Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This Week in News

So here are some the things I've been reading:

A recent report from the WHO states that America ranks 57th in alcohol consumption in per capita alcohol consumption compared to other countries. Not nearly as bad as you might think. I wonder how our rate of alcohol-related crime stacks up? I found no mention of it in the report. As the country that brought prohibition to the world* As a country who's drinking culture is still defined by prohibition, there are a lot of teetotalers here which I suspect makes a difference. I also fear that this is really indicative of beer culture in the US: namely, that most people don't really care about it. This, of course, just feeds the binge and purge drinking mentality that is aided so well by tasteless light lager. The first step to responsible drinking is enjoying what you're drinking.

It looks like hop and grain prices may be increasing for home brewers, and possibly for beer drinkers as well. The National Hop Report shows that hop production was down 31% this harvest over the last. Amarillo and Simcoe hops seem to be especially scarce for home brewers, although that fact may not be indicative of what's going on in craft beer at large. Home brew stores are generally the last to get hops from suppliers after the harvest, so any shortages are felt by home brewers harder than by commercial brewers. There are also rumors that grain prices will also rise this year. I don't expect to see any crises, but prices may jump.

Jeff at Beervana recently wondered "Why can't Milds be Wild?" in which he states
I have given up the idea that low-gravity, malt-forward session beers will ever find more than the nichiest of niche followings.
Hate to say I couldn't disagree more. I don't know that Jeff is wrong, but I want him to be wrong. Hop-driven beers are nice, but can't we have something else, too? After a while, super bitter, and super hoppy beers are fairly one-dimensional. I won't say that I don't enjoy a hop bomb when the mood strikes, and I was frequently blown away by them (like I think most people were) in my nascent stages of beer appreciation, but I certainly think there is room for delicious, low gravity session beers, too. Eventually the hop-bubble has to burst and hopefully a tide of balanced, nuanced beers will emerge. If we ever want craft beer to represent a substantial share of the market, it's going to be on the back of something that's low gravity and approachable to non-beer-nerds.

I see here that Anderson Valley's beers are going into cans soon. I'm going to keep beating on this drum: I dislike cans. My preference is purely aesthetic and  superficial, but I just do not want to pay $10 for a six pack of cans. Especially when they look like this:
Generic soda, anyone?

Canned beer is synonymous with terrible beer to me. Perhaps its something I'll get past at some point, but as I've said before, cans are the best and fastest way for a brewery (and craft beer in general) to piss away any "brand equity" that they might have as a quality product. Packaging and image damn well matters, just ask Steve Jobs.  Here's an analogy: nest time you have a party, put out cans of Coke next to glass bottles of Coke and see which people gravitate towards. The can looks like something you would stock your fallout shelter with, the glass bottle is visually appealing and nice. It's like a treat. Also, cans can't be refilled with home brew.

Goose Island is going to have their IPA and Honker's Ale contract brewed out of state in Portsmouth, NH. Apparently, this is where Redhook is brewed. I am a big fan of Goose Island and I say good for them. Rent isn't cheap in Chicago, and you could tell that some of their beers were occasionally being rushed out early. Their 312 wheat beer especially seemed to suffer from this. It also sounds like they've really taken the time to get things right at the contracted brewery.

Stan at Appellation Beer recently mentioned the Cicerone program to which I responded that
"I hate the poncey, arrogant, cicerone crap. If there has ever been a greater crime committed in the name of wine-ifying beer, I don’t know what it is"
 And I do. I didn't want to clog someone else's blog with ranting and complaining, but the Cicerone program is steering things in absolutely the wrong direction, as far as I'm concerned. I know some certified Cicerones, and they're all very nice and enthusiastic about beer. Ray Daniels by all accounts is also a nice guy. His books were a huge resource for me in home brewing. However, it drives me up the wall when people long for the world of beer to match the world of wine. The Cicerone program does that. While I appreciate an effort to "educate" servers and bar staff about beer, it's not fucking wine, and honestly, it's not really very complicated. The program was conceived as a counter point to the wine "Sommelier" which in itself is simply a way to make wine and places that serve wine seem more exclusive, sophisticated, and to pamper to wine douches. All things that the beer world gloriously does not have, and does not need. Beer is good because it's simple. Any beer bar worth anything will happily offer you a sample glass of beer so you can decide whether or not you want it. At most, any pint of beer will cost, what $10 at the very upper end? We're not talking about a $500 bottle of wine that can't be re-corked, so I don't think a trained expert is necessary in any way. And I don't think that the existence of Sommeliers in the wine world was ever credited with improving the quality of wine, so I doubt it will do anything to improve the overall quality in the beer world either. I see it in much the same way I view the Brewer's Association: nice folks, but we don't really need a faceless "man behind the curtain" to tell us which beer styles are actually beer styles, which craft breweries are actually craft breweries, and in this case, which bartenders and bars are worthy of handling beer. Thoughts?

*corrected thanks to Beer Nut


  1. "the country that brought prohibition to the world"
    Huh? The Soviet Union, Hungary, Iceland, Norway and Finland all instituted prohibition before the US.

  2. I am not a big fan of cans either, can't given you any rational reason but they just don't do anything for me. Interesting that all the new groovy craft can seem to be the 330ml variety - perhaps it is because they look too much like fizzy pop?

  3. Hi Beer Nut! That's a huge gaffe on my part! I adjusted that sentence. Thanks for pointing that one out.

    VelkyAl, I would be a bit happier with cans if we could get away from the 330ml (not even "pint sized") and something more like 500ml or a full pint. Largely, they remind me of pop, or worse.