To have local ingredients requires a local infrastructure and often this infrastructure can be unsexy. Malt is typically an afterthought in brewing as hops steals all the glory. Admiral Maltings, the first Bay Area malt house since the early 80’s is likely to change these perceptions which, is why I’m particularly excited to see how this new venture turns out. It’s a story about developing a locally grown barley and entrepreneurs in the Bay Area brewing community coming together to create a facility celebrating both malt and a California beer terroir that I was pleased to tell in the latest issue of Edible East Bay.
I’ll try to keep this brief as I know all too well that reading about someone else’s running quickly becomes intolerable. I’ve been doing a lot of racing this year. Haven’t written much about it here, but it started with the San Jose, 408k in March, the Saratoga-Los Gatos Great Race in April, the Marin Memorial Day 10k in May, some 10k in Palo Alto I forget the name of, the Santa Cruz Wharf to Wharf 6 miler in July, and the Los Gatos Dammit Run in August. For fun, I ran a 5k with my kids on the 4th of July. (That’s me with them after the race in that picture up there.)
Whew! That’s a lot of racing. Won’t bore you with any of the times or performances, except to say I ran about a minute faster at this year’s Wharf to Wharf Race than last years. At any rate, the big circle the calendar race for 2017 is the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon November 12th. I’ll be training hard for it, but not too hard. We’ll see how it goes.
After spending 2016 battling hip injuries, it’s been an injury free and enjoyable year for running so far with low key races. I’ll try to keep it that way for the Monterey Bay Half Marathon without the drama filled and soul-searching posts of previous years.
Aren’t you glad?
Gail Williams of Beer by Bart does her best to stir the pot for this month’s Beer Blogging Session, asking us to weigh in on the highly charged topic of Hazy, Cloudy, Juicy IPAs. I would love join the internet mosh pit on the subject with a blistering screed on why hazy IPAs are a hideous communist plot, symptomatic of the decline of American civilization and all sort of other horrible things. While the subject elicits passion on both sides, I’ll just say I’m not a fan of hazy, cloudy IPAs and that’s about the end of it.
I’ve ordered a couple without realizing it until the murky pint was set down in front of me. I’ve been too polite to send it back. And truth be told, they weren’t too hard to choke down. I actually like the unfiltered Simpleton IPA from Sante Adairius Rustic Ales based in Santa Cruz, CA. Simpleton IPA is arguably a hoppy farmhouse ale rather than a cloudy IPA. Whatever you want to call it, the yeasty suspension works to soften and round out the herbaceous hop character. It’s done skillfully, with a subtle touch to create one of those refreshing brews that maintains a lot of depth. I guess hazy IPAs aren’t all bad.
Sorry, it’s hard for me to bring a lot of passion to this debate. Life’s too short to get worked up over beer styles or brewing philosophes, given that brewing purists have their objections. Experimenting with things like the interplay of hops in a unfiltered beer or pushing styles to their logical limit is what makes the current brewing revolution so compelling. But considering some of the pints of hoppy sludge I’ve seen, some brewers aren’t driven by creativity and innovation, but how to make a quick buck on what’s selling today. Now if consumers crave a pint full of hoppy crud and brewers are willing to satisfy that demand, well that’s the way the free market works. Call yourself a “craft brewer” all you want, but if you’re chasing fads by resorting to brewing gimmicks like using flour or generating excessive yeast and grain in suspension, you’ve lost any right to claim you’re brewing with honesty, integrity and a passion for brewing excellence, even if you slap the Brewers Association Independence Seal on your label. You’re just brewing the equivalent of Not Your Father’s Root Beer or God forbid, Zima, just on a smaller economic scale.
OK, maybe I’m starting to get a little passionate about this.
Some interesting reads over the past week you might enjoy:
Is glow-in-the-dark beer the next New England IPA? San Diego Beer Makers’ Glow-in-the-Dark Beer Gets Glowing Reviews
The Democratic Party puts big beer in their political cross-hairs, via Brewbound: To Promote a Better Deal, Dems Criticize Megabrew
Andy Crouch, on brewery ownership transparency, via BeerAdvocate: Forget Craft: Let’s Try Talking Transparency
Selling out is so 2015…Tara Nunin writes on the wave of craft brewery mega-mergers Forbes: New Brooklyn and Lagunitas Investments Show Why Selling Out Is So 2015
Scientists are getting closer to understanding the microbes of wild fermentation Science: Microbe new to science found in self-fermented beer.
Jon Urch has written a fascinating piece on independence in coffee ownership, or lack thereof, contrasting it with the raging internet debates on who owns beer these days. I’m not going to say much about it, other than to say I had no idea large corporations had their hands so deep in hip coffee hangouts, or that hardly anyone gives a hoot about it. It’s a great read: Does anyone give a beam who owns coffee?
Devil’s Canyon Brewing was ahead of its time in opening up its brewery to the public, providing the connection between beer and the community that so many breweries establish today with their tap rooms and brew pubs. Devil’s Canyon Beer Friday events have always been much more family friendly than most breweries, their Root Beer playing a significant role in that. I tried to capture Devil’s Canyon pioneering ideas in the latest issue of Edible Silicon Valley (ESY) which is out now both in print form and online. I’d like to thank the ESY editors at who were pretty enthusiastic about the story and provided some interesting and helpful “non-beer geek” perspective for the piece. You can read the online version here:
There’s been so much ado about the new Brewers Association (BA) Independence Craft Brewers Seal released last week. The BA is encouraging it’s member breweries to affix the seal to their labels to distinguish independent brewers, as defined by the BA from breweries that are owned by large brewing conglomerates like AB InBev, MillerCoors and Heineken. The idea is to allow consumers to make an informed choice based on the brewery ownership, as mega-corporations are buying up small breweries to compete in the beer market, as high volume lagers are losing marketshare to more flavorful beer styles brewed by smaller breweries.
Plenty of people like Jeff Alworth, Bryan Roth, Alan McLeod, and Chris Barnes weighed in on the topic and there’s been plenty of internet chatter over the issue. I have a somewhat different take on things, so in the spirit of “better late than never”, here are my thoughts.
The concept of identifying independent breweries to differentiate from corporate-owned breweries sounds good, until you start reading the Brewer’s Association somewhat contrived definition of an independent craft brewer. (That the BA is shifting the semantic debate from craft brewer to independent brewer is telling.) If you’re wondering why Boston Beer Company, a publicly owned company with a market capitalization of well over a billion dollars pumping out mostly lagers and alco-pops is an independent brewery in the mind of the Brewer’s Association, you’d hardly be alone. Plenty of fine breweries, like Kansas City’s Boulevard, are considered non-dependent due to corporate ownership. And sneer all you want you want at the breweries like 10 Barrel, Goose Island, Lagunitas, Ballast Point that were recently acquired by mega-corporations as sell outs, they all still brew some mighty fine beer. So a big problem with the independence seal is that “independent brewer” no longers says a whole lot about the beer, good or bad, inside the package.
The other problem is that consumers of most products really don’t care too much about company ownership, or at least as not as much as beer geeks and brewing industry wonks care about brewery ownership. Oh sure, people say they love that wonderful locally owned Italian bistro on the corner, but The Olive Garden still does pretty good business. Starbucks has put many an independent coffee shop out of business and most people barely shrug.
Now the BA cites a Neilsen/Brewbound study claiming independence matters most to consumers when making their purchasing decisions. But as beer writer Bryan Roth has pointed out, Brewbound’s Justin Kendall cautions about taking this finding too far. “Even though consumers say they understand the terms “independent” and “independently owned,”, Kendall writes, “there remains the question of whether they actually know about ownership changes and if those would actually affect their purchasing decisions.”
So what we’re left with is an Independence Seal for breweries which are deemed independent by the BA for reasons most people wouldn’t understand, and even if they did, might not cause them to purchase differently. The independence seal is basically the old craft vs. crafty argument four and half years later.
I’ve had a few beers these days from independent breweries which may have been brewed with honesty, integrity, and a passion for brewing, but basically sucked. The brewing industry has become too complicated for neat definitions and the BA seems to have little answer to these new realities other than to recycle old arguments which are increasingly less relevant over time. Resorting to a marketing logo to combat some pretty powerful economic and business forces is not very likely to work, and has failed in the past.
Surprisingly, AB InBev felt the need to respond, releasing an odd video in response to the Independent Seal, with six brewers of AB InBev’s High End Craft Beer Portfolio speaking to the camera in talking points, making a bunch of disingenuous arguments against the seal, and calling for breweries to unite together against wine and spirits competition. Needless to say, after hearing the calls for unity from a corporation that’s engaged in all sorts of aggressive, anti-competitive business practices against small breweries for decades. Watching the video, I almosted expect one of the brewers to turn to the camera and say “Did you know the word “gullible” isn’t in the dictionary?” .
As laughable as this video is, it highlights a major rift in the brewing industry that doesn’t plague other industries. Plenty of trade organizations in various industries are filled with warring tribes, yet find a way to speak with one voice for the good of the industry without major rifts. In fact, wine and spirits has experienced corporate ownership of small, high end firms for decades and as a result, there’s a lot less business distractions due to these different types of ownerships. The AB InBev propaganda video contains a nugget of truth and a warning the BA should heed.