May 8, 2013
Lexington does not have a brewpub. We have two breweries. We have maybe two more breweries on the way. We have a downtown bar that serves very good hamburgers. We have a downtown gastropub with a chalkboard beer menu and very good hamburgers. But we don’t have a brewpub. For a town this size, it makes no sense that we do not have a place that brews beer and serves food. For a town this size, it makes no sense that we do not have a place that brews beer and makes really good hamburgers.
I like brewpubs. I like the wood. I like the chalkboard menus. I like sampler trays. I like the typical hamburgers and fish and chips on the menu. Revolution in Chicago maks a solid fish and chips. I like the fries. In fact, when I’m travelling and hitting up brewpubs from place to place, I eat too many fries. I overdose on fries. I’m always convinced that the next place will have the best fries on the planet, and I have to try them. Moylans did not have the best fries on the planet. Broadway opened without a fryer (how dare they!). I don’t remember the fries at 5 Seasons. The fries at Black Star were pretty good. Wicked Weed had pretty good fries. The fries at Nodding Head were not memorable. Against the Grain has served and not served fries.
Last week, we travelled to Wicked Weed in Asheville. Wicked Weed is a new brewpub in a city with maybe a third of Lexington’s population but maybe six times a many breweries. Asheville is a city with a third of Lexington’s population but so many beers distributed there that you might mistake a visit to Brusin Ales for a visit to Belmont Station. Wicked Weed is a brewpub in Asheville with great food. And it is a brewpub with great beer. And it is a brewpub with a downstairs tasting room. And it is a brewpub with a chalkboard menu. And it is a brewpub that I wish were located down the street from my house. It’s the kind of brewpub that I fantasize about: hamburgers, fries, super hoppy IPAs, and a cellar where sours and bourbon aged beers are served. My only complaint is the no sampler on Friday or Saturday rule, the two days I am likely to visit on when we pass through on the weekend.
I love brewpubs. I love brewpubs because they are family oriented. A brewpub is an excuse for lunch or dinner where I can take my kids, get a sampler, drink a few beers, eat good food, and there is no guilt of leaving my kids at home so that I can drink beer. Brewpubs embrace family. Goose Island offers crayons. Bear Republic serves ice cream. Great Dane gives away ballons. For every beer drinker that looks annoyed that my kids are playing with toy dinosaurs or dolls at the table while I drink a beer, there are plenty of beer drinking dads who get it, who don’t want to be an alone at the bar kind of guy, who don’t want to go off without their kids in the middle of the day, who are tired at night and not in the mood to drive across town in order to sit at a bar, but who want to taste a fine IPA or cherry sour beer when it comes on tap.
A few weeks ago, I hosed a small tasting and mentioned that my daughter had been to Russian River a few years ago. “Russian River!!!” was the response. Shock. Jealousy. Surprise. Here was a six year old who had been to a brewpub many beer drinkers fantasize about. When we visited Russian River, we did not have fries, though. We ate a pizza. Pizza is another staple food at brewpubs. If Flat Branch did any food ok, it was the pizza. Piece in Chicago does a decent pizza.
My daughter’s life began with brewpubs: Otto’s in State College. This summer, she and her brother will hopefully visit a few more, including a return trip to Three Floyd’s where a couple years ago she shared a sandwich, and he sat in a high chair. He no longer sits in high chairs. We’ve passed much time in brewpubs. I enjoy sitting in a brewery or craft beer bar at one o’clock in the afternoon like any other university professor who can either have a mid-day beer or grocery shop during working hours. But I also enjoy beer with food and family. The brewpub grants me such enjoyment. In praise of the brewpub, I say. In praise of Wicked Weed, one of the best brewpubs I’ve been to in recent memory. And in praise of whatever Lexington investor who has about a million dollars to build one here in town. On the south side. Not too far from where I live. We need a go to place. We need a go to brewpub.
April 22, 2013
When I lived in Missouri, once I ordered beer from Beverages4less, a shop in Santee, California. Even though I no longer live in a state the shop ships to, I still get their email notices. In fact, I get a lot of email notices from stores I cannot buy from. I do so largely to be informed. What stores carry what beers at what moments? I am fascinated with distribution patterns.
Today, I saw a note that Beverages4Less was offering its customers Heady Topper, a Double IPA brewed by The Alchemist in Vermont. The distance from The Alchemist’s brewery in Waterbury, Vermont to Santee, California is 2,982 miles. In California, the IPA, particularly the big hoppy IPA that Heady Topper exemplifies, must be everywhere. One Serious Eats story on California IPAs showcases a photo of eight, and discusses a tasting of 30. From Pliny to Racer 5 to Stone IPA to Sculpin to Exponential Hoppiness to West Coast IPA to Drake’s IPA to. . . .there must be thousands of IPAs for purchase in California. And that doesn’t count the number of IPAs distributed to California from nearby states.
Then why does The Alchemist need to distribue almost 3,000 miles to California? The question is a green question (the fossil fuels it takes to ship the beer that far) but also a market question. Despite the fantastic reputation (and taste) of the canned Double IPA that insists you not pour it in a glass, why compete in a saturated market of IPAs? Brian Yeager asks if IPAs are over (and on Facebook, I responded: Never). IPAs are obviously not over, but some markets must feel the insanity of IPA availability as opposed to others. According to Yeager, IPA is 25.2% of the Oregon beer market. Yeager writes:
Because consumers are goo goo for IPA, brewers make more and more of them. As referenced above, Double Mountain makes three of them. A recent visit to Crux in Bend yielded six on tap. This all-IPAs all-the-time mentality can become dangerous, not to mention stifle creativity and exploration rather than nurture it, both among producers and consumers.
All this returns me to my question: If West Coasters are goo goo for IPAs, do they need another one shipped across the country to their market? Of course, one could ask me as well: When you lived in Missouri, did you really need to buy beer from California? The answer is likely “no” unless one considers the novelty of drinking what you normally cannot buy locally. A California consumer no doubt feels that novelty as much I felt it in Missouri or still feel it in Kentucky, where I drank a Heady Topper for the first time a couple of years ago. The distance from The Alchemist’s brewery to Lexington, Kentucky is 918 miles. While considerably less distance, it is still over 14 hours of driving and thus a fossil fuel issue as well. I did not buy this beer online, however, I traded for it. Even though my market is fine enough to never go without a good beer, I still trade in order to fuel my own obsession.
Food miles is a popular term among those interested in local food issues. Beer miles, too, matter. At what point, though, may novelty or interest or taste or even obsession outweigh beer miles? Today, I am waiting for a package from Minnesota containing Surly Overrated. That package will have travelled around 939 beer miles. The market I live in is not over-saturated with IPAs, but there are fine IPAs to be purchased: West Sixth IPA, Schlafly Session Can IPA and AIPA, Founders Centennial, Stone IPA, Bells Two Hearted, Avery IPA, and others. With the exception of West Sixth, all of these IPAs have travelled. And despite my conflicted feelings about a Double IPA travelling almost 3,000 miles to a market known for producing stellar IPAs, I would not object if, for some odd reason, The Alchemist started sending pallets of Heady Topper to Lexington, Kentucky.
Then why did I frown when I saw that note from Beverages4Less? I seem to have drawn the false distinction between the development of market (what I seem to believe we have with IPAs distributed to Kentucky) and with an overflow of market (what California seems to have). The California market can grow, but it doesn’t need to develop. Our market needs to develop. But the virtual market I posses, the beer obsession that prompts trade requests or large scale purchases when out of market, that market demands never ending growth. I, too, am goo goo for IPAs. I’m in Lexington, Kentucky so I may have more reason to, on the surface, feel a strange resentment at Heady Topper being sent over 3x the distance to California than to Kentucky. On the other hand, if I lived in California, and if I were the same obsessed person, would I not feel the same resentment at some other distribution (i.e., Founders to England).
Distribution, then, is more than a can or bottle sent from state to state. It is the force that, accompanying the consumer good we treasure and want, sends outward our emotions and needs. That outward expansion, which is purely affective, also demands growth. Affective distribution can never be satisfied or over-saturated; it only can be met with its never ending movement. Heady Topper, sent 3,000 miles to the West, is part of that movement. That movement, too, is a distribution strategy.
This photo is from October 26, 2011.
April 3, 2013
Prairie Artisan Ales, out of Krebs, Oklahoma, may be defying everything we know about terroir. Terroir is the wine (and sometimes food) based concept that ties the flavor/taste of the product to the land and environment (soil, water, air). Much has been written on terroir – including the very good The Taste of Place – and much has been debated regarding what terroir is and how it may apply to products outside of the wine world. Many in beer tsk tsk the concept of terroir for craft beer. Beer is often not based on the land it comes from – hops, grain, barley, other ingredients likely come from elsewhere (though water, filtered water, is local). I’ve long thought of beer and terroir as mostly emotional rather than logical. We can point to the specific conditions that give rise to Cantillon’s lambics (the critters living in the Belgian air), but even more than the critters, the emotional connection many of us connect to lambic and Belgium makes Cantillon’s take on the style so much more special than what other breweries do.
For this reason, San Diego and Santa Rosa might hold special terroir-like associations for those of us who love Lost Abbey or Russian River sours. The sour that makes a beer like Consecration or Cuvee de Tomme amazing may not actually be bound to San Diego or Santa Rosa, but the emotional connection may, indeed, be bound. The same may be said when we speak of concepts such as Michigan beer or Colorado beer. It’s not the land that yields the connection; it’s the emotions we attach to the breweries we love who come form these (and other) states. We create emotional categories and treat the beers and breweries as having like-minded terroir conditions. We can group Bells and Founders together as much as we group Great Divide, Odell, and New Belgium. Emotional terroir allows us to do so.
All this causes me to ask: What is our emotional connection to Krebs, Oklahoma? I was born in Oklahoma, and I have no idea where Krebs is. I Googled the city, and discovered that 13 years ago, its population was 2,051. That might have been before the Praire Artisan Ales’ brothers showed up. There might now be 2,053 people in Krebs. Or these guys were there 13 years ago as well, and the population hasn’t changed one bit. I don’t know. But this is all the information I have to go by for now when it comes to discussing Krebs, Oklahoma.
What do I mean by defying terroir? I mean everything that goes against our emotional expectations regarding the connection between land and beer. I may have first experienced this idea when I tasted the lambic beers Upstream in Nebraska was producing when it ran a coolship in Omaha. Nothing about Omaha said lambic to me. But the beers were good. I’m experiencing that feeling again as I drink this Prairie Gold. This is not a lambic. But it tastes like a lambic: tart, lambic aroma, lemon, semi-dry. Its taste and location are defying terroir. Oklahoma does not say lambic to our emotions the way Belgium might. Gold does. Gold is changing my emotional connection.
Gold is the fourth Prairie I’ve tried. And I’ve got two more new to me Prairie Artisans in my beer fridge in the basement. I have no clue what good deed we did in Kentucky to get these Shelton distributed beers so easily, but we should do more of it. Did we help some old lady cross the road, give to charity, say nice things about each other, not cheat on our taxes? Whatever it is, do more, fellow Kentuckians. These beers are good. They embody everything we love in saisons and semi-dry slightly funky beers – for those of us who love such things. We can place Praire Artisan among some of the best in the business of producing saisons and semi-dry slightly funky beers (Upright, Jolly Pumpkin, Southampton, even Hill Farmstead).
Distribution also owes something to the ways we defy terroir. If Praire Artisan did not hook up with Shelton Brothers the way some similar saison based American brewers have done (Jolly Pumpkin, Jester King, St Somewhere), would we, in a place like Lexington, Kentucky, have the opportunity to confuse and defy our sense of terroir? Shelton takes Oklahoma to Kentucky in this case – much in the way it has brought Belgium to America for some time now. Terroir is a distributed experience. It is not a place based experience. If I – and everyone else who loves saisons and semi-dry slightly funky beers – continue drinking these fine beers from Krebs, Oklahoma, our sense of terroir will be (and there is no other way to say this) completely fucked up. We’ll have to open up to Krebs, Oklahoma the way we have opened up to Portland, Maine or Portland, Oregon. Because of one brewery? Yes. That’s all it takes. One brewery in some kind of obscure farmhouse situation in the middle of nowhere where a little over 2,000 people live fucking up our sense of terroir. Talk to Hill Farmstead. They have made this process a pure art form.
Much of this is to say that we need more defiance of terroir. We might claim that American craft beer has long done this – from Sierra Nevada on. But we should also recognize how much of this process continues on and continues to make us confused, but really happy, beer drinkers of semi-dry slightly funky beers.
March 27, 2013
I seem to have lost the beach vacation argument. Last year, I managed to hold off the trip to Charleston. Like many people who grew up at the beach (Miami, in my case), I will do anything as an adult to avoid going to the beach. My wife, like many people who grew up without a beach (“You can’t count a summer trip to Galveston,” she reminds me) yearns for a summer vacation at the beach. Beaches embody the worst way to spend a day: heat, sand, and $5 bottles of water. My memories of Miami beach Saturdays are returning home with oil on my legs, and my dad pouring turpentine all over me to get it off. My wife’s imaginary beach involves drinks served in coconuts and basking in hammocks. I imagine something closer to the reality: endless people on hot sand and kids complaining that they want to leave. In this case, I seem to have negotiated a two day Ohio trip to Jackie O’s in Athens in exchange for the beachventure. It’s a comprise I can live with – assuming we actually get to Athens at some point. For some reason, knowing my family and how we promise each other things, the Jackie O’s trip still feels pretty distant.
It doesn’t help that Westbrook, the target of this Charleston trip for me, does not have a restaurant. Restaurants, as I tend to note, are the major excuse I can rely on when I want to visit a beer destination with my kids. Without a restaurant, I’m pretty much limited to not visiting at all, or leaving my family in the car while I taste beers. I have, for the record, never pulled the trigger on the second option – though, one time, down the street from Half Acre in Chicago, I was very tempted to make the suggestion.
I know that we will stop at Charleston Beer Exchange for our shopping needs where, right now, you can fill a growler of Local Option’s Voku Hila (misspelled on website). Even though we go to Chicago once a year, I’ve only had one Local Option beer to date, and, sure enough, it was Voku Hila on tap here in town at Country Boy. The reason we’ve never been to Local Option in Chicago is because I usually use up my beer pass on Revolution or Goose Island. My beer pass is how much tolerance I think my wife and two kids can put up with beer related activities on a given day. When I tried Voku Hila here in Lexington a few weeks ago, my understanding was the reason we were getting a keg of Local Option is because this is a collaborative beer with Against the Grain (Louisville). But it seems the beer has surfaced in Charleston as well for growler fills. Thus, I’m fortunate that the beer is on now at Charleston Beer Exchange since I’ve already had it and the chances of a better growler fill this summer or even another Local Option beer will improve.
Of course, the whole question of doing a growler fill in another state when one does not yet know if the hotel will have a refrigerator is a bit presumptuous. Should I take empty growlers along in the car? These trips, as well, are not attempts to try so called strange beers. Odell’s Lugene, off of that Fox list, is hardly strange. It is, however, delicious. Westbrook’s Thai IPA was fairly strange when I first had it. It’s in a can as well. I could call it delicious, but I thought the non-Thai IPA was even more delicious.
And delicious may be the way to sum up my efforts at summer vacation. I don’t want to go to the beach. I want delicious. Before I conceded on the beach trip, I spent some time searching out “unique” places to eat across Ohio. What’s in Dayton? In Athens? In Columbus? Like most foodie wannabes, I am heavily influenced by Bourdain and Zimmern, whose research teams do a pretty good job finding unique places to eat at so that those of us at home at 9pm on the couch can be entertained. Those research teams, though, must have some imaginary tool at their disposal beyond Google. Do they run some special type of food related algorithm that picks up on hungry stomaches or people who like house smoked meats? When I search for unique eats, I usually get a recommendation to eat at a chain or a place that serves”good tacos.” I find it far easier to find a unique beer or brewery option than a unique food option. Chowhound, Yelp, Trip Advisor. Help as they do, they all are limited. The beach, as well, is limited. You are stuck in the sand. And you will take that sand home with you. No doubt.
This picture below has no relationship to Charleston, unique food spots, or the beach. But a post needs a pic. Posts are stuck that way, too.
March 21, 2013
Yes, we went to Vegas. The reasons were professional – to attend an academic conference. The problem was – this was our spring break. Spring break for an academic is not parties, trips to the beach, or even keggers.Spring break for us is not the same spring break undergraduates enjoy. Our spring break is the odd benefit that almost no other job enjoys: A week off for no real reason. Our week off for no real reason was spent in Las Vegas. On The Strip. The place that boasts having a Sammy Hagar restaurant. My time was not well spent. My week off for no real reason was wasted on Las Vegas.
I find Vegas boring. I also don’t find it to be much of a beer town. If by “beer town,” you mean a place that allows visitors to walk around at 10 am with a Silver Bullet tall boy in public, then Vegas may, indeed, be your kind of town. First of all, I don’t like walking around with beer. I’d rather sit in one place. Second of all, I don’t drink Coors.
Granted, my overall Vegas experience was limited to 3 miles of area known as The Strip, where the average price for a beer – any beer – is about $8.50. The conference hotel, The Riveria, was so bad that during a free university party I attended (free = open bar at the very crappy Queen Victoria pub in the hotel casino where the waiters are very angry all the time), I actually drank a Batch 19. A Batch 19! Only because it was free and not $8.$0 (thank you University of Texas for your open bar party). And only because I got another rating out of it.
Along the strip, I did find casinos and restaurants with decent lists and some local beers. But mostly, those beers were $8.50. At one point, Bradley and I took a cab to Freakin Frog, which had a respectful draught list and a way overpriced bottle selection. The bartender was very proud of the cooler of bottles. Some were retired and rare. Some were common. Someone also seems to have convinced the bartender that Lost Abbey , Upright, and Bells are distributed to Nevada. They are not. The owner shrugged his shoulders over the issue. He made sure we knew, though, that he started craft in Las Vegas. Freakin Frog did have Parabola on tap. Despite the overpriced bottles Bradley made us buy, I can admire a Las Vegas craft beer bar that has Parabola on tap.
My other major beer adventure was the Ellis Island Brewery and Casino. Before we left Kentucky for Las Vegas, my wife was talking this place up. She was talking it up because, somewhere and somehow, she learned that the Ellis Island Brewery and Casino has a $8.99 dinner special that is not on the menu: Steak, salad, potato, green beans and a beer. All that for $8.99. She knew we had to go and try it. She also managed to convince five of our friends to join us for this secret $8.99 dinner. Ellis Island is a local’s place, not far from The Strip. By locals, I mean, there is more smoke in it than in the typical Strip casino. There is more smoke in Ellis Island than the back of a van I likely hung out in in high school. I can also say that while the beers are cheap at Ellis Island – we ordered $2 IPAs while waiting almost an hour for a seat and the beer that came with dinner – they are not good. This may be, as one Ratebeer member has written, the worst brewery in America.
I’ll never understand the magic of a place that people flock to in order to sit at machines pushing buttons, going to House of Blues or the Hard Rock Cafe, and overpaying for just about everything . Vegas is not for me. But even though it is not really a beer town, and even though most of the beers I encountered were in the $8.50 range, I did get 13 new reviews while there. Two of those reviews, I must admit, came from Ellis Island, if not the worse, then for sure the smokiest, brewery in America.
February 28, 2013
I’ve got that beer trip itch again. It’s been around six months since GABF, and I want back on the beer trail. When I have the itch like this, I think local or localish. So far, I’ve had no success talking my wife into an Ohio beer car trip this summer. Her first response was: No. Why Ohio? It’s close. We can drive through it in a short period of time. It won’t cost too much. From Lexington to Cleveland is only five hours. In between, there are many places to stop at. As long as there are bottle shops as well, our hotel nights are set. As long as the DVD player is charged, the kids are entertained in the car.
For some time, I’ve wanted to do a trip where the destination was not the goal. I’ve wanted to take the time – even with two kids – to get somewhere. And along the way, I want to stop at breweries. I thought about doing this for a trip to Colorado, but from Lexington, that’s almost 1200 miles. Averaging 500 miles a day, it will take over 2 days just to get to Denver!
Ohio is closer. From here to Cleveland, I can think of a number of places I’d love to visit:
- Jackie O’s
- Fat Head’s
- Great Lakes
- Brew Kettle
This trip would have limitations, of course. Beer stops must be either kid friendly or have food (the best way to bring kids – give them food while I get a sampler). One beer oriented visit a day or two if lunch and dinner are involved is all we can do. Three places in Cleveland, for instance, requires at least two days and a wife’s patience.
I could call upon my previous bro-adventure partners and see if they can get away for a week of Ohio travelling. But family is probably the way to go. If this planned summer trip looks selfish so far, it is. I haven’t done the necessary homework regarding kids’ stuff (I know there is a zoo in Columbus) or for my wife (beyond beer, which she will enjoy as well). Another problem is that even though there are a lot of breweries in Ohio, and even if there are some new ones in the Cincinnati area (only an hour or so away – where we often do day trips), most don’t have restaurants. Last visit to Cincinnati saw us at Rock Bottom – a nice Double IPA, but not very good food. Tap rooms just aren’t enough. We need food. I still want to try Listermann’s beers, for instance, but I never see anything in the shops I frequent in Cincinnati, and I don’t want to waste my one day trip beer spot at a homebrew shop. I don’t homebrew.
Even though I’m supposedly skilled in persuasion, I may not win this argument. I haven’t found the “thing” that will sell this trip. Ohio doesn’t have the allure of Chicago (a yearly summer destination for us) or even Charleston (on the radar). Of course, there’s always Asheville, another regular stop for us. Typically, it suffers from the no restaurant issue (still haven’t been to Wedge for that reason). We get around that issue because Asheville has so many great places to eat at anyway and many have local beer on tap. Otherwise, we are limited to Lexington Avenue and Asheville Brewing. But the new Wicked Weed has a restaurant, and if they are open by this summer, I might be able to sneak visits to the newer Burial and Twin Leaf.
Can we do a week in Ohio? Isn’t that every family’s summer dream? Our colleagues are going to Berlin, New York, Tel Aviv. We can go to Ohio!
February 10, 2013
Five years ago, I pissed off Texans during an Austin trip by claiming that Texas beer wasn’t all that great. Maybe minutes after I blogged from our hotel room, angry comments began appearing. After our recent trip to Austin a week ago, I can say that there is more Austin beer to choose from than five years ago, that there is good and interesting Austin beer, but that, overall, Texas still is not up to par with other areas.
And I say that point as someone who was excited to revisit Austin after so many new beer places have opened. On my agenda was Black Star Coop (which we visited) and if possible, Hops and Grains (which we didn’t), Whole Foods for shopping (which we did) and maybe Central Market as well for shopping (which we did, but which, despite a decent selection, has no good beers to have on its patio). We showed up to Draught House at 2 in the afternoon, three hours before opening. Texas law doesn’t seem conducive to regular hours or serving food with beer (in some cases). Food and normal hours are usually a pre-requisite for me when travelling. I’m not interested in waiting until 5pm.
During this Austin trip, I have not yet pissed off Texas beer nerds (we’ll see). But I did piss off Texas Facebook friends (including my mostly Texan wife) by saying Tex-Mex isn’t good food. Dry rice and refried beans don’t make a culinary experience. I find the whole Tex-Mex approach to cooking baffling. A mound of unseasoned food with cheap cheese or jarred products used. Tex-Mex is not Mexican, of course, nor is it necessarily indicative of other Texas fusion ideas, like the idea that barbecue is really brisket (an idea I totally support). And while Tex-Mex puts me off completely, Texas beer does not. I am not anti-Texas. That’s right, as Lyle Lovette, might say. I am not from Texas whether it wants me or not. But I’m not against the state that reaches triple digits in temperature in the summer or that thinks Lone Star is a local beer.
A list, from my Ratebeer page, of what I sampled in Austin.
And where is the Jester King? We get Jester King in Kentucky, and I already know and like Jester King, so I didn’t seek them out. I did, however, buy a bottle of RU-55 at Central Market, only because I’ve never seen it around here.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise was the Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap I had in the Whole Foods bar. That’s right: Whole Foods bar. I’m not a Whole Foods fanboy (though I like John MacKey for all kinds of reasons). But I love the idea of a Whole Foods bar. Our Whole Foods in Lexington will serve you a pint from one of four taps behind the cheese counter or fill a growler, but there’s no bar. This Whole Foods, in the chain’s flagship store that is as big as a Macy’s and that has a shopping cart escalator as well as a chocolate fountain, has a bar. My biggest letdown of the trip might have been Adelbert’s Scratchin Hippon, a 750 cork and caged bottle that looked attractive and intriguing on the Whole Foods shelf, but lacked any real character or flavor.
These purchased bottles were consumed in the hotel in the evening when our eating extravaganza was over. There is nothing like chilling a beer in a hotel bathroom ice bucket, and then snapping a blurry iPhone picture as evidence of one’s evening indulgence. For a married couple on the road in Austin without their kids, you’d think we’d take advantage of the opportunity and be out all night in my wife’s favorite town listening to blues rip off bands or indie bands unknown to anyone over 40 (such as me). Nope. We tend to opt for a 750 cork and caged bottle chilled in a hotel bathroom ice bucket.
Even more evident of my lack of enthusiasm for much of Austin’s beers are my few iPhone pictures. Black Star Coop, above, may not have wowed me with the beer, but the fish and chips was very tasty. Both Black Star and Hopdoddy, below, ask you to wait in line to order, sit, and wait for your food. At Black Star, with no table service, this means that when you want another beer on a fairly busy Friday night, and you look up at that line stretching out the door, you might be less inclined to have another beer. Hopdoddy, to its credit and tasty $12 burger, had only Texas beers on tap.
Austin people, don’t hate me. You still have a cool, if not traffic heavy, city that my wife dreams of living in once again. And you have a Whole Foods with a bar, a culture devoted to eating tacos for breakfast (can’t go wrong there), and a city where food trucks are everywhere (if I weren’t so full, I would have eating at either the dosa food truck or the venison in a cone food truck on Congress). All of these points are worth our admiration. You have a lot of beer choices, but soon, hopefully, the quality will match the quantity.
January 19, 2013
I felt intimidated. 22 ounces of 15% Founders Bolt Cutter barley wine and only two hours until bedtime. Big beers can intimidate. The percentage number can make us feel small and insecure. “That much???” we might think in shock. And when a 22 ounce bottle is opened, there is no looking back. It cannot be returned to the fridge half consumed. At its price, it cannot be thrown out. It must be completed to the end. After three months of bottle ownership, and with no one to share with, I knew the time had come. The bottle had to be opened, solitary 15% drinking be damned.
The only cure to intimidation is to break down the object into parts. Writing tasks can be broken down into sections (6,000 words? Four sections and an intro? That’s maybe 1,000 – 1,500 words per section). Daily challenges can be broken down (first wake up, then make coffee, then try to get kids to eat breakfast….). Break down that 22 ounces. A 12 ounce pour not even doubled. Of course, no bar pours 12 ounces of 15% barley wine. I had a 5 ounce pour of Against the Grain’s 14% Bo and Luke the other day at Lexington Beer Works. My brother in law and I split 32 ounces of the same beer over Thanksgiving – that’s 16 ounces each. I had maybe an 8 ounce pour of the same beer back in October at Country Boy. All of these pours provided some solitary indulging of high ABV. Each demonstrates the ease of consumption. The move from 16 ounces to 22 ounces is only one more small pour (slightly more than a 5 ounce). Doable. The task is broken down into its parts.
Not that I have never consumed high ABV beers alone before. I have. As recently as November, I consumed a bottle of East End Gratitude (11.5%) alone. And just a few weeks ago, I drank a 22 ounce bottle of Firestone Walker’s 16th anniversary by myself (13%). Speaking of Firestone Walker anniversary beers, I remember consuming the 13th anniversary by myself in our funky hotel room in Petaluma, California while my wife watched TV and our daughter slept, and the 15th anniversary by myself in our not so funky hotel room in Seattle while my wife watched TV and our two kids bounced up and down on the bed. So why did a bottle of Founders’ barley wine intimidate me? I’m no newbie, after all, to big beers.
Ideas circulate. They move from post to rating to discussion to website back to rating to message board thread to another in person discussion to us. We accumulate these circulations into other ideas, such as “this beer is too intense to drink alone.” When such accumulations occur, we find ourselves believing in some idea or concept outside of any experiential or critical experience (i.e., a response such as “but a few weeks ago I drank 22 ounces of a similarly high ABV beer”). Such is thinking. Thinking can lead to feelings of liberation (“now I get it”) or intimidation (“that’s too much!”). Of course, experiential experience is not enough to overcome problematic circulations. Even if we have experienced otherwise, we might still succumb to a circulated idea (and we often do). For whatever reason, and outside of my own experiential experience, for instance, the big bad barley wine intimidates. I have bottles of barley wine that sit for some time in my basement cellar space, all in the hope of sharing that alcohol percentage, but which I eventually drink alone and which I eventually survive from drinking alone. I walked away from that Bolt Cutter last night feeling fine. No problemo. Off to bed on target like middle aged parents of two often do. Woke up early to my two year old son kicking me in the side at 5:30 am. I survived. I survived that barley wine better than I survive Saturday morning cartoons of Curious George and The Cat in the Hat. Or of being kicked in the side by a two year old early in the morning.
This is a rhetorical issue. Intimidation is based on perceived meaning. And with that, I bring together my worlds: profession (what I study, teach, and write about) and consumption (what I love to drink). I don’t just consume a 15 % barley wine on a Friday night while the kids sleep and my wife watches TV, in other words, I consume an idea, a meaning, a perception. And then I rework all three into a blog post about intimidation.
January 5, 2013
I’m not a sentimental man, so I have no best of 2012 posts. No best beers, best trips, best whatevers. Instead, I have a best last three weeks of winter break. Since we were all sick more or less over these three weeks, and since we had to cancel our trip to Decatur where my Westy box still waits, there’s not a lot of best of to be had. I did learn, however, that after growing a beard for three weeks, I have a tremendous amount of chin grey hair. Most of the beard is black, but that chin came out pretty grey.
What I think about, instead, is distribution. Distribution is fascinating for any number of reasons: the grey market between needing a three tier system to supporting self distribution (online or in region), the desire for national brand recognition, the ability to reach new consumers on a regular basis. Distribution is always on beer nerds’ minds as they desire all the hard to find beers, but cannot get them outside of online purchases, travel, friends, or trades (the “other” distribution network of craft beer). There are any number of models for how breweries get their beer to markets and develop brand name (as well as make a living). The first issue, of course, is satisfying local demand (and thus, many breweries never send beers outside of their own city if they are small operations). But many breweries opt, at some point, to increase sales by tapping into new markets. A few obvious models:
- Close to home. Breweries that stay almost entirely in state. Obvious examples are New Glarus and Surly (still have taps in Chicago?) who have ventured out of state at some point (New Glarus once to Chicago, Surly once to South Dakota) but find success in state as brand and awareness work out well for them. Most small operations, of course, stay in state and maybe even in city. I’m not thinking about those breweries so much as I am thinking about breweries with national or semi-national reputations. In Kentucky, this has been largely the approach of the three largest and most popular in state breweries over the past year (Against the Grain, Country Boy, and West Sixth) with some exceptions (I have seen some of their beers cross over into Cincinnati and Indiana on occasion, and I believe Against the Grain has sent some kegs out of state and even to Denmark for an event). In Kentucky’s case, though, all three are only a year old (or not even) and their distribution plans might change dramatically at some point if success dictates change and reputation grows.
- Close to home, but not only at home. This model supports distribution in the region, not in markets far away. Three Floyds, for instance, keeps a fairly close to home regional model of distribution: Indiana (home state), Illinois, parts of Wisconsin, Ohio, and Kentucky. You can’t find Three Floyds far off in Portland. Schlafly does, too, to some extent, though you can find their higher end beers far away in New Jersey and D.C. I’ve noticed 4 Hands in St. Louis crossing the river into Illinois and Perennial in Chicago. Bluegrass Brewing has also sent beer to Chicago. Chicago, though, is not totally regional to us or St. Louis (four to six hour drive) but regional enough.Finch’s looks like it is trying this approach as it extends down from Chicago – though it goes all the way to Atlanta, so we may have a bit of a mix of regional and big market at once. Odell is very regional and has even produced a beer showcasing ingredients from every state they are in (all near one another). Rivertown in Cincinnati limits distribution to Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky.
- Generally broad. A more ambiguous approach, but it barely puts beers in fairly decent markets and in a broad, general manner depending on capacity and demand. Stone, Dogfish Head, Founders, Victory, Bells all seem to fall in this category. They may opt to not send to certain parts of the country (Bells does not go farther West than Iowa, I believe), but they are still broad in coverage.
- A little in a lot of markets. Here we have breweries trying to hit big markets with a little bit of their beer: 50/50 in Denver and Philadelphia, Nebraska Brewing Company in Portland, Philadelphia, and Asheville, Cascade in Asheville and parts of Florida. Some times this model involves high price point beers (above $20 for 22 ounce or 750 ml bottles). I’m curious how much revenue sending a few cases of high priced beer brings in; or is this more of a brand issue (putting one’s brand in the big markets for recognition while the bulk of sales remain at home).
- Hit the big markets: Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, Denver, Asheville, New Jersey, Atlanta, and now Florida and Ohio (is Idaho the next big state? It looked like Missouri was for awhile). A trip to Brusin Ales in Asheville shows how far some breweries will go to just be in the “big” market: Epic, Uinta, Ballast Point, Mission, Cascade, The Bruery, Hoppin Frog all are on the shelf. Terrapin has good regional presence except that it skips Kentucky for some reason and instead hits one “big” market, New Jersey. Lost Abbey branched out to big markets: Chicago, New Jersey, Atlanta.
- Send big bottles far to big markets. I wonder if The Bruery started this trend since they only package in big bottle format. Cigar City seems close behind in this logic. Do the cans and six packs hit all areas of distribution, or just the 750s?
- Be in every state. Once, it seemed that this concept was reserved for Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. But as New Belgium begins production in Asheville and Lagunitas opens a new brewery in Chicago, we should see both in every state. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Green Flash as well in every state, only because of how they have blanketed the South with distribution last year. Despite denials, Stone, too, may be in every state in a few years. Goose Island will be as well. Even though Terrapin is only in a few states overall, I wonder if their partial ownership by MillerCoors (via Tenth and Blake) means eventually being in every state (if capital investment increases).
- Tourism. This is a different take on distribution since the beer may not be the only item distributed; the brand is as well. Oskar Blues in North Carolina may not mean a presence in every state, but it does mean increased tourism from another part of the country. Epic’s recent announcement that they will open a small brewery in Denver seems less about extending distribution footprints (Salt Lake and Denver are near each other) and more about being in a big market and participating in the tourism industry that Utah may not allow for. Sell special, small batch beers, shirts, glasses, give tours, and brand expands. Put in a restaurant, and one has increased revenue. People remember the experience of the tour and the food. They attach to the brand. Distribution sales increase.
We hear a lot of discussion about market saturation, and, of course, there isn’t market saturation in craft beer. Most industries wouldn’t consider 5-6% of an overall market as saturation; they would see a 94% potential for developing new customers. What we may see, instead, is that some of the big markets (like Chicago, Portland, or Denver) are running out of shelf space or have too much product for the X amount of local market craft controls (since the 5-6% is a national figure, not a local one). In my state, for example, not only is there no market saturation or problem with overall shelf space, there simply isn’t as much product available as in other markets (Asheville, with around 80,000 people has far more product than Lexington with almost 300,000 people; Bend, Oregon not only has the Oregon market to draw from, but has 14 breweries in the city of about 80,000!), and consumer awareness still is not very high. The network of local branding and distribution in Kentucky is fairly non-existent. One aspect of only distributing in one’s city or state is being in restaurants and bars, not only in retail. If a local restaurant only has InBev products or distributed products (whatever the local distributor of InBev is, it also carries, at times, non InBev brands) on tap or on the shelf (such as Saul Good in Lexington, for instance, or the Kroger grocery chain), the potential for local distribution and sales remains undeveloped. More people in Lexington buy groceries at Kroger than at Good Foods (the coop) or Whole Foods. When they buy beer, they don’t see many of the available options, and thus, market awareness and brand recognition remain low. This is not a sentimental issue (I love craft beer) so much as an economic one (how can the local economy benefit from increased craft beer sales and brand awareness). We are seeing brands move from Louisville to Lexington and vice-versa (kegs of the three main Kentucky breweries) but they are sold mostly in “boutique” operations (Holy Grale, Louisville Beer Store, Beer Trappe, and Lexington Beerworks). That helps with brand awareness, but not enough yet to even reach the minimal market levels so that awareness grows (consider what a typical grocery in Asheville or Portland sells, or the taps local restaurants support). There seems to be a lot of money to be made in Kentucky; we may see that development in the next year or two.
December 28, 2012
I would never want to live in New York. But I would want these sandwich options in Lexington. The sandwich offers a bit of a paradox. It is simple to make at home (good bread, good something to put on bread, good some kind of mayo or sauce). And yet, if I see an awesome sandwich place or place that does an awesome sandwich, I won’t hesitate to eat there. My home sandwiches remain fairly typical: bread, cheese, mayo, some kind of roasted animal, egg. If I could find a lamb belly supplier, I could return to making lamb bacon and egg sandwiches. Unfortunately, the butcher who said he could provide belly and has provided heart, now says he can’t. He did, however, butcher some goat shoulder for me recently.
My favorite sandwiches in Lexington probably come from two places: El Gran Tako (yes, they use a K in their name), and the Habanero Loco food truck. The torta is a Mexican sandwich, pressed bread typically with some kind of fried cutlet or meat inside, maybe some avocado and other veggies and a nice spicy sauce. I will choose an awesome torta over any other Mexican food any day of the week. The tortas at El Gran Tako are all named for Spanish telenovela stars. For some reason, I like that. Growing up in Miami in the ’70s and ’80s, I never watched Spanish soap operas. I watched Leave it to Beaver instead.
The recent goat browning moment did not turn into a sandwich. My initial thoughts were to slow cook the goat and then slice the result into sandwich meat, but I eventually turned the slow cooked meat into a dish with rice, a dish my wife insisted was “not stew.” The dish did contain, as this blog’s title reminds us, potatoes. Meat and potatoes, as far as I know, do constitute stew. Good thing I still have another couple pounds of goat shoulder to work with.
When your kids are out of school for a few weeks during December, and when your academic profession also lets you out of going to work for a few weeks, you basically have nothing to do but try to grow a beard and cook goat. You do, however, have two cooped up kids to deal with and, in our case, some meat in the freezer to cook. We’re the type of parents who, looking for some way to occupy our kids other than screening Mary Poppins for the 50th time, go to the brewery on firkin day. Every thursday, West Sixth offers a firkin version of one of their beers. At some point this coming year, a place will open next door to West Sixth that will serve fried fish sandwiches. Finally, Lexington will be able to enjoy the merger of craft beer and a good sandwich. It is not much, but it is a start for a town of almost 300,000 that still does not understand the sandwich very well. I also have high hopes for the smokehouse opening across the street from the brewery.
The development occurring around West Sixth answers the question raised by local blog The Lexington Streetsweeper. Does craft inspire development? In West Sixth’s case: a coffee roaster, artist group, fish stand, smokehouse, and other items popping up in the brewery’s building or around it provides a definite yes. In its first year of operation, the brewery has inspired others to open up businesses in the neighborhood that houses mostly historic homes and run down homes side by side. To our dismay, no one has opened a solid hamburger place near the brewery. Hamburgers, too, are sandwiches (meat in bread). After our Thursday West Sixth visit, my wife wanted a hamburger. Where can you get a good hamburger in Lexington? Side Bar, but a dive bar is not the best place to take a five and two year old on a Thursday, even if it is the terribly late hour of ten minutes to five in the afternoon. We returned, instead, to Village Idiot, part of a mini-Lexington empire of beer. Village Idiot does make a solid hamburger even if they still don’t understand the request of “medium rare.” Murrays or the pool hall place on Broadway were our ideas of a go to hamburger place in Columbia, Missouri where we used to live, places where medium rare is not only a possibility, but it is an expectation.
All of this discussion might prompt the appropriate beer nerd or cultural lifestyle GQ/Esquire magazine question: what beer goes with a sandwich? I’ve always wanted to visit Stuffed Sandwich, whose reputation is exactly this mix of proper pairing. I don’t want to live in California, but I’m often tempted to visit for the beer (do we think of California and sandwiches as much beyond sprouts and tempeh?). I’m tempted to say an IPA goes with a sandwich no matter what kind of sandwich is served because:
- I like big hoppy West Coast IPAs.
- I don’t really care about appropriate food pairings with beer
If I were to write a book about sandwiches and beer – and as an academic with tenure I may just do that one day – I would probably make it very clear that all of my pairings are based on nothing more than: hey, that looks like a good beer and some nicely roasted goat on a baguette with spicy mayo. Or I would likely say: that’s a solid IPA. And I will take a sandwich. When we were in Fort Collins a few months ago, I took my bro-venture pals to Choice City Butcher and Deli. Not only does this place make excellent sandwiches, but when you go to pay for your sandwich, they expect you to order a craft beer from one of their amazing twenty or so taps behind the register. If I could, I would have payed Choice City an extraordinary amount of money to relocate in Lexington, Kentucky where their thinking could change everything about the lives of this city’s residents. We would never look back if we had a Choice City Butcher and Deli here. But I am an academic, after all, not a profession noted for buying out sandwich and beer places in Fort Collins, Colorado.
The same process of inspiration and development that surrounds a brewery such as West Sixth can be said for craft overall. With each brewery and local selection comes an entire industry of surrounding chatter: tastings at Whole Foods, Twitter handles with beer designations (as Twitter reminds me daily with its various suggestions of who I should follow), YouTube channels of beer reviews, paired dinners at local restaurants, products (high end growlers or growler holders, openers, devices to carry beer in when camping, t-shirts, posters, etc. see Beer West’s pages or Beer Advocate’s pages devoted to such items), festivals, local tourism, and so on. Sometimes, even sandwiches and hamburgers are included in this type of development (though not yet in Lexington). Craft, in general, does not exist on its own. It generates. It creates. It provides surrounding industries and life styles that the mega breweries never created – unless you count the dive bars that mostly populate the area surrounding the Budweiser plant in St. Louis, for instance. A dive bar, though, is hardly development. And despite how an SNL skit might declare, it’s not a sandwich.