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.

Share
Tags Tags:
Categories: Brewers Association, brewery, industry, seasonality, travel
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 Oct 2013 @ 12 01 AM

EmailPermalinkComments (10)

Dear GABF Participant,

Tomorrow, you will be winging your way into a crowded beer festival drinking wonderful – nay! – fantastic and brilliant beer. You poor, poor people. Besotted with quality, good friends, and good times; you have NO idea what you’re missing. Out here in the rest of the world we will be laughing our smug little laughs knowing full damn well that we are better off.

Absence, you see, makes the heart grow fonder. A rolling stone gathers no moss! A… a… bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!! The wombat thwomps thrice at midnight! What? That doesn’t even make sense.

I need SOME sort of cliched little phrase to help me out with this! Didn’t Ben Franklin say something about this? Or was that Winston Churchill? Genghis Kahn? Where are our witty t-shirts now!?

Back to task – you sorry GABF-attending bastards had better watch your internets. Keep a close eye on Twitter, Facebook, and all of your social media outlets, because us non-attendees will be doing something very important: drinking vicariously. Yeah, we’re gonna watch your millions of tweets and posts and little internet postings dying little deaths inside about how much we wish we could be at your side, joining you in sessions, meetups, and tweetups, and we’re going to do the only thing we can do: drink to keep up.

Oh certainly, we don’t drink the drunk of three-thousand samples, but you can damn well bet that we’re going to break out some special stuff this week.

We’ve got to. It’s self-defense.

It’s either that – take the time to sit back and enjoy the ever-livin’ crap out of a great beer – or writhe in jealousy as report after report of deliciousness pours in through our intertubes. The very least we can do is fight awesomeness with awesomeness.

So, all you GABF’ers, you can take your good sweet time to be jealous, too! We’ll be drinking without you! Really! You just watch.

Just… y’know.. raise a glass for me and I’ll raise a glass for you.

And save me a seat next year?

Please?

Share
Tags Tags: , ,
Categories: beer festival, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 23 Sep 2009 @ 05 16 PM

EmailPermalinkComments (1)
 27 May 2009 @ 11:34 AM 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. There’s a problem in the definition. That’s clear. After all, it’s been discussed in other venues prior to this ad infinitum (and those three are just a small example), and now I feel the new to add to the noise. The thing is, I think we’re all running up against the same problem.
Beer!
The problem is the Brewers Association is right and wrong all at the same time. Lemme explain.

The Brewers Association has it right

See this Examiner post by Larry Johnson for a succinct re-hash of the definition without having to scroll through the BA‘s entire statistics and definitions page.

This definition of a craft brewery and craft beer here is based entirely on regulations set by the U.S. Government for taxation purposes. If breweries produce under 2 million barrels per year, they qualify for a small brewer tax break on their first 60,000 barrels. If you’re above that, you’re not a craft brewer. That’s it. The smaller breaks in between are built in for statistical purposes. Plain and simple, when you’re talking about market segments, you need to be able to compare apples to apples. New Belgium and their amazing expanding distribution network just doesn’t compare well vs. a startup brewpub (much less how Sam Adams compares with anybody else). They’re two entirely different segments in the same industry.

There’s only one part of their definition of a craft brewery that isn’t based on an economic restriction:

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 it’s volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

And it kinda reads like an economic restriction, doesn’t it?

I take this as their way of saying, in every way they possibly can, “NOT megabreweries.”

So, here’s the thing. The Brewers Association is, first and foremost, a trade organization. As a brewery owner, I want them focused on helping to keep the most rigorously regulated industry in the country (aside from probably tobacco) a sane enough environment for my small business to exist in. A startup brewpub can’t afford to hire a full time (team of) lobbyist(s) to look out for their interests in the same way that MillerCoors can, but they can get help from the BA when they’re looking at challenging a law that’s coming through the pipeline. What is beneficial to MillerCoors may not be beneficial to the startup brewpub, so you also need somebody to push back against the corporate behemoths who, let’s be frank, would probably rather not have any competitors, even minuscule ones.

The BA needs tools to be able to do this job, and accurate statistics is one of those tools, consistent standards is another. These definitions are what the BA needs in order to do what breweries need them to do, and the BA can be an invaluable ally to a small craft brewer.

They are really crappy definitions for the average consumer. The consumer cares about good beer.

The Brewers Association has it wrong

Here are a couple of breweries that I would guess that consumers think are considered craft breweries that are not, according to BA definitions:

  • Widmer
  • Goose Island
  • Mendocino Brewing Co.
  • Brewery Ommegang

Soon, Sam Adams will join that list. I would challenge anybody to tell me that any of those breweries don’t make great beer, regardless of percentages of ownership and/or how many barrels they manufacture per year.

The problem is that the BA also makes attempts at functioning as a consumer advocacy organization, most notably via the GABF. And why not? People who make great beer are fans of great beer. It makes sense to function as an organization that gets consumers in touch with great beer. But the definitions of what craft beer is for industrial purposes don’t necessarily work for consumers.

Consumers want to drink great beer, and while I’ve heard a lot of people say they don’t really care where something comes from, I think they do. Behind craft beer there are personalities, there is passion for the product that is being made. That translates down to the customer very easily in small businesses. It’s something that the megabreweries will never be able to harness because they’re too far removed from the consumer.

Here, the problem is: How do you define passion?

In this case it’s almost definitely via selection of ingredients and processes. But you can’t define it as “beer without corn” or “beer without rice.” There was a little bit of a kickback from a few brewers after the IAACB video who do use corn and rice in their beers, but do it in really interesting ways. A brewer in Kansas or Nebraska using a local good (corn – what else?), malted and roasted to make a corn stout? How is that not a craft beer?

It’s sticky when it gets to passion definition. More on this later.

Where the Disconnect Happens

Quick story: At the end of CBC09, I was blitzing through the Farewell Reception grabbing a quick bite to eat and a quick drink before I had to rush to board my plane and I ran into Charlie Papazian. He was strolling through the middle of the ballroom, tie off, collar undone. In his right hand he had a goblet full of beer. In his left hand, hanging casually at his side, he had an open bomber. He wasn’t talking to anybody, he was just walking around with this enormous grin on his face. I wish I could have gotten a picture of him. The only thing I could think was: “This must be what it’s like to have your dreams come true.”

Think about it – this guy, who happens to just love beer, put this all together. He’s not a stupendously successful brewery owner, he’s not a Wall Street investment guru, he’s not a real estate tycoon. He’s a writer, and a homebrewer, and he loves beer so much that he has spent his entire life facilitating this entire budding industry. He is the perfect beer evangelist. Every brewery owner and beer drinker should take the time to shake his hand and thank him for loving beer. (I did.)

But, this is the reason for the disconnect. What eventually became the BA was born out of a passion for beer, but it has become (and thank god) a business organization. When Charlie started everything in the 1970’s, the definition of craft beer was easy: “Not the megabreweries.” But you can’t use that as a definition to define your business organization. You need clear rules that define the segment(s), even if they backhandedly say, “Not the megabreweries.” The definition of a craft brewery as recognized by the BA is spot on. They need to be built around the tax restrictions.

However, governing the definition of product made with passion with a tax-based definition is sure to lead to resentment from the consumer when they’re favorite popular brewery makes a business decision and is no longer considered a craft beer. The consumer wants to support craft beer, but also wants to support their favorite brewery. How do they make that call? By ignoring the tax definitions.

Here’s what I’d like to see: Let the BA define a craft brewery, and let the drinker define a craft beer.

There are a number of different ways this can be done. There are already what amounts to enormous consumer organizations who are devoted to good beer. Use the existing communities to refine a decent definition and go. Maybe the BA creates a spinoff non-profit that handles the GABF and works on creating similar standardized festivals across the US promoting good beer, and they leave the government work and business side of things to the Brewers Association. Let the consumers be consumers. They don’t need to be complicit in business practices, you just want them educated about good beer, because then they’ll be much more likely to buy from craft breweries.

Overall, I think these are growing pains. I think the reason that the craft beer community is hashing this out over and over again is because the segment has been so successful. After all, when the 2 million barrel cap used as the definition of a craft brewer, did anybody reasonably expect Sam Adams to get there so quickly? I doubt it. It’s fantastic that they’re pushing this boundary and allowing us to continue to go through this painful revision process.

In conclusion, I’d like to put out my definition of a craft beer, as a beer drinker: Any well-made beer that was obviously made with passion. You can see it in the labels, the names, in the bottles, cans, or glassware, and in the ingredient selection.

If the beer has a personality all its own, it’s a craft beer. I suspect that there are at least a few drinkers out there who would join me in that.

Share
 30 Mar 2009 @ 8:13 AM 

Found a couple of interesting maps via the twitternet, and since maps and beer cities have been on my mind, I thought I’d pull ’em out.

made by lyke2drink.blogspot.com

lyke2drink.blogspot.com


The first (on the right and clickable), is GABF winners by state over the past 20 years. Fascinating. Again with that furrow down the middle of the country, and yet another case for Texas in the poll for Favorite Beer City. I should say that this map represents an enormous amount of work. I’ve been working on a little side project for a while that looks at breweries that have won medals at the GABF and just sifting through that information is hours and hours worth of work, to say nothing of the attractive graphic design. Mike Wirth over at Lyke2Drink: Kudos. That’s pretty.

North Dakota and Oklahoma both have 1 medal. In my heart of hearts I’d like to imagine that it’s because there’s some fantastic tiny brewery squirreled away somewhere in each of these states that are one some sort of “Best Kept Secrets” list. I hope that’s true. Is it strange that the states with the most space for farmland where they can (and do) grow thousands of acres of barley have very few breweries?

Anybody else feel bad for West Virginia?

http://www.sloshspot.com/

http://www.sloshspot.com/


The second (on your left and also clickable), lists the Top 50 Craft Brewers in the Country by Sales Volume (Brewers’ Association press release) and mapped by sloshspot.com. This one sheds a little bit of insight on some of the choice of cities in the Favorite Beer City list in my last post. Take a look at the cities popping up here: Missoula, MT! Fort Collins, CO! No wonder they’re there. Too bad they have a collective 67 votes between the two of them. It kinda under represents Big Sky and New Belgium in terms of popularity.

Even more interesting are cities on the Beer City list that don’t show up here: Cincinnati, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, and Asheville, NC (the current leader in the poll) among others. That makes you want to take a trip to see what’s going on in these cities that got them on this list, doesn’t it? I can personally attest to Asheville being a great beer town.

Share
Tags Tags: , , , , ,
Categories: appreciation, industry
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 30 Mar 2009 @ 09 04 AM

EmailPermalinkComments (5)
\/ More Options ...
Change Theme...
  • Users » 130203
  • Posts/Pages » 204
  • Comments » 2,674
Change Theme...
  • HopsHops « Default
  • BarleyBarley

About



    No Child Pages.

Shirts



    No Child Pages.

Tour



    No Child Pages.