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EDITORIALS & LETTERS 2014 » BACK TO EDITORIALS & LETTERS INDEX
 
December 2014/January 2015
New Yorker Cover Creates Craft Controversy

 
“Is that Portland on the cover of this week’s New Yorker?” wrote veteran beer writer John Foyston in The Oregonian Online, referring to Peter de Sève’s drawing called “Hip Hops” on the cover of the November 3, 2014, New Yorker magazine. Mr. Foyston suggests it “could well be a gently humorous reminder to enjoy good beer without being a tedious, terminal beer geek about it. It IS just beer, after all.”

The cover caused quite a tempest in a pint glass among good-beer drinkers and the craft cognoscenti. First to bring this to the fore was our esteemed colleague John Holl, editor at All About Beer Magazine, who gave the cover extensive coverage on both the AAB website and its Facebook page. Hundreds of responses are listed from beer lovers all over the country, ranging from the supportive “Right on” to “kill the messenger” digs like “No one reads that crap!” It seems The New Yorker, with its nearly a century worth of fortnightly covers that are arty, quirky, satiric and often esoteric, hit a nerve in the land of beer geeks.

AAB reader Mike Ruiz Hendrix said, “Perfect. I like craft beer, but there is definitely a ‘snob’ element out there. It’s great to enjoy craft beers, but no need to be a pretentious, condescending dick to anyone who doesn’t fawn over the bitterest of IPAs.” Kip Kelly suggested a more sinister plot: “Probably funded by InBev as propaganda designed to kill the good-beer trend.” Jay Davis cautioned, “Jeeeez! Lighten up. It’s an ironic look at BOTH wine and beer drinkers. It’s a frickin’ New Yorker cover!”

To suggest that The New Yorker has no relevance to anyone westward of the Hudson River is to miss its significant contribution to American literature, its cultural scrutiny and its pristine presentation of the written word. Why, if Dorothy Parker were alive, she’d roll over in her grave.

The brilliant cover makes the point that craft beer has arrived and is worthy of note and satire. Hipster angst aside, the cover reminds us of a quip from The New Yorker writer James Thurber, who got his start at the august rag in the 1920s. The redoubtable Mr. Thurber was writing about wine snobs but could be paraphrased as a caption for this 21st century cover: “It’s a naïve domestic pale ale without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.”

Among the many comments from beer industry types was this from Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery: “To maintain the integrity of our community as it grows, we need to be beer geeks and not beer snobs. I define the difference as this: Geeks love beer and love to share their love of beer with others. Beer snobs love beer and lord their knowledge and access to great beer over others. I am excited and hopeful the beer renaissance will keep moving in the right direction. The geeks shall inherit the earth.”

Right on, Sam. We’ll drink to that in a New Yorker minute.
October/November 2014
Stealth Micros and Beyond

 
“The rapid success of microbrewed beer is being looked upon with envy by the larger breweries. Some are responding with new brews of their own under their own labels. A few, however, are trying to cash in on the popularity of the new “craft brewed” beers with catchy names, slick marketing and hip packaging… while filling the bottles with the same old… thing. And, they think so little of their new products that they are not putting their brewery names on the labels!” So said your editor in this magazine in the June/July 1993 issue. The more beer things change, the more they remain the same?

Miller (back when it owned itself) tried a wheat-based beer way back in 1985. Miller Reserve Velvet Stout proudly joined the family of Miller Reserve beers in early February 1994. Anheuser-Busch (when it owned itself) came out with a superb Bavarian-style wheat beer called Crossroads in 1995. There were other beers that were proudly offered up under the name of the breweries that made them. All were ultimately scuttled by marketing departments dissatisfied with sales.

More disconcerting were the number of beers that came out with catchy “crafty” sounding labels from big brewers that declined to put their own names on the label. Subterfuge? We called them “stealth micros” in 1993. Prescient us. Gone are Emerald City Ale, Windy City Amber Ale and a host of other short-lived attempts to cash in on the micro cache.
Today’s beer scene is chockablock with exotic-sounding labels — many of which are devoid of the producing breweries’ names. Blue Moon and Shock Top are decent enough beers and are wildly popular, accounting for sales equivalent to nearly one third of the entire craft beer segment. Their parent companies, SAB MillerCoors and A-B InBev, respectively, remain shy about claiming parentage.

Macrobrewer Guinness/Diageo is launching two new “craft” beers inspired by brewing techniques from the 19th century. Look for Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter to hit shelves, we’re guessing with the Guinness name proudly on the label. A-B InBev is re-releasing its American Originals series of beers and also presents its parentage on the label. We applaud these efforts to bring better beer to market without obfuscation. Check your purchases and support beers from breweries you’ve heard of. Who wants to drink stealth micros?
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (October/November 2014)

Editor,
I am a dedicated beer drinker and decommissioned proofreader and copy editor. I wanted to congratulate you on a very well-proofed and copy-edited publication. Rather rare in a publication of “your type” (whatever that ultimately means). Easy on the eyes and mind, brother! Thanks for keeping it tight — just ’cause we drink doesn’t mean we don’t think.

Jon Lowden
via internet

Dear Jon,
My first “Dear Jon” letter. Thanks for the very kind words re our copy editing efforts at the Celebrator. We do take the printed word seriously and appreciate it when someone notices. That isn’t often, but we do it more for us and the integrity of the magazine; 26 years and counting… Our longtime copy editor is Pamela McManus, and she will appreciate your astute comments. Hoping you are recommissioned soon or are in a better place where you have memorable textual relations. — Ed.



Editor,
Nice front page (Lagunitas Beer Circus, August/September 2014)!

Steve Hindy
Brooklyn Brewery

Dear Steve,
Thanks for the kinds words regarding our cover. Mike Condie is our ace photographer who shot the picture. He’ll appreciate your comment. — Ed.



Dear Celebrator,
I just read the 26th anniversary issue of the Celebrator (August/September 2014) and, as with prior issues, did not find the Hop Dogma Brewing Company, which opened in El Granada, Calif., on July 4, 2013, listed within the Western Hop Spots Breweries & Brewpubs. This super-nanobrewery creates intensely flavorful beers through the talented efforts of a dynamite duo ownership worthy of a feature article. I love this small brewery and will probably regret giving away the local secret, but they really deserve due recognition. Will you include Hop Dogma in your next issue?

David Shue
Hop Dogma Regular Customer
El Granada, California

Dear David,
Thanks for rattling our chain. I’ve actually been to Hop Dogma and found it to be everything you say it is. We will get it listed for sure. Hope you will suggest to Ethan Martini and Dan Littlefield that they carry the Celebrator in their pub. That’s a sure way to get listed. — Ed.
August/September 2014
Wine Lovers in Massachusetts Rejoice

 
Wine lovers in Massachusetts are rejoicing over a new ruling allowing them to purchase and have shipped to their home wine from bonded wineries in state and, in many cases, out of state. This purchasing privilege is now being enjoyed by people in an increasing number of states in the U.S. That’s for wine. How about beer? Well, funny you should ask.

Although beer has roughly half the alcohol content of wine, beer is not included in most of the states that allow wine shipping. It seems that the wine people have more money and know how to get things done with various state legislatures. Even though the U.S. Constitution provides guidelines for interstate commerce, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition, gave the states absolute control over the shipping or importation of alcoholic beverages. State laws have been changing little by little since repeal, over 80 years ago.

Wineries and wine lovers will be overjoyed at the new wine-shipping law in Massachusetts. Beer lovers continue to get short shrift, however. The state of Washington recently changed from a reciprocity state (sales to states that allow sales to Washington) to a permit state (any bonded winery can ship to Washington state if it has a shipper permit). There is no limit on the amount of wine that can be shipped to a Washington consumer. Beer, however, cannot be shipped to consumers.

Art Larrance, cofounder of Portland Brewing and the Oregon Brewers Festival and owner of the Cascade Brewing Barrel House in Portland, is decrying the unjust restrictions on shipping his highly prized sour beers to eager customers around the country. We feel your pain, Art.

Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association, who is responsible for a good deal of landmark legislation favorable to California craft brewers (and, by precedent, other states as well), suggests that changing the laws on interstate shipping and sales of beer will be difficult. It involves opposition from well-funded beer distributors who are, shall we say, disdainful of beer sales that they don’t get a part of.

If you live in one of the following states, you can’t have alcohol of any kind delivered to you: Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah or West Virginia. Other states are complicated, and the laws vary greatly.

If you think this seems unfair, unjust and just plain rude to good beer, you are right. Ask your local brewers of exotic wonderfulness if you can have their beer shipped to a friend out of state. It’s time beer lovers got at least the same rights as the wine guys.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (August/September 2014)

This letter ran in the April/May 2014 issue of the Celebrator. We rerun it in memory of a 25-year friendship with the late Jack Joyce, founder of Rogue Ales. We’re grateful for the support and counsel Jack gave us over many years. He wrote this on the occasion of our 26th anniversary:

Dear Tom:
Your 26th! A major accomplishment for any group of peeps doing anything. It’s a little hard to relate, since when the Celebrator started, I was only 23 and had a real job at Nike. In 1988, none of us were the favorites to survive. We all have, in one form or another. Certainly the brewers’ rate of survival would have been a lot lower without your efforts to mobilize consumers and retailers to the cause.

Thank you.

Jack Joyce
Rogue Ales
June/July 2014
More Tears for the Three-Tier System

 
Tesla Motors, an innovative manufacturer of high-end electric cars (road rockets?), utilizes a sales model that sells cars directly to consumers. A free market would sanction no less, right? Not if you ask auto dealerships that have complained that Tesla’s direct sales violate state franchise laws that require automobile manufacturers to sell their cars through local, independent auto dealerships.

The Federal Trade Commission recently suggested that “regulators should differentiate between regulations that truly protect consumers and those that protect the regulated.” The FTC criticized as “bad policy” laws that protect middlemen and harm consumers. “We hope lawmakers will recognize efforts by auto dealers and others to bar new sources of competition for what they are — expressions of a lack of confidence in the competitive process that can only make consumers worse off.”

When the scourge of Prohibition came to an end in 1933, lawmakers decreed that alcohol laws should be in the hands of the states and that a third tier should be required between the manufacture and retailing of alcoholic beverages to assure that large producers couldn’t have undue influence and control over retailers to the detriment of consumers. The result is a tangle of odd and, in some cases, patently silly laws that seem only to guarantee profits, inconvenience consumers and handcuff the “invisible hand” of free market enterprise.

The Florida State Senate recently introduced a bill that would force larger craft beer producers to sell their bottled beer to distributors and then have to buy it back (at a serious markup) to sell in their own tasting rooms. Interestingly, Florida senators voting for the bill are reported to have received $51,500 total contributions from beer distributors. As the great philosopher Bob Dylan once said, “Money doesn’t talk — it swears.” Even more interestingly, this bill “to protect the three-tier system” does not apply to Florida wineries or distillers. Hmmm…

This legalized extortion targeting a specific segment of an industry (craft brewers) is unconscionable and intolerable. The FTC would do well to more closely examine the practice of “franchise laws” in the alcoholic beverage industry and the fair and equitable exercise of these prerogatives. Craft beer lovers are enjoying unprecedented choice in the marketplace. If the costs of these great products are higher than need be, could it be the three-tier system at work?
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (June/July 2014)

Dear Tom:
Enclosed is a clipping from the International Herald Tribune showing how microbrewing is taking off in South Africa. I picked it up on our Danube riverboat trip from the Black Sea to Budapest, with four great beer-drinking days in Prague!

Ralph Hitchcock
Nevada City, California

Dear Ralph:
Thanks so much for the South African beer story. Looks like the craft beer phenomenon is worldwide. I was especially interested in the Triggerfish Brewery outside Cape Town, which makes the Hammerhead IPA. Wait until the folks at McMenamins hear about this! — Ed.



Hello, Tom!:
I’ve been an avid reader of the Celebrator and a subscriber for many years. I travel frequently and have the latest copy with me to ensure I don’t miss a possible gold mine of a brewery around the next corner. I realize you can’t cover every state, [but] we’re feeling a little left out up here in the Big Sky State of Montana. [Our] breweries are growing and producing some excellent libations.

Dave Spildie
Missoula, Montana

Dear Dave:
We hear you, brother. There is so much going on in the craft beer segment that it boggles the mind of the true beer enthusiast (which you obviously are). We hope to get a correspondent to do justice to the rich Montana beerscape soon. Meanwhile, let us know who is doing the good-beer work as you travel the state. — Ed.



Hi, Tom:
I enjoyed the piece on Beer Camp [at Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, Calif.], as I had that same amazing experience last year. I wrote a story about Beer Camp as one of several dozen stories in my book, which includes the Beer Camp story.

Dave Kilbourne
Chico, California

Dear Dave:
Thanks for giving us a look at your experiences at Sierra Nevada Beer Camp. We had 16 of our writers from around the country in Chico to make a tribute beer. An unforgettable experience, to be sure. Looks like you had a similar experience. And you are right — it’s the people at Sierra that make a visit so special. — Ed.
April/May 2014
Craft Brewers Conference at All-Time High in Denver

 
The annual conference catering to the business side of the craft beer industry is held in Denver, Colo., in early April. All indications are for a record-breaking gathering of owners, managers, brewers, suppliers and not a few media types to tell us the story.

Obviously, spirits and expectations are as high as the mile-high city in which the attendees will be gathering. This Rocky Mountain high is not simply because Denver now has more marijuana stores than Starbucks coffee shops. It is predicated on the enormous success of the craft beer revolution across the country.

Consumer demand for craft beer continued to rise significantly in 2013, even as the overall production of all beer remained flat. As the remaining “big two” brewers fight it out for market share with a dwindling demand for light lager, the small craft brewers of the more assertively flavored and exotically complex ales and lagers continue to grab hearts, minds, palates and dollars from a rapidly expanding consumer base not averse to hops and flavor.

America is a beer-drinking nation. Wine sales are a distant second to beer. And the trend toward better beer is simply undeniable. As demand as has increased, more breweries have opened. More than 2,530 were operating in the United States as of June 2013, the highest total since the 1880s, according to the Brewers Association. This year’s CBC in Denver will present the latest and, most assume, the greatest craft beer growth statistics yet.

What does it all mean? Are we in danger of overproducing? Will there be a “bubble”? The wine industry in America is a good guide for the future of craft beer. In the 1960s, there were only a few small wineries; a few large producers like Gallo dominated the wine business. Then along came the Mondavis and many others offering flavorful and increasingly expensive varietal wines. “Bulk” wines are now a small part of wine sales.

Craft beer has a similar growth curve. As the big brewers watch their margins shrink, they are also positioning themselves to distribute and/or own craft breweries to offset the decline of light lager sales. Not all communities will be as vibrant as San Diego and Portland, Ore., for craft beer production and sales, but the future looks bright indeed for beers of flavor and character.

As a good-beer consumer, you have the power to determine the success or failure of your local breweries. You vote with your wallet and support the beer and breweries you enjoy most. This is an awesome responsibility — not to be taken “lite-ly.”
February/March 2014
Celebrator Turns 26!

 
The Celebrator Beer News (originally called the California Celebrator) turns 26 years of age with this issue. The first “brewspaper” (a term coined by Bret and Julie Nickels, founders of the California Celebrator) hit the street in January of 1988. Consider the class of ’88 and the great breweries that came online with the birth of this beer rag. Anderson Valley Brewing, Deschutes Brewery, Goose Island Beer, Great Lakes Brewing, North Coast Brewing, Rogue Ales, Vermont Pub & Brewery and Wynkoop Brewing were among the stars of that fabled year.

The number of craft breweries doubled in 1988, with the addition of 40 brewpubs and 10 microbreweries, establishing brewpubs as the majority of craft breweries in the country. That’s almost as many brewpubs and breweries as opened in San Diego last year!

Brewpub dominance of the craft beer business model reigns today, although the gap is closing as so many new packaging breweries are opening. The most common model could flip to packaging breweries in the next couple of years. The craft brewery count was 124 in 1988, and craft (i.e., micro) brewers sold just over 316,000 barrels that year. The craft brewery count has grown about 16 times, and craft barrelage has grown 36 times since then. Who is drinking all this beer? The “user” base seems to be growing faster than the supply side.

Our first back cover full-page ad in that premier 1988 issue was to have been for Lyons Brewery Depot in Sunol, Calif., owned by publican extraordinaire Judy Ashworth. Sadly, that iconic multitap “craft” beer bar burned to the ground just weeks prior to our launch. Our friends at Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco jumped in at the last minute and assured that our first issue would have some funding by providing a full-page ad. We have always been grateful for that support.

The Celebrator has been honored over the years with financial support from many early brewing entities. Of those in existence during our launch period (there were only 20 breweries in all of California in 1988), the following are not only still with us but will be pouring beer at our 26th anniversary party on February 16, 2014, at the Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley, Calif. One of our longest-continuing advertisers is Pacific Coast Brewing in Old Oakland.

Breweries also attending this event that were brewing when our first issue dropped are Anderson Valley Brewing, Bison Brewing, BridgePort Brewing, Drake’s Brewing, Marin Brewing, Rubicon Brewing, Sierra Nevada Brewing, Tied House Brewery, Triple Rock Brewery and a few others yet to commit. Their legacies are legendary, and to have them at our 26th anniversary celebration is gratifying and humbling.

We are thankful for this support and are in awe of the resourcefulness and resiliency of these pioneer breweries that have survived so long in the precarious endeavor of producing and marketing full-flavored beer. In the early days, consumers didn’t know much about what we now call “craft” beer. Hopefully, the Celebrator Beer News had something to do with the education of beer drinkers and reinforced their appreciation and enjoyment of “good beer.” That continues to be our mission today.

As we look forward to the next quarter century of craft beer coverage, we hope that you will consider, praise and support (you know, buy something from) these legacy breweries that helped to keep our publishing efforts funded in the pursuit of an educated beer consumer. Support our advertisers, as they keep us alive and publishing. We hope to see you at our 26th anniversary party, which closes San Francisco Beer Week on February 16, 2014. Onward to the next quarter century!
 

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