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‘This is my GABF’

Nick Arzner, Block 15It was March of 2011 and Nick Arzner interrupted a story he was telling about the logistics of installing a coolship in the basement of a place built in Corvallis, Oregon, in 1926. He pulled aside a large piece of plywood that separated two rooms from the others in the labyrinth beneath the dining area of Block 15 Restaurant & Brewery, which he and his wife opened in 2008.

“We’re two years into it, and we’re infants,” he had said heading down the narrow stairs. He brought the coolship down in parts, assembling it in the second of two wild rooms behind the makeshift door. The rooms already contained more than 50 barrels, filled with mixed fermentations.

Arzner explained he’d done the math and decided rather than participating in the Great American Beer Festival — a rite of passage for many new breweries — each year he would invest the money it would cost in his brewery. Walking into the room with his coolship, he said, “This is my GABF.”

This year he entered beers for the first time. Turbulent Consequence, Peche won gold in the Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale category.

Arzner wasn’t there. He wrote in an email he’d like to some day, but “our small team was too busy to get away.” Block 15 opened a second 20-barrel brewery and tap room during the summer, expanding its non-wild barrel program and distribution of its hop-forward beers.

He wrote that the gold medal beer comes out of his Turbulent Consequence program, which is based on traditional lambic production methods. The grist is unmalted wheat and pilsner malts “that undergo our best efforts of a turbid mash.” Aged hops are added during a long boil, and then the wort is transferred into the coolship for 24 hours. It is racked into oak barrels, where it undergoes spontaneous fermentation. Peche is blended once a year. “I choose barrels in the late summer to add white peaches that I pick with my wife and daughter,” he wrote. “I then mature the barrels another six of so months until the correct aroma, flavors, and acidity are developed.”

He chose well.

“We are inviting what’s around us to be in our beer,” Arzner said back in 2011. “I think we want to get to the point where people say, ‘Yeah, that comes from the Block 15 barrel program. There’s something in there I know.'”


Beer links from outside the GABF bubble


During a brief conversation Saturday morning before the Great American Beer Festival awards ceremony, Saint Arnold Brewing co-founder Brock Wagner said, “We take this view of this business with blinders on. It’s easy for us to see this as the world (itself).” He was talking in more general terms than the madness inside the Colorado Convention Center, but it was a reminder how disorienting GABF can be. So recognizing that more than a billion Chinese were not live streaming the awards ceremony Saturday, this week’s links are GABF free.

Craft Beer and the Rise of the Celebrity Brewer.
Vanity Fair discovers a topic discussed in the beer blogosphere and on discussion boards for more than a decade. Nonetheless, here is something to think about: “Someone who stops Ken Grossman in the street, however, does so because he or she admires his craft, not his media persona. The connection between brewer and consumer is much more intimate — rooted in the six-pack picked up from the grocery store or the growler handed to the host of a party — than most intangible celebrity/fan relationships.” [Via Vanity Fair]

Locally Grown Barley Means Truly Local Beer.
Skagit Valley Malting is working with Washington State University’s Bread Lab to provide small-batch, locally grown malted barley. I was disappointed that Pike Brewing wasn’t at GABF this year, because I would have liked to have tasted Skagit Valley Alba pale ale. [Via Seattle Magazine]

Why the Purchase of Your Favourite Brewery Doesn’t Matter, and Why it Does!
Perhaps you have seen a T-shirt that reads, “I listen to bands that don’t even exist yet.” Maybe somebody should be selling one that reads, “I drink beer from breweries too small for ABI to consider buying.” [Via Beaumont Drinks]

Yuengling Brewery Chief’s Daughters Work to Become His Successors.
It’s a video. [Via The New York Times]

An American Conquistador — Tony Magee’s Mexico.
A complicated business story, nicely explained. “‘They have a fairly complex system of incentives,’ explains Esteban Silva of Cerveceria de Colima, one of the region’s craft breweries on the Pacific coast at the foot of a volcano. ‘If you sell a certain number of cases of any beer, they give you back cash or free cases. The same is applied to new beers in the portfolio. Lagunitas and all the beers under the portfolio for Heineken will likely be part of the incentive packages of these companies as well.’ In the U.S., this is the definition of pay-to-play, but in Mexico, it’s part of the fabric of the beer industry, and part of why the top two players have controlled it for nearly 70 years.” [Via Good Beer Hunting]

Tips from a first-time (beer) swapper.
Passed along as a public service. [Via BeerGraphs]

The Cask Report 2015: Why Pubs Need Cask Ale Drinkers.
The ninth edition of the Cask Report Pete Brown has written, with some thoughts on what’s happened to the market over the time he’s been doing the report. [Via Pete Brown]

Wine O’Clock, Beer O’Clock and the Changing Language of Drinking.
Wine and beer o’clock are among the pioneers of a new online drinking language, one that speaks to a kind of consumption that happens primarily for show. They’re infinitely hashtaggable (140,000 and 100,000 Instagram results, respectively), and have served as the basis of countless memes, all of which work to turn the simple act of relaxing with a drink into a full-fledged ritual.” [Via Punch]

When It Comes To Book Sales, What Counts As Success Might Surprise You.
“No one likes to see the word ‘poverty level’ on a survey that has anything to do with people you know,” says Roxana Robinson, president of the Authors Guild. “You used to be able to make an absolutely living wage as a writer. You wrote essays and you published them in journals. You wrote magazine pieces and you got paid very well for those. And you wrote books and you got good advances. So being a writer, it didn’t usually mean you would be rich, but it had meant in the past that you could support yourself.”

I pretty much came across as a curmudgeon last year at “Craft Writing: Beer, The Digital, and Craft Culture” when talked a little bit about these challenges (including surprisingly low sales of some beer books), and things obviously haven’t got any better. However, like all things, there is a “traditional” part to the story and an alternative, in this case self publishing. [Via npr, h/T Jacob Grier]


This week: GABF tips (they may apply in real life, too)


OK, that’s enough about last week’s big beer business deal. But one more post about the meganews from the week before:

What, you couldn’t find an actual beer writer to fetishize multinational beer companies?
“Now more than ever, what matters to me is supporting brewers who function as independent local business persons. I know from a quarter-century of experience that these are the folks keeping the ethos real, and the money local, where it recirculates and helps other local businesses.” [Via The Potable Curmudgeon]


GABF | 2015 Fantasy Brewery Draft Picks.
I’ve gone down this geek road before, so I know there is no sure thing. But how the heck does Bagby Beer Company not get taken until the 10th round? [Via]

GABF 2015: Tips to get the most out of the festival (and stay standing).
Essential reading for anybody heading to the Great American Beer Festival. If you scroll to the bottom you’ll find a link to a preview that features only Pacific region beers. Follow that for more regional previews (suggested with the disclaimer I wrote about the Midwest). [Via The Denver Post]

Finding Jack–5th Bloggaversary.
Renée M. DeLuca retells the story about finding her father, New Albion Brewing founder Jack McAuliffe. [Via The Brewer’s Daughter]

The English Pub.
“As L.P. Hartley famously wrote in the opening sentence of The Go-Between, ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ So what has, and hasn’t, changed in the English pub as it was described almost eight decades ago?” [Via When My Feet Go Through the Door]

Seeing the wood for the trees.
“We don’t consume barrels they way we do food and wine, but it’s still an agricultural product, and one that requires transformation for it to become useful, much as grapes must be guided through several stages before they become a finished and enjoyable wine.” Or as the ingredients in beer must be guided through several stages … [Via The World of Fine Wine]

Scientists Predict the Future of Food.
“We want local, fresh, hand-crafted, minimally processed foods and beverages like people had in previous generations. But how do we do that safely for eight or 10 billion people, all while using less resources?” [Via Eater]


Because somebody’s pouring a beer made with pineapple weed

Trees, turning leaves“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

I choose the Beers Made By Walking Festival. There may be 12 or 18 or some silly number of events happening in Denver the day before the Great American Beer Festival, and I guarantee you the What The Funk? Invitational will be more crowded. Probably others as well. But when I saw BMBW had moved to Wednesday evening, I redid my travel plans to get to Denver on Wednesday.

The two hours I had to spend at last year’s festival were my favorite two hours of the long weekend. This year I can hang around for the whole event, beginning at 4:30 and lasting until 8 p.m.

Eric Steen started BMBW in 2011 and since then he and others have led brewers and other interested parties on hikes in many different regions. The premise is simple. They ask brewers to go on nature hikes and brew a beer inspired by the trails. Often the result is what Steen calls a “placed-based beer.” Often the beers include ingredients found along the trail. Sometimes not, but what was clear last year is there’s a connection between the brewers and the beers, one that can be contagious.

The result makes for some great eavesdropping, a chance to collect stories without asking questions. Just listening.

The festival starts 4:30 p.m. at the outside space of Our Mutual Friend Brewing Co., about a mile and a half north of the Colorado Convention Center.

Beers Made By Walking Beer List

Bonfire Brewing – Sagebrush Juniper Saison – An ode to the high desert with inspiration from Bellyache Ridge in Eagle, CO.

Boulder Beer – Honey Hips Brown Ale – Honey brown ale brewed with pine nuts, toasted sunflower seeds, wildflower honey, and rose hips added. Inspired by an urban hike through Boulder with Gone Feral.

Breckenridge Brewery – Gooseberry Gose – Inspired by a stroll down Main Street Breckenridge, the tartness from the gooseberries adds complexity to this salty and already sour beer style.

Crazy Mountain Brewing – Naughty Pine – Inspired by a hike at West Lake Creek Road in Edwards, this pale ale includes 25 pounds of pine needles in place of finishing hops and was aged in Breckenridge Bourbon barrels.

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project – TBA

Dry Dock Brewing – Hampden Corner Lavender Saison – A crisp saison with lavender harvested right by the brewery.

Elevation Beer Co – Wild Raspberry and Mint Porter – A porter brewed with both wild raspberries and wild mint harvested near Boss Lake.

FATE Brewing – WILD Flower Honey Wheat – The same great honey-wheat beer we brought to BMBW two years ago, inspired by a hike in Boulder’s Chautauqua Park. It has been aged with Brettanomyces in oak for two years.

Fiction Beer Co. – Brett Saison with Rose Hips – A dry, crisp, and refreshing saison brewed with 5 pounds of rose hips at the end of the boil and Brettanomyces.

Fieldhouse Brewing – Squawbush Saison – Made with berries from the indigenous squawbush, they provide a strawberry lemonade-like flavor and sourness to the already tart saison.

Fonta Flora Brewery – TBA

Fonta Flora (In Collaboration with Jester King) – TBA

Former Future Brewing – Sour Red Rye – Inspired by a stroll in the hills of North Carolina, this base beer was aged on blackberries, raspberries, and honey.

Horse & Dragon Brewing – Perambulation Ale II – An American Amber Ale brewed with dandelion root and leaf as well as yarrow flower.

Great Divide Brewing – Rosabelle – Inspired by a walk in Matthews/Winters Park near Red Rocks with the Museum of Nature and Science, this beer is a sour blend aged on plums.

New Belgium Brewing (In Collaboration with Bird Song, Free Range, Heist, and NoDa) – Yours & Mine – A Belgian Golden brewed with beet sugar (a beet sugar plant once occupied NBB’s grounds), lavender from NBB’s property, Colorado sunflowers, and Scuppernong grapes (the state fruit of North Carolina)

Odd 13 Brewing – Gooseberry Saison – Inspired by a walk in Cañon City on a hot July day, gooseberries were added to a sour Saison aged in Chardonnay barrels and then dry-hopped.

Odell Brewing – TBA

Our Mutual Friend Brewing – A wine-barrel fermented Belgian Pale Ale with Colorado wildflower honey and all Colorado wort.

Perennial Artisan Ales (In Collaboration with Scratch) – Carya Ovata – Wee Heavy brewed with toasted hickory bark, collected and toasted at Scratch’s hometown of Ava in a brick oven and brewed at Perennial. Carya Ovata is the Latin name for the Shagbark Hickory.

Riff Raff Brewing – Spruce Juice – Colonial style ale brewed with the new growth from Spruce trees, inspired by trails in the surrounding San Juan Mountains.

Riff Raff Brewing – Juniper Sage – A light bodied, refreshing ale brewed with locally harvested juniper and sage, inspired by a trip along the New Mexico border near Navajo Lake.

Scratch Brewing – Pink Granite Glade Stein Beer – A Stein Beer brewed with pink granite rocks which were heated in white oak embers, added to boil the wort once white hot and then bittered with shortleaf pine, cedar, coreopsis blossoms, wild quinine, and a small addition of hops. Inspired by a hike at the Castor River Shut-ins in the Saint Francois Mountains

Spangalang Brewery – Cucumber Gose inspired by a Denver Urban Garden and The Real Dill.

Stone Brewing – Coffee Milk Stout with Chocolate Mint Inspired by chocolate mint growing locally on Stone Farms.

Strange Craft Beer- TBA

Trinity Brewing – Menacing Chokecherry – Crafted in the spirit of wild harvest. Featuring a feral Brettanomyces strain, aged on rhubarb and wild Colorado chokecherries.

Trinity Brewing – Menacing Huckleberry – A beer only made possible when these berries are ready for harvest, this beer is also aged on rhubarb with a wild brettanomyces yeast strain.

TRVE Brewing – TBA

Wicked Weed Brewing – Terra Locale: Brettaberry – A tart farmhouse ale inspired by freshly baked berry pie. Featuring a half-pound per gallon of strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, the acidity of the berries with the rustic funk of our house culture are rounded by the flaky crust finish of Haw Creek Honey, Riverbend Pilsner and wheat malts. From our summer memories to yours, cheers.

Wicked Weed Brewing – Terra Locale: Horti-Glory – A tart, farmhouse ale brewed with Riverbend Malt and fermented with our house culture of Bettanomyces. The addition of seasonal elderflowers, hyssop, and honeysuckle transform the rustic house culture into a lovely floral brett saison.

Wild Woods Brewery (In Collaboration with Very Nice Brewing Company) – Pale Ale with Pineapple Weed and Rose Hips. Inspired by the friendship and proximity of these two breweries, this beer opens up with big floral and citrus notes.

Wit’s End Brewing – Irish Red with Heather and Peated Malt. Inspired by an international walk on the Cliffs of Moher, this Irish Red includes a healthy addition of the perennial shrub and special malt.


The week that was: Lagunitas and sharks not jumped


It was a very noisy week, on Twitter and via my rss feed. Noise that wasn’t about things that interest me at this moment and that was so loud you couldn’t hear the other stuff. But it seems it was an Important Week, so here are a bunch of links you may or may not think belong together — followed by some “sit back and enjoy a great beer” ones.

Craft beer brewers just got downgraded to ‘sell’
[Via MarketWatch]
Lagunitas’ Magee speaks on Heineken deal and craft beer’s ‘next phase
[Via Chicago Tribune]
That Lagunitas-Heineken deal.
[Via Steve Heimoff]
Shakeup at craft beer giant Stone Brewing.
[Via Fortune]
‘Craft beer’ crumbling.
[Via I might have a glass of beer]
Signposting Craft.
[Via Hard Knot Dave]
Welcome to Starbeers.
[Via Fuggled]
The Curse of Craft strikes again.
[Via Ed’s Beer Site]
Craft Beer Sales Are At An All-Time High (Part I)
Craft Beer Sales Are At An All Time High-and why this could be scary.
[Both via The Hop Tripper]
We need to dial it back a notch.
[Via All About Beer]
And in Every Town.
[Via St. John’s Wort]

OK, a lot of words, and I am leaving most of the heavy lifting to you. My thoughts are mostly related to the last three links. Many of the “things that concern (Mitch Steele) about the future” are related to brewing and selling beer on a larger scale. Nothing wrong with that, and certainly keeping with the theme in Jason Notte’s story (first link). You can decide how it meshes with this from Greg Koch (fourth link): “There are two ways of operating a business – commodity or artisan. We operate as an artisan. We make decisions based on our passions. … Anybody that thinks commodity can operate as an artesan is ignoring the basic facts about how businesses operate.”

But as regular readers know, I cannot buy into the notion that breweries must always be growing. There is another way. Jeff Alworth’s commentary for All About Beer includes many amen sentences, words to drink by, and most importantly this: “Going forward, I’m planning to focus less on the specific products and breweries of the commercial sphere—they will come and go, inevitably—and more on the act of sharing a beer with someone I enjoy.”

And I certainly agree with this:

But beer companies? They are organs of commerce, however wonderful the brewers and publicans they employ may be. We feel good about beer, so we place that good feeling on the institution of private businesses. And in many cases, that feeling is well-placed. Breweries are collections of humans, after all. When they make good beer and create a wonderful space to enjoy it, they rightly earn our loyalty. But they’re also businesses, and sometimes their owners decide to sell to different owners—and then we have to make new judgments all over again.

But not with this:

Magee’s announcement is a spectacular Trump-like masterpiece of overstatement, and for me it was the moment Craft jumped the shark into over-seriousness.

No, Lagunitas is not a proxy for “craft.” No brewery is. And most drinkers don’t give a hoot what Tony Magee has to say. (Pausing for a moment of introspection: a lot more care than wonder about what I am thinking, so perhaps I should quit typing now).

Daria and I spent much of a week ago Saturday afternoon on the deck at Piney River Brewing, which is located on a farm 26 miles south of Plato, Missouri, a town that will remain the official “population center” of the United States until the 2020 census. Inside, the superintendent of a nearby school system was playing guitar and singing. Outside, volunteers were selling hot dogs and brats (Piney River does not serve food) to raise money for the Houston Education Foundation. Beer was the part of some conversations, not included in others. I don’t expect much changed this week. More concerned discussion about the St. Louis Cardinals’ recent slump, some comparing of notes about the kids’ new teachers, idle talk about the sudden and welcome arrival of cooler weather.

To be clear, Piney River also is not a proxy for “craft.” And it is a business. The brewery recently expanded, adding capacity that would allow it to produce 10,000 barrels a year. Founders Brian and Jolene Durham want to brew beer “in and about the Ozarks for the Ozarks.” When they first opened the tasting room one day a week (not it is open three) they expected a few friends would show up. Turns out they must have more friends than they realized, Brian said. It’s places like this that capture my attention these days, and beers that reflect where they are brewed, the where not necessarily being the brewery itself.

So there’s a reason that what Jordan St. John wrote (the final link) seems so brilliant to me.

. . . there’s the craft model. It’s not specific to craft beer. It’s a 19th century manufacturing model. It’s generational, driven possibly by the lifespan of the founder and the interest of his partners or progeny and it’s on a vastly more human scale. The smaller production level means that the owner is answerable to a community. The wealth that it generates will end up flowing back through the community in which it operates.

I’ll try to include the spirit of that thought in “Brewing Local.”

Meanwhile, those other links I promised . . .

Researcher recreates Viking beer.
The story this week I most want to read more about. [Via Knut Albert’s Beer Blog]

Young wine writers: don’t be too smart.
“Generally, in life, I reckon that less smart people are often happier. If you are too smart, I suspect that you’d find popular culture so inane as to be depressing, you’d be frustrated by the general low level of most journalism, and you’d spend a lot of the time quite bored. And as a writer you’d find that anything you wrote would only really appeal to small segment of the population.” [Via jamie goode’s wine blog]

Behind the new Abbey: How we changed the malts.
There have been several stories recently about breweries retooling their IPA recipes (for instance, this one from Bryan Roth). Tweaking recipes is hardly new — recall Ed mentioning Rochefort had begun using Aramis hops. But talking about it seems to be. I’m looking forward to this week’s discussion about choosing a new yeast. New Belgium co-founder Jeff Lebesch talked about that yeast candidly in “Brew Like a Monk.” He cultured from a Chimay bottle. “What I learned later is that Chimay could get kind of wild, so who knows how reflective what I got out of that bottle was of Chimay? I was doing all my culturing from bottles then, keeping them on plates in the house. Somewhere in the early 1990s I did a major cleanup of our yeast. It really changed the character of the beer.” [Via New Belgium Brewing]

Hype for hops helps farmers break into beer business.
This story overlooks most of the obstacles those who would grow hops outside of the Northwest face. Those challenges were at the top of my mind last week because I writing a story about it for New Brewer magazine. Perhaps that’s why when I saw the news of the Lagunitas-Heineken deal I thought immediately about the implications for hops, and in terms of real estate (because brewing is always about time and space). If Lagunitas is going to be selling two million more barrels per year, for instance, that means they could need more than three million more pounds of hops per year. That’s about 1,500 more acres of hops. Growing 1,500 more acres of corn in Iowa is not a big deal. But 1,500 more acres of hops just about anywhere, that’s a chunk. [Via CBS News]


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