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News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 Jan 2015

It’s Saturday morning and time to get your bifocals on to take in the juiciest links in the world of beer.

→ American consumers who bought Kirin Ichiban thinking it was brewed in Japan are to receive refunds, a judge has ruled.

→ At Port 66, there’s yet more clear and confident home brewing advice from James ‘Kempicus’ Kemp, late of Fuller’s, Thornbridge and Buxton breweries: this time, it’s about the nuts and bolts of cropping yeast in a domestic setting. (Features lots of graphic shots of Tupperware.)

A worrying report from the field: Matt ‘Total’ Curtis tasted Goose Island IPA at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, where much of it is now brewed, and found it extremely disappointing. (Interesting comments on this piece, too.)

→ Minesweeping is the practice of wandering through a party, bar or pub necking the dregs of drinks left in other people’s glasses, and Tandleman has observed this arcane ritual being enacted in the wild.

→ Stan Hieronymus has uncovered evidence of a fascinating type of ‘beer’ popular in New Orleans in the 19th century, one of the key ingredients of which was ‘magic’.

→ One of our local breweries, Harbour, is looking for a new head brewer:

The Status of Sam Adams Lager

Last week’s Wall Street Journal piece on Jim Koch and the disdain in which Sam Adams Lager is now held by many has prompted a flood of interesting writing.

→ Pete ‘Man Walks Into a Pub’ Brown, lays down the law: if you turn your nose up at Sam Adams just because it’s not cool, he argues,  you’re betraying your lack of discernment as surely as if you drink heavily-marketed, fruit-flavoured, cider-style leisure beverages.

→ The ever-eloquent Lisa Grimm makes reference to Steven Sondheim and gives us the phrase ‘shiny unicorn status’ to play with — even Coors was once the shiny unicorn, too, she points out, because it was unpasteurised. (via @lewbryson)

→ The spiky and satirical Don’t Drink Beer gives voice to what a lot of people on the hipper, younger side of the emerging generational rift are probably thinking:

If you go to a craft beer bar and see a dude in Oakleys with a Tommy Bahama shirt and a Nextel cell phone clipped to his cargo shorts, you just found your Sam Adams consumer base, unshakeable and fully ready to extol the virtues of Ranger IPA at length, muttering “RESPECT BEER” and blanket “DRINK LOCAL” statements with careless abandon.

(Is this the US equivalent of a BrewDog acolyte dismissing CAMRA members as bearded sandal-wearing bores?)

In the real world

Detail from the cover of Viz Comic, January 2015.Devotees of Viz comic and their long-running CAMRA satire The Real Ale Twats (we think it started in around 2000) will want to pick up the latest issue, in which the RATs discover their favourite pub has become popular with hipsters: ‘I remember when it was just we three who cared about real ale… the hours we spent demonstrating outside this very pub back in the 1970s…’

2 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads 10 Jan 2015”

In one of my recent tweets to Boak&Bailey I asked a simple question: is the craft beer market carrying the self-destructive gene in itself? This question is among those prompted by Andy Crouch’s piece about the struggles Jim Koch’s Boston Beer Company is currently facing. It is a fact that Sam Adams Boston Lager is no longer the first choice in Beantown, and that many pubs in the Boston area are turning it down in favour of beers following newer trends. This being said, it is probably true that craft beer market no longer is a pleasant exception, miles away from the ups and downs other markets are used to, and that it is undergoing a segmentation process, but in my opinion there is more to it. I think we tend too much to overlook the fact that every process/phenomenon has its own constraints. In the market case we are pushed even farther, as thinking of the buying/selling thing as a zero-constraints process is astonishingly convenient: it entails us to think that we are able to pursuit endless revenue. What is clear to me in the Jim Koch’s case is that the craft beer market has just revealed us a threshold, one of its limits: if a given company goes past it, it may find itself in the same position as the Jim Koch’s empire. So it is my opinion that microbreweries should keep an eye on this, as growing too much could make them lose the “micro” that makes so much difference to us and to Jim Koch’s unfollowers. In the end, my question is still alive: does the craft beer market – like other markets – carry some self-limiting or self-destructive “genes” we have overlooked? I do say so.

Thank you for your time. I would appreciate it if you could both fight or back my opinion – this is what ideas are for.

Francesco – Novara, Northwest Italy

Francesco,

That’s certainly one way of looking at it — ‘big craft’ is arguably brewers wanting the benefits of being seen as ‘craft’ (the underdog) while operating at the same scale as ‘non-craft’ rivals.

Away from the question of corporate structure, size, etc., though, the idea that some craft beers might, like Sam Adams, be quite tame in flavour and aroma, while others are bold or even downright weird, just feels like a maturing of the market — craft is no longer an amorphous blob but contains multiple segments, serving many different types of drinker.

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