The Problem with Cellaring

Cellaring. I hate the term, but I’ll use it for simplicity. My “cellar” consists of a couple of shelves in my pantry. I have about 10 beers, which I’m sure makes me a filthy casual to a lot of you. Hang on a minute though. This time next year, those 10 beers will have been swapped out and replaced with new ones at least a dozen times. I don’t have the patience or the desire to age a beer long enough that it “peaks”. Beer is meant to be drank…drunk? Consumed. I know some guys that have beers they’re saving for a special occasion, which at this point is nothing short of Bill Murray showing up.

Collins IPA

Maybe it’s my lack of willpower or having zero self-control, but I don’t want to wait years to drink a beer that I was only able to find a single bottle of. Asking me to wait five years to drink a beer would be like asking me to wait till June to open my Christmas presents. It ain’t happening. The longest I think I’ve ever been able to manage was two years, and it was entirely by accident. I found four bottles of Prairie Ale Christmas Bomb in a filing cabinet drawer when I was moving. Once I discovered them, they were chilled and in a glass within days.

I recently waited in line at Jester King for their first spontaneous fermentation release, aptly named Spon. It’s amazing, FYI, but that’s a story for another day. Jester King is located in Austin, Texas and Austinites waited in line the only way they know how. Folding chairs, breakfast tacos, and mimosas. It was a great time and I met some kick ass people that were camped around me waiting to get their allotment. I met a guy who we’ll call Josef. Josef was an interesting, friendly, affable guy. He cracked jokes, shared his beverages, and gladly accepted breakfast tacos. Over the course of the morning, our group got to know each other, like you do. As we went around introducing ourselves, it got to be Josef’s turn. It turns out that Josef is one of the few people that I will allow to say he has a beer cellar without doing air quotes. Josef dedicated an entire room of his Houston home to beer. Going so far as to completely block of a window and adding extra layers of insulation to the walls to keep his shelves upon shelves of beer at the optimal temperature. He took it a step further and showed me the google doc spreadsheet he used to keep track of each and every beer. Josef had a staggering 1,783 bottles of beer in his cellar.

Jester King El Cedro

I understand hobbies, and I understand the joy of collecting, but I just can’t understand such extreme delayed gratification. I suppose it comes down to the thrill of the hunt and having a bigger trophy room than the other guys. Josef was like a proud papa and couldn’t wait to show off his spreadsheet of hundreds of beers and I’ll admit my nipples got hard as I scanned the list. He even tried to offer me a portion of his collection in exchange for my share of the bottles I was standing in line for that day. I declined.

When cellaring, it will always be better tomorrow. Then you might as well wait two days. Heck, make it a week. And so on, and so on. I say, enjoy it now. What are we waiting for exactly? Set up a bottle share and have a tasting. Don’t let anything sit for more than a year. Let’s turn that inventory and actually drink the beer we spend so much money on. Why cellar till tomorrow what you can drink today? To steal shamelessly from the movie Sideways, “the day you open that special bottle, THAT’S the special occasion”. Yes, I know Sideways is a movie about wine, but fuck you.

Beer Bros: Worse Than Beer Snobs

I’ve begun to notice a disturbing newcomer to brewery tap rooms. I assume they’re new anyways, because you can’t possibly ignore them.Frat boys and douche bags are going to craft beer bars and tap rooms in alarming numbers. I forever dub them, beer bros. You know they type. Never alone, but in large groups, these loud and obnoxious dudes are there to party, and they’re gonna fucking let you know. Lining up at the bar, they demand the attention of every server and make the line back up because it takes forever to find the beer that’s closest to bud light. They aren’t here to sample the breweries seasonals or their favorite local IPA, they’re here to get wasted, and have a good time while doing it. Shouting across the tap room is common, as is far to frequent bursts of laughter and even louder one-up manship stories. Exactly how I wanted to spend my Saturday…

scared beer bros
They must have seen a strong, independent woman

In my opinion, this newcomer to the craft beer scene is worse than the ale hole beer snob. While the beer snob is just as annoying in their own special ways, at least you feel like they belong. Their only true crime was that they took their love of craft beer too far. The beer bro has no intention of ever developing their palate or furthering their appreciation of a fine craft beer. They’re here to drink and fuck bitches, and they’re almost done drinking. “What’s the closest thing to bud light you have,” is their favorite question. Please, oh please, get the fuck out of here. I’ve seen large groups of these douche bags completely change the mood of a tap room in minutes flat. As a former bartender, I found them to be the worst kind of patron, barring those that came into a brewery asking for a cocktail.

The only reason I can fathom that they would even be at a brewery in the first place is cause they’ve heard around campus that it’s what’s cool these days. Women ages 21-34 are one of craft beers fastest growing demographics. So the chance to be trendy and pretend like you might get laid is too good to pass up. So they all pile into their buddies Suburban and take the local brewery taproom by storm.

In my writing, I normally point out what I believe is an issue in the craft beer community, bitch about it a little, then provide what I feel would be a viable solution. This one stumps me though. I’d normally say something like we should try to teach them about beer, how to enjoy it as a hobby and develop their knowledge base. I believe those efforts would be fruitless with these leg day skipping, tank top wearing knuckleheads, though. So what are we to do?

The only real option I can come up with is to beseech the tap room managers and brewery owners. I get that you’re running a business and want to make money, but at least set some standards for your patrons. That group of six guys you don’t want to run off is bugging the piss out of the 30 other people in the tap room. We wouldn’t be upset one bit if you ran them off, in fact, we’d probably be so grateful we’d order another round.

Oasis menu small

I’m guessing I sound a bit unwelcoming right now, and maybe you’re right, but I don’t burst into wine bars and cause a scene when they only have a few beers on tap. A certain amount of conforming to your surroundings is expected, so why should the craft beer industry be any different? It is well beyond the days of being an upstart where any and all were welcome. So why not take the success and start laying out some ground rules? I wouldn’t move to Germany and expect everyone to speak English. It’s perfectly fine to fly your flag, just don’t wave it around and shout in my face using a bull horn.

I’ll even directly address the beer bros here. You are not welcome. Not without a serious attitude change. You aren’t being cute or funny. You’re being a jackass. Ditch the bravado and pretty much all of your friends and maybe we can have a conversation about craft beer. Otherwise, please, oh please, stay at the frat house. Here’s a hint, if you want the closest thing to Bud Light you can find, just go buy Bud Light.

Navigate the Beer Aisle: How to Decide Which Beer to Buy

It’s Friday afternoon and there you are, standing slack jawed in the beer aisle with a bewildered look on your face. Looking up and down, up and down. Pacing back and forth like a pigeon. You’re scared stiff to make a decision about what beer to buy in case you fuck up. You want to try something new, but instead you finally pick up a sixer of the same pale ale you always get. “Hey, it’s locally brewed and canned,” you tell yourself. You always support local. If this sounds familiar, then you’re in good company. It seems every time I go to the beer aisle there is at least half a dozen people wringing their hands about what beer they should get. They all look so pretty and shiny, how do you choose?

All that beer can be daunting. Beers from across the globe and just up the street, lined up for display. Brightly colored cans and labels nearly give you a seizure as you try to locate the style among all the clever names and graphics. No wonder making a decision is hard. It’s the paradox of choice. Too many decisions can make us paralyzed and unable to pick anything. However, this effect can be mitigated with a few simple tricks.

Beer Aisle

Have an idea of what you want BEFORE you get to the store

You’re the guy who waits till he gets to the front of the line at the bar to think about what he wants aren’t you? Since you always get the same thing there too, making decisions under pressure might not be your strong suit. Before you get out of your car, take a breath, and actually make a conscious decision about what you want. In the mood for an IPA? Well great, that narrows it down. Now you can focus in on a particular style. The same way you shouldn’t go shopping without a grocery list, choosing a beer without a clear idea of what you want is a no-no.

Might I suggest that you go outside your comfort zone a bit as well. If you always drink IPAs, why not go for a Pilsner instead? Variety is the spice of life, so shake things up a bit. You could even focus in on different styles that blend things you know you already enjoy. Try a hoppy amber ale, or an imperial Pilsner. They might be the gateway into different styles you didn’t know you’d enjoy. If you have a good bottle shop nearby, you could always do the opposite, though. Just choose everything. Fill a six pack with everything that catches your eye and make a do it yourself flight. Why not, right?

Use your smart phone you dummy

Useful for more than just sending dick pics to that girl you’re chatting up on tinder, your phone can actually be in incredible source of information for choosing your next beer. I’m sure you have Untappd installed, but you likely don’t use its full capacity. Have you ever noticed that when you check in a beer it will give you suggestions for others you might enjoy? Just tap the plus sign and they’re added to your wish list. Check your list for beers and hunt them down. Pretend you’re playing Pokemon Go and catch them all.

Did you also know that you can use your phone to check and see what others think about the beer you’re contemplating? Check reviews to see what the masses say. If 50% say it’s a drain pour, then maybe put it back on the shelf and scratch it off the list. Try not to get too caught up in reviews though. If I want to see a movie that gets bad reviews, I usually go with my gut. Finding a critic you generally agree with is also a good tactic. As always, remember to use your functioning brain though.

Ask the staff

Scared of technology? If you are, then human interaction maybe a tall order, but consider actually taking the guy keeping the beer aisle stocked offer when he asks if he can help you with anything. Odds are he knows a good bit about it if hes chosen to spend his days roaming up and down aisles of beer for a living. Here are a few sample questions you might try:

I enjoy [blank]. Do you have any suggestions?

Do you have anything new in?

What is your favorite new beer you’ve tried recently?

Not brain busting stuff for sure, but it can be tough to ask for help sometimes. Maybe it’s a cliché, but I’ve seen women ask for suggestion much more often than men. Don’t be afraid to ask for helps fellas. Odds are the friendly bearded guy in the red polo is more than happy to point you in the right direction. If you go to the same bottle shop often enough to become a regular, you might even build enough cred to have the staff notify you of special releases or if you’re really lucky, hold back a secret stash for you. This is far and away the best way to find some whales, bro.

The beer aisle is massive, and growing larger and growing daily. You’ll never, ever try them all, but it helps to know the landscape. Even if you started at the top left and started working your way to the bottom right, you wouldn’t make it a single case over before they rearranged and you had to start completely over. A few minutes of thoughtful consideration and prep work is all you need to spend less time in the market and actually enjoying a delicious brew. Now just freaking pick something and get the weekend started!

5 Craft Beer Trends that are Ridiculous

The craft beer industry seems to be a bit bipolar lately, and craft beer trends are getting a bit out of hand. It’s like they can’t make up their mind really. Every brewery focuses on simple, quality beers, while maintaining a barrel program along with a constantly rotating seasonal sour. This one has grapefruit! Back in the day, it was easy for a new brewery to stand out. Offer a Belgian in your line up of five IPAs and BAM! Instant notoriety. These days, not so much. The market is no longer starved for variety, but rather is flooded by it. Instead of happily lapping up whatever breweries produce, the customer now dictates what is made. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Eeeeeeeeh. *Shoulder shrug. Considering every other industry tells you what you’ll be buying next season and you’ll like it or else, it’s tough to say.

I definitely enjoy variety, but never wander too far from the classics. Craft beer trends can be amazing experiments with new styles, but chasing down the next big thing can be short sighted if it goes too far. Get consumed by the latest and greatest can cause quality to slip, and quality is key. Here are the latest trends that you’ve seen on the tap room chalkboard.

sour beer with a field in the background

Sour all the beers

Do you have any sour beers? Shame on you if you go into your local taproom and ask this question. First, it means you didn’t bother to read the tap list on the giant chalkboard behind the bar. Second, if a brewery has a sour beer, these days they’re gonna fucking let you know. Kind of like vegans and people who do Crossfit. It’s possibly the king of the craft beer trends these days. Personally, I enjoy sours. I enjoy them a lot. The problem is that sour beers are more difficult and expensive to make, which therefore makes them more expensive to buy. There was a time when most beers were sour due to our flimsy understanding of sanitary technique. Modern brewing practices removed the germs that caused the sour flavor present in almost every beer, giving rise to beer as we know it today. Then one day, someone decided to through sanitary technique out the window, and the modern sour beer craze was born.

Keep it simple stupid

Okay, to be fair, I’m all for the latest craft beer trend of focusing on simplicity. What’s ridiculous is that more breweries aren’t doing it. It’s like a modern day Reinheitsgebot. Sometimes you want a simple, easy to drink beer. I’m tired, it’s been a long day, and I don’t feel like digging out my tasting notebook. Before you string me up by my toenails, let me clarify. Simple beers don’t mean just simple ingredients. SMaSH beers can be amazing, but a deliciously hoppy IPA with floral notes can be simple. A peanut butter imperial stout can be simple. A grapefruit, cherry sour can be simple. It’s not the ingredient list that makes something simple, in my opinion. It’s focus, repeatability, and a clear goal. Too many breweries are chasing the market, and a bold few have dug in their heels and said no more! They are focusing on only a few things, and they’re doing it well.

If it’s not sour, put fruit in it

The fastest growing segment of craft beer drinkers is women. They consume 15% of all craft beer sold and sure as shit breweries are trying to capture that market share. Of course women hate bitter beers and love fruity cocktails, right? So shove as much pineapple and mango as you can into your IPA then maybe, just maybe, they might like it. Be careful who you say that shit around. Besides being sexist and flat out wrong, it’s pretty short sighted. You can thank Bud-Lime for making this a thing. They did a damn good job at capturing the younger college crowd with their fruit beers and making it okay for craft brewers to throw creativity out the window and just fruit their base beer recipe. Working hard to develop a recipe with the perfect hop schedule to produce a floral, grapefruit flavor and aroma, fuck that noise, throw a shit ton of grapefruit in the kettle and call it a day. That single flavor is so overwhelming that nothing else can possible break through, but hey, you sold more units to the female 21-34 demographic, so call it a win.

Do you have a barrel program?

You know what would make this beer better? Bourbon. Or gin, or wine, or cat piss. Etsy shop owners and Pinterest crafters have got to be upset that craft breweries are snatching up all the used barrels for their own selfish needs. Now how are they gonna make that barrel stave coffee table? If you can’t sour it or shove fruit in it, then shove it in a barrel! Don’t make a stout that’s good enough to stand out on its own? No problem, use the flavors of someone else’s actually good alcohol to make yours less bad. Could it be possible that it’s a case of two great flavors tasting great together? Maybe, but I’m a bit on the fence. I’ve had some damn good barrel aged beers, but what am I enjoying? Take the barrel aged aspect away and my gut tells me I’d have a “meh” beer left in my glass.

Barrel Aged Beer

All of the above!

Fuck it. Puree’ some pineapple, roll out that chardonnay barrel, and let’s dump it all in with that funky IPA we made. Shake the whole thing up and sell it for $20 a bomber. My god, it’s genius. Wait, that’s not exactly simple. Hmmmmm, we’ll say it goes down smooth and easy. Phew, that was close. I imagine if I were a fly on the wall in some craft breweries that I’d have overheard an eerily similar conversation taking place. Some beers lately are abominations of style. Made of so many different parts that they all are struggling for dominance, and ultimately they all lose. Can it be done and done well? Of course. There are loads of Belgian breweries out there that can produce a wonderfully tart yet fruity farmhouse barrel aged sour.  You know what they have that almost all American craft breweries don’t? Experience.

You’d be forgiven if at this point in the article you thought I was completely against experimentation and pushing the boundary of what craft beer can be. I swear that’s not the case. What I’m against is the industry trying to sell me a sandwich that’s 97% shit, 3% ham, and trying to convince me it’s a ham sandwich. Experiment, try new things, go nuts, but don’t dare put it on the market unless it’s the best you have to offer. That being said, even someone’s best doesn’t always carry them across the finish line.

Homebrewer to Probrewer: Taking the Leap

Admit it. You dream of becoming a probrewer. Not long after your first brew day with your first shitty Mr. Beer kit, you were hooked. Not long after that first homebrew session you began to daydream about the possibility of going pro and brewing full time. You don’t really know anything about what it takes to go from homebrewer to probrewer, but who cares. It’s just a random passing thought as you huddle around your propane burner, almost willing your wort into a rolling boil. However, for a select few of you, it’s more than just a daydream. You’re actively planning on quitting your day job and putting your money where your mouth is.

I reached out to the Reddit community and asked if any brewers in potentia would mind filling out a brief survey. The response was much better than I expected and the comments, I believe, were incredibly revealing about the type of person takes the leap to becoming a Master Brewer. I was less interested in the nuts and bolts of their plan than I was about their motivations and backgrounds. Here are the broad strokes.

potential probrewer

What is your professional background?

Naturally, this one was all over the board. There did seem to be a few more engineers in the crowd though, with five out of the 12 respondents having a background in some sort of engineering. To me, this makes a bit of sense, and I base this on nothing more than my opinion and the engineers that I know. Brewing is a technical process and requires a keen eye, scientific mind, and attention to detail. There are plenty of careers that require those skills, but engineers seem to always have them in spades.

The remaining respondents had a mixed bag of careers and vocations, ranging from military, to accounting, to bartender, to even a chemist who specialized in brewing science. I’m not sure what the common thread there is when it comes to work experience and wannabe brewers, or even if there is one. My gut tells me that the one thing everyone of them has though is work ethic. You can’t be a slouch and be a professional brewer. It’s hard, dirty, manual work, and anyone who isn’t up for it will be weeded out damn quick.

How long have you been planning to go pro as a brewer?

Again, across the board on this one. From as little as 3 months, to as long as 8 years. I’ll admit it’s rattled around in my brain on the high side of this range. The question I neglected to ask is the one I’m willing to bet has a strong correlation to the answers given. “How long have you been homebrewing?” Practically every homebrewer I know didn’t make it more than a few brew days in before they started day dreaming about what it might be like to do this as a living.

Is there anything holding you back from tacking the next step?

There are clearly two major factors at play when it comes to making to leap from homebrewer to pro brewer. Know how, and cold, hard cash. Money is easy enough to understand. Anyone who does a quick Google search learns very quickly that opening a brewery costs. A lot. Few have the kind of start up capital needed to open the doors and purchase equipment on their own, so they have to seek funds elsewhere. Which quickly leads into the next hurdle. How? No one just lends you money without a plan these days, so you quickly dive into a business plan. Many respondents said they were working on or had finished their business plans. So, depending on how in depth they went, they should at least be starting to educate themselves on the theoretical bits about how to operate a brewery. However, a business plan doesn’t mean you know how to actually do anything, one respondent said, echoing a sentiment shared by Matt Cutter of Upslope Brewing Co.

At any point, have you had a “reality check?”

The majority of the panel stated that they considered it a reality check when they realized that they would have to leave a financially stable and lucrative career for on that would likely be neither. It can be tough to leave behind a steady paycheck and stable hours for such large unknowns. The hours are typically long, hard, and while it may pay the bills, being a brewer is rarely the path to riches. The fear of failure and lack of knowledge were also high on several’s list of reasons for not quite taking the next step. You can definitely argue that this is true of any business and carry the exact same risks of failure and crippling debt.

Do you intend to become a brewer full time, or will you keep your day job until it becomes profitable?

All in baby! Most believed that to be successful, opening the doors of a brewery would require 100% of their focus. A couple stated practical reasons for wanting to keep their day jobs, but that they would abandon their careers at the first possible moment. It makes all the sense in the world, too. Splitting your focus splits your results, and running a successful brewery is no part time venture. I’ve spoken to brewer after brewer, and 50-80 work weeks seem to very common. Punching a time clock and working 9-5 is exceedingly rare in start ups.

nano brewery

How supportive have others been of your decision?

Brewers in potentia seem to have a strong support network. 100% said that everyone around the encouraged them to move forward and follow their dream. The only time that this was not quite the case, was when that person was directly affected by the brewers money situation. Significant others and spouses, while encouraging, were a bit more practical about their support than others that had no skin in the game. Supporting a wife and children on a brewer’s paycheck, plus the long hours required could put a strain on any relationship, not matter how enthusiastic they might be.

Do you feel that the craft beer market is over saturated or could become so before you open your doors?

The consensus is yes. With just over 4,500 breweries operating in the US, it’s getting harder and harder to stand out. Whether it be wishful thinking or blind hope, many think that there is room for a few more. Their brewery being one of the few. It also seems to depend on location. There are still plenty of regions in the country that are under served. Many states still have antiquated laws that prevent new breweries from being able to open their doors in meaningful numbers. This is changing though, and in some places very quickly. It won’t be long before nearly every where you go in the country, you can enjoy a delicious, locally brewed craft beer.

How do you intend to stand out?

The theoretical brewmasters have a lot of big ideas when it comes to branding. Focusing heavily on one offs and seasonals, simple beers, quality, to none of my fucking business! A few kept it close to the chest, but everyone agreed that the focus should be on the beer, first and foremost. It falls apart after that though. There were as many ideas on how to stand out as there were respondents. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and each brewery and brewmaster has something unique to offer. Which is good, because they also agreed that simply making good, even great beer wasn’t enough these days. Breweries have to offer the complete experience.

When I first sent out my survey, I was really interested to see what all the wannabe brewery owners were going to say. Their responses ranged from the expected to the surprising and gave a neat little slice into the type of person that would do something so crazy as open a brewery. What about you? Ever dream of just saying “oh, fuck it all!” and running off to make beer all day? Yes? Well what’s stopping you?

How to be a Better Beer Snob

You’ve decided that it’s time to up your game. Not content to be your average craft beer drinker, you need to take it to the next level and become a true beer snob. Problem is, where do you start? It’s not enough to simply learn about something you’re passionate about through articles, experimentation, and through the act of just enjoying something. No, no, no. You have to let everyone around you know that you are a level above them. Since it’s impossible to be a beer snob by elevating yourself with actual knowledge, you have to put others down with a series of cleverly crafted elements. If you do the following, your guaranteed to be seen as the expert you truly aren’t.

Beer Snob

Glassware. Glassware everywhere.

You already have way more pint glasses than friends, but that’s merely the beginning, young grasshopper. Make room in the cabinet, because you’re about to level up. Tulips, snifters, nonicks, goblets, and much, much more. You have the right glass for every beer imaginable. Having a hefeweizen? Use the vase. Prefer a lambic? This flute is the only way to enjoy it. Do they make a difference in the beer? Heck if you can tell. They all smell and taste the same no matter the glass, but that’s not the point. Like a mechanic, you have the right tool for the job.

Cellar Your Beer

And by “cellar” I mean put a bunch of bombers you don’t intend to drink for the next few years in the mini fridge you’ve had since college. You have beers in there that you’ve never tasted before, so who knows if letting them stew a few extra years is actually going to improve the flavor. It could be that the funky bile you plopped a cool 20 down for is just having its essence of piss concentrated. Also, when it comes to “cellaring”, be sure to ask other, lesser beer snobs if you should open [insert random bottle]. Whether you intend to or not. Drinking the beer is hardly the point. The point is that others know you have [Insert hard to find beer] and are wringing your hands about extracting as much flavor from it as possible.

Purchase Thesaurus

Not only is your thesaurus terrible, it’s terrible! Use it to look up as many synonyms for “dank” as possible. Also be sure the throw in as many scientific terms as you can when describing beer. Using them correctly is not as important as just using them. Brettanomyces, acetaldehyde, lactobacillus, these are the golden words and should be dropped casually. Ask your bartender if you knows what the plato of the barrel aged imperial red you just ordered. Oh, you meant to say original gravity. You’re so OG.

Thesaurus

Take Notes and Obsessively Check Into Untappd

Look at your beer. Inspect every shade of brown. Observe how the bubbles caress the side of the glass. Take delicate whiffs. Take the smallest sip. Then put it down and begin writing furiously in your moleskin. You’re not drinking alone because you have no friends, this is intense study. After all you have your Certified Beer Server exam coming up. Be sure to write down how you can detect the citrusy notes at the beginning of your sip, a crisp maltiness in middle, and a bitter finish. Oh shit, you almost forgot to check your beer into Untappd. Don’t forget the picture and the geotag. Sweet, you earned another badge. I believe in IPA! (Level 110). Once you reach 200 you’ll be legit.

Being a Beer Snob is hard, thankless work. Someone has to do it though, and you’ve risen to the challenge. You study, scrutinize, and lock away bombers for years in your “cellar”, all so you can attain the Wisdom of Solomon, when it comes to beer at least. You still have a few more badges to collect on Untappd before you earn your flannel shirt and mustache wax though.

Beer Festivals Kind of Suck

Your city is throwing several huge craft beer festivals this season! Every local brewery you’ve already tried before will be giving samples of beers you don’t really like as well as a few “experimental” beers that aren’t very good. You spend your hard earned money on the VIP tickets which gets you entrance an hour before the other peasants as well as a shitty t-shirt that’s between sizes and has every square inch of the back inked up with the entire brewery line up. You wait in line to be served foamy one ounce pours that cost a single precious ticket. Better choose wisely, you only have 10 and it’s a cool $20 if you want 10 more. Having a blast yet? Yeah, me neither.

Beer festivals, by and large, are hardly worth it. They’re over priced, the lines are crazy long, and rarely feature anything I can’t pick up at the bottle shop down the street. Oh hey, my third favorite food truck is here though. So it has that going for it, I guess. What do other festivals have going for them that ones centered around beer just don’t? Well, for starters, usually lots more of what the festival is featuring. Go to a music festival and you can rock your face off at 4 different stages. My local ice cream festival should come with an insulin shot for the price of admission. The hot sauce festival will have you howling for a week every time you go to the bathroom.

The greatest of all beer festivals
This Beer Fest is definitely worth the price of admission
(Photo by Johannes Simon)

The straw that broke the camels back for me was the most recent fest I attended. $40 for admission, a shitty plastic cup, and 10 tickets for 10 two ounce pours. So 20 ounces total, or less than two full beers. At $2 and ounce, it had better taste like liquid gold. Oh, and some “special” beers required two tickets. I totally get that some festivals are better and some are worse, but they’re only slightly better and can be a heckuvalot worse. Not to condone over drinking, but a $40 bar tab is a hell of a night.

The other big beef I have with beer festivals, is that brewers don’t always attend. They send their representatives, or it’s some Joe Schmoe volunteer looking to score free booze. Why am I standing around in the heat to get thimble fulls of beer if I can’t even discuss the subtleties of stale piss water with the guy who actually made it? I really don’t want to play 20 questions, I just want to give props to the men who work hard so that I can enjoy myself. If I don’t like the beer, I give constructive feedback. I don’t blast them.

So how do we fix the problem? I’ve read articles on beer festivals saying that if the majority of breweries featured aren’t local, then that’s a bad sign. I tend to disagree. People do travel for beer festivals, true, but I’d wager that demographic is by far the smallest percentage. I’m a local going to a local beer fest. I can have any of these breweries anytime I want. Mix it up! Please, show me something new, I’m begging you. Distribution laws are slowing catching up with this century, but by and large, they have a long way to go. If there were a lineup of breweries that were hard to get, I’d gladly hand over my first born.

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Another issue is the amount of beer I’m given. States often mandate the amount you can be served at festivals, so there’s little to be done about the number of tickets you can give me. Can I buy a full beer if I want? If not, that usually means someone didn’t spring for the right permit. Pay the extra and file the paperwork. I know you’ll up charge me for it, but maybe I wont mind if I can walk away with an honest to goodness full beer in hand.

I also feel like some sort of food should be provided. Doesn’t have to be much. Cheese and meat samples, pretzels, beer nuts. All solid choices and would help to soak up the booze. It’s generally a good idea to eat when you have alcohol. Standing in line to pay too much for a food truck then stand around for a half an hour waiting on my meal is one way to sober me up I guess. Then again the beer isn’t gonna drink itself, and those lines are pretty long, too.

All that being said, I’m planning a trip to Denver this October for the Great American Beer Festival and I can’t wait. Even considering the things I don’t like about beer festivals, inexplicably, I usually wind up having a good time. How is this even possible with so many cons? Like so many things in life, the positives far outweigh the negatives. I got to spend the day with friends. I got to eat at my third favorite food truck and the band that was playing has a kinda cute singer and she didn’t exactly suck. Any day drinking beer and enjoying life beats the hell out of most everything else.

Top Beers for Celebrating Memorial Day

For many, Memorial day is the start of Summer. Barbeques, bikinis, and all day drinking are just around the corner. It’s a holiday of remembrance. While most may not have lost anyone personally, it’s still good to observe for all those lost in service to our country. You’re going to grill, no question, you’re going to burn the steaks, again. Since you really need to show you don’t fuck up everything you touch, your choice of beer is a very important one. There are plenty of brewers out there that bleed red, white, and blue and dozens of beers that reek of patriotism. Here is my selection of beer for your Memorial day cookout.

Kentucky Breakfast Stout – Founders Brewing Co.

Infused with coffee, and aged in Kentucky Bourbon barrels, this highly acclaimed stout couldn’t have more American ingredients if it were brewed with bald eagle feathers. The good ole USA loves their coffee. All day, every day. From the time we threw a little tea party in Boston, it’s been our upper of choice since the revolutionary war. Real Bourbon only comes from Bourbon County, Kentucky. It’s the key ingredient in your mint julep, but adds a real punch to KBS. Enjoy this delicious beer with your brisket, or possibly your after dinner cigar.

Kentuck Breakfast Stout

Lone Star – Miller Brewing Co.

I know, I know. Texas is practically it’s own country, and the locals occasionally grumble about succeeding, but more often than not, Texans are fiercely patriotic. Lone Star may be the “national beer of Texas” but it can be enjoyed all across the country as the perfect pairing to a fresh off the grill burger. Yes, Miller Brewing Co. Hey, it is what it is. Originally the beer was produced by Alamo Brewing Co. Do you remember the Alamo Brewing Co.? Despite having changed hands many times over the years, this crisp, refreshing lager is still brewed in Texas and is the go to suds for many.

Liberty Ale – Anchor Brewing Co.

I considered not including this beer on the list. It appears on almost every ‘Murican holiday centric beer post I could find. It ultimately made the cut, though, and not because of its name. I included it because Liberty Ale, uses 100% Cascade hops. Cascade is the number one hop of choice in American beers. It was developed by the USDA breeding program at Oregon State University, and is considered by many to be the hop the helped start the Craft Beer Revolution. It is still THE signature hop in the American Pale Ale. Liberty Ale is distinctive, balanced, and delicious.

Achnor Liberty Ale

Spotted Cow – New Glarus Brewing Co.

Cream Ales are a truly American Style. Invented in the 1880s as a competitor to lagers that were becoming popular at the time, the cream ale is a slightly ambiguous style. Happily fermented with either ale or lager yeasts, it was developed for breweries that were not set up for cold lagering. Being lager-ish, it is best served cold and as a thirst quencher. Spotted Cow is probably the best example of the cream ale that I’ve ever had. Refreshing and light, but still full of flavor. This is an incredibly quaffable beer.

American – Anheuser-Busch

Soooooo Budweiser is officially renaming itself America for the summer. Is that even legal? I mean, they did it, so I assume so. Even I’m having a hard time arguing against America being the most patriotic beer name in…..America. I mean, it’s right there in the name. BMC is getting damn clever in their marketing. Cause if you don’t like it, well then you are obviously anti-American.

America Budweiser

Memorial day barbeques are swiftly approaching. Be sure to eat, drink, and be merry, but don’t forget to pour one out for those who can’t join in on the festivities. They are the reason the holiday exists. I don’t believe it should be a somber day, but more of a celebration of the freedoms we enjoy because they paid the ultimate sacrifice. So pop a top, and join me in a toast to fallen heroes. They have my eternal thanks.

Become a Cicerone For Fun and Profit

Minus the profit. A quick trip to the Google Machine will show you that if you want to become a cicerone it isn’t exactly the path the wealth and prestige. It’s more of a “nice to have” if you already work in an industry that has heavy ties to craft beer, like restaurants, bars, or even breweries themselves. Like most certifications on job descriptions, they’re more preferred and not strictly required.

studying for the cicerone exam

In case I’m speaking Greek, Cicerones, as defined by Cicerones, are

 professionals with proven experience in selecting, acquiring and serving today’s wide range of beers

So basically what your annoying ale hole buddy thinks he is, but with a piece of paper to back it up. It’s like a group of beer snobs got together and somehow convinced other, lesser beer snobs to pay them money to learn to be more pretentious. My god….it’s brilliant!

All joking aside, I firmly believe in diving deep into a passion and educating yourself as much as possible. If you’re truly interested, there are four separate levels of mastery you can attain. Each increasing significantly in difficulty and cost. Believe it or not, you might actually have to study. There is a recommended reading list with a few core books, as well as live classes and study aids you can purchase. One of which include an off flavor kit. So now when someone claims a beer tastes like a used band-aid, you’ll know exactly what they’re talking about.

cicerone flashcards

The first level of ciceronedom is called Certified Beer Server and is certainly your entry level course into the world of beer. It basically put you at the level any competent bartender should already be at. It’s the level you think you’re at, but you really aren’t. Once you complete the curriculum you should at the very least have a basic knowledge of most beer styles and be familiar with tasting and flavors, as well as brewing techniques and ingredients.

Sounding a bit like work? It can be. Who would have thought you’d need to read books to be better at beer drinking? Turns out mom was right after all. After Certified Beer Server there are three higher level certification you can achieve. There are thousands of Certified Beer servers, with a very steep drop off for each subsequent level. The highest level, Master Cicerone, has only 11 masters! I can only hope that achieving each rank gets you one step closer to the true wisdom of Solomon, preferably with some sort of ritual involving shaved genitals.

Is all the time and effort worth it? Only you can say. The Cicerone program has only been around since 2007. There are incredibly knowledgeable beer drinkers and leaders in the industry who have never even considered bothering to take the test for even the first level. Becoming a Cicerone doesn’t grant you access to some cross between Animal House/Eyes Wide Shut style parties. At least not until you achieve Master Cicerone. Your flesh light will have to do until then I guess.

The key to becoming better at anything is of course practice. Turns out even beer drinking can benefit from a little structure and some flash cards. Just like college, all of your studying will involve beer…and crying…and even more crippling debt. So if you need an excuse the next time you show up to work hungover, just tell them you were studying for the big exam you have coming up.

The Definitive Guide to Decorating With Beer

You like beer. No wait, let me rephrase that. You LIKE beer. Every glass you own is from a pint glass from your top 20 favorite breweries. You steal cardboard coasters from local taprooms, and your idea of decorating is a beer bottle centerpiece on your Texas Hold’em dining room table. All well and good…if you’re in your early to mid 20s and are still trying to pass remedial algebra. It’s only natural to want to display your passions and hobbies proudly, but you’re an adult now. What works when you’re in college doesn’t hold up as a young professional trying to land a mate. Style needs to mature and evolve. So how does one display their love of beer culture, but not look like they live in a frat house? Well pull up a chair boys and girls. Here is my definitive guide to decorating with beer.

1. Go Multi-functional

Single function items have no place in the modern household. It needs to pull at least double duty to deserve a place in your 300 square foot efficiency. Lamps are a perfect example of this. One of my favorite pieces is the beer bottle lamp from New Wine Old Bottle, an Etsy store that specializes in industrial lighting. You can subtly display your love of beer while providing mood lighting.

industrial beer bottle lamp

2. Go vintage

Modern craft breweries invest heavily in marketing and have some major money dumped into branding. Some labels these days are almost works of art and look incredible. However, a 40 year old beat up miller lite can has some a certain undeniably cool quality to it. When it comes to vintage, it’s easy to overdo it. Don’t turn your entire house into a museum, rather have pops of personality on a side table or shelf. You can even buy a special display shelf or build it yourself if you’re particularly DIY inclined. Just make sure that the shelf is simple and doesn’t compete with the can for your attention. Vintage beer mirrors or bar signs are also an excellent choice when going vintage.

3. Turn it into art

Prints, shadow boxes, and cap collectors are great ways to bring booze into the modern and acceptable. It’s important to achieve balance with art hung on the walls. It should be hung at eye level and be an appropriate size for the space. Small pieces on a large wall look out of place and odd. Big walls need big art, so size accordingly.

Cap Collector

4. Get organized

I love my pint glasses as much as the next guy. $10 for a glass and three pours is a hell of a deal. Now you have 23 different glasses, all with different logos. It doesn’t exactly scream adult. Choose your favorites, and chuck the rest. Or donate, whatever, then go and get a matching set of glasses. Serving guests with an adult of glasses might not have the same flair as a unique glass for everybody that walks through the door, but like McDonalds, it’s all about the experience. It should be the same each time. Focus more on what goes in the glass than the glass itself.

Change can be difficult. You’re style has gotten you this far, so why bother to update right? Consider it a new beginning and dive into adulting feet first. It’s entirely possible to decorate with a beer inspired theme and not appear like it’s your first apartment from college. Don’t worry, It’ll still be a sausage party, so that should at least be comfortingly familiar.