Peel the Label – All for One

There is discourse both illuminating and not about the push / pull of beer and wine and spirits and whom is in the lead. Who has the market share?

To me, the three work in concert. A distiller has to use a barrel once? Well a brewer will take that barrel. Wine spritzers beget hard seltzers beget RTD’s. Craft brewers spawned craft distillers. Heck, for a hot second, there was a whole wine / beer hybrid thing.

I wonder why the three alc players don’t push together? We could possibly see uniform state laws if that happened. Uniform tax rates too. But they often work against each other instead of being co-conspirators.

And consumers seem stuck in lanes too. Wine drinkers say beer is too complicated. Beer and spirits drinkers say the same but I say enjoy the banquet. I do not go for seltzers or wines but gin and bourbon are great. I sneer at beer slushies damn a mint julep tastes grand.

There seems to be sharp elbows out when welcoming high-fives should be the action. I want all the beverages on the menu.

Peel the Label is an infrequent series with no photos or links. Just opinion.

Peel the Label – Recession

There is a lot of debt ceiling talk and recession talk out there but I think that when it comes to craft beer, you need to talk about the service industry.  The cost of it in wage dollars as well as customer satisfaction dollars.

We are not close, despite breathless stories about robot made pizza, for automated beertenders.  Sure, there are those pour your own spots around but they seem more novelty than the new normal primarily because you are still needing people to help out customers when they can’t work the system and do all the normal glass washing and keg changing.

Wage costs, especially in California are higher than elsewhere, but because craft beer is a premium cost product, the industry needs to have a customer base making money that can afford to buy a $20 4-pack.  And when I say customer satisfaction dollars, I mean having engaged employees that make a taproom fun and encourages customers to come back and spend more money.  That encouragement is a big part of why Trader Joe’s has cachet whereas a normal chain grocery feels like a chore.

You don’t need to splurge on a superstar employee as long as you give good value to both your employees and customers.  Good NBA teams have “glue guys”.  Players that do the little things and do them well.  It is hard to find them as you can see when you look at teams that are not doing well.  But that will be the test this year, in my humble opinion.

Peel the Label is an infrequent series with no photos or links. Just opinion.

Peel the Label – Us Against Them

A war of words has re-ignited after the Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville reiterated the Us Against Them theme that has played out between the market leaders (them) and the market makers (Us). Water lager patriarch Pete Coors took exception.

Beer in America is NOT one big happy family no matter what Coors writes. As much as they want to cloak themselves in our positive vibes, #independent is opposed to being part of their club. This differentiation is important because what craft beer aims for is not what big beer is aiming for.

What follows is not a corporate hater screed. As I have typed innumerable times before, big does not mean bad and small does not equal better. With all things being equal being the caveat and that is where the true problem lies.

Granted that Miller/Coors is not as guilty as their Belgian/Brazilian brethren SABInBev, but neither grant any quarter when it comes to competition. They have tried bullying distributors, making stadiums exclusive to their brands, buying craft breweries, launching phantom craft brands and to outspend in advertising by factors of factors of percent.

Now they want us to think that they are on our side against some fictitious battle against spirits and wine. The scorpion want us to row across the river and expects us to think that we won’t get stung once we reach the other shore. Don’t fight us, they say. Fight anyone/anything else.

What they fail to understand is that this is not a battle. This is ideology. We are not at war against the small distillery or the boutique winemaker. We are FOR crafting beer first and foremost. It just so happens that in doing so, we took market share and were perceived as a threat. Now they think of us as such.

This “let’s not fight” mantra is not coming from a place of wholesomeness. It is yet another way that Big Bland Beer can try to continue their battle. They have decided that if you can’t beat ’em, then join them at the hip and try to draft off of their momentum. And they are chuffed that we are suspicious and keep pushing them away.

Peel the Label – The Blacklist

This country has a huge problem with its inability to agree to disagree. There is I am Right and you are Wrong but no in between,

In one of my rare forays onto Twitter where this tendency is amplified the ultra-defensive Good Beer Hunting account presented an argument that was disheartening to me. They alleged that they have had contributors to their SABInBev backed October blog ask for their names to be not listed on their photos or words that appear on that blog.

From my adjective in the above paragraph, I sense a “doth protest too much” vibe from GBH and an editorial voice shift that is uncomfortably anti Brewers Association. But, anyone who wants to write for them despite the Bud ties should be free to write what they want for who they want. And I am free to adjust that person’s authority or standing in the beer world accordingly.

I don’t get the latter though without granting the former. You can troll Good Beer Hunting all you want. You can boycott beer from Golden Road but you don’t get to stop either from writing about beer or making beer. Both may well be compromised by their associations but they have a right to their opinions and beer recipes.

Now neither you, I or them can present untruths. And anyone that presents an untruth as fact can be should be taken to task. But don’t shame someone for a choice. How often does that work out? If I told you that I wouldn’t do that and followed up with I told you so, I doubt I would be asked my opinion much after that.

If someone writes for October or (God forbid) Beer Necessities, more likely than not, I wouldn’t read it because I don’t like the forum of expression. I figure that if the piece is good or influential, it will come up and I can read it then.

That is a choice. I am comfortable with (most) of my choices and the defensive or downright hostile among us should take note that they can’t bully opinions away.

Peel the Label is an occasional series where I opine about the big picture of craft beer and blogging without photos, videos or links.

Peel the Label – Is Beer Delivery Viable?

There are players ranging from ZX Ventures to Hopsy, Drizly and other millenially monikered names entering the beer delivery market. But is it a market that can actually be viable long term?

I think not. At least not nationally and not on a state level either.

The two best bets for making this work would be approaches that are diametrically opposed. You can string together operations by city. Have a service in Portland, another separate one in Salem, Eugene, and so on. Each smaller service could deliver to a targeted area from breweries in that area. For beers outside your radius, you would have to have that zone deliver to your zone and then to you. Akin to a library system. I can request a book and if my city library does not have it, they can ask another library that they are partnered with if they do.

The logistics on this would be a challenge, that is certain. Drivers would have to visit multiple breweries in their area and either drop their bounty off at a distribution hub for outbound drivers to deliver or do both pick-up and drop-off from one roaming vehicle. There would certainly also be issues with order fulfillment. Smaller breweries don’t make as much of some beers. If an order is received at 1pm for a hazy NE IPA beer that a customers sees as “buyable” on a website, the driver leaves that instant but what if the keg has just kicked or will in-between the driver leaving and arriving? How does a company handle this on the fly in a way that makes customers happy?

Now a bottle shop could conceivably offer a delivery service. But that would require upgrades and maintenance of SKU’s in an on-line store environment and again, how large a delivery radius could a store handle? And the only way to adequately cover a city would be by banding together with other bottle shops. Using L.A. as an example, there is simply no way to get a beer from Beachwood Brewing in Huntington Beach to my home in Glendale without expending lots of time and gas and freeway frustration.

Notice that I haven’t even mentioned the added cost that would have to be tacked on to make this financially workable. That is a cost that will reduce the pool of prospective customers. Oh and I haven’t even looked into how local, state and federal laws would come into play.

But what if SABInBev decided to jump into the game?

They have distribution in place. But they lack the selection that people will pay a premium for. Who in their right mind is going to order up a case of Lime-A-Rita’s or America cans and pay a delivery fee for something that is not a premium price product and can be found at any corner store or gas station for a lower price?

Their product is everywhere and plentiful. Not something that is being hunted for or, quite frankly, desired to that extent. Especially to the extent that a mark-up would be tolerated. Maybe, delivery can be targeted for larger orders for parties or weddings or the like. But that too is already more than adequately covered.

In basic economic terms, the demand cannot be supplied and the supplier is not in demand. To my eyes, the customer base for delivery requires a certain selection (from craft breweries) and those that can fulfill orders effectively (distributors) does not have that product. There is a chasm that would require quite a bridge to make this work.

Perhaps, independent beer can be delivered but it would take something like Amazon partnering with Whole Foods for that to possibly happen?

Peel the Label is an occasional series where I opine about the big picture of craft beer and blogging without photos, videos or links.

Peel the Label – Automatic Dogmatic

Apparently in 2017, dander raising and nitpicking happens every minute and it seems to have hit certain quarters of craft beer world too. You can get the full backstory about what led to this post right HERE at Beervana. Basically, the point is that you can’t use a specific name if you don’t do it exactly, specifically the same way as it was in the past.

That is absolute hogwash. If I am sitting in a brewery taproom anywhere in Los Angeles and I order a Gose from the menu. I don’t immediately have my dander raised if it doesn’t say, American-Style Gose beer. I am smart enough to know that it was brewed as a translation/homage/riff of the classic German style. Why? Because I am in an American city in 2017 and not a train station in Leipzig hundreds of years ago.

Same with ESB or Gueze or Kolsch or any other European born and raised style. What I want is a great beer. If it tastes completlely un-Gose, and it is still good, I will be more generous than if it is lacking on both accounts. But what I can do, that apparently the less tolerant cannot, is separate out Fullers ESB from an ESB brewed on the west coast.

Naming a brewery Zoigl shouldn’t cause a ripple in the surface of craft beer world. We have beers called hefeweizens that are wheat ales. There are pale ales that are basically IPA’s and Session IPA’s that I would not drink more than one of. Most, if not all, beer styles have drifted over time into new recipes and new forms, so to the purists, every beer should probably just be called a derivation of the first time that grain got wet and moldy in Sumeria.

If using the term Zoigl is offensive or insensitive to you, then you really have cleared your plate of problems. Craft beer has many issues to stare down but bringing a simulacrum of a brewing tradition to the US is not one of them. Otherwise we might not have much beer here at all.

I give you a choose your own adventure based on how stupid you think consumers are:

1. They don’t know what a Zoigl is and ask someone at the brewery about it or Google it because we all have phones and no health care.
2. They know what a Zoigl is (probably 1% of people) and also know that they are in Portland and not old-timey Germany.

You can say that it is not an authentic Zoigl and you can go to the ends of the earth educating people about what a Zoigl actually is but to get your ass chafed because it is called that just shows that dogma holds more sway in your life than the actual beer.

This world needs more people with slower fuses.

Peel the Label is an occasional series where I opine about the big picture of craft beer and blogging without photos, videos or links.

Peel the Label – Disenchanted

In October, I ran across and admittedly was fascinated by three instances of people slamming beer people for various “crimes”.

A famous chef expressing his disdain for beer snobs in a way straight out of a beer snob handbook for dissing. A noted blogger and new author with a Facebook screed against haters that read more as a cover letter for a wine industry job and another blogger who couldn’t even bear to read a few blog posts without falling into a pit of swear words and despair.

Those who know me, know that I am the opposite of confrontational. When worked up, I get snarky and sarcastic. Technically termed as passive – aggressive. So, I really have a hard time grasping why people would publicly vent in the first place. In what appears, to me, in these three cases blatant appeals for confirmation of their views from Internet strangers.

But that isn’t what fascinated me. What did was the throwing up of hands and giving up by this trio. I am playing armchair psychiatrist here but these people seem normally undaunted by hurdles in their path. You don’t become a famous chef or an author or a confrontational blogger without having to face rejection and armoring yourself with a thick skin. And yet, beer snobs, Stupid reviews and non cuss laden blog posts laid these people low.

It made me think of what would disenchant myself from craft beer. Right now, if a brewer dissed me for what I perceived as a poor reason, I would simply and without Twittering, not buy that beer or write about it. Then I would move on. I have choice now. 20 breweries can call me an illiterate hick with shitty grammar and I would still have a ‘fridge full of beer options.

Same goes with bloggers. If one were to slam me for being to booster-ish in a way that I disagreed with, I would just point my browser to another blog. Same scenario for any bar or beer snobs. I have choice where, with who and how I spend my time and money and I use it.

I have a gut feeling that this group refuse to do that and that they want people to change to more closely mirror their attitudes and ideas. I want you and everyone to not be snobby about beer. I want you and everyone to jump to my assistance over Internet trolls. I want you and everyone to write a beer blog the way I do.

It is easier to become angry and defensive if that is the mindset. It is a lot harder to stay true to yourself when beset on all sides by people who don’t agree with you. But I don’t bemoan those who watch Two and a Half Men and say all TV is bad. I search out the good stuff. Find my people, my tribe. And the great thing is, those people are out there.

If your restaurant is attracting beer snobs, make it a haven for people like me who enjoy craft beer unpretentiously. If your book is getting unfairly reviewed, get it into the hands of the people who can give you fair reviews. If you think beer blogging is insipid, then either only follow those you can stomach or help others become more critical and well rounded bloggers. Or you can just scorch the earth behind you via Social Media. (There’s the sarcasm).

I urge David Chang, Ashley Routson and the Hipster Brewfus to take a step back and see the problems they are embroiled in as a chance to CREATE. It may sound too Oprah-esque but what is disenchanting you, might be an opportunity to improve yourself and the world around you. And if you are in LA, look me up and I will buy you a round and we can discuss it further.

Peel the Label is an occasionally appearing post about the world of craft beer with no links, photos or graphics. Just opinion.

Peel the Label – Recognition

There seems to be an almost natural rivalry between online and tactile. It was music that was, and still is, the flag bearer for that debate. There are as many camps as there are aspirants for the Iron Throne. Vinyl enthusiasts, streaming music channels or live at a club all vie for attention.

The same hold true for print versus online if you want to go for the adversarial paragraph opener. I was reading through some wine blogs (which beer bloggers should do to both hone their game and see a wider world) and I came across this:

My take on print vs. online media is that print’s business model screwed the pooch a long, long time ago. It has nothing to do with wine and is happening in every form of print media on any subject matter. People enjoy interactions and opinion, and are seeking to balance straight-ahead, mostly-objective, fact-based coverage (which for decades has been the bread-winner for print) with subjective, opinion-based, op-ed-style pieces that by-and-large center on the unique voice of the writer. In other words, nowadays people will take a human relationship and a sense of personal trust over a pronouncement of facts (or even opinion) as deigned from an expert.

It was from 1 Wine Dude and I found myself toggling back and forth as to whether I agree or not.

I believe the debate has been about what people want covered and how they want it covered. And I think a mixture of fact based journalism and opinion are what is needed. And as much as music, movies, TV and newspapers couldn’t straddle online and off, they are still uniquely positioned to deliver that content.

But I also think that blogs can deliver as well and that print and blogs could both do it without partisan rancor. It comes down to one word: recognition.

I am not talking about badges and ribbons for participation. There are two missed opportunities for recognition that I think mesh for this topic.

First, recognizing who the other person is. This happens to be something that print seems to miss with two hands and a flashlight. If I may stereotype an entire group of people, what I hear most about bloggers is that they are not journalistic enough. With the implication that, journalists are better and that you should all want to be them one day.

The point that is missed is that beer bloggers (again in general) are not journalists and don’t want to be. Most have a 9-5 and a life and blog on the side. They are not trained in writing or web design or want/ have an editor that is not a significant other. When journalists can accept that or at least recognize it, they will be more secure in their place and the role of bloggers.

Bloggers, on the other hand, could always do with a little added professionalism and a renewed focus on writing. I include myself because I hope to be learning and not stagnant. Journalists and print can help one grow as a blogger. If only for grammar reasons. And if bloggers can recognize that writing is more important than SEO, that would be cool too.

The other shade of recognition is what the strengths and weaknesses are for your chosen delivery method. Don’t blame the Sunday paper for being filled with news you saw hashtagged yesterday. And don’t blame a blog for being visual forward. Just two examples that I have heard recently.

Print and blogs are simply delivery methods. Both may not survive the next technological leap. Or both might. They are not a banner that you rally behind. Each individual needs to find out the best way to say what they want to say, in the way that the say it best. Then look at which way allows them to say that.

Or you can continue to snipe at each other like Lannisters and Starks.

Another 1 Wine Dude link that I think you might find enlightening is HERE.

Peel the Label – The Day After

Grand opening parties are grand. Relief that another brewery has fought through the red tape and opened and the happiness inherent in getting chance to try new beers.

But grand openings or anniversary parties shouldn’t be the the end of the story. I understand that you can’t be a regular at every bar or brewery. Until clones and jet packs are feasible. But being a person who “only” shows up at special events means you are not getting the full experience. Just a heightened one.

And you are missing the chance to truly see the place. Big parties fill a space. Finding room to sit or stand at all so you can fully enjoy your beer can be difficult. Or you may have more space but you are outdoors in the heat. It can be hard to get beer because of so many people in line and hard to hear conversations because of so many people in line.

This isn’t a screed against the party atmosphere. True, it is not my favorite way to drink but communal sharing of beer is great. Celebrating a milestone is great.  But the ability to sit in peace at the bar and ask the bartender or brewer a question or two is invaluable and is sometimes a better way to really savor the beer in front of you. To be able to see and smell your beer without being jostled about is better.

Not only is it better for you but better for the establishment that doesn’t have to plan event after event to bring the masses in the door. If a brewery can have a steady stream of people it is better than a raging flood followed by nothing.

I will end with a TV metaphor. A show has a wedding. Two characters have finally tied the knot. The show seems to lose viewers. Now that the happy ending is in place, why watch. The fun was the couple falling in love, then out, then back in.

Peel the label is an occasional post behind the beer scenes with no links or photos. Just opinion.

Don’t stop watching a show just because one milestone has been reached. There is more comedy or drama to see. Just a different kind. So don’t go to a grand opening then wait a year to go back for the 1st anniversary. Go back as much as you can. You just might find more to love.

Peel the Label – Festival Selections

Festival season is upon us. Here in Los Angeles, it stretches from April through October.

Which means that there are one or more craft beer festivals per weekend. And quite frankly, most are very cookie-cutter. Very few are outright bad. But some just sit there wearing a “m’eh” t-shirt. And it is because the choice of breweries and beers is mediocre either because it isn’t the focus or because of limited supply.  But both problems can be surmounted.

It is not easy to put on a festival.  Sourcing the beer almost becomes part of a list of to-do’s.  Another item to check off the list.  When it should be the main driver behind why a festival is being done in the first place.  Not because you need to drum up business for your beer emporium or draw attention to your town as a tourist destination for beer geeks.  Those benefits arrive stronger and in a more lasting way when people are excited about what beer they will be able to drink or breweries that they will see.

Setting aside those marketing driven events, as craft beer festivals proliferate, the great beer and great ideas get spread thin. The same breweries and same beer are on tap on the Eastside and the West. Like a mirror reflection. Or you run across beer choices more in line with inventory reduction.  I have seen a brewery rep pouring bottles of last years fall and winter ale seasonals. In April. Even though said brewery has multiple fresher beers.  And no, it was not an aged beer festival.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. A festival may be new, middle aged or classic and also be exciting. What it requires is that the limitations on beer be creatively surmounted.

That starts with the beer selections. A new festival may have less access to “wow” beers but can be a “wow festival”.  For those new to the scene or with limited options I can, right off the top of my head, see where a festival salutes the best selling / flagship beers of their local breweries. 24th Street from Strand Brewing next to Solidarity from a Eagle Rock Brewery. And have information explaining the back story of those beers. Or you could add a slide show of the brewery.

You could go style specific and feature Belgian and Belgian style beers, or lagers and pilsners. Take the list of possible beers and find a theme.  Portland has a Fruit Beer Festival that takes advantage of their access to fruit in the region.  The same could be done here.  Or do a single hop festival.  Sierra Nevada has added something similar to great success.  And it ties back into their hop growing program.  True synergy not the made up kind.

If you have been around the beer scene in your community and made some friends, then you can and should kick it up a notch. What style of beer is under represented? Maybe do a blind tasting or a competition type of event. L.A. IPA’s versus their San Diego counterparts. Then crown a people’s champion and a brewery rep champion.  I could literally spout off ten or more ideas as a jumping off point for people.

And the creativity doesn’t need to stop at the craft beer border. Instead of loud DJ music, how about local unsigned bands? Books and beer? Ice cream and beer or grilled cheese and beer? The options are endless. Make a selection. Don’t just paint by the numbers.

But I will probably read about festivals with the usual suspects. And no water stations.  And, I say read, because you will probably not find me at as many this year.

Peel the label is an occasional post behind the beer scenes with no links or photos. Just opinion.