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Archive | July, 2008

Where’s the regular beer?

So I’m standing in a gas station in semi-rural Maine admiring three cooler doors wide of craft beers &#151 mostly beers of the region — when a woman opens one of the doors and shakes her head.

“Did they get rid of all the regular beer for this specialty stuff?” she asks, apparently speaking to me.

I look on down the coolers and noticed beers like Corona, Bud Lime and Michelob Ultra. Then I look behind her. Two doors of there was Budweiser, Miller Lite, Coors Light, etc. I point to them, she smiles, grabs a bright red 12-pack of Bud and heads on her way.

No, I don’t see gas stations getting rid of “regular beer” any time soon.

Monday musing: Local brewers make local beers

As Alan nicely reported in close to real time (complete with a photo of our RV in case you’ve been wondering what our 140 square foot home looks like) our family spent a lovely evening with his last week. There was a lot of talk of beer — and a few beers were consumed — but also plenty about other things. Hang out with Alan and you quickly find out he’s led, and continues to lead, one heck of an interesting life. (You can also get a glimpse here.)

The conversation mix didn’t change when John Graham of Church-Key Brewing and Steve Beauchesne of Beau’s Brewing joined us, but I did learn that to be a small-batch brewer in Ontario you really got to want the job. They put up with a lot beyond taxes that make beer much more expensive than in the States an a myriad of regulations.

What struck me is both mentioned more than once who they are content with the size (small) of their breweries. I can’t tell you how many times during the past 15 years I’ve heard brewers say, “I don’t want to get that big, something like —- (fill in the blank with a brewery that is big — such as Sierra Nevada in the 1990s, now one like New Belgium or Deschutes) is all we are shooting for.”

There was none of that talk last week. Instead I heard about providing local customers with interesting choices, and more than once comments like one from Steve: “I just want to make enough beer to put my kids through college.”

I’m not saying that a brewery can’t grow larger, or sell its beer far from home, and still serve its local market. We can all come up with plenty of outstanding examples. (New Belgium and Deschutes would be among them.)

But I like the idea that the local guy is only local, hanging out at home in Ontario (in this case), talking to his neighbors about local beer that’s not going to be shipped anywhere else.

– Drinking in the real world. Last week in northern Vermont we visited cheese makers, a coffee roaster, a (maple) sugar house, an ice cream factory, and drank local beer (we wanted to take the funky Magic Hat tour I’ve read so much about but those are suspended because of construction). Each provoked thoughts about artisan production, ingredients and quality control.

Interesting to read Stonch’s post Sunday titled “Mass-produced beers – revisited” after those experiences.

I’ve spent the best part of three years seeking out obscure and interesting beers from around the world. I’ve tried almost every variety, from funky Belgian lambics to aggressive American DIPAs. Now I find myself applying more experienced taste buds and a better understanding of beer to mainstream products I temporarily dismissed out of hand. What I find are significant qualitative differences that demand attention.

Unless you’re happy to drastically restrict your options in terms of beers and the places you drink them in, then avoiding the produce of larger breweries simply isn’t possible. I’m less enamoured than ever with pubs that cater principally for beer enthusiasts, and you know what I think about beer festivals. In short, I want to live – and drink – in the real world.

I agree with him, but if I lived in Vermont the discussion could be moot.

Remember Honey Amber Rose? It’s the one that was trademarked as “The first beer for women.” Its owners are going to try to sell the brand on eBay. This despite the fact the beer has been a wild success (their words). Does this story ring true for you? If so, go ahead and bid on that “200-year-old-secret recipe” for a low-calorie beer.

#2 – Where in the beer world?

Do you know where this picture was taken? I’ll give you a hint. It was collected during our current adventure (so since May 21) and in a province or state where you don’t usually think of stores and pubs offering much interesting beer.

Where in the beer world is this?

This isn’t a contest, but there may eventually be prizes (as explained here).

So if you know where the photo was taken or if you have something to say about the subject please leave a comment.

Do the big boys have your favorite brewer’s number?

Andrew Mason, assistant brewer at Flossmoor Station in suburban Chicago, writes he got the strangest phone call yesterday from somebody who identified themselves as from MillerCoors.

The woman on the phone asked, “Are you or anyone you know interested in job opportunities with MillerCoors?” I very nearly laughed and I certainly didn’t take her seriously, but now I regret that I didn’t hear her out. I don’t want a job with MillerCoors in any aspect of their business but I wonder if they were offering brewing gigs or sales or what.

Strange beer days indeed. Next thing you know we’ll be hearing rumors about Anheuser-Busch being bought out.

Monday musing: What makes a beer local?

Since we are two months into our trip in which drinking local has become a matter of habit I’m particularly delighted when chatter about AB-InBev includes discussion about what this means for local (two examples are Jay Brooks here and Maureen Ogle here).

These discussions are likely to be all over the place because definitions of local are as well.

One for instance: The people who would boycott Bud because the brand is no longer American owned. Isn’t it still a local beer in St. Louis (and Newark and L.A., etc.)? Isn’t it made with local water by people who live in the community? Granted, for residents of St. Louis the matter of foreign versus local ownership adds a whole ‘nother set of questions which aren’t really related to the pluses of drinking local.

I’m still in information collecting mode on the matter of local. Heck, I’ve got another year to try to figure out the role local plays in the soul of a beer.

I will say what you probably already know: Beer is almost always better when it is enjoyed locally, but that doesn’t mean the best beer on the table will be the localest one.

(When I have more time online that will be a New Beer Rule.)

Stuff to read

– Before we get back to beer, a couple of links from a proud husband and father. First, Daria provides an FAQ about appearing on Jeopardy. Second, Sierra turns our visits the National Brewing Museum and the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum into a battle of the museums.

– Analysis, Part I. Maureen Ogle is working on a series titled “A-B InBev, History, and American Brewing” and here’s a link to Part 4. Read them all. I don’t agree with everything she has written, but it’s all worth thinking about.

– Analysis, Part II. Don’t expect the Miller-sponsored “Brew Blog” to be unbiased, but the Will A-B Look Like Labatt? post is definitely worth your time.

– Poppycock. Does Salon’s perspective on American Beer have anything to do with our drinking habits? Good insight into the way most of America looks at beer, but not a clue about why people drink craft beer — or this line would not have appeared: “In 1980, America had eight craft breweries.” Huh?

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