Craft Beer Specialized Packaging

Does anybody in craft beer write about specialized packaging? What I mean by that is not “limited release” or “one time release.” Instead, I am thinking about breweries who – mostly via canning – release small runs of their products. These beers are not released for national distribution but are informally, nationally distributed through trades and muling (thus creating reputation and hype) and likely will be produced again at some point in the future. Because of the small runs, the cans often have sticker labels (Tired Hands, Spiteful) or maybe the brewery has a special deal to not buy 100,000 cans at once. Or maybe the brewery is purchasing massive amount of cans, but they have divided the printing to a number of offerings and not just one or two (as our own Country Boy does with Cougar Bait).

Some examples: Hoof Hearted.  Every so often, if you drive to the production facility in Marengo (on Sundays, I believe) and not the restaurant in Columbus (as I learned first hand), you can buy cans of some of their beers. Hazy. Juicy. Chicken broth, as one well read blogger notes. These traits have provided Hoof Hearted with national attention. Without much or any distribution (outside of the owners of Cappy’s in Loveland bringing down some cases every now and then to their store), these specialized cans receive a lot of attention also because of specialized packaging.

The Veil (a really nice write up on Good Beer Hunting by Cory Smith is here). This fairly new Richmond brewery is getting a lot of nerd attention, mostly from the cans that are making their way across the country in trades or mules (which is how I got mine). With a Hill Farmstead/Alchemist lineage, it’s no surprise that people would be interested in their beer. But what is interesting is how quickly The Veil is canning a variety of beer. Most breweries who are brand new start with one or two offerings. The Veil seems to be quickly packaging a number of offerings.

There is something about specialized packaging or a minimal release of canned beer, or whatever we want to call it, that shouts scarcity to a specialized population of consumers (like craft beer drinkers). Even if the overall production numbers are not low, the nerd factor kicks in quickly and treats it as such. One recent ISO on Ratebeer had the OP willing to send Cantillon Geuze, Russian River sours, Surly Darkness, or BA Jackie O’s for a four pack of Veil. A four pack. A four pack of a beer that probably costs between $12-$15 and there should be plenty of if you live in the Richmond area. A four pack of beer from a brewery that only recently opened (as opposed to Russian River’s long standing ethos and reputation).  Such is the lure of specialized packaging. Such is the ability of specialized packaging to help build hype.

The opposite of specialized packaging would be a widely available canned beer – like Arrogant Bastard or Fat Tire. But the opposite might not even be that extreme. A brewery that selects a specific product and decides to push that product in the market place instead of – like Hoof Hearted – periodically canning a new beer – is not part of the specialized packaging vocabulary.  Most breweries offer new beers on tap all the time. Few offer new beers in cans or packaging in general all the time. With canning, packaging typically means “flagship” or investment in a product since one has to purchase an extremely large amount of pre-printed cans to fill. What holds true for larger breweries like Stone and New Belgium can also hold true for smaller operations. Closer to home, Rhinegeist’s Truth or Against the Grain’s A Beer are not specialized packaging. They aren’t hyped as such and they are marketed as widely available even if only a few markets, for instance, can actually buy Truth (within Kentucky and Ohio). Truth is a very good IPA. But it’s hype is non-existent (no ISOs on Ratebeer). The Veil’s Broz Night Out is very very good. I’m not saying it’s super hyped, but if someone will give up Cantillon for a four pack of it in a trade, then its reputation via specialized packaging far exceeds Truth’s.

Reputation, we might say, is also created by the can. In other words, it’s in the can.

Speaking of specialization and “in the can”: Don’t forget to register for Craft Writing: Beer The Digital, and Craft Culture. The second time this event is being held at the University of Kentucky, and it is FREE!


Beers in My Bubble

In a recent The Daily Beast piece, Lew Bryson returns us to the warning of a looming craft beer crisis; too many breweries, not enough shelf space, a lot of “bad” quality beers on the market – these have become the repeated and circulated descriptions to counter the continuing craft beer expansion – what some statistics report as three new breweries opening each week. Indeed, for some time now, we’ve been hearing about the so-called craft beer bubble that will eventually collapse, weed out all the bad breweries and fakers, and allow the market to correct itself with genuine product. Whether craft controls 10% of the overall beer market or the more optimistic 15% figure, there are some critics who feel that an 85% market of untapped costumers is not a hopeful sign.

As Lew writes:

But even if one figures in direct brewery sales, the recent meteoric rise of craft beers can’t go on forever. If sales of the category continued at 2015’s rate of 12.8 percent, the entire U.S. beer market would be, well, completely craft in 17 years. That’s simply not going to happen.

No, it’s not. It’s not going to happen the same way that not all pasta sales will be artisan, not all wine sales are boutique, not all pizza sales will be at mom and pop restaurants, and not all chocolate sales could ever be bean to bar. No product that is placed in opposition to a mass produced product can ever gain the entire market. That’s not how consumption works.

Is there, then, a danger to having so many products called “craft beer” on the market?

Yes and no. Markets are not homogenous. Big markets continue to draw attention from breweries – Chicago, Atlanta, Asheville, Portland, Denver, Philadelphia, Ohio, Texas – while the rest of the country is still learning about this interesting and flavorful kind of beer often called “craft” and made a few miles away from where one lives. How else can you explain expansion efforts into what already seem to be crowded markets – such as Wicked Weed now distributing to Colorado? The Colorado shelves are full of beer. Yet, Wicked Weed and its distributor believe there is still plenty of room for an Asheville brewery whose packaged product is best known for $10-$15 500 ml sour beers. When Chris Shepard tells us that 9 % of all craft beer is consumed in the state of Texas, that says something important about markets and trends, as well as about how specific markets can continue to absorb more product. Listen to the local groan after the Wicked Weed announcement. Half of all craft beer drinkers in Lexington, I believe, make the four hour Asheville pilgrimage every other month. “Why can’t we have Wicked Weed, too?”

Where I live, I would bet that out of all beer drinkers in either my city or state, maybe 7% drink craft beer – if that. And I make that completely unscientific guess out of feeling and not data despite the last four years being very good to Kentucky beer – both in brewery openings and in distribution. Most people who drink beer still don’t know that something called “craft beer” exists or even that our city has four tap rooms, a brewpub, a brewery that does not have a tap room, and two more taprooms on the way. An entire half of our city – where more people with expendable income live – has only the one brewpub. Everyone else is huddled near each other in the downtownish area. That does not sound like local saturation to me.

Local sales in the brewery are simply not the same as either packaged sales in groceries or supermarkets. And local sales in a place like Lexington, Kentucky – whether in the store or in the brewery – are simply not the same as local sales in Chicago or Philadelphia. When I hear that Funky Buddha is available in Philadelphia, a city that is already saturated with amazing distribution, a city that is in a state with obscure beer laws, I scratch my head. Why there? Why not here? Why there – because in a big city like Philadelphia, more people understand and are exposed to this culture associated with craft beer. There are more associated bars. More associated food places. More festivals. Etc. Big city living. They are more edumucated than us small – 300,000 – town folk.

I just don’t buy the crisis argument. I’m not in sales. I’m not in distribution. I’ve only brewed beer twice. But the evidence doesn’t support the claim when you live outside of the big markets. And when you live in the big markets, more beer is still on the way. We can’t judge the Lexington beer drinker on what he or she was like four years ago before breweries started opening and distribution to Kentucky increased. He or she is not the same beer drinker today even if the same person was drinking beer then. Her options have expanded. Her interests and knowledge too are different now. Markets grow. They develop. They mature. They gain new consumers. This one, despite our belief to the contrary, is still very much in infancy in most of the country.

Craft Beard


 In December, I started growing a beard.

I started growing a beard for no reason other than, as an academic, I don’t have to go to work for almost three weeks over the winter break, and I hate shaving. This beard, therefore, was prompted by laziness. And while I’m not sure if I like or dislike having hair all over my face, this beard, since that initial bout of laziness, has remained because my wife won’t let me shave it off. Do I look like a hobo or a distinguished professor, I ask my colleagues. They typically look away and go back to work.

Rogue’s John Maier represents any number of brewers who grow beards. In these brewer beards, as Rogue attests, yeast grows. And that yeast, as Rogue demonstrated early last year, can be used to ferment beer. Thus, beard beer was born and had about 15 minutes of fame before it was forgotten like some other Rogue beers. Business Insider offered this tidbit regarding the Rogue beard beer.

As for the taste of Beard Bear, reviewers on Beer Advocate say the golden ale has notes of bread, citrus, and banana, with a slight sourness and a dry finish.

Here’s what one RateBeer reviewer says:

 Aromas of bananas, bubblegum, bread, nectarines and coriander. Smooth mouthfeel with fruity, tangy yeast dominating the flavour profile, along with sweet candy and spice.

For a beer that was made from beard crap, that doesn’t sound too bad at all. Whereas yeast was discovered in Maier’s beard, in my beard, like with so many other beard newbies, I have discovered leftover yogurt, bread crumbs, beer, coffee, and other items caught up in the various strands of hair hanging over my lip and reaching into my mouth like out of control yard vines. In a brief moment of “what’s in your beard,” I can identify with Maier and Rogue. I can identify because shit is in my beard, too. I don’t want to believe fecal matter is in my beard, as one CNN report suggests. Bacteria, however, likely lurks away in all that hair. It especially lurks after an hour and a half Bikram yoga session in a hot, sweaty room that already has who knows what bacteria lurking around. “Hey, a hairy, sweaty face!” that bacteria must think. Home sweet home.

The beard makes the man. I’m too short to be a hipster. To small to be burly brewer. I do, however, have tattoos. My beard, thus, keeps me in good, if not exact, company. Identification is never fully representational anyway. “What’s with all the beards?” John Holl asked in All About Beer late last year.

For many in the brewing industry every month is a no-shave month. Brewery employees, especially brewers, are largely unshaven. There’s a joke about how the Great American Beer Festival could also double as the Great American Beard Festival, to the point where a shaving company has set up shop over the last few years at the Colorado Convention Center during the festival to offer trims and shaves in between the beer samples.

What’s with all the beards, indeed. Most of the brewers I know in this town have beards. My beard is only a few months old. In those few months, I suddenly feel a connection to brewing in ways that no sane explanation can provide. After all, I don’t brew. Yet, I identify. I feel beard terroir. That is, I feel the ambiguous, affective, earthly grounding in a tradition that merges the body with the product of consumption. Beard terroir recognizes bodily influence on craft beer production, or, at the very last, hair influence on craft beer. Clean shaven beers/brewers exist, of course, but the beards. . . the beards shape beer in ways no valley in Belgium can. What’s in your beard? The potential for terroir! This recognition, beer terroir, goes well beyond the viral “I am a craft brewer” meme. This recognition goes well beyond air or land or water. Beer terroir is obviously a movement, albeit one that hasn’t proclaimed itself as a movement yet. And with that recognition I feel, as someone who consumes a great deal of beer on a weekly basis, who rates beers, who thinks about beer all the time, who experiences FOMO on a daily basis, I can make the following declaration.

I have craft beard.

A Sour Beer Bubble?

Reading Wicked Weed’s announcement regarding the expansion of its sour program with a new 30 barrel brewhouse prompts a question: Is there a sour beer bubble?

There is no shortage of commentary regarding a supposed craft beer bubble. Based largely on the bubble burst of the 1990s (when many entered the beer business for a quick profit and not for longevity or to build a customer base), in recent years, news accounts have been quick to predict an impending bubble burst among the current craft beer industry.  Forbes hyped the headline in 2015 with the narrative of “worried” brewers and a “crisis” point. Ballast Point’s billion dollar sale prompted Money to ask a similar question regarding the bubble. Business Insider pre-empted the current contagion/meme (the social media equivalent of repetition) with its 2013 bubble headline and focus on The Alchemist’s growth.

But even such a healthy rise in consumer demand won’t be enough to sustain the many new breweries jumping into the marketplace. For every Alchemist, there are numerous small breweries turning out solid product that will never see a profit.

And Joe Strange wanted to know, as well in 2013, will it fail? He concluded his discussion with the story of two D.C. beer geeks who, despite enjoying ChurchKey’s 55 beer tap list, are skeptical of craft beer’s future.

“All bubbles burst,” she says, when asked about the mounting wave of new breweries. But they’ll enjoy it while they can.

None of these journalistic attempts at storytelling (what goes up/must come down is a typical narrative arch) discuss sour beers, however. It’s easy to be concerned about a lack of SKUs for IPAs and brown ales (which every brewer seems to make) or to be concerned over another 100 tap beer bar in town (as if there really are multiple 100 tap beer bars in every town in America), but how much sour, red wine vinegar, apple tart, mouth puckering beer can the market stand? How many upset bellies can we deal with before antacid stocks suddenly surge and our portfolios collapse?

Every brewery among our four taprooms in Lexington has made a sour beer at some point. Breweries as diverse as 18th Street, Hailstorm, The Bruery, Three Floyds, Schlafly, Forest and Main, and so on have produced sours ranging in price points (though, most fall on the high end when packaged). Belgian expertise and release in small quantities has led to an endless amount of American craft breweries producing naturally fermented/soured (lambic style) beers or throwing yogurt in the kettle (kettle soured) or employing other forms of manipulated inoculation with purchased packs of brettanomyces and lactobacillus.

Sour candy. Sour fruit. Sweet and sour. Sour grapes (oops). What is our love of all things sour? Sour, as many have noted, suggests spoilage. One man’s infection (Goose Island Bourbon County Barley Wine) is another man’s pleasure (Sour in the Rye). When my five year old son doesn’t like the taste of something, he immediately proclaims: “It’s sour.” One of my first moments of “craft” beer was a pour of Duchess de Bourgogne at The Map Room in Chicago, 1998. Afterward, the $12 bottle purchase of this sour red back in Gainesville felt like a massive extravagance on my $11,000 a year TA salary as a graduate student.

I love sour beers. I love Wicked Weed. I love Wicked Weed sour beers. Still, I have to ask: Is there an end to all this sour beer! Will sour beers burst the bubble of our stomaches and of beer production?

I doubt it. But I also strongly doubt there is a craft beer bubble or a collapse on the horizon or a problem when only about 10-15% of all beer drinkers drink craft beer. Based on my Humanities-based education and limited math skills, I can confidently state that, with these numbers in front of me worked out and crunched, at least 85% of all beer drinkers do not drink craft beer. I’ll check my math, but that does suggest a pretty open market.

Last night at a friend’s house, we shared about six sours, as diverse as an 18th Street Sour Note and and a 3 Fonteinen Armand’4 Oude Geuze Lente. The complexity of one (age, terroir, subtlety) with the other (acidic tartness, cherry) does not suggest bubble as much as market/consumer/availability differences, characteristics that define craft beer in general as the industry continues to mature and grow. SKUs are one way to define that maturation. But there are other factors as well. Access Availability. Price points. Large vs. small scale production. Niche. Etc.

Is there a sour bubble? No, but as a student of social media, I sort of hope that by writing a post like this, I will begin a new contagion/meme that captures the attention of lazy, repetitive headline journalism so that a new conversation is started and repeated across media platforms with little evidence to prove otherwise. My only real purpose here (other than finally writing another blog post) is to kick start a narrative. And all professional writing is basically that anyway, right? Narrative. Making (or finding) the story when it really isn’t there.

The Worst Trade Ever


This is a picture of what I am calling “the worst trade ever.” I’ve done a lot of trades. Maybe 200. At least 100 of those on Ratebeer. I’ve traded beers with friends, off of Twitter, off of Google +. I’ve had regular trading partners. I’ve traded growlers. I’ve traded with states as far off as Alaska and as close by as Indiana. I’ve done local for locals. I’ve done specific requests (ISO: FT). I’ve had trading partners. And I’ve done quite a lot of Secret Santa trades.  Secret Santa trades are blind trades. You send out a certain amount of beer to someone; someone else sends the same amount to you. You don’t know what you are getting. The trade is blind. It’s meant to be an effort: I’m going to try and make your day (like Santa supposedly would when he comes down the chimney) with a box of goodies you can’t get where you live. Not necessarily rare or limited, but something nice not available to you.

I used to think the worst blind trades I did included one with a guy in Michigan, via  a local for locals trade, who sent me Michigan beers also distributed in Kentucky and a Ratebeer Secret Santa trade in which, among beers also available locally, the guy sent an All Tech beer. All Tech is in Lexington. The label on the beer says Lexington Brewing. The address the guy shipped to said: Lexington, Kentucky. For some reason, the guy couldn’t figure out that I could buy that beer where I live.  The third worst trade would be a recent Secret Santa summer trade in which the guy, after his first box broke on the way from Brooklyn, sent another box with what looked like odds and ends from his cellar. Also, among those odds and ends were beers I could buy locally. One beer looked so old its label was mostly torn off from age.

But this latest blind trade might be the worst. This box was from a recent Secret Santa trade that I did through the Facebook group JoePessie Beer Porn. There must be thousands of Facebook groups devoted to beer. I’m in a few, though I can’t recall which unless I look at my Facebook group settings. I’m only in the JoePessie Beer Porn group because a friend signed me up. I’ve probably posted only once or twice to the group, and the administrators are constantly weeding out non-participants. Somehow I’m still in the group. Most Facebook beer groups are devoted to haul pics, pics of beer recently acquired via trade, and pics of what people are drinking. Occasionally, trades are arranged via the group’s membership.

This box was from the JoePessie Beer Porn Secret Santa trade run by the group’s administrators. The only requirement was to send out – I think – 40 ounces or so in beer. I sent my recipient about 90 ounces, not caring if I received the same amount back, but expecting something not distributed in Kentucky.

In this box were:

  • A Hailstorm sour (so far so good)
  • A Sam Adams bottle with the label ripped off (what the fuck…this is getting pretty shitty)
  • A $10 Duvel box set you can get in any liquor store and maybe even gas station (bottom of the trade just fell out, and with it my stomach)

So, I sent 90 ounces of local beer, some of it brewery only, for a 22 ounce sour and a bunch of shit.

Trades are about surprise. They are, for some, about conquest. But for me, they are about the pleasure of the surprise, receiving something new, getting a chance to sample what is not available locally. Trades are easy to complain about. For every great blind trade I’ve had (including the latest winter Ratebeer Secret Santa box I received from Idaho), I’ve had many more awful blind trades. Not to throw stones, I’ve made some errors trading as well, such as the time I sent a Terrapin to New Jersey not realizing that Terrapin is distributed so far north, or the box I sent to Seattle that I accidentally left two beers out of and then it didn’t matter since the box broke as it arrived in Seattle. Trades easily disappoint.  But a trade that shows no effort – like sending a $10 Duvel box set you can get in any liquor store and maybe even gas station – is either a big FU or, at the very least, an I Don’t Give a Shit approach to blind trading. That attitude defies the trading experience. One is supposed to give a shit. That’s why we are doing the blind trade in the first place. We give a shit about beer and want to share what we can purchase with those who cannot.

Of course, it is also easy to not give a shit in general. Most of our culture is based on not giving a shit. Only 30% of the Kentucky voting public voted for the latest governor. Most people don’t vote for president (less than 50%). Waiting in a drive thru at 7 in the morning for fried food usually means: I couldn’t give a shit about putting an egg mcmuffin in my own toaster, so I’ll wait in line here instead. In education, state appropriations dwindle each year because the general public cares more about who can get married than the education of their kids. Sometimes it feels like no one gives a shit.

But beer should be different. Craft is based on the principle of giving a shit, of caring, of supposedly being in some imaginary revolution against the conglomerate forces that are insensitive, uncaring, cold, and don’t give a shit. Trading symbolizes the most local giving a shit gesture. When someone in Illinois sends to Kentucky a $10 Duvel box set you can get in any liquor store and maybe even gas station, that person is saying: I don’t give a shit. I don’t care if I can walk down to a local liquor store and pull from the shelf any number of beers not available in Kentucky. I’m sending this box set because I don’t care.

I would be easy for me to say: I don’t care either. I’m done with blind trades, Secret Santas, local for locals, etc. But I doubt it. I don’t doubt it because I give a shit. I doubt it because I still value the surprise. In the end, when it comes to commercial culture (which I love as well), when it comes to work and predictability and kids waking me up on a Sunday morning at 6:30 in the morning because they want to watch TV, and everything else around me, I like surprise. Trading, despite boxes such as this one, still offers that element of surprise.

That is true even when the surprise is a shitty $10 Duvel box set you can get in any liquor store and maybe even gas station.

A new beer dawn…a new beer day…


It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life. A new year. A new….The calendar numbers change, and we call for the new. And with the new come promises. I’ll lose weight. I won’t yell at my kids as much. I’ll be a better husband. I’ll praise my colleagues more. One such promise might be: I’ll write more.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. That final sentence might be a better way to summarize my online writing. I write. I write all the time (it’s part of my profession). But I don’t write online anymore. And I don’t write about beer online anymore. The last time I wrote to this space was in August.

But I have been writing about beer. My book, Craft Obsession: The Social Rhetorics of Beer, will hopefully come out this year. That book captures a great deal of my beer oriented thoughts from the past few years. That book might be my new day, my new dawn. Except. I’m already writing the next book.

Topically, people use the new year to declare goals. Rate Beerians have their goals. The gym and yoga studio are full of people with their fitness goals. Some people sit at home, in the dark, await the new and promise: I’ll be a better person this year. I swear. Declarations are often, though, frivolous gestures, more directed at our desires than our actual aims.  I won’t make any off the cuff beer declarations. I won’t declare that I will blog more. I won’t declare that I will write publicly more. Even though I renewed my domain for another year (wondering if I should fork over the $4 a month), and even though that renewal offers its own symbolism (it’s a new day….), I probably won’t write online that much more. Kids. Job. Professional writing. Running a department. They all take up more time than before. So does yelling at my kids. As they get older, it seems to take up even more time than ever.

I offer these excuses despite drinking more beer than ever before. Last year I said: I’ll reduce my daily drinking to a 12 ounce bottle a day, some days none. Like someone joining the gym on January 1 or someone attempting couch to 5K, such a declaration is topical. It’s of the moment. It’s emotional. It’s a cliche. It’s a surface level covering.  Such a declaration often holds little meaning in the long run. Last year, I entered 1,174 new reviews at Rate Beer. That’s 3.21 new beers a day. That tally doesn’t count the non-new beers I drink (my go to beers).  12 ounce bottle a day? Not even close. I took these pictures on this new year from the vantage point of my cellar and beer fridge.

This month, I spent a couple days in Asheville and Decatur visiting new and favorite spots. 12 ounce bottle a day? Nope. Not even one final nod to the frivolous gesture I began the new year with.


A Secret Santa box arrived while I was away in Atlanta buying and drinking beer. A box full of beer arrived when I was out buying beer. I’m in the Humanities. Symbolism is not lost on me.

One 12 ounce a day is not only not possible, it’s fantasy. Fantasy is the heart of writing. I fantasize that what I write has meaning. Can obsession be broken by declaration? Can a beer fanatic just walk away from new releases, local breweries, bottle shares, trades, trips? Can a writer not write? I’m scheduled to give a talk at the University of Illinois this month, and I declined flying just so that I could drive and stop at some breweries on the way there and back. Can I let my domain go vacant, a domain I’ve owned for about 20 years, even though I write for a living? Like many people with declarations, I went to the gym on January 1st. My calorie intake (more than 12 ounces) per day demands I burn off something. But I go to the gym four to five days a week normally. I don’t need no stinking declarations. But, then again, maybe I do. Addicts declare. Obsessed announce. “Hey look at me!” Beer drinkers are no different. Posted photos. Haul photos. Check ins. Ratings. Instagram. Snap Chat. Facebook. These are all declarations: HEY LOOK AT ME. I DRINK BEER. Hey, look at me. I can’t drink 12 ounces a day.

What is the difference between addiction and obsession? Pleasure obsession. Professional obsession. Can I draw a line between the two? When classes ended last month, I stopped shaving. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day. It looks, then, as if I’m growing a beard. It looks like a new year’s declaration. I’m now going to look like a distinguished professor with a beard!  The half ass two week old beard seems to symbolize a new dawn. A new beginning. But it’s neither. I’m just too lazy to shave and not going to work provides an excuse to stop shaving for a few weeks. I’ll probably shave it Wednesday before my scheduled meeting with the Dean.

It’s a new dawn. A new day. Declarations. Promises. I drank about 50 ounces of beer last night. Meet the new boss.

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.