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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 16 Mar 2012 @ 2:05 PM 

There are a couple of reasons that I’ve been so quiet here this spring. One of which, given my most recent posts, should be obvious: this brewery that I started up. As it turns out, those take a whole lot of your time. It’s a little insane. It’s fun, but it doesn’t leave much time for public musing.

The other reason that I’ve been so busy is because of this book that I wrote. You can buy it online or at many bookstores, bottleshops, or breweries around North Carolina.

Well, now that both of those are essentially wrapped up, I’m still going to be busy. But! This is the type of busy where I can actually see people, and hopefully have the time to write a little on the side. So, just in case you want to say hi and share a pint here’s where you can find me in the next two months:

Thursday, April 12, 6PM – 8PM: Book Launch Party @ Mystery Brewing Company
437 Dimmocks Mill Road, Suite #41
Hillsborough, NC 27278
www.mysterybrewing.com

Saturday, April 14, 12PM – 11PM: All About Beer’s World Beer Festival Raleigh

Tuesday, April 17, 8PM: Fullsteam Brewery
726 Rigsbee Avenue
Durham, NC 27701
919-682-BEER
www.fullsteam.ag

Wednesday, April 18, 4:30PM – 7:00 PM: Bottle Revolution
4025 Lake Boone Trail
Raleigh, NC 27607
919-885-HOPS
www.bottlerevolution.com

Thursday, April 19, 5:30 PM – 8:00 PM: Olde Hickory Tap Room
222 Union Square
Hickory, NC 28601
828-322-1965
www.oldehickorytaproom.com

Saturday, April 21, 12PM – 6PM: Hickory Hops

Wednesday, April 25, 7PM – 9PM: Carrboro Beverage Company
102A East Main Street
Carrboro, NC 27510
919-942-3116
www.carrborobeverage.com

Friday, April 27, 4PM – 6PM: Cape Fear Wine & Beer
139 North Front Street
Wilmington, NC 28401
910-7663-3377
www.capefearwineandbeer.net

Wednesday, May 9, 6PM: Foothills Brewing
638 West Fourth Street
Winston-Salem, NC
336-777-3348
www.foothillsbrewing.com

Thursday, May 24, 6PM: Olde Mecklenberg Brewing Company
215 Southside Drive
Charlotte, NC 28217
704-525-5644
www.oldmeckbrew.com

Wednesday, May 31, 7:30 PM: Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café
55 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801
828-254-6734
www.malaprops.com

Thursday, June 1, 4PM – 7PM: Hops and Vines
797 Haywood Road, Suite 100
Asheville, NC 28806
828-252-5275

You can also find this schedule on this page which will be updated regularly as the schedule is updated.

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Categories: industry, media, Mystery Brewing Company, nc beer book, news, travel
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 16 Mar 2012 @ 03 07 PM

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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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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 17 Jun 2011 @ 04 42 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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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 06 Apr 2010 @ 07 01 AM

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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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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 12 Aug 2009 @ 09 56 AM

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