The Session #127: Bottle Shops

sessionSo the 127th topic for The Session is, if you’ll pardon the crude analogies, akin to asking Cheech & Chong about what makes a great head shop or the late Hugh Hefner which campuses to scour for Playmates. Let’s let Jack Perdue over at Deep Beer set it up:

The theme chosen is Bottle Shops: Good, Bad & The Ugly. I find bottle shops interesting and would like to learn other perspectives on these places many of us purchase our favorite quaffs. We love our beer and have a variety of options in acquiring it. Some home brew, others like to visit their local pubs, beer tourism and beer destinations have become a trend, but the ever popular bottle shop is often the best and most reliable means for finding our next beer.

Of course, not all bottle shops are the same.

As a greenhorn, I first dipped my toes into the malted waters in the megachain BevMo. In those days, though, the modern bottle shop scarcely existed since craft beer was on the uptick and wax-dipped, corked’n’caged, coolship-fermented, foeder-aged beers had yet to dominate the glassy knolls of today’s beer geek Meccas.

From witnessing firsthand the birth of San Francisco’s revered City Beer Store where Craig & Beth curated exceptional coolers and shelves full of whalez bait and across town where Eric Cripe once converted The Jug Shop into the bomber bastion of the Bay to my most recent local retailer, the world-famous Belmont Station now helmed by Lisa Morrison, bottle shops have long served as my social hub, ear to the tracks, and source of retail therapy. I dare confess they’ve alleviated any chance my bank account has had of ever appearing bloated.

Furthermore, some of my best memories on the Open Beer Road have included the time I spent hours at Goebel Liquor talking to Rob Miller, III about his “World of Beer” where he sold self-cellared carriers of Celebration verticals and was grooming his son, Rob, IV, to manage the store where they’ve stopped counting after the 1,700th SKU. That was in Wichita, KS and I had an even more memorable–or forgetful–night in Bowling Green, KY where Blake Layne tapped for me the keg of Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout he’d been hording at Chuck’s. It was also the first time I’d enjoyed Brooklyn Black Ops RIS. And several more which I can’t detail since the night ended with me checking into a room at the hotel across the road.

Bottle shops are great because–besides the obvious, which is that it’s where you go to buy good beer and get recommendations from the employees who ought to be the most credible, local experts–they’re the closest beer lovers have to treasure chests. In lieu of gold dobloons and strings of pearls, you are rewarded with shelf after shelf of bourbon-aged stouts and fruit-forward sour ales; Bohemian pilsners, German pilsners, dry-hopped pilsners, and silly imperial or black or yuzu pilsners abound. But what about the buried treasure? One of the most fun things you can do at a huge bottle shop, especially one that’s in a less populated town or even in the less trendy neighborhoods, is getting down on your hands and knees and moving bottles around to rifle through dusty, forgotten and forlorn bottles in the back that less eagle-eyed whale hunters have missed. Once, when The Bruery’s Four Calling Birds came out, I happened upon a Partridge in a Pear Tree. And long after Deschutes’s Brandy-aged The Abyss had been snatched up by the devil’s share, I received the angel’s.

I shop less at these places today than I used to (this blogger tells himself as he’s en route to Denver where he knows he’ll stop into Mr. B’s near his Airbnb pad and scour the coolers and aisles searching for American krieks, maybe a beloved CONE-IPA [that’s not an IPA made with hop cones but Colo-brewed New England-style], and even though he only buys beers from the state he’s in, he’ll make an exception if he finds anything from Missouri’s Scratch Brewing like he did last year). Partly because with a kid, I have less time for shopping as well as hosting bottle parties. But also hugely because I did so much that my cellar overfloweth and I’m on hiatus until I can drink it down to clear some room. And that’s after our recent move which necessitated depleting the stash by a solid 20%. But like I said up front, no matter how crudely, somewhere between being an addict and a connoisseur lies the layer many of today’s beer consumers and the place we get our fix or strike gold is down at the bottle shop.

 

The Session #118: Who You Gonna Invite?

sessionThe Session creator Stan Hieronymus first launched this beer blogging exercise in 2007. For his third time hosting, he poses the question “Who you gonna invite?” More specifically, “If you could invite four people dead or alive to a beer dinner who would they be? What four beers would you serve?” He then added, “To participate, answer these questions Dec. 2 in a blog post (or, what the heck, in a series of tweets).” Not one to be known for my punctuality, I picked up the gauntlet of tweeting or microblogging over a series of 16 tweets (below). Since, let’s be honest, if you don’t say it on Twitter, you might as well be the tree that falls in a lonesome woods. My responses are no #pizzagate, but hopefully they’ll find a few readers nonetheless. At least I can promise these are not fake.

(This one above was even “liked” by Golden Road’s Twitter!)

I WAS RIGHT (5,005 Breweries)

Ask my long-suffering wife. By that token, ask any of my ex girlfriends. Ask my parents. Ask any of my friends over the last 30 years. Ask any of my ex friends if the reason they’re no longer my friends is because they think I always have to be right. But the takeaway here is: I was right.

Back when Derrick Peterman of Ramblings of a Beer Runner hosted the 67th monthly installment of The Session, a beer blogging exercise. In short, he wanted to know how many American breweries there’d be in five years. At the time (2012), the Brewers Assocation (BA) stated there were 2,126 in operation. To start off his round-up, Derrick said, “As for who wins the prize, forgive the sappy cliché but you’re all winners.” But he, unlike me, was wrong. Oh sure, David Blascombe of Good Morning… was also right in a slightly more general sense. He was more not-wrong than I was right (on the money). He put down “Over 5,000.” I predicted 5,001. Seriously, click on that.

In my blog, I reasoned that, “it’d be logical that since more Americans prefer beer to wine, there should be more breweries. Or at least the same amount. Fine, how about at least HALF as many!?”

This morning, the BA announced that on November 30, 2016, the United States reached a new peak in the brewery population: 5,005. They further pointed out that it is half the number of wineries.

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Bart Watson, Ph.D. is the BA’s Chief Economist. Dude’s got mad numbers skills. And I pinged him this past summer, when I noticed that the official count had topped 4,500, if he thought my prognostication was correct in pegging the year-end tally at five grand. “We’re averaging closer to two a day (net) over the past 12 months rolling,” Watson said, regarding the rate at which breweries open. “Based on what I see – I think end of the year is about when I’d predict 5,000, though could be a bit longer if closings finally start to tick up.” For all the media speculation about the craft beer bubble bursting, and some dire reports painting a slow-down, I’m going on record as saying: nuh uh. Don’t buy it. Well, the “craft” segment as a whole may continue to grow at a snail’s pace, but grow it will. More specifically, the number of breweries will continue to climb even if that means that the largest producers—or perhaps just the mid-range ones—will see stagnant sales. To bolster this assessment, Watson added, “There were 6,080 active Federal licenses at the end of 2015, so it’s just a matter of when all those breweries in planning open their doors.”

Here in Portland, we have 65 commercially operating breweries. That’s a number that all but about five other cities would be screaming “Saturation Point.” And yet we just welcomed three new ones in a third-mile radius. And three more are on track to open this winter. There’s absolutely reason that every American city with our population or larger can’t sustain as many breweries. That’s 25 larger cities by population. Some 640,000 people call Portland home. Denver has about 690,000 and, congratulations Mile High City, you’ve passed Portland with your 73 breweries. San Diego (pop. 1,4M) claims 130, but that’s all of SD County. The 690,000 folks who live in Seattle proper have 59 breweries to call their own.

On the flip side, my most recent Beer Traveler column for All About Beer focuses on metropolises that are just turning into beer destinations, places like Fredericksburg, Virginia and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Yeah Iowa! If you brew it, they will come!

Below are the rest of the predictions submitted back in 2012. Not that they are all below 5,000. Technically, Derrick asked for our predictions in exactly five years, so mid-2017, but I say we’ll have at least 5,400 next summer, unless people stop loving beer, or there’s an asteroid heading for the US, or Trump’s economy wreaks havoc on par with Prohibition + planetary annihilation.

Just for funsies, remember this number: 8,075. Between the openings and inevitable closures, that’s my guess… How many breweries do you think will be operating in America in 2022?

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4,252 In their Session debut, The Brew Gentlemen

3,189 Alan McCormick of Growler Fills

3,125 is the number Jon Abernathy of the Brewsite predicts My good friend Jon… my poor, stupid friend Jon… predicted…

Around 3,000 opines Sean Inman of Beer Search Party

2,831 is the number Chris Staten of DRAFT Magazine

2,620 Stan Hieronymus of Appellation Beer Stan is obviously quite wiser than I. But…

2,589.5 is the prediction by What We’re Drinking, … his home town of Dayton, OH, he writes:   “I do think that 3-4 local, small scale breweries can be sustained within a city the size of Dayton…”…It’s worth noting the population of metro Dayton, OH is about 840,000. (Editor’s Note: there are currently FIVE in Dayton)

2,500 is the number by Roger Mueller of A Fool and His Beers

1 A dire prediction that one megabrewer will control the world comes from Jon Jefferson of 10th Day Brewing.

 

The Session #107: Are Breweries Your Friends?

sessionAs a precursor, to put this briefly, I’ve been a bad beer blogger. And when it comes to The Session, if I were Catholic, I’d type something like “Forgive me Father, it’s been 30 Sessions since my last participation.” (Click here if you care to see old contributions from my initial blog, Red, White, & Brew) My New Year’s resolution is to be better.

For the 107th ed. of The Session, Dan Conley of Community Beer Works in Buffalo NY asks, a bit self-servingly (wink-wink foreshadowing), “Are breweries your friends?

I say self-servingly because his blog is his brewery’s blog. And it worked. I really wanna try Community Beer Works beer now. And drink their beer and be a part of their community at least for the day. The topic, and hosting this Session, makes them seem, well, friendly. Conley expounds:

“To be in business nowadays you pretty much have to have a social media presence. This is especially true in the beer world, where some breweries have basically built themselves on their personality. And yet, at the end of the day, we’re selling you something.”

Conley continues, “Do you want your feeds clear of businesses, or do you like when a brewery engages with people? …As the person who does our social media…I struggle with this problem.”

My answer is: No.

Breweries are not our friends. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself and should say breweries are not my friends. But unlike Mitt Romney who famously said, “Corporations are people, my friend” (thanks in part to Citizens United), brewing companies are companies and therefore incapable of playing air hockey with me, taking me to a Portland Timbers game (except I suppose their sponsor Widmer Brothers Brewing could), or giving me a card that makes fun of my age for my next birthday. These are things friends do. Friends buy me beer. Breweries make the beer. And even then, what we love about craft beer is that brewers make the beer and, in the best of cases, we know their names and faces. And if you’re lucky, you’re friends with your local brewer(s).

Friendship is a relationship. Indeed, we have a relationship with the breweries that make the beer we choose to drink. And no doubt we have emotions surrounding breweries. In the case of local ones that we support, that emotion may be love. We are passionate about their beer. Given that most of us will never even have a beer from thousands of the 4,300 breweries that exist in the US alone, the emotion we feel for them may be indifference or lack of emotion. And in a few cases where folks feel they’ve been betrayed when a brewery sells out to ABI, a darker emotion courses through their bloodstream. Think about this: would a friend ever sell himself to the house of Bud and leave you high and dry (not that any of us would give up drinking beer altogether, mind you).

Heck, to Conley’s point, we “like” breweries on Facebook, and we delight when we see shiny new fermenters delivered just as we dote over actual friends’ newly delivered bouncing babies. But ultimately, no, breweries are not our friends. They are places we go with our friends. They are places that provide us beer to enjoy as part of our friend rituals. And to succeed, they need to have friendly service. But in the case of social media, I think it’s weird when they have actual personal profiles instead of business pages. I am on the fence about when I see a local brewery’s FB page “like” my pictures. But I’m still happy to tag them by checking in when I’m drinking at them with my friends.

The Session 93: Why Travel

3664495894_75dbf1b0bf_mOhboy has it been awhile since I’ve partaken in The Session (July, 2013 #73 to be specific), but I have a new blog and a new take on beer travel, both as a result of just having lived in Europe for a year as well as having a beer travel guidebook coming out in 3 weeks. Fittingly for this edition of the monthly beer blogging Session, Maria and Brian Devine over at the Roaming Pint ask:

Why is it important for us to visit the place where our beers are made? Why does drinking from source always seem like a better and more valuable experience? Is it simply a matter of getting the beer at it’s freshest or is it more akin to pilgrimage to pay respect and understand the circumstances of the beer better?

Why go out of your way to visit breweries when, if you’re me, there’s a growler filling station in the supermarket directly across the street next to a beer aisle that’s roughly 30 yards long? Because drinking beer is not a solo sport. It’s also not the type of sport I prefer to armchair quarterback. Like John Fogerty, I wanna exclaim, “Put me in, Coach.” I think, collectively, we like visiting breweries because we all want to be where the action is in center field.

As a beer lover, there’s nothing more sacred than supporting your local brewery, except, perhaps, going on a beer trip to explore and support someone else’s local brewing establishment. It connects you to that place in a way visiting some other “must see”s don’t. Meet me in St. Louis? That arch thing is pretty cool, that’s like lemmings jumping off a cliff; you only go because everyone else does. Touring the Budweiser factory is certainly a worthy expenditure of time but, allow me to make this crack, getting to sample Bud afterward is hardly a reward. No, instead go to the Schlafly Tap Room or, better yet, the Urban Chestnut taproom. You’ll get much more than a pint of Hopfen IPA, you’ll get a taste of what the locals are like (at least the ones who don’t work for AB-I). On the flip side, I recently (finally) made it to Brussels and to its most famous brewery among the geek set, Cantillon. You don’t really meet locals sipping Gueuze at the bar but knowing that you’re among the billions of critters adrift in the air you’re breathing that are responsible for making that world-class spontaneously fermented ale is momentous. (The fact that I met Jean-Pierre van Roy and his son Jean van Roy didn’t hurt.)

Ultimately, beer is more than beer. It’s people, it’s place, and it’s personality. And just like you can read a beer review and gather what it’s like to try it but it’s better to crack open a bottle or can and experience it for yourself, the exact same applies to drinking said beer where it was made. Why settle for reading the marketing spiel about the birthplace of your favorite brew printed somewhere on the label or six-pack carrier when you can submerge yourself in the entire experience. The smell of malt lilting in the air as you approach a production brewery never gets stale. Magpies aren’t the only ones who like bright, shiny objects; the way one’s eyes light up upon seeing the overhead lights bounce of the stainless top of a mash tun rings true for every devotee of flavorful suds. And, if you’re lucky, you might get to shake the hand of the man, woman, men, or mixed nuts responsible for making that liquid, fermented dream come true. Sure they appreciate it when you buy their beer from a bar or bottle shop wherever you live, but they really love it when you take your valuable time to make that pilgrimage to thank them in person.

I’ve been to hundreds of breweries and I never tire of it. And I always look for someone wearing rubber boots in the tasting room because a big part of enjoying beer is sharing, or listening, to stories whether they involve beer or not.