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EDITORIALS & LETTERS 2001 » BACK TO EDITORIALS & LETTERS INDEX
 
December 2001/January 2002
Ch-ch-ch-changes…

 
As the Celebrator Beer News approaches its 14th anniversary with the next issue, we are in the midst of yet another profound change. We welcome Assistant Publisher Jay Brooks, a veteran of the “beer wars” as beer buyer for Beverages, & more, a multi-unit retail chain in California and the West. Jay brings a sound knowledge of the beer industry and ingratiating good cheer to his duties at our venerable beer rag.

Jay’s contributions to our efforts in bringing you the very best in beer news and views will include advertising and distribution as well as production details. All this is in hopes of freeing up your harried editor/publisher to concentrate more on writing and editing. Jay’s beer-tasting experience lends itself to his overseeing the Celebrator Blind Tasting Panel, which will focus on various beer styles each issue. Be sure to see our evaluations of some of the top holiday seasonal beers in this issue.

This issue includes extensive coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colo. Our various regional reporters include mention of awards in their areas, while Denver correspondent Marty Jones writes up the festival itself.

Congratulations to Don Younger on the 25th anniversary of his storied Horse Brass Pub in Portland, Ore. Our “on-the-scene” coverage can be found elsewhere in this issue. We are also delighted to announce the release of Recipes of the Microbreweries of America, a new cookbook by our resident foodie, Leslie Mansfield. Your editor had a hand in selecting the breweries and writing the foreword for this wonderful compendium of food and beer that includes recipes you can make in your own kitchen without fear of failure. All the recipes are fully explained, pretested by Leslie and guaranteed to please. Her regular column appears in this issue with another tasty offering from the new book.

Your Celebrator Beer News continues to be charged with energy and enthusiasm for good beer wherever it may be found. We are delighted to have so many talented writers and “beer geeks” contributing to each issue. We hope that you, the reader, will continue to support our efforts and give us feedback on how we are doing. Support your local brewery!

If Arthur Guinness were alive today, he’d be rolling over in his grave. Imagine creating a beer that would become the signature beverage of Ireland with a market share that would embarrass Microsoft. A beer that would so permeate a culture as to render anything else an also-ran. The very ritual of pouring a proper pint proud of the rim and at the perfect cellar temperature is sacrosanct.

But a new generation drinks to a different drummer: Gaggles of twenty-something trendies yelp their mindless “Whassup?” and “Howyadoin?” while holding bottles of industrial lager beer and, horror of horrors, drinking from the bottle as though it were soda. Or worse, sticking vegetative matter in it.

The venerable Guinness Brewery, in its Faustian deal with the devil Diageo, is no longer the repository of brewing tradition. Witness the new Guinness Draught in a sexy “Coke-shaped” bottle with a rocked widget inside to “deliver the great taste of Guinness Draught.” The label commands one to “Drink straight from the bottle” and “Serve extra cold,” two concepts that are anathema to the traditional brew or to good beer enjoyment in general. Ken Hickmott, our resident art director who hails from Folkstone, Kent, England, and has had not a few pints of Guinness pass his lips, proclaimed it to be “an abomination!” Is it corporate greed or just marketing stupidity that allows such a transgression of tradition, taste and good beverage sense?

Our “good beer” crusade has labored long and hard to get people to appreciate fine beer from a glass. Brewers are dedicated to giving beer aroma and color, neither of which can be discerned by drinking from the bottle. Do wine lovers drink from the bottle? This dastardly development has your editor in fits of apoplexy.

Whatever you do, don’t look in the bottle of Guinness at the rocket widget. It looks like a bottle-nosed dolphin with wings that is trying to get out. Or possibly Barbie lost her dildo, and you just found it? Not a great beer experience.

October/November 2001
Notes from the Publisher

 
What an issue! Bevies of Bunnies at the Playboy Mansion all decked out in decorous labels of wicked Pete’s! A whole new wicked this way comes, and your editor made the sacrifice and attended the rollout in Los Angeles.

It’s festival season, and our intrepid corps of writers bring home the stories from some of the better beer festivals of the summer, including the Oregon Brewers Fest, the upstart Portland International Beerfest and the IPA Fest in Hayward, California.

We welcome malty maven Lynne O’Connor, who recounts her visit to Moravia with Michael Jackson to seek the source of the ingredients of the great Czech beers. O’Connor’s background in homebrewing helps her present the total picture of this unique brewing tradition.

The hop harvest means fresh hop ale brewing, and the Celebrator visited Russian River Brewing Company for its annual turn with this unique brewing style. Our East Coast correspondent, Jack Curtin, checks in with a story on cask beer gone crazy with Friday the Firkinteenth.

Our beer-loving friends the Colemans turn their beer sights homeward with a rollicking pub crawl through San Francisco, celebrating beer destinations old and new. Associate Editor Mike Pitsker and wife Lisa visit beer fests and breweries in several contributions to this issue. Special attention should be paid to the story of perseverance in overcoming adversity as San Francisco’s Speakeasy Brewery celebrates its fourth anniversary.

And a welcome back to Abram Goldman-Armstrong and his chronicle of Crannog Brewing’s organic ale production in rural British Columbia. Pete Slosberg contributes a review of a new book on his favorite subject (other than beer) — Bar-B-Que! And our resident columnists Fred Eckhardt and Steve Beaumont wax poetic on the subjects of saké and beer and cheese in New York, respectively.

Consumer Reports on Beer

If beer were a toaster, a chain saw or an SUV, I would think that Consumer Reports would do a pretty credible job of reviewing it. Beer, however, is not a toaster, etc. Beer is a beverage, and its evaluation is highly subjective. CR (August 2001) relied on two tasters with 20 years of combined experience (your editor has that by himself) to evaluate a gaggle of commercial beers. The results? A CR Best Buy is Stroh’s from Pabst (now brewed by Miller) at $2.90 per six-pack, followed by Michelob, Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Rolling Rock, the most expensive at $4.85, came in last.

Best light beers were Michelob Light, Natural Light and Busch Light (those last two were Best Buys). Last (and most expensive) were Amstel and Corona Light. The ale category included Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams and Pete’s (we assume the old Pete’s), all of which were rated Best Buys. But Anchor Steam was rated lower because of “intense, lingering bitterness.” Hmmm. That used to be a good thing.

Some of the startling conclusions included “beers from kegs… tasted cleaner and fresher on tap than they did in bottles or cans.” (I’ll make a note of that.) Light does not necessarily mean “low calorie.” Michelob Light has 134 calories, compared to Milwaukee’s Best regular with 128. Half of the regular imports that were tasted scored lower than the worst regular domestic beers. We guess that this suggests that people drink beer based on image, labels and the fruits of multimillion-dollar ad campaigns, and not on taste. We are shocked.

CR chose not to review any microbrews (under 15,000 barrels per year) because “last time their taste proved inconsistent” and “microbrews are on the wane.” The data do not support such an assertion, CR, and it’s a good thing you don’t review wine, because Ch. Lafitte and Ch. Petrus are also inconsistent vintage to vintage. Gallo, however, is much more dependable.

Obviously, Consumer Reports views beer as a “white bread” world and fails to recognize the quality and skill in artisanal baking (to torture a metaphor). American beer drinkers (who number in the millions) talk tough but drink light. One observer of the beer scene said that Americans really don’t like the taste of beer. Consumption is usually from bottles or cans at temperatures that would keep a Popsicle firm. Mainstream beers vary little in flavor or character (even CR got that one right), and choice is usually the result of expensive mass-marketing, not qualitative selection.

For real beer lovers, CR’s evaluations are meaningless.

August/September 2001
A Moving Experience

 
The Celebrator Beer News has been published for 11 years from Hayward, Calif., first in an outbuilding at the publisher’s home and then in offices located near the Hayward Airport. Skyrocketing rents recently caused us to seek other accommodations, and this may have been a blessing in disguise. Our new offices in San Leandro, Calif., just a few freeway exits north of our old location, are taking shape and will be the best home that we could want for a brewing publication. Fully furnished with office equipment, the premises offered us the initial challenge of melding our conglomeration of office stuff with the existing array.

Copy Editor Pamela Evans, Art Director Ken Hickmott, Accounts Receivable Manager Eli the Rottweiler, and writers Bob and Angela Coleman adapted to the new surroundings effortlessly, and this issue of the Celebrator is the result of their efforts under the stressful circumstances of the move and working out of boxes amidst chaos.

We now have three great coffee places (Latté Da rocks!) and dozens of great lunch spots from which to derive sustenance for our beer-publishing venture. Most inspirational of all, however, is our proximity to The Englander (one short block), San Leandro’s awesome English pub and sports bar with over 100 taps of micros and classic imported beers. Six are on handpump, and lately English Ales in Marina, Calif., has been supplying the pub with cask-conditioned real ale! This doesn’t suck.

We are now in the process of recruiting additional office help as our venerable publication continues to grow. Our only reason for existence is to provide you, the craft-beer consumer, with interesting and accurate beer news and information. Our new location seems perfect for that goal. We are planning a welcome-to-the-neighborhood party to celebrate our new digs; local Celebrator readers will, of course, be invited. Stay tuned for details.

Malternatives: An Alternative to Beer, or Just Another ADV?

You’ve seen the ads and the brightly colored bottles. You’ve probably wondered just what Hooper’s Hooch, Doc Otis and Weinhard’s Hard Lemonade, among many others, bring to the adult beverage table. The answer is positive growth in a flat beer market. Sweet, flavored malt-based drinks are the new darling of the brewing boardrooms, providing the growth and profits that are sorely lacking in today’s stagnant beer market. The category is now producing about three million barrels a year, about 1.5 percent of the total beer pie.

"The drinkers have to be coming from somewhere," said Tom O'Donnell, beer marketing director at Chicago-based distributor Union Beverage Co. "I think [the malternatives] are pulling consumers from traditional beer drinkers."

"Clearly, a segment of the legal-drinking-age consumers like the taste of these malternatives," said Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, a trade group of brewers. "For years, adults have been drinking wine coolers, sweet wines, ciders, etc.”

European brewers and cider makers have been producing such products for years. Called “alco-pops,” sweetly flavored malt-based drinks often in plastic-coated, brightly colored bottles are enormously popular in dance clubs and bars catering to young adults of drinking age. In many countries, the legal drinking age is well below 21.

Old Deadly’s Snake Bite comes in a black plastic-coated bottle with a bright blue snake wrapped around it. The bottle says that it is a blend of pilsner lager and premium cider with a 5.3% abv bite. Billie’s Pooch Alcoholic Lemonade comes in a bright yellow bottle with a puppy jumping out of a lemon (4.7% abv). Blackadder Snake Bite with Black Currant has an even nastier snake on the label (5.3% abv). Old Deadly’s White Cider has a pirate on the label with “O.D.” (we guess that means Old Deadly) under it and proudly proclaims 8.4% abv.

This category can be described as ADVs (alcohol delivery vehicles), and its popularity among young adults and, as some studies have shown, underage kids is disturbing. Is this the salvation of an industry or fodder for even more repressive antialcohol legislation to come?

June/July 2001
Is Your Retailer Playing Fair with Craft Beer?

 
In the intensely competitive world of beer retailing, the playing field has changed for the worse. It is no longer a case of various brewery reps trying to convince chain buyers that their beer is better and worth the money the brewery wants (needs) to charge for its products. That was last week.

Enter the era of scan-backs. The buyers, naturally, would prefer to call them “electronic couponing.” The brewery agrees to “kick back” money for each sale (scan) in return for being featured in the chain’s set and advertising. Since the stores are not allowed to charge “slotting fees” (what they charge vendors to be on the shelves) for alcoholic beverages, the scan-backs have become a slick way to circumvent the law. Ask yourself: “Why are there multiple facings for macro-beers and a minimal selection for microbrews?”

Safeway, the store that developed the Club Card — whereby it raises its prices, “discounts” the price to cardholders back to the regular price and then tracks their buying habits to sell the information to vendors — is a major player in the scan-back game. A small brewery finds getting shelf space at Safeway to be difficult, if not impossible, unless it is willing to “post off” its regular price to the chain and participate in the scan-back program. This often results in reducing what little margin of profit the brewery might have under normal pricing to the point where the brewery makes little or no profit at all.

Why do breweries participate? For volume (to increase sell-through and maximize production) and to enhance their presence in the marketplace. Safeway has even gone so far as to insist that a brewery reduce its price to be in line with other breweries if its product is to be sold in the chain at all. Why doesn’t Safeway make a similar demand on wineries, to all make $10 chardonnay? Why the double standard with wine and beer? Do Safeway buyers actually believe that wine is priced by the perceived value to the consumer but beer is not?

This kind of “corporate thinking” is obnoxious and must be confronted. Various state departments of alcoholic beverage control should be taking action regarding these shady deals, which are cutting the heart (and profit) out of the craft beer industry.

If you don’t see your favorite beers at your retailer of choice, ask why they don’t stock them. If they seem disinterested, let them know they have lost you as a customer. Bottom line: Money talks.

American Beer Month

Remember, July is American Beer Month. Get involved and do your part to encourage local good-beer venues to do special promotions during July to celebrate the richness and diversity of American beer. Encourage your friends to pledge to “Drink American” for the month of July. If that means giving up Corona for Bud Light, so be it. The import category continues to be the fastest growing segment of American beer consumption. Let’s turn those numbers around in July. Think global but drink local. And turn a friend on to the fresh taste of a good old American brew!

April/May 2001
Notes from the Publisher

 
When publishers Jim McConnaughey and Clyde Fulkerson pulled the plug on Cascade Beer News in July 1991, they asked the Celebrator Beer News to take over coverage, subscriptions and distribution in the Northwest region. The Celebrator has included a Cascade section in every issue since then and has endeavored to give a platform for area writers that, in the early days, included Fred Eckhardt, Hubert Smith, Stuart Ramsay, Larry Baush, William Abernathy and others.

Be sure to check out our extended coverage of the Portland beer scene in this issue as the national beer industry descends on “Beervana,” or “Munich on the Willamette,” for the Craft Brewers Conference April 5–7, 2001. In addition to our regular Northwest regional writers, we welcome back John Foyston, beer and entertainment writer for The Oregonian (and blues guitar master), and Jim Parker, executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild and early contributor to the Celebrator. We also welcome our new Portland correspondent, Michael Rasmussen, who will take over for Jeff Alworth. Mike is a well-known homebrewer and member of the Oregon Brew Crew who has written extensively on the subject of beer for many publications.

We have also delayed our 13th anniversary celebration by two months so that we could party down in style in the City of Beer, Portland, Ore. Join us Wednesday night, April 4, at the magnificently restored McMenamins Crystal Ballroom for a ’60s-inspired concert featuring the local Buds of May and the beer-industry-staffed Rolling Boil Blues Band. Tickets are only $10 (includes a souvenir glass, your first beer and the concert).

Our beer industry has grown considerably since the Celebrator first published in January 1988. Founders Bret and Julie Nickels’s dream of sharing the word of good beer in California spread to the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountain region and beyond in subsequent years. Now our rag (sometimes described as “the Rolling Stone of beer”) can be found in all 50 states and Canada and by subscription around the beer-loving world. But our main focus and area of distribution remain the West Coast.

If you can’t join us on April 4, at least raise a glass to the two young Canadians who traveled to California in 1986–87 to invent and coin the term “brewspaper.” With your support and the continued contributions of some of the best beer writers in the world, we hope to publish the good beer litany for many more years to come.

Finally, please welcome our new accounts receivable manager, Eli the Rottweiler. He welcomes guests to the Celebrator office… those who don’t owe us money.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Apr/May 2001)

Dear Editor:
Best thanks for all the issues of the Celebrator Beer News. It’s a very good magazine. Enclosed is 28 dollars for my membership for the next 12 months.

Best regards,
Horst Waldenmeier
Remshalden, Germany

Dear Horst:
Wow — your subscription wasn’t even up yet! We love your enthusiasm! Hope you get a chance to visit the U.S. beer scene soon and taste some of what you’ve been enjoying vicariously! — Ed.

Dear Editor:
I am having one of my first homebrewed beers since completing the Siebel diploma program. Tastes thousands of dollars better! (How's that for a marketing statement.) It’s been an amazing road since November. I cannot believe I am a part of all that is going on here. Not to telegraph the future plans, but there is a lot of stuff going on here, and rest assured, you are at the top of the speed dialer.

If I haven't thanked you for all that your publication has done for craft brewing in North America, it is long overdue. Publications like the Celebrator work to create a feeling of community among brewers, something I really learned the value of at Siebel along with my classmates from Mexico. Most of them are involved in the analytical end of brewing, and to them the brewing process is just that.

I loved taking them into the library at Siebel to show them the listings of craft breweries in the various regions covered in the Celebrator. They knew nothing about the depth of the craft community in the U.S. Even instructors from Germany didn't realize the staggering number of breweries in the Pacific Northwest. By the end of the course, these guys (and gals) really felt like they were part of a living, breathing art form.

Keith Lemcke
Siebel Institute of Technology
Chicago, Ill.

February/March 2001
Lucky 13 — The Celebrator Evolves

 
Can it really be 13 years of beer babble? It seems like just yesterday that Bret and Julie Nickels were gathering beery news, printing it and distributing it all over the state of California from the bed of a Jeep pickup. A publication that consisted of a small but dedicated corps of “grognards” including Don Erickson, Bob Hufford, Jim Parker, CR Saikley and others has become a worldwide conduit of beer news, views, observations and mirthful musings from a coterie of eminent beer writers that continues to grow.

With this issue we welcome multiple award-winning travel writer and beer lover Janet Forman with a report on her visit to several Trappist breweries in Belgium. She will continue to file reports on her visits to interesting beer destinations around the world from her bipolar bases in New York and Los Angeles.

We will be expanding our beer-loving horizons with food and beer articles from writer-chef Leslie Mansfield, a graduate of École de Gastronomie Francaise in Paris, who is a wine and beer lover! Leslie will be working with the Celebrator in producing a series of books called Recipes from the Microbreweries of America, to be published later this year by Ten Speed Press in Berkeley, Calif. Our goal is to give great beer the respect it deserves in cooking and in its enjoyment with fine food.

The world of fine craft-brewed saké will get more attention from the Celebrator in the coming years as well. Saké, often erroneously called a “rice wine,” is in fact “brewed” and is not a wine at all. World saké authority John Gauntner, author of The Saké Handbook and others books, will contribute regular columns about saké and its appreciation. John is a resident of Tokyo and travels regularly to the United States and other countries, teaching about fine saké and promoting its enjoyment. Hint: This saké does not come out of a box!

At first, our 13th anniversary looked pretty unlucky for the Celebrator. Our printer closed shop and filed bankruptcy after our December issue. We paid our bills, honest! Then, in a burst of Christmas cheer, our landlord presented us with a 50 percent increase in rent. Now we are looking for new offices. In addition, longtime Celebrator Art Director Bill Roark got a great new job five minutes from his home.

After a beer or two, things started to look up for the Celebrator in 2001. A new printer was found, and we’re in negotiations for new offices. Bill Roark will continue to do the Celebrator layout on a part-time basis. Your stream of beer babble should continue for many years to come.

Many thanks to all of our associate editors, writers and news item contributors for the continuous stream of beery information that keeps the Celebrator and our online sister publication, BeerWeek, interesting and pertinent. Special thanks to our numerous advertisers — some of whom have been with us for many years — who are the lifeblood of any such small publication. And a heartfelt thank you from the publisher to all of our subscribers and readers, who give the Celebrator a reason for being.

As we begin a new year of publishing, we hope your new year is filled with cheers and beers.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Feb/Mar 2001)

Dear Celebrator:
I have been indebted to your publication since the day many years ago when I picked up a copy of an eight-page newsletter called the California Celebrator in the San Francisco Brewing Company pub on Columbus. The listing of other brewpubs in the area on the center pages launched my coworker drinking buddy and me on an avocation that has lasted 20 years, as we sought to sample fresh craft brews from every brewpub we could get to. We exhibited in wholesale trade shows all over the country, and it gave us something to look forward to at the end of a very long day in a strange town. Each issue added more places to check out and more cities to check them out in. Thank you for many enjoyable hours of getting lost on buses, on subways and on foot seeking the perfect beer. (OK, maybe just a really good beer and good food to go with it.)

The point is that when I discovered your Web page, I was disappointed to find that the single most valuable service you provide was not present. I am now in a different line of work and no longer have to travel as much. But when I do, I want to be able to plan to stop at new places to try along the way. I know you want to sell subscriptions, but your advertisers are just as interested in readership circulation from complimentary copies picked up in brewpubs as they are in individual subscriptions. Please post the pub lists. I'm sure the ones who pay to have their logos printed along with their listings would also be willing to pay to have their logos posted on your Web site. Thanks again.

Gary Carlson
Temecula, Calif.

Dear Gary:
Congratulations on your appointment as Web marketing director of the Celebrator! Our close relationship with Real Beer, Inc., give us the best and most up-to-date pub and brewpub database with just a click. Check out Library Search and select Real Beer Library. We will add a link directly to the Real Beer Brew Tour database as per your recommendation. And thanks for the nice review! — Ed.

Dear Editor:

Just a pet peeve, but how many times have you gone to an upscale restaurant for a special occasion and wanted a good beer? They bring out a wine list the size of a phone book, but if asked about their beer list, they proclaim: “Oh, we have a good selection: Budmillercoors, Budlightmillerlitecoorslight, Corona and Heineken”!

The solution: corkage! Corkage is usually thought of as applying to wine, and most restaurants will allow you to bring wine for a small fee. But beer is another story. Legally speaking, beer and wine are covered under the same laws, so if there is any distinction made in corkage policy, it is done so at the restaurant’s discretion. They, of course, can and usually do charge for the service, and rightfully so, as they are not selling their wine (or beer). They also should be compensated for the service and washing of the glassware. The charge can and does vary considerably, so ask first. Cost is usually $10–15. I will have to admit that I have paid more to have a beer opened than I paid for the bottle. But it was worth the cost to make a point.

Don Van Valkenburg
Long Beach, Calif.
steinfillers.com

Dear Don:
Excellent point! We would suggest only that a name change is in order: cappage! We can hardly wait to have a snooty sommelier (redundant?) say disapprovingly, “Care to smell the cap, sir?” — Ed.

 

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