Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Take It To the Limit

Last week I was perched on a bar stool at the Lionheart. Jerry, the pub's owner, has been nice enough to keep a list of the pub's draughts above the back bar. The name of each beer is hand-written in a doodle-ly script, along with its state or country of origin and its alcohol by volume percentage. Everything a dyed-in-the-wool beer drinker needs. Sitting there, examining the list, it occurred to me that during my stops down to pub after work, do I rarely—and I mean rarely—order a pint that is stronger than 7%, and what's more, I never order the next pint at that same strength—the next one is always lower. Mind you, my stops are usually capped at two pints, anyhow.

This post has nothing to do with The Eagles.
Ideally, when at the pub, I look for beers that range in the 5 to 6% range, but those beers are harder to come by. Occasionally they get in something a bit more sessionable, but most of the Lionheart's standard beers range between 6 and 7.5%.  I say standard because the pub usually offers four to six, usually pricey and strong, speciality beers, like North Coast's Old Rasputin or others of the same ilk.

This 7% cap has also seemed to seep into my beery buying habits away from the pub, as well. The bottles of beer chilling in my fridge or sleeping in my basement all seem to hover at, or below, the mid-strength level of 6 to 7%. It seems that my beery comfort zone has a magic number of 6.5%. Don't get me wrong, I love a big Barley Wine, Imperial Stout or Belgian Triple, I just don't love them that often.

I don't think it has anything to do with the flavor of those styles, either. I think what keeps me reigned in, is their fuzzy after effects. A pint after work is, usually, just what the doctor ordered. A hour or so to not just enjoy a beer but to decompress after the day's stresses. But, with a wife who works as hard, or even harder than I do, and two little kids waiting for their dinner—not to mention Little League games, mowing the lawn, running to the grocery store and the other 500 things that need to get done—I can't afford to be fuzzy and slow. I'm sounding like a non-drowzy Claritin ad, but get a pint of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot in me, and I'll be asleep before the 5:30 news comes on. Even on weekends, when fuzziness isn't an issue, I'll still go for three or four lower strength beers over one or two big ones.

So, I'm resound to the fact that I'm a middle-of-the-road-strength beer drinker. I am, however, curious as to where your limit lies. Do you drink the range in a sitting, or are you a straight sessioner? Perhaps, you're a 5% 'er out but an 8% 'er in?

What's your limit?

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Beer King of the Mekong Delta

On January 1, 1968, newly minted U.S.N. Ensign Tom Sparkman stepped aboard the USS Benewah (APB-35), for the first time. A 260 ft, olive drab, floating barracks, docked near Dong Tam, in the Mekong River Delta of south Vietnam—The Benewah was an unusual vessel. A retro-fitted WWII Landing Ship Tank (LST), it housed 300 Navy crew members along with the crews of 20 U.S. Army gunboats—an additional 600 troops, plus their boats, which used the Benewah's two 90-foot pontoons as docks, while she anchored in the muddy water. To these men—both Army and Navy—Tom Sparkman would soon become one of the most beloved junior officers in the Southeast Asia.

Beer onboard.
Photo courtesy Tom Sparkman of
You see Ensign Sparkman, primarily assigned as the Benewah's Electronics Material Officer, also had a very special key. That key, assigned to him as part of his secondary duty as the ship's Welfare and Recreation Officer, was the key to the cooler that held Benewah's allotment of beer. The assignment earned him the nickname "Beer King"*. As the W&R officer, one of Sparkmans' jobs was to make sure that the Benewah's 240 cases of beer, a months supply, arrived safely off the supply ships and remained in cold storage, under lock and key. Sparkman also found out, as the W&R officer, recreation in a war zone, was pretty rare—he notes, "The only Recreation we had, with rare exceptions, was to drink beer." Because the Benewah housed so many men, and because she also spent most of her time anchored near the fortified Army base of the 2nd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, in Dong Tam, she became, in what military parlance, is know as a "High Value Target" to the Viet Cong. At night, the area in and around the Benewah, took rocket and mortar fire two of three times a week, throughout all of 1968. During the day the gunboats would patrol the mosquito infested shores of the Mekong—battling opressive heat, humidity and small arms fire. These soldiers and sailors endured almost 24 hour combat conditions. If anybody needed a cold beer, it was the men living aboard the USS Benewah—and Ensign Sparkman made sure they got it. 

Tom Sparkman gives a fantastic account—far better than I could do—of his time as a junior officer and "Beer King" of the USS Benewah, on his personal website—it's worth the read. Tom was lucky enough to come back from Vietnam. But please, on this Memorial Day, please raise a pint to all the men and women who fought and served in our armed services—be it those slogging through rice patties, running across the grasses of prop blown LZs, or the ones like Tom Sparkman who helped give those men a little piece of home—especially for those who never came back.

*Modern ships—USN or otherwise—have engineering crew members who are know as Oil King/Water King. Those crew members are responsible for all the fuel and water on-board. "Beer King" is a tongue-in-cheek nod to that title.  

Friday, May 25, 2012

Duh-nuh, Nun-uh, Nun-uh, You Say It's Your Birthday!

Not only is this my 150th post, but today is also drinkdrank's 1st birthday—oh, they grow up so fast! To celebrate, I thought I'd do a retrospective of some of my favorite posts from this last year—a beery clip-show, if you will.

Uh, it's the thought that counts.
First up, Tropic Thunder, from June 8, 2011. This post was just fun to write—compare and contrast three Foreign Extra Stouts, what could be bad about that? Plus, it was in the 80ºs when I did, so it really felt tropical!

Two are up for July 2011, The Session 53: 12-Steps to Beer Snob Redemption, from the 1st of July, and The South Shall Rise Again from the 16th. 12-Steps was just a blast to write and my first official leap into The Sessions; while my foray into the South Carolina beer scene, in The South Shall Rise Again was great to see beer from another perspective. The South is getting ready to explode onto the craft beer scene and seeing that growth first hand was amazing. Southern breweries have a lot to offer—especially Brock and Roddy at New South Brewing in Myrtle Beach, so keep your eyes out for some great southern beers.

Fast forward to October, and my introduction of John Taylor, for my next favorite post. This one was along time coming. Alan and I had been knee deep in the Albany Ale research for quite a while before I wrote about it and The Session 56: Thanks to John Taylor—the Original American Big Boy, gave me the perfect opportunity to finally write about Albany Ale.

Baseball and beer are a great combo and I touched upon both, in the midst of an egregious scandal involving the Boston Red Sox, fried chicken and beer. William Marcy's line of "to the victor go the spoils" rings true in Getcha' Beer Here! Just Not in the Dugout. This October post has everything—Keith Hernandez, Seinfeld references and cigarettes.

I get verklempt thinking about my homage to Chanukah, in my On the Tenth First Day Night of Christmas Chankah... post of December 20th. It's these two line that I personally enjoy:
Oy, with the schleping all over the town already! All this work, with the writing and the drinking, why do I bother? 
I never thought of myself as a particularly good writer—and I still don't—but I think I should include Simplicity, from January of this year, after Max of Pivní Filosof, left this comment about my post on Full Sail's line of Lagers:
This must be one of the best beer reviews I've read in a long, long time. I haven't drunk those beers, of course, but after reading your post I couldn't help but getting the impression that you've understood those beer perhaps even better than the brewer. Brilliant writing.
You have know idea how much that means to me. Thanks again Max.

In a fit of self indulgence, my designer geek out-weighed my beer geek in Gratuitous Self-Promotion from this past April. I thought you guys might like to see how pervasive beer can be—hell, it's affecting my work!

Last but not least my personal favorite post is actually one of my first posts, it's Gone for a Burton, from May 30, 2011. Most of you know I'm a big WWII buff, and when I came across the photo of the USAAC ground crew standing around casks of beer, I knew I had a great post in the making. I think if someone were to ask which of my 150 post best sums up me, I'd have to point to this one. Gone for a Burton really is my heart and soul.

That's it—them's my favorites.

Thanks to everybody who reads and please, keep reading. As much as I love the process of writing about beer and drinking beer—and drinking more beer—it's your comments that drive me to continue on with this endeavour. Honestly, I think the next 12 months are going to be more fun than the last!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Albany Ale: A Tale Told in Black and White

I've been collecting images of newspaper and broadside headlines from the 1860s to be used as graphic elements for an exhibit on the American Civil War the Museum is planning. The Historic American Newspaper database has been invaluable in this endevour. However, in the midst of my browsing, I decided a search for "Albany Ale" might yield some results—and it did, with a surprising result. As I expected 19th century newspapers were rife with small adverts and listing for a cast of the usual Albany Ale suspects—Taylor, Dunlop and Boyd—the list goes on into the late 1800s. Amongst all these known-to-me brewers was a humble little ad for bottled beer, placed in the Albany Register on May, 5, 1803.

That little ad was bought by the then 27 year-old, Edward A. Le Breton—gentleman, businessman and brewer. In the two years that we've been researching Albany Ale, this past week is the first time I've come across Edward Le Breton—and I'm glad I did, because he has an interesting story. Le Breton was born in England in 1775, and while I don't have any information about him between that time and 1803, I do know, at some point he partnered with Thomas Morgan to open Le Breton & Co., a brewery, on Pearl Street in Albany.

Two years after the small ad in the Register appeared, another ad exalts Le Breton & Co.'s  Fine Albany Ale, in the March 22, 1805 edition of the New York Morning Chronicle—a Manhattan based newspaper. This little ad, as far as I can tell, is the oldest record of Albany Ale made by a specific brewer. Pretty cool, huh?

It wasn't all unicorns and fairy farts for Mr. Le Breton. Beer and ale adulteration claims were as common as horses in the 19th century—both true and false—and it looks like Le Breton & Co were no exception. In February of 1807, the brewery issued an Affidavit , in both Manhattan and Albany newspapers—witnessed by Sebastian (Visscher) Vesscher Master in Chancery of the City of Albany—swearing that during the
"...mixing and finning of their ale, use unwholesome and even poisonous materials, which report he, this deponent saith, is absolutely false, and without foundation..." 
Le Breton also offers a $200 reward for information leading to the libelist—that's big bucks back in 1807. Adding insult to injury, for Mr. Le Breton, a New York brewer—Robert Barnes—ran his own ad the following month, in the same paper, capitalizing on the sullied good name of Le Breton & Co. Mr. Barnes assured the public of his Amber ale's purity—In fact he goes as far as to offer his product up for chemical analysis! How could you not trust him?

All of this seems to have had an affect on the brewery, and it appears that, the now 32 year-old Le Breton, begins to have some debt collection and solvency issues. By 1808 what appear to be insolvency ads, stating the need for "All persons indebted to Le Breton & Co." to make "immediate payment" begin running in both Albany and New York papers. These ads are followed by a plethora of ads stating the consensual divorce of Le Breton from & Co.— Le Breton dissolves his partnership with Thomas Morgan, but retains some ownership of the brewery. These ads run from 1809 through 1812. It is also during this period that Le Breton's wife dies and he leaves Albany for Manhattan.

An article, in the New York-based Colombian newspaper on December 21, 1811 reputes both the quality of Le Breton's ale,
"Le Breton's Ale and Porter merit this encomium; and justice requires us to say, that their superiority and excellence have been admired and extolled by gentleman of the first taste and respectability/"
and his personality,
"He has followed the business for a number of years in Albany; and his intelligence, experience and judgement, cannot be disputed." 
 while also noting that,
"Mr. Le Breton has lately moved into this city for the purpose of establishing a brewery..."
Establish a brewery he did. Almost two years later Le Breton announces the opening of his brewery near Spring Street in the Bowery of lower Manhattan in the January 28th, 1813 edition of the New York Gazette & General Advisor. He acknowledges and thanks his loyal customers during his time in Albany and offers the same quality in his beer now being made in New York. He offers Single Ale at $5 per barrel, Double Ale at $7.50 per barrel and Porter at $10 per barrel—notice though it's not referred to as "Albany". Times seem to be good for Mr Le Breton from this point on, nothing appears about him, or his brewery, until an article written by "A Country Brewer" pops up in the January 22, 1818 issue of the New York Evening Post. The author states that,
"There has been, for some years past, a meritorious competition existing among brewers, particularly of this city, in attempting to produce an article that would take best with the public, and be equal, if not superior (if possible) to the malt liquor produced in England. This laudable, (and advantageous competition to the public) commenced with the celebrated "Albany ale" brewed by a Mr. Le Breton, some years ago..."
Strangely enough, it appears that Mr. Le Breton left New York City between the time that article was written and 1822. A short article from the Albany Argus on May 17, 1822 mentions a stop made by the 47-year old Le Breton, in Albany, en route to New York City with a cargo of ale. The article explains that many Central New York towns are being supplied with Pennsylvanian beer, but the imminent opening of the Erie Canal might change that. It appears that Mr Le Breton saw an opening in the market, and has opened a brewery in the Finger Lakes Region, on Seneca Lake, near Geneva New York, to exploit that market. Le Breton's time in Geneva was also short lived. Seven years after establishing himself in Central New York, he leaves for Michigan. In 1829 Le Breton establishes himself with the Detroit Brewery and begins to make improvements to that facility, but shortly thereafter, in October of 1830, the Albany Argus prints his obituary taken from The North Western Journal. Edward A. Le Breton was dead at the age of 55.

I'm drawn to Le Breton's story because it humanizes Albany Ale. The history of men and brewers, like Ganesvoort, Taylor and Boyd has been shadowed over time, but there's still a record—beery dinosaur footprints, if you will. How many smaller brewers, like Le Breton, on the other hand have all but been erased from the collective conscience? Le Breton's story show the tumultuous nature of brewing in the 19th century—the fickle nature of the beer consumer, the backstabbery of the industry, and how quickly the facts are forgotten. But, perhaps, there's an aspect of Le Breton's involvement with Albany Ale that is even more important. The little ad featuring "Fine Albany Ale," from back in 1805, may have been the first to advertise Albany Ale as Albany Ale and associate that product with a known brewer. Le Breton may not have been the first brewer to make Albany Ale, but he does—at this point—seem to be the first one who's beer is referred to as such. Perhaps since the product was being brought into Manhattan it was simply a way to differentiate it from beer being made in New York? Or could it be that the name "Albany Ale" begot the style? As usual, for as many answers I've found, we have twice as many new questions—but that's what this project is all about.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Mild-less Month of May

The good folks of CAMRA have proclaimed May as Mild Month. That means thirty-one days to celebrate the malty sweetness of what can only be described as the ultimate session beer. What better of an excuse, than an official "month," to track down British beer's homage to the working man. A task like that should be a cake walk since Beer Advocate lists 364 different beers in their English Dark and English Pale Mild categories, right? I might even be able to simply pop down to the local grocery store and grab one—The Price Chopper I shop at, carries Full Sail stuff, and that Oregon-based brewery just released Allman's All Mild, a copper-colored Pale Mild, in their Brewer's Share series of beers. By the 31st I'll have had many bellies full of the sweet stuff and spent hours leaning on the bar, sharing stories and jokes, with friends and loved ones—or so I thought.

What has come to fruition is far less jovial. It is now the 21st of May—a mere ten days shy of the closing of  Mild Month—and I have not seen, let alone tasted, a single drop of Mild. No Moorehouse Black Cat, no Pretty Things Ale and Beer Project X Ale—1945 or 1838, not even a left over Goose Island Mild Winter.


Maybe it's because May is the lead-up month to summer, and breweries are focused on lemon-scented wheat beers or zippy IPAs. Maybe pints of amber sweetness don't sell well on 80º days. I think it is more likely that American's don't have a taste of Mild—now or any time of year. For decades American beer has been classified as weak, bland, yellow piss-water, but the American craft-beer movement has embraced the hop. "American-style" has come to mean hoppy and usually strong-er. Those two ideas fly in the face of the humble little mild. Even the Mild's closest American relative the American Brown Ale has turned to the hop-side. There's nothing wrong with a sharp IPA or even the Mild's consort, the English Bitter, but for whatever reason, us Yanks haven't seemed to embrace the simplicity of the Mild.

So where does that leave me? Still Mild-less with ten days to go.   

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is Beer Sexist?

I suppose the beer itself can't be sexist, but does the world have a sexist view of beer? I have a number of female friends who drink beer, both craft and non-craft. I also know a number of men who don't particularly like beer—but that's in the macro. Does the world view beer as a man's drink—as in men should drink beer and women should drink something else—like, perhaps wine?

Get a load of this broad bride.
This isn't a topic that comes up a lot, but I have noticed a few times over the last year. Notably with Carlsberg's soon to be released Copenhagen—a 4.5% lager, that Carlsberg notes ..."is intended for modern women and men..." but freely admits that its clean packaging, reminiscent of a wine label, is geared toward consumers—many of whom, they note, are women—who are also "...very aware of design when the choose beverage products." Maybe I'm a bit over sensitive, but it appears that Carlsberg is targeting women with a softer, more gentler beer. I'm a graphic designer, I get that packaging that reflects the interest and style of the consumers of the product that it represents, is an effective way to move merchandise. Carlsberg's efforts with Copenhagen smacks of condescension. This, to me, is like putting a cartoon on a cereal box to appeal to children—except the children in this case are grown women, who Carlsberg thinks, are only drawn to pretty, frilly things.

That's nothing compared to what's happening over at Molson Coors. They're schilling pink beer, because I guess, women like pink stuff. This past fall, London was the first to receive Animée Beer, in an attempt to boost MCs lagging sales among women in the UK. Along with being a lovely shade of pink (excuse me crisp rose), the beer also comes in two other designer colors—clear filtered and zesty lemon, although clear isn't technically a color (not that lemon is either) but they are "designer." It's also, apparently, being pitched as "bloat-resistant"—always a beer selling point among the ladies. A spokeswomen for MC says,
One of the things we need to recognize in the industry is that we’ve effectively ignored 50 percent of the population for many years. There’s something fundamentally wrong with the relationship women have with beer.
Ignored 50 percent of the population? That statement implies that up until now beer wasn't that accessible to women. What would have been more correct to say, would have been,"...we’ve not effectively exploited 50 percent of the population for many years." MC has recently launched an advertising campaign in the UK, of which it's aim is to change the perception, among women, that all beers look and taste the same. What's the campaign's tag line, you ask?

Hurray for Animée

Because everyone knows—even simple minded-women—that nothing says better and different that the word hurray.

In defense of the world, however, I can't judge it by the actions of mega-corporations trying to make money. I can however make a judgement when Google News has 28 news stories about a photo, that ran in a New Zealand newspaper, of a bride drinking from a beer bottle. I can't figure out why that's even newsworthy. There seems to be a double standard—on one hand there seems to be an acceptance of women drinking light, white-wine looking beers but apparently not—and in New Zealand especially—those that are from brown bottles. Would it have been more acceptable for that woman to be drinking Chardonay from a wine glass? Is it the bottle that people find offensive—would it have been okay if she was drinking from a glass? Or is it that we are to believe that a woman's demure nature and sensitive system make the bitter flavor of beer far too overwhelming for them to handle? Maybe the bride in the photo is seen as a tad "rough-round-the-edges"—a lady would never quaff such a brutish beverage as beer. What is this, a Jane Austin book? The lady likes beer and not wine—who cares? It's still 2012, right, we haven't travelled back in time to 1812, have we? I'm snookered by this one.

Don't get me wrong—I'm as chauvinist as the next guy. I'm more than happy to watch a bikini-clad, hottie shake her money-maker to sell me beer, but that's not what's going on here. In all three of these case assumptions about women are being made that don't seem to ring true—women will only drink pretty beer or at least beer from a pretty package, but really, they shouldn't drink it at all. To me that's more degrading than Spuds McKensie's harem any day. For whatever reason, when it comes to beer, women's intelligence seem to be underestimated—both in the press and by big beer. Think about this: How ridiculous would all of these assumptions sound if the topic were hot dogs rather than beer? How do you think these headlines would fly?

Oscar Meyer Announces New Packaging Geared Toward Women. 

Or, how about this one?

Bride Eats Frankfurter—Disgraceful.

Like it or not, women do drink beer—women from all walks of life, in fact. Well educated women, fashionistas, moms, strippers, old women, young women, all of them drink beer—and not just the pretty pink ones, either.     

Monday, May 14, 2012

News of the Beery World

A few stories that came across drinkdrank's wire this week caught my eye, so I figured I'd share them with you:

Message In a Bottle

Isn't this a Police song? picked up a story from Reuters and is reporting that the VTT Technical Research Institute Centre of Finland is in the process of recreating a 19th century beer, of which an original bottle was recovered from a sunken ship in the Baltic Sea. In its best imitation of the recently cancelled CSI:Miami (Yeeeeeoooww!), VTT has pulled out all the stops to analyze the bottle and its contents, the article states that “The study involved an analysis of the physico-chemical properties of the beer and microbiological and DNA analyses of the beer, bottle and cork. In particular, the aim was to isolate any living microbes.” As super-cool and beer nerdy as that is, wouldn't it have been easier just to call Ron Pattinson? He'd have been able to tell them what's what and they could have cut out the mass spectrometer middle man all together.

Mola Ram's heart burns for you.

I find it best to err on the side of caution when it comes to politics and religion. Portland, Oregon's Burnside Brewery, however does not—at least not to the latter. KOIN Local 6, a Portland CBS news affiliate, reports the brewery has postponed the release of it's new wheat beer brewed with Indian spices. The beer is named Kali-ma and it's label sports a black, multi-armed, female deity beheading, what I assume to be, brewery staff. The brewery chose the name and iconography in homage to the second Indiana Jones flick, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In the movie (yeah, like you haven't seen it) Indy fights a Thuggee cult, and it's leader Mola Ram, bent on child slavery, Sankara Stone theft and human sacrifice to their patron Goddess Kali-ma. That's where the name and the trouble comes in, for Burnside Brewery at least. Ya' see Kali-ma isn't some made-up, Hollywood bad-guy from the minds of Spielberg and Lucas—it's derivative of the revered Hindu Goddess Kali—the one worshipped by millions of people across the globe. Granted, naming a beer after a religious icon is not totally offensive to me, but I'm not Hindu or Indiana Jones. I do, however, see how that may have pissed a few folks off. Just a bit of advice to brewery owners—steer clear of Christ Kölsch.

That mug won't be empty for long.

Wyoming Tastes Like Beer

In my favorite news blip of the week— is reporting that fourteen breweries in the state of Wyoming have collaborated to create Wy-P-A, an IPA, to be dubbed Wyoming's State Beer. Brewers from across the Cowboy State met at the Wind River Brewing Co., in Pinedale, Wyoming—each bringing malt and hops to contribute to the beery effort. The intention was to create a hoppy, 6.5% ABV beer that, as Tim Harland of Snake River Brewing Co. in Jackson Hole said, "... is bigger than all of us."

The breweries will split the yield and the beer will be available today (er, uh, that is May 14)—so drink up Wyoming!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Did I Just Hear a Collective Sigh of Relief?

I'm never amazed at the depths to which big beer makers will go to add a gimmick to their beer. However, Miller's newest invention—The Miller Lite punch top can—takes the cake. Usually, I give no mind to whatever dumb thing the big boys use to sell their beer. If you want to only drink beer that comes from a can that changes color, by all means knock yourself out. That being said, the punch top can is just stupid.

Thanks to MillerCoors for all their good work.
Miller is advertising its new can as having a second tab "... for a smoother pour with less glug." Here's the concept: you open the can via the pop top; then use a key, a pen, or the ice pick you just stabbed into your brain, to "punch" the top of the can at a different, pre-designated "punch" site. The second "punch" evacuates the vacuum formed inside the can, meaning the beer will flow totally free and arc magnificently into your glass—unlike those other so-called "canned" beers—from which their contents pour like cold gravy. The newly "punched" top also allows you to control the rate of the pour. Just in case things get crazy, simply place your thumb over the can's freshly minted orifice, and the stream of poring beer slows down. You'll actually never be able to notice that it slows down with the naked eye, but on the television commercial, when filmed in slow-motion, it's totally obvious.


Is this a problem that Miller needed to address—Is there an issue with the viscosity of Miller Lite? Did market research determine that MillerCoors drinkers are demanding hydrodynamic analysis be implemented on their aluminum cans? Even more amazing is that this is Miller's second attempt at perfecting the pour. They revolutionized beer pouring with their Vortex bottle, introduced in 2010, which forces the beer to twist in a counter-clockwise (or perhaps clockwise—I really haven't looked into it) fashion—like a slug from a rifled barrel. Smooth and twisty every time. I think MillerCoors collaborated with white coated, NASA engineers to develop that one. It's amazing stuff their doing in the R&D department over there at MillerCoors.

What kind of idiot can't figure out how to pour  beer from a can into a glass? Besides that, who is even drinking canned Miller Lite from a glass? Isn't that the genius of American canned beer—it's meant to be drank ice cold and from the can? Let's be honest, with innovation like the punch top can, it's only a matter of time before we see other amazing breakthroughs—like "see-thru" pint glasses, so we'll know when to get more Miller Lite.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing

I'm a little confused at how I'm supposed to feel about the future of Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I've seen a number of snippets and mentions about the possible selling of Bell's, and recently I got an update on Facebook from Beer Advocate about it. The update was a link to an article titled "Bell's Brewery Inc. to be sold? Larry Bell says it's possible,written by John Liberty of It states that, as the the headline implies, the owner and majority shareholder (along with his two children) of the nation's thirteenth largest brewery might have to sell the business he's built over the last nearly 30 years, because of, well I'm not sure, and that's my point. Let me elaborate.

At first read, my initial thought was just "Wow, that sucks" then I started thinking about Bell's situation and I noticed a few . According to the article Bell's attempted a $52 million expansion project which kicked off last year. That project is now on hold as Bell tries to buyout his shareholders—He's been battling with them since 2007. Bell's Inc. has dropped a good bit of scratch to try and appease and or buy them out—with varying degrees of success or failure, depending on how you look at it. Larry Bell is quoted in the article as saying:
“Unfortunately with the growth and the size the company has gotten to, the alarms are going off to where we have to figure it out or do something else,” Bell said. “I don’t want to sell, but it’s a great time to sell if I had to. There are many willing buyers.
"If it was just a family business, there would be legal maneuvers we could make that would facilitate that kind of transfer across generations. With its current structure, I'm not able to do those sorts of things. It would basically leave us in the position of selling the company upon my death."
He states later:
“We, as a family, have to soon figure out what’s going to happen. Unfortunately, the way this thing is structured, this company is structured, it’s not sustainable. I’m not set up estate-wise to guarantee it can be handed over to the kids. We’ve been trying to work on that.”
So, what it seems like is, Bell is in a pissing match with his shareholders. That, along with the expansion and the cost of it's recent legal battles—including two trademark lawsuits and an dispute between Anchor Brewery over a former employee, above and beyond the shareholder lawsuit—have weighed heavily on the brewery. Somewhere along the line, Bell also seem to have forgotten his children, and has made no contingency plan for them—as far as his business goes. To that I put my hands up, raise my eyebrows and say "Well?"

Here's where my on-the-fence-ness comes from. The article, and a few others I read on the same topic, has a Save-the-Bell's feel to it— a sort of "C'mon people we have to do something to help this great brewery!" vibe. It doesn't come out and say it directly, but I note a slight skew in that direction. But in reality, what I'm seeing, is that a lot of this trouble seems to be self-inflicted. There doesn't seem to be any outside influences working against the company—no loss of market or new and stifling government-imposed restrictions, at least not anymore than any other brewery would have to deal with. It seems, from where I'm sitting, that Larry Bell just didn't make the best business decisions. None one forced him to sell shares in his company, no one forced an expansion and it's not the shareholders fault that he didn't set the company up to allow transfer of control to his children—not to mention the rather petty, but expensive lawsuits the brewery has gotten itself into over the last few years.

I know that Bell's has become one of those rarefied American craft-breweries, and, yeah, yeah I know Two-hearted is the end-all-be-all of American IPAs, but I think Larry Bell may have drank a little too much of his own Kool-Aid. I very much like Bell's beer, and I get that the brewery-biz can be dog-eat-dog, but the whole thing seems to be a bit of a non-issue. Make the right decisions and you win, make the wrong decisions and you lose. I think we all know that. Except maybe for the folks over at Bell's.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Session #63: The Beer Moment

Pete Brown poses an interesting question for this month's Session—What is the beer moment?

At first glance, I thought he was getting at a "does the beer make the moment or the moment make the beer" thing. But, in fact, the question is far more basic than that. Pete has no agenda with his question or grand philosophical debate. It's just a question. What makes for that great beer experience?

I've spent hours (my wife would say more like days) drinking in pubs and bars, in crowds or just with a few friends, at night and during the sunny day. I've had hundreds of beer "moments"—we all have. I vividly remember trying my first craft beer, a Saranac Lager, at a Tau Kappa Epsilon party in 1993. I often think back to warm summer days drinking Heffeweizen, overlooking Warner's Lake from the deck at Schultz' Hofbrau. Occasionally my mind wanders to the road trips of my past—to Ye Olde County Inn, down in Ellenville, NY; to Matt's Brewery for my bachelor party; and beer hunting around coastal South Carolina. From the mundane to the exhilarating, my history is a pint glass full of beer moments.

Remember this pic from last July?
I look exactly the same.
More recently, and especially since the kids popped, up my beer moments have become a beer moment. Although I'm lucky enough to have one every day—right around 5:30pm. I do most of the cooking in our house. I've always enjoyed cooking, especially the prep. I find the chopping and dicing and slicing to be a release—a cathartic evacuation of the day's stupidity. With my mis en place set, there is only one thing left to do—pop the cap on a beer. Because what's a beer moment without beer? I'll be honest I'm not all that picky when it comes to what I'm drinking during that 15 or 20 minute period, either. Of late, I've been on an IPA kick—but the occasional Utica Club or PBR often find their way in. It's usually just one, as well. Rarely will I have two beers while I'm cooking. I don't know why, it just seems to work out that way. During the warm weather months the moment intensifies with the addition of fire. Many a work-weary drive home has been lightened by the thought of sipping a Sierra Nevada by the grill as the burgers sizzle and the smell of seasoned chicken and smoke wafts through the warm air.

Honestly, it's a simple answer to Pete's simple question. For me it's beer, sunshine, and a grill—really what else do you need?