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Is beer as good as it’s going to get?

Windows at Louis Mueller's in Taylor, Texas

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 10.20.14

How I pick the links to include here:

– Wednesday morning I received a press release about chef David Chang’s bit of silliness in GQ about “fancy beer.” Friday morning I received a press release about Garrett Oliver’s response, also in GQ. No need to bother with this pissing match. You’re not going to miss it.

– Tuesday morning, because I roll out of bed rather early, Dan Paquette’s Monday night into Tuesday morning rant was near the top of my Twitter feed. And the story sped ahead from there. The ratio of words to actual information was rather high and only by chance did Twitter point me to an interesting (though anonymous and unsubstantiated) post 10 pages into a Beer Advocate discussion. In my youth I was a newspaper city editor. I’m pretty sure that we could have found a way to report this as a local story. It would have taken both feet on the street time and some forensic accounting. When I see a proper story I’ll be sure to link to it. Waiting for that link.

– Although I suspect I’ll be waiting for that particular link a while, Saturday morning Zak Avery used the topic as a jumping off place for an entirely different discussion. Drop that one into Pocket.

Craft Beer in a Post-Craft World. One of Avery’s takeaways is “Beer isn’t going to get any better than it is now” (it appears three times in boldface). In part that’s because it is really good now. I understand what he means when he writes “the technology of craft beer – focusing on quality and flavour without cutting corners to maximise profits – has reached endgame.” But I don’t agree that it won’t get better.

As I type this I realize it could be an entire post, but I’ll try to be unusually concise. Granted, “good enough” and “better” are moving targets. But how do you know that something better won’t come along? I had conversations with people just two weeks ago in which they guaranteed me that Firestone Walker Pivo Pils was the best pilsner-type beer they’d ever tasted. And it hasn’t been in bottles two years.

This isn’t about a quest to find the best pale ale, the best weissbier, the best porter; or even a desire to always be tasting something new. Beer is food, and that means there are more than 3,000 (a lot more, given the freedom many breweries extend multiple brewers) beer chefs operating in the United States. I’m happy enough to think that I’ll never find commercially smoked brisket better than at Louie Mueller’s in Taylor, Texas, but there are times when I might enjoy brisket more someplace else. And I really like sitting in Louie Mueller’s (those are Mueller’s smoke-stained windows at the top).

Avery accurately describes “post-craft era” as a buzz-phrase. I like it. It drew me to his post (Boak & Bailey used the phrase “post-craft world” back in May, but I was in Brazil and missed it until now). In an email not long ago Vince Cottone, who gets credit for giving us the term “craft” brewery, wrote that he was disappointed the term “industrial brew” (which he wrote about at the same time 30 years ago) didn’t get any traction. I’ve been having conversations with brewers about post-industrial beer and post-industrial brewing and although they humor me there is the chance this is only something I’ve made up.

It works better if you don’t aim for a specific definition (sorta like “craft”). But the idea is that brewers at businesses interested in operating on various levels of scale now have the technology that resulted from the R&D very large brewing companies could afford. So we can have beer that is not designed for the broadest audience and shipped all over the face of the earth, but still “cleaner, more consistent, more reliable, less of a lottery.”

The discussion about good, better, best, fantastic, life changing, and so on is a different one. Avery has given us a lot to think about. Makes you wish we didn’t have to wait 112 days between posts. If only because this one also hit the on switch for Max Bahnson.
[Via Tasting the Pith]

So You Wanna be a Brewer? 20 Real Facts About Working in a Brewery. Since I might have hijacked Zak Avery’s idea to make my own point, here’s another reminder that brewing is a business.
[Via Queen City Drinks]

Farmhouse ales of Europe. “Farmhouse ale lives in many more places than people have been aware of.” Wow, what a list. Do we call these indigenous?
[Via Largsblog]

If Everyone Else Is A Beer Expert – Why Not Me? Proof that you can make a point in a lot less space and in a far more amusing way than me.
[Via A Good Beer Blog]

Could Budweiser be better than craft beer? When I posted this on Twitter complained they’d just wasted two minutes of their life reading it. Consider yourself warned.
[Via The Drinks Business]

The Uncritical Embrace of Craft Beer? Also got dissed for posting this link on Twitter. “Did you mean to make me lose that time?” It is long, and it is a topic already discussed at length, but something people are still figuring out. And relevant, I think, to The Session #90 Roundup.
[Via a Tempest in a Tankard]

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Session #90 roundup: Gloves come off (again)

The SessionIt took Jake Scholan more than a while to get around to posting the roundup for The Session #90: Beer Flight Club, and he explains why. When I pointed to the original announcement I suggested that the premise was that the gloves would come off. They did once again for the roundup.

There is a plethora of overwhelming banality. When flooded with it, it becomes too much. Too many poorly written posts. Too many posts that just tell you things instead of showing you. Too much of everything I’ve been complaining about, and not doing anything to fix.

I got about halfway through the posts, I closed my laptop and walked away.

I don’t know where I’m going, what I’m going to do, or anything of the sort. But dammit, bloggers, you need to step your games up.

OK, that’s not all that friendly. That doesn’t it isn’t worth reading. If you have some time to kill I suggest this combination:

The roundup. (Granted my eyes are old, but at this point you’ll need a break from the white type on black background — or do what I do, and put it in Pocket to read.)

– Alan McLeod’s contribution to The Session #90. And consider spending $2.99 for The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer – A Rant in Nine Acts.

HB’s post, which makes it much more clear, than the announcement, what he had in mind.

Now I’ll return to deciding which links to suggest you read tomorrow. They won’t be beer reviews, so maybe HB has a point.

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Q&A: Sean Lewis, ‘We Make Beer’

There has been discussion of late about the need to find different ways to write about beer. I could be wrong — happens all the time — but it suspect it will be interesting to compare “We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers” and “The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer” within that context.

I’ve read the first, and hope to cuddle up with the second before long. In the meantime, I emailed “We Make Beer” author Sean Lewis a few questions. These may be of more interest to me than you, and probably make more sense after reading the book. So a bit of background. Lewis is 30 years old, from Southern California and a sportswriter and beer columnist by trade, currently at the Santa Barbara News Press.

Lewis was living in Massachusetts when the story began with Blue Hills Brewery. He traveled across the country in writing the book, which includes interviews with principals at much better known breweries, such as Jim Koch at Boston Beer Co., Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada Brewing, and Matt Brynildson at Firestone Walker Brewing. He got to know them well enough that he felt comfortable writing about them by first name — which is one of the things I asked him about.

Are you your target audience? Are you craft beer’s target audience?

I’m part of my target audience, but I’m also a real big nerd and I definitely wanted to make sure that the book wasn’t overloaded with technical terms so that it could be accessible for someone with just a casual interest in beer. I probably fall smack dab in the middle of craft beer’s target demographic. I don’t want to over generalize a whole subset of beer consumers, but I meet a lot of people that are a lot like me in this industry.

Did it start out to be a different book than it ended up? Did Blue Hills end up playing a bigger role, a smaller role, the same role?

Amazingly, just about the only thing that remained constant from my original intention for the book and the end result was the role of Blue Hills and Andris Veidis. I wanted to have a familiar character for my readers to go back to. I felt if I could relate the larger themes I was trying to convey to the daily operations of one particular brewery then it would only make my points that much clearer.

What changed greatly from the initial concept was my role in the narrative. The book began as a sort of road story, but much of that faded away as the team at St. Martin’s Press and I worked with the text. My background is in journalism, and the book was much stronger in the parts that were more journalistic.

Did you pick out the stories in the book or did they pick you out?

I had an idea of what I was looking for, but most of the stories took on lives of their own. And that’s a good thing — I don’t think it’s the best journalistic practice to go into a story assuming you already know what it is.

Is this a big picture book or a small picture book?

It’s a big picture book illustrated by many small pictures.

What changed from start to finish?

In terms of the structure of the narrative, almost everything. It went from an intimate story of my brother and I driving across the country drinking beer to a story of brewers making beer. But in terms of the themes I thought I could convey, things like craftsmanship, community and collaboration, those remained the same.

Why did you refer to the people you interviewed by first name on second reference rather than by last name?

I wanted to really connect my readers to the brewers. I originally had it written with the brewers’ last names, but it felt stiff and formal — which beer never is. I really hoped to capture the voices of the brewers I spoke with, and I feel that using the first names helped accomplish that better. Granted, there were times where using the last name seemed more appropriate as well, but in the spirit of uniformity I decided that using only first names was better than using either only last names or some blend of the two.

What were the “holy shit” things you learned?

Holy shit, pro brewers can handle their booze. Apart from that, I was amazed at how open and accessible everyone was. It was easier for me to get an interview with the heads of the largest craft breweries in the country than it would be to speak with the commissioner of Southern California high school football. I’m constantly impressed by how few brewers have their heads up their own asses because it’s so common everywhere else.

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Because we still don’t need ‘Over Analysis Syndrome’

Matt Van Wyk’s post about “Over Analysis Syndrome” almost nine years ago when he was still brewing at Flossmoor Station in Illinois remains just as true this morning. My brain might be wired funny, but I thought of it when reading what Michael Baumann wrote at Grantland.

Just when the sport has been studied and scrutinized and quantified to within an inch of solving it, something bizarre and beautiful, like these Royals, comes along.

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The purpose of drinking?

Cask beer, London

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 10.13.14

Crowd Control: A History of Bar Etiquette Because, can you resist a story with a quote this honest? “The purpose of drinking is to get as drunk as you can without ruining it for other people.”
[Via Punch]

How your local IPA is quietly becoming a leading economic driver in Oregon. A closer look at how the Oregon brewing industry produces $2.83 billion in total economic impact. I like this bit about Block 15 in Corvallis: “Tart cherries come from The Cherry Country near Salem, raspberries from Denison Farms in Corvallis, peaches from Olson Family Farms in Salem, strawberries from Stahlbush Island Farms in Covallis and grapes from Left Coast Cellars in Rickreall.” Ingredients from places familiar to people who live and drink in Corvallis.
[Via 1859]

Beer judging considered harmful. SPOILER ALERT. “So the lesson is: just because you can recognize the chemical and know that it’s sometimes a problem, don’t automatically assume something must be wrong with the beer. Something may be wrong. Or the butterscotch flavour from the diacetyl might actually make it better.”
Via Larsblog

Beer, beer, everywhere … Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “An American walks into a British pub and
[Via Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog

The 40pc leap in capacity at the Doom Bar brewery and the 2014/5 Cask Report. Up front there is the fact that Doom Bar had become a brand one tenth the size of Carling lager. and Martyn Cornell writes: “That might not sound much, but blimey, there’s not been a cask ale brand with that kind of clout in the market for decades.” Beyond that, a summary of the latest Cask Report (kind of a state of the union for real ale in England).
[Via Zythophile]

Concrete Beach Brewery Will Teach You To Love Craft Beer. This is a story about Concrete Beach Brewing in Miami, funded by Alchemy & Science, the collaboration between Alan Newman (ex-Magic Hat) and Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company. You’ll likely take away something different from this article than I did. When I got to the part where the manager of the “Social Hall” said “My first beer ever was a Michelob Ultra” my mind shut down. Wasn’t Michelob Ultra invented like three years ago? (Correct answer is 2002.)
[Via Miami Eater]

John Hickenlooper, Party of One. I’m not sure who you think the best known person brewer-type in American beer is, but Hickenlooper’s place in the post-MaytageMcAuliffe American brewing world is pretty well established and as governor of Colorado he might be a recognizable at Jim Koch. This profile of a guy who keeps his promises points out, “He even fits the zeitgeist—the microbrewery owner who throws an annual tech and business summit to foster Colorado’s start-up scene, the fellow you might have seen strumming a banjo on stage with Old Crow Medicine Show.”
[Via The Atlantic]

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