Announcing Pint/Counterpint Episode #3 – our “local” episode. In this episode we cover local issues, such as – what does it mean to be a local brewery? Is it using local ingredients, or just distributing locally? We also talk about local talent and that we’re looking for more of it (it’s not what you think!).

As a special guest star you’ll notice my very nervous dog Tessie who decided that the time to wander out of the office and look for comfort was the middle of our shoot. Isn’t she cute? Awww.

Special thanks again to Tres Bruce who continues to make us look and sound sharp.

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Categories: brewery, brewpub, industry, marketing, media, op-ed, video
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 30 Aug 2011 @ 11 24 AM

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 16 Oct 2009 @ 9:23 AM 

The title of this post is one of the questions that keeps me awake at night.

I know this sounds like a really basically fundamental question that I should be well past as I’m working on a business plan. But I also don’t know where I’m going to be, and that has a lot to do with the answer to that question. Let me explain:

As I recently revealed in discussion over at THFB, my lovely wife is working on finishing an advanced degree. Said advanced degree is most likely going to get her a job teaching at a college or university… somewhere. Where? Well, like every other industry, it’s hard to find a job teaching college, right now. Could be anywhere. Her search currently covers something like 63 states. I bet you didn’t even know we had 63 states.

Every time she mentions a different state to me, I start writing a new section of my business plan in my head. It’s a conglomeration of: What does the craft beer scene look like in this state? What are the established breweries that I know something about? What kind of beer do they make? Will I be near them? Are they mostly brewpubs or packaging breweries? Can I co-exist without directly competing? What are the distribution laws like? Will I be able to self-distribute my own stuff?

The brewpub/packaging brewery question kills me. Deep, deep down, I don’t want to open a restaurant. I would really love to just have a little space by myself where I can make beer and give it to somebody else to serve, hopefully while I’m somewhere near by to talk about it. It’s almost definitely the more difficult way to go. Brewpubs outnumber packaging breweries almost 2-to-1. (962-to-456) and a part of me says: Hey! There’s a reason for that! Then the rest of me says, “Screw it. Do what makes you happy.” which is pretty much my mantra in life.

Here are a few of the considerations I take myself through:

Packaging Brewery Brewpub
I can go it alone for a while. Saves money on staff. Need other people involved at start; almost definitely saves on sanity.
Lower startup costs, brewing and kegging equipment can probably get me going. Serving tanks, barstools, napkins, silverware, table cloths, oh.. and food. Lots of food. Big ol’ initial investment.
Limited interaction with the consumer unless I’m really good with getting into public, long feedback loop. Immediate touch with customers and immediate feedback.
Nothing to drive customers away except crappy beer. People will come for the beer, but come back for the food. If the food isn’t awesome, people won’t drink my beer.
I want to make beer. I have no desire to make food for people.
Have to deal with some sort of distribution scheme or distributor right out of the gate. No need to distribute until your customer base is well established.
I will miss having people around and am likely to become some sort of crazy hermit before I relent and hire someone to help me. Some days people-in-general really, and I mean REALLY, piss me off.

In the end, unless I find somebody who is really excited to run the restaurant end of a brewpub that shares my vision of what a brewpub should be like, I will almost definitely start a packaging brewery. (Maybe down the road I’ll expand it to having some sort of bar or cafe.) But that doesn’t mean I don’t question: Is that the right decision?

I’d love to hear from others.

People who have started/are starting – what’s your plan? Brewpub? Packaging? Why? What’s driving your decision?

Beer drinkers: If you heard there was a new brewery opening locally would you be more excited to try it if it were a brewpub or a packaging brewery? Would you feel differently about one vs. the other?

Oh Wisdom of the Internet, pour into my discussion section!

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Tags Categories: brewery, brewpub, startup Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 16 Oct 2009 @ 01 19 PM

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This past week, I took a trip to the beach. The Jersey Shore, to be exact. While I was there, I did what I did everywhere: I hunted down beer. My first goal was to find a package store somewhere on the island I was on that actually had a decent beer selection. Rough, but doable. I managed to find some Dogfish Head, some Sierra Nevada, and some Sam Adams and, amazingly, an Affligem Dubbel (which was phenomenal when paired with Stilton, I might add). I could not, however, find any beer from Flying Fish Brewery which is just an hour away, regardless of what they say in their “Down The Shore” section.

The other thing I did, with the magical help of BeerMapping, was track down the only brewpub within an hour drive of me. Luckily, my sister-in-law needed a ride to the bus station nearby, so my wife and I took the opportunity to visit.

We sat down at the dark bar knowing full well that we were soon on our way back to the beach house for prepared dinner on the grill, so we opted for an appetizer – a spinach and cheese dip with pita wedges. It was lovely and very cheesy. My wife ordered the dunkelweiss, I ordered a sampler of all the beers. There was a light lager, an IPA, the aforementioned dunkel, an Irish red, some sort of unspecificed English-style ale, and a bock. As is my custom, I started with the lightest and worked my way to the darkest. What follows is real dialogue:

Me (sipping the light lager): Wow.

Wife: Good?

Me: Well… umm. How’s yours?

Wife: It’s decent.

Me: (sipping the dunkel) Yeah. Okay.

Wife: What do you think?

Me: It’s decent. (taking another sip of the light lager) Holy crap.

Wife: Is that really good?

Me: You’ve got to try it. It’s the best example of an infected tap line I have ever had!

Wife: Uhh.. do I have to?

And that was my positive experience. A perfect example of a tapline with a Pediococcus infection: overpoweringly sour, hazy. Two other beers also exhibited this problem, though not as obviously. I theorize that I probably had the first pull of the day of the light lager (at 5:00 PM). It was amazing. If I had ordered a full pint — and had the bartender seemed less surly — it would have gone back after a sip. As it was, I was almost too thrilled to find the example of something wrong. It’s so rare to get these things in the wild!

It’s actually inexcusable in a brewpub where, presumably, the brewmaster is in frequent contact with the beer and the staff. They even had one of those fancy Brewers Association “Support Your Local Brewery” stickers on the door on the way in! So they’re almost definitely current members of the BA and have knowledge of the Draught Beer Quality Manual. How does this happen?

It’s not just “oh that beer geek will be upset.” That’s hardly the problem. What I drank was unrecognizable as a light lager. It had more in common with a Flanders Red. Sour – unforgivably sour, and nowhere to hide. It’s a light lager, for crissakes. It’s not like there’s roasted grain or hops to hide behind.

In my imagination, this story happens all the time in New Jersey, where it’s hard enough finding something to drink that isn’t BMC:

A guy meets up with his buddies for a drink after work. They want to go to this brewpub place.

“Whatever. You guys are pussies, but if that’s where you want to go, let’s go.”

So he gets to this place, all his buddies order IPAs or Irish Reds or whatnot, and he asks the bartender, “What do you have that’s most like Bud?”

“Oh, we have this light lager. It’s called ‘Light Lager.'”

(Really.)

She brings him a pint. It looks all right. It’s not as light or as clear as Bud, but he is in some namby-pamby brewpub, so they probably can’t get that shit right. He takes a sip. It’s awful. It’s sour and a little vinegary and tastes nothing – and I mean nothing – like any beer he has ever had. How can anybody think this tastes like Bud? He looks up at his buddies and they’re all enjoying their fancy-pants beers. He’s on their turf, and he’s given them shit about the choice of beer, so he doesn’t say a thing. He pounds it and orders a Jack and Coke saying, “I just can’t get behind this brewpub crap, man. It’s just not the same.” and never ever orders a craft beer again.

Hyperbole? Yeah. I mean.. read the rest of blog. I truck in hyperbole. But you get my point:

Every time a bar that’s serving (what should be) decent beer doesn’t keep its tap lines clean it’s giving a bad name to every craft beer and beer bar out there. People who are moving outside their comfort zone won’t go back outside of it if they get burned the first time.

Help spread the word for good beer: keep your tap lines clean.

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Categories: brewery, brewpub, distribution, travel
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 12 Aug 2009 @ 09 56 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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Categories: brewery, brewpub, news
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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