 10th – cheers!

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Tags Categories: op-ed Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 31 Jul 2009 @ 08 23 AM

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 29 Jul 2009 @ 11:00 AM 

Tomorrow, when President Obama sits down for a beer with Sgt. Crowley of the CPD and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., all eyes will be focused on pint glasses.*

The whole thing is a little ridiculous. I mean, the fact that this meeting/drinking is happening in the first place is ridiculous. The entire chain of events that has led us to this point has been ludicrous. The media coverage of the upcoming event has been nothing short of insane. Nevermind pulling the coverage off of health care onto this race relations business, now we’ve pulled coverage off of this race relations business onto beer.

As is reported in The Washington Post as well as countless other outlets:

Mr. Obama will likely sip a Budweiser, Sgt. Crowley a Blue Moon, and Mr. Gates either a Red Stripe or Beck’s, the White House said.

Okay. Now I can get involved. After all, as a blogger I have to be self-righteously indignant about issues that have been amply covered in other locations and mediums. It’s my oeuvre.

Quick show of hands: Who among you assorted and sundry beer geeks out there is really surprised to see a Bud for Obama? Really? That many? After all, as Press Secretary Gibbs noted:

The President had a Budweiser at the All-Star Game, so — why are you looking at me like that? That’s what he drank.

And you know, that was in St. Louis, where Schlafly is on tap at — yes.. okay.. here it comes — Busch Stadium. So are people really surprised that Obama’s getting a Bud?

I sure am.

After all, since a rule during LBJ’s administration, the White House is not allowed to stock foreign beers. (In retrospect, it seems a little ridiculous coming from LBJ. I mean.. how many could he possibly have had to chose from?) So our possible drinks of choice?

Budweiser: Manufactued in America by Anheuser-Busch-InBev, Belgian-owned.
Blue Moon: Manufactured in America by Molson Coors, Canadian owned.**
Red Stripe: Manfucatured in Jamaica by Diageo, U.K. owned.
Beck’s: Manufactured in Germany by Anheuser-Busch-InBev, Belgian-owned.

I can see where you might argue that Budweiser and Blue Moon are American beers, but they’re American beers like the Toyotas manufactured in Indiana are American cars.

By contrast, here’s how far it is from the White House to the Capitol City Brewery:


View Larger Map

.3 miles.

Mind you, those are driving directions. If you just cut across the lawn on foot instead of pulling out of the driveway, you’ve got be able to save yourself a tenth of a mile.

So, yes. I am surprised. I am surprised that in this very young and hip White House, nobody has the presence of mind to walk down the street and pick up a couple of growlers of local beer. They can ship clam chowder in from Boston for the inauguration and they can’t get – shit – even a Sam Adams in for this? Is there nobody on the White House staff – even in the kitchens – who can say, “Oh, if you like Blue Moon, you will probably also like the Hefeweizen that is currently on tap at Cap City? Or that the Cap City Kolsch would probably go over just as well as Red Stripe?

I can’t fault Obama. He doesn’t have the time to be hunting out local pubs. But you’d think that there would be somebody on his staff with some sort of taste in beer that would pipe up and say, “Hey – you know what would be really good, support a local business AND would go over well with local and national press?”

Really guys? You’ve got no one? Why am I paying all this excise tax on my beer if you can’t use that money to hire somebody with some good taste in beer? Next time you’re having a race relations beer pong afternoon, drop me a line. I’ll be happy to set you straight.

* – (God, I hope they use glassware.)

** – to be fair, Molson Coors is half-American owned. Both countries like to state that the brewery is controlled by foreign interests. They’re supposed to be 50/50.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 29 Jul 2009 @ 11 00 AM

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The first level of Cicerone certification is “Certified Beer Server.” The Cicerone website has this to say about it:

The Certified Beer Server requires competent knowledge of beer storage and service issues as well as modest knowledge of currently popular beer styles and culture and basic familiarity with beer tasting and flavors as well as brewing process and ingredients.

I kind of wish it was called something different: “Novice Cicerone” or even “Journeyman Cicerone” since you’ve actually passed an exam – something like that. From a marketing standpoint, though, I can understand why it’s called this. This is the product you’re most likely to sell to a beer bar/brewpub. These are attributes you want in your beer server.

Studying for the test was very straightforward. There is a Novice Syllabus available that covers almost everything you need to know outside of the BJCP Style Guidelines. It is (currently) a 60-question multiple-choice exam and you need to answer 45 (75%) of them correctly to pass. They are generated randomly from a much larger list of questions, which means that no two people will receive the same exam. I suspect that it’s built in a manner that gives each person an equal percentage of questions from a few set categories: Styles, serving guidelines, beer ingredients, the three-tier system, etc. The downside to this is that I actually got a repeat question in the mix, a little lucky gift for me in the form of two right answers for the price of one.

I don’t want to give anything away about the specifics of the test, but I will say that it ended up being more difficult than I had anticipated. I did a quick review of the novice syllabus, and didn’t actually look at the BJCP guidelines, just trusting what was in my head to carry me through. You get two tries at the test, so I figured I’d take it once and see how it went. If I didn’t pass, I would figure out where I was weak, review those spots, and take it again. The style questions ended up being much more specific than I had anticipated and, for the most part, the multiple choices were well-written so that there was no obvious correct choice if you didn’t immediately know the answer.

If you take this test without looking at any of the material, you will have a hard time getting through it, and I think that’s great.

My thoughts on the test and certification: I would recommend beer bars and brewpubs, at the very least, to look at getting all of their waitstaff to “Certified Beer Server” level. It will absolutely ensure that your staff is knowledgeable about beer and, hey, you don’t have to invent the test yourself. For other beer-related business (from manufacturing to distributing): the knowledge covered here makes this an excellent exam for any beer-professional – your administrative staff, marketing department, or even your truck drivers. It will help your staff – and ALL of your staff – promote and sell your product better.

As for myself? I took the test in around one-third of the allotted time while my wife chatted to me about Fantasy Baseball on the other side of the room. I missed a handful of question that, upon review, I felt a little silly about getting wrong, and I am happy to say that I am now a Certified Beer Server (even if I wish I could call it something else). I am looking forward to working toward “Certified Cicerone.”

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 27 Jul 2009 @ 10 23 AM

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 24 Jul 2009 @ 3:29 PM 

Earlier this week, I had my first try of Westvleteren 12, the so-called best beer in the world. No doubt, it was awesome; indescribably wonderful. When I checked later on, though, I noticed that while it was listed #1 at Beer Advocate, it was listed #2 at Rate Beer. Interesting.

It got me to thinking about the differences between the two sites and how much they agreed with one another. I started to take a closer look at what was listed at both sites.

As Andy Crouch noted earlier this week, there is a distinct lack of lagers on each of these lists, and an abundance of barrel-aged and/or hop heavy and/or alcohol heavy offerings. They’re also both heavy in rare, small-run, and hard-to-find beers. I suppose it’s all very American. Bigger is better and if it’s hard to get it must be awesome. Sounds like a recipe for eBay, if you ask me. But that’s not my focus today. That’s for my “please make more session beer” column later.

What I found fascinating was the agreement between the two lists. First of all, I found it interesting that more than half of the beers appearing on one list do not appear on the other (52). In Rate Beer’s case, 6 of the Top 10 beers they have listed do not appear in Beer Advocate’s Top 100 whatsoever. Only 1 of Beer Advocate’s Top 10 does not appear in Rate Beer’s Top 100.

So I cut myself down to looking at only the 48 beers that appear in both lists. Of those 48 beers, there is very little close agreement. Only one matches right on. Pizza Port Cuvee de Tomme ranks at #95 on both lists. The next closest agreement is the aforementioned Westvleteren 12. Only 27% of the list (13 out of 48) were in what I would consider close agreement (within 5 places, plus or minus, of the other list), whereas 38% of the list (18 out of 48) were more than 20 places apart.

I also threw a couple of scatter plots together.

Beer Advocate vs. Rate Beer

They’re both the same scatter plot, sorted two different ways. Scatter 1 is sorted by BA rank (thus stripe of blue up the middle) and Scatter 2 is sorted by RB rank (thus the strip of red up the middle). You can see from these that, of the beers that both sites ranked in the Top 100, Beer Advocate tended to rank the beers higher (lower in number: Rank 1 = The Best).

The number of times that the following words appear in both lists combined (if a beer appears on both lists, the word was counted once):

Bourbon: 10
Barrel: 16
Aged: 15
Imperial: 19
Stout: 31
Ale: 10
IPA/India Pale Ale: 7
Black: 7
Hop/Hoppy/Hoppiness, etc: 6
The suffix “-ation”: 8
Lager: 0

You’d almost think that stouts, and especially bourbon barrel aged ones were the most popular craft beers on the market, and not IPAs.

What final conclusion can we draw from all of this? It’s hard to say. Since they have two different ranking systems (5 point scale vs. 100 point scale) it’s difficult to draw any specific comparisons. Mostly, it’s an interesting look at the tastes of the user base at both sites. I wonder how many people rate at both sites and how their ratings compare given the different point systems.

I also put both lists together (where the beers match) and came up with a mean average of scores to give the overall Top 48 beers. Here’s the list:

BA Rank RB Rank Mean Rank Beer
1 2 2 Westvleteren Abt 12
5 3 4 Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout
2 16 9 Russian River Pliny the Younger
7 13 10 Russian River Pliny the Elder
12 8 10 AleSmith Speedway Stout
15 7 11 Three Floyds Oak Aged Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout
11 15 13 Rochefort Trappistes 10
4 24 14 Three Floyds Vanilla Bean Barrel Aged Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout
10 22 16 Westvleteren Extra 8
16 19 18 Lost Abbey The Angels Share (Bourbon Barrel)
3 34 19 Deschutes The Abyss
24 14 19 Three Floyds Dreadnaught Imperial IPA
18 25 22 Surly Darkness
25 20 23 Bells Hopslam
8 40 24 Founders Kentucky Breakfast Bourbon Aged Stout
21 28 25 Stone Imperial Russian Stout
26 23 25 Port Brewing Older Viscosity
23 27 25 Russian River Consecration
33 18 26 AleSmith Barrel Aged Speedway Stout
17 39 28 Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel
20 37 29 Russian River Supplication
36 31 34 New Glarus Belgian Red
19 50 35 Founders Breakfast Stout
6 65 36 Portsmouth Kate The Great Russian Imperial Stout
43 30 37 Struise Pannepot
22 52 37 St. Bernardus Abt 12
30 49 40 Russian River Temptation
69 12 41 Lost Abbey Isabelle Proximus
27 69 48 Firestone Walker 12
37 61 49 AleSmith IPA
39 60 50 Kuhnhenn Raspberry Eisbock
49 54 52 Lost Abbey Cable Car
78 29 54 Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
53 64 59 Stone Brandy Barrel Double Bastard
44 88 66 Cantillon Blåbær Lambik
54 83 69 New Glarus Raspberry Tart
46 94 70 Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock
62 78 70 New Belgium La Folie
52 98 75 Surly 16 Grit
75 77 76 Stone Ruination IPA
60 93 77 Tyranena Devil Over A Barrel
83 71 77 Southern Tier Choklat
58 97 78 Russian River Beatification
81 89 85 Oskar Blues Ten FIDY
80 92 86 Ølfabrikken Porter
86 90 88 North Coast Anniversary Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin
97 91 94 Struise Black Albert
95 95 95 Pizza Port Cuvee de Tomme
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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 24 Jul 2009 @ 03 35 PM

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I was out having drinks with friends last night. A woman I don’t really know was sitting across the table from me drinking a PBR. “I’m not really a beer person,” said she. “This is about as adventurous as I get.” I offered her a sip of mine, a Petrus Oud Bruin, and got the reaction that I love so dearly:

“Oh my god. That’s wonderful. Beer can taste like that?!”

Her next beer was not a PBR.

One of my favorite things to tell people is that my superpower is finding beers that people like. It’s pretty rare that I meet people that think they don’t like beer that I can’t convert to beer, albeit sometimes slowly. All it takes is a little patience, a decent beer selection somewhere nearby, and a person who is willing to work through the process with you.

At the risk of sharing myself out of a superpower, here’s how I do it:

Find out what other drinks and foods they like This can be both alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks and any vast array of foods. This can be a really easy indicator. “I LOVE coffee.” = Try a stout. “I love fruity drinks.” = Try this fruit beer. “I love broccoli.” = Good luck! Matching flavors to introduce people to beer can be really easy. It can also really throw you for a loop. One of the women I was talking to last night told me: “When I drink liquor, I like gin and tonics. When I’m not drinking liquor, I drink sweet tea.” Tough one. It wasn’t until I was on my way to work this morning that I thought that what I would really like to try her on would be a Ruination IPA, Arrogant Bastard or even a 120 Minute IPA. Why? Well, we (beer geeks) all know that these are super hoppy beers. They’re high in citrus flavor and floral character, much like your gin and tonic. They’re also balanced with a lot of malt, a sweet backbone to balance out the bitterness of such a big hop presence. There’s your sweet tea. I hope I get the chance to try her out on one of these (or at least give her the recommendation).

Find out what they don’t like about beer This is actually two questions. Question one is: What is it about beer that you don’t like. This question might take a little coaxing to get a decent answer to. (Most frequent answer I get to this is: ‘The beer taste.’ Anybody who is in IT support will recognize this as the blanket answer to ‘What seems to be the problem with your computer?’ ‘It’s not working.’ ‘Amazing! How do you know?’) My wife likes to tell people that when she met me she thought she didn’t like beer. She usually follows this with: “Turns out that what I don’t like is Bud Light!” Bingo! So try to get an answer to what they don’t like, even if it’s a brand. Come up with an alternative for them to try based on what other drinks they like. If you’re wrong, then the followup question is: What about this beer don’t you like? Is it the bitterness? The sweetness? You don’t like flowers? You don’t like chocolate? If you feed a person the vocabulary they need to define it, they will be able to finally settle on what it is they don’t like, and you can build from there.

Don’t try them out on full pints. Number one way to get someone who doesn’t like beer to continue not liking beer: force them to drink a pint of something they don’t like. If you’re in the right kind of bar, see if you can get the bartender to give you samples of beer for the person to try. At absolute worst, buy one for yourself and let the person try it from your glass. They are going to be much more likely to try a wide array of things if they don’t have to suffer through an entire glass of something they don’t enjoy.

If possible, pair it with food. This is really multi-purpose. For the most part, people like eating, so you’re already giving them something that they enjoy. It gives them something to focus on beside the beer, which may make them a bit more adventurous . It also opens up a much wider range of flavors for them to try.

Don’t force the issue. Finding the right beer for somebody might not happen in one night. It could take days or weeks. A lot of people are going into this with the idea set in their mind: “I don’t like beer.” It can be a defining principle for people. No! I am a Liquor Person! I am a Wine Person! My response is: “Look, if you like good things, you will like good beer. You just haven’t had the right one.”

I can’t think of a person that I haven’t been able to find a beer for (surely they must exist, but I’ve apparently blocked that out), though some of them have taken me months of pondering and looking for just the right one to try on them. It can be a challenge, but everybody has some sort of beer that they’re going to like. It’s up to you to help them find it, and if you play your cards right you get to drink a lot of great beer in the meantime.

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Categories: appreciation, beer-food pairing, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 22 Jul 2009 @ 12 10 PM

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