News, Nuggets & Longreads for 13 May 2017: Butter, Brussels, Belfast

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the last week, from buttery Czech beer to South African hops.

Max ‘Pivni Filosof’ Bahnson uses a report of a visit to a Prague bar to make some observations about trends and local tastes:

Most people describe diacetyl as buttery, to me, cheap margarine melting is a more accurate descriptor… and this beer smelled like plenty of it, and didn’t taste much better… If you follow the comments of the local beer intelligentsia, you might get the impression that diacetyl-laden beers have become a scourge, to the point that Jiří Kaňa wandered in Pivní.info whether 2016 wasn’t the year of diacetyl. And yet, that man sitting at the table in the opposite end of the room was clearly enjoying President 12°, and was probably in his fourth glass by then.

Goose Island on sale in Brussels.

The Beer Nut has been writing up a recent trip to Belgium from which we get this post observing the arrival of multiple taps of non-Belgian beer in Brussels:

Previously, the selection on offer was almost exclusively Belgian. I don’t recall foreign beer featuring at all until the Delirium Café opened its Hoppy Loft extension a few years ago, and it was always a novelty, very much outside the mainstream. Then I guess you had Moeder Lambic Fontainas, still resolutely local but with occasional guest beers from abroad. And then BrewDog arrived with an outlet pushing its own wares alongside the Belgians. It still didn’t feel like Brussels had any real interest in imported beer until my last visit a couple of weeks ago. The most shocking feature was the Goose IPA taps, popping up like mushrooms in the most unexpected places… Something has shifted and in this case AB InBev are doing the pushing.

Brussels Beer Project brewer Antoine Dubois, and founders Olivier de Brauwere and Sébastien Morvan.

Very much related is a piece from Will Hawkes for Beer Advocate about the growing influence of outside cultures, and especially the London brewing scene, on young Belgian brewers:

A visit to Malt Attacks, a bottle and homebrew shop on the elegant Avenue Jean Volders in the Brussels neighborhood of Saint-Gilles, makes his point clearly. Opened by Antoine Pierson in October 2014, it sells Belgian beer (but not Trappist ale) alongside offerings from around Europe, particularly Scandinavia and the UK. One day in early February, there were two draft beers available from the growler filler (the first, Pierson says, in Belgium): Wild Beer Madness IPA and Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball Black IPA, both of them brewed in England.

(Disclosure: we’re sometimes paid to write for BA.)

Video screengrab: Jim Caruso.

Here’s something thought-provoking: US centre-right news and opinion magazine/website Reason has a sympathetic account of the legal battle around Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch from a conservative free-speech perspective. It is built around an interview with the brewery’s boss, Jim Caruso, an avowed libertarian, available as video, or provided as raw (occasionally incorrect) transcript:

And for us, our marketing is built into this label. If you ban my ability to express my message, whether it’s a political message, citizens united, whether it’s a marketing message and idea, you’re effectively taking part of my identity away. This is unacceptable, so it went to [Alan Gura], a hero in Libertarian circles. Took our case, went to the ninth circuit, sixth circuit in Cincinnati. After several years the opinion was in our favor. And the minority opinion went so far as to say, ‘Yes, and they clearly violated your First Amendment right so go back and settle.’… We did… this was never about the money. We were awarded damages, obviously a lot went to legal fees. The rest went to form the First Amendment Society. This was never about the marketing, it was never about publicity.

The story about AB-InBev’s control of the supply of certain varieties of hops grown in South Africa blew up in the last couple of days after this Tweet:

It’s another front in the ongoing battle between those who believe Big Beer is attempting to crush, cripple or otherwise counteract smaller independent breweries, and those who are more pragmatic. Jamie Bogner’s account for Craft Beer & Brewing is illustrated with a photo of some hops IN A POOL OF BLOOD:

‘Given this situation and what they’ve just done, I wouldn’t be surprised if [buying out other exclusive hops varieties] isn’t one of their targets,’ says [hop broker Greg] Crum. ‘They have the money to buy out the guys who own the patents [on certain hops varieties]. And if they buy up enough craft breweries who need these hops, they may look to control the [hops] market again.’

Meanwhile, the perpetually level-headed Bryan Roth has broken this story down, concluding that it’s a storm in a pint pot:

If I’m translating numbers correctly, the International Hop Growers Convention estimated the entire South African hop crop at 1.9 million pounds in 2016. It is project to drop to 1.56 million pounds in 2017. There are 1,047 acres of hops expected to be harvested in South Africa this year, or a stone’s throw away than the acreage of only Cascade grown just in Oregon in 2016… Is it unfortunate that American brewers won’t be able to get aroma hops like Southern Passion from South Africa or alpha hops like Southern Star? Sure. But these are varieties to play with, not with which you build a portfolio of brands.

(But it’s worth noting, as a sign of how fraught things are as much as anything, that some have questioned Roth’s objectivity because he writes for Good Beer Hunting which has/had various connections with AB-InBev.)

Finally, this is a real highlight of the week which deserves the widest audience possible: footage of the complicated way Guinness porter used to be served recorded at the exact moment it went extinct in 1973. This really ought to inspire some experiments.

25 replies on “News, Nuggets & Longreads for 13 May 2017: Butter, Brussels, Belfast”

I too noticed the encroachment of Goose IPA taps when I was in Bruges a couple of months ago… and it felt downright weird. There were bottles of IPA and Honkers ale in the supermarket too and they seemed to be pretty popular. It’ll be interesting to see how the rumoured bar they’re to build in Brussels will go down with locals and tourists alike.

Also I find it weird that the fact a talented and objective writer like Bryan comes under fire because he posts something incredibly thoughtful on his OWN BLOG but writes for GBH. The fact here is had Bryan wanted to get paid for that piece he could well have pitched it but decided not to. This weird speculation that ABI has any influence on the GBH team is a little tiresome to be honest. We work like any other publication: we have ideas, we pitch them to our editor Austin Ray, we produce them, we publish them, we get paid. At no point in this cycle does anyone outside of GBH influence the editorial team and if it turned out there was we’d probably get fired. So please, stop with the “GBH are in the pocket of ABI” speculation. We’re just trying to make good stuff and earn a living here.

‘So please, stop with the “GBH are in the pocket of ABI” speculation. We’re just trying to make good stuff and earn a living here.’

Who’s that addressed to?

We can’t *not* acknowledge the connections when we’re sharing material from GBH though I don’t think the way we do it counts as speculation/accusation. It’s legitimate for people to question writers’ motivations and biases so they can decide who and what to trust; we expect people to do the same with us.

It was aimed at you guys. I don’t see why when linking to a piece from his own personal blog Bryan’s relative objectivity based on who else he might work for needs to be called in to question. He also writes for Beer Advocate and AAB but you didn’t feel the need to mention either publication? Those guys take money for ads too! It’s all relative.

That’s just silly. Of course the money flow connections to writers are important to understand. To say otherwise is naive or worse.

Thats exactly how any revenue eventually works (advertising the most traditional form of it). By that logic, any magazine selling ads, or earning any revenue associated with the industry they report on, is likewise compromised. Fine by me if you’re a fundamentalist in that way, but that’s the extended logic of your concern.

And like every other publication, we intentionally isolate our editorial team from that part of the business.

Here’s how October works, with regard to your valid concern.

Conde Nast is the publisher. One of the investors is ZX Ventures (ABI’s venture group).

Conde created October through their Slow Motion creative studio (which is basically an internal group made up of Pitchfork people).

To make the site both interesting and independent, they hired GBH and Beer Graphs (Eno Sarris) to run editorial outside of the business (which includes a number of initiatives, including concerts, small events, festivals, etc.).

So, while ABI may be a start-up investor, they have no connection to the editorial team whatsoever. None of use have interacted with that group, nor received any input from them. In fact, and most critically, there is a legally enforceable contract that says ZX is not allowed to even send us an email with suggestion of a topic. If they do, the breach the contract. That agreement was paramount to this venture getting off the ground with the intent of producing independent editorial and building a business that may, and likely will, live beyond its initial ZX investment. It’s up to the business side of Conde how they manage that investment, or investment fro other/future parties. Editorial has no input or dialog either way.

Happy to clarify any other questions.

How disappointing that’d you’d give in to the “many people are saying” conspiratorial device that plagues our political dialogs these days, choosing to spread innuendo and rumor about one of the best writers in the US (whom GBH is lucky to have the contributions of). Our world is so easily connected – you can simply ask him about his (lack of) connections to ABI, his working role at GBH, and any other potentially compromising rumors. Same for GBH. I’ve extended the offer of clarifying these issues multiple times over the years and you’ve never once responded with interest, seemingly preferring the optics of innocence based in ignorance that enable you to make such damaging innuendo from a distance.

Why does it surprise you in any way, you having explained that the big brewery conglom was an investor, that people discount your reputation accordingly? I don’t subscribe to the “therefore Evil!” Stuff but it is a reasonable response to take you with a grain of salt even as the lovely beer porn passes by one’s eyes.

I am not surprised that people are skeptical of October. I am always happy to explain how that works, knowing that investment and editorial structures are unfamiliar to most people who have not worked professionally in that realm.

I AM surprised that Boak and Bailey would contribute to the ignorance rather than the enlightenment of their audience, however, by linking to unfounded tweets as if that’s evidence of anything more than rumor-mongering. That’s how you build conspiratorial opposition to a topic based on nothing but the idea that “many people are saying.”

Well that’s just a bit of self-aggrandizement showing. Who are you and yours not to be discussed? What places you all in a special spot that the opinions of others are not to be noted? It’s just part of the public discourse. Finding “conspiracy” in that is a bit weird. This is how it really works. That Roth bit about SA hops? Pretty obvious point. No one thought other than it was a trickle. Pumping it up like its Pulitzer material, however, seems to me part of the GBH spheres tactics to, as Matt has pointed out, build brand. Good for all you all, seriously. But then the pumped up profile is open to review. It’s normal. Where’s the crisis?

No one here has pumped anything. In fact, I did not even mention it, nor him, in that response. Anyone IS free to say anything. And they are likewise open to being call to account for their freely-shared opinions. Especially when they are published and given further credence on respectable blogs like this one.

See, you have to pay more attention to how you are perceived. Pumping is the word. There is a big dollop of style, tone and puff pieces you put out that I can’t get past. This is cyclical in craft. You didn’t invent anything but the stance is self evident. I think it is a clever stance for the goal you seem to have set for yourself. I toyed with the idea myself over a decade ago when I had contributing authors from around the world. When I got breweries to send boxes of beer or other goodies one way or another. I had another sort of reputation in ways as challenging, too. Comes with the territory of setting out your intention and approach to the subject matter as you have. Pretending that this is ad hominum misses the point. Others frame your reputation. And mine. And that in itself is substance.

Considering our reputation oscillates between “sellouts” and “hipster craft beer bloggers,” where we either write the most “balanced and. ought providing” pieces, or “puff pieces.” Those opposing viewpoints say a lot more about a polarized readership than our merit. I don’t think trying to control our reputations has any return on the investment of time it would take to align those fracturous groups. That’s a religious war we have no side in. I do, however, make an effort to correct someone’s erroneous facts as it pertains to our business and editorial structure.

For the rest, the content will continue to speak for itself, whether perceived as drivel or critical reading. We have no interest in adapting our work to suit either side of the battle we’re not party to, or other writers like yourself for whom our existence seems endlessly antagonizing. That’s your own personal battle and the theater for that war is appropriately in your mind, and your mind only.

In any event, I think it would be far more constructive to debate the content of an argument rather than the integrity of the writer. That’s an old debate trick meant to undermine a perfectly valid and debatable argument when the opposing view has nothing of substance to say.

LOL! Don’t be silly. You have your niche and your plan. Fine. But you are coming across now like the kid who gets the short end of the playground treatment saying “at least they notice me.” Trust me. I don’t think you are the evil empire but your approach is a long way from interesting to me. You shouldn’t care.

Blimey. You go out for a couple of hours…

I don’t know what to say, really.

Just to be absolutely clear, when we describe Bryan as ‘perpetually level-headed’ that’s very much a compliment — perhaps even an endorsement. But we saw that response to his Tweet and thought it was interesting in its own right because it reflects, as MK points out, a certain conspiracy world view that seems to be in the air. And I guess it’s worth pointing out that we use the word ‘some’, with a link to one example, rather than saying ‘many people’ as you suggested.

On the more general issue of our repeated mentioning of GBH’s AB-InBev connections… Michael, I’m not sure how much more gently or politely we can do this without just stopping outright, which is perhaps what you’re after. You’ve explained on your website, and in messages to us, how it all works and, after all that, it still sounds to us like ‘connections’ to AB-InBev, which we therefore feel obliged to mention when we’re linking to something posted by GBH that relates directly to AB-InBev or the politics of big beer vs. small. But we can’t give over 800 words each time unpacking all the detail; but we have in the past, as above, linked to your own post explaining it all, which seems fair to us.

We have some sympathy with your situation and understand that you might feel embattled. But, seriously, we’re not attacking you. We keep linking to GBH stories, even though this kind of telling-off is rather a disincentive to engage at all, because they’re interesting. We’ve been criticised for that, too.

If as you suggest this is anything like a ‘respectable blog’ it’s because we fret and agonise over how best to be fair and objective. I daresay we get it wrong sometimes but it’s not thoughtless and, I hope, never malicious.

Again, blimey.

“Many people are saying” is not quoting you, it’s quoting Trump and his method of undermining constructive dialog by referring to random Twitter users or fictitious people altogether, as though those unfounded claims from the internet are somehow the other side of a non-existent argument that’s paramount to the content of the argument you’ve linked to.

All it does it is belittle the debate and cast doubt on someone’s integrity. If someone Tweeted about B+B’s possible ties and influence, however untrue, linking to that as some sort of contribution to the discussion would be at odds with both the content, the argument, and all historical evisence to the contrary.

In this case, we’re taking about an independent freelance writer in Bryan Roth, who wrote about a post on his own blog, and the content of which had nothing to do with GBH. The implication of this undue influence is thrice removed at best, and being substantiated by a person who has little to no knowledge of the accusations being made.

Perhaps the agony employed toward the intended objectivity is over-developed to the point of undermining it.

I say all this on behalf of Roth’s sterling reputation, not GBH. We’ve done our own work to keep that nonsense at bay and simply point to the same post you did.

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