Monday, September 30, 2013

The PC: Tears of joy at the Augustiner, 1985.

(Published at on September 15, 2013)


Coming of age in the Ohio Valley in the 1960’s and ‘70’s meant witnessing on a depressing, first-hand basis the very nadir of beer culture in America.
In Colonial times, our beer making and drinking customs reflected English origins. Later, when Germans began coming to the United States in large numbers, their traditions traveled with them and remained intact. All big American cities and most of the smaller ones had breweries that took procedural, technical and atmospheric cues from the time-tested Central European playbook. It was a lovely thing, while it lasted.
Xenophobic sentiments in World War I did not help matters, and the idiocy of Prohibition sealed the deal, obliterating American beer culture for decades after. Following WWII, the imperial-era American preference for bland, manufactured uniformity wrenched beer from its fresh, local foundation, rendering it into watery oblivion, and subjecting beer to the multitudinous regulatory irrationalities of Bible Belt superstition.
Nonetheless, during my youth, there remained a dusty patina of vaguely recognizable German character to local legacies and customs of beer and beer drinking. After all, Oertel’s, Fehr’s and Wiedemann were not names traceable to Guatemala or Japan. Family trees connected them to Bavaria, the southern region of Germany where lager brewing and its social vocabulary were first developed.
In 1985, these faint Bavarian murmurs were as good as it got in Louisville. I knew nothing of the English ale-making tradition, which survived in shrinking pockets in New England, and was being surreptitiously revived by a nascent “micro” movement out West. Belgium was a place for waffles, not Trappists, which were virtually unknown outside their monasteries of origin.
Fortunately, I worked in a package store, stocked a few imports, and read the early words of the late Michael “The Beer Hunter” Jackson. These and other educational nuances were supplemented by frequent samplings, accumulating steadily over the years until beer became my life’s work. However, in 1985, all this was yet to come. Rather, there was a train from Vienna to Salzburg, in Austria’s mountainous Alpine region, located just over the frontier from Mecca (Munich).
Salzburg has fully earned its reputation as a clean, efficient and scenic center of art and culture, especially music. Mozart was born there, and the composer’s image is synonymous with marzipan sold all over town. The “Sound of Music” was filmed in the region. There’s a thousand-year-old castle overlooking the fairy tale facades of the Old Town, and ancient salt mines nearby (“salz” is salt in German).
I was oblivious to most of it, having set my sights on the history of just one attraction, the Augustiner Bräustübel, a venerable tavern and beer garden where beer now called Müllner Bräu has been brewed and served for four centuries – or, well before the United States was founded.
Safely ensconced in a friendly Salzburg youth hotel, I embarked by foot upon the search for my chosen beer garden. My course was plotted on an English-language map, because I was still learning to make sense of street signs and other navigational clues in German, even if it was as comprehensible as any language I’d yet experienced. Eventually the Augustiner acreage came into view. The religious complex inched up onto gently sloping terrain at the foot of a ridge, with the brewery and beer garden … where?
In a state of excitement and youthful muddle, my first choice of entry doors was utterly mistaken. I stepped across a threshold, and through a partly ajar door, a choir could be seen and heard practicing. Finally one of them saw me, and gestured: Out, to the left.
The adjacent entrance took me inside, down a wide flight of stairs to a long corridor that contained various kiosks vending foodstuffs. Indoor drinking rooms were located off to the side, sumptuously appointed in wood, with tile stoves and stained glass windows.
But it was out in the leafy beer garden that I fell in love with a way of life, one experienced for the very first time. At midday, hundreds of beer lovers were seated at tables, shaded by towering chestnut trees, surrounded by stone walls and stucco, virtually all of them drinking malty Marzen-style lager brewed and aged only yards away.
It was entirely self-service, or so I remember. You went back inside for sausages, salads and loaves of crusty bread, and then joined the line for beer. A cashier took Austrian schillings, as plastic was not negotiable and Euros didn’t exist, and handed back a receipt. Upon choosing a liter (33.8 ounces) ceramic mug from the freshly washed public stack, you ritualistically rinsed it in a fountain of cold water, handed it and the receipt over to aproned men who were pouring the deep golden beer from a tap embedded in a wooden barrel, and prepared for nirvana.
Teens drank alongside elderly men. There were playing cards, songs for singing, chicken bones and carts filled with emptied mugs. Strangers shared tables and bought rounds. Worldwide languages were spoken. I ate, drank, used the WC, drank some more, and returned the following two nights to do it again, each time walking 25 minutes back to my lodging, feeling perfectly safe and wishing we could do the same back home.
In the decades since, I’ve visited dozens of similar beer gardens in Central Europe. Some proved superior to the Augustiner, but it’s the first time you always remember, isn’t it?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The PC: No worth without principle.

(Published at on September 1, 2013)


My career has been riddled with controversy, which I never fully understand.
– Liz Phair
Louisville’s annual Brew at the Zoo (BATZ) has come and gone, and while by most accounts it was bigger than ever in 2013, fair-minded observers can (and will) differ as to whether it was “better” this time around. So it goes, and I can’t offer a valid opinion, seeing as my weekend was spent in Lafayette, Indiana. NABC participated in the 2nd annual, Indiana-craft-only Beers Across the Wabash festival, and a wonderful time was had by all.
At this juncture some might ask, and plausibly: But Roger, you always claim to be a localist, and Lafayette is three hours away – so exactly how is that local?
There are different answers for that sort of question, some serious and others more light-hearted, as in “local is anywhere I happen to be drinking.”
It remains that we’re a brewery seeking business in Metro Louisville as well as the entire state of Indiana, and hopefully again in Greater Kentucky once we’ve shed the slothful Soviet-era albatross otherwise known as Heidelberg Distributing.
As a director on the board of the Brewers of Indiana Guild, I’ve become accustomed to thinking and planning in terms of incremental progress, overlapping circles and the overall notion of shift. Consequently, one spends much time engaged in a progress approximating triage, making decisions and prioritizing according to resources, time and guiding principle.
It seems to me that these latter considerations sometimes are misunderstood. In a nutshell, the first two are somewhat negotiable, but the principle … not so much.
Louisville Craft Beer Week (LCBW) is almost upon us, and it will conclude on September 21 with the annual Louisville Independent Business Alliance (LIBA) Brewfest, as moved from a former date earlier in the summer to provide an exclamation point for an ever-expanding LCBW. Apart from the obvious fact that LIBA’s very essence is intimately linked in a conceptual sense to independent, small-scale brewing, its beer festival operates within a firm local and regional craft beer context, and as such, it’s probably the closest thing we have to a signature beer festival in Metro Louisville.
I suppose the question (if there is one, but you know me) is whether Louisville needs such an event, and if so, how it would be organized … not to mention the best destination coffer for its proceeds.
For quite some time now, I’ve been annoying readers with subversive ruminations on various contradictions inherent to contemporary craft beer culture. Narcissism tops the list. Another centers on the institution of the beer festival as we have come to know it: You pay a price (don’t get me started about VIP tiers), get a souvenir cup, and navigate ever larger crowds in order to ingest as many 2-ounce portions as possible before the equestrian police clear the grounds with truncheons left over from the last World Cup football qualifier.
Okay, okay; it isn’t always that bad. Still, even if all beer festivals are created equal, some are more equal than others. The fundamental truth is that there is a tipping point somewhere on a techno-weenie’s i-Pad graph, illustrating that x number of people occupying y square footage, and given z as a price point, leads almost inevitably to the craft beer equivalent of a cattleman’s feed lot, as opposed to a proper venue for growing and nurturing craft beer.
Brewers caring to speak honestly almost always will offer the same response when asked which sort of gatherings they prefer. We tend to think that smaller is better, especially when organized by fellow brewers, because at an event like Lafayette’s, 27 Indiana breweries and a crowd of 1,100 afforded greater face time and the reasonable chance to educate beer lovers. These conditions are far less achievable at an event on the scale of BATZ, the prime motivation of which (and I’m only repeating what its backers concede both publicly and privately) is making as much money as possible for the chosen cause.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, either, as the same can be said of past LIBA Brewfests (not to mention my own guild’s annual BIG Microfest). It’s just that speaking only for myself, and not denying the efficacy of the institution of a metro zoo in any way, shape or form, monies generated by independent small brewing businesses at the LIBA Brewfest subsequently are reinvested to promote the notion of local independent small businesses overall.
In other words, localism begets localism, the game is worth the flame, and I like those odds.
Just know that in a typical calendar year, craft breweries like mine are offered dozens of opportunities to donate beer, money and time to perfectly worthy non-profit causes. Solicitations have grown exponentially over the past few years as interest in craft beer has spiked, and we do the best we can to support as many of them as possible.
Accordingly, we’ve come over time to view our potential levels of support in two basic ways: First, when it comes to the beer itself, we’d like to be paid; various laws often require this, and wholesaler discounting schemes also are subject to state control. We think wholesale price isn’t too much to ask, seeing as fundraising event organizers still reap the value added to a keg of beer, whether disbursed as sample size or via full-cup sales.
Moreover, we almost always donate gift certificates, silent auction items and the like to help raise even more money. For many years, I’ve donated personally guided group tasting NABC certificates, and these generally attract good bids. Everyone wins.
Other fest factors sometimes matter on a case by case basis. If the event requires a commute, perks can help (discounted hotel rooms or meals for brewery staff, for instance). They’re not always necessary, although they help with the decision-making triage.
Bear in mind that I’m referring here to an informal policy of NABC’s, and obviously, I cannot authoritatively speak for all breweries. Our working lives in such cases are more complicated than ever before, and much of what we can and cannot do increasingly is subject to control by state authorities. There always will be exceptions, but the number of exceptions cannot be more frequent than the rule itself. After all, we must remain in business, too.
Is there a need for a signature beer festival in Metro Louisville?
Perhaps we already have one, i.e., the nine delightfully cumulative days of LCBW. Taken as a whole, it’s the best time to be a craft beer fan in these parts, and there’s something for everyone.
Ultimately, comparisons between LIBA Brewfest and BATZ probably are unfair, and yet I sense there is lingering discomfort from the summer’s social media controversies, so allow me to add that while both organizations surely need money to survive, my own personal principles as a small, local, independent businessman bot constitute and are mirrored by LIBA’s everyday mission, and these principles are what guide me when deciding how NABC will make choices among a plethora of admirable non-profit causes.
Contrary to what you may think, I have nothing against BATZ. The point I’ve been trying to make this year is that BATZ is one of many scheduling options, and one of many deserving non-profits. When weighing contingencies, ideological harmony must be considered. Beers Across the Wabash has it, and so does LIBA Brewfest. Given BATZ’s decision to accept AB InBev sponsorship cash in 2013, its bar got lowered, and that is sad.
You’re free to deny reality until the end of time, but Goose Island is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the beer world’s largest extortionate conglomerate, and it contradicts virtually every tenet of my daily business existence. Granted, we’re all free to take whatever money is offered, wherever we find it, and when BATZ accepted AB InBev’s big bucks handshake this year, the result wasn’t just Trojan Goose at the event. It was Stella, too.
Fortunately, the realm of principle operates according to a different unit of currency than the expedient of “for sale to all comers,” and one’s conscience needn’t ever be up for grabs. NABC is delighted to espouse the gospel according to LIBA, and in the future, we’ll be just as happy to actively return to the wonders of the zoological garden – that is, once craft (as opposed to crafty) principle is restored.
Is principle really controversial? I’ve never fully understood why. It’s actually lifeblood, or at least it should be. Enjoy LCBW in 2013, and don’t be afraid to think.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The PC: Baby come back.

(Published at on August 15, 2013)


There was a time when I’d make beer lists whenever I traveled, and it dates me considerably to confide that these were compiled using a pen and paper, and perhaps transcribed and typewritten later, long after I was back home.
Untappd didn’t even exist then. How on earth did we drink?
The list habit started before beer became a business. When overseas, the idea would be to drink a different beer for every day I was away. As you might expect, this wasn’t much of a challenge for sojourns into Bavaria or Belgium, although places like Italy or Bulgaria during the 1980s were far less fruitful.
Occasionally I’d be compelled to downgrade to wine – the horror.
I didn’t know much about beer back then, and the beers on my lists mostly were grouped by country, not style. As time went on, the ground shifted. For starters, I began learning about beer, and could tell a Doppelbock from a Bitter. Then, an American craft beer revolution started breaking out. At some point, I found myself smack in the middle of it, and right about the time it began making sense, it no longer did.
It is possible to trace back my encroaching disillusionment to a single instance of judging, around ten years ago. I took my new and only barely acquired BJCP status (those science questions were far too heavy for this humanities major) to Indianapolis to judge entries to the state fair, and was assigned Hefe-Weizen. Entries were numerous, and there were four of us: Two beer business guys, and two homebrewers.
It soon became apparent that the two pros had no chance to offer substantive input. Our two fellow judges had concluded that flavors and aromas roughly approximating liquid clove cigarettes were necessary for beers to pass through to the next round, and our counter arguments with regard to niggling details like malt and balance were dismissed. Theological compliance was demanded. We shrugged and cooperated, and I’ve only judged a handful of times since.
I’ve nothing against it, but just don’t feel like participating. To me, there is a point being missed – and life is too short for missed points. I’d rather drink a few full pints, and watch a decent foreign film, or read a book. Better yet, I’d rather have those beers with friends, on a beautiful fall day, in a clean and well anointed place.
The same phenomenon goes for keeping lists, which once was my passion. I’ve consumed a few thousand different beers in the past decade or so, and the point of counting and enumerating them now largely eludes me – much less undertaking the laborious task of rating, grading and grouping them.
What matters far more to me is where I consume them, and with whom. As one who doesn’t necessarily believe in out-of-body experiences, it is my belief that there are times when the place, weather, atmosphere and prevailing spirit can, in fact, provide a respite from the mundane, and be transformative. These times are to be sought, and cherished.
As I’ve said before – and naturally, there are exceptions – oodles of good beers are available in this day and age, but the glibness currently passing for knowledge about beer can exhibit an alarming lack of genuine content. It is 48 miles wide, and roughly two inches deep.
Recently an Indiana blog writer made what was intended as a self-deprecating comment, pondering whether beer enthusiasts have ever had a worthwhile conversation about anything other than beer. I appreciate the humor, and find myself annoyed that he might well be right – and if so, it’s not where I want to be.
In this era of gilt and flash, what interests me about beer is whether or not it is honest. In a time of one-upmanship, what interests me is consistency. With end zone celebrations and chest-thumping all around, what interests me is the fundamental integrity to hand the ball back to the referee and play the damn game the way it was meant to be played. 
Accordingly, I find myself returning to the wisdom of the ancients. In the case of beer during our prevailing millennium, this means remembering the words of the late, great Michael Jackson.
The search for the perfect pint should last a lifetime.
That’s one mantra. My others include:
Whenever it seems like the world is beginning to agree with me, it is utterly terrifying.
If you’re not growing, you’re dying.
If you believe the target is fixed, then you haven’t been paying attention.
If it’s about being seen drinking a certain beer, then get out of my sight.
There are others. These comments may strike some as cynical, and I resemble that remark. Beer’s my life, and I’m still living it, but the beer world has changed – and so have I. To rekindle that wonderment, and to get those list-making juices flowing again, it’s back to first principles, like the public places where we drink beer; pubs may not be entirely capable of suspending life’s other rules, but they should be places where life’s rules are subject to examination and reflection.
The beers we drink there?
Honest, sustaining, and preferably local when in the locale. Sensual, not clinical. Magical, not always quantifiable.
I’m resolving to tune out the posturing, the pretense and the noise, and get back to the straight and narrow. In pursuit of that perfectly elusive pint, there’ll be a quality lifetime with the object of my fascination. It can only be accomplished one sip at a time.
And this is going to take a while. Thank heavens for that.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The PC: Egalitarianism and the art of taking a leak.

(Published at on August 1, 2013)


(Adapted from a blog post)
July 20 was the occasion of the 18th Annual Indiana Microbrewers Festival in Indianapolis. It’s a Brewers of Indiana Guild production, and the guild’s biggest annual showcase both of its wares, and of its ethos.
Overall, apart from some light rain at the beginning, the fest probably was plenty good enough for rock and roll and food and beer on a Saturday afternoon.
Speaking personally and as a director on the guild’s board, I’m always grateful that so many folks enthusiastically tolerate the discomfort, crowds and expense to come celebrate better beer with us. Without these fans, it is obvious that there could be no “us” in any meaningful conceptual (or commercial) sense. At least the weather this year was cooler than usual for July, and the sun mostly muted.
Recuperating at home on Sunday morning, I began catching up on missed reading, having just returned from England on a transatlantic flight that seemed even more uncomfortable than those endured on previous trips. One article made an impression on me.
Class Struggle in the Sky, by James Atlas (New York Times)
During an intercontinental flight, I notice that “on the other side of the curtain” — as the first-class and business cabins are referred to — dinners are being served on white linen tablecloths, with actual bone china. Everyone’s got their “amenities kit” — one of those little nylon bags containing slippers, an eyeshade and a toothbrush. And legroom? Tons. While our seat width contracts — on some airlines by nearly eight inches in recent years — the space up front continues to expand …
… This stark class division should come as no surprise: what’s happening in the clouds mirrors what’s happening on the ground. Statusization — to coin a useful term — is ubiquitous, no matter what your altitude. While you’re in your hospital bed spooning up red Jell-O, a patient in a private suite is enjoying strawberries and cream. On your way to a Chase A.T.M., you notice a silver plaque declaring the existence within of Private Client Services. This man has a box seat at a Yankees game; that man has a skybox …
Small wonder the article grabbed my attention, seeing as it reinforced a point and gave a name (“statusization”) to something I’d already mentioned right here at on June 15:A VIP and an IBU walk into a beer fest.
… I’ll cite as a convenient example ticket packages available for the Brewers of Indiana Guild festival in Indianapolis on July 20, while hastening to add that this doesn’t constitute my singling out the Guild for scrutiny; after all, it’s my own trade group. In fact, I imagine BIG is coming to such strategies of ticket pricing rather late in the game.
VIP Experience: $100 (very limited, online only)
Includes early admission (2:00) and access to exclusive VIP
Experience Tent (special tappings and food pairings), tasting glass and unlimited beer samples
Early Bird: $55 (limited, online only)
Includes early admission (2:00), tasting glass and unlimited beer samples
General Admission: $40 (advance purchase)
Includes tasting glass and unlimited beer samples
It so happened that on the actual day of the festival, I stuck religiously to the Indiana brewer side of the Opti Park grounds and didn’t once venture into the “guest outside brewer” compound, the latter financed primarily by World Class Beer, and accordingly one devoted to featuring non-Indiana beers (a topic previously covered here: Indiana Statecraft, parts one andtwo).
Consequently, all I know about the VIP Experience Tent is what is noted in the above passage, and that it was erected adjacent to WCB’s Hopapalooza tent. I can’t tell you whether VIPs had their own port-a-lets (luxury grade or otherwise), although I was told there were plenty of portable toilets lined up on the “guest beer” side of the park, presumably owing to there being more physical space for placing them.
But I do know this: NABC was positioned at the very end of the long, narrow and quite crowded salient misspelled as “Allee,” located between the museum and the river, and directly to our right were five (5) port-a-lets. The line to use them was 50 (75? 100?) deep for most of the afternoon, until the very end of the festival.
In my June column, I wrote these words:
Back out on the pitch, those $40 beer festival ducats still comprise the bread and butter on the fest’s bottom line, and we need to see to it that these attendees are not subjected only to the mud and the blood and the (leftover) beer, while the VIPs strut the corduroyed catwalk, pinkies extended, constantly checking their iPhones to make sure the beer they’re drinking is the truly rare Rye Barrel release, and not that commoner’s Boubon Barrel version that just ANYONE can buy – and subsequently hoard.
Egalitarianism should be a craft/real/better beer ideal, but if egalitarianism even remotely was my own guild’s aim on July 20, then a toilet line like the one I witnessed obviously signifies a rather glaring failure. Granted, attendees who largely kept to the Indiana brewery area might not have been aware of port-a-lets on the “guest” end, and yet there was ample room for more at the “Allee.”
By the end of the afternoon, the ATC-mandated orange fencing defining our enclosure was being trampled in all directions by men and women looking for secluded tree trunks and underbrush. Subsequently, it was revealed that damage had been done to the museum grounds. It was disappointing, to say the least.
Note that as a director serving on the guild’s board, I’m not passing the buck with this column. It is entirely “our” and “we,” not “someone else,” and all of us on the board should be honest and introspective when it comes to planning improvements for a better performance next time out. Everyone involved, including organizers and volunteers, worked hard, and while I’m hardly implying they didn’t, the results weren’t uniformly dulcet.
I’m saying only this: If I’m ever asked to weigh in on the topic at a guild meeting, I’ll be voting firmly against a renewal of the VIP Experience. For it to exist alongside hundred-yard lines to use the port-a-let just strikes me as unconscionable.
I got into the beer business to bring better beer to the people.
I didn’t get into the beer business to foster statusization.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The PC: Beer is broad, not narrow.

(Published at on July 15, 2013)


Ronnie Raygun had just been elected king when two of my friends returned from college bearing liquid gifts.
One of them carried bottles of Pilsner Urquell, and the other Guinness Export Stout. I’d already developed a taste for what nowadays would be called American Dark Lager, but these two new imported beer brands made a deep, lasting impression, and I found myself turned in a completely new direction.
From that summer forward, like fading lights on a distant, murky shore, the default mass-market American lagers of youth began to recede inexorably from view. The only question during that lost age was whether I could work often enough at inconsequential, non-binding jobs to pay for better beer at home while still amassing the savings necessary to travel to Europe in search of the beer culture that seemed to be lacking here at home.
Sometimes the answer was yes, and at other times, no. Every now and then, it would be back to the egg, reluctantly choking down brain-dead swill and pretending it was nectar, at least until the coffers again were replenished.
You do what you have to do, until you needn’t do it any longer – and I haven’t, for a very long time.
Eventually matters improved and I stopped punishing myself with ersatz alcohol delivery devices. Serendipitously, beer then became my line of work. There was a pub, then a brewery, and later another of each, all of them affording ample opportunity to drink the profits. Like the wise German once said: “In heaven there is no beer; that’s why we drink it here.”
Granted, little of this back story matters very much at this late date. Thirty years is the same as three decades, whether they’re the times of your life or mine. I didn’t consciously set out to be a lifer in the beer business, although now it increasingly looks like it will turn out that way. The cracked rear view mirror now encompasses far more terrain traveled than mileage to come, and sometimes I look into the mirror to adjust my beard beads and ponder:
Given that it’s been such a long, strange, trip, exactly where am I standing today?
First and foremost, it’s still all about the beer for me. Craft beer, good beer, real beer, better beer … terminology itself can become a hindrance. I know it when I taste it, but the cognitive process never is altogether that simple for me.
Just as surely as quality is to be desired, narcissism is to be avoided. Analyzing a beer to the exclusion of its back story is an exercise in futility, because I’ve always known that in terms of human history and culture, beer doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and accordingly, it cannot be consumed with a mindset divorced from its surroundings. An awareness of localism informs my choices these days.
As a brewery and restaurant owner, I know that our businesses are community based. We’re small and independent, making our way in a corporatized world of chains, franchises and economies of scale designed to enforce the depravity of conformity, and both as a contrarian and a true believer, I simply cannot regard even the “best” beer ever brewed (a concept I find quite ridiculous, by the way) apart from factors behind the label.
Plainly, origins matter. Moreover, where does the money trail lead? The beer renaissance in America is artistic and aesthetic, and wedded to principles we blithely abandon to our extreme detriment. A return to commodity status cannot be discounted – and that’s why external vigilance is preferred to self-centered absorption. Craft beer is “better” than mass-market beer, but when craft emulates every aspect of the commodity-based money market that preceded it, nothing except the flavor has changed.
In which case, flavor isn’t nearly enough.
Every single day, I think carefully about where I spend my own money, and my company’s, and insofar as spending can be shifted to small indie businesses like my own, that’s what I try to do. It’s impossible to be entirely pure in this sense, but angelic purity never was the whole point. Shift is, and recognizing the degree to which we engage in existential struggles each and every day.
Having fundamental beliefs and seeking to apply them in an often uncooperative world – fighting the good fight – is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
Yes, I still remain an unrepentant fan of beer at its best, and I retain a childlike, gleeful wonderment much of the time even if I may seem cynical and aloof, but there is considerable discomfort in what passes for my soul with labels like “geek,” “aficionado” and even “enthusiast,” which I once preferred. Of course, anything’s better than being a “snob.”
Categorizations inevitably lead to stereotypes, and to an extent, I’m as guilty of this as anyone, as evidenced by my reluctance to surrender the word “swill” in pursuit of daily polemics. But as a beer polemicist, I’ll just stick to my precepts and risk caricature.
I’m more convinced than ever that localism is the proper course for craft beer, and the reason for my conviction is that I’ll always be a beer traveler at heart, even when forced to be stationary and fixed to a spot. What is local, distinctive, and different about a place and its people? There’s little of interest being there otherwise.
The contrarian in me seeks diversity and uniqueness. When you’ve experienced it elsewhere, you see how important it is in your own locale. The point isn’t to escape one’s hometown blandness for too few days each year, only to return to the same old detached despair. Rather, one brings back experience and insight along with more ephemeral souvenirs, and seeks to make his or her own place on the planet unique, diverse and interesting.
Think globally, drink locally. It’s true more than ever before. Drinking is easy.
It’s the other part that’s hard.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Time off for reinvention.

It's all somewhat hazy at this point, but I suppose there was a time when it seemed to me that my viewpoints about beer might be separated from those pertaining to the wider world, and as such, it seemed reasonable to put the beer thoughts all in one place -- namely, this blog.

Perhaps I can see more clearly now.

The target keeps moving, and the pendulum always swings. In recent years, I've come right back to where I started: Beer doesn't exist in a hedonistic vacuum. This point has been reinforced so many times that an exhaustive list of references is impossible. In part, this may be because the craft/better/good beer business has gotten so much larger, and as it has grown, so has my own company's activities. Now, as before, it strikes me that overlap is the rule, and it all bleeds together: Beer, healthcare, beer, bureaucrats, beer, bridge tolls, beer, Middle East, beer, travel, beer, religion, beer and food ... and on, and on.

At the same time, what were once priorities are now irrelevancies. The search for a perfect pint was supposed to last a lifetime, except that the modern culture of beer narcissism doesn't play a long game. With thousands of self-identified experts rating, arranging and pontificating beer, expertise naturally has gone the way of the Model T's hand crank. There us none. As much as 90% of what passes as beer writing (or videos, or audio, or commentary) is repetitious gibberish ... and rubbish is the positive part. The shining city on a hill is beset with one-upmanship, garish end zone celebrations and counter-productive snobbery.

It's probably time to start all over, and if such a cleansing and beginning anew cannot embrace all of us who want to lay claim to a stake, at least it can happen in my own world, right now. It will, and it is.

Consequently, lately when the urge to write about beer has struck me, I've generally paused and hoped it would pass. Sometimes a gin & tonic or a bottle of red wine (local works just fine) has soothed the wait. Make no mistake: Beer is my life as much as it ever was; it's just that taking occasional breaks from a jaded milieu that has become insufferably inane become a necessary self-defense mechanism -- rather like drinking itself. As the reinvention has proceeded, or at least as a new pattern has started taking shape in my brain, the notion of "beer snobbery as usual" has become steadily, and I believe inexorably, alien to me.

But I'm not depressed. I'm relieved, and it feels quite good, actually. I enjoy the rejuvenating idea of reclaiming my heritage, diving back into broader education (the "classics" always appeal to me), speaking truth to megaswill's power, and working other sides of the corn and different aisles. In what little spare time I have, a new narrative is coming together. When the narcissistic clatter subsides and the self-indulgent morons finally are weeded out, I'll still be standing. Bob Dylan's never-ending tour, as adapted to better beer, begins right here.

When I feel like blogging about real beer, I've been publishing the results at NA Confidential, and this will continue to be the case. I've often referred to NAC as my personal blog, emphasizing politics, civic affairs and the world as I view them. As such, why arbitrarily separate beer from life? To do so merely reinforces the dull predictability of those who know exactly which variety of hops are used in the highest rated beer, but couldn't name five state capitals with a waterboard pointed at their palates.

For a while at least, there won't be very much new here at PC. I'll still be doing twice-monthly columns at, and quarterly columns for Food and Dining. Otherwise, you'll find me at NAC. Let's see where the pathway leads.