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

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Bring On the Pumpkin Beers

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I know it's fun to rip on pumpkin beers.  Hell, it's practically an annual tradition: too soon, too many, not really pumpkin-made, etc.  But you know what?  I really can't wait to see them taking over the taps this year, and the sooner the better.

Why?  Because for as much as we make fun of them, pumpkin (or pumpkin spice, or squash) beers have become, at least in my humble opinion, some of the better seasonal beers on the market, in a market where almost everything seems to be a seasonal beer (or an IPA...or both).  

It's September.  Bring on the pumpkin beers.

Changing of the Seasons

The "anti-pumpkin" crusades made a bit more sense to me when there were genuinely few seasonal beers on the market.  I don't mean one-offs or limited releases or beers generally made at a certain time of year, but actual seasonal beers.  Lately I've been seeing (in part thanks to my self-imposed no-repeat beer challenge for 2017) an impressive cavalcade of spring beers, summer beers, hop harvest beers, and more, all tuned to a specific available ingredient or seasonal affectation or condition.  In that context, it feels much more that pumpkin beers are simply a logical extension and progression and less like a kitschy gimmick.

Not only that, but the other seasonal beers aren't always well-tuned to the season in which they're offered.  A few weeks back I picked up a mixed "summer celebration" case from a major regional craft brewer, and the thing had a Pilsner (makes sense), two IPAs of 6.8 and 7.2 percent ABV, and a double IPA.  What are you "summer celebrating" there?  Alcohol poisoning and/or heat stroke?  

Say what you will about them, but at least pumpkin/spice beers are well-fitted to their season.  Temperatures start to drop, the beers get a little darker, and we all get that nice sense memory of pumpkin pie to get us primed for football and Thanksgiving.  Works for me.

An Island of Consistency

This is, admittedly, just my subjective interpretation, but it also seems that pumpkin beers are an island of consistency in the otherwise heaving, frothing maelstrom of beer quality.  

Last year I attended an event with about a dozen pumpkin beers available to taste and evaluate.  And you know what?  They were all at least OK.  None were exceptional.  But none were bad, either, and many were genuinely good.  

I've had to dump three beers in the last three weeks (the most recent a fruited Gose that tasted like it was brewed with straight seawater).  I'm ready for a little generic amber/brown ale with some obvious spice additions, even if it isn't the next "hot" thing.

At Least It's Not...

...fill in the latest craft beer trend.  Probably hazy IPAs.  Those damned things are everywhere, which at least might hopefully mean they'll disappear soon (except for the good ones, which with some luck the market might be able to sort out).  Pumpkin spice beers might be cliche and annoying, but you can't pretend they're trendy.  They're probably the most hated-on beer style in the world, and yet every September, back they come.

You gotta respect that.

So, it might not be a five-star, life-changing, Earth-shaking beer, but grab yourself a pint or a sixer of something with an orange label and a punny pumpkin name, and sniff deep.  

And know that the Christmas beers are right behind it.

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).


Bar Brawl: Tap Rooms, Brewpubs, and the Coming Clash of Craft

Craft brewers come across as a surprisingly cooperative lot.  Stories abound in and around the industry of breweries working collaboratively, sharing hard-to-find ingredients, even providing start-up loans to new breweries (which seems a little bonkers, from a capitalist perspective).  Likewise, having known my share of craft beer bar owners and operators, you'll often see close relationships between breweries (not just distributors) and the bars that stock their products.

Call me cynical, but it seems to me like the camaraderie is starting to wear a little thin, and for a very simple reason: markets evolve, the negative space is starting to fill in to a significant degree, and changes in the law are incentivizing different behaviors.  Big breweries, craft breweries, and bars are all starting to bump into each other, and there are only so many customers out there.

We may be in a Prisoner's Dilemma situation, too.  It's entirely possible that collaboration and cooperation could continue to be viable avenues for success among craft brewers, but that individual defections will limit the probability of it.

For sure, though, it's a dynamic situation.

Brewpubs, Taprooms, Beer Bars, Oh My...

Take in, if you will, this mind-blowing statistic: 60% of new restaurants close within their first three years, but for brewpubs that number drops to 46%...over 35 years.  It isn't hard to understand why.  Brewing and selling on the same premises creates incredible cost savings (no packaging, no delivery) and you're selling to a basically captive audience (once they're in the door, they're buying your beer).

"So what?," you might ask.  "There aren't huge new chains of brewpubs in the market."  That's true.  If you look at the Brewers Association's statistics on brewery openings, the ratio of brewpubs to microbreweries/regional breweries hasn't increased.  However, recent changes in state laws and market approaches have seen production breweries opening tap rooms, or tasting rooms, or sales locations that are brewpubs in all but name.  They're pouring pints, filling growlers, and even the ones that don't serve food often bring in food trucks or cut deals with local delivery restaurants.  They're brewpubs in all but name (and sometimes in name, too).  This creates tensions between breweries, distributors, and craft beer bars, and we're already seeing pushback.  

Then there's the actual incentivizing of brewery establishment.  Cost of a basic commercial brewing system has come down dramatically; the push to service the equipment demands of more-radical homebrewers has blurred the line, and a functioning professional brewery now might have a smaller system than a particularly-geeky homebrew club (mine, the Stoney Creek Homebrewers, owns and operates what is essentially a 2bbl system.  I'm pretty sure we've accidentally created the 25th-largest brewery in the state).  Moreover, in many states (I'd say most, but had trouble verifying cost in all states) a brewery license is significantly cheaper than most liquor licenses, sometimes dramatically so (in PA a brewery license can be had for $1,425, whereas liquor licenses sell at auctions for anywhere from $5,000 to $400,000), and once brewing, you can often sell directly.

Add that all together and you create unavoidable conflict.

"Split Up!"

Then there's the fact that this is all happening at a time when it makes perfect sense to split up and "go local" as a survival strategy.

For years, craft brewers could afford to cooperate because they weren't actually competing with each other: they were competing with macro breweries and carving out chunks of their market share (small chunks as a percentage of what the big breweries sold, but of sufficient size to sustain and grow the micros).  One successful microbrewery buoyed the reputation of craft beer, thereby helping the others, so why not help out if you're a "competing" brewery?  Everybody wins.

Once "big beer" started to sit up, take notice, and fight back, the calculus changed.

Macros start buying up craft breweries, driving down the price of craft beer and directly challenging the business model of the remaining craft breweries.  The logical response is for craft breweries to turn into the skid and target local communities in lots of locations rather than relying on a traditional centralized production/distribution model.  Big beer will always be able to undercut price on the shelf, but over the bar a small brewery selling for itself has a relative advantage, especially if they can lean on "drink local" sentiment (which they can).  

This "scatter" effect is a great way to create more targets than big beer can smash, but also puts breweries-with-brewpubs in much more direct competition with each other, and with the bars that were their direct customers.

The Wars to Come?

It's not universally held, but it is commonly speculated, that there's an impending "correction" coming in the craft beer market.  Too many breweries chasing not enough customers with the giants stomping around gobbling up "real" craft breweries and driving down profit margins (plus some quality concerns) will mean a "big crunch" in the craft brewing universe.

Maybe so.  Craft brewing's share of the market is still growing, but that rate of growth has slowed significantly.  Still, it's not realistic to think that we'll ever end up back in the bad old days of huge national breweries and no craft options.

What seems most logical to me is that the small brewpubs will survive - after all, they have that built-in "brewpub advantage" we discussed earlier.  I also tend to think that the larger craft breweries will survive, leveraging their economies of scale to a sufficient degree to remain profitable even in direct competition with the macros.

No, what worries me is what happens to those caught in the middle: the highly-successful but not-quite-national craft breweries.  Where do they go?  Private capital can't be relied on if the market actually starts to contract.  Macros will only buy up so many craft breweries.  Maybe the Victory Brewing Co./Southern Tier "merger" model will be workable for others.  Maybe mid-sized breweries will be able to use brewery-owned brewpubs to float their production operations.

I suspect, though, that what we'll see is that the total number of breweries will remain fairly static, but that some significant number of medium-sized breweries will take the hit for the rest.  

Here's hoping your favorite survives.

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 Unique Beer: Halfway Home

Well, we're officially halfway through the Year of Unique Beer, and things are starting to get interesting.  Running tally: 217 beers, plus about 15-20 homebrewed beers (mine and others').

For those who need a refresher, I accepted a fun challenge to drink no "repeat beers" this year.  The rules are pretty simple: if I drink more than six ounces of any beer, that's the only one of that label I get for the year, and I can't just keep drinking small pours of everything indefinitely - that would need to come from a sample-oriented interaction, like a beer festival.

Bottom line up front?  It's been both easier and harder than I expected, and while I haven't had to resort to wine-drinking yet, the pitfalls are starting to get wider and more numerous...

Smooth Sailing

On the one hand, this has been remarkably easy.  With more places than ever carrying craft beer, there's no shortage of good taps out there.  On the list of places where I can get local craft beer are less-likely locations like two local movie theaters, soccer matches, and school receptions.

It's also helped that new breweries keep opening up near me - three so far this year just in my immediate vicinity, and maybe as many as a dozen in the larger metro area.

Even at local brewpubs that I visit regularly, there are always 2-3 seasonal beers, collaborations, and/or differently-"gassed" variations (those count as unique beers if they exist separately in Untappd) to choose from.

And I also have the greatest beer friends in the world: whenever they travel, they haul back singles from their travels for me.  Great stuff.

Choppy Waters

It's not all beer and roses, though.  

I'm still having a tough time, of all places, at home.  My kegs are full, I'm running low on bombers, and I haven't even really hit the busiest of my brewing seasons (fall) yet - I'm starting to get concerned that I'll either need to chop back my brewing or use this as an excuse to buy more kegs!  OK, so maybe that's not ALL bad...

Visiting with friends and family continues to present a challenge.  I just finished my Unique Beer Year Waterloo: almost a week at the New Jersey shore with my extended family.  That trip chewed up all of my existing single reserves, and required trips to two bottle shops to fill out the haul, and at that I only came home with two cans.  Why two bottle shops?  Because one is a local supermarket and their "mix your own six-pack" selections are both narrow and static.  The things you learn in a challenge like this...

Finally, just like there are "crafty" beers (that aren't really), there are "crafty" beer bars.  The beers might be craft, but the bar isn't: it's the same eight craft beers on tap every time.  I've had to start weighing when it's time to pull the trigger on those macros, and as we'll see in the update below, two have now bitten the dust.

Did I Drink That?

As we reach the turnaround, I've just about reached the point where I can no longer rely on my memory to tell me if I've had a beer before.  I had one misfire - ordered a brown ale I thought I'd never heard of, was wrong, and had to give it away and order another - and a few more close calls.  Untappd has become my crutch and my cross.

Two macros are now off the list: PBR and, just this weekend, Yuengling Lager.  I'm treating those macro lagers like gold: they're ubiquitous and might save me in a pinch, so I'm trying to hoard them.  If I make it through the entire year with nary a Bud touching my lips, I'll consider it a victory, but it'll be a victory born of cowardice: I'm not avoiding it on principle, I'm avoiding it because I might need it someday, like a shady relative you can't stand but might need to bail you out of jail so you don't have to call your spouse.

I still maintain, though, that all it takes is to make it to September.  At that point, I'll be able to ride a rising wave of Oktoberfests, pumpkin beers, and Christmas beers right on through to 11:59PM on December 31st.  

What will I drink one minute later to toast in the new year?  Your suggestions are welcome.  

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).


Sending Beer Back: Walking the Customer-Alehole Tightrope

"Don't like that beer?  Send it back.  You're the customer - you should get something you like."

Oh, if only it were that simple (especially around here - right?).  

Maybe it's a desire to avoid conflict.  Maybe we don't want to look like beer snobs.  Maybe it's that there seem to be a lot of introverts in/around craft beer and homebrewing.  Whatever the reason, though, this is one of the topics in which I find a lot of anxiety, disagreement, and tension: when, and how, do/should we send beer back?

I know that some of you out there are brazenly demanding new pints left and right and think the rest of us just need to get more assertive, but for those who don't fall into that category, let's get into this a bit.

First, When?

Right out of the gate, I gravitate towards trying to sort out the situations when it's OK to send a beer back and those in which it's more of a questionable move.  

Probably Not OK: The one time when I'm reasonably sure it's unreasonable to send a beer back is when I simply don't like it.  If what I ordered is basically what I got (as in, I ordered a Pilsner and it's lighter than amber and has some hop character/bitterness), then whether I think it's good or not doesn't factor into whether I should send it back or not.  The bar's under no obligation to only serve me beers that I would rate highly.

Almost Certainly OK: A seriously dirty or chipped glass, a beer that's flat, obvious off-flavors of a fecal variety, something that's demonstrably not the beer I ordered ("say, this beer's pretty haze and pale for a Russian Imperial Stout...") - these all seem like perfectly good reasons to send a beer back.

In Between: The trouble I run into is when there's not a patently obvious justification.  What do you do when there's lots of bubbles on the beer glass (not "beer clean")?  Diacetyl, DMS, other minor flavor faults?  Slightly stale flavors/oxidation?  Temperature issue?  I guess there's never going to be a commonly-accepted rubric for what does and doesn't qualify, and even if we agreed on one there's a lot of subjectivity in beer evaluation.

This is what I mean when I say we're walking the Customer-Alehole tightrope.  One person's reasonable complaint is another person's eye-rolling "get over yourself" self-indulgence.

For these "tweeners," I like to go with the "Two Beer" rule.  If there's one beer with that problem, fine.  But if my second has it, too, then I'm either going to leave and not come back OR bring it to someone's attention.  

What you say v. What they hear

"When," it turns out, might be the easy part.  "How" is a much bigger challenge, because now you're treading on more-dangerous ground.  

Sending a beer back could trigger all kinds of weird responses, few of them good.

On the one hand, you could be at a place that is really committed to customer service, trains up their staff well, and genuinely cares that you have a great experience.  That, though...isn't everywhere.  Many don't want or need your feedback, and may not care whether you're happy or not.  

It's really kind of understandable.  I mean, you're just sending a beer back.  But to the bar, you might be saying any/all of the following:

  • "You're losing $6 because I'm not paying for this."
  • "You run a dirty bar.  Clean a beer line, just once, for the novelty of it."
  • "You don't know what you're serving - that's NOT a stout, idiot."
  • "You're an idiot who served this in a chilled mug."
  • "I'm a super-entitled beer geek and beer judge and homebrewer and YOU WILL LISTEN TO EVERY DAMN WORD I HAVE TO SAY!"

So...you know, maybe we should approach this cautiously.  

The "How"

Well, I suppose it should go without saying that you should be polite and courteous (and even complimentary - "we love it here, and we know you guys care about your beer, it's just that this one is [fill in the concern]").  I've been burned by "goes without saying" before, though, so it can't hurt to repeat it here.

Context matters here, too - if it's a bartender/bar owner that you've known for a while, then feel free to be more direct.  Some people I could spit-take the beer across the room without offending, but that's not most folks in most places.

So, how do we politely but firmly register a request to send a beer back?  I like the Triple-A Method (modified from writing on how to engage in challenging political discourse):

  1. Apologize: "I'm so sorry, but I'm afraid I need to ask for a different beer."  Why lead off with an apology?  Because it suggests this isn't a power trip for you.  You don't want to make their lives harder.  You're just someone who wants a good, fair transaction.
  2. Augment: "I have a serious sensitivity to [whatever your beef is], and I'm tasting it in this beer."  Explain your concern in neutral terms.  No need to point fingers.
  3. Advance: "Could I have [new beer, new glass, etc.] instead?  Thanks SO much, and again, I'm sorry about this!"  Don't wait for them to suggest a fix - it can make you seem like you're trawling for more than a replacement, or they might think that you don't want it redressed at all.  

This method can work for all kinds of complaints.  It also makes no appeals to authority ("Look, I'm a homebrewer/beer judge, and I KNOW that's not right...") or normative value judgments.  It's clear, simple, and (unless someone's having a really bad day) pretty benign and non-reactive.

The Wrong Beer Exception

There's one area, though, where I haven't been able to come up with a single "clean" and non-insulting way to call attention: The Wrong Beer Scenario.

I ordered something.  You gave me something - but not what I ordered.

Now, one of two things could be happening here:

  1. It's patently the wrong beer (or Oktoberfest is now super-hoppy and cloudy).
  2. I know it's the wrong beer because I drink a lot of different beers and can tell.

There's no winning here.  If it's obviously the wrong beer, then pointing that out means you're calling the bartender an idiot.  If it's not patently wrong but my experience makes it obvious, then pointing it out makes me look like a smug beer snob.

The only thing that MIGHT work - but the server needs to be hip to what you're trying to do for them - is this face-saving statement: "Sorry, I think this must be for someone else - I ordered the Oktoberfest!  It's so busy, totally understandable..."  

Otherwise, you're on the express train to Awkward Town.  

Say Hi to the Vicar

Finally, a quick word on an under-pour.  I was drinking with an Englishman one fine afternoon, and on receiving his pint asked the waitress, "what about the vicar?"  I had no idea what he was talking about, and said so; apparently, he was referring to the white collar of head at the top of the glass, taking up space where his beer should be, and resembling (I now saw) a clerical collar like a priest or vicar might wear.  

If a place is slow, I might mention it.  Otherwise, I just let it slide.  He didn't - they're serious about a beer being a proper pint, those Englishmen...

Manners Cost Nothing

In any case, let your conscience be your guide, on all of this.  What I will say, though, is that being polite never hurts, usually helps, and costs nothing.  

If you're going to step out onto the Customer-Alehole tightrope, best to err on the side of courtesy.

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).


What The Hell Happened to Fruit Beers?

I know that sometimes it seems like beer blogs exist to be critical of beer and brewers.  Today is good news, though: brewers seem to have really figured out how to make fruit beer.  

I'm dead serious.  This isn't a setup for some kind of satirical take on fruit beer.  Craft (and even some craft-y) breweries are cranking out top-notch beers that also happen to be fruit-centered or fruit-accented (and no, I'm not counting that orange wedge on the side of the glass - that's still a travesty).  Sometime in the last couple of years I've started to notice a dramatic improvement in the quality of fruit beers, and it's really wonderful to see.  

The Dividends of Variety

One reason this came up at all is because I set myself the challenge of drinking a new beer for every beer of 2017.  No repeats - I get one serving (12-22 oz.) of each beer that I have, but that's it for the year for that beer (which has done all kinds of weird things to my homebrewing plans - lots of high-ABV and dark beers that will hold up until 1/1/2018!).  

The first update on how this is going will be posted in two weeks, the short version being "not that hard so far," but one side-effect of it is that I'm going out of my way to order seasonal or "not usually my first choice" beers so that I can preserve (for example) that Sinebrychoff Porter for a special occasion somewhere further down the calendar.

Thus, my recent exposure to more fruit beers than usual.  One dividend of enforced variety.

Long Way's Journey Into Right

I have no problem admitting that I had a low opinion of fruit beers to begin with.  Not so much the Krieks and Peches of the world: though they're fruit beers, I tend to think of them as sours or Belgians first, fruit beers second or third.  But the generic "peach wheat" beers, "cherry stouts," and recently the seemingly-ubiquitous "citrus fruit pale ale/IPA."  

These were beers that, for years, seemed either determined to de-beer the beers they were used for ("Don't like beer?  Try a FRUIT beer!"), or were so poorly balanced that it was like drinking beer that had been over-spiked with citric acid or sour cherry extract and/or a ton of unfermentable sugar.  They were beers made by brewers that seemed to want to change beer into FRUIT beer.

Ick.

Dancing, Not Fighting

But then - as I say, I came to this recently, but maybe it's been coming for a while now - there seemed to be a change in the approach.  The fruits being used were now much more complementary than substitutive.  It wasn't "apricot malt liquor with a hint of grain" or "blood orange juice with 120 IBUs - you know, for intensity" anymore.  I started getting non-Belgian non-Sours that were actually using fruit as a balanced part of the flavor profile in the beer.

There were still exceptions, of course.  Grapefruit IPAs are always going to be hard if you're not careful.  Grapefruit is a bitter, acidic fruit and creating a balanced beer I could drink two pints of from it is a serious challenge (though I did have one recently that would have fit the bill, but for my stupid self-imposed challenge).  That's what they are, now, though - exceptions.  Of the last half-dozen fruit beers I've had, all have been at least "good," and a couple were in the vicinity of "great."

I now give serious thought to ordering fruit beer.  Not because I'm forced into it by a narrowly-constructed draft list, but because I'm actually curious.  The ingredients now seem to be dancing, not fighting.  The beers are honest-to-goodness beer, not some fruit punch that uses barley or wheat.  The fruit is used as an accent or a supporting player, not a domineering, astringent, tart sledgehammer.

It's just nice to see.

The Blueberry Exception

I still say, though, that there's no such thing as a good blueberry beer.  Blueberry mead or wine?  Excellent.  Blueberry beer?  Never had one that was able to get firm (natural) blueberry flavor.  I'll try again when I head to Maine this summer, but I'm not optimistic.

But hey - hope springs eternal.

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).

[Author's Note: For those who are inevitably going to complain that I didn't list any fruit beers for you to try, let me state in advance that I very rarely do that.  First, someone automatically takes issue with it - "I've had that beer, and it sucks.  This guy's an idiot."  Second, someone else automatically assumes I'm shilling for that brewery and getting paid for it - I'm not, but why invite the criticism?  And third, doing so also automatically generates a response of, "who the f**k are you to tell ME what to drink?"  No one.  And I'm not.  In any case, the point of the article (since this is the second thing that happens - "what was the point of that?  This guy's an idiot.") is that you should be more open to trying whatever fruit beers you see - not that a couple of them are doing well.  So, it would be kind of contrary to the spirit of the piece to send you out with a list.  There - done.]

 


Beer & Popcorn: Movie and Beer Pairings for Oscar Night

This Sunday is one of my favorite nights of the year.  Yes, I know that the Academy Awards and its ilk are self-congratulatory and rarely identify the "best" films, but I don't care.  I love movies.  And I love beer.  And if we pair food with beer, why not movies?

Enjoy your Oscar Night, with this as your guide.  Pick these up, have some friends over, and enjoy the show!

A Beer for Every Best Picture Nominee

Let's face it, you didn't watch most of these movies.  They're mostly sad, long, depressing stories with an absurdly high percentage featuring dead fathers or other relatives.  But you know who DID watch all of these?  Me. [...and my long-suffering spouse, who has little choice but to accompany me]

So, without further ado, a beer pairing for each of the nine Best Picture nominees (in ascending order by movie quality - not necessarily beer quality):

9. LionThe sad story of an Indian boy who falls asleep on a train and wakes up thousands of miles away from home, gets adopted and taken even FURTHER away, and then uses Google Earth to identify his home village based on landmarks as seen from space.  WHY DIDN'T HE JUST USE GOOGLE GOOGLE INSTEAD???  HE KNEW THE NAME OF HIS VILLAGE!  In any case, it's a predictable slog of a movie (apparently based on a true story, so I might one day hunt this guy down and ask why he wasted months looking at satellite pictures instead of typing into Google the name of his village and the name of the station where he got on the train), and it deserves a beer that's likewise generic, and not that interesting, and Indian, I guess.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Lion Beer (some of these just write themselves, folks)

8. Manchester by the SeaA lot of critics loved this movie.  I didn't get it.  Much like Lion, we have a cavalcade of cliches, not much originality, and a lot of grief - but at least it's long as hell.  Having said that, it does feature some gorgeous scenery and a competent performance from Casey Affleck (though a bizarrely horrible one from Michelle Williams, whom I usually love).  So we need a beer that's highly predictable and too much of it.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Sam Adams Boston Lager - and make everyone drink a 22oz. mug of it even if they just want one 12oz. bottle.

7. Hell or High WaterThis basically felt like the best TV movie you'll ever see.  A semi-interesting crime story about two brothers robbing banks to avoid foreclosure on a family ranch in Texas that's suddenly worth a fortune because of an oil discovery (and btw, they soft-pedal this plot point so hard in the movie that it isn't until the end that you realize it isn't just a joke made up by one of the brothers).  Competent, but not anything to write home about - and Jeff Bridges chewing so much scenery he probably could use a beer to wash it down.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: I know a lot of you are expecting Hell or High Watermelon from 21A, but that's actually a bit too original here.  Instead, since we're getting a movie that's really good for what it is but might not really be in the top tier, out of Texas, I'm gonna go with basically anything from Jester King.  It's great, but not clear if it isn't just a big fish in a little pond...

6. Hacksaw RidgeAn incredible true story of a pacifist who saved 75 Marines during a battle on Okinawa in WWII, this is a war movie that indulges in lots of cliches but gets by on the strength of its source material and a sterling performance from Andrew Garfield.  Directed by Mel Gibson, we need a beer that pairs with a movie that's kinda conventional but gets by on its charm, made by a recently-disgraced figure looking to get back into your good graces.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: I'm thinking one of our Big Beer Buyout people - Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager fits the bill (and Devil's Backbone sounds like a place that's just down the road from Hacksaw Ridge).

5. Hidden FiguresCharming and super-competent film about African American ladies being recognized for their contributions to the early successes of NASA.  Good fun, an important story, and well-made - it stops short of being great, though, and left me wanting to go home and watch The Right Stuff again (which lacks the diversity but delivers as an epic of the new Space Age).  PAIRING SUGGESTION: If you can get it, anything from Ninkasi's "Ground Control" series of space-traveled-yeast-fermented beers.  If you can't, Victory Moonglow Weizenbock seems like a good alternative...

4. MoonlightA touching story about a boy from a rough neighborhood in Miami who has to navigate a complicated childhood and a drug-addicted mother, told in three chapters at ages 9, 16, and 25 (give or take).  There's some great advice in this movie, particularly from Mahershala Ali's character: "Sooner or later, you just gotta decide what you're gonna be."  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Cigar City Jai Alai IPA.

3. Arrival: Aliens arrive to preach a message of unity and cooperation.  Collaboration for greatness - simple, beautiful, and impactful.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Russian River & Firestone Walker STiVO Keller Pils.

2. FencesThe movie adaptation of an award-winning Broadway play set in post-war Pittsburgh, this is a real showcase for the power of dialogue and ensemble performances.  The movie's complex family dynamics and statements on the nature of strength make it a great pairing with a complex beer.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Great Divide Barrel Aged Hercules DIPA.

1. La La LandAn outstanding modern fairy tale, love story, and musical about the need to care for the things you love even if you're the only one that believes in them.  PAIRING SUGGESTION: Your favorite beer, whatever it is, and even if other people think it's terrible or a waste of time.  

Shorts

Some quick hits for other noteworthy or nominated films, for the real film geeks out there:

  • Jackie: Sawtooth Amber from Left Hand ("Back, and to the left...back, and to the left..."  Too soon?)
  • Kubo and the Two Strings: Hitachino Nest White Ale (because for some reason a story set in feudal Japan features a ton of white voice actors...)
  • Deadpool: Anything from Unibroue in honor of Canadian Wade Wilson
  • Sully: 21A beer in cans, obviously

Call in sick for work on Monday, really make a night of it, and stay up right to the bitter, played-off-the-stage end.  

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).


The Full Fridge Dilemma: It's like FMK, but for Beer

Around this time of year (post-Christmas, post-holiday parties, etc.) I end up with a lot of beer in the fridge.  Beer I've bought to serve.  Beer I've received as a gift.  Beer people brought to a party and left behind.  So, so much beer.  

Talk about First World Problems.  

But it occurred to me that, problem of the (over?) privileged that it might be, it's still a legitimate problem.  We're also about to head into a month when, like many of us, I'm looking to give my body a rest and ratchet down the alcohol consumption.  So we have a real supply-demand issue here.  And it occurred to me that this "Full Fridge Dilemma" might be worth approaching in a more systematic way.  Some are going to stay.  Some are going to go (eventually).  And some are going to go right now.  It's like FMK, but with your beer.

The Big Sort

The way I see it, I have two goals here.  First, I want to drink the beer I have when it's at its best (or, at the very least, before it starts to turn towards its worst).  Second, I want to avoid playing catch-up for the rest of the year.  This dilemma, if un-addressed, will plague me for months, since I'll still be adding beer to the equation - I need to get ahead of it.  Otherwise I'll just be drinking by "best by" date, and that just doesn't sound like fun.  I need to clear out some space in this fridge.

So, first things first: sort.

The first sort will be to split out the things that you don't much want to drink anyway - and start playing Santa Claus.  If I look in my fridge and see a bunch of strong Belgian ales, then you better believe that anywhere I go for the next 2-3 months I'm going to be gifting them out, so pull them out of the fridge now and put them aside.  We all have things we don't often drink but people bring over/gift to us anyway, so treat that Sour Triple IPA like you would a vanilla-scented candle and re-gift it.

The second sort will be to pull things out that you like, but actually improve with age.  Grab that Baltic Porter, Russia Imperial, and Belgian Quad and stick them on a rack in your basement.  Congratulations, you now have a beer cellar.  

Last, sort out beers you know other people will drink: party beer.  Grab that half case of Dortmunder, those spare bottles of Pilsner, and that four-pack of dry stout and just put them in any fridge (a cold winter garage usually works great, too).  If you keep them cold, they'll be in plenty good shape to offer the next time you have people over (Super Bowl, Academy Awards, whatever).  

Congratulations - you should now have much more room in your fridge!

But that was the easy part.

A Question of Priority

Now you need to decide, among those lucky beers still left, what to drink and when.  We need an order.  Someone's going to be first - someone's going to be last.  And whichever beer ends up last on that list is running a risk, because what we're left with (if you've sorted properly) is mostly beer that, like Val Kilmer, isn't aging well.

Lots of people will give you the "hey, just drink what you want!" line.  OK, maybe.  But I think that if you're really interested in getting the most out of your beer you should take a survey of your fridge and drink them down in this order:

  1. Hop-forward amber beers: as their bitterness and hop flavors fade, their malts (and they're often in the rich, caramel, melanoidin-y camp) are going to become really assertive, and without that bittering/hop flavor to balance it they can come off as being unpleasantly sweet.  You want to get these things off your shelf ASAP - and don't let terminology fool you.  Thinks like English Pale Ales/ESBs are basically amber, and they can go bad in a hurry, leaving you drinking papery butter water. 
  2. Amber lagers: "What?  But they're lagers!  They'll keep forever!"  No, no they won't.  Maybe they won't turn quite as fast as the hoppy ambers, but they'll still trend towards the too-rich.  I also notice that the clean fermentations they're subject to make staling/oxidation flavors a little more obvious, too.  
  3. IPAs: Usually, time is a "muting" actor on the flavor of IPAs, so they have a little more staying power.  They lose that super-bright hop flavor pretty quickly (2-3 weeks?), but after that it's a slower trip down during which you still taste the hops, just not as prominently.  They'll be fine for a while.  Time hurts - but doesn't kill - most of them.
  4. Pale Hoppy non-IPAs: So, American Pale Ales, American wheat beers, etc.  They don't have as much hop character to trade off as time goes by, but at the same time they tend to taste just fine without it since they're often a bit lower in alcohol and darker/richer malts, so the worst case is that you end up with a generically grainy beer.  Most will hold up just find for a couple of months.
  5. Light Belgians: Saison, Witbier and the like have some great survivability, in part because there's so much going on in their flavor profiles. You have hops, esters, grain, and even if there's a slight infection a bit of tartness/acidity isn't really a deal-breaker.  At our homebrew club's 100th meeting we popped open an eight-year-old Saison that was our first group brew, and it was still pretty good!  Long story short, even though their flavors will change over time, it doesn't seem to devolve into something that's unpleasant to drink.  But since they're a little lower in alcohol than their Belgian Strong cousins, they're a little more time-sensitive since their oxidation will just taste papery/metallic, not that cool sherry note you get in stronger beers that oxidize.
  6. Everything Else: Most other non-strong beers (I'm thinking of hoppy browns, stouts, sours, German wheats, etc.) keep and drink pretty well, even with some significant age on them.  German Hefe, even old and stale, is still perfectly drinkable.  A hoppy brown ale will probably have enough residual roast to keep it from being cloying.  Pilsner will always work as a simple light malt showcase even if its hops fade.  You can save these for last.

Drink with a Purpose

In a perfect world, we'd always drink what we want, when we want it, and it would always be in great shape.  That's never going to happen, though - so set yourself up for success and give your beer its best shot at making you happy.  Make your beer choices with a purpose.

And as one final tip?  Go the "Wedding Feast at Cana" route - if folks are already a little tipsy (you included), drink the beers that aren't doing so hot.  You'll mind it a lot less.

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).