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EDITORIALS & LETTERS 2008 » BACK TO EDITORIALS & LETTERS INDEX
 
December 2008/January 2009
Another Year in Beer for CBN
 
The Celebrator Beer News will celebrate its 21st anniversary with the next issue. As the country’s oldest “brewspaper,” we have enjoyed a unique position in observing the creation and development of the craft brewing industry. Our writing corps, arguably the best and most knowledgeable in the industry, strives to give our readers a reliable and comprehensive overview of the state of the beer world at any given time. Our mission is to offer content and information in each issue, perhaps at the expense of graphics and white space. We at Celebrator HQ are proud and humbled by the dedication and quality of our regional reportage.

With this issue, we say goodbye to Ron Kloth, our Southwestern reporter, and welcome his nomination to replace him — Mel Pearson from New Mexico, a longtime beer lover and thirsty traveler as well. His first column, “Southwestern Sips,” runs in this issue.

We will also be recruiting a new managing editor and production coordinator as your publisher begins to relinquish some of the day-to-day duties. The next 20 years should be as interesting and amazing as the first 20. We continue to look at partnering with energetic beer-loving visionaries to take the publication to its next level.

We are hearing of a few more brewery closures as our economy continues to struggle. Beer is still an affordable luxury, and tough times yield stronger players. We have been through recessions in the past 20 years, and the lessons are that craft beer lovers will support local producers that offer quality products. Look also for a resurgence in homebrewing. Both are positive signs for the near term.

Expect your state government to look for new revenue by increasing the beer tax. If this happens, the damage done to struggling small brewers would be significant, and beer enthusiasts should be ready to lobby at the grassroots level for maintaining the already high excise taxes on beer. Visit supportyourlocalbrewery.com to see what you can do. The brewery you save may be your own.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (December 2008/January 2009)

Dear Editor:
Would it be possible to obtain a PDF of your Western Hop Spots? I would like to keep this on my iPhone so when I’m traveling around I have instant access to a brewpub that I haven’t tried yet.

Stuart Greenberg
(Via e-mail)

P.S. I have been reading the Celebrator since the first issue — you’re my Beer Bible!

Dear Stuart:
Thanks for the suggestion. Actually a PDF would be low-tech these days. Go to beermapping.com for a great electronic guide to the world of beer. — Ed.

Dear Editor:
Silverado Brewing Company held its ninth Brewer’s Dinner on September 25 in St. Helena [Calif.], and the affair was truly as wonderful as those of the past. Marvelous food and brews, genial hospitality, and a warm and easy camaraderie keep us, and others, returning again and again. We continue to enjoy your Celebrator magazine and thank you for your dedication to the job and keeping us informed. The magazine is read, faithfully!

Wendy and Charlie Tvrdik
Vacaville, Calif.

Dear Editor:
Using your August/September 2008 magazine as a guide, we made our vacation a brew tour of the West Coast. Flying to Reno, we checked out Buckbean Brewing Company to find out more about buckbeans. We are trying to grow hops for our homebrewing in the Southern Arizona desert without a lot of success. While the info about cultivating buckbeans wasn’t encouraging, tasting the Black Noddy Lager and Original Orange Blossom Ale in cans verified that this is a great vacation idea. We sampled Brew Brothers and Silver Peak Brewery before renting a car to head to Oregon.

After a nice meal and a few pints, we left Roseburg Station Pub & Brewery in Roseburg, Ore., with several 22-ounce bottles of McMenamins’ best, including Hammerhead Ale and Terminator Stout. We couldn’t leave Rogue Ales Public House in Newport, Ore., without a case of big bottles. The Chipotle Ale is our favorite, as our mesquite-roasted chili ale won a gold medal in the Arizona homebrew contest.

Lack of time made us skip too many of the California hop spots listed in the Celebrator, but we were able to sample good beers at Lost Coast in Eureka, Eel River Brewing in Fortuna, Ukiah Brewing in Ukiah, and Moylan’s Brewery in Novato before reaching the beer basilica in Escondido. I can understand how the Stone Brewing Company gardens, building and beer are almost a religious experience. The name of the 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout is too short to describe the heavenly flavors of this sipping brew. A case of Stone varieties completed the filling of the trunk and backseat for the ride back home.

Gary and Cinda Gaynor
St. David, Ariz.

Here are some responses to our October/November 2008 editorial, “When Did You Have Your First Drink?”

Dear Editor:
I had my first beer at home at age 16, drank some beers at family functions and a bit more with high school friends. Then I drank beer legally at 18 prior to entering military service. I became aware of quality beers as a late teenager stationed in Germany.

As 2005 Beerdrinker of the Year, I am now a beer tourist who visits more socially advanced countries where beer is consumed in a healthy environment and anti-alcohol pressure groups and socialist government ministers are constrained from implementing irrational laws, thanks to rich brewing traditions, an informed populace and a grassroots desire for a higher quality of life. Until Oliver Stone reveals the real story behind the Louisiana Supreme Court’s valiant attempt to resist the federal government’s extortion program of imposing a national drinking age on our 50 states against the states’ constitutional rights, there will always be homebrewing. “When brewing is outlawed, only outlaws will homebrew.”

Tom Ciccateri
New Mexico

Dear Editor:
I am not suggesting an age. I do, however, feel that the government should have a standard age for when a person is legally an adult. I believe that there should be a standard age for drinking, smoking, voting, going to war, getting married without parental consent, being treated as an adult when you commit a crime, being treated as an adult when you are a victim of a crime — the age where your parents are no longer legally responsible for you. I think it is wrong to have different ages for when a person is considered an adult by the law, for different things.

Michael Monette
Malone, N.Y.

Dear Editor:
I had my first legal drink at age 18 in Michigan in 1976 — an event that was much anticipated. Then, a year or two later, the legal age was raised to 21, and I was no longer drinking legally. So, on my 21st birthday, I was legal again. Pretty weird. Setting any legal drinking age doesn’t really do a lot to limit underage access to alcohol.

So the issue really becomes: What can be done to teach society to drink responsibly at any age? My 20-year-old daughter and her friends enjoy alcoholic beverages, especially good beer. I don’t know if I had any influence on her preferences, but she won’t drink anything that is not microbrewed. I let her know that she needed to avoid overindulgence of alcohol for several reasons: health, driving and personal security. I get the impression that she and her friends enjoy their beers responsibly. She is especially interested in self-sufficiency and purity issues and is learning how to homebrew… from Dad.

Larry Brybrook
(Via e-mail)

All our letter-writers selected for print receive a one-year extension on their subscriptions or a Rolling Boil Blues Band CD. Let us know what’s on your mind. — Ed.

October/November 2008
When Did You Have YOUR First Drink?

 
The legal drinking age varies around the world from very young (5) to 16 to 18 and up to 25 (in some parts of India) to forbidden (in most Muslim countries). A fresh take on the legal drinking age is now occurring in America. After our disastrous social experiment called Prohibition, when we joined Muslim and other authoritarian countries in banning all alcohol, we rejoined other more progressive cultures around the world and allowed our disparate states to decide their own minimum age for drinking various alcoholic beverages.

The age of enlightenment didn’t last long, however. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 mandated that revenue be withheld from states that allow the purchase of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21. Today, 14 states and the District of Columbia ban underage consumption outright, 19 states do not specifically ban underage consumption, and 27 states have family member and/or location exceptions to their underage consumption laws.

Sadly, prohibition still exists in America until you reach the age of 21. At 18 you can sign a contract, get married, go to war, go to prison or be executed, but please don’t try to buy a beer. Travel to Canada or Europe (or other civilized countries), and your contemporaries under age 21 have been enjoying an “adult” beverage since age 18 or so.

A new dialogue has begun on this subject. Recently, college presidents from 100 of the nation's best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, suggesting that current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus.

Legislation introduced in Kentucky, Wisconsin and South Carolina would lower the drinking age for military personnel only. A planned ballot initiative in Missouri would apply to everyone 18 and older. An initiative is in the works in South Dakota that would allow 19-year-olds to buy low-alcohol beer. Vermont's legislature is considering a task force to study the issue. A Minnesota bill would allow anyone 18 or older to buy alcohol in bars or restaurants, but not in liquor stores until they're 21. (Does this mean these states don’t need any more federal money for roads?)

Your editor had his first “legal” drink at age 17 at the Ebb Tide Lounge in Biloxi, Miss., during basic training in the Air Force. The Airman’s Club afforded additional early training in social drinking, but state laws prevailed off-base, creating that awkward dichotomy between legal here and illegal there.

The Celebrator Beer News is interested in your thoughts on what the legal drinking age in America should be. We’d appreciate your take on suitable alcohol education as well. Send your comments and memories of your early drinking experiences to editor@celebrator.com.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says laws setting the drinking age at 21 have cut traffic fatalities involving drivers ages 18–20 by 13 percent. "We welcome the attention to the drinking age," says MADD CEO Chuck Hurley. "The data is in fact overwhelming."

Countries where the legal drinking age is 21 include the U.S. and its possessions, Paraguay, Figi, Kiribati, Ukraine and Pakistan.

Alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, UAE and other Muslim countries (and the U.S., until 1933).

August/September 2008
California’s Tax Man Cometh — Brewers Beware!

 
California’s Board of Equalization (the state tax authority) has mandated that flavored malt beverages (FMBs) (Smirnoff Ice, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, etc.) masquerading as “beer” are derived in part from “distillate flavorings” and thus should be taxed like distilled spirits (80+ proof alcohol). Brilliant. While they were at it, they also figured, in their nonscientific little minds, that beer must be spirits too and consequently will be taxed as such unless California breweries can submit documents stating that their beer is actually beer. We wish we were just making this up.

If the problem is “alcopops,” why is it up to the Board of Equalization to take it upon themselves to tax them out of existence? The BOE is empowered to collect taxes, not to legislate social issues by administrative fiat. Because of its ham-fisted approach to this issue, the BOE has entangled California’s small, independent and mostly family-owned breweries (some 200 of them) in a nightmare of bureaucratic paperwork, having to “prove” that they do not contain trace elements of distillate flavorings, as alcopops do. What insanity is this? Guilty until proven innocent? And why the exemption for wine (fortified wines can contain up to 30% spirits!). Oh yeah, the California wine lobby would slap the BOE like the pernicious little twit it’s acting like, and the BOE is at least smart enough not to go there.

Next, the Sacramento Bee newspaper editorialized in favor of “sin” taxes (think booze) and came out against the beer industry. Its editorial titled “Psst! Hey, legislators — looking for some fast cash to ease the budget crisis? Think booze,” endorsed the BOE tax hunt targeting the FMBs and the beer industry. Consider that craft beer, the beverage of moderation (4–6% alcohol by volume), is being singled out along with the alcopops for BOE harassment while wine (12–14% abv) gets a pass. That’s just dumb.

The newspaper’s call for raising “liquor” taxes 25 cents a drink to raise $3 billion would put that $9 six-pack up to $11. The margin of tax increases might not hurt the big industrial brewers, but it could prove to be a disaster for California’s small brewers. Meanwhile, California’s oil industry banks billions in windfall profits. Hello?

And do keep in mind that the mistaken actions of the BOE are the result of prodding by the antialcohol Marin Institute — an organization that would ultimately like to bring back prohibition. When that day comes, no more tax revenue from beer, wine or spirits.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (August/September 2008)

Dear Editor:
Thank you for publishing the great article by Mirella Amato about the Pink Boots Society. I think she really captured the excitement of our first meeting! I am currently working at Belmont Station. I know a lot about beer styles, but not enough about brands. Now I can list many commercial examples of beer styles we all know and love.

Teri Fahrendorf
Portland, Ore.

Dear Teri:
Thanks for giving props to a great new beer-writing talent from Toronto. We’re delighted to have Mirella writing for us. — Ed.

Dear Editor:
I truly enjoyed your CBN Evening Brews! I don't know how I missed reading about your show in your last issue. I'll have to play your previous editions too. Whenever my wife asks me what I want for Christmas or my birthday, I ask her for a Bruce Paton beer dinner in San Francisco. If you have not been to the Stone Brewery in Escondido, it is probably the nicest brewpub I have ever been to: large selection on tap, the connection with the micro for tours — the facility is wonderful.

Dave Smith
San Ramon, Calif.

Dear Dave:
Glad you like our fake beer news show. I hope you saw our reports from San Diego and the CBC. We loved the Stone World Bistro too! — Ed.

June/July 2008
Craft Brewers Conference 2008

 
The brewing industry recently gathered in San Diego for its annual group hug (a.k.a. Craft Brewers Conference). Part industry learning experience, part high school reunion, the vibe this year was upbeat, the weather was great, and the hospitality from the local brewing community was unbelievable. This is an industry that believes in its future.

Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo., and the man with the stats, gave an impressive presentation at the conference, citing data that showed that in 2007 the craft segment grew by 12 percent in volume and an astounding 16 percent in dollars! The craft beer segment exceeded eight million barrels of production. The annual dollar volume for craft beer was $5.7 billion. Not your father’s microbrewery.

But, given concerns about the future availability of brewing resources (hops and barley malt), increased packaging and transportation costs, a domestic economy reeling from high energy costs, a collapsing housing market and continued strife in the Middle East, the future remains somewhat cloudy for those investing heavily in craft beer’s future.

There were an amazing number of newcomers to the craft beer industry at this year’s conference. We can expect significant start-ups in the coming year or two. Couple that with a continued consolidation of breweries (Magic Hat in Burlington, Vt., recently acquired the assets of publicly traded Pyramid Breweries in Seattle, Wash., which recently bought Portland Brewing in Portland, Ore.), and we’re in for some interesting times in the craft beer business.

Major players like Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors will continue to offer craft-inspired beers as everyone looks to a rapidly consolidating distribution segment for mind share and shelf space. Confusing? You bet. Bottom line for beer lovers is continued expansion of choice and flavors. And, quality beer is still the best value in adult beverages. A great time to be a beer fan indeed… but you’ll have to pay attention.

April/May 2008
The Next 20 Years

 
The Celebrator Beer News 20th anniversary party (see story in this issue) was an amazing assemblage of Celebrator readers, our faithful writing corps, brewers and beer industry professionals. The beer industry that provided the inspiration for the founding of the Celebrator back in January 1988 is stronger than at any point in the last 20 years. The outpouring of affection and support for our publishing efforts was as amazing as it was humbling. Clearly, there would be no Celebrator without a healthy beer industry, and some suggest that the Celebrator’s efforts over the last 20 years have given support to the growth of the burgeoning beer business.

Recent sales data suggest that 2007 was yet another great year for beer. The Brewers Association estimates that sales of what it defines as craft breweries rose 12 percent by volume in 2007 and 16 percent in actual dollars. Craft brewers' share of the entire beer category in the U.S. is 3.8 percent of production and an amazing 5.9 percent of retail sales.

"Since 2004, dollar sales by craft brewers have increased 58 percent," said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, in a press release. "The strength of this correlates with the American [consumer’s] trend toward buying local products and [showing] a preference for more flavorful foods and beers." The BA estimates the actual dollar sales figures from craft brewers to be more than $5.74 billion, up from $4.95 billion in 2006. Our little brewery that could actually has.

So, are craft brewers making record profits to go with these record sales figures? Some regional breweries are doing well, to be sure. However, most are facing increased costs at every level, from vital ingredients like malt and hops to packaging, cooperage, transportation and other factors that eat away at slim profit margins.

We have editorialized in the past about beer consumers stepping up to help offset some of these increases in costs by paying more for the beery objects of their affection. It’s starting to get more serious, with costs on every level hitting record highs. The production of hop-intensive beers like double IPAs and barley wines is being curtailed, as evidenced by the reduced number of beers available at recent festivals, such as the Double IPA Fest at The Bistro in Hayward, Calif., and the Barleywine Festival at the Toronado in San Francisco.

Don’t be surprised if you find fewer available “big beers” in the coming year and see higher prices for the ones that do make it to market. Once again, this is the price we must and will pay for the great beers we have come to love and respect. And, to put it in some beverage perspective, we are still getting the best beers in the world for less than “cork dorks” pay for mediocre Chardonnay. Step up and pass the word to your beer-loving friends that paying a little more assures us of continued great beer and the survival of our cherished small brewers struggling to keep pace in a dynamic marketplace.

It should be a very interesting next 20 years!

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (April/May 2008)

Dear Editor:
I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of people congratulating you on 20 years of the Celebrator. It's a great publication, and I know that you and your staff put a lot of VERY hard work into every issue.

Don Erickson's report that there are phonies who pretend to be Celebrator writers so they can get free beer bothers me. Don't these fakers know that beer journalists call for appointments and present business cards showing they're affiliated with a magazine? Or do they think beer journalists just wander into bars and spend all day guzzling before they write anything?

Yours,
Martin Morse Wooster
Washington, D.C.

Dear Martin:
Thanks so much for the kind words on the Celebrator and the tips on beer journalism. Henceforth, I promise to stop guzzling all day before I write anything. (Burp) — Ed.

Dear Editor:
The Bay Area is such a beautiful place, seemingly stuffed with great brewers producing better and better beer, noticeable even since my last trip. Experiencing such great beers, be they hoppy as hell or the most impressive beers of the trip — the sour ales from Valley, Schooner’s and Russian River — has been nothing short of a hedonist’s dream. The doors were opened to me and, despite trying to kill my liver, I made it to events [Beerapalooza] that I probably will never see the likes of again. Thanks to all, and here’s to the next 20 years!

Phil Lowry
Walmer, Kent, England

Dear Phil:
Glad you had a chance to do the full beer emersion on your trip to the Bay Area. And, you will get a chance to “see the likes of it again” if you attend Beerapalooza 2009 and the Celebrator party next February. We’ll leave a light on for you. — Ed.

Dear Editor:
I really miss the Openings/Closings section in the back of the Celebrator. Why did you guys terminate those excellent and informative listings? Please bring them back.

Cheers,
James Jarvis
San Francisco, Calif.

Dear James:
It was both an issue of space and one of lengthy verification. Openings sometimes turned into “vaporware,” as projects never got off the ground. We found some seeking a listing in the Celebrator as a means of getting start-up capital. Very few operations bother to let us know when they close, so we still have to call and verify as soon as we hear of a closing. We then note the closing in our Hop Spots. Look for NEW and CLOSED in the Hop Spots for openings and closings. Thanks for your support! — Ed.

February/March 2008
What a Long, Strange Sip It's Been

 
Twenty years ago, the beer scene was a lot simpler. The first issue of the California Celebrator (all 12 pages of it) listed 24 micro (craft) breweries in the state. We had nine pubs and restaurants on the good-beer list, along with some homebrew shops and a few retail stores specializing in better beer. Imagine the concept of an entire "brewspaper" (our founding publishers coined the term) dedicated to covering such a small specialty interest. But beer people are passionate. And the early issues of the Celebrator were scooped up and devoured by beer lovers hungry for news and information about every new beer, brewery and good-beer place we could find.

Today, your Celebrator Beer News is distributed throughout the country and has a healthy group of international subscribers as well. Our advertisers, the lifeblood of any such venture, have allowed us to grow to over 50 pages, including some slick color pages to show off beer's natural allure. This has provided us with the space to print articles and news from a great gaggle of beer writers and authors, ensuring beer fans a "great read" every time they get a new copy of the rag. Yes, "rag" is a term of endearment in the publishing world, and ever so much more so for the beer world, as the Celebrator, thanks to its absorbent newsprint (from recycled paper), is also useful for soaking up spilled beer.

Our beer news coverage is truly international, thanks to our far-flung corps of writers. But our best work is in telling the story of America's beer reawakening in the early ’80s. Read longtime correspondent Don Erickson's piece in this issue on his early exploits getting beer for a festival in Central California (before this paper started), and how he came to write for the Celebrator. Check out Toronto-based beer writer, author and food maven Steve Beaumont's meditation on his long tenure writing for this publication. The end of this year will see his 100th article in the Celebrator. Another longtime Celebrator writer Rich Link checks in with his thoughts on our mash rake's progress.

We anticipate even more changes in the coming years. Your editor will no doubt turn over production duties to a new generation of beer journalists while ensuring that the dedication to real beer remains, and that its story is told with authenticity and passion — the same motives that inspired the creation of the Celebrator some 20 years ago. We will depend on you, our loyal readers and astute beer enthusiasts, to keep us honest in bringing the story of tomorrow's ever-evolving beer scene to our audience.

Here's to our talented writing staff, our dedicated production crew, our loyal readership and the wonderful breweries that produce the objects of our affection. We are looking forward to seeing what the next 20 years will bring. Camaraderie and flavorful beer in interesting locals, no doubt. Same as it ever was.

Cheers!

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (February/March 2008)

Dear Editor:
I was really disappointed in your editorial [CBN, December 2007/January 2008]. Instead of bracing your readers for higher prices, you should be urging the local brewpubs to hold the line. In the Bay Area, most of them are overpriced, ranging from $4.50 to $6.00 a pint. At those prices, they are extremely difficult to patronize. If the prices continue to climb, most people will be forced to visit bars that carry micros at a more reasonable price. I know the breweries will quibble, but everybody knows that the markup on beer is well over 100 percent. It would really be refreshing to see this magazine be on the side of the consumer. Thank you for letting me vent.

Craig Ferry
San Ramon, Calif.

Dear Craig:
Vent away, my friend. Remember when oil was $7 a barrel? Try telling the producers to charge less for their oil. Let's hope the markup on beer is over 100 percent! How else would any of the breweries survive? We are on the side of the consumer, and we hope that you will appreciate the situation we now find ourselves in and be willing to indeed "pony up" for the great beer to which we’ve become accustomed. — Ed.

Dear Editor:
Congratulations on 20 years of successful publishing — no mean achievement in today's highly competitive specialty magazine field. The Celebrator Beer News was the first North American beer newspaper that was available to CAMRA B.C. members. It has always been a must-read before traveling to the U.S. from Canada. Because of the Celebrator’s rarity in B.C., well-thumbed copies would be passed along to each other. The Hop Spots were the most-read section. They are the most up-to-date source for some good bar-hopping.

Gerry Hieter, executive director of the Craft Brewers Association of B.C. and president of the GCBF, says, "The Celebrator Beer News has been the only consistent beer magazine for beer drinkers. Many others have come and gone. You could always count on the Celebrator. It whetted our appetite for any trip in the Pacific Northwest."

Cheers,
John and Carol Rowling
Victoria, B.C.

Dear Editor:
Congratulations on 20 years of excellent beer writing. Each issue of the Celebrator is complex, deeply malty and quenching, with a satisfying finish. Whether it is important beer news, a toast to Michael Jackson, a succinct beer description, a story on one of the world's fine breweries or even news of a particularly incendiary Rolling Boil Blues Band minor seventh chord, if it's in the Celebrator, the coverage is great. But probably my favorite part of the CBN is the real delight — sincere and honest — in great beer that I find in each issue. Keep up the great work!

Craig Hartinger
Merchant du Vin
Seattle, Wash.

Dear Editor:
I've been reading the Celebrator since 1989 (my local hang is Pacific Coast Brewing Company). I've kept pretty much every issue, and it's time I must unload them (so my wife tells me). I've got a large box of back issues and am curious if anyone in your office would like them.

Steve Middleton
Alameda, Calif.

Dear Steve:
Thanks for trying to hang on to your old Celebrators. We have an archive here. Maybe you could give them to a nearby brewpub or put them on eBay? Getting a new wife can be expensive. — Ed.

 

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