Tuesday, October 28, 2014

At Louisville Beer Dot Com: "Three tiers for Anheuser-Busch!"

John King drinks beer, runs, crafts wooden furniture, is one-third of a podcast, serves as Executive Director of the Kentucky Guild of Brewers and might even have time left to work at a day job, although I'm not sure about that one.

And then there is John's column at Louisville Beer Dot Com.

Three tiers for Anheuser-Busch!, by John King (Louisville Beer)

... The Kentucky ABC laws can be described as finicky to those inside and outside of the beer industry. They can possibly be classified as archaic since the first beer was cracked post-Prohibition, but they serve a purpose whether we imbibe by them or not. From a three-tier system requiring breweries to sell their beer to a distributor to not being allowed to give away free samples of beer outside of your taproom, the laws can create some questions amongst beer geeks. Let me explain the latter first.

He does, and then returns to AB InBev's latest bid to thwart the three-tier system.

If Anheuser-Busch starts to acquire self-distribution in Kentucky, expect to see those beers you love replaced with their “crafty” impostors (God, who am I Roger Baylor?)

To the Kentucky Guild of Brewers, it makes no sense why the largest brewery in the world would be able to self distribute and our smaller, in-state operations are not allowed to.

Well, it's about time someone was me. That said, John does a great job explaining the esoteric. If you enjoy better beer and reside in Kentucky, register your view.

Monday, October 27, 2014

THE PC: One fine evening at the Zlatý Dukát.

THE PC: One fine evening at the Zlatý Dukát.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

Drink beer with bitter hops, eat morning soup with garlic, and you will live long.
-- Central European proverb

In 1991, pre-dating my pub career by a year, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to indulge a dream. Communism had fallen, and suddenly there were opportunities for English-speakers in Eastern European countries where language instruction in Russian had not prepared people for the newly opened worldwide market.

Working through a now defunct agency, I landed a job at the teaching hospital in Kosice, the largest city in eastern Slovakia -- then still part of Czechoslovakia, and not a territory known for its beer.

It didn't matter, and I've never regretted for one moment accepting the first placement that came my way. I've been back to Kosice several times since 1992, though not since 2002; unfortunately, I’ve lost touch with the people mentioned below. Meanwhile, Slovakia is independent and a member of an expanded European Union. I hope they’re all doing well.

The article, entitled "An Evening on the Town," originally was written in 1992. I’ve touched it up a bit for publication here.

---

Jozef, a dentist, was a late addition to the roster of my conversational English class. He had attended only once prior to a Friday afternoon session in early November, yet even in his absence, I formed a firm opinion that the two of us had more in common than stature.

A big man with a relaxed, open outlook, Jozef played hockey and soccer in the semi professional Slovak leagues of the recently ended Communist era.

My hunch that we were thinking alike was borne out during that same Friday afternoon class, when I noticed his eyes widen as I told the group about my forthcoming cross-country rail pilgrimage to Plzen, home of the Pilsner Urquell brewery.

Wearing a sly grin, Jozef approached me at the end of the hour. "On next Wednesday," he said, "what will you do at night? May we make a meeting? We can go to a good restaurant in Kosice for beer, and my colleagues will go, too."

There were no objections from the lectern.

After class on the appointed evening, Jozef reminded me to meet him and the others in the hospital's main lobby at 5:00 p.m., and when I came down the stairs, he was waiting. Two other students, Ludmila and Vladimir, also were there.

Together we piled into Jozef's weather beaten, dull red, four door Skoda. It isn't easy to place a year of birth on Communist era cars, since the same models were reissued again and again; over the rumbling of the engine, I guessed it was a 1970 model. The other passengers laughed heartily. It was a '79.

We sputtered from the hospital parking lot and lurched downhill toward the center of Kosice, past the 130 year old city brewery (since closed) onto Vojenska Street. The Skoda veered right and slowly accelerated up Moyzesova, then left into the pitch black of Malinovskeho.

Everyone laughed at the provincial ambience of the unlit, deserted street. "It is like Las Vegas, yes?" said Vladimir, and Ludmila answered: "yes, Las Vegas in Slovakia."

"Do you know this street?" asked Ludmila. "We go to the back way," said Jozef. "It is better to park."

The brawny dentist gently eased the Skoda into a space. The car coughed rudely. We began walking, passing through an arched alleyway with chipped, peeling walls, entering a courtyard dotted with stacks of rotted building materials.

The back door to the Zlaty Dukat (Golden Ducat) was open, and behind a veil of steam the kitchen staff was busy. A greasy man in a well traveled black suit seemed absolutely delighted to see us. We were greeted warmly, and he nodded knowingly as Jozef spoke.

We were led to the large ground floor room where clusters of local men and an occasional woman sat at small, square tables no music, no television, just Slovaks seated in groups, drinking, smoking and talking. The room was devoid of decoration apart from standard issue 1950s vintage curtains and a scattering of yellowed Pilsner Urquell posters high up on the walls.

Plumes of acrid cigarette smoke rose from the tables and were dispersed by the lilting motion of a single waitress navigating the floor with a tray of half liter draught beers held expertly aloft, so as to avoid the unconscious gesturing of the thirsty storytellers.

The man in the black suit ushered us into a curtained cubicle marked as "RESERVE" with a hand lettered strip of paper. The cubicle was to be our refuge for the evening. In a space the size of a walk in closet there were six chairs, a table and hooks on the wall for coats. It was intimate, to say the least.

Having settled into our seats and dispensed with small talk, it was time for the business at hand. Jozef ordered four beers. Ludmila leaned over and asked me if I wanted to eat; I was reminded of a German war bride, a Hollywood character actress or a Gabor sister as she spoke good, though heavily accented, English.

Jozef abruptly announced his unshakable preference for a dish called t'lacinka: "Do you like our food?" he asked. "T'lacinka is Slovak food of tradition. At this restaurant, it is very good. Okay?" He literally smacked his lips.

"Maybe it isn't so good for you," said Ludmila. "Maybe your stomach is not good for our Slovak food." Vladimir laughed. Jozef looked dismayed. "No, no," he said, "it is best food for beer. We eat t'lacinka and drink beer. Yes?"

Yes, I agreed.

The beer arrived. One taste confirmed that it was Pilsner Urquell. Three tastes later, it was gone. So was Jozef's. Vladimir, good natured and quiet, abandoned his half full glass to find the waitress and order another round.

I told Ludmila that Slovak food was fine. The previous evening, I'd gone with another student to the Gazdovska wine cellar, an atmospheric, slightly scruffy restaurant where the specialty was bryndza hluska, which I'd heard much about but not sampled.

Every Slovak I'd spoken to considered bryndza hluska to be incompatible with American tastes, perhaps owing to its topping of melted sheep's cheese. Naturally, the Gazdovska's bryndza hluska was excellent: pea sized dumplings in a white gravy, topped with tangy cheese and real bacon bits, and accompanied by a glass of golden, sweet Tokaj wine.

Back at the Zlaty Dukat, Ludmila was impressed by my familiarity with Slovak cuisine. Moments later, two platters of t'lacinka arrived.

I might have yawned, for in the lunchmeat section of the typical American supermarket, you'll readily find t'lacinka. It's called head cheese, or brawn; when pickled, it is souse.

With obvious relish, Jozef said "watch me, okay?" He shifted a stack of raw, chopped onions onto slices of the compressed, unidentifiable, gelatinous meat. He ladled vinegar from a small tureen, dousing the quivering stack of meat by product and onion.

After that, all was flashing forks and lengthy drinks of what, to me, was the world's finest pilsner beer. I didn't hesitate to follow suit, and the t'lacinka was quite good. Why waste time contemplating internal organs and slaughterhouse scrapings so long as they pair with beer?

Later Jozef had a main course of turkey breast stuffed with ham and cheese with what looked to be a full pound of fries. I followed suit, and then we had another platter of t'lacinka, although by this point, I was getting full.

All the while, half liters of Pilsner Urquell disappeared as Jozef, Ludmila and Vladimir regaled me with tales of Slovakia.

Contempt for Communism and Kosice’s local beer was freely expressed. Jozef, who voiced a preference for Budvar over Pilsner Urquell, delighted in telling a "true" story about Cassovar, the beer made by Kosice's brewery the one just down the hill from the hospital, which did not outlast the 1990s.

"Our brewery sent a bottle of Cassovar to Plzen for tests to the laboratory," began Jozef, "and the brewers wait for an answer. They wait for one week, then another week. And nothing!"

Jozef paused, frowning.

"Then comes back the letter to Kosice, and it said there is no need to worry; your horse will be okay."

The laughter had barely subsided when the curtain parted to reveal Andrej, a youthful surgeon from the same English class. Several days earlier, I'd helped him write a letter to a European surgical society, a note in which he expressed genuinely heartfelt thanks for being accepted as a member and equally sincere regrets that he would be unable to attend the annual conference.

He couldn't afford a journey to Amsterdam on a Slovak surgeon's salary, which in his case wasn't much more than the 2,900 crowns ($100) monthly paid to me to teach conversational English.

"Welcome," said Jozef, as yet showing no signs of either slowing or becoming drunk. "We are eating t'lacinka and drinking Prazdroj. Please, you must sit with us and drink. Okay?"

Okay.

Our slippery, black suited host chose this moment to enter and speak with Jozef. When he left, Jozef said, "Last Saturday, I have duty. I treat 38 patients in this time. My pay for this day is normal, like any other day."

Nothing extra for weekend duty?

"No," he replied, wiping foam from his mustache. “For this day I am paid 150 crowns."

Five dollars.

"And this man, this restaurant man, he wants to make a meeting for me to examine teeth. He does not wish to pay me, but these waiters make more money than me."

"More than all of us," said Ludmila.

Vladimir shrugged from behind his glass: "It is a problem."

We spoke of other problems and of the system in the bad old days, and the wonderful beer encouraged candor. Andrej said, “We want the changes, but for us it is difficult. Maybe we will be like America someday."

Jozef reacted to Andrej's words. "My friend was player for the Czechoslovakia national team in hockey,” he said, "and then he play in Los Angeles with Wayne Gretzky. He tells to me in a letter that all is good in America except one thing. The beer is very bad. It is true, that the beer in America is bad? Why?"

Why ask why? I merely nodded sadly and finished my Pilsner Urquell.

It was 8:15 P.M. Closing time was at 9:00 P.M., so we ordered more beer. The waitress told Jozef that beer could not be served any longer on that particular night. Jozef asked her if the restaurant had run out of beer. She said no, there was plenty of beer and they had decided to quit serving it. The reason? None. I was reminded of the time at the pizza place in my hometown when the new employee panicked because the beer had quit coming out of the wall.

The Zlaty Dukat was emptying, the restroom attendant had abandoned his post not unexpected given the stench and his high level of intoxication and the ashtray woman was in the process of completing her only job: shifting mounds of butts into a garbage can.

Ludmila sighed. "It is not private," she said, "so the workers don't care.” Vladimir and Andrej laughed, and Andrej added, "Maybe it will change."

Jozef snorted and waved through the open curtain, but not even his black suited future patient could reverse the closing decree. It was time to go. Jozef paid the bill for the evening's festivities; it came to 300 crowns, or $10 – two days’ pay. We called it a night, and I walked up the hill, past the brewery that housed the ill horse, and home.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Being a "local hero" may require the use of a different set of muscles.


Let's expand upon this:

No, we'll likely never return to the time when three huge brewers dominate the entire beer marketplace. However, as the big "craft" players from the West Coast continue to establish production facilities on the Eastern Seaboard (Sierra, Oskar Blues, New Belgium and now Stone), aren't we looking at a scenario wherein retail shelf space comes to be their province in much the same way?

Schumacher offers an interesting comparison, one that points to another level of the brewery proliferation discussion.

How do 2,000 wineries in California survive?

Knowing quite little about it, I'd guess that their business models radically differ. Gallo has wine in every supermarket nationwide. Conversely, a small mom 'n' pop vintner ships a few hundred cases a year of something not at all plonk, and achieves his or her goals. California wineries predate "craft" breweries. Legal regimes vary. They've had time to dope it out, evolve and rationalize.

If every community is to play host to its own brewery, and all of them thrive, my guess is that the avoidance of a bubble bursting depends on economies of scale, and accompanying business plans. What worries me are all the new brewers who posit growth (and assume debt in accordance) according to outside distribution. It simply cannot be the case in the way this market currently works. I weary of collective 13% growth blurbs unaccompanied by a breakdown of production size. How much of that percentage is Sierra, and how much the brewpub in Anywheretown?

To be more succinct, it is the case now, and will be so increasingly in the future, that the interests and strategies of a 300-bbl pub brewer and a 30,000-bbl production brewer differ. NABC and Sam Adams are not alike. We're very different. We may both be "craft" in some nebulous way, but the differences are becoming wider, not narrower.

The practical consequences? I'll save those for another day.

The Beer Curmudgeon: LOCAL HERO, by Harry Schuhmacher (All About Beer Magazine)

 ... One of the most commonly asked questions within the beer industry today is: How many new breweries can the market support? Are we becoming saturated with too many breweries opening up? The answer is: not yet, not even close. There are over 2,000 wineries in California alone. If this local thing keeps going, every community will play host to its own brewery, and that’s not such a bad thing.

Friday, October 24, 2014

News update from the Brewers of Indiana Guild.

I'm proud to serve on the board of directors of the Brewers of Indiana Guild. Currently my committee assignments are Festival policy (co-chair) and Membership. As most readers already know, I'm bullish about Indiana-brewed beer, and believe we're headed in the right direction.

Below are excerpts of general interest from the most recent board news update. Note that we're not far away from the first big event of 2015:

Winterfest 2015
January 31, 2015
Indiana State Fairgrounds
1202 E 38th St. Indianapolis

---

From the Executive Director

ALMOST THERE! We are very close to crossing a milestone. As of this writing, Brewers of Indiana Guild has 97 active brewery members. We’ve come a long way since Broad Ripple Brewpub opened in 1990.

Please let us know if your brewery is visited by the Health Department (state or county), or the office of the State Chemist. In any case, please cooperate with the agent and get a business card. Health Department visits have become fairly common. Officials often use "kitchen" standards for our breweries, but so far the nuisance has not developed into real problems. The Chemist is potentially more concerning as they are looking at spent grain issues, hinting they are formulating new policies. Please keep us informed.

From the President

As a Guild, we have been working on a great number of things, but as a volunteer Board with only two paid staff members there is only so much that we can accomplish. This year we formed a number of committees that are all chaired and co-chaired by a Board member. Our standing committees are: Finance, Government Relations, Membership, Marketing, Education, Festival Policy, and B.I.G.'s Partnership with Purdue. Our plan is to have bi-montly meetings that fall between the months that we hold Board meetings.

I have been fortunate to participate in several Gathering of the Guilds meetings hosted by the Brewers Association and am happy to report that Indiana is on track and moving in the right direction. With the addition of our Communications Director, Tristan Schmid, getting the word out about it all will be more timely and organized.

Marketing & Media News

There's a lot going on with our new public awareness campaign, Drink Indiana Beer, which we launched at Great American Beer Fest and have gotten a lot of positive feedback on. That campaign and other outreach efforts have netted good exposure for Indiana breweries and the beer you brew.

A few quick notes:

Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick airs an interview about the Drink Indiana Beer campaign tonight at 7:30pm on WFYI and Sunday at 11am on WTHR. We'll post a link to the video on our site, drinkIN.beer, once it's streaming.

Indiana Public Media's Noon Edition hosted Doug from Upland, Abel from Quaff On!, and me for an hour-long discussion about the state of craft beer in Indiana. Listen to the chat here.

Indiana Public Media also aired a 4-minute TV segment about the industry's growth, which you can watch here.

The Guild is running a half-page ad promoting the Drink Indiana Beer campaign and website in the next annual edition of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development magazine, Honest-to-Goodness Indiana. The magazine goes to tens of thousands of people across Indiana and in neighboring states. We'll let you know more once it's published.

We're developing an exclusive statewide partnership with the American Red Cross to promote fire safety in homes in our communities this holiday season and will share more about this collaborative effort next month.

Be sure to follow the Guild on TwitterFacebook and Instagram (we're using the hashtag #INbeer for the conversation about Indiana beer).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Here's the flip side of Stone in Richmond.

No, we'll likely never return to the time when three huge brewers dominate the entire beer marketplace. However, as the big "craft" players from the West Coast continue to establish production facilities on the Eastern Seaboard (Sierra, Oskar Blues, New Belgium and now Stone), aren't we looking at a scenario wherein retail shelf space comes to be their province in much the same way?

Hinkle: Brewery deal comes with a hangover, by A. Barton Hinkle (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The way public officials acted last week, you would have thought they’d already had a long quaff of Stone Brewing Co.’s strongest. The company’s decision to place a brewery in Richmond “really puts Virginia on the map,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe enthused. According to Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, while Richmond is already “one of the coolest cities ... we’re about to get a whole lot cooler.”

Make no mistake: The announcement that Stone chose Richmond as the site for its first brewery east of the Mississippi is great news. The launch will create almost 300 jobs, generate $74 million worth of investment and help revitalize a part of the city that has struggled to go from shabby to chic. Cheers and toasts all ’round.

But at the risk of behaving like the skunk at a beer-garden party, we shouldn’t let the moment pass without noting that the incentives the brewers will get are substantial. Richmond is issuing $23 million in bonds to build the brewery and an additional $8 million to build the restaurant. Stone also will get a $1.5 million economic development grant and a $500,000 sustainability grant ...

And then, there's this.

... The special favors conferred upon Stone must make central Virginia’s longtime craft brewers gag. Companies like Legend Brewing Co., Hardywood Park and Triple Crossing have not always gotten the red-carpet treatment from City Hall themselves. Now they will watch their hard-earned tax dollars help a competitor. If that leaves a bitter taste in their mouths, you could hardly blame them.

It will be interesting to see how long "craft" beer maintains its legendary camaraderie amid the pressures to come.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

These requests from abroad, volume four: "May I ask you to send me one set of your beer labels?"

If you own a brewery or work for one, you've probably fielded e-mail inquiries from overseas asking for beer labels, crown caps and the like, as destined to become cherished keepsakes of private collectors who've heard of your beer, even in far-off Moldova or the Ivory Coast.

To me, there is something compelling and yet haunting about these foreign requests, which tend to come from Central/Eastern European locales, which are places of longtime personal interest to me historically and geographically. They speak to me inner melancholic. Lately, I've been pasting their addresses into Google Map and seeing what their places of residence look like.

The most recent request comes from Peter, in the Czech Republic.


He lives in Teplice, a spa town located in northwestern Bohemia near the border with Germany. His apartment building is very indicative of those constructed during the Communist era. During my time in Czechoslovakia teaching English, the building opposite my dorm residence looked much like this one, and it reminds me of sitting on my balcony, smoking little Vatra cigars, and drinking coffee, bottled beer, or both.

Let's hope no privacy protocols are being violated by my depicting their buildings, seeing as there's a drone hovering outside my front door even as I type these words. It's just that I can't help wondering: What's the rest of the story?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Goose Island on Black Friday? Hmm, that sounds like enough cultural depravity for one corporate holiday.


Nothing personal, Todd, but no. I'll pass.

However, let's credit AB-InBev for its monolith's conceptual grasp: Black Friday and Bourbon County Stout unite Big Beer Brother symbolism in a way previously reserved for the likes of Leni Riefenstahl and the Nuremberg Rallies.

Of course, Black Friday is a mindless celebration of consumerism, contextualized through the plasticized glories of Chainland and the sultry allures of Big Box World. There's nothing remotely "craft" about Black Friday in the mass marketing sense, and accordingly, the late Goose Island is macro as macro can be, reduced forever to inert zombie bondage -- merely a Craft-Shaped Hologram, with any money spent on purchasing its products headed straight to chardonnay-sipping AB-InBev shareholders the world over.

Narcissistic beer hoarders are free to deny this reality until the end of time, and they generally do, but Goose Island remains a wholly-owned subsidiary of the beer world’s largest extortionate conglomerate, and as such, it contradicts virtually every tenet of the "craft" beer indie handbook. Black Friday and Trojan Goose? It's a marriage made in Leuven, and officiated by the Koch Brothers.

AB-Inbev uses its "craft" toy not unlike a drone, aggressively combating the interests of better beer in those venues where money buys shelf space in supermarkets, or taps via the concessionaire’s usual extortion in closed settings like airports and stadiums.

Denial? It's isn't just a river in Egypt any more.