Blog Entries Tagged as beer

Crafting a Positive Message

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

I’ve found myself spreading the “craft beer word” quite a bit recently. Not really on purpose. It’s just that when you become familiar with the craft beer movement, it can become hard not to evangelize a little about it. After all, there are few stories in the beverage world these days that are as exciting as the meteoric rise we are seeing with craft.  And, it’s hard to not educate others about that and the fact that a fundamental shift is currently taking place in how Americans consume beer.

That shift, as you might expect, is still underreported when it comes to the mainstream press. Whether it’s on TV or in the newspapers, beer consumption can still automatically rack up its share of negative press coverage. Instead, few may be aware of what an economic powerhouse the craft movement has been for the U.S. Few probably know that as of June this year the U.S. recorded its highest number of breweries (2,126) in 125 years (in 1890, it had 2,011).

As a result, some still tend to look at the glass half empty when they hear beer. For example, I’ve recently found myself trying to convince some of my neighbors here in the Queens, N.Y. town where I live that a soon-to-open gastropub will actually be a big plus for our downtown shopping area. The pub says it will offer a wide selection of craft beer, whiskey, scotch and delicious foods to go with them. Sounds like a classy joint to me. Our downtown could use just the type of consumers who buy craft beer. That demographic tends to be young and educated and has money to spend, something our main shopping drag, already with its share of empty storefronts, could only benefit from. Unfortunately, some of my neighbors have immediately jumped to an opposite conclusion. They only see drunken patrons stumbling out onto the sidewalk, disturbing the peace.

Nevertheless, I continue to do my share to talk up the craft movement wherever I can. This Thanksgiving, I realized I had some unopened craft beer samples lying around my apartment (yes, one of the perks of being an editor of Beverage World is that we get our share of samples!). Suddenly it occurred to me that several of the people coming to Thanksgiving this year I knew to be beer lovers. Maybe a tasting was in order? It would kill two birds with one stone. After all, my Thanksgivings have several times in recent years taken a turn towards the Dark Side thanks to some bitter political divides. What better way to gird against the possibility of any more drama than by a pleasant beer tasting?

Turns out, my instincts were right on target. The beer tasting was a huge hit and even served to educate those around the table about the different varieties of craft beer. I think it opened some of the beer lovers’ eyes to the wider world that craft affords us all. And I’m happy to report, this exercise in beer discovery was just the thing to unite an otherwise politically polarized group soon after the bitterness of the recent election. Yes, craft beer at the Kaplan Family Thanksgiving was a uniter, not a divider. You might want to give it a try at your celebratory gatherings this month. Happy Holidays!

’Tis the Season

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier each year. Retail windows decorated in snowy wonderlands, Christmas tunes filling department stores and seasonal beverages appearing on restaurant and bar menus.
I always know the official Christmas season has begun when Starbucks switches over from its iconic white cups with green emblem to its red holiday cups; this year the coffee house chose snowmen, carolers and a fox in wintery scenes to welcome the holiday season.

I’m not the only one who looks forward to this changeover. A quick Google search reveals there is a website dedicated to counting down the days until the red cups return and millions of search results return for the words “Starbucks holiday cups.”

But the seasonal return of these fun and festive cups also seemed to come a bit earlier this year. It was early November when I walked into a Starbucks outside of the South Kensington tube station in London craving a Pumpkin Spice Latte only to find a menu of Christmas-themed coffees—Eggnog Latte, Gingerbread Latte, Toffee Nut Latte and Praline Mocha.

“Are you making Pumpkin Spice Lattes still?” I asked with my fingers crossed that they could still make the fall drink.

“No,” the barista replied. “I’m sorry.” So, I opted for the Praline Mocha, new for this Christmas. It’s warm bittersweet chocolate infused with the flavor of hazelnut combined with espresso and steamed milk topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of mocha sauce.

Even though I was disappointed that fall was over and winter had begun—at Starbucks, anyway—I found myself switching gears and getting into the holiday spirit, making a mental Christmas list, getting excited about upcoming holiday parties and enjoying my tall Praline Mocha, no whip.

On the alcohol side, breweries continue their seasonal offerings moving into darker beers, bourbon barrel aged ales, beers with higher alcohol. Anheuser-Busch Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale, Freemont Brewing’s Bourbon Barrel Abominable and Widmer Brothers Brrr Seasonal Ale are just among a few of the many beers crafted to warm us up during the winter months.

At a recent Bacardi holiday event, the brand showcased how to spice up the holiday season with drinks other than traditional eggnog. Take the Coquito for example. A traditional holiday drink of Puerto Rico, the Coquito is made with half a bottle of Bacardi Superior, one can of evaporated milk, one can of condensed milk, two cans of cream of coconut and two teaspoons of cinnamon. Slowly blend the evaporated milk, condensed milk and the cream and coconut. Then add the cinnamon and slowly add Bacardi Superior until everything is incorporated.

Brand ambassador David Cid took us through a selection of five other cocktails at NY’s Abe & Arthur’s—The Bacardi Cocktail, The Selleck, Airmail, Bacardi Holiday Punch and La Noche. Bacardi Holiday Punch, for instance, consists of 750 ml of Bacardi Superior or Bacardi Gold rum, 2 liters of ginger ale chilled, 8 ounces of orange juice, one ounce of lime juice and one and one-half ounce of lemon juice.

Now that the holidays have officially arrived, take your drink menus to the next level and introduce your guests to some new flavors. Happy holidays.

The Teacher Has Become the Student

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

My wife and I just went on what was quite possibly the best brewery tour we'd ever been on (and believe me, we've been on a lot of them). It was at London's Meantime Brewing Company, a 13-year-old craft operation that takes its name from the fact that it's situated in the chronological capital of the world, Greenwich.

When tour leader Alex (a quite dynamic guide) learned we were from the States he couldn't stop gushing about the U.S. craft beer scene and how the U.K. is about 15 years behind the American movement. Wait a minute. BEHIND? A great deal of American craft brewers took a cue from classic styles from Britain (as well as, of course, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic) when developing their own products. Beer travelers from the U.S. trek across the pond to drink cask-conditioned Real Ale. And a lot of the U.S. craft brewers offer cask versions of their own products, again a nod to the classic British tradition.

But now there are breweries like Meantime whose offerings are heavily influenced by the styles popularized by American craft brewers—those same styles whose ancestors were European and tweaked and reinvented over time. American pale ale is of course a descendant of English pale ale. The same goes, of course for American IPAs, which evolved from British India Pale Ales, which were more aggressively hopped and had a higher ABV to preserve them for the 18,000-mile pre-canal-era voyage from England to thirsty colonial troops in India.

The walls of Meantime's tasting room were filled with bottles from around the world with a disproportionately large section devoted to U.S. craft brews. Others visiting the brewery were eager to tell us how much they loved beers from the likes Brooklyn Brewery or Stone.

And it's not just the U.K. The brewing boomerang has flown back to Belgium as well, with U.S.-influenced styles like Belgian IPA emerging.

It's hard to believe that not too long ago Europeans considered American beers a total joke. But who's laughing now?

 

 

Fighting Words

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

 

It’s time to tone down the language a bit. No, I’m not suggesting everyone’s got to keep their daily discourse airplane-friendly by filtering out expletives. I’ve been known to use a colorful metaphor or three from time to time (just ask anyone who works with me). What I’m proposing is that we take the inter-category smack-talk down a notch.

Last month at the National Beer Wholesalers Association’s 75th annual convention in San Diego, the usual hand-wringing over wine and spirits grabbing more and more of beer’s alcohol market share took place, but it seems like the verbiage being used in such discussions has been amped up quite a bit (and I’ve gone to every one of these conventions in the past decade, so I’ve got a pretty good personal history to draw upon). 

It was one of many topics of conversation on the panel of beer executives including Bill Hackett of Crown Imports, Luiz Edmond of Anheuser-Busch, Tom Long of MillerCoors, Dolf van den Brink of Heineken USA and, from the craft realm, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. 

During the course of the panel, I heard terms like “threats” and “adversaries,” being used to describe the wine and spirits categories. Pledges to “kick” wine and spirits’ “rear”—and less euphemistic terms—were hurled around. 

I get it, it’s a very competitive market place and competition is what makes the beverage and any other market great. But what’s being lost in all of the posturing and machismo is that fact that consumers, by and large really don’t care. There are actually very few drinkers of alcohol beverages that only drink from one category. Most are cross drinkers. I myself am a cross drinker. I’ve made no secret of my partisanship toward craft beer, but I do enjoy drinking a good glass of Cabernet, a single malt Scotch or a straight bourbon pretty frequently. I’ve taken personal trips to beer-centric areas like Belgium and Asheville, N.C. But I’ve also spent multiple vacation days in Napa. And I recently figured out how to make a pretty good mint julep (if I do say so myself), which has found a spot on my growing list of go-to drinks. 

The cross-category lines have blurred in distribution as well. Beer distributors increasingly have taken on products beyond their core segment, including wine and spirits. Look at a major wine and spirits distributor like Wirtz, which does some pretty healthy beer volume. 

In my cover story on the craft distilling movement, I talk to Rick Steckler of Click Wholesale, which has made a name for itself distributing beer and wine. With the privatization of spirits sales in the state of Washington, the company saw an opportunity to use its existing distribution infrastructure to excel in the spirits segment as well. 

I hardly think companies like Click or Wirtz are pitting one segment against another with such hostile rhetoric.

The mission of the Beer Institute has been to build “Brand Beer”—as well it should be because that’s within the organization’s purview. However, as an editor of a magazine that serves all drinks categories and as a consumer who drinks a little bit of everything I’m becoming an advocate for something more radical: Brand Beverage.  

The Festive Season

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

 

Since the Great American Beer Festival is going on right about now (and I am happily among the 50,000 strong at the annual Super Bowl of beer in Denver), I’ve been thinking a great deal about the festival experience. And I’m not the only one: If you tuned in last month to our webcast, “Craft Beer’s Climb: Tapping Into Profit,” you will have heard panelists Irene Firmat (Full Sail Brewing Co.) and Dale Katechis (Oskar Blues Brewing Co.) share their own festival memories, both good and bad. 

The consensus seems to be that when brands are determining which festivals to be a part of, steer clear of the ones organized by opportunistic promoters looking for nothing more than to cash in on one of the hottest trends in the beverage business. Stick with the ones that have a proven track record or, if the fest is new to the scene, are run by organizations, individuals or groups that are reputable within the craft beer world (or wine, spirits, etc., if it’s a festival for one of those sectors).

You also can get a good sense of the quality of a festival just by looking at the quality of the attendees. Are they, by and large, aficionados/curious consumers looking to sample new offerings and enhance their beer education in the process or are they fratboy binge drinkers looking to consume as much volume as is humanly possible in the space of a four-hour tasting session? If the answer is yes to the former and no to the latter than it’s a pretty safe bet to align your brands with such an event. 

The events that offer the best experiences for beer drinkers tend to be the ones that sell out quickly and are talked up incessantly across social media. 

Then there are those that, in many ways, transcend even the best of them. It’s one thing to participate in a festival and connect face-to-face with your brand’s biggest fans. It’s an entirely different scenario when your brand IS the festival. That’s what struck me about this year’s edition of Brewery Ommegang’s annual Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, presented this past August on the vast, 140-acre grounds of the Upstate New York farmhouse brewery. It was the first time I had been since 2007 (having been in 2005 and 2006 as well) and the event was bigger than ever. Tickets always sell out in minutes based on reputation alone, and this year was no exception. Craft beer lovers make the trek into the countryside, turning the brewery property into a sprawling tent city for the weekend as they camp on site following the afternoon tasting session. Imagine that the brand profile you’ve created is such that—for a weekend at least—you don’t have to reach out to where consumers are; they come to you. And it’s also a testament to the dynamic of the segment you’re in that you invite 50 or 60 other brewers—what most would call “competition”—to sample their wares alongside your own. There’s a good chance that many of those visiting products might be superior to your own, but that matters little because A.) as the cliché goes (and as I’ve heard repeatedly from craft brewing evangelists) a rising tide lifts all boats and B.) everyone there knows it’s your house and your party. 

Now that’s what I call branding.