what another day it takes: (oilers1972) Thu 14 May 09 15:03
Howdy Brian, and welcome to the WELL. I was going to ask how the current economy is affecting these independent brewers, but I remembered that you probably wrote your book before the downturn. Next question: how do these brewers deal with distribution, and which one is distributed the most broadly?
Andrew Alden (alden) Thu 14 May 09 15:55
I thought it was pretty brave to feature Dave Harvan, maker of Bisbee Arizona's Electric Beer. It was basically a day hanging around a tiny desert town with a hapless, bottom-of-the-barrel burnout. Yeah, I visited New Albion's brewing works at 20330 East 8th Street in Sonoma, a ratty tin warehouse full of fruit flies and a drum of exquisite beer made with locally grown Cluster hops. (Cluster is looked down upon, being prone to a skunky flavor, but this was primo.) He said he wanted to bottle it next summer (this was October 1981) along with the New Albion Ale, Porter and Stout. He wanted to build a larger plant with a proper "tied house" in the English tradition. None of that ever happened. He was fond of saying "Many are called..." I have no notes left, but I have some negatives and a copy of the story that resulted in the Contra Costa Times, "Bay Area brewers bring bubbly bliss." It includes a photo of Tom DeBakker of the very short lived DeBakker Brewing, of Novato, as well as profiles of Anchor and Anheuser-Busch, where I photographed the plant surreptitiously. The scene in the early beer revival was like the early dot-com scene, only with hops. There were startups that were gold-plated that went nowhere, startups that seemed sound but flamed out, and startups that were never more than pitiful. New Albion's recipe was recovered and revived earlier this year; it was a memorable experience tasting it again. Jack deserved more success, but then, few are chosen.
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Thu 14 May 09 16:47
Again in order of comments received: JOHN, Jax was actually a Louisiana beer. The Jackson (Jax) Brewery, like so many old regional breweries, is gone but the building is now a SHOPPING MALL right where the French Quarter meets the Mississippi. It still says "Home of JAX Beer" in lights on top. Speaking of towns like New Orleans destroyed by hurricanes, the great sign for Pearl Beer in Houston was similarly ravaged. GAIL, without a doubt, the first beer I ask for when out of town is a "one I can only get here." You mentioned Caldera's canned IPA and I recently found a can of Caldera's Pale Ale in my beer-chiller. Dangitall if that's not the best canned beer I've had and even though it's brewed in Ashland, OR, a mere 5 hour drive away, it's not available here. I'll have to start buying Caldera by the case. As for California Commons, I often order them just to see how close to Anchor Steam they get. Today's younger brewers may not know Anchor has the name Steam trademarked, and some do, b/c I've seen that word at brewpubs as well as offshoots like "Esteem" and "$(T)e@m" (where the T is the TM symbol). As Fritz noted in the book, Steam has got to be the worst word associated with a beer. Then again, it has worked to his advantage. As for the TMI moments you inquired about, the one at Geary's was the most delicate one and I grappled with how, if at all, to include it. In the end, he acknowledged he said it on the record and I wanted to show some of the pitfalls, so to speak, these people encountered. With regard to Electric Dave, I had to dig to find non-pitfalls. And yet, here he is 21 years after founding his bordertown brewery, still brewing. I keep hearing talk of new owners who want to expand the distribution. Considering the beer isn't even in Tucson, the closest city only an hour away, I have no idea what that expansion would entail. All I'm saying is, there's probably a reason other states send beer to Arizona but not vice versa. Though if anyone drives through Tempe, stop in for a beer at Four Peaks. ANDREW, I love the comparison of the early days of microbrewing to the early dot-com scene and the missteps along the way. I remember some ad mocking the IPOs, something about a Spatulas.com. Luckily, the shake-out in the '90s separated the wheat from the chaff, for the most part. I hope the names Jack McAullife and Bert Grant never become relegated to mere footnotes in the pantheon of the craft beer renaissance.
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Thu 14 May 09 16:49
Oh, and I forgot to address the earlier question about the National Homebrewers Conference in Oakland. It wasn't last month, it's next month, June 19-21. I'll be there both as a nascent homebrewer AND for research...
Andrew Alden (alden) Thu 14 May 09 17:26
That's right, I *learned* about it a few months ago. Hey, has everyone gotten their Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat beer? I am normally not swayed by the coriander-infused wheat, but this stuff is great, highly quaffable. Drink up, because next we'll try Firestone-Walker's Double Barrel Ale, a real English ale brewed in the "sideways" country near Santa Barbara. I love it--it's what Jack McAuliffe might have ended up making. And I love how you wove the movie "Sideways" into your narrative. Just like we shouldn't really sneer at merlot, we shouldn't sneer at English beer in the California homeland of the "West Coast ale" whose standard was set by Sierra Nevada way back when.
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Fri 15 May 09 01:20
First, whoops, I skipped over Oiler's question about the economy and distribution. I did hit all the breweries before the "down" economy became headline news. With regard to craft breweries, I think it's interesting how people discuss beer in this climate as "recession proof." In general, studies find that alcohol sales go up as our bank balances go down. Whether that's because we're drowning our sorrows or just taking a vacation in a bottle, I'm not sure. But I like the notion that beer is considered an affordable luxury. As for some nonsense I hear about people "trading down" from expensive brands to "value brands," the sort that run you 9 bucks a case, I sincerely doubt that. Try growing accustom to drinking flavorful and thinking it's worth it to save a couple bucks by drinking watered down swill. Besides, I'd rather drink one tasty $6 pint of a beer that may be 9% ABV over three $2 pints of a beer that's 3.2% ABV. To put it more succinctly in a way that more directly answers your question, the American Brewers Association determined that craft beer sales were UP in 2008 10% by over its 2007 sales and climbed to over 4% of overall beer sales by volume. So in a nutshell, Americans are voting with their wallets (and taste buds) for more unique beer. In related news, I learned from the SF Bay Guardian that studies show that supporting locally owned businesses, which your local brewery most certainly is, benefits your community vastly over supporting a discount national entity with headquarters far away. Ain't being a "locavore" grand? Lastly, regarding which has the broadest distribution? Of the brewers featured in the book, most likely Widmer Bros. In that chapter, I addressed their distro deal with A-B, which granted them access to A-B's nationwide channels. Miller's national distro also is giving Leinie's shelf space in farther reaching markets. New Belgium, just this year, started shipping beer east of the Mississippi. The kicker is that Anchor has been available in all 50 states the longest and selected foreign markets the longest, but in terms of volume, remains smaller than 5 of the other breweries featured. According to Fritz, that is by design. He doesn't want to grow the company any larger (just better). Hope that answers your question. Now on to ANDREW'S comments. Glad to hear you're digging Leinie's Sunset Wheat. I'd have to say of the beer-specific feedback I've gotten, that's emerging as the winner! You may not think you're all into coriander spiced wheat beers, but try a few more and you may discover something. A personal favorite White Ale is Hitachino Nest White. (It's the Japanese one with the owl on the label and crown, er, bottle cap.) The only downside to this beer is that it's around $5 a bottle! Definitely splurge once. Another interesting version of this style is Rose Nose Wit currently on tap at Triple Rock in Berkeley, which I had again last night at my event there. I'll let our very own GAIL tell you more about it as she was a guest contributer to What's On Tap: http://www.ibabuzz.com/bottomsup/2009/04/27/rose-nose/ Gail, both Jesse (Triple Rock's GM) and Emma (the brewer) were blown away by how many people at the Boonville Beerfest knew about her and her beer from reading your story!!! Now back to Andrew's comments about Firestone-Walker's Double Barrel Ale. Of course it stands to reason that they'd specialize in British style ales since David Walker is a Brit. This is a brewery that has quickly made a name for itself, thanks in large part to their brewmaster Matt Brynildson. I actually had long chats with Matt, David and Adam Firestone (and the only person whose name is Firestone-Walker, Polly, who is Adam's sister and David's wife) but sadly most of that ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. That D.B.A. is, hands down, one of my favorite straight-forward beers. They saw that Pale Ales are a top seller among craft beers and wanted to make a strong showing and they succeeded. If you're ever driving down CA Hwy 101, stop in at either of their tap rooms in Paso Robles or Buellton b/c it's twice as good on tap! But beyond their, dare I say, mainstream offering, Matt makes some of the most mind-boggling specialty beers that have beer geeks drooling. Their Anniversary beers, most recently XII, tastes like devil's foodcake made my angels. And their barleywine, Abacus, came in 4th place at this year's Toronado Barleywine fest in a blind tasting (out of over 50 amazing entries). FYI, I think I heard there's a Double-DBA coming out. Man oh man.
Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 15 May 09 10:36
Let's review your route around the country, Brian. You started in Pennsylvania with Yuengling, the oldest family-owned brewery in the States, then dodged up to Portland Maine where you visited four places, more than in any other city. Who knew it was such a beer town? Then you swooped over to Kalamazoo, through Chicago, to Chippewa Falls Wisconsin (Leinietown, you might call it), then headed south through a set of breweries and brewpubs that were a revelation to me, especially Free State Brewpub in the oasis of Lawrence, Kansas. Then west through Fort Collins for a visit to the workers'-paradise New Belgium Brewery. There's a whole high-Rockies brewing scene we never see on the coasts, nicely exemplified by Grand Teton Brewery in Idaho. You dashed to Portland Oregon to sit down with the Widmer brothers, then took I-5 to San Francisco via Eugene, Ashland and Chico. What a shame you had to skip Seattle! A jaunt south to Santa Barbara, your old stomping grounds, then a long, dry hump to east Texas with a memorable stop in the high desert mining town of Bisbee and a quick one in Las Cruces on the way to Shiner. New Orleans was a mixed trip, I could tell. You covered the post-Katrina travails of the Dixie Brewery but also found signs of life there and in long-lost Kiln, Mississippi. It was another long haul to Lexington, where your visit to Alltech's Lexington Brewery was easily the most surreal part of "Red, White, and Brew." After that was a long drive to Rehoboth Beach's legendary Dogfish Head, with an epilogue in Manhattan. That southern leg sounded pretty strenuous. Good thing you had lots of beer in the trunk from the northern leg, eh? I don't think this is the exact itinerary most of us would have taken, but I'm very glad you did it because it was an eye-opener.
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Fri 15 May 09 12:04
Yeah, a very long road trip. I'm lucky I'm at peace with myself when keeping myself company on the road for up to 600 miles at a clip. As for the breweries and brewpubs I hit, essentially I plotted out my course beforehand. I wanted to get as wide a variety within 14 breweries as possible, with regard to size, style, age (but at least a decade old to ensure it had smoothed out the rough spots), and finally, popularity. I didn't want to visit the 14 most high profile breweries. And I had to make sure that no matter where someone lives, there'd be one they could identify as a local brewery. I scheduled the interviews in advance. One thing I was amazed at was that everyone said yes. These were all my first-choice breweries! Sure, I would've easily found back-ups, but it's a testament to the openness of "beer people." For obvious reasons, Electric Dave, the Brunos who own Dixie, and Dr. Lyons in Lexington were the trickiest to nail down. Every one of the other stops I made were haphazard. Maybe I knew about them in advance, maybe I stumbled upon them (Court Ave. Brewing in Des Moines, IA is the best example). Some I found but got there too early or too late and didn't mention. But it just goes to show how many are out there (mostly brewpubs) and that it adds an extra something if you're on a road trip or visiting friends or family. The southern half of the United States does have some catching up to do. But they're working on it.
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Fri 15 May 09 12:08
Oh, as for your comment about not creating the exact itinerary others would've gone on, that was very much by design. I wanted to make sure some were Interstate-friendly and others were not. I had to throw in some curve balls. And also, were it not for this trip, when would I ever have found myself in Kalamazoo (which I've been to since) or Lexington (which I'd love to visit again). The map is included up front in the book and the appendix has full contact info for all the breweries I hit along the way. But I almost wouldn't recommend following my exact beer odyssey. If someone else hits the beer road, I'd suggest exploring some new ones totally foreign to them.
Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 15 May 09 12:15
Which one of those places blew you away the most, I mean made the biggest contrast with its surroundings?
Gail Williams (gail) Sat 16 May 09 06:00
(Oooh, nice question!)
Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Sat 16 May 09 08:25
Brian, I really enjoyed your book, despite a couple of editing errors (you described San Francisco as being "7 square miles", when it is actually 7 miles square, e.g. I'm forgetting the other one, and I've loaned the book to a colleague who homebrews and with whom I drink a lot of beer. Probably was something about Chico, where I live.) I work with early-stage entrepreneurs, and while I was initially interested in the book as a beer lover, I quickly became more engrossed in the "business book" aspect. One common misunderstanding I run into with startups is the "I don't want anyone to steal my idea" syndrome. What your narrative eloquently validates is that it's all about execution. There may be no business idea so unoriginal as brewing, yet some people can become very successful while others fail. Execution. Are you familiar with the "beer problem" from The Fifth Discipline? It's about demand forecasting, logistics, supply chain management, distribution, etc., and uses the production and delivery of beer as its parable. If you haven't studied it already, I think you'd find it fascinating. My colleague and I spend a fair amount of time on the road meeting with entrepreneurs, providing technical assistance, coaching, etc. We joke that the job description is "bombing around, drinking beer, and talking smack". Looks like you've taken that assignment to a whole new level. Thanks for all the "hard work" in researching your book.
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Sat 16 May 09 13:50
ANDREW, I'll get to your question in a sec, but first want to tackle ALAN's comments. Firstly, thanks for acknowledging my "hard work." What can I say, I throw myself into my research liver-first. And it sort of plays into your comments about ideas vs execution. Over the years between coming up with the concept for the book and finishing the manuscript, I had that fear that someone else would snake my idea. But not only was there never a guarantee I'd get in published, but even still, not everyone is motivated enough to see a project, be it a start-up or a book, through. Thankfully people seem to enjoy it to boot. So while I haven't studied the beer problem of which you speak, I understand it and will read more about it. A question I've received more than once is whether or not there's room for more breweries and where would be the best place for it. While I'd love for someone to pay me money for this answer as some sort of beer consultant (I have a lot of beer consultant ideas), here's what I say. There's absolutely room for more breweries. While there are 1,500, we are not saturated. You don't see people saying, "Restaurant? But we already have a restaurant in our town." As for where, I'd say anywhere, but with emphasis on two types of locales. A city like Portland, OR has over 50! And it's not like Portland is the biggest US city. That means Portlanders appreciate--and support--fresh beer, so if they support 50 they'd support 51. On the flip side, if there's a midsized town without one, maybe the supply would create the demand. Personally, my biggest beef with brewpubs are ones that focus on being family-friendly restaurants and don't put the quality of the beer on equal footing. It's a BREWpub. As for the editorial mishaps, yeah, there's a few. They are in queue for the next printing and I'll add the "seven miles square" to the thankfully short list. My first comment when I got the mockup of the cover was "Yeah, they spelled my name right." OK, onto Alan's question about which place blew me away. Well, Portland, OR having so many brewpubs continues to blow me away, but that wasn't a contrast because I expected it. Hanging out in Lexington, KY during the KU v. Louisville football game, their biggest event of the year didn't shock but saddened me. Here's the whole town turning out in droves to all the bars in town and I did some bar-hopping and didn't see a single soul drinking a Lexington Brewery beer. Despite being one of the very few craft breweries to offer a Light. No, the fans were all drinking macro lights. And though I did it in the book, I can't reiterate enough how good their Bourbon Barrel Ale is and I'm out, so I need to find someone driving through there soon. The homebrewer I found in W. Virginia also blew me away. He continues to be the most advanced homebrewer I've met, though I'm sure that will be challenged next month at the homebrewers conference in Oakland. I have met both Mike "Tasty" McDole and Alex Drobshoff whose beers are in the current mixed pack of Samuel Adams Longshot beers (the annual competition to turn homebrew into commercial brew). When you think about how big this country is, and that there are purportedly 750,000 homebrewers, that BOTH non-brewery winners were from the Bay Area, well, that allows for some hometown pride. Finally, while on tour (driving around the country, drinking beer, promoting a book about driving around the country, drinking beer), I discovered that North Carolina is a world-class beer state. I thought the Triangle (I drank mostly in Durham and Raleigh) was great, and then Asheville earned co-honors as Beer City USA along with Portland. So, to sum up, if I can only pick one, I'd say the Tarheel State is where I'd recommend go for a beer odyssey: French Broad, Foothills, Triangle, Duck-Rabbit, Pisgah, Weeping Radish, Mash House, etc, etc.
Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Sat 16 May 09 14:27
>my biggest beef with brewpubs are ones that focus on being >family-friendly restaurants and don't put the quality of the beer >on equal footing Yeah, we had one of those in Chico. It failed. We're pretty particular about craft brew here, as you probably found out when you visited. One of the great things about having the Sierra Nevada brewery here is that we get a lot of special stuff that never makes it out of the local market. SN started growing their own hops right next to the brewery on 20th street, for their wet-hopped Harvest Ale. (If wasabi was the new cocaine, hops are the new wasabi.) They offer three Harvests now; the original, made with Yakima Valley hops, the Southern Hemisphere, with fresh hops from New Zealand (and it comes out in the Spring), and the "Chico Estate", using the local hops. The only Chico Estate Harvest you can buy outside of Chico is in the 22 oz bottles (and not much of that ships, either). For a limited time when it is first released, it's available on draft in selected local taverns. And it's stunning. But they *also* brewed up a special Chico IPA using the local hops for bittering as well, and it appeared -- howbeit briefly -- in a few taprooms around town. Most pubs I visit only got the one keg, and it was a total surprise. The truck just showed up one day and replaced the existing seasonal with the IPA. We love Ken Grossman. Sierra Nevada also effectively regulates the price of beer here. There's some parity rule about beer pricing throughout the county, and SN distributes their product at a significant discount to other markets, which keeps the price of *all* beers lower than you'll find in the Bay Area, say. >whether or not there's room for more breweries Did you get a chance to try the Butte Creek Brewing company products when you were here? They're an organic brewer, and have a respectable following. I would have thought it was nuts to open another craft brewery in the home of Sierra Nevada, but their organic differentiation has its loyalists.
Andrew Alden (alden) Sat 16 May 09 20:46
Just this afternoon I sampled Sierra Nevada's Brown Saison, down at Pacific Coast's tasting of spring beers. A dark light belgian, with the clarity and hops of a Sierra Nevada offering. The guys at Sierra Nevada haven't slowed down. This morning I saw a wide range of Anheuser-Busch offerings at my local grocer, including a Bud Lite with lime and the Budweiser American Ale, which I understand is an all-malt ale. Can a megabrewer create a product with soul? Or is it just a cynical campaign to take up shelf space and squeeze out local beers?
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Sun 17 May 09 11:43
ALAN, I'm a huge fan of Sierra Nevada. Right person (Ken), right place (Chico), right time (1980, at least by the time it opened). I hate when I hear beer snobs (a subset of Beerus Geekimus) slag SN. Let's just say that during an interview for a high profile national radio show, the host implied they'd sold out and I firmly corrected him. That segment was cut.) The quality hasn't declined in the past 30 years meaning it's still fantastic, and they're working on great new recipes of late, and it's no small matter that they're solar-powered and green up the wazoo. Add to all this my favorite part, that 2 of the 3 kids are learning the ropes so take over for dear old dad if ever he retires. Ready for one of my favorite beer experiences I've had? After interviewing Ken, Sierra (yes, the founder of Sierra Nevada's daughter's name is Sierra), and Brian (his son, not myself) in Chico, the kids invited me to the Tap Room (the on-site restaurant) for a pint. Enjoying a Celebration Ale with them would've been enough, but an employee past by, and next thing I know he's cracking open a 1987 Bigfoot!!!!!!! A 1987 Bigfoot! Sierra was around 9 when that beer was brewed and Brian was 2. There was magic in that moment. And the barleywine--how had it held up? The color was deep amber, it still had light carbonation, and the dark-dried-fruit notes of raisin and dates billowed a rich, majestic wave of warmth from start to finish. So yeah, SN rocks. And then to discover how many amazing beers are offered in the Tap Room and, as you pointed out, on draft around Chico, well, they doubly rock. As Andrew pointed out, there's usually an interesting keg at Pacific Coast Brewpub in Oakland, which is easier for me to get to than Chico. I never get a guest beer at a brewpub, but I couldn't pass up SN's Scotch Ale at PC. And I should like to try that Brown Saison you speak of. ANDREW, as for the Bud beers you saw, I can't say anything complimentary about the Bud Light Lime, but if you read this, you'll find my back-handed compliment: http://beerodyssey.blogspot.com/2008/09/only-way-to-enjoy-bud-lime.html For fresh lime taste in beer, either put some lime in a bottle of Pacifico, or try New Belgium's Skinny Dip brewed w/ kiefer lime. As for Bud American Ale, I tried 1 oz. of it at Great American Beer Fest. To its credit, it's not bad. What I was quoted on said national radio show is that I hope it will serve as a gateway beer for drinkers who only order lagers and discover that darker, more flavorful beers like ales (I can list several lagers I like) are pretty good, too. The thing is NO ONE, not one single craft beer lover, will switch from something like SN Pale Ale to Bud Ale. Not for flavor, not to save money, no one. But some of those Bud devotees will start exploring the world of craft ales. So, thanks A-B.
Barry Warren Polley (barryp) Sun 17 May 09 14:05
One of the interesting threads in your book is the relationship between the craft movement and the big breweries... and how that relationship has changed. Before reading this book I'd have had thoughts along the lines of a 'cynical campaign to take up shelf space' (#40) but after reading half the book I'm not so sure. Most craft brewers in the USA produce such small volumes that they're rounding errors to the big boys; they have no way to compete directly for the same retail shelf space, or for the attention of the legally-compelled distribution oligopolies that exist in most states. I'm also regaining respect for Sierra Nevada and Firestone from reading their stories in your book. (Though I never found Double Barrel even remotely worth the calories, compared to pretty much everything else made in SB/SLO counties.) Brian, have you read Pete Brown's "Man walks into a pub?" If so, how did it affect your writing?
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Mon 18 May 09 02:04
Hi Barry. Due, in part, to the documentary Beer Wars, I've been reading a lot about shelf space and the predominant three-tiered system (producers, distributors, retailers). Possibly because I'm spoiled here in California but also because I'm one of the small percentage of people who know where to look after scratching the surface (that percentage seems to be 4% of the beer-drinking population), I don't spend a lot of time agonizing over shelf-space issues. But then again, I'm not the guy duking it out to eke out a square foot or two of said shelves. I have to laugh when I'm in a market, liquor store, package store, etc that actually stocks a good selection of craft beer only to observe most customers carrying cases of macro stuff up to the cashier. One reason Firestone-Walker sells so well is their sales staff understand price point. It's why 12-packs of DBA are often $10 yet a 22-oz bottle of Firestone-Walker XII is $20. As for Pete Brown, I didn't read him at all until after I'd finished my manuscript. I bought a bunch of beer books, but only cracked them enough to ascertain I wasn't writing the same book. By not reading them beforehand, I ensured I didn't accidentally weave an idea or style into my own. (Wait, I made two exceptions--Dan Baum's Citizen Coors and Sam Calagione's Brewing Up a Business.) But I've enjoyed several since, from Maureen Ogle's Ambitious Brew (get it? Like Bitch's Brew, only, oh nevermind) to Ken Wells' Travels With Barley (though I HAD read Steinbeck's Travels with Charlie). Pete not only finds great adventures, but has great wit and style. The only 2 reasons I can think of why his books aren't more popular in the US is a) distribution and b) Americans don't get British humour. FYI, he has a new book coming out soon all about India Pale Ale! If only I could finagle an advance copy since we share the same publisher (Macmillan) even though he's with Macmillan UK and I'm w/ Macmillan US/St. Martin's.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 18 May 09 07:07
Hmm, an IPA book! Brian, I was glad I saw the "Beer Wars" documentary before reading your book because it gave me context for the disturbing remarks from Fritz Maytag about losing Anchor accounts to those who break the law. I have heard other brewers mention both the big guys and "so called craft brewers who cheat," presumably by violating the law about bribing retailers with free beer, concert tickets and more to get placement on shelves on in taps. I hadn't understood this shady side of the competition to sell beer. I wanted to ask whether you think I interpretted the Fritz quotes correctly, as referring to this issue, and what you thought he meant at the time. Is your viewpoint of the industry changing as you learn more?
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Mon 18 May 09 10:59
Gail, that is undoubtably what Fritz meant. We discussed it at length. I just didn't think I needed to include pages of transcript about the ways in which brewers (both big and small) bribe some store owners, but mostly bar managers, with freebies in exchange for shelves/taps. I remember he included a comparison to the shoe biz, which has way different regulations than beer (b/c shoes don't have alcohol). It is quite legal for Nike to sell 100 pairs of running shoes to Big 5 as well as give them 20 free samples that Big 5 is allowed to sell. I use Nike and Big 5 as examples. But I will say that the last time I walked into Lombardi Sports their entire shoe area had been vastly refurbished c/o a giant shoe company whose shoes were the most visible and well-stocked! It's analogous to walking into a Safeway/Kroeger/local store and seeing an A-B wing of the beer section with the other beers stashed off to the side. Oh wait...
Andrew Alden (alden) Mon 18 May 09 12:42
Well, we've learned that corruption and undue influence pervades American business at the same time we put the Honest American Businessperson on a pedestal. An interesting side story in "Red, White, and Brew" involves how all brewers learn their trade. It's like writing, actually--you don't need a license, but some professional training helps most people. Here in California we have a brewing school at UC Davis, but easterners seemed to favor the Siebel Institute of Technology, another long-lived family institution. The name popped up in several places in your book; finally we learn that it failed in 2000 after more than a century. Are there family businesses in other ancillary industries around brewing, like maltsters, hop growers, fabricators, yeast suppliers? Would it matter if there were or weren't?
Barry Warren Polley (barryp) Mon 18 May 09 21:15
I don't see anyone putting anyone else on a pedestal, either in this discussion or in the book. If anything, were I to read the book too literally, I would assume that opening a small brewery is exclusively for loons or people craving a divorce! The lack of standard technical training for brewers gives me great hope; contrast that diversity with the dominance of UC Davis in California winemaking, and the relative homogeneity of output. Most of the brewers in this book appear to be keen on continuous learning through experimentation. Sometimes the intent is to create a new product but sometimes it's just to develop their craft or share a goof with other brewers.
Andrew Alden (alden) Mon 18 May 09 21:28
The beauty of technical training for brewers is that you can avoid bad batches and create what you want without a lot of trial and error. It's like going to music school that way. Bad batches were what made me stop homebrewing.
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Tue 19 May 09 14:22
Andrew, while there may be family businesses in, as you put it, beer's ancillary industries, I confess that's not as high on my interest list, mainly because I'd never pour myself a glass of wet yeast, neither neat nor up. Having said that, both large commercial yeast companies, White Labs in Southern California and Wyeast in Northern Oregon, are, in fact, family businesses! (In so much as David and Jeannette Logsdon own Wyeast and Chris and Lisa White own White Labs.) Their yeasts are available to commercial and home brewers alike. Incidentally, as for hops, probably due to last year's hops shortage, I think more people are experimenting with growing their own hops. Great, now I just remembered I forgot to address someone's comments about SN Chico Estate. All the hops were grown by the brewery, so I guess you can add the Grossman family to any list of hop farming businesses. And I am dying to try that beer, which I've yet to find in the Bay Area. As for Barry's comments about loons and divorcees, I sorta agree. Entrepreneur is synonymous with risk-taker. Trying to get people to buy and drink your beer (and I say "your beer" because most new brewery owners are people who've taken their homebrewing to a new level) is also risky. So, yeah, these people are loonier than your garden variety loon. As for the divorce angle, well, just going off the 15 people featured in the book (I'm counting Rob and Kurt Widmer as 2, and John Hybner the retired brewmaster from Shiner as the primary), I KNOW 6 are divorced and 2 have never been married. I THINK that Jake (Leinenkugel's), Chuck (Free State), Rob and Kurt (Widmer's), John (Spoetzl), Pearse (Alltech's Lexington), and Sam (Dogfish Head) are all married to their first wives. That mirrors our national average of 1 under half that succeeds (scary). Then again, if you were to add up all the divorces among those first 6 breweries, let's just say it adds up to more than 6. And Andrew, bad batches aren't intended to make you quit. They're intended to make you try harder. Sterilize, sterilize, sterilize. (And Practice.)
Andrew Alden (alden) Tue 19 May 09 16:33
I can only drink so much, though, and there is so much great beer already out there. Speaking of which, I'm working through a sixpack of New Belgium's 1554 Enlightened Black Ale and thinking about your portrait of that particular business, more of a co-op than a factory. Tell the folks about New Belgium; that struck me as the most righteous workplace in your book.
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