Just a few of the stops I hit up in Germany last month!

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

Just a few of the stops I hit up in Germany last month!

Just a few of the stops I hit up in Germany last month!

I’m baaaack! ***

The past couple days have been challenging for a lot of people. One of the things I double down on whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or sad or bewildered or [enter predicate adjective of your choice here] is gratitude. Some days, I may only manage to be grateful for beer (or running water)! The past month or so, I’ve had a great number of people, businesses, organizations and things for which to be grateful, but not a lot of time to share with you, my loyal readers!

So, take a break from the “noise” and please allow me to thank a few folks.

#1. The Pink Boots Society

PBS exists to support women in beer; more specifically, they provide educational opportunities for women in beer through seminars, peer-support, mentoring and scholarships. About two months ago, I saw a post for one of their more audacious scholarships called Beer, Bratwurst & Beyond: a trip to Bavaria/Germany with most expenses paid, including airfare. I plan at some point to write more in detail about the application process, but I submitted the day the application was due and gave no more thought about it. Typically, the PBS scholarships I have considered were a few hundred dollars (keep in mind that as a writer, I wouldn’t typically qualify for their advanced brewing programs), so I truly doubted I would ever receive a scholarship worth several thousand dollars. However, a few weeks after the submission deadline, I received a call from Kris at PBS letting me know I had been selected alongside five other amazing women! We have a “pay it forward” component, and I hope to be working on a piece for publication along with sister scholarship recipient Monica Mondragon (a laboratory/QC manager and assistant barrel manager at Santa Fe Brewing Co.), whose technical expertise I will heavily lean on in the article we’re writing together.

But I never would have undertaken this trip without the underwriting of PBS. So thanks to these women, and look for a NYC chapter launched by yours truly in the coming weeks/months! (If you are a woman in beer, please become a member here; dues are only $35/year or $25 if you’re still a student.)

#2. Tom Conrad and Treasures of Europe Tours

While the tour itself was, in fact, open to men, the only males on the trip turned out to be our German-speaking bus driver, Karl-Heinz, and our tour guide, Tom Conrad. Tom was affable and unflappable. He really went over and beyond to make this a great tour. While there were a few hitches, he was flexible enough to make allowances for a group of women who didn’t always want to stick to the letter of the tour’s itinerary. Without expressly asking him, I got the sense that Tom is a one-man show (or nearly) at his company, and I am all about supporting the independent business person, especially now that our political climate is bound to shift in favor of ever larger corporate entities! Please please please… if you are looking to do a tour (he has what appears to be an awesome Christmas markets tour

Side note: I visited a German Christmas market many moons ago and its beauty literally made me cry in ecstasy… full disclosure: I had just returned from living in the Soviet Union for four months, so my emotions were highly charged for any stimuli!

—so even if beer is not your object, there’s plenty more adventure that awaits you), hit him up!

#3. The Town of Spalt, Germany

Never a fan of the "selfie," I took many on this trip, including one with the Mayor of Spalt.

Never a fan of the “selfie,” I took many on this trip, including one with the Mayor of Spalt.

This quaint village in Bavaria pulled out all the stops for us… they even threw a parade! No, not really. I mean, the parade was real but it was for their yearly Kirchweih festival, an annual celebration of the town’s church raising (that feels more like an autumnal May Day, replete with music and maypole!). However, they put us up front and made us the signature guests so that it did truly feel as though the parade had been created just for us.

Spalt mayor Udo Weingart and deputy mayor Alfred Zottmann were a delight as our self-appointed ambassadors. While the parade was for the town, they made us guests of honor (of which not the least benefit was we received the first pours from their ultra-fresh—and freshly made—Saumarkt Bier). We were also given a private tour of the Spalt Hops Museum, a lovely German dinner and access to a rockabilly-style concert in the beer hall later that evening. All-in-all, the city set the bar high on what to expect from German hospitality.

#4. Boston Beer Company and Barth-Haas Group

The food and beer that followed made this table setting look practically rustic!

The food/beer that followed made this table setting look practically rustic!

Who knew a lesser-known founding father could have such an impact on the larger beer world! The makers of Sam Adams have an on-going relationship with one of the largest hops farms in the Hallertau region, and the folks at Stanglmair family farm offered up one of the best—and least expected—visits of the entire trip when on a drizzly post-harvest day, Stefan Stanglmair (a 21st-generation hops farmer; yes! you read that right: his family has been farming hops since 1722!) gave us a rousing tour followed up by a to-die-for food-and-beer-pairing dinner that capped off a week of already over-the-top-amazing experiences. It’s wonderful that a company, which has grown so dramatically over the decades that the Brewers Association has had to change its own definition of “craft beer,” gives back to the community that loves beer so much.

As Germany’s Barth-Haas Group sponsored the outing and dinner, I thank them heartily for what was possibly the highlight of my trip. (And as I plan to write more on this topic with Monica, I’ll just leave it at that!)

#5. Various German Trade Organizations

While the list of breweries we visited is too extensive for the purposes of this article, I would be remiss if I didn’t single out two of Germany’s trade organizations that generously gave of their time (and possibly monetary support, a rare overture towards Americans from the heart of Europe): Private Brauereien Bayern (Bavarian Association of Private Breweries) and Managing Director Oliver Dawid, who helped lead an animated discussion over lunch at Pyraser Bier (note: German website); and Bierland Oberfranken (Association of Breweries in Upper Franconia) and Managing Director Bernhard Sauer. Vielen Dank!

#6. Various American Beer-Related Businesses

Finally, last but not least, are a trio of other breweries that helped support the tour and a three more businesses that work with brewers to get the beer made, stored, delivered or otherwise served up to a loving beer public. They include:

If you’ve read thus far, you may wonder if I’m being paid to mention any of these folks. I am not. I am under no obligation to them whatsoever. But at a time when there’s a lot of anger and finger-pointing going on, it’s important to remember to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. That’s the kind of debt that takes nothing from the recipient in terms of payback: A little time, a little open-heartedness, a hand held out to shake in earnest. And a robust, “Thank you. Thank you very much.” (Cue Elvis, as I’m leaving the building.)

Please check back (or subscribe by email at left—scroll down for mobile—so I pop up in your inbox to notify you of my infrequent updates!) for more on my German adventure.

*** So, here’s the thing about being a freelancer: You have to work to get paid. I take some umbrage at being called a “blogger,” because the reality is this is my blog. Look how often I am here, which is not a lot. I have other blogs, too, and I’m not there much either. I don’t have the luxury to be a blogger very often, as I am working as a beer journalist. Sometimes I have a bit of time to jot down some notes, but if I have a great idea for a beer-related article, I’m trying to pitch it to a publication that nets me more than this humble blog ever could. But I have missed you all, and I continue to be grateful for your attention and support!

Brewer's Choice 2010 - 21

Closing Out July Good Beer Month with Good Beer, Super Craft Beer Fest

The annual event known as #JulyGoodBeerMonth closes out the season with couple of “good beer” events that are worthy of your time. All month long, NYC bars have been scheduling beer-centric programming; along with NYC Restaurant Week, it’s a way to boost patronage during the dog days of summer where even getting out in this heat takes a seemingly seismic effort.

But July ain’t over until the last tankard-drinking pirate sings (or something like that), so be sure to get your brew on before the celebration ends and we’re just staring down the barrel of August in hopes of a beach day and September.

And apparently downtown is where you want to be! First up, tomorrow night (Thursday, July 28th) is one of the city’s best beer tasting events (my second favorite after NYC Beer Week’s Brewers Choice): Edible’s Good Beer. Somewhat shockingly, tickets are still available. I’ve noticed with my own slate of events that I publicized that many events that should be easy sells simply aren’t. My political viewpoint is that rents have gotten so damn high in this city that no one has disposable income to spend on events, but I can tell you flat out that at $65 ($70.60 with the ticketing fee), Good Beer is a great buy. Taking up in a new location (180 Maiden Street) and running three hours (6-9PM), Good Beer offers up 20 food purveyors (including Burke & Wills, for which I personally vouch having partaken of their fore-mentioned NYC Restaurant Week menu last night!) and two-dozen-plus beer, cider and spirits makers (including the soon-to-go-gypsy KelSo Beer Co.). As always, I recommend you get there on the early side, although in years past Edible has managed a well-run event with plenty of food and drink for all.

Then this weekend (on Saturday, July 30th), there’s the New York City Super Craft Beer Festival at Watermark Bar on Pier 15 (78 South Street at the Seaport). The weather looks good for Saturday (highs in the mid-80s with a chance of a passing storm in the afternoon), and being out on the pier is as good a place as any to gain some respite over the relenting heat of summer 2016.

Produced by Merchants Hospitality, the NYC Super Craft Beer Fest will feature more than 80 craft breweries showcasing their best and most noteworthy seasonal accomplishments in beer and ciders. Watermark Bar’s food menu will be available throughout the day to complement 100+ types of beer and ciders available. In addition, for those who prefer a cocktail, the Cocktail Guru himself will be on-hand making cocktails based on some of the craft beers available at the fest.

Of special note, this festival allows readmission for eleven (!!!) hours, meaning you can come and go… have a few beers, stroll along the water, maybe chill in some air-conditioned space, come back and have a few more. Because the festival is being run with drink tickets (as opposed to “all inclusive,” which sometimes – i.e. often – means favorite choices run out well before close of day), you should be able to drop in at any point between

Unlike most festivals broken into sessions, tickets will not limit guests to a four-hour window of time but will grant them access to the pier all day to come and go as they please, with each ticket including an amount of drink tickets (you may purchase additional drinks on the pier). Plus, the beers are actually being repped by the breweries themselves (one of the reasons I so enjoy Brewers Choice is because you can converse with the people who make the beers, as opposed to some volunteer pourer who may be clueless). You can get tickets starting at a mere $15 (for three 5-ounce samples) here.

 

#CBC16 Off to a Grand and Boisterous Start

20160504_095028So, as a Craft Brewers Conference newbie, I thought I knew what to expect here at CBC 2016 in Philadelphia. While I haven’t been shocked by any revelations, I have to admit I may now be a convert to the “craft” cause on the heels of Allagash Brewing’s Rob Tod, who recently was elevated to the Brewers Association Chairman of the Board of Directors.

I have been an unabashed critic of the BA’s focus on who is and who isn’t making craft beer. To my mind, it isn’t about who is making the beer, but who isn’t drinking it: Young people by and large are more likely to opt for spirits and wine (call it the Sanders’ effect) over a stalwart such as beer. To me, I would rather negotiate for market share of the potent potables’ market than to tilt at the windmills of AB-InBev and Miller-Coors.

However, Rob pretty much summed up his (borrowed from departing director Gary Fish of Deschutes Brewery) simple mission statement: The BA is larger as a sum of the parts, and the BA defines not craft beer but craft brewers.

Let me state, that I support small businesses. I think that to shop local is the most patriotic gesture you can make. However, I don’t fault Goose Island or Ballast Point for living the businessman’s dream in a capitalistic society. However, hearing Rob talk about the BA’s influence on Capitol Hill (during an election year, no less) makes me a convert to the cause. Capitalism is all well and good, but without the BA, a lot of small brewers wouldn’t be here today. And what a shame that would be.

I hope to write more about the Conference in the coming days, but if you’re still thinking about coming out, there’s plenty more fun, friendship and important issues to share with your beer brothers and sisters.

Hope to see you here in Philadelphia.

Other news and notes from today’s CBC:

  • Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head) received the 2016 BA Recognition Award
  • The Odom Corporation (Idaho) was named Wholesaler of the Year
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing launched their Beer Camp 2016 with six food and beer pairings at Time on Sansom Street
NYCBeerWeek2016

NYC Beer Week Has Arrived: Where Should You Go? Does it Really Matter?

NYCBeerWeek2016A few years back, I tried to “do NYC Beer Week” and cover as many of the events as I possibly could. Not only was I utterly exhausted by the end of the week, I came to the conclusion that NYC Beer Week was not the best week of the year to celebrate beer in NYC.

However, a lot of press and time and effort goes in to this annual celebration, so here’s my view on the upcoming “week” (like so many beer weeks, it’s actually 10 days to encompass two weekends): the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

The Good

  • Keeping it simple with the SimulTap

For the past couple years (since the enactment of the NY State Farm Brewery law), there has been a push for NYC Beer Week brews to be made with local ingredients. Hence, the SMASH beer, which normally stands for Single Malt and Single Hop, but is appropriated for NYC Beer Week as State Malt and State Hop. Brewers challenge themselves to create a simple, state-ingredient beer that can be enjoyed by everyone coming to the city. It’s perfect: No fuss, no frills. And about a dozen bars (including Alewife NYC, Banter, Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co., Jimmy’s No. 43, Murray’s Cheese Bar and Randolph Beer) have agreed to tap and toast a SMASH beer tonight (Friday, February 19th) at 7PM.

Among the breweries that made a 2016 SMASH beer are Big Alice Brewing, Bridge and Tunnel Brewery, Bronx Brewery, Brooklyn Brewery, Coney Island Brewing Company, Finback Brewery, Greenpoint Beer & Ales, Gun Hill Brewing, Heartland Brewing, Keg & Lantern, KelSo Beer, LIC Beer Project, Rockaway Brewing, Sixpoint Brewery, and Transmitter Brewing. It’s a low-key way to kick off the week in style at the location of your choice.

Yes, I do help publicize this event. But it’s also my favorite event not just of Beer Week but of the entire year. In addition to the aforementioned SMASH brewers, Brewer’s Choice invites many brewers from the state and beyond to create unique beers that will be available only for one night. This is not your usual suspects kind of event where everyone is getting—you’ll excuse the pun—smashed. You’ll also get the opportunity to hang out with the brewers themselves. Plus the event offers up about a dozen food purveyors serving everything from tacos to oysters on the half shell, all included in your $80 ticket (and they’re almost sold out so get yours here).

You can double your fun this year by slipping out after 7 PM to KelSo next door and partake of a specialty whiskey tasting from the Caskmates collection: the Jameson Caskmates KelSo Pale Ale Edition. While we’ve all heard about beer being aged in whiskey barrels, this whiskey has actually been aged in a KelSo beer barrel! It’s available in limited quantities, so if you see something, drink something!

  • Final Party is a Cask Festival

Ever since the untimely closing of d.b.a. in Brooklyn, NYC has gone without a proper cask festival. This year’s official closing party resurrects the best way to enjoy beer: gas free and at a proper temperature! Enjoy about 150 casks and light eats, while mingling with the makers. Two sessions will take place on Saturday, February 27th, and there are plenty of tickets (both VIP and GA) remaining for both.

The Bad

  • The opening bash is a cruise

This could go under “The Ugly” as far as I’m concerned. Who thought a booze cruise in February was a good idea? Well, the NYC Brewers Guild actually dodged a major bullet. After record-breaking low temps last Saturday, they’re looking at mid-50s tomorrow, Saturday, February 20th, for their two sailings. And in a surprise to no thinking person, tickets are still available for purchase here. As for me, I’m waiting for the real spring to arrive before heading out to drink in the bay under the Statue of Liberty.

  • Very few truly unique events

In general, there are fewer events being promoted this year and only a handful of them are interesting. Most of the events are just “themes.” A handful of beer dinners. I feel like there’s not a lot of substance or sizzle to the official event listings, but  Shmaltz is premiering their Vulcan Ale as a part of Astronomy Night on the Intrepid this evening (2/19 at 7PM). Bring your favorite Klingon to drink well and prosper. Another event that could be of interest is a Kick-Off Panel  at DBGB’s on Sunday, February 21st from 5-7PM, featuring Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery), Kelly Taylor (KelSo) and Benjamin Weiss (The Bruery).

The Ugly

  • We’re just not that in to you

In the past couple years, the Brewers Guild has been tweaking how they run and publicize the week, but the growing pains should be in the past. The truth is I hear nothing positive about being a part of NYC Beer Week from the people who really matter: the bar owners and industry insiders who might want to put money into being a sponsor at a Beer Week event. The Guild has decided that NYC Beer Week is really Beer Made by NYC Brewers Week. It’s not about the bar owners or non-guild members. And while this could be a great mission statement, it’s not really flying with anyone. Late last year I heard about a collaboration attempt from the NY State Brewers Association to have an event revolving around “country brewer/city brewer” beers, where upstate breweries would collaborate with city breweries to bring new beers to the market for beer week. That sounded like an awesome idea! But if it happened, no one is publicizing it. I just don’t believe the NYCBG has the bandwidth to undertake a SMASH beer project and a larger collaboration project. The SMASH beers are great, but it’s just a weekend idea. You cannot build 10 days’ worth of programming around this.

How to Right the Ship

  • Move Beer Week back to the fall

Before the NYCBG bought out the original beer week, it was held every September. Bar owners seemed to love it, because that was when business tends to be “off.” We NYers are generally spending the fall outdoors, not in bars. The weather is amazing for a few scant weeks in NYC, and September is one of those months. NYC Beer Week in the fall would encourage people to come indoors, and bar owners would probably drum up some great programming to attract more attendance. In February, business is generally good—random 3-feet blizzards aside—and bars don’t need to allocate resources to come up with clever ideas to attract business. Maybe that’s why this year’s events seem so ho-hum.

  • Incorporate more of the breweries

Nearly all the non-gypsy brewers in the city now have tap rooms. Yet almost no events are planned at any of the tap rooms during NYC Beer Week. Even the aforementioned Jameson event at the KelSo tap room is a whiskey outing. Some breweries (e.g. Bridge and Tunnel) are having ad hoc events as a part of their regular business. It seems like this is a wasted opportunity when places like Other Half routinely have lines around the block trying to get a new beer release. If the NYCBG is about the actual breweries, shouldn’t more events be taking place at the breweries?

  • Hire a few privates

I have long suspected that a major problem with the Guild’s version of NYC Beer Week is “too many generals, not enough privates.” If all you have is everyone looking out for his or her own brand, you’re unlikely to build a beer week of substance. I never hear anyone saying, “Let’s go to NYC for beer week.” Yet, I do hear it about San Francisco, Asheville and—especially here in NYC—Philadelphia. We need to figure out how to make NYC Beer Week “destination worthy,” and then have the troops in line to implement the strategy that the higher-ups devise.

Otherwise, the impetus for getting out to drink over the next 10 days is really just “business as usual.” And no matter the quality of the beer scene, that’s no reason to celebrate our city’s beer culture.

BloodSweatBeer

New Doc Shows Blood, Sweat & Beer of Bringing a Brewery to Life

BrewGentlemenSo, you say you want to open a brewery? A new documentary available online today may make you rethink that plan. Filmmakers Chip Hiden and Alexis Irvin follow four men (three from The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company in Braddock, PA, and one from Shorebilly Brewing Company in Ocean City, MD) as they navigate the hurdles of launching a micro-brewery. Or, more accurately, the perils of being a small business owner in modern-day America.

Blood, Sweat & Beer is the tale of two breweries that begins with the worst of times: Shorebilly Brewing’s owner Danny Robinson is facing financial destitution following what appears to be (and eventually—and subsequent to him changing the brewery name to Backshore Brewing Company—proves to be) a meritless trademark infringement lawsuit from a Tshirt company using the same DBA name. A shortcoming of the film is that we never know for sure if Danny is just a bad businessman (he’s also owner of a nearby restaurant, so I’m assuming not) or just someone caught in the cross hairs of a judicial system that hinders small business growth at every turn. For example, Danny worries that he’ll lose his home and personal property, meaning his business structure is not a corporation, which is pretty much Business 101. It’s hard to be interested in him as a brewer when we only really only see him through the lens of his legal woes.

The more interesting story—and where Blood, Sweat & Beer differentiates itself from documentary predecessors American Beer and Beer Wars—is that of Brew Gentlemen owners Asa Foster and Matt Katase and head brewer Brandon Capps as part of a larger narrative about the demise and rebirth of manufacturing in America. Braddock was a former steel mill town outside of Pittsburgh that never recovered from the bust of the early 1980s. While Pittsburgh proper has come back, Braddock is still trying to figure out its recovery. The documentary then visits similar boom-to-bust-to-beer towns across the country, scoring interviews with brewers and politicians and brewer-politicians (Hello, Colorado Governor and Wynkoop Brewing founder John Hickenlooper) and bolstering with statistics on the tremendous growth in craft brewing. The Braddock brewery is the center of a business resurrection, and the support of the town is paramount to the success of the brewers and their dream of being small business owners in America.

In the end, this film shows just how darn hard it is to open a brewery… and also how incredibly rewarding it is. You really feel the love of the craft beer scene and why so many of us love being a part of it. You root for the up-and-comers and recognize the many faces of established breweries. If you are in the beer scene or just a rabid craft beer drinker, you will definitely see a friendly face or six in Blood, Sweat & Beer. And if you aren’t inspired to launch a business, you may be pulling out your homebrew kit by the end of the 70-minute viewing. Or at least polishing off a few of your favorite beers shown throughout the film.

You’ll be rooting for these little guys to win. And to be able to make more great beer.

Blood, Sweat & Beer is available today in regular or deluxe editions on iTunes and other major online platforms or on DVD via the film’s website.