Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!

Eyes. Whatever.

I come here today to fulfill the final item from my first post of the year which is to say, I’ve launched my brewing company.

I’ve ended up doing things a little differently than I had originally thought I would. I started off the year thinking about going the nanobrewery route, having been sufficiently convinced after the long conversation on that post that it was a feasible startup strategy. I lack a garage, which, frankly, seemed like a huge detriment. Renting space means rebuilding space and if I’m doing that, brewing 1 bbl at a time seems a little ridiculous, so I scrapped that idea.

What I ended up finally settling on is starting out contract brewing. A few decisions went into this, one of which is that I can get started, now, while I’m still working my day job. You can tell me that it’s possible to do that while starting my own brick-and-mortar packaging brewery, but I’d argue semantics with you and then I’d remind you that I don’t have a partner in this project to share the workload. It’s me, baby.

I’m planning on doing a form of contract brewing that’s called “Alternating Proprietorship.” What that means is that the brewery that I contract with actually allows me to go in and brew the beer myself. Other breweries you may have heard of that are using (or have used) this concept are The Pretty Things Ale Project or Mikkeller. I can’t say that I purport to be as awesome as either of these formidable examples, but I’ll certainly try my hardest.

Since non-traditional startup seems to be part of my burgeoning oeuvre, I’ve also hooked up with a micro-investment site for part of my startup funds. What that means is that you can be involved in the startup of the company in small amounts. $10. $20. $50. Whatever. It’s a way of getting as many people as possible involved in the company as I can, a way for me to start building a community around the idea of the brewery, and also a way for me to able to give back to people who help with the startup funding.

As you can imagine, this isn’t nearly as much money as I need to actually start the company. I’m also pursuing traditional investment strategies, but this is exactly what it purports to be: A kickstart, a way to get the idea off of the ground and moving. It’s enough money to get me licensed and to get beer into people’s hands at least once.

I’d love to have thousands of people involved: a community built brewing company. It’s my dream. I hope you can join me. And tell your friends! There just might be beer available for everyone involved somewhere along the line.

I’ll post updates here occasionally, but aside from this post (and that nice little widget on the upper-right you see there) almost everything about the brewery will be happening over on its own website, and I’ll be keeping Top Fermented set on snarky commentary.

And now just ask yourself: What better possible way to celebrate American Craft Beer Week is there than funding a brewery?

Cheers,
Erik

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Categories: brewery, meta, startup
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 17 May 2010 @ 02 58 PM

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 13 May 2010 @ 7:26 AM 

We interrupt your normal beer blog content for this important public service message.

Dear Beer Internet,

Let’s talk about hash tags. You know what I’m talking about when I say hash tags, right? I mean the little number-sign-phrase that you’re using at the end of your Twitter post. Those are hash tags. Here’s an example:

@PenandPint Any Carolinians heading to the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival in Charlotte tomorrow? #ncbeer

That “#ncbeer”? That’s the hash tag. You’ll note that it’s clickable. It’s clickable on the Twitter web interface, Tweetdeck, and almost every other Twitter client, too. It opens up a search. Go ahead – try it. Don’t be afraid.

Cool. I want to talk to you about them because they’re distracting. Well-used hash tags are good references. Poorly used hash tags are clutter. They’re difficult to quickly parse, especially on a mobile screen, and they reduce the value of your 140-characters. If I had to read your tweet more than once to try to figure out what you said, you failed at Twitter.

In other words, I’m trying to help you, here.

Now that we know what hash tags look like and what they do when you click on them, let me tell you a little about where they came from.

Hash tags are a form of taxonomy and classification adopted by Twitterers from information science. The use of tags was probably introduced to Twitter through people who were used to using them in blogging. Many forms of blogging software (including the WordPress blog that you are now reading) allow post tags for classification, different than the “Category” classification that also exists. Hash tags tend to be more specific than categories, though in some cases they are the same, or similar, words.

Classification through tags is what is considered “bottom-up hierarchy” vs. categories which are generally “top-down.”

Let’s take a moment to talk about that.

“Top-down” refers to a system in which categories are broad and pre-assigned. Once a thing (blog post, twitter update, etc.) is created, you would then assign said thing to one or more existing categories. It is then categorized. If you were to look up the category, all of the items that you assigned to the category would appear. For instance, this post is categorized in “media” and “meta” on my blog, since I’m talking about (social) media and it is rather self-referencing (meta). These are categories that I have set previously and I tend to smush all existing posts into my category structure. On rare occasion, I’ll create another category because I feel like I need one.

“Bottom-up” refers to a system in which categories are created based on the tags assigned to items. If a tag is used frequently, it essentially works as a category, since it can then be used to reference a large amount of content. If a tag is used infrequently, it is ineffective as a category, since the tag only refers to itself at which point it is ignored. The strength (and weakness) of bottom-up architecture is that it is flexible and dynamic. Categories are fluid and can change based on the information in the system and the frequency of tag use.

Take a moment to scroll all the way down all of the items on my sidebar (to the right) and take a look at my tag cloud. In it, you’ll see the most frequent tags I’ve used on the site (the ones in larger type have been used more often). It’s a big list, but it is not, by far, all of the tags I’ve used, and it’s missing anything that I’ve only used once, you’ll see some one-timers listed at the bottom of this post.

Twitter hash tags have evolved from this bottom-up hierarchy of tagging. They are generally used to categorize your Twitter post on the off-chance that someone wants to find that particular topic again. As an example, I have a column on my Tweetdeck that is every post that happens to mention ncbeer (minus the hash tag, because it’s not strictly necessary). Another craft-beer related tag that you might be familiar with is #gents. There are a fair amount of random items that pop up under #gents, but for the most part, they refer to the The Fellowship of Gentlemanly Gentlemen.

There are two main reasons to use hash tags on Twitter.

1) You are categorizing your tweet. Your tweet has to do with #ncbeer or is meant to reach all of the #gents or is in reference to an event (Craft Brewers Conference: Chicago), a city that you’re in (examples: #avl is the city tag for Asheville, NC, #rva is the city tag for Richmond, Virginia), etc. In all of these cases, the hash tag is being used to categorize your tweet for a larger audience than is necessarily following you. In some ways, it’s like voluntarily joining a Twitter list.

2) You are using the hash tag for comedy, sarcasm, irony or some other form of commentary. The best example of a commentary might be the ubiquitous hash tag #justsayin or maybe #andscene (though at the time of writing the latter is pretty damn lame). Another example might be the #beerfilms hash tag that craft beer Twitterers has so much fun with a while back.

The following are silly uses of hashtags:

1) Hash tags that reference your Twitter handle.

Why? Because your twitter handle is already there. You’re already getting those tweets. The hash tag is doing nothing but taking up space and reducing the amount of space for your actual message. The best example I have of this (sorry for calling you out, Lee, it’s just the example that jumps to mind) is #tellhoptopia.

You see, almost every tweet that the hashtag #tellhoptopia is referenced in is directed at @Hoptopia or is a Re-Tweet of @Hoptopia’s original #tellhoptopia tweet. The hash tag, in this case, is entirely useless. If you want to tell @Hoptopia something, your best bet is to just tell @Hoptopia and leave the hash tag out of it because it’s not actually adding any value to the tweet or getting the information to @Hoptopia any differently.

2) Hash tags that are very broad dictionary words.

The hash tag #beer comes to mind. It’s kind of a silly hash tag. For one thing, #beer is used by a shit-ton of people for completely random reasons (and inconsistently), so it doesn’t really work as a reference marker for anything, but you can also just search for beer, and get a lot more (just as random) results.

3) Hash tags that aren’t common.

This is a little unfair of me to say. At some point, each hash tag was used for the first time. Still, just throwing random hash tags on the end of your Twitter posts is a great way to increase clutter and obscure your message. If the hash tags you use are not referring to something that is going to be repeated (ie – if the only tweet that a search for that hash tag will come up with is your own) and the hash tag itself isn’t compelling enough to be adopted by others (and thus create a new search stream), you’re just wasting time and characters while making your tweet that much harder to read quickly.

In summary, I’d say think about it this way:

Hash tags are category markings used to make searches more efficient.

Use them to categorize conferences, geographical locations, groups of people, etc.

Use them for comedy or commentary.

Otherwise, you’re just wasting the most finite resource you have on Twitter: any single one of your 140 characters.

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Categories: media, meta
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 May 2010 @ 07 26 AM

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 07 May 2010 @ 9:18 PM 

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.

I am the host of June’s Session, Session #40. Because it is one of my absolute favorite topics, and because it seems appropriate for both the forum and the time of year, I give you this topic:

Session Beer

There are a thousand ways to approach this.

What is your definition of a session beer? Is it, as Dr. Lewis suggested at the Craft Brewers Conference this year, “a pint of British wallop” or is your idea of a session beer a crisp Eastern European lager, a light smoky porter, a dry witbier, or even a dry Flemish sour?

Is it merely enough for a beer to be low alcohol to be considered a session beer, or is there some other ineffable quality that a beer must hold in order to merit the term? And if so, what is that quality? Is it “drinkability”? Or something else?

What about the place of session beer in the craft beer industry? Does session beer risk being washed away in the deluge of extreme beers, special releases, and country-wide collaborations? Or is it the future of the industry, the inevitable palate-saving backlash against a shelf full of Imperial Imperials?

What are some of your favorite session beers? When and where do you drink them? If you’d like, drink one and review it.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 07 May 2010 @ 09 18 PM

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 07 May 2010 @ 9:15 PM 

The topic of this month’s Session is “Collaborations”, the hot, new gimmick in the craft beer industry. The announcements of this month’s session asked:

Who’s brewed some of your favorite collaborations? Who have been some of your favorite collaborators? Who would you like to see in a future collaboration?

I will admit to have had precious few collaborative beers. I’ve tried Olde Rabbit’s Foot, a collaboration between three North Carolina breweries, and I’ve tried both Life & Limb and Limb & Life, I’ve tried the Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse, and I’ve tried the infamous Collaboration Not Litigation.

If I had to pick one, I’d say that the Hopfen-Weisse was probably my favorite out of them, but mainly because it was the most delicate of them, which showed off how well crafted it was. A close second is Limb & Life – second runnings are difficult to predict. That Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada were able to create such a compelling beer from second runnings speaks volumes.

Here’s the thing: I have a hard time believing that collaboration makes a huge difference in what I’m tasting in the beer. If we’re talking about two breweries who make exceptional beer, chances are the beer is going to be exceptional, whether it’s a blend of beers from different breweries or a collaborative recipe a la Hopfen-Weisse. Let’s face it, we can’t taste the individual components that have been blended together. All we can taste is a great beer. That’s a wonderful thing, but the only thing that sets a collaborative beer apart from any other great beer is the intent and concept behind its creation – that is where I take my largest share of enjoyment.

In collaborations I see the future of the craft beer industry. By that I don’t mean that years from now all breweries will collaborate with each other constantly, though that may well be the case. No, what I see from collaborations is a reflection of the camaraderie present in the craft beer industry that is one of the best public definitions of what makes craft beer stand apart. In collaborations, we see that rather than attempting to force your competitors off the shelves, it is possible to embrace them and work together for the common good of both of your companies. We see the antithesis of corporate monopoly and dog-eat-dog capitalism. We see the tightening of a figurative band of brothers, where love of craft perseveres over mere petty competitiveness.

You hear the phrase all around the craft industry: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” It’s the mantra that everybody repeats, signifying that what helps one craft brewery helps all of them, and it’s true. Collaborations are the natural extension of this attitude and they exemplify the philosophy that will spell out the success of the industry in the future: camaraderie, not competition; collaboration, not litigation.

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Categories: industry, op-ed, Sessions
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 07 May 2010 @ 09 15 PM

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