What I’m Doing on My Summer Vacation: July 2014 Beertography

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It’s the end of the month, which means it’s time for my regular roundup of beertography from the last few weeks.

Below you’ll find some of my recent shots, which you may also come across on my Instagram page, Twitter account or even Untappd. If you like these, you can find all of my beertography shots on Instagram or in my running archive.

All my shots are taken with my iPhone 5 unless otherwise noted. The space where I shoot my photos – around the house – offers somewhat limited opportunities for pretty backdrops, which is why I try to get inventive with my photo ideas.

Let’s see what July had to offer…

Wicked Weed Brewing Black Angel – Heaven Sent

wicked weed-beer-beertography-black angel-barrel beer-cherry-north carolina

Stillwater/Westbrook Big Tasty’s Back Door – Time to Get Funky

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21st Amendment Monk’s Blood – Praying to Gods of Fermentation

21st amendment-beertography-monks blood-bible

Palmetto Brewery Pale Ale – A Day Gone Bye

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Left Hand Brewing Wake Up Dead – Rise and Shine

beer-beertography-left hand-left hand brewing-wake up the dead-stout-russian imperial stout-alarm clock-colorado

As always, you can go back to see previous beertography posts:

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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The Road Ahead for Boston Beer: Where They’re Going, They Don’t Need Definitions

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Over the last few posts, we’ve tried to take a deep dive into Boston Beer to better grasp their business practices and more important, highlight how their decisions are influenced by a beer-loving culture established by chairman Jim Koch.

Depending on your level of beer nerdom – *points at self* – there may be a question underlying all the business talk and expansion and product creation: is Boston Beer too big to be craft beer?

My answer: who cares?

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Diversifying Boston Beer: How a Company Mindset Leads Growth, Innovation

sam lineup-boston beer

“They all want to grow, but the more they grow the less crafty they are,” he said. “They are getting fairly large and they are getting into each other’s space. They are having a hard time defining themselves as craft brewers because of their size.”
- Pete Coors

You may recall the above foolishness of the MillerCoors chairman in May, when he made some rather wrong misguided surprising comments about the beer industry – especially the craft segment. Throughout Coors’ gripes, it was clear he has a disconnect from the state of the industry, but especially a misunderstanding of his main competitors in craft.

While a definition of “craft beer” may be bestowed upon companies like Boston Beer, there is little difficulty for these breweries to adhere to their own roots and belief systems. Especially when product diversification continues to play a pivotal role in daily operations.

Today’s plight of breweries isn’t just making good beer, it’s making a variety of beer that is also good.

When it comes to marketing and production, a brewery may focus on the biggest demographic of craft beer drinkers: Millennials. If the largest group of potential customers takes a laissez-faire attitude toward brand loyalty, a brewer needs to focus on variety:

Craft beers appear to be the biggest beneficiaries of that adventurous character. Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, says 46% of new craft beer drinkers are Millennials. Even when craft beer drinkers do “commit” to a brand, that “adventurous” character seems to mean they’re still interested in variety.

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Jim Koch and his … variety.

But this post is not about Millennials. It’s about Boston Beer. If the idea of new discovery is pivotal to your brewery’s fan base – increasingly so for all demographics – what are you supposed to do when you’re a successful company nearing $1 billion in annual revenue?

You either double-down on what you have, stay satisfied and minimize your overall potential or you recognize the opportunity to grow, innovate and continue to push. Which one do you suspect Boston Beer chariman Jim Koch would learn toward?

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Marketing Boston Beer: When Ad Spending Is About More Than the Ads

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Believe it or not, Sam Adams is kind of small in the world of beer.

Yes, on the continent of craft, it’s the largest country around, exporting about 3 million barrels of beer, almost 2 million more than second-ranked Sierra Nevada. But put that into the context of a globe filled with nuclear powers of AB InBev, SABMiller, Heineken and more, and all of a sudden Sam Adams annual output doesn’t seem so powerful.

It’s not clear cut, given that Sam Adams six-packs and boxes of seasonal releases adorn the shelving at supermarkets and convenience stores across the country, but Boston Lager, Rebel IPA and all their friends only hold 1.3 percent of beer market share. In the grand scheme of the industry, that’s quite a lot, but it’s also roughly the same as Bud Light Platinum.

Which is why Boston Beer has been upping its advertising game. But it may not be as simple as a perceived land grab to take up more space on TV or radio, leading to the annexation of of space in your beer fridge.

Rather, there are hints that the Sam Adams’ marketing strategy simply adheres to co-founder and chairman Jim Koch’s outlook on the beer industry and where Boston Beer sits among it all.

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There’s Craft in Your Beer: A Giant, An Industry and a Definition

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Something that has always struck me about the beer industry is its white-knuckled grasp on definitions.

We have BJCP guidelines to tell us how a beer should look and taste, but we also have a definition of beer itself. Or, at least, what constitutes the artisanal aspect of beer production, better known as “craft.”

All the “little guys” earn a title of “craft brewer” depending on a variety of standards set forth by the Brewers Association. Namely, that breweries be independently owned (or at least 75 percent so), they create beers whose flavor comes from “traditional” or “innovative” brewing ingredients and they produce 6 million barrels of beer or less, approximately 3 percent of annual sales in the United States.

That last marker – size of production – might also be recognized for its relationship with the Boston Beer Company, the largest member of the Brewers Association. In 2010, the Association upped its threshold of allowable barrel production from 2 million to 6 million as Boston Beer, maker of Sam Adams, was preparing to break through that cap, thus nullifying its existence as a “craft brewer.”

As it stands today, Boson Beer produces about 3 million barrels of Sam Adams annually, and that number is going up. Fast.

For beer enthusiasts, defining the difference between Big Beer (AB InBev, SABMiller) and everyone else has been a hot topic in the past year, as the Brewers Association works to inflate craft’s market share in order to sell 20 percent of all beer by 2020.

But the thing is, these definitions come across more fermentally-challanged than anything, especially when you consider they are placed upon businesses in an industry that thrives on bucking trends and setting their own paths. Even if a brewer is producing 3 million barrels of beer, they are more than the definition we provide for them. They are not a descriptive term, they are a story.

Instead of focusing on Boston Beer’s place in terms of the definition of craft, we should instead train our eyes (and livers) on the company’s commitment to the industry. As a profit-driven company, the growth and business acumen of Boston Beer is kind of amazing, but if you look hard enough, you’ll see that owner Jim Koch has never lost sight of his roots as a plucky, upstart brewer.

Which is why I’m devoting a few posts this week to a deeper look at Boston Beer and what they’ve been doing in recent years. To some, the company may seem to be a giant in the beer industry that simply is adorned with the title of “craft.” Their ever-expanding profits and ad dollars certainly create that point of view.

But ultimately, the flexibility of the company and commitment to its homegrown culture is what drives its products (and company) forward. But don’t just take my word for it:

“We are reminded every day that we are still a small business,” [Jim] Koch told Entrepreneur.com in Washington D.C. during National Small Business Week. “We have to compete with these enormous global companies that are 50, 100 times our size, and you have to bring the small business game to that — just innovate, try to think of a better way to do things, try to be more nimble and smarter about all your decisions.”

I hope you’ll join me this week to share your own impressions of Boston Beer, Sam Adams and why being nimble is valuable when you have to wiggle out of a definition thrust upon you.

Posts in this series:

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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An Adjective Adjunct: When Beery Wordplay Lacks Soul

A beer description as empty as it seems.

A beer description as empty as it looks.

The absolute worst (or is that best?) thing about words is they have meaning.

Books tell us their purpose. Teachers educate on their place. But really, what words produce for us aren’t just complete sentences. They form subjective emotions.

For me there is one such word that is a villain to vernacular, laughing mischievously at me, just one man unable to combat it alone.

It is unfortunately well-liked, often used, and forever relied on, a fly in my pint.

It is “smooth.”

And it needs to go away.

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Out of the Glass, Into the “News”

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Behind the curtain, beyond the bottle, I’m just a guy spending my free time writing about beer. Nothing terribly special, but as passion projects go, it’s OK by me.

Every now and then, I’m lucky to interact with others, whether they be fellow beer enthusiasts or people simply curious about my research and writing.

This week, I’ve been able to share my love for beer in a couple new ways.

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Photogenic & Fermented: June 2014 Beertography

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It’s the end of the month, which means it’s time for my regular roundup of beertography from the last few weeks. I was really happy with the amount of beertography I was able to capture in June. I don’t know what hit me, but I suppose I was feeling extra creative.

Below you’ll find some of my favorite, recent shots, which you may also come across on my Instagram page, Twitter account or even Untappd. The photos below are just a few of the ones I took throughout the month, but you can find all of them on my Instagram account.

All my shots are taken with my iPhone 5 unless otherwise noted. The space where I shoot my photos – around the house – offers somewhat limited opportunities for pretty backdrops, which is why I try to get inventive with my photo ideas and did some traveling this time around.

Let’s see what June had to offer…

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout – Framed Perfection

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Mother Earth Endless River – Back to the Source

mother earth-endless river-kolsch-beer-beertography-photo-picture

Troegs LaGrave – Rest in Peace

troegs-lagrave-belgian-beer-beertography-cemetary-photo-picture

Sierra Nevada Rain Check – Summer Storm

sierra nevada-rain check-stout-rain-beer-beertography-photo-picture(Above shot with Nikon D90)

Heineken Desperados – Riding Across Scorched Earth

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As always, you can go back to see previous beertography posts:

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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Zymurgy’s “Best Beers” Ranking and the Search for a Non-Boring Beer

non boring header

Who knew so much interesting stuff could come out of a simple “best beer” list?

First, we saw how Zymurgy’s best beers that have been around for some time may lose favor with beer drinkers when compared to all the changing options they have today. Then, it became clear that beer lovers might overvalue their adoration of Sierra Nevada brews.

The common thread between the two seemed to be the threat of becoming “boring” to consumers in an industry that is constantly shifting and adjusting products to offer beer enthusiasts.

So what’s left now is the question: what isn’t boring these days?

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Is Sierra Nevada Overvalued? The Curious Case of the “Boring” Beer

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Last week, we took a quick peek at some of the fallers and risers from the recently released “Best Beers in America” poll by homebrewing magazine Zymurgy.

For a sixth-straight year, Pliny the Elder topped the list, despite its relative distribution scarcity and what some described as an IPA that isn’t as good as the hype suggests. Even still, some of the biggest movers up the list from 2012 to 2014 were other specialty or rare beers like Founders Kentucky Bourbon Stout, Alchemist Heady Topper and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout.

There’s a natural tendency for lists like this to function with a level of bias, but what I’ve become most interested in from looking over the “Best Beers” is also how it highlights our changing expectations and what we want from the beer industry.

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