20 May 2009 @ 1:30 PM 

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I – along with probably 5,000 other blogs – am looking at this morning’s Washington Post article about Sam Adams, Super Craft Brewer. (Super. Like the prefix meaning “bigger” not the comic book guy. Word geek; see?)
Samuel Adams
Quick summary: In 2008, Sam Adams produced 1.992 million barrels of beer, 8,000 barrels short of the point where they no longer fall under the definition of a craft brewer by the Brewers Association.

I don’t want to get into a “What is Craft Beer” discussion (right now). That’s been covered amply elsewhere. Instead, I wonder at which is better for the other 1,500-ish craft brewers in the country: Having Sam Adams count as a craft brewer or not?

Sam Adams is, without a doubt, the elephant in the room. The closest regional-size brewery to Sam Adams (Sierra Nevada) makes less than half the amount of beer. I haven’t received my fancy New Brewer with 2008 barrelage numbers, yet, but using just some fancy pants math on the numbers from the BA Statistics page and the numbers we’ve been given by the Washington post, I’m going to make the following estimates/assumptions:

2008 Domestic Craft Beer Sales: 8,493,765 barrels.
Sam Adams alone: 1,992,000 barrels.
Sierra Nevada alone: 700,000 barrels.
Remaining for the other 1,543 breweries in the U.S.: 5,801,765 barrels.
Avg. # of barrels/craft brewery (excluding Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada): 3760 (5801765/1543)

So, to recap: In order for Sam Adams to reach the 2 million barrel cap that means that it no longer qualifies as a craft brewery it must produce a little over twice as much as the average American Craft Brewery does every year in addition to the 1.992 million barrels it already produces.

I have a hard time seeing these as the same animal.

It’s really great to have the sheer size and corporate power of Sam Adams on the same side as all of these other craft brewers. It’s great to incorporate the growth numbers of Sam Adams into the craft brewing world (according to the WaPo article, Sam Adams enjoyed larger growth than the entire craft beer segment last year – gotta wonder how much that skewed the numbers at the CBC) for PR purposes about how great the segment is doing. It’s wonderful to have Sam Adams do wonderful things like the hop raffle during the hop shortage last year, but would they stop doing that if the BA said they didn’t fit a definition?

Sam Adams is so far and away different from its craft brewer brethren that it’s almost unfair to all of the others to call it a craft brewer. How much are statistics inflated because Sam Adams is being included in them? How much does Sam Adams gain from the definition, even? Either they or Yuengling now stands as the largest American-owned brewery (not sure without actual barrel/sales numbers). It seems like that should be distinction enough. What does it mean for Jim Koch if he’s no longer considered a craft brewer by the BA? Is it a drop in sales? I doubt it. And if it is, and they dip back below 2 million barrels, do they get to re-join the club?

Finally, to what benefit is it for the smaller craft brewers to have Sam Adams count in the same definition? They are even more difficult to compete with than BMC because they’re actually producing well-made comparable styles of beer. Sam Adams Boston Lager feels almost as ubiquitous as Bud, even though, yes, Sam Adams only makes something like 1% of the amount of beer Bud does. The difference is that someone who is likely to drink an IPA will probably not have a Bud, but they might have that Sam Adams.

I’d love to hear thoughts from others on this: Is it a big deal for Sam Adams to not be a defined as a craft brewer by the BA? Might it actually be a good thing for other brewers?

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 20 May 2009 @ 02:07 PM

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 11 May 2009 @ 9:35 AM 

So what the eff is that? A fair question.

It is the result of House Resolution 753.

Resolved, That the House of Representatives–
(1) supports the establishment of American Craft Beer Week as a celebration of the contributions that American craft brewers have made to the Nation’s communities, economy, and history; and
(2) commends American craft brewers for providing jobs, improving the balance of trade, supporting American agriculture, and educating Americans about history and culture of beer while promoting the responsible consumption of beer as a beverage of moderation.

It is your tax dollars at work. Suck on that, Prohibition!

The Brewers Association would like you to sign the Declaration of Beer Independence, but I can’t get behind it. I like its message about supporting local and regional breweries, but I don’t like that it’s got little industrial-political tinges in there. “I want to know why I can’t get more local brews on my shelves!” Well, because the local distributor is an A-B house and if they need to pull something off the shelf to put the new Sam Adams Longshot package on, chances are it’ll be a small local brew that nobody really knows about and not Bud Light with Lime. So.. I guess I know why. Or I think I know why. I don’t have to demand it. I can just go support the places that DO have good beer.

American Craft Beer Week

However! This is a week to enjoy a local beer. You! Go support your local brewery! Drink a local beer! No imports this week, Guinness 250 be damned! Go find Brewery Events in your area and hopefully you will have more luck than North Carolina which has… two! [grumble]

I guess my local establishments will have to get my patronage just on my own awesome merits as a consumer.

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 06 May 2009 @ 3:07 PM 

Wow. So, predictably, we’ve started to see some backlash from the I Am a Craft Brewer video (embedded here, in case you missed it). There was a little right after it came out, but for the most part there was a lot of fawning. As it has been pointed out, the video has “gone viral” (though I’m not sure that a constant push into the memestream can be considered “gone”) so it is now subject to John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. It’s started off fairly low and, in some places, almost polite, but for a real view of what you can expect in a few weeks, go take a look through some of the Beer Wars comment threads (though it looks like a lot of the REALLY negative comments were deleted).

Myself? I love it (especially the snappy 3-minutes version). But then, I’m its target audience; I was present when it was played as a toast at the beginning of Greg Koch’s keynote. However, there are some fair points being made that bear inspection. Here’s a short sum, and my comments.

  • This video is missing its audience. Or rather, it hit its audience, mostly dead on, and then, for better or for worse, got pushed outside of its audience. It was made for an audience with knowledge of the subject and the industry politics. I recognized most of the people in the video on sight. Even most of your knowledgeable craft beer geeks will watch half of this video going, “Who the hell is that chick? Check out that dude’s beard! Do they make beer in that van?” One of the things I learned in my years of theater is that if you’re too self-referential in your scripts you turn people off because they just don’t get it. (Example? Saturday Night Live.) It’s possible that this video is a little too self-referential for the general public audience. I’m not sure that it is, but I have a hard time telling. Regardless, some people are going to see it and like it and some people aren’t. Even across the CBC when it was first shown there were probably a solid bunch of people who were underwhelmed. My main reaction to this is: meh – big deal. You can’t make all of the people happy all of the time, you can just wish that the unhappy people weren’t so goddamned noisy.
  • Greg Koch is getting a lot of face time. Yep. Like one of the blogs I linked to up there, prior to the CBC and this video what I knew about Greg Koch is that Stone makes beer I like to drink (and that I love his taste in plaid jackets). Now he feels like a minor celebrity. Bad? Not really, except that, by nature, celebrity breeds criticism. Part of me wonders how much of this is by design or by mistake. Greg was the keynote speaker of the Craft Brewers Conference. Presumably, it’s because Stone is a rising star and an innovator and was asked to do it. He’s a creative dude with a history in entertainment in L.A. and had an idea for a video. He followed through with it. He’s also pretty plugged into the internet, pushed his ideas out through his intertube hole and thus you get instant internet celebrity (just add troll). I think the new cut of the IAACB video is a lot better precisely because it has a lot less Greg Koch in it. It’s not that I don’t like him, but it seems a little less about him and a little more about the community, that way. On the other hand, you also have to figure that 99% of the country has no idea who the hell Greg Koch is. If the video did get played during the Superbowl most people would just think he was some random actor, anyway.
  • Craft beer is being passed off as a snobby drink. Sure works for wine, though, doesn’t it? Oh yeah, and a lot of liquor. Why shouldn’t beer be on a level playing field? Is craft beer the Apple of the beer world? I don’t think so. For one thing, market share isn’t even comparable and I don’t have an beerPod. It’s more like the linux of the beer world. But I can sure see how someone could get the impression that it’s the hoity-toity beer. We (beer geeks and/or brewers) come off as a little snotty sometimes, and maybe we should work on that. At the same time, nobody’s going to be an evangelist for our products for us. I see no good reason to stop preaching. If we make a product that we think it superior why would we characterize it as anything but that?

Arguments it being over-produced and/or poorly written are kinda moot. There’s no way to satisfy that. So.. what.. it should look shitty to have cachet? If it had a really awful script it would be more awesome somehow? There’s no argument to this.

The only thing that really bothers me about all of this chatter is how much is being taken out of context and re-hashed for the sake of argument and criticism, either out of the video or out of GK’s keynote. Come on, guys. Anybody can pull quotes out of a long text and find something about it to argue. Walk through a city sometime, I’ll give you 10 minutes before you run into some crazy dude on a street corner that gives you a pamphlet telling you that you’re going to go to hell for something that you enjoy based on one random quote they pulled out of some random religious text. 10 minutes of solid research and you can completely deconstruct their argument. Let’s not play that game. Constructive criticism offers both pros and cons and includes suggestions on how the subject could be improved. Anybody can be an asshat. I do it every day.

On the other hand (this is like my FAVORITE phrase, lately), a lot of people think this is a good little movie: If you REALLY think it sucks, then by all means: How can it be improved? Is the message wrong? What’s the right message? Is it too long? Too short? Too shiny? No story? Are your dreams of what craft breweries are like shattered knowing that they own bottling lines?

It’s not like I can do anything about it, but I’d love to hear how it could be better rather than just hear about why it sucks.

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 24 Apr 2009 @ 10:34 PM 

Day 4 – Last day of the conference. I’ve got a lot to say, I hope you’re buckled in.

Interesting stuff today – my sessions started off on the practical level: Water and its Uses in the Brewhouse, and Oak Barrel Aging. Both good, the latter was especially fascinating, especially since I would like to do a fair amount of barrel again myself. I would have liked to hear him speak a little more to sour beers, but it’s just not as hot in the market as spirit-flavored stuff right now, so I understand the focus.

The afternoon held another “women and beer” session, this time by Ginger Johnson – a marketeer and beer appreciator – but (importantly) not a brewer. She was great. She was energetic, and she was peppy, and she had a message that I (mostly) agreed with focusing on education and social interaction. I spent the entire session writing down quotes, let me pass a few onto you. She started off by nothing that she was talking about women as a market segment, not as an issue. “Gender is a difference, not an inequality” she said and “Women are not a niche or a special initiative.” Yeah! I’m not sure she always stuck to this, but it was good to start with. I mean, you don’t start a women-only beer tasting group without it being somewhat of special initiative – after all, it’s women-only and it would seem that you’re doing it for a purpose, there.. The problem is, once you treat women as a different segment, you’re automatically create an inequality. If you say, “Women taste things differently” you’ve created an inequality (and I still don’t buy that shit. In fact. Let me make an aside:)

An aside:

I’ve heard this mentioned like 5 times in the past two days: “Women taste things differently than men.” Someone at the first panel mentioned that there had been some sort of study that showed that women have a better ability to detect acids than men do and some other incremental difference. So does that mean that women taste things differently than men? Yeah, sure. If what you’re trying to do is compare, on a minute level, the differences between palates. But here’s the thing: If I drink an IPA and my wife drinks an IPA, we are both drinking the same beer. I might love it and she might hate it (she’s not a hophead), but it’s not because she’s tasting it differently than I am, it’s because she doesn’t enjoy the hops. People taste differently than other people. It’s not because she’s a women, it’s because she has a different set of life experiences behind her taste preferences. However! What she tastes as an IPA is essentially exactly the same as what I’m tasting as an IPA since the only thing either of us have to compare it against is our own experiences with flavor. There is no possible way I can experience the beer as it is on her palate, so an incremental difference between us is inconsequential. Maybe this leans a little too far to philosophy, but the way I see it is this: If I start at point A and she starts 5 feet away from me, and we both walk three miles the only difference between us is our individual experience on a very slightly different path. We both walked 3 miles. Poor analogy, maybe, but it’s my standpoint.

Back to topic:

The thing that Ginger said that really rang true to me was, “It’s about real women, not about feminizing to sexualizing something … Treat them like the consumers you want them to be.” Hear-freakin’-hear. This goes back to my theory (which I will repeat again and again and again): You want women to drink good beer? Make good beer.

She brought up some sort of .. statistic or something. Un-cited it makes me a little nervous, I think she said she got this out of focus groups (and I also distrust focus groups.. so.. meh… it’s okay). What she said was: Women have higher standards than men. If you meet the woman’s expectations, you will generally exceed the man’s expectation. It sounds reasonable – though it does kind of fly in the face of “Gender is a difference, not an inequality.” I can’t say that I love that I might have lower standards for my beer than my wife. I like to think that we have different expectations, not that mine are lower. She might love a sweet malty beer and I might love a sour funky one. Those aren’t better or worse, or higher or lower or whatever. They’re different.

Aaaanyway (I’m clearly rambling today), the point is this: IF that’s true (which – in a general, population-level sense, sounds right) then finding this missed market segment is easy. But let’s say it this way: You want women to drink good beer? Make good beer.

Last session of the day was fun: Beer on the Web with Jason and Todd Alstrom, Jay Brookston and Joni Denyes from Odell Brewing. From my perspective, it was fun – not anything I didn’t know, but nice to relax and listen to something that I’m really familiar with. At the same time that the actual panel was going on, there was a sub-discussion going on on Twitter which was both serious and actually quite funny. Take a look at a Twitter search for #cbc09 and just scroll back oh.. hell.. probably a couple of hundred pages by this time, to see the chatter flow. For the record, and thank you Sean from Fullsteam for worrying my wife as she followed along on Twitter from home: My fly was up.

I think the only issues that I had was the panel were these:

1) It would have been nice to have a computer set up to the projector in the Amphitheater with a connection to the internet to actually demonstrate some of this technology. Unfortunately, while there were a bunch of people in the room who were very tech savvy and willing to discuss this technology, there were also a bunch who were essentially asking, “What’s the Tweeter? Is that on the Google now?” It would have been nice to have a way of displaying the technology that people were talking about – maybe having Jay’s blog and Beer Advocate up online, as well as O’Dell’s twitter, MySpace, and Facebook pages – it definitely would have required a longer session, though. Maybe next year, it’s a session that’s worth repeating.

2) I was a little irked about Jay Brookston’s comments about amateur bloggers. I’m trying not to take umbrage because I’ve so recently started pouring my head onto this blog, and look at this objectively. Fact is this: In a way, we are all amateur bloggers. The internet is a relatively young invention, and blogs moreso. Five years ago, we couldn’t have this conversation. So have professional bloggers risen overnight? I don’t think so. Maybe you had professional writers who have decided to move their content online, but that doesn’t make them any less amateur in the medium. I see where Jay is going – not everybody who runs a blog is serious about writing or serious about their subject matter. Jay has the advantage of being an established writer and having a good history in the beer industry. He also happens to be both tech savvy and a fantasic author – and this gives him a decided edge.

However, everybody has to start somewhere. Just because somebody is new or small doesn’t mean that they’re unprofessional or not good at what they’re doing. Good god – if that were the case, would we even have a craft brew industry? The point I hope Jay was trying to make was that – just because someone is running a blog doesn’t mean that they’re willing to approach it intelligently and that YOU, both as a business owner and a consumer of content, have to take the time to decide whether or not this person is worth spending your valuable time and attention. There’s little-to-no cost of entry involved in starting a blog, and because of that there is definitely a high level of jack-assery. Don’t take their existence as a credential, take the time to investigate them for yourself (or find someone you trust who has the time to do it for you).

So there’s my spiel to stop me from being an amateur, and actually make me someone awesome who is still trying to ping the radar. 🙂

Because.. hey.. I’m awesome right? And modest, too. Don’t forget modest.

All in all? Awesome week. I got to meet some great people, some who were just starting breweries and some who have been in the business for a long, long time. I got a lot of good perspectives and have come away inspired and hungry for more. I’m not gonna lie, it’s gonna be really difficult to head back to the 9-5 next week. I’m ready to start NOW.

Next year, the conference is in Chicago and I plan to attend with my wife and my (hopefully eventual) COO in tow to flesh out details of the business. Until then, there will probably be occasional mention of startup stuff here on the blog, but I’ll most likely focus on beer, breweries, as much industry stuff as I can dig up to keep myself engaged and moving forward.

I hope you’ll join me on the ride.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 20 May 2009 @ 07:06 AM

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 23 Apr 2009 @ 11:20 PM 

Day 3 didn’t start out very well for me, mainly because Day 2 ended so well. Turns out that at the end of Day 2, I forgot to eat dinner. It took me a little while to get out of bed this morning. Heh.

But get out of bed I did! And I had another fantastic day.

First off, I mentioned yesterday that I was hoping that the movie that Greg Koch showed at the beginning of the keynote would be available on line, and it most certainly is. View at your pleasure, it is truly awesome. I think it actually brought a tear of pride to my eye.


I Am A Craft Brewer.

Today, I had lunch with a good friend of mine who’s working as an indie video game developer. He’s in the process of starting up his own company, very much in the same way I’m working on starting up mine – he’s a little ahead of me on the track, but in comparing notes about the industries, we found remarkable similarities. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that these are both comparatively young industries. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they’re both rooted in passion, or that they’re both working full time against lowest-common-denominator preconceptions. Hard to say, but we were a little surprised that we felt like we had so much in common when the two end products felt like they weren’t related at all. He’s got a deadline coming up in a couple of weeks, so I won’t push now, but we’re looking at – in the future – doing an industry comparison across our sites so that we can fully explore the similarities. The way my mind sees it is that we might see some really unlikely partnerships bloom sometime in the future.

After lunch, I attended the panel Beer According to Women: How Women Brew, Present, Pair and Sell Beer. The panel was moderated by Sebbie Buhler of Rogue, full panel was Candice Alstrom of Beer Advocate, Teri Fahrendorf – Road Brewer and founder of the Pink Boots Society, and Jodi Stoudt of Stoudts Brewing Co. Really fantastic panel, with a good range of opinions. There’s a list of questions and answers laying around somewhere on the internet that I need to dig up and post here so that I don’t have to reiterate the entire panel. For the most part, the panel agreed with my feeling on the matter: How do you get women to drink good beer? You make good beer. The key word that all of the panelists emphasized was “balance” and I might argue that that’s important for every beer drinker, not just women.

In fact, I found myself thinking, almost across the board, that any of the good points about how to reach women really applied to men equally and that bringing gender into the equation really made things more complicated than they were. What I found most interesting is that there seems to be a bit of an age divide on this issue. It was evident right away in the panel, the first question asked was: Does gender matter? While 2 out of the 3 panelists said “No” (my position), one said “Yes” and continued to return to the point throughout the entire panel. I hesitate to use the world “older” to describe her because the age difference between 99% of the people in this industry is not that wide and “older” sounds like I’m saying “elder,” and I don’t want to give that impression. We’re talking maybe 10 years, here, both in age and in experience in the industry. However, it is enough, I think, for traditional stances on feminism to change significantly. It’s a tricky subject. What is clear to me is that while we might be talking about this now, we’re going to be talking about it completely differently in a few years and my theory is that we won’t be talking about it at all after a small time. Why? Because craft brewers continue to get better at their craft, they continue to put good beer out in front of consumers and in time the women will drink it as equally as the men.

The second panel I went to was Keeping it Real: Brewery Owner Perspectives. Moderated by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, the panel consisted of Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewery, Kim Jordan of New Belgium, David Walker of Firestone Walker, and Rob Todd of Allagash. It was phenomenal. The entire panel was anecdotal. Managerial advice took the form of stories about the startup years of each brewery, how they found their vision, when they had to finally delegate responsibilities, how they manage distribution, etc. It was funny and warming and is one of those times (like the video above) that I feel really warm about becoming part of this industry.

The only question that I felt wasn’t particularly well addressed was one by Scott Metzger of Freetail Brewing. He mentioned that a lot of the people up on the stage were in his homestate of Texas through large A-B and MillerCoors distributors and that those distributors actively choke out local Texas beers due to their current legal restriction on self-distribution. David Walker responded something along the lines of, “Hang in there, it will all be okay, things are changing.” which is probably accurate, but Scott’s point remains valid. All of these guys can say to their distributors – don’t take tap handles or shelf space away from other craft beers to put my product in, and that might be agreed upon from a managerial standpoint in the distributor, but the local guy who’s actually going into package stores or supermarkets or dive bars or whatever might not give a shit, and that’s where local breweries are going to get hit the hardest. When something of similar quality to their product comes in from elsewhere and has the advantage of being a well-known brand – a Sam Adams, a Dogfish Head, a New Belgium, etc. – and the local rep won’t follow through on the intention of the regional brewer.

Kim Jordan might not have wanted to take tap handles away when Fat Tire came into North Carolina, but I see it in bars everywhere now and I can assure you that the tap handle that came down to put Fat Tire on was almost definitely NOT A-B or Coors.

So Scott’s question, in my mind, is: When a large regional brewery starts to become a threat to local brands due to the unscrupulous actions of their distributor: what do we do?

I don’t know the answer to that question, and I think it’s going to be a tough one to answer until the three-tier system is better regulated, but it’s interesting to think about.

I, unfortunately, did not make it to the Cask event at Harpoon tonight, though I had originally planned to. I ended up meeting up with my old roommate and fantastic friend at dining (again) at the Cambridge Brewing Company. Harissa Rubbed Lamb Steak paired with Gruit? That’s the kind of meal people write about. Heh. I just wrote about it. Awesome.

Tomorrow? More women and beer and the sad conclusion of the conference.

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Last Edit: 23 Apr 2009 @ 11:28 PM

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