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Archive | January, 2011

What would Elvis drink?

Before I stick my nose back into academic papers focused on terpenoids, sesquiterpenoids and preserving hop aroma and flavor . . . a few things I’ve been reading.

* The New York Times reports full-service gyms are losing members. “In the 70s, they came for community. Now they come in and disassociate themselves from everyone in the club. It’s killing the health club,” says a marketing consultant. A sign that “third places” revolve around community rather than design.

* Excellent observations (if “grim reading”) in Tandleman’s Beer Blog about dwindling beer sales and number of pubs in Great Britain.

Society is changing in ways we could never have predicted. The web, social networking, time shifting multi channel TV, more comfortable homes, price, health awareness, recession, job insecurity, generational attitude shifts and more, dictate that a pub will never again be on every street corner, bursting at the seams and the only place to go for an entertaining interlude.


There’s a mountain to climb. Nonetheless, the pub trade still refuses as a whole to face up to this and the fact that to attract customers and keep them, it has to be better. It has to offer a smile, a warm welcome (that just means a “hello” or a “thanks”), good surroundings, decent food and an experience that is attractive and competitive against other offerings. It has to offer good service and a wide range of beers that people actually want to drink, rather than the ones they can buy cheaply and sell dear.

Natty Bo at Nacho Mamas* Draft National Bohemian beer is returning to the Baltimore area. To the rest of the country this is like the return of PBR. For those of you thinking huh? . . . Natty Bo was a long time Baltimore fixture, with a history that pre-dates Prohibition. Carling bought the brewery in 1975, then Heileman acquired it, then Pabst. Today MillerCoors brews Natty Bo for Pabst.

Fact is that when we are next in Baltimore we’ll likely be drinking something brewed in Maryland and more expensive than Natty Bo. However, while I can’t tell you the last one of those better tasting beers I had when we last visited Charm City a while back I do remember where I was sitting when I last had a Natty Bo . . . almost 10 years ago.

We were in Nancho Mamas, one of the few places you could still find Natty Bo in bottles inn 2001 (and you drank it straight from bottle). Friends of ours took us there, because they understood we had to see a place where every available inch is covered with a picture of Elvis Presley or a photo from old Baltimore (mostly sports) or a piece National Bohemian memorabilia. These included signs large and small, a gallery of bottle caps on the wall at the front entrance, buckets hanging at the bar and more.

Lots of tourists, and lots of regulars (many with tourists in tow). These days reviews at Yelp mostly talk about the nachos and margaritas, but indicate in passing the decor remains intact. I hope the regulars are as well. Beer, communities, pubs (or bars) — they all make each other better. And a little Elvis on the side is OK.

Beer, wine, forests, trees

It was pointed out more than once yesterday in the comments to my take on how a famous wine writer sees the world of beer and beer drinkers I missed an important point.

He represents the way most people think.

That was even clearer this morning when Max checked in from the Czech Republic, commenting on an article from an Argentine newspaper headlined, “Five qualities from wine that beer watches and envies”. (His translation; it was in Spanish.)

Another list. Another occasion for deep breaths. And an excellent conclusion.

Before you scream “Bollocks!” you should be aware that this is not the way we see beer, but the way the average consumer does, and that, although the article speaks about Argentina, it could be very well applied to many other countries.

Well put.

Here’s a wine guy who needs to get out more

Steve Heimoff is one of the best wine writers out there. I own a couple of his books. But today’s post looks like something written in 1984 or so, although the Wine Market Council presentation was two days ago.

(Before going on, because this could get ugly, I’ll remind you that the category is Beer & Wine, not Beer vs. Wine.)

Heimoff points with particular interest to data compiled by The Nielsen Company.

I like well-known brands:    1    34
I like to explore new brands:    42    5

I guess the numbers are percentages. Anyway, let’s get right to his analysis: “In other words, beer drinkers stick with their tried-and-true favorites (Bud Lite, Coors, whatever) and rarely venture outside their comfort zone. Wine drinkers by contrast are 8 times more likely to be adventurous and try something new.” [We won’t deduct points because he might have confused Bud Light and Miller Lite.]

Then why are the beers the Brewers Association defines as “craft” rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ in supermarkets? SymphonyIRI data certainly indicates beer drinkers are exploring like crazy.

So perhaps his guesses at “why” would be rendered moot with different numbers in mind. But it is so seldom somebody puts together a list of six points and gets every one wrong that it deserves to be repeated.

1. wine is inherently more interesting than beer.
2. wine changes with each vintage and people know that whereas beer always tastes the same.
3. wine drinkers listen more to gatekeepers, such as critics, than do beer drinkers.
4. wine is so much better with food than beer.
5. there are so many more wine brands than beer brands to choose from.
6. most importantly, wine drinkers are more adventurous than beer drinkers because we’re risk takers, curious, liberal, open to improving ourselves and our lives, smarter (but don’t think we know everything), and more hopeful than beer drinkers, who, for all their charms, are (let’s face it) happiest with a kegger and an ample supply of beer nuts.

(Remember, deep breaths.)

Added Jan. 28 (the next day): He says he was kidding. Just wish he hadn’t written “brewski” in doing so.

They can’t be serious, can they?

The always generous Jack Curtin has posted the trailer to the TV show “How Beer Saved the World.” Coming Sunday.

Sitting here at midday, sipping a glass of water, I’m thinking it has “spoof” written all over it. That isn’t the plan, is it?

Wonder which of these shows it will most remind us of.

a) Portlandia (which I haven’t seen).
b) A Mighty Wind.
c) Brew Masters.
d) Best in Show.


Stuff that matters: Ska Brewing

Jersey Jim Lookout Tower

If you’ve been to Durango, Colorado, you’ve been in love at least once in your life.

We first visited Durango in 1993 because we wanted to sleep in a nearby fire lookout tower called Jersey Jim (above). Eating breakfast at a diner on Durango’s Main Street we quickly realized we were in the midst of tourists (like us), locals who had been around forever, and people who had a bit more money and weren’t scared by the skyrocketing real estate prices.

It was the first place we heard people say, “If you want to be a millionaire in —– (in this case Durango) you need to start with two million.” On that morning the punch line was, “But it’s not Telluride.”

Jersey Jim Lookout TowerWe drank our first beer from New Belgium Brewing on this visit. It wasn’t Fat Tire. Call it chance, but a tiny store in Mancos (shuttered in each trip since) had Abbey Grand Cru in the cooler. It was a small run of a stronger version of New Belgium’s Abbey Ale.

We were still flatlanders at the time, the tower is 9,836 feet and we had to make several trips up the stairs with our camping geer. By the time we got around to opening the beer it packed quite a punch.

We’ve come to know Durango and the San Juan Mountains much better since, and going there is always a treat. I can wear you out with photos taken during the season of your choice, including ones of the town’s breweries (two packaging, two brewpubs).

Instead, one quick point. Those breweries make Durango a better place (and maybe Durango makes them better breweries). Not just because you can easily find fresh beer. They are all members of the Bootlegger’s Society, initially formed to raise money in support of community causes. Their first event was a “Pint for Pint” blood drive (rewarding blood donors with a pint of beer) that’s since been emulated by blood services organizations throughout the country.

The foundation was laid more than 15 years ago. Ska Brewing was still a somewhat crazy idea co-founders Dave Thibodeau and Bill Graham were considering when they were introduced to Bill Carver, who already ran a successful brewpub in town. When they told him what they were thinking about he looked his potential competitors over for just a moment.

“We’ll put you guys on tap,” he said.

“We’ve been a guest tap at Carver’s for 15 years,” Thibodeau said a while back, talking about his brewery’s 15th year of business and the fact it was about to outgrow its “microbrewery” status, producing more than 15,000 barrels.

“That set a precedent for how we’d run our business.”

So I had to smile when a press release arrived the other day declaring Ska Brewing Co. was named Durango’s “Business Of The Year” by the Durango Chamber of Commerce.

“We usually like to poke fun at awards, but to be honest this has been an incredible year for Ska,” Thibodeau said for the press release. “This award is because of what our employees do every day at work. We’re truly grateful for the team we have and we’re happy to have the Durango Chamber recognize their efforts.”

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