What’s Happening to Sam Adams?

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As every day goes by and yet another brewery opens, things keep getting interesting for one of the stalwarts of the industry.

By now, you may have heard about the rough go Boston Beer (read: Sam Adams and brands) had over the first four months of 2016. Shipments are down, projections are off and that stock price took a Humpty Dumpty like tumble last week. But really, it’s all activity that was expected. Going back to 2014, Boston Beer leadership was candid that they “expect the competitive environment to be tougher” across beer.

Here we are, with that challenge front and center. Competition not just coming from the growing behemoth of AB InBev, but from the rapidly expanding craft beer base, increasingly comprised of the local and regional breweries that play such a pivotal role in customer choices. People want “craft” in their goods these days and beer is the place to find it. One Nielsen poll showed 56 percent of respondents see craft as a “small, independent company” while a Harris poll indicated themes of “handmade/handcrafted” and “limited edition” were the most likely sign of quality.

At a time when consumers are looking for these kinds of connections across all kinds of goods, it’s no wonder Boston Beer is simply trying to tread water. From the company’s own admission of increased difficulty with distribution to drinkers’ localized tendencies, it’s only getting harder for Boston Beer.

Strangest of all, could these changes officially spell the end of Boston Beer as “craft”?

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The Best Breweries and Beer of 2015 are also the Best of 2016 (So Far)

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Back in January, I shared a two-part compilation of the “best” American breweries and beer of 2015, as selected through an unscientific method. In its second year, the effort offers something of a different view of what “best” is in the industry, trying to take a little subjectivity out of an otherwise very subjective effort. In February, I followed it up with a look at RateBeer’s “best” beers and what it showed us, too.

Now that we’re a quarter of the way through 2016 (!?), it seems the momentum carried by some businesses in 2015 is carrying right into this year.

Over on Beergraphs, Eno Sarris shared yesterday the At The Moment leaderboard of the best new beers of 2016 based on the data-driven site’s Beers Above Replacement methodology. In layman’s terms, it’s the top-20 new beers of 2016 as calculated by Untappd ratings and fancy math.

As I scoured the list, something stood out easily – 13 of the 20 were hop-forward beers, including seven double IPAs and five IPAs. Of course. But the breweries listed weren’t just the At The Moment darlings of the beer world, but they had also come up in my own analysis from a few months back.

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Can You Hear a Good Beer?

ear beer

The beer world has many ways to identify drinking “experts,” from BJCP or Cicerone certifications to some guy in Denmark who tastes thousands of beers a year. But the best part is no matter what your official qualifications may be, we all have some level of knowledge when it comes to tasting beer, even if our interest is solely left at that.

Last week offered a great conversation, as always, on the Beervana podcast, when Jeff Alworth and Patrick Emerson discussed the idea and process of how to taste beer. Through a blind taste test, the pair broke down how sight, smell and taste can impart characteristics of beer and how it can lead our own interpretation of the liquid.

But are those senses all we need to fully judge a beer?

In the 1930s, marketing pioneer Louis Cheskin coined the phrase “sensation transference” as a way to describe the phenomena of when a consumer has a unique reaction to a product based on an interpretation with their senses. For example, the more yellow the color of a 7UP package, the more lemon-like the soda may taste.

Naturally, sight and smell are powerful forces driving this idea, but in truth, all our senses play a part, even hearing. Think of the snap of a crisp potato chip or apple and how that plays into our perception of quality and freshness. Sound, just like other senses, has the ability to not only alter our preferences, but change a tasting experience altogether.

So if and when sound comes into play, is it impacting our perception of a beer or simply playing to our inherent biases?

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Reporter’s Notebook: Exploring Beer’s Creative Job Titles

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“What do your parents think of that title?”

It’s the first question I wanted to ask Rashmi Patel when we spoke back in January. Hell, it’s the first thing I thought when I first learned about the official name of her job in December 2015.

Rashmi Patel, vice president for Share of Throat.

During our interview, Rashmi admitted the idea was to be a little silly (if not a little juvenile) with the title because it needed to be “disruptive and attention grabbing.” Mission accomplished. After all, her job, which oversees marketing for Anheuser-Busch’s Ritas family of beverages, Occulto beer and hard sodas, is literally “about what’s going down your throat, for lack of a better word,” she said.

Job titles are often literal – I am a “writer” who writes, after all – but I hadn’t come across a title like this before. But this is the beer industry and plenty of professionals in it don’t exactly adhere to the status quo.

“The most common reaction I get is ‘wow, that’s awesome, but what does it mean?” Rashmi said. Of course, she’s not alone in this predicament.

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On the Road Again: The Very Real Impact of Beer Tourism

glass on map - durham

Brewery relocation has been a hot topic lately, as the American beer market looks to shrink its world.

Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, New Belgium, Deschutes, Stone – all high profile cases where long-tenured legacy breweries looked to the East Coast for welcoming arms, plentiful space and tax incentives, of course. Each of these businesses have added or plan to add additional facilities thousands of miles from where they originally set up shop with hope of better tapping into markets with fresher beer and more integrated associations with communities once full of strangers.

In a way, it’s merely one end of a spectrum, where at the other, local rules supreme. Even if you may be a national brand, you can still find a connection to that powerful emotional theme of community.

But for as much effort as governments put into courting these companies – $18 million from North Carolina here, $5 million from Virginia there – it’s important to not overlook the context of what it means to have the Big Boys of craft playing alongside your small, local startups. No matter your politics or belief in courting outside businesses, there are many reasons why this happens.

Because for whatever amount of money it may take to land one of these behemoths, at least one outcome can’t be ignored. Beer isn’t just a liquid in our glass, after all. Now more than ever, it’s also an economic force benefiting communities around us.

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Hey Beer Dan! 21st Century Sexism Isn’t a Myth, Even for Big Beer

Earlier this week, Dan Fox shared a post on his “Hey Beer Dan” blog posing the statement that sexism in Big Beer ads are a “21st Century myth.” The position, perhaps a bit short-sighted, depending on your point of view, was spurred because of MillerCoors interest in changing their advertising strategy to be more purposefully inclusive of women.

A long time coming, but a welcome change to our modern society, at least.

Specifically, Dan suggests that Big Beer has avoided being sexist in the last 15 years, an intimation that feels a bit hollow. Just because, as Dan points out, distributors “abandoned wet t-shirt event sponsorships and the like long ago without need of MillerCoors’ hectoring,” doesn’t mean that Big Beer – or beer, period – has moved past decades of cliches and stereotypes of women. It’s worth pointing out that Dan mentions continued problems within American craft beer, which has seen its fair share of foolishness toward women.

But to believe that companies like Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors or others are outright innocent and their “ads are not in any way sexist” simply does not compute.

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Get Buzzed: Coffee is Ready to Take Over Your Pint Glass

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Joel Kodner used to rely on energy drinks to get him through the day. What spark he couldn’t muster on his own would come from a 12-ounce can of Red Bull or 8 ounces of Redline.

Until he came bean-to-face with a new obsession.

In 2014, the brewer at Florida’s Due South Brewing Co. traveled with coworkers to Fort Lauderdale’s Argyle Coffee Roasters, which focuses on specialty grade, single origin coffee beans. Through an afternoon of “cupping,” the coffee-specific slang for a tasting, Kodner experienced bold flavors he never would have expected from Maxwell House or Folgers as he sampled coffees made with beans from Costa Rica and Brazil.

“It blew my mind how these guys at Argyle talked like brewers,” Kodner said. “A few extra minutes of roasting or few degrees in brewing temperature can really change the flavor profile of the same exact bean.”

After sipping his way through various roasts, Kodner was hooked. He doesn’t rely on energy drinks anymore.

Joel Kodner, left, poses with Manny Carrera from Argyle Coffee Roasters. He’s holding a bag of coffee sold in the Due South Taproom from the same roast used in Java Mariana Trench, the coffee variant of the brewery’s yearly imperial stout.

Joel Kodner, left, poses with Manny Carrera from Argyle Coffee Roasters. He’s holding a bag of coffee sold in the Due South Taproom from the same roast used in Java Mariana Trench, the coffee variant of the brewery’s imperial stout.

At the time, Due South’s Cafe Olé Espresso Porter was Kodner’s favorite beer. The stage was set, but it was that trip and its serendipitous outcome that created a tighter attachment to the coffee-forward brew. Perhaps fittingly, you can probably draw a direct line from that experience to today, with Kodner acting as the man behind Twitter’s @TeamCoffeeBeer, a handle dedicated to championing all things its name suggests.

“Coffee beer is kind of my favorite thing right now,” Kodner said. “It’s definitely something that’s getting bigger.”

He’s not the only one thinking that way. From new brand rollouts to festivals celebrating all things coffee beer, the style is showing American drinkers that life exists beyond the hop. As the coffee industry trends upward alongside beer, a natural partnership is forming. The small beans most associated with travel mugs and morning commutes aren’t just an afterthought for beer lovers or brewers any more.

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How to Become a Respected(?) Beer Writer in Just 500 Easy Blog Posts

I’m a lucky guy.

On Nov. 3, 2011, I launched this blog. I honestly don’t remember why I thought people would care that I took the leap. I just wanted to use the space as a way to share my thoughts on beers I liked. The first year is littered with pointless posts sharing tasting notes with an occasional travel log thrown in.

Then, perhaps fittingly at the “milestone” of my 100th post, I slowly started to branch out. I wasn’t just writing reviews that anyone could find on Beer Advocate or RateBeer. I was trying to share partially formed thoughts on events, homebrewing and participated in The Session, a monthly collaborative blogging effort bringing people together from all over the world to write about industry topics.

Maybe I thought I was supposed to write for others, or at least offer what others might have wanted to read. There was a small circle of people I read and an even smaller circle that read me.

But here I am, closing in on five years writing This Is Why I’m Drunk, and I *think* I’ve started to find my voice as I publish this, my 500th post.  There was a lot experimentation, a lot failure and a lot of hours spent banging away at a keyboard.

Because of this blog, I’ve twice been recognized by the North American Guild of Beer Writers. Because of this blog, the folks at All About Beer have trusted me with pages in their magazine and on their website.

Somehow people found me. Somehow I found myself. Here we are. Lucky us.

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Reporter’s Notebook: The Best Beer You Almost Never Had

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Trying to quantify something as “best” in beer is often a laborious task, if not a disastrous one.

Beer is subjective, offering an array of tastes and experiences, and even when writing my own analysis of best beer lists compiled by websites like RateBeer or Beer Advocate, I try to write “best” in quotation marks because I realize the results of each poll or survey aren’t necessarily indicative of what that word means to everyone. What is a top beer for me isn’t the same for you.

Except, perhaps, when it comes to one particular beer.

Never have I seen and heard such consensus to elect a single beer as best as I have with Brasserie Dupont’s Saison Dupont Vieille Provision. Or, as you probably know it, simply Saison Dupont.

This Belgian saison, which almost disappeared several decades ago, is truly the benchmark for the style. That certainly made it deserving to be the focus of a recent feature for All About Beer, highlighting Saison Dupont in the magazine’s regular Classic Beer column.

“It’s always a good idea, when you’re learning about beer, to have benchmarks,” said Wendy Littlefield, who, along with husband Don Feinberg, were responsible for first bringing Saison Dupont to the U.S. through their Vanberg & DeWulf import company.

In my conversation with Wendy, time and time again she noted the wide recognition of Saison Dupont as a pivotal beer. Not just for the style, but for the industry as a whole. It’s a beer that has launched hundreds, if not thousands, of imitators. And, as I note in the story, there was a time when it was set to be erased from history.

“There was every intention to discontinue it,” noted Mike Battaglia, brand manager with Total Beverage Solution, which now imports the beer. “Saison Dupont represents heritage, quality and history and it nearly went extinct.”

On March 12, people celebrated Saison Day, another one of those made up beer holidays meant to excite drinkers about a particular style or brand, but when it comes to this beer in particular, it seems an appropriate reason to celebrate. How often can you actually pick up a best beer at your leisure? You can walk into a higher-end grocery store like Whole Foods or your local bottle shop and find Saison Dupont, considered by many to be perfect.

“It’s hard to make a beer with that simple a recipe that also has as much flavor and character,” said Gordon Schuck, co-owner and brewmaster at Colorado’s Funkwerks. “It’s masterful.”

Learn more about Saison Dupont and how this best beer almost went away for good in my All About Beer story.

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

Rare Beer Club: The Power of Scarcity and What It Wields Over Us

pliny-release

The collection of people waiting was past 100. Many had camped out overnight.

A reporter and cameraman surveyed the crowd. Inside the building, they approached a table of sleepy eyed friends, looking quiet in contemplation. Or maybe they were just zoned out from sleep deprivation.

“How long did you guys stand in line?” the reporter asked the table of eight.

“About 11 hours,” they all answered in unison, not blinking.

But a moment later, boy did they look happy to have been some of the first into Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Younger release.

Of course, the annual, one-time sale of the imperial IPA isn’t the only occasion for beer lovers to get in a tizzy, whether it’s waiting overnight for Foothills Brewing’s Sexual Chocolate imperial stout or rioting for Hunaphu’s imperial stout at Cigar City Brewing. As the beer world continues to get bigger, it’s clear that people are willing to pay in time, money and sanity for the chance of being a part of something small.

“Scarcity has this effect of making people perceive products as more valuable simply for the fact that they’re scarce,” business psychologist Nir Eyal told NPR in 2014, when, naturally, the network was covering the hype of Pliny the Elder, the sister beer of Pliny the Younger.

Crazed reactions over scarce items is nothing new, especially in an increasingly locally-focused industry that prides itself on regionalism, if not literal hometown favoritism. But whether you’re a local hoping for a legendary bottle of beer or an out-of-towner traveling hundreds of miles for your chance at fermented immortality, the power of scarcity is real, it is psychological and it is physiological.

When it comes to our internal cost-benefit analysis of these situations, does the perceived benefit trump logic? Can scarcity marketing rule our minds as well as our pint glasses?

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