About Brian

Author of beer books "Red, White, & Brew" & "Oregon Breweries." Championing responsible packages for responsible beer lovers. #Nips!

Ich Bin ein Berliner Writer

In the immortal words of JFK, translated from the original German (and with an assist from Eddie Izzard): “I am a doughnut.”

As such, ich bin ein berliner writer: I am a doughnut writer.

This past June, in what turned out to be one of the final stories ever published by All About Beer (I’m still in mourning), I merged my two beloveds by writing up the breweries and doughnuteries of Butler County, Ohio.

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Photo by Amanda Hickethier

But one doughnut story does not a doughnut writer make. How many published doughnut stories are required to be deemed a doughnut writer? Two.

Ever since moving to Santa Barbara, there aren’t many new breweries to write about (although my next story for the Independent IS on a brand new* brewery in SB. *Sorta.), but I did get to write up the American Riviera’s newest purveyor of gourmet doughnuts, Hook & Press Donuts. Voila.

Hook and Press Donuts, doughnuts, Santa Barbara

John Burnett decided to do something about Santa Barbara’s lack of gourmet doughnuts by opening Hook & Press on State Street. Photo by Paul Wellman

 

Flogging Molly “Book”

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Written by Brian Yaeger………………….. ………………Photo by Tony Jett. (c) 2004

A few weeks ago, I saw Irish folk-punk band Flogging Molly. I first saw them 18 years ago and have seen them, on average, once a year. That said, it’d been a few years since I’d last seen them (which, I’m happy to say, was at the Oregon Zoo with my baby boy and it’s incredible to see how many kids were at this recent show, most of whom were really into it). When they first started making a name for themselves at the start of the 21st century, I considered myself a music writer. I self-published a music zine and wrote for some others (a couple even paid, unlike mine). As such, I had the opportunity to interview them a few times (and it helped that they liked my red-headed Irish-American girlfriend at the time).

During singer Dave King’s between-song banter, he talked about the importance of voting even though, as an Irishman who I guess still isn’t an American citizen, he cannot do. It’s not new territory for him. You can pick up the political bent in many of his songs’ lyrics, because the world is always a mess thanks to politicians.

So I decided to dig through my old files and find some of those interviews from way, way back. And then friend and author Jeff Alworth proposed that it’d make a good e-book, a short read that I could offer for $0.99. Cut to: it’s now ranked #1 in 30-Minute Politics and Social Sciences Short Reads. (Aw man, it WAS. It has since slipped to #2. So please shell out nearly one dollar and watch it skyrocket back to #1. Please.)

The e-book is awfully short, but to give an even shorter synopsis, the ever-sagacious Flogging Molly frontman Dave King shares his ruminations on the state of American politics (whether you swap “Bush” for “Trump” or not) and America itself. They ring truer today than they did back then. Maybe there’s something in the water they drink in the British Isles or that surrounds it, because I’ve had a song on replay in my head from a singer named Frank Turner, who I discovered when he opened for Flogging Molly on their 2016 tour. The chorus of the title song from Frank’s new album, Be More Kind, goes “In a world that has decided / That it’s going to lose its mind / Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind.”

Beer in Bourbon Country

KYMy obsession with the Commonwealth of Kentucky is that it’s a place that’s not what it is and isn’t what it’s not. It neighbors Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia but it’s not the South. It shares borders with Missouri, Indiana and Ohio but it’s not the Midwest. It’s Appalachia, but parts are also pretty cosmopolitan. It’s KFC but also award-winning Kenny’s Cheese. Some of my greatest road trip moments occurred in Kentucky from the whales I got to enjoy in Bowling Green to a night of Hot Browns and jaw-dropping bourbons in Louisville to playing board games at a brewery in Paducah with my son who found the Hot Wheels the brewer hid in the brick walls for some kid whose dad dragged him to another brewery. Plus, I really wanna be made a Kentucky Colonel.

Anyway, if you’re going to Kentucky, it’s all about the bourbon distilleries and brown bars. But also, it’s now about the beer. Just don’t order one that tastes like mint julep.

 

Op-ed about craft beer quality and consistency

Beer quality vs consistencyIn John Holl‘s op-ed (non-anon I might add; so brave!), he lays out an argument that “craft” isn’t synonymous with good. Obvi. But–and I say this with love and admiration for John Holl* as well as others fly this flag–he seems to conflate “consistency” with “quality.”
“At Anheuser-Busch’s St. Louis brewery, trained professionals sample the Budweiser brewed at each of the company’s 12 U.S. locations, making sure that the liquid tastes exactly the same. Customers shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the Bud brewed in Newark, N.J., versus the one in Fort Collins, Colo., or Fairfield, Calif.”
He continues:
“…we shouldn’t diminish the skill that goes into making tens of millions of barrels of the same beer each year, at multiple locations, each and every one without defect.”
OK, so here are my two main issues. Chiefly, I absolutely do not care if a beer is consistent in its flavor profile. What I mean by this is: I don’t need a beer to taste consistent because beers like Bud/Bud Light, Coors Banquet/Coors Light, or Heinie/Heinie Light are definitely identical, yet (IMHO) vapid. What I do need is for said beer to be consistently good!

 

Take Orval. This brewery, perhaps as the antithesis of these local guys across the US that pump out dozens of different beers a year and some are never to be replicated, defines the concept of craftsmanship. They make one thing and make it well. But sometimes the lemongrass profile rides higher than the sourdough. Sometimes I get more nectarine than white peach. But whoa-nelly, it’s always glorious. I do not believe I’ve ever enjoyed the same Orval twice and that’s even before considering splendidly cellared bottles. The hops that go into it are allowed to reflect seasonality of the crop. The yeast cells, like the beer, are alive! Granted, there are no fungible American craft breweries that fit this model or approach, but I can give concrete examples of beers from tiny players that bear the same brand name on the label though the liquid always varies (yet is always very good. Off the top of my head: Ale Apothecary Sahalie, Third Window Walkabout, New Belgium La Folie, Double Mountain Devil’s Cuvee Kriek, Craftsman Triple White Sage, Scratch Tonic, and, even among larger-produced beers, say, one you’d find in canned six-packs, Ft. George Vortex IPA seems to change with the weather but I’ve never had one less than deliciously stellar.

When a beer is made this way and allowed to be presented with unique character, it’s like seeing the Foo Fighters or Springsteen or Florence + The Machine. You never want your favorite band to put on a shitty show, but you also don’t want the setlist to sound exactly like the last time you saw them. Drinking Bud is like seeing Nickleback, but worse, because it’s seeing Nickleback lipsynching to a homogenous, immutable pre-recording.
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Please don’t ding me for infringement. Just illustrating a point on a blog.

Oh, and by the way, the last time I had a Coors Light (which wasn’t that long ago), I thought the bartender accidentally pulled a pint from the apple juice tap instead of the beer tap, and this was in Colorado. It was the result of acetaldehyde, which most likely meant the lager was rushed to market (because beer in lagering tanks means beer not being sold). So all that fancy, expensive lab equipment in Golden, Colo. (and Milwaukie and St. Louis, etc) is great for keeping the liquid widgets uniform in much the same way Hostess makes Twinkies uniform but that didn’t keep Hostess from running into trouble a few years back. This is the very nature of the problem of Big Beer: they view beer not as a canvas but as a commodity. I’m not saying all craft beer is art, but I am saying all macro beer is artless.

 

Please do not take this is a knock against John Holl (*or even John Hall. I mention this because my favorite comment posted on Holl’s op-ed reads, “he has drank a lot of beer, he is a professional! Didn’t you google him? He founded Goose Island Brewery in 1988 eventually selling it to AB InBev in 2011.” If only the commenter/Googler deduced his homonymous error). Nor is this intended to be an attack of the mega beer factories. If people enjoy the taste of those beers, that’s their prerogative. It’s also cheaper and I’m a bit cantankerous about the price creep we’re seeing in much of the craft beer segment. I certainly agree that there are some quality issues in the small-craft sector and that they can be damaging to the larger craft industry. But inconsistency in and of itself should not be viewed as a flaw like diacetyl or oxidation.

Pilgrimage to the Jun & Gruit Capital

IMG_3592My second story for Beer Paper gets upgraded to a column. And the column gets its own name: Yaeger Shots. (Get it?!) This shot is of the fermentation scene in Carp, the sleepier, surfier town just south of Santa Barbara. It’s where there are two businesses, side by side, each small and each doing wildly unique and tasty alcoholic beverages made from local honey, local apples, local herbs, local microorganisms, and sometimes local loquats. Pick up the September issue to read about brewLAB and The Apiary.

Pacific Prost

The drive from San Diego to Seattle covers 1,500 miles of ridiculously gorgeous Pacific coastline along Highway 101 (or sometimes Highway 1 in California). It could technically be tackled in two 15 hour driving shifts but I don’t recommend that. In fact, it took me nearly 40 years to have tackled the entire shoreline. So I reflected back on some favorite breweries along the way and wrote up this epic 15-brewery drive along the Pacific CoastEpic-Craft-Beer-Road-Trip-Pacific-Coast-Breweries.

Telegraph and Third Window breweries in Santa Barbara

All About Beer has a feature called “flights,” which, obviously is a look at a flight of beer offered at various breweries across the country. Never has Santa Barbara been featured, and since I live here now, I get to help shine a little light on the scene; specifically SB’s oldest packaging brewery, Telegraph, recently acquired by Utah’s Epic Brewing.

Walkabout StoutOf course, Telegraph isn’t SB’s only packaging brewery. You can find the errant bottled offering from Third Window (about two blocks away). This review of Walkabout Stout, a delectable treat made with local cocoa nibs, backyard oranges, and vanilla beans, is the subject of my first review for the Santa Barbara Independent alt-weekly.