07 Nov 2011 @ 7:24 PM 

I’m a little late off the mark on this, since the article that I’m responding to was actually written days ago, and really had a fair amount of buzz over the weekend. Still, since through some fluke of internettery or bad programming I’m unable to post my feelings in the comments of article, you get to read my thoughts here.

This is in response to the article posted on Bon Appetit‘s website named (le sigh) Why Beer Growlers are Bad for your Brew

The first thing I’d like to point out is that the URL to the article is actually “Garrett Oliver Thinks Growlers…” and I bet the next work is “Suck”, but that apparently didn’t meet the “sweeping generalization in order to get as many eyes as possible” criteria. Good job. It worked. I wish it wouldn’t have.

It’s raised a bit of ire around beer blogs and on Beer Advocate, and one of the commenters on the article itself poses the interesting question of “Why would anyone ever be so emotionally committed to growlers that it would ever induce such outrage?”

I can’t say it’s outrage, but it definitely makes me feel a bit.. well.. exasperated. Garrett Oliver really did write the book on beer. Well… he edited it, anyway, despite numerous errors, and his opinion carries weight, even when it seems like a quick one-off bullshit answer to some guy who he’s drinking with. Because after you’ve written the book on beer, your slightest opinions get repeated like this:

“Oh, well, Garrett Oliver says [poorly translated version of what Garrett Oliver actually said taken immediately as the holy fucking gospel].”

It’s especially bad when it’s repeated by a magazine like Bon Appetit, even if it is a bullshit one-off name-dropping blog post by some guy who was probably just desperate to meet an editing deadline, because people who trust Bon Appetit (who are likely people who buy good, craft beer) are likely to come away with:

“Oh, well, I read in Bon Appetit that Garrett Oliver says [something incredibly inaccurate which will be taken as an unbreakable law that only a basilisk’s tooth dipped in unicorn tears could possibly destroy].”

So, let’s hear it for journalistic integrity on the internet in 2011!

(crickets)

I can tell you why people would get emotional about it – for some small breweries, growlers can be a life saver. Packaging lines (bottles, cans) are expensive, and growlers can be a great way for new and/or small breweries to get product into locations, like grocery stores, or maybe even people’s homes, in a way that kegs just can’t do on a large scale basis. It’s not emotional, it’s defensive.

At Mystery, we’re counting on growler sales to help us through our startup, and I’m hoping that they constitute a large portion of our sales. That said, we’re planning using a counter-pressure growler filler to make sure that they’re packaged correctly instead of urinating directly into each one, as Garrett Oliver would have Andrew Knowlton have you believe. And I would never, EVER fill a dirty growler. Dirty growlers should be traded out for clean ones. I have the tools to clean growlers in ways that most people do not in their homes, and ultimately, I am represented best by giving you excellent beer.

But to address a big issue in the article of “the pros hate growlers”. Ugh. Are growlers ideal ways to package beer? No. But I don’t hate them.

Here’s what I hate: I hate it when bottle shops have beer sitting warm on shelves. I hate it when they have beer sitting near fluorescent lights. I hate it when they don’t pull beer off of the shelves after 90 days. I hate it when bars don’t clean their tap lines, or when they serve beer in frosted mugs, or shove a faucet into a beer while it’s being poured, or don’t give me a new glass when I order a new beer. I hate it when bars don’t have dishwashers that get hot enough to clean lipstick off of glassware, or wash their glassware in the same dishwasher as their food dishes.

All of those things can have a detrimental effect on the flavor and presentation of a beer and all of those are way, way, WAY more common than someone filling a dirty growler or filling one so incorrectly that the consumer will notice a difference, assuming they consume it while it’s still fresh.

But I can’t control those other things. I can, as a brewer, control the quality of the growlers that leave my establishment. I can make sure they’re clean and they’re filled properly – just like any packaging brewer would do for ANY packaged beer product.

I’d like to see an actual well-researched, well-considered followup article by Bon Appetit about this, but I’m sure it just won’t happen.

This piece of pseudo-journalism will go on misinforming in droves. It might seem silly, but these little one-off things coming from a source that people trust can be very damaging to small businesses. It’s already being repeated, and all it takes is one more journalist who doesn’t know how to research (which I’m starting to believe is most of them) to make this opinion law by referencing it in some wider reaching periodical.

Come on Bon Appetit, do what’s right and fix your crappy journalism by actually doing some work on the story. I’m issuing you a challenge. Write a good story on beer packaging. Your readership deserves it.

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 07 Oct 2011 @ 12:31 AM 

This week is a festival-y week. This past weekend was, of course, the Great American Beer Festival. This coming weekend gives us the World Beer Festival in Durham, NC. It’s my home beer fest, and this particular one will be the first one that my little startup brewery has a booth at, however unofficially.

It’s meant that I’ve spent the past week or so thinking a lot about the festivals themselves: What do I want out of them? What are people getting out of them? What are they all about?

This year was my first GABF, and for the most part it seemed like a nice beer festival. I quite enjoyed it. It was well organized, there were nice wide aisles, there was a good selection of beer and nice side events. (The Farm-to-Food Beer Pairing Pavilion was brilliant.) Indoor beer festivals are also my favorites because there’s no smoking and there are actual bathrooms and not port-a-johns. So, awesome on those counts. What I really noticed, overall, was something that Andy Crouch brought up in his recent GABF recap which is that there was a tremendous lack of brewers. There were, however, scads of volunteers (yay!) that didn’t know anything about the beer they were pouring (boo!). It’s something that made me reflect back upon local beer festivals and seeing brewers hanging out behind festival tents chatting with one another while volunteers were pouring their beer just feet away on the other side of a flap.

What’s going on here?

Before I answer that, let me ramble on a little more.

While I was in Denver, I had lunch with a friend who does not drink. Over the course of lunch, she asked, “So, what’s the point of this festival? Is it a good way to get exposure to a lot of people?” and I thought about it and had to answer: No. Not really. Not at all, actually. I drank beer from dozens of breweries, and I doubt that I can tell you more than a handful that I had and enjoyed.

And it’s a sort of woogy answer. Here in Durham, with an almost-open brewery, I am looking forward to getting a lot of exposure. But I am largely an exception. I am pre-new and many people haven’t heard of me (or have only heard of me have no idea what I’m all about) and this is an excellent way to get in front of my local crowd. But what about for everyone else?

Again, what I told my friend: I don’t think most brewers really care about getting in front of drinkers, anymore. They care about getting in front of the 1% of people that are in there that can actually help expand their market – the beer buyers, the bar owners, the restaurateurs, the distributors. Everybody else is just getting trashed.

And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with beer festivals.

To wit (and I’ve said this before): Beer festivals used to be about education. For years and years, they served as a way for a population that was eager to learn to get a wide array of beers easily, and to learn about a vast array of different styles in a way that just wasn’t available to them anywhere else. Now they can go do that at the package store. Total Wine has just as many beers as you’ll see at most beer festivals, maybe more, and it’s cheap to build your own six-pack. Sampling is just a lot easier in the marketplace than it used to be. That means when people go to beer festivals they’re not interested in learning. They already know what they’re looking for. They’re interested in drinking – which in and of itself is not a terrible thing – but as beer festival prices go up and up and up, people tend to try to get their money’s worth out of the price of their ticket and that generally means pounding as many 2 oz. samples as possible.

Is this true for every festival? Certainly not. But the bigger ones, the more well-known ones? Almost universally true.

From a brewer’s standpoint, if people aren’t there to learn from you there’s no incentive to try to engage with them. There’s nothing more disheartening than having somebody walk up to your booth and ask for “your lightest beer” or “whatever” and then just slug it back, regardless of what it was. We put a lot of work into making these products, and we’re proud of what they taste like. It’s frankly a little insulting to watch somebody pound a sample of your product without any thought. I’d rather you hated it and dump it out then to drink it without thinking about it.

If it’s not about educating consumers, it’s really about that small contingent of people that can effect a brewer’s bottom line in a real way, the people who will end up buying a large portion of product (eg – kegs or cases, not a bottle or a 6’er), and that makes hanging out at a booth and giving beer to people who don’t care fall under “not a good use of time” in most circumstances. After all, a brewer can hang out around the back of the booth and wait for that 1% to come around and focus on them while volunteers pour the beer.

So, if this is the overall trend, then what does the future of beer festivals look like? I struggle with this. I can’t help but think that brewers will get more and more jaded about spending large amounts of time and product going to beer festivals that help them less and less and that more and more people will stop showing up to something that is become more and more of a chugfest.

I offer these possible future solutions for beer festivals:

  • Stop pretending it’s about the beer and focus on something else. Get bands in and make it an all-day concert that happens to have a great beer selection (a la Brewgrass). Give brewers a chance to sell their beer instead of give it away and you’ll end up attracting a lot more breweries and take a lot of pressure off of the breweries.
  • Stop pretending it’s about the drinkers and make it a trade show. Make it industry-only. You want to see brewers show up and show off their products? Make sure that the only people there are buyers, retailers, and distributors. General public can have their own drunk-fests with all-volunteer staffs and maybe a few special guests.
  • Get the education back into beer festivals. Get rid of the damn band – no one cares – make it event-heavy. Put beer-and-food pairing sessions front and center, have talks by brewers about ingredients or techniques that are more than introductory bullshit schlock. Realize the fact that craft reaches a much larger portion of the marketplace than it used to and cater to that market. After all, those are the people that are going to beer festivals now.
  • Limit attendance. For the love of all that’s holy. Anybody will tell you: small beer festivals are more fun.

I’m sure there are dozens of other ways we could see festivals revitalized. It’s time for some innovation.

I enjoy beer festivals, but I am jaded by their expense to the brewer. You’ll see us at our locals, but not at many outside of our area. They need re-imagining to continue to be relevant to both brewers and drinkers and I kind of wish I was in a place to help move them along. Unfortunately (for festivals), I’ll be on the other side of the tent flap making beer.

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Tags Categories: beer festival, industry, marketing, media, op-ed Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 07 Oct 2011 @ 09 19 AM

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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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 10 Jul 2011 @ 2:02 PM 

Episode two is here, in which we discuss festivals, growlers, and a multitude of other good things and finally come up with a name (thanks Luke!): Pint/Counterpint. We’ll let you decide which is which.

What do you think? Have comments about festivals or growlers, retail or otherwise? Comment below!

Find yourself saying Episode two? Wait! There’s an Episode One as well. This one has better lighting.

Any topics you’d like to hear us pontificate about? Let us know! We’ll probably take you up on it.

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I made my first two stops today on my grand tour of NC Breweries for the book: Roth Brewing Company in Raleigh and Triangle Brewing Company in Durham. I couldn’t ask for a better way to get everything rolling. It was a great couple of stops with a bunch of guys who are really passionate about their craft.

But I fully expect to tell you that about everybody I meet with.

If you haven’t been over to Roth, you should take the time to do so. They’ve got a little taproom/hang out area that’s warm and cozy. The big leather couch, old TV and game system bring me back to my college days in a way that isn’t unpleasant. The added bonus is that my college days didn’t have great beer on tap a few feet away.

Until recently, (on the opening of Dry County Brewing) Roth had the distinction of being the smallest brewery in the state. They operate a 2 bbl system that double batches into 4 bbl fermenters. For those of you playing along at home – that means that they brew twice in one day to make 8 kegs of beer. It’s a lot of work, but it’s given them an enormous amount of brewing experience in a short amount of time. Last week, June 11, was the one-year anniversary of their opening and owner Ryan Roth shared with me today that they’ve brewed over 250 batches of beer in that time.

Ryan talked to me a little bit about where he and his brother came from, what brought them into the beer business, and where he sees the brewery in the future. They’re currently looking at accounts outside of the Triangle area of North Carolina for the first time since they’ve opened and they’re excited to expand: “By this time next year, we should be operating on a much larger system and continuing to grow – but we really want to be a big part of the local craft community, here.” He also shared a little bit about Roth’s flagship beer, the Raleigh Red. “I couldn’t believe it when I looked it up and I found out that none of the local brewing companies had ever named a beer ‘Raleigh Red.'” Ryan is an alumnus of NC State and his brother Eric, Roth’s head brewer, is currently finishing his studies there.

In the book, we’ll get into what the Roth brothers were doing before the brewery opened, how they decided to take the leap, and a few good stories about naming and maybe dumping a batch or two of beer. We’ll see how it plays out.

* * *

Word to the wise: If you’re planning on visiting Triangle Brewing Company on a day that they’re not offering a brewery tour, call ahead.

Triangle is located in an area of Durham that used to be a little unsavory. While that’s no longer the case, the warehouse that is the home to Triangle Brewing Company is located behind a locked fence, and while the guys inside are welcoming and friendly, they might not know you’re there unless you give them a ring.

Once inside, you’ll be met with a busy brewery. Their canning line – the first automated craft canning line in North Carolina – is full front-and-center in the space with their brewhouse and fermentation room acting as a back drop.

Rick and Andy sat down with me and told me a little bit about their history – they went to high school together up in New England (Rick is a die-hard Red Sox fan; right on!). Andy moved down to North Carolina to work in the hospitality industry and when Rick came down to visit, he fell in love with the area. From there, they finally got to a point where they decided the time was right (the phrase “shit or get off the pot” might have been mentioned in passing) and decided to act on opening the brewery they had talked about for so long. For a while, they owned the distinction of being Durham’s only operating brewery (and maybe its first – historical research pending). What really set them, apart, though, is their choice of making strong Belgian-style ales as their flagship brands.

Rick: “People said we were crazy to have a Belgian Strong Ale as our flagship in North Carolina. They said it wouldn’t work, that the market wasn’t ready for it. But here we are!”

In the book, we’ll get into what Rick and Andy were doing before they become brewers, their decisions behind why they started canning, and the story of Rufus, the beloved brewery mascot found buried in their basement.

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Categories: media, nc beer book, travel
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 17 Jun 2011 @ 04 42 PM

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