About Brian

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

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.

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.

 

Brewery Buyouts Follow Me to Santa Barbara: Epic Bought Telegraph

I remember when AB-InBev bought Goose Island, but that wasn’t terribly shocking since Goose was already part of the Craft Brew Alliance family, which itself was minority-owned by ABI. I remember when the house of Budweiser bought 10 Barrel out of tiny Bend, Oregon and THAT felt like a big deal. I was surprised that such a behemoth in the beer world was interested in an upstart crafty company in a remote pocket of Oregon. As the wheel keeps turning, we’ve seen major acquisitions (Lagunitas, Ballast Point) and some less earth-shattering ones (like when Heineken-owned Lagunitas bought minuscule but mighty Moonlight Brewing or Green Flash bought infinitesimal but incredible Alpine Brewing). So it is with today’s breaking news that Utah’s Epic Brewing, which already has a satellite brewing in Denver’s booming River North District, has agreed to purchase Telegraph Brewing based right here in Santa Barbara.

When I went to school here at UCSB in the mid-nineties, Santa Barbara Brew Co. opened during my senior year. The Brewhouse was a couple years from opening when I graduated. Heck, even Firestone Walker, which in 2015 was folded into the Belgian-owned Duvel-Moortgat, hadn’t started slinging its pale ales (to say nothing of its 805 blonde ale juggernaut). In other words, the last time I lived in this tropical oasis, it was a beer desert. As the Prodigal Gaucho returns, I have found a quaint little brewing scene (keep in mind I moved here via Portland a.k.a. Beervana). SB is home to six breweries (Telegraph, founded in 2006, being the third oldest and arguably the best). North a bit in Goleta there are four good breweries. Down in fire-ravaged Ventura there’s a mini boom going on where the eighth, Leashless, just opened. This reminds me, I hope the unfortunately-named Smoke Mountain Brewery is okay!

Having said that, it’s not exactly like California’s Central Coast is even a burgeoning beer Mecca. The Golden State’s already got San Diego and the Bay Area. Russian River put Sonoma County on the map while even late-to-the-table Los Angeles is now charging ahead as a boomtown. Heck, even East Coast centric BeerAdvocate is hosting its first Extreme Beer Fest-LA this weekend (that I hope to attend but those aforementioned wildfires will likely keep me from being able to make it). So one of the things I’ll be diving into in upcoming coverage is how, exactly, Utah’s four-time GABF winning brewery that produces 27,000 barrels a year singled out Santa Barbara’s six-time GABF winning tiny brewery. From a recent phone conversation with founder Brian Thompson—who I first met when I ambled unannounced into his fledgling brewery in 2006—I gathered he was feeling the heat of today’s beer industry logistics. But when faced with a rumor that his was the brewery listed on an industry board as being for sale, he shot down that notion! Perhaps hearing his name in the rumors got his own wheels turning. Stay tuned for more. And if you’ve never tried any Telegraph Beer, go out and buy some and see what Epic is already hip to.

Here’s the release sent out today:

 Epic Brewing Completes Purchase of Santa Barbara’s Telegraph Brewing Co.

Salt Lake City, UT— On December 6 th Epic Brewing purchased Telegraph Brewing Company, Santa Barbara’s first and original craft brewery, and has announced investment plans to expand Telegraph and broaden the brewery’s reach as an additional brand in the Epic family.

Telegraph Brewing has been operating in Santa Barbara since 2006 when Founder Brian Thompson opened his dream brewery, focused on high-quality, Belgian-inspired, uniquely-Californian beers produced with local ingredients.

“So much has changed in the craft beer world since I started Telegraph, back when hazy beers were just called unfiltered and there were fewer than 1,500 brewers nationwide,” Thompson said. “Today, with the number of breweries approaching 6,000, the craft brewing landscape is radically different. We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished, but the increased competition from the likes of AB-INBEV’s “crafty beers” as well as new startups is requiring everyone in the industry to recalibrate their plans for the future. Earlier this year I began looking for ways to strengthen our legacy, and entering into a transaction with Epic was the right fit, both strategically and culturally. This partnership will allow us to nurture our deep California roots, retain and expand our amazing staff, and continue to develop our brand in new and innovative ways. My team and I are excited that Telegraph Brewing will remain a small, independent craft brewery and at the same time have the support and drive provided by one of the nation’s most creative, fearless, and fastest-growing brewery.”

With Epic’s investment, Telegraph will not only continue brewing its well-respected beer, but will begin expanding its brewing operations. There are immediate plans to increase the production capacity and offer new packaging options, including several new 12-ounce cans under the Telegraph brand. Epic will also move seven of their foeders—large wooden vessels for aging sour beer—from their Denver brewery to Santa Barbara, enabling Telegraph to produce more of its award-winning sour beers. California locals can also look forward to a new series of modern IPAs including some juicy and hazy styles, which will be sold fresh from Telegraph’s brewery.

“It’s a long-term dream come true” says Dave Cole, Co-founder of Epic Brewing. “I fell in love with craft beer living in California and that love didn’t diminish when I moved to Utah despite the beer scene at the time. I feel like I’ve come full circle. We have been actively looking for great breweries to purchase for the past 18 months and bringing Telegraph Brewing into the Epic family is exciting. We are investing in the future of Santa Barbara and are thrilled to have a direct and local connection to the amazing California craft beer community, where we share so much history. To be part of such a well-regarded brewery like Telegraph is something I’ve always hoped to do and now it’s finally a reality. It provides us an avenue to combine our teams and build on Telegraph’s portfolio with our innovative vision. This couldn’t be a better fit – including some advantageous distribution overlaps that create opportunities to expand both brands across California and beyond.”

###

Epic Brewing Company, LLC was opened in May of 2010 in Salt Lake City and expanded to Colorado in 2013. Epic is 100% independent and family owned and is known for its innovation of style and wood aged beers, currently producing over 27,000 Barrels a year. Epic is distributed in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia & Washington D.C., Washington, Wisconsin, & Wyoming.

Telegraph Brewing, Santa Barbara’s original craft brewery, sold its first kegs in 2006 and specializes in brewing uniquely American and Belgian-inspired beers. Telegraph uses 100% domestic ingredients and as many local ingredients as possible, capturing in each sip the unique culinary and agricultural traditions of Santa Barbara and California’s Central Coast. Since 2011, Telegraph has won six Great American Beer Festival medals and two World Beer Cup awards.

The Session #130: Create Your Own Beerfest

3664495894_75dbf1b0bf_mWell this is fun. Writing my own entry for The Session that I’m hosting/foisting on my fellow beer bloggers. The self-imposed assignment is to write about how (I) would design (my) dream beer festival. Conceptually, I tried to take all the major facets into account: theme, beer style(s), location, attendance, ticket pricing, and my overarching-ampersand that affects the way I think about enjoying beer, writing about beer, and celebrating beer, “and,” as in “beer and.” In other words, this is a festival for beer and what-else?

The level of self-interest in this ain’t veiled. I actually throw a few beer festivals back in Portland where I got to live from 2010 to the summer of 2017. And I may take a stab at one here in SoCal (since beerfests and sun go snifter-in-hand). My first baby is Baker’s Dozen in which I invite a baker’s dozen worth of breweries to make a coffee beer using 13 roasters’ beans and attendees also get samples from 13 doughnuteries (the 4th annual fest will be March 11, 2018). There’s Kriekfest, a celebration of Belgian Kriek-inspired beers or imports from Belgium that takes place in the Columbia River Gorge surrounded by Oregon cherry orchards (mark your calendars for July 21, 2018). For a couple years I had a hoot doing The Rural Brewer, inspired both by visiting all the tiny Oregon breweries in tiny towns far from the greater beer map as well as the running gag in 30 Rock about an off-broadway musical, The Rural Juror. And, what started as and really should’ve remained just a fun what-if exercise in beerfest tomfoolery, City of Goses. (Because beer puns.)

What these tell me is that I clearly love niche beer festivals. And that, both by design in the fact that sales are capped and never would’ve sold far beyond that cap (500), I prefer settings that are cozier. It’s what the Dutch call gezellig. That was my pitch to Portland’s moribund Bazi Bierbrasserie in launching Gluhbier Night—an intimate affair of warm, mulled beers that are a way of life at European Christmas markets (along with the infinitely more popular gluhwein). Beer fests, to me, are like the perfect concerts. It’s not that I’ve never attended stadium concerts (Rolling Stones. Eric Clapton. Even Michael Jackson at Dodger Stadium supporting Thriller!). And it’s not that I don’t love OBF and GABF with their thousands and thousands of revelers. But when you’re at a smaller venue, you feel a sense of camaraderie and anyone there might become your new beer drinking buddy. I’m still friends with someone I met a decade ago at a blues and brews fest, highlighting the power of both beer and music. So for me, when the number of attendees stretches out into the triple digits but not the fours, I think you’re really mashing with steam.

Style-wise, there’s absolutely something to be said for a fest where you get to enjoy as wide a range of styles as brewers can conceive. My palate doesn’t mind bouncing around from bitter IPA to boozy BBA behemoth to puckering lambic-style and then mellow out with an approachable Continental lager. But my dream beer fest doesn’t peddle in that kind of cerveza schizophrenia. I do relish IPAs, stouts, and barrel-aged beers, but there’s no shortage of IPA fests (and IIPA and IIIPA) or dark beer fests or wood-aged ones. I’m not interested in recreating an event that’s been done before. Clearly, I really love coffee beers. And my favorite fruited beers really are cherry ones (sorry Framboise-o-philes, I rarely share your raspberry romance). One beer fest I loved conceptually was Mighty Mites, conceived and curated by session beer statesman Jeff Alworth. Nothing over 4% ABV! Imagine a fest where you can truly sample every beer and walk out on your own accord. It occurred once and then Bazi continued a watered down (I see what I did there) version of it as part of the Hawthorn Street Fair. I also was enamored with Portland Mercury’s Malt Ball, wherein Portland brewers and bands truly sat down and created a beer designed to pair with the band’s sound. They never pulled it off perfectly, but the concept was divine. So for this imaginary fest I’m scheming up, one thing I’m currently crushing on is herbal beers. (Sage beers, anyone?!) Saisons infused with Basil or thyme supplement my love of hops. This is very much in the domain of Beers Made By Walking.

herbgardenAs for my “beer and” thoughts above, since every festival is essentially a giant beer garden, naturally this one would have a giant herb garden. Picture a farmer’s market meets cooking demonstration where you get to learn about ways to use these various herbs: homemade tinctures, remedies, growing tips, and more. Keep in mind I can hardly grow a bed of mint so this is something I could really use.

As for the twin elements of festival location and region the participating breweries hail from, which I cushioned as “locavore vs. globetrotter,” I’m torn on this. Much like the best beer is, theoretically, the one in my hands, the best beer fest is the one closest to me. But in reality, neither is always or frequently true. I’ve seen some beer events championing smoked beers, and I have no clue if this is a thing, but if someone held a Rauchbierfest in Bamberg, I’d be part of that zeitgeist. Still, I’d like to see the best of smoke from breweries in and beyond Franconia. I’m still kicking myself for not getting to Night of Great Thirst, Belgium’s lambicfest, when we lived in neighboring Holland. And even that now includes great representations from breweries as far afield as the USA. So my mythical Herbal Beer Fest for anywhere from 500-999 beer fans is to be held in a gnome’s garden or a færie’s forest. And I want creatures from all around to fly or burrow their way in.

Incidentally, one of the items I put forward to participants for this exercise is to come up with the price of admission. This is something I completely struggle with IRL. As the events organizer, I confess I’d like to make money off of them. As someone who attends way more beer fests than I put on, I like to not spend a ton. I’m convinced that my events are a great value, based on how little I’ve ever made off of them. Maybe I should bring in sponsors. Maybe I should charge more. One thing I’ll never do is offer a VIP session. Unlike, say, flying somewhere where the passengers have nothing in common except a destination, concert goers and festival attendees are in it together. They should be communal and therefore egalitarian. (By way of confession, when I accept media passes to a beerfest, they sometimes include the perks of VIP admission. Perhaps that’s hypocritical, but I’d never pay extra to feel entitled to MORE of the beerfest than my anyone else. Also, I never use all my media tokens and end up sharing them with strangers.) So I don’t like to give anyone special privileges just because they could pay more than the hoi polloi. Maybe that’s just me and maybe I’m leaving money on the table as a result.

Now, am I really going to put on this beerfest? No. Well, never say never. Like I said, I do want to create something here in SoCal that we don’t already have. And despite the bi-annual release of the Stone Brewing collab saison featuring parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, I don’t believe there’s any event just for herbal beers. If anyone reading this wants to partner, you know where to find me. But first, gut check: would you buy a ticket?

Announcing The Session #130 – Create Your Own Beerfest

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The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is our–the global beer blogging community’s–monthly get-together to write from our own respective perspectives on a single topic (of the monthly host’s choosing, which for December, 2017 means me). Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. The series was created and is organized by the duo of Stan Hieronymus and Jay R. Brooks, and more information can be found on the latter’s site.

I’m honored to be hosting for the second time, first back in 2009, and not unexpectedly have landed on a topic near’n’dear to my heart: beerfests. Your mission, should you choose to accept it (and please, as someone who’s come back to The Session fold, I’m pushing to get 20+ fellow beer bloggers to participate in December, and onward) is to write about how you would design your dream beer festival. Posts are due Friday, December 1.

There are actually so many regional, local, and niche beer fests these days, we’re hearing a bit about “beerfest fatigue.” And I get that. Can you really hit 52 of ’em a year if you live somewhere near Portland, San Diego, Denver, Chicago, Philly, NYC, etc? As someone who attends more than my fair share, sadly not all are created equal, but one I may not care for is probably someone else’s annual favorite. Things to ponder:

  • Size matters: When building your own fest, are you striving for a crowd of Oktoberfest proportions in the millions, an epic party of many thousands, or more intimate few hundred?
  • Styles matter: From GABF where over 7,900 beers across every imaginable style (and mash-up) were available for sampling to themed events such as barrel-aged beers or holiday ales, to the plethora of IPA fests and some other single-style fests, would the event of your design be a grab-bag or exhibit razor-sharp focus?
  • Locavore vs Globe Trotter: After deciding what kind of beers to feature, or even before, think about if you’re inviting your local breweries or ones from your Brewery Fantasy League. Are attendees going to be more tempted to support local or to get a taste of beers from breweries they don’t already have access to? Let’s put aside for a second how hard it can be to bring in a brewery that’s not already licensed to distribute in your home town if that’s where this event is.
  • Location, location, and timing: The most important element of a successful event is its location. Followed by location. Followed by timing. When and where is this fantasy beerfest of yours? Is it in a city rife with events (meaning they’ve proven to be popular) or one starved for such a fest (but who’s to say if the locals will support)? And does it take place in the summer at the height of beer drinking season or a less-crowded date where it can shine on its own?
  • Etcetera. There’s a lot more that goes into organizing a beer fest. (I know from experience in producing some that have turned into annual events and some I’ve let slip away as a one- or two-off.) So if you want to opine about your favorite kind of glassware (or hated glasses you always see), ticket prices, food vendors, or anything else that you hate witnessing or wonder why we don’t see something like we should, add that, too. Finally, end with a note about why you can see trying to make this fantasy fest a reality or why you’ll never advance this idea of yours beyond the Session post!

Thanks for participating. Again, please post your blog in the comments below by or on Friday, Dec. 1. Or you can tag me @yaeger when you post on Twitter.