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EDITORIALS & LETTERS 2006 » BACK TO EDITORIALS & LETTERS INDEX
 
August/September 2006
GABF Turns 25!

 
The Great American Beer Festival will turn 25 years old when it opens its run September 28–30 at Denver's cavernous Colorado Convention Center. Now recognized as the granddaddy of all beer festivals, the GABF has had a long and circuitous path to becoming American beerdom's mecca. Yes, all true beer lovers must make this pilgrimage sometime in their beer-loving lives.

It all began in 1981 basically as a party thrown by the American Homebrewers Association in Boulder, Colo., that invited some 20 commercial breweries (a few of which were micros) to pour their products. As the festival grew, a "People's Choice" award was given for the "Best Beer in America," an award that became somewhat solicitous and contentious and was ultimately dropped. The judging of beers was embraced, however, and each year seemed to see expanded categories and subcategories of the beer styles to be evaluated by some of the top beer judges in the world.

The GABF Blind Panel Judging is now recognized as the preeminent beer judging in the country. This year, over 100 professional beer judges from the U.S. and around the world will consider more than 2,300 beers entered by over 450 domestic breweries. Truly a comprehensive effort.

Early on in the evolution of the GABF, there was some regional abstention from attending the festival by some breweries because of perceived "unprofessionalism" and sponsor-driven participation by the major players. This situation was addressed, and as the GABF evolved, it became all-inclusive of America's burgeoning brewing industry. This year, 370 breweries arranged by region will pour more than 1,600 different beers for attendees. Many of the beers will be served on draught, creating the largest draught beer dispenser in the world. Food demos, educational presentations and entertainment will keep the public sessions lively and informative.

This year, the GABF will cover 188,000 square feet in the newly renovated Colorado Convention Center. This will require over 2,700 volunteers from around the world, who will put in over 40,000 hours of volunteer labor to make the GABF happen.

Cheers to founders Charlie Papazian and Daniel Bradford (first GABF director); to succeeding directors Marcia Schirmer, Sharon Mowry and Nancy Johnson; and to the thousands of volunteer workers who have made the Great American Beer Festival the most significant beer event in the country. But mainly, here's to America's breweries, which give us so much to celebrate! See you at the GABF.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Aug/Sep 2006)

Dear Editor:
I love a good draft IPA, and sometimes my only option is to bring the kids. Twice recently at two different Tri-Valley/East Bay [SF Bay Area] brewpubs, I have been unable to convince the server that a $4 pint of Thomas Kemper root beer is too much for a 3-year-old child. One server thought she was giving us a deal by charging only $2.50 when I stressed that the root beer was for the children, but she still brought two full GLASS pints for two LITTLE kids! Can you say "Cleanup at table 6"?

Eric Heinitz
Livermore, California

Dear Eric:
Try ordering a pitcher of root beer. They will bring smaller glasses. — Ed.

Dear Editor:
As a recent Midwest transplant living in Santa Cruz, Calif., it was nice to see Mark Conley's excellent article [CBN, June/July 2006] on this area’s breweries. I would like to offer one correction. Coastline Brewing in Santa Cruz is not a microbrewery or brewpub. All of Coastline's beers are contracted offsite.

Cheers,
Brady Umfleet

Dear Brady:
Good catch. We should have listed them as a pub/restaurant until such time as they start brewing onsite. What size T-shirt do you wear? — Ed.

Dear Editor:
In a recent perusing of my most favorite beer publication, I noticed that our recent offering of North Coast Brewing's Brother Thelonious was revealed (thank you) as being available only at finer jazz clubs around the area. I would like to set the record straight and proclaim that we have no bias as to who sells our fine nectar, and we certainly would like to offer it to any who appreciate exceptional beer in their glasses, regardless of where they like to hear their music. My choice would be listening to Kenny Gross on the drums at The Bistro [in Hayward, CA].

Josh Charlton
Pacific Libations
Castro Valley, California

Dear Josh:
Thanks for setting us straight as a T. Monk bass line. Glad to hear of the ready availability. The Brother Thelonious is great! — Ed.

June/July 2006
Consolidation Blues – Take My Brewery, Please!

 
The craft segment of the beer industry is on a tear, showing the only positive growth in overall lackluster domestic beer sales. The big breweries, stung by falling profits and pressured by wholesalers for higher-margin products, are looking for more profitable, upscale brands to fill the slack in sales. The recent gathering of beer-industry professionals in Seattle was awash in rumors of mergers, acquisitions and distribution deals in the works.

Of the big three, Anheuser-Busch is the most proactive, introducing brands and styles never before offered by the brewing giant. A-B has also been successful in past investments/alliances with craft brewers (Widmer and Redhook). The brewer has even targeted the niche market with its Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale, Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale and wit-style Spring Heat Spiced Wheat. Most recently, Grolsch and Rolling Rock have been added to the A-B roster. We can assume there will be more of these in the future.

Foreign-owned SABMiller and Molson Coors have made similar arrangements. Miller's acquisition of the Czech Republic's crown jewel, Pilsner Urquell, has resulted in the "original" pilsner now being made in Poland and Russia under contract. While you may hear Czech hearts breaking, Miller hears increased sales. Canada's Sleeman Breweries purchased famed Unibroue in Quebec.

The consolidation on the distribution tier of the beer industry is brutal, leaving some very large markets with only one or two distributors wielding massive books of beer, wine, spirits and such. Faced with diminished access to market, some small breweries look at alliances or acquisition as their only hope for survival.

InBev (formerly Interbrew) of Belgium is notorious for its own role in "consolidation," buying up struggling breweries and shutting them down to enhance its own market share. Most recently, InBev announced that it would shutter the famed Hoegaarden Brewery in its namesake town and continue producing the beer at its Jupiler Brewery. Pierre Celis, who reintroduced the extinct wit style in his hometown and named it Hoegaarden some 40 years ago, was understandably outraged.

Brewery consolidation in some cases may be beneficial and necessary, but in other situations it can be a travesty to the character and quality of the beers we so admire. This is a time for beer lovers to pay attention to the business side of beer appreciation. The Brewers Association recently released statistics that indicate that nearly every American lives within 10 miles of a brewery. Find the breweries, frequent them and let your local brewers know that you care about what you are drinking. Respect for the flavors and traditions of brewing begins with production and ends with consumption. Lack thereof can lead to the loss of your local brewery. Let’s keep it real in this, the age of good beer.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Jun/Jul 2006)

Dear Editor:
I recently had an unfortunate beer experience that necessitated the addition to the beer lexicon of a new word: beerbarian (noun), one, or more than one, who feels free to invade another's house and consume the craft beer found in the refrigerator, either replacing it with Bud or not replacing it at all. Take a lesson from the pirates and consider burying a fridge in the back yard with your liquid treasure safely secure from the greedy, bony hands of the foul beerbarians. I hope to warn others so that these marauding predators cause no more harm than they already have.

Ken Klemm
Oxnard, California

Dear Ken:
The beauty of craft beer is that it is not so expensive that we can’t share it with the taste-challenged "beerbarians." I like the concept and hope you will join us in converting them. That way, when you go to their house, you can return the favor. — Ed.

Dear Editor:
During my long drive back to Wyoming after the ’06 Craft Brewers Conference, I got to thinking about the people I saw at the conference. Ralph Woodall came to mind. You can always count on seeing Ralph at any major event, even small ones. He's everywhere. The GABF, the CBC, the North American Beer Awards, the Mountain Brewers Beer Festival, the Oregon Brewers Festival and many others. What is amazing is that Ralph never seems to tire. He is always smiling, jolly and full of good jokes. I asked myself, "How does he do it?" I am almost convinced that Hopunion has made a scientific breakthrough and is cloning Ralph. Let's all raise a hoppy pint of brew and give "cheers" to Ralph… Or should I say Ralph's?

Richard Strom
Bottoms Up Brewing Company
Pinedale, Wyoming

Dear Editor:
Thank you and John Rowling for the flattering article on our business, the Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company, in “Pubbing Around B.C.,” Celebrator Beer News, February/March 2006. We are writing to correct an omission regarding our brewing operation. Our brewery is actually run primarily by two talented brewers. Fabian Specht joined Franco Corno in our operation over a year ago. Fabian brings a wealth of brewing knowledge and makes a huge contribution to our facility. Thank you again for your interest in craft brewing in Squamish, B.C.!

Deborah Laishley & Dave Fenn, Owners
Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company
Squamish, British Columbia, Canada

Dear Editor:
Once again, the necessity of including such far-flung brewing scenes as Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Tampa; Atlanta; and Oakland in Don Erickson's "L.A. Scene" column conclusively proves one thing: There is no L.A. brewing scene. It still sucks. I remain your loyal, "half-in-the-bag on San Diego beer" foot soldier.

Brian O'Hare
Los Angeles, California

Dear Brian:
I feel your pain, brother. I'm just back from Seattle and Portland (Craft Brewers Conference and Spring Beer Fest). Talk about an active beer scene! I sure hope L.A. comes along. Also, because of Don's real job, he gets to travel a lot and loves to write about new beer finds. Please let us know if you run across something that doesn't suck in the L.A. area, and we'll include it. — Ed.

Dear Editor:
Read with interest your article on Vietnamese beer-making. I saw you made mention of 333 beer. We had a beer called Ba Muy Ba 33 Bière when I was stationed in Vietnam. We were told it had formaldehyde in it. Secondly, do you ever make comparisons of non-alcoholic beers? Do any of the microbreweries make non-alcoholic beer?

George Estabrook
Livermore, California

Dear George:
Don’t know about the formaldehyde but could believe it. A lot of older Vietnamese seem well preserved. The NA beers are done via an industrial process too expensive for small beer production. Our favorite non-alcoholic beers include Erdinger Alcohol Free and Clausthaler. — Ed.

April/May 2006
Craft Brewers Conference 2005

 
America's craft brewers will gather in Seattle this April for the annual Craft Brewers Conference, and the mood will likely be more optimistic and upbeat for the industry's future than at any time in the last 10 years. Recent statistics released by the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo., state that the "craft" segment of the beer business sold 9.0 percent more beer in 2005 than in 2004, making this the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. beverage alcohol industry for the second consecutive year!

“Craft beer volume growth far exceeded that of large brewers, wine and spirits in 2005,” said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “And even though imported beer grew nicely in 2005, craft beer grew at a faster rate.” Bear in mind that the import category consists of both all-malt beer and adjunct beer. America's tastes are changing, and its expectations for full-flavored beers of substance are at an all-time high.

“Consumer enjoyment of the flavor and diversity of craft beer continues to fuel healthy, steady growth in this segment,” said Ray Daniels, director of craft beer marketing for the Brewers Association. “Small brewers lead the entire industry by offering flavorful, interesting beers.”

Consider also that there are young beer drinkers today who have never known a time when there weren't craft beers widely available. The first wave of breweries, born in the early ’80s, are now over 20 years old, and some are transitioning to second-generation management.

As the craft-beer segment matures, have no doubt that the major brewers are taking note. Brewing giant Anheuser-Busch introduced a variety of beers at last year's Great American Beer Festival in Denver, including a fresh-hop ale, a pumpkin beer and Michelob Celebrate — a 10% abv monster made with imported whole vanilla beans and aged on heavily toasted bourbon oak barrel wood. Definitely not your father's Budweiser.

Should small breweries fear this intrusion into their brewing bailiwick? Consider that Gallo Winery, still the largest winery in the world, has replaced much of its jug wine business with premium varietal wines, and it prospers side by side with the thousands of small artisanal wineries that continue to blossom across the country. Indeed, it could be suggested that A-B's entry (or reentry, considering its earlier efforts in this category) will be a positive force in bringing flavorful beers to an increasingly curious beer drinker.

The result can be even more consumers brought around to the "savor the flavor" category of beer drinking. Building on this momentum, we could have many years of continued positive growth ahead with even more demand for exotic, richly flavored beer. Truly, this is a great time to be a beer drinker! Spread the word and create more demand for honest beer.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Apr/May 2006)

Dear Celebrator:
Congratulations on 18 years of publishing the Celebrator Beer News! You and your staff do a great job of putting together a publication that truly "celebrates" the enjoyment of beer. Here at Briess, we're happy to be part of your publication and wish you continued success for many more years. Cheers!

Bernadette Wasdovitch
Marketing Communications Manager
Briess Malt & Ingredients Company

February/March 2006
18 Years of Cheers and Beers!

 
When the first issue of the California Celebrator hit the pubs, we were covering an industry of some 20 brewpubs and microbreweries and a few "enlightened" beer-savvy pubs and restaurants. Distribution of the nation's first "brewspaper" took about three weeks of driving all over the state in a Jeep Cherokee and visiting all these great beer destinations.

Today, the Celebrator Beer News covers key beer true believers around the country and internationally, with our corps of regional beer-evangelist reporters keeping us abreast of beery developments where and when they find them. The beer industry continues to grow but in a curious new direction. The growth of craft beer hit a wall around 1997 while the imports and large domestic brewers continued to expand.

In our new century, the beer "pie" seems to have hit its own wall, and indeed it shrank slightly in 2004. The craft segment, however, showed positive growth, hitting an impressive 7 percent for both 2003 and 2004, posting the only positive numbers for all the categories! The good-beer movement is real and healthy as the American beer scene continues to evolve. Good food, good wine and, increasingly, good beer are on the average consumer's radar. Things "artisanal" are valued for their uniqueness and honesty, and those who make them are revered for their dedication and sometimes lack of commercial remuneration.

Life is about choices. We chose to cover the good-beer scene in 1988 and are humbled by the support and continued interest we have received. Your choice of good beer keeps us on the job, expanding our collective knowledge of and appreciation for those who make the good beer we love. Onward towards 20.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Feb/Mar 2006)

Dear Editor:
Great article on Bas and Hildegard from Urthel (CBN December 2005/January 2006). I was excited to see the word "Urthel" on the cover, and the nice little account of your conversation with them was a great read. They are two truly unique and wonderful people and a credit to the beer business.

One clarification I would offer is that of the importer. Artisanal Imports, Inc., formerly affiliated with Manneken-Brussel Imports, is actually the exclusive importer for Urthel in the United States. A few weeks ago, we split off from MBI entirely, and Bob Leggett (the former MBI head) is now working full time as president of Artisanal Imports and overseeing our national structure. As always, I am directing sales in the east, and another MBI-alum, Sean Knoll, is doing the same for the area west of the Mississippi.

Keep up the great coverage on all things beer!

Lanny Hoff
Artisanal Imports, Inc.
Minneapolis, Minn.

Dear Editor:
Longtime reader, first-time writer. I love and value your publication. I try not to travel without a copy for the invaluable resources of the regional writers and the Hop Spots listings. I look forward to being able to find the Hop Spots on your Web site for those times when I'm traveling too light. Accordingly, I feel it's my duty to warn you of a serious faux-pas.

I am glad to see you've made it possible for fans of great beer and cycling to get their hands on those Duvel cycling jerseys. They're really great. I own one myself, and aside from its undeniable style, it is a technically excellent piece of cycling equipment. Alas, there's the rub. It's a riding jersey. Yes, armchair quarterbacks love their official NFL gear (and it may suit their armchair physique quite well), but a cycling jersey is meant to have a certain fit toward a specific purpose.

While the now-ubiquitous NASCAR casual gear shouts out our nation's love for great drivers and left turns, even NASCAR fans instinctively know not to hang out in NOMEX suits. My point (and straight to it) is: Will the esteemed Mr. Dalldorf please refrain from "rocking" the Duvel jersey everywhere but on a bicycle? Thank you in advance for your continuing commitment to the highest quality in all things beer.

Jesse McCann
Portland, Ore.

Dear Jesse:
Thanks for the great photos of you and your friends biking down to the Boonville Beer Fest in your Duvel jerseys. We are delighted to be able to sell them to our readers and would assume that most people buy them for riding. The Duvel tech vest that the "esteemed" Mr. Dalldorf was wearing during a Rolling Boil Blues Band gig at Falling Rock in Denver was actually a gift from a fan in Boulder. Since our publisher rides his Trek mountain bike regularly and his Cannondale road bike less often, we feel he's entitled to it. Hope to see you at this year's event in Boonville. — Ed.

 

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