10 Simple Beer & Brewing Resolutions for 2018

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Happy New Year, gang!  2017 was an excellent beer year, and I managed to keep (almost) all of my resolutions.  I didn't have more than one of any beer (a habit that's proving surprisingly difficult to break, but some pitcher-ed Miller Lite at a bowling alley helped), tried a number of new beer bars (rather than just tap rooms at breweries), made a (passable) perry, and I would have gone back to my least-favorite brewery to try out their beer but (I swear this is true) they closed two weeks before I'd planned on going.  

So, what's on tap for 2018?

10. Drink Around the State, Country, and World

As noted last week, this year's beer challenge will be to see what percentage of PA counties, US states, and countries in the world I can "visit" via their beer.  Should be fun, especially when the "easy" places are checked off of the list!  Just the other day I ordered an IPA from a brewery in Wyoming, because when you're looking at a state with fewer residents than South Philly, you'd probably be wise to take that beer where you can find it!

9. Brew a "Wet Hop" beer

I've played around with fresh hops, thanks to friends with bumper hops harvests, but I've never specifically brewed a beer exclusively with them and designed for them.  I'm hoping to go mobile with my brewery and do it on-site for maximum freshness.

8. Visit every brewery within 20 miles of home

Some might scoff, but that's a lot of breweries.  Every now and then someone asks me if I've been to a brewery, and I'll say no and ask where it is, and it'll turn out to be within a few seconds of a route I travel regularly.  That's wrong.  I'm not a "drink it because it's local!" guy, but I definitely want to support good breweries - and if I haven't visited, I don't know if they're any good.  

7. Brew with five new yeast strains

There's a fine line between consistency and being in a rut, and just to be sure I'm not doing the latter, I'm going to brew ten batches with five new yeast strains this year.  Preferably strains I'm not in any way familiar with.  But never that Trappist High Gravity yeast - there's something really wonky in there...

6. Empty my beer fridge completely, and start fresh

I swear I have beers and meads in there that I've had for so long I have no idea what's in them and/or I've forgotten what the code on the top means.  I wish I could say it's because I've been deliberately aging them, but I don't want to lie to you.  They're just the ethanol-laced debris at the back of the shelf.  This could be an ugly summer...

5. Replace my Better Bottles

I had this on the list last year.  I just didn't do it.  But the same logic applies: I've still never had an obviously contaminated batch, and I'm worried it's lurking in there someplace...

4. Rebuild my taps and faucets

I've never been especially happy with my tap handles, and I have a couple of new stainless faucets, so I think it's time for a freshening up in the service department!  I have three beautiful new black-gloss painted handles, and I'm looking forward to dressing them up with some magnetic tags to indicate what they're serving.  

3. Get back in the habit of bottling

For some reason, I've gotten out of the habit of bottling up a six-pack of my beers and setting them aside for competitions, which I've always done as a form of quality control.  Kegging is easy, but bottling a little bit isn't that hard, and it's a great way to keep a steady stream of beer evaluation data coming in.

2. Use homebrewed beer to raise money for a good cause

As a member of a homebrew club, I've gladly participated in events where our beer is donated and poured, but I don't think I've ever explicitly used homebrewed beer to raise money for a charitable cause.  Once I figure out if that's legal, I'm going to do it. 

1. Keep writing Beer Simple

I love writing Beer Simple.  I'm grateful to all of you for reading, for your feedback, for your ideas, and for your time.  I know that if it's ever time to stop, you'll let me know.  Since I haven't received any voodoo dolls or horse heads yet, I guess we'll just keep it rolling.  Have a great 2018! 

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


A Year of New Beer: A Look Back at 2017, A New Challenge for 2018

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One year (and a few hours) ago, I started down the road on a unique beer challenge.  I mean that literally: I wanted to see what it would be like to have only one real pour of any beer for an entire year.  Once I'd had one serving of it, that was it, I couldn't have it again until 2018. 

Well, here we are, one year (and a few hours) later, and I'm happy to report that it was a highly enjoyable experience that, I think, casts light on some interested beer and beer culture questions.  The short version is that there's a ton of beer out there, I barely scratched the surface, and vacationing is a far bigger threat to beer diversity than anything else I've noticed.  

It was quite a year.

The Tally

First, one number: 409.  I had 409 unique "tagged" (in Untappd) beers this year, and some number of homebrewed beers, but most of those weren't trackable.  I did, though, make a conscious, good-faith effort to avoid any potential repeaters there, and I think I was successful.

Now, some of you Untappd Rambo-like figures out there might be scoffing at my humble 409 total, but I'd contextualize that.  First, I wasn't trying to rack up a huge number - in fact, I was hoping to avoid it, since the second I checked a beer in, I couldn't have it again!  As a result, that number doesn't represent every beer I shared or tasted over the course of a year, just the number where I had a "proper" serving of it (between 6-22 ounces, plus three very enjoyable and totally within the rules liters of different beers at an Oktoberfest event!).  It could have been a bit higher.  But still, admittedly, nowhere near you folks that rack up 1,000 or more every year...

Second, that number squares pretty neatly with my "normal" consumption tally for the year, which is telling.  In 2016 I tracked every beer I drank, and ended up at 381 pints.  If we assume that most of these in 2017 were 14 ounces in size, on average (which is probably right, if we assume a reasonable mix of at-home 12-ouncers, pints out, and the occasional lonely bomber), then that 409 beers works out to 351 pints, plus whatever homebrew I had.  

My takeaway?  Having to open/order a brand-new beer every time didn't seem to be much of a hinderance in terms of being able to enjoy beer when I wanted.  I can't think of any occasions where, for example, I couldn't find anything on tap that was fair game for me and had to pivot to wine, mead, liquor, etc.  

The Roster

Then there were the beers I was drinking.  I guarded pretty jealously what I assumed would be my "bail out" beers: those macros you find everywhere.  I figured that I'd be forced into situations where the only option was a Big Beer product or lineup, and so these were my "In Emergency Break Glass" (maybe literally, based on the flavor of some of these things...) beers.  

I was totally wrong.  I was almost never forced into that situation.  In fact, I remember only twice: a dinner at a chain Latin place where I'd just been a week before, and a lunch at a beach town dive bar that we often visit more than once when we're in town.  In both cases, though, there were still local craft options available - but only two or three, and I'd returned before the taps had a chance to change over.  

As a result, I had almost the entire macro roster at my disposal right up until the end of the year.  In order to heighten my enjoyment of a return to beers I'd last had a year before, in fact, this was my New Year's Eve lineup from last night (plus one Thomas Hardy 2006 barleywine, because you need to pair something good with a 10-plus pound prime rib and shrimp):

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You really should have seen the nasty looks I got from the craft beer lovers at Wegmans when I put that beauty of a mixed sixer together...

Finding new craft beers was easy.  Even at corporate and chain locations, craft taps were available.  And even in places that don't choose from the hyperinflating universe of craft beers, but instead brew their own, I still didn't have any trouble.  We visit one particular brewpub 2-3 times per month, and I never even got to half of their "core" lineup because there were so many seasonals and one-offs to choose from.

The Weak Link

If there was a weak link here, it was...me.  I don't mean personally (though it's definitely possible), I mean that the only real challenge I encountered was keeping beer in stock at home or, especially, on vacation.  A five-hour game night might mean 4-6 cans/bottles of unique beer.  A week at the shore might mean a case.  A visit to a local BYO becomes a fridge-depleting hit.  

This was hardly a concern, though.  First, because my family, friends, and homebrew club made it super tolerable.  We do a couple of mixed-case buys in the club per year, and even with a couple of "oops, already had that one..." selections in them, they were incredibly useful in keeping my beer diversity needs met.  Plus, friends and family would pick up or split out singles of beers from their travels and visits.  Then there were the beers I get to review for Beer Connoisseur.  Yes, I had to visit the bottle shop now and again and pay a bit of a premium for mixed packs, but so what?

After all, this was a problem not of beer quality, quantity, or availability, but rather a structural problem unique to this challenge.  It's not as though it was hard because the local beer stores only carried a few brands - it was because I only needed one can (leading to absurdities like when you need to buy a 30-pack of Narragansett to make your "Quint from Jaws" costume work because they only have it in a megapack, but can only drink one...).  

The Benefits

All told, this was a fun year.  I highly encourage you all to give this a shot - maybe not for a whole year, but for some length of time.  

The biggest benefit was that it encouraged me to experiment.  Ordering a beer from a brewery I'd never heard of or hadn't yet tried out became an advantage, and it broke me out of an ordering rut in terms of breweries and styles.  I had more fruit beer, Belgian beer, seasonal beers of all kinds in this year than I've had in years, and it showed me how surprisingly narrow my beer buying habits had become (I still brew a crazily-diverse array of beers at home).  

It also confirmed that, at least in my area, there's absolutely no empirical evidence of a serious re-consolidation of the beer market.  I know that buyouts, mergers, and more make us legitimately concerned about contraction in the market yielding fewer choices, but if it's even possible it's still a long ways off.  409 beers this year, and I don't think I even made a dent in what's out there.

Finally, and I think this is always a good thing, it made me more-conscious of what I was ordering and drinking. Whether we're too enamored of the latest trendy thing and knee-jerk order every "limited release," or routinely order your old stand-byes rather than branching out, "habit" in consumption is arguably not a great thing.  I loved being forced to scrutinize tap lists and bottle shop shelves for something different.  

This was a great experience, and while I'm not going to keep it going (though that would be fascinating - I wonder how long you could keep it up???  Years, I imagine), I do have a new challenge for 2018 that should yield a lot of the same benefits.

 The New Challenge

This year, I can drink as many of each beer as I want (and I'm looking forward to a few carefully-preserved Sierra Nevada Celebrations later today).  But what's life without some kind of fun challenge?

In 2018, my goal is to drink geographically and see just how much of the globe I can span.  There are about 195 countries in the world, 64 states/territories in the US, and 67 counties in Pennsylvania.  That's 326 jurisdictions.  Let's see how many can be checked off between now and December 31st, 2018!  

Same basic rule: at least six ounces constitutes a real "serving" of the beer.  Some of these places (I'm thinking of the rural counties in PA) may not have any breweries, but this is a perfect excuse to hunt down those that do!  I feel confident I'll be surprised how few "blank" spots there are on the beer map (though we're not discounting at all the plight of those who live in effective beer deserts, even if they happen to have one craft brewery in the county).  I'm looking forward to doing the survey of what's out there...and then doing so again in a few months to see if new breweries have popped up!

Should be fun.

Have yourselves a great New Year's Day, I'll be back later this week or next week with this year's Brew Year's Resolutions, and thanks for reading in 2017.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


DE-FENSE: A Case Study in Bar Defensiveness Over Beer Mistakes

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I swear, I didn't want to say anything.  I sat quietly.  I watched football on the big screens.  I thought about what I would order when I met my family for dinner in an hour.  But the hive brain on social media told me to say something.  Hell, I told me to say something (via BS, in a prior piece).  

I'd been given a patently wrong beer.  I was about to bring it up.  Let's go to the mental video tape...

Situation Report

So, I'm stupid enough to visit the largest mall in the United States two weeks before Christmas on a routine errand.  As I'm waiting in traffic to literally get into a parking lot so I can then prowl around like a stalker looking for a space, I realize that this is futile, and make my way to a nearby bar to kill an hour before meeting some family for dinner at one of those eat-until-you-die Brazilian steak houses (great time, but I think I prefer the cook-for-yourself fondue places).  

This is a place with a big wall of chalkboard with their craft beer selections on it - probably 40-ish, total.  Big wall of taps.  Reclaimed wood everywhere.  You know the kind of place.  I order a rye IPA from a local brewery.

It arrives.  I sniff and note pepper/phenol (weird...and no hops) and taste it: this is clearly not a rye IPA.  Sharply sour, medium-high levels of fruit, no hops to speak of.  I look at the board and find a likely culprit - a blueberry wild ale.

Thus my dilemma: do I say something?  It tastes fine, I don't mind sours, and it's shift-change time on a Saturday at 5PM (so, not rammed or anything, but certainly not quiet).  

Egged on by you agitators, I catch the eye of the bartender...and the fun begins.

A Descending Spiral of Nonsensical Defensiveness

I follow all of the rules I've recommended to others.  Polite, courteous, apologetic, etc.  No ranting or demands.  Short version: "Sorry to bug you, and I'm really enjoying this beer, but I think it's different from what I ordered.  Maybe there was a tap connected to the wrong keg or something?  Anyways, just wanted to see if there's a sour on that [Rye IPA] tap."

Phase 1: Obstruction.  "We don't give samples."  OK.  Well, I didn't actually ASK for a sample, and I've subsequently been told by lots of people that they DO give samples, but in any case... I respond that that's OK, I don't want a sample, they can taste it themselves.

Phase 2: Misdirection.  Said bartender pulls a couple of ounces.  Tastes it.  Gives me one.  I taste it.  They're definitely different.  Hell, they LOOK different.  I say, "wow, yeah, not the same."  Bartender says, "I think they're the same..."  NOTE: She hasn't tasted mine.

Phase 3: Explanation.  Our bartender is joined by another individual - a second bartender, maybe a bar manager or shift supervisor?  And now it's education time.  "No, you see, it tastes sour because this is a Rye IPA."  I haven't yet said the words, "I'm a brewer and a beer judge," nor shall I.  Don't wanna be an alehole.  But it's hard.  Instead, I mention that I've had Rye IPAs, and never noticed sourness.  Also, there's fruit - I offer her my glass to sniff, because there's a ton of berry coming out of this thing.

Phase 4: Deflection.  "Maybe it's the banana wheat..."  OK, this is kinda progress because at least we're conceding that it's not Rye IPA, but if there's one beer back there I'm sure it's not, it's the banana wheat.  

Phase 5: Conclusion.  "In any case, you drank most of it and you've already paid, so we can't give you a refund."  At this moment, my wife texts that they're at the restaurant.  I assure her again I'm not asking for anything, just wanted to let her know about the issue.  

END SCENE

De-Fense!!  De-Fense!!

It might be appropriate that I was watching the Detroit Lions have one heck of a defensive day against the Chicago Bears.  Because that's what this whole encounter reeked of (other than berries and Brett): defensiveness.  Why?  I mean, I'm just trying to help here - shouldn't you want that?

Why am I bringing it to you all?  Not sure.  I don't know that I have a larger point on this one.  I think I gave them every possible "out" to save face - they just didn't bite.  Nor did they seem much interested in them.  And this was a place that supposedly is pretty proud of its big craft beer selection.

Maybe it's a sign that even places that don't care about craft beer are serving it, which is still a win, but it also means that the "craft" part might not be getting the attention it deserves from the vendors.  

In any case, I may need to reevaluate, going forward, whether it's worth mentioning stuff like this.  Maybe it would have been better off as an e-mail to the management, but I don't like going over folks' heads, either, and I don't like the idea that that kind of defensiveness is hard-wired into bar staff, if indeed it is and this wasn't just a fluke.

So, just wanted to share the story.  If this has happened to you, you're not alone.  I'd love any suggestions anyone has for this kind of scenario, moving forward.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Love is Blind: Perceptual Screens and Beer Evaluation (Christmastime Edition)

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There's a certain IPA that hits the market in the late-fall of every year.  It has a red label, features a snow-covered cabin, and is festooned with poinsettias.  I buy it every year.  I can't wait to pop open a few bottles of it to celebrate the assorted holidays of the season.  I love, love, love this beer. 

I honestly don't know if it's any good or not.  

Why?  Because I love it.  

A Tenuous Relationship With Reality

Human beings have a highly conditional, tenuous, perverted relationship with "reality."  The perceptual screens and stereotypes and blind spots we employ to make sense of a "bright, fuzzy world" (to quote one social scientist) and navigate it efficiently (if imperfectly) mean that we don't evaluate things as they are.  We don't "see and then define - we define, and then we see."  

The same logic that makes evaluations of politics and society so thorny applies to beer evaluation, and for the same reasons.  It's a noisy, crowded marketplace out there for beer.  We, as individuals, employ stereotypes and heuristics (informational shortcuts) to make sense of the craft beer world, and in doing so we distort it.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's something we should be aware of, since a common in-subculture sport of craft beer folk is the sharing our personal evaluations of the beers we consume.  We wrongly describe this as what we "think" about a beer.  If only - instead, what we're really sharing is a combination of things (what we feel, what we perceive, what we assume, and, yes, also what we think) that lead to what we conclude about the quality and/or desirability of a particular beer or brewery.

We all drink in the same world - but we think and feel in different ones.

Draw a Line

I try to take this approach to chatting about beer quality: the stronger my preferences, the more I condition them when making recommendations to others.  That way, any firm impressions (the literal, etymological definition of "stereotype") I pass on are qualified by an equal-in-magnitude, fair-warning communication that they're based on my acknowledged biases, for better or worse.

Let's go back to my seasonal IPA.  Since I know I love it, when asked about what seasonal beers I might recommend, I have no problem at all saying, "I love _____________ IPA!," because I then follow it up with (as I have above), "but I don't know if it's any good or not."  

What this does is draw a clear line between preferences and quality.  If I have no particular feelings about a style (let's say, for Cream Ale), then I don't, when sharing an evaluation, hesitate beyond the normal acknowledgment that beer evaluation has an unavoidable element of subjectivity.  But when I know I have a marked preference or prejudice about a beer, or style, or brewery, I acknowledge that whatever I'm saying should be taken with a grain of salt because I'm viewing it through a glass, darkly (and maybe literally).  

I'm reminded of this every year, about this time of year, when I look at that snow-covered cabin, and I'm glad for it.  It reminds me to be humble about making recommendations, evaluations, and judgments.  

After all - love is blind.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

 


Forget Beer Aging

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Another year of a certain commonly-hoarded beer release has passed, and what has followed it is as inevitable as the sun rising on your stale-ass beer: a riot of discussions across social media and beer forums about how long to wait to drink such-and-such a beer.

This one isn't hard: drink it now.

I'm not saying I've never had beers that have gotten better with some age.  It happens.  I don't mind a vertical tasting of some beers, even years after they've gone into the bottle.  I'm just saying that I've enjoyed those at about the same rate as I've enjoyed Disney films: sure, some are really good, but mostly I feel like I just wasted my time and money.

Look, nearly all beer is at or near its best right after it hits its appropriate level of carbonation.  From that point forward you're losing ground to oxidation, a shifting flavor profile as things physically fall out of your beer, contamination, light, and more.  Hoarding it like some kind of alcohol-dependent squirrel with too much shelf space on its hands probably isn't helping you.

Don't think about it: drink it now.

"But what about..."  Yes, properly-stored beer can be "flavor stable" for a long time.  Yes, some attributes of beer can make it more likely to age well.  Yes, certain characteristics mellow out or develop with age.  From where, though, does this optimism arise?

You're trusting that the folks at the brewery, and the distributor, and the retailer/vendor are all taking great care of this beer?  Arrhenius' Rule cuts both ways - yes, storing cold will dramatically slow chemical reactions/aging, but a few days in hot temps can create months worth of staling effects.  "But it's a dark, high-ABV, bottle-conditioned IPA!," you say?  OK.  So maybe - just maybe - thanks to these attributes it will be generally as-drinkable in four months, but why wait?  Is it going to get better?  Maybe.  But how do you know which bottle will improve and which will just get slowly less impressive, like the work of Aaron Sorkin?

Don't trust: drink it now.

And besides, you don't need to do your own aging.  This is why you have beer nerd friends that still buy into the "I'm going to build an awesome cellar..." mentality.  Use them.  Keep your ears pricked up to catch wind of when they're popping open those six bottles of Brooklyn Black Ops, 2009-2015 (thanks, Adam!).  I'm not saying to be a moocher or a deadbeat: bring them something in exchange.  But don't be the beer equivalent of the person who dry-ages their own steaks.  In both cases, the risk isn't worth the reward.

Maybe I just don't get the allure.  I'd trade a bottle of vintage Old Ale for a six-pack of fresh Pilsner any day of the week.  And sure, there are exceptions to any rule - I'll sit on bottles of Cantillon until Jean tells me they're good.  Mostly, though, I want to buy a beer and drink it as close as possible to that moment, sometime in the past, when a brewer tasted it in the tank or barrel and thought, "Yup, I want to sell that NOW."  

Forget beer aging: drink it now.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Be a Beer Nerd - Not a Beer Jock

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At a homebrew competition this weekend, I was part of a conversation about boorish, pushy alehole behavior, and one of the participants opined, "Beer nerds - what are you going to do?"

It occurred to me, though, that what we're talking about doesn't really fit with generalized "nerd" behavior.  Deeply knowledgeable, overly-committed, willing to talk a subject to death - that's nerd behavior, for sure.  Shaming, bullying, exclusive?  That's not "nerd" terrain, no matter what the canonical Revenge of the Nerds films would suggest.  

What we're talking about here aren't "beer nerds."  They're beer jocks.

The Beer Jock

I should probably point out at the outset that I'm not casting aspersions on athletes as a group.  I'm simply using the 80's-nostalgia-film-fueled paradigm of nerds v. jocks as a rhetorical device.  Some of my best friends are jocks.  There - I've covered myself, right?

Now, back to those awful, cruel, high-handed beer jocks, shoving us beer nerds into our chest freezers...

I'm not talking here about a garden-variety "beer talk terrorist," horning in on conversations and holding forth on the proper glassware for a Kolsch v. a Pilsner.  No, I'm talking about the people that are so committed to craft beer that they're openly mocking and shaming other beer drinkers.

Sometimes the target of their ire is just a rube who stupidly thinks s/he actually likes their preferred macro lager.  Let's all have a laugh at their expense!

Often it's a fellow craft beer lover who isn't sufficiently nerdy - "what do you mean you haven't heard about Rainbow IPA?  The BA better update its guidelines to include them.  They have negative IBUs and are no discernible color, which means they're every color.  They're everywhere in Pittston, bro.  Wait, you don't even know about the hot new brewing town of Pittston?  Wow..."  

Could also be the beer jock who's too cool/postmodern for pumpkin beers, except the ones that get released in March "and are really more white squash beers, which is way more authentic."  In fact, the beer jock rejects all seasonal beers, and the people who drink them.

Or maybe it's a soulless capitalist who still buys the occasional case of Boddington or Goose Island, not realizing that they're coughing up money so that some rich CEO can get a third beach house - what a POS.  "Can you believe he still does that?  I mean, I've consciously uncoupled from any of my relatives and friends who still insist on drinking Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager.  Who needs that kind of betrayal in their lives?"

And I'm not even going to bother (well, I guess I am) pointing out the irony that these same aleholes never miss a chance to talk about the importance of camaraderie and fellowship in craft beer.  

Nerd Out

By all means, nerd out.  I'll spend hours in a discussion of the futility of secondary fermentations and the virtues of floor malted grains.  We enjoy the minutiae of beer and brewing, surveying the beer scene, analyzing what we see.

There's nothing at all wrong with a deep dive on a topic.  Malcolm Gladwell, writing in The Tipping Point, discusses a type of person he calls a "maven," who is an active expert on a subject.  Mavens are useful "tippers" because they can provide more than superficial knowledge on a specialized and not-yet-broadly-engaged topic.  Mavens are obsessed with ideas, not people.  

And therein, I think, lies the difference.  When you turn from an obsession with knowledge and ideas to a preoccupation with how others engage with your chosen nerdified field of interest, you weaponize your nerdism.  When you do, you pivot from Beer Nerd to Beer Jock, and that's when we see the kind of bullying behavior that's so common to this archetype.  

If you see me doing this, please let me know - I'm sure it happens.  As I've always said, I am, without question, a carrier of the alehole gene.  It's one of the reasons I love writing Beer Simple - it lets me engage in a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-like analysis of my own beerhavior.  If this applies to you, too, then we all have some work to do.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Thinning the Herd: The Upside of Big Beer Buyouts

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I know that there are good reasons to be deeply concerned about the effects of Big Beer getting into the game of buying out craft breweries.  Ownership confusion, pricing effects, tap and shelf space, and all the rest are real...but I still can't help but think that we're overlooking at least one big benefit and one significant advantage.

Bear with me here.

The Benefit: Rationalizing the Market

In some markets, you only have a few real craft breweries.  For the most part, though, these aren't the places that see buyouts.  Now, that doesn't mean that Goose Island being available everywhere can't choke out a small production brewery in a place with a nascent craft beer scene - I'll concede that risk.

I mention it only because it's in the crowded beer markets that this can be a good thing for we craft beer enthusiasts.  How so?

Let's say you have ten breweries in your metro area.  Each is only getting 1/10th of your beer money.  Now let's imagine one of your breweries takes a buyout.  What's the effect?

Well, if you think, "oh well, don't care," then the action has no real impact on the other local breweries - you're still spreading your cash around in the same way (each gets 10%).  But if you're in the "Never ABI" camp, then you're never going to patronize that bought-out brewery again, which means that the other local breweries are about to see an increase in their sales (each gets 11.1%), thanks to you and those like you.

So, in this case, in terms of the local economic impact, it's either neutral or positive with respect to the spending of what we might call the "core" and "aware" segment of the local beer drinking community.  ["But that's not enough to keep a brewery going!!!," I can already hear you saying - I'll get back to that, I promise.]

A corollary benefit is that it simplifies the market a bit.  As it is now, my metro beer market is so crowded I need to take a special "tour" every May to the local breweries I haven't had the chance to visit yet.  Now, that might not be true everywhere, but it certainly is in craft-heavy markets.  One bought out means one more I don't need to consider buying, which means I can try out something new.

The Advantage: Beating Big Beer

The strongest objection to this "benefit" is that it's ignoring the idea that most people aren't craft beer geeks like me/us.  Believe me, I'm aware of it.  Someone recently told me they don't like Dunkelweizen because it "finishes so hoppy."  I don't expect most people to be intimate with beer styles, the merits of canning v. bottling, or the differences in strains of Brett (why would they???  It's a waste of time and brainpower!).  And I also know that most aren't going to be paying attention to who owns whom, so when they're at a restaurant or their local beer shop, they're going to buy based on something other than local, independent ownership (or not).

Doesn't matter.  Because the way to beat big beer is to keep things small and local and brewing in-house.  And that brewery actually can be kept going by a combination of beer geeks and local sentiment.

I live just over the river from Phoenixville, PA.  Now, you may not know it, but Phoenixville ranks 10th in the United States for breweries per capita.  How does a place with about 50K people in a 5-mile radius support ten breweries?  Easy - they're all relatively small.  

You can't outcompete Big Beer as a massive production brewery.  You might not even be able to do it as a small production brewery.  But you can do so at street-level.  These breweries in P-ville compete, but only in the same general way that restaurants on the same busy main street compete with each other.  Then there's the fact that brewpubs yield a higher return on their beer products than production breweries do (no packaging, shipping, etc. and a captive population).  And since they're not sustaining a massive brewing and distribution infrastructure to do it, they're not as susceptible to the kinds of pressure and market distortions that the big breweries can bring to bear.

Big beer can choke off access to ingredients and supplies, buy off competitors, lobby for advantages in distribution rules, and more.  But they can't do much about a local, 3-barrel, 75-cover brewpub.

The Right Outcome

I also have to say that I think a trend towards smaller breweries in general (and brewpubs in particular) is exactly what we should want in our beer world.  It means that you get a high level of product diversity and fresher beer.  It should mean better beer, because market pressures will thin out the herd of a larger collection of smaller breweries in a way that they probably won't for 2-3 medium-sized local breweries.  Brewpubs often do, also, bootstrap small production operations off of their on-premises sale profits.  Hell, it probably even has sustainable economic benefits - more small breweries mean more hiring in what is already a labor-intensive sector, compared to larger automated craft breweries.  

The masses will never be sold on buying Saison and Bock and even IPA (the most popular craft beer style is still pretty polarizing among non-craft beer people).  And craft breweries that try to outcompete Big Beer on lite lager have a massive uphill battle, undoing decades of brand loyalty, to say nothing of the maybe-monopolistic tactics of those breweries.  

Let's stick with what we might call the "Phoenixville Model." 

Keep it simple.

JJW

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In Praise of the Pounder: The Perfect Beer Package

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We're lucky enough to live in a beer world that no longer looks down its nose at a beer in a can.  Gone are the days when an amber (or, worse, green) bottle is some kind of nonsensical sign of sophistication.  Maybe someday soon we'll evolve past the idea that a cork has some kind of magical benefit, too.  In the meantime, however, please allow me to propose that the best of all possible beer packages is...

THE POUNDER.

Yes.  The 16-ounce can is the ideal beer package.  And I can prove it.

Keeping the Wolves Outside the Door

When it comes to beer quality, the two great enemies are light and oxygen.  One turns the beer into skunkwater, the other makes it a flaccid, flabby mess of a beer that tastes like something that once knew what a beer was but has since suffered severe head trauma and can now only mutter incoherent words like "biscuit" and "citrus" while shuffling around the glass, chewing cardboard and bumping into itself.  

Cans, generally speaking, solve both of these problems.  Bottles - even dark bottles - still allow in some of the evil UV light that will wreck your beer (assuming it has/had actual hop plant material in it - not all, but most, do).  It might take longer in that brown bottle, but it'll still happen.  And while glass isn't oxygen-permeable, that crown cap with its plastic gasket isn't a perfect seal - as the beer warms and cools, small amounts of air will make it in/out, and so you'll stale more quickly.

But not cans.  A real airtight seal, and no light penetration.  The staling and off-flavor producing wolves stay outside the door.  

If 12 is good, 16 is better

Then there's the actual volume.  Pour that 12 oz. can into a pint glass, and you know what you get?  Answer: not a pint.  It's psychologically unsatisfying.  

Now imagine you have that pounder.  You're pouring, gently, and you get a full, full glass with a slight head - and a little bit leftover in the can, like a kid with a milkshake.  What's better than that?  You get a full beer, and somehow, magically, you also get more beer!  

Also, think of transport.  If I'm carrying a six-pack around, I'm moving six beers, one way or another.  Six 8-oz. pony bottles?  48 ounces.  Six 12-oz. cans?  72 ounces.  Six pounders?  96 ounces, baby.  Now I can share two, or even three, and still feel good about it.

Then there's just how it feels in your hand.  A 12 feels immature, like something you drank back when you were 17 and hiding out in the woods with a six-pack between three of you (which it is, and which you did).  But a pounder feels like a real can of beer - and maybe something you could defend yourself with if accosted by a particularly rowdy Dallas Cowboys fan.  Throw in a dress sock and you've got yourself a legit deadly weapon.

The Odd Insanity of Beer Buyers

There's one more good reason to love the pounder: who came up with pricing strategies on these things?  Whomever it was saw deeper into the fundamental irrationality of humans than I ever will.

It's not an uncommon occurrence for me to see a case of 16s priced at an identical price to a case of 12s in the same store, on the same pallet, of highly similar beers, even from the same brewery.  Now, I can understand that, to an extent, because the per-case pricing has a lot of marketing juju behind it, and if Brewery A wants to sell all of its cases for about the same price, then I get that. 

What I'll never understand, to the day they pry that pounder can of Kostritzer Schwarzbier out of my cold, dead hands is why I also see a beer buyer buying that case of twelve-ounce cans when the 16s are right there.  It's insane.  And I'm not talking about "oh, I want a hefe, and the pounders are IPAs."  No, I mean a case of 12-oz. IPA cans, and a case of 16-oz. IPA cans, sitting right next to each other for the same price, and some jabroni happily whistling his way to the counter with the case of 12s.  

It's 33% more beer, bro.  WTH is the matter with you?

Pound It

Start asking for this, from your favorite breweries.  If they already do it, ask why they don't do it more.  Because until the day we can all drink from self-propelled hovering 10L mini-kegs that follow us from place to place, there will never be a better package for beer.

And don't even get me started on the crowler.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).