Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Wed 20 May 09 00:34
Yeah, Andrew, it's staggering how great New Belgium's less popular beers are so amazing. I love 1554. I tried one in Ft. Collins while on tour called Giddy Up that's an espresso ale with lemon peel. Note: not a coffee stout. How I wish I could find that again. But that doesn't address your question at all. Fortune Magazine ranked Google as the best company to work for. But Outside Magazine begged to differ. They ranked New Belgium Brewery as the best job in America. And frankly, I know which place I'd rather work. Yes, Google offers tons of perks, but taking some beer home ain't one of them. Here's a list of SOME of the perks of working at the brewery: 1. Free beer. 2. Ownership. Yes, after working there for a year, you automatically become a co-owner. 3. Free bike. Along with ownership, you get a cruiser to ride to work, the park, the co-op. It's part of their super green efforts. 4. Volleyball on the clock. Most brewers rarely get face time with a big brewmaster. These guys get to play volleyball with Peter Bouckaert every Thursday. 5. A trip to Belgium. On their fifth anniversary, all the employees (that year only) get an all-expenses paid bike tour across Belgium to see first-hand founder Jeff Lebesch's vision. 6. The whole place is a playground, actually. There are tons of indoor and outdoor games because a happy employee/owner is a productive one. 7. Bikram Yoga. In short, the brewhouse produces a lot of heat because mash tuns are heated to over 150 degrees. Everyone is invited to a yoga class a) for their well-being and b) because the heat they absorb means that much less goes into the atmosphere, reducing their greenhouse effect, or something like that. 8. Free beer. Yeah, it deserves to be listed twice. However, even if you took all those things away, you'd still work for a forward-thinking company that cares deeply about environmental, social, sociological, and general well-being. Not to mention the opportunity to have your homebrew recipe brewed for their Lips of Faith series. See my initial comments, then track down a keg of "Eric's Ale/Lips of Faith"!
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 20 May 09 10:37
Was Eric's Ale a homebrew collaboration? I loved that beer. One of the most interesting trends in modern American brewing is the adventuring into the realm of sour beers. Eric's was like a softly sour, barely sweet Pear Lambic. (I guess to be correct one says pseudo-Lambic or pLambic, since it was not brewed in Belgium.) If you wanted to repeat your road trip you could make the rounds this year with commercial brewers playing with those ancient souring bacteria, and the members of the Brettanomyces family of "funky" yeasts. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brettanomyces ) I've only been keenly fond of these beers for about a year, but once I "got" them, beers like Eric's ale, and the more sour and equally delightful La Follie became my go-to festival destination beers. If I consider going to a festival, I ask myself who will be there and are any of them doing sour beers. Over the weekend I was visiting family in NJ, and so Steve and I managed to work in a trip to Pennsylvania as our beer-education detour. We visited at Victory, a fine brewery that makes a noted IPA, Victory Hop Devil, which is a bright hoppy assertive example. They were pouring Wild Devil: same recipe brewed with 100% Brett instead of a regular American-based-on-English ale yeast. Not sour. Not "funky" in the sweaty or ripe-cheesy sense of the word. But with an earthy, savory "Bretty" flavor along with the malt and hops flavors of the IPA... then boom, the bitter finish just truncated. Very strange. I'm writing this without tasting notes in front of me, but I did actually pull out a notebook for that one because it was so interesting, and I wanted to figure out what I was experiencing.
Andrew Alden (alden) Wed 20 May 09 11:35
Maybe I should have paid closer attention to my bad batches! Brian, a place like New Belgium surely takes exceptional leadership. You revealed a bit of that in the book, speaking with Kim Jordan, the CEO: "I said I didn't think she had to worry about unionizing. 'I started off the [bike] parade with some of your employees, I noticed that they were all in different departments, from the brewhouse to marketing to IT, but there they were on their day off. Yeah, it's a fun-as-hell company festival, but it's still their weekend. They are all friends and their spouses were friendly, their kids knew each other.' "Kim said, 'We're a very tight community. I tell them a lot that they blow my mind. It chokes me up.' "It did. It was the first and only time that someone cried during an interview. Through some tears and a tissue, Kim added, 'There are moments when we slip, but the vast majority of us are committed. Our biggest fear as we get bigger is that we lose community.'"
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Wed 20 May 09 15:16
Since both of the last comments center around New Belgium, it's easy to address both at once. It's an interesting development to see what beers someone grows into. I certainly started from the stout side of the spectrum and will always love dark, roasty beers, both dry and sweet stouts. For a long time my threshold was American Pale Ales. I'm still not a devout hop head, but I think as brewers realize balance is equally important and brute hop bitterness, I'm coming to the IPA table more. Same with sours. A funky beer just for the sake of funk isn't appealing to me, and is often off-putting to newbies. But then ones like Eric's Ale (which I thought was peach but could've been pear) destroy preconceived notions. Having said that, while I enjoy tasting La Folie, I still think it tastes too much like cider when I'm in the mood for beer, but maybe that's on me. My personal favorite sour beer isn't from Russian River, but one inspired by Vinnie at Russian River. If anyone ever has the opportunity to try Schooner's Vin-de-cation, which brewmaster Craig brewed as an home to Vinnie, it's mind-blowing. Barrel aged, Bretted ("crittered") Kriek-style (cherries added), Imperial Oatmeal Stout. It is the best of four different worlds. Schooner's is a brewpub in Antioch, far out in the East Bay, so it's not easily found, but it's worth the hunt. Back to New Belgium, Kim Jordan crying in front of me was another episode that I struggled with how to tackle it in the book. I didn't want to blow that out of proportion, but it really does show her commitment and matriarchal connection to her company and co-workers (since everyone is a co-owner, she doesn't refer to them as employees). I have to say, though, having all that access to Eric's Ale would be enough to make me cry, too.
Andrew Alden (alden) Wed 20 May 09 17:18
People really do come into beer from different directions. With me, it was hops that was a revelation. I still vividly recall the first Anchor Liberty Ale I ever tasted, in the early eighties: it was like getting stoned on Mendo primo. Today I had lunch down at Pacific Coast and had their Firestone-Walker Reserve Porter to start, then moved on to Russian River's Pliny the Younger, which is totally the opposite, a celebration of bitter hops as opposed to the porter's emphasis on malt. (Avery's magnificent Maharajah super IPA, a total aromatic hops experience, was dessert.) It is a golden age of beer for maltheads, hopheads and yeastheads. Our two-week session will end on Friday (though we can all stick around longer), so I wanted to ask what you're working on next. The world of beer journalism is small, but one can make a living in it. On the other hand, you have a degree in Professional Writing with bachelors degrees in Russian and religious studies. Seems to me that with that background, the world is your oyster. So what's up?
(dana) Wed 20 May 09 17:46
Hey, don't bounce Brian, he's still got another round or two left in him! Closing time isn't until next Wednesday.
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Wed 20 May 09 19:46
Ha, thanks, Dana! (Is this where I appeal to the read-y-loos to get their questions/comments in now?) Before I answer Andrew's question about what's next, I have to ask: really? The porter before the two imperial IPAs? Sweet before uber-bitter? Isn't that like having dessert before your salad and greens? As for what's on deck... remember that mention at the beginning of our discussion about the National Homebrewers Conference? In a nutshell, I've started working on a manuscript about just that--homebrewers. I also am pimping my beer journalism services out to whomever will have me, ie: Los Angeles Times, All About Beer, and, while I feel weird posting this link before I even have Story One up yet, I'm the new SF Craft Beer Examiner (in homage to Charlie Papazian who, among many hats, is the national Beer Examiner). http://www.examiner.com/x-11696-SF-Craft-Beer-Examiner But just like I used my background as a music writer to break into beer writing, I never limit myself. Essentially, I interview artists (since I have no other artistic abilities). Musicians, muralists, bakers, and brewers--they're all artists. That's my beat.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 20 May 09 22:02
Wow, congrats, nice writerly moves all around! Now you'll be at ALL the cool events, including the cool homebrew gatherings. Are you going to cover beer judging and competitions as part of the culture around homebrewing? You are of course right that N.B.'s Eric's Ale was (and/or is) a sour peach beer. I too am a fan of Steve Altimari's Valley Brewing -- especially the special barrel-aged stuff he does for festivals. It's so great to "discover" beers like his at festivals. Speaking of sour beers, tomorrow evening at City Beer Store, I'm going by to taste Ommegang 2008 Rouge next to the 2009 and some Port Brewing 3rd Anniversary. Anybody planning on being there?
Andrew Alden (alden) Wed 20 May 09 22:06
What can I say, to me porter is an appetizer and double IPA is ending a meal on a high note. It must be a challenge sometimes to interview artists like musicians and brewers. After all, if they could express themselves in words they'd be writers. It always imprssed me how the late Bill Brand could write about malt, hops and yeast week after week and keep it fresh. Maybe you sidestepped that problem by focusing your road trip and your book on the business, specifically the family business of brewing. Everybody can talk about business and family, even if they're inarticulate about their brewing vision, right?
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Thu 21 May 09 00:47
Gail, I'll certainly aim to cover as much as possible in every aspect conceivable. I have a problem being called a reporter. I'm more of a champion. You should see how many editor's notes I get back saying "no cheerleading." If you or anyone has any media lists for upcoming events, by all means, please add firstname.lastname@example.org to them. And Andrew, you absolutely hit the nail on the head! Bill Brand was majestic in his ability to write about the profile of beer. Of tons of beers. Partly because other writers already do that and partly so that I don't have to, I do focus on the people. If there's not a personality involved, it's not something I'm interested in--writing or reading-wise. It's funny because I have a book idea that is not beer-related, but the few people I've mentioned it to poo-pooed it. In a book proposal, there's a segment on the intended audience/demographic, and there isn't one for this topic. That's probably the reason that in the section where I'd compare it to other similar books, I'd have none to choose from (I've checked). It's admittedly off the wall, but I think that's what would draw people. Maybe...down the road...once I've written about all the Beer People in the world...I'll undertake this other odyssey.
Andrew Alden (alden) Thu 21 May 09 10:03
Brian, you visited 14 "family breweries" for your book, and each one was distinctive, but I keep coming back in my thoughts to Lexington Brewing Company in Lexington Kentucky. That's in the heart of America's distilling industry, where bourbon is king. It was snatched out of bankruptcy, apparently on a whim, by the immensely wealthy "yeast king" Pearse Lyons, an Irishman who made his fortune in all kinds of microbe-powered chemistry after getting a PhD in yeast cell walls. He hired the best of help from the Siebel Institute (like "trying to buy Harvard University, then settling for hiring 85 percent of the professors instead," you say). They make three beers, each one exquisite, and sell them in only three counties. What's going on? This isn't some homebrewer starting out with a sack of malt and sweat equity; it seems somewhat like giant brewer Miller launching its pet "Plank Road" line of mediocre ale with more money in the bottle labels than in the bottle's contents--yet the product has integrity. Lexington Brewing seems like a vanity project, started to give Dr. Lyons' son a place to work. It's as if the president of U.S. Steel funded a blacksmith shop for his kids to play in. Where's the American Business Dream in this?
Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Thu 21 May 09 13:08
I posted too soon earlier. Butte Creek Brewing is no more. The brand survives as a contract brew, but the brewery in Chico is closed. http://www.newsreview.com/chico/content?oid=992922 On the subject of Sierra Nevada specials, I just heard about "Bike Chico Lager" that is appearing at some local taps. Gonna try it this afternoon. O hai, that's now! Will report back....
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Thu 21 May 09 14:21
Alan, I forgot to respond to that as well. Yeah, Chico doesn't get to claim Butte Creek anymore, nor Bison Brewing, which, when it was sorta booted from Berkeley, contracted with Butte Creek. Sorry. At least the beers are still on the market. Andrew, you raise a good point about where a boutique brewery like Lexington fits into the American dream, and I love your analogy to someone like Rockerfeller giving his kid a blacksmith shop. But don't overlook the core story with Pearse Lyons. A young Irish lad grows up pushing a broom in the Harp Brewery, wants to brew for the biggest brewery in Ireland--Guinness--but is told he's not worthy of being in the club, so he goes off to earn his PhD in malting and when Guinness comes calling, he eschews the boys' club to make his dreams come true in America. When he realizes he's of no use to the established distilleries, he begins mixing billions of yeast organisms by hand and builds a global empire by creating demand for a new product (in this case, organic animal feed, not whiskey or beer). I found this guy and this brewery because of my desire to find breweries properly spaced out around the country. Colorado, Oregon, California, Pennsylvania... these were easy. The very notion that there's a good brewery in Kentucky (a few now) came as a surprise. And even though this guy could afford to distribute and market this beer widely, he keeps it local as part of his attachment to his adopted homeland. And guess what. They're launching a distillery, to complete his dream come true. Oddly, he says he has no plans to create a bourbon, just Kentucky whiskey. Could more barrel-aged products from these guys be far behind?
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 21 May 09 15:22
Brian, were there any questions you thought of as you were driving out of town following one of these visits? Anybody early on you wanted to re-interview as you understood more about the business?
Barry Warren Polley (barryp) Thu 21 May 09 18:06
I wasn't at all surprised that you found a great brewery in KY... home of superb craft distilling at all levels of production and some of the best weed in the world. I finally finished the book with a slight twinge of jealousy. There was a time that I could travel for long periods of time solo, couch-surfing and sleeping in the car, but that time is past for me. Good to see how well it worked out for you. Knowing a little bit about the people behind the breweries does make me more interested in trying their products, in particular I need to visit Dogfish Head next time I'm in the northeast of the USA. (I did find one of their beers at Trader Joe's some years ago but it was bog standard, nothing like the inspired and borderline-evil brews you describe in the book.)
John A. Morris (johnmorris) Thu 21 May 09 18:47
A traditional song: My daddy made corn whiskey Grandaddy made it too And we ain't paid no whiskey tax Since 1792 That could be Kentucky, or Pennsylvania.
Susie Moore (sisrubi) Thu 21 May 09 19:38
I was really attracted to this conference because 1. I just retired as a teacher 2. I am very interested in joining the world of beer because I finally got over the overindulgence after-effects of my youth and 3. Brian, I noticed that you are a professor of religious studies and that is a new quest of mine since I have time to pursue it. I just started out drinking the 7 ounce bottles of Corona because I was given one at a friends and it was really good. I am ready to move on. What do you all suggest I go try? I guess I like the lighter brew. And also what literature will give me some understanding of "The True History of religious beliefs." I live in Oregon, so I certainly have good micro-breweries to explore.
what another day it takes: (oilers1972) Thu 21 May 09 19:39
<31>: Thank you Brian.
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Thu 21 May 09 22:40
GAIL, that was, indeed, an issue. Imagine the learning curve of doing a trip like this. I'm still learning a lot, and it's over three years since I hopped in my car for the beer odyssey. Luckily, I was able to ask follow-up questions by phone or email after so I didn't have to drive back to each brewery. There are some general questions I wish I'd asked them but I went prepared so I don't feel there's anything glaring I left out. Finally, I wrote it from the viewpoint of a person who was just starting to explore the world of beer and brewers. One of the best kinds of feedback I've gotten is from people who thought they knew all about a particular brewery, based on the beer and whatever they'd read on their web sites. My goal was to get the stories that were too personal to be on the About Us section of their sites. BARRY, it's funny because whenever I stay at a hostel now, if there's anything uncomfortable, I think to myself, this is the last time I'm staying in a hostel. But then I realize I can't afford anything close to a four-star hotel, not to mention all the great stories I end up with. That guy Orf, from the "Beer to There" section between Shiner and New Orleans--I met him at a hostel almost a decade ago. The first time I met some girl he hooked up with was at that hostel (now his wife). Luckily I never met anybody while crashing in my car on the side of a road! Not to over aggrandize this book and the stories within, but I think I listened to Mozart symphonies differently after I watched Amadeus. I do hope that people drink beer differently by thinking about the people responsible for it, whether they read about them in my book or read an interview in a magazine or something. If you like a beer, know there's someone to thank for it. If you don't, before you go talking smack, remember there's someone who still worked hard on it. JOHN, if I ever go backpacking through Kentucky (but hopefully not kayaking through W. Virginia), I want you there singing all the Appalachian songs you know. SUSIE, welcome and glad that you chimed in. Teachers are, admittedly, one of the few professionals we need more than brewers. Also, welcome to the world of beer. I hope you enjoy your expedition. Without a doubt, Oregon is among the best places to start exploring, and not just in Portland. While I do enjoy those 7-ounce "chico" bottles of Mexican lager (if you've read the book, you'll even see that in the Electric Brewing chapter!) there's a whole world that is about to unravel before you. I can't possibly tell you which types of beers to try because everyone has different palates. You may discover you like milder beers closer to Corona (other lagers) or you may go hog wild for outrageous flavors found in Double IPAs (a specialty in Oregon), farmhouse-style Saisons, robust dark stouts, and on and on. Try one of everything! Try taking notes and you'll realize you gravitate toward one style over another. Some of my favorite Oregon breweries are Hair of the Dog (Portland), Caldera (Ashland), Deschutes (Bend) and my favorite brewpub in Portland is the Lucky Lab (cheap food, solid beer, and dog-friendly). But with way over 100 breweries and brewpubs in OR, you have a lot to check out. Lastly, sorry, but I'm not a professor of Religious Studies. I did major in it (and Russian, and I could never be a Russian prof. either). But I can recommend two of the textbooks from my studies that sound like what you are interested in!! Comparative Religion: A History (Eric J. Charpe) is a great all-the-world-religions-in-a-nutshell. And for a more left-field approach, especially since it deals with why we have founded so many religions if you think about it, there's The Sacred Art of Dying: How World Religions Understand Death (Kenneth Kramer). But these were from my university days. There could be newer ones. OILERS, thank you too.
Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 22 May 09 08:56
The way you handle all these comments at once shows that you're pretty good at broken-field running yourself.
What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Fri 22 May 09 10:56
Brian, I envy (and fear) the variety and extent of beers you consumed in this project. Like you, I've had homebrew that was amazingly wonderful and commercial product that would be best forgotten. Because of the varied consumption you managed, I wonder whether you come away with any sense of trends. We know there can be "house style" in a given brewing operation. Are there regional styles? Where is the taste of beer trending in the near term? Any ideas?
Brian Yaeger (brianyaeger) Sat 23 May 09 12:00
Bumbaugh, interesting question about trends, and there is a direct, short answer to that, but I'm no good at those. Remember the popcorn trend? I don't know how national it was, but in the early '80s, a bunch of stores popped up (pun unavoidable) selling nothing but popcorn. Flavored popcorn. Some had dry spices, some were shellacked with colorful, fruity flavors. You could easily find over 50 flavors of popcorn. Some good, some gross. Today all those stores are gone (but a friend in Chicago happened to mention there's one that's an institution there). And look at our popcorn selection today: regular, caramel-covered, powdered cheddar cheese, and of course kettle corn. I wouldn't know where to get blueberry flavored (colored) popcorn if I tried. But I do know where to get blueberry beer. And a Caramel Maibock (Schell's in New Ulm, MN). Luckily, no cheese beer, though I have had "pizza beer" I shit you not. To those who only know of two kinds of beer--Bud and Bud Light--these exotic styles of beer probably seem like a passing fad. But I really don't think so (I mean, the pizza one, yeah, but not fruit or Lambic beers. The short answer to your question is threefold: Imperials, Sours, and Barrel-aged. Imperials or doubles or big or extreme beers are ones that beef up the grain bill or hop bill or both, and maybe add exotic adjuncts from burnt brown sugar to fresh maple syrup to Thai basil. The fact that during SF Beer Week two anchor events were the Double IPA fest and the Barleywine fest--two styles of beer that would scare the bejesus out of a Bud drinker, means there are real devotees and there's no way they'll stop loving these. Sours such as ales brewed with Brettanomyces (as opposed to or in addition to common Saccharomyces) and other funky critters are beyond huge. Look at the stuff Russian River and Jolly Pumpkin are doing. And my personal favorite, barrel-aged beers, allow beers to age for extended periods of time (sometimes a month, sometimes a year) in oak barrels that themselves impart interesting flavors. Some go beyond mere toasted oak barrels and use spent spirit barrels (bourbon, whiskey, brandy, as well as various wines) so yet an extra layer of flavor is imbued. I recently had Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye aged in Chardonnay barrels and it blew me away. Down in San Diego, seemingly every brewery has a room filled with such barrels. This is making me very thirsty. And lastly, as for regional styles, I happened to just write about this for Drink Me Magazine. In a nuthsell, regional differences reflected areas of immigrant settlers. New England made great British ales and the Midwest through Texas, where Germans and Czechs settled excelled at Germanic lagers. The pioneers who went wagons west were the crazy ones who were open to any possibilities, and found fertile valleys, so it's no wonder hoppy, flavorful beers originated in California and Oregon during the renaissance--it was in their blood. Having said that, beer lovers are everywhere now, so styles are flooding every market. Sorta like how MTV destroyed musical geographical borders, disseminating knowledge through sites like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer are doing the same for beer. Which is a good thing.
William Hale (hinging0) Sat 23 May 09 23:04
John A. Morris (johnmorris) Sat 23 May 09 23:45
Lusting for Lamb Vindaloo I took my wife to the India Palace in North Dallas tonight. Along with the lamb and the Kuchamber salad I had a Sam Smith India Pale Ale. It was superb. The label said "top fermented in stone Yorkshire squares". Explain this to me please.
What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Sun 24 May 09 08:31
(Interesting ideas, hinging0, but 263 lines long and an off-topic request, so I hid it. Anyone can click on the link or type o 73 to read it.) Sam Smith's uses special stone thingamajiggers that impart a bit of diacetyl flavor, as I recall it. But somebody will come through with more to share, johnmorris. That IPA sounds like a fine complement to the Vinadloo! Brian, I haven't seen the barrel aging trend that much, or haven't noticed it. You're right that those "big" beers -- barleywines, trippels, and the like -- seem to have taken off. And there are several variants of the Wit style, too. Somebody in Texas had a great one, there's a Blue Moon, and many breweries in this area seem to be making one, too. Maybe it's just the price of hops nowadays, but those really, really, really hoppy ales don't seem to be being introduced as much as a few years back.
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