Friday, July 23, 2010

I've Got Stella Skilz

Wednesday was a weird day. You'll have to excuse me for being rather meandering and long-winded about this, but it's one of those things that, I think, makes the beer industry so bizarre and wonderful. My only regret is that I have no pictures to show you.

Entry Date: July 21, 2010
Dear Diary:
My day started miserably enough. I was sick today. Not really sure why I was sick, but I was. My tummy hurt and I spent the whole day fighting to keep my eyes open. Work was useless and futile and I could do little but sit at my desk like a lump. But some mighty strange things happened to me today.

Around 9am I received an email from the Brewers Association telling me that MBR is going to have media credentials for the Great American Beer Fest! I could hardly believe it. On a whim, a few weeks ago I submitted an application for media credentials. Figuring it was a long shot, but that if given the chance, I might be able to talk my way into it, I submitted the application on the theory that I could spend 3 weeks writing about the GABF. I could generate all kinds of great content that people would be interested in reading about: interviews with participants (Kevin Eichelberger, come on down!), audio recordings and podcasts, photographs, live blogging. And best of all, I could do it all from Denver, Colorado during the GABF the premier beer festival in the United States. A few days ago, I received an email from the Brewers' Association PR person in charge of new media credentials telling me, basically, "we don't typically give credentials unless you have 10,000 page views." And, oh, dear diary, MBR doesn't come anywhere close to 10,000 page views even in a "typical" week. But, the note went on, if I could provide some justification they might just issue credentials anyway. So, into my best marketing and persuasive writing mode I went spilling word upon word about the relevance of Madison Beer Review to the Wisconsin beer market. Extolling the virtues of the GABF, of the long-windedness I generate about the event. Offering 3 weeks of coverage, that, might, if things go well, generate a total of 10,000 page views. Today the response said: "Silly MBR, we didn't mean 10,000 page hits for a single day, but cumulative. You win." Oh, dear diary, how ecstatic I was.

Until I saw the cost of airfare and hotels in Denver for the four days of GABF. And I was sick to my stomach.

Mrs. MBR and I spent some time discussing the merits of dropping close to $1,000 for both of us just to get to and stay in Denver, let alone the money in beer and food, and not including the festival tickets, since I was getting those for free (or at least one of them, it's not entirely clear yet whether there are two media passes or not).

At 2pm, I was still not feeling well, but it was silly to leave work because I had an event for the AIDS Network at 5:30pm and, thus, I couldn't just go home and fall asleep watching the Tour de France like I wanted to. So, around 5:15 or so, Mrs. MBR and I headed off to the ACT8 get-together. ACT 8, is a long bike trip (300 miles in 4 days) put on by the AIDS Network to raise awareness and general funds for the AIDS patients in and around the Dane County area. It is a long, grueling ride and the minimum entry donation is $1200 to ride, and $70 to be on the crew. Mrs. MBR is riding, and I am on the crew. We have raised over $2000 so far. If you'd like to donate more, you can do that here and you support will be greatly appreciated!

Thank you Diary for your generous donation.

In any event, I was not well, and the event was at Naut-i-gal on the North Side - the exact opposite direction of my own home. The AIDS Network had reserved the back yard of Naut-i-gal and there was food and some gear items set up. People were hanging around just chatting about prior years, and getting the lay of the land and introducing themselves to people they were about to spend a lot of time with. In one corner of the yard was a portable tap setup with Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, and Leffe on tap. Being AB-InBev products, although, apparently, free, I skipped the Stella for a Capital Wisconsin Amber (much more on this in the coming days, oddly enough).

Stella Artois, owned by InBev, the worldwide beer giant that recently merged (purchased) Budweiser, is in the midst of a very large marketing push to counter some of the "high end" damage being done by, oddly, Dos Equis and "the most interesting man in the world". So, Stella is countering with a "super premium" ad push of its own with ads featuring distinguished gentlemen in starched button downs austerely pouring and critically examining a beautiful gold, if otherwise normal tasting, pale lager.

I have no problems with Stella as beer, but I don't feel that I need to support AB-InBev, so I largely ignored the setup and went with a good, old, Wisconsin Amber from a local producr. Besides, I wanted to work on the cryptogram on the front of the Wisconsin Amber label.

As Mrs. MBR and I are sitting, chatting about when it would be appropriate to leave and contemplating the goodness of the bruschetta and chips and quacamole, a Stella rep came to our table and chatted us up. Look, I understand, it's her job to get people to participate, to join the fun, to enjoy the wonderful taste of free beer. Personally, I get enough free beer in my life that dangling it in front of me doesn't really do much for me. But, on the other hand, it is free beer. In return I just had to "compete" to pour the best Stella Artois according to the 9 (NINE!) Steps of Pouring a Stella Artois properly. And give up my email address.

Given that she was clearly bored, there was a lack of participation, and she gets paid for the number of the names that she gets, I agreed. How hard could it be, right? Plus, free beer. Mrs. MBR did not participate. So, I inquired, what do I need to do? Ms. Stella set the ground rules. The "Bartender" would demonstrate all nine steps once through, then I would be asked to perform the steps and I would be evaluated by the judge sitting at a nearby table. At the end, I can keep the beer and the glass. Second place is a set of 6 Stella Artois mugs. First place got a "premium gift pack" and went to a "city-wide" competition where the grand prize was a flight to Dever.

Wait. Did you just say a flight to Denver? You don't happen to know when this flight to Denver is, do you? Umm...not really, but some time in the fall maybe. Oh? Like September? Yeah, I think so, actually. Like the 15-19? Yeah, now that you mention it, it could be. You have got to be shitting me. I'm in. Please do not finish second - the last thing I need is 6 Stella Artois glasses.

So, I gave her my name and email address and the bartender showed me what to do. Now, I've seen and poured a lot of beer in my life. I have a bartender's license (yes, I know, I'm an attorney, but, I have a bartender's license, too). I've seen and poured a lot of fancy beer in my life, I am generally familiar with the need and procedure for clean glassware and a good dollop of head. The "9 steps" basically clean the glass, put a good head on top, and provide a nice presentation at the end. Scrub the glass, rinse the glass, clean the inside at beer temperature, turn on the tap, pour down the side then into the middle to a nice 2-finger head, remove the glass, turn off the tap, scrape the head off, rinse off the outside of the glass, make sure it looks OK, and present it to the customer. If you can do all of that while holding the glass by the stem and keeping the marketing (i.e., logo) facing the customer, you're doing well. And, I kicked its ass.

Yes. I won. By five points over second place. My execution was flawless, I almost forgot the "spill skirt" that is useless and no actual bar uses anyway. Admittedly, Stella Artois, in the bubble-shaped stemmed glassware, is a very, very pretty beer. It is crystal clear and bright yellow with a shockingly white head of foam. The logo and presentation is very refined. It's flavor is rather undistinguishable, but it's fine enough and I've even been known to order one on occassion.

So, what did I win? I won a large Stella Artois glass (in addition to the one I got for competing), a foam scraper thingy, and a "booklet" about the nine steps of pouring Stella Artois and the history of Stella. Pablum. But, more importantly, I've won the right to compete against 7 others for the flight to Denver.

The final competition will be held at the new Brickhouse BBQ next to Riley's downtown next Thursday. I've been told that the marketing will start around 8pm with the actual competition starting around 9 or 9:30pm or so. I implore you to come out and cheer for me so that I can win and we can prove that Madison Beer Review is worth the media credentials that I scored so that I can drink free beer for three days and you can read all about it.


  1. It feels good when the beer gods smile upon us, even if it is a multinational corporate beer god.

  2. Hey Jeff! I haven't been on your blog in a lil' while, so I didn't realize you were competing in the Stella competition. I took 1st place at Madison's a few weeks ago, where I work, and was lucky enough to dock out of work early tonight to head down to the Brickhouse for the finals. Which I'm really thankful for because I'm guy that won. I wish I would have realized you were there; I would've loved to have met you in person. I think I actually shook your hand and had no idea you run MBR.

    If the Stella competition in Denver happens to fall over GABF, let me know. First beer is on me. Keep up the good work with MBR; I'm looking forward to your coverage of GABF!


  3. Hey Chris, I don't think that the competition is during GABF; it's actually a week or two before I think. Wish I'd known that was you, I need to get better about wearing my MBR gear out and about; was actually drinking with another MBR-er there (what up, Scott!). Congrats on winning. If you'd be up for it, it would be great to have a "man on the scene" report from your next competition.


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