We Interrupt This Trip for the Following Observations

  • Sink the Bismark.” Oy! Will these boys never stop? Next up, almost for certain: 42%+ from Schorschbräu.
  • I like the new Ranger IPA from New Belgium. Not unconditionally, but in a surprised, “hey! this is from New Belgium?” kind of way. And I like this video, in an admittedly cheesy, lowbrow, white-guys-rapping kind of way. Jeff Alworth does not.
  • And speaking of Mr. Alworth’s observations and opinions, “a little brand-forward for my tastes”? As if craft brewers should be above marketing their beers? C’mon, Jeff, it’s a mature market out there and surviving means selling.
  • Those who are regularly asking me about craft distilling and how to learn it should check out the American Distilling Institute’s 7th Whiskey & Moonshine Distilling Conference at Huber’s Starlight Distillery in Borden, Indiana, from May 2 – 5, 2010.
  • I’m not in the habit of giving gratuitous ink to upcoming events, but this cheese and beer dinner in West Chester, Pennsylvania, looks too good and too good a value to pass up. If you’re in or planning to be in the area, and you’re not lactose intolerant, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Lance and Ultra – Huh?

As much as I do considerable research and reading on the web, I’m still a big fan of the printed word and so read a large number of magazines on a more or less regular basis. One of these is Runner’s World, which I enjoy for its tips on how to make my running life easier and less painful. (When you eat and drink as I do, you need some kind of activity to keep the weight from piling on. Mine is running.)

And so I came to the February issue of Running World, where runs an eye-catching, two page endorsement of Michelob Ultra by no less than Lance Armstrong. Which is all fine and good – I begrudge no one their endorsement dollars – except that it contains as a major component a Q&A with Armstrong in which the cyclist is asked “How does Michelob Ultra fit into your balanced lifestyle?” His response:

I am a guy who enjoys going out and pushing myself to the limit. That could mean a 6-hour bike ride or a 2-hour gym session. Whatever the activity, I enjoy the rewards of a hard workout.

Excuse me? Does this at all answer the question, and if so, please someone explain to me how? In suspect that the answer has something to do with the vagaries of US advertising laws as they pertain to beer, but even so, this strikes me as a most curious thing to work into advertising copy.

The Penguin That Everyone is Talking About

Evidently, the minds behind Scotland’s BrewDog have rattled more than a few cages with their new beer, Tactical Nuclear Penguin. (I still love that name.) Roger has taken them to task, then tried to address his critics; Alan has added his two cents, mostly addressing Roger’s response; Jay and I chatted about it all at length over the phone, and then he waded into the morass; and a fellow named Dave made the keen observation that Linux may just get a new and very boozy mascot out of the whole deal.

I seldom write about beers I have not tasted, and never write twice about such a brew, but rules are made for breaking and the Penguin craves ink, even if it is only the virtual stuff. Besides, it raises more questions than it does answers, to wit:

  • Given that the concentration of alcohol through freezing is a form of distillation, is this even a beer?
  • Given that eisbock is a recognized style of beer, does taking that freezing process to the nth degree disqualify the Penguin from such a style?
  • Does anyone care, as Roger seems to, whether the beer is fermented with a beer yeast or a wine yeast or both? (BTW, the BrewDog website suggests that the original, pre-freezing Imperial stout was but 10% alcohol, the attainment of which would certainly not require a non-brewers yeast.)
  • Should we even worry about such distinctions between beer and spirits, or even wine, for that matter? I have, after all, an open bottle of Sam Adams Utopias on my desk that has to my palate been steadily improving since I uncapped it a few months ago, which is most definitely not a beer-ish trait.
  • Since in nothing I’ve seen posted thus far has anyone said anything about what the Penguin tastes like, has anyone actually sampled the damn thing?

That’s it. I have no answers, only questions. Mr. Watt, if you’re reading, please do get in touch!

Inside Sam Calagione’s Mouth

I hesitated to post on this, mainly because the press attention is obviously what Dogfish Head’s Calagione had in mind when he embarked on this project, but the New York Times article detailing the brewery head’s attempt at creating a more-or-less authentic chicha is so damn entertaining I just had to pass it along.

Teaser line: “At the end of two hours, there were but two trays of salivated corn.”

Line that lays bare the blatant media grab: “As the ingredients of the traditional recipe they were using included 190 pounds of barley and 150 pounds of yellow corn, as well as 30 pounds of strawberries, a cynic might consider the amount of salivated corn (7 pounds – ed.) negligible in any arena other than marketing.

What’s In a Name?

In a lead-up post on Troy’s site relating to this Saturday’s Golden Tap Awards and Beer Festival at beerbistro in Toronto – more about that at the end of this post – Alan has raised the question of whether or not names really matter when beers are not sold in the same market. The specific beers he cites are Hoptical Illusion, by both New York’s Blue Point Brewing and Barrie, Ontario’s Flying Monkeys Brewing – the former ahead of the latter – and #9, brewed most famously by Vermont’s Magic Hat and more recently by the not-quite-officially-open Duggan’s Brewery.

There are other brand and brewery name similarities in today’s well-populated beer world, both cross and intra-border, and so we must wonder how important they may be. It’s fairly well-known, of course, that Russian River and Avery settled their same name issues by crating a Collaboration Not Litigation Ale, while Canada’s opposite coast Storm Brewing companies have managed to thus far co-exist quite happily.

But what of more litigious possibilities? Is it a matter of size or respect? Should Flying Monkeys offer a nod to Blue Point, even if they were entirely unaware of the latter’s beer when they named their own? Will Magic Hat ultimately launch action against Michael Duggan, especially considering the larger brewery’s proximity to the Canadian border? And should any of us, as beer consumers, care?

I don’t have the answer, but it’s certainly a matter worthy of consideration.

For interested readers in the Toronto area, the Golden taps will be handed out at 8:00 on Saturday, August 29, as part of an Ontario brewers-only beer fest held at beerbistro, 18 King Street West in the heart of downtown. Admission is free and it all gets started at 4:00. More details are available here.

Curiosity and a Bloody Disgrace

(This post is primarily for Canadian readers, even more so for Ontario readers, so the rest of you can feel free to scan or skip as you see fit.)

Doing a little online research on a couple of local breweries this morning, I came across – as the title of this post would indicate – a curiosity and a sad and disgraceful thing. First, the curiosity.

The website for Ontario’s monolithic Beer Store empire is not very good or useful, but it does offer some entertaining “Beer Type” and “Category” listings for the brands they carry. “Malt,” for example, is provided as a searchable type of beer, and the sum total of all the categories is three: premium, imported and discount. (Which beggars the question, what is a beer that is neither premium, discounted not imported?)

But the curiosity to which I point in the headline is not the entertaining classifications listed above, but rather the inclusion of a specific beer in the “Discount” category. That beer is Labatt Blue.

Yes, the iconic Blue that once “smile(d) along with you” is now a discount brand, occupying the same territory as such illustrious brews as James Ready 5.5, Lucky Light and Milwaukee’s Best. More evidence, to my thinking, that Labatt has all but given up on their former flagship brand.

Now, the disgrace.

Surf over to the website for Ontario’s pioneering craft brewery, Kitchener-Waterloo’s Brick Brewing, and click on the “History” icon. There you will find a timeline which suggests that precisely one event occurred in the twenty years of Brick history between the brewery’s founding and the commencement of the production of the discount Laker brands of beer, that being the licensing to Brick of Andechs Spezial Hell, in my opinion the best beer the company ever brewed and one which they have not made in many a year.

Now, I recognize that Brick, the brewery, is currently entangled in legal proceedings against Jim Brickman, the man, but to post a history of the company that doesn’t even acknowledge the person who gave the thing its name seems to me utterly absurd, and more than a bit disrespectful. Indeed, it is, in my considered opinion, a true disgrace.

More “Beer Wars” Fallout

My good friend Jay Brooks has taken issue with some of the criticism levelled at the movie, Beer Wars, which premiered last week and has fostered much discussion in the beer blogging community and elsewhere both before and since.

I have not seen the film and so will make no comment of its relative worth, save for the tangential observation I made last week. I will, however, take issue with the following lines from his post:

The beer community, and many bloggers in particular, have never seemed so divided to me. See here I was enough of an idealist to think we were all in this together.

Well, Jay, no, we’re not all in it together. And that, my friend, is a sure sign of the maturing of the craft beer market and very much a good thing.

Back in the early days of craft brewing, when I first started setting myself up as a beer writer, I was from time to time chastised for not painting a positive enough picture of this beer or that one. Once I was even taken to task for failing to laud an early and very amateurish attempt at beer publishing. And in each and every instance, the reasoning cited by the deriders, whether implicitly or explicitly, was that we were “all in this together” and so I must therefore show at least a degree of support for every craft beer effort, no matter what I think its ultimate worth.

I said “no” then, and I say “no” now.

Taste is, of course, highly subjective, but generalizations may certainly be made regardless of personal palate or preference. A mass-market lager like Molson Canadian, for instance, will show distinct flavour differences when compared to another mass-market lager, such as Budweiser, but few will argue that the two beers don’t also bear stunning similarities of taste. And if I am going to criticise those brands for failing to provide sufficient complexity and character to be interesting quaffs, then it would be highly hypocritical of me to turn around and laud the merits of a third beer classed in the same category, simply because it is brewed by a smaller company. Which is precisely why I didn’t do it then and don’t do it now.

Along those same lines, Beer Wars marketed itself directly to aficionados of craft brewed beer, not to mention the hoards of beer bloggers, and so it must likewise accept the responses of those same people. That we’re not all falling head over heels to praise its efforts is not a depressing thing at all, but rather a sign that the craft beer market and its adherents are now confident enough and mature enough to handle both reading and writing criticism of something obviously intended for their consumption. If the emperor is indeed wearing no clothes – and again, I must stress here that I have not seen Beer Wars and so have no idea whether I agree or disagree with the praises and critiques thus far posted – then it’s good that a number of people are now comfortable pointing out that reality.

That fact is, Jay, that while the economic playing field in the beer biz is still wickedly unlevel, and is likely to remain so for some time to come, craft beer is now and has been for a while the solid winner in the battle for media attention. When was the last time someone commissioned you to write a story about Bud Light Lime, for instance, as compared to your last craft beer assignment? To coin a phrase, we’re here, we’re beer, get used to it!

Idiocy Abounding

When I saw in the online edition of The Globe and Mail a story about how the Advertising Standards Authority in Britain had found this advertisement to be of great threat to the moral fibre of the United Kingdom, I immediately checked out the British beer blogs to see who had already skewered it. take-courage

My bet was on Pete Brown, and sure enough, he’s posted a better commentary that I could hope to offer. So go to his blog and read all about the disintegrating moral values of the U.K. and how the ASA is striving desperately to save society before it gets flushed down the toilet of degeneracy.