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Before Oberon was Oberon; a Larry Bell story

You might have overlooked this bit of news yesterday from Molson Coors: “Molson Coors and Heineken announced today that MillerCoors later this year will start distributing, marketing and selling the Mexican import Sol in the United States.”

Shrug, be excited whatever. For me this provdes an excuse to tell a Larry Bell story. And Larry Bell stories are the best kind of beer stories. It comes from 2009 and appears in Brewing with Wheat.

About five years after Bell began brewing a wheat beer called Solsun he discovered the cloudy summer seasonal had taken on a life beyond the glass. The sororities at Western Michigan, also in Kalamazoo, used the beer’s logo on 600 T-shirts for fall rush.

“I realized I better get some trademark protection,” Bell said. When he filed the papers Mexican brewing company Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma, which brewed a beer called El Sol (the Sun), opposed the application. Since Moctezuma had been around since 1890 Bell’s lawyer suggested he could spend a million dollars fighting for the name and still lose. The good news was Moctezuma would let Bell keep the distinctive logo.

He picked Oberon as the new name in 1996 because, in part, it also has six letters and the label was easy to change. “Oberon was sort of goofy, had some connotations,” Bell said. “If you look at the Latin root it means they wander or go astray. That seemed appropriate.”

Additionally, when Bell was a sixth grader in Park Forest, Illinois, he played the part of Oberon, the fairy king, in Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“I still have dinner with Queen Titania. She’s looking pretty good,” Bell said.

Bell's Eccentric Cafe

License plates at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo.
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Session #122: The a, b and c of imported beers

The SessionWhat timing, given that it’s National Beer Day, one of those holidays that certainly snuck up on me but I think is designed to celebrate American brewed beer. Yet the topic for The Session this month is “Views on imported beer” and host Christopher Barnes puts forth this question: “What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market?” (Drop by his blog for other answers.)

Barnes has eliminated the best selling imports by process of parenthesis, which simplifies the question of why consumers might choose traditional Europeans beers. The three best reasons that come to mind are: a) cachet, b) quality, and c) education. They are not exclusive.

Otherwise, I recommend reading a very long feature on Shelton Brothers beer importers in the April issue of Beer Advocate magazine. The beers they’ve brought to the United States certainly tick a, b and c.

*****

Just for fun, a quick quiz. What company first imported Duvel and when?

Monday beer links: Cultural wars & Stjørdalsøl

MONDAY BEER AND WINE LINKS, MUSING, 03.13.17

Whose Culture?
When I wrote about Cryo hops recently I began with an observation they might not be as big a deal as my Twitter feed would suggest. I was wrong. They are a big deal. Well, based on my Twitter feed the recent heated discussion about Zoiglhaus Zoigl-Kölsch is an even bigger deal. That’s because I follow too many of the folks expressing opinions, so I saw some of the same tweets maybe a dozen times. You can catch up by reading what Jeff Alworth wrote, and get an idea about the vigor of the discussion by continuing to the comments. Nonetheless, I’ll suggest not as many people care about this as will stand in line for the next release at Tree House Brewing.

I do not, however, think it is trivial. To go first to the bottom line, so you can skip the rest and get to the links, I am basically in agreement with John Duffy’s comment. No matter how much we might admire another culture if we think “the correct perspective for an American to have is an American perspective and that’s all that matters” we’ve taken a wrong turn.

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Significant beer digits ii

This is not new. The numbers get tossed into conversations every once in a while, a reminder that when we talk about small breweries we really are discussing small businesses.

@Josh Noel ran this up the flag poll today on Twitter: “We think of craft as having grown so large. It has. But there’s some stat out there: 90% make less than 3k bbls — or something like that.” Then he suggested it would be better if he could quote a number a little more authoratively.

Brewers Association economist Bart Watson replied rather rapidly:

– “Just looked up the 2015 TTB data. 91.8% (of brewers who made at least 1 bbl) made less than 7,500.”
– “They don’t break out between 1K-7.5K, but our figures have 90% around 5K, which makes sense with that TTB data.”
– “The smallest 3,000 breweries in country made less than Sierra Nevada in 2015 & Sierra Nevada makes ~1% of what AB makes in the US.”
– “That’s all 3,000 collectively. So 3,000 breweries together make less than 1% of AB’s US production. Small breweries are small.”

Values, memories, ideals

Flag at Craftsman Brewing, Pasadena, California

This flag appears in black and white on page 22 of Brewing Local. It seems like a good day to think about it in color, or simply to think about it.

It was hanging high on the back wall at Craftsman Brewing in Pasadena when I visited in March of 2014. It used to belong to Craftsman founder Mark Jilg’s grandfather. “He grew up in St. Louis. His father died when he was six years old. Very do-it-yourself kind of guy,” Jilg said. “Like any flag it is a symbol; a placeholder for values, memories, ideals.”

Conversation about authenticity, as elusive as it might be, comes easily when looking up at the flag. “It’s all about being genuine, tied to a place. It can be inspired by the place you live, by the people around here. It can be conceptually about place, not physically about place,” Jilg said. He talked about the symbiotic relationship that develops when beer is consumed locally. Brewers care about what their friends will be drinking, and consumers take pride in consuming beer made by people they know.

“Once you have that genuineness, it fends off the evils of the twentieth century,” Jilg said.

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