OK, here’s our first post of 2015. Let’s start with a listicle (an article in the form of a list). Here are the most influential beer websites in the world, as ranked by popularity. It’s an interesting mix of commercial beer sites, craft brew enthusiast sites, and one homebrewing retailer. Of course, if they had a list of beer websites with the most intelligent and best educated readers (and most pandering editor), it would be this site. Am I right? Continuing with lists, Meadist issued their list of the top 5 meads. (See, Beer and Wine Journal does cover wine as well as beer.)
Don’t Do Dryuary
Apparently, some folks take a break from booze in January. People in the alcohol industry are — wait for the big surprise — not in favor of this. Here’s one argument against celebrating “Dryuary.” Here’s another, and the whole thing was even addressed by The Daily Mash (which is like an English version of The Onion).
No, You’re Dumb, You Big Dummy
It’s fine to have opinions. However, if you assume that everyone who doesn’t share your opinion — especially on matters that are purely subjective — is dumb, that makes you . . . well, dumb. As a case in point, here’s a guy who argues that people who order flights of beer are dumb.
Running Out of Names?
Are craft brewers running out of names for their beer? (Hint from a writer: The English language has many words; place names, animals, and descriptions of weather comprise only a fraction of the words in a dictionary.)
Evidence suggests that humans have been consuming alcohol for a long, long time. Here’s the original paper, and here’s a pop-sci summary of it. And while we’re on the topic of science, here’s an article on some amazing properties of beer foam.
Do Craft Brewers Hate Beer Snobs?
After years of praising beers for being brewed in small batches and hand crafted, some craft brewers are now starting to argue that bigger is better.
Jim Koch’s Boston “Brew Ha Ha”
The Two Ironies of the Jim Koch Affair (Commentary)
When I moved to Boston in the early ’90s, you could still see the occasional “I’m a revolting beer drinker” t-shirt — an early promotion of Sam Adams — being worn by people who enjoyed this new type of beer. (There were no such labels as “craft beer” or “beer nerds,” yet.) The Boston Beer Company portrayed Sam Adams beer as literally revolutionary — and this was seen in everything from their slogans to whom they named the beer after. This approach continues to this day. For example, their new IPA is called Rebel IPA. (If you read the description of this beer on their website, they are apparently rebelling against adding a lot of of hops to a West Coast style IPA.)
Now, 30 years after the company was founded, Koch wonders why some craft beer drinkers are “abandoning” his brands. To me, the reason is simple — it was marketed for years as new and revolutionary, but now it is status quo. For many young beer drinkers, Sam Adams has always been not just available, but abundant . . . and successful.
Early advertising for Sam Adams — like much of the advertising that continues in craft brewing today — focused on extolling the virtues of brewing in small batches and producing high quality beer. For a long time after winning top honors at an early GABF, Sam Adams flagship Lager billed itself as The Best Beer in America. By extension, the beer produced by “the big guys” was denigrated as mediocre at best, swill at worst. This brings up the first of two ironies I see in this situation — the question of quality.
Most craft beer enthusiasts have little good to say about American Pilsners. The whole “craft brew movement” is, in large part, a rejection of this bland style of beer in favor of more flavorful offerings. But, our dislike of “fizzy yellow lagers,” to use Stone’s phrase, often drifts into making factually incorrect statements about them, including that they are a shoddily-made product. They are not.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably not a fan of American Pilsners. However, as a brewer, you should be aware that they are brewed to exacting standards by highly knowledgable brewers. (Also, the old saw that they are brewed with adjuncts because adjuncts are cheap isn’t true — adjuncts counteract the high protein levels found in American 6-row malts and, more importantly, lighten the beer to a level of blandness preferred by people who buy that type of beer.) The problem isn’t that they are brewed without skill, the problem is that they are brewed to appeal to the widest number of people possible. And — spoiler alert! — this does not include people who enjoy craft beer. These beers succeed (in the marketplace) for the same reason that Wonderbread and McDonalds succeed — most people prefer bland food to real food that is more flavorful. Secondarily, the fact that Wonderbread costs less than a loaf of “real” bread doesn’t hurt its popularity, either.
Sam Adams rode the wave of conflating pleasing the lowest common denominator with lacking in quality, but now that wave is crashing in on them. If you look at their current portfolio of brands, many are obviously an attempt to brew a fairly bland, crowd-pleasing beer. (Porch Rocker — light lager with lemon juice added — anyone?) This is what most craft beer lovers see these days when they look at Sam Adams — a brewery trying to please as many people as possible. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing, but there has always been an air of snobbery around craft brew enthusiasts, and they (we) clearly prefer beers that aren’t readily accessible to first-time beer drinkers. Most people, for example, aren’t going to warm immediately to a double IPA or bourbon barrel aged imperial stout unless they have some experience some of the more flavorful styles of beer that are being made these days. The bar has shifted since Sam Adams Lager was introduced, and now this beer is seen by many craft beer enthusiasts as functionally equivalent to Budweiser, Miller, or Coors. And given that selling Sam Adams Lager has made Koch a billionaire, it’s somewhat hard not label Sam Adams as a beer with mass appeal. (And this in turn results in its being called “mediocre,” despite being brewed to technical standards most trendy craft breweries couldn’t match.)
The second irony is that Koch apparently feels slighted that craft beer drinkers are “abandoning” Sam Adams. However, if not for people abandoning brand loyalty and trying new things, there would be no Sam Adams. If Koch wanted to regain the hearts and minds of craft brew enthusiasts, he probably could — but this would come at the price of alienating the numerically superior number of people who think Porch Rocker is a great beer. (For whatever it’s worth, I’ve tried Porch Rocker. Like all of Sam Adams brands, it’s a well-crafted beer. And, I certainly would’t turn one down after a hot day in the garden. However, I’m not going to give up IPAs, or sour beers, or porters, or Belgian or Belgian-inspired beers, to focus on drinking an ersatz radler when I’m in the mood to drink “real” beer.)