Now THAT’S a Comment Thread!

You think the deluge of comments that occurred in this space following my “Sh*t (people) Do” series was entertaining? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

As usual, I am bettered by my British colleagues, in this case the Fabulous Melissa Cole*, who took umbrage with a statement BrewDog head James Watt made in Greg Koch and Matt Allyn’s book, The Brewer’s Apprentice. You should follow the link and read it for yourself, but the upshot of it all was that Watt felt that his experience with the British and U.S. brewing industries had lead him to believe theat the latter was far more open and friendly than the former.

And then came the comments!

Brewers are heard from. Writers sound off. The English and the Scots exchange words. Tempers become heated, then cooled. And it all makes for a terribly interesting read.

Go on, take 10 minutes and have a go at it yourself. Beer-based entertainment at its very best.

*Because the Internet is notoriously bad at conveying emotional meaning, I must add that I include “Fabulous” because I really do think Ms. Cole is fabulous, and not because I’m trying to be sarcastic.

Sh*t Drinks Writers Do (But Shouldn’t)

In fairness

1. Take a knowledge of one beverage and assume it automatically makes you qualified to write about another. Being an authority on wine doesn’t qualify you to offer “expert” opinions on single malt whisky, UNLESS you’ve done one hell of a lot of research and tasting.

2. Judge a release negatively on the basis of one or two sips. Everyone and everything deserves a second chance, so try it again before you lambaste it, or say nothing.

3. Get all attitudinal when someone calls you on a mistake or error of judgement. We all screw up from time to time. Take your lashes and move along.

4. Write your blog as if you are a ten year old because it makes it more “real.” You’re supposed to be a professional writer, even when doing something you’re not paid for. Typos are one thing, but frequent errors in grammar, punctuation and structure just reflect badly on you and your craft.

5. Use descriptive words no one is likely to understand. Noting underlying hints of some obscure Amazonian fruit doesn’t help North Americans to understand the flavours you’re describing; it just makes you look like an ass.

(I hope I’m not guilty of any of the above, but let’s face it, I probably am.)    

Thinking Hard About Miller Lite

Why, you might wonder, would I be thinking hard about Miller Lite? It is not, after all, a beer I sample with any sort of regularity – the last one I tasted probably belonged to the last century – and neither is it a brand I see as having any sort of defining presence in the marketplace. (The introduction in 2010 of the “vortex” bottle provided but a single upward blip in what has been the beer’s more-or-less steady decline over the past few years.)

But Lite popped up on my radar recently thanks to none other than Stan Hieronymus, he of Appellation Beer, who put not one, but two links to this ad into his blog. It took me a while to get to actually watching it, but once I did, an eyebrow was raised. Go watch it for yourself and see if you can guess what made my eyebrow twitchy.

No, it wasn’t that Lite has won the World Beer Cup gold for American-Style Light (Low Calorie) Lager four times. (The category is tailor made for such beers, so that comes as no surprise.) It wasn’t the caricature of beer judges as bizarrely facially haired gents and sour-puss ladies. (That part is kind of true, at least for the men, although few in the judge’s room would be so nattily attired.) And it certainly wasn’t the notion that Lite is hopped three times. (Hell, hop it a dozen times if you want, just don’t try to tell me it has any significant hop character.)

What got my attention was this line: “…and never watered down.” Taken at face value, this means that unlike the majority of convenience beers on the market today – and again, thanks Tim Webb for that great way to describe mass-market lagers – Miller Lite is not high-gravity brewed, or in other words, brewed to a higher alcohol content band then watered to the desired strength at the packaging line.

More than the cost of the hops, more than the price of malt and whatever adjuncts they may or may not use, and more even, I suspect, than the price of the vortex bottle, not high gravity brewing Lite would add extraordinarily to the cost of the beer’s production. And that is what i found this revelation to be, well, rather extraordinary.

British Beer Writers Honour Their Best

In case you missed the tweets, last night the British Guild of Beer Writers held their annual awards dinner and honoured some of the best scribes in their field, plus one brewer. Here are the awards in total:

Brewer of the Year 2011 – Evin O’Riordain, Kernel Brewery

Budweiser Budvar John White Travel Bursary – prize £1,000 plus trip to Czech Republic. Winner: Des de Moor

Shepherd Neame 1698 Award for Beer and Food Writing – prize £1,000. Winner: Mark Dredge

Thwaites Award for Best Corporate Communications – prize £1,000. Winner: Pete Brown.

Brains SA Gold Award for Best Use of Online Media – £1,000 & £500. Winner: Martyn Cornell; Silver Award: Mark Charlwood

Adnams Award for Best Writing in Regional Media – prize £1,000 & £500. Winner: Marverine Cole; Silver Award: Gavin Aitchison

Fuller’s ESB Award for Best Writing for the Beer and Pub Trade – prize £1,000 & £500 . Winner: Ben McFarland: Silver Award: Glynn Davis

Molson Coors Award for Best Writing in National Media – prize £1,000 & £500 Winner: Adrian Tierney-Jones; Silver Award: Will Hawkes

The Michael Jackson Gold Award – Beer Writer of the Year 2011: Ben McFarland

In my considered view, every winner is a deserving soul, and scanning this list frankly makes me realize how good British beer writing has become. Kudos to you lot for continuing to raise the bar!


A Brief Note on The Oxford Companion to Beer

First off, let me say that I have been far too busy of late, and too ill at present, to give The Oxford Companion to Beer the attention it deserves. So, in this post, I will not presume to offer a verdict as to whether it is good or bad, accurate or lacking. This is commentary on the commentary, pure and simple.

Latest to wade in is Roger Protz, a fine man and a pioneering and remarkably prolific beer writer. In The Publican’s Morning Advertiser, (UPDATE: The post has since been removed. See comment by Alan McLeod below.) he writes:

For beer lovers with a passion for style, this is more a treasure trove than an encyclopedia.


The Companion is hard to put down. Cross-referencing ensures a quick glance at one item will inexorably draw you into many other related sections. It’s a joy to read and has already widened my knowledge and appreciation of the subject.

Fair enough. As I said, I have not had the chance to indulge fully in the book and so have no opinion to counter Rogers. Or that of Pete Brown, at, or Adrian Tierney-Jones, both of whom I number among the best beverage writers of my generation.

But then Roger continues:

In spite of this, the bloggerati have come piling in, damning the book and some saying it should be withdrawn. How they must wish they had been around in the 1930s when book-burning was in vogue.

(Martyn) Cornell expresses his thanks to a Canadian blogger, Alan McLeod, who has “started a repository for errors” in the Oxford Companion. What sad people. It’s an established fact in publishing that most encyclopedias and dictionaries contain errors that are corrected for subsequent editions. I’m told the Oxford Companion to Wine had around 1,000 errors in the first edition.

And now I must call foul! Every person mentioned thus far in this post, with the exception of McLeod, contributed to the book, including its perhaps harshest critic, Martyn Cornell. And while I understand fully the desire to defend a book the making of which one was involved in, I have a great problem with referring to those who would wish to correct the record as “sad people.” “Fastidious people,” perhaps, or even “sufferers of OCD,” if one wishes to go impolitic, but hardly “sad.”

This is a much different world that it was when The Oxford Companion to Wine was first published, with information, accurate and otherwise, at a person’s fingertips 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some of the errors Martyn has pointed out are minutia, I will admit even if he may not, but pointing them out as present in a book of this scholastic heft is commendable, I would think. And McLeod’s interest in establishing a wiki to help rectify the errors and omissions is a nothing if not a laudable pursuit, particularly since it is an unpaid one.

I’ve written it before and now I shall write it again: The dialogue that has followed the publication of The Oxford Companion to Beer marks, as does the book itself, the maturing of the craft brewing industry and those who follow it. The accolades and the criticism and the controversy are all good, and signs that we, the global community of beer aficionados, are finally on the right path. As a veteran writer in this field, Roger should recognize this.

On The Oxford Companion to Beer and Beer Writing

I finally obtained a copy of the much talked-about Oxford Companion to Beer a few days ago, and although its spine is barely cracked, I have something to say about it. Or rather, the discussion it has generated.

I believe the publication of this book to be a significant point in the development of beer writing, not because of what it contains, but because of how it has been reacted to by others, even some of the contributors. If you have followed the online chatter, you will know that this reaction has been both good and bad, considered and coddling, but almost always volatile. I think this is a very good thing.

I’ve been writing about beer for over two decades and have been by-and-large friendly with most of my contemporaries. In a way, beer writing has been a lovely international social club, to the point that for some writers, myself very much included, one of the great things about attending the Great American Beer Festival or the Great British Beer Festival or Zythos is not the event itself, but the chance to meet up with the rest of the “clan.”

With the arrival of the Oxford Companion, however, some ranks have been broken, or perhaps more precisely, existing fissures have become apparent. Most publically, Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson, both contributors to the book, have exposed errors within the text, some admittedly minor in appearance and others more significant, but all nonetheless notable mistakes within a scholarly text. Companion editor Garrett Oliver has shot back in his defense, a tad too aggressively in tone for some.

Me, I’ve sat on the sidelines, book not in hand, and thought how nice it was that there was finally developing some significant self-criticism within the world of beer writing. And although it makes me decidedly more nervous about the publication next year of my and Tim Webb’s World Atlas of Beer, that there are others out there who will identify errata and offer corrections is something which will ultimately contribute to the further development and maturation of this particular field of study.

Again with the Black Whatever

Yesterday on Facebook, I posted a tongue-in-cheek link noting the new “black kölsch” just released from the St. Arnold Brewing Company of Texas, and saying that somewhere Ron “Shut Up About Barclay Perkins” Pattinson was popping a blood vessel. (Just joking, Ron. I sincerely hope you weren’t.)

Turn out, it wasn’t Ron who threw a wobbler, but Velky Al. And I’ve got to add, with good reason. Al does note that there is a convention governing what may be called a kölsch, and that even though the U.S. is not bound by said convention, it is, like those governing Champagne and Bordeaux, a matter of respect to do so. More broadly, he duly observes that there is nothing in the convention about a beer being black.

Without getting bent out of shape about it — it is Friday, after all — I must agree wholeheartedly with not just Al’s words, but also what I infer is the sentiment behind them, specifically this obsession with defining new styles and “innovations,” even is such things involve only the addition of a bit of black malt. As Jon Stewart might say, “Brewers, come over and meet me at camera three.”

Listen, I understand that you want to make your beers stand out and that, in the wake of the “black IPA” juggernaut that is sweeping the land, using the word “black” in front of pretty much any traditionally blonde or amber style is one way to do it. But in so doing you are forgetting that the vast majority of the beer drinking populace doesn’t yet know all of the basic beer styles, much less the 100+ offshoots recognized by the Association of Brewers today. Thus, creating more styles, especially faux styles like “black kölsch,” makes matters more confusing for the beer buying public. In short, you’re not clarifying, you’re confounding!

I like new beers. I like weird beers. I like challenging beers. What I don’t like is the seemingly irrepressible need of some, perhaps most craft brewers to create a new beer “style” with every release.

Best Beer Country? It Don’t Exist, Baby!

Jeff Alworth of “Beervana” was in a self-described “bomb-throwing mood” yesterday and chimed in about how the United States in general and, by inference, Portland, Oregon, in particular is the best place in the world for beer. (And I hope that “bomb-throwing” comment doesn’t have Homeland Security on his, or my, ass now.)

Which is, of course, absolute bullshit.

Are there more beer “styles” brewed in the U.S. than in any other country? Arguably, yes, probably, in fact. But that doesn’t make it the best in anything, even if a whole lot of them are, in Jeff’s words, “at least credible example(s).” (“Dude! Come over and taste this beer! It’s credible, man!”)  Do the Americans experiment more than the brewers of any other nation? Again, probably, with Italy and the independent duchy of Mikkeller hot on their heels. Again, though, that and a few bucks might buy you a latte, but not much else.

The fact is, of course, that no nation is the “best” for beer, any more than one city in the U.S. is the “best” for beer drinking. (And please, let’s not wade into that morass yet again.) I was just in London for a spell and loved drinking there, at traditional pubs and new style places like the Craft Beer Co. and Draft House. Equally, I was delighted earlier this year to be back drinking in Brussels and, while writing about the place this summer, found myself longing to return to Bamberg and the Franconian countryside. And right about now, I’m thinking that a trip to San Diego seems like a very good idea, although the patio of my condo in the bright sunshine is making a good case for itself this afternoon.

My point is that suggesting that one country or city is a better place for beer than another is to ignore the nature of beer itself, which is as a sociable, relaxing, deeply enjoyable beverage. It is not, and should never be considered to be, something to be tasted in two sips and ticked off a list before the next one is approached. Variety is fine, but quality is even better, and there are mercifully fewer and fewer places in the world today where at least one or two quality beers cannot be found. That is what we should be toasting, not whose nation is “best” for beer.

Not Musings, But Keen Insight

Out of the Czech Republic, the Pivní Filosof this morning presents his “musings” on beer style, which is actually keen insight and should be mandatory reading for all professional brewers and most serious beer aficionados. Go ahead, it’s right over here, read it.

Double Imperial Whatsit

I swear, I’m going to have to start sending Martyn Cornell thank you notes. Or a Valentine’s Day card. Such is the regularity with which he unearths jewels of information from yesteryear.

Take his post from today, for example. In one collection of tidbits/titbits – read it and you’ll understand – he unearths British beer in Australia in the 1820’s, reveals a delightful-sounding beer cocktail and debunks Vinnie Cilurzo – sorry, Vinnie – as the original developer of the double IPA.

And speaking of “double” and “imperial” beers, please note that the beer being imported to Tasmania in the early 19th century was Barclay Perkins imperial double stout porter. Strong and hoppy, one must presume, or else it would most assuredly not merit the use of twin descriptors.

Hoppy? How about “Extra Hopped India Beer” – surely the same as modern double or Imperial IPA – from, of all places, Scotland in 1868? Martyn has the evidence, and so we must return to rewriting our beer histories yet again.

Thanks, Martyn. Brilliant stuff.

An Open Letter to Steve Body, the “Pour Fool”

Dear Mr. Body;

Your blog has recently been twice brought to my attention, first by Rose Ann Finkel after you justly praised the beers of the Pike Brewing Company, and then by my friend Lew Bryson, who penned the defense of session beers you mistakenly attributed to some unnamed shop owner in Bellevue. I see that you have been writing about wine for some time, perhaps less so about beer, and I assume that you are eminently qualified to do so.

I would, however, like to correct a couple of what I see as erroneous positions you have chosen to take.

First, your “stated aversion” to “sessioning.” (I agree that “sessioning” is, at least, a flawed word, but until something better comes along it is, unfortunately, all we have. I deplore the use of nouns as verbs.) A session is, as Martyn Cornell observed in your comments section, a social rather than a drinking occasion, in which more than one beer might be consumed, perhaps as many as five over the course of an elongated session. It is not binge or over-drinking.

I assume that, as a wine writer, you have from time to time enjoyed a bottle of wine with another person over a meal. Perhaps you have partaken of two or three or more bottles with a group. This is the wine equivalent of a session and something I have enjoyed on numerous occasions with my wife, family and friends, even Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine (and one guy I know who is both). Occasionally this leads to overconsumption and great joviality, and a taxi or subway ride home.

I see nothing wrong with that, just as I see nothing wrong with a session infrequently lasting a bit too long. Alcohol is made for celebration, and as one of my writing heroes. M.F.K. Fisher, once suggested, it is important to approach such occasions “with the right mix of abandon and restraint.”

Next, I must comment on your approach to your work, “the same kind of repetitive labor as the guy who looks at the potato chips coming along on a conveyor belt and snatches out the burnt ones.” I am also a professional taster, have been for more than twenty years, except I come to the trade via beer and have thus, I suspect – and apologies if I’m mistaken on this front – sampled far more beers than you. Yet I still view my work with wonder and amazement, and get a thrill each time I find myself in front of something new awaiting discovery.

I have never seen a potato chip QC line, but I’m assuming it is as tiresome and repetitive to oversee as you suggest. My work is anything but that. Rather, tasting for me is akin to wandering through the finest and largest art gallery in the world. Sure, some works are flawed, others are badly hung and fatigue does sometimes set in, but the excitement of coming across a Monet or a Warhol or a Rembrandt makes every step prior well worthwhile, and its prospect keeps the frisson alive.

Finally, on a purely technical note, I would like to encourage you to cease your practice of spitting when you taste beer. Unlike wine, aftertaste is a vital component of beer and one which may only be appreciated by swallowing. It will mean limiting the number of beers you can assess at any given time – I suggest a maximum of ten – but I believe you will find your assessments to be far more accurate.

You may even find yourself moved to try some of the beers you rate again, and again. Perhaps even over the course of a session.


Stephen Beaumont