Free, as in Free Beer or Just Free Shit

In the latest Beeradvocate magazine, Andy Crouch takes issue with beer writers who receive money, trips, beer, or other items from the subjects they write about.  Crouch’s concern is with conflict of interest. Crouch notes that

In an age where conflicts of interest and areas of bias blur lines in ways greater than ever before, disclosure at a minimum is key.

I, thus, must confess and offer full disclosure. In all of the times I’ve written this blog, and in all the times I have not written to this blog (note the few and far in between posts over the last year or so), I have received free beer from the industry three times, and twice out of that amount, the gifts were from Kona. That reminds me, I owe Kona a positive blog post.

Now that I have made full disclosure, I don’t feel any better. I don’t feel any better because such disclosure will not likely get me any closer to free beer. I welcome getting free beer and beer trips. I welcome any brewery that wants to fly me out to its hop farm or brewery or yeast lab or favorite place to hang out to do so. I welcome any brewery whose employees remember my name. Hell, I welcome any brewery open early in the afternoon so that I can get a beer before I pick up my kids from school.

Crouch is a lawyer. I am a professor (and, ahem, chair of my department). We are both professionals. As professionals, we should share information so that we may learn from one another. That said, I ask Andy: Where can I get some free beer? It’s not that I cannot afford beer; I can (I’m not proud of how much beer I have purchased this week alone). It’s not that I cannot find good beer; I can (I’m not proud of the amount of time and attention I pay to new releases or taps). It’s just that. . . well . . . humans have a thing for free shit. And, as far as I know, I am partly human.

Free beer, like any free shit, confirms some type of insider status. If a brewery sends me free beer or offers me a junket or lets me even hang out in the brewery and share a beer or two, that sense of “free” indicates specialness. Within any  geek culture (and craft beer is a center piece of geekness), feeling special among the gods and goddesses whose essence makes up that culture elevates one’s stature within the crowded masses of people huddled against the bar. “Hello. I’m different from all of you.” The same result also occurs with one’s wife (“THEY KNOW YOU. I guess this beer nonsense isn’t such a waste of time!”). The result of receiving such goodies and eventual status, of course, is not to hide it (as if one does not want to disclose getting free beer). The result, in the age of new media, is to share getting free shit. Free, as in free beer, the open source movement used to say. Only now, we can update such a declaration with “free, as in free beer once I share this information on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with all you losers who did not get the free shit.” Full disclosure? Social media is the compulsion of full disclosure for almost anything, including receiving free beer. Full disclosure on social media, by another name, is bragging.

As an academic, I am familiar with less notable freebies that either come in the mail or are given out at conferences: textbooks (straight into the recycling bin), pens (for taking beer notes!), tote bags (for beer!), and other unremarkable items. I am not familiar with the notable freebie. There is no reason to fully disclose or brag receiving another textbook that looks like the previous thousand. With beer, it’s different. Nothing notable is free. I buy, trade (which is reverse buying), and ask other people to buy for me beer. Trading is getting more difficult to do (notice not one response to my offer to trade Alpha Kong the other day!), and asking others makes me squeamish (“Anything I can bring back for you?” Yes. How big is your trunk?). I look at my own credit card bills, so I’m safe there. The best things in life, beer, are not in fact free.

Neither is status. To get free beer, to get insider status such as that Crouch wants disclosed, one pays. One pays with time (more regular blogging about beer), beer reviews (the one genre I find silly), effort (establishing and maintaining connections), and work (running a professional site or beer writing business, running a local fair or beer event, etc.). I’m obviously not paying for that status with a blog post every now and then or with a job that has nothing to do with beer (but does have me sign a lot of forms and throw unsolicited textbooks in the recycling bin).

One last full disclosure: I do share my beer life online for free. Facebook (in private beer groups), Instagram (photographing and sharing pictures of almost every new beer I drink), and Twitter (tweeting Rate Beer reviews). I’m already disclosing my – not freely received beer – image as a craft beer drinker. I’m freely disclosing some part of my identity (and when I write “academic” here, I freely disclose another part). Such is the nature of social media, whether we like it or not. We are constantly sharing something –  for free. We know, we appreciate, we get jealous, we become pissed off, we irritate each other online – for free. My lack of blogging this last year has nothing to do with privacy or a desire to withhold disclosure. It has to do with time and being too busy to write here.  Believe me, not only do I want to receive free shit, I want my shit to be free, too.

So. . . in other words. . .. how do I get some free beer anyway?

Israeli Craft Beer

Flip through an issue of Beer Advocate or All About Beer, and you will likely learn about a country – Brazil, Norway, Mexico – where craft beer is on the rise or where brewers are building an audience for non fizzy lagers. You’ll get a rundown on places to drink at, up and coming breweries, and unique usages of indigenous ingredients. You’ll read about most countries in these magazines, except one: Israel.

The irony is not lost on me. In every other media outlet, Israel is always in the news. But not in beer outlets. Lack of coverage might stem from just not knowing, politics, regional bias, or the feeling that Israelis are known for being tough, being good farmers, being a high tech start up country and being the type of people who don’t go out at night until it’s at least 11 pm. How could there be good beer there? There is. Instead of the endless barrage of negative Israeli stories that saturate contemporary media (from actual conflict to Zionist shark conspiracies), it’s time to start telling the story of Israeli craft beer. Craft beer in Israel today does not resemble the kibbutz pub drinking I experienced in my 20s: Goldstar 500 ml bottles chugged from the bottle. Goldstar’s packaging has changed; but the beer is still bad lager. Israel’s craft beer packaging, metaphorically, has changed as well, and for the better.

Last July, when I returned to Israel after an 18 year absence, I discovered a new world of craft beer. When we returned again this past June, we saw that world continuing to grow and develop. Hebrew has no word for “brewery,” so it borrows from the word “to cook” to designate both brewing and brewery. There are homebrewing clubs throughout the country (a homebrewing event took place in Beer Sheva this past June) and there is an active interest in craft beer, even if so little is available in the country. Imports are surprisingly limited to mainstream Belgian beers (Chimay, Achouffe) and cheap Russian, Czech, and Romanian lagers.  While many American franchises have set up shop in Israel, the only American beers available are Sam Adams Lager and a few from Brooklyn. Israeli craft beer is following a trajectory similar to other countries: A market dominated by a few players (Goldstar, Carlsburg Heineken), poor distribution (even in such a small country, Israeli craft beer is difficult to find), and a lack of awareness (with little choice, Israelis default to cheap or easily available lagers). Ingredients are imported; and even though the country produces exquisite wines, and even though the country is known for agricultural advancements, no one is yet growing hops in the Golan or the Judean Hills (two ideal locations). Israelis also don’t drink as much beer as other countries, and beer is insanely taxed. Draught pours will run $7-10 and a bottle of craft beer is typically around $5.  Many breweries do not own brewery facilities and contract brew at either Srigim near Beit Shemesh or Mivshelet Ha’am in Even Yehuda,  Pre-1967 the popular narrative surrounding Israel was that of the underdog. Maybe with craft beer, that narrative can return. Imagine this blogpost, then, as my pretend contribution to All About Beer about craft beer in Israel written quickly on a Saturday morning before I drive to Louisville to drink some beer at Great Flood.


For the last few years, the only place I’ve know that one can sit at and drink a craft beer in the middle of the day (which is what I love being able to do in the States) is Beer Bazaar. Tucked inside the Shuk HaCarmel (Tel Aviv’s main outdoor market of food, clothes, yelling, and trinkets) in an old falafel stand, Beer Bazaar carries whatever is available from Israeli breweries. With a few stools, three taps, and no bathroom, Beer Bazaar’s first location does not resemble a typical American craft beer bar. If you want to buy bottles to take home, you lean over the counter and point at the bottles on the wall (with my eyesight, I squint). If you want to hang out and drink, you hope no one else is sitting on one of the few available stools. This June, Beer Bazaar opened a second location across the street in the market in an old butcher shop, doubling its tap handles, offering food, and there are bathrooms located upstairs.

Beer Bazaar has several beers brewed especially for them, including the always present Shesh Besh IPA (though closer to a pale ale) and the very smooth and drinkable Bhindi IPA. There is something mystical about walking through the market after hours, when it is closed and the piles of post-market trash are being carried away, the yelling has stopped, the crowds are gone, and turning the corner into a side street you find Beer Bazaar open. During my last night in Tel Aviv, I was invited to hang out at Beer Bazaar while a TV crew filmed a short piece on the new spot. As in America, craft beer still poses novelty and interest among an audience not familiar with beer. The rise of the middle class – in Israel and in America – brings with it a rise in food and alcohol fascination. The middle class wants to buy high quality foods (artisan, local) and wants to drink quality alcohol. Broadcast beer on TV and you have an instantly intrigued audience. You can see me on the show at the 19:40 time mark. My access to Beer Bazaar was very convenient; the apartment we rented was only a five minute walk away on Sheinkin Street.


Dancing Camel began craft beer in Israel, and introduced the brewpub concept where none existed. Since then, several other brewpubs have come and gone (Pavo in Zikhron has supposedly gone). Jem’s has two locations: Petah Tikvah and Ra’anana. We visited the smaller location in Ra’anana, a very polished, narrow spot with shiny tap handles, a beer menu, bottles in the cooler, and excellent sandwiches. I had the smoked goose (note to American brewpubs: serve smoked goose sandwiches). Whereas Dancing Camel still embraces the DIY look with its old furniture, tin roof and menu that doesn’t always have what is listed, Jem’s resembles the American brewpub’s finesse and attention to detail. In Israel, beer always tastes better on tap. Throughout the country, I have seen crates of filled bottles sitting out in the sun; delivery trucks (vans) with no refrigeration making stops,  and poor air conditioning in many locales (this is the Middle East, after all; it’s hot). Jem’s is no exception to the draught rule. 8.8 – their take on a Belgian – is superior on tap than in the bottle. Both Dancing Camel and Jem’s, to no surprise, were founded by Americans.



I think HaDubim is producing the best beer in Israel. If there is an Israeli IPA brewer, it is HaDubim. Their tiny (I think) 400 litter facility looks nothing like any brewery operation I’ve seen in the U.S., and, unfortunately, they don’t have a tap room, and even more unfortunately, it is very difficult to find their beers, even in Tel Aviv. Local groceries don’t carry their beer, I have yet to see their beer on tap in Tel Aviv bars and restaurants, and the bottles I have tried either came through personal contacts (thank you Barak and Ariel), the now closed Beer Market in Jaffa (soon to reopen in Tel Aviv’s Sarona market) or from Beer Bazaar. The TRIO series – each with a different hop profile – was very good and on par with many American IPAs. Paradox, a Black IPA, offers roasty hoppy goodness. For such a tiny brewery, they put out a tremendous selection of variety.


I dream that Mikeller will open his next beer bar in Tel Aviv (one of the hippest cities in the world…hipper than Seoul!). I dream that European distribution will grow so that all those German, Belgian, Spanish, and Czech beers we don’t see in the States will be easy to find when I’m in Tel Aviv during the summer. I dream that more brewpubs will open throughout the country, hold regular drinking hours (which for a professor, like me, start at noon), and that the brewers will successfully lobby down the insane tax burden this tiny industry deals with. Until then, I have Beer Bazaar and these other bright moments of craft beer. I have my $25 six pack of Israeli craft beer to buy. I have my wife purchasing Goldstar still. “I like it,” she says as she throws three bottles for 30 shekels (about $9) into the cart while we grocery shop. I have my belief that one day All About Beer or Beer Advocate will cover the Israeli scene, too.

The Craft Beer Series

We follow series to their ends. Breaking Bad. Lilyhammer. Sopranos. Mad Men. We get caught up in the plot, the characters, the adventures, and eventually, even when we want to stop, we can’t. We have to see the series until its conclusion. We have to know “what happens” as if, in this imaginary universe broadcast over our television and/or Apple TV, the narrative will be left in limbo if we don’t. To this day, I still regret the one series I never finished, Boardwalk Empire. Don’t tell me what happened. I need to remember what it’s like to not finish, the unfulfillment , the frustration, the pain of not knowing.

Beer is no different. I’m stuck in two beer series right now: Bell’s Planetary series and Victory’s Moving Parts. When a new component of either series pops up on the shelf, I buy it. Neither series is wowing me in the way Lilyhammer did in the beginning of season 2 with its pop cultural references (Animal House, Godfather). Neither series has me wondering how it will all wrap up in the end as we debated Breaking Bad’s conclusion (we knew, though, that Walter White would go down in a glorious manner; we just didn’t know how).  Still, I can’t quit the series. I’ve started it. I’m a part of it. I have to see it through.

There is a desire to finish the story once you’ve started it. My beer story doesn’t begin with these two series, but instead, these two series are side stories within my beer story. Victory and Bell’s are characters in my overall craft beer narrative, a narrative now intertwined with these two series. From State College purchases of cases of Victory while visiting my wife during her time there to Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout – my first Michigan beer bought in Ferndale a few days after moving there – to the first “beer tourism” I engaged in when my wife and I spent the night in Kalamazoo so that we could visit Bell’s Eccentric cafe. These two breweries play roles in my beer story. If I were to have my own beer series, it would include the adventures of Victory and Bell’s in it as well.

I can be cynical about a series such as Moving Parts or Planetary and claim Planetary is just hype that, for instance, transfers a fairly ordinary (if good) brown beer into something special and limited (sold by the single rather than the six pack) once it is placed with a series. Or I can critique Moving Parts’ showcase of hops as not as extraordinary or impressive as some local breweries are doing with Galaxy or experimental varieties still known only by their hop numbers. Like any good cultural moment, these, too, are known points to me, but have little effect on my behavior. I have to see the series through. A series is emotional. A series can be addictive. We need to feel a part of a larger story.

Entertainment culture has long functioned by way of the series: serialized fiction in 19th century newspapers, radio shows of the 1920s and ’30s. Comics. And, of course, television.  I think about the comfort a series can provide, the belief that we move in an orderly and prescribed manner from event to event, moment to moment, experience to experience, taste to taste. While some modes of thought endorse the random or the serendipitous, the series counters back with the declaration that, no, there’s rationale behind the organization.

Organization is not bad, after all. I typically organize my thoughts around anecdotes, first time moments, memorable details, banality. A series of beers thematically organized could be nothing more than a banal beer shopping event, a purchase made every few months as the next item in the series becomes available. Or it can be a method of organization, another way to ponder a brewery’s role in various beer narratives outside of a regular go to purchase (Two Hearted, Hop Devil) or rare release available only at 5pm at the local craft bar (Black Note). The series – whether good or bad – tells us that within the typical and often cliche craft beer stories (such as revolution) there are other beer stories being told, stories that take a character (an IPA, an idea about the solar system) and showcase iterations of that character over a few months or a year. These stories suck us in, like Breaking Bad did, and in the end, the series will end, we will reflect (“what a let down,” “that was amazing”) and eventually, we will move on to the next series, the next idea spread out over time, the next cast of characters to organize our days or nights around. We do so because we don’t want to regret, we don’t want o miss out, we don’t want to be unfulfilled.


Lexington Gets a Release

Lexington finally got its release. For three days, Country Boy Brewing hosted its third anniversary with a special release each day of Black Gold Porter: an orange truffle, Mexican chocolate, and espresso variant. Not only do we have release, we have variant release. Lexington can now find itself among other cities of the big release: Muenster, Tampa, Santa Rosa.

Releases bring out the best and worst of beer culture. Excitement brings attention to a local economy or local brewery, but excitement also produces consumer emotions that border on complete lunatic behavior. Beer nerd vision closes down the world outside of the allotment, the ability to purchase more than the allotment, and the allotment again if its been aged in more than one kind of barrel. Hoarding occurs. Photographs are everywhere. Boasts. Anger. Jealousy. And, of course, lines.

In Lexington, pent up beer nerd culture is proud of its four taprooms, and local beer culture has waited anxiously for its own big stout release day. When this happened this weekend, the only option was to wait in line. Locally, you can’t prevent the excitement of high quality beers offered in limited production.  And, thus, you can’t prevent people from wanting to wait in line. While Lexington’s craft community has grown considerably in the last three years, the number of people who drink craft beer is still not large, and the number of people who drink local, craft beer is even smaller. Do we really need to stand in line? For some, yes, we do, it seems. We desire to stand in line. Standing in line elevates the craft experience.

Lines are communal. Lines can be spaces of sharing. Lines allow for conversation. Lines allow for memories and nostalgia and story telling about other beer lines experienced elsewhere. “Ha ha, I remember that day at Dark Lord when we were ten hours in line, someone opened a bottle of…”

I’ve long sworn off waiting in line to buy beer, and I spent some time debating whether I would come each day and wait in line to buy beer this weekend. Despite my doubts, like many others, I did wait in line. I brought my wife and kids on the second day so that we couldl eat Nashville style hot fried chicken from the Gastro Gnomes food truck parked at the brewery. I also let me daughter see just how depraved and nerdy her 45 year old father is for waiting in line to buy beer. “Do you know all these people?” she asked me as she stood in line with me. “Uh…well…that is….”

Our lines, of course, are not Black Friday Goose Island lines or camping out before Dark Horse Bourbon Barrel Plead the Fifth lines. There was a line, of about 15 people, 20 minutes before opening time. That line would extend to about 50 or so people by opening time. On Saturday, that line would buy the entire variant allotment for the day in one hour. Not bad for a little Kentucky town of 300,000 people who are not used to waiting locally in line to buy beer.

The craft beer revolution grants us the right to stand in line in order to buy goods to consume like we do elsewhere in capitalist culture. Craft beer therefore, liberates us to be like any other consumer. The most basic aspect of any liberation movement – in theory – is not to overthrow and replace, but to be accepted as the rest. In that sense, craft beer lines equate lines to buy special video game releases or to rush a Walmart cash register the day after Thanksgiving. We’re just the same as everyone else. We like waiting in line.

I have resisted taking my kids to Disney World for some time now because, among other things, I hate waiting in line. Drinking in Country Boy’s small taproom that has only one toilet in the restroom, I surprisingly seldom wait in line to pee. Outside my office door at work, there is never a line of students waiting to see me. Ours is a culture, though, dedicated to waiting in line. Waiting our turn. Being patient.

For the most part, craft beer lines are friendly places. This particular line moved quickly. By five or ten minutes after the opening time, I had my allotment and a poured beer. My son wasn’t eating his fried chicken, just like he doesn’t eat any meal. My eyes were watery from the hot chicken. The line had dwindled down to a few people. I shook the hands of some people I know. Then we left. The moment had gone. We got in our car. We drove home.

Now, please excuse me. I have to get to the brewery for the third day of this release.

Your Role in the Beer Scene. What is It?

This session asks: Your Role in the Beer Scene. What is It?

Let me see if I can sum up my role in the beer scene since I don’t brew (I tried twice in graduate school), I don’t work for a brewery, I don’t work in the beer industry…..what is my role….

  • I drink beer

That brief bulleted list might be accompanied by another brief, bulleted list:

  • I spend too much money on beer

These lists, of course, don’t make me unique in any beer scene. I am yet another obsessed beer drinker spending his children’s college fund on the latest release to hit the shelves. Still, even with such commonality, these two lists I offer, as well, hide the nature of the passionate beer drinker from the economy he or she might participate in. That economy might include tweets, updates, small talk (“have you ever been to…”), friends over, stickers on one’s office door, and so on. I drink beer/I drink too much beer is also a phrase for: I’m a social media machine.  I don’t just drink beer and spend too much money on beer. I talk about beer. I write about beer. I spread the message about beer. People like me help facilitate a culture around beer.

Related to this point is the only other role I can claim for myself in the so called beer scene: I planned, came up with the idea, and organized this event: Craft Writing: Beer, The Digital, and Craft Culture. Somehow, I managed to talk some very notable beer writers and brewers who write into coming to Lexington, Kentucky and the University of Kentucky in order to discuss beer and writing. Not to hand out samples. Not to do a tasting. But to talk about writing.

And somehow, I managed to get 250 people from around the country to attend and listen to people talk about beer and writing. This wasn’t GABF. This wasn’t a rare beer tasting. This event witnessed big, burly tattooed and bearded brewers (and bloggers, consumers, retailers, and distributers with fewer tattoos and no beards) listen to talks about beer and writing.

I hope that is a role. An industry, a culture, a profession, a movement, they all survive and succeed because of the product they sell or offer (beer, law, social activism) but also because of the ways they communicate what they sell or offer. Beer is no exception. It has a culture, a history, an archived past, conflict, disagreement, movements, genres, and so on. All of that collectively makes up a writing.

And I’m glad that this industry is so actively involved in writing. Beer discussion takes place in trade books, magazines, blogs, message boards, Facebook, Twitter and the other conversations (NY Times, Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, etc.) created out of such initial conversations. That is, beer is not just some 45 year old college professor spending too much on beer and then posting a picture of it on his Instagram account (ahem). Beer consists of the responses to such images as well as the many other ideas and moments that make up a larger experience than one person’s interest or passion. Beer is a conversation, not just a drink in a can or bottle. And that conversation is expressed orally, but also in print and digital media.

All industries support writing. And beer is no exception. My main gig is rhetoric and writing. If I have a role in beer, it’s to focus some attention there as well.


The Special Feeling of Free Beer or Any Other Disney Moment

Just prior to Thanksgiving, I received a free box of beer from Kona. Before someone I know who owns a fantastic and favorite of mine brewery in New Albany, Indiana chastises me for receiving this gift from an InBev owned brewery, I have to say one thing: this was actually the second time I’ve received a free box of beer from Kona.

In all my years of drinking beer and blogging occasionally about it  (I used to write about beer and what I was drinking every Saturday morning while I was still half asleep at 6 a.m and my kids watched cartoons…now I barely blog at all since I’m busy being interim chair and writing yet another letter saying YES I APPROVE THIS WHATEVER THING MY COLLEAGUE WANTS TO DO and am no longer half asleep), I have only received free beer from breweries three times. The first time was from Shmaltz, long before they entered Kentucky, who sent me a nice bottle of Hop Manna. The second two times were from Kona. This, of course, is a terrible percentage of free beer from someone who started this blog something like eight years ago. I’m obviously doing something wrong.

I‘ve written before about the difficulty I’ve experienced receiving free beer. Rob at Daily Beer Reviews, who seems to get free beer everyday or maybe even every minute, reminds me that seven posts in one year is not the way to get free beer.

He’s probably right. And this is not a post about free beer anyway. It is a post about free beer from an InBev owned brewery. With the recent acquisition of 10 Barrel and Goose Island’s line forming Black Friday only days away, I thought I’d reflect for a minute on my willingness to receive free beer from a brewing conglomerate. But first, I’ll say this:

The Kona Castaway IPA I received in this box was pretty good. It had a great nose. Nice hop characteristics. Solid. Much better than some other IPAs have had, for sure.

Since a great deal of the rhetoric surrounding craft and conglomerate brewing revolves around words like “soul” and “soulless,” I would think that a fairly well hopped IPA owned by InBev would be soulless. And yet, it wasn’t. But what if I were having a pizza from Papa Johns (which I don’t like anyway) and ignored its politics? Or Chick Fil A (which I swear I HAVE NEVER EATEN AT)? Would I receive free food from such places? Not likely. I would not because of taste (I don’t eat fast food) and belief (the companies support policies and politics I find troublesome). But from InBev? As you can see from the above picture, I have. And twice. And it’s not like InBev does not support politics I find troublesome (at least regarding the beer market).

What does that mean? What does that say about me? Would I receive any other InBev beer for free such as Goose Island Vanilla Rye? Let me write that again so it might get picked up by a search engine and discovered by Goose Island when one of its social media managers is Googling “Goose Island” just to see if anybody is talking about the brewery and opts to reward someone in Lexington, Kentucky for mentioning GOOSE ISLAND:

Would I receive any other InBev beer for free such as Goose Island Vanilla Rye?


I guess it’s obvious from this little post about receiving free Kona IPAs that my sense of morality is not level headed when it comes to the consumption of mass produced products. It’s not. But no one’s morality is that pure either.

This past week, we were in Chicago for a conference. Since no grandparents were available, we had to take our kids with. About a five minute walk from our hotel on North Dearborn was Eataly, Mario Batali’s Disney like two floors of expensive dry goods, olive oil, wine, beer, produce, various mini-restaurants, coffee shop, a brewery, a tap room, a gelato place, and even a Nutella station where foodies or Food TV junkies (is he still on Food TV?) can come and experience hype at its best. We met some friends and had a pizza. And, even as I felt I was in food Disney World (and I have already sworn to NEVER take my kids to Disney World), the pizza was absolutely good. Really good. My wife returned to the conference, and I convinced my two kids to sit still for a few minutes so that I could enjoy one the collaboration beers Eataly does with Birra del Borgo on site, Aria. And the beer was damn good, too.

I wanted to feel silly for visiting Eataly, for spending too much money there, for succumbing to the most basic corporate food tourism one can when in a city such as Chicago (outside of eating at Harry Carry’s or one of those awful deep dish pizza chains that are on every other corner in River North or The Loop). I did feel silly. But I also liked it.

When I get an update from Twitter that someone has responded to one of my tweets, the subject line of the email notification has an exclamation point in it. This exclamation is meant to make me feel special. HOLY SHIT SOMEONE RESPONDED TO WHAT I TWEETED. That specialness is superficial, of course, just as receiving free beer in the mail from a brewery might be superficial (lots of people get the same package for promotional purposes) or being in a food heaven shopping paradise who owes its success to cooking shows where people cook as fast as they can might feel special to a nerd like me. Pappa Johns can’t make me feel special. InBev, for a few seconds, did.

Is that so bad?

Maybe. Maybe not. I work, after all, in the study of ambiguity, the only real way to understand rhetoric anyway.

Craft Rhetorics: the 10 Barrel Brewing Moment

One dominant craft beer narrative has been that of revolution.  For some time now, I’ve been documenting the usage of the word “revolution” in craft beer stories, stories of origins, purpose, objective, etc. In my book manuscript, I have a great deal of that narrative documented. But here is a short snippet from a recent piece I’ve written for an academic journal:

Beer culture, as well, shares this craft revolutionary rhetoric. “Call me a revolutionary,” Jolly Pumpkin’s Ron Jeffries states in the viral video, “I am a Craft Brewer.” Stone’s Greg Koch proclaims, “I must fully admit that I feel a bit of a revolutionary” (Kaplan 26). “The craft beer revolution,” beer writer Andy Crouch proclaims, “has always been about one beer, a single experience that shatters decades of programming big brewery advertising and changes the way people perceive beer” (Great American 15). “We’ve all played a part in the American craft brewing revolution that forever changed the beer industry,” Ken Grossman claims in Beyond the Pale, the story of Sierra Nevada (xviii). Revolution Brewing in Chicago. Revolution Brewing in Paonia, Colorado. Natty Greene’s Revolution American IPA. Olde Hickory’s Saison Revolution. There is no shortage of revolution within craft beer’s overall rhetorical stance.

The other and related narrative to revolution is the “crafty” narrative, based on the label that the Brewer’s Association circulated in order to differentiate between what is supposedly authentic (small breweries) and not authentic (breweries owned by one of the major beer conglomerates). The narrative gained significant momentum when Goose Island flipped to “the dark side,” then subsided with the rush of people last Black Friday who lined up for Bourbon County variants. The crafty narrative is back this week with the announcement that 10 Barrel Brewing, too, has been bought by In Bev.

Notice The Pour Fool’s outrage:

You do NOT, under any circumstances and for any amount of money, sell your craft brewery to a company whose stated objective is to bring about the ruin of that community.

There is, as The Pour Fool notes as well, hyperbole to this reaction of a small Oregon brewery (production around 40,000 barrels) selling out.  Still, The Pour Fool is not alone in his anger. Echoing the revolution narrative and The Pour Fool’s response, Roger Baylor also reminds us that one small brewery does not change the option landscape.

Even more obviously, drinkers of better beer have hundreds — nay, thousands — of legitimate small breweries to choose from, ones that have not been irrevocably bastardized by association (and ownership) with a company that’s the closest thing to a Great Beer Satan as we’re likely to see in this world … as we know it.

Both, though, refer to one’s “soul” and losing it within their responses. The New School, too, refers to the loss of soul like characteristics when they remark that conglomerates such as In Bev

Either forgot or never really realized the popularity of craft beer or microbrew hinges upon the fact that it is made by people, not corporations, and for the love of the craft, not the money.

The Not So Professional Beer Blog posted a screen shot from a disappointed craft beer base upset with the sellout of one’s beer soul.

I’m a rhetoric person. That does not mean I have no opinion regarding small breweries who sell out to conglomerates or whether or not we should support mass production as opposed to the artisanal. It means that when I put on my professional hat, I am more interested in the discourse surrounding a moment (how do people talk about what is occurring; how do they repeat one another; what beliefs do they share) rather than my own moral stand. The narrative and rhetoric of the artisanal vs the industrial can be traced to William Morris’ 19th century Arts & Crafts movement. But the complexities of the artisanal vs the industrial can be seen in the Shakers’ (same time period) mass production of hand made goods (every hand made good looked the same).

What I’m interested in are tales of purity. Food culture and its beer culture cousin are subjected to and subject themselves to declarations of purity. There is an us vs them narrative at the heart of this purity and – real or imagined – it is hard to overcome that narrative when it is fundamental to one’s identity. Globally, purity narratives cause war and conflict (we were on this land first; we are the true nationalism/religion). In consumer culture, purity narratives extend from health issues (genetically modified food, trans fat) to economic issues (stay local) to issues of the soul (selling out).

Purity narratives are comforting. They are also hyperbolic. They also contradict themselves. Purity narratives help us navigate a confusing world of ownership. They also can bog down our choices when our choices are compromised (wait a minute….My saccharine free small production Tom’s toothpaste is owned by Colgate-Palmolive?). Purities turn into boycotts. Purities reflect our frustrations at a world increasingly consolidated into a few companies, into a few choices. Purities, at some point, obfuscate the contradictory makeup of every position we take and perform, what Roland Barthes called the pleasure of the text.

I, too, lined up for Bourbon County last year. According to my RateBeer database synthetic memory, I’ve had seven 10 Barrel beers. I’ve only had two Blue Point (In Bev’s East Coast purchase) beers. I’ve had a great deal of Goose Island, even a month or so ago purchasing a Rambler IPA and still disappointed that The Illinois never made it here.

Does this mean I’m happy that 10 Barrel is now in the In Bev empire? No. But it doesn’t mean I won’t buy another 10 Barrel again either. I’m not a person who is too invested in purity. One reason I left the English Department and am now the magnificent and glorious interim chair of a writing department is because English (in my experience as a member of four different departments) gets obsessed with literature as a pure experience. I like Dylan. But I also like Foreigner. I like Jarmusch. But I also like reality TV. I’m obsessed with craft rhetorics – the various ways members of the craft beer industry and their consumers communicate in writing and in digital environments. But I’m obsessed with them because of their complexity, not their purity.

And will I wait in line for Goose Island again this year? I hope not. But not because of a purity position. I simply hate waiting in line for beer.

The Rumpkin Chase

I’ll pretend that the last couple months of not posting is because of a chase. I’ll pretend that I did not forget to post or get bogged down with the insane amount of letter writing and checking off boxes I do during my one year as department chair. I’ll pretend all of that as excuse. And I’ll pretend that I’m chasing a beer: Avery Rumpkin. For most people, this is not too difficult a beer to obtain. Rumpkin has made its way to Lexington a few times. It has 305 reviews on RateBeer. I’m not typically excited about pumpkin beers, barrel aged or not. But I’ve been chasing this beer for some time.

Overall, I’m pretty good with a beer chase. I obtain beers that I am very clueless to how I got them. Sometimes, when a beer hits and I miss it, it still comes around at some point (a point at which I buy it). Take these two beers, for example, which arrived via a trade last Friday:

I consider these two Hill Farmstead beers somewhat whale-like since they are not in any kind of distribution and it takes awhile to get to the isolated brewery to purchase them. I have never been to Vermont, so someone has to go there and buy these beers. And now I have them. I have them with minimal if any chase.

For a year or so,I waited patiently for this $10.50 bottle of Pirate Bomb to make it to a shelf near me, and I scooped it up one Friday afternoon on my way home for work.  I waited a long time for this bottle of Stickee Monkee to be offered up. Then, somewhere, it was offered. Chase ended.

A very generous Angelo sent me this Jester King, a beer long ago I gave up chasing under the impression that I would never taste it. Chase ended.

But Rumpkin, alas, eludes me. For the last few weeks, I have almost had it, but then not had it. I have seen it available, and then I’ve missed it. A friend sees that it might be in Frankfort, goes to get it for me, it’s not there. People are now chasing for me! Rumpkin became a chase that I, for some reason, become obsessed with. The mere chase overcame me more than the idea of a barrel aged pumpkin beer. As a final, desperate move to get Rumpkin, on the way to work this morning, I stopped at Good Foods and Unbridled Spirit to see if they had any Rumpkin, thinking that they are not on the average beer nerd’s radar. I knew, in my gut, that Rumpkin was sitting on a shelf at one of these two places because everyday shoppers at Good Foods or Unbridle Spirit don’t know beer and had passed it by. Neither store had Rumpkin.

There are different kinds of chases. Modern Times, an off the shelf L.A. beer, eluded me for a long time. Modern Times is not rare, but it takes the right mix of kairos for someone in Southern California to want to buy some Modern Times to ship to Kentucky, and for that same person to want something from where I live. This kind of timeliness or equilibrium is not easy to achieve. Trading is a delicate balance of desire. Even shelf beers can be difficult to obtain and worthy of a chase. I did, though, manage to acquire some nice Modern Times beers recently thanks to Justin. Chase ended.

But no Rumpkin. It will go on tap at The Beer Trappe on Halloween….but I am solo parenting that night and taking the kids out to fill their bellies on trash, er, candy. So, I cannot go to The Beer Trappe to have it either. A chase does not have to end in fulfillment for it to be worthwhile, and yet, as I chased and chased this expensive 12 ounce beer, I felt that I needed that fulfillment, that satisfaction of acquiring, of winning, of not losing out to the forces of scarcity and nerd behavior.

And then, suddenly, as I was writing this, I went to check RateBeer to see (for a paragraph above) how many people had rated Rumpkin. Is Rumpkin rare, I wondered. Does it have few or many ratings? It turns out, as I noted, that the beer has been rated 305 times. And it turns out, I discovered, that I, too, had rated it - earlier this year. One of those 305 ratings was mine! Chase? I had found this beer in April!

I was not on a chase for a beer after all. I was on a simple chase to chase. I had forgotten my rating, and I had forgotten the beer, but even more so, I had forgotten myself by chasing for the sake of chasing. You would think that I was relieved to have discovered a once successful chase. No. I was upset. Now there could be no resolution to the chase. I’ve had this beer already, it turns out.

Chasing is how my beer days progress. I chase. Can I get that? When will that arrive? Is that going to be distributed here? What time will it arrive? The chase never ends, it seems, even when I have forgotten that I already hunted this beer some time ago and got it. Even accomplishment means little, in the end, when we beer chase.

Israeli Beer

I spent the last month in Israel. There was a war on the whole time we were there. There were sirens. There were booms in the sky from Iron Dome. There was 24 hour war news reporting on local stations.  I hadn’t been back for 18 years. Thus, beyond visiting during another war, and beyond all that accompanied this trip early on, I knew I was going to eat a lot of falafel and humous. And I knew I was going to drink some beer.

Let’s face it. I drink a lot of beer. If you follow me on Instagram or Google +, you probably know that already. I spend most of my money on my mortgage and my kids’ fancy Montessori education. I spend the rest at Whole Foods and on beer. In the week and a half since I have been back from Israel, I have consumed 29 new to me beers. How could I not drink beer on this trip? From the first hours of our trip, a Saturday night in Tel Aviv when many shops are closed, and we found ourselves in the non-kosher AM/PM grocery, and my wife insisted we buy a Goldstar Unfiltered, I was drinking beer in Israel.

Not that Goldstar Unfiltered was that much better than my memories of regular Goldstar.

Rather than come to drink beer or hear missile sirens, I had come to Israel to revisit where I once lived. I had come to revisit with my kids, and then to write about that experience for my current book on travel, scholarly writing, eating, and kids. My intent is to shift food writing away from critique and decoding of representation to something more akin to what Roland Barthes calls “the pleasure of the text.” Still, even if I had not come to drink beer, I knew I would.

The Israeli craft beer scene is booming, and yet the craft beer scene in Israel can be difficult to locate when one is out to eat or looking for a beer. Unlike Lexington or many basic American cities, in Israel, there are few craft taps in bars and restaurants (Carlsberg and Turborg still dominate the country’s handles) and American style tap rooms are even fewer. In retail, most beers are sold as 12 ounce beers, and most cost at least $5 a piece. A “deal” on a six pack can run you about $24. Drafts are closer to $9 -$10. Highly taxed, appealing to a still small market (Israelis are not big beer drinkers), dominated by a few conglomerate players, the craft beer scene has many challenges ahead of it. But it is up and coming. And Israeli brewers are trying hard to develop that market with an array of choices – when you find them.

I tried over 30 Israeli beers during those three weeks. I bought them in the Carmel Market’s Beer Bazaar, Jaffa Port’s Beer Market, wine shops in Tel Aviv, and various grocery stores. Each night, I diligently updated photos of my purchases to Instagram. I diligently rated these beers on RateBeer. In some ways, I continued to do what I do in the U.S., only I waited a bit longer for the kids to go to sleep, and living in the middle of the city, my drinking was done to the background noise of the Peacock bar across the street where people, for some reason, felt compelled to stay up until three in the morning watching the World Cup (and letting us hear them watch the World Cup). Life during wartime can still be fairly commonplace or a routine of life elsewhere.

Distribution is fairly poor in Israel. Some craft beers make their way into groceries and wine shops. Basic Belgian beers (Chimay, St. Bernardus, Chouffe) do as well. Some cheap Ukrainian and Czech beers are available. Some basic German beers. Leffe. Heineken, of course. Stella. But not much else. Despite a global presence, Mikkeller is not in Israel. Neither are Scandinavian beers. Neither are Italian or Spanish craft beers. Neither are most European beers. Given Israel’s proximity to Europe and its beer variety, I am surprised no Israeli importer has brought much of European production to Israel to try and unseat the Carlsberg/Heineken monopoly. And forget about American imports in a country that has Pizza Hut, Ben and Jerry’s, and McDonald’s. I saw Sam Adams Lager on tap in a Tel Aviv used book store. I saw a few bottles of Brooklyn Lager on a shelf in Tel Aviv. Not much else. Most people are not aware of craft. Even when ordering a draft beer of Alexander or something else Israeli, I found that the server was not always sure that the Israeli craft beer in question had multiple styles to choose from. And “craft” in Israel is not called craft. It is called “boutique.”

Boutique culture is on the rise – at least since I lived there 18 years ago – in Israel. Boutique wine. Boutique beer. Boutique spirits. Boutique cheese (man, what amazing cheeses are now being made throughout the country). Boutique ice cream. In a tiny culture and a tiny country, boutique is the appropriate word. There is only so much one can grow into. One must remain boutique. Ice cream chains, specific to Israel, can be multiple and in multiple cities, but they are still boutique in a way Baskin Robbins or Hagen Dazs could never be.

Because bars tend to open late, because we had two kids with us, and because most bars are for the night scene and not for casual middle of the afternoon I’m a professor and can work on my laptop while drinking an Against the Grain draft hanging out, we had few drinking options. In Tel Aviv, Dancing Camel was one. Dancing Camel is a brewpub located on an industrial street in Tel Aviv (the street is called “The Industry”). Founded by am American, it showcases American styled beers. APA. IPA. And so on. While we were drinking and my kids weren’t eating the sandwiches I ordered for them, we noticed my sons’ backpack was full of ants. That was not Dancing Camel’s fault. That was the fault of the apartment we were renting.

Pavo, on the other hand, is located in beautiful Zikhron Yaakov. Nestled down a dirt road behind the Carmel Winery and a restaurant whose name I forget (barking dog and all), the brewery is difficult at first to find (and we had to ask where it was after several miscues). Perched up high, the taproom looks out over the valley with a fantastic view. At noon on a weekday, no one was there but us and a TV blaring VH1 hits. My daughter loved the videos and developed a sudden interest in Ke$ha for some reason. She also loved drinking her first ever Pepsi, a guilty acquiescence on my part for dragging her to a brewery on a hilltop in a small town south of Haifa where the only other thing to drink was grape juice and Pepsi, and no food was available (kitchen only open for dinner). My son settled for the grape juice, much to my relief. I have now allowed my daughter one time to drink a Pepsi, and she drank said Pepsi at an Israeli brewpub. That must be worth some parenting points if somewhat exotic travel can counter the failure of drinking a Pepsi.

At Pavo, the beers were superior on tap than they were in the bottle. Maybe the best beers I had in my three weeks. One reason tap trumps bottle may be the stacks of bottles sitting out in the sun that travel via the sun and heat to various locations around the country, where they often sit on warm shelves or in a small Carmel Market store in Tel Aviv that does not have air conditioning. Coming straight from a cooled keg in a brewery seems pretty easy next to that process.  The sign on the wall in the Pavo brewpub reads: “Why is it preferable to drink beer over water? Because in beer there is water, but in water there is no beer.”


Out of those 30 or so beers I tried during my recent visit to Israel, I can’t say one was stellar. Many were fine. Some were pretty awful. Some lacked character. Some were fairly good. What impressed me more than quality, though, was the 18 year difference from the last time I had been in the country. At that time, Israel knew nothing about beer. And I knew nothing about beer either. I often bought four packs of Elephant from a liquor shop next to the Chinese embassy on Ben Yehuda Street. As the world has turned to craft, though, so has Israel. As I have turned to craft over the last 18 years, so has Israel. With great arrogance and confidence (rhetorical gestures of the age of new media), I will pretend that there is a personal connection. I will pretend that this little country has followed my lead. I will pretend that we are on the same cosmic beer drinking wavelength, hip to the wonder and aesthetic and taste and obsession of craft beer. I will pretend. I will pretend that I just wrote this post without stating what I felt about the war. I will pretend that my kids will remember this trip. I will pretend that we will be back next summer. I will pretend that boutique and craft are not just anomalies stretching from Lexington to Tel Aviv but overall cultural aesthetics that drive human obsession as much as human daily interactions.



Nice Gatherings: Beer in Lexington at the Alltech Fest

It was a strange feeling to be standing outside a beer festival, only minutes from its opening, and seeing no lines to get it. Maybe I’m too used to the feeling of Dark Lord Day or GABF where, even if you have tickets and have been allotted a time to enter or pick up beer, there is still a massive line hours before the doors open. And in such lines, people traditionally are sharing beer and beer war stories: bottles are exchanging hands, travel tales are being related, mentioning of other festivals attended can be heard (“Oh yea, I was there in ’09 when you could ten bottles and bathroom lines weren’t long”). Community gets built while standing in line. Waiting in line changes the nature of a gathering of “let me in” to “tell me about your beer history.” I’ve bonded with many strangers while waiting in a beer line.

Alltech’s Craft Brews and Food Fest, held on May 18th and the Lexington Convention Center, began in silence. Just me and a couple other people sitting around, checking our cellphones, waiting for noon to roll around for a festival with an eight hour block setup indoors for the day. I was lucky enough to have been invited to the event. It’s not often that professor of writing gets a “press” pass for a beer festival. I felt special with my credentials. But as I sat just outside the fest’s entrance, where an electronic display greeted visitors with images of Alltech’s image and its beer, no one else was around. The building that joins the Convention Center with Rupp Arena is a silent building to begin with. The mall like atmosphere is often barely inhabited. One or two people eating a Subway sandwich. The stores fairly empty of customers. The escalators carrying no one up or down the three floors.

When I arrived for the festival, Lexington Craft Beer Week was coming to an end. We had already spent time at Arcadium, Country Boy, West Sixth, Lexington Beerworks, and The Beer Trappe earlier in the week. After a day of sampling beers at the Alltech event, I’d be back at Country Boy and West Sixth once more. The Alltech event would help close out a week of craft beer drinking throughout the city. And it would do so in grand style. This is only the second year Lexington has hosted a Craft Beer Week.

By mid-afternoon, the silence at the Lexington Convention Center had changed, of course. A reported 4,500 people made their way from booth to booth, maneuvering around Alltech’s larger, circular, bar shaped booth in the middle of the site, sampling beers as rock bands played on a small stage, and impromptu gatherings were encouraged at small Alltech tables and barrels placed throughout the hall. By the time I had left, the longest line I had yet to see was a thirty person deep wait for a pour of Bell’s Black Note. Having experienced events elsewhere, I can attest that a thirty person deep line is nothing in the grand scheme of beer festivals. In that line, I bonded with a fellow from Colorado in town for a wedding. Or we bonded as much as is possible while waiting ten minutes for the 2:45 tapping. This kind of bonding involves me recommending places to visit in Lexington, and he commenting whether or not he has time. Or me remembering places I’ve visited in Denver, and he reminding me that those places are still in business.

Alltech, no doubt, wanted to insure a bonding over its brand name at the festival. To enter the festival’s site, one had to first walk through a giant Alltech barrel. Along the walls, Alltech images were projected, and Alltech’s name graced each brewer’s booth. Alltech’s position in the Lexington craft beer scene is an interesting one. Established before any other Kentucky brewer who is currently enjoying interest and growth (Country Boy, Blue Stallion, West Sixth), Alltech sometimes seems on the outside looking in regarding the local craft beer community. No tap room. A smaller portfolio. No one offs or special releases. No fanboy culture. Thus, it’s difficult not to think of the Craft Brews and Food Fest as a response to this overshadowing by smaller beer operations with even smaller operating budgets. “We’re still here, guys,” the event seemed to say. “And we’re still important.”



Beer festivals, in general, are about presence, the presence of an emerging market focused on consuming liquid. And such festivals are about the presence of people. The beer festival, wherever it may occur, seems to toggle among a number of potential audiences.

  • The nerd. Aka, the enthusiast. The one who is quickly looking for new ticks or ratings, rare tappings, unique offerings. That’s me.
  • The generalist. The person who likes beer, is into craft beer, but doesn’t buy enough to really know all the offerings, even if they are fairly basic.
  • The curious one. The person who knows: “There’s a beer event downtown. Let’s go!” And shows up totally new to everything.

Since it’s difficult for me to view any beer event except through the lens of the nerd, as I first made my way around the Alltech festival, I wondered about some of the fairly basic offerings from representative breweries and their reps. Does a festival need to showcase 60 Minute IPA or Goose Island 312? On the other hand, when I look at the event through the lens of the other two potential audience members, I see a very good display of offerings, stretching from the local (Kentucky beer) to the national (Kentucky distribution from other states) to the international (Shelton/12 Percent distribution). If only a small percentage of the 4,500 people in attendance left thinking: wow, I didn’t know beer could taste so good; where do I buy this stuff, the festival would have done its other job. That job would be building growth and awareness overall for local beer sales.

In many ways, beer festivals are giant commercials. People pay to consume 3-4 ounce samples of beer, but they also pay to be exposed to a new product. While beer enthusiasts and many industry folks believe that the world revolves around craft beer, few people who drink beer drink craft beer. Even if 10% is an actual representation of national sales, that still means that 90% of beer drinkers don’t know what craft beer even is. Maybe in baseball you can hit the ball less than 30% of the time (70% of the time you fail!), but that kind of percentage shouldn’t be deemed a total victory in any industry that survives on sales.

Still, we feel compelled to influence or spread the gospel as fanboy festival attendees. It’s difficult for me, as well, to not talk the talk as I meet people or interact with booth representatives while I’m enjoying my 3-4 ounce pour. “Are you in the industry?” one brewer asked me after we talked for a few minutes about his brewery’s offerings and possible future offerings. “Nope. I just like beer,” I replied. It’s not a secret that fanboy influence on craft beer has created, at times, a bad image or conclusion to the beer event. The 2014 Cigar City Hunahpu debacle might be craft beer’s Altamont. When fanboys and nerds are about to riot over beer, a problem exists. When brewers have to fear for their lives because a bunch of people didn’t get to take home $15 bottles of imperial stouts, the time, we’d think, has come for self-reflection regarding release day, beer festivals, or related events.

These are the pivot points, the metaphoric moments where it feels that a narrative has shifted. With the Cigar City fiasco, we might think that the glory days of craft beer events are over. In such grandiose statements that pin history on one or two events, we quickly summarize our situation as either: We’ve lost our way or we’ve gained our spirit. Whatever Hunahpu means to the overall craft beer industry’s never ending fascination with one day releases, Alltech’s event could mean the complete opposite for Lexington and Kentucky. The Craft Brews and Food Fest could be the moment where the average beer drinker woke up and realized that there is a lot of good beer in town and it’s not called Bud or Lite. We might look back on the Alltech extravaganza in a year or two and think: that’s the pivot point. We gained our spirit.

Our have we? I’d rather view the event through a different lens altogether. I’ll call this lens the “nice gathering” lens. It offers no pretentious summaries or statements regarding the future or the past. It’s not about overshadowing local brewers or trying to reclaim the crown of local beer king. It’s not about hyperbole or hype or rarities or special anythings. The nice gathering lens merely reflects on the enjoyment those who attended a day like the Alltech fest,no doubt, felt.

When it was all done, I headed home. I had a sandwich. I watched Adventure Time with my kids. I dropped the kids at a friend’s house. And my wife and I, along with our friends, went to Country Boy to try the new Alpha Experiment #291. Another nice gathering occurred.