You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Presidential Debate Drinking Game

Before the debate, pour yourself a stiff drink. If you have a back porch, take it out there and regard the crisp autumn air as the liquid slowly warms your belly, noting how a country just before revolution is infused with a strange calm.

What to Drink
This is a beer blog, sure. I know there are a few wine drinkers who read it as well. This is, however, no time to fool around with dainty potables that have only been lightly fermented. An event like this requires distilled beverages, strong and brutal. America eventually found its love of beer and wine, but it was founded on the hard stuff. (Beer Bible: "By 1763, New England alone housed 159 commercial distilleries; there were only 132 breweries in the entire country in 1810.  By 1830, the US had 14,000 distilleries, towns tolled a bell at 11 am and 4 pm marking 'grog time,' and the per capita rate of consumption was nearly two bottles of liquor a week for every drinking-age adult.") Democracy, apparently, cannot be trusted to the delicate caress of IPA or pinot noir. The revolution is coming and, like our founders, you should be sloshed to the gills when it arrives.

Game On
In this game, the first ten minutes is a no-drinking zone. You'll require your senses to take in the sweep of Trump's hair, the drape of Hillary's pant suit. There are things you need to see with clear eyes to reassure yourself that they're actually happening. There's the billionaire Mark Cuban in the front row, selected by Clinton to provoke Trump. There's Gennifer Flowers, Bill's one-time mistress, sitting nearby--Trump's earthy riposte. Note the optics of the moment: the first woman in 240 years to be nominated by a major party debating a proud sexist who cheerfully and regularly retweets white supremacists while the debate is moderated by a black journalist. Only in America!

Once you've situated yourself in the moment, it's time to start drinking heavily. Most drinking games revolve around the mention of certain key words or phrases, such as "believe me," "Benghazi," or "small hands," but they are unsuitably frivolous for this year's debates. Instead, pour out another drink when the pangs of doubt peek over the edge of your subconscious and startle you, that moment when you first think, "Sure, this is amazing television, but I wonder if it's good democracy?" As the fire of alcohol burns down your throat, comfort yourself with the fact that there are no plans for a wall north of the country and, anyway, the border is too vast to keep out fleeing Americans, anyway. Oh Canada, our (future) home and native land...

Drink again when you notice the superficial nature of the moderator's questions. If you happen to wonder why actual policy issues are not being discussed, ponder the degenerate state of journalism in the United States. How is it that presidential elections went from being moments when journalists carefully vetted the candidates who would control a nuclear arsenal to one in which they so came to resemble a reality show that they actually starred a reality show personality? Pour another drink while you consider whether there's a satiric screenplay in all of this.

Drink every time the distaste of nepotism and dynastic politics crosses your palate. Consider the ramifications of sexual politics in a country that had two and a half centuries to nominate a woman who wasn't the wife of a president ... and failed. Drink when you think of Bill Clinton serving as the first gentleman, and take note of the glimmer of joy that brings. Joy will be in short supply throughout this ordeal, so take it when you can.

Drink every time the camera cuts to a Republican or Democratic official and you find yourself pondering our two-party system. Surely we can do better than two parties. Surely we can do better than these two parties. And yet, it's also true that Great Britain has multiple parties and still inadvertently voted to leave the European Union. Drink when you consider democracy. Are we really sure it's the best system? 

Drink when you notice the anxiety that this election seems to be a metaphor for ... something. Drink when your mind lapses back to earlier elections (2008 for Dems, 1980 for Republicans) and you remember thinking, "Is America the best damn country in the world, or what?" Drink when you grow irritated they're not talking about the issues you care about. Drink when you realize they're not talking about those issues because Americans don't care about them. Drink to douse your gnawing apprehension, drink to encourage your hope. Drink for liquid courage. Drink for comfort. Drink for good old Teddy Roosevelt--man, we could really use the old Rough Rider right now. Drink to drink.

And remember, enjoy the debate!

Picture credit:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Importance of Self-Distribution Laws

My sojourn to South Dakota has not given me too many insights into the nature of the national beer scene. The state is in a nascent phase of building a market for local beer; to date there are only 14 craft breweries, and most of them are tiny (one that I know of, Gandy Dancer, is so small and provisional one could debate whether it actually exists). Collectively, the entire output of South Dakota's breweries in 2015 was smaller than Double Mountain's. Locals are coming around to beer and there's palpable excitement, but palates are at the porter-and-stout stage* and typical barroom tap ranges include a lot of the old American industrial brands. South Dakota is a farming state, though, and there's already a fair amount of interest/excitement about the prospect of a local hop industry, and breweries are talking about making beer with all state-grown ingredients. That could be one of those local tie-ins that really helps power local growth.


But one massive barrier to breweries is the lack of a self-distribution law. Living in Oregon, I forget how fundamental these are to the incubation of viable small breweries. This may seem like boring arcana for most people, so let me break it down as a way of illustrating how a new Oregon brewery has a big leg up over their counterpart in South Dakota.

In Oregon, breweries are allowed to self-distribute 7,500 barrels of beer from each brewing facility they operate. (Of the 200+ breweries in the state, fewer than twenty will bump up against that limit.) That means that they can sell directly to retailers rather than using a distributor--which offers two big advantages. In the typical arrangement, a brewery sells a keg to a distributor for a wholesale price, and the distributor adds a mark-up when he sells it to the retailer. In self-distribution, the producer is able to sell the keg at the wholesaler's price directly to a retailer.

Second, a self-distributing brewery can sell their products directly to retailers rather than have to depend on a proxy (the distributor) who will necessarily have less commitment to one of their many brands than the brewery. Further, self-distribution allows breweries to develop relationships with retailers, who become valuable outposts for the product, even when a brewery is very new.

Compare that to Wooden Legs brewing, where I sat and talked with assistant general manager Angela Yahne over beers last night. South Dakota has no self-distribution laws. Wooden Legs has signed up with a distributor, but they're basically a nano and can barely keep up with production for the brewpub. In order to grow, they're going to need a new system, which means capital. Trying to push volume so they can send beer out into the market is tough, though, because they're selling kegs wholesale.

Even worse, Wooden Legs is stuck with their distributor,thanks to beer franchise laws, which make these relationships like a marriage--but harder to break. Angela gave me no reason to think Wooden Legs' distributor is anything but a great partner, but if they weren't, the brewery would be out of luck. Stories of sour relationships are legion:
For example, I once tried to terminate a contract with an underperforming distributor in New York for not only selling my products outside of his territory, but selling out-of-date beer. I thought it would be straightforward, since my contract said I could leave “with or without cause.”

But the distributor took us to court, saying the state’s franchise law, which sets a high standard for showing cause, trumped whatever my contract said. Two State Supreme Court rulings upheld my position, but, fearing a further appeal, I settled out of court. I was freed from the contract, but the legal fees and settlement cost Brooklyn Brewery more than $300,000.
I'm just guessing here--but Wooden Legs probably doesn't have a quarter million laying around for legal fees. 

The way good beer expands is by availability. Self-distribution laws, directly and indirectly facilitate this. States without them struggle to build the kind of rich tapestry Oregon has (which, counter-intuitively, has been great for distributors because many breweries ultimately do choose to go with one). We even have data on the matter:
"The contrast is stark. States with self-distribution have 1.41 craft breweries per 100,000 21+ adults. States without self-distribution have 0.77.... The same pattern emerges when we look at production. With the exception of one outlier state, the states with no ability to self-distribute are clustered at the bottom of per-capita production by craft breweries (average = 1.05 gallons produced per 21+ adult) whereas states with the ability to self-distribute average higher levels of production (average = 2.51 gallons produced per 21+ adult). Once again this difference is statistically significant with a p < 0.05 (two-tailed test).
This is in no way to demean distributors. There are a number of reasons they're a valuable asset for a brewery. In fact, having both well-regulated distributors and self-distribution laws give breweries the broadest freedom to implement their business plan. But for states without them, the downsides multiply. 

Angela told me that an incipient collection of the state's breweries met a few months back, and it may one day form into a guild. Here's hoping it does, and that they move quickly to pushing for a self-distribution law. That, way more than local hop fields, will jump-start the brewing scene here.

*This is in no way to denigrate porters and stouts, which are among my favorite styles. It's just that I've noticed that they seem to be popular styles for people getting into beer in the US, and are then sadly left behind. Since I've been in South Dakota, I've encountered probably a dozen people who tell me they're just getting into good beer, an their faves so far are porters and stouts. The South Dakota beer geeks, meanwhile, are into the same thing beer geeks everywhere are--which is to say not porters and stouts.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

South Dakota

One of the many statues in Sioux Falls, SD

I am currently sitting in a slightly dated hotel room on the edge of Brookings, South Dakota. The South Dakota Festival of Books is the event, and I'm doing my bit to act as a beery interloper on all the high-minded literary salons that will be soon taking place. I was paired with a Pulitzer-prize winning Washington Post author at an event last night in Sioux Falls, but he was snared in the net of chaos that is O'Hare, and didn't make it to town in time for the event, sadly. But it gives you a sense of the kind of show this is going to be.

In any case, slow blogging through the weekend. I'll try to get out and drink beer, but no promises on timely updates. The event last night was hosted by WoodGrain Brewing, and later on I went to Monks, the first (and apparently still pre-eminent) beer bar. Sioux Falls is, as you would expect, not on the bleeding edge of the beer scene, and yet it supports a pub with this taplist:

A third stop, at a burger-and-beer joint, yielded similar results. Impressive beers including ones like La Folie. I had a Fernson IPA (local) that was a bit heavy on the diacetyl and thick and caramelly. Better was the IPA at WoodGrain, though that too was caramelly. Based on the prevalence of Denver-based breweries available here, brewers may be looking to the Rockies for their IPA inspiration. The best beers were a rye saison from WoodGrain and a double IPA from a local (Gandy Dancer?) made with South Dakota-grown Nugget and Centennials. The hops were soft and herbal and reminded me a bit of Oregon-grown varieties (Yakima's are brighter and more sparkly).

Okay, off to scare up some lunch--

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Podcast Update/New Podcast

You may have noticed that there hasn't been a new Beervana Podcast for awhile. (Surely you were waiting on the edge of your seat!) This has to do with our transition to All About Beer On-Air. We've finally worked out some of the kinks, and we've got one podcast in the can, and one available today. The good news is that we've tried to really step up our game. I'm prouder of today's podcast than any we've done. It is a nuanced discussion about the experiences of women working in the beer industry. We were joined by Sarah Pederson (owner of Saraveza), writer Lucy Burningham, brewer Natalie Baldwin (Burnside Brewing), Pink Boots Society Executive Director Emily Engdahl, and homebrewer, professional brewer, and now professional distiller Lee Hedgmon (they're in that order in the picture below).

I'm proud of it partly because we managed to pull off the technical feat of recording in Saraveza's Bad Habit Room, partly because Patrick and I mostly stayed quiet for once, but mostly because the conversation was one of the most interesting, insightful, and revealing discussions you're going to hear on this topic.

Our next episode is also a special one. Ron Pattinson has been working on a project with Mike Siegel at Goose Island to recreate a stock pale ale. I interviewed them last week, and Patrick and I listen to that interview and learn a ton about recreating historic recipes, the history of hops and barrel-aging, and taste a bottle of this totally unexpected beer. (You hear people say beers are unlike anything they've tasted pretty often, but in this case it's really true.)  So look for that one.

Also note that this podcast will still be available in all your regular locations--Soundcloud, iTunes, and Google Play. In our first AAB pod, it was originally located on a feed hosted by AAB, but we've since decided to put it in both places. As a final note, please consider subscribing and if you're an iTunes subscriber, rating the Beervana Podcast. We're hoping to build the listenership, and ratings help boost us. Thanks and enjoy--

Monday, September 19, 2016

Feds Approve Cannabis Beer

This is a pretty remarkable bit of news:

Dad and Dudes Breweria of Aurora, Colorado, has received approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to sell its General Washington's Secret Stash IPA brew, which contains cannabinoids (CBDs) — but no THC — in all 50 states. “Cannabinoids are a miracle compound, and I thought it would be a responsible choice to put them into beer,” explains Dad and Dudes co-owner Mason Hembree. “They are an antioxidant and neuro-protectant that have a lot of health benefits.”
CBD is actually an acronym for cannabidiol (cannabinoid is a general term), one of the two active ingredients in cannabis. The other, THC, is psychoactive (it gets you high), unlike CBD, which has been promoted as the ingredient responsible for many of cannabis' medical benefits. Among other things, proponents say it is beneficial for treating seizures, nausea, inflammation, and anxiety. Although the evidence is still sketchy--because the government has had a ban on research--at least some of the claims seem quite solid.

This appears to be one of those classic "innovation" gimmicks. Cannabis is expensive, and high-CBD strains are even more so. There's no mention of how much of this goes in the beer--if indeed any does at all (it's mostly insoluble in water, so if they just floated a few flowers in the conditioning tank, it's merely a gesture). No one's going to buy this beer for its potential medical properties (since we have no idea what dosage, if any, it delivers), and the talk of "responsible choice" seems about as sincere as the average politician's claims this time of year.

What interests me is that the federal government has approved its use in the beer, which means they regard it at the very least as benign. For reasons that mystify me, most politicians and much of the federal bureaucracy have a massive investment in denying cannabis' health benefits. It looks as if they're beginning to give a little bit on the idea that this is such a dangerous drug it must be banned in all forms.

It is therefore a gimmick I can get behind.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I HAVE A MINOR COMPLAINT: Stop Using the Word "Innovative"

Jargon infects all human enterprise. It's probably a habit of mind that allowed speech to develop--which is a good thing. It also leads to the development of jargon when a group of people in a related field talk to each other long enough. And eventually, it leads to meaningless jargon where words are mere name checks that signal, apparently, in-group solidarity. And so it has come to pass that the word "innovative" (and it's variant "innovation") are now used to describe every brewery in America. From actual press releases:
  • "a widely acclaimed brewery and restaurant, now serves fans of fully flavored beers in 30 states with innovative beers melding European ingredients and technology with American creativity."
  • "The pioneering spirit that launched [Brewery X] spans more than three decades, with innovation emerging from both the brewhouse and sustainability initiatives."
  • "[Brewery Y] also recently introduced its new series, which features a selection of small, limited releases from mostly craft brewers that rotate frequently keeping the selection both innovative and fresh." 
There may be a few innovations left to discover out there, but we've made a lot of beer in the 8,000 years of human history. If you put your beer in a barrel of some kind or add fruit to it or brew a beer with another brewery or, God help me, are introducing new label designs, you are not innovating. Truly innovative techniques and beers are exceedingly rare. The mere act of starting a new brewery is not innovative. Quit saying it.

Look at all the innovation!

Innovation has become so meaningless that, particularly when used by larger breweries, it often signals the opposite. I get things like this all the time "Our continued efforts at innovation have led our brewers to create a new grapefruit-infused IPA" (not an actual quote, but typical). In fact, this sentence should read, "Having seen how much money other breweries are making on this type of beer, we have decided to follow the trend and make an imitative knock-off."

Now, don't get me started on the word, "passion" ...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Vignette #3, Trevor Rogers (De Garde Brewing)

“We’re not masters of anything. We make wort, we don’t make beer. That’s very different; we’ve relinquished control for the most part. The one thing we do control is what goes into the barrel, and what gets blended from the barrel. But even after that, because it’s naturally reconditioned in the keg and bottle, you have zero control.” Pauses. “I didn’t have any gray hairs when I started.”

“Our biggest challenge as a natural, wild brewer is to restrain acidity. It’s going to be there, and you need some for the complexity, but it needs to be in balance. It’s like the hops arms race—we are in that phase. The demand for sour beer makes people think sour is good. Like hops are good; bitterness is good. But that shouldn’t be the defining feature of a beer. It should be an element that is essential to produce complexity—not the element defining the beer.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

In the Public Interest, But Not the Public Domain

This morning, NPR ran a story about an effort to preserve pubs in the UK:
The British pub is as much a part of the fabric of the United Kingdom as fish and chips and the queen, but each year hundreds close their doors for good. The reasons include the high price of beer, more people drinking at home and rising land prices. Now — in an apparent first — the London borough of Wandsworth has designated 120 pubs for protection, requiring owners who want to transform them into apartments or supermarkets to get local government approval first.
This is not going to be another demise-of-the-British-pub posts, partly because "demise of the British pub" articles have been a going concern since the first Bush presidency. In fact, I recall but cannot find a post/article that pointed out these articles have actually been popular for centuries. It seems the English pub is always endangered.

No, what it made me think of was something related: the demise of the independent brewery.

Since 2011, when AB InBev bought Goose Island, something like 15 breweries have been purchased by large companies. That's compares with the nearly 5000 that remain independent. And yet, we do harbor a gnawing worry that independence is in danger. Part of this is because we don't relate to pubs and breweries the way we relate to, say, iPhones and soda brands. The part of that NPR piece that really crystallized it was this comment by Jonathan Cook, deputy leader of the Wandsworth Council:
"What we're saying is, 'Well, hang on a minute — we have an interest here as well. The community values the pub and you've got to factor that into the equation,'" says Cook.
We don't relate to pubs as interchangeable service-providers any more than we relate to breweries as random widget-makers. In our minds, they're something of a public trust. The Councilman says it more baldly than most, but there's a piece of this thinking that goes into every angry comment on a Facebook post announcing the latest buy-out.

Pubs and breweries, for their part, strongly encourage this thinking. What business would fail to capitalize on this rare emotional connection customers have to their favorite brand/establishment? We want to have connections to these entities. But, as Martyn Cornell pointed out when he addressed this issue of restricting pub sales two years ago, as much as they may be in the public interest, they're not actually in the public domain:
The whole idea that pubs need special protection is nonsense, anyway, as I have frequently argued. Pubs are not sacred. The rights of pubgoers do not trump the rights of property owners. The disappearance of any pub is not the same as, eg, the disappearance of a Saxon church. Pubs are, and have always been, “churned” all the time: one closes, another one opens. (It may surprise you to learn that JD Wetherspoon has closed more than 100 of the pubs it has opened over the years). If a pub is making less money for its owner than it would under another use, the owner must have the right to maximise their income. If a pub closes, and a community feels it needs a pub, let someone open a new pub, in a more viable site with fewer overheads. 
I am perhaps more sentimental than Martyn. When an old pub closes to make way for a convenience store or fast-casual restaurant, I feel the poorer. Were Deschutes or Sierra Nevada or Breakside or Other Half to sell to ABI, I would feel the poorer. As a guy interested in policy, I'm with Martyn that efforts to restrict the sale of private businesses is bad public policy. It does not necessarily follow that I'm happy to see the churn.

I participate in the false sense that I somehow have a piece of the pubs and breweries I like, as do they, and I will continue to do so because it's a more pleasant way to live. But it's good to acknowledge from time to time how silly this is of me.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Yup, It's an IPA

The beer is 5% ABV and it has 15 IBUs. Existential question: is it an IPA?

The answer doesn't really matter (and wouldn't be definitive in any case). But whatever you think of this trend in nomenclature, it's pretty good evidence that "IPA's" new meaning is settling into place. It's been just a couple of years since I first made the case that, at least to customers, "IPA" doesn't have anything at all to do with beers shipped from Burton to India.
To the average drinker, slapping the word "India" on a label communicates a very specific, easily-understandable meaning.  It's shorthand for "saturated in the flavors and aromas of American hops."  Gigantic IPL, for all the ways it wasn't an IPA, instantly met the expectations I'd had--it was decadently perfumed and soaked in Simcoe and Citra hops.
The beer in question is brewed by pFriem, and I've written about it before. Over the weekend, I stopped into the brewery on a trip out the Gorge and was delighted to find it on tap again. It definitely fits the bill of "saturated in the flavors and aromas of American hops." In this case, if I had any problem with the name, it's the "sour." It's lightly acidified via kettle souring, and this gives it a tartness akin to citrus fruit. Add the fruity hops on top, and it really has the effect of making it more fruit-like. Many fruits have an element of acidity, but we don't think of them as "sour" because they're balanced by sweetness. In this case, it's the hops that sell the fruitiness, adding their flavors and aromas to that snappy tartness. It's like a scoop of mandarin-melon sorbet.

The IPA part--that's wholly defensible. The one thing I didn't mention so much back in 2014 was how IPAs have been decoupled from bitterness. IPAs have become so flavor-and-aroma-centered that people have become habituated to relatively low-IBU IPAs that nevertheless have deeply saturated hop flavors. pFriem's IPA has all that flavor, and it's actually accentuated by the acidity. The "sour" part of the title may scare some people away, but I doubt few people complain that it fails to meet their expectations for an IPA.

When I wrote that post back in 2014, the comments were not entirely supportive of the thesis. I become ever more convinced that it's happening in front of us, and this is a good case in point.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Where To Find Me in September

I have been remiss in my self-promotion duties in the face of what turns out to be an unexpectedly active September. (Hey, I can hear your groans, you know!) Mark your calendars.

Klindt's Books, The Dalles, today, noon-3pm
Today, in just two hours, I'll be signing books at Klindt's Booksellers in The Dalles. (Oregon's oldest bookstore, dating back to 1870.) If you wanted to scramble and drive there--presuming you don't live in The Dalles--there's still time. I'll be there until 3pm.

Feast Portland
On Friday (9/16, noon) I will be joining a star-studded panel to discuss cider. Tickets are still available, and you should buy them to listen to Kevin Zielinski, Nat West, and Josh Bernstein.

On Saturday, from 1-2pm, I will be signing/selling books at the Grand Tasting. That event is sold out, so if you have tickets, come and say hi.

South Dakota Festival of Books, Sept 22-25
I'm doing several events at this book festival in Brookings, South Dakota. If you're anywhere nearby and interested, have a look at the events I'll be doing (click on the link) and see if any tickle your fancy. The guided tasting on Friday, Sept 23 is going to be super cool. We'll talk flavor elements, but we'll also talk national tradition and how you can spot it in your pint--or stange--glass.

An unexpected troll hit this post, and after a few exchanges, s/he (though one suspects "he") decided to retreat and delete all his comments. I was able to turn them off before he could delete the first one, so you can get a flavor of the conversation.