Firkin for June 2021

Here is your next recommendation for helping women during this reckoning on abuse in the craft beer world.

Acknowledge it.

Acknowledge that it has happened, is happening and will happen again. This is an ingrained problem but to many it is either invisible or not “that bad”. You don’t have to throw out innocent until proven guilty but you DO have to allow the case INTO court.

So whatever you can do to acknowledge privately and publicly needs to become second nature. If your favorite bar is considered unsafe by good friends, you would believe them, right? It shouldn’t matter if these good friends are all big burly dudes or petite women.

Once we men acknowledge the problem, we can ALL then tackle the problem. We can’t spend all our time stuck at the beginning of the process, we need to move forward.

The Firkin for May 2020

I have to say that the moves that the California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) have made during this pandemic have been mostly smart and effective. They moved with decent speed to allow beer sales to reflect the curbside and on-line ordering marketplace. Let breweries ship beer within the state and have loosened restrictions so that sidewalks and parking lots could be used as seating for patrons to keep that distancing effort alive.

But I am at a loss about this food and alcohol rule. Otherwise known as The Stuffed Sandwich for the great deli and beer lovers spot here in Southern California that operated under the weird rule that you could not purchase beer unless you ordered food.

Now that seems to be back on a larger scale for breweries wanting to re-open their taprooms. But what if I am a vegan and it’s a BBQ truck, or it’s a seafood truck and I am allergic to shellfish or if I just want a beer? Maybe they are looking to force breweries to help out restaurants?

Whatever the reasoning, I see people buying the lowest cost item and then not eating it. It has a two-drink minimum comedy club vibe to it. And it seems to put brewpubs into better position than taprooms.

Or am I reading this rule incorrectly?

The Firkin for March 2019

Outrage.  Easy to muster but it needs to be targeted otherwise the outraged become more and more invisible and those who would rally to the cause just get worn down to the nub.

I say this because on Orval Day (which should be an easy day to celebrate) Jester King Brewery commissioned artwork that had a nude woman on it.  Thankfully, there was not the usual large OMG response.  I assume because of the brewery reputation and the tasteful nature of the artwork.   And the fact that the artist was a woman as well.

But I don’t want to speak to that, Jester King and the artist covered that ground very well.  What I want to talk about is how to react to something on the interwebs.

  1. Step away from your keyboard.  Take a walk, drink a beer, whatever you need to do to get back to the un-outraged version of yourself.
  2. Then open a Word document or notes or compose whichever way works best.  Just not in the social media app.  Too easy to hit send and feel vindicated.
  3. Read up on the brewery.  Read up on the artist.  Have either been called out in the past?  Is this a first time issue?
  4. Go back to what you wrote and compare your research to your words.
  5. Calibrate your outrage to what is called for.  For this example, no response is probably the best bet because fanning flames is only going to get more people to view it and Orval Day is, to be honest, not a big deal (wish it was but it ain’t).  People had already moved on to April Fool’s jokes. 

The goal with outrage is to create a movement for change.  But if your outrage is only to create anger amongst like-minded friends then maybe re-think a new way to approach the situation.  A few comments on Twitter commending you are just that, nothing more. 

It is easy to say that you need to fry the bigger fish.  There is always bigger fish to fry though.  You can comment on the smaller (less egregious) issues as well.  Just comment with the appropriate amount of fury.

#LABW10 – Tomorrow

Only a couple days away now! Here is my L.A. Beer Week choice for the day….
From Southland Beer – The Unity Firkin

Tomorrow at 4:30pm!
“Every year for LA Beer Week the LA Brewers Guild selects one local brewery to brew up one massive collaboration beer called Unity. This year Los Angeles Ale Works was the lucky brewery. Every year since we’ve opened we’ve been honored to receive one of the few firkins of this beer. We’ll be tapping one again this year to kick off Beer Week! No doubt you’ll be drinking more than a few pints of Unity beer this month. Come check out the cask version and see how it compares!

UNITY West (7.0%) – El Dorado | Idaho 7 | Simcoe. Classic dry west coast IPA with notes of tropical fruit and a dank finish. Hop forward with the malt and yeast characteristics playing second fiddle.”

The Firkin for April 2018

This post is brought to you by my wife. I was back home talking about that nights beer event and she wondered aloud as to why there was a lack of creativity with beer swag.

She has a point. Glassware is cool but eventually you need a storage unit for all the branded goblets and taster glasses. And not a small one either.

Bottle openers are cool and they do break but, again it is such an inside the box gift as are can koozies.

Here are some ideas for breweries to steal from me (and her):

Socks – My wife likes socks. Comfy socks. A lot. This would differentiate your brand from the t-shirt pack.

Posters – NBA teams like my team, Portland, have gameday posters for select home games. Why not create posters that celebrate that summer beer release? Or is a blown-up version of that hazy IPA can label?

Brewer Bobblehead – Who wouldn’t want a Matt Brynildson bobblehead? This would be a great way to “memorialize” your creative brewmaster.

Balloons – Put your logo on a balloon. Who doesn’t smile when seeing a balloon.

The Firkin for February 2017

This month I want to rant about something that will certainly not go viral. Something so mundane that it can be an afterthought as a taproom is designed. The menu board.

It can be fully computerized, it can be hand chalked by an employee, it can be a sheet of paper but I have some requests to make life easier for your customers as they walk into your establishment.

After a trip to the new Ballast Point in Long Beach where I needed the beer menu explained to me as I tried to order a beer that was only available at one of the three bars on the premises, I was prompted to write my needs down.

1. Make it readable. I have seen crazy fonts. I have seen small fonts. A computer monitor that is far away from where you order. Boards that reflect sunlight. Boards that just say: cask or nitro. Signs with no prices. If customers are mispronouncing the beer name or worse, not even ordering it, then you may have created a problem for yourself.

2. Have paper menu’s at tables and the bar and at the entrance in addition to whatever artistic way you advertise the beers behind the bar. That way you don’t create a line with people squinting and not able to see what is on offer. It doesn’t hurt to have an updated beer list online too so people can make decisions before they even head to your location.

3. Don’t assume that people know the terminology. On Deck means squat all to someone new to craft beer. You can have a coming soon section but keep it separate so people don’t assume that they it is something that can be ordered.

Basically, your sign for each beer should have these basics: Beer Name, style, ABV and price. I love it when some descriptors are also there. Like oaky, piney, tart. But that isn’t really needed and is probably better told by the staff who can describe each beer with more gusto and heart. The key is to get the beer into the hands of the people.

The Firkin for August 2016

Recently, I have noticed a spike in craft beer “bubble” talk again. It’s tempting to see growth numbers declining and make the speculative leap to a coming downturn. You can read THIS or THIS to get two perspectives on it. Compelling perspectives both.

In the past, I have pooh-poohed the talk and I still am bullish overall regarding the state of craft beer but it is probably time to start looking for the warning signs. But not where you may first think to look. Because no two downturns are the same.

For one, a replay of the great shakeout of the late ‘90’s will not happen. Because it is 2016. An analogy to clear this up. Mt. St. Helens blew it’s top dramatically in 1980. And it is a good candidate to blow again. BUT, due to the last explosion which lopped off a considerable chunk of the mountain, it probably won’t blow the same amount of debris in the same pattern. And it may not even be the next one to go volcanic. There is a range of mountains to choose from in the Pacific Range that could become “active”.

Bringing that analogy back to the topic at hand, Craft Beer in the 1990’s wasn’t even craft beer, it was microbrew and brewpubs and there were 1,100+ breweries then compared to the past 4K now. (See the trend lines of numbers HERE.) The “mountain” of craft beer is today is drastically different from the one that shook then.

Some of the same generic warning signs (tremors or too much old beer sitting on shelves) will occur in volcanos and beer economic bubbles but in general, the path of destruction changes. The Microbrew Shakeout came at a time when the market for craft beer was miniscule, when credit was non-existent, when brewing equipment was non-existent. In 2016, there is a market, there is money out there, new hops coming on the market and people are installing new fermenters all the time (at least according to my Facebook feed). In short, there is an infrastructure in place that wasn’t there before.

Breweries and brewpubs that went under before may not be in danger now. Back then, all breweries were still struggling and growing and most were still small. That is not the case now. You have bi-coastal breweries, breweries owned by the employees, breweries owned by venture capitalists, contract/gypsy breweries and many, many others.

If no two shakeouts are the same then where do we look? Take another example, watch the movie The Big Short. The movie comically and dramatically catches how people are looking one way for economic clarity but the problem of CDO’s (collaterized debt obligations) is actually just outside of their peripheral vision. Some people see the looming crisis but they can’t make the others believe that it is a problem.

If we choose to think differently and look out of the corner of our eye, problems like bad business sense and mediocre to poor beer are problems but may not be what kick off a shakeout. Number of breweries is talked about, as is market saturation and distribution. I emphasize that these are all valid reasons but they are all in clear view right now. The Brewer’s Association has been ramping up the quality debate, there are conferences and guilds aplenty where knowledge is passed around, the interwebs pass out instant grades on the quality of beer.

So if I don’t think that bad beer or a crowded market will be the trigger, what will?

Let’s start with distribution. It is a bear of a problem (SABInBev hostility, need for more independent distributors, where and how much to distribute) but it is not if you generate most of your money via your taproom or self-distribute. It might be the root cause of some failures but will skip over a chunk of breweries all together.

What about another Hop Shortage? That might well cause problems in a world where IPA’s are the sales leaders practically across the board. Prices would go up but so would creativity as brewers would have to re-formulate IPA’s into newer recipes. Plus there are a chunk of breweries that are simply not as reliant on hops.

High Finance is another major concern. What happens when Wall Street decides to up and sell? This is where some real hurt could come down. Kickstarter money and passion can only take you so far. If money tightens up, and the equity partners back out, where does the new money come from? Again, the variety and amount of different breweries blunts this problem.

Now that I have knocked down some straw men, I will give some of my warning signs and predictions.

Dusty beers – It happened last year with pumpkin beers and it is a growing problem. Stores that I normally would trust to stock fresh or fresh-adjacent beers now merit closer attention. I pass on many beers (especially IPA’s) that I know were seasonal or special releases from months back. I see too many beers not being pulled from shelves or taps. Unless you are selling Luponic Distortion 001 and 002 for comparison purposes, then why is 001 still out there? If this continues to a point where the average person can easily see it, then look out.

The High End – The fizzy yellow water folk have a really poor track record with craft. They have yet to show a grasp of what it means. Add in people who would sell to them and you get two sets of people with dubious records of making the right choice. If your town has a 10 Barrel outpost in the works, I sense failure in the winds. These aren’t market leaders, they are followers and it could mean that your town may have already crested the wave.

If failures don’t happen more – Yup, I said look out of the corner of your eye and I have mentioned volcanoes too. If the numbers for those breweries going under or suspending business doesn’t ramp up, then the pressure will keep building. But if we start to lose some of the dead weight that is clogging up shelf space, then a worthier beer can grab it and stay afloat. New blood with new ideas need to be circulated in.

Prediction wise (bookmark or copy paste if you want to shove it in my face later), I think that a rolling, random correction will take place in the next couple of years, with all economics being equal. If Trump wins, all bets are off.

No one place will be immune but most breweries that have embedded themselves to the community (not the Whalez Bro crowd) and can make a halfway decent beer with a little marketing push behind it will be OK. Even if you have two out of the three attributes above, you should/could pull through.

But I do feel that there are breweries that will start to close because they are only good at making good beer or only good at branding or only good at getting the immediate locals into their taproom. These closures will be a few in one city, a few in another but in no real discernible pattern. Some cities may see growth while others backtrack. This will lead to months where the recently closed number will be closer to and maybe even higher than, the new opening number and that will lead to the breweries in planning number to drop too as people get skittish about investing.

And in the end, I think everything will be just fine. We are not going back to a time of no beer choice. Maybe different beer choices, maybe less choice for a while in the worst case scenario but you will have choices.

The Firkin for November 2015

I feel at times, as a beer geek, that I have to apologize for the beer snobs of the world.

Here’s the scene: I am in a bar that has a Bourbon County Stout night. Black Friday with Goose Island. As someone who has been to many beer events, I know that events are not super fun for the staff and require extra work. If I see an issue, I will bring it up later when the dust has settled. During the event, I try to not be an additional problem.

Or, you could loudly proclaim that you are a sommelier (master, no less) and a BJCP judge and that the glassware is inadequate for the beer. You could also swirl your glass so roughly that you are making a beer milk shake. Then you could let a beer breathe for thirty minutes. All the while loudly talking about each aroma as if it were the Word of God.

If you really wanted to snob it up, you could ask the sniggering under his breath beer blogger about the horrible glassware and have said blogger tell you that a snifter would be better then the wine glass.

I didn’t want to be a dick to the guy. But I felt my hand was forced. The bartender had lost it after being told about wine glasses. Basically telling the bar that it was one of those nights. I couldn’t let beer snobbery stand unchecked so when the guy produced a home brew BCS clone and told me it was 45 out of 50 points, I told him no thanks. I don’t believe in points. Everybody’s palate is different and I trust certain people. With the implication being, I don’t know who you are and therefore I don’t trust you.

I could have easily been much harsher. I know of two beer people I wished had been there to really dig into the beer snob and left wounds.

It’s pretty simple. Don’t be a dick to the staff or your bartender. Tell them you appreciate their extra work and don’t ask for wine glasses when tasters will do on a busy night. Here’s a thought, if you stop before you speak, and ask yourself if you are being beer snobby,you just might get better service and enjoy your beer more.

The Firkin for October 2015

If you locked a Republican, a Democrat and a voter in a room, within minutes the voter might strangle the politicians just to escape.

But in the world of recycling and craft beer, though the discourse may not be as civil as in other brewing aspects, it still does push and prod people forward instead of just punting problems down the field. And three yard gains and a lot of work shouldn’t be derided because you were hoping for a punt return for a touchdown.

In a recent New Republic article, you get to see the why of how to package cans together and the different avenues that craft breweries take. No matter your stand on this issue, the fact that each camp is going forward in an attempt to make things better is the key take-away. The ubiquitous clear rings that grace sodas, ABSABINBEVMILL and some craft beers were once seen as dangerous because the rings could get caught on wildlife or float out on the ocean never to disappear. But to read that they are trying to make these rings photodegradeable is heartening. The manufacturers could just keep selling the old ones and not apologize (like politicians) but they are choosing to make things at least a little better. And those who pooh-pooh it as not enough are missing the point. We should encourage them to make them better, however incrementally. You shouldn’t stop 10 tiny steps in the right direction because you want 1 larger step.

As with foods that one day are great for you and the next day are killing you, the recycling news lately has been pretty negative. And it seems that those who want to save the earth are the ones making people feel bad because the recycling isn’t as green as thought to be. A goal that can be reached toward is what needs to be enouraged. Not just a drumbeat of low numbers and lack of progress.

So let’s recycle whatever is thrown at us be it rings, covers or boxes. What we throw into our bins may not all get to recycle Valhalla, but it is better than nothing. And if your city (and mine) aren’t doing their part, then come voting time, get someone in office who can fix it. Or improve it, piece by piece.

The Firkin for June 2015

If your mind can picture it despite the drought that looms large, Los Angeles used to be flooded by the LA River. Then the flow was boxed up and channeled into a concrete canyon. DWP and Mullholland and Chinatown with Jack Nicholson later, it became a bit of a joke. You could say the same about the L.A. craft beer scene. It was tidied up into bottles and cans of German lager early on and that was pretty much it until Craftsman came onto the scene.

Even then the river of beer was still tame, 1903 lager was fancy back then and really in demand. But now, the craft beer is booming like LA riverfront property and the flood of beer is enormous almost like the Mississippi.

L.A. has become a year-round beer town. I should know, I collate the Food GPS Beer Blast and I see the events that happen each and every week. Tap-takeovers happen with regularity. New beer releases are happening almost every week too. The growth of beer happenings has had the deleterious effect of making the recently concluded L.A. Beer Week just a super-sized version of what occurs the other 357 days of the year. (in a good way!)

Which meant that I missed quite a few events. Granted, I had other reasons not to attend some events. My day job keeps me in Burbank until 6pm, so getting to the South Bay or even Van Nuys for a weekday event is a traffic fight. Also my wine loving Mom was in town for ½ the week which blocked off a chunk of the schedule.

That meant not attending the Battle of the Guilds but the idea of SF-SD-LA in one venue sounds better than it plays out. Last year at Mohawk Bend the place was just jam packed and Naja’s Place is no better capacity wise which makes for lots of standing and waiting and less opportunity to really compare the three cities beer output. Next door King Harbor and their satellite taproom held more appeal to me.

Other “misses” for me were comparing and contrasting the Cascade collaborations with El Segundo and Phantom Carriage. Walker’s Wild Ride is always fun and the Metro Red Line idea was a nice touch. MacLeod’s cask event would have been nice to attend but I expect the crowd was healthy enough even without my presence.

This is no indictment of those creating events, the breweries or the L.A. Beer Week organizers. To the contrary. Taking Smog City as an example, I did not attend the many tap-takeovers they were featured in nor did I go to their Rarities and Barrel Aged party. Not due to any anitpathy towards them but primarily because I had driven to Torrance twice in May for their Anniversary and the bottle release of Cuddlebug. And they were pouring in Exposition Park so I got my fix. And I wanted to try a wide-ranging assortment of beers.

We have had invasions from Bell’s, Boulevard, Ninkasi and the like plus new local breweries ready to pop at any moment now. We don’t need a week to drum up support or beer, that support is here. The question that remains for me is what is next for beer in LA and how do we celebrate the origin story while moving forward.

Does that make me a tired old grump or someone who has already had his fill is up for your interpretation. Personally, I think it is a great problem to have a full river of beers fed by streams of L.A. interpretations of cask, Belgian and wild ales running through my backyard.