25 Dec 2009 @ 5:18 PM 

In case you missed it, there was a little sort-of announcement made by Stone this past week. You can watch the video (or read the blog post) to get the whole deal, but here’s the gist: Stone is considering the possibility of opening a brewery in Europe. That’s the announcement. That they’re considering it. Needless to say, this has garnered quite a few reactions, and I had a few of my own that I wanted to throw out and around for discussion.

I have to admit that my first reaction was a little knee-jerk “What the hell” kind of reaction that I appeared to have shared with a few others out there. Basically, the reaction goes somewhere along the lines of: What the hell? I can’t get Stone beers in [name one of many U.S. states] and now they’re going to open a brewery across the ocean?!

It’s where I sat for the first day or two.

To be honest, it’s an unfair reaction. Distribution laws are different state by state. I’m sure Stone would love to distribute to all 50 states. They would be silly not to, but it’s just not as easy as throwing beer in the mail. There’s all kinds of TTB hoops to jump through at both a federal level and a state level and then you need to find a distributor that 1) will carry your product 2) they way you’d like them to. Oh, and then retailers need to buy it. In some states, Stone doesn’t even have more than a few products that will be able to get to the shelf because of alcohol caps. So I’ll reserve my judgment on that one.

My next reaction was a little disappointment. I’ve always had a little soft spot for Stone because of their plan to sell deep into their market before expanding. That I started seeing Stone beers available in really out-of-the-way places on the East Coast made me assume that they had reached their goal of saturation in Southern California and that they were attempting to establish other markets. Okay, I say that a little tongue-in-cheek. I have a thing for small breweries. I hate it when their goal is constant growth. It smacks of greed to me. The craft beer market is too small for greed.

A lot of breweries have been taking the quick-expansion route in the past year. The fact that I went from never having had a Fat Tire before to getting irritated that every bar I go to in North Carolina has a Fat Tire tap before they have a local brewery tap has kind of irked me. To then follow that up with seeing Stone aggressively expand into my market made me a little wary. The American Southeast still has a way to go before it picks up huge hop profiles as its thing (and I doubt it ever will), so Stone hasn’t quite seen the same kind of ubiquity, but it’s here nonetheless. I kinda wish that I still felt the same sort of mystique I used to for Stone. When it was something that I couldn’t get my hands on, it was more special. Now it’s just a big IPA that I’m not always in the mood for at the beer bar. Availability cancels mystique.

On the other hand, this is how I’ve always thought breweries should handle expansion: Don’t ship your beer across god-knows-how-many miles and trust in some distributor that you can neither see nor control, build a new local brewery and distribute from there. It makes sense that if they want to expand their market to Europe to open a new brewery – it makes sense from a “I want my beer to be good and fresh” perspective. It makes sense from a business perspective, and I can get behind that.

My next reaction was amusement. Go back and watch the video and try to think about it in comparison with American foreign policy over the last.. oh.. 20 years. What unmitigated dicks Americans are. Greg and Steve come off as so damn cocksure in this video. “Don’t call us if you just want a brewery in your backyard – unless you’re a KING!” I know that they’re doing it to try to be quirky and cute and funny. But imagine that English isn’t your first language and you won’t be very surprised that there is – from the makers of “Arrogant Bastard”, mind you – a followup apology video to France. Take it from somebody who is related to a bunch of non-English-speakers: Humor doesn’t translate well.

And honestly guys: You’re funny. You are! But this is the internet. You had to know that was coming. Pictures of kittens get angry reactions. It’s the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. You could have prepared that “apology” in advance. (Though I’m sure that all of the reactions that you received were from unmitigated dick Americans.)

My final reaction? I’m not sure I’m there, yet. Part of me feels like a move across the ocean is kind of giving up on the American market. Despite Greg’s assurances that they would essentially exist as separate enterprises, I know that someone’s attention is going to be divided. In a very selfish way, I’d like Greg’s enthusiasm for craft beer and the craft beer market to be hyper-focused on the U.S., not Europe. Craft beer is still trying to gain a solid foothold here. It’s still struggling against imports and malternatives. To put it in perspective, Coors sold 150% more Zima in 1994 (1.2 million barrels) than all of the microbreweries (based on the BA definition) in the country did beer in 2008 (880,000 barrels).

I guess in a way, my feelings do reflect my pansy-ass, small-business-loving, latte-drinking, craft-beer-sipping, uber-liberal, somewhat protectionist political views: Why should we solve the world’s (beer) problems when we still have so many (beer) problems here at home?

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Categories: distribution, industry, marketing, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 04 Jan 2010 @ 01 05 PM

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 16 Dec 2009 @ 4:57 PM 

Ah, the gateway beer. You see the term all the time. It’s a term stolen from “gateway drug,” generally referring to the beer that will turn someone from BMC lite lagers to good, craft beer in a “if you have this, you’ll probably step up to the other stuff later” kind of way. But does it really exist?

I’ve made reference to a gateway beer here before, in reference to Blue Moon. And even the good folks at Ad Age, in their bullshit craft beer psychographics column mentioned that “Blue Moon drinkers probably don’t know it’s a Molson Coors Brewing Co. family product made in Colorado” which, to me, suggests that even they’re thinking of it as a gateway beer, but the more I think about it, the more I’m not so cool on the idea.

A quick Google search comes up with Guinness, Smithwicks, Sam Adams Boston Lager, and even New Glarus Spotted Cow as examples of gateway beers, and I’ve run into a few moderately sexist blog posts wherein people suggest that women either have no taste buds or only enjoy fruit-flavored things. They suggest gateway beers that include Corona, Heinekin Light, Red Stripe, Sapporo, Stella Artois, Lindemans Framboise, Fruli or (and this is my favorite) Sol.

Sol? Really? Guatemalan light lager?

The last woman who told me point blank what beer converted her to craft beer was said it was Stone Arrogant Bastard. I’d hardly call that a “gateway.” I, personally, have converted multiple people to good beer on Oud Beersel Oude Gueuze Vielle alone.

Sol, indeed.

But! It illustrates a point. For whatever reason, people seem to think that craft beer is something that you have to be trained into. You can’t just jump into liking it, you have to step yourself in through small points of slightly less shitty beer. It’s like walking into the swimming pool slowly because the water isn’t really cold and you’re afraid of getting comfortable too quickly.

I deny this. I think all of this stepping stone stuff is total nonsense. Is there a gateway wine? How many people that start with Night Train graduate to $130 bottles of aged Bordeaux by going through those 2L bottles of crappy grocery store merlot? No. You never hear someone saying, “Mussels are great, but you may like them more if you take an intro path through imitation crab, first.” Please.

If someone’s going to like craft beer, they’re going to like it. If you really feel like they need convincing then educate them and give them something good, don’t give them slightly less shitty beer than they’ve tried before.

I’ve written before that finding beer for people is an individualized process that involves finding out what flavors people actually like, and I want to reinforce that.

Gateway beers are a myth. We don’t need them.

Beer has a vast multitude of flavors and is incredibly accessible. It just needs you, as the person who enjoys it, to adequately explain why it’s good, instead of cheaping out on people and giving them a Blue Moon when you could be giving them a Hennepin, a Guinness when you could be giving them an Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, or a Sol instead of.. well.. c’mon.. anything else. On the other hand, you can’t just give them your favorite beer because they are different than you. It doesn’t matter of they’re a man or a woman, black or white or brown or purple or whatever. What they will want out of a beer is going to be different based on their personal experiences and personal tastes. Those might lend themselves toward fruit and light lager, but they may also lend themselves toward coffee, or chocolate, or sours, or strong bitterness, or piney flavors or so damn many other things.

Don’t shortchange their experience by trying to trudge them in through the shallow end of the pool; let them take a dive. Just show them where to jump from and be ready to act as a lifeguard.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 16 Dec 2009 @ 04 57 PM

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 13 Dec 2009 @ 9:52 PM 

This goes down as one of the coolest ideas I’ve seen in some time.

Peter of Simply Beer had this awesome brainstorm:

Get a bunch of people together, give them the same basic recipe and allow them to change ONE thing about it. Make it at the same time with the same basic conditions, ship bottles of it around, and then we all get to taste. Being that we’re all bloggers, I’m gonna bet we’re all going to taste pretty publicly.

The following people (other than me) have signed up for the good cause:

AaronCaptain’s Chair(@captainschair)
DerekLuther Public House(@LutherHaus)
EthanGeek Beer (@geekbeer)
JosephHopfentreader (@hopfentreader)
MichaelThank Heaven For Beer (@heavenlybrew)
NateThank Heaven For Beer (@THFBeer_nate)
PeterSimply Beer (@simplybeer)
ThomasBeer Genome Progect (@TomBGP)

The recipe looks like this:

9 lbs. Domestic 2-Row barley
16 oz. Chocolate Malt
16 oz. Roasted Barley
4 oz. Flaked Barley
4 oz. Caramel 60°L

1 oz Williamette hops (60min)
1 oz tettnang (2 minutes)

60 min mash @ 152
~75 min sparge @170

60 minute boil.

American Ale Yeast (wyeast 1056)
base recipe has estimated gravity of ~1.046 and finish around 1.014.

Here’s what I love about this – one ingredient can totally change a beer. I think we’re going to see some radically different beers from one small ingredient change, and it should be a pretty fantastic learning experience, as well as a great chance to sample some great homebrew.

The tasting is currently scheduled for February 12th. Brew day was today – and unfortunately I’m a week behind schedule from everybody else (though I will hit ship schedule and not delay the tasting). However, I have settled on what I’m going to change about the beer — mine’s going for the exact grist and hop schedule, but with Abbey Ale yeast. It’s my opinion that yeast is… well.. maybe not the soul of the beer, but it sure is the soul’s wrapper. As far as I’m concerned, we’re looking at a dry dubbel instead of a stout.

Aaron of Captain’s Chair has already written up a report about his brew day, and I’ll do the same when I brew next weekend. In the meantime, keep an eye on Twitter, hash tag #brewoff for updates from all the brewing bloggers over the next month or two, and keep an eye out for an announcement of the live tasting on the 12th.

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Tags Categories: blog, homebrew Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 Dec 2009 @ 09 52 PM

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Last week, a little press release flitted across the wire. You may not have noticed it, so I’ll post it here for your inspection. It was in regards to Blue Moon’s latest release, their Blue Moon Grand Cru. It’s timed to come out in the same month as the only actual blue moon (the second full moon of a month) that has fallen on New Year’s Even in decades. We won’t see another one for 20 years.
Blue Moon: Craft Brewer
At this point, you may be looking up at the title of this post saying, “What’s this supposed to be about again?” Fear not, gentle reader.

Here’s a quote from the press release that caught my eye:

“The craft brewer is celebrating this rare lunar occurrence with an equally rare brew: the limited-edition Blue Moon Grand Cru.”

Yeah. You read that right. Craft brewer.

You may also notice that their tagline – which I hadn’t noticed before – is, “Artfully Crafted.” I’m not sure if that’s new, but after seeing them reference themselves as a craft brewery, it certainly caught my eye and this mention of “craft brewer” in their press release really set off warning bells for me.

Now, just in case you don’t know, let me put this out on the line: Blue Moon is brewed by Coors. In fact, if you look down at the bottom of the press release, you’ll notice that the contact person that’s listed is from MillerCoors. They also list Keith Villa as the Blue Moon Brewmaster – which is not inaccurate – he did come up with the beer. Keith is a brewmaster at Coors.

Coors is not a craft brewer.

The Brewers Association has a definition of craft beer that’s centered around taxation. They list a craft brewer as being Small (under 2 million barrels per year – which is a taxation benchmark), Independent (tricky definition basically saying you’re not owned by somebody else), and Traditional (50+% of the brewery’s volume must be all-malt beers).

On their site, they have a list of “concepts related to craft beer and craft brewers” which I have a LOT of issues with (example: “The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation. Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.” That is in no way traditional.), but this is not the post for that.

This is also not the post where we talk about how this definition actually cuts a lot of good, popular, small American brewers (Ommegang, Goose Island, etc.) out of the craft beer category, even though their products fit the bill in an exemplary manner.

This post will address this:

If you’re a consumer and you’re in the grocery store or a bar, and you want to buy a “craft beer”, how do you know what to get? You can’t just look for the CAMRA seal. If you haven’t taken the time to educate yourself, how do you know that Blue Moon is not a craft beer?
CAMRA
You can say all you want that, “Well, maybe they SHOULD educate themselves.” but it’s not reasonable, it’s a real issue. If you’re a craft brewer, your ubiquitous competition is Blue Moon (and Sam Adams) because: 1) It’s a decent beer and 2) It’s everywhere.

The fact is, if breweries – or the Brewers Association, really – does not come up with a simple and consistent way of showing the average consumer what products on the shelf count as craft beer, they risk losing the term and the definition to the multi-billion dollar marketing machine employed by MillerCoors and InBev.

“Artfully crafted” is a first step, and if it’s successful at reinforcing Blue Moon as a craft beer, then don’t be surprised if you end up hearing about Bud Light Golden Wheat being “craft brewed in small batches” or some such nonsense. I’m not a big fan of slippery slope arguments, but it seems to me like it isn’t long before you have BMC rolling out brands that are successfully marketed as craft beers taking significant portions of sales away from small craft brewers.

If the brewing industry doesn’t take the time, in the next year or so, to aggressively define “craft beer” in a way that is easily recognizable to the consumer, I think they risk losing the term and BMC will have won another battle against it’s minuscule brethren.

I look forward to a point at which I can walk into a store and look for the label, “Real American Craft Beer” so that I know exactly what I’m getting. I hope that day is coming soon and that we don’t have to invent and defend another definition, first.

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Categories: industry, marketing, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 08 Dec 2009 @ 05 25 PM

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 06 Dec 2009 @ 4:03 PM 

In case you didn’t catch it on Friday afternoon and evening, a quick little meme started its way around the beer-related Twitterverse. It was an enormous amount of fun. Using the hashtag #beerfilms people were throwing beer terms into movie names. It was just a fantastic way to end a Friday afternoon at work, and I was happy to see that it lasted for the next 8 hours.

Lest all the creativity be lost to the ether (or Twitter’s magical, ‘older tweets are no longer available’), here are all the “beerfilms” and who came up with them, in order. I kept repeats in, though there aren’t that many of them. The most popular seemed to be “The Silence of the Lambics.”

What you see at the top of the list occured at about 4:15 – 4:30 PM, EST. The very bottom of the list was at 12:54 AM EST.

Got favorites? (Or more?) Post ’em up in the comments! Enjoy:

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 06 Dec 2009 @ 08 43 PM

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