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EDITORIALS & LETTERS 2010 » BACK TO EDITORIALS & LETTERS INDEX
 
December 2010/January 2011
That Was the Week That Was Beer

 
It all started innocently enough, with a full week of events celebrating beer in the City of Brotherly Love with the first Philadelphia Beer Week in March 2008. Using the not undisputed moniker “America’s Best Beer-Drinking City,” coined by an undisputed champion of American beer, writer-journalist Don “Joe Sixpack” Russell, the event spawned a beery cornucopia of similar celebrations of all things malty and hoppy that arose across America like hop shoots from a rhizome after a spring rain.

The lesson was not lost on some of us who attended that first fresh and flavorful Philly Beer Week, and our enthusiasm proved infectious to our Bay Area beer brethren. San Francisco Beer Week debuted less than a year later, in February 2009. Many more such events have followed. Fresh, quirky craft beer and its message of flavorful moderation spread to an amazing number of other cities, regions and whole states! And this during a downturn in overall beer consumption, with curiously consistent double-digit growth for the craft segment. Beer week has gone as viral as a Lindsay Lohan YouTube vid.

Beer weeks have happened in cities from Austin to Boston. A short list includes Baltimore, Cleveland, Seattle, Chicago, Sacramento, Syracuse, Atlanta, Houston, Raleigh, Milwaukee, Detroit, Louisville, St. Louis, Charlotte and Madison.
Whole states have declared Craft Beer Week, including Minnesota, Alabama, Ohio, Indiana, Colorado, Alaska, Mississippi and the District of Columbia. Oregon requires an entire MONTH to do justice to its vibrant and expanding beer scene.
In this issue, read Brendon Hernández’s account of San Diego Beer Week (still in progress as he wrote it!) and Tomm Carroll’s first-person observations on the recently completed L.A. Beer Week (and whose clever title we pirated for this piece).

As beer weeks expand and develop, so does their ability to contribute to beer culture and knowledge. In February 2011, Philly Beer Week will send one local brewer and one area beer enthusiast to brew its collaboration beer with world-renowned brewer Dirk Naudts of De Proef Brouwerij in Belgium. The beer will be unveiled at Philly Beer Week next June and distributed nationwide.

If your city, region or state has yet to be bit by the beer week bug, get some like-minded beer lovers together and make one happen. That’s all it took in the beginning, and the phenomenon is becoming ubiquitous across the land. If you don’t like your beer culture, go out and make one of your own!
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (December 2010/January 2011)

Dear Editor:
That magnificent product of well-reasoned argument and logical conclusion, the U.S. Constitution, was, as you most likely know, produced in a pub. Its authors pounded not Bibles, but pints. Perhaps this great country’s present partisan divide might be bridged by us all spending a night or two down at the pub instead of spending it in front of cable TV. Forget tea parties. How about a beer party? Let’s put the pub back in the republic and restore civil dialogue.

In beer we trust.
A Beer Drinker and a Patriot,
Burlingame, California

Dear BD&P:
Indeed, you are correct. Our Constitution was forged and fought over, fueled by a not inconsequential quantity of ale in the taverns of Philadelphia and elsewhere. Good of you to have brought that up. Perhaps the Tea Party and Beer Party can yet find parity and enlightenment over a friendly pint. — Ed.

October/November 2010
Sierra Nevada at 30

 
Ken Grossman started the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company with partner Paul Camusi in the tiny college town of Chico, Calif., in 1980. Your editor was an early customer, buying kegs of Sierra Pale Ale to serve at his wine bar in the slightly less tiny college town of Hayward, Calif. I’ve had the unique opportunity to have watched this amazing brewery grow from its singularly humble beginnings to become the largest independently owned brewery in America.

I have watched and admired Ken Grossman as he steered his precarious enterprise through some challenging times and economic hardships. Most owner-president types can be found in the offices behind a phalanx of officious tenders. Grossman eschews the trappings of corporate administration and can most often be found in jeans and a Sierra-logoed shirt, deep in the bowels of his brewery, wrench in hand, working on or overseeing the installation of a new piece of equipment, or tending to the maintenance of the elaborate brewing systems with an unblinking eye toward production efficiency, eco-harmony and enhanced quality of his life’s passion: Sierra Nevada beer.

On September 3, 2010, I met with Ken Grossman at his brewery for an interview on the occasion of the brewery’s 30th anniversary. The result is our featured piece in this issue. We also had a video crew on hand to record the interview. It can be seen in its entirety by clicking here. A podcast audio version is also available. If you were ever curious about the early days of Sierra Nevada, here is some splendid source material direct from the founder.

At a time when business ethics are suspect (if not nonexistent), it is reassuring that the Sierra story reflects a 30-year commitment to quality and honesty in its practices and products. Congratulations to Sierra and Ken. And here’s to the next 30 years!

Beer and Food: What a Good Idea!

Our other major focus this issue is our annual look at the delicious topic of beer and food. Evaluating the subject of quality craft beer without including its interaction with food examines beer out of context. Most of our writers in this issue have made an effort to spotlight beer and food opportunities in their respective regions.

Longtime beer researcher, travel maven and unabashed foodie Stephen Beaumont tackles the subject of beer dinners in his essay “The Beer Dinner Comes of Age… Sort Of.” Beaumont is not unaccustomed to raising his considerable eyebrow at the efforts of the less inspired while encouraging the activities of those who “get it.” Chuck Cook reports on culinary developments in Belgium with a story on Bistronoom. Tomm Carroll cites the sights in L.A. with good food and beer, while Joshua Lepley writes about beer and barbecue. Jack Curtin’s “Atlantic Ale Trail” highlights the gastropub phenom, while our new San Diego correspondent, Brandon Hernández, writes about a fabulous beer dinner at the Dreamcatcher Lounge at the Viejas Casino in Alpine, Calif., appropriately featuring the hoppy creations of the Alpine Beer Company.

This issue has a lot to chew on, soda speak, so in addition to your usual pint to accompany your new issue of the Celebrator, be prepared to pair that pint with some tasty morsels that will complement the beer and your annual Beer and Food issue! And spread that newly reinforced enthusiasm for beer and food around, would you?
August/September 2010
Oregon Liquor Control Kills Homebrew Competitions

 
States have ultimate control over liquor laws within their borders. For the most part, state laws are fair, or at least consistent. Oregon, the land of amazing beer and wine, has had laws on the books governing home beer- and wine-making for many years. Its state fair has featured wine-making competitions for 30 years and beer-making competitions for nearly that long.

Recently, an inquiry on the part of a brewery hosting a homebrew competition caused the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) to interpret its own administration of the law as having been in error for 30 years. The law in question is state law ORS 471.403, which reads, “No person shall brew, ferment, distill, blend or rectify any alcoholic liquor unless licensed so to do by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. However, the Liquor Control Act does not apply to the making or keeping of naturally fermented wines and fruit juices or beer in the home, for home consumption and not for sale.”

The slight omission of providing the transportation of the products for judging or evaluation by clubs meant that home beer- and wine-makers have been breaking the law for 30 years and are no longer allowed to enter state fairs or bring their prized offerings for appraisal at club meetings. Clearly, the OLCC is at fault for not enforcing its own laws or for not administratively rendering its rules consistent with 30 years of common practice. The Oregon Legislature will have to take up the challenge of rewriting the laws, but the OLCC could have staid its ruling, allowing common usage to continue pending the legislative reinterpretation.

Enforcing bad law is simply not acceptable. And in this case, going against 30 years of common practice (reflected in the laws of many other states) is absurd. As Dickens’s woeful Mr. Bumble said in Oliver Twist, “The law, sir, is an ass.”

June/July 2010
Is 2010 the Year of the Beer?

 
With Beer Weeks taking place in two major cities (Seattle and Chicago) as we go to press, our U.S. Congress took time out from more pressing issues like war in the Middle East, the worst recession in modern history and an equally calamitous oil spill near the still-recovering New Orleans Gulf Coast to declare American Craft Beer Week. Craft beer has come a long way and continues its phenomenal growth despite political and economic challenges.

“Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives… encourages beer-lovers of the United States to celebrate American Craft Beer Week through events at microbreweries, brewpubs, and beer stores across the United States to appreciate the accomplishments of craft brewers...” states HR 1297. What next? Beer served at Burger King? Funny you should ask.

Belly up to the Whopper Bar and order a beer with your “have it your way” Whopper. The fast-food chain with the creepy king with a really large head (he don’t know Jack) is headed for distinction as the first of its ilk to offer a pint of brew with its menu. The first one will open in Miami Beach, targeting thirsty tourists hitting the scantily clad South Beach beach, according to a Burger King announcement. The chain is also considering other tourist meccas like Times Square, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

And what kind of beer will they be offering, you may well ask? Apparently, you won’t get to have your beer “your way” like your Whopper. The plan, according to the company, is to start out with domestic brands like Miller and Budweiser. Other brands may be considered down the road. Color my place mat disappointed.

“You can have America’s favorite beers with America’s favorite burger,” said Chuck Fallon, Burger King’s North America honcho. Oh yeah? Well, did America’s favorite beers get a House resolution? Huh?

The BK beers will be served in specially designed aluminum bottles. A BK beer will sell for $4.25 alone; a Whopper combo with a beer will run $7.99, which is about $2 more than the same meal with a soda.

Reaction to the beer ’n burger merger has been as mixed as a hamburger. “There’s already enough trouble without Burger King selling beer,” one person was quoted as saying. “You don’t take your kids to a bar.” No, you don’t. But you do take your kid to a restaurant, and restaurants typically serve beer, and the children of America seem none the worse for that.

Please note that Burger King is not the first major chain to sell beer. Starbucks already sells beer and wine at select cafés. Welcome the Beerista. Outside the U.S., such beer and food parings are more common. Burger King partisans in beer-loving Germany and Venezuela have been enjoying a cold one with their Whoppers and fries for years.

If BK doesn’t want to face BK, the beer move could be a good one. Serving a Sierra Nevada or a regional favorite would be a smart move, too. And installing draught lines would be much more profitable. You don’t see Mountain Dew served in an aluminum bottle, now do you?

Let’s raise a beer to the Year of the Beer!

April/May 2010
Craft Beer & Keystone Cops

 
Craft Beer Growth Continues

Despite a depressingly sour economic climate, a sweet spot is the continued growth of the craft beer segment of the alcoholic beverage industry. The Brewers Association in Boulder, Colorado, the trade association that keeps track of production statistics for U.S. breweries (among other things), recently released data from 2009 showing that craft brewers had a sales dollar increase of some 10.3% and a volume (production) increase of 7.2% over 2008. This continued growth amounts to 613,992 more barrels of quality craft beer (some 8.5 million cases) over the previous year!

Big-guy industrial lager producers saw beer production decline by approximately 5 million barrels in 2009. Clearly, in these tough economic times, people are drinking less — but they are drinking better beer.

Another statistic that bodes well for the future is the total number of craft (small) breweries in the U.S. That stat grew from 1,485 in 2008 to 1,542 in 2009, and together craft brewers produced 9,115,635 barrels of craft beer, up from 8,501,713 barrels in 2008.

Our craft brewers are the small, mostly family-owned breweries and brewpubs that we have become accustomed to in our neighborhoods in cities and towns across the country. Such breweries not only provide fresh, unique beer for our local enjoyment; they also provide jobs for thousands, and many pay into health insurance as well. Naturally, this positive growth segment is a target for governmental agencies looking for new revenue sources to offset their bad judgment or legendary lack of fiscal planning. This is known as the ritual killing of the goose that laid the golden egg.

Our small brewers are not vast profit centers, unlike the major U.S. banks that our government was so quick to rescue with our rapidly diminishing Treasury. Increased taxes and fees for the craft brewing industry will surely stifle growth and lead to even more unemployment. In addition, your access to fresh, flavorful beer will be diminished if these new taxes and fees, being discussed at the local, state and federal levels in our country, come to fruition.

Let your governmental agencies know that you are concerned about the viability of your local brewers. Continue to support them by buying their products, but also be willing to step up when unfair and inequitable taxes and fees are discussed as a way for governmental bodies to pad their coffers and right imagined social evils. Tea Party Movement? Hell, how about the Beer Party Movement! As the great newsman Scoop Nisker often says, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”

Keystone Cops in Keystone State

A phalanx of Philly fuzz descended on some neighborhood bars and taverns a few weeks ago. The police weren’t after illicit drugs or illegal aliens or online perverts. No, friend, they were after beer. Not illegal homemade hooch, mind you, but well-known imported and domestic beer. Stolen beer? Nope. They were after beer that wasn’t on the state liquor authorities’ (PLCB) list of beer that could be sold in Pennsylvania. Some of the beer actually WAS on the list, but the coppers, clearly out of their element, just didn’t recognize the difference between, say, “Duvel Beer” and “Duvel Belgian Golden Ale.” We are not making this up.

As ace reporter Don “Joe Sixpack” Russell wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News, “Although the bar owners had bought the beer legally from licensed Pennsylvania distributors and had paid all the necessary taxes, the police claimed that nobody had registered the precise names of the beers with the state Liquor Control Board — a process that requires the brewers or their importers to pay a $75 registration fee for each product they want to sell in Pennsylvania.”

Naturally, the cops seized hundreds of bottles of very expensive beer for its unregisteredness. The beer is now in State Police custody at an undisclosed location. (We’ll bet it’s warm there.) Nice work, Philly police. And this was all based on an alleged complaint from someone the State Police refused to identify. Only in America. Well, maybe Joe McCarthy’s America. The terrorists are probably laughing.

Industry sources complain that brand registration is typical of the onerous regulations that make selling beer in Pennsylvania difficult. For example, while it is the responsibility of the brewer or importer to submit the necessary paperwork and registration fee, it is the tavern or restaurant licensee who may be liable for selling unregistered brands, according to the news report.

“Registration is further complicated by the growth of under-the-radar one-offs: unique, limited-production, highly sought-after draft beers that appear briefly — perhaps as quickly as an hour — on tavern taps. While they pay the necessary state and federal taxes, breweries sometimes do not bother to register the brands because they are produced in extremely small amounts,” according to Russell.

Guess what one of the brands was that the Pennsylvania State Police reportedly sought during its raid: Pliny the Younger, made only once a year by the Russian River Brewing Company in California. Wow, maybe the state cops have good taste after all.

Without eternal vigilance…

February/March 2010
Where is YOUR Beer Week?

 
The most recent manifestation of the burgeoning Beer Week phenomenon just took place in Alaska. Prompted by its iconic Great Alaskan Beer & Barley Wine Festival, now in its 14th year, the local beer community expanded the week of the festival to include beer dinners, a trade show, meet the brewers nights at local beer venues and tours and tastings from local breweries all taking place prior to the festival. Welcome Anchorage Beer Week!

Beginning with a stupendous effort by our beer-loving brothers in Philadelphia over two years ago, the Beer Week concept is taking off across America celebrating local and regional brewing and good beer places as well as world-class imports in fine dining establishments. Beer loving professionals in San Francisco took their inspiration from the Philly effort and formed SF Beer Week now about to launch its second run in Northern California February 5–14. San Diego just completed its debut effort in late fall of 2009 with spectacular results. Los Angeles also hosted its first effort in the nation’s largest metropolitan expanse.

Portland, Ore., rated the number one beer city in America by this magazine two years ago, has expanded its Beer Week to Beer Month to include all the many events taking place across Oregon! Add to that efforts from Baltimore, Cleveland and Syracuse, and you can see that the concept is no longer an isolated beery blast of enthusiasm from a few locals but is truly a nation-wide evolution of regional good beer celebrations. And more are planned.

So, what’s YOUR beer community doing? Where are the Beer Weeks in the rest of our great beer-loving country? This is truly a grass roots revolution comprised of beer industry professionals, beer lovers and homebrewers alike. Reach out to other beer geeks in your area and make some noise for the good beer movement. You could be a founding member of your own Beer Week with a little dedication and persistence. Pick a time when brewers and on-premise venues are not that busy. Get your local media on board promoting the good beer message. Let the wine guys who get the majority of media exposure with their simple fruit-based beverage know that beer has earned its place at the table.

Year two for San Francisco Beer Week looks to be huge and the promotion and participation for it are amazing. In just a few years we could be celebrating Beer Weeks all over this great beer-loving land of ours. And you could be a major part in its origins. Make it happen!

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (February/March 2010)

Dear Editor:
I found your site while doing some research for my own. My craft beer appreciation site is pretty young but it’s also pretty terrific! Take a peek (brewdorktimes.com). If you like what you see, I’d sure love to have a spot on your “Notable beer blogs and sites” list. Prost!

Daniel Lux, aka “The Brew Dork”
(Via e-mail)

Dear Daniel:
OK, you got us. We get a lot of bloggers wanting to be listed on our website, and we try to check out each of them to see if they truly have something to offer our readers. We think you not only do, but you also have a great hook: “Brew Dork Times” indeed! Good one! Look for some marginally “terrific” Celebrator trinket in the mail to you for your efforts. And thanks for promoting good beer! — Ed.

 

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