Liking Sam Adams’ Beer is Now a Political Act

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“No thanks, I like my IPAs good…”

It was a comment left by my brother (mostly serious, partially in jest) on a recent photo I posted on Instagram showcasing Sam Adams’ Rebel Raw IPA. He gives me crap (jokingly) about my affinity for breweries like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada, but he also lives in something of a beer Mecca in Seattle, Washington.

But he wasn’t the only one to tease, as I got some pushback on Facebook, too.

And there was this on Reddit:

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I know the conversation based around the question “is Sam Adams ‘craft'” gets people all kinds of wound up, but more than ever, the assertion that Boston Beer’s flagship brands should even be relevant just feels a bit too much. Even if it’s an argument spurred by beer lovers deep in the trenches of nerdom, having to justify an appreciation for one of the iconic breweries in the country makes the situation just a little too … political.

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Endless Love: The Search for Knowledge and Avoiding a ‘Beer Midlife Crisis’

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I am writing this from the grand hall of the Philadelphia Convention Center, where I’ve spent the last four days attending this year’s Craft Brewers Conference. I am here on an official capacity as a member of the media. I am still trying to wrap my head around it all.

I traveled just over 400 miles from North Carolina to get here and, by the time you read this, I will have traveled another 400 back.

The challenge of comprehending my place within beer – and the fact I have a place at all aside from Average Joe Drinker – gets pause from me every day. From whatever questionable beginnings of this blog to where I am now, I’ve somehow managed to carve out a niche. Because I write about beer sometimes.

I am still trying to wrap my head around it all.

So as Friend of the Program Oliver Gray prompts me to question the potential of my Beer Midlife Crisis as host of this month’s Session, I luckily fall – perhaps still bewildered – on the opposite side of his curiosities:

Do you find it hard to muster the same zeal for beer as you did a few years ago? Are you suffering through a beer-life crisis like I am? If so, how do you deal with it?

I’ve embraced the madness, whatever that means.

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What *Should* the Brewers Association Do to Address Gender and Race?

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To many, the beer community is an accepting one. Despite an industry crowded by demographics skewed white and male, it still advocates to bring everyone into the fold, no matter race, ethnicity or gender identity.

But we have a problem.

As individual businesses and members of the community work to police sexist or racist actions, one of the most important organizations to help guide this collective action has, for the most part, stood quiet. Recent questions posed to leadership of the Brewers Association about how the group looks to tackle issues of gender and race were met with somewhat uninspired responses. But I understand.

The Brewers Association, representing thousands of small and independent brewers across the country, has a lot on their plate, from governmental affairs, advising in times of multinational mergers and more. As Julia Herz pointed out in our conversation, it’s a matter of “pecking order.”

However, given the frequency of discussions around sexism and, to a lesser extent, race, it also seems like a time when leadership would be valuable in these areas. As the industry and people within the community continue to evolve, we can’t be left with today’s status quo.

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What Is the Brewers Association Doing to Address Gender and Race?

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There are a lot of conversations happening about race and gender all over the country. The beer industry is no different.

It seems that we can’t go a month – let alone a couple weeks – without some dust up on social media, where someone says something stupid or names a beer in poor taste or gives the OK to produce inappropriate bottle or can labels. There are examples from all over, including some in-depth coverage on this blog going back to 2014 and even just recently.

The conversations around these issues are front in center in today’s American political arena. As the U.S. inches forward in this year’s election cycle, voices are shouting from all over the country on all sorts of sides, on all sorts of topics. It can be hard, but conversations about race, ethnicity and gender identity are important.

Which is why, while at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference, I thought it was necessary to try and find out what the Brewers Association is doing to impact these issues in a positive way for their small niche of the world.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised Because It Already Happened

At 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, like a lemming to the sea, I joined a never-ending river of bodies flowing toward the same destination. Across four joined ballrooms, with thousands of seats set up carefully in rows, we came together to hear the keynote remarks of this year’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC).

Leaders of the Brewers Association (BA) each took turns on stage with various takes on the same theme, appropriate given the location of this year’s conference in Philadelphia, a cradle of American independence:

At times, the conversation even went a step further, enlisting very specific word choice to describe where craft beer is headed.

Herein lies the problem. There is truth in BA’s war cries calling out multinational companies like AB InBev and the clear advantages it holds over American brewers who don’t have similar resources. But when,

  • you rally upward of 15,000 people for a conference to celebrate the successes of an industry,
  • and have 850 vendors come to sell their wares and expertise,
  • and see your niche of an industry grow year after year,
  • and you partner with the Smithsonian to create an exhibit to highlight the “impact of small and independent craft brewers who continue to advance the U.S. beer culture and inspire brewers worldwide”

… is it fair to ask if the revolution is over? Isn’t this the new normal, and it’s time to grow from here?

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Don’t Count Out the Reinheitsgebot! German Hops Find Fruit Flavor

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Likely by the growing presence in bottle shops and grocery stores, I’d venture a guess that even a casual beer fan has realized the influx of fruited IPAs in recent months. This time of year is always a boon to seasonal brand changes that showcase beers perfect for warmer months, with flavors often accompanied by the sweetness of grapefruit, orange and others.

But increasingly, brewers don’t have to solely rely on natural or artificial flavorings to boost the profile of their creation. Thanks to an evolution of hop varieties, all these fruity flavors can now be imparted in a beer without additional help – and consumers obviously appreciate the shift.

Sorting through what’s available in America, it makes sense that the U.S. is an epicenter of this change, especially given how American palates have shifted with expectation to beer and other alcohols.

But during my first day at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC), I found another, perhaps unexpected, country embracing this change.

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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?

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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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