Wednesday, October 22, 2014

These requests from abroad, volume four: "May I ask you to send me one set of your beer labels?"

If you own a brewery or work for one, you've probably fielded e-mail inquiries from overseas asking for beer labels, crown caps and the like, as destined to become cherished keepsakes of private collectors who've heard of your beer, even in far-off Moldova or the Ivory Coast.

To me, there is something compelling and yet haunting about these foreign requests, which tend to come from Central/Eastern European locales, which are places of longtime personal interest to me historically and geographically. They speak to me inner melancholic. Lately, I've been pasting their addresses into Google Map and seeing what their places of residence look like.

The most recent request comes from Peter, in the Czech Republic.


He lives in Teplice, a spa town located in northwestern Bohemia near the border with Germany. His apartment building is very indicative of those constructed during the Communist era. During my time in Czechoslovakia teaching English, the building opposite my dorm residence looked much like this one, and it reminds me of sitting on my balcony, smoking little Vatra cigars, and drinking coffee, bottled beer, or both.

Let's hope no privacy protocols are being violated by my depicting their buildings, seeing as there's a drone hovering outside my front door even as I type these words. It's just that I can't help wondering: What's the rest of the story?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Goose Island on Black Friday? Hmm, that sounds like enough cultural depravity for one corporate holiday.


Nothing personal, Todd, but no. I'll pass.

However, let's credit AB-InBev for its monolith's conceptual grasp: Black Friday and Bourbon County Stout unite Big Beer Brother symbolism in a way previously reserved for the likes of Leni Riefenstahl and the Nuremberg Rallies.

Of course, Black Friday is a mindless celebration of consumerism, contextualized through the plasticized glories of Chainland and the sultry allures of Big Box World. There's nothing remotely "craft" about Black Friday in the mass marketing sense, and accordingly, the late Goose Island is macro as macro can be, reduced forever to inert zombie bondage -- merely a Craft-Shaped Hologram, with any money spent on purchasing its products headed straight to chardonnay-sipping AB-InBev shareholders the world over.

Narcissistic beer hoarders are free to deny this reality until the end of time, and they generally do, but Goose Island remains a wholly-owned subsidiary of the beer world’s largest extortionate conglomerate, and as such, it contradicts virtually every tenet of the "craft" beer indie handbook. Black Friday and Trojan Goose? It's a marriage made in Leuven, and officiated by the Koch Brothers.

AB-Inbev uses its "craft" toy not unlike a drone, aggressively combating the interests of better beer in those venues where money buys shelf space in supermarkets, or taps via the concessionaire’s usual extortion in closed settings like airports and stadiums.

Denial? It's isn't just a river in Egypt any more.

Monday, October 20, 2014

THE PC: Football, swill, brain death and the American Dream.

THE PC: Football, swill, brain death and the American Dream.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

RING RING RING RING RING

“What the … ?”

(Old school, rotary dial – it was 1989, for chrissakes)

“Yeah.”

“We’re cooking and drinking.”

CLICK.

Translation at the speed of hangover …

This undoubtedly meant it was Sunday morning (who’d have known?) and the football games would be starting soon. Barr lived just a few miles away. It would have been senseless calling back.

So, I threw on some clothes, brushed my teeth and drove right over. The house smelled like chili, pre-game shows were blaring, and of course there wasn’t any beer.

That’s not quite true. There was beer, although far short of the amount needed to carry us through the entire day. Because Indiana prohibited carry-out beer on Sunday, the inevitable trip across the Sherman Minton to the West End needed to come sooner rather than later, when highway driving would be inadvisable.

The really dumb thing about our Sunday beer shortages was their frequency. Most of the time, I’d have worked a Saturday shift at the liquor store, and it would have been easy for me to pick up a case of something/anything, receiving my employee discount on top of it.

But no; advance planning would have made far too much sense. Perhaps there was a secret, nostalgic enjoyment about these runs to Louisville, and actually we were reliving junior high school.

There we’d be, cruising down the Interstate, allowing the chili to simmer for another 35 minutes or so as we tried to time our arrival at the front door of the package store to the precise moment of its 1:00 p.m. opening time. Once inside, pushing past the crowds of fellow Hoosiers, the hunt for acceptable swill began in earnest.

---

Kindly note that by this point in our drinking lives, we knew what good beer was; it’s just that we weren’t always interested in paying the price for it, especially when purchased in bulk during times when the hot pepper content of the chili threatened to render one’s taste buds null and void.

As celebrity chef David Chang recently observed in GQ, mass-market swill pairs with any food owing to its vigorously carbonated flavorlessness. But these were the days of $5.99-per-case Wiedemann and Top Hat, beers to which the words “benign” and “tasteless” seldom were attached. They had plenty of flavor, just the wrong kind, and consequently a process of thoughtful triage was required.

I’d witnessed it countless times while working at the liquor store. Standing in front of the glass door, we’d begin by eliminating the brands we couldn’t or wouldn’t stomach – essentially, all of them – before beginning Round Two by working backwards and nominating two or three of the least objectionable choices. Price points briefly were parsed, cash collected, and within minutes we were back in the car, pointed toward Indiana and safety.

Subsequently, those cryptic words from the telephone came vibrantly to life, usually achieving saturation around halftime of the afternoon game. The feast would continue into early evening, but because Sunday night football had yet to be invented, there was a two minute warning in the form of the weekly and obligatory viewing of 60 Minutes.

Maybe a final cigar … and the last dregs of a Schaefer.

By then, I’d have beered myself totally sober (or so came the slurred insistence), and would take the back road home. By Monday, almost all of it had been forgotten, making an encore performance the following Sunday all the more likely.

---

Thinking back 25 years to those hours of chili, swill and football, it was all about the camaraderie with wonderful people, not specifically the cooking, drinking and watching. I miss it for that reason alone. Granted, the chili was good. The beer usually wasn’t, but what strikes me today is the football component of the equation, and the way times have changed for me.

We always used to joke about the damage being done to our brains while watching football, never realizing that the carnage on the field was no laughing matter. Today, ignorance no longer constitutes an excuse.

I played football only briefly as a lad, and never was a diehard football fan. Twice I attended college football games, and both were utterly forgettable, not because of the quality of the games themselves, but reflecting my own level of inebriation.

Professional football always appealed to me more; even so, my attention span over the period since those halcyon Sunday couch occupancies has waned steadily, to the point where in recent years, I've seldom seen more than a quarter or two of action prior to the playoffs. This year, I haven’t seen a single down, and probably won’t.

I’ve turned away from football because of the increasingly well-documented, regrettable, lifelong physical toll suffered by the players. It isn't just the professional game. The more I read about youth football injuries, the greater my disconnection. We begin to see difficult subsequent lives, erratic adulthoods, and eventual dementia in a different light, and it’s easier to look away – not from the sadly afflicted, but from the violence of the game itself.

The gladiator as metaphor stops being entertaining when the suffering and death are real, not just implied in a voiceover.

And if it ever required so much good, bad or indifferent beer to fuel those entire days seated in front of the television, soused and insensate, screaming slogans and pumping fists … well, perhaps the memory of it also compels me to look away from the collisions in the modern coliseum.

Into yonder mirror.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Meet the uKeg pressurized growler.

These growler innovators are scoring early and often on Kickstarter. I support innovation, although at the same time, I can't help feeling that if one uses the conventional growler as intended -- by transporting it to a safe spot for draining in one joyful sitting -- home draft systems are a bit superfluous.

But the market will decide. Kudos to the inventors, and thanks to BC for the link.

The uKeg Pressurized Growler for Fresh Beer, by GrowlerWerks

Our mission at GrowlerWerks is to make a growler that works. One that doesn’t let air into your beer, maintains perfect carbonation from the first pour to the last, and keeps beer cold for hours – all in a product you’ll love showing off at your friend’s next BBQ. GrowlerWerks was created by local Portlanders who love craft beer. We've drawn on a combined 47 years of engineering and product-design experience to make a better way to store beer, so it always taste exactly how the brewmaster intended.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Chang, Oliver and the inevitability of folding metal chairs in the ring.

Earlier this year, it finally started making sense to me.

At this point, as it pertains to my chosen hobby and profession of all things beer, I've come to an outsider’s position analogous with Willie and Waylon, circa 1973. I'm a congenital malcontent, completely out of synch with the prevailing narcissistic selfie-impelled beer culture, unwilling to accept the New Orthodoxy of better beer as equal parts Viagra and contrived WWE bout, and as good as rendered outright outlaw -- if not the resident argumentative crank.

In WWE bouts, there is theatricality. Posturing, grimaces and noise are choreographed. One is advised to take it exactly for what it is. Even Waylon Jennings himself commented that his identity as outlaw was a manifestation of marketing. He merely continued playing music as he always had, and ignored the tag.

So, there's this NYC chef guy named Chang.

My Name Is David Chang, and I Hate Fancy Beer

For years I've watched craft-beer aficionados go on about their triple-hopped IPAs and cocoa-flavored English milk stouts while inside I've harbored a dark secret: I love cheap, watery swill. Singha, Tecate, Miller High Life—they're all the champagnes of beer, and for more reasons than you think ... there's no beverage that I've drunk more of in my life than Bud Light. (Except water, but what's the difference?) And there's no drink I love more. I love it more than any great white wine, more than any white Burgundy, which I love very, very much. In my fridge, the only beer—practically the only foodstuff I've ever purchased for home—is Bud Light bottles. And since I live in New York City, I don't even have to mow a lawn to earn one.

And a NYC brewer, Oliver.

My Name Is Garrett Oliver, and I Hate Crappy Beer, in which "the brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery fires back at David Chang over his paean to cheap, watery swill."

 ... It's not the fancy beer you don't like. You don't like us, your people. You have a "tenuous relationship with the Epicurean snob set?" You are the epicurean snob set! I've seen you with champagne in one hand and a Noma lamb leg in the other, chatting up celebrities. Why you frontin'? You spent your first three paragraphs insulting people just like you…is the cash, fame and luxury not working out?

Yawn. I detect a plot twist, coming soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Red Yeti's brewing operation has started.

I'm happy that Red Yeti is brewing.

It's a difficult conversion to go from featuring beers from everywhere as part of a run-up to shifting emphasis to those beers you're brewing in-house. Trust me. I know this quite well, from experience. It took almost ten years for NABC house beers to outsell guest drafts at the Pizzeria & Public House. The sooner the transition, the better. We all should be in business for what we got into business to be, in this case, a brewery.

Congratulations are in order. That said, it's potentially confusing to have a Sterling ale in a local marketplace where Sterling of old has been revived and is being sold again.

And did I mention that since 1985, NABC has had a beer called Hoptimus ... which is an I2PA?

Red Yeti begins brewing, taps its first beer, by Kevin Gibson (Insider Louisville)

It was a long wait for Paul Ronau, whose wife Brandi opened Red Yeti Brewing back in May. The restaurant portion took off quickly, backed by a lineup of guest taps. But brewing had to be placed on the back burner.

But Ronau, a long-time home brewer, kept things moving forward, installing a small brewing system and getting all the licenses in place. He began brewing a few weeks ago, and the culmination was the Saturday release of Sterling Pale Ale, named for the Sterling hops with which it was brewed. The first tapping was not a full keg, so it sold out quickly, but a full keg went on tap on Oct. 14.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dirty lines, payola and hijinks? Only since the dawn of human history.



As usual, the opposing social media camps quickly coalesced, and we were advised to move quickly to one bloc or the other by shunning the bribe takers or ostracizing the embittered brewery.

Payola? Fact of life and a feature of capitalism. The best antidote has been, and remains, a consistent conceptual program at the point of dispense, augmented by principle and integrity. There'll never be any system of commerce capable of eliminating palm-greasings, so we might as well get over it and do the best we can.

My question: When supply of a product, the success of which is predicated on expanding distribution in a tightly regulated marketplace, explodes at a rate greater than available dispensing outlets ... aren't we designing a situation tailor-made for the abuses of payola?

BEER BRIBERY, by Aaron Goldfarb (Esquire)

One brewer has cried foul on breweries that pay off bars to serve their beers

With around 3000 breweries now in America producing tens of thousands of beers, I bet you wonder how a bar could possibly choose what to put on their few taps. Of course, we all know some bars prefer the kind of corporate swill that their non-demanding customers can drink a lot of on the cheap. While other, more scrutinizing spots surely opt for local offerings and the absolute best craft beer they can possibly land. But what if I told you something more insidious is actually going on?

Last night while you were sleeping—or closing down a bar—Dann Paquette, co-founder and brewer for Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, decided to blow the whistle on an illegal practice going on right before our very beer-soaked eyes. In a series of Tweets under the brewery’s handle, Paquette revealed that Boston is a “pay to play town and we're often shut out for draft lines along with many beers you may love.”

What’s “pay to play”? It’s when breweries bribe bars under the table to stock their beers and freeze out competition and is, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau regulations, an illegal practice.