A beer revolution? No thanks!
10/10/2011

If you are really, really ‘into’ beer and live in the USA, there’s no way in the world that you don’t know what the (beer) abbreviation ‘CBS’ stands for. If you are really, really ‘into’ beer but live outside of the USA, there’s a pretty strong probability that you won’t have even heard of ‘Canadian Breakfast Stout’, or indeed of the brewery that makes this beer (Founder’s), here in Michigan. Trust me, you are infinitely better off remaining devoid of that knowledge. Here’s why;

By all accounts (I have never tried it), Founder’s CBS is a monumentally delicious and profoundly fantastic beer. People are saying that it will surpass any beer experience than you have ever had in the past, and that your beer ‘completeness’ is totally dependent upon acquiring some and consuming it. Most accounts of the experiences surrounding drinking it, have barely stopped short of suggesting that it is some kind of elixir and that eternal life may follow its consumption – I’m only slightly exaggerating.

Why bring this up right now? Well, a few days ago Founder’s released this beer for the first time in bottles. Prior to this ‘event’, CBS had only been available at a few locations on draught. At these previously, ‘draught only’ releases, we (those of us paying close attention), had heard stories of people smuggling glasses into the toilet facilities of bars that were serving it in order to hand-bottle a few fluid ounces of the beer in the hope of effecting stunning trades in the grey/black market that exists for highly sought after beer. Utterly, utterly preposterous you say? Sure, but absolutely true. So, when the bottles were released earlier this week in the USA it just wouldn’t be possible for things to get any worse, right? WRONG.

beeradvocate.com, many other beer web sites and electronic discussion groups have been awash with tale after tale of insane price gouging, accusations of theft, juvenile and imbecilic behavior surrounding attempts to procure a bottle, stores lying to customers, the beer selling out BEFORE it was taken off the delivery truck, store employees hoarding it, an EMPTY bottle being sold on ebay for $50, people reserving bottles weeks/months in advance and a whole host of astonishingly bad behavior. A bar here in Atlanta had some that sold out within 15 minutes.

The Porter's tweet about CBS

The Porter's tweet about CBS

Unbelievably there are some that are pointing to this moronic and embarrassing behavior as ‘evidence’ that craft beer is gaining a stronger and stronger foothold in the US, and that it can only mean good things for us in the future. I see it in exactly the opposite terms. This is an unhealthy, unsustainable, sad and totally laughable ‘pant-wetting’ geek syndrome that should be shunned, vilified and rejected by all sane individuals. This puts beer in a TERRIBLE light, and the loss of perspective that is being exhibited by those that purport to ‘know’ beer is truly stunning, if for no other reason than by acting in this way they are proving that ‘knowing’ beer is the last thing on earth that they can lay claim to.

Anyone that knows anything about the American beer scene and how it has developed in the last decade or so will know that it is really unfair to single out Founder’s and CBS for this criticism. There are scores of other offenders (and beers), with The Bruery, Three Floyds, Cigar City etc. being equally culpable. We’ve seen extraordinary angst, ridiculous arrangements (taking days off work to fly to Dark Lord Day to acquire a bottle), bizarre allocation measures necessary (including lotteries, the sale of ‘golden tickets’ and, LITERALLY as I type, this nonsense), egregious displays of entitlement and all manner of other disgusting, reprehensible, uncivilized actions in relation to the release of BEER.; YES, it’s BEER people, you are losing your minds.

It has always been my contention that the breweries, despite their protestations, are deliberately fueling this nonsense by the way they choose to promote and release this type of limited supply beer. They are reaping the benefits of hyped ‘events’ far exaggerating the quality of what’s IN the bottle, and are delighted that they are doing so. I have tasted some of these beers (in most cases quite accidentally and through complete serendipity), and the fact of the matter is that in the overwhelming majority of cases they are simply NOT better than scores and scores of other beers that are sitting on shelves in beer stores which are (obviously), infinitely more accessible. The American beer ticker, beer collector and beer geek is being FOOLED by these emperors new clothes.

Why is all of this bad for beer? Why not let everyone simply get on with it without comment? Well, ALL of this behavior is anti-beer and anti-beer culture. It’s breeding a whole generation of American geeks that will literally miss out on the very ESSENCE of what beer culture and beer consumption is, i.e. that of a relaxed, non-competitive, UNwinding of angst, rather than the exact opposite traits that the modern, American beer revolution is promoting. In the long term it will hurt the beer industry by alienating the rank and file that really DO understand beer and beer culture, and the current growth of the beer industry in the US will prove to be unsustainable with its associated casualties.

I’ve heard a few people being envious of the US situation but that’s horribly misguided. I suggest that any place outside of the US that is hoping for a beer revolution needs to think long and hard about what they wish for. Luckily, beer cultures like those in England, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic are unlikely to suffer from such extraordinary madness for more than one reason but here’s a couple. Firstly they have well established beer cultures that have existed for centuries and so do not need such ridiculous behavior to fill a vacuum (which is certainly part of the problem in the US), and secondly the fact that there exists in those other countries, a ubiquitous, and ‘non-sensational’ role that beer plays in everyday life on a daily basis. Those fundamental truths mean that such crass behavior is unlikely to ever penetrate those beer culture strongholds.


24 Comments

  1. Jaxbeerlover aka Azorie

    As some one who has had CBS I too wonder what the hell the fuss is all about. All I can figure is there are too many idiots with more cash than brains and/or speculators hoping for a profit.

    I do not get these crazy fads anyway, so I guess I never understand how anyone can pay 30 bucks for a bomber of the same old stout. Then again I do not get why folks like to drink pine tar bombs either. Not everyone is hurting in the economy though, and they seem to have more money than brains. One day they may look back and say, ‘wow, I wish I had that 10000 dollars I spent on that over priced beer right now’.

    Anyway let them have their crazy fads, I’m not paying over 10 bucks for ANY bomber – period. I will just homebrew if I have to. Lucky for me SN stout and SN porter six packs are just as good as CBS is to me. At 8-9 bucks a sixer, I can live with it.

    Reply
  2. Tyler Rippeteau

    While I most certainly agree that some of this stuff has gotten out of hand, especially with $30 bombers and “winning” the chance to buy a $50 bomber, I still think that some of these rare, tough to find and often times, delicious beers are good overall for the craft beer movement.

    Despite my anger towards Goose Island for selling to AB-InBev I still believe that Bourbon County Stout is one of the greatest beers ever made, as I did four or five years ago when it still fairly easy to track down in Chicago. I also think it is absolutely worth paying $10-15 for a 12oz. bottle. That may sound crazy to some, but the joy I get from experiencing this beer, especially when I share it with someone who appreciates it, is absolutely worth the money.

    Anyhow, I have too much to say about this, I think I’ll write my own post. Thanks for the inspiration though, and good work on a well written article even if I only agree with parts of it. I’m adding you to my blog list.

    Reply
    • Ding

      Again, the cost is not really the issue here for me, rather it’s the astonishingly crass, hysterical behavior that this (and many other beers in the USA) have induced that I find unacceptable and the antithesis of civilized beer culture.

      Reply
  3. Kid Carboy Jr.

    Jaxbeer: I assume you’re not claiming in your post that SN porter or stout actually TASTE like a CBS or Dark Lord to you–if so, you may need a new tongue and fresh set of taste buds.

    I presume that what you are actually saying is “they both taste equally good to me,” even though they are radically, radically different. In which case—that’s fine, but you’re clearly in the minority, my friend.

    Despite what you and Ding think, there are a LOT of people out there who believe CBS tastes awesome. Count me among them. SN porter tastes awesome too, but I’m not going to compare the two, any more than I’m going to compare a beer to a whiskey. So you say it’s not worth the additional price to you–fine. It is to other people. If anything, those people ought to feel sorry for you and Ding, if you are incapable of enjoying the experience that we perceive when we take a sip of CBS. It must be difficult to be that jaded, and I wish you good luck with that.

    I must also say that my CBS acquisition was easy as pie, no Herculean feat. As in—I called the package store I’m loyal to, asked if they were going to get some, they said “yes,” and put my name on the list of people who wanted a bottle. It came in, I bought it, $20, no markup. Done. So at least we know that the distribution madness doesn’t extend EVERYWHERE.

    Money is money is money. People decide what experiences are worth to them. Other people spend hundreds of dollars on a concert ticket to hear a band, which, like beer, is a consumable, one-time experience. Hell, people pay $50 for a steak in some upscale Manhattan restaurant–I wouldn’t do it myself, but I don’t begrudge the people who find that to be a worthwhile use of their money.

    It’s clear, Ding, that you carry a grudge against the very idea of a beer being as popular or sought after as one of these. You ought to let it go. It’s a naturally limiting market–there can only be so many huge “prestige” releases at once before the concept of rarity becomes meaningless. The beer culture will continue on just fine without you to worry about the dying of the light.

    Reply
    • Ding

      With respect, I think you are missing my point. I think the very idea of a beer that requires you to ‘put your name on a list’ represents the antithesis of beer culture in and of itself. The relative cost and the taste of the beer (no matter how steep or how good) is really neither here nor there, rather it’s the actions surrounding said beer that I find repugnant and contrary to centuries of well established norms.

      Reply
    • Jaxbeerlover aka Azorie

      I had it on tap before the hype, it was a good beer, but still not so great it was worth the hype of the extra cash. It’s just beer! And yes, after 40 years of beer drinking I was not comparing beers to each other.

      Of course all I was saying is I can find good beer cheaper and with no hype. No one is knocking you personally if you have the cash and think it’s worth it, by all means go ahead; you’re not hurting me. Not sure why you feel you have to attack, write your own opinion fine, but my point of view is just a valid as your emotional one is.

      The problem is by you and others falling for this trap of beer, you heading down the road of wine. Rare is not equal to good, and neither is price. These brewers are doing a disservice to the beer community. I’d rather they sell it locally only, rather than jack up the price for 1 “rare” bottle. Of course that is NOT my call, but my call is to not buy it and I feel I have the right to say why.

      Cheers!

      Reply
  4. Paul Dixon

    Great blog. Almost completely agree. My only, very slight, issue is when you say “the overwhelming majority of cases they are simply NOT better than scores and scores of other beers.” I think you have a point that there are a lot of really great beer that gets overlooked on the shelves in favor of these releases. Ultimately I think that is entirely subjective, and almost impossible to say. Anyway, still great points. Wish you were still on Beer Advocate, but this site is great.

    Reply
    • Ding

      Hi Paul, there’s certainly no doubt that taste is indeed subjective, so your point is well taken, however I think we both agree that very comparable experiences can be had by leisurely strolling down to the local store and grabbing a bottle off the shelf without the need for the loss of dignity, several hundred dollars, time away from work and perspective! Glad you enjoy the blog, I’m having fun writing it and had i not been kicked off BA I would never have had this tremendous cathartic experience!

      Reply
    • Jaxbeerlover aka Azorie

      So sad is it not? But to me price is a factor. I’ve seen prices quoted down to 16 bucks for a 22 oz bomber (according to that post on BA), since the brewer is making at least a markup of 100% if not more.

      To me its the principal. Good beer is NOT rare. There is no vintage, its just water, grain, hops, and yeast. Sure they can add stuff and barrel age it etc. Sadly it’s the suckers out there that are ruining beer for us, if you ask me. I will call them out on it all I can and if the rest of the folks would wise up and refuse to buy these “rares” they would stop.

      Reply
      • Ding

        Some good beer IS rare, but there’s an infinite amount of equally good beer that is NOT! I disagree about vintages, in as much as there are significant differences across years in many beers. Granted, it’s NOT always ‘better’ when older, but there are certainly differences.

        ‘Ruining it’? I suppose it depends on how one quantifies that, but it’s definitely not ‘good’ for beer and its cultural development in the US.

  5. Traquairlover

    Ding, the problem is simply that you haven’t had CBS. If you had you would realize that:

    CBS will hold your hand and comfort you when you are sick.
    CBS will change your bike tire when it is flat.
    CBS will never be mad at you for not calling back when you said you would.
    Et cetera

    It is the finest beer available to humanity. You should want it there and you should want it now.

    Reply
    • Ding

      Ahhhh….now it’s all clear to me. Thanks!

      Reply
      • Traquairlover

        I was hoping that might help. I’ve never had it; I imagine it’s good; it’s just beer; people are crazy. Still, CBS will take in the mail for you when you are out of town.

      • Ding

        What about feeding the dog?

  6. Fenris

    Your post summed up my feelings toward rare releases in general

    Reply
  7. Clint

    Great post.

    Ding, someone linked this post in the “$100 CBS thread on Beer Advocate.” The Bros. let it go for almost 300 posts before it was locked immediately after someone posted a link to your blog. Coincidence?

    Hilarious.

    Reply
    • victory4me

      Yup, I noticed that too. I agree with this entire entry, DING. Good work.

      I have pretty much decided to bypass the hype machine that surrounds so many of these limited release beers. If something lands in my lap, that’s great! If not I’ll stick with my new motto when it comes to beer: “Cheap, local and good.”

      Reply
  8. Brian Zehner

    Ding,

    Glad someone spoke of your blog on BA. I’ve been enjoying reading it. The CBS craze has been amazing! I’ve had it a few times in the past and thought it was ok, but I would rather have KBS (which I will go a little out of my way to get). I agree with you about the supposed greatness of many rare beers. I’ve had many that were just ok, many that were very good, and many that were excellent. But even the best rare beer I’ve had I really can only consider it to be marginally better than something I can get off the shelf any day of the week with much less effort and at a much lower cost. I save most of the “rare” beers I manage to get for gatherings to share with others since that is the expectation.

    Reply
    • Ding

      Hi BZ, good to hear from you! Thanks for the shout out and hope to see you in the not too distant future.

      Reply
  9. Leonardo

    Ding,

    I am Brazilian and I am also a beer lover. Here we are experiencing a Beer Revolution, but inevitably our nature and bureaucracy are getting in the way. I completely agree with you, in terms of the fuss everyone does for things that shouldn’t be soo overrated.

    But its doing us well. The micro breweries are doing their part and developing a long forgotten market, creating jobs and attending to many needs that the country always had, and one – in my point of view – that matters the most: opinion. Its making people engage in fighting for lower taxes and for better life quality as a whole, even if undirectly.

    That’s it…

    Reply
  10. Simon

    There is an interesting analogy here and what I see in whisky I may explore more in my blog. The limited edition, speical bottlings that you have to order in advance etc is a growing condition in whisky as well (interestingly in this case the UK is equally if not more guilty of this) and to date I am firmly of opinion the limited edition whisky is usually no better than other similar price point, or even cheaper, widely available products. See my recent blog on collecting whisky…. http://www.somanywhiskies.com/blog

    Reply
  11. Hank

    I agree wholeheartedly with much of your post, but pose you this dilemma that I frequently face. I am by no means a sour-obsessed beer drinker than many beer enthusiasts seem to be, but I do really enjoy a well made sour (gueuze, lambic, wild, fladers red, etc.) every so often. My problem with this is, in Virginia, it is at the very least quite difficult to find a well made sour, and at times downright impossible. Sure, there are some beers that are sour on the shelves. But none of them strike me as being high quality and, thus, enjoyable overall.

    This certainly leads me to order some very well made, although certainly not nearly as sought after as some, sours via ebay or online retailers. Is this behavior that you consider irrational? Is this unjustifiable? Sure, the beer is expensive. And sure, there’s plenty of great beer sitting on the shelves down the street from my apartment. But sometimes a nice Cantillon Iris hits the spot. While your opinion clearly won’t stop me from indulging, I am curious to hear whether you include this behavior in with the other lunacy.

    Reply
    • Ding

      Hank – good to hear from you, thanks for taking the time to post.

      I think your behavior seems entirely rational! I am enormous advocate of ‘beer for moods’ and ‘beer for situations’ and as such there are times when only a certain style (or even a certain beer) will hit the spot. I find myself doing what you describe from time to time, since geographic and personal circumstances place me in a similar situation.

      However, what I am talking about is the shameful (and ignorant) attitude that ignores the colossal amount of great beer more readily available, and the absolutely rampant, shambolic, disgusting and anti-beer culture behavior associated with so many limited releases these days. I don’t think that what you describe is the same thing at all.

      Reply

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