More American Craft Beer Week

One thing I didn’t mention in Tuesday’s post about American Craft Beer Week was touched on by Jim Dorsch in his comment, namely the marketing aspect of the “event.” The Brewers Association, which is the organization behind the ACBW, has as part of its mandate the promotion of domestic craft breweries, and to this end they obviously feel the Week is an effective tool.

And perhaps it is. I can easily see any number of beer drinkers signing the so-called Declaration of Beer Independence and supporting the Week, but at the same time, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of those people will be pre-existing supporters of craft beer. As for the legions of Bud and MGD and Coors Light drinkers, well, I wonder whether they’ll be swayed or put off by the whole thing.

And here’s another suspicion I hold: If you capture any given American craft brewer in an unguarded moment, I expect that he or she would probably agree that the whole exercise is more than a bit silly.

Healthy in Mexico

In another not-so-beer-oriented post, I would like to address some of the questions I’ve been receiving since my return from Mexico less than 12 hours ago:

1) While I understand one or two suspected cases have been linked to Cancun, the overwhelming majority of the incidents of flu infection are centered around Mexico City. Before tarring all of the country with the same brush, please take a look at the map and realize that the capital is a long way from the Yucutan Peninsula and, in fact, most beach tourist areas.

2) The three resorts we visited on the Riviera Maya were uniformly safe, as I imagine were and are pretty much all the main tourist resorts. These places have a lot to lose if even a single case can be linked to them, so they do their utmost to maintain healthy environments.

3) I ate pork, and it was good. There is no flu risk associated with pig meat. Period.

4) At the Cancun airport, a handful of tourists were seen wearing masks, but not a single airport staff member or official. If there were any risk, I would expect these would be the first people to be issued masks.

5) The upscale resorts we stayed at all offer premium spirits and wines, but only ordinary beers. With now numerous craft breweries operating in Mexico, it’s time these places began offering at least limited amounts of something a bit more characterful than Negra Modelo. (I said this post was not-so-beer-oriented, but still had to throw in something relevant to the blog’s name.)

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!

Is Beer a Political Choice?

I had planned on only posting once today, since I have plenty of actual paying writing to attend to, but after reading Stan’s and Alan’s and Alan’s comment contributors’ opinions on last night’s Beer Wars movie premier, I was compelled to ask the above question. Because, really, from what I’ve seen of the reviews and commentary post-film, that’s what the whole exercise seems to be all about.

If you’re not involved in the brewing business, is your choice of a beer a flavour decision, as it “I want this beer rather than that beer,” or a political one, as in “I want this small brewery’s beer rather than that mega-brewery’s beer”? If you are of the former mindset, then you are, I believe, like most people in this world, the persuasive effects of beer advertising notwithstanding. If your pick is the latter, then you have chosen the large is bad/small is good ethos that I gather from the above-noted commentary is at the heart of Beer Wars.

If you’re like me, on the other hand, your choice likely lies somewhere between the two. I like beer, flavourful beer, and for the most part I don’t give Alan’s proverbial rat’s ass about where it comes from. I’ve had seven year old Séléction Lambic from then-Interbrew-now-Anheuser-Busch-InBev-owned Belle-Vue and thought it was wonderful. I’ve had many a small batch beer from a craft brewery or brewpub that I thought sucked. If I don’t think it’s good, I’m simply not going to drink it, no matter who brewed it. Period.

On the other hand, my political sensibilities do reside with the underdog, the David up against Goliath. Partly that’s because David usually has passion and dedication where Goliath has balance sheets, but another part, I admit, stems directly from my lefty leanings. (I should emphasize here that this relates only to my personal choice of beer, not my professional reviews. In the latter instance, I strive to the best of my human ability to treat everyone equally.) I believe that every consumer dollar spent in a capitalist environment is a vote, and I am extremely picky as to where I place my votes, whether at the ballot box or in the grocery store.

So what about y’all? Political or personal or a combination of the two? Or an I all wrong about Beer Wars?

What’s Up This Weekend?

The arrival of spring, my friends, the arrival of spring! Temperatures are set to hit the high teens today and tomorrow – that’s Celsius, not Fahrenheit, for my American readers; Toronto is not that far north – and that means spring is officially in the air and the lousy, cold winter of ’08-’09 confined to the dustbin of meteorological history. Thank goodness!

Weissbier image nicked from Beer for Beginners

To celebrate, I’ll be working on a new column for City Bites that focuses on what is unarguably one of the top summer beer styles, or rather, two of them. The theme will be wheat beers, subdivided into Bavarian and Belgian styles. That means Schneider Weisse, Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse, Blanche de Chambly, Brussels White and many more wonderful wheats, even my first taste of Alexander Keith’s Premium White, which I’m wondering might not actually be a wheat beer at all, and some Samuel Adams Summer Ale thrown in for good measure. (I’ll be reviewing that last one for Cheers Magazine, rather than City Bites, since it’s unavailable north of the border.)

In between all that banana and clove and citrus and coriander, I plan to drop by the grand opening of Black Oak Brewing’s new digs in west Toronto, details of which are posted at The Bar Towel for the assistance of anyone who might be in the Toronto area on Saturday.

I Like Baseball and All, But There Are Limits!

I like baseball, I really do. And I enjoy beer, too. Occasionally, I like to combine the two, as in enjoying a good beer while watching a live game at the Skydome. (I know, it’s supposed to be the Rogers Centre now, but it will always be the Skydome to me.)

But like I noted up top, there are limits. Attending the Blue Jays third game of the season last Wednesday – their only loss to date, BTW – I went off in search of a beer on the 100 level of the stadium, preferably something with a bit of flavour. And what did I find? How about 500 ml cans of Stella Artois or Sleeman Cream Ale for a whopping $10 a pop! Ten dollars!! And that for beer which is, in a pinch and served cold, only just acceptable so far as taste goes. If there is a craft beer stand or a slew of imaginative imports available somewhere, I missed it during my third to first base walk around the yard.


When my buddies Lew Bryson and Don Russell head to Citizens Field in Philadelphia for a game, not only do they get to watch the World Series champs, they also get to choose from Victory Hop Devil, Sly Fox Pikeland Pils, Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Dogfish 60 Minute IPA and a slew of other craft beers.

And they don’t have to pay two cents a millilitre for it, either.

A Decidedly Non-Crappy Project

One of the first people I met upon my arrival yesterday at Bar Volo’s IPA Challenge was F&M brewer George Eagleson, who wasted no time in telling me about his new project, something he calls CRAP.

Despite its unfortunate moniker, CRAP is a pretty cool venture. It stands for Craftbrewers Recycled Art Project, and features exactly what you might think it would – old brewery equipment and parts recycled into me and useful stuff. Thus far, their outputs are limited, but their aesthetic is sound and, I’ve got to admit, the malt bag Market Bag looks pretty cool.

market-bag1Check out their CRAP here.

Let Us Rejoice

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting sick and tired of all the economic doom and gloom that surrounds us. Sure, it’s a definite reality and one which affects all too many innocent souls, but day in and day out depression does no one any good. So here are some reasons to rejoice today:

1) Cask Ale Week begins next week in the U.K., shining a spotlight on the fact that, as Pete Brown reminds us, cask-conditioned ale is the single best performing sector of the beer market in ol’ Blighty.

2) Bud Light is no longer the world’s best selling beer, a fact that is apparently causing conniptions within the ranks of the world’s largest brewing company.

3) In North America, craft brewed beer continues to sell well, despite and regardless of the economic uncertainties of today. Say that again with me, “Craft brewed beer continues to sell well.”

4) Spring is just around the corner, at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere.

5) Today marks the start of the Cask Ale Crawl in Toronto, proving that cask-conditioned ale is doing pretty well on this side of the pond, too.

6) It’s time for Session #26 and our host, the inestimable Lew Bryson, has us actually talking about beer for a change, instead of musing all New Age-y like about what a particular aspect of beer means to us. I’ll be writing up my first ever World of Beer Session post later on today, so check back with me here and with Lew there.