Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

This week there was no broadcast, so we're revisiting a pre-podcast interview with Ron Jeffries of Jolly Pumpkin. He gave us an enlightening interview with a lot of detail about his process and the beers he brews.

Here's the mp3
Stay tuned for part two Thursday.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Let's Try This Again (in more ways than one)

OK, for those of you who got a post that said only "let", well, let's try this again. For the rest of you, a few months back we talked about Viking Brewing out of Dallas. I don't know why, but for some reason I want this brewery work out. There are some breweries that one I've had a few bad brews I write them off and move on - there's too much good beer to keep hitting your head against a wall. But, I'm intrigued by Viking; not only by the multiple dozens of beers, but the interesting approach that Randy and Ann take, and the fact that they are in such a small town makes me root for them. Well, that and Randy's 2002 run for Governor of the Great State of Wisconsin.

When we reviewed the Weathertop Wheat, we mentioned that Viking's beers can sometimes be really inconsistent. In fact, I don't know if I mentioned it in that review, but of the 4-pack of the Wheat, every single beer was completely different. Some of them were sharper than others, some had a sour bite, others were more fruity. While some of them were fine, others were good, but others were downright bad. It's really hard to justify spending money on a 4-pack when you have no idea what is coming out of the bottle. So, after the last few frustrations, I was down to my last out with them. I wanted to give them one more shot.

So, the other day, I was in the new Steve's over on PD at 151 (just opened this past weekend) and saw that they had Viking's Invader Dopplebock. It's Viking's January seasonal release. That tells me that it's been sitting in a bottle for, at least, what, 9 months? Unlike the wheat beers though, dopplebocks should age pretty well. I'll be honest, before I review this beer out of the four pack, I tried one - I just wanted to be fair to Viking, and if it was not right I wanted to prepare myself for that kind of review. But, I was pleasantly surprised - I really enjoyed it! Nice body, in that middle area between medium and heavy bodied, great caramel and malty flavors. With that:

Viking Invader Doppel Bock
Appearance: No head whatsoever; some wisps of white stuff float on top; it poured kind of syrupy-looking; body is caramel colored
Aroma: the website claims aromas of caramel apple, heather, wildflower, and allspice; the apple is definitely present, I'm not getting the floweriness, but the earthiness is vaguely all-spice-ish and cumin-y but also bready and warm; dusty and roasty
Flavor: roasted and caramel on the front, with a background of faint floral hoppiness and dusty earthiness; clean finish with strong flavors; as it warms the lighter flowery flavors come forward a bit
Body: medium-bodied and somewhat syrupy; the style allows for this and it provides a nice warmth in the finish; the flavors are definitely not cloying, and it gets a little more syrupy as it warms up, but still very solid
Drinkability: the medium body keeps it from being a session beer, but I will have no problem finishing this four pack
Summary: Thankfully, I really enjoyed this and Viking lives to see another day; this is a really nice Wisconsin doppel - it would be nice to see more availability of this in the Madison area in the fall and winter months; really the only widely-available Wisconsin doppels are from Tyranena and Capital (is that right?!) and, frankly, this one is a nice compliment to that group.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Would Joe Microbrewer Do?

Before we get into today's topic, Madison was named the Number 5 beer town in college football. Strangely, the thing that put us over Number 6, Columbus, OH was the Great Dane. Ahead of Madison: Fort Collins, CO (Colorado State? Seriously? That counts as college football?); Eugene, OR (Madison West); Boulder, CO (Madison Mountain); and Seattle, WA (16 brewpubs!? about 600K people, or twice the size of Madison, that's one brewpub for every 37,500 people).

Today it's time to play "what if". I got thinking last night as the final touches were being put on the financial industry bailout package: $700 BILLION is a lot of money to throw away on poorly run companies. What if we actually used that money to give a boost to one of the few growing industries in the United States - craft brewers?

Think about that. $700 Billion. $700,000,000,000.00 There are 300 million people in the United States. That's $2333.33 for every single person; not just tax payers, but persons, 1 day olds and 101 year olds alike. Heck, giving every person half that, gets you an 80% approval rating and the drooling adoration of an entire political party. And, you'd still have enough money to save a bank or two.

According to the Brewers Association there are 1,463 craft breweries in the United States. If we, instead of bailing out the financial industry, instead supported the most American of industries, there would be enough money in the bailout package to give $478,468,899.52 to every craft brewery.

Ok. Sorry. Article is over. That's absurd. The point of this article was going to be: what would you do if you were a craft brewery and you were given your pro-rata share of the bailout? But $478 MILLION dollars for every craft brewery in the United States? That's ludicrous.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Big Article on Small Brew

MBR has published its first non-this-site article over at the cultural criticism magazine PopMatters. Typically a site featuring music criticism, I think this might be the first article about craft beer they've published.

Called "Small Brew", my article looks at some theories for the explosive growth in the craft beer segment over the past few years. The basic theory is that craft beer has tapped into the perfect storm of gen-y interconnectedness, the diy/underground ethic of American craft brewing, and frustration with consolidation at the top of the industry. Don't worry, a couple of Wisconsin breweries made it into the article.

Please click through and give it a read.

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Another installment of Beer Talk Today. We continue our discussion of food and beer, and Kyle issues a challenge.

Here's the mp3

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Flexibility Mantra

I apologize ahead of time if this ends up off-topic. This is the third part of the Traveling Series. As you'll recall, last week we posted some hints to keep in mind while traveling, and we looked at some of the more useful beer-related travel sites.

As we had hoped, we even got some great comments from the region about where to visit and even an invite to meet up. Which, serves as a useful reminder. One thing I forgot to mention on Friday - another great online source is contacting bloggers in the area. Most of the people that run these blogs are normal folks like you and I and they are more than happy to answer questions and get you pointed in the right direction. In this case we got some excellent suggestions.

Unfortunately, I didn't end up going to any of the places I had planned on going.

You will recall, tip number 3 from last week is: Be Flexible. Tips 1 and 2 work as a background knowledge to implement number 3. If you are well-prepared and do some planning you will know that when you find yourself short of time, the beer bar you wanted to visit is closed, and the brewpubs you wanted to visit are inconvenient, that when you do have the time there just happens to be a brewpub nearby. And sometimes you just get a little lucky.

It started inauspiciously when we got into Albany at just before 11pm and were standing out front of Mahar's at 1230am and it was closed for the evening. So, remember Rule 3: Be Flexible. We went next door. Beer special: Harpoon Octoberfest. We're in business. $3.50 for a 12 oz bottle seemed like a pretty darn good price. It was on the light side for the style and had a nice hoppy bite to it that was reminiscent of what one might expect from a brewery like Tyranena; there was some hint of the banana/clove flavor of the hefe, but I suspect that this was a result of the hops selection (Tettnang and Willamette) and not from the yeast. It was just what one would want from the style - nothing fancy or over-bearing, just some caramel malt sweetness with a hop bite to clean up the back end.

Over the course of the next three days we intended to hit: Davidson Brothers Brewery in Glens Falls, CH Evans Pump House in Albany, and The Parting Glass in Saratoga Springs. Well, we didn't have time in Glens Falls for Davidson Brothers (the wedding was in nearby Hudson Falls), Saratoga Springs was a disaster (holy touron hell), and Guitar Hero robbed us of a chance to get to the Pump House (those of you who know, know how this happens).

So, keeping in mind the mantra: Be Flexible. We did manage to stop at Brown's Brewing in Troy, NY. Since this is a beer website, we'll not make a big deal of the less-than-ideal service at 2pm on a Sunday, and focus on the beer, which was quite good. Between the two of us we had the Whiskey Barrel Porter and the Pilsner. The porter was heavy-bodied and full in the mouth. The bourbon aging was surprisingly muted with more of a roasted and woody flavor coming out; a great fall afternoon beer for wings and football game. For as good as the porter was, the pilsner was even better. Typically light, it was a little crisper than most and the hops were a pleasant focal point. In general pilsners are "soft" - modeled after the very soft water of Pilsen, just south of Bavaria, where the beer originated. I tend to avoid using the term "crisp" because the flavors are clean as a result of the work of the lager yeast, but not really sharp or brittle. In this case, the water was a little harder than typical and paired with the generous helping of saaz hops, definitely lent a sharpness that was pleasant though not overwhelming for the style - a nice variation, without the "big"-ness of going all the way to an "imperial" pilsner (whatever that is).

So, again, the moral of the story: Be Flexible.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Madison Beer Review Present Beer Talk Today

Sorry for not getting up a post yesterday. My access to internet in New York was a little more scattered than I had anticipated. Will have it for you tomorrow. In the meantime, it's Tuesday, which means it is time for Beer Talk Today.

Part one of this weeks podcast features a continuation of our discussion of beer and food pairings and news in 60 seconds, including a surprise delivery for the Queen of England and the end of Kyle's prohibition.

here's the mp3


Friday, September 19, 2008

Hey Barkeep! Where Can I Find A Good Beer?

On Wednesday I went through some tips regarding traveling and finding good beer: 1) Do Research Ahead of Time, 2) Plan Ahead, 3) Be Flexible, 4) Bring Beer With You, 5) Carrying Beer on a Plane is a Pain in the Ass, 6) Make It An Adventure. The first two, planning ahead and doing research, can be hard if you don't know where to look. So today, we'll look at some places online to look for good beer spots.

Georgia On My Mind
by Ray Charles

Other arms reach out to me
Other eyes smile tenderly
Still in peaceful dreams I see
The road leads back to you
The first place to look is BeerAdvocate's BeerFly directory. Beerfly lets you search any city in the US and it will turn up the bars, retailers, brewpubs, breweries, and homebrew shops in the area. For example, I'm traveling to Albany, NY. Beerfly turns up 15 results: 3 Brewpubs, 10 beer bars, and 2 beer stores. And here's where we run into one of the weaknesses of Beerfly - it purports to rate these things, but only 5 of them have more than even only 10 ratings - not particularly large sample sizes with "scores" highly variable on individual preference. The other issue is that 4 of the 5 have A- or higher scores; while I have no doubt as to the quality of the Albany brewing scene, this strikes me as a bit skewed. Nonetheless, it provides a good ballpark to pick from: CH Evans and Maher's seem like particularly good choices.

Another drawback is the lack of a "radius" feature, so you need to be exact in your search. For example, I will be visiting Hudson Falls, NY a small town in the Adirondacks. A search of Beerfly doesn't reveal any results. Yet, a search of nearby Glens Falls, a mere 4 miles away, turns up two results - a brewery and a brewpub, neither of which have scores with sample sizes that I trust, although Davidson looks promising.

So, after searching Beerfly, we have three places: CH Evans and Mahers in Albany and Davidson in Glens Falls. Two brewpubs and beer bar. This works well - I need to eat in both places and I will probably want to get drinks at night.

Another useful tool is the Beer Mapping Project, an open source map of beer bars, beer stores, brewpubs, homebrew shops, and breweries. A search of the Beer Mapping Project, also turns up CH Evans and Maher's in Albany. What's nice is that you can search for other places of interest with 1, 5, 10 or 25 miles of a given place. So, I can see that there are 6 places within 25 miles of CH Evans, including Chatham Brewery. By having the map, I can see that it is the wrong direction. But I can also see that Olde Saratoga Brewery is right on the way from Albany to Hudson Falls in Saratoga Springs.

By clicking on the map, I can then click through to the brewery's website. I find out there that I have to call ahead to book a tour, if I want one. They have a tasting room open until 10pm, which is good. But, after clicking through the "About the Beer" link, I see that it is actually owned by Mendocino Brewing Company out of California and contracts in about a third of its production. Given that this is not a beer tour for me, this puts it distinctly in the "unlikely" category - not only am I not interested in visiting a "slave" brewery, but I'm not a huge fan of Mendocino in any event.

One other place to check is BeerMe! A comprehensive directory and up-to-date resource on breweries. This is nice, because I can see that George De Piro is the head brewer at CH Evans in Albany - good information to know when I visit and it lets me search the internet for him to see if there's any biographical information or news stories about him that might make some interesting conversation if I should "happen" to run across him.

One other thing to look for. I know I'm going to be in Upstate New York so, it would be foolish to not think about going to Ommegang. If you are anything like me, you have zero idea of the geography of New York. A quick review of Google Maps shows that Cooperstown is only 1.75 hours away. If I weren't there for a wedding, making a 2 hour trip out of the question, it is highly likely that I would blow all of my traveling-beer goodwill on such a trip (especially since Cooperstown is also home of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame). But, alas, it just is not possible this time around.

Those are just a few of the sites you can check out to make the beer you drink when you travel just a little bit better.

UW Madison To Start Brewing Classes

The post I promised about traveling and beer will go up later today. But some interesting news out of Milwaukee/Madison has broken in on the action.


UW-Madison is starting a brewers school. Sort of. And I have a lot of problems with how the media is portraying this.

"On the surface something like this begs a lot of questions about promoting drinking or what underage students could do with the knowledge ... "

"For a campus fighting its party school reputation a brewery inside the microbial sciences building may seem like an odd addition."

"... it's not the kind of knowledge a student can take home and use in their basement."

Not only does this sort of passive-aggressive backhanding only serve to reinforce the reputation, it shows a stunning ignorance of the science and art of brewing beer. If the media would, instead, see a demo of the machinery in action, maybe interview a brewer or two (instead of a PR person) about the skills and knowledge that will be gained, and maybe take their head out of the sands and realize that much of Wisconsin's economy is based on beer and the brewing industry, they might instead promote this as a great stride forward in growing Wisconsin's national reputation and a brewing powerhouse.

The article does manage to note that the beer and brewing industry employs over 63,000 people in the state of Wisconsin. Brewers, packagers, distribtors; does this also include brewpub employees like servers and bartenders, third party accountants and service professionals who help these small businesses, the bars and pubs and bowling alleys and sports stadiums and retail and grocery stores that sell the beer?

The article mentions that MillerCoors donated the brewing equipment. The article also quotes Miller as saying "There are several places for [graduates of the class] to work within MillerCoors, several areas for them to work." How close is this relationship? Do they have to work at Miller? Is the equipment specific to Miller? Is this equipment standard in the brewing world? Will they also be taught the basics of brewing, or just how to brew on equipment that only breweries like Miller and Coors and Bud can afford to own? Hopefully we'll get some answers soon.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Week 4. Part 2.

The second part of this weeks show features an interview about food and beer with Rob Grisham, the head chef at Brasserie V. Stay tuned next week for more beer and food coverage, and please leave a comment to give us your thoughts on beer and food pairings.

Here's the mp3.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Traveling and Beer

This is the first of a three part series about traveling and beer. It isn't about beer regions or beer styles. It is about the practicalities of finding good microbrews when you travel.

The Wanderer, by U2

I went out riding
Down that ol' eight lane
I passed by a thousand signs
Looking for my own name

I went with nothing
But the thought youd be there too
Looking for you

I went out there
In search of experience
To taste and to touch
And to feel as much
As a man can
Before he repents
As you may have realized, I've been traveling quite a bit over the summer. During these travels I've discovered some great, and not so great, beers. I've found great, and not so great, places to drink beer. I've found great, and not so great, places that brew beer. All-in-all, as may seem obvious, some places are better than others; and a lot depends on how you choose to travel.

But there are some things you can do when you travel to make finding good beer easier. I'll try to make a list of those things today. On Friday we'll look at doing research online and some of the things you can do to plan ahead. On Monday, I'll review some beers live from Albany, NY - where I will be this weekend.

So, without further ado.

First and foremost I want to set out some assumptions. First, I will assume that you are not traveling specifically for beer; planning a regional or state-wide brewery tour is far different from what I will discuss here. While some of the principles will apply, it is, in general, a different beast. I will also assume that any traveling partners have some, but not infinite, patience with your beer geekdom. My usual traveling partner (my fiance), has more patience than I probably deserve, but she also enjoys the adventure aspect of it. Having said that, since we are not traveling for beer, I generally can not plan an entire day around sitting in bars and breweries. So, those are the assumptions: 1) you are not traveling specifically for beer; 2) you cannot spend the entirety of your trip in bars and breweries.

1. Do some research ahead of time. I'll talk more on Friday about the wheres and hows, but I check not only the obvious places (beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com), but also not-so-obvious places like Chambers of Commerce and city event pages. If there is a large regional brewery in the area, check the obvious brewery websites. Also, check any regional beer blogs. Know where your hotel is (if you're staying in a hotel) in relation to the breweries and your schedule.

2. Plan ahead. If there are brewery tours, make sure they fit in your schedule and show up on time. If you are traveling to a region that has a number of breweries (like here in Madison), you probably won't be able to get away with going to all of the tours. Pick one or two. Better yet, pick one or two near something of interest to your traveling partners as well. I tend to try to work brewery tours around lunch or supper - often bars near a brewery will serve the brewery's beer, so it's like two-for-one and you can have a brewery tour and a tasting without raising the hackles of those with you.

3. Be flexible. Brewery tours are great if the brewery is big enough to hold them. But, you never know when your traveling partner is going to get the great idea to go shoe shopping and you can duck out on your own for an hour or two. Plus, I've often just shown up at a brewery and talked up some of the staff and talked my way into a brewery tour. Brewpubs are great for this - most of them don't schedule tours, but the bartenders can ferret out the customers who know what they are talking about and will often point out or call over the brewer if he's around. I'm a really big geek about this stuff and I try to know at least some general biographical information about the brewers - it's great for winning them over and getting that brewery tour or getting access to that "rare" beer that they all have hidden in the deep recesses of the aging cellars.

4. When I can, I take gifts of Wisconsin craft beer. Primarily I do this for whomever I'm visiting. If I'm visiting some friends, I'll bring some great Wisconsin beer - mostly because I know they can't get it if they live out of Wisconsin. But, it has the added benefit of getting those I'm visiting talking about local craft beer, and generating interest in hitting up a brewery tour or the local beer bar. This strategy can often get in an "extra" brewery tour as your friends can talk your traveling partner into the tour - and who can resist that?

5. Carrying beer on an airplane is a pain in the ass. You must check the beer, you cannot carry it on. This means that it adds pounds to your luggage and all carriers will charge you extra if the weight exceeds 50 pounds. If you do have to check beer in your luggage, make sure it is well protected - the last thing you want is some jackass luggage handler tossing an 80 pound suitcase on top of your suitcase and crushing the three bottles of Cuvee de Tomme that you've brought home. If I know I'm bringing beer back I'll often take or purchase some bubble wrap; otherwise, I'll wrap the bottles in two or three shirts and stuff the bottle into a shoe if I can (this provides some stability so it doesn't slide around).

6. Make it an adventure. Particularly when I'm driving, I'll often just look up the locations of some good beer retailers along the way and walk in and see what looks good. Heck, when you're driving, keep an eye out and just stop in random liquor stores. If your traveling partner is adventurous this is generally a pretty easy sell. Talk to the people working and see what's new and what's good - I've found most retailers are pretty good with recommendations. But don't feel compelled to buy something. I will admit this can often add hours of travel time, so make sure you aren't in a hurry; on one trip we hit no less than 8 liquor stores - and didn't buy anything until the final store.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Week 4. Part 1 of Beer Talk Today.

The first part of this weeks show features news in 60 seconds and part one of our series on food and beer, an interview on beer and cheese pairings with Bill Anderson from Fromagination, the Madison specialty cheese shop. If you'll recall, a few weeks back, Lucy Saunders led a beer and cheese tasting there.

Here is the mp3 link.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Audience Participation: Beer Cocktails

One of the blogs that I check in on frequently is based out of San Francisco. Some guy named Joe. He likes to drink beer. Apparently he is taking a food writing course (how ambitious! I, believe it or not, have a book about food writing that I've skimmed on occasion, otherwise, we're free-ballin' here boys and girls!). During the course of the course (how's that for an awkward, "see I'm not really a writer", sentence!) he found a recipe for a beer cocktail called a Redeye.

For those of you familiar with the redeye, I'm sure you see where I'm going with this. For those of you unfamiliar with the redeye, it is a pint glass with a salted lime rim and one part tomato-water to four parts beer. I'm not familiar with "tomato water", but with tomato juice this is called, yep, a Chelada.

Now, I've never heard of this drink prior to probably a year ago. And, now we have two names for it, some confirmed dabbling in said black arts, and a grotesque mass-production bringing it into the public eye. What is this world coming to?

So, this raises, at least in my mind, a question. Maybe I'M the weird one. Maybe the whole world is in on the whole beer cocktail thing. What other outlandish cocktails exist that I am oblivious to? Do people really drink these things?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

In this segment we re-visit our interview with Aran Madden of Furthermore and talk a bit about all the different beers he brews:

the mp3 link

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Kickin' It Old School

Ah. Sometimes we just need an old-fashioned post around these parts. Typically what happens here is that I post an article FireJoeMorgan-style, and make snarky comments about it. Well, today's going to be more like political-convention-style, since it'll be mostly "Yeah! What he said!" and a lot of standing up and clapping - but it's an important article for the state of Wisconsin and written by Charlie Papazian to the Brewer's Association. My comments are in bold italics.

The Future of Beer Distribution in America
By Charlie Papazian

With recent consolidation, mergers, buyouts and a continually changing retail landscape, it is well worth revisiting the dynamics of the four‐tier system that in principle has worked well in America: brewers, distributors, retailers and beer drinkers. There has never been a more exciting time for beer drinkers in America. It is all of our responsibility to build upon America’s new beer legacy.

So far the consolidation bug hasn't really affected Wisconsin brewing. Only one major "craft" brewery has been purchased by a major (Leinie's, of course) and that was years ago. I don't expect this to last forever, though. In fact, while I'll hold my tongue on prognosticating the who, I will make the bold prediction that sometime in the next year or two one of the larger Wisconsin micros will be purchased by a major - perhaps by "Leinie's". I've felt this for a while - there are just too many strong brands here but none really strong enough to fight off a persistent large player. Keep in mind, I have no special insights or access, this isn't a hint - it's just a gut feeling of mine.

America’s state regulated three‐tier system in its intended form helps provide beer drinkers access to a diversity of beer brands and styles. This is a good thing, for several reasons. Forward‐ thinking distributors are currently enjoying their role as distributors of beers made by America’s pioneering small and independent brewers. Independent distributors make good margins on these beers, help create beer excitement and provide added support to local communities nationwide.

<<>> There's this strange animosity between breweries and distributors which, I think, derives from the fact that each brewery feels like the distributor is never doing enough for the brewery's brands. But the fact is that there are a lot of great beers to distribute and the distributors, on a whole, do a pretty good job of knowing what will sell where. We'll ignore the "major brewery" issues for now.

Small and independent brewers seek knowledgeable distributors who understand their values. Working relationships have made great and amenable strides in the past few years. Beer distribution in America is now at the most important crossroads of its post‐Prohibition journey. There is increasing pressure on distributors to consolidate. Where is this pressure coming from and why?

<<>> Yeah!

Brewing companies merge or buy out others to create efficiencies, increase profit and thereby increase shareholder’s value. When mergers and buyouts occur, tactics emerge to increase shareholder value. Pressure is applied on the distributing and retail tiers. Because of their volume share of sales, large brewers feel they deserve increased attention. This desire for share of mind can force distributors to make decisions based on supplier demands rather than what is best for the distributor’s business, what is best for the beer drinker’s choice and what is best for growing the beer market as a whole.

I think this paragraph is somewhat convoluted. But I think what he's saying is that distributors distribute the brewer's beer; know who wears the pants in this relationship. If you, the distributor, don't want small breweries bitching about your not doing enough for their brands, stop listening to the big breweries and doing what they tell you. While one particular brand has a large share right now, does not mean that needs to be the case. There is a minor (or potentially major) revolution going on right under your nose - grab it, exploit and take advantage of it! As a distributor, what do you care which brand has the share(s) as long as it is one you distribute? In other words, distributors need to stop talking out of both sides of their mouth and actually be brand agnostic.

Distributors may decide to consolidate and drop brands made by small brewing companies based on the demands of larger suppliers. This limits choice in the marketplace. We can observe that there is a history of incentives offered to limit choice to the beer drinker by limiting distribution. Let me make one point of clarification here. I’m not referring to choice of beer types. Brewers large and small can make any kind of beer type and offer some degree of diversity. Is that what the beer drinker is currently seeking? I don’t think so.

Limiting choice of beers from America’s small, independent brewing companies will eliminate the personality and uniqueness that has driven America’s beer legacy; a legacy that is now recognized throughout the world and has helped drive increased and responsible enjoyment of beer in America. To the valued beer distributors of America, I can predict that there will be pressure to give up independence. There will be an allure of short‐term incentives, all at a price that would certainly be paid for in the future.

This is an interesting point that distributors need to grab a hold of: while all microbreweries make, more or less, the same styles, each brewery is unique - they all have different stories, different takes, different philosophies. With some help from the distributors bringing these stories to the consumers, it would make a more interesting and interested marketplace. What Charlie doesn't say here, because it's an article about distribution, is that there is a concomittant duty on the breweries to make sure they are getting their messages out there. Whether that is by increasing individual advertising efforts, or by banding together in your state brewer's guild and putting out "industry advertising." Breweries, and for the sake of this post I'm looking at the Wisconsin breweries and Wisconsin Brewers Guild, need to advertise more - you can't just sit back and bitch about Leinie's taking up every available billboard between Milwaukee and the North Woods - put your money together, buy a few billboards and some tv and radio time, and start telling the public what other options they have. Capital is starting to, but they had to sell out their brewery to find the cash to do it on their own - by banding together as a Brewers Guild and making these buys you can have the cash without selling out.

American beer drinkers matter. It is quite obvious that they appreciate being able to support small and independent while also indulging in their favorite big‐name national brands. On my timeline it has taken 30 years to develop excitement in the American beer world. To ignore the dramatic shift in beer attitude would be a costly digression in fortifying the American beer market.

If the three‐tier system chooses the path to limit consumer choice, the distribution system as we know it today could self‐destruct. On the other hand, a strong, independent distribution tier will promote consumer choice, effect stronger brand value for all of America’s brewers, encourage the continuing trend of diversity, create beer excitement and embrace independence.

I know that there are some distributors that read this blog. I hope you are taking some of this to heart. If you're out there and interested, I'd love to have one of you write a piece explaining what you are doing to remain independent and the steps you are taking to promote your craft brands. Please get in contact with me and we'll either get an article up for you, or we can do a short interview.

Both consumers and craft brewers need a strong, independent distribution system. Distributors will need the flavor, diversity, personality and brand value offered by independent, small brewers. Certainly self‐distribution options will need to exist for some brewers who distribute locally, but the backbone for the future of beer in America is a stronger and more forward‐ thinking relationship between small, independent brewers and independent distributors.

What can small, independent brewers and beer drinkers do? Pay attention. Understand and realize what dynamics are presently shaping the future of American beer culture. Tell our story and encourage a rule of law that permits fair access for all brewers in getting their beer to the demanding beer drinker. See BA Positions Statements for more information on Independent Wholesalers.

source: Charlie Papazian, beertown.org (The Brewers Association)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Week 3. Part 1.

Part one of this weeks show has a wrap up of last weeks discussion of session beer, a review of Grumpy Troll's World Beer Cup Gold award winning Baltic Porter, some talk about soda and news in 60 seconds:

here's the mp3 file. Here's the Ogg.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Now Accepting Nominations

Believe it or not, it's almost the middle of September. It seemed like just last week it was early spring and we drinking the late winter dopplebocks. Now, Autumnal Fire is already back on the shelves (an aside: is it just me, or is Capital really jumping the gun this year on their seasonal releases? I expect such things from Leinie's, but is early September really the best time to be releasing a style more typically associated with late October and November? Or am I misremembering the typical Autumnal Fire release schedule?).

Which means, it's time to start thinking about the year in review. Yeah, I know, we still have Octoberfests to drink, Lake Louie's Louie's Reserve in November, New Glarus still has two Unplugged series to release. Tyranena is releasing another Brewer's Gone Wild version of the Hop Whore. In short, there's still a lot of beer to be drunk. Still a lot of events to be thrown. Still a lot of tastings and beer dinners left in the year.

But, I got started thinking about these end of the year lists, because I was in the Barriques on County Road PD at Seminole Highway the other day and I'm not sure that there is a more improved beer selection in the city. Is it the best selection? Eh. Maybe. Maybe not. To be honest, other stores have more diversity, other stores have better prices, other stores have deeper catalogs. But, I'm not sure there is another store in the Madison area that has improved as much as that particular location.

Now, some may accuse me of biases. This particular location is very near to my home - but in some ways, this makes me more qualified to comment since it was such a frustrating retailer in such recent memory. I know the store's manager very well - I used to work for him, and for Barriques, at a different location. I can tell you that my experience with Barriques' upper management was not entirely positive - I think they are luckier than they are good. And, one place that they got very lucky was hiring David Sanborn, who is now the manager at the Barriques on PD. Mr. Sanborn came from LaCrosse and started with Barriques almost one year ago. Since he started, the Fitchburg Market is his third location (he also managed the University Avenue and Old Sauk locations); Mr. Sanborn been at the Fitchburg location since the early part of this year.

Barriques is best known as a coffee shop and wine shop. Its Wall of 100 wine selection is well-renowned in the city. Most of the Barriques locations serve light food - mostly soups and sandwiches and other typical coffee-shop fare, in addition to cheese boards. Each location is a little different - the Monroe street location has a huge wine and scotch selection; the Old Sauk location serves a surprising amount of food; the downtown location seems to mostly be a coffee shop. The PD location, technically within the borders of Fitchburg, is more of a market with a coffee shop in it. The PD location sells cheeses and a large selection of local and gourmet packaged foods in addition to a large wine selection and the biggest beer selection of all of the locations.

Before David took over managing the Fitchburg Market, the beer selection was three doors of typical Wisconsin-centric sixes, and one door of poorly thought-out single bottles taken mostly from the sixes. It had the same selection as most every other decently-stocked retailer in the city. Typically, the best one could hope to find was a 750ml of Rodenbach Grand Cru - which is a fine beer, if not terribly difficult to find or creative of a choice.

One can now find Mikkeller's It's Alive! Belgian Wild Ale, Brouwerij De Molen's 1914 Triple Stout, and other interesting Continental beers and a full line of Allagash, Southern Tier, and Ommegang brews. It is still three doors of mostly Wisconsin-centric sixes, with some much more well-thought out sixes mixed in, one door of mostly 12oz bottles from all over the world focusing on higher-end Belgian, German and other Continental ales, and one door of mostly 22oz and 750ml bottles of high-end American and Continental beers. Not to mention lots of non-refrigerated store spaced dedicated to sixes and bottles from Wisconsin and other locales.

It's not all sunshine and candy sprinkles, though. The prices are a little higher than what would one like in a retailer, the staff  is not particularly well-educated or helpful about the beer selections, and the location isn't exaclty Barriques' most convenient. While the selection is improved, it's still not the best in the city (well, it might be the best in Fitchburg). However there is the added bonus that you can drink the beer in the confines of a typical Barriques coffee/wine shop - just don't ask for something other than a pint glass to enjoy your fine beer, lest you suffer the derision of the staff.

In the past, I have had occasion to quaff a few, or more, with Mr. Sanborn. He is a beer-populist - equally at home with a PBR or an Oak-Aged Speedway Stout. And that, I think, is what makes the beer selection at the Fitchburg Barriques Market on PD so compelling. While not the largest selection, it is only five (or six?) doors, it is a diverse selection that focuses on beer meant to be consumed today with friends and for all occassions, not necessarily beer meant to be squirreled away and used as a conversation piece. Where once the availability felt more like it was chosen by the distributor, the selection now carries Mr. Sanborn's imprimateur.

So, do you have any nominations for most-improved beer selection? Best beer selection? Best beer? Best new brewery or brewpub? Best beer event? Best 2008 release? Your nominations need not be Madison-centric. At the end of the end of the year we'll put all the nominations together and see what, if anything, seems to stand out in the crowd.

Friday, September 5, 2008

We Have A Winner

Our Quiveys Grove Beer Fest Winner is Jonathan Cooper for his winning Beerfest Haiku

Quivey’s Grove Beerfest
Fall day, friendly folks, fine beer
Should be Shangri-La 
Jonathan wins two free tickets to the Quiveys Grove Beerfest on September 27th from Noon to 5pm. While it's too late for you to win tickets, you can buy them for only $32.50 - that's less than one dollar per brewery at the beer fest.

Some things to keep an eye out for:

  • Central Waters Octoberfest should be hitting stores by the end of the week (Wait! That's today!) - it will probably go quickly
  • New Glarus' Staghorn Octoberfest and the new Unplugged Bohemian Lager should also be out in the very near future
  • Tyranena's Octoberfest is in bottles and on the way to retailers
  • Both The Thirsty Troll Brew Fest in Mount Horeb and The Great Lakes Brew Fest in Racine are September 13 - so get your tickets for those before they sell out - Lakefront Brewery will introduce their Pumpkin Lager in Racine
  • This weekend, Sept 6th, is the Crafty Apple Fest in Chilton, WI - like apples? like Rowland's beer? You're in the right place!
  • Plan on being in Viroqua, WI on Friday September 19th? Yeah? Well, stop on in to The Firehouse for a tasting of all five of Pearl Street Brewery's beers.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Week 2. Part 2. Capital Brewery's foray into "super duper special" beers with their Capital Square Baltic Porter. Rogue mixes part gin, part beer to give you a Juniper Ale. What's the verdict? Inquiring minds want to know.

You can get the MP3 here. The OGG here.

Beer Talk Today is provided under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tying Up Some Loose Ends

First, I got some more information from Michel Ordeman at Jopen: "The Koyt and Adriaan beer are both spiced beers (gruit beers). The different beers have different herbs in them. The combination of herbs and spices was different per region in old days. It depended on what grew where; in regions with pine trees they use pine, in dune regions they used the plants that grew there, etc. Koyt is extra special due to the use of three grains; barley, oats and wheat as stated by the 1407 city recipe. ... The Jopen Hoppenbier was the follow up beer from the Koyt; its recipe dates back to 1501 and this beer was the hopped version (instead of gruit). Besides the beers from the middle ages we also brew a Dutch Stout (dry stout with 5 to 6% alcohol). This beer was brewed in Haarlem from end 1800 to 1917." [ed note: Jopen Bier BV, the brewery, is located in Haarlem; although, Jopen is temporarily brewing at various facilities in Belgium]

Second, the Thirsty Troll Brewfest is coming up! It is September 13th from Noon to 5pm; only $30! On September 12th, Thirsty Troll Eve if you will, is a Brewer's Reception at the Grumpy Troll; tickets for this event are $75 each and include passes to the brewfest the next day. Go to www.trollway.com for more information.

Third, the poll closed on September 1, 2008. Best brewing region? South and Southwest beats out Central Wisconsin by a mere 5 votes! Milwaukee and the Northwoods were a distant 3rd and 4th, respectively. Poll for the next few? Best Fall Beer Fest!

Finally, the second of the Minocqua Brewing Company beers, the Scotch Ale - a "brewer's special" for the summer of 2008:
Appearance: a deep brown and ruby under a fine tan head with refined bubbling
Aroma: chocolate, caramel and roasted notes are primary with an earthy hoppiness and fine estery aroma coming through in turns; nice complexity in the aroma
Flavor: strangely muted; with such an interesting aroma, the flavors are more subtle, to some extent they may just be battling each other and canceling each other out, as it warms up the roasted notes come through
Body: full-bodied with a clean finish
Drinkability: a nice full-bodied beer, but I expected more flavor given the aroma
Summary: it is certainly strange to have a scotch ale in the middle of summer; as one of the MBR folks said "it tastes like it should have a taste, but it doesn't"

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Week 2. Part 1 - some miscellaneous issues hanging around from last week and a discussion of session beers. Part 2, on Thursday, will have reviews of Capital's Capital Square Series Baltic Porter and Rogue Juniper Pale Ale. In the meantime, enjoy part 1.

You can download the MP3 here. The Ogg file here.

Beer Talk Today is provided under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.