Strategically placed bottle: Yes, if you look like this, by all means drink Heineken. Or you could try a better, lower calorie beer from my list below!

Better than “Light”: Seven Beers You Can Imbibe Without Blowing Your “Diet”

Strategically placed bottle: Yes, if you look like this, by all means drink Heineken. Or you could try a better, lower calorie beer from my list below!

Strategically placed bottle: Yes, if you look like this, by all means drink Heineken. Or you could try a better, lower calorie beer from my list below! Photo credit: Pinterest (that’s long form for “pint,” amiright?)

Standing in line for yesterday’s 32-mile Great Saunter hike around the rim of Manhattan, I was chatting up some other walkers when the topic of “what do you do for a living” came up. My poor attendance to this blog aside (sorry readers), I am still, in fact, making my money from writing about beer. I also noted that my attendance at the Great Saunter after an absence of five years (see? my blog posts are more frequent than my marathon-level walks!) was because my weight has gotten out of control and I need to “make some changes” to my lifestyle.

The reality is that if you’re in the beer world, you’d better have an exercise plan. There are several “universal” truths about being a beer writer:

  1. You drink too much. Whether by sheer quantity or just daily life, those of us who make our living in beer drink a lot. As in every day. As in, we do tastings in the morning. As in, no—unlike oenophiles—we don’t spit. Part of the reason why this blog has been on hiatus was my desire to cut back on my drinking. I literally can drink for free on a daily basis; not a good choice.
  2. Beer doesn’t make you fat… but calories do! I say this a lot, because there’s a bit of a public relations war vis a vis whether the carb-heavy world of beer contributes to weight gain. For whatever reason, Americans seem to think that carbohydrates are the enemy; add in alcohol (both carbs and protein weigh in at 4 calories/gram; whereas alcohol is 7 calories/gram; a gram of fat is 9 calories, meaning alcohol calories are more akin to fat than carbs) and beer can pack the calorie density of a mega-protein bar (cue Mean Girls reference here).
  3. If you’re fit in the beer world, that is due to exercise and not diet. I have seen skinny women downing bread and cheese with their beers, so it’s not about calorie control. A friend of mine who is a rep for a boutique importer spends (the warm) half of the year running and the other (cold) half of the year playing ice hockey. This is basic dietary science: burn more (or at least as many) calories than (as) you consume and you will (maintain or) lose weight. I have put on 10 pounds for each year (i.e. three) I’ve been writing about beer on a more-or-less full-time basis because I don’t burn more calories than I consume. And I, too, like bread and cheese with beer!

Back in the queue: The man I was talking to stated, “I suppose you don’t consider light beer an option,” to which I replied, “What’s ‘light’ beer?” I was being facetious, because I knew what the guy meant. Shortly thereafter, we were separated before I had the sense to recommend some “better than light” beers.

To me, “light” beer is far worse than decaf coffee. Decaf may be pointless in terms of a caffeine high, but “light” beer still packs quite the punch in terms of calories. And while there are good decaf options for flavor, beer marketed as “light” typically is a low-cal version of a better beer. The quintessential example of this is Budweiser: The full-calorie version of the beer (143 calories for 12 ounces – note: all calorie counts in this article are for a 12-ounce beer; 5.0% ABV) is better (in so far as a mass-market lager can be) than its pretty crappy Bud Light (110 calories; 4.2% ABV). At least Heineken attempts to differentiate its full-calorie beer (166 calories; 5.4% ABV) from its sister, Amstel Light (99 calories/3.5% ABV).

But all these beers run the taste continuum from “pretty bad” to “just okay.” And chances are that if you’re drinking Amstel or Bud Light, you’re gonna drink a lot more than one… pretty much negating any benefit from calorie control.

So, what can you imbibe and still watch your calories? First, let’s assume you don’t want to do a 32-mile hike or run a marathon every week to burn the extra calories that beer can put on. Second, let’s assume you want to drink “good” beer (the idea of “craft” beer is really in flux, especially as formerly defined “craft” beers are bought by huge conglomerates like AB-InBev). Third, let’s assume you have a drinking strategy:

  • Are you looking for a buzz? You might want to consider efficiency over calories. Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA packs a whopping 450 calories, but at 18% ABV, you’ll probably only need one… assuming you can stop at one.
  • Are you looking to drink all day? You are at the beach or by the pool and you just want a slow imbibe. Go for a low-ABV beer or… drink a great stout. People forget how lovely stouts are in the summer because it’s easy to think “dark beer for dark days.” However, stouts improve as they warm, so you can drink much more slowly. If you drink one Left Hand Milk Stout (180 calories; 6% ABV) an hour for four hours, you’ll be better off than drinking eight Bud Lights over the same time frame. Full disclosure vis a vis “craft” defined loosely: Guinness Stout on draught is one of the lower-calorie beers: only 125 calories; 4.0% ABV (most bars are going to do a 16-ounce pour, so expect your pint to cost you 167 calories).
  • Are you looking for flavor? A gose, lambic or Berliner Weisse will be super refreshing and full of fruity flavors. Tart, crisp and just right for warm weather drinking.
  • You either come prepared with BYOB or know how to read a label. One of the big problems with knowing how many calories you’re drinking is that very few craft beers publish their calorie counts (something the “light” beers capitalize on). However, they do typically have alcohol-by-volume (ABV) on the label. Obviously, the higher the ABV on a beer the higher the calorie count. Efficiency aside, you’ll want to slow your beer intake with lots of water to stay hydrated on summer days.

So here are the seven beers I think are “better than light.” The conditions were that they had to be roughly 10 calories per ounce or less and beers I’ve actually tried (note that the calories are “best guesstimates” based on published research). Also, on principle, I disallowed any beer with “light” in the mix (thus, Sam Adams Light isn’t recommended). If you can’t find my beers in your market, here’s a great breakdown of beers by calories, total carbs and ABV. And please share your “skinny” beers in the comments. Happy drinking!

  1. Anderson Valley Brewing Highway 128 Blood Orange Gose: 126 calories/4.2% ABV. A beautiful gose with intense flavors and amazing body.
  2. Evil Twin Brewing Bikini Beer: 81 calories/2.7% ABV. For hopheads! You’d never guess drinking this that it is so low in calories. The true poster beer for “tastes great, less filling”!
  3. Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project Vielle Saison: 126 calories/4.2% ABV. Another bright sour beer that is widely available.
  4. The Bruery Hottenroth Berliner Weisse: 93 calories/3.1% ABV. I’ll take the sour beer behind door #3! Such flavor for a beer that has fewer calories than Corona Light!
  5. Abita Brewing Amber Ale: 128 calories/4.5% ABV. The most calorie-dense beer on this list is also one of the more “efficient” beers if you’re looking to get a bit more buzz from your beer.
  6. New Belgium Brewing Skinny Dip: 110 calories/4.2% ABV. A solid blonde with solid efficiency.
  7. Telegraph Brewing Petit Obscura: 113 calories/3.7% ABV. Another sour beer you might want to try if you can find it.
LipBalms_Main

Best Balm for your Beer: Keeping your lips in shape for winter imbibing

LipBalmsAs autumn sings her last chorus, the season is quickly shifting into those chilly months where many of us situated in the Northern Hemisphere have to deal with the reality of chapped lips (I suppose the same applies to the desert regions of the world). While women beer drinkers may suffer the conundrum of whether to drink wearing lipstick (The Bitch is soooo not gonna go there), the reality is that you want to protect your lips while still being able to drink a great craft beer.

So, in the honor of science, I have undertaken the very subjective task to testing leading lip balms with regards to how they hold up under the stress (and taste and aroma) of drinking beer. This is actually something I’ve wanted to explore for a couple years now, ever since I figured out that some of my random lip balms really interfered with my joy of drinking. I figured there are probably tangible differences between brands, so I set out to find the most popular brands and rank them accordingly.

The parameters:

  1. I only tested one beer against all five balms. The beer I chose was Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA, which I purchased in bottles from my local bodega. I shop there pretty regularly, and I often get the Belgian IPA. I didn’t want to go with a beer that I didn’t know well; I also didn’t want to pick a wildly hoppy or malty brew. The Raging Bitch Belgian is strong enough to cut through mild flavors, but not so overpowering as to blow my palate out before I got to balm number five.
  2. I drank from a glass. I chose a standard goblet that I picked up (I didn’t steal it, I swear) from Lucky Pie in Denver when I was there earlier this month.
  3. Balms were chosen based on ubiquity: I picked major brands (with one notable exception, see below) and I tried to get as neutral a balm as possible (i.e. minimal scent, flavor). I deliberately avoided anything too “girly,” not because “girly” is a bad thing, but because healthy lips are not gender specific. I also didn’t want to choose some new age Brooklyn-based lip balm that sells for $400/ounce and can only be bought on Bedford Avenue. Think ChapStick, not PigLardLips (I made that up… I think).
  4. Balms were tested for four main characteristics: Scent (and how that scent affected the beer), Feel (greasy, smooth, sticky, etc.), Taste (both in terms of licking my lips and in terms of affecting the flavor of the beer), and how much of a Smear was left when my lip touched the goblet.

And the results follow (in the order I tried the balms; note: I was careful to remove all of the balm before trying a new one)…

Lip balm: White Labs 15 SPF

Okay, so White Labs is the outlier. They were giving these lip balms away at the Great American Beer Festival, so I figure they really should know better. Turns out, they do. This balm wasn’t half bad.

  • Scent: Smells of well-chewed Wrigley’s Spearmint; didn’t affect the nose of the beer
  • Feel: Glossy, a bit slippery
  • Taste: Very faux mint with a sweet aftertaste; didn’t seem to affect the beer unless I licked my lips
  • Smear: Slight lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 2nd Place. Honestly, there was one balm that was the definite winner, and one that was the definite loser (keep reading). The middle three were pretty interchangeable. I ranked White Labs lip balm as second for two reasons: one, they’re White Labs (come on!); and two, I would definitely do some serious kissing before, during or after drinking with this lip balm on. It’s a nice kissing lip balm, with little to interfere with the beer.

Lip balm: Blistex Medicated 15 SPF

Maybe there’s an unmedicated Blistex (I don’t believe there is). The medicinal quality of this (and the next) balm was not ideal for beer drinking. That said, there are times when you want more of a warming balm for your lips. So, how did it work with beer?

  • Scent: Slight wintergreen/camphor; definitely interfered with the nose of the beer: I felt like I was drinking on Vick’s Mentholatum
  • Feel: Almost none… for about 20 seconds; then my lips got so warm that I didn’t really want to drink at all; after about five minutes, the warmth died down and was no longer particularly noticeable
  • Taste: Negligible, but the beer seemed more bitter when drinking, as though a lingering sweetness in the balm was bringing out the hoppiness in the beer
  • Smear: Probably the least noticeable on the goblet

Final verdict: 3rd Place. If you wait for the burn to subside, this is a nice balm. Probably only for when you really need a medicinal edge (i.e. your lips are already chapped), but good to use in a pinch. The fact that it is only minimally greasy helps a lot.

Lip balm: Bert’s Bees with Vitamin E and Peppermint

Honestly, I think you either love Bert’s Bees or you hate them. They come in a variety of flavors; I don’t even know if this is the most neutral version available. The effect was very similar to the Blistex balm, the trade-off being that the Blistex balm seemed to have less of an effect on the actual process of drinking the beer (despite my sense that the hops were more pronounced with Blistex).

  • Scent: Slight mint; didn’t affect the nose of the beer
  • Feel: Instantly strongly warming; didn’t seem to wear off as quickly as the Blistex
  • Taste: Stale chewing gum; despite the lingering warmth, the flavor of the beer was unaffected
  • Smear: Minimal mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 4th Place. This really came down to that warmth, which is great if you’re walking outdoors during a blizzard but is rather distracting while drinking. I probably won’t give up using Bert’s Bees, because it’s my go-to balm, but I may reconsider if I’m doing a festival or drinking beers that are new to me.

Lip balm: ChapStick Original 8 SPF

When I was growing up (my age is showing), ChapStick was this nasty white clumpy stuff that we all were forced to don and we all universally hated. Well, this is not your mother’s ChapStick. Still white in color, the balm’s texture is light and protective without being messy.

  • Scent: Slightly herbal; I can’t quite place the aroma, but it’s very neutral; no effect on the nose
  • Feel: Pleasant gloss with no greasiness whatsoever
  • Taste: Very slight candy flavor, possibly vanilla; no effect on the taste of the beer
  • Smear: Slight lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 1st Place. This balm was a surprise. I bought it mostly because it’s ChapStick, and to do a comparison without it would be ridiculous. I didn’t expect it to be just what The Bitch ordered: It coats the lips without interfering with drinking at all.

Lip balm: Carmex Original

Uh… this was downright awful

  • Scent: Medicinal; totally got into the nose of the beer, too
  • Feel: Greasy; it felt like I’d kissed an otter that just survived the Valdez oil slick
  • Taste: NUMBING!!! Not a choice for any beer I can think of; totally leeched into the flavor of the beer
  • Smear: Noticeable lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 5th Place, but might as well be dead last. I knew this was a long shot going in, but I was disgusted by how this worked while drinking. Limit your Carmex to the ski slopes. Keep your ChapStick for your beers.

BrooklynPour

Brooklyn Beer Fests Beckon

BrooklynPourSo, it’s not too late to get your Oktoberfest going, and there are two “the bigger the better” drinking events upcoming with a Brooklyn focus that really look to be worth the price of admission (sadly, The Bitch will not be in attendance at either of them: In the case of the former, I’ll be raising my glass to toast friend and NYC beer event savant, Chris O’Leary’s fifth anniversary of his blog—in my best Rowan Atkinson impersonation: It is so much more than a blog—Brew York, New York. In the case of the latter, I’ll be at GABF).

First up is this weekend’s Brooklyn Pour. Put on by the Village Voice and held in Williamsburg(h)’s historic bank (you know the one I’m talking about if you take the J/M or bike/hike across the Williamsburg Bridge), Brooklyn Pour is one of the better-produced large-scale drinking fests. The Voice (almost) always manages to get the perfect balance of vendors, and this year’s Brooklyn Pour will feature some excellent European brews (two words: Ayinger Marzen) in addition to hyper local beers from new breweries like Braven (which is slated to open sometime this fall; local boys doing the gypsy thing). In all, they’ll be serving up more than 125 beers from 70 breweries.

Note that tickets will only be available online until tomorrow (Friday, September 26th) 2 p.m., so buy yours before the door price tacks on an extra $10. And while I don’t often recommend VIP, for Village Voice events, the cost is worth it: you get in an hour early, so you’ll miss the long lines (if you pay VIP, obviously, show up before the VIP doors open at 2 p.m.) plus you get your food included. Tickets are $85 for VIP (four-hour tasting) or $55 GA (3-6 p.m.; food available for additional purchase). Get them here.

On the day after GABF wraps in Colorado (October 5th), the inaugural Brooklyn Local Craft Beer Festival will take place at 420 Carroll Street in the trendy Gowanus/Carroll Gardens crossover neighborhood in south Brooklyn. Weirdly, despite being a stone’s throw from The Other Half, the BLCBF thus far has no actual Brooklyn artisanal craft breweries on the line-up. While I support their efforts to get away from the Brooklyn behemoths (including, well, you know, Brooklyn! as in Brewery), it’s odd to me that a festival calling itself Brooklyn Local Craft doesn’t have any. I’m hoping that a few more truly local brewers will come on in the final week leading up to the event.

Which isn’t to say the event won’t have some very cool, lesser known craft beers. It will. Most interesting among them is Long Island’s (kinda like Brooklyn, I suppose) Lithology Brewing Co., which currently is only serving its beer on the festival circuit (they expect to open their brewery to the public in early 2015). And for those of us who live in Brooklyn, this is also your opportunity to get some great brews from The Bronx (Gun Hill Brewing), Queens (Finback) and Staten Island (Flagship) without a two-hours-in-each-direction commute. They’re also offering punch cards for logging your brews, a very handy thing to have when you get too buzzed to do a proper Untappd check-in. GA tickets are $47.50 (including the fee) for six hours of drinking (noon to 6 p.m.). Food is available for additional purchase.

So, enjoy Brooklyn while I’m drinking in Manhattan and Denver! Have one for The Bitch.

BallastPointCollage

San Diego Send-Off: Smoked Beer Dinner at Ballast Point

ColbyChandlerBPI have a bias to admit: I’m not really big into hype. Whenever I hear about a “must have” beer or brewery, I generally exert too much effort and find myself disappointed in the end product (read: my quest to find Heady Topper). It’s not that the hype isn’t warranted; many times it is. However, by the time I get around to “the real deal,” my expectations are so great that I’m invariably left thinking, “Is that it?”

The opposite can also be true: When I go in with diminished expectations, I can be truly surprised by what I discover.

Among the options on the APlus Limousine tour prior to the San Diego Beer Bloggers Conference were excursions to both Green Flash and Ballast Point. The majority of the group wanted to seek out beers that were not distributed nationally, so both these breweries were left off the pre-excursion itinerary. Thus, when a group of bloggers wanted to visit both these spots after the conference closed, I was happy to tag along.

The big surprise came at Ballast Point. We chose to visit the smaller brewpub in the Little Italy section of San Diego. We were warmly greeted by Tasting Room Manager Amber Crocker, who noted that she was preparing for a beer-pairing dinner later that afternoon. Seeing as I had yet to eat (and already been drinking up at Green Flash), I thought a beer dinner might be a nice change of pace. I asked her the menu: Smoked foods with smoked beers. Not The Bitch’s favorite combo. But when in Rome…

Executive Chef Colin MacLaggan mans the grilling station at the Ballast Point Smoke Beer Dinner on August 24, 2014.

Executive Chef Colin MacLaggan mans the grilling station at the Ballast Point Smoked Beer Dinner on August 24, 2014.

After a brief detour to the Salivador Dali Argillet Collection (which was amazeballs… if you are in San Diego, be sure to check it out at Meyer Fine Art; the installation has been extended through September 27th), I returned to the back patio at Ballast Point, where nine taps were flowing with recommended food pairings from Executive Chef Colin MacLaggan.

It wasn’t long before Ballast Point’s Specialty Brewer Colby Chandler joined me; while the rest of the group was inside the brewpub ordering off the menu, Colby chatted with me about the pairings and then took all of us on an ad hoc tour of the brewery where he poured the Pale Ale Infused with Smoked Serrano Peppers right off the tank. It was so much spicier without the food pairing (see below) and that’s what makes beer such a cool beverage: the fact that food can completely alter its flavor profile.

At $50, the dinner was one hell of a good deal, and the pairings ranged from interesting to intense. And if Amber, Colin and Colby are the status quo for staff service at Ballast Point, the company will continue to expand both in southern California and across the nation (and, yes, the Grapefruit Sculpin on tap is incredible).

The dinner was arranged as a walk-around event with five different stations, so I could start with (and repeat) any course I chose. However, the courses basically went in the following order:

An amuse hors d’oeuvers that was passed around on trays to pair with a can of Even Keel that was handed out at the check-in: A smoked onion, blue cheese tart with mustard seeds reconstituted in the same beer. I think I had five of these, they were so good (and about the dimension of a quarter… hey, I told you I hadn’t eaten all day!).amusetartBP

First course was freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell with a choice of three mignonettes:

  • Smoked shallots in a white balsamic vinaigrette
  • Avocado and cilantro
  • Raspberry

OysterBPHonestly, this was the least appealing of the courses for me, and the beer pairings didn’t really help the cause (somewhat surprisingly, this was also the only station that had a queue, with people coming back for multiple oyster servings). I tried three oysters, one with each mignonette, and paired with the Lung Fish Oak Smoked Helles. I know very little about west coast oysters, but I do know that August is not an ideal month in general for fresh oysters. For whatever reason, the bivalves were incredibly briny and, when combined with two of the three mignonettes (only the avocado/cilantro combination really worked for me), completely overpowered the delicate flavors of the Helles. I went back for a fourth oyster (avocado mignonette) to pair with the San Salvador Oyster Shwarzbier with Herbs, and this was a much better pairing, although the brine of the oyster was still very much the dominant flavor.

The second course (which I had fourth) was a perfect pairing: Chilled Cucumber Gazpacho with Smoked Foam paired with the aforementioned Ballast Point Pale Ale Infused with Smoked Serrano Peppers. This beer was hot hot hot… but I had no idea until I drank it a second time straight from the tank without the gazpacho. The cucumber completely neutralized the spiciness without diminishing the flavor of the beer. A+ to Colin and Colby on this combo.gazpachoBP

The third course was a revelation: Grilled Spanish Octopus with mushrooms, cherry tomato, Shishito pepper in a Banyals vinaigrette over garlic puree. This was paired with the Smokescreen Beachwood Smoked Helles. On its surface (and maybe this is where expectation really comes in to play), I should have hated this pairing. I mean, I am no fan of octopus, finding it too chewy and just damn weird to look at . And the Smokescreen was the closest thing to a rauchbier I drank all night (not a beer I ever enjoy). However, the chef treated the octopus for 48 hours before cooking it over an open flame. The result was a lobster-esque tenderness (Colby likened it to string cheese), and the earthiness of the mushrooms plus the smokiness of the Shishitos brought out so many subtle flavors that this was genuinely a gourmand’s dream come true. And the beer was perfect. Best in show for this pairing. I had two servings, I liked it that much.octopusBP

Another course being served by Chef Colin at the same grilling station was a Smoked Pork Rib served with a “Carolina style” smoked beer BBQ Sauce over honey slaw and cornbread crostini. Paired with Abandon Ship Beechwood Smoked Marzen, this pairing brought out both the salty and spicy notes, although I didn’t detect much Carolina in the sauce (that would be mustard based, I assume?). Either way, another excellent match between beer and food.smokedribBP

Finally, dessert was served with a trio of beers:

  • Sour Wench with Raspberries (too soda pop for my taste)
  • 2012 Sour Wench with Marion Blackberries (much nicer version of the Sour Wench)
  • 2011 Boob Check (the cancer awareness collaboration beer they made with White Labs)

dessert_BPThese were paired with a baked “crispy” shortbread over which was poured fresh berries and smoked rose petal curd, topped with a dollop of rosemary cream. The outside of the shortbread had been coated in sugar, and the rosemary cream was a delightful addition, particularly to someone like myself who doesn’t particularly care for sweet desserts.

There was a tenth beer that was supposedly available—the 2010 Three Sheets Barleywine—that I didn’t try to track down, so I don’t know how it tasted. By that point I was with Colby checking out the brewery, and I’d had quite my fill of great food and optimal beer pairings that this dinner offered. I liked this smoked-smoked idea so much that I recommended it to my NYC client, and he’s going to be hosting a smoked beer with food pairings dinner next month.

To see all my San Diego pictures, including more from Ballast Point, please visit (and like) my Facebook page.

 

Alan (far left) and Ryan (far right) on the per-excursion tour with Michael Puente.

The Bloggers Check In: Day 6 in San Diego

While a lot of participants at the Beer Bloggers Conference typically bail on Sunday morning (owing to too much beer or early transportation taking them out early), one of the more interesting features of the conference is the blogger reports from various writers around the country that wraps the conference every year. It’s a quick (each blogger has five minutes) check-in on the greater beer blogging community, and the reports range from funny to serious, informative to supportive. (Note: The titles are mine, but they sum up each of the seven presentations.)

First up this year, Emily Sauter of CT beer review blog Pints & Panels: Responsible Beer Reviewing

Clip art courtesy Layout Sparks.

Clip art courtesy Layout Sparks.

Like many of the bloggers, Emily posts beer reviews on her site, and she has three basic practices she tries to follow in her beer reviews that she shared with the attendees. These were:

  • Use Common Sense – all palates are different; what I like is different than you (Tip: don’t review what you don’t like)
  • Be Knowledgeable – Be concise, know where your beer comes from, become Cicerone or BJCP certified
  • Celebrate, Don’t Hate – Give the brewery the benefit of the doubt; if the beer tastes gross, try it again in a month or in six months and if still bad, try to find something positive to say (e.g. “this is the best beer they’ve produced thus far”)

And always end your Powerpoint presentation with a dinosaur (you had to be here to appreciate this joke).

Kendall Joseph of Beer Makes Three (where he blogs with his wife in Nashville, TN): How becoming a Certified Cicerone improves your blog

I got to know Kendall and his wife June a bit on our pre-conference excursion with APlus limos. Aside from being leaders in the Nashville craft beer community, the couple prides themselves on being well educated. While Kendall’s presentation about how “easy” it is to become a Certified Cicerone was a bit tongue in cheek (his tips included studying 2-3 hours per day for 9-12 months; and pay for the off-flavors kit), he outlined the merits of what being Cicerones (June is hold her Cicerone Beer Server certification) brings to beer blogging:

  • Credibility – “I’m a student who is learning, always; the more you learn the more you don’t know”
  • Access – “I get to know the people in the breweries, I get to know the distributors”
  • Opportunities – Kendall spoke of a new restaurant that is launching a beer and food pairing program, for which they’ve hired Kendall to curate

Among his more serious study tips: Learn all 86 styles in the BJCP manual, memorize the Brewers Association’s Draught Beer Quality Manual, do blind tastings, and read good books (Randy Mosher, John Palmer, Garrett Oliver, etc.). And have a healthy respect for the test.

Katherine Belamino of Passports & Cocktails: How to create a niche in blogging

Katherine works with a partner remotely (she’s a travel writer; Steven Grams is a beer writer) who relate beer, wine and spirits to travel adventures. They focus on the feature story that goes beyond one particular beer and its flavor and ingredients. Her main goals in writing include:

  • Why would someone want to go to a brewery when on vacation – Her features go beyond the taste to a feature story that will be meaningful beyond an individual beer
  • Her blog looks at events and programming and then gets hyper-local that is related to travel – e.g. if there’s an event, they write about the destination itself, but they also encourage visiting the breweries and distilleries/vineyards related to the event

A good spin on the beer blog, going beyond the taste and ingredients to know the story behind the brewery.

Alan_Michael_Ryan

Alan (far left) and Ryan (far right) on the per-excursion tour with Michael Puente.

Ryan Newhouse and Alan McCormick (from Montana Beer Finder and Growler Fills, respectively): How to launch your own beer week

Ryan joked that he and Alan “represent 100 percent of the Montana beer blogger scene,” but they’ve already made a huge impact by launching the Missoula Craft Beer Week. The beer week was a bit of a happy accident when Alan was inadvertently cc’d on an e-mail related to the Garden City Brew Fest on the 20th anniversary festival. They chimed in, “Let’s expand to a craft beer week.” With 45 breweries in Montana, they had only six weeks to put the 2013 beer week together. It was necessarily small with only 15 official events (a lot of tap take-overs and “visit your local bar” outreach). By year two, there were beer dinners and more creative programming (“how do we get hot yoga and cold beer together”). A mere year later, the late-April/early-May beer week launched the innaugural Craft Beer Cup as their marquee event: Nine bars, 11 breweries, and nine holes of putt putt – each bar built its own course – that raised almost $1200 to go to Missoula Food Bank.

Carol Dekkers of Florida’s Micro Brews USA: Bringing volunteerism and reaching your local beer scene

If Ryan and Alan are Montana’s craft beer ambassadors, Carol Dekker is Ambassador of western Florida (FL has 100 breweries). She started her presentation by quoting conference opening speaker Julia Hertz: “Make craft beer approachable.”

Crowler2In Carol’s St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay community, the demographic works against the Brewers Association’s norm with 25 percent of the populace over age 65 (the majority of craft beer drinkers are currently under age 45).

Her blog is more about bringing craft beer to the general population (Tampa-area beer gardens are both family- and dog-friendly) while dealing with controversial laws (no growlers larger than 32 oz.). She poured beer from Cycle Brewing’s “crowler,” a 32-ounce can that can be filled and sealed at the brewery. She also offered ways to gain more traction in the online beer community (her tips: Get a paper.li account, where you can create your ownenewspaper – hers is Brew News Daily – that gets populated from keywords; and join as many Facebook groups as possible and interact with them because one post goes out to thousands of viewers as opposed to only your personal followers).

Finally, Carol gave her spiel on the importance in volunteering, especially for events (March 7-15, 2015, is Tampa Bay Beer Week, you’re invited!), as volunteerism is a key part of bringing craft beer to the masses.

Brandon Fischer 365 beer.comHow to grow your blog with smarter posts

For most bloggers (Brandon’s focus is on beer reviews), there are two issues impeding growth: a small audience and past reviews that don’t “get the love” and pretty much disappear from your readers. His task was to address two main goals:

  1. Make content more attractive and accessible for the every-day beer lover
  2. Make content “stickier” without “selling out” to beer makers that just want product placement

He also didn’t want to forgo his creativity just in order to create more content. After determining that “everyone reads lists (e.g. buzzfeed),” he decided to to compile his existing reviews into lists (e.g. five beers of summer, five best regional beers, five beers to drink during a zombie apocalypse). This is allowing him to take old content and infuse it with fresh life with a minimal investment (the lists link to the previous review).

Craig Hendry of Raise Your Pints (among others): Using social media to affect beer regulation

While Craig began blogging in 2007, its his recent work in Mississippi on the legislative level that has made him a star in beer circles. It was through his organizing that Mississippi finally is able to homebrew legally (the 50th state to allow homebrewing), plus the relatively low 6.2% ABV limit was lifted this past year. Craig’s recommendations for ensuring success for craft beer in your state:

  • Look for legislative updates that might affect your local brewers (he suggested following the “Support your local brewery” alerts at the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer website)
  • Monitor your state’s legislative website (search for beer, brewing, alcohol)
  • Be vigilant and offer assistance to your local brewers guild (they are probably more involved in day-to-day operations of their breweries to stay on top of deadlines/changes in legislation
  • Understand your state’s legislative process (you can attend any session if you’re in your capital area); the more you know about the whole process of bills and strategies to get bills passed, the more advocacy you can do
  • Promote positive laws, work against bad legislation
  • Steer the discussion – help drive what’s being talked about in the public via Twitter/FB