The Firkin for May 2021

I ever so wrongly predicted that hard seltzers would be a “Here today, gone tomorrow” fad. They are now part of the beverage landscape and being added to brewery tap lists practically daily.

But I am going to double down – die on this hill proclaim that I do not think FMB’s (flavored malt beverages) are long for this world.

Oh, they will still be around but you won’t see the land rush from every brewery to make them. And when they lose interest or too much market share, then the pullback will begin. The major problem will be that the little breweries will be fighting over a pie that the big players can easily add themselves into and dominate.

Right now, your SABInBev’s, your Coors and Miller do not want to spend money on ingredients and time to make beer that competes with craft breweries. They steadfastly refuse entry into the world of IPAs, dopplebocks and Saisons, so craft has the run of that playground. Not so with hard seltzer where they can brand extend and create hundreds of flavors that are not far off from artisanal products.

I have tried many hard seltzers. Sone way too candy like for me and others that are subtle but none yet have struck me as un-replicable.

The Firkin for August 2020

A little bit of funny in the beer world. Maybe funny is too strong but in these times of delivered beer, I find it amusing that all the beer websites big font declare that someone over the age of 21 must sign for the alcoholic beverage.

In the past, it has been so stringent that only the recipient could sign for the package in some cases. But it seems that the delivery companies either due to increased load or fear of Covid have let rules slide.

I have yet to sign for the few delivered packages that I have received. I have yet to show my drivers license to get a package. The most common delivery method has been: ring the doorbell, drop the box, hightail it out of there. I have yelled, “thanks” to the backs of more delivery folks.

Even when picking up pre-ordered beers, I haven’t had to provide anything other than my name even though lengthy instructions say otherwise.

This disconnect between the legalese that online shopping has to add and the actual practice makes me giggle at all the rules hat everyone says you have to follow until it becomes clear that no one is following them.

I ordered some beer just a couple days ago and will be waiting to see if I will glimpse the more evasive than Sasquatch, deliver person.

The Firkin for July 2020

The State of Oregon is mulling over the possibility of allowing beer delivery (other alcohol too) after this pandemic is over. I think the Golden State should put this on the table too.

One of the few bright spots in this virus hiatus has been the Alcohol and Beverage Commission (ABC) stepping up to the plate and changing regulations to help the producers in the state. Granted the must buy food rule is off base, but overall they have made a difference and done so quickly.

The financial pain will not end when a vaccine is found though. Red ink will still be on the books for breweries and constricting sales options again will not help. And it certainly will not get more employees back on the job.

My vote is to run a temporary year-long test and see if shipping and delivery has any adverse longer term effects. Maybe the economy will roar back to life and it won’t be needed but it would be great to have delivery as an ace in the hole if needed to help these small brewery business owners.

The Firkin for June 2020

I have never been able to work a yo-yo but governors of states these days seem to be masters of it.

California Governor Gavin Newsom took away the bar opening rule practically minutes after giving it the OK. I will frame this by saying that I am totally down with the lockdown. We should totally be following the New Zealand model and we could be in stadiums watching sports by now. But we are in full yo-yo mode. Opening for Memorial Day, then reeling it back in after cases spike three weeks later.

I will also add that I am in no damn hurry to go back and sit in a bar or taproom but I do feel that I am being yanked around when I can go into a bottle shoppe for the first time in months and buy (after being temperature gunned) local beers. But the very next day, they had to shut.

If I, the customer felt yanked around, imagine the person who runs the store. They redesigned their store. Bought sanitizer. Stressed. Bought the damn temp guns to abide by the law. Now, they are shut again despite following all the rules. They spent time and money and it is now earning them nada.

Now, these places could just keep operating in the hope that enforcement is as up and down as the open and close orders, but why are we punishing the good actors, the ones who are serious about this process? Or I guess just go back into restaurant mode which is apparently A-OK because we all know forcing a food order makes the same space safer.

Here is what needs to happen. Pay people. Help people. We need masks on and social distancing but it can be done without destroying the entire economy or dicking small business owners. That means that the government has to not expect ANY taxes from all of the businesses that they are shutting down, then expecting to open after spending their own money, then shutting again.

We need clear rules and we need to hear sorry from the government for the screw ups. Otherwise, the dumb people are going to freak out. More on that in a day or two.

The Firkin for August 2019

Before you do “hard” seltzer

Despite my anti-“hard” beverage stance, I am not against a brewery testing or going all in on seltzers, coffees and their ilk.  But I do hope that these breweries are sitting down and analyzing the decision before embarking on it. First though, you need to back up to before the brewery opened.

There will always be a tension between what the brewery wants to brew and what the customer wants to buy.  Finding a balance (the eye of the storm) in the middle is difficult.  It is made much easier if two questions are asked though:

What Kind of Brewery do we want to be? And What Do Our Customers Want?

The first is the more fun and easier of the two questions.  Customers wants are moving targets and hard-earned affection can be easily lost even if you do everything right. But if you are true to who you are, the fans will realize that even if only subconsciously.

So, if you want to jump on the “hard” seltzer train you need to ask, is it on point for your brand.  Can you bring your vibe to it?  Maybe you use local fruit, maybe you use herbs, maybe they are named after employees or customers.  Then, are your customers asking for it.  Maybe this is an annual summer fling, where you do a few during the hot months.  Or you have one seasonal seltzer on tap throughout the year.  Make sure though that this is being done for Customers and not for “customers”. 

The difference is that the former are your regulars, your unpaid cheerleaders.  The latter are there for a day or are social media trend.  This is not to imply that trends are to be avoided but you do need to strike that balance between chasing the new, new thing and creating that new, new thing.  It is painfully easy to spot when a product is launched to make money for the rest of the company to live on vs. a product that takes off and is actually part of a portfolio of drinks.  805 and Hazy Little Thing from Firestone Walker and Sierra Nevada leap to mind.

This leads to one final question that needs to be asked and discussed.  What happens when the “hard” trend starts fading or when the market becomes glutted with the stuff.  Because both of those economic factors will happen.  The supply and demand will find their equilibrium and it will be lower.  Will making the “hardened” beverage still be worth it in those circumstances?  Or will your brewery already be onto the next trend?

The Firkin for December 2018

I just read that Democratic Presidential debates will be starting in June of 2019. So next year will certainly have even more weirdness than Washington DC has produced in the last two years.

Weirdness will also be front and center for beer. Cargill has decided to stop providing malt for brewing, an equipment manufacturer has gone under along with brewery deposits and Sam Adams got another exemption carved out for their tea and seltzer business. That was just this month.

I label myself a positive skeptic. I analyze and look at a situation with an eye to the sunny side. But I think that 2019 is going to be bumpy. Below are my predicted reasons why….

1. More breweries are trying the hard seltzer route even though it is a niche within a niche that they have not sold in before
2. Regional breweries are going to contract in both employees and product offerings (see Deschutes)
3. A new IPA sub-style will dent the hazy train enough to slow the 16oz brewery only release.
4. Successful breweries will start taking over flailing ones to expand their footprint
5. Some breweries will break off from the Brewers Association citing lack of support for their size of operation in comparison to the larger craft breweries.

Check back with me this time next year and we can see if my Magic 8 Ball was correct.

The Firkin for September 2018

This month brought the bad news that Pacific Plate was pulling out of its Glendale taproom only location and that was followed by Kinetic Brewing up in Lancaster was closing up shop as well.

As I mentioned earlier this month, as nice as the PacPlate space was on the inside, it was stuck deep at the south end of Brand in a no mans land between Atwater Village to the sound and the Americana part of town to the north. It was small despite a nice patio that I bet many people didn’t even know about in the back.

Kinetic seemed to lose steam as Lucky Luke and Transplants along with GABF medal winner Bravery were the most talked of breweries from the land way up the freeway. The explosion of Ventura breweries probably did not help as did the additions of San Fernando and 8one8 and Hand-Brewed lured people to new destinations.

Churn is going to happen and it needs to be a word to add to your beer dictionary because it will happen more. Up to now, the only example we have had of it here in Los Angeles is when a brewer leaves for another brewery. But spaces are going to go open and equipment will be sold and it is a matter of whether the location didn’t work or the beer didn’t work or the marketing of both didn’t work.

The churn will open up opportunities for others. Kinetic could become a new brewpub with new owners and brewers. The PacPlate space, now spiffed up, could become a #independent beer bar or maybe (my (probably impossible) dream), an L.A. Brewers Guild Bar where you can taste rotating taps from places far and wide in Los Angeles. Mostly so I wouldn’t have to drive to far flung tap rooms.

With more breweries on the horizon, the amount of beer still is high for the consumer but the status quo won’t always be the same.

The Firkin for June 2018

This month, instead of a rant or a tip of the hat, I have a task for the beer people out there. If you are a Yelp’er, unlike me who find the service completely un-helpful, please rate your favorite breweries and craft beer bars with actual helpful reviews.

No more 1 star because somebody looked at you wrong after you had one beer. No deducting a star because the food truck outside was slow. Conversely, no 5 stars with no explanation as to why.

Instead, put some detail into it. Are the beers rotating or standard? What are your favorite beers? What are your least favorite? Explain what the strong points of the beers are. Add in how many times you have visited to add context.

As with most things on the interwebs, the extremes seem to be the meme that is cited the most. If enough people put enough detail into reviews, then maybe we can sway the debate away from the “stars” system which invariably stand at 3 or 4 for everything no matter how good or bad, to a conversation.

If good, solids details are there, then you others can reliably use your information and not automatically discount it. If rational details are there, Yelp might not have such an easy time hiding reviews.

Maybe the beer world can help fix Yelp and other review sites.

The Firkin for May 2018

It is easy to be divisive. Buttons can be pushed with a simple push of a button. But it is time (past time) to stop or to at least ignore it. Or, you can go one step better. Show gratitude.

Sounds hippy, new age? Why is that? What is wrong with telling your beertender thanks? I am not religious in the least but would it be bad to say a little prayer of thanks before the first sip? It is quite the miracle that we have beer and even crazier that we have good beer after so long with just boring mass market water lagers.

Instead of letting your circle of same opinions know about the groups same opinion, how about breaking free and sitting at the taproom bar and listen to what other people are saying. Then go to another brewery and do the same. What I bet you hear won’t be hating on glitter beers or hating on a beer website or hating on whatever is an easy target.

What you will most likely hear are discussions, jokes, recounting the days gone by or the bad day at work. Talking beer shouldn’t be verboten but it can be done without starting a Twitter war. And I will bet that if you start every beer with a thanks to the brewer, making a snarky comment would seem out of place.

So let’s regain the appreciation and let the haters hate. Enjoy the beer you have in front of you and let the fun back in, there will always be time to discuss the inside game of beer.

In the Tap Lines for January 2017

Good riddance to 2016! Let’s get 2017 off on the right foot with some rays of light and hope and great craft beer in the L.A. area.

~ e-visits to three breweries found in the pages of the Complete IPA book by Joshua Bernstein
~ special featured reviews of beers that I bought with my Craft Beer Cellar – Eagle Rock gift cards from Christmas.
~ Heads-Up on Los Angeles Beer Events
~ Three suggested beers to buy this month. One light, one medium and one dark
~ A Book & A Beer reads All That Man Is (and I did not care for it)
~ I will tap the Firkin and give my no holds barred opinion on the craft beer world.

Here are two events to get your January started in the Los Angeles craft beer world:
1) January 8th – Cheese and Beer Tour with LA Beer Hop and Vagabond Cheese
2) January 28th – L.A. Beer & Food Festival