This installment of Pull Up a Stool finds me chatting with Miami’s Johnathan Wakefield, a celebrated homebrewer turned near-pro, largely thanks to a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign that I wrote about here. The truth is, Florida is one of 3 US states I haven’t been to. But I did go to Copenhagen for an insane beer celebration and J. Wakefield Brewing was supposed to pour at it but had to duck out at the last minute. Hence, I’m still eagerly anticipating actually drinking Johnathan’s amazing Florida Weisses. (There IS a beer named Miami Weisse already, yeah? Oh, there’s 17.)
When I took over AAB’s Beer Traveler column, themes and ideas were easy to think of. Ski resorts, rivers for rafting, beach cities. I admit, finding an idea and unifying theme with actual places that have decent beer cultures to match can get tricky. (Remember the dinosaurs one?) Fortuitously, I was inspired by a favorite hunt of mine: off-the-wall sandwiches found in one place only, or primarily, which is how I landed not just on regional sandwiches but pairing ones from Des Moines (IA), Indianapolis (IN), and Portland (ME), as well as other notable local beers with regional sandwiches.
When I posted this photo on my Facebook, the main people asked was, “WHAT?” What was a guy who writes about beer for a living doing hanging with with two of the most legendary figures in rock’n’roll, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley? It had nothing to do with one of my prior “careers,” writing about music. So here’s the answer. My inbox fills up with press releases, most of them only slightly tangentially connected to anything I’d ever write about. I know some of my beer writing colleagues and friends received the same release. But I responded.
My favorite beer-related quote in AAB (vol. 34, iss. 4, 2013) by Simmons, a notorious teetotaler?
“I like to be in control of myself,” he says from behind a pair of sunglasses (and black jacket and pants to match). “If I was high or drunk—and I’ve never been either—there’s no way that I’d be witty. I would not make any sense, and I may wind up throwing up on your shoes. [A buzz] doesn’t make my schmeckle bigger.”
AAB has a fun running feature, “Pull Up a Stool” where the reader gets to figuratively sit down at a bar with some awesome brewer or person in the beer industry and just chew the fat. The first one I wrote was on Breakside Brewing’s esteemed Ben Edmunds. He’s made beers using duck carcasses, whole pies, and, y’know, fresh hops. That’s what led to this quiet exchange:
So you maintain a classical approach without sticking to the classics?
I always like to point out that we make a lot of “normal” beers, too.
I don’t know when she kicked it off, but All About Beer editor Julie Johnson launched the magazine’s online equivalent to E’s show Talk Soup (now just “The Soup”), a forum to discuss anything and everything in the brewing industry. In 2011 I was asked to keep the soup stirring. I used it to spitball beery ideas that I’d neglected to post on my own then-blog at BeerOdyssey. Here are some of my lasting favorites beginning with the first entry:
Building Brand Disloyalty (5/13/11). “Entrepreneur Eileen Hassi (Ritual Coffee) discussed the idea of local San Francisco coffee roasters creating a disloyalty card emulating the idea conceived by World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies in London…Buy the competitors’ products and get one on the house from us…the polar opposite idea of standard punch-cards (buy 10, get one free)….Beer folks are usually ahead of the curve when it comes to their brewing brethren, but for all the talk of camaraderie and being united against the corporate behemoths, wouldn’t it be great to see this concept emerge in cities with multiple brewpubs or tasting rooms?
Pairing with exes (5/23/11). We love to to pair beers with cheese, breakfast, music and even philosophy. Basically, we take beer and something else we love and muse about the perfect partnership. But what about pairing it with something we used to love, er, make that someone – wherein the partnership has ended?
Consistency (5/26/11). One of the keys to success in the brewing business – or any manufacturing industry – is offering a consistent product so the consumer knows what he’s getting each time. But in no small part, isn’t that anathema to what we love about our little indie breweries? If we all wanted homogenized beer, we know very well where to find that. Is consistency overrated? Is is ever okay to be differently great rather than consistently good?
Nips. Already addressed here.
33,000 breweries? (6/30/11). The Brewers Association’s fact sheet tells us a lot, such as that there are presently 1,753 breweries operating in the US (give or take, since they also report that new breweries seem to bloom daily)…We don’t have 1,753carmakers or bluejeans brands or even record companies. Do we NEED that many breweries? This led to the next post (7/1/11) positing on the possibility of a brewpub on every corner.
Spiritual enlightenment two or three pints at a time (7/19/11). Brewers long ago, and I’m not talking in the early days of craft like Anchor’s Fritz Maytag and John Carpenter but hundreds of years prior, referred to the fermenting agent as “God is good.” …When we appreciate great beer, we might talk about the toastiness of the malt, the spiciness of the hops, or the earthiness (or cattiness) of the yeast, but don’t forget the holiness of the “God is good.” Isn’t that what opens our mind holes the way it did for the Sumerians, Visigoths, and Romans did? Maybe it even helps us see the divine in each other.
Non brewery collaborations (8/1/11). Perhaps it started with BridgePort and the Audubon Society with Blue Heron Ale, first brewed in 1987 before the concept of the craft beer collaboration was born.
Keg on your coffin? (9/21/11). Chris Trapper’s first song’s first line went, “Put a keg on my coffin.” Throughout the rest of the song, I pondered that interesting twist on the desert island beers question about what you’d want to have if stranded out at sea. Admittedly, at first I started dreaming about what one keg I’d want with me inside my coffin.
Smoked cider (11/7/11). To say the cider tastes exactly like a big, smokey bratwurst (with just a hint of apple) is an accurate description.
Kumquats (11/18/11). I like beer and kumquats and think they could be divine together.
Music to my beers (2/3/12). There’s not shortage of by, about and for beer. What are some of your favorites?
The Oscar for Best Supporting Hops (3/8/12). The Academy Awards might be over, but there’s one category of film theyoverlooked. They’re not really documentaries, though they do document a vital element of our culture. …Oddly, though all sorts of awards go to special effects, what do we root for more than the way this particular subject matter affects our beer?
Why “nice” and “good” are bad (4/16/12). I literally cringe, my face scrunches up a bit, whenever I hear someone say, “A nice bottle of wine” or some such variant such as “a good Pinot.”
180 degrees (Is beer part of your life?) (7/3/12). My life is completely different than it was several years ago, but in the right ways. Before, I was always looking for the perfect girl and the perfect pint.
Purple States of Beer (8/7/12). Something to revisit as election cycles roll around!
10 reasons craft beer is not macho (9/18/12). Some examples:
1. They record notes about each beer they’ve enjoyed in a notebook.
5. Tulip glasses.
9. They use cellar as a verb.
It seems that shandies and radlers–light beers mixed with soft drinks such as lemonade or fruit soda–are becoming all the rage in the United States. Alan Newman, already ahead of the curve as the founder of Vermont’s Magic Hat, realized that we’re actually way behind this refreshing style of summer sipper compared to all of Europe, so he launched House of Shandy.
Modern Cider is the cover story of AAB Vol. 33, Iss. 3, 2012. It’s, as their title puts it, “Not your father’s hard cider” (for the record, don’t call it hard cider to folks in the industry; it’s cider–that “soft” stuff is juice since you don’t call grape juice wine.). Today it gets barrel-aged, Brett-o-mized and sake’d out.
The Craft of Stone Brewing (AAB, Vol. 33, Iss. 2, 2012) is the hoppy, tell-all from CEO Greg Koch and co. It benefits from reading more like you’re listening to all the players spinning yarns on a front porch (of an industrial business park in North County San Diego).
National Parks finally makes the connection between hop cones and pine cones (though only one features forest setting) in AAB (Vol. 32, Iss. 5, 2011). To soak up both some of the best of Mother Nature and those who nurture our beers, head to Biscayne Bay National Park near Miami (FL), Mammoth Caves National Park near Louisville (KY), and Crater Lake National Park above Medford (OR).