The Search for Authenticity

good people brewery and taproom

There are so many choices today. More than consumers need.

Throughout bottle shops and grocery stores, shelves are stacked with more beer brands and styles than ever before. Each one calling to us, shouting for attention. Intricate names and designs adorn labels, begging for a ride with you to the promised land of a checkout lane.

But in a niche world where so many characteristics are used to catch our eyes and sway our opinion, one common denominator still rises above the chaos: the search for authenticity.

Customers want it and companies want to create it, whether through words on a bottle or can or ads that showcase beer brewed the hard way, artfully crafted, or one that pairs well with people.

For as much as this war is being waged for tap handles and shelf space, there’s one unifying place where a battle is being won.

It’s your neighborhood brewery.

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Artsy and Fartsy: August 2015 Beertography

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August has now come and gone, which means it’s time for my monthly roundup of beertography.

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

Let’s see what this month had to offer…

DuClaw Brewing Morgazm – Drink with Protection

duclaw-morgazm-blone ale-beer-craft beer-beertography

Left Hand Brewing Introvert IPA – Drinking in Solitude

left hand-introvert IPA-session IPA-india pale ale-beer-craft beer-beertography

Boulevard Brewing Dark Truth Stout – Embrace the Darkness. Eat Arby’s.

boulevard-dark truh-stout-beer-craft beer-beertography

Wicked Weed Brewing Freak of Nature – Backyard Beer

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Stone Brewing Company Delicious IPA – Thesaurus Worthy

stone brewing-delicious ipa-india pale ale-gluten free beer-beer-craft beer-beertography

Stone Brewing Company Pale Ale 2.0 – Classic Art, Modernized

stone brewing-pale ale-beer-craft beer-beertography

Here’s hoping September will continue to offer inspiration. 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

 

This Beer Used 77 Hop Varieties, But Not for the Reason You May Think

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There’s something rugged and romantic about the Wild West.

Beyond the dusty plains and horseback rides under the gleaming sun, there’s an ideal of self sufficiency, born from the created reality of Manifest Destiny. It wasn’t necessarily about going it alone, but recognizing the opportunity to make something of oneself in the midst of everyone else doing the same.

To seize a moment when odds were stacked against you.

Kind of like business.

“We were all standing around one day, lamenting hops,” said Lonerider Brewing Company CEO Sumit Vohra, recalling a conversation that led to the creation of a potentially record-setting beer. “I’m saying to my team, ‘I can’t believe we’ve got to a point where we can’t find hops.”

Of course, that’s not entirely true. Vohra and his brewery staff could certainly find hops to use for their Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen, Sweet Josie Brown Ale, Peacemaker Pale Ale and even their IPA, Addie’s Revenge. It was just the fact things were getting a little harder.

“Our brewers have to predict our production levels two years down the road to contract hops now,” Zohra said. “That’s the business reality of it.”

Which led to a decision that may have been part parody of the situation or part marking inspiration, but really just an excuse to play.

It was a fitting chance to explore the outlaw theme of Lonerider.

It was an opportunity to create a traditional, American beer, utterly untraditional in its conception.

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The Man Behind the Motion

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Trevor Carmick at his computer, touching up the his latest animation.

If he had it his way, the work that gained Trevor Carmick attention from renowned photographers to the New York Times never would have happened.

Or, at least, they never would have seen it.

His once personal project, started for fun and jest, would have stayed just that: personal and private. But then a coworker caught wind of his efforts and after some poking and prodding, a blog was born.

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Reporter’s Notebook: Redefining the IPA

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What do you do in a crowded marketplace, where all your competitors look like you?

Where what was once extreme is now mundane? Where, if you don’t act, you’ll get left behind?

It’s one of those “put up, or shut up” situations that can help define a brand and even a company. For as fickle as consumers might be, it’s still a business’ responsibility to find ways to innovate and stay on top of their game.

All this helped drive my latest piece for All About Beer, which you can now read online: “Redefining the IPA.”

“If you think about any broad category, the biggest question a savvy brand marketer has to ask is whether a category is driven by an objective feature or the subjective attitudes of the consumer,” said Derek Rucker, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “When it’s subjective, you have to innovate to keep up with what’s driven by consumers.”

Which is what we’ve seen from breweries in recent months as they try to stay ahead of the crowded IPA market. Or, in the case of my story, catch back up.

Two big examples – New Holland Brewing Co. and Stone Brewing Co. – decided to alter flagship beers that hadn’t been touched in almost 20 years. “Hoppy” and “bitter” may have been weird signifiers for beer back in the 1990s, but it’s what drinkers want these days. Most important, the shelf space once dominated by these companies is now chock full of other IPA options that are finding new flavors or pushing new boundaries.

ipa brands in supermarkets

“With a flagship brand like this that’s helped define our brewery, making a change isn’t without concern,” said Fred Bueltmann, vice president of sales and marketing at New Holland, talking about their Mad Hatter IPA. “But we saw in some instances where Mad Hatter might get overlooked for more dramatic examples of the style. The marketplace is indicating there would be benefit for a change and our group instinctively started looking at each other asking, ‘what do you think?’”

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Stone Ruination Double IPA 2.0 label, with a new credo. Click to enlarge, underlining mine.

As I mention in the All About Beer story, Stone Brewing’s interest in changing Stone Ruination IPA is clear to see – it’s right on the label: “…the desire to go beyond bracing bitterness.”

To be clear, they’re not alone. As June’s hop acreage report suggests, specialty hops to boost aroma and add new flavors are on the rise. These are aspects of a beer people want, let alone the most popular craft beer style on the market. You see that reflected in Ruination Double IPA 2.0, which added Nugget, Simcoe and Azacca hops on top of Centennial and Citra, which get plenty of attention as well.

“The overriding factor was the fact that we recognized that craft beer fans are changing,” said Mitch Steele, brewmaster at Stone Brewing. “What was extreme even 10 years ago is fairly common and routine now.”

Which echoed this comment by Rucker, who told me: “This is one of those classic dilemmas of over time, you have to innovate to stay modern.”

For the full story, with lots of details about the changing IPA market and different context from these people and others, check out my story on All About Beer.

Related reading: If You Drink It, They Will Grow: A Changing Landscape for Hops

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

Reporter’s Notebook: Why I Wanted to Talk About Race

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A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting at the front of a room surrounded by fellow beer bloggers and writers listening to Julia Herz of the Brewers Association. It was the first day of the Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference, this year held in Asheville, North Carolina.

As Herz spoke to our group of 150 attendees – from the titular writers to brewery representatives, marketers and more – I looked around the room and jotted down in my notebook my first two thoughts of the conference:

  • What were demographic registrations for past years?
  • Male/female breakdown of ’15

At the time, Herz was speaking about women’s place in beer and its growth in recent years. An important topic to discuss, for sure. As I continued looking, I saw plenty of female faces, but they were all white. Ditto for the guys.

Which led to my third note:

  • Anyone of color?

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24-Hour Retrospective: A Conversation on Race and Beer

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Reaction to my post on race and beer

So that took off.

Yesterday’s post looking at the cross-section of race and beer, or rather, the whiteness of the beer community, received lots of attention, views and comments, as just about any discussion on race is apt to do.

While I planned a second post to be the end of it, I feel compelled to share a snippet of the reaction. Most common among the interactions I had were people asking me about the “call to action” of my message or if I just wanted to play PC police.

For those of you who have been regular readers of this blog, you may have surmised the overarching theme of what I do is based around the question of “why?” In this case, I saw a topic of interest that had little discussion and I wanted to ask just that. I had no grand idea in place or urge to force anyone into doing one thing or another.

My end game? There was none, other than the hope of spurring talk among beer lovers, not to turn it into a navel gazing session to wrap our heads around some great philosophical place of beer and society. In some ways, I succeeded in that.

But my post also ended up in one of the more vitriolic places on the Internet: under the title “If You Drink Craft Beer You are a racist.” on Reddit’s CoonTowna place for “crude jokes and racial slurs; links to news stories that highlight black-on-white crime or Confederate pride; and discussions of ‘black people appropriating white culture.'”

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Color of Beer: Addressing Our Whiteness

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When imagining the stereotypical beer drinker, thoughts might float to large, bearded men with rotund bellies or thick-rimmed, bespectacled hipsters carefully quaffing out of snifter glasses.

Rarely does an initial impression end up with women, who account for 25 percent of total beer consumption by volume and about a third for craft beer. Even more so, how often would we consider a black, Hispanic or Asian drinker?

“It doesn’t bother me that much, but after a while, you’re like, ‘how come more people that are like me aren’t doing this?” asked Liz Garibay, historian and beer writer at History on Tap. “It’s never been something I’m overly sensitive to, but you start looking around a room, especially within the beer industry, and it’s something you become aware of.”

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Liz Garibay

Garibay, whose parents both immigrated from Mexico to her current hometown of Chicago, admitted she’s never felt out of place within the beer community because of her background – enjoying good beer and good company isn’t dependent on the race or ethnicity of others. But for any community, having the ability to share multiple perspectives isn’t just pivotal for the sake of diversity, but can be meaningful for education and exposure.

Which is why, as beer companies shift attention to demographics not representative of the large, bearded man or skinny-jeaned hipster, perhaps we should, too. Because, as scholar J. Nikol Beckham points out, “from every casual scanning of a craft brewery’s website to the staff page of Brewers Association, it’s pretty obvious to anyone inclined to notice that craft beer is remarkably white.”

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Refreshed and Ready: Post-Vacation July 2015 Beertography

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Summer is here, and I can tell because I’ve been on vacation for almost two weeks, ignoring Real Life Responsibilities, but not completely forgetting about my beery habits.

Even though I’ve been silent in words, my mind has been active, brainstorming new ideas to share with you.

But in the meantime, let’s enjoy our monthly tradition and get around to a roundup of beertography.

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

Let’s see what July had to offer…

Turk’s Head Lager – Drinking in Paradise

turks head-lager-turks and caicos-caribbean-beer-craft beer-beertography

Harpoon Take 5 – Staying Relaxed

harpoon-take 5-session IPA-IPA-beer-craft beer-beertography

New Belgium Long Table – Pull Up a Chair

new belgium-long table-farmhouse-beer-craft beer-beertography

Troegs Cultivator – From Mother Earth to Bottle and Back Again

troegs-cultivator-bock-helles bock-beer-craft beer-beertography

Allagash Century Ale – 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, on the Floor for 100

allagash-century ale-saison-beer-craft beer-beertography

Here’s hoping August will continue to offer inspiration. 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

The High ABV Beer is Dead! Long Live High ABV!

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Lagers make a comeback. Session IPAs steal share from their imperialized counterparts. Dogs live with cats!

It’s mass hysteria.

Or, at least, if you’re ready to buy into the latest publicized trend in beer by market research company Mintel, who noted the rise of high ABV beers in recent years. According to their estimate, just 6.6 percent of new beers globally were “high strength” in the early 2000s at an ABV above 6.5 percent. But in recent years, that’s jumped significantly:

  • 2012: 14 percent
  • 2013: 25 percent
  • 2014: 23 percent

Keep in mind those percentages reflect a global growth with new breweries opening nearly every day, so in America in 2013, it could be 25 percent of beers created by the 2,456 and then in 2014 it’s 23 percent from 2,917 breweries, per Brewers Association estimates.

“A potential backlash against this [high strength] trend is almost inevitable because there is far too much high ABV innovation happening,” said Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst for Mintel. “Beer remains fundamentally a volume and refreshment beverage and high ABV beers quickly take modern health-conscious consumers over the recommended limit.”

While it’s true beer’s success is partially driven by an opportunity for volume-based consumption, it feels a bit risky to contend that a backlash is on its way, especially when high-ABV beers are widely considered some of the best you can find. For example, look at the alcohol by volume of RateBeer’s top twenty-five best beers from their “Best Beer” lists covering 2006 to 2015:

top 25 avg ABV

Among the items RateBeer prides itself on is its global user base. Glancing at the website’s top user rankings, it’s easy to see that potential fans for these best beers are coming from all over.

So perhaps reports of high ABV’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

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