Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Diary of Our Own Jimmy Bracken: As the complaint department, I specialize in satisfied customers.

It was an exhausting day; more so than usual lately. In addition to the expected daily sapping of my inner core, there were a couple of surprises.

These thoughts may seem disjointed at first, but bear with me. My day, today, has me thinking about harmony. It's so elusive.

But why?

Of course, I cannot guarantee inner harmony, either for myself or those nearest to me, whether family or in the workplace. There's a lot more to it than my own selfish wish that the world make sense every now and then.

Dynamics are funny. The way I feel about it is that my own team can be fractious and dysfunctional (after all, I was an A's fan way back when, in the 1970s), but when it comes down to it, there needs to be unity when it matters. On occasion, things happen that merit a response, and any team manager who does not have his players'/employees' backs probably will not be successful in the end.

This is why in a benign and grandfatherly way, dear reader, I'd like your as indulgence to mark some turf. I own a business, and I have employees. As hard as they try, I know there'll come a time when they make mistakes. Experience also has indicated to me that at times, they'll have not made mistakes, and require a vigorous defense when improperly accused.

Hell, the same might even apply to me on widely scattered occasions. Fortunately, I'm not wrong very often.

Either way -- and this is the point -- I genuinely expect and respectfully request that (a) comments and thoughts about these employee issues will come to me, first, before being aired publicly elsewhere, and (b) that comments and thoughts ostensibly about my employees that actually are about ME and not about them will be handled in like fashion ... by coming to me. Not unlike Shaq, I'm the Big Aristotle. We can reason together.

Thank you very much.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The PC: Moss the Boss, his Dazzling, and what they taught me about “craft.”

(Published at LouisvilleBeer.com on April 21, 2014)


Moss the Boss, his Dazzling, and what they taught me about “craft.”

In my view, the “craft” modifier for better beer has outlived its usefulness, at least without earnest industry-wide introspection as to what the practice of “craft” might actually mean if/when practiced.

Until then, I’ll begin with an anecdote. If my luck holds, I may end with it.

In October of 1995, when the Public House was only three years old, I departed the comfortable confines for a ten-day beer tour of European beer destinations, including Dusseldorf, Cologne and Belgium. There also was a brief two-day side trip by train to Copenhagen to visit my friends there. Accompanying me was David Pierce, John Dennis and Ron Downer.

Much beer was consumed.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Diary of Our Own Jimmy Bracken: In which I reply to a disappointed customer.

My diary entries are designed to accommodate venting without excessive rhetorical polish. They may or may not go on to become columns. I've written the following in one sitting, without editing. It is appearing here, rather than at the NABC web site, because it's my personal reaction, and not official company policy. Read on. I've previously written about this here.

I’m no stranger to controversy, and I’ve seldom ducked a rhetorical scrap. Ask me a question, and I’ll do my best to answer it, as honestly as can be mustered. On rare occasions, the discussion must be private, but in general, public forums suit me.

It helps to be physically able to reply. I received the following observation via NABC’s web site comment form. Through the wonders of modern technology, these go directly to me, to be rerouted to others in the company as needed.

Needless to say, I’m delighted to explicate at length with Thomas as to his disappointment with Bank Street Brewhouse, but judging from the e-mail, it would seem that he desires his viewpoint to be one direction only, without my having the chance to reply. Let’s merely note that I find this reticence, well, curious given the stridency of his assumptions.

So, let’s just do the whole thing publicly. It’s better that way.


Name: Thomas

Email: NoNeedToContact@gmail.com


Thomas: Very disappointing what has happened at the Bank Street location in the past few months. Yesterday will be my last visit.

Roger: I’m genuinely sorry to hear that.

T: This used to be one of my special gems that I enjoyed taking clients and family to for years because of the uniqueness and quality of the menu. What has happened? It's gone from gastropub to gross to be honest.

R: At its most gastropubish, during the years of Chef Josh’s residency in the kitchen, it was proven that (a) Chef Josh is brilliant; (b) the clientele at the time was not prepared for such brilliance; and (c) the result was an ocean of red ink … and yet, we persisted.

From the very start, we’ve had a small kitchen and a delicate balance between what space and money are required to be a restaurant, and a brewery. In fact, the balance has been so delicate as to have been rarely achieved. Capitalizing a higher end FOH and a production brewery, together at the same time, has proven almost impossible. We’re not made of money. I wish we were, but you go to war with what you have, and what we have hasn’t always been sufficient.

When Chef Josh moved on, it was decided to concentrate more on the items that actually sold – like we’d begin looking at real costs and real sales when making decisions. While risking the continued use of the descriptor “gastropub,” which turns out to be almost as meaningless as the word “craft” when attached to beer, Chef Matt’s first two years showed progress in a bottom-line sense, until late in 2013; during this time, with at least two other establishments in New Albany (Exchange and CafĂ© 27) serving a similar menu and capable of capitalizing it WITHOUT also capitalizing a production brewery, we began having problems. More on this below.

T: No local products, nothing unique, nothing special, nothing at all some days because my last few visits, you've been out of half of the menu.

R: Nothing about the past months has hurt me more than to see the “local product” concept slip away from us. It was a cherished part of my original concept. I fought relinquishing it for a long time, until the numbers simply wouldn’t support it any longer. I regret it. But the first obligation we have as a business is to stay alive, not be dead. Nothing else can happen, bad, good or indifferent, when you’re dead. I’m genuinely sorry that it disappoints you, and I understand, because it disappoints me. As for being out of things, this has happened because we’ve been paying closer attention to purchasing and stocking as needed – something elementary, so as to avoid waste. Getting these levels right has proven challenging, especially with business increasing, as it has been.

T: What happened to fresh omelettes and prime rib on Sundays?

We ceased doing them because (a) actual sales did not once approach a point of adequate support for the wonderful presentation, and (b) this had the effect of bleeding money each time we did it. Let me repeat: They lost money. Do you understand that? It supposedly is a major point of capitalism.

T: Where is the fresh food? What makes it special now? Where are the specials? Where are the great burgers?

R: At the beginning, and for a very long time, we tried to lead – when in reality, we didn’t have the resources to do so. We kept at it as long as humanly possible, for almost five years, until it simply could be done no longer. As I’ve noted, if it disappoints you, just imagine how it disappoints me. And yet, we’re still breathing, and still throwing punches. The simple fact is that the menu changes implemented these past few months, while odious and deal-breaking to some (like you), have enabled us to (a) stay alive, (b) do so not only with no loss of traffic, but a slight increase, and (c) do so with food and labor costs that just might enable us breathing space to reformat into something that once again seems “special” to you. And maybe to me, too, but in the interim, I’ll take a reduction in red ink while we think about it.

What makes it special now is that being alive offers a chance to reinvent. If you had any idea how hard it is to reinvent and reformat in mid-air, knowing that debt service already was a bear before, and could become disastrous if you lose altitude … you might then grasp a bit of what we’ve been trying to do, and how damned difficult it has been.

T: With the exception of the beer (which is still the best) I have absolutely no reason to come now. I'm tired of being embarrassed when I take clients, and quite honestly looking at your staff - I think they are embarrassed to be there as well.

R: Thanks for the compliment about the beer. As for your staff critique, sorry, but you can fuck off. You don’t know how they feel, and you needn’t extrapolate your own disappointment (which I do not contest) into the bodies and brains of others.

T: I hope this is temporary and someone wakes up soon and realizes how the changes are making customers like me
feel. Until then, I'll entertain at the Exchange. Sorry for your loss.

R: I’m guessing you’re a business person of some sort, so maybe one more time making this point will do the trick: The awakening already has happened. It occurred when we realized that the gastropubish thing you personally like so much was not working given our situation, when trying to capitalize two expensive propositions at once, and then trying to adapt to a changing local landscape.

But hear this: The fact that the local landscape changed is immense consolation for me, and is a salve for my own disappointment.

We worked and bled for three+ years to make the advent of establishments like The Exchange possible. Without us, and a few other downtown pioneers, there wouldn’t be these other options, where you now take your clients and remind me of it in a comment without a valid return e-mail address. I don't want a medal for it, but it's true. Period.

Make no mistake, I’m happy for you; I love The Exchange and others just as much. I’m happy for me and for us that they’re there. I wish them the best. They all should buy our beer, shouldn’t they – being local, and all that.

But BSB could not continue down the same path given our future company needs, once our sacrifice helped clear a path for them, and nor should we, because it’s all just business, isn’t it? We do what we must to stay breathing, just like them, and I suppose, just like you. I accept your critique. Yes, I resent your attitude in light of your not being familiar with life in my shoes. But I congratulate you for coming to downtown New Albany, which is the larger point.

I know what you’re saying comes out of disappointment. If you’re disappointed, just imagine my level of the same. However, I know that what we’re doing is an evolutionary step. Exactly where it goes next, I’m not sure. It goes, and that's the idea. Your ideas, and anyone else’s, are welcomed. Thank you for probably not reading this, Thomas, although I feel much better after writing it.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

This one says it all about localism and better beer.

It's from the Mile High Business Alliance in Denver, and perfectly encapsulates my viewpoint as to the marriage of localism and better beer.

Before I steal this and have Tony rework it, I'll ask permission.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Another enriching beer dinner, this time at MilkWood.

As usual, my sloppy iPhone photo doesn't do it justice. Pictured above is the main course (lamb shoulder) at the MilkWood/NABC beer dinner on Thursday, April 17. In honor of the occasion, I pulled a Dylan Thomas quote; the restaurant is named for his play, “Under Milk Wood.”

"I liked the taste of beer, its live white lather, its brass-bright depths, the sudden world through the wet brown walls of the glass, the tilted rush to the lips and the slow swallowing down to the lapping belly, the salt on the tongue, the foam at the corners."

I can't say enough about the eatery's staff, those who attended, and the meal itself. For those who have yet to check it out, MilkWood is downstairs at Actor's Theater on Main Street in Louisville. It accurately describes itself like this:

Chef Edward Lee's newest venture, MilkWood, is a restaurant celebrating how Southern cuisine and Asian ingredients can be friends.

Go there.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

War is over, if you want it.

There'll come a time when someone will ask me, "But Roger, I thought ... "

You thought right, but you see, the war is over, and when the time comes, I'll explain it. I've had to do it often lately, and that's what happens when you find yourself in the losing locker room. Just remember that the press is entitled to interview the vanquished, too, and until that day arrives, let's turn back the pages to 1898 and Secretary of State John Hay, who wrote these words in reference to the Spanish-American War.

"It has been a splendid little war, begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that Fortune which loves the brave."

Yeah, right, and we know better. Naturally, no war ever is splendid, is it? So, yes; you thought right ... but times and people change. So it goes. You change with them, and move on down the road.

The Diary of Our Own Jimmy Bracken: Wrestling, better beer and the yawnable thumping of chests.

A former professional wrestler by the name of James Hellwig died recently. Apparently he was known by a stage name, as the Ultimate Warrior.

"Stage" name is appropriate, because as Wikipedia points out in the article entitled professional wrestling:

This article is about wrestling as a form of rehearsed entertainment.

Professional wrestling (often shortened pro wrestling, or simply wrestling) is a mode of spectacle which combines athletic and theatrical performance. It takes the form of events, held by touring companies, which mimic a title match combat sport. The unique form of sport portrayed is fundamentally based on classical and "catch" wrestling, with modern additions of striking attacks, strength-based holds and throws, and acrobatic maneuvers; much of these derive from the influence of various international martial arts. An additional aspect of combat with improvised weaponry is sometimes included to varying degrees.

The matches have predetermined outcomes in order to heighten entertainment value, and all combative maneuvers are executed with the full cooperation of those involved and carefully performed in specific manners intended to lessen the chance of actual injury. These facts were once kept highly secretive but are now a widely accepted open secret. By and large, the true nature of the performance is not discussed by the performing company in order to sustain and promote the willing suspension of disbelief for the audience by maintaining an aura of verisimilitude.

For a very long while I've known, and accepted, that when it comes to popular music, I've missed the entire era of rap and hip hop -- comprehensively, from the very start to right about now. There is no antipathy; merely omission, and as a generally intelligent adult, I understand that having no knowledge of this pervasive musical genre means that I'm hopelessly out of a powerful cultural loop, utterly detached from a powerful shaper of those younger than me -- for two decades or more.

It's fairly clear to me that a 35-year-old has been influenced heavily by such music, whether overtly or subliminally, even if I'm oblivious to it.

What I didn't grasp, at least until recently, is how significant the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE), progenitor of the "championship wrestling" of my own youth, has been when it comes to the cultural outlook of a generation now also defining beer geekdom.

I note this for various reasons, chief among them the preening, strutting and exhibitionistic entertainment ethos exemplified by wrestling of this contrived type. Chest-thumping may be the literal, historic contribution of outdated Tarzan movies, but surely this act of masculine boastfulness was perfected by the forever calculating WWF. In the current age of short attention spans of shortened (perhaps obliterated) attention spans, it's the preferred marketing strategy of many breweries.

Better beer and championship wrestling. Maybe there's something to this observation, and maybe not. The connection is not my cup of tea, NABC's Hacksaw Jim Dunkel notwithstanding, but something I've grown accustomed to seeing. I suppose I need to make peace with it; either that, or get riled up, start yelling, and thump my chest. Maybe wield a folding metal chair, or a tire iron.

Seems silly to me.

Halfway to LCBW, all the way with NABC to MilkWood this Thursday.

(Wednesday update: Here's the menu)

For those readers in or near Louisville, I'm told that a complete list of sponsors and events will be in a special section within tomorrow's LEO Weekly. It's also at LouisvilleBeer.com

I'm not sure whether NABC is listed anywhere, but if not, we will be doing a beer dinner at MilkWood on Thursday, April 17. The menu hasn't gotten to me yet, so what I know is this:

MilkWood Welcomes the New Albanian
Thursday, April 17th, 6:30pm
Four courses paired with five beers, $55
Call 502.584.6455 for reservations

I'll be there with Blake, saying subversive things about beer and enjoying the meal at one of Louisville's finest restaurants.

Halfway to Louisville Craft Beer Week starts Wednesday, by Kevin Gibson (Insider Louisville)

Hard to believe we’re already halfway there. But hey, any excuse to drink a local craft beer is a good excuse. So let Halfway to Louisville Craft Beer Week commence.

Have mercy ... Lew's been waiting for the bus all day.

Not really; just 45 minutes each way.

It isn't for the purpose of name-dropping that I mention drinking a few beers with Lew Bryson yesterday afternoon.

Lew flew into Louisville with a relatively brief window of opportunity for having a drink with me. Early on, he mentioned a bus to Bank Street Brewhouse, and upon learning that BSB is closed on Monday, replied that the same bus serviced the Pizzeria & Public House.

I'm not sure what I thought he meant by bus, but I wasn't interpreting it literally, at least until I drove over to the Pizzeria & Public House to meet him, and learned that Louisville's Transit Authority of River City (TARC) does in fact run buses connecting both our locations, and do so in a roughly timely fashion. Lew got on the bus in front of the 21C Museum Hotel and got off in front of the Grant Line Road Kroger ... drank four pints of beer ... and then reversed the process.

There's something pleasingly sessionable and egalitarian about all this. Now Lew has to work (i.e., drink bourbon) for a few days, but his lesson in public transportation is much appreciated, and I must reluctantly discard my defunct 15-year-old anecdote about taking the 2.5-hour-long, one-way bus -- actually three buses with two separate half-hour layovers -- from Grant Line Road to Bluegrass Brewing Company in St. Matthews.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The PC: My shoes are filled with Volga mud: (3) Beer hunters lurking nearby.

(Published at LouisvilleBeer.com on April 14, 2014)


My shoes are filled with Volga mud: (3) Beer hunters lurking nearby.

A 1999 travelogue in three parts.

March 31: (1) A tale of a fateful trip.
April 7: (2) The future is the past.
April 14: (3) Beer hunters lurking nearby.

(3) Beer hunters lurking nearby.

I awoke groggy and disoriented. We had retreated indoors quite early the previous evening, aiming to avoid mosquitoes of Biblical proportions, and sat inside talking and drinking Baltika Porter in the odd glow of a never quite black summer’s night.

Allan’s local helper had been commissioned to prepare fish soup for a midday meal to be consumed just prior to making the drive back to Moscow, and this left us with several hours to explore. Allan proposed a drive to a nearby town.

Armed with bootlegged Jackson Browne and Bad Company CD’s procured for next to nothing at the thriving music market back in Moscow, we set out for the scenic trek to Kolyazin, a dusty and isolated nowhere town that has the eternal good fortune to be dusty and isolated less than four hours away from Moscow – this being “good fortune” because a brief look at any reputable map of Russia will reveal there to be hundreds of Kolyazins, most of them located in places that are so lost in the middle of nothingness that they might as well be on another planet.