Top Menu

Archive | October, 2007

Open Source Beer: Free? Better? A gimmick?

Flying Dog Collaborator Open Source BeerHow do you decide when tweaking a recipe what makes a beer, a bowl of soup or a pot of mash potatoes better? Or, put another way, how many brewers is too many in a brewery?

This seemed like a good question to ask the crew at Flying Dog Ales upon the release of Wild Dog Collaborator Doppelbock, a result of the brewery’s The Open Source Beer Project.

In case you missed it, here was the premise:

“Open source” is a term most commonly used in the software industry and refers to any program whose source code is made available for use or modification as users or other developers see fit. In this case, Flying Dog’s Open Source Beer Project will allow beer drinkers and homebrewers to create and recommend changes and modifications to the recipe.

The Open Source Beer Project will start as a Dopplebock but the style may evolve as participants offer ideas and tweak the recipe. “We are encouraging input on every part of the recipe, down to how what variety of hops we should use, how much we should use and when we should add them,” said Flying Dog Head Brewer, Matt Brophy.

“Many of our recipes are already collaborations from our brewers in house,” Brophy said while we sampled the beer. This beer turned into something more along those lines than what results with open source software. For one thing, there won’t be another version before next year. In contrast, WordPress makes this blog go, currently Version 2.2.1, and has been since Version 1.5.

So what if another brewer — figure it would be an amateur, also known as a homebrewer — grabbed the recipe posted by Flying Dog, made revisions and brought samples to the brewery? Might the changes end up in another version of the beer? (There won’t be another until next year, at the earliest.)

“If it is better, that’s what we’re all about,” Brophy said.

Were this a cartoon, you would have seen a light bulb go on above the head of Josh Mishell, creative manager. “People should send us that beer,” he said.

“We send beer to people,” said Neal Stewart, director of marketing. “Why can’t people send beer to us?”

Now that would be a gimmick.

So, to one of the questions in the headline, was this a gimmick?

Stewart explained that his goal is to make sure each Wild Dog release has a hook. “This series is designed to build some credibility with the beer community and the high-end liquor stores,” he said. “And we truly did want to engage homebrewers.”

It seems curious to listen to Stewart talk about striving for credibility. After all, president/”lead dog” Eric Warner is Weihenstephan-trained and has written books about brewing.

“We have this stigma of being gimmicky,” Stewart, pointing to the Ralph Steadman labels on Flying Dog beers and the brewery’s association with the late Hunter Thompson. “Some consumers think we had to do this to hide bad beer.”

It would be hard to be more transparent than Flying Dog has been with Collaborator Doppelbock. “We didn’t hold anything back,” Brophy said.

So to another question at the top. Is the beer better?

We don’t really have Version 0.9 or v1.1 to taste it against. Some will like the fact that it is spiced with American hops, one of the tweaks that came from website suggestions. Some won’t.

Maybe you can’t taste the intangibles, but Brophy knows they are there. “It was fun, a fun project,” he said. “It created excitement. Not just externally but internally.”

Oh, yeah, the third question: Is it free?

The recipe is. The beer isn’t. But then you knew that.

Book review: Best of American Beer & Food

The Best of American Beer & FoodOnce a good ol’ beer person, always a good ol’ beer person.

Lucy Saunders can’t help herself. She’s a beer person, and that shows up on every page of The Best of American Beer & Food: Pairing & Cooking with Craft Beer.

(Disclaimer: Lucy has been a friend of my wife and I for 15 years, and we both had a small hand in this book. Now I’ll go back to calling her Saunders.)

This is the book you’d expect from someone whose preparation included working as a line cook in top flight restaurants where beer is treated with respect, but also the book you’d expect from somebody who has gone to brewing school. A beer person. Somebody who can talk to us about the pleasures of food and drink without being fussy.

She isn’t pedantic when she writes about finding the right beer for a particular dish, nor when it comes to executing a recipe. She’s friendly, as you’d expect of a beer person.

So what’s in the book?

- Primers for enjoying the decadent side of beer, with separate chapters on beer and cheese, then beer and chocolate.
- An affirmation of what’s going on across the country, with interviews from every region.
- Recipes, of course, six or seven dozen of them, many made with beer and all intended to be enjoyed with beer.
- Food porn. Full-page, color pictures worth at least a thousand words apiece.

Who should own the book?

- It helps if you can cook — some of the recipes are challenging.
- Anybody looking for pleasures to enjoy with friends. Be ready to be inspired to prepare multi-course meals served with a wide range of beers.
- Anybody looking for simple pleasures. You can pick a single dish, a simple one, and stick to one beer.
- Food lovers who are ready to be surprised. I fully expect cooking types to find a recipe that looks too good to pass on, discover it is prepared or served with a beer style new to them . . . and have a new favorite beer.

No, this isn’t totally groundbreaking. Brewers Publications, the publishing arm of the Brewers Association and producer of this book, also put out Candy Schermerhorn’s Great American Beer Cookbook in 1993. There have been several outstanding books since (and soon I’ll get to reviewing Great Food Great Beer, also brand new) and you may want to buy one or more of them as well.

What I appreciate about The Best of American Beer & Food is the combination of how and what. Saunders’ approach elevates beer, in no small part because dishes that take a little more effort to prepare might just deserve beer with a little more flavor.

In the foreward, Randy Mosher writes, “But all too often in the world of fine food, wine swaggers into the dining room like it owns the joint, while beer is left to skitter in the shadows from crumb to crumb.”

In this book Saunders doesn’t swagger, but she sure does own the joint.

Crank it up: Session #9 Friday

The SessionOK, you don’t have to crank it up. You can put a little Mozart on the stereo, haul out your collection of Oktoberfest drinking songs, or grab a guitar with one hand and a beer with another.

Consider this your official reminder to be there Friday for Sesson #9, when the theme is Beer and Music.

This month’s host, Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing/Lost Abbey, seems to be giving us cart blanche when it comes to deciding what to write. He’s planning a couple himself: “One will be about a particular memory and the other will be about musical stylings and my beers.”

After you finish your post drop by his Brewer’s Log and leave him a note, because he’ll be blending all the posts into one delicious roundup.

What does beer as a ‘new luxury’ mean?

Beer the New LuxuryCan beer be a luxury and a blue collar product?

The rather lengthy discussion — and you thought I wasn’t capable of understatement — Alan provoked by arguing craft beer prices are not too low goes to one of the reasons this blog exists. That’s explained in the mission statement, one of the regularly appearing categories here is “What should you pay?” and there’s a link on the right to a story asking the same question.

The article was written in 2005 for All About Beer magazine, a consumer publication. It drew from a story written a year earlier for New Brewer, the trade publication for Brewers Association members. Although Alan began the discussion from the viewpoint of a consumer plenty of business related chatter quickly followed — including contributions from brewers Eric Wallace and Tomme Arthur — so indulge me as I offer something written basically for the trade. I hope it is relevant to the ongoing discussion.

These are excerpts, and may abruptly jump from one point to another, but it beats slogging through the whole article.

The concept of “trading up” received much attention this year, from Fast Company to BusinessWeek after publication of Trading Up: The New American Luxury by Michael Silverstein and Neil Fiske.

Trading Up is based on the contributions of many members of The Boston Consulting Group, where Silverstein is vice president. The book includes the findings of both quantitative and qualitative research, and offers analysis of 23 categories, including autos, home goods, food, wine and spirits, sports equipment, pet food, and lingerie; interviews with New Luxury leaders; a consumer survey and dozens of one-on-one interviews; and a literature review of more than 800 books, articles, and other materials.

Among the companies profiled is Boston Beer.

Reviews of the book are often paired it with Living It Up: Our Love Affair with Luxury by James B. Twichell. Twichell writes, “. . . one can make the argument that until all necessities are had by all members of a community, no one should have luxury. More complex still is that, since the 1980s, the bulk consumers of luxury have not been the wealthy but the middle class, your next-door neighbors and their kids.”

. . . one of the premises of Trading Up is that consumer spending is polarizing. In order to trade up in a category she really cares about, an avid cyclists might save money by trading down in some that don’t matter to her – like her brand of toothpaste or beer.

Trading up isn’t about simply moving from beer that costs $2.99 a six-pack to $7.99 craft beer.

“The competition . . . includes all mood elevators,” Silverstein said. “Quality vodka substitutes for better beer more than it does for Bud. The beer companies need to deliver innovation on taste, nutrition, health, energy, and celebration.”

In 1985, Philadelelphia Inquirer food editor Gerry Etter wrote, “Today, beer is invited everywhere. It hobnobs with vintage wines and attends formal parties, it slides effervescently into crystal glasses held by long-gowned hostesses.”

This caused another writer for the Inquirer to counter, “I’ve never hobnobbed in my life (and if I did, it was only once and with a consulting adult), and I don’t intend to start now. One doesn’t hobnob while drinking beer, one shoots the bull.”

. . . according to the authors of Trading Up, there “are no typical New Luxury spenders.”

The book introduces the concept of “rocketing.” BCG research found that almost everyone (96 percent) will pay more for at least one type of product that is of importance to them and almost 70 percent identified as many as 10 categories in which they will “rocket” – that is spend a disproportionate amount of their income.

Charging more doesn’t make a product a New Luxury. They write that to be New Luxury, a product must connect with consumers on three levels:

- There must be technical differences in design, technology or both.

- Those technical differences must contribute to superior functional performance. It really has to be better.

- Technical and functional benefits must engage the consumer emotionally.

Interuption for comment.

You may not be comfortable with seeing “technical” and “technology” used so often, so just focus on this: It really has to be better.

Resume excerpts.

“It was a reminder that the product has to be truly superior and good on its own,” (Boston Beer founder Jim) Koch said, later adding, “We’re not trying to make a pet rock of beer, but new styles that are cherished 100 years from now.”

Silverstein returns often to the topic of quality. “The beer category is crowded with a lot of wannabe’s. Both big and small. It is an industry filled with bravado and claims,” he said. “Most are not very well developed and researched. The best example is low carb beer.”

Koch cites the book when he says, “It can’t just be a marketing gimmick. It has to be rooted in product difference. Typically, it’s not just better, but uniquely so.”

. . . “At the end of the day, we all have to add something, variety or quality, to give people a reason to buy our beer,” he said. “For instance, Sam (Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewery). He wasn’t among the first (microbrewers) but he’s added stuff, a whole new set of products.”

And one last excerpt that goes to the passion reflected in A Good Beer Blog.

New Luxury products are not aimed at an “average” consumer or “general” anything. They are meant for a well-defined group of core consumers with strong needs and interests.

In targeting customers, brewers must remember that. “Rocketers care about the product. They are knowledgeable,” Silverstein said. “They have been in the category for some time. They have an interest in learning. They drink on premises and want to tell their friends. They are sharers by nature.”

What is craft beer and how much should it cost?

For your reading pleasure today:

- Alan at a Good Beer Blog takes some of us to task to for suggesting that some small-batch beer should sell for more. Or put another way: Are Craft Beer Prices Too Low? No, They Are Not Too Low.

Skip my comments (I obviously was just waking up and might have been hung over), be fair and consider Alan’s arguments, but be impressed by the rebuttals from Stephen Beaumont and Lew Bryson.

Also spare yourself a little pain and pass on trying to envision the three of us joining in Kumbaya. Lew can flat out sing, but my voice has been known to shatter glasses (with beer still inside).

- And for those who want to spend less for beer and call it “craft” the Wall Street Journal offers To Trump Small Brewers, Beer Makers Get Crafty.

If you hang out here you should already know that Molson Coors brews Blue Moon White, that Miller owns Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve and Leinekugel’s, that Anheuser-Busch makes Wild Hop Lager, etc. But one of the points of the story is that you wouldn’t learn this reading the beer labels, and that’s a big deal because . . .

Sales of craft beers affiliated with the big three brewers in grocery, drug, convenience and major-market liquor stores surged 45% to $177 million through Aug. 25 against year-earlier levels, excluding sales at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Nielsen found. (Wal-Mart doesn’t supply sales data to Nielsen or any other data-tracking firm.) Sales of independent craft brands rose 16% to $531 million.

The good news seems to be that people are buying beer other than mainstream lagers brewed with adjuncts. The concern is that part of the attraction could be the idea they are crafted by small, independent brewers . . . and they’re not.

“Any brand put into the marketplace with an intentional lack of affiliation with the brewery brewing it, I consider that a faux craft,” says Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Small Brewers Association (and editor at ProBrewer). “It’s intentional deception.”

Does that sound fair to you?

Powered by WordPress