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Archive | March, 2008

Monday morning musing: Are you a geek?

Whiting Brothers

Zion National ParkThe photo on the left was taken at our destination last week — Zion National Park in Utah — and the photo at the top on the way there. Whiting Brothers businesses, motels and services stations, operated along Route 66 from 1926 into the 1990s (though their presence was severely diminished before the end).

These remains are located between San Fidel and McCartys (New Mexico), on one of the short patches of 66 you’ll occasionally find paralleling Interstate 40 in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. There’s no motel in sight and what’s left of the gas station is in the background.

Sierra will be talking about climbing Angels Landing at Zion long after the WB sign has disappeared, but there’s something to be said for being able to make the little stops as well as enjoying the destinations. They are both part of our plan for the next 15 months.

Now back to your regularly scheduled beer programming.

- Cerevisaphile? Lew Bryson asks if it is “time to stop calling each other “beer geek?” And solicits alternative terms. Alan McLeod picks up the challenge, advocating “Beer Nerd.”

You’ll find plenty of ideas in the comments at both blogs.

So far nobody has brought up a suggestion that beer writer Gregg Smith made years ago: “cerevisaphile.” Perhaps just as well.

Lew suggests beer fan. I like that. In fact, we used the term in “Beer (Eyewitness Companions).” You can be an avid fan, a casual fan, a bandwagon fan (you are either on the wagon or off the wagon).

- The Session. Another suggestion that pops up in comments is “beer people” — a good excuse to remind everybody that’s the theme for The Session #14 on Friday.

- From the business pages: MarketWatch has an update on hop shortages. Mostly dreary. And from “Brew” Blog: Land Grab and Shakeout in Craft Beer?

Monday morning and not much musing

The idea last January following a brief note about our travel plans for 2008 and 2009 was announce the blogging around here would be reduced. When I told Lew Bryson about this he laughed a might Brysonesque laugh, knowing full well how hard it is for me to keep my mouth shut.

Well, the slowdown starts now. If you subscribe to Appellation Beer via an RSS feed please keep the subscription (what’s a subscription?), because that’s the best way to learn about new posts. I may even come up with a regular schedule (as much as you can predict on a trip that includes ferries in Alaska and Croatia in general) and there are bound to be bursts of activity (such as the upcoming Craft Brewers Conference). Or maybe I’ll take a Twitter approach.

For this morning, one more thought on the subject of writer as critic (or critic as writer or blogger as critic or whatever).

From Michael Jackson’s last column in All About Beer magazine, filed just before his death and published after it was possible to ask him to expound:

“Being a critic is one of the things I do for a living. Being a reporter is another. Is a reporter a fearless seeker-out of truth, neutral and objective? Or does he recruit those qualities in support of his personal passions? When I enlisted, at the age of sixteen, I may have been attracted by the powerful purity of the first role. In the event, I grew into the second.”

A (beer) critic’s job? Demolishing the bad?

“A critic’s job, nine-tenths of it, is to make way for the good by demolishing the bad.”
                    - Kenneth Tynan

I tend to scribble things I come across — could be in a magazine, a book, on a menu — on scraps of paper. This one I’ve been carrying around on a breakfast receipt since last May. I’m still not sure what to do with the thought, but it’s time to put it somewhere so I can throw out the receipt. I’m filing it here.

There are a million amusing quotes about criticism, so I don’t know why I’ve kept this one around so long.

When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

(But also, to be clear, this not a call to arms. Here I can lean on H.L. Mencken, who said: “A critic is a man who writes about things he doesn’t like.”)

Book review: Learning from ‘Brewing Battles’

Brewing BattlesThe countdown to April 7 has begun. A good place to follow along is Maureen Ogle’s blog. It will be 75 years ago April 7 that breweries resumed shipping beer, albeit lower strength (3.2% alcohol) until Prohibition was repealed later in 1933. Thus the Brewers Association, Beer Institute and National Beer Wholesalers Association are promoting a 75 Years of Beer celebration.

So far you won’t see many events listed, but it would be fun to find something like the one Portneuf Valley Brewing plans closer than Idaho. The brewpub will sell a nine-ounce glass of Ligertown Lager for 10 cents, compared with the usual cost of about $2.

Heck, the taxes on a glass of beer run more than 10 cents, which — to be honest — is one of the reasons Prohibition ended. As long as we are celebrating history it’s good to view it from more than one perspective. Beer back = good. Why = more complicated.

If you view American beer history through the filter of Stanley Baron’s “Brewed in America” and then Ogle’s “Ambitious Brew” you’ll see facts hidden in the shadows in one look different in the bright light of the other. Same with “Beer & Food: An American History” and “The U.S. Brewing Industry: Data and Economic Analysis.” (More about all these in Book Reviews.)

Add Amy Mittelman’s “Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer” to the list.

Mittleman has a Ph.D. in history with a special focus on the politics of alcohol production. Obviously that includes examining the role of Prohibitionists, but also taxation — an issue with beer long before the first European settlers arrived in America.

The United States Brewers Association (USBA), the nation’s oldest trade association, was formed in 1862, not coincidentally the same year the federal government started taxing beer. The USBA worked with the government, the government assured that taxes would be collected and the brewers minimizing (as much as they could) how much they would be taxed.

Despite increasing rhetoric from Prohibitionists this was a solid partnership for more than 50 years. Until ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment (introducing federal income tax) in 1913 liquor industry taxes provided more than 50 percent of the federal government’s revenue. Little wonder that if you browse through the USBA’s annual yearbooks from the ‘teens you get a sense that the government surely would not ban the sale of alcohol and eliminate the source of most its income. By 1920 they were wrong about the income and wrong about Prohibition.

Prohibition did not end simply because the federal government, and now the states (which generally had not taxed liquor), reconsidered the need for the taxes liquor generated. However it did take them only a week after beer resumed shipping to pass new taxes. And 75 years later we’re still debating “sin” taxes.

That’s not all there is to this book. It’s certainly academic in tone, with even more footnotes than “Ambitious Brew” (don’t take that wrong; I like footnotes), but Mittleman doesn’t settle for just economics and politics.

Often the details are more interesting than sweeping generalizations, most of which you may already have read. These may be quick facts, such as what brewery workers were paid in the 1860s, or a mixture of culture and politics, like the debate between those who wanted to make the annual release of bock beer a major promotion and those who wanted to discontinue production altogether.

She certainly sees the big picture, for instance using the Miller Brewing arc — beginning with Frederick Miller in the 19th century, rattling the brewing industry in the mid-20th century when Philip Morris buys the company, and continuing in the 21st century as a global company after being acquired by South African Breweries — to take us right up to today.

She does not linger over modern micro/craft brewing, but does get to a point at least one person (me) thinks matters.

The emergence of craft brewing highlights a battle within the brewing industry over authenticity and identity. Since World War II the national brewers have connected beer to all things American — baseball, barbeques, race cars, and pretty, sexy women. Yet the nationalizing of the beer industry removed one of the most potent aspects of beer’s identity — localism. The new generation of brewers emphasizes its connection to place and community even more than taste. They stake a claim to authenticity via their roots in a specific locale.

There’s little chance they’ve been around 75 years, but go ahead and toast them on April 7 (or 5th or 6th, because party dates may vary).

Beer news that sucks: Bass Museum closing

The Morning Advertiser reports that Coors has decided to close the visitor center, formerly known as the Bass Museum, at its Burton-upon-Trent brewery in order to save money.

The areas that will close include the Museum, The Brewery Tap, the Gift Shop and all meeting rooms. The White Shield micro-brewery will remain open. Discussions will continue with East Staffordshire Borough Council regarding the future of the Tourist Information Centre, which has its home at the CVC.

Keith Donald, business services director at Coors, explained: “We have tried everything to make the CVC viable (including a revamp last year and free entry to Burton residents). Despite this, visitor numbers have continued to fall and the subsidy needed has increased. It is important for Coors to build the long term future of its brand portfolio to safeguard its future and Burton’s future as the worlds’ brewing capital.”

Coors says the facility the facility costs the company £1 million a year, but this is just plain sad.

We’re talking Burton-upon-Trent and Bass. Doesn’t that matter any more?

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