Everything's bigger in Texas. (Not really).
Many people have told me that the only place in Texas worth visiting is Austin. The city is famous for its music scene and a liberal vibe which the rest of Texas may view as a blemish on an otherwise Red State. Austin has been described as having many similarities to Portland, Oregon – a city which is currently experiencing a renaissance of all things creative, driven by the energy of a youthful culture with nothing to lose. A mecca of art, music, writing, food, craft beer and craft distilling. A city where tattoos are mainstream, food carts are ubiquitous, and punk clowns can be seen juggling fire on oversized bicycles in the middle of the day. It's also a city tucked within the Willamette Valley, which produces a pinot noir that puts Burgundy to shame, and the great Northwest, which produces hops that have made even Belgian beer-producers salivate.
Portland is reported to have the highest number of breweries of any city in the world and this is what encourages some craft beer-lovers to remain, putting up with a pervasive chilly dampness that facilitates fungal growth in unexpected places. While the city remains a craft beer capital (one of many self-proclaimed...), other cities and regions are rapidly catching up. San Diego. Philadelphia. Atlanta. Asheville, Colorado, of course. Michigan. Vermont. New Zealand. Even Germany is following suit, experimenting with different hop varietals, and all within the parameters of the guiding Reinheitsgebot dogma. France and the UK have also caught on – threatening to outdo us with a rich history of pub and cafe culture.
Despite the surge in craft breweries and taprooms around the world, and despite the cultural similarity to Portland, I hadn't heard anything about the Austin craft beer scene. Was it because I wasn't listening? Recent Changes in Texas Law Make Way for Craft
On March 12th, 2013, Texas law changed in a way that made it significantly easier for most breweries to sell their product to the public directly. As a result, a flood of new craft breweries have opened only recently in Austin and I suspect there will be rapid growth of the industry, and in demand, as a result.
There are distinct differences between Austin's budding craft beer scene and that of the seasoned craft beer scene of Portland – where even the sketchiest dives are obligated to serve craft beer and the best beer bars ensure their glassware is spotless and fit for the style. Most of the breweries and taprooms in Austin seem apprehensive about testing the consumer palate just yet. While I did try a couple of really nice wine and bourbon barrel-aged beers, there was a distinct absence of sours – and the very few I could find were only of Belgian origin – with one exception: the highly-regarded and exceptionally bold Jester King Brewery.
Below is a list of some of my Austin craft beer finds, ranking them in order of preference: #1: Jester King (Brewery)
Located eighteen miles outside of downtown Austin, Jester King
strives to produce true farmhouse ales with as many local and organic ingredients as possible, pioneering the use of wild yeast and barrel-aging in Austin. I have a huge admiration for their innovation and creativity, all within the parameters of a farmhouse tradition. Jester King is proving to Austin that the consumer palate is ready for wild and sour ales, and I expect others will quickly follow suit – but only because Jester King did it first and did it well.
There is no public transportation to their brewery, and I don't drive so I can't tell you what their taproom is like. However, my limited experience trying their beer has led me to believe – as I have been told by several locals – that no Austin craft beercation would be complete without going to their brewery. You can find some of their bottles around town (I found one of their farmhouse ales in a grocery store), but it's incredibly rare as they usually run out quickly. #2: Austin Beer Works (Brewery)
Situated in the outskirts, deep in the industrial part of town, the Austin Beer Works
tap room has limited hours and the location is not at all obvious. Start with the address, then keep going, into the parking lot to the right and around to the back. There you'll find a huge open garage door with plenty of seating at big bright picnic tables, or along a wrap-around bar.
Every one of their beers I tried was excellent, not to mention it's a pretty cool warehouse space and they're willing to do spontaneous brewery tours. They make a popular seasonal called Sputnik, a Russian imperial stout with a whole lot of coffee. They also won a GABF gold medal for Black Thunder, their German-style Schwarzbier, which I tried along with the whiskey barrel-aged version. My favorite of the evening, however, was Genuine Pyrite, a Belgian-style golden strong ale aged in white wine barrels. I also tried an amazing imperial red with a beautiful aromatic, floral aroma – worthy of a full pint - or three.
Texas law requires that brewery taprooms not – technically - sell beer for on premises consumption, but $10 buys you a glass – which you can take home with you – and three fills of their beer. #3: Craft Pride (Taproom)
My Austin beer geek friends are going to kick my ass for picking Craft Pride
over many peoples' favorite Draught House, but from an outsider's perspective, this is a great place to learn about Texas beer because it's all they serve – 52 taps of the stuff, plus 2 casks, representing over twenty local Texas breweries, many from Austin. The best craft beer that Texas has to offer, all in one place, served by local bearded beer lovers born and bred in Austin. The only drawback of this is that they have a lot of taps to fill so not ALL the beer is going to be great. But you can give these guys your style preference and they'll give you a great suggestion and a taster of anything you want.
Even if they can't tell you which specific hops are used in a particular IPA, the guys working know what's good, and their enthusiasm for beer shines through. Several times during my – admittedly – extended tenure at their bar, they grabbed a flashlight to show someone the sparkles in Austin Beer Works
' Mr. Sparkle, a beer made with food-grade glitter - and they never grew tired of it.
If the beer quality or the sparkles aren't enough to get you here, go to see the space – artistically designed and carefully executed with extraordinary attention to detail and a floor-to-ceiling reverence for wood. The lovingly-lacquered bar is constructed from one of the most impressive pieces of 130-year-old wood I've ever seen and the walls are constructed from the reclaimed lumber of the old house that once stood in that very spot.
No food, but a food cart out back serves hot, fresh and tasty pizza and delivers it to your table. Beers are served in pints or in smaller 6-oz glasses, your choice. I appreciate the smaller glasses because, personally, I'd rather try a little bit of a lot of different things and I get tired of those damn shaker pints at most places.
#4: The Draught House (Taproom)
From everything I've read, The Draught House
is THE ultimate beer-lovers place to go – even if you have the high standards of an Oregon craft beer lover. With about 55 of some of the best breweries in the world on tap, it's certainly the best tap list in Austin. With an old dive bar vibe, the smell of a hundred years of stale beer, dirty tile floors, and tables that have a million stories etched into them. There's the sound of Dead Kennedies playing faintly in the background. And...joy of joys...I finally got to try the Founder's
Breakfast Stout which doesn't distribute to Oregon – beautiful creamy head, great intense coffee flavor. Delicious.
I saw that they had BFM
's Le Cuvee Alex le Rouge, a Russian imperial stout I'd never tried before. I asked the less-than-enthusiastic bartender if it was barrel aged, and he said he didn't think so and mumbled something about carbonation. After looking the beer up on beeradvocate.com
, I found out that it's made with Serawak pepper, bourbon vanilla and Russian tea - which gives it an earthy, tannic and vinous character. You'll either have to know something about craft beer before you go to The Draft House or be willing to be independent and adventurous, but don't expect any help from the bartender.
There's plenty of parking, a big outdoor area, and dart boards - strategically placed right next to a door to the patio. Luckily, it's on a street called Medical Parkway, so I would assume there's a hospital nearby if you need to have a dart pulled out of your eye. No food, but they have a different food truck outside every day except Sundays and free brats at 3pm on Saturdays. #5: Black Star Co-Op Pub and Brewery
From everything I've read, Black Star's house beer is the way to go, but they also serve guest taps. I made the mistake of trying one of these first – Southern Star's Le Mort Vivant, a biere de garde that tastes nothing like the style and seems to have a strange raspberry flavor to it. No matter – stick to the house beers, which are nicely divided on their chalk board into “Rational” and “Irrational”. Naturally, I opt for the irrational side – specifically Cantankerous Dockhand, a dry and smokey robust porter brewed with chilis and cocao nibs. THIS is good. A beautiful creamy head with the most perfect lacing I've ever seen, great flavor and enough bite without being overpowering. Black Star
is a co-op brewery which prides itself in paying its workers a true living wage and because of this, they don't accept tips...that's right, there's no extra 20% - you only pay for the cost of your beer and food (bonus!). Aside from the excellent beer they make, decent food, and an awesome business model, I was fortunate to hang out for a while in the back with one of the brewers and I'm fairly certain I've never met anyone quite as passionate about brewing. I have much respect for this place and the people who work here.
Tip: they may also have some bottles of Jester King, or other very special beers available for sale, but you have to ask.
#6: Hi Hat Public House
This one was suggested to me by my Austin host who said it's quickly becoming a favorite among the beer geeks. An unassuming interior with a small bar and instruments hanging from walls and ceiling, Hi Hat stands out in my mind because they were actually serving sours – including BFM
's Abbaye de St. Bon Chien (a rare wine barrel-aged blend which is one my favorites). On tap was also the Petrus
Aged Pale Sour and (512)
Casabel Cream Stout with chilis added – a local rarity. Though I can't tell you first-hand, I'm told their food is also very good.
When I told the folks working at Hi Hat that I was writing an article about the craft beer scene in Austin, I was told I should come back when manager Habeab Kurdi was working. Habeab knows a shitload about craft beer and the Austin beer scene in particular. There was even an article by him in the Austin Beer Guide – a thick little 'zine which is a great source of information, including profiles and articles by some of the leaders and advocates of the craft beer scene here - and a good sign that the Austin craft beer scene is gaining momentum.
As it turns out, Habeab is also just about one of the nicest guys I've ever met. He was kind enough to introduce me to some of the writers, brewers, and beer geeks in the Austin craft beer scene and I had a great time with them over some very special bottles from the Black Star cellar. Habeab's knowledge and enthusiasm for craft beer is vast and though he hasn't worked at Hi Hat for long, I believe he has been – and will continue to be – instrumental in making Hi Hat a favorite among beer geeks.
#7: Pinthouse Pizza (Austin, TX)
Loud music, loud conversation – Pinthouse
is a typical pizzaria, with long picnic tables and wooden floors. Fresh greasy pizza and great beer, along with a ton of guest taps - I counted forty-two taps in all. Head Brewer Joe Mohrfeld used to work for Odell
, a highly-respected Fort Collins brewery, for what that's worth...I tried their pale ale: a really fresh, floral citrus aroma and a good balance of malt and hops. Their beer is definitely worth going for, but I would recommend a time where it's not too crowded because it can get a bit overwhelming. For you old-timers, they also have Donkey Kong and Pole Position, as well as a Monopoly pinball game and a golf video game. You know, good for both kids and parents...and probably grandparents too...
#8: The Ginger Man
With 81 beers on tap and many more bottles, many styles are represented at The Ginger Man
but if you're in search of something truly experimental and out of the ordinary, you may not find it here, and when they do get something unique in, they run out quickly. Great ambiance, though. Really nice, big bar with gorgeous copper behind the taps, friendly bartenders that know a lot about beer, a lot of classic-style wood, dim lighting, a great musical selection and a perfect volume to both enjoy it and still have a conversation. Beers are generally served in shaker pints with 9oz and 23oz also available. Small, simple plates and snacks for food.
#9: Hops and Grain Brewing (Austin, TX)
Hops and Grain Brewing
recently opened their new 2000-square foot taproom in a quiet residential area of Austin just southeast of Hi Hat Public House, past the train tracks. Walking through a cavernous and echoing concrete hallway, you turn into suite 104. You are met by the sound of pop music and lively conversation ricocheting off concrete floors and endless industrial ceilings and the intoxicating chemical smell of freshly-finished wood. There are three rows of very long beer garden picnic tables serving their purpose by holding jocular groups of twenty and thirty-somethings, a wall of barrel aged beers to one side.
I started with the Altbier which tasted of freshly-harvested grain...not too bad. The bourbon-barrel alt was a little more interesting but seemed as though it needed more aging as the bourbon flavor lacked complexity. I tried their flagship Hop Dog after this but was thoroughly underwhelmed. A lot of fragrant citrus hops, and a lot of grapefruit bitterness dominating bready malts – what seemed like it could be a half-assed version of a Northwest IPA, minus any floral character or complexity. I really wanted to like their beer more than I did, but maybe I'm missing something because the locals seemed to dig it.
$5 gets you one of their glasses and $10 gets you the ticket equivalent of six ounces each of six of their beers. No food.
Crux Fermentation Project
Crux uses open fermentation to brew this style – in the tradition of saison in the making, from the farms of the French-speaking region of Belgium - but with an ever-so-slight Northwest Twist of hoppy deliciousness. Crux Fermentation Project is out of Bend, where the craft breweries threaten to outdo one another in quality and creativity, bringing the term “craft” to a whole new level and enticing beer geeks throughout the globe to flock to this small Oregon town. This brewery seems to pay attention to all details, including sexy, minimalist label and, arguably, the best name for any brewery in the world. Ever.
Impasse pours a hazy, golden straw with a hearty, four-finger head, characteristic of the style, which mellows to a quarter-inch foam, lending to excellent lacing. The robust aroma is of pear cider, characteristic of Belgian yeast with a strong spiciness and a slight funky citrus. With medium body and strong carbonation which accentuates a well-integrated slight bitter hoppiness, the flavor is otherwise sweet, melting into fruity cider, orange and tangerine, transitioning to a strong spiciness that dominates and lingers throughout, and finishing with a lemon-rind bitterness. Estery goodness.
This tastes like something you would find at the end of the rainbow. Crux does it again.
11.1% ABV, 111 IBU
Sparing us no mercy, Sixpoint Brewing
(Brooklyn, New York) recently released Hi-Res - a beer not for the faint of heart at 11.1% ABV and an IBU so high that it goes beyond human detection.
A hazy but vibrant orange color with a single-finger head that fades to a ring around the glass, it is rich, full-bodied and resinous with a powerful ripe tropical fruit and citrus aroma. The flavor mimics the aroma with a bit more complexity: sweet caramel malt, rich, juicy mango and pineapple, ripe orange and tangerine, and a slight pine and boozy-warm finish.
Despite the intense, resinous, and complex hop profile, this beer doesn't blow your palate with bitterness. Rather, the hops lend a nice fruitiness which integrates with the malt well, creating something that is almost malt-forward but completely lacking the breadiness of some imperial or double IPAs (something which I, admittedly, have grown tired of). The warm booziness is far from masked in the finish, nor is the candy-sweetness as it warms. Drinkable, but I don't think I would go for more than one in a sitting.
Russell-Farrenkopf House, where I stayed
I wasn't there for the beer. I was there to deal with some business – a result of just splitting up with my husband – and I didn't think there was enough of a craft beer scene in Syracuse to get an article out of it. There are only four craft breweries in Syracuse – one of them, I'm told, is not worth going to and one just opened in the past year - and I knew of only one taproom, where the beers were prohibitively expensive. Empire Brewing Barleywine
As it turns out, Syracuse is a pretty remarkable city. Full of confident and fearless men and women, it's a harsh city knee-deep in snow and below-zero temperatures, with huge Victorian houses everywhere, neglected and in varying states of disrepair. When I first arrived, I was lost and out of my element, and a little dismayed when a cab driver told me I shouldn't be walking around in the neighborhood where I was staying. But I felt more at home after finding a budding craft beer scene and people who were willing to share a beer with a stranger from Portland, Oregon. So, in the end, maybe I really was there for the beer.
What brought me to Syracuse initially, though, was that my husband and I had bought a house in the Near Westside when the real estate market collapsed, when houses were so cheap you could buy them in cash. We thought that if we could rent it out, we'd have income for life – the only realistic chance we would have to retire. The well-funded Syracuse University wanted to turn the Near Westside – still considered the ghetto - into an arts district and the city and the school were pumping money into the neighborhood, building sustainable housing, a coffee shop and a community garden, and at the same time, putting provisions in place that would limit property tax increases for current long-time residents. Say what you will about gentrification – from an investment standpoint, this was a golden opportunity for two people who had been poor most of their lives to finally get ahead. At some point, we would be able to charge significantly higher rent, or sell the house at a huge profit, or maybe live in it ourselves one day. The truth is, I pushed to buy the house because I was in love with it – a four-bedroom house built in 1890, with stained glass and gorgeous woodwork. I could never afford to buy such a house in Portland, let alone in cash.
As it turned out, it was also a huge pain in the ass. There were open codes violations from the previous owner and a city that was breathing down our necks. We had trouble finding a tenant and when the house was vacant, it was broken into and vandalized, the pipes and duct work stolen, windows broken, the doors left open, and the heat turned up – leaving us with a $300 heating bill one month. After we found a property management company and tenants, we were charged for work that was never done and hardly saw a dime in the first two years. Then the property management company went under, taking all of the property owners' money with them.
When we split, my husband took the Portland house we were living in and I inherited the one across the country, along with all of its problems. But he loved the Portland house, and I loved the house in Syracuse (plus I needed the extra rental income), so it made sense even if it really didn't work out in my favor. And this is why I flew to Syracuse, New York, in the dead of winter: to take care of business and make sure it got done right. But it didn't take that long to do the business part, which left a several days to try to find some other craft beer-lovers in this cold, gritty little town that I'd grown an unlikely fondness for.
And for the record, I have since walked all over Syracuse - both during the day and at night - in the neighborhood where I was staying and in far worse neighborhoods, like the Near Westside. People said hello to me on the street. It was fine.
Craft beer discoveries along the way... Empire Brewing
Empire Brewing120 Walton Street Nat, the Assistant Brewmaster at work.
I'd been to Empire before, when I was in town visiting my husband's family, and it still remains my favorite brewery in town. This time, arriving alone in Syracuse for the first time, it was good to see a familiar place, and I only had to go there two days in a row before the bartender, Anna, made me feel like a regular. It was through Anna that I learned that Central New York was a major hop-growing capital before prohibition – a fact I didn't know (or had perhaps forgotten).
Located in the Armory Square area of downtown in a historic building with exposed brick walls and archways and a long wooden bar, there is just enough light and sound to create a relaxed mood while at the same time allowing one to read the menu or have a conversation. Behind the bar is a window into the brewery, where one can see gleaming copper tanks. The person who designed the space managed to create an incredible sense of balance – a synthesis of enough elegance without being pretentious, a splash of industrial and a dash of eclectic kitsch.
This impeccable sense of balance also shines through in Empire's beers which are always flavorful but never dominating. I'm very picky when it comes to barley wines these days and I find a lot of them either awkwardly unbalanced or trying to strike a balance somehow between sickly sweet and intensely bitter – without integration, it's like drinking two beers at once. Apprehensive as I was, I found Empire's barleywine to be one of the most perfectly balanced I've ever had, and with a striking ruby color. Their Winter Warmer also had a perfect malt-hop balance but with a lot of allspice, giving it a unique spicy character without the heavy sweetness of many winter warmers. One of my favorites, though, is their White Aphro, a Belgian-style witbier brewed with lavender and ginger – which illustrates well the brewer's mastery of balancing flavor with subtlety.
Empire also has a huge selection of very good food, including vegetarian options like the truffle flat bread pizza with wild mushrooms that I always get. They make an effort to support local farmers, ranchers and bakers for all of their food and beer ingredients – including hops, but pretty soon they'll be growing their own.
Empire Brewing Expansion Planned by Early Fall, 2014 Class, industrial and kitsch mingle at Empire.
For years, the only way you could get Empire's beer was to visit their brewpub in Syracuse, but that's about to change with a plan to start bottling and distributing throughout the Northeast and a few select places overseas (sadly, no plans in the near future to distribute to the West coast).
Empire is in the process of building a new sixty-barrel Farmstead Brewery on twenty-two acres of pristine land in Cazenovia, about twenty miles outside of Syracuse, where they plan to grow their own hops, barley, lavender and food for the brewpub. The new brewery will act as the primary center for production, bottling, and distribution while the original seven-barrel system in the brewpub will be used for experimentation and small batches.
You'll be able to visit the new brewery for a tour, to visit their tasting room, or to try some of their small plates of smoked meats, artisan cheeses and other charcuterie. In addition, they plan to have a full bakery producing breads for their brewpub. Their focus, as always, will be to keep everything as local and sustainable as possible while maintaining a tradition of European farmhouse brewing. They'll also be implementing some sort of barrel-aging program and - while I couldn't get any details about it from them - I'm sure they'll be producing some very special beers in the future. I expect these guys will continue to grow and will hopefully expand their distribution in the future because I truly believe they can compete with the best of them from what I've seen so far. I look forward to visiting again after the opening of the Farmstead Brewery, expected sometime between late summer and fall, 2014, if all goes well.
Double Barrel Brewing Company
108 Walter Drive
These guys opened in November, 2013, and in that short time, I'd read enough good things about them to know it would be worth the effort to find the place. And it did require some effort. Set back to the rear of a dark parking lot, up a loading dock and through a brightly-lit hallway, through a heavy door that opens into a small warehouse filled with the smell of grain and the Syracuse team colors - blue and orange - there was something about the space that reminded me of an old feed-and-seed. You feel like you're walking into a small family store, with the volunteer brewing assistant and a barrel-chested regular at the bar, the brewer himself, Pete Kirkgasser, and his wife filling tasters, and their two teenage daughters and a dog helping out. And they're all just about the nicest people you've ever met.
Their tasting room is just that - a room for tasting or taking growlers to go, but only within the narrow period between 4pm and 7pm, seven days a week. The daughters run a small business as well, making Brew Bones, dog biscuits made from spent grain and other simple, natural ingredients. A $2 "tasting fee" will get you a taste of all eight beers on tap – but if they like you they might throw in one or two extra of your favorites “for the cold”.
Kirkgasser has been home-brewing for over twenty years and I've read that he was considered one of the most “prolific and edge-pushing” members of the Salt City Brew Club. Now he runs just a single-barrel system, but they already have plans to expand, and there is no doubt they'll have to in order to keep up with demand. While Kirkgasser brews all styles, his personal favorites are the hoppier beers. He uses all Northwest hops - when he can get his hands on them - lending a lot of complexity and nuance to his beers. My personal favorite, though, was a Belgian-style golden strong ale. Given Kirkgasser's ability to successfully brew such a diverse number of styles, I believe these guys will do very well in the coming years.
Middle Ages Brewing Company
120 Wilkinson St
A bit out of the way if walking from downtown in the snow, but certainly worth a visit. Middle Ages produces British-influenced beers, using all English malts, the same yeast strain for all their beers, hand-brewing methods and open fermentation. Because of the way the law works in New York, they can't sell you beer to drink on-premises but you are welcome to taste a sample of each of their taps in the tasting room and take a growler with you to go. My favorite that day was a smoked porter, but I'm particularly interested in trying the version brewed with jalapeno and poblano peppers.
They're good guys, too, and were kind enough to chat beer with me for a while and point me in the right direction to find more excellent beer on my journey. Much thanks to Kevin and Isaac from the tasting room for meeting me for a beer after work and for the lively philosophical debate!Syracuse Suds Factory
- I was warned by multiple people not to bother going here, but I'll likely give them a try the next time I'm in town, just to give them a fair shake. I have to admit, though, their tap list (four beers) is pretty underwhelming.
Clark's Ale House201 S. Salina St.
Tentatively scheduled to re-open in a new downtown location by the end of February, 2014, Clark's was one of the first and only bars dedicated to craft beer back in 1992 and its opening has been a highly-anticipated event among the Syracuse craft beer-lovers. Originally located in the Landmark Theater building, they were forced to shut down in 2010 for the building's expansion project. This could be a good thing for everyone in the end, as their new location will have twice the space of the old, plus a high-tech draft system with thirty-two taps of great beer. As in their original location, they will not have TVs or loud music - just great beer and conversation...and what more does a person need? J. Ryan's
253 E. Water St.
This was a great find for me this time around - recommended to me by the guys at Middle Ages tasting room - and I have the feeling that if I lived in Syracuse, this would be my local haunt. A very casual vibe with some simple bar food, but it attracts a large variety of clientele of all ages and styles – likely because they have sixty-nine great beers on tap, with a selection of flights and a daily $2.50 half-pint or $10 pitcher special. It almost makes me want to move to Syracuse. The Blue Tusk
165 Walton St.
From what I recall, the Blue Tusk is is a pretty nice space with some good beers. I didn't go there this time around, though, because I'm not exactly fond of paying $8-9 for a pint when Empire is just across the street.Al's Wine and Whiskey Lounge
321 S Clinton St
This was recommended to me by several people but I didn't make it so I'll have to check it out the next time I'm in town. With rugs and couches everywhere, it looks like a place I would like...and supposedly, they have a great tap list. Unfortunately, they don't list their taps on their website which is a bit disappointing. World of Beer
10347 Destiny USA Dr
Honestly, I was turned off by the fact that there are multiple locations because I like to support smaller, local businesses. I thought it was a chain, but it's actually a franchise. Either way, looking at their beer list now makes me wish I would have gone - both extensive and comprehensive.
I didn't see the Superbowl. I don't do the sports thing - even if it IS two teams from amazing states rich in craft beer and legal marijuana. I was supposed to go to a Superbowl party at a friend's house which would include a TEN-YEAR vertical tasting of Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot Barleywine...TEN YEARS!!! But instead, I obsessively worked all day, desperately trying to finish some projects.
My point: I did not see the now-infamous Chrysler commercial where the buzz in social media was that Bob Dylan had "sold out". I could care less whether or not Bob Dylan sells out. Haven't many of us "sold out" in one way or another? He had his day, he was young, he was an idealist and an activist, and whether you love him or hate him, he was a great fucking writer. But he did his time. He can do whatever the hell he wants, and I can't definitively say I wouldn't do the same thing if Chrysler offered me whatever ungodly sum they offered him.
But I did get a little curious about what everyone was talking about...
After finally watching the commercial, I posted the following on my personal Facebook page:
I didn't much care about the Swiss watch crack, since, who wears watches anymore anyway? Just another reason why Chrysler (owned by an Italian company and touting their "American" cars) is painfully out-of-touch with reality...
After I posted the above, though, a friend shared with me a letter written by Fred Bueltmann of the New Holland Brewing Company
(a.k.a. the Beervangelist) written to Chrysler. This letter is so articulate, well-written and right on point that Fred Bueltmann is now my superhero
. Thank you very much, Fred, for not just innocuously posting something on Facebook like me, but for taking the time to rip Chrysler a new asshole publicly!
Here are a couple of great excerpts from the letter. You can also read the entire letter below.
It was condescending to your customers and even managed to make listening to Bob-frickin-Dylan feel dirty for the first time ever...
...Shame on you, Chrysler for insulting the hard working people of Detroit, Michigan and America, by forgetting what craftsmanship is all about – authenticity, artistry, trust and respect. American pride and legacy aren’t about buying local out of obligation. These ideals are about celebrating beautiful things made in our communities and being proud because they’re great. So, if Chrysler is going to try and sell us on some warm and fuzzy American pride rhetoric, why don’t you actually show some first? So, while Chrysler makes more Super Bowl ads, we’ll keep making the beer; in Michigan and every other corner of this great land. We’ll raise our glass, look each other in the eye and mean it when we celebrate our country’s heart and soul. As a dedicated member of the American craft brewing & distilling community here in Michigan, I feel Chrysler owes the craftsmen and craftswomen of our industry an apology for dismissing their trade in front of millions of viewers.
New Holland Brewing Company
THIS is what a craft beer bubble looks like
"Is this a craft beer bubble?" While it may be a sexy sensationalist headline in non-beer dedicated media publications, it is often weakly argued and I have yet to see anyone succeed in making the case. And how sexy is it anymore really? The question has been rhetorically asked so many times that it's starting to get pretty tired. Actually, it's really starting to get on my nerves.
The question was asked yet again, yesterday in the Food and Drink section of Free Times in an article by Gerald Jowers entitled "Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Craft Beer? Yes." Clearly, the title gives us the conclusion that the author came to, but what the author fails to do in the article is make us understand exactly how he came to that conclusion.
Recently, a few pundits have opined in various beer publications that the industry is heading for the same type of shakeout that occurred in the late 1990s. During that time, there was a quick spurt of growth in craft beer that ended in a collapse that was labeled a bursting of a bubble.
Today's craft beer boom is fueled by an honest passion for brewing and this shows in the quality of the beer. According to this article, this was not the case in the late '90s, when entrepreneurs greedy for big pay-offs were getting into the business and producing sub-par beer. Despite the authors own arguments which lead us to believe that today's craft beer climate is nothing like that of the '90s, he somehow comes to the conclusion that "the danger is real."
For generations, megabrewers have used effective and relentless advertising to increase the demand for their products and create brand loyalty, but craft brewers are financially unable to do this. Craft brewers by necessity rely on word of mouth and guerrilla marketing techniques such as festivals to reach potential customers — a slow process, indeed.
So will there be a shakeout? Unfortunately, I think so, because the number of craft brewers is increasing too quickly. The survivors will be the brewers (and their investors) who have the patience to tolerate slow growth and the capital to hold on during the lean times. Regrettably, these survivors may not be the best brewers. The most successful and widely distributed craft breweries today, such as Rogue, Brooklyn Brewing and Sierra Nevada, have been around for over 25 years. The new guys have a long road ahead of them.
Without any apparent data to back it up, the author concludes that the growth of supply is outpacing the growth in demand. Without any metrics to go on, it's hard to be certain. But, with certainty, I can say that all of the craft brewers I know are currently working at capacity - they can't make enough beer fast enough to meet demand. This includes two breweries which opened in 2011 and 2012 (The Commons and De Garde, respectively) and have already had to expand their facilities.
Which brings me to the author's second point that I must dispute. Word-of-mouth - and those wacky "guerrilla marketing techniques" like festivals - have been an incredibly fast and effective "marketing strategy" within the craft beer community, particularly with the abundance of beer writers and bloggers that we have today. This is likely why, when a brewery produces a very good product, they find themselves having to expand within the first year. Meanwhile, for all of Budweiser's "effective and relentless advertising", their sales have been plummeting.
That's because it isn't about marketing - it's about quality. Only a very small percentage of beer drinkers are craft beer drinkers, though market research studies from last year indicate that more people would drink craft beer if they knew more about it. As people learn more about craft beer, the demand has huge potential for growth. Once growth in demand plateaus, then you can talk about a "bubble", but until then, don't waste my time. Sure, there may be a "shakeout" of some of the craft breweries that produce sub-par beer, but that's always the case, in any industry. And they should be shaken out, for the betterment of the industry as a whole.
...My concern is that many enthusiasts, while they do not have brand loyalty, tend to gravitate toward a particular style such as IPA and stay with it; the style becomes a comfort zone.
Really? This is the final point that I have to dispute. Is the author perhaps misusing the term "enthusiast" with casual craft beer drinker? With very few exceptions, the craft beer enthusiasts I know actively seek out the new and different, across many different styles. So don't be too concerned. "Relax. Have a home brew."
Cascade Brewing (Portland, Oregon)
Sang Noir - 2012 Project
A blend of red ales aged in oak and bourbon barrels for one year, then aged an additional six months on Bing and sour pie cherries.
Pours the color of vinous black cherry with a slightly burgundy two-finger head. The nose is overwhelmingly tart pie cherry with a touch of wine and bourbon.
The flavor is similar to the aroma...tart cherries, very vinous. Bourbon is barely detectable when cold. Lacto-tart and acidic at first, but as it warms up it becomes significantly more complex - the wine-like character comes out, more bourbon flavor and sweetness from the malt, creating a more balanced, pleasing character. The bottle recommends serving at about 40-degrees, but I would recommend going a little warmer - more like 50-55. It really opens up nicely.
I always have a hard time spending $25 on a bottle of beer (and it seems there are more and more within this range these days, sadly for us poor craft beer lovers), but this is absolutely worth a try at least once. Because of its sour, vinous flavor profile, it pairs really nicely with Italian food - even Trader Joe's frozen lasagna...not that I would know anything about that of course.
Available at Cascade Barrel House and in select bottle shops throughout Portland, Oregon. Occasionally available on draft at Cascade.
Worthy Brewing (Bend, Oregon)
Powder Keg Winter Ale
7.1% ABV, 65 IBU
Centennial, Cascade, Chinook and Columbus hops
According to Worthy Brewing, this is a “festive IPA”, which seems about right – robust, but not quite an imperial. Apparently, this one was dry-hopped – not once, but twice, lending to a fresh hoppy, resinous and lingering flavor without being overly dominant.
Pours a brilliantly clear deep amber with a nice copper hue and a two-finger head. Not a lot of head retention or lacing. Fragrant, piney and slightly floral hops aroma with a touch of honey and caramel malt. A lot more caramel malt in the flavor, smoothly fading into a decent amount of lingering pine and citrus bitterness. A lot of pine. A medium body and resinous feel that lingers on the palate. Overall, a really nice, drinkable beer. Not super-complex, but well-balanced – erring on the side of a piney IPA. Good for the price and worth a try.
To read more about this beer on Worthy's site...
Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale
8.5% ABV, 38 IBU
Pale malt, malted wheat, and corn flakes
Magnum, Bravo and Amarillo hops
You can't help but love this beer right from the start. This is a classy, old-fashioned label with a gorgeous color scheme. The beer pours a bright golden straw color, hazy, with a thick Belgian-style head deserving of a traditional Farmhouse Ale - which leaves some fine lacing behind, like grandma's best doily.
This beer isn't anything new. It's available year-round, so one might say that it's nothing special. But I would beg to differ. With a slight barnyard funk to balance out the initial malt sweetness, beautiful cidery Belgian yeast character, refreshing lemon rind and tangerine, and a dry, funky finish... Refreshing as hell in the summer, but rich enough for a winter night in front of a fire.
At 38 IBU, it may be slightly more hoppy than a traditional Belgian or French farmhouse ale, but it integrates and balances the beer well. The use of Amarillo hops lends a great floral, fruity character without overwhelming the flavor profile or seeming out-of-place. I don't use the term "perfect beer" lightly. But Boulevard seemed to get this one right on all levels - and whether by intention or just dumb luck - all the details are there.