Weird article, right? I know. I just got back to my hotel room. I’m in between sessions on the Saturday of GABF 2013. I’ve had about 3 hours of sleep and my mouth still kinda tastes like whiskey (and a little like shitty cigar), so I’m definitely not at my finest. With all of that, you could probably construe this article as me being a sore loser. In reality, writing is my way of dealing with things; this is a lot closer to therapy for me and you just get to read it.
gabf13_logo_inside
Lucky you.

I’m disappointed. I can’t imagine any brewer who doesn’t get a medal not being disappointed. After all, we don’t get into this business to make mediocre shitty beer, and if I didn’t think my beer was fantastic I probably shouldn’t have started in the first place. You spend a LOT of money and a lot of time getting out to this thing, and it’s an exhausting, insane, shitshow of a week. You kind of want to get something out of it.

I came to the GABF this year knowing that I was at pretty long odds to pick up a medal today. Here’s why:

  • We’re pretty new. We’re still getting a lot of our processes down. And while I’m pretty confident in our ability to make great beer, I’m not 100% on our process for shipping a handful of bottles across the country for a competition. Let’s face it – we’re just getting into bottling now. We bottled these beers on a 90 degree day, put them in a cardboard box and shipped them overnight to Colorado. That beer sat in the back of a hot van, shook its way onto an airplane somewhere, it flew in a cargo container across the country before getting into another truck, hopefully making it there without breaking, and then finally, sitting in a warehouse for a month or more under unknown conditions.And, yeah, look, I know. A LOT of other breweries have the same thing going on, and I’ll get back to that later. I’m saying – I don’t know how my beer was when it got to judging because I don’t know how good our process is for doing this. We made it up.
  • We’re seasonal only. The beer we sent into the competition was the beer that I was pretty sure we’d have around when we had to send samples into the competition. It’s not like I had flagships to send.Funny story: Out of all of the beers we’re pouring at the festival, only 2 are currently available on the market in NC and those two are just a little left over from our summer brands and will soon be gone. We’ve moved on. It’ll all be back next year, but by in large we came to CO to pour beers that we no longer have in stock.
  • We’re not style brewers. Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass if my stout meets the perfect metrics of a Foreign Extra Stout. I made it that way because it tastes good. But in what category do you put a Foreign Extra Stout made with Lemons and Lemongrass? Herb and spice? Experimental? We put it into fruit beer because why the hell not? What about our wheatless Berliner Weisse, or our English-Style Black IPA? We’re just not built for competition. I never have been as a brewer, the GABF will be no different.

I’m still pretty disappointed.

It’s nice to have people come up to the booth and tell us that the beer is great. It would be awesome to have a piece of hardware. Shit happens, eh?

Here are a couple of observations that I’ve been going over in my head:

  • The majority of the winners were states that were really close to the GABF. Makes you wonder a little bit about how much travel effects the beers that are getting judged. I mean, look, you’ve got two CO brewers and a CA brewer that just opened up shop in NC so that they could avoid shipping beer across the country because of the toll travel takes on the product. Funny that we should be sending beer back the other direction and expecting it to be great, isn’t it?But hey – I don’t want to take anything away from the winners – I tried quite a few of the winning beers and they were fantastic. On the other hand, I also had some fantastic stuff from breweries outside of the western 3rd of the U.S., too. It would be really interesting to see the GABF on the East Coast sometime to see how beers from CO and CA made the trip, or to see if there’s a different judging pool in a different geographic location.
  • There are 140-something categories in the BA Style Guidelines, but there are 84 medal categories. That means that a lot of those sub categories are getting mixed together, which means that if you have something fairly rare or special that you’re putting into one of the sub categories, at some point you’re getting lumped in with beers that are potentially very different than what you entered.I know how judging normally works, and I know that GABF is fairly unique, but if I got this right it should go something like this: Everything gets tasted and scored. Beers that score over X are all put in a medal round. Scores from X – Y are bronze, scores from Y – Z are silver, scores over Z are gold (which is why there are sometimes categories without a particular medal awarded). Beers are are in those ranges get tasted again in a “best in category” ranking and whichever one wins in that mini competition gets the medal. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, this is how I understand it.)

    Now, let’s pretend your brewery made a Gratzer, which is a low alcohol, delicate, light, smoky Polish style beer. It’s got it’s own category (27E!) and style definition. In judging, however, it falls under “Smoke Beers” which is a huge category with a lot of BIG beers in it. Even if your brewery made a really fantastic gratzer and it was considered for a medal, if it went up against – I don’t know – a Smoked Russian Imperial Stout, then your delicate little gratzer gets really enormously overwhelmed in a tasting. And I think this is true regardless of how good the judges are. Judging is pretty subjective and pretty tiring to the palate, especially when you’re tasting really big aggressive beers like.. well… smoke beers. I’ve judged a lot of competitions and I know, too, that when it comes down to final rounds it can often be a matter of a subjective whim of a judge.

    I’m not saying this happened. But I do feel like a lot of my beers are pretty delicate, and it’s what makes them good. They’re never going to stand up against giant smack-you-in-the-face flavors, and that’s why we’ll never do well in competition, but I think that blending categories together (out of necessity, I know) exacerbates that problem.

    The solution is for me to lower my expectations.

And that’s it – for now. Until someone is douchey to me in the comments and tells me that my beer sucks (you’re wrong).

I’ve been a Red Sox fan for a long time, and so like I’ve been so used to saying in the past: Better luck next year. We’ll get ’em.

Congratulations to all of the breweries at the GABF – not just the ones who won. There has been some really outstanding, amazing beer. Kudos and thanks for keeping beer great.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 Oct 2013 @ 12 01 AM

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 06 Jan 2013 @ 11:27 PM 

This is a very late entry into this debate, and there’s a good reason why: I’ve been having a hard time articulating to myself just why I think the debate has been so… well.. wrong. I tried recording a podcast about it, but I was just a rambling mess (more so than usual) and so I felt like the best way to approach this was through writing.

To cover the backstory: Back on December 13th, a few high ranking members of the BA wrote an article in the St. Louis Dispatch titled Craft or crafty? Consumers deserve to know the truth in which the authors attempt to call attention to the problem of “faux craft” beer being made by the large international conglomerate breweries, namely Anheuser Busch-InBev (ABI) and MillerCoors, henceforth to be referred to this in this article as The Duopoly (because that’s what they are). It was timed to coincide with a press release by the Brewers Association titled The Beer Drinker’s Right to Know, which seemed to be a response to this insane interview on Forbes/CNN titled Big beer’s response to craft: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em which contains some crazypants quotes from the Executive Chairman of SABMiller like

“There’s a huge debate in the craft world about us, all big brewers, because we’re like the enemy. We’re the other guys. They think we’re stealing their authenticity. What we say is, “Let the consumer decide.” If we’re authentic enough for the consumer, that’s authentic enough for anyone.”

and

“I don’t think the craft movement in its current guise will continue to grow indefinitely. I don’t think it can. It’s not economic. Too many people won’t make any money. Too many of them will go out of business. And I think it will become less fashionable. These things are fashion to some extent.”

Though if I had to guess, what the BA was really responding to is this:

“We have our own craft brands. We also look selectively to acquire, or form partnerships with, or cozy up to people who have incubated good businesses. It’s difficult for big companies to incubate small brands. That, at its heart, is the dilemma. To start a small brand in a credible, consistent, sticking-to-it kind of way is hard for big companies. That’s what small entrepreneurs do best.”

because that is, in reality, the heart of the matter. By the by, that article was actually a followup article to one that came out back in November titled Big Beer dresses up in craft brewers’ clothing, which nobody seemed to take issue with.

Unfortunately, the BA press release and article was taken as an attack and was received with vitriol by some of the country’s smaller brewers that happened to land on this list of Domestic Non-Craft Brewers. They pissed some people off and, frankly, I don’t blame them for being pissed. At least one of those brewers – D.G. Yuengling & Sons – was welcomed warmly during the keynote address at the Craft Brewers Conference a couple of years ago in a we’ve-expanded-our-definition-so-you-can-be-craft-now moment. Throwing them under the bus on this chart is.. well.. kinda crazy. Until this chart, I didn’t realize that the BA didn’t consider them craft anymore.

I won’t summarize the response that the BA received from August Schell. I think it sums up the sentiment that was expressed out and around the internet quite well. You can read it here: August Schell’s response to Craft vs. Crafty on Facebook

Now, here’s my thought on the whole thing:

Faux-craft can be a threat, but not – I think – in the way that this concerted press release and chart make it out to be. It’s not because consumers might be confused into thinking that some shit Shocktop Wheat IPA is craft. It’s because consumers might not have the chance to have a choice in the matter.

One of the biggest warning shots that craft has had fired across its bow in the past 30 years was the AB-InBev purchase of Goose Island. There are a million and one reactions to that purchase and most of them are ridiculous because they’re either about whether or not the beer is going to suck now or whether or not it should still be counted as craft.

I’ll tell you: No, the beer will not suck. No, it is not craft. Done. Happy now?

The problem, I think, is a far more complicated one than it appears on the surface. Here’s why the Goose Island purchase is a threat:

Because Goose Island is good beer with a good reputation that people like and have heard of.

Why is that a problem? Because AB-InBev has a program that it runs with its distributors whereupon you can become an “aligned distributor”. That means that you purposefully exclude products not from the AB-InBev catalog from your sales. In return, you receive excellent lines of credit, better pricing on your products, and all kinds of interesting incentives that give you a competitive advantage in the market. Here’s a quote from the Wholesaler Family 2011 Consolidation Guide (lifted from The Washington Monthly: Last Call):

We ask all wholesalers to use the guide’s self assessment tool to objectively consider their capabilities and goals. Wholesalers who aspire to be an Anchor Wholesaler can identify any gaps they have in these qualities and build a plan to address them. Some wholesalers might remain committed to their current market, but realize further acquisitions are not right for their business. Others might decide now is the best time to consider whether a sale is in their best interest.

There are many aspects of an aligned wholesaler, and an explicit focus on our portfolio of brands is paramount. Those who are aligned with us only acquire brands that compete in segments underserved by our current portfolio and that bring incremental sales, not brands that have a negative impact on the A-B portfolio.

In a nutshell: our brands are your priority.

Okay, fine, you say. So craft doesn’t sign on with a Bud distributor. Big deal. Except that the country doesn’t have very many distributors with the same kind of reach and network that the two big houses do. To not sign on with those distributors – in most markets – is to put yourself at a significant competitive disadvantage. Unfortunately, to sign on with those distributors – in most markets – seems to now put yourself at a significant competitive disadvantage. Because now, when a bar says, “Hey – my customers keep asking me for a Pale Ale – can I get one of those?” The Bud guys can say, “Sure – Goose Island Honkers Pale Ale coming right up.”

Not that they wouldn’t say that anyway, but now they have incentive to push it harder. It doesn’t seem like much. Alone, it’s not.

Education is key

Part 2 of the problem is that there is awful – and by awful, I mean fucking TERRIBLE – education about beer in the bar and restaurant market. Here’s the thing I find the most embarrassing in restaurants: when they’ve put time into crafting the most beautiful wine list in the world, and the beer they offer is Heineken or Amstel Light or something because that’s imported fancy beer. There is a really large emphasis on wine education in culinary institutes, but unless a chef has a personal preference for beer it is basically ignored. This goes doubly when it comes to management and server training. So, unless you’ve gone out of your way to hire a huge beer geek at your restaurant to run your beer list, an IPA is an IPA and Honkers or Shocktop Wheat IPA or Leinenkugel Big Gig is just as good as Pliny the Younger. I mean.. hey – is it cheap? Then, cool, get it.

That’s why faux-craft is a threat: not because craft drinkers might be somehow duped into thinking that some other beer is a craft beer, but because new craft drinkers might never get the chance to have anything else. It’s not an awareness problem, it’s a market share problem. Nobody doing purchasing at Wal-Mart is going to be a big enough beer nerd to call out a distributor on pushing a faux craft instead of a craft, so nobody who shops at Wal-Mart gets to see anything else. Not a big deal, right? Except that that’s the single largest retail outlet in the country.

(Alternate argument says, “But those people are learning about craft and might eventually move onto other brands,” which is legitimate. My argument to that says, “People are lazy and if they can buy a six pack with the rest of their groceries, they will. It takes education and affluence to go to a beer-only store.)

The BA has posted articles about the need for more education in bars and restaurants before, but it didn’t receive the same kind of attention that last press release did. I guess it’s easy to write off Garret Oliver as an elitist jerk, which might be one of the single wrongest sentences I’ve ever written. He’s right.

The Definition of Craft is Misguided and Outdated

Part 3 of the problem is the definition of craft. The basis of the definition is written around tax guidelines – or worse, proposed tax guidelines written in legislation that hasn’t passed yet. If you’re anywhere near the craft industry at all, you’ve seen this definition before:

Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.

Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

This summary might better explain what a craft brewer is: Not The Duopoly.

In the grand scheme of things, the definition here isn’t that bad. Small and Independent I can get behind (except for the definition of 6 million barrels as small – that is complete bullshit), what makes the definition wonky here is “Traditional”. Everything about this definition is about taxes and business size and that Traditional part of the definition means that you’re making a quality call in the middle of the definition.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and it goes against what I’ve said for years, but here’s what I think should be the definition of a craft brewer: A brewery that isn’t publicly traded on the stock market.

Because when you put quality into the definition of what a craft brewery is, you run into another problem.

Craft beer does not mean “good beer”

Part 4 of the problem is that people are confused about what is craft beer and what is good beer.

Craft beer does not mean good beer. There’s a lot of shitty craft beer out there. Sorry to say. Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you know what the hell you’re doing. It doesn’t mean you know how to build a recipe or package without an infection. It just means you’re small. If you want to say small breweries are craft breweries, then cool – that’s a craft brewery. But if you start making quality calls in the definition then there are a lot of breweries that are going to need to turn in their “craft” badge.

So what does that mean? It means that Utica Club and Yuengling and August Schell and Genessee and all that light beer with corn in it is probably craft. You might not like it, but you don’t stay open for 150 years because your beer is shitty, so deal with it. It also means that Sam Adams (SAM) isn’t, nor is the Craft Brew Alliance (BREW) or Mendocino (MENB), Sackets Harber Brewing Company (HBWO), Big Rock (BRBMF) or, of course The Duopoly (BUD, TAP) or any of the other international conglomerate breweries.

So, if I can sum all of this up: Craft vs. crafty. Is it an issue?

Yes, but not in the way it’s made out to be. Faux-craft is a problem because the big breweries control an unreasonable share of the market (80+%!) and, thus, have a stranglehold on the distribution system, meaning that they can control the flow of product in many markets. If they can give the mid-level suppliers – who are often poorly educated about the product they’re buying – an easy alternative to a higher priced product, regardless of how “cool” local is, they’ll control the market share and, thus, put small breweries out of business.

The BA’s position statement was, by all means, appropriate (somebody has to be a watchdog for the craft industry and call out the big guys, because craft brewers are so stupidly apologetic about The Duopoly). But, it is clouded by the fact that their own self-made definition of what craft is has a (recent!) history of changing to suit their priorities and contains a basically unenforceable criteria – quality – that they insist on enforcing based, it would appear to most outsiders, on beer color.

Drinkers are confused about what to do with this position statement because they’re being told that beer that they consider “good” (Goose Island, Ommegang, Magic Hat, Pyramid, Red Hook, Leinenkugel, etc.) is apparently “bad” because they falsely associate “craft” with “good”. In reality, those breweries are NOT craft, based on taxation definitions alone and it is not – and should not be – a measure of how good their beer is, merely whether or not they can join the Brewers Association.

Final word. Support your local brewery. If the big guys get their way, your local brewery will go away and the BA or anybody will be powerless to stop it because so many craft drinkers can’t be bothered to draw a line in the sand. The number of conversations that I have with craft beer drinkers that have an element of, “Yeah, but a Miller High Life on a hot day is awesome!” is astounding. No it’s not. It’s gross, just like it is on any other day. It’s not a good beer. (Oh, the apologetic craft brewer in me says, “But it’s a well made beer!” Sure. Your McDonalds hamburger is a well-made hamburger but it’s still a shitty goddamned hamburger.) You know what’s good on a hot day? A wit. A hefeweissen. A craft pilsner. A foreign extra stout. A really crisp IPA. I can keep going FOR HOURS about what beer is good on a hot day instead of a Miller High Life, and I will no longer compromise.

And you shouldn’t either. Here’s why you shouldn’t support faux-craft – and that includes everything from Blue Moon and Shock Top to (yes, I’m deeply sorry to say this) Goose Island and all the others: Because you’re feeding the machine that is working to remove choice from your life. The Duopoly is a consolidation machine that will, if given the chance, wipe out all competition possible.

Don’t let it.

Additional reading/listening just for fun:

The Street: 10 Craft Beers That Aren’t

Beer Advocate Thread: Craft vs. Crafty

Another definition of, well, not ‘craft’ beer

WUNC: The State of Things – Brewing Beer Battle

Last Call: Industry giants are threatening to swallow up America’s carefully regulated alcohol industry, and remake America in the image of booze-soaked Britain.

The Plot to Destroy America’s Beer

Random Thoughts from Littleton (about the Wholesaler Family 2011 Consolidation Guide)

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I just wrote a small piece in my book about what defines a craft brewer, and I was faced at having to put down this ridiculous statistic, here, directly from the Brewers Association.

Microbrewery: A brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels (17,600 hectoliters) of beer per year with 75% or more of its beer sold off site.

Regional Brewery: A brewery with an annual beer production of between 15,000 and 6,000,000 barrels.

As a small brewer who will, with any luck, make 500 – 1000 bbls of beer next year, I could not fathom writing down that last number. Just to put this in perspective, I downloaded the 2010 craft beer statistics to take a quick look at them. Bear in mind, now, that 60 or so breweries didn’t report data, so I may be off from reality by a few decimal points here or there. The 2010 data lists 1415 breweries with barrelage data, which is about 300 short of our current number, since so many have opened recently.

Of these, 1334 fell under 15,000 barrels. That’s mindboggling. Up from there, only the top 18 make over 100,000 barrels/year, and only the top 4 make over 500,000 barrels per year. If you take the average from the top 10 craft producers in the country (in 2010), the number is 487,528. If you average all 1415, the number is 6,961, and if you leave out the top 18 it drops to 2,919.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, for two reasons. One, I think we need more than two categorizations for breweries, because I fail to see what anybody that’s operating at 1,000 bbls/year has in common with someone who is producing 500,000 bbls/year aside from the actual end product. I don’t think you could find two more different companies, and I wonder if the majority of the breweries (ie – the small ones) are actually having their needs met from a professional organization standpoint.

The BA Board is primarily comprised of people from the largest breweries who don’t know what it’s like to be a small brewer in today’s market, only yesterday’s where they didn’t have to compete with.. well.. themselves. Kim Jordan has no idea what it’s like to have New Belgium expand aggressively into her state, Sam Calagione has no idea what it’s like to have to compete with his innovation. They’ve never had to do so. Their success has changed the market for small breweries in ways that they’ve never dealt with. Can they accurately consider and respond to issues and concerns of breweries significantly smaller than them? Maybe they can. I don’t know.

I would like to see a more tiered breakdown of breweries, and maybe see the BA address them as separate segments from an organizational standpoint:

Artisanal brewery: 0 – 10,000 bbls (1311 breweries in 2010)
Microbrewery: 10,000 – 50,000 bbls (71 breweries in 2010)
Regional brewery: 50,000 bbls – 100,000 bbls (15 breweries in 2010)
Super-regional brewery: 100,000 bbls – 1,000,000 bbls (17 breweries in 2010)
Premium craft brewery: 1,000,000 bbls – 6,000,000 bbls (1 brewery in 2010)

I’d also just like to pose the question: Would a brewery that makes 6,000,000 bbls/year really have the same interests as the 1300+ that make fewer than 10,000 bbls year? The size difference there is just staggering. In no way is that still a small business in any way shape or form. I’m not advocating culling the BA membership or anything, but given the large numbers of very small breweries, wouldn’t it make sense to treat each of these tiers differently from an organizational level, especially since the small breweries are less likely to have the resources to advocate for anything other than making their own sales goals to stay open?

Maybe the BA could feature different sized small brewer committees to deal with issues that come up within each successive tier. They’re going to be different, from supplier needs to distribution needs – what is relevant to a small brewery will be laughable to a large one and vice versa. Each tier could have advisory members from larger tiers to offer advice on problems that arise for these small guys that they’ve already conquered, or to act as a liaison to the larger tiers if there are intra-industry issues that pop up where small brewers are having a hard time getting their voice heard.

Just food for thought.

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 13 Apr 2010 @ 10:53 PM 

My original plan, like last year, was to give a full blow-by-blow of the whole conference as I went through it. Sadly, it didn’t happen. Various things conspired against me, not the least of which was the atrocious wireless and cell coverage in the conference center, but it also happened that I just know a lot more people this year and so spent a lot more time actually connecting with people and socializing. It was a refreshing change, even if it meant that I was out late and up early every day. It was a fantastic time. So what follows is my brief wrapup:

The first thing that I want to note is just how many people I’ve run into that are starting up their own breweries, or are trying to figure out how to enter the industry. Surprisingly (to me), I’ve also met more than 1 mother/son team working on a startup which, frankly, I find astonishing. No offense, mom, but there is pretty much no way in hell that I’d want to run a business with you.

Tuesday through Wednesday events, for me, were all about brewery tours and beer. I got the chance to hit Goose Island Clybourne, Revolution, Rock Bottom, Ram, Mickey Finn’s, Emmet’s Pub and Brewery, and the Lucky Monk. And that was all before the Welcome Reception at the Field Museum, which is worth mention because of this:

It’s just not every day that you get to have a beer with a dinosaur. There was table after table of brilliant local beer, local food, and even a local fromagerie. Just to give you an idea of the size of this conference this year, here’s a view of the Welcome Reception from above.

If I understand correctly, we’re looking at something like a 40% attendance jump from last year, and there could have been more if the Sheraton would have had more space. There are approximately 3500 people present.

The actual bulk of the newsworthy items in the conference happened at the Keynote on Wednesday morning. I didn’t take notes, so you’re stuck with gross generalizations, but the gist is this: Beer sales overall took a nosedive, but within that, craft beer gained sales. I took away that the macros are losing market share faster than craft is gaining it.

Where’s it going? I’m not entirely sure. Wine? Spirits? My guess would be spirits – if money is tight, people will buy value, and a $6 bottle of Popov vodka will get you drink quicker than anything else. Now THAT is efficient.

The general goal seems to be to get craft to a 10% market share, though whether that’s by sales (which we currently have about 7% of) or by volume (which were at 4.5%), I don’t know. We heard a lot about the initiative going through Congress right now to reduce taxes for small brewers, which would be a great boon for the industry. We also heard about the formation of the small brewers caucus in Congress – which is currently at 60 members, with a goal to reach 100 members by the end of the year this year, and 200 members by the end of 2011.

The panel that I went to at the end of that day proved to be interesting: Michael Lewis’s panel on Drinkability. Drinkability can be kind of a politically charged word for craft brewers, since we most closely associate it with Bud Light’s ad campaign.

Drinkability, said Lewis, is the quality of a beer in which, when one reaches the end of their glass of beer, they think to themselves, “I could drink another one of those” and then does. I’ve got to say, he’s a really compelling speaker. He had me chuckling, and, for the most part going along with him. He lamented the apparent demise of session beer, calling his perfect beer “a good pint of English wallop.” Where he ended I think really surprised a lot of people, though. The panel kind of wound around Lewis’s dislike for sour or Brett beers, which he called “infected” and landed squarely on his distaste for ‘extreme’ beers before moving onto a call for America’s craft brewers to work on making craft pale lagers, such as he found on his recent trip through Europe and the Baltic states. His opinion seemed to be: If you want to see craft brewers take off, then make pale lagers better than the macros do.

I think he has a point, but I’m not sure it’s the best way to make it. Far from energizing his audience toward his goal, I think he kind of ruffled the feathers of a lot of people there. For my point of view, I think that he’s probably right – at least a little – but is overlooking the fact that the market for these extreme beers actually exists – and it is many of the same people who will go buy a craft lager as well. If there’s anything consistent in the market, it’s that people like variety. Remember that old Craft Drinker survey in 2001? The that showed that people who feel loyal to their favorite brand of beer buy it once per month? Yeah – variety is king. Sure – craft pale lagers are probably a great thing put into the market, but it is the future growth vehicle of craft beer? I’m unconvinced.

That evening there was a brilliant, wonderful, stupendous event at Goose Island’s Fullerton brewery with a plethora of their barrel-aged beers and food from some of Chicago’s best chefs. I could go on and on, but Chris at DRAFT has already done that for me.

I won’t summarize the trade show floor, or ever panel I went to. I will say a couple of things about Vinnie Cilurzo’s panel Toothpicks, Garlic and Chalk: Three Key Ingredients to Any Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Sour Beer Program.

1) If there’s a technical pre-conference seminar about barrel-aged sours in 2011, I am so there.

2) Here’s what the title is about, partly because if you weren’t there you’ll never get it, partly so that I remember: If you have a leak in your barrel – meaning a little hole, not like a cracked stave – you jam a toothpick in the hole and break it off even with the outside of the barrel. Then you rub garlic over the hole/toothpick, and then chalk over the garlic. The garlic and chalk mix to make a little cement-type thing, and – voila – you have patched your hole.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about my own panel on Saturday morning. Storytelling 2.0: Social Media is a Conversation. Mainly, I want to say thanks to everybody who came. It was great to have a packed house, and fantastic to have such good feedback afterward. It was also an absolute pleasure to work alongside Sean Lily Wilson, Dean Browell and, of course, Charlie Papazian. I cannot thank them enough for their terrific insights.

If you made it to the panel, and want more, or have questions, feel free to post here – or hit me on Twitter or Facebook. If you didn’t make it to the panel, and want the 15 minute version from me sometime… well.. let’s get a beer sometime, and I’ll happily ramble at you.

I need to put in a plug for Jay Brooks’s writeup of the World Beer Cup Gala Dinner. It’s fantastic, and has lovely pictures, and info about the menu and everything.

Finally, I gotta say that it was great to actually meet a bunch of people in person, many of which I still only know via their Twitter handle. It’s always nice to turn contacts into real faces. Looking forward to seeing all of you again at another event.

Cheers.

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Categories: Brewers Association, industry
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 Apr 2010 @ 10 53 PM

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This year – this week in fact – Chicago is playing host to the 2010 Craft Brewers Conference.

I’m heading up to it again this year and will be primarily be wearing my “brewery” hat rather than my “blogger” hat. But, like last year, I’ll be posting a round up of interesting tidbits each night before I pass out from exhaustion. Can I promise coherence and sobriety? No! But off-the-cuff speculation, commentary, and a healthy dose of fanboy foolishness? Hell’s yes.

This year, I’m also happy to be presenting a panel entitled Storytelling 2.0: Social Media is a Conversation on Saturday morning of the conference. If you’re there, swing by and listen in. It’ll be a hoot and I promise that you’ll learn something.

If you won’t be there, keep an eye on Twitter on Saturday morning. I expect a fair amount of traffic, especially on the #alewhale hash tag.

And finally, if you’re in Chicago this week, make sure you grab me and say hi, and let’s drink a beer. It’s sure to be a great week.

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Categories: Brewers Association, industry, travel
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 06 Apr 2010 @ 07 01 AM

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