Blogs will save us.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Anheuser-Busch's Purchases Elysian

Another one down:
St. LOUIS and SEATTLE (January 23, 2015) – Anheuser-Busch today announced it has agreed to purchase Elysian Brewing Company, based in Seattle, Washington....

Joe Bisacca, Elysian ‎CEO and co-founder [...] will continue with Elysian along with his partners, Dick Cantwell and David Buhler. “After a lot of hard work, we’ve grown from one Seattle brewpub to four pub locations and a production brewery. With the support of Anheuser-Busch, we will build on past successes and share our beers with more beer lovers moving forward.”
Wow.  Weeks ago, when AB snatched 10 Barrel, I observed that their strategy appeared to revolve around finding independent breweries with impeccable cred, and they could hardly have done better than Elysian.  It's long been my favorite Washington brewery, and it's always my first stop when I hit Seattle.  It has always seemed the most Seattle of the Seattle breweries--an extemporaneous brewery that could be equal parts gritty and urbane and credibly support local sports teams or indie bands.  Elysian always seemed to be right where Seattle was a the time.

Will this change?  I'm normally agnostic about ownership structures, but as a fan, this is at least a little alarming.  But as I've been saying for years now: welcome to the big new world of craft brewing.

 Update. Why does this rattle me--admittedly not a local, but local-adjacent?  A big part of Elysian's allure was how well they represented Seattle and the heartbeat of the city. Just because a brewery is local doesn't mean it can channel the local mores, culture, and zeitgeist. Elysian could and did--which is a big part of why they were so good. Can they still do that as a division of AB? In the short term, almost certainly. But I fear we've lost a little bit of what made Seattle Seattle.  Or put another way:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Beer Is Not Very Funny

The Onion's Clickhole is the latest to try to wring a smile by poking fun at beer.  But even the Onion can't do it.  It's a quiz to find out if you're really a beer snob, but the answers are strained and boring:
  • I have a private mix of the song “Closing Time” by Semisonic where the line “Finish your whiskey or beer” is altered so that the word “whiskey” is bleeped out.
  • One time, I was pretty sure I heard a statue say “Miller High Life,” so I had to blow up the statue with a bomb.
  • Etc.
The one mildly amusing thing is that you must check every box to be called a snob--even all but one gets you "moderate" standing.  But beer's just not funny.  The key to comedy is surprise, and beer geekery is way still too obscure.  No one gets the in-jokes.  It's why celebrity comedy and observational comedy are always popular--you know the crowd is going to get it. 

We'll know beer has arrived when Stephen Colbert tells a gose joke and your father chuckles.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Experts Versus Hive Mind

As my weekly blogging over at All About Beer becomes a routinized thing, I'll alert you to posts more rarely.  However, you might be interested in today's post, which addresses the issue of expert opinion versus the wisdom of hive mind.  In terms of beer evaluation and review, I argue that we don't want to throw the former out entirely.
It is characteristic of this moment in American history that we hold experts in contempt and valorize the global hive mind. Critics are vanishing faster than tropical reefs, and we now rely on sites like Yelp and Good Reads and Amazon to tell us what to buy or read or patronize. There are many reasons why these sites have made us better consumers and, in some cases, better-educated. But the hive mind has a tendency to elevate mass opinion and codify conventional wisdom (even when that “wisdom” is grossly errant). The phenomenon is so pernicious it can even infect non-crowd-sourced information. If you trusted BeerAdvocate with the authority to decide on Burton Bridge’s Olde Expensive, you’d have been sent down a blind alley.
In making the argument, I pivot off the words of local beer luminary Bill Schneller, so go have a look and see what you think. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dive Bar Challenge: 'Reel M' In Tavern

Now that the holidays are safely past, it's time to get back to the Dive Bar Challenge.  Recap: this series is a barometer to determine just how far good beer has seeped into the crevices of supposedly good beer cities.  I'm testing the waters here in Portland, but if enterprising bloggers elsewhere felt their cities stacked up against Beervana, we could have a friendly competition.  Either way, the idea is that good beer towns should be measured by the places you are least likely to find good beer, not the best.  (Read more here.)

Today's entrant is the oddly-punctuated 'Reel M' Inn Tavern.  It is located along the no longer scuzzy segment of Southeast Division Street, but stands testament to what once was.  (Indeed, after the inaugural Challenge, Bill Night suggested it as a "true dive"--and challenge accepted.)  At some point in the not-distant future, we'll get into the philosophical nature of the term "dive bar," but I think 'Reel M' Inn (henceforth "the Reel") passes muster.  It is the kind of place where, on a late Friday afternoon, you'll find guys drinking mass market lager and bourbon shots at the bar (two examples) while others choose rum and coke while feeding their video poker jones (one).  Another patron had a Hamm's tallboy, pulled from a case that has a wide selection of talls for the discriminating customer. The sole video game is played with a rifle. 

Its been a decade since I've been in the Reel, but it seems little changed.  Nevertheless, four of the six taps were local: Worthy IPA, Manny's Pale, Breakside Irish Stout, and something from Hop Valley. Here's your tale of the tape:

The Stats*
Breweries in ZIP code: 8
Distance from the heart of downtown: 2.6 miles
Neighborhood hipness factor (1-5): 2.5, transitioning
Seediness factor (1-5): 2, homey
Beers on tap: 6
Mass market beers: 2 (Coors Light, Pabst)
Craft beers: 4
Imports:  0
Ciders: 0
Verdict: Pretty crafty

Overall, the Reel has a lot to recommend it.  The bartender was super, and my stout was fresh and clean.  The guy next to me at the bar was friendly and welcoming.  Like so many dive bars, the music was retro, but well-curated, oscillating between louche 70s (Bowie and Steely Dan) to crunchy rock (Grateful Dead, Neil Young). It's been a decade since I've been in the Reel, but it seems little changed.  Except the beer.  Not only were two-thirds of the taps local (Worthy IPA, Manny's Pale, Breakside Irish Stout, and something from Hop Valley), but they were all high-cred local, not just gestures like Redhook and Pyramid toward a new, incomprehensible customer. The Reel is serving people who like good, local ales, and they've chosen taps to appeal to them.

*Breweries in ZIP code determined by the Oregon Brewers Guild listing.  I selected Pioneer Courthouse Square, "Portland's living room" as the heart of downtown.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Eugene, Oregon

In 1846, peripatetic New Yorker Eugene Franklin Skinner built a cabin on a rise not far from the upper portion of the Willamette River--which is, counterintuitively, two hours south of where it flows into the Columbia in Portland.  He was not special, particularly--the local Kalapuya Indians were local inhabitants and advised about where to place his cabin.  Nevertheless, it is his name--his first name, strangely--that now identifies the 44 square miles that constitute Oregon's second-largest city.  In 1872, the Oregon legislature selected Eugene as the site of the state's flagship university and, exactly 30 years after Skinner put up his cabin, the University of Oregon opened its doors.

Tonight the Ducks will battle perennial powerhouse Ohio State for a national championship.  I have no great confidence in their chances.  Oregon (the state) is spectacular at certain things, but they are never the things the rest of the country cares about. The climate of western Oregon is akin to a rainforest and produces tropical-looking verdant vistas. Consequently, people flock to sunny California.  Our beaches are arguably the prettiest in the world, bounded by spiky volcanic hills that tumble into the sea.  The water is, even in summer, icy cold, however, and so people ... flock to sunny California. 

In the world of sport, we are similarly offbeat, and this is relevant to tonight's game.  The Oregon Ducks are, without question, the most storied running university in the country and, 40 years after his death, long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine is probably still the most famous athlete from the state.  Our only two major-league professional sports teams are in basketball and soccer (where the fans are rabid). 

Oregon is nowhere near anything.  It takes ten hours to drive to San Francisco, which we think of as relatively nearby.  If you want to travel anywhere in the world except the far east--which to Oregonians is the near east--get ready for interminable flights and long layovers.  Even our weird name, which no one knows the origin of, is regularly mispronounced.  I once asked my dear spouse Sally, a New Englander, what she thought of Oregon before I convinced her to move here.  "We didn't think of Oregon.  Ever."  Okay.

Oregon likewise does not do big splashy things like win national championships.  The Blazers did win an NBA title, but it was during the 70s when the NBA was in its famous trough of popularity between the eras Cousy and Bird.  If Oregonians had wanted to win championships, they would have stayed in their hometowns of Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago.  (Okay, Chicago's a bad example.)  Or Columbus, Ohio--now that's a championship town.

Oregon does have great beer.  Eugene was a laggard on this front, boasting only a smattering of brewpubs for decades.  Now, with Ninkasi, Oakshire, Falling Sky, and Agrarian, the city has proven its mettle.  For those hearts who pump lime green and electric yellow and sound like the distant call of a mallard, good beer may be the best thing about tonight.  Football championships come and go, but good beer is forever.  And who knows, if the Ducks win the championship, people may actually learn how to pronounce the school's name.

Go Ducks--

Update.  As the world now knows, the 7-time national champs beat the poor Ducks like toy drum.  They are now the 8-time champs and Oregon remains a championship-free zone.  Delay the apocalypse at least one more year.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The Scandal That Wasn't

Tony Magee
Last week, Guys Drinking Beer posted a most intriguing take on a $25,000 donation Lagunitas made to the election campaign of Chicago mayor Rahm Imanuel.
Lagunitas Brewing Company cut a check to Rahm Emanuel’s re-election campaign for $25,000. It certainly isn’t the brewery’s first contribution to a political candidate but is the most sizable contribution and the second time this year it’s dropped 25k on a politician.
It wasn't the only check the brewery mailed out to politicos:
In July, Lagunitas cut a $25,000 check to incumbent governor Pat Quinn (who lost to Republican Bruce Rauner). In September Lagunitas dropped over 10k on Alderman Patrick O’Connor. $9,225 of that was an individual contribution while another $1,275 was an “in kind” contribution of beer and appetizers — most likely for a fundraiser. Alderman O’Connor, who represents the 40th ward on the north side, is Mayor Emanuel’s floor leader.

And then there’s the Christmas Eve contribution of $25,000 to the mayor’s campaign. It brings the total amount contributed by Lagunitas to Chicago politicians, since July, to $60,500.
For the most part, the incident seemed to garner very little attention. Things like this were rare. Lagunitas's Tony Magee has 20,000 followers, yet when he discussed the matter on Twitter, just a few people responded.  (Mostly about how they hated Rahm, it seems.)  Given the scrutiny beer geeks give breweries, I was surprised by this.  Politics is messy and ugly.  There's always an aroma of quid pro quo about political donations--how could it be otherwise?--and that's the kind of thing beer geeks hate.

Having formally written about politics, this not only doesn't surprise me, it makes a ton of sense.  To ignore the realities of politics--which is to say the realities of public policy that affect things like zoning, distribution laws, taxation, etc--is crazy short-sighted.  And brewers have become much more politically engaged and politically savvy.  But still; I'm surprised it wasn't a bigger story.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Good and Popular Posts of 2014

Thanks to the data that Google provides (as opposed to the data they keep--which I'd love to see), I have a pretty good idea of which posts attracted the most attention over the past year.  Google tracks "entry pages," which is a good proxy for post popularity. These are the individual post pages people are referred into--from other sites or internet searches--as opposed to coming to the main site. In the modern era, entry pages are referred largely by social media referrals.  Early in the year, Reddit was responsible for some of my biggest traffic days, but that site has become an anemic source of late.  Twitter remains my biggest performer, but virality transcends platform.

I've always described my blog as a garbage scow of information--you'll find some treasures and some rubbish, but it's a theme-free jumble. Actually, that's not entirely true.  If anything unites the content here, it's my proclivity for finding a tiny thing and writing a thousand words on it. It's what I like. One thing I noticed in looking through the top posts of the year is that readers tend to respond to the same posts.  I'm slightly embarrassed by my top traffic post of the year--keying off the idea, other people took the subject to far more interesting places--but the second-most popular post was my favorite of the year.  That post could become the coda to what I've learned writing about beer over the last five years.  It's incredibly reassuring to know that people like reading, more or less, the same posts I like writing. 

So here are the top click-getting posts of the year.  (I quite liked the last post, so it's a top-11 list.)  I don't expect anyone to click around much--I know these year-end posts are mostly ways to fill up space in the absence of news--but I do think there's some decent content there.  If you missed one of these, give it a look. 
  1. GABF Analysis: Five States Won Half the Medals (5,851 clicks)
  2. Zen and the Art of Appreciating Simple Beers (4,535)
  3. How the Word "India" Came to Mean "American" (4,341)
  4. The Goose Island Challenge (4,275)
  5. When Naming Goes Awry (4,112)
  6. Cider Saturday: How Angry Orchard is Made, an Interview with David Sipes  (3,280)
  7. A Brief Primer on Czech Lagers (3,205)
  8. A Bomber Bubble? (2,673)
  9. A Hoppy Ale to Rule Them All (2,238)
  10. Introducing "Hop Bursting" (Part 1, History)  (2,234)
  11. Big Brewers Making Specialty Beer: Lessons from MillerCoors  (2,080)
For the completist within, I feel impelled to offer my own top posts, though after the first two listings, they don't really fall in order of preference. 

I'll see you next year.  Everyone stay smart and safe tonight--

Update.  Responding to this post, both Stan and Alan listed their top-ever posts as measured by the algorithmists in Mountain View.  For what it's worth, mine are below.  I think there's some randomness to all-timers like these, in that some large outlet must have linked to them at one point and goosed the stats.  I don't know that you can take much away from the list per se (the third-highest was an April Fool's post).  Anyway, here it is:

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Year in Pictures

Over the course of a year, we mobile modern humans often range far and wide across this sapphire planet of ours, and our travels offer a tiny window into the currents and trends stippling the beer world.  At least among those of us who direct our gaze toward things beery.  As I ramble about, I take snaps on my wheezing iPhone 4 and post them to Twitter.  Below are a selection of the choicest cuts.  See what trends you can divine.  (Yes, cider looms large.)

My year started in Salem, as I joined EZ Orchard's Kevin Zielinski
as he milled and pressed apples.

It was then off to Europe on research for Cider
Made Simple
.  First stop--Tom Oliver in Herefordshire.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Beer Invades the Metroplex

Note: Because it's apparently not clear in the post, Portland has had beer in theaters since at least the late 1980s.  The McMenamins may well have had the first theater-pub in the US when it opened The Mission in 1987.  Now probably 80% of the indies and local chains serve draft beer.  It is Regal, the Tennessee-owned chain, that has finally--at least in one location--decided to get on board.


I abandoned movie theater chains a decade ago. They had become too abusive: a high-volume onslaught of TV-style ads in the theater before the movie, sky-rocketing ticket prices, and concessions that were as bad as they were over-priced. Meanwhile, the proliferating indies offered ad-free viewing, low prices and--now almost uniformly throughout the city 4-8 handles of great beer and cider. I could go to the St Johns Cinema on opening day, grab a slice of pizza and a beer for barely more than it cost to go to a Regal metroplex. I was not alone. I watched as the traffic abandoned the Regal experience (a deliciously ironic name) and came over to the indies. 

Yesterday Sally and I decided to catch a Christmas Day matinee of the latest spectacular spectacular, but the indies were not available. (Good for them, giving the employees the day off.) So off we went to the Lloyd Center Regal and: ho!, what is this?

They haven't yet gotten to installing draft lines, but you can actually get a decent bottle of beer now. 

(1) This illustrates an interesting fact about the rise of drinking culture in the US. We no longer drink as much beer as we used to, but we like good beer when we go out to get a bite or catch a movie. This was never going to happen before craft beer came along. (2) Is this a thing everywhere, or just beery Portland, Oregon? My dataset is way out of date. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Joy to You All

Hope the holidays are bringing you joy and connection to those you love.

I'll be taking the rest of the week off from blogging, but if you're absolutely dying for a bit more blogging, you can check out this mood piece of mine over at All About Beer.
Holiday ales are an old tradition. In England they were once literally warming—sometimes topped by a crust of bread or a flotilla of apples. In Franconia, as the nights turn chill, breweries turn to bock to warm their shivering customers. In Belgium and France, they enjoy strong, sweet bière de Noël, or, in some of the grote markts of the Flemish-speaking region, steaming mugs of glühkriek.
Happy yule/solstice/festivus/Hanukkah/Christmas/holidays to you all--