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Craft Beers: Lies, Marketing, and Public Relations

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On 10/19/2017 at 12:25 PM, DonRocks said:

I began my meal at Bistro 1521 with a 10-ounce snifter of Grapefruit Sculpin IPA ($9) made by Ballast Point Brewing Company - a San Diego, CA-based brewery with an outpost in Daleville, VA; but don't be fooled by the homey "small-town, craft brewery shtick" - Ballast Point was sold for over $1 billion to Constellation Brands, a Fortune 500 company worth over $41 billion. I *really* hate that the consumer must research each individual beer to determine whether or not they're essentially buying Budweiser - someone should publish an annual guidebook to this that you can take to the supermarket; alternatively, retailers and restaurants should do the work for the consumer. This beer was as boring and soulless as you might imagine - yes, you could taste hints of citrus, but so what?

For that guidebook you were looking for on craft beer, try: Craftcheck.  (It was created by a good friend of mine,  so I may be a bit biased)

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Support your local brewers:

Port City, RAR, Old Ox, Monocacy, Calvert Brewing Company are producing some of my favorite beers right now.  

I wish more DC-area restaurants were focused on local brewers, a place like Duke's Grocery/Counter should be 75% or more local beer, IMO.

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8 minutes ago, zgast said:

This was my gateway cider while living in London.  

Founded in 1728 :(

Over/under on Samuel Smith?

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On 1/5/2018 at 5:25 AM, DonRocks said:

One day someone will believe me.

What, that a nigh-monopolistic multinational corporation, upon realizing it was seeing double digit losses in market share for certain growth segments, will flex its corporate muscle to try and regain that market share in any way it can?!?  You don't say ^_^

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On 10/29/2017 at 1:07 PM, Tweaked said:

Support your local brewers:

Port City, RAR, Old Ox, Monocacy, Calvert Brewing Company are producing some of my favorite beers right now.  

I wish more DC-area restaurants were focused on local brewers, a place like Duke's Grocery/Counter should be 75% or more local beer, IMO.

The two Glen's Garden markets are local-only (where the border of "local" is approximately Frederick/Loudon County/Richmond/Delmarva), and they have a really broad selection.  I've been eyeing their growler subscription program that begins again this week.  You get discounts on a weekly growler fill from whatever is featured on their taps and they have some members-only events with the brewers.

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Is there payola going on at the "craft beer" level among beer "critics?" Tonight, it dawned on me that some people - perhaps even some relatively powerful voices - may have strong, financially based, ulterior motives other than looking out for the consumer. 

If you're sitting there right now, eyes as wide as saucers, thinking to yourself that I might be the most naive person in the world, it's because I know *nothing* about the underbelly of the beer-writing industry, and the little glimpse that I saw tonight, worries me - it actually worries me enough so that I might roll up my sleeves and do some digging.

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Is there payola going on at the "craft beer" level among beer "critics?" 

You're goddamn right there is. It's nowhere near the wine world in it's sophistication (and budgets) but it's absolutely there and growing rapidly.

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On 11/1/2016 at 10:53 AM, Deac said:

As a recent resident of Asheville, which brands itself as "Beer City USA," this is an interesting argument.

Asheville claims to have more breweries per capita than any city in the country (from what I understand, it's between here and Bend, OR, home of Deschutes). We have breweries popping up in every part of the city. From downtown where a lot of old warehouses have been converted to breweries, to the town center area called Biltmore Park near where I live (think Reston Town Center) to even the small pizza place near us in a small building behind a fire station where the owner is a passionate home brewer and is looking to up his game.

If a restaurant is not attached to a brewery, you can believe they have a great tap selection of local offerings and craft beer from around the country.

Several of the names here are, in my opinion, brewing some world class beer: namely Burial and Wicked Weed. The latter’s Funkatorium facility produces some remarkable barrel aged beers and sours.

Then you have the big two national brands who have built their East Coast production facilities here: Sierra Nevada and New Belgium. This seems to be the new trend for West Coast breweries, and I think these two started it. Now Oskar Blues is nearby in Brevard, Stone is in Richmond, Deschutes is going to Roanoke (which Asheville thought they were sure to get, and it’s a sore subject around here) and Ballast Point in the Tidewater. Wouldn’t be surprised if more are on the way.

I work right across the river from Sierra, and can see their tanks from my desk. Their facility is unbelievable; it’s as if Willy Wonka opened a brewery. When you drive in you feel like you’re approaching a mountain resort. Everything is shimmering in chrome and copper and brick and wood. They have a fantastic restaurant with innovative small plates, much different from your typical brewpub food – though they have good pizzas, burgers and wings, too. There’s a giant back yard with a concert stage, fire pits, sitting areas among the trees and dogs and kids everywhere. As for the beer they’re offering, they have a lot of unique beers native just to the brewpub, in addition to their national brands like their pale ale, Celebration and more. I just returned from Finland, and my hotel in the city of Tampere two hours north of Helsinki had Sierra beers. It’s remarkable what they’re able to do. And they’re employing a lot of people and bringing in a lot of people to enjoy their food and beers.

I’ve not been to New Belgium, but from what I understand, they are almost exclusively focused on production with just a small taproom on site. No restaurant or anything like that.

These breweries are all independent, but clearly have the capital to expand like they have. I asked someone at one of the smaller local breweries what the local breweries think of them. She said it was mixed, that it’s given Asheville more national recognition, but for her brewery, they have lost employees to the big boys because they have better pay and benefits. And the big breweries are getting well trained employees.

I’ve found that breweries are some of the few businesses that embrace competition because they know that you’re not going to be set in your ways and drink one beer for the rest of your life. It’s not like the old days where you were a Bud man or a Miller man.

The beer bubble will probably one day burst, as there are plenty more breweries on the way in Asheville. I don’t know if any of our local brands will sell out, but for now there seems to be the attitude that they will not. But it’s hard to turn down the money and potential to expand your brand.

To update my own post: been to New Belgium plenty of times and it's great. Always tons of families and dogs and usually 2-3 food trucks there. Great spot to enjoy a beer by the river. And plenty of small breweries have opened since this post (probably north of 10). The biggest change, though, is that Wicked Weed was purchased by InBev last year to a lot of teeth gnashing locally. Every year there's a big beer festival right  in downtown Asheville with only local breweries and a few guest breweries from around North Carolina. Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are allowed to participate because they are still independently owned, but Wicked Weed was kicked out right before last year's festival. 

I admittedly haven't had much of their beer since, but I haven't noticed any decline in the packaged beers (and only been to the taproom I think once since then). 

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On 7/9/2018 at 11:33 PM, ad.mich said:

You're goddamn right there is. It's nowhere near the wine world in it's sophistication (and budgets) but it's absolutely there and growing rapidly.

ad.mich, is there anything else you can add? I would think that the beer industry would have larger budgets than the wine industry, given that the big money in beer is so corporate-concentrated, and that the beverage megaliths have extended their tentacles down into the craft niche.

I poked my head inside the door of this last night, and saw a couple of angry, arrogant rats, in more than one place.

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On 7/9/2018 at 9:43 PM, DonRocks said:

Is there payola going on at the "craft beer" level among beer "critics?" Tonight, it dawned on me that some people - perhaps even some relatively powerful voices - may have strong, financially based, ulterior motives other than looking out for the consumer. 

If you're sitting there right now, eyes as wide as saucers, thinking to yourself that I might be the most naive person in the world, it's because I know *nothing* about the underbelly of the beer-writing industry, and the little glimpse that I saw tonight, worries me - it actually worries me enough so that I might roll up my sleeves and do some digging.

You should do some research on what has been going on in the Maryland General Assembly regarding the conflict between wholesalers and small local breweries.  Essentially, the big money has flexed their muscles to prevent the little guys from having viable tap rooms (even the bigger local guys like Flying Dog).  

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12 minutes ago, pras said:

You should do some research on what has been going on in the Maryland General Assembly regarding the conflict between wholesalers and small local breweries.  Essentially, the big money has flexed their muscles to prevent the little guys from having viable tap rooms (even the bigger local guys like Flying Dog).  

I followed that as much as it related to the new Guinness theme park opening soon.  I didn't realize that the compromise didn't extend to smaller brewers.  Union Brewing just opened a huge tap room in the old Pepsi distribution warehouse.  I guess MD brewers can still expand up to a point.  The fight is over how much product they can sell directly, correct?

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6 minutes ago, TedE said:

I followed that as much as it related to the new Guinness theme park opening soon.  I didn't realize that the compromise didn't extend to smaller brewers.  Union Brewing just opened a huge tap room in the old Pepsi distribution warehouse.  I guess MD brewers can still expand up to a point.  The fight is over how much product they can sell directly, correct?

The legislation that allowed Guinness  to open in Baltimore County was specific to Baltimore County and that facility.  It should have been called the "Diageo Bill".  For more of what has been going on in Maryland in the beer scene, please read this article from the Baltimore Sun.

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37 minutes ago, pras said:

For more of what has been going on in Maryland in the beer scene, please read this article from the Baltimore Sun.

I remember seeing Peter Franchot and Dana Dembrow back in 1986 (it must have been 1986, since I was living in White Oak), standing at the intersection of University Blvd and Colesville Rd at Four Corners, mindlessly waving to all cars passing by every morning while I was driving to work during campaign season. 

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On 7/10/2018 at 8:17 PM, DonRocks said:

ad.mich, is there anything else you can add? I would think that the beer industry would have larger budgets than the wine industry, given that the big money in beer is so corporate-concentrated, and that the beverage megaliths have extended their tentacles down into the craft niche.

I poked my head inside the door of this last night, and saw a couple of angry, arrogant rats, in more than one place.

Yes there is plenty of money in beer, but for years and years there was no need to spend it in a payola fashion (and very few outlets to do so even if you wanted to). Who would you even be trying to influence? Wine Spectator, Food & Wine, and Wine Enthusiast were all founded in the 70s, and there are dozens of smaller outlets that were established and grew below them in the decades to follow. If you add in the regular wine columns you see in newspapers and then all the micro coverage, and you're looking at an entire well established (and well fed) ecosystem of press coverage. What existed of the US beer world to cover in the 70s? The 80s? Hell, even by the 90s you had Michael Jackson's beer book and not really much else until the middle of the decade.

In the 20th century the budgets spent in the wine world on buying off tasters and sham junkets could be spent in the beer world on building Bud Light Island or Spuds McKenzie's Whassupatopia. To some degree that's changing, but I don't think there's the same bang for your buck in the beer world (yet) because no one has really captured the eyes and ears of that market. The rise of the craft beer world coinciding with the downfall of print media didn't help things, and a lot of what passes for independent coverage are glorified blog postings and bearded half-in-the-bag Youtube 'content'. There are a handful of well done websites covering beer but it's a real scattered market with no real clear industry leader. Beer drinkers would generally rather post on forums. Sometimes drinkers like to hear themselves talk, I guess. 

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2 hours ago, ad.mich said:

What existed of the US beer world to cover in the 70s? The 80s?

In the early-mid 80s, I was a beer-hound before I was a wine-hound before I was a restaurant-hound. There was *one* book on the market, which I still have and will lend you - it is absolutely astonishing how small the beer market was thirty-years ago; yet, Howard Hillman's, "The Gourmet Guide to Beer" (1983) was consistent and accurate. It's sort of like Steve Jenkins' "Cheese Primer" (1996) - revolutionary, but (especially in the case of the beer guide) incredibly small in scope due to limited imports and practically non-existent domestic production.

Relating to the long term, America's beer market is in a period of clumsy adolescence, and (in my opinion) is in a "Wild-West phase," dominated by younger people who have fallen in love with floral, bitter hops in the same way the wine market became dominated by incredibly oaky wines ten years ago. I bought a six pack of Bell's Two-Hearted Ale a few days ago, and I just can't drink the stuff - it sucks for me, because I really love beer, but I just cannot do bitter hops - there should be a myriad of styles on the market, but there just isn't, at least not that's readily available - and people like me are stuck with "relative degrees of hoppiness."

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14 hours ago, DonRocks said:

Relating to the long term, America's beer market is in a period of clumsy adolescence, and (in my opinion) is in a "Wild-West phase," dominated by younger people who have fallen in love with floral, bitter hops in the same way the wine market became dominated by incredibly oaky wines ten years ago. I bought a six pack of Bell's Two-Hearted Ale a few days ago, and I just can't drink the stuff - it sucks for me, because I really love beer, but I just cannot do bitter hops - there should be a myriad of styles on the market, but there just isn't, at least not that's readily available - and people like me are stuck with "relative degrees of hoppiness."

Don, do you like sour beers?  The proliferation of sour and spontaneously fermented offerings has been almost as dramatic as the great hop wars of a decade ago.    There is a TON of really interesting stuff out there, but there is also a ton of breweries hopping on that bandwagon and producing middling or toned down versions of classics (for the good stuff locally visit Right Proper).  It's true that a there is a real lack of breweries specializing in Old World, malt-forward styles that aren't 15% abv. bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial stouts. You are hard pressed to find a decent bock, marzen or English mild ale on the market.  That's a shame (pour one out again for the dearly departed DeGroen's ...).

But like you say above, breweries are chasing the money, which means chasing the market.  ad.mich is right on the nose about the way that the beer "press" is different than the wine world.  It is in every sense of the modern word dominated by "influencers", and those tastes seem to get narrower and narrower every day with a new flavor of the month popping up on a yearly basis or so.  Somebody is going to make a case study one day out of the rapid rise of the East Coast or "hazy/juicy" IPA.  Popularized only a few years ago from a select group of breweries in New England, it's created such a crazed frenzy among a pretty small subset of beer geeks that even big players like Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams have jumped into the fray, and it's even a recognized style at GABF (from inception to canonization in about 10 years!).  The formula seems simple: get lots of buzz about one or two really good offerings, post lots on Instagram, institute a strict allotment for newly released brews and, voila: lines down the block on a random Thursday that will see you sell out literally whatever you choose to can in tallboys for $20-30 a 4-pack.  It's a positive feedback loop, because even when the beers are not good the loudest voices downplay the obvious negatives.  It doesn't matter because the line will be there next week no matter what, often to sell or trade at a profit in beer swaps.  Once you reach "whale" status it all goes wonky.  I'm all for innovation, but I've had some of this stuff and, frankly, it's cloyingly sweet crap.  I mean, does this sound good to you?:

Quote

Crushable Strawberry Milkshake IPA is a step in an unexpected direction for our boundary pushing Culinary IPA series. Brewed with an easier amount of malted oats, wheat and lactose sugar, but hopped at the same rate as any of our other Milkshake IPAs with Mosaic and Citra and conditioned on the same amount of Madagascar vanilla bean as well, and then conditioned on TWICE the usual amount of luscious strawberry purée. Notes of fluffy tropical smoothie, lemon meringue, a very clear Lemon Haze high, cotton candy, and strawberry gummies. 4.4% abv. $20/four pack.
.
Double Tepache Milkshake is another funny far out riff on THE culinary IPA series that should have never existed. Brewed with heavy amounts of malted oats and wheat and hopped with Citra and Mosaic. Conditioned atop a deeply embedded blend of Madagascar vanilla bean, all spice, cinnamon, and clove as well as a heavy amount of pineapple purée. Intense notes of coconut cream, pineapple upside down cake, tropical bubblegum, and creme brulee. 9.2% abv. $25/four pack.

But the beers look interesting in a glass, the can art is usually unique and the names are often whimsical.  I fear that has become all that matters: if you sample a beer without posting evidence online, does it have any taste at all?  As long as it gets the 'Likes'

Yes, I'm a cranky beer lover, but this stuff astounds me.  And it's ALL over the place these days.  The frustrating thing is that breweries like Tired Hands do produce some outstanding offerings; they rightfully got their reputation somewhere, but that has been overwhelmed by chasing the the loudest, most extreme market which, IMHO, has questionable taste.  They are printing money hand over fist, though, so if these breweries continue make some good beers I will look the other way ... with a strong side of stink eye.

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13 minutes ago, TedE said:

Don, do you like sour beers?  

Yes! Thor Cheston introduced me to them maybe ten years ago - I don't like to sit around and drink them alone, but with the right types of cuisine, they can be fantastic. I remember Nathan Anda (while he was at EatBar) was serving a flatbread with blue cheese, and I paired it with a Boon Gueuze - it was pretty close to a perfect match.

Two nights ago, I was at BlackSalt, and I had (if I recall) a Jailbreak Infinite Amber Ale, and I enjoyed it enough where I got a second one. In April, I paid $100 to cab from the Munich airport to the Weihenstephaner Brauhaus, and had time enough for one beer - it was worth every penny to me: For my own palate, it was the most I've enjoyed a beer in many years - even what I had in Belgium didn't ring my bell in the same way ... for drinking by themselves, I can't get my palate to push past German- and English-style beers, try as I might (I've never been to Prague, but it's on my short list).

13 minutes ago, TedE said:

There is a TON of really interesting stuff out there, but there is also a ton of breweries hopping on that bandwagon and producing middling or toned down versions of classics

:)

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On 7/16/2018 at 7:18 PM, DonRocks said:

In the early-mid 80s, I was a beer-hound before I was a wine-hound before I was a restaurant-hound. There was *one* book on the market, which I still have and will lend you - it is absolutely astonishing how small the beer market was thirty-years ago; yet, Howard Hillman's, "The Gourmet Guide to Beer" (1983) was consistent and accurate. It's sort of like Steve Jenkins' "Cheese Primer" (1996) - revolutionary, but (especially in the case of the beer guide) incredibly small in scope due to limited imports and practically non-existent domestic production.

I would *love* to read that.

On 7/16/2018 at 7:18 PM, DonRocks said:

Relating to the long term, America's beer market is in a period of clumsy adolescence, and (in my opinion) is in a "Wild-West phase," dominated by younger people who have fallen in love with floral, bitter hops in the same way the wine market became dominated by incredibly oaky wines ten years ago.

The hop insanity kind of is what it is. There will always be trends, but Big Hop comes back wave after wave. I always compare their overuse to the bacon fetish of early oughts chefs - an easily understood concept for customers that (in lesser hands) also has a convenient side effect of smoothing over less than perfect craftsmanship. Otherwise though, I'd actually say the American beer market is in the sulky teenager phase. Confused, excited, spastic, and prone to spontaneous anger and wild mood swings. Not a girl, not yet a woman. I guess that means in a few years we'll have reached the shaved head, barefoot in the gas station bathroom phase.

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7 hours ago, ad.mich said:

I would *love* to read that.

I found it online, if you don't mind scrolling through a virtual version. If not, I can post here about how to find a zillion things such as this, apparently all for free (for now). If you want a real copy, write me!

BTW, I think we're on the same page regarding "where things are" - your "sulky teenager" is my "wild West" - the primary difference is that I'm thinking in terms of decades, so all of this Big Hop coming back wave-after-wave is, to me, one discrete item in the big picture of things. There's no substitute for longevity when it comes to a culture's culinary maturation, and I'm hopeful for future generations. 

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I think the sour/wild beer craze is about to hit or soon will hit the point of saturation of the IPA/hazy IPA trend.  Everyone now has a "sour" beer, but few do it well.  I think the trend is going to mature though.  You will see malt forward beers, and more nuanced beers make a comeback--Octoberfests, pilsners, kolsch, etc.

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