The Session

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Session #94 – The Round-up

As usual with The Session, some posts are more interesting than others. Here’s the round-up for #94 in no particular order.

Miguel gives us this post at Amante De La Buena Cerveza. Unfortunately I don’t speak a word of Spanish, so I literally have no idea what he said and cannot comment on it.

David at Beer Tinted Spectacles describes himself as a Zealot! At first that sounds a little negative to me, with a danger of getting into beer evangelism (something that I am not keen on), but the tone of the post seems less alarming than it did at first – I also remember Lamot Pils quite well – well, but not necessarily fondly.

Jeff at Make Mine Potato (?) describes his interest in cultivating a culture of writing about beer. This is something that I am interested in, since a lot of my professional life involves writing. Unfortunately, because I spend so much time writing as part om work, I have found it increasingly difficult to write about beer on a regular basis. A shame, and another beery frustration for me.

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The Session

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Session #94 – My Role in Beer

As I said in my announcement for session #94, the question of my role in beer was provoked by a quick tweet exchange where @andrewinski1 suggested that rather than dropping pretty much completely out of the beer scene (as I think that I have), that I have simply moved to another place in said ‘scene’. I thought it was an interesting observation and question, and in turn thought it would make a good topic for session #94.

Contrary to popular belief I never really saw myself as having any kind of role in the beer scene for the longest time, and it was only an accident that changed those circumstances. Prior to me coming to America I was just I guy that drank good beer, took an interest in it, and usually made some notes on the beers that I drank. I would regularly try new beers but never ‘hunted’ them, nor was I ever involved with any beery social interaction other that chatting to the guy at the other end of the bar if we happened to catch one another’s eye. Of course, the lack of social interaction was partly due to the fact that all of what I am talking about was long, long before the Internet and social media, but at the same time I never once felt inclined to engage people about beer very much.

The Session

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The Session

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Session #94 – The announcement. Friday, Dec. 5th – Your role in the beer ‘scene’. What it is?

The Session, a.k.a. ‘Beer Blogging Friday’, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. Friday December 5th 2014 will see my latest ‘hosting’ of The Session, #94 in the series.

From a point in time when I was amongst the top 10 posters on the whole of Beeradvocate, to now, where I barely post any formal reviews in the public domain or blog much anymore, I have witnessed my own role in the beer scene evolve over time. I’ve thought about what my role is on many occasions in the past, and even (sort of) written about it once before, but a reply to a Tweet of mine a few days ago got me thinking about that question once again.

As I reacted to the crock that is #stoutday, @andrewinski1 replied to my succinct thought, and it got me thinking – which part of the beer scene do I currently inhabit?

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ST Sonnet

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Beer Review: Southern Tier Brewing Company, Sonnet

Ding Points: 80.00

Pour: 80.00, Nose: 80.00, Palate: 80.00, Mouth: 80.00, Global: 80.00

Tasting Notes:

Southern Tier is a real Jekyll and Hyde brewery for me, with a range of beers that I have simultaneously enjoyed (Creme Brulee and Krampus), hated (Imperial Cherry Saison) and felt largely indifferent about (Phin & Matt’s and 2XIPA). As such, I tend to be ambivalent toward them, and with so much beer available to me these days they are a brewer that has gone from a regular in the rotation to an almost forgotten player for me.

It would appear that they have a slightly new look for this particular mini-series, and at first I did not recognize the beer as being theirs. These days I don’t have my finger on the pulse quite as much as I used to, and since this has a ‘DOB’ date of 04/09/14 (not sure if or why ST are copying a Budweiser type DOB), this has obviously been around for a while, but I haven’t seen it in GA until now.

ST Sonnet

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John Rybicki & Juan

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Hilton Head Brewing Co., 2014 – Light at the end of a VERY dark tunnel

Each year since 2001, often as a result of multiple visits, I have been reviewing and writing about the catastrophe that HHBCo. has become over the years. During that 13 year period, I have probably visited the island and HHBCo. in excess of 20 times, and a pretty extensive list of my previous thoughts can be seen here – you should read that post first.

HHBCo. taps

HHBCo. taps

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The Session

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The Session #88 – Beer Mixes

When I first read the announcement post for Session #88 on Boak & Bailey’s blog, to be honest, my heart sank. They suggested that in preparation for Session #88 that we, the bloggers, go out and drink some of the beer mixes from Boston’s 1976 list, namely;

  • Lightplater – bitter and light ale
  • Mother-in-law — old and bitter
  • Granny — old and mild
  • Boilermaker — brown and mild
  • Blacksmith –stout and barley wine
  • Half-and-half – bitter and stout, or bitter and mild

For all intents and purposes, for massive parts of the United states, draught (and often bottled) bitter and/or mild is simply not available, so this means that 5 of the 6 of the concoctions on the list were immediately out of my reach. As a result, and because I have never really been a fan of mixes from either a taste or a philosophical point of view, I decided that I would pass on the drinking and simply write about my experience of dealing with them when growing up in England.

The Session

The overwhelming thing that I remember about them was the different names that they were given depending on where you were in the country. I only really remember a couple of common ones from the Southwest, and I would love for others to chime in with their own, particular, regional names for these two plus whatever they remember.

  • Half a bitter and a bottle of light ale – A light split or light and bitter
  • Half a bitter and a bottle of brown ale – A dark split or brown and bitter

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Atlanta Cask Ale (#ACAT) 2014

So here I am, on the morning of another Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting (#ACAT), but this time I am not getting ready to head to the event later in the day. The #ACAT of 2014 will be the first one that I have not attended since the inaugural gathering. The reasons for my decision not to attend today, are outlined in this post that I wrote on this same morning, 12 months ago. I vowed not to return in 2014 and I am good to my word.

The post from 12 months ago summed up the whole situation for me then, but this years event brings with it some irony. In 2014 there seems to be more, traditional British casks* than ever before, so 2014 probably represents the #ACAT that I would have been most pleased with.  However, despite that, I remain steadfast and principled, and my decision leaves me at great peace.

*I say that, but when one looks at the list, there’s a LOT of beer that although I assume will be undefiled, still sits at ABV’s that are WAY above what showcases cask well, and is from breweries like Thornbridge who, in a number of instances, are FAR from ‘traditional’. I’m certainly not missing out on any, subtle, REAL @sessionbeer!

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Pant-wetting fanboys and the US beer scene

Last night I got into a bit of a clumsy discussion on Twitter that ended very unsatisfactorily for me. Frankly it was my own fault, and I wanted to clear up my thoughts a little.

In a nutshell, I responded to this article in the NYT by sending the Tweet below to @HillFarmstead.

Tweet Hill Farmstead

I’m rather proud of that tweet since I think it sums up a significant sector, and a very large part of the mentality that holds back the American beer scene. I stand by it and I think that it is actually a pretty accurate assessment of where things stand in US beer ‘culture’. My mistake however was to not make it clear that my criticisms were not necessarily directed at any specific brewery, and not necessarily at Hill Farmstead. I say ‘not necessarily’ since it could be that my criticisms do fit them, but at the same time I do accept the fact that I don’t know them well enough to be able to make that assertion with any certainty.

Having said all of that what I feel is undeniable is this; many breweries, of all sizes, are secretly rubbing their hands with glee at the non-discriminatory habits of the ignorant, craft beer buying public in the US. There is a huge immaturity that grips, and in many ways drives, the market here in America. Punters are continually happy to buy rare (small distribution) beer, regardless of the quality of the product, and are content to pay premium prices for the privilege. As a result, many breweries deliberately influence supply by simply making things ‘one-offs’ and ‘limited’. It’s difficult (probably impossible) to tell where any brewery truthfully stands on this, and of course they would never let on, but my bet is that they all love it, since it drives up demand and hype, and can make the success of their product largely independent of quality – in short, it’s a very convenient truth for them!

All of this applies equally to breweries that are producing great beer and crappy beer – they ALL benefit. Hill Farmstead (and many others like them) is definitely benefiting from this pervading ‘culture’ regardless of the quality of their product. I’m not saying that Hill Farmstead’s beer is not good, I’m saying that to a large degree, that by limiting supply that it actually doesn’t matter! That’s my point, and at its heart it’s a criticism of consumers and not brewers.

Of course, the ones that stand to gain the most in the short to mid term are the players that are producing mediocre beer, since in such an environment they can continue to sell it regardless of whether it is good or not. One would think that the market will eventually correct itself, but for now, the ignorance that infects such a large part of the American craft beer buying public shows no sign of letting up, and even weak brands can continue to do OK, and in some cases, actually thrive.

I have absolutely no reason to doubt the sincerity of Shaun Hill as a brewer, or the sincerity of his motivation, but capping at 150,000 gallons per year forever, is a very convenient marketing tool in the current atmosphere that pervades the American brewing scene. At best, it’s a happy coincidence.

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Ding’s Christmas Wish List 2013

Here I go again with my annual Christmas wish list. The things I want Santa to deliver to my beer world.

It goes without saying (I think), that the old chestnuts of me wanting the abuse of cask beer via the addition of crap (i.e., treating a cask as a Randall), and the misuse of the term @sessionbeer, remain front and center for me, and as such I decided to leave them out of the list this year. They are not seasonal or fleeting ‘wants’, rather they are ubiquitous. Also, I’ve decided to leave out some of my more curmudgeonly wishes. Don’t get me wrong, they still exist and some remain the most important things for me, but I’m just not mentioning the annoying, hype driven scene, geeks and hipster culture that is associated with so much of the American beer scene, the lack of public transport or a whole host of other things that bother me on a daily basis.

So, what does make the list this year? Still some old favorites (with maybe a new twist), and some newer thoughts as the American beer scene continues to lurch from one hysterical, unsustainable, ill-advised fad to the next.

10. I’d like to see an arrest of the upward trend in beer prices in bars. Sure, wouldn’t we all? Of course, this is related to a larger question of economics that has nothing to do with beer per se, but for me, it’s getting to the point where the value is being lost. I’m lucky in as much as I have very few restrictions on what I can afford, but nevertheless, I’m now at a point where the value is very seldom realized for me. It’s beginning to make me think twice about spending money on draft beer.

9. I’d love a European, online retailer to somehow get a business model that could reduce the cost of shipping to the USA. Right now it’s REALLY difficult for me to justify the shipping cost of getting some of my favorite English and European beer to the USA. There are a number of really nice stores out there, but nobody can really give me a financial model that will work. Not necessarily their fault I understand, but it’s so frustrating to have a cart filled and then have to abandon it when I see the shipping costs.

8. #9 would become increasingly less of a concern if I could get some of the beers listed below, in the USA.

Cotleigh, St. Austell, Sharps, Leffe products other than Blonde and Brune, Pelforth Brune, more Adnams (Ghost Ship) and BUNCH of other English and Belgian brews that are far too numerous to mention.

7. I’d like to see some UK style Weights & Measures legislation in the US, including a federal legal requirement to display pour sizes and prices on beer menus. Far too often I come across the proverbial, ’14 oz pint’, and whole bunch of other ambiguous nonsense. I know Americans often cry about regulation, but would it be OK for gas stations to start the dispensing of random volumes? I think not. How people in the USA are not up in arms about this as it relates to mixed drinks, remains beyond my comprehension.

6. I hope that we start to see some breweries actually close. Just because you’ve home-brewed since 2006 it doesn’t make you fit to be a commercial brewer, and nor does it necessarily make your beer any good. The market is close to saturated at the consumer end of things, and there’s a LOT of mediocre, poor, bad and also really OLD beer on the shelves in many stores. I don’t pretend to know the intricate economics of the market, but what I do know is that there a plenty of brewers that are making beer that isn’t very good, but continues to sell because the market loves novelty and shiny things – this is a reflection of the immaturity of the market. I’ve said for a long time that this hurts the discerning consumer as well as the ignorant one, as good beer can get squeezed out of shelf space at the expense of poorer (but newer) product. The consumer market in the USA is still ignorant enough for corrections not to automically and naturally take place. For now, the market will not correct itself.

5. I’d like to see a growler store in West Georgia. Douglasville would be the obvious location, Villa Rica would be better for me! I think there is definitely a market for this on the west side, but I guess there may well be a lot of legal obstacles, out here in the sticks. Frankly, I don’t fill that many growlers these days, so for me it be less about the ‘need’ for it and more about the convenience, and the fact it would bring a little increased beer profile to this hopelessly barren part of the world. I find it quite odd that there has been no word on one out this way, given (a) the preponderance of growler stores in and around Atlanta right now, and (b) the fact that they have turned up in places as equally provincial as Douglasville, GA.

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