Category Archives: Random Beer Thoughts

Random Beer Thoughts: April 2017

The biggest recent story in the beer world has been about Sam Adams. It started when founder Jim Koch wrote at op-ed for the New York Times. Koch said that lax government oversight is allowing big beer conglomerates to create monopolies at the expense of craft beer. It’s probably not a coincidence that this op-ed was published around the time that Boston Beer (Sam Adams’ parent company) released more disappointing earnings figures. There were a number of good responses to the article; Hop Culture has a great follow up interview with Koch, Greg Doroski discusses the competition Sam Adams has from small and big beer, Brian Roth discusses the perception that Sam Adams isn’t craft beer, Oliver Grey writes about their constant changes in style and trend chasing, and Jason Notte has suggestions for what Sam Adams can do next.

Sam AdamsThose articles cover a lot, but there are a few points that I especially agree with. I think that the big beer conglomerates definitely hurt Sam Adams, the average person buying a 12 pack in the grocery store doesn’t know that InBev owns Goose Island (and they probably don’t care). The expansion of brands like Goose, Lagunitas and Ballast Point eat into the supermarket/convenience store sales that are key for a bigger brewery. It also hurts that Sam Adams isn’t popular with beer geeks (outside of a couple very small releases like Utopias). Other larger craft brewers have found ways to balance large sales with innovation that drives hype, for example the Beer Camp festivals and mix packs from Sierra Nevada. Owning alcoholic iced tea and seltzer brands probably doesn’t help with the perception that Boston Beer isn’t focused on brewing great beer.

What should Sam Adams do from here? I think they definitely need to re-evaluate the huge number of beers they make. There are some delicious beers in the Sam Adams portfolio, including a few that were ahead of their time. There are also a number of mediocre offerings. They could focus on a small number of core year-round and seasonal offerings and send everything else into retirement or use it as part of a rotating beer series. I also love Jason Notte’s idea that Sam Adams could open full service tasting rooms at each of their locations. This won’t be a huge money maker for a company that big but it will be a good way to connect directly with their customers and get feedback on in-progress recipes. I don’t think any of these ideas will cause an explosion of sales, but they are steps in the right direction. It should be very interesting to see what the future holds for one of the most important breweries in American beer.

In other news:

Foulmouthed Brewing in Maine is completely eschewing flagship beers, in favor of constantly rotating through different recipes. I could see more breweries trying this, so many beer drinkers are constantly chasing novelty that it helps to have different selection of beers all the time.

The Mass Brew Brothers have a rundown of a few new breweries that are opening, and a few more that are closing. Unfortunately I think we’ll see more of this, where the rapid growth in total breweries will be slowed somewhat by closings.

Hop Culture has an interview with Allagash head brewer Jason Perkins. I was at Allagash this weekend and had a great time taking the brewery tour. I even pitched a beer idea; they are going to stop brewing Dubbel so I though it would be fun to send it out in style by making a batch aged in port barrels.

This is the first time I’ve posted a link from ESPN, but they did an interesting article on brewer/rugby player Bev Armstrong from Brazo Fuerte. I played rugby in college and love the sport, so this hits a number of my personal passions.

Cambridge Brewing Company brewmaster Will Meyers won the Russell Schehrer award for innovation in craft brewing. This is well deserved, it’s easy to forget how large an impact CBC has had on the local and national beer scene. One of Will’s biggest areas of contribution is being at the forefront of barrel aging programs. The Mass Brew Bros have a very interesting summary on the contributions Massachusetts breweries have made to barrel aged beers.

The new tasting room at Mayflower Brewing company is now open. I have some friends on the south shore, I might need to schedule a visit and make the brewery stop a part of the trip.

BostInno has an article on the TAPPED beer truck, a rolling bar that is focused on having high end local beer available for functions. My brother got a version of this for his wedding in Pennsylvania a few years back and it was a big hit.

A couple of Portland breweries have banned dogs after having potentially dangerous incidents in their tasting rooms. It sounds like a small number of irresponsible people ruined it for everyone, but I understand making this decision based on liability concerns.

Norm Miller has a rundown of the new beer camp mix pack from Sierra Nevada. It’s an eclectic array of beers from brewers around the world, and I will definitely give it a shot.

I think the Sobro, a multi-functional coffee table/beer fridge will soon become a staple of man caves everywhere.

That’s it for this month, as always thanks for reading and feel free to pass along any links that you would like to see included in next month’s roundup!

Random Beer Thoughts: March 2017

Here are some thoughts and links for the month of March. There are a couple of the links I didn’t post here because they deserve more than a quick blurb. I am planning on waiting to post them until I can do a more in depth article (or incorporate them into a beer review).

Amherst Jess

One of my favorite articles of the month is from Alex Weaver at Hop Culture titled Stop Judging Me for Liking IPAs. I have noticed a backlash against the style by some brewers and beer geeks, it has become so ubiquitous that some people feel the need trash people who call IPA their favorite style. While I am trying to focus more of the blog on other styles for a few months I still love hoppy beers and drink more IPAs than any other style (and it isn’t even close). BTW, you should check out Hop Culture, it’s a relatively new site focused on beer and the beer geekdom. I think you’ll be seeing many articles from that site posted in this links column going forward.

Speaking of Hop Culture, another article from the site discusses breweries that started brewing IPAs to meet customer requests in their taprooms, even if they had resisted brewing the style before. There are some good quotes in the piece that help explain why breweries like Mystic and Idle Hands have started making IPAs. As long as a large segment of beer drinkers focus entirely on hoppy beers it will be really hard for any brewery to ignore the style completely.

The Mass Brew Brothers ask if we are in a craft beer bubble as the state approaches 150 breweries. I don’t think we are there yet, but I do think the lopsided ratio of openings to closings is going to change quickly. I think the state can support 150 breweries (or more), especially if a large number of them focus on being a local hangouts instead of distributing across the state/region. The expanding number of breweries along with the expansions in production by some of the most popular locals is going to put significant pressure on every brewery to make consistently top notch beer and have a great business plan. I hate to say it, but I think this year will start to see some local breweries close for financial reasons.

The Brothers also have their list of everything that is happening in Massachusetts beer over the next three months. Bookmark that link so you don’t miss anything!

A giant pet peeve of mine is when people complain about a “best of” or “top” article without reading the criteria for the list (ask anyone who writes this type of article and they will tell you that it happens all the time). Bryan Roth at Good Beer Hunting uses a strong example of this to make a bigger point about thinking and reading before you get outraged on social media.

Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion 1

Boston Business Journal has an interesting article on how breweries are using a rotating IPAs to appease the large segment of beer geeks who are constantly chasing what is new and different.

Castle Island is expanding due to high demand. Good to see their success, Castle Island has quickly become a regular part of my beer fridge rotation. Castle Island has also released a beer as part of the Black Ale Project.

Night Shift Distributing has added a number of breweries to their portfolio. I’m especially looking forward to trying some beers from Mast Landing in Westbrook, Maine, I’ve heard good things about their beers.

exhibit-a-the-cats-meow

Thrillist’s Best New Breweries list has a lot of local representation.

For the beer nerds and brewers: Beer Advocate has an interesting article on hop powder, a high oil form of hops that some brewers are using with great acclaim.

Barleycorn’s, the brew-on-premises business in Natick, is closing by the start of May. They were a pioneer in the space and operated for 20 years.

Zippia has a 5 step process to become a master brewer. I am good with my day-job career path, but if you are considering brewing beer as a career path this plan seems to make a lot of sense.

CraftRoots Brewery is open in Milford.

Moby Dick Brewing Company is now open in New Bedford.

That’s all for this month, thanks for reading and feel free to pass along anything that you think I should include in next months links article!

Random Beer Thoughts: February 2017

The Mass Brew Brothers hosted a blind tasting on New England style IPAs and wrote up the results, which included a few surprises. Funny what happens when you judge beer entirely on flavor and not the brand. I was planning on attending this event but had to cancel when my son and I both got horribly ill. I’m looking forward to participating in an upcoming blind tasting soon.

Overshores Simpel

Barring a massive influx of cash it looks like Overshores Brewing in CT will shut down. I never like to see any brewery fail, I’ve enjoyed some of Overshores beers in the past, but I think we’ll be sharing this kind of news more and more over the next few years. While a number of reasons were presented for the brewery’s financial issues, one really bothered me. In the article brewery owner Christian Amport rants about millennial drinkers chasing fads and focusing entirely on hop bomb beers. While I would love to see more drinkers branch out it comes across really poorly when you trash beer drinkers for liking other beers more than yours.

Brewer magazine has a good write up on the importance of taprooms in marketing a brewery. I completely agree with this, in addition to the higher margins taprooms give the brewer an opportunity to communicate directly with their customer and get feedback that will help them make better beer.

BrewStuds has an article on partner brewing that features local brewery Dorchester Brewing. Partner brewing seems like a logical evolution from the contract brewing model. The participating breweries still get access to larger scale equipment and lower their ingredient costs, but they also have a taproom that features beers from all of the breweries that brew onsite.

Draft magazine points out that Beer People are Just People. This seems pretty obvious, but many beer geeks wax poetically about how amazing everyone involved in craft beer is. I’ve met a huge number of awesome people at breweries and beer events. I’ve also met a fair number of jerks and entitled assholes.

RateBeer handed out their annual awards which are based on compiling user reviews of individual beers. They recognize a number of amazing breweries including a few right here in New England. I always end up perusing these types of lists, but I take them with a big grain of salt. Too often the hype surrounding the top breweries effects how users evaluate their beers, and this artificially inflates their ratings.

Will Gordon and John Laffler are drinking for good, donating $1 for every beer they drink between the Super Bowl and the end of the month to the ACLU. Others are encouraged to join, and I am definitely in. Will is doing weekly write-ups of the beers he is drinking and keeping a running tally.

Food and Wine made a list of the most important craft beers. It was interesting to see a list focus beers that were most influential in launching the current craft beer movement instead of the newest whalez the geeks are chasing. Hard to argue with many of the selections on the list.

Sierra Nevada West Latitude

Sierra Nevada announced the collaborations for their new Beers Across The World, including one with local powerhouse Tree House Brewing Company. This pack will be a must-purchase.

Speaking of Sierra Nevada, Good Beer Hunting has a revealing interview with Brian and Ken Grossman from Sierra Nevada on the challenges facing brewers. Lots of good stuff here.

Sam Adams and Sweet Water made an interesting bet on the Super Bowl. After the Patriots amazing comeback Sweet Water is paying up.

RiverWalk Winter Porter

RiverWalk Brewing is planning on opening a much larger new brewery in Newburyport.

Tasting Table has an interesting article on how Allagash brews wild fermented beers using their coolship.

I doubt anyone reading this blog missed this, but the very popular Vermont brewery Lawson’s Finest Liquids will now be regularly distributed in Massachusetts.

Turtle Swamp Brewing is opening soon in Jamaica Plain.

Random Beer Thoughts: December 2016

There have been a couple more important articles released since I published my thoughts on the Craft Beer Cellar Blacklist (if you are sick of talking/reading/thinking about this topic I understand, feel free to skip ahead, but there is clearly a lot of interest).

BostInno published an in depth and very well researched article with thoughts from the owners of CBC, the owners of some of the franchises who are unhappy with these new regulations, and the brewers affected the most by the leaked memo. Author Alex Weaver has told me that the information that has been released so far is just the tip of the iceberg.

Craft Beer Cellar published an update on the topic on their blog. This addresses some of the criticisms, and acknowledges the fact that some of their franchisees are unhappy with the changes. One thing they don’t address is who is involved in making these lists. I think that is the biggest issue, the franchise owners want a say in what beers they carry. I like that the list is constantly adapting, but I can’t imagine how any person can stay on top of every shift in the fluid local and national markets. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out and how this effects their business going forward.

Julia Herz wrote a great column on Embracing Diversity in the Beer Biz, and Brain Roth did a follow-up interview for his blog. It is amazing how much sexism still exists in the industry and I think we can all play a roll in fighting it. First, don’t buy beer from breweries that have flagrantly sexist/misogynist beer names or label art. Second, if you see someone doing/saying something inappropriate then speak up. I believe these issues are due to a relatively small group of jackasses, but one sexist comment is one-too-many.

Norm “The Beer Nut” Miller handed out his year end awards, dubbed The Golden Nutties, which is always a must-read article. One point I especially agreed with was naming Mystic Brewery the most underrated local brewery. This led to an extensive discussion on twitter amongst people who love Mystic beer and don’t understand why it hasn’t developed the crazy followings that many other local breweries seem to recieve. It is unfortunate that a brewery needs to make hop-bombs in tallboy cans in order to generate local buzz.

I would love to see Mystic follow the Allagash model, start distributing a few of their flagships in 12 oz. 4-packs (the large format only brands are in for a tough ride), and then focus their efforts on special release Belgian/wild/barrel aged styles. The Mystic brewers are as good as anyone at coaxing amazing flavors out of expressive yeast strains and building delicious beers to complement these flavors, and I think demand for these types of beers is going to rise as people move past the all-hops-all-the-time mentality.

Links:

BostInno did an enlightening interview with Castle Island co-founder Adam Romanow discussing what it’s really like to run a small brewery.

The Mass Brew Bros did an extensive overview of the year in Massachusetts beer. It has been an exciting year in the state and it looks like more great things will come in 2017!

-Speaking of 2017, Brewstuds has an article looking forward to the upcoming year in Massachusetts beer.

-The crew behind Jack’s Abby has officially opened their Springdale Barrel Room, featuring a number of beers that fall outside the typical Jack’s Abby offerings (namely plenty of ales). This has immediately jumped to the top of my must-visit list.

-The Gardner Ale House will begin distributing it’s beer soon. My wife and I got married in Gardner and have great memories of this brewpub from the many trips to the area before the ceremony.

-Jeppe from Evil Twin did a series of memes poking fun at a beer reviewer on Untappd who trashed his beer for having diacetyl, but didn’t know how to spell “diacetyl”. Someone of twitter accused him of being a bully for this, but I think it is well within his right to poke fun at anyone who publically trashes his product online.

-Trillium has tentative plans to set up an estate brewery in North Stonington, CT.

-The Massachusetts senate has approved a bill that would allow farmer-brewers and distillers to sell their products at farmers markets.

Random Beer Thoughts-November 2016

-There was a good article by Aaron Goldfarb discussing how rarity seems to drive high ratings on Beer Advocate (and similar sites like Rate Beer and Untappd). If you look at the Beer Advocate Top 100 you will find a common theme, they are beers you probably won’t find in your local bottle shop. It is unfortunate that these sites have been overtaken by trophy hunters who care more about finding these high rated rare beers (and then bragging about it) instead of forming their own opinions based entirely on taste.

-I know I’ve ranted about this before, but seriously, next time you wait in line for some rare beer please stop into a local shop and ask for the best available versions of the same style and taste them blind. I think you’ll be shocked at how often you prefer the regularly available beer to the trophy beer.

-As competition increases, we’re seeing more niche breweries, each trying to occupy a specific segment of the market. We’ve had some success stories locally, like Notch with session beers. This can be a good way for a brewery to establish a brand, although they don’t have to stay in that niche. Night Shift started by almost exclusively making beers with uncommon adjunct ingredients, they have expanded well beyond that.

-Speaking of Night Shift, they launched their own distribution company, an interesting way around the restrictive laws that lock a brewer into a relationship with their distributor.

-Geary’s Brewing has seen a slow down in sales. This one is tough, Geary’s Pale Ale and HSA were two of the beers that started my journey away from cheap macro lager. They have also been one of the most stubbornly resistant breweries when it comes to the changing market. I remember stocking the cooler with most of the same beers they are still peddling when I worked an afterschool job 20 years ago. Consistency is good, but so is innovation.

Links:

-Last month I wrote extensively about my problems with growlers, The Mass Brew Bros have a good write up on the subject.

-Josh Bernstein writes about the importance of bottle dating, especially with hoppy beers. Clear and consistent dating is a big help, so is educating beer drinkers on the importance of checking said dates.

-Start Line Brewing is now open in Hopkinton.

-Lamplighter Brewing now has a full taproom open, with full pours in addition to growler fills.

-Battle Road Brewing Company is really, really close to opening . I am excited about this, it will become the closest brewery to my new home.

-Proclamation Ale is expanding with a new brewery in Warwick, RI. Love the few beers I’ve tried from these guys, and their beers sell quick when they make it up to the Boston area.

-Upland Brewing is now available in the Boston area. They are doing a bunch of launch events this week.

Random Beer Thoughts-October 2016

-When I visit a brewery that doesn’t can/bottle their beer yet I have found myself gravitating towards 32 oz. half-growlers instead of the full 64 oz. big-boys. I realize that this is typically less cost-effective, but would rather have 2 pints of 2 different beers than the 64 oz. commitment to a single style.

-On that topic, the Massachusetts law that breweries can only fill their own growlers is incredibly annoying. I only buy growlers if I have no other options and I still have way too many, I’m onto a second shelf in my basement just for empty growler storage. What is the point of this law exactly? Are they worried that someone will try to cheat the system and bring a 70 oz. container to get that extra beer? Couldn’t they just sell a standard growler that can be filled at any MA brewery that offers growler fills? Would anyone really object to that?

-I would love to buy more beer in crowlers (growler-like cans for the uninitiated), but there are very few local breweries that offer them right now.

-I recently heard a beer described as “it tastes like it was someone’s first attempt at a Mr. Beer kit.” Might be the best combination of clever and harsh that I’ve ever heard in a beer review.

-Revolution Brewing absolutely did the right thing recalling a huge amount of beer that had been contaminated with wild yeast. Too many breweries don’t take quality control as seriously as they should.

-In the last year I’ve notified three different breweries about quality issues. One was old beer on a store shelf, I should have checked before I bought it but the brewery still apologized. One was a bottle that was completely flat, the brewer offered a replacement. One was a clear example of oxidation, the brewery seemed to be aware of the problem but hadn’t taken any steps to remove the beers from the shelf (I tried two different styles that were both horribly oxidized).

-In the first two examples these were breweries I’ve enjoyed in the past and will give the benefit of the doubt, but anyone new to their product would probably be immediately turned off and they could lose a potential regular customer. The third example s a brewery I will avoid from here on out.

-As part of these random beer thoughts columns I am going to try and link to a few recent beer related articles that I’ve enjoyed over the last month, feel free to forward along anything that you think I should check out!

Links:

The Mass Brew Brothers ask “Will a Bay State Brewery Get Bought By Big Beer?” I don’t think it’s a question of “if”, it’s just a matter of time before it happens.

-Interesting news that Firestone Walker is discontinuing three year-round beers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more breweries cut back their year round options and focus on rotating and special releases to try and appease the portion of beer drinkers that are always chasing new beers.

Jason Notte ruffled a lot of feathers with his comparison of New York City and Portland, Oregon as beer towns. I was actually much less impressed with the beer scene in NYC on my last visit, I was hanging out with people who aren’t beer snobs and I was surprised by how dull the taplists were at the bars that weren’t beer-centric (which was everywhere we went). Could have just beer poor bar choices I guess.

Congratulations to Brazo Fuerte and founder Bev Armstrong on winning the 2017 Sam Adams Brewing and Business Experienceship!

Random Beer Thoughts: September 2016

This is a slightly new idea that I am playing around with. Every so often there are interesting tidbits, opinions and ideas that I have regarding beer, brewing, the industry, etc. that don’t necessitate a full post. Every so often I am going to try and compile a few of these thoughts into a “random beer thoughts” post. Some of these  are things I have previously shared/discussed on social media, so if you’ve already seen some of these I apologize (but thanks for reading my tweets). Let me know what you think!

-I have written many a couple articles about my distaste for seasonal creep, and it’s no coincidence that these gripes center around fall beers being released in July. Part of my issue is that I am not a fan of pumpkin beers, so I don’t need to see them on the shelves when it’s 90 degrees out. I also live in the Boston suburbs and have to commute in and out of the city everyday, which is much easier in the summer, so I don’t need any reminders that summer is coming to an end.

-One of the unintended perks of writing a craft beer blog is that anytime I have a get together my friends try to impress me with their beer selections. I had a few friends over for a BBQ at the end of the summer and the coolers (and eventually my beer fridge) ended stocked with beers from Ballast Point, Jack’s Abby, Allagash, Trillium, Notch and Riverwalk.

long-live-ipa-My friends Tim and Amanda drove up from Providence stocked up with Rhode Island beers that haven’t made it into Massachusetts yet. One of the highlights was definitely a couple growlers from Long Live Beerworks in Providence. Their IPA was very good and the session IPA was exceptional, one of the better SIPAs I’ve tried. Keep an eye on this brewery, I expect big things based on my first tastes.

-Overall I am a big fan of the industry shift towards cans, they are portable, no need to track down a bottle opener, and 16 oz. tallboys are an ideal serving size. The one negative is for homebrewers (like me), who relied on cleaning bottles to save a few bucks at the homebrew store. So many of the beers I buy are in cans now, so I find myself buying cases of empty bottles. I would love to keg my homebrew, but I haven’t gotten the approval from the boss to buy that system, plus it makes it harder to share/do a split batch with a friend.

-I think that all bottles and cans should have packaged-on dates, it’s especially important with hoppy beers but a good habit for brewers. That being said, I am terrible about checking the dates before I buy beer. There have been a few occasions recently where I’ve been disappointed by a beer and then checked the date and realized it’s well past it’s peak. Some of this is on bottle shops that need to keep better inventory, but way more is on me for not checking before I buy.

-As the local beer market gets more crowded between new breweries opening locally and more competition moving in from out of state, consistency and quality control become paramount to a brewery’s success. I’ve recently opened beers that have been completely flat or clearly oxidized. I have also a particular beer on different occasions and had it taste so different that I wondered if the batches were brewed with the same recipe. When I have these negative experiences it drastically lowers the chance that I’ll keep buying beers from the offending brewery. Brewers need to realize that one bad batch can alienate hundreds of potential customers and do everything in their power to maximize quality control.

-That’s all for today, let me know what you think of the new article style and I’ll try to make this a somewhat regular feature!