Category Archives: social commentary

Dogfish Head vs. A-B InBev in the Percentages Game

Thanks to Shanken News Daily for this bit of contextualized good news:

On the one hand…Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) said selling-day-adjusted sales to retailers in the U.S. inched up 0.2% in the first half of 2012, giving cause for optimism to a mainstream U.S. beer market that’s been in low-single-digit decline for months.

While on the other…Dogfish Head Brewing tells Shanken News Daily that shipments rose 33% over the first six months of the year, and that the company is slightly ahead of its goal to ship 171,000 barrels during calendar 2012. The Delaware brewer’s 90 Minute and 60 Minute IPA labels led growth over the first half, up 28% and 24% respectively, and its Burton Baton brew—which recently joined the year-round core portfolio—is up 70% from a small base. Dogfish Head’s 750-ml. segment, which features its more exotic offerings and now accounts for 7% of the business, rose 80% over the first half, depleting 38,276 12-bottle cases.

Yes, I know that Dogfish sells but a minute fraction of what ABI flogs, and that it must always be remembered that percentages are relative. But Dogfish is both far from being the kind of youthful start-up that easily posts huge percentage growth and hardly the kind of brewery that boasts broad mass market appeal. And it is experiencing explosive growth, alongside any number of other well-established craft breweries across the United States and, indeed, increasingly around the world.

Seems there might be some staying power to this craft beer thing after all.

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The Quite Bearable Lightness of Boozing

As I sipped last night on a dram of 46.1% alcohol Mackmyra First Edition Whisky, I mused on the nature of alcoholic strength and the unlikely conflict and confrontation it has caused of late. My thoughts left me wondering why so many members of a purportedly democratic group like drink aficionados – beer drinkers who can appreciate a powerfully hoppy IPA and an equally malt-driven Trappist ale, whisky fans who can take equal pleasure from a pot-distilled Irish whiskey and an aggressively peaty Islay malt – insist on seeing things in such stark shades of black and white.

Simply, in the situation I described yesterday or the scorcher that this afternoon is shaping up to be, a light ale or lager is precisely what fits the bill. Last night, with a bit of cheese at its side, the uncut beauty of the Mackmyra was an ideal tipple. Later tonight, on my condo balcony, it might be better a 10% alcohol double IPA or vanilla-soaked single barrel bourbon. Tomorrow, when I meet up with friends after work, I might reach for a chilled glass of 17% alcohol Lilley Blanc, or a bracingly dry Tanqueray martini.

Sometimes, lighter is better, and it needn’t be absolutely below a certain percentage of alcohol to suit. (Said he avoiding the use of the dreaded “s-word.”) Sometimes, big and beefy and boozy is better. Three pints of 6% alcohol pale ale might leave me feeling only mildly buzzed, while sending a lighter-weight, over-stressed soul over the edge. It depends on how I’m feeling, and the time of day, and the weather, and what I might be eating, and where and with whom I’m supping, and all the other factors that relate to the enjoyment of alcohol and make brand- or even booze-loyalty such a silly concept.

It’s all good, folks, unless, of course, it’s not.

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Filed under alcohol hysteria, social commentary, whisky/whiskey

Churchkey Can Company — Seriously?

I’ve been hearing about this for a while now, each time gritting my teeth and vowing not to let the inner curmudgeon escape. But it’s gone too far. I have to make some sort of comment, especially after this piece of shameless pandering. Go ‘mudgy!

Church-frikkin’-key Frikkin’-Can Company. Oy! It’s not enough that we have stores selling ugly-ass 1970’s furniture, now we must endure retro-obsessed hipsters who think that the ultimate in cool is an old-fashioned “flat top” beer can! (BTW, “flat-top” is an invented term. When these things were actually the norm, they were simply known as “beer cans.”) Why it’s cool they don’t know, but the company has something to do with that dude from Entourage and, hey!, they have a neat video on their website showing you the right way to open the can! So it must be cool, right?

No, dumbass, it’s not. Any more than it would be really, really cool to take your clothes down to the stream and beat on them with a rock or haul around huge blocks of ice to keep your refrigerator cold. It’s called progress, and while it sometimes breeds bad things like beer that doesn’t really taste like beer and hamburgers that taste nothing like beef, it also makes our lives easier in many ways, like not needing to hunt around for a can punch every time you want to open a beer.

Note that this is NOT the same as the twist-off vs. pry cap issue. The twist-off is an inefficient seal that shreds fingers something like three out of every twenty tries, whereas the pry cap provides a nearly fail-proof seal that can be opened with anything from an opener to a lighter to a rolled-up magazine. The modern pull-top can, on the other hand, provides a great seal and opens without any extra equipment, whereas the “flat top” requires a very specific device to open it, which means that the only possible reason to change from the new to the old is pretension, pure and simple.

For all I know, the beer inside the Churchkey can is quite good, and given the chance I’ll be happy to try it and say what I think. But selling a beer of any sort based upon the kind of can it’s in harkens to the worst of the big brewing companies’ marketing manipulations, and if you fall for it, then you might as well also stock your fridge with cans that change colour when cold and bottles that swirl your beer as you pour.

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Styles & Why They Do/Don’t Matter

Beer styles. God, but I’m tired of debating them. It’s gotten so we can’t even speak of something so simple as a “session beer” without some people getting the britches bunched up in apoplectic rage over the bar being set too high, or low. Certain folk want to quantify and categorize every last little ale or lager; others are free and easy and don’t really mind if you just call it “beer” and sod the stylistic nonsense.

Me, I’ll admit to freely vacillating between the two poles over the years, but more recently I’ve been steadily shifting away from categorization. Here’s why.

Beer styles help me educate others about beer, which is part of what I do to pay the mortgage. If someone knows nothing about, say, IPA, it is immeasurably helpful to have some sort of style guidelines to help them wrap their brains around it all, preferably mixed with a shot or two of history and a whole whack of context. Which is why I believe Michael Jackson defined two pages worth of “classical beer-styles” early in his seminal “World Guide to Beer,” first published in 1977.

Problems arise, however, when we attempt to create new categories for everything rather than defining them within the context of those style we already understand. Take the double IPA, for instance. A proper double IPA is a strong and very hoppy IPA, period. It doesn’t need any further definition, in this writer’s opinion, just as a coffee stout is a stout flavoured with coffee, rather than a singular entity on its own. A “session beer?” Well, that’s a lower alcohol beer suitable for drinking over the course of a “session,” which for me could be a 4% bitter or a 5.1% pilsner, or even a 7% Belgian ale, depending upon the time and context of the “session.”

In the end, there are probably two or three dozen or so styles we really need to acknowledge, with everything else slotting neatly into some variation on those themes. Experimentation? Innovation? “Moroccan” saisons?  Bring ’em on, says I. Beer is about variety, and variety is, you know, the spice of life. I like it spicy and so I shall embrace all comers, unless, of course, they suck. But I shall not imagine that each and every one of them is deserving of its own new category.

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Filed under beer & the web, beer blogs, beer style, beer terminology, brewing history, drinking quality, session beer, social commentary

Your Assignment This Weekend – Drink Something Different!

Last night, while chatting with a couple who run a beer and spirits importing business and a whisky sales rep, we found ourselves discussing the curious matter of prejudiced drinkers. No, I don’t mean drunken bigots, but rather that odd breed of individual who swears by one sort of alcoholic beverage to the exclusion of all others.

You know the type, I’m sure. You may even be the type, if you’re honest enough to admit it to yourself. They are the people who scorn beer as a plebeian offering, espousing instead the greater glories of fermented grape juice, or complain bitterly about the taste of the big brewery lager they were “forced” to order because the bar had only a slender beer selection on offer.

(This sort of behaviour is rare among spirits aficionados, primarily, I believe, because it’s tough to stick to whisky or gin in all circumstances, although there are those who will dismiss most or even all other spirits in deference to their chosen tipple.)

The oddest part of this behaviour, to me, is the fact that these folk are usually the first to chastise their opposites to their attitudes. “Why can’t restaurants offer me a decent beer?” the self-professed beer lover bemoans, oblivious to the bottles of plonk their wine aficionado friends must endure at their favourite beer bar. Or: “What’s with the fancy beer?” from an oenophile with a cabinet full of $80 a stem wine glasses at home.

In truth, almost all of us are guilty of this attitude to a certain degree, whether it’s dismissing out-of-hand an entire category of drinks – all spirits, perhaps, or lambics or maybe beer cocktails – or swearing that we can’t stomach a certain drink due to an unfortunate teen-years experience. (I have proven several times that the latter is all in the mind, often starting with a cocktail for the individual and then leading them to different flavours in what is usually a spirit category, but always with their full knowledge.) In some cases, it’s simply due to lack of opportunity or access.

In the end, however, drinking is, or should be, all about taste experiences, and so I present you with your challenge for the weekend. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, pause at some point to try something new. Not a beer previously unknown to you if you’re a beer aficionado or a new single malt if you’re a whisky geek, but something from an entirely new category. Seek guidance, if you wish, through a specialty bar or a friend with knowledge in a field previously off-limits to you, but approach whatever you pick with an open mind and an unjaded palate, and take your time.

You might just find yourself opening up entirely new and decidedly flavourful horizons.

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Filed under beer diplomacy, drinking quality, lambic, learning about beer, social commentary

Things REALLY Unsuitable for St. Patrick’s Day

I thought I had hit on the high points of St. Patrick’s Day unsuitability with this post. Turns out I wasn’t even close! Here are a few highlights from the current issue of Las Vegas magazine, all being promoted for St. Paddy’s:

– A place called Nine Fine Irishmen is offering free admission to their event to anyone wearing a kilt.

– The Rockhouse at the Imperial palace is featuring green frozen piña coladas!

– $5 Jäger bombs at the PBR Rock bar. Yep, nothing quite so Irish as Jägermeister.

– The Red Shamrock — yes, Red Shamrock — at Tabú Ultra Lounge, which is Jameson, amaretto, simply syrup and cranberry juice.

– But the best of the lot is a St. Patrick’s Day feature at Rice & Company in the Luxor, which will offer a green sushi roll called the Lucky roll. Green…Irish…sushi. Yum.

 

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Things Unsuitable for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is a week Saturday. I know this because as in years past, but with a ferociousness never before seen, drinks companies from all over are filling my inbox with press releases explaining why their beer/booze/cocktail is what everyone should drink on St. Patrick’s Day. (Thus far, at least, I’ve not received any such missive from a winery, but there’s still a week to go, I guess. Anything is possible.)

Now, I’m not a big St. Patrick’s Day fan, being someone who: a) fails to see the fun inherent in getting falling down drunk; and b) drinks because I like it and/or am enjoying myself with friends, rather than it being an arbitrary day on which a massive marketing machine tells me I must find some place Irish-looking and drink stout and Irish whiskey — or worse, lager adulterated with green food dye! — until I’m legless. Call me a killjoy in you must.

But I’m really not out to ruin anyone else’s fun, just to suggest that at very least the spirit of the day should as much as possible be observed. And that does not mean imbibing the following:

1) Heineken tapped from a home-dispense system. Yes, it’s true, I have actually received a press release explaining that THE thing to drink on St. Patrick’s Day is the famous Dutch beer poured from the ridiculous Krupps home mini-keg tapping device that works only with Heineken mini-kegs. Why someone would buy one of these things in the first place remains a mystery to me, but why someone would do so for an Irish celebration in beyond understanding.

2) Vodka. Multiple companies have sent me missives explaining why their vodka cocktail is THE one to drink this St. Patrick’s Day, but my favourite is the one which suggests making something called the Irish Gold Cocktail, which involves flavouring a sugar syrup with bay leaves and then blending it with vodka and sparkling wine. I suppose the pale green sheen is what’s supposed to make it “Irish.”

3) A Grasshopper. Dale DeGroff calls the Grasshopper a suitable after-dinner drink, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. But for sipping daintily while others around you are quaffing pints of stout? Not so much.

4) A Mojito. I’ve read the release three times now and I still don’t understand how they can possibly make the connection between St. Patrick’s Day, leprechauns and a Mojito, but they do.

 

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