Category: Travel

What You Need to Know About Custom Wine Boxes

Wine makes one of the perfect gifts for any occasions. You will, therefore, want to use a good wine package that matches and enhances the value of the gift. Wine gift boxes, not only improve the presentation of a wine bottle, but they also provide protection of the bottle from damage. The gift boxes are an excellent choice for various events and occasions such as weddings, anniversaries, engagements, house warming, employee appreciation, and father’s days. Wine connoisseurs and lovers are also great users of the boxes.

Understanding Wine Boxes

Wine boxes come in different styles, colors, sizes and finishes with the wooden ones being the most prevalent among all other materials. You can either lift or slide the lid to open it while the clear ones provide the best finish on the wooden wine boxes. The wine boxes come in different colors including white, black, orange, navy or royal blue, teal, burgundy, silver, gold, pink, red, yellow, green among others. The packaging also varies from one company to another where some provide round boxes and others the square ones. Other models also have a place for wine glasses and other wine tools.

Personalizing the Boxes

The popularity of the custom wooden boxes is on the rise with most companies using them to extend their brand’s reach. Some of the popular ways to personalize the wine gift boxes involve the inclusion of the following:
• The wedding date and the initials of the newlyweds in case you want to use the box as a marriage gift.
• The names, logo, special message, and the dates of the occasion.
• Laser engravings for promotion of a business.
• A thank you message with the recipient’s name.

Use of the Wine Boxes

Most people have been using custom wooden boxes for protection of the bottle in addition to the enhancement of the aesthetic value. The boxes are also available for reuse in a number of ways including storage of art supplies and the children toys. The high gloss finish used on the surface of most wooden wine boxes provides protection against damage by water or air. Therefore, you do not have to worry about the damage of the box by the elements of weather.

Conclusion

The price of wine gift boxes varies from one place to another depending on size of the bottle and material used in the construction of the box and dividers. The liquor box is available in most wineries, wine stores, and gift shops all over the country, so getting one should be easy. You may be able to find more information online. Ekan Concepts is a good place to start your research.

Top

Planning a Vacation in Thailand? Travel Tips for First-Time Sightseers

Christened the ‘Land of Smiles,’ Thailand is one of the favourite destinations for habitual backpackers. From fascinating cultures to tongue-tingling cuisines and sugar white sandy beaches, the South East Asian kingdom has a lot to offer for any leisure traveller that sets foot in it. Any Canadian planning a Thailand vacation should brace themselves for a thrilling tour, you will find almost everything interesting in this vibrant country.

If it’s your first time, you got to make sure that you hit the ground running. Thailand is a top tourist destination, but don’t be fooled. This fascinating country can take some time to get to grips with fully. Travelling in this part of the world means following a well-beaten tourist path. Arm yourself with the appropriate tour packages in advance and follow the tips below to enjoy a smooth experience from the get go.

Familiarize Yourself with the Thai Religion and Culture

Thailand’s most common religion, Thai, is a blend of Hinduism, animism and Buddhism religions and is the cornerstone of the culture of the people of Thailand. Familiarize yourself with the etiquette when visiting temples around the country. Thailand is a country full of temples and visiting them will constitute a significant part of your excursion. Explore the historic and cultural influences of the Thai religion too.

Get Ready To Beam

The people of Thailand tend to smile a lot, so be ready to smile back and have a smoother experience. Keep your hands to yourself and don’t, under any circumstances, touch someone in the head. The Thai culture considers the head as the most important part of the body and the feet the lowest. While you are not touching people on the head, also try not to look at their feet or point someone with your feet.

Avoid Scams

Tourists tend to get involved in incidences of scams in most countries. Well, Thailand is no different. Thailand tours can be enthralling, but you may encounter some guy trying to rip you off now and then- so you got to watch out. Check out vacation packages that offer tour guide services to avoid these incidences.

Accommodation

For the best beds, make early bookings. Accommodation in luxury and midrange hotels will come with a higher price, but it will depend on the time of the year. Choose tour packages that offer accommodation, but if you are on a budget, showing up and asking for a room is the best way to get the cheapest accommodation. If you want to learn more, you may be interested in checking out the resources at Chubb Edwards.

Top

Quest to Find Sacramento’s Beer

This piece is an idea I’ve floated for more than a year – it took a mind of its own and became something of a commentary and critique of the brewing region I live in… Sacramento. It’s what I believe to be an honest look at our recent history, focusing on how we got where we are and what I see as challenges and opportunities for every involved. Its a snoozer of a piece, 3,000 words long. There’s nothing mind-blowing or damning here, just my own thoughts. If you’re in the area and have feedback on the piece, by all means let me know. I must say strongly, these are my own thoughts and observations and they do not represent any affiliation with any of my employers or organizations. So, if you don’t like it, yell at me directly – my email is Rick [at] PacificBrewNews [dot] com.

Where Did We Come From?

I’ve written before about the recent and not-so-recent Sacramento brewing history – it’s been full of ups and downs, amazing peaks and tragic valleys. While the trend right now in the area is focused on very small startups (nano-breweries) and excessively hopped IPAs (doubles and triples and whatnot), this isn’t where we came from. I won’t rehash the demise of some of our great breweries, but instead will look at the stalwarts of our region’s beer culture.

The iconic Rubicon Brewing Company opened its doors in 1987. At the time there was another brewery in town, Hogshead, which was known by the few passionate beer drinkers that lived here at the time for its shoddy quality of product. Hogshead was a massive disappointment, run by a man name Jim Schlueter that came to the region with a very good brewing background that included time at Schlitz (he also started River City Brewing, which was a short-lived venture in Sacramento and wholly unrelated to the current River City Brewing on K Street). Hogshead was Schlueter’s second brewery in Sacramento and he was known to say “I’d rather brew by tongue than by computer.”  Well, without getting into too much detail, the beers brewed at Hogshead simply weren’t cutting it for the locals. When a group of homebrewers (members of the influential home brew club, Gold Country Brewers Association) saw bright, shiny fermentation tanks being installed at the corner of Capitol Ave and 20th Street the news spread quick – an honest-to-goodness brewery was coming to town!

Headed by Ed Brown and Phil Moeller Rubicon opened with a splash. According to the Brewers Almanac there were 49 breweries in America in 1987 – 13 of which were dubbed “Specialty Breweries”. (Stepping one step back, the beer-drinking public was only five years removed from Grant’s Pub’s opening, which was the nation’s first brewpub since prohibition [meaning, you could drink and eat onsite] – these were the earliest days of modern American craft beer.) Shortly after opening Rubicon made its mark on the national craft beer scene – winning back-to-back gold medals for its IPA when the category was first introduced at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in 1989 and 1990. The little brewery on Capitol Ave. also assisted in the earliest production beers at Bear Republic and hosted many brewery interns that have gone on to have successful brewing careers of their own.

Today it’s easy to overlook Rubicon. While it’s still popular with the neighborhood crowd and is appreciated in out-of-town markets like San Diego and the Bay Area, the local beer community seems to have moved on in search for something fresher and hoppier – and that gets more discussion on Facebook, Twitter or a number of beer-related websites. More on the current state of Rubicon soon…

Shortly after Rubicon opened its doors Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hubsch came on to the Sacramento scene with its brand of German-style lagers and wheat beers. Many things have changed since its opening in 1999, most notably the ownership – which is hard to diagram. The Davis location of the operation for years had a chummy relationship with the UC Davis brewing program, but  with the university’s opening of a pilot brewery on campus the relationship has changed slightly – although, there’s no doubt brewing students are finding their way to Sudwerk. Regardless, today Sudwerk has what I believe to be the most beautiful brewhouse in the region – but it’s a beast! They also make what I consider the best lagers in the region, overall (hard to beat Auburn Alehouse’s Gold Country Pilsner).

Not far from Rubicon today is Hoppy Brewing Company, which launched its first beer in 1994. The early beers were contract-brewed (not a dig, there’s a ton of great contract beer out there) and the earliest days of the brewing operation saw commercial success. Troy Paski, the founder and owner of Hoppy, eventually opened his own brewery in 1999, having survived a truly tumultuous period of crappy small batch beer produced by many around the nation that nearly sunk the entire industry. The Hoppy brand has seen modest success, but seems to have never captured the euphoric embrace of Rubicon.

1995 saw Sam Petersen open the first of two locations for Sacramento Brewing Company, a brewery that immediately made a splash on the beer scene. Peterson was a graduate of the American Brewers Guild and spent years in the hospitality industry – Sac Brew reflected this knowhow for years. Sam passed away in early 2007 and the company later traded hands. Without Petersen at the helm, and with the national economy spiraling out of control, Sacramento Brewing was forced to close its doors in late 2009 – but not before winning more awards and accolades than any other brewery in the area (including GABF and World Beer Cup honors).

Rounding out the 1990s in our local beer chapter was Beermann’s Beerwerks, which opened in 1999 and closed ten years later. Beermann’s was my first local brewery and much of my thoughts are skewed or biased by that fact. In its run, Beermann’s racked up a number of regional awards and appreciated modest successes locally – they were a staple for the tech community in Roseville for years (home to Hewlett Packard, Oracle, NEC and other high tech firms). Like many closures in this industry, the talent in the brewhouse moved on to discover new successes – most notably Brian Ford (Beermann’s founding brewer) who now owns the massively popular Auburn Alehouse. In 2014 another Beermann’s alum, Andy Klein, will open his own brewery in Roseville (Monk’s Cellar).

Before moving on to the next section, a quick word on the Gold Country Brewers Association, which was founded in 1982! In its hay-day the club won California home brew club of the year honors twice and has built a network of home brewing knowhow that is second-to-none. Through years of dysfunction and infighting, the club never realized its full potential to influence the region’s beer scene like we see in clubs like HAZE, DOZE or Maltose Falcons. There is still hope for the club, it has a healthy membership and some new blood. I mention this club because they, at one time, were great supporters and influencers of our local beer scene. In fact, Scott Cramlett (long-time brewmaster at Rubicon) was a young home brewer in the club when he was offered a gig at the brewery helping Phil out. The importance of our homebrew club cannot be overstated – seriously great talent here.

It would also be folly to not give a not to the enormous beer knowledge that rests between the ears of two regional heavyweights – Dr. Lewis at UC Davis at the Anheuser Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science, Charlie Bamforth. I’ve been told by most reliable sources that Dr. Lewis was around for the earliest days of our region’s craft beer boom – and I’ve seen him several times hosting national brewing legends. And of course, Charlie can be seen on TV and heard on the radio enjoying the fine beers created right here in the area – he’s a wonderful cheerleader for the region’s breweries.

All this is to say, we have a much more mature brewing scene than I believe we give ourselves credit for. We have the talent and knowhow that the vast majority of beer towns around the country don’t have – we’ve just never found a way to capitalize on that to fully become the beer city we ought to have been fifteen years ago.

Where We Are Now

Of the brewers mentioned above only one seems to be making moves in 2014 – Rubicon. With the opening of a large production facility in West Sacramento in 2013 they are poised to distribute to markets near and far. The brewery lacks focus in marketing and has avoided much change in the beers’ overall makeup. Where the market locally has moved to embrace more pale, light-bodied IPAs with an intense hop aroma, Rubicon has stuck to its guns in creating a clean, caramel-y sweet, medium-full bodied IPA that is sticky with hops in the finish. A great beer, no doubt, but seemingly dated by today’s standards. For the record, I am not suggesting any brewery chase trends – we see it far too often. Trends change. I love the perpetual focus on quality Rubicon has achieved. I would love to see Rubicon own their history and place in the California craft beer market in their PR campaigns and marketing materials – they have earned the right to be proud of their leadership in the industry. The other stuff, like pint glasses and whatnot, they’re just distractions to the overall quality and historical significance the brewery should be promoting.

Sudwerk today seems to be in a state of change, which is about ten years late if you ask me. The biggest change is in the branding, which has dropped the clumsy Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hubsch name in favor of the friendlier Sudwerk Brewing Co. They are also coming out with some more hopped-up concoctions, trying to keep up with the Jones’. This is a major disappointment for me. The problem Sudwerk has experienced isn’t the beer, but the overall marketing and market presence (they don’t have one). I would love to see Sudwerk stick to their guns on the lagers and traditional beers, but hire an honest-to-goodness rep and create a name for itself the old-fashioned way (sorry, Facebook and Twitter are great for new brands, but lousy for rebranding purposes, I believe). Just like I would suggest to Rubicon, I believe Sudwerk can and should own their brand and their beer – it’s fantastic, refreshing, light and perfect for a hot summer’s day like we have in NorCal. Sure, create a snappy IPA that is dry and dripping with hops (their current version isn’t cutting it in the market), but let that not overshadow the beauty that is a well-crafted lager.

Where Rubicon and Sudwerk are in states of change, Hoppy seems stagnant. This is too bad, really, as there is no reason NOT to re-brand the dated labels and logos, along with that gawdawful website, while creating beers that will make a splash in the market. There is no doubt Hoppy’s got the talent – Ed’s been brewing for years and absolutely makes clean, easy-drinking beers. I wouldn’t worry about branding if the focus of Hoppy was solely selling drinks across the bar, but with a competent distributor like they have in Mussetter they could really blow it out to the water with a few substantial tweaks. Again, own the history and long-time presence in the area – tell your story in a concise, marketable fashion – or leave the telling to the new upstarts knocking on your door.

The New Generation

Where to begin? I’ve written before (here and in print) about the new guys in town over the past couple of years: Berryessa, Black Dragon, Bike Dog, Jackrabbit, Device, Roseville, Out of Bounds, New Helvetia, Mraz, Goat Hill, Knee Deep, Loomis Basin, Track 7, American River and even Auburn Alehouse. These represent the new wave of brewing in the region and each are clamoring to reach a thirsty audience – the same thirsty audience. Keep in mind we’re about to see Yolo Brewing, Twelve Rounds, Boneshaker and more open shop this year.

No doubting we will have a saturation issue in the region when it comes to beer shelves in bottle shops and grocery stores. This isn’t a bubble, but a paradigm shift. There is little doubt that our region can handle more community pubs that make and sell beer onsite, but the notion that every brewery in the area will have shelf space at the local bottle shop is a bit of a stretch. Yes, the standouts will always have room in the beer aisle, but the idea local bottle shop and bar owners buy just because it’s local is going to be challenged very soon.

Who’s doing it right? Clearly Knee Deep, Auburn Alehouse, Loomis Basin and Berryessa are the leaders of the pack right now. Track 7, American River and Mraz are making waves, too. The others are either too new to know, or just not making the grade at this time. Let’s explore a bit more.

For overall marketing and quality I think Auburn Alehouse is doing the best job right now. Yes, the beers are great, but what I really like is how focused they are in the packaging and marketing of the beer. Clean, easy to read, industrial looking labels adorn every bottle they have with names that for the most part play off the brewery’s historic nature. Brian Ford and crew are straight kicking ass.

Berryessa, for my money, is right behind Auburn in the way they have come to market. They don’t bottle beers, so labeling isn’t a factor, but the beers and passion they have are absolutely top-notch! Chris Miller, the brewmaster, has a serious love of hops and makes beer that is bold, brash and terrific. Bars around the region have embraced the hop-forward nature of the House IPA and Double Tap double IPA. The amber, saison and other beers in the stable never disappoint, either. And if you doubt the passion folks have for the brand, check out the brewery any given weekend. This place is killing it!

Knee Deep is clearly the brand beer geeks clamor for right now – the hopped up elixirs are just what the locals are looking for. That said, the branding is all over the place and the labels look clunky and unrefined; they haven’t really been able to put beer on tap locally (opting instead to build the bottle sales around the country until their new system comes online, which will happen very soon) and simply have too many beers in the Hoptologist vein. If you’re reading this I assume you’re a beer nerd and care little about branding and packaging (“it’s about the beer, man”). I hear ya. As far as the liquid goes, it’s great – phenomenal actually. A bit over the top in terms of ABV, but what isn’t these days? When your pale ale weighs in at 7%… yeah, they pack a punch. For the energy they put into the brewing and distribution, it would do them well to spend a few bucks on a marketing team to create consistent labels that look professional.

Loomis Basin seems to have taken a page from Brian Ford’s book in terms of labeling and branding – they’re clean, highlight the region’s agricultural past and are consistent. Add to that the overall quality of the beer and it’s easy to see this brewery doing well for years to come. The Gowan crew here will be in business for years to come if they can keep it up.

American River is the true rebel in the group, seemingly misunderstood by today’s hopped-up beer geek crowd. That said, I think David Mathis is situating his brewery in a way that reaches a much broader audience than you or I. Make no mistake, the American River beers are flawless. The Coloma Brown and Firebreak Red are among the best beers made in the entire region today and they’re finding homes in big name accounts like Buffalo Wild Wings for a reason – they’re balanced, full of flavor and oh-so-easy to drink while not being overly boozy or heavy. Their initial offering of the Sunrise IPA is perhaps the saddest failure I’ve seen around here for a while – and it wasn’t entirely Mathis’ fault. The IPA was of the “English” variety, which is an uphill battle in these parts, but was absolutely stunning! For my money, it was the best beer he made. But, with little education for the audience it was seen as inferior or underwhelming and was soon replaced with a traditional American IPA, SSB. While the American River brand may not “take off” in the uber-geeky corners of craft beer, it’s easy to see that the potential for overall growth is there for the places looking for craft beer that patrons can enjoy multiple glasses of without palate fatigue or concerning drunkenness.

On the Nano front, I can’t imagine a better story than Mraz. It’s difficult to lay out exactly what Mike Mraz did right in opening his little hole-in-the-wall brewery in El Dorado Hills, but his overhead is by far the smallest I’ve seen anywhere (with possible exceptions for Rapp or Seventh Sun in Florida). This shoe-string budget operation is putting out amazing beer and the plans for the future are brilliant. This is a beer geek’s joint, no doubt. The only issue they’ll have moving forward is the service, which can be clunky and green at times – it truly feels like a ma-n-pop place, for better or worse (Justin is a cool kid, easily distracted by friends and things going on around him, sometimes he forgets there are customers there looking for a bar experience, or guidance with the beer selection). When it comes to beer, however, this place is doing just fine. I look forward to seeing where Mike takes us in the years to come.

I have little doubt Out of Bounds can figure it out, they’re new and still learning their own system and audience, I’m sure. That said, as beautiful as the brewery is and as great as the service is, there is seemingly little motivation to push the beers out of the door. The addition of a sales rep and a well laid out plan for the area will benefit them greatly, especially as their beers improve. I’ve seen the labels, they’re tight and consistent. This place has real potential.

For the ‘most improved’ section in my made up awards I give you Track 7. Admit it, when they first opened there was initial fanfare and an underlying sense that the beers could be better. Well, fast forward two years and damn if they aren’t just that – better, all around! The Panic IPA right now is a darling of craft beer drinkers, for good reason. LERE, too. They’ve got a great logo they place prominently on all their products; they’re moving beer further away from home and the press they’re getting locally is fantastic. It means more to me to see a brewery improve itself than it does to see a brewer come out of the gate hitting home runs – and these guys have been building a better brand since the day they opened. Bravo. I can’t wait to see where they go in years to come.

Who Will Be Sacramento’s Brewery?

When Rhustaller first came to market they had stated aspirations of becoming “Sacramento’s Beer” and for a time I thought they had potential to realize that. Well, years later it seems the focus has all but disappeared. Sure, 1881 and Captain are great beers, but some time back proprietor JE Paino took his eye off the ball. The hop field project has taken on a mind of its own, which is not a good thing. The new beers are marginal at best. What has this cost the brand? Right now, actually, not much. JE still has the potential to reign in the beer production, focus on the flagship (which I believe is still 1881, right?) and let the other projects fade away. The hop fields are terrible, the beers they make are worse. Conceptually it doesn’t work – beer geeks look at the hops growing on the side of the freeway and wonder “do they taste like exhaust?” where casual beer drinkers have little understanding what they’re even looking at. JE has the connections, resources and knowhow to make the Rhustaller brand into something amazing – I hope he does.

No. For now Sacramento’s beer is still Rubicon IPA. Is it the best made in the area? No, probably not. For IPAs I’d grab the Gold Digger from Auburn Alehouse or House IPA from Berryessa, but these guys are still establishing their roots in the region – a region that is absolutely inundated with new beers and new brewery openings. As we move forward I think the local brewery that figures out quality of product, consistent marketing and a strategic plan for growth and distribution can call themselves Sacramento’s Beer – in five years it’ll be fun to see how far we’ve come.

Writer’s Note: I know I did not write about River City Brewing in the K Street Mall. It wasn’t initially on purpose, but by the time I noticed I chose to just let it roll. 

Top

Representing

Around the country it seems craft-centric beer joints are hosting “tap takeovers”, “pint nights” and “meet the brewer” events – all evenings geared toward promoting a brand or brewery. The events have a certain formula to them, one you have likely witnessed if you’ve been out for such an occasion: brewers or brewery reps show up, may give out a few trinkets, might buy a few beers for guests, likely has a drink or two for themselves before calling it a night. They’re pretty basic soft skills that seem intended to at least let the folks in attendance know the beer or brewery exists.

This known, there is an inherent problem in these events. Often the folks chatting it up with the reps are folks that already know the brands, or the reps. Too many times I have seen (and been party to, I fully admit) beer reps sit with a group of beer geeks as a chance to catch up and maybe tell stories about the industry. This, in itself, is not a problem, it has something of a ‘neutral consequence’ if you will – nobody is offended, but nobody really benefits either. The beers are sold, the customers come and more often than not all parties involved leave feeling good. However, I believe there is a better way to represent your brands at events like these.

With the recent roll outs of major brands like Goose Island and even Hop City Brewing (to a lesser degree) I have seen a better way to represent a brand. For those that don’t already know, Goose Island is now part of the InBev-Anheuser Busch family, whereas Hop City is owned by Canadian giant Moosehead. Craft-loyal drinkers may frown on the ownership of these brands, but that doesn’t mean they’re not successful and able to teach us a few things. Below are a few observations I’ve made with the “big boys” in how they “represent” their brands at events I’ve attended. This isn’t really a judgement on anyone, or even the industry as a whole (the craft beer industry, that is), but more a few areas that might help small brands better represent their product to the general public.

First, have a goal. For those that have taken any sort of business class or seminar, you’ll know that goals should be measurable – so don’t go in with a simple goal of giving trinkets away and having a good time. Do you want 100% of the people in the bar to try your beer? How many new faces should you interact with? How will you define success?

At the before-mentioned Goose Island event it was clear the reps had a 100% goal in mind, and they worked efficiently to make it happen. They purchased pitchers, provided small sampling glasses and made sure that everyone in the bar had at least a taste of the product they were representing. They also conversed casually with everyone they poured for – again, with great efficiency. They brought their own pitchers, paid for the beer up front and worked the entire room in just a couple of hours. It was effective, too. If you consider the cost of the night for them, they spent the equivalent of six or eight pints to make sure everyone in that room had a taste of their beer – just a taste, a few ounces and basic info on what the beer was about. At the end of the night the reps new they had a successful night, not because they had a good time, but because they achieved what they set out to do. It sounds simple, but I’ve never witnessed a small brand brewery work this way at a pint night before.

Second, come to work. Yes, as a bar manager it is awesome to sit and shoot the shit with some of my favorite brewers and beer reps. Yes, as a beer drinker I love it when a beer rep wants to buy me a beer. Yes, when the night is over and I’ve had good beer and good conversation, I feel great about the awesome event I just attended. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Remember, however, that these events aren’t for me – or for you – they’re for the brands that pay to be represented. If you’re a rep and you regularly attend Pint Nights, carve time to shake hands with the owner of the establishment, take time to personally acknowledge the staff behind the bar, but spend at least an equal amount of time ‘working the room’. Bring pitchers, pay to have them filled at the bar, and walk around pouring for the customers – answering silly questions about IBUs and if your beer tastes like Pliny. Just be sure to interact with as many folks as you can – it’s good for the brewery, it’s great for the bar and it is good for you. I can’t tell you how many customers remember just brief encounters with brewery reps – and they’re ALL POSITIVE! Shake hands, be warm, tell them how great your brewery is and let them know the product is available to them outside of this brief encounter (tip: don’t tell them to go to another bar, that’d be very poor behavior, but if you have cans or bottles at the local store – send ‘em that way).

Look, we all like to feel like we matter and right now the craft beer thing is crazy – yes, it’s just a job for many of you, but simply by representing a craft brewery you bring with you a sense of importance. You, in fact, are important. It may seem trivial, but your handshake and eye contact with the folks at the bar is kind of a big deal. No, you won’t be asked for an autograph, but your kindness will be remembered and likely shared with others in future conversations – and hopefully in the beer aisle.

Finally, you don’t need trinkets. I know there are a lot of new breweries that are cash-strapped and can’t afford things like glasses, stickers, coasters and whatnot. That is not a big deal. Really. If you come with your head up, eyes open and a good nature, you’ll find that folks just like good beer and nice people. Sure, there’ll be people that ask for little trinkets, but if you warmly express that you’re small company can’t afford such things right now – that your focus is on making good beer and getting it out to market, all will be well. That said, I do think you should budget a certain amount of money to get beer in people’s mouth – not pints, as mentioned above, but just a four-ounce taste that allows the person to experience your beer while engaging with you, personally.

This is clearly an exciting time in craft beer and right now it may seem easy to promote beer, but it seems that everyone in the industry knows that there is a bubble out there waiting to burst. Whether it does, or not, doesn’t really matter in this context. If we all better represent the industry and the brands we are associated with, I think we’ll be alright.

For all you reps out there day in and day out – you’re amazing people. Honestly. I hope this doesn’t seem critical of the work you do, I simply have a few observations that may make a difference or may not. Clearly this is not rocket science and clearly I didn’t create a new way of selling stuff – but if it’s just a reminder, that’s good enough for me. Cheers!

Top

The Beer Clean Glass

A lot has been mentioned on the shape of beer glassware the past many years, much of it I think has been misrepresented and largely misunderstood (that’s a whole other story thatI have touched on here). Beyond the shape of the glass I believe there is a more important issue to discuss – the proper handling of beer glassware. We might not know it, but we’ve all seen glasses full of beer that are certainly clean by Health Department standards, but definitely not “beer clean” (or “beer ready” for those on the MBAA side of things). These glasses show themselves clear as day – with bubbles that form and gather on the inside wall of the glass, caused by oils, soap residue, or dust that form little nucleation points inside the glass. Worse still, we have all seen glasses with lipstick on them – quite possibly the most atrocious thing one can see on a premium beer. In this brief piece I’ll highlight the causes of these issues and your best remedy as a beer-loving individual.

The ‘beer clean’ glass is important for several reasons. First, it promotes great head retention. Second, it is visually appealing – which we seem to undervalue as beer drinkers for some reason – we love the aroma and taste of beer, but somehow have become apathetic when it comes to its overall appearance. Finally, it maintains proper levels of carbonation in your beer. As we seek to elevate the status of beer beyond a fizzy yellow liquid, we ought to look at more than just the beer – we need to be concerned with the choice of glassware (at least a little) and we need to focus on the stunning beauty a well-poured beer should display.

Lipstick

What can I say, lipstick happens. As a bartender I have let glasses with lipstick (or lip gloss) pass to the customer. When I see it, even if the glass is half full, I discard the beer and set the glass aside for a proper cleaning. To be blunt, it is the duty of the bartender to make sure every glass is clean of someone else’s lips – and I can make excuses for why it happens occasionally, but bottom line is no matter the ‘why’ it is simply unacceptable. If you’re in the business of serving beer, it should be a top priority to make sure lipstick smeared glasses never make their way to the consumer. We have two easy ways to filter these glasses out – when unloading glassware from the racks to the shelves, and before pouring beer into the glass. During the unload stage, just lift the glasses up to the light and look for lips, if you have a lip smear just set aside and deal with it as time allows.

As passionate beer geeks I have seen many of you say what I have been guilty of saying myself, as a consumer – that the alcohol will kill anything harmful and that all is well with the beer. While that part may be accurate, we overlook one important item – it’s gross! We hear a lot of talk about “elevating beer” – well, this is where is starts. No passionate and self-respecting wine enthusiast would accept a world-class glass of wine smeared with someone else’s lips, and neither should we. Speak up, let the bar keeps know and demand that the beer you paid a premium for is worthy of a clean glass.

Scuff Marks

Perhaps the most common offender in the beer-clean glass discussion is the scuff marks inside a shaker glass that has been stacked. Stacking glassware where the exterior of one glass touches the interior of another glass is a common practice – it saves space and most often is never thought about twice. We ought to think about it. The scar marks inside the pint glass create small (or large) nucleation points that create bubbles on the wall – we’ve all seen it. While mostly fine, these little carbonation creators can also make a beer go flat quicker than we might like (granted, most of us seem to have no issue putting down a pint in short order). Perhaps that isn’t the important part. What is important, again, is the stated desire to ‘elevate beer’. If a restaurant or bar is charging $6, $7 or $8 dollars for a premium beer, it should look appealing – sexy, in fact! Presentation is huge in the way we look at food and drink – and sloppy bubbles on the glass looks just like that, sloppy. If you’re paying under $5 for a glass of beer, I assume you have fewer expectations. We all know, however, that the $5 pint of craft beer is growing more and more rare.

The solution here is quite simple – don’t stack your glasses in a way that scars the interior of your glass. If you need to stack glassware, try to do it in a way that doesn’t impact the inside of the glass.

Polishing Glassware

Bars the world over polish their glassware with a dedicated towel. In the wine world it is an important way to remove water marks, making the glass appear pristine. In the beer world, this is a practice that should be avoided, or at least modified. Using a towel to polish the inside of the glass will no doubt leave dust inside the glass, even if you don’t see it with your naked eye. This dust becomes apparent when you add beer, this is when you see bubbles form in nice, uniform patterns that tend to go up at a 45-degree angle. As a rule, and this is important for anything you serve, the inside of the glass belongs to your customer and the outside of the glass belongs to you – once the glassware is clean, you should never have reason to touch the inside of it… not with your hand, not with a towel. I’d generally add to this rule that the bottom exterior of the glass belongs to the barkeep. Yes, it is a good and necessary practice to polish the exterior of your glassware, removing finger prints and smudges, but just be sure to leave the inside of the glass alone. It should be obvious, but if you find debris on the interior of a glass that has already been washed, remove the debris and re-wash the glass.

Drying Glassware

This isn’t a practice I see a lot these days, but some folks out there still like to dry glassware with a towel. I suppose that’s all fine and good at a home setting, but not behind the bar. Let your glasses air dry, sure to have a drying rack or mat beneath the glass to allow for air flow. For starters, the towel you use to dry glassware is likely dirty and has no place on anyone’s glass. Secondly, much like the polishing practice listed above, you really just introduce dust to the interior of the glass.

Dedicated Beer Glass

This is one area I am hesitant to speak on, because much of it has to do with space and necessity, but if you’re selling premium beer for a premium price, you need to have dedicated glassware. As mentioned above, some bars treat their spirits and wine glasses different than we want our beer glasses treated. I know of a few places that use the same glassware for high-end wines and beer – which would be fine if they didn’t insist on polishing every piece of glassware inside and out. If you’ve made the investment to carry world-class beer, it at least deserves dedicated glassware that is beer clean/beer ready.

Closing Thoughts

In general, the Health Department standards for glassware washing will ensure that the glass you drink from in free from contaminants and things that may make you ill – rest assured, the glass is likely cleaner than it needs to be. That said, there is a difference between a clean glass and a ‘beer clean’ glass, and as the number of craft beer bars grows, so too does the need for this education.

If you’re a home bar drinker, getting your glasses beer clean may prove to be more challenging. I’d start by recommending that you use dedicated beer glassware – don’t use your beer glasses for coffee, or juice, or whatever. Next, I would recommend not hand-washing with dish soap – dish soap is terribly difficult to rinse out and will limit the beer’s ability to form a proper crown. I know friends that use straight hot water, and the brilliant beer mind that is Stan Hieronymus has a few recommendations of his own (baking soda, for instance). The biggest thing at home is to be sure everything you use to clean the glass is dedicated to glassware – that means towels, brushes, whatever – if it’s used to clean your beer glass, it’s only used to clean your beer glass.

Top

The Quest to Find Sacramento’s Beer

This piece is an idea I’ve floated for more than a year – it took a mind of its own and became something of a commentary and critique of the brewing region I live in… Sacramento. It’s what I believe to be an honest look at our recent history, focusing on how we got where we are and what I see as challenges and opportunities for every involved. Its a snoozer of a piece, 3,000 words long. There’s nothing mind-blowing or damning here, just my own thoughts. If you’re in the area and have feedback on the piece, by all means let me know. I must say strongly, these are my own thoughts and observations and they do not represent any affiliation with any of my employers or organizations. So, if you don’t like it, yell at me directly – my email is Rick [at] PacificBrewNews [dot] com.

Where Did We Come From?

I’ve written before about the recent and not-so-recent Sacramento brewing history – it’s been full of ups and downs, amazing peaks and tragic valleys. While the trend right now in the area is focused on very small startups (nano-breweries) and excessively hopped IPAs (doubles and triples and whatnot), this isn’t where we came from. I won’t rehash the demise of some of our great breweries, but instead will look at the stalwarts of our region’s beer culture.

The iconic Rubicon Brewing Company opened its doors in 1987. At the time there was another brewery in town, Hogshead, which was known by the few passionate beer drinkers that lived here at the time for its shoddy quality of product. Hogshead was a massive disappointment, run by a man name Jim Schlueter that came to the region with a very good brewing background that included time at Schlitz (he also started River City Brewing, which was a short-lived venture in Sacramento and wholly unrelated to the current River City Brewing on K Street). Hogshead was Schlueter’s second brewery in Sacramento and he was known to say “I’d rather brew by tongue than by computer.”  Well, without getting into too much detail, the beers brewed at Hogshead simply weren’t cutting it for the locals. When a group of homebrewers (members of the influential home brew club, Gold Country Brewers Association) saw bright, shiny fermentation tanks being installed at the corner of Capitol Ave and 20th Street the news spread quick – an honest-to-goodness brewery was coming to town!

Headed by Ed Brown and Phil Moeller Rubicon opened with a splash. According to the Brewers Almanac there were 49 breweries in America in 1987 – 13 of which were dubbed “Specialty Breweries”. (Stepping one step back, the beer-drinking public was only five years removed from Grant’s Pub’s opening, which was the nation’s first brewpub since prohibition [meaning, you could drink and eat onsite] – these were the earliest days of modern American craft beer.) Shortly after opening Rubicon made its mark on the national craft beer scene – winning back-to-back gold medals for its IPA when the category was first introduced at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in 1989 and 1990. The little brewery on Capitol Ave. also assisted in the earliest production beers at Bear Republic and hosted many brewery interns that have gone on to have successful brewing careers of their own.

Today it’s easy to overlook Rubicon. While it’s still popular with the neighborhood crowd and is appreciated in out-of-town markets like San Diego and the Bay Area, the local beer community seems to have moved on in search for something fresher and hoppier – and that gets more discussion on Facebook, Twitter or a number of beer-related websites. More on the current state of Rubicon soon…

Shortly after Rubicon opened its doors Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hubsch came on to the Sacramento scene with its brand of German-style lagers and wheat beers. Many things have changed since its opening in 1999, most notably the ownership – which is hard to diagram. The Davis location of the operation for years had a chummy relationship with the UC Davis brewing program, but  with the university’s opening of a pilot brewery on campus the relationship has changed slightly – although, there’s no doubt brewing students are finding their way to Sudwerk. Regardless, today Sudwerk has what I believe to be the most beautiful brewhouse in the region – but it’s a beast! They also make what I consider the best lagers in the region, overall (hard to beat Auburn Alehouse’s Gold Country Pilsner).

Not far from Rubicon today is Hoppy Brewing Company, which launched its first beer in 1994. The early beers were contract-brewed (not a dig, there’s a ton of great contract beer out there) and the earliest days of the brewing operation saw commercial success. Troy Paski, the founder and owner of Hoppy, eventually opened his own brewery in 1999, having survived a truly tumultuous period of crappy small batch beer produced by many around the nation that nearly sunk the entire industry. The Hoppy brand has seen modest success, but seems to have never captured the euphoric embrace of Rubicon.

1995 saw Sam Petersen open the first of two locations for Sacramento Brewing Company, a brewery that immediately made a splash on the beer scene. Peterson was a graduate of the American Brewers Guild and spent years in the hospitality industry – Sac Brew reflected this knowhow for years. Sam passed away in early 2007 and the company later traded hands. Without Petersen at the helm, and with the national economy spiraling out of control, Sacramento Brewing was forced to close its doors in late 2009 – but not before winning more awards and accolades than any other brewery in the area (including GABF and World Beer Cup honors).

Rounding out the 1990s in our local beer chapter was Beermann’s Beerwerks, which opened in 1999 and closed ten years later. Beermann’s was my first local brewery and much of my thoughts are skewed or biased by that fact. In its run, Beermann’s racked up a number of regional awards and appreciated modest successes locally – they were a staple for the tech community in Roseville for years (home to Hewlett Packard, Oracle, NEC and other high tech firms). Like many closures in this industry, the talent in the brewhouse moved on to discover new successes – most notably Brian Ford (Beermann’s founding brewer) who now owns the massively popular Auburn Alehouse. In 2014 another Beermann’s alum, Andy Klein, will open his own brewery in Roseville (Monk’s Cellar).

Before moving on to the next section, a quick word on the Gold Country Brewers Association, which was founded in 1982! In its hay-day the club won California home brew club of the year honors twice and has built a network of home brewing knowhow that is second-to-none. Through years of dysfunction and infighting, the club never realized its full potential to influence the region’s beer scene like we see in clubs like HAZE, DOZE or Maltose Falcons. There is still hope for the club, it has a healthy membership and some new blood. I mention this club because they, at one time, were great supporters and influencers of our local beer scene. In fact, Scott Cramlett (long-time brewmaster at Rubicon) was a young home brewer in the club when he was offered a gig at the brewery helping Phil out. The importance of our homebrew club cannot be overstated – seriously great talent here.

It would also be folly to not give a not to the enormous beer knowledge that rests between the ears of two regional heavyweights – Dr. Lewis at UC Davis at the Anheuser Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science, Charlie Bamforth. I’ve been told by most reliable sources that Dr. Lewis was around for the earliest days of our region’s craft beer boom – and I’ve seen him several times hosting national brewing legends. And of course, Charlie can be seen on TV and heard on the radio enjoying the fine beers created right here in the area – he’s a wonderful cheerleader for the region’s breweries.

All this is to say, we have a much more mature brewing scene than I believe we give ourselves credit for. We have the talent and knowhow that the vast majority of beer towns around the country don’t have – we’ve just never found a way to capitalize on that to fully become the beer city we ought to have been fifteen years ago.

Where We Are Now

Of the brewers mentioned above only one seems to be making moves in 2014 – Rubicon. With the opening of a large production facility in West Sacramento in 2013 they are poised to distribute to markets near and far. The brewery lacks focus in marketing and has avoided much change in the beers’ overall makeup. Where the market locally has moved to embrace more pale, light-bodied IPAs with an intense hop aroma, Rubicon has stuck to its guns in creating a clean, caramel-y sweet, medium-full bodied IPA that is sticky with hops in the finish. A great beer, no doubt, but seemingly dated by today’s standards. For the record, I am not suggesting any brewery chase trends – we see it far too often. Trends change. I love the perpetual focus on quality Rubicon has achieved. I would love to see Rubicon own their history and place in the California craft beer market in their PR campaigns and marketing materials – they have earned the right to be proud of their leadership in the industry. The other stuff, like pint glasses and whatnot, they’re just distractions to the overall quality and historical significance the brewery should be promoting.

Sudwerk today seems to be in a state of change, which is about ten years late if you ask me. The biggest change is in the branding, which has dropped the clumsy Sudwerk Privatbrauerei Hubsch name in favor of the friendlier Sudwerk Brewing Co. They are also coming out with some more hopped-up concoctions, trying to keep up with the Jones’. This is a major disappointment for me. The problem Sudwerk has experienced isn’t the beer, but the overall marketing and market presence (they don’t have one). I would love to see Sudwerk stick to their guns on the lagers and traditional beers, but hire an honest-to-goodness rep and create a name for itself the old-fashioned way (sorry, Facebook and Twitter are great for new brands, but lousy for rebranding purposes, I believe). Just like I would suggest to Rubicon, I believe Sudwerk can and should own their brand and their beer – it’s fantastic, refreshing, light and perfect for a hot summer’s day like we have in NorCal. Sure, create a snappy IPA that is dry and dripping with hops (their current version isn’t cutting it in the market), but let that not overshadow the beauty that is a well-crafted lager.

Where Rubicon and Sudwerk are in states of change, Hoppy seems stagnant. This is too bad, really, as there is no reason NOT to re-brand the dated labels and logos, along with that gawdawful website, while creating beers that will make a splash in the market. There is no doubt Hoppy’s got the talent – Ed’s been brewing for years and absolutely makes clean, easy-drinking beers. I wouldn’t worry about branding if the focus of Hoppy was solely selling drinks across the bar, but with a competent distributor like they have in Mussetter they could really blow it out to the water with a few substantial tweaks. Again, own the history and long-time presence in the area – tell your story in a concise, marketable fashion – or leave the telling to the new upstarts knocking on your door.

The New Generation

Where to begin? I’ve written before (here and in print) about the new guys in town over the past couple of years: Berryessa, Black Dragon, Bike Dog, Jackrabbit, Device, Roseville, Out of Bounds, New Helvetia, Mraz, Goat Hill, Knee Deep, Loomis Basin, Track 7, American River and even Auburn Alehouse. These represent the new wave of brewing in the region and each are clamoring to reach a thirsty audience – the same thirsty audience. Keep in mind we’re about to see Yolo Brewing, Twelve Rounds, Boneshaker and more open shop this year.

No doubting we will have a saturation issue in the region when it comes to beer shelves in bottle shops and grocery stores. This isn’t a bubble, but a paradigm shift. There is little doubt that our region can handle more community pubs that make and sell beer onsite, but the notion that every brewery in the area will have shelf space at the local bottle shop is a bit of a stretch. Yes, the standouts will always have room in the beer aisle, but the idea local bottle shop and bar owners buy just because it’s local is going to be challenged very soon.

Who’s doing it right? Clearly Knee Deep, Auburn Alehouse, Loomis Basin and Berryessa are the leaders of the pack right now. Track 7, American River and Mraz are making waves, too. The others are either too new to know, or just not making the grade at this time. Let’s explore a bit more.

For overall marketing and quality I think Auburn Alehouse is doing the best job right now. Yes, the beers are great, but what I really like is how focused they are in the packaging and marketing of the beer. Clean, easy to read, industrial looking labels adorn every bottle they have with names that for the most part play off the brewery’s historic nature. Brian Ford and crew are straight kicking ass.

Berryessa, for my money, is right behind Auburn in the way they have come to market. They don’t bottle beers, so labeling isn’t a factor, but the beers and passion they have are absolutely top-notch! Chris Miller, the brewmaster, has a serious love of hops and makes beer that is bold, brash and terrific. Bars around the region have embraced the hop-forward nature of the House IPA and Double Tap double IPA. The amber, saison and other beers in the stable never disappoint, either. And if you doubt the passion folks have for the brand, check out the brewery any given weekend. This place is killing it!

Knee Deep is clearly the brand beer geeks clamor for right now – the hopped up elixirs are just what the locals are looking for. That said, the branding is all over the place and the labels look clunky and unrefined; they haven’t really been able to put beer on tap locally (opting instead to build the bottle sales around the country until their new system comes online, which will happen very soon) and simply have too many beers in the Hoptologist vein. If you’re reading this I assume you’re a beer nerd and care little about branding and packaging (“it’s about the beer, man”). I hear ya. As far as the liquid goes, it’s great – phenomenal actually. A bit over the top in terms of ABV, but what isn’t these days? When your pale ale weighs in at 7%… yeah, they pack a punch. For the energy they put into the brewing and distribution, it would do them well to spend a few bucks on a marketing team to create consistent labels that look professional.

Loomis Basin seems to have taken a page from Brian Ford’s book in terms of labeling and branding – they’re clean, highlight the region’s agricultural past and are consistent. Add to that the overall quality of the beer and it’s easy to see this brewery doing well for years to come. The Gowan crew here will be in business for years to come if they can keep it up.

American River is the true rebel in the group, seemingly misunderstood by today’s hopped-up beer geek crowd. That said, I think David Mathis is situating his brewery in a way that reaches a much broader audience than you or I. Make no mistake, the American River beers are flawless. The Coloma Brown and Firebreak Red are among the best beers made in the entire region today and they’re finding homes in big name accounts like Buffalo Wild Wings for a reason – they’re balanced, full of flavor and oh-so-easy to drink while not being overly boozy or heavy. Their initial offering of the Sunrise IPA is perhaps the saddest failure I’ve seen around here for a while – and it wasn’t entirely Mathis’ fault. The IPA was of the “English” variety, which is an uphill battle in these parts, but was absolutely stunning! For my money, it was the best beer he made. But, with little education for the audience it was seen as inferior or underwhelming and was soon replaced with a traditional American IPA, SSB. While the American River brand may not “take off” in the uber-geeky corners of craft beer, it’s easy to see that the potential for overall growth is there for the places looking for craft beer that patrons can enjoy multiple glasses of without palate fatigue or concerning drunkenness.

On the Nano front, I can’t imagine a better story than Mraz. It’s difficult to lay out exactly what Mike Mraz did right in opening his little hole-in-the-wall brewery in El Dorado Hills, but his overhead is by far the smallest I’ve seen anywhere (with possible exceptions for Rapp or Seventh Sun in Florida). This shoe-string budget operation is putting out amazing beer and the plans for the future are brilliant. This is a beer geek’s joint, no doubt. The only issue they’ll have moving forward is the service, which can be clunky and green at times – it truly feels like a ma-n-pop place, for better or worse (Justin is a cool kid, easily distracted by friends and things going on around him, sometimes he forgets there are customers there looking for a bar experience, or guidance with the beer selection). When it comes to beer, however, this place is doing just fine. I look forward to seeing where Mike takes us in the years to come.

I have little doubt Out of Bounds can figure it out, they’re new and still learning their own system and audience, I’m sure. That said, as beautiful as the brewery is and as great as the service is, there is seemingly little motivation to push the beers out of the door. The addition of a sales rep and a well laid out plan for the area will benefit them greatly, especially as their beers improve. I’ve seen the labels, they’re tight and consistent. This place has real potential.

For the ‘most improved’ section in my made up awards I give you Track 7. Admit it, when they first opened there was initial fanfare and an underlying sense that the beers could be better. Well, fast forward two years and damn if they aren’t just that – better, all around! The Panic IPA right now is a darling of craft beer drinkers, for good reason. LERE, too. They’ve got a great logo they place prominently on all their products; they’re moving beer further away from home and the press they’re getting locally is fantastic. It means more to me to see a brewery improve itself than it does to see a brewer come out of the gate hitting home runs – and these guys have been building a better brand since the day they opened. Bravo. I can’t wait to see where they go in years to come.

Who Will Be Sacramento’s Brewery?

When Rhustaller first came to market they had stated aspirations of becoming “Sacramento’s Beer” and for a time I thought they had potential to realize that. Well, years later it seems the focus has all but disappeared. Sure, 1881 and Captain are great beers, but some time back proprietor JE Paino took his eye off the ball. The hop field project has taken on a mind of its own, which is not a good thing. The new beers are marginal at best. What has this cost the brand? Right now, actually, not much. JE still has the potential to reign in the beer production, focus on the flagship (which I believe is still 1881, right?) and let the other projects fade away. The hop fields are terrible, the beers they make are worse. Conceptually it doesn’t work – beer geeks look at the hops growing on the side of the freeway and wonder “do they taste like exhaust?” where casual beer drinkers have little understanding what they’re even looking at. JE has the connections, resources and knowhow to make the Rhustaller brand into something amazing – I hope he does.

No. For now Sacramento’s beer is still Rubicon IPA. Is it the best made in the area? No, probably not. For IPAs I’d grab the Gold Digger from Auburn Alehouse or House IPA from Berryessa, but these guys are still establishing their roots in the region – a region that is absolutely inundated with new beers and new brewery openings. As we move forward I think the local brewery that figures out quality of product, consistent marketing and a strategic plan for growth and distribution can call themselves Sacramento’s Beer – in five years it’ll be fun to see how far we’ve come.

Writer’s Note: I know I did not write about River City Brewing in the K Street Mall. It wasn’t initially on purpose, but by the time I noticed I chose to just let it roll. 

Top

Navel Gazing at its Best

An abundantly talented Celebrator Beer Newscolleague of mine, Brandon Hernández, has a new and thought-provoking (for people with blogs, which I believe is about 70% of people online) piece online discussing “Truth in beer reporting” – which is a call for transparency and honest reporting among beer journalists (go read it! Here’s the link again. It’s way better than the drivel you’re about to be exposed to). I don’t believe anyone can doubt the need ethics of honest reporting, the tricky part is knowing what the hell that means. In his piece, Hernández cites the common practice of “comp’d” beer for bloggers and writers alike. Let’s not fuss about this one, if you’re out to “review” a brewery, buy your own damned beer. If you’re there to simply report on the facts that the brewery exists, makes beer and has equipment of varying sizes, I don’t know that a free beer will skew your view of the reporting.

This is where the rub is, isn’t it? Are we, as bloggers and writers in the beer world, automatically “journalists”? A quick glance at what is being written suggests the answer is an emphatic “no”. Oh, but then it gets tricky. Let’s just run through a few quick highlights of the kinds of beer writing that exist online today.

Beer Reviews – I worked once for a large national beer magazine and a big part of my job was beer reviews. In this job the vast majority of beers were submitted to us by brewers, unsolicited. They sent us beer, we gave ‘em a fair shake, the world turned. Our tastings were blind and done with a panel, so the idea that the free beers would sway our scores was moot. That’s a whole hell of a lot different than the practice that is far too common where a blogger / beer writer sends brewers emails or calls asking for them to send beer IN EXCHANGE for a beer review. It’s that little difference that makes a world of difference. If you ask for compensation of any kind in return for press, that’s about as backwards as you can get. Especially if you’re not disclosing right up front that you’re reviewing a free beer.

Brewery Openings & Profiles – How many of these have you read in the past year or two? (god, how many have I written?) These follow a pretty base formula – you discuss the exterior a bit, mention the size of the brewery (kettle and fermentor sizes), talk about the tasting area if there is one and hopefully get a few nuggets about the trials of tribulations that accompany every brewery opening. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a few moments with the brewer for a sound bite or two. Now this is where things go sideways. If you’re just reporting on the opening, following the above-mentioned formula, you’ll often find conversations happen better over a beer. In this situation, it’s just a beer shared over stories. Now, if you cross over to another aspect of writing – say, cheerleading, then that beer could be an offense to your credibility. If your writing praises the quality of the beer, or overstates its significance (“this beer here is a game-changer in our community” type of thing), then the free beer absolutely should be disclosed. Why? Because free beer tastes better, duh! Trust me – when you’re sitting with a brewer, shooting the shit and enjoying the day – it’s a great friggin’ beer! Bring same beer home to a few friends, then watch how quickly that beer develops flaws.

Critiquing – If you’re goal is to cover your local beer scene, or create some sort of definitive guide to a regional beer culture, you’re moving from a “just the facts, ma’am” approach to the role of a critic. Critics are often misunderstood, especially in the food or service world (which breweries and bars are a part of). For starters, your critique of an establishment ought not be based on a sole experience. If you’re just passing through and want to document the facility, keep it in the “Profile” section of writing. The other thing legitimate reviewers do is pay for their own damn meals and drinks – often never exposing their identity or letting the staff know they are there on an official capacity. If you want to talk with the owner/ brewer, that’s cool. Introduce yourself, let them know who you write for, and know that you’ve ceased being an objective reviewer… for the most part. Yes, you can write objectively about places where people know your name, but the challenge becomes exponentially more difficult – especially if you’re hoping the owner, or business, succeeds or fails based on your knowledge of the players involved. Further, your critiques ought to be based on something measurable. If you’re not familiar at a base level with the style of beer, target audience, and proper brewing techniques, you should really shy away from anything over-arching – like saying a beer is “bad” or “not for my palate” or even “could use more hops”. There are many a beer I’ve had in the past year or so that were fantastic beers, but clearly not brewed to the stated style. There are also many beers out there made to style, but falling on the light end of every category (color, hops, malt, alcohol). Often this is done deliberately, to appeal to the local market, or based on a more traditional interpretation of the style – how often have you heard someone say about a 6.5% 50 IBU  IPA, “this is good, but drinks more like a Pale Ale than an IPA”. Perhaps the worst I’ve heard was multiple criticisms of an “English-style” IPA that it wasn’t ‘citrusy’ enough, that maybe some trendy American hop variety would make it better… oh dear lord, that was a great English IPA.

Where was I? Right, know your shit. So what if you didn’t like a beer that was properly made. So what if you think it “isn’t as good as Pliny”, or “used to be better” – is it a beer that is stylistically accurate, appealing to the brewer’s local and regular audience – does it pay the friggin bills?! If yes, then the brewer has done his or her job. Fantastic.

Oh yes, and critiquing should be done on your own dime… discretely. That’s the gist of this entire point.

Editorializing – Let’s assume you’re fairly plugged into your region’s craft beer scene, that most (if not all) brewery and craft beer bar owners know your name and that you have a good working knowledge of the business. At this point you’ll want to start playing the editorial game – and this right here is the most dangerous and contentious place to play, one I have tried to avoid at all costs, but feel I will get sucked into at any moment.

What do I mean?

What if you want to start “ranking” the best brewers in your region? What is your criteria, and how open should you be about your personal relationships with the top and bottom brewers on your list? Is it important to list that the favorite joint of yours often comps  you a beer with your meal? Is it valuable to state that you have a rocky relationship with the brewers at the bottom of your list? Do you believe these are even related? Ah, the can of worms…

To be sure, you had best have a measurable criteria for any sort of comparison between brewers that lists one better than another – and the list should be clearly spelled out, and removed of bias. Where bias exists, you absolutely need to address it clearly. (To be absolutely clear, I suck at this). What areas of quality can you measure? Beer, of course. Service. Pricing. Location. Hours. Selection. Cleanliness. All of those can be measured easily, without bias – just be certain to be consistent.

On “negative” reviews – I’m all for them. IF they are grounded in those measurable areas just listed, spelled out articulately and based on more than just your and your buddy’s opinion after one visit on a busy Saturday afternoon when the server didn’t have enough time to woo over your beer knowledge, or presumed importance. (Yeah, I remember you! You can read all about that on Yelp!)

So, all of this is to say that each and every one of us that writes about beer has our own voice and objectives. If you fancy yourself a reviewer, you ought to be forthright in addressing whether or not a beer reviewed was purchased or donated. If you’re simply covering an opening of a brewery/ bar, or profiling an establishment, by all means enjoy a beer poured by the owner and shoot the shit – and for anyone that thinks this isn’t journalism, know that some of country’s best and most celebrated journalists often enjoyed a drink or seven with the subjects they wrote about. If you see yourself as a critic, be discrete, pay for your tab and tip you server. If you choose to accept free meals or drinks, say so – even if it’s just a “I’d like to thank so-and-so for generously picking up our drinks”. Just spell it out. If you’re playing an editor for your region’s beer scene, if you begin calling out your perceived poor performers, then by all means possible list any bias you might have going in to such an endeavor and avoid any personal attacks, or criticisms that are not clearly measured out and fact-based. If you’re simply a blogger on a budget that loves free beer – god bless ya, we know who you are anyway – have fun with it.

Now, on ‘journalism’ – let’s face it, there are few of us that studied journalism in school. Here’s what I know, however. A) document your interviews and check your facts. B) You can be close to your subject without being influenced by your subject, but you must acknowledge that the possibility exists that your relationship may compromise your reporting, therefore. C) Disclose possible influences or biases in your writings. D) Yes, free shit can and often does influence your view on things. E) Again, however, if you acknowledge and disclose any and all gifts, you can hopefully maintain your truthiness. (Seriously, spell-check thinks “truthiness” is a word? What the…)

I fully admit when I got into this whole beer writing thing, I was clueless. Yes, I was a technical writer for years and could string together coherent sentences, but no way in hell could what I did early on be considered legitimate journalism (geebus, that was only seven years ago!). I can’t thank enough the patient magazine editors that have taught me just how little I know about writing and journalism. Hopefully I have taken those lessons to heart – hopefully the words I write are trustworthy, honest and transparent. Hopefully all of ours are.

Top

Sell Me a Beer – An Open Letter to Beer Sales Folk

In my day job behind the bar I encounter brewery reps and distributors pretty regularly, all hoping to sell me a beer. While distributors seem to have a handle on things, I’ve noticed more and more that our local brewery reps struggle with a few basic concepts. Now, it is entirely possible that I see a soft sell side of folks, maybe when they go to a more hostile place they turn up the heat (admittedly we’re a pretty soft sell for small-batch brewers, we rotate our taps and love good American beer). An exchange this week led me to think perhaps it was time to write a post of tips and tricks in the art of selling beer to a craft beer account. This is based solely on my observations, take ‘em or leave ‘em – I’m just trying to help. Please note: none of this will help you in higher-volume accounts like sports bars or chain retail accounts – for those you’ll most likely need a whole different strategy.

Own Your Brand

Of all the reps I’ve seen there is one that I remember above all. He represented a brand that was struggling to keep up in today’s craft beer scene, but the beer he sold was clean and delicious – honestly, a beer I quite enjoyed. The man walked in the front door, sort of shuffling his feet a bit, and made his way up to the bar where he asked for someone that he could sell beer to. What happened next made my jaw drop – he literally said “I doubt you’re interested in our brand”. Hello? I think what he meant was, “I know we’re not as cool as some of the other guys” or “I’m sorry to bother you with a brand that doesn’t get a lot of social media buzz” – in essence, “I’m sorry we’re not the trendy beer you’re looking for”.

For starters, who the hell says that? Second, even if you believe what you’re saying, you’re being paid to be proud of the product you’re selling me – own it! Tell me how clean your beer is. Tell me how great the history of your established brewery is. Remind me why it’s a good thing to not have another ‘extreme’ beer. Sell me your friggin’ beer! I tried to walk the poor sap through these hoops, but I doubt it sank in – he didn’t last long in his job, but how could he? He was clearly defeated, resigned to selling a great beer he just didn’t know how to promote… nearly ashamed that he represented a beer that was just good.

That’s a sad state of where our ‘craft’ beer scene is today. There are a few hot brands that everyone has convinced themselves that they need to try, leaving out a huge portion of the industry that simply make good, clean beer – and there’s something beautiful about these beers, by the way.

Do you represent a brand that was once popular? Do you have a brand that focuses on the traditional styles – lagers, ambers, browns? Do you not have a new billion-IBU triple IPA? Who the hell cares? Remind owners of bars that the vast majority of beer drinkers like a good lager, love a clean amber ale and have a soft spot for a traditional brown ale. It may not be the trendiest beer out there, but if it’s of any quality at all, I’m certain there’s an audience for it.

Know My Business

More recently I had a guy stop in “for lunch” and to chat me up a bit, this happens all the time and it’s wonderful. We talked and bullshitted a bit, then it was time for him to move along. As he was leaving he did what nearly every small brewery rep does, tells me what’s available from his brewery and asked if I wanted anything. This seems to be the standard soft sell technique.

Look, it doesn’t take but a few seconds to scan the list of available beers we have on at my work, we only have sixteen wonderful taps. A cursory observation should tell you we have a handful of IPAs and Double IPAs, a Wheat Beer, an Amber Ale, a Brown Ale, Porter/Stout, Lager and a few other common styles. Yes, they’re all great. Yes, we’re also picky – the liquid has to be great, regardless of the brand. Here’s an idea: sell me on one of those taps. You have an amber ale that we don’t already have on tap? Ask me what we’re putting on after that particular beer is gone, but don’t do it in a way that demeans anything we have on currently – that’s a major no-no that happens far too often, it’s a conversation stopper for me. It doesn’t need to be forceful; it can be inquisitive if you’re of the soft sell personality (which is common in the craft industry) – just ask me what we’re putting on after the amber ale. If I don’t know, then ask if we would be interested in your amber ale. It won’t be 100% successful, I promise you that, but you’ve opened a dialogue that doesn’t exist when you simply give me a list of available beers, you could actually be helping me out – which is a major plus for most people that haven’t thoroughly thought out the plans for each and every tap handle. Not all bar managers are the same, obviously, but it’s not a bad idea to start a conversation about a particular beer rather than leave me with a list of products I’ll have to remember down the road.

Know Your Product

Of the memorable experiences we’ve had with reps, this guy takes the cake on cluelessness. He came in on a random weekday to sell us a beer that was set to be released in the near future. The beer was similar to another beer they had in our rotation, so we asked for more info: he literally said to us that “[Beer A] is great, but [Beer B] is awesome.” Pressed for more info, he said that one beer was a little darker than the other, he thought. Pressed further, he finally admitted that he hasn’t actually tasted the beer, but it’s gonna be great.

Now look, I don’t expect every rep to know every last detail on every single beer in their portfolio, but holy shit… If you have an upcoming beer that is similar to a beer you already have, it might be a good idea to know what differentiates brand A from brand B, more than “it’s a little darker”. If you ask why this is important, keep in mind that taps are treated like real estate and why would a bar manager take up two valuable taps for beers from the same company that are very similar?

I sold beer for a while and know I wasn’t that good at it. I was the typical craft guy that did the super soft sell, knowing what I had to sell in my portfolio and hoping the bar manager cared enough to listen (that right there was pretty much the gist of my sales plan, which worked alarmingly well for this industry). It’s a tough business, facing rejection is a daily occurrence and with the current influx of small-batch brands, it’s just getting harder and harder to sell good beer. I wish I knew then what I know now. Please don’t take this as condemnation, but more a set of things to consider when selling to the next craft account. Further, I know too that craft bars and bottle shops are growing increasingly difficult to work with, there may well be 20 bars in town that want the beer you have only five kegs of. I get that and appreciate the way many of you handle  yourselves in the most professional and diplomatic way. Keep up the good work.

Cheers!

*Contrary to some popular belief, I do not own or even run a bar. I work with an amazing owner and great staff together, and together I feel we do a bang-up job. While this and other pieces are written in first-person, I do not mean to suggest that I am a sole decision maker at my work. Locals know this, I just want to make sure you do, too. 
Top

Own Your Bar

There are a lot of new craft beer bars popping up everywhere in America these days, a welcome addition for any beer loving local. That stated, there seems to be a growing number of craft bars that seem to love good liquid, but are unsure or unwilling to do what is necessary to ensure the beer and business is treated right. I’m short on time, so this can’t be exhaustive, but here are a few things I have seen that I want to get off my chest.

Own Your Taps

This is the only way I know how to express a number of related issues at craft bars around the country. Owning your taps means just that – take ownership of them! Maintain them – it is your bar and your responsibility to make sure ALL lines are cleaned and properly maintained. No, you don’t have to do the work yourself (although it’ll save you money in the long run), but you also can’t rely on the big distributors to care for lines that aren’t theirs – carrying products that aren’t theirs. If you carry local beers brewed by new/small brewers, they likely don’t have the time or capacity to clean the beer lines. You know what, that’s fine because that is not their job! You want clean beer lines? Make it happen, it’s the cost of doing business and if you’re business features these small brewers without distributors, then spend the bucks and get the lines cleaned as they should (every two weeks). If that’s too much work, then just stick with the beers sold by the distributors that will clean the lines as a service to you. Remember, just because the big guys clean lines does not mean that’s their job – they’re your lines.

Know Your ABVs

A disturbing trend I’ve seen lately is an obsession with high alcohol beers. In one case recently, I walked into an eatery at lunch that had sixteen taps – the lowest alcohol beer weighed in at an alarming 8%! Look, we all love a good stiff beer, but as a responsible bar owner/ manager you simply must embrace the better beers of average strength. Additionally, if you have a high-abv brew on tap, it is good business to put the beer in a glass smaller than 16-ounces. Remember, the goal of your establishment should not be to get your patrons drunk as quick as possible. For starters, you will actually sell less beer, but more importantly is good stewardship to be mindful of the community around you.

Stand By Your Brand

By brand I am referring to your business, not any particular brand of beer. To stand by that isn’t always easy, however. There are times when you will have to make a tough call and pull a beer off the line – be it because it’s flawed, or doesn’t move, or is simply undrinkable. You should be able to assess the quality of a beer when it is tapped, but if that fails you can easily see where issues may occur based on consumer feedback. If you choose to keep a bad beer on tap because you insist on getting your money’s worth, you run the risk of damaging your brand – something far more valuable than the profits on a single keg of beer.

There are a couple easy things you can do to ensure quality. First, as mentioned above, clean the lines religiously – this includes regular deep cleaning of faucets and couplers. Second, know the keg dates and style requirements related to age. If you have a pilsner (or other pale lager), pale ale or IPA that is more than 90 days old, you shouldn’t accept it. Of course there are styles that age gracefully, if you don’t know what they are then just make it a goal to never pour beer more than 90 days old. Finally, minimize time your kegs spend at high temperatures – you don’t want your beer warming up, that will increase the perceived age process and diminish the quality of your beer.

Just like the best brewers occasionally have to dump a batch of beer that got away, there will be times you’ll be well-served to simply write a keg of beer off. It’s good business.

Maintain Order

This is clearly the most difficult item on this to do list, maintaining control of your bar. It’s easy to cede control to employees, to regular customers and to your distributors – it often happens slow enough you don’t see it’s happened. When you opened your doors you likely had a list of rules, hopefully on paper, but at least in your head – things you said you didn’t want to have happen. Of course, priorities change and the realities of business often force subtle or drastic tweaks in your business plan. That’s not what I’m talking about. What you must avoid is to let others dictate your business – be it in the form of a certain brand loyalty, giveaways, or customers that feel overly entitled to your business (unruly behavior, demanding or simply dismissive to you and your staff – those that have the feel of someone owed something more than your gratitude and good service). This is very, very touchy because you need to always appreciate the loyalty of your customers, but you cannot yourself become beholden to them at the detriment of your business. Do you find yourself looking the other way when someone becomes rude or overtly intoxicated? Do you not check IDs when a regular brings in a young friend? Do you allow yourself to be talked out of a free beer at the chiding of someone you know by name? Balance here is key – we live in a world where an occasional free pint is good service, where we must embrace all sorts of people with all sorts of baggage and be grateful that they chose to spend their hard-earned cash at your establishment. That said, it’s imperative that you recognize these behaviors and know when you’re being generous and when you’re being had.

Be Your Own Person

Final note on this abbreviated post of more than 1,000 words – be comfortable with the bar and the customers you have. Does another bar in town have the newest triple-wet-hopped, dry-hopped, bourbon-barrel, imperial-double, sour IPA that everyone is talking about? Great. Who cares? Don’t feel the need to jump the shark or chase trends. For starters, these will never be your ‘money-makers’ – they’re one-off offerings that can bring in a few people, but won’t necessarily translate to new regulars (your bread and butter, so to speak). You should know more than anyone what your customers like and don’t like. If you’re a stout man and find your slowest movers are all stouts, it’s good sense to make a switch to a more popular style (assuming you have multiple stouts – you should always maintain at least one stout, one amber, a pale and a wheat beer in my opinion). Those switches make sense; you’re in the business to move beer. Just don’t become overly enamored with the hot, trendy beers of the day. If you can get them, great, but don’t worry if you don’t – your customers will always appreciate the good, clean beers you do have on tap.

I guess this is a point that requires some explanation. Hot, trendy beers are almost always allocated – that is, released on a limited basis and likely sold to customers with an established loyalty to the brewery that brewed the trendy beer. If you’re a new bar with no track record, expect to not have access to many of these limited release brews – not immediately at least. Instead, bring in the flagship or some year-round offering from said brewery, establish a relationship and then hopefully you’ll be in queue in short order the next time a trendy beer is released. It’s fool-hearted really to expect a brewery rep that has no track record with your business to reward you with a hard-to-find keg. It does happen, by the way, but that’s usually a nod from a rep that he/she appreciates the efforts you’ve put forth to open a bar that respects beer and the brewers that make it.

Last words: don’t be a dick. Don’t beat up distributor reps for not having everything you want, don’t call them names or threaten to talk to their boss because they can’t deliver on every small request you have for your bar. Don’t beat up on brewery reps for not having all the fancy signs and free shit you think you need to make a beer night memorable. Don’t be rude to the drivers that are delivering kegs. There are a lot of people that you rely on to make your bar successful – appreciate the efforts they all make and take a moment here and there to say thanks.

Top

The Re-Birth of Steam Beer

When you think of Steam Beer today, you’re most likely inclined to think of the beloved Anchor Steam out of San Francisco. This is for a few reasons, but first and foremost because the brewery trademarked the used of “Steam Beer” so other brewers cannot use the term. Make no mistake, however, that Steam Beer existed in California well before Anchor. In fact, Steam Beer was a California commodity from back in the gold rush days and could be found at any number of breweries that dotted the old time landscape.

In fact, Sacramento seemed to be home to a large-scale Steam Beer brewery at the turn of the 20th Century, as seen in the California State Board of Agriculture’s Statistical Report from 1901.

There are two large breweries in the city [Sacramento]. The City Brewery manufactures steam beer and in 1901 produced 50,000 barrels that were disposed of all over California Nevada and Oregon.

Today Steam Beer, or California Common as it is currently referred to, is a beloved product of fine quality. However, it was not always the case. In fact, looking back in literature from the late 1800s and early 1900s you could assume a few things about Steam Beer: 1) It was cheap and of poor quality; 2) It was associated with the rough-and-tumble of our society.  In fact, after reading a few texts of old, it seems like an effective way to describe a person of poor character was to point out his affinity for Steam Beer. Fact is, the oldest references I could find about the beer style had very little good to say – save for the fact it was cheap.

Here are a few excerpts from old text that mention Steam Beer – for your reading pleasure. We’ll start with this excerpt from – “A Poor American in Ireland & Scotland” by Ben Goodkind, published 1913.

We soon learned that the drinking water of Sacramento was not of good quality, for it is taken from the Sacramento River and is impure, therefore we took to drinking Sacramento steam beer straight and found it good.

That’s about as good as the reviews got for Steam Beer, which in this instance was made in Sacramento. How about the less savory mentions? This one is lifted from ”The Nerve of Blaze McGee” by Mortin Parker, published in Boy’s Life in May 1923.

Barlow’s drink dispensary occupied the corner. In days gone by, within the long barroom, had been fought gun duels innumerable. Cattlemen, rustlers, gamblers, Mexican smugglers had come and gone through those swinging-doors. Musty with age, the saloon had succumbed to the great drouth. “Lager” and “Steam Beer” had bleached out completely from the wooden sign over the door.

Then there’s this gem plucked from Overland Monthly and the Out West Magazine, published in 1868.

But he ruled merely by means of ability and not affection. Not like McManus was he admired. The latter was “the whole thing” in the saloons in the Barbary Coast, down where the worst beer flows, where they like everything big and strong and cheap-big schooners of steam beer, big men, big fleas, big watches, heavily gilded, and meals at ten cents, including a big dose of second-class burnt chicory, steaming hot, miscalled coffee.

Still more, this comes out of “Michael, Brother of Jerry” written by Jack London, of all people, in 1917.

In his desperation Daughtry hit upon an idea with which to get another schooner of steam beer. He did not like steam beer but it was cheaper than lager.

Regardless of the checkered history, Steam / California Common beer is of great importance in the overall history of California brewing. In fact, (and this is just an odd reference to me) the California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) has an interesting tidbit related to the Type-23 Licence (Small Beer Manufacturer – I.E. craft brewers).

This license formerly related only to Steam beer. “Steam” beer is made by fermentation at cellar temperature rather than near freezing as is the case with other beers. It is
made using only one type of malt–malted barley. It contains no corn, rice or other cereal grains as regular
beers normally do. The method of carbonation is entirely natural and involves a process known as Krausening. This process requires taking beer which has been completely fermented and adding to it beer which is still fermenting. This causes a second fermentation to occur. The Krausening process in beer corresponds closely to the “bulk process” in making some types of sparkling wines.

 

Yes, it would appear that the craft brewery license in California was originally intended for Steam Beer brewers. By the way, how about that description of Steam Beer brewing? Not bad for government work.

Today Anchor Steam is rightfully considered a premium beer, and there are a growing number of terrific examples of the California Common style. It is telling to me just how far we have come in our brewing practices, not just here in California, but globally. Surely there were inferior beers throughout the land in the 19th Century – hell, there’s plenty around today, even with all of our scientific and educational advances. That said, I am truly happy (as a fan of Anchor Steam and the California Common style) that through the bad years this style was able to make it. We no longer associate this beer with anything negative – in fact, this style is the foundation of the modern American craft beer movement. That right there, that says a whole hell of a lot.

Top

The Fancy Beer Dilema

A recent post on AskMen.com that has made its Social Media rounds seems to call out craft beer – deeming it “fancy beer” and bemoaning the increasing complexity that is today’s beer scene. It’s an easy piece for craft beer enthusiasts to rip apart, an easy knee-jerk reaction would be to proclaim the virtues of craft beer over industrial brands – and that would not be entirely inappropriate. That said, the piece calls out some realities that craft beer bars (and bars that pepper in craft brands) have failed to deal with.

Let’s look at this fictional exchange – which really isn’t that fictional, if you’ve been paying attention.

“Bartender, what’s on tap?”
“There’s the list, next to you.”
“This one?”
“No, that’s the phone book. The big one there, next to it.”
“Ah. Yes. Hmm, I’ll have … uh …”
“Hey, pal. You gonna order a beer or you gonna read?”

This comical look at a bar exchange is pretty typical for those that work around craft beer. Yes, we beer enthusiasts have it made – we can be given a lengthy list of craft brands and – if it’s properly formatted – can quickly spot the beer we want (assuming the list is broken up by malty / hoppy / ale / lager / dark / pale / sour / wheat / whatever categories). That said, imagine you’ve been brought up on an Industrial beverage – what are you to do when presented with ten, fifteen or twenty ‘foreign’ brands? Sadly, most American craft beer bartenders have little patience to walk consumers through the list to find the most appropriate beer – and those with patience often have other customers to deal with. The end result is a crap shoot for customers and an immediate sense of insecurity in their order. So, if the beer comes without explanation, it can be overwhelming and – frankly – confusing. The end result is a justified frustration with the current state of beer. I get that.

The same rings true with coffee drinkers that just want ‘a damned cup of coffee’, unaware of the world’s coffee growing region’s and the differences in roasts that change the appearance, aroma and flavor of their cup of joe. Cheese, bread and even the meat counter have all become a place of confusion for the casual consumer. We are creatures of comfort, and we are increasingly being forced into deeper and more complex waters.

So, what is the answer? I suppose we could just say ‘fuck ‘em’ and move on. I mean, if people lack the curiosity and passion for what they consume, that’s their problem. Others will say we need more education – perhaps another new podcast or beer blog – that makes information accessible for all. Then there is the group that just says we push the consumers into deep water, that they’ll learn quickly that craft beer is inherently better beer and the world will magically right itself. All of these thoughts, I believe, have led us to where we are today – with a slightly larger base of beer enthusiasts, but with a greater percentage of anti-craft beer drinkers.

So, what to do…

Change the culture! Oh, shit, that’s easy! Right? Wait, what the hell does that mean?

For starters, ditch the beer bibles. Well, let’s step back… let’s reformat our beer bibles. If you have a tap house or restaurant with a load of beers available, go beyond the broad categories and list four or five ‘recommendations’ – staff picks, if you will. List a lager, a pale ale, amber ale, stout and wheat beer – the biggest and broadest buckets that may trigger a comfortable response from a consumer.

Second, learn to talk with the uninitiated. When a customer comes into a better beer establishment, they may (or may not) understand that Bud, Coors and Miller won’t be on tap. However, they won’t (likely) understand that Blue Moon, Shock Top and Stella won’t be available – I mean, to many people, those are ‘better beer’ options (fancy beers, if you will). Add to that list brands like Heineken, Newcastle, Corona (yes, seriously), Guinness and whatever beer you’ve stopped enjoying years ago. So, when someone walks in and asks for a Blue Moon, don’t shun them or hit them over the head for their ignorance – guide them positively to a similar product – without the attitude (“it’s like Blue Moon, only better” or “I used to like Guinness, before I found a real stout”). We beer geeks are comfortable saying “trust your palate”, but only when talking about one craft brand over another.

Finally, relax a little bit. We’re all in this together and when we’re going out to drink at a bar or tavern, we really just want a good drink (subjective) and a spot to unwind. I believe we’ll get a lot further in our promotion of craft beer if we are indeed promoters of craft beer – and promoters don’t diminish the tastes or likes of others, they are a positive face and message for that which they promote. This isn’t a war with craft beer drinkers fighting other beer drinkers. If anything, we’re all about supporting a craft product – embracing good liquid over clever marketing, substance over shine. With this attitude, the worst thing that’ll happen is we’ll all enjoy a glass of beer, without creating conflict with others looking to do the same damned thing.

Top

The Downside of Choice

A while back I listened to the ever-engaging Radiolab podcast on “Choice”. I mulled the show over quite a bit and figured a few points could easily cross over to beer – I mean, we have so many options these days, but experience relatively little growth in the marketplace as a whole. One would think, with the 2,000+ brewers we now have in this country, that craft brands were outpacing national brands (in a way, it is, but not in a way that can easily be summed up in a sentence). The lingering question I have from the show is this: do we have too many options? For many, the answer is clearly yes.

In his book, “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less” author Barry Schwarz writes:

A large array of options may discourage consumers because it forces an increase in the effort that goes into making a decision. So consumers decide not to decide, and don’t buy the product. Or if they do, the effort that the decision requires detracts from the enjoyment derived from the results. Also, a large array of options may diminish the attractiveness of what people actually choose, the reason being that thinking about the attractions of some of the unchosen options detracts from the pleasure derived from the chosen one… why can’t people just ignore many or some of the options, and treat a 30-option array as if it were a 6-option array?

Choices abound, and this obviously isn’t just a beer-related phenomena – but we’ll certainly focus on beer here. From behind the bar I am faced with confused faces every day, folks looking up at a board of 16 taps – by gawly, they just want a beer! And before you assume these are your Bud/Coors/Miller drinkers, let me assure you they are not. Craft drinkers can’t be pigeonholed, clearly, there are those that love their amber ales, stouts, porters, pilsners and everything in between. They don’t know much beyond the fact that they like these styles, too. Why should they? They’re not your passionate beer geek, they just like a good beer – much like I am not an electronics nerd, I just need a phone / tv / whatever – so long as it works.

The Radiolab show mentioned a study that is apparently well-known, performed by Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University. In this experiment, at a grocery store, she displayed jams for consumers to try and potentially purchase – some were given six choices, others were shown 30. Clearly those who like a good jam would be initially intrigued by the variety, but ultimately the plethora of jams led to fewer sales overall. Those presented with a handful of jams were far more likely to buy than those presented with many more options.

As beer retailers, distributors and reps we ought to take note of this. When displaying or promoting a brand or style of beer, or a variety of styles, it’s important to keep your options limited for casual consumers. I’ve talked about this a bit in an earlier post – if you’re at a bar with a load of options, always be ready to direct new consumers to one, two or three options – don’t just show them your beer bible and hope for the best. There’s a good reason to do this, too, from a retailer / distributor standpoint – customer satisfaction decreases with too many options. Again, as the quote above states, “a large array of options may diminish the attractiveness of what people actually choose”

This information is not just for retailers, by the way, but also for us beer geeks that love every beer style out there and love even more trying new beers. We’re the odd balls of this world, apparently. When introducing new faces to beer, maybe stick with the option you’re sure is the best fit based on your knowledge of the person. Let them enjoy that one style, don’t rush them to try similar or contrasting styles – and if they’re dissatisfied with the option you gave, be careful to not overwhelm them with everything you’ve got up your sleeve. As they become comfortable with the beer they enjoy, then maybe switch things up a bit.

All of this suggests to me that, as much as we beer geeks love new beers, it is in the best interest of craft brewers to establish and support a flagship brand – something more and more brewers seem to shy away from. This concept of too many choices is not about education, it’s human nature. We can’t just teach the general public to try every new beer we put out for them – at least we can’t expect them to appreciate it. As we grow as an industry, we must be aware – always aware – of the consumer habits that are universally true. Too many choices leads to less satisfaction. If you want to grow your brand, grow your flagship, be sure not to do it for short-term gains — and beer geeks are a finicky bunch, aren’t we?

In closing, we certainly ought to celebrate the news that America now has more than 2,000 breweries. We should also be mindful that, with all these options, we run the risk of overwhelming consumers and finding higher levels of dissatisfaction. Next time you’re in the grocery store, if they don’t have every new beer you wish they had – cut the beer manager some slack and understand that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

For retailers – bartenders, sales folks – it can be a great advantage to have a huge selection, but know that beyond the physical work required to stock this inventory, we must have easily approachable and limited choices for those needing a quick transaction. We can do this in many ways, but it must start with the basic recognition that more is not always better when it comes to variety.

Top

How to Pour a Beer – A Call For Service

I’ve been to a handful of classes and seminars that are supposedly geared toward beer servers, and have also read many more posts online on the subject. These classes & posts are rather predictable in their format – tilt glass, pour, straighten glass, leave a nice little crown. Now, while I agree this is a pretty important part of beer service, it completely misses the boat on what makes an actual beer server. Nowhere was this make more apparent than at the Heineken campaign “Passion for Beer” campaign hosted around the country last year.

At this seminar (I went to the San Francisco offering) the class titled “The Perfect Pour” seemed like a yawner – I mean, really, I could rattle off the above-mentioned technique in my sleep. I was more than a little impressed when the instructor, Franck Evers, began with the most basic element of proper beer pouring – eye contact.

You see, beer service has trended to the brainy aspects of the liquid – styles, history, ingredients and whatnot – while giving very little attention to the actual act of service, which begins with a smile and eye contact, maybe a hello if the bar isn’t slammed. From here, you can take the patron’s order, then promptly pour into a beer-clean glass before returning the beer to the patron, again with eye contact and acknowledgement of their order (repeating back their order as you put the glasses on the counter, or a simple ‘thank you’ usually does the trick).

For all you aspiring beer servers, regardless of the certificate you hold, remember that service is as important as the beer. It doesn’t start at the tap, or the glass, it starts when you greet your customer and ends when they leave. Yes, it’s important (very important) to maintain clean beer lines, beer-clean glasses and have a working knowledge of the beers you serve. That said, all this technical information is pretty useless if you fail at the most basic point of service – the customer interaction.

A Quick Aside

Anyone that frequents bars knows that this sentiment isn’t just shared among beer fans, but in any specialty market. Look at your hipster hangouts like artisan coffee shops, cocktail bars and even upscale grocers. We have today an immense level of information about the products we sell. We can rattle off the details of history, regional differences, ingredients without effort. More and more, however, all this seems to come at the cost of service. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Please note this entry in the 1882 edition of “The New and Improved Illistrated Bartenders Manual” written by Harry Johnson.

When waiting on customers at any time it is of the highest importance for a bartender to be strictly polite and attentive in his behavior and especially in his manner of speech giving prompt answers to all questions. As far as lies in his power he should be cheerful and have a bright and pleasant countenance. It is of very great importance to be neat clean and tidy in dress, as that will prove more to the interest of the bartender than any other matter. He should be pleasant and cheerful with everyone this will not only be pleasing to customers, but also prove advantageous to the bartender serving them. It is proper when a person steps up to the bar for a bartender to set before him a glass of ice water and then in a genteel and polite manner find out what he may desire. If mixed drinks should be called for it is the bartender’s duty to mix and prepare them above the counter and let the customers or parties see them and they should be prepared in such a neat quick and scientific way as to draw attention. It is also the bartender’s duty to see to it that everything used with the drinks is perfectly clean and the glasses bright and polished. When the customer has finished and left the bar the bartender should clean the counter well thoroughly so that it will have a neat and appearance again and if time should allow bartender to do so he should clean the glasses in a perfect manner at once so as to have ready again when needed. As regards the bench, which is an important branch in managing a properly, it is the bartenders special duty to his bench cleared up and in good shape at all times he will find it to his advantage if done properly.

 

Clean, gentile and attentive – if you miss these subtle attributes, you’ve missed out on how to properly pour a beer.

Top

On Draught Beer

I’ve been an advocate of clean beer lines for some time now, but I haven’t talked much about it here. Why? Well, it’s a touchy subject. You see, most bar owners assume their beer lines are clean because they have them serviced by the distributors that provide the beer. Sometimes that’s not a bad assumption. That said, the vast majority of bar owners I’ve come across have next to no actual ownership of their taps. By this I mean, they let the line cleaner in and sign the papers when the job is done.

I’ve actually watched a few line cleaners on the job, while sitting at the bar enjoying a beer. What I’ve seen didn’t reassure me. What’s worse, I know of several “craft beer” bars that buy kegs through channels that don’t clean beer lines. The issue with this is that line cleaners sent out by the distributor will only clean the beer lines that have the distributor’s beer in them – so it’s possible a portion of the lines in the bar are neglected altogether for extended periods of time. Finally, this is a complaint of several brewers I know, basic line cleaning services neglect completely the couplers & faucets.

Bar Owners, it’s not the responsibility of the distributors to clean your beer lines. It’s a service they provide – sometimes. It’s OK to take ownership of your bar (thanks, truly, to those that already do) – it’s OK to monitor your line cleaners, to insist that your faucets & couplers be cleaned on a quarterly basis (at minimum). You’re not going to make anyone sick with dirty beer lines, but if you’re about highlighting the world’s best beer – by all means, treat it like it’s the world’s best friggin’ beer!

If you’re a bar owner and you don’t really grasp the ins-and-outs of line cleaning, there are many resources online to help you out. If you’re a bar owner that just doesn’t give a shit about this, maybe it’s too much of a hassle or you really don’t think your paying customers know the difference, well, I’ve included a lovely little video below for your viewing pleasure.

Beer Geeks – you may recall a few years back Dr. Charles Bamforth of UC Davis said that bottled beer is better than draught beer. Remember that? Oh, we were all bent out of shape on that one – clearly draught beer is best! Well, no. It’s not. Draught beer on clean beer lines is a thing of beauty. This is what he was actually referring to. You have an assurance of quality in bottled/canned products that we simply don’t have in draught beer. Hopefully that’ll change soon as beer consumers become increasingly more educated about the drink we love.

Top

Sacramento Beer Scene – Bigger than Beer Week

It’s remarkable to me to continually write about the boom our region is in right now, in terms of the region’s robust beer scene. If you haven’t seen it already, I’ve got a piece in the current issue of Celebrator about our new breweries, but there’s actually quite a bit more going on than most hard-core beer geeks don’t yet know. First, give me a few moments to praise our region’s already-great craft beer bars.

If you’ve been a fan of the suds for a few years, these are the names you associate with better beer: Rubicon, The Shack, Dad’s Kitchen, Pangaea, Davis Beer Shoppe, Samuel Horne’s Tavern and Auburn’s World Pub. While these hopped-up destinations vary in history, the fact remains these are spots we know will have a good beer on tap served by people that know a thing or two about the product. But, have you noticed something else, something hidden just below the surface of Sacramento’s established beer culture? Reputable and newly-minted businesses are expanding their craft beer options – and this isn’t just a one week makeover.

Leading off, have you checked out the Cordova Casino (Rancho Cordova)? Ever heard of it? I hadn’t either until a few trusted customers told me it was worth checking out. A few things, right up front. Yes, I said “casino”, but that doesn’t quite tell the story. Yes, they have card tables, but there is no smoking, no noisy fucking slot machines and is completely devoid of that “Vegas” vibe I loathe so much. What they do have is a handful of solid craft beer taps (including offerings from American River, Deschutes, Firestone Walker and others) and a pretty vast selection of craft beer in bottles (more than 80). No, this is not the first bar that comes to mind when you think “craft beer”, but if you happen to live in the Rancho Cordova area, you should find it comforting in some way that good beer is not far away. With some additional staff training and more time finding their craft beer legs, this place could be a great beer bar. I think they’re taking a big step with their heavy involvement in Beer Week.

Up next, Owl Club (Roseville) – my old watering hole! This old-school beer bar is adding six new taps with a fairly impressive commitment to craft beer with their big ‘reveal’ night happening the day before Beer Week officially kicks off. Owner Mark Vespoli is showing some pretty impressive initiative to overhaul such an established bar – I believe his investment will pay off well.

Not to be outdone, the boys at DeVere’s Irish Pub has quietly unveiled six rotating American craft taps at each location (Midtown and Davis). DeVere’s has always had a few good craft options, but this shows the owner’s commitment to satiate the local’s penchant for local, or small-batch offerings from breweries like Firestone, Bruery, American River and more. Oh, these six taps are all ‘rotating’, too – which is impressive in its own right. In addition, DeVere’s (like the above-mentioned watering holes) has quite an impressive lineup for Sacramento Beer Week.

Yes, it is indeed an exciting time for Sacramento-area craft beer fans – more local brewers making more great beer AND there are more great places to find said beer. Keep it up, business owners and bar managers. May your investment and belief better beer be repaid.

Top

Drink to be Sober

Mike Sober is a memorable man. Folks across California will recognize him and his signature scruffy beard as he enters the bar or brewery in his never-ending quest for the next great hopped-up concoction. On the outside he has the appearance of a gruff individual, but spend two seconds talking with him on any subject and you’ll learn quickly that Mike is a gentle, intelligent man that is fairly passionate about his beer choice of beer. Some have made the mistake to assume he’s a one-trick-pony, that his tastes for beer are solely focused on IPAs and Double IPAs, this is far from true. While he tends to enjoy these brews more than others, it is very common to see him sipping away at a clean pilsner, or an aromatic hefeweizen. The thing Mr. Sober demands above all else when sipping a beer is quality.

It’s been this way for many years. Back when the first craft beer revolution hit the Nor Cal bar scene (in the 1990s) you could find Mike and his lovely bride, Terri, sidled up at the Owl Club in Roseville (which, to my knowledge, was the first ‘craft beer’ bar in the region) sipping whatever good beer was on tap. He also made regular appearances at the local brewery, Beermann’s – which was conveniently located next to Mike’s place of employment. I believe it’s safe to say, if you’ve been a fan of craft beer in the greater Sacramento area, you’ve at least seen the man we love so much (by the way, Mike is a regular contributor to PBN). It was at Beermann’s and the Owl Club that a growing group of beer enthusiasts met Mike and learned to like him more and more with each chance encounter. Today, a tight-nit group of friends still meets regularly, part of a group we fondly call “The SOBER group”. The man in the middle, the connection many of us have (beyond our love of beer) is our relationship with Mike.

How fitting is it then to see a beer made and named after him? That’s exactly what happened when Brian Ford at Auburn Alehouse created a hop monster (triple IPA) and named it ZZ Hop, with the tag line “Drink to be Sober”. The beer is more than a tongue in cheek reference to Mike’s long beard, it’s a ode to  a man that has influenced so many in the region – including, I believe, Mr. Brian Ford. You see, beyond his sipping Mike and Terri have regularly opened their home to host area beer geeks as we imbibe on some of the world’s best beer. Together the couple has traveled thousands of miles and collected growlers from just about every state in the western US. He’s been one of the region’s biggest advocates for better beer and has helped many brewers and bar owners with his free and good advice on a number of topics (a little talked about fact about Mike is his acute palate and ability to detect off-flavors in beer, even if he’s not sure what they are exactly). If ever there were a man in our region fitting of a beer named and modeled after him, it would be Mike Sober.

ZZ Hop debuts in February and will have a very limited run – only seven barrels worth (roughly 14 kegs). The official debut will fittingly be held at the Owl Club on February 9th. If you’ve ever seen the man, if you share a passion for Sacramento craft beer, do yourself a favor and find one of these insanely hopped-up beers. It’s pale, aggressively hopped in all ways (bitter, aromatic and flavorful) and will likely leave a mark on your palate.

Top

Quick GABF Thoughts

I have a whole lot of things I want to mention about the 30th Great American Beer Festival, but much of that will have to wait as I have a date with my day job… which involves pouring great beer.

  1. You could not have begged or paid for nicer weather than we saw in Denver last week. Driving up to Boulder was just a magical experience – clear skies, breath-taking scenery and zero regret about my choice in beer-drinking attire (BA-issued shorts, t-shirt and hat… well, they should be BA-issued given that’s pretty much the standard get-up for brewers not named Garrett Oliver).
  2. Denver has grown up a lot over the years. Today the streets are clean, the police are polite and patient, bars are more accommodating and restaurants have seriously upped their game.
  3. I really hate pretzel necklaces.
  4. I really love the spirit some fest attendees have brought to the event. In particular, I loved the group from Washington that all wore matching shirts that said they were in Denver to enjoy the GABF, “One ounce at a time”. I saw them on the floor in Denver, as well as a couple stops in Boulder – such positive people, who I never personally met. Add to that the guys with GABF haircuts, party outfits and you-name-it costumes. Very cool.
  5. There was way too much unused space in the back of the convention center. I’m not the decision maker, but I’d certainly like to see a layout that doesn’t cram all those waiting for a beer in like sardines.I believe, along these same lines, that the whole concept of the education seminars needs to be reworked. I have tried each year to pop in and listen, but it’s just a mess acoustically. While I admire the BA for wanting to educate, I question the actual place these seminars have on the floor.
  6. Loved the Brewers Guild Booths! Loved seeing the regional pride of those that ran each and loved the choice of beers each had. Great concept, wonderfully delivered.
  7. Holy shit, Sun King! If I’m in or around Indianapolis, I’m running to this place. So awesome to see them hit the awards stage so often. Clearly this team is creating killer beer.
  8. We need to have a longer discussion with our nation’s wholesalers about beer. Sitting with the award winners for Distributor of the Year was eye-popping. There is SO MUCH MORE we can do to educate our customers – love that some distributors have picked up the baton on this (as they should, I believe).
  9. We also need to have a much longer discussion about our brewers’ relationships with farmers of hops and barley. Ironically brewers feel they earn top-dollar for their superior products (a point I don’t argue), but seem hesitant to contract out years in advance for superior ingredients.  That’s got to change.
  10. The Colorado Governor’s stump speech in the middle of the awards ceremony was utterly classless. I don’t begrudge the man getting up on stage, but for fuck sake – get up, say hello, praise the brewers and the patrons, remind us to drink responsibly and get off the friggin’ stage! The longer he droned on, the more I wished I’d taken a piss break.
  11. Snake River team – love that you carried the state flag on stage. Cheers!
  12. I think the most awkward thing for me to see during the awards was Ken Grossman in line, with nobody coming up to shake his hand or say congrats. He stood there, patiently, by himself. You know what though, that’s exactly how I see him. He’s a quiet man that seems to shy away from praise. He is truly all about the beer and making it in a way that is good for everyone. On second thought, that scene wasn’t at all awkward – it was appropriate.
  13. What was awkward: Sam Adams Latitude winning a medal in the English IPA category with a beer that is decidedly all about the German hops.
  14. True class, Chris Black of Falling Rock. Taking time to lift a pint to Don Younger, putting a permanent plaque in the bar where he so often imbibed. Very, very cool.
  15. International IPA? Huh?
  16. A “Three-pete” on any stage is impressive and should be called out. What Bagby and his team have done at Pizza Port is absolutely amazing. Cheers!
  17. Firestone Walker – no shit you have a passion for pale! Unreal showing, year in and year out by the crew there. I’d love to see FSW team up with Sierra Nevada someday… to make a porter.
  18. Todd Ashman, you’re looking good man! Keep it up.
  19. Thank you, Southwest Airlines! If you didn’t know, they paid for bike taxi services from Falling Rock to the Festival (or reverse) for a few hours on Thursday. What a GREAT thing to do – it was so nice to see the city this way. I loved chatting with the cyclist – actually, there’s nothing I didn’t like about that trip.
  20. Vinnie & Natalie – class acts. In case you missed it, Vinnie escorted Jack McAuliffe to the stage to be recognized by the throng of cheering men and women who greatly appreciated the movement he began – he opened the first modern “micro” brewery in America. Humble man.
Thank you, again, to everyone I met and shared drinks with these past five days or so. In the airport, in breweries and in bars – it was such a treat being with friends I see but a couple times a year. Cheers!
Top

GABF by the Numbers

Sure, a picture is worth a thousand words, but numbers… well, they make the world go round. Below are just a few fun facts about this years Great American Beer Festival.

Awards by State

  • California – 51
  • Colorado – 44
  • Oregon – 15
  • Indiana – 10
  • Washington – 10
  • Pennsylvania – 7
  • Utah – 7

The Top Medals Winners

  • Sun King Brewing Co., 8 medals
  • Firestone Walker Brewing Co., 6 medals
  • Pizza Port Carlsbad, 6 medals
  • Rock Bottom Brewery, 6 medals
  • Boston Beer Co., 4 medals

The Top Five Categories

  • American-Style India Pale Ale (IPA)- 176 entries
    • Gold: Elevated IPA, La Cumbre Brewing Co
    • Silver: Deviant Dale’s, Oskar Blues Brewery
    • Bronze: Head Hunter IPA, Fat Heads Brewery
  • Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer – 118 entries
    • Gold: Melange a Trois, Nebraska Brewing Co
    • Silver: BBJ (Bourbon Barrel Johan), Sun King Brewing Co
    • Bronze: Barrel Aged Naked Evil BBW, Hoppin’ Frog Brewing Co
  • American-Style Pale Ale – 105 entries
    • Gold: Pale 31, Firestone Walker Brewing Co
    • Silver: Mission St. Pale, Firestone Walker Brewing Co
    • Bronze: Ute Trail Pale Ale, Amicas
  • American-Style Strong Pale Ale – 103 entries
    • Gold: Pako’s Eye P.A., Snake River Brewing
    • Silver: AleSmith IPA, AleSmith Brewing Co
    • Bronze: Hop Knot, Four Peaks Brewing Co
  • Imperial India Pale Ale – 102 entries
    • Gold: Citra Double IPA, Kern River Brewing
    • Silver: Double Jack, Firestone Walker Brewing Co
    • Bronze: Imperial IPA, Epic Brewing Co
Top

Is It Time for a California Malting Facility

This time of year a lot of brewers across the country are brewing ‘wet-hopped’ beers, using hops picked and used on the same day. Most brewers are using hops grown locally, mostly by home or small-plot gardens – far from the hop farming operations found in Oregon, Washington & Idaho. Done properly, this is a great opportunity for brewers to highlight the agricultural tie beer has. However, to tie a brewing operation to ‘local’ products in general can be a dicey and misleading issue.

For instance, few breweries that use local hops are also using barley grown and malted locally. There’s good reason for this, too – malting facilities are few and far between! Even in California where many tons of grain are grown, there are no malting facilities that can handle barley on a commercial scale (there is a tiny operation in the Reno area). I was reminded of this last year with Sierra Nevada released its first-ever “Estate” beer, which used hops and barley grown on SNBC property in Chico, California. While the barley was grown in Chico, it had to be shipped via rail-car to the Mid-West to be malted and kilned, then carted back for brewing purposes. To be perfectly clear, that endeavor was a labor of love. It’s clearly easier and cheaper to brew another way – but Sierra Nevada knew to do otherwise would dumb-down the meaning of “Estate”. I’m not implying the tail wagging the dog here, I don’t think SNBC came up with a name and figured out how to make it work.

We’re seeing more of this in California, too. Ruhstaller (the up-start beer makers in Sacramento) are making a harvest beer that uses hops & barley grown in-state. This is made possible by the new-found availability of California barley for sale to brewers. Still, these grains are sent across country to be malted and kilned.

With brewers large and small using California-grown barley, I am left wondering what it takes to make a viable malting & kilning facility. Is this a business that could succeed? Sadly, I think the answer is no – but I could be wrong. It all depends on the economy of scale factor, would enough brewers and distillers in California embrace such a novelty? I believe there’s a consumer market for California malt, but not if prices become out of reach.

Essentially, I don’t believe a small malting facility is a viable business. In whisky (whiskey) there is but a handful of distillers that use house-malted barley. Luckily, I’ve been to one – The Balvenie in Dufftown, Scotland (click to see photos of the distillery). This is part of The Glenfiddich operation, which is the bill-paying part of the operation, clearly. Walking through The Balvenie’s malting & kilning facility it’s clear that, even though it’s a fairly sizable building, not a lot of barley is being malted & kilned.

The up-front costs would have to be bore by a company with deep pockets. Then, to keep prices competitive, there would need to be enough California-grown barley to keep the malting facility in action year-round (malting one season a year is a pretty shitty business model). Finally, California brewers would need to ‘sign-on’ to such a project – opting to buy the  malted grains for use in their year-round operation. This won’t be a major issue, I believe, if the quality of malt is superior and priced competitively.

How It Could Work

Assuming a facility could be built, it’s unlikely that it’d be able to produce the volume to exactly match the price of larger facilities. That said, there could be savings realized in shipping costs. Not a ton, mind you, and brewers with grain silos (able to buy barley in bulk) should potentially see the greatest cost savings.

To offset added costs, a marketing focus on ‘locally grown & malted’ grains could target an audience with more disposable income – read: charge a bit more. Keep in mind, craft beer itself is a pretty small segment in the overall beer market and, according to IRI data, fetches an audience willing to pay slightly more for a superior product.

Again, I don’t see this happening anytime soon. But as California craft beer grows, as consumers focus  more on where the ingredients are grown AND processed (see: locally grown beef) there could be a market for such a confounded facility.

Until then, we’ll settle for California-grown grains sent long distances to be processed and returned to California. Ah, the price we pay for buying local.

Top

Bars of Glasgow

Editor’s Note: This is one of several stories ‘lost’ in our recent server transition. I looked through what was lost and will re-post a few stories I found worth re-posting. 

With what seems to be more bars than all other businesses combined, it seems natural that this Scottish city would be a den of good drink. To be certain, there is good drink to be had, but mindful drinkers will have to work a bit to discover the regions craft beers. It is, however, understood that the job of finding good whisky is a much simpler task. One thing to know is that the thought that goes into ordering and consuming a drink in Glasgow is much the same as anywhere else in the world – people have their favorites for whatever reasons, and little (if any) thought is put forth in the ordering of a drink. It is also noteworthy that there are several Scottish brands that most Americans don’t know that aren’t necessarily top-quality products. This should be of no surprise, the same is true anywhere. There are a handful of well-known American craft brands that suffer of boredom on the palate. Here, too, you’ll easily discover beers that are worth trying, but not worthy of a second pint.

Trendy Bars
For the most part you can assume you won’t find a decent pint in a swanky night club-type establishment teeming with hipsters. If you’re looking for a night out on the town that includes dancing or mingling with the young crowd of Glasgow, there are plenty of places to accomodate – and they’re not hard to find. On Sachiehall Street you’ll find a lively night life with clubs that have lines of people waiting to get in. These are your safest bet for a rockin’ good time and you’ll do well to avoid the less savory joints noticable by a general lack of revelers. Just remember basic rules of travel safety in Glasgow. If you’re out late on a weekend, there will be a hefty police presence on the streets.

Whisky Bars

It seems good whisky and good beer ought to go hand in hand, but this is not the case. When hitting up some of the better whisky joints in town you’ll likely run across the usual suspects on tap. If there is a hand-pull in the bar, it will likely be taken by a trendy craft. If you find this is the case, by all means order a pint of the real ale, you’ll find it much more satisfying than the overly-chilled macros (Guinness & Fosters are both served ice cold) and more full-bodied than the McEwans or other Scottish taps. Of course, I strongly recommend finding a good whisky bar, pulling up a seat and spending the better part of an evening talking with the locals and bar keeps about the goodness of their country’s whisky. A gentlemens pub like Pot Still is a fantastic establishment for this sort of conversation – and some of the finest single malts you’ll find in the city. For a slightly younger crowd check out Uisge Beatha (pronounced Ish-Ka-Bay) on a Thursday night – there are few better moments than sitting on the leather couches in the back room as classical Scottish music is played live in front of you. Between the two locales you’ll likely be happier with the beers at Uisge Beatha, where you’ll want to order from the front bar for one of three real ale options.

The Beer Joints
Good beer selection is available in the city, but you’ll need to be quite picky about where to go. In the Merchants Square there is a bar call “Beer Bar”, which is true only in that is sells a lot of crappy beer. If you’re hoping to get something local, something real, you will do well to simply walk the extra block for something truly memorable – Blackfriars. Blackfriars is a slightly trendy bar that is incredibly popular with the locals. Go on a Tuesday night for live music and regional beer. Friday evenings are a bit crowded, but well worth it if you’re looking for a quality meal to go with your beer. You will want to ask your server about what’s fresh for fish, and be sure to check out their specials menu – you really can’t go wrong if you’re ordering from there. Blackfriars is also a good destination for the homesick beer lover, as you’ll find some imports like Flying Dog in bottles behind the bar. The crowd in the evenings is primarily made up of young to middle-aged professionals, many still wearing their slacks and button downs from work. There is a refreshing lack of the rough-and-tumble you’ll find on the West Side, but in all the place will feel a little sterile for a beer bar.

No matter where you’re staying in Glasgow you’ll need to plan an evening at Bon Accord, on the west side on North Street (just off St. Vincent). If you’re staying in the city center a cab ride will only set you back five pounds. Without a doubt this is the place to go for a great pint of real ale, a dram of whisky and long conversations with the locals – who will likely tell you how much they love this place early into the conversation. If you’re lucky enough to spot a bar seat, grab it and take advantage of the view to help select your evening’s pints. If you’re with a group, head to the back in and find a comfortable cushioned seat and carry on as much as you can. The front area is sort of a manly area where you’ll likely find men coming from the football match, or talking about the one coming up. Don’t be alarmed, however, as the crowd here is very welcoming and easy to talk to – and ladies won’t find it feels like a meat market. Bon Accord does close at midnight, even on a Friday, so try to get there with plent of time to appreciate all they have to offer. Like Blackfriar, the pub offers a welcome selection of hot, well-prepared food. In all, you won’t find a much better pub anywhere in Scotland, certainly not in Glasgow.

Understanding the Beer

American craft beer is something of an oddity in Scotland. Where the US beers are full bodied and often a showcase of strength (be it alcohol or hops or both), Scottish beers tend to be more delicate. There is a bit of a misnomer that Scottish beers are not “hoppy”, but if you dig around you’ll find this isn’t entirely the case. It is true, however, that the beers of Scotland are typically very light bodied when compared to America’s crafted ales, as well as low in alcohol – often well under 5% ABV.

The style you’ll run across most frequently is the Scottish 80, also known as Export. While technically not a “heavy” (which is the common term for the Strong Scotch Ale style), many locals will order a heavy and be more than happy with this. The beer is dark, varying shades of brown and red, with a pretty husky, dry malt aroma. Exports are generally malty, but not sweet like many “malty” brews in The States – no caramel or toffee notes to speak of. Hops are pretty docile in these beers too, lending just a touch of bitterness and no real hop flavors. If you’re a die-hard hop head, or think malty beers should be around 7% ABV, you may think these beers are light and uninteresting at first. Of course, this is not the case at all! The beers show a satisfying flavor that is oh-so-easy to enjoy throughout the night.

Apart from the Export/80 style there’s a popular beer in Glasgow called Deuchars IPA, often found on cask. This, too, needs to be understood a bit more before you order. Where American IPAs tend to kick you in the teeth with hops and bitterness (and alcohol) this beer is a bit of a friendly handshake. Thankfully, it is a true pale hue – very light. Its aroma is faint, but the grassy notes of the hops will come out and play if you give them a chance. Its flavor runs fairly thin in the malt, but does have an assertive bitterness. In all, it just isn’t that interesting, but may well be the most hoppy beer in the bar. If you’re in desperate need of hops, don’t expect full satisfaction from a pint of this ale.

Finding real ales that go beyond these two popular beers is a challenge in Glasgow, your best bet is to get to Blackfriars, Three Judges or Bon Accord.

Bars by Attraction

Uisge Beatha & Bon Accord are near:
– The University of Glasgow, which has stunning architecture
– Kelvingrove Art Gallery – a must see

The Pot Still
– Will Tea Room – be sure to go up to the THIRD floor to truly appreciate

Blackfriars
– Closest beer bar to the Cathedral & Necropolis (follow High Street south, the head west on Wilson St.)
– There’s a lot to see around here

Top