You know what I needed? More to do.

Brewery startup is a lot more work than I necessarily expected, even if most of that work is filling out paperwork and chasing down equipment. So, naturally, when I got a message asking if I was interested in writing a book about North Carolina Beer and Breweries I said, “Sure – why not? What else do I have to do?”

Starting this summer, I’ll be traveling to every brewery in the beautiful state of North Carolina to get the low down – how they started, who they are, what they make, and how they make it.

The goal?

Next spring you can hold in your hot little hands a comprehensive guide to beer in North Carolina, with maps, pictures, and a suite of factoids and tidbits about where to buy beer in NC, the best, most popular beer festivals, and even some information about where to get good local cider and mead, and local food to go with your awesome local NC Beer.

What’s more? While I’m doing these travels, I’ll be taking the blog with me. So while the book will be the information source, you can get my personal take on the whole piece here, where I hope to be able to inspire some of you to get out to a local brewery in North Carolina and see it for yourself.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t send a huge, nay, enormous thank you to the good Beerinator Jonathan Surratt who pointed this opportunity my way. Sir, I owe you many a beer, and here it is on public record.

Thanks also go to John F. Blair, Publisher of Winston-Salem, NC who is publishing the book.

Look for more soon! Travels start in the next couple of weeks!

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Categories: industry, media, nc beer book, news
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 22 May 2011 @ 12 02 PM

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 28 Mar 2011 @ 9:53 AM 

Like every other beer blogger in the world, I’m here to comment on the breaking news this morning of Anheuser-Busch’s take over of Goose Island. There’s a lot of romantic talk around about how this comes on the heels of a week of lovey camaraderie known as the Craft Brewers Conference, but we really should have seen this coming a mile away. Goose Island hasn’t been qualified as a “craft brewer” under the BA’s definition for a while now, precisely because the ownership stake that Anheuser-Busch has had in it has violated the “Independent” clause. It was really just a matter of time before this happened.

Contemplating the possible future meaning of this deal is, however, a little terrifying. Goose Island has been a front runner in quality craft for a while, now. They are technically brilliant and make some of the best known sour and barrel aged beers in the market. Will the quality of the beer go down with financial backing of A-B-I? It seems unlikely, given that most of the people in the company will stay in their place (sans, apparently, Greg Hall).

This gives A-B-I an array of new tools in their toolbox to compete with the ever encroaching craft market. There’s no way that they’re blind to the fact that they’ve been losing market share on their core products while craft has seen double-digit growth each year. This deal shows that plainly.

What really terrifies me is the thought that this is the first A-B-I takover, but I am positive it will not be the last. In the coming years we are sure to see a lot of larger craft breweries get gobbled up by the big players in the market. It’s been happening in Europe for years. Why should America be exempt?

Once that starts happening, what does that mean for the small craft market? We cannot compete, on any level, with the international marketing machines that are the world’s largest breweries.

Something that I think many in the craft market forget: Most consumers don’t care where their beer comes from, even the big beer geeks. The Beer Advocate boards are full of people saying, “So long as the beer is good, I don’t care who makes it.” It’s a lesson that small craft brewers need to sit up and pay attention to. More than ever, especially as A-B-I starts looking for acquisition targets, the enemy of the small craft brewer begins to become the large craft brewer. They’re already the ones coming into each state and taking up hard won shelf space and tap handles. When those large craft breweries start to become arms of the big brewers, who already have undue influence over many distributors, how are we possibly going to compete?

So, indeed, after the love fest of the last week – what will this ultimately mean for our big craft brewing happy family?

Tags Categories: distribution, industry, marketing, news, op-ed Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 28 Mar 2011 @ 12 49 PM

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 25 Jan 2011 @ 3:14 PM 

And before you ask me to never use the word “sluice” again, here’s a lovely picture of a sluice from Wikimedia Commons:

I would also like to relay that “sluice” is a surprising safe Google Image search.

We will now carry on with our regularly scheduled blog post.

So, what’s coming down the sluices!?

I’ve been conspicuously silent across both this blog and Mystery’s blog (where this, incidentally, is being cross-posted, if you’re reading this at Mystery’s blog, you may want to check out Top Fermented), for the past couple of weeks and that’s primarily because my days have been turned into a twisting mass of odd jobs, manual labor, staring at the wall waiting for inspiration, and alternately burying myself so deep into work that I forget to eat. A good chunk of this has been keeping me away from writing.

But it hasn’t been keeping me away from the computer. More on that in a sec.

I’m on a more regular schedule now, where I’m actually spending 3 days a week “at the office” so you should be seeing a few more blog posts popping up here and there.

Also popping up should be the fruits of (some of) my labor, so here’s a little preview of what to expect in the next couple of weeks:

Educational Opportunities

In case you haven’t heard, myself and a couple of excellent friends organized and hold a monthly beer Meetup here in the Triangle in NC called Taste Your Beer for lack of a better, more inspiring, name. It’s been received pretty well and people seem genuinely excited to learn more about beer – not how to make it, but how to enjoy it, and just more about beer in general. So when I heard that there were upcoming Cicerone exams coming to Raleigh, I had the idea to make a study group for it.

However, after thinking about it, I thought – why limit this to just people who want to become Cicerones? Lots of people want to learn about beer but don’t necessarily have the desire (or the work experience and wallet) to become Cicerones. That’s why, starting in February, I’ll be offering beer education classes at my location at Mystery Brewing. It’ll be an 8 week class meeting once a week (with a few exceptions) covering beer from ingredient cultivation to serving and food pairing including off-flavors and style samples. It will cover the Cicerone exam content thoroughly so if you, like me, want to take the Cicerone exam in April or June, then this should act as an excellent study guide. However, if you just want to learn about beer then that’s cool, too.

Look for more information about these classes popping up in the next few days. We need to get going soon to be ready for the Cicerone exam AND the World Beer Festival.

New Website

With a new brewing company comes a new website. The blog over at will soon be going away for a more robust website with some features that I think will be fairly interesting to people. Among them are the normal kind of website things: discussion boards, a news feed, info about the brewery, social media and that sort of crap. But here’s a little preview of some of the other things I’m working on (not all of which will be up and running immediately):

  • A check-in point/badge system specifically for Mystery Brewing. Think FourSquare, or Untappd except you actually have the chance to get REAL REWARDS if you earn the right badges: Discounts on brewery merch, beer, private brewery tours, beer, t-shirts, beer, stickers, and probably, at some point, beer. This should launch with the new website, even if beer won’t.
  • A Mystery beer genealogy tree. I am quite proud of the fact that all of my beers started as homebrew recipes, and I am telling you now that they are all going to evolve over time. Recipes I have now may spawn other recipes in the future. This beer genealogy tree will be a way to find out how all Mystery beers are linked together, batch to batch over time. It will serve as a means as helping people find out both what they enjoyed about a beer and what new beers they might enjoy. Once all the equipment drops into place and Mystery beer starts hitting bars and restaurants, this will also serve as a way to track which batches of which beer are out in the public and where you can find them.
  • An ongoing art contest. I am a big fan of the arts in general. I went to an art school for my undergraduate experience and was, shall we say, intimate with the art school, even though I was only a performing artist, myself. I would like to take the opportunity to showcase art through Mystery. In specific, I will be announcing an ongoing art contest of sorts through which artists of any sort – professional, amateur, painters, web comics, whatever – can submit artwork for use to represent beer in our repertoire. The artist who’s work is chosen will receive money in return for the use of the art, as well as a royalty for every piece of (non-packaging) merchandise sold using the artwork. (Since we won’t be in bottles for a good long time, we’re talking posters, t-shirts, etc.) More details on this later in the spring, but artists, start thinking Evangeline.
  • Weekly updates on progress in the brewery. Things are starting to pick up speed and while anybody who is part of the classes up above will be able to see things starting to pop up around them, a lot of people don’t know what exactly is going on in there, so we’re going to get into some detailed updates on how we’re progressing toward getting beer on the market, even if that update is why progress isn’t being made. Back when I started Top Fermented, this is one of the things I really wanted to do is get into the nitty-gritty of what goes on behind the scenes when a brewery is opening. For the most, especially when it’s come to financing, I’ve felt like it was either a little boring or getting into detail would get into confidentiality issues with my partners. Now that we’re moving past getting money and into (*whimper*) spending it, I feel a little more like I can let people behind the curtain. Prepare yourselves to see week after week after week of.. ermm.. well… pictures of an empty cement box. Yaaay!
  • More from me about the industry in general. I’ll be folding Top Fermented into the new website. It’ll still exist on the original domain and function independently, but it will also be integrated into the new website as the brewer’s blog. It means no more separation of sites and it should mean a more rigorous update schedule. It might also mean that I piss more people off that I probably want to retain the respect of as I voice my opinions, but.. ermm.. well.. that sucks.

    Okay – this part isn’t nearly as exciting to you as it is to me. Still. I’m excited.

Kickstart-y Goodness

And no, that doesn’t mean that I’m starting another Kickstarter project (yet), but Kickstarter backers will remember that there are still homebrew recipes to go out, Irregulars memberships to revel in, beer dinners to eat, and video chats to watch. I haven’t forgotten, and there will be movement on a couple of these things soon.

And more.. much, much more.

If I’m running into any sort of problem, lately, it’s the fact that I have more ideas for things to do than I have resources and, frankly, spare neurons for processing. The important part that my next blog post should be a snark filled rant about some sort of craft beer segment piece and not one of these lame update sessions.

But! The future is bright and there’s beer there. Join me!

À votre santé,

 29 Apr 2010 @ 1:51 PM 

A little while back, I ran across a fascinating article over on Ad Age.

What first drew my attention was, unsurprisingly, the beer. Colorado Native is made by AC Golden Brewing Company, a small 30 bbl subsidiary of MillerCoors. Much like Blue Moon, they are relying on “craft”-style marketing: word of mouth/viral marketing. Part of me really likes the idea of Colorado Native – it is made with almost 100% Colorado ingredients. I mean, we’re talking barley, hops, water, packaging, and even the social marketing they’re using on each bottle.

And that’s what kept my eye on this article. Social Marketing? What what? The article kind of blows through the Snap Tag reference, which is a little crazy considering it’s Ad Age magazine and not a beer-related media. I, on the other hand, was fascinated, so I did a little reading because this is something that I think that craft brewers can learn from.

MillerCoors/AC Golden is using this interesting new type of barcode technology called a Snap Tag. Snap Tags are, for all intents and purposes, pretty barcodes. Here’s an example, from SpyderLynk‘s website.

See the dots in the circle? That’s what defines the code. I’m not exactly sure, but my guess is that the location of the dots in the circle, probably in degrees based on the orientation of the logo, can denote specific information. I speculate that they’re probably a numerical format that can be translated further by an algorithm held at SpyderLynk. Since the particular product we’re talking about is Colorado Native, it’s probably a small code that changes per batch of beer manufactured so that you can track exactly which batch this came out of, who it was distributed by and, very likely (if you have that kind of tracking technology – and why wouldn’t MillerCoors?), what retailer it was bought from.

“Okay,” I can year you saying, “What’s the big deal? People put tracking codes on their products all the time. It’s really helpful for figuring out defects in batches, it helps with customer support, etc., etc.”

Yeah, I totally agree. But what you have here isn’t just a tracking program, it’s a program in which consumers are encouraged to interact with you. The amount of information you’re getting off the Snap Tag and the bottle is small. The information you’re getting from the consumer is enormous. It starts with their phone number and/or e-mail address and then, when you send something back, it continues with their birth date (you have to verify age, right?) and then continues further on with a nice questionnaire asking about their lifestyle preferences, etc. Okay, are you on Facebook? Twitter? Yeah? Awesome. Hi! You are my target market, for you have bought my product. Now I know pretty much everything about you and you have given it to my freely.

It’s a ridiculously good use of modern technology and I’m a little shocked that I don’t see any craft breweries going in this direction.

Snap Tags? No. I’m still not convinced of the merit of Snap Tags, themselves. Each of the case studies that SpyderLynk has listed on their website doesn’t actually use the information listed on the snap tag so much as it uses the Snap Tag to get people to willingly send in their contact information to a company — which is, as far as I’m concerned, the magic.

Allow me to introduce you to something called a QR Code. It’s a bar code many people (those with Androids, maybe even with iPhones, now, I’m not sure) can actually read them with their cell phones, and I’m sure that as time goes on this will become more prevalent. Here’s an example of a QR Code:

Now here’s your Snap Tag replacement, with apologies to SpyderLynk for stealing their format:

Yeah, that’s right. Take a picture of that and send it to me and I’ll get back to you and find out about you, the consumer of said QR code. In many ways the QR code itself is completely inconsequential. In this case, however, not only am I getting information from the consumer, I am also giving information back to the consumer. You can do anything with this – contests, event information, business card info, whatever. And you can make your own QR Code for free. But it doesn’t matter! The code isn’t important! The customer contact is.

Craft breweries, it’s not often that I will tell you to take a an idea from the macros, but… take this one. The most valuable marketing tool you have is a personal relationship between your business and your customer. Take this idea! Use your packaging to do more than just signify what’s inside, it is your easiest customer contact – use it! Take this awesome idea and run with it!

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Categories: industry, marketing, media, news
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 29 Apr 2010 @ 01 51 PM

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And thus I have failed.

BrewDog, if you’re not familiar with them, are a Scottish brewery that, according to lore, are busy modeling their public image after Stone in their reverse psychology, “You’re not cool enough to be drinking this beer.” type of message. It’s all very cute and apparently incredibly effective.

The reason that I’ve been trying not to comment on them is because they’re punks. By punks, I think that it’s important that you realize that I don’t mean the sort of punk that rocks the Kasbah or the sort that promotes anarchy in the kingdom. They are the sort of punks with really consistent and compelling graphic design that have just recently had a public offering of their stock (EU residents only). They are punks in a sort of MTV “Punk’d” kind of way, which I don’t really mean as a compliment, but a sad statement of fact.

They also make, honestly, some really great beer. In a way, it’s too bad, because their beer is really overshadowed by their actions. Pretty much anytime I read about BrewDog I read about the company and the fact that the beer exists, not about what the beer actually tastes like. That I’ve had to find out on my own.

Without casting too much judgment (I’ll leave that to others) here are a few pieces that have caught my eye:

Earlier this year, BrewDog’s Tokyo* Imperial Stout was banned by The Portman Group, which is an organization in the UK which essentially acts as a watchdog group to promote responsible drinking in the UK. In and of itself, this isn’t really awful except that it was apparently banned due to a complaint by Brew Dog’s co-founder James Watt, which is just weird.

In response to the fairly ridiculous response that Tokyo* got by the media in the UK, the brewery released an “Imperial Mild” called Nanny State. They say it best in their own words:

Nanny State is our quiet and dignified response to the ongoing controversy surrounding Britain’s strongest ever beer, Tokyo*. Nanny State is a 1.1% ale. We have gone from making Britain’s strongest beer to a brew so low in alcohol it is below the legal classification of beer and not strong enough to be subject to beer duty.

Nanny State is an extraordinary little beer. It contains more hops than any other beer we have ever brewed. There is over 60 kilos used in our tiny 20HL batch. It contains more hops than any other beer ever brewed in the UK. It has a theoretical IBU of 225.

It hasn’t been very well received, but I haven’t tried it, myself. It would seem, to me, to be a bit out of balance.

This past week, they released what they say is the strongest beer in the world: Tactical Nuclear Penguin (which I think is an awesome name), an imperial stout weighing in at 32% alcohol on the same day that Scottish Parliament was debating a bill setting a minimum price for alcohol sales and raising age at which people may buy alcohol. It’s been posited, rather angrily, that the timing was intentional. Normally, I’d think that was a stretch, but after watching BrewDog operate its releases as social statements previous to this hard to think it’s anything but planned.

(Note: Apparently, it’s only going to be the world’s strongest for a little while. A small German brewery is releasing a 40% alcohol Eisbock. Yikes!)

As for me, I can’t decide if these guys are marketing geniuses or just making shit up as they go along. They seem to be operating under the aphorism by Oscar Wilde, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” I’m not sure I really agree with that. Statements from neo-Prohibitionists with words like “childlike attention-seeking” are the kind of things that get picked up by people who don’t know what you’re all about. That’s the backwards way to publicity. You want the Prohibitionists to be the ones defending their stance against the incredulous media, not you defending yours. You want to convince people in general that the crazies are railing against nothing, not give the crazies ammunition.

I’ve also read suggestions that this is just the wacky Scottish sense of humor coming through. I have to say: I do find some of the things that they’ve been doing funny. There’s amusement to be had. On the other hand, if I had laid down £230 per share on this company for any significant amount of shares I don’t think I’d be laughing. I think I’d be wanting them to stop fucking around with my £230 and get back to what they do best: Making good beer. The UK beer market isn’t that wild and out there. I’m sure there are plenty of boundaries that can be pushed in the UK without stirring up quite as much shit as they have. But I guess then they wouldn’t be punks.

Maybe they’re just being the wrong kind of punks. Myself, I’d shoot for Joe Strummer over Ashton Kutcher. I’m old school, like that.

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Categories: brewery, industry, marketing, news
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 30 Nov 2009 @ 04 59 PM

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