December 21, 2011

A Brief Interlude

Greetings beerfriends.

I type to you from a room of boxes, with my imminent relocation to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania about 12 hours away. My apologies for the week or two off from posts. Once I'm settled in the new place, I'll get back up and posting. I will miss Reading and the friends I've made here, but I'm excited about the future and my return to the Lehigh Valley. Importantly, I'm not going far and I'm not leaving the Philadelphia beer market.

In any case, happy holidays to all of you. As of tomorrow, the days start getting longer again.


December 16, 2011

The Best and Worst Beer Art of the Week, a Periodic Table of Boozahol, and Tribute Beers

This isn't exactly art, but it definitely qualifies as "worst":

Beachy Head Brewery, which is a brewery in the south of England, in East Sussex, has decided to name its most recent real ale the Beachy Head Christmas Jumper. This is in spite of the fact that the nearby cliffs have been the site of numerous suicides.
It's like the Golden Gate Bridge of East Sussex
Many locals who have lost loved ones have asked and demanded that the brewery change the name, but head brewer Roger Green is still resisting, saying that he did not mean to cause offence. He says the name comes not from the infamous suicide spot, but from Christmas sweaters (called "jumpers" in British English) that he claims Santa wears, and started from a pump clip.

All very believable, if we accept Mr. Green's expertise on Santa's sartorial transgressions. But, Roger, why can't you change the damn name now?
Keith Lane's wife Maggie died at the cliffs in 2004. He is  
Look, I get that it's expensive to run new labels, but there's a way to be a decent bloke ("person" in British English) about things. If it's a coincidence/mistake/bonehead move, then any good person would change the name of the beer. For that matter, a bit of forethought and actually putting one of Santa's jumpers on the label (rather than a washout of THE CLIFF WHERE PEOPLE JUMP) might have saved you the trouble. But now, you're getting a lot of heat and ill will because you're acting like a total arse ("ass" in British English).
No funny clothing to be seen.
On the better side, we have Asahi, which has released a new bottle with a rising sun and Hokusai-inspired waves.
Can't find any other information online, but Asahi does have a design eye; Philippe Starck designed their Tokyo Beer Hall.
via Wikimedia
I received an email this week from the folks at BestCollegesOnline, which is a quirky sort of content-producer-cum-online-college-affiliate-marketer that fairly often reaches out to bloggers with cheeky alcohol-themed infographics. Here's their latest:

Amusing and well-designed, as usual. But it got me thinking: Why does a site like that invest time and resources in making things like this and then reaching out via a blogger network? One can easily see this chart adorning dorm walls in the near future, but that doesn't appear to be the site's business. So I asked Muhammad Saleem, who sent the bloggerati the email, what the strategy is. His response:
The posters aren't purchasable, they are just a part of our info-tainment efforts on our sites (to mix up things between serious content and informative but entertaining content). It's not so much about business model as it is about building relationships with new publishers, providing something fun for our audience to look at and discuss, and get some exposure around the web as a result.
Interesting that they're relying on a network of publishers with content, rather than paying a massive advertising firm to help with page ranks. Interestingly, unlike most online businesses of similar model, BCO does not use a stable of freelancers in lieu of a staff.
Everything is done in house, from research to design to publishing and outreach. You can only hit a high bar for quality if you control each step of the process, at least that has been my experience. I've personally trained all the designers and have been working with my team for a couple of years now.
Just thought some of you might find it an interesting view into a business, or at least appreciate an answer to the question "Why do all these beer infographics lead me to a site promoting Kaplan and University of Phoenix?" Or maybe that's just me.

Lastly, a couple of tribute beers came out this week, and I wanted to draw your attention to them.

The first is by Chicago's Half Acre, honoring the passing of a brewery friend:
It’s with great honor and sadness that we announce an upcoming special release beer. We’re brewing The Daly Double, an India Pale Ale brewed in memoriam of a friend of Half Acre Beer Co. Terry Daly passed away suddenly after spending a lot of time at our brewery over the last few years. Terry was a fan of music, geometry, his two Huskies, Moon & Luna, and amply hopped craft beer. He’d turn others on to our beer and took pride in his connection to our brewery. All good breweries acquire people. These people become the larger body that is the meat of your brewing company. Not the tanks or the beers, but the heart of what we do. It has a pulse of its own and its one of the best things about brewing beer for a living. 
And we have a watercolor of Daly with his beloved dogs and hops. If we are to turn a critical eye to such things, then we recognize that this is the most common format for a tribute beer: An image of the person with some identifiable element. The hand done font at the top is an interesting blend of typefaces. A brewery rep said the art is done by usual Half Acre artist Phineas X. Jones, but it's a very different style from his recognizable blend of punk and Art Nouveau.

The second tribute is Cambridge Brewing Company's Tripel Threat, a tribute to former head brewer Darryl Goss, who was recently diagnosed with ALS.
This is the other way to design a tribute; a simple picture of a thing associated with the person by those familiar with him/her. The '65 Electra Glide (can be seen here) was the way Goss got to work every day when he was at the brewery. A portion of the proceeds will benefit ALS research.

I don't think either style is more or less effective, it's just a stylistic choice informed by the artist and the subject for the tribute. In any case, it's a pretty awesome way to honor a beer lover.

December 12, 2011

You Had a Drink, So Your Friend Got Raped

Most of the time, I find the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to be unfortunate. Annoying, certainly, but not bad or evil. I agree with Lew Bryson that it should go, but I'm a bit less strident, perhaps because I spent some time in and around politics. When you see the system from a certain angle, you get used to the idea that artifacts of dumbness will persist long after anyone wants them, particularly when those artifacts let people take kickbacks.

So PA keeps it LCB, despite many attempts to get rid of it, and Lew and company keep pushing that rock up the mountain. I cheer them on, but I'm never surprised when the stone rolls back down the hill.

Recently, there's been some progress, with the LCB doing its part by being terrible at lots of things, prompting the pro-privatization governor Tom Corbett to appoint a chairman of the Board who is also pro-privatization. Again, this I support, but I've learned better than to get emotionally involved. 

But then they decided to launch this ad campaign.
Go ahead. Read it again.
The "Control Tonight" campaign has one simple message: Date rape happened to your friend because she decided to drink, and so did you.

Now, I could spew all the venom about how this is the most odious blame-the-victim trash that is responsible for the "she was asking for it" mentality. But City Paper already contacted someone more qualified than me to say that. Or I could go on about how disingenuously provocative the imagery is, when most date rape is far more disturbing, subtle and murky than waking up on a bathroom floor with one's panties around one's ankles (that's why it's a different kind of assault, and a whole different kind of societal evil). But Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan put it well already:
Shock tactics aren't necessary to increase awareness of the possibility of rape. We know what can happen after a night of drinking. An ad featuring a shot of forcibly removed panties around ankles with text that reminds the reader that ladies drunk friends are what cause rape is not increasing awareness, it's just shifting blame away from the rapist and onto the victim and, oddly, the victim's friends, aka the guardians of her vagina...
Was Anne wearing a short skirt? Because I hear that makes it her fault, not mine.
Rape is not just a bad thing that happens to someone after drinking too much, a wave of nausea that ends in vomit that smells like Red Bull. It's not something the victim conjures up with a mixture of alcohol and phermones. It's a deliberate act on the part of the rapist, a violation of another person committed solely because the rapist wanted to rape. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we'll be rid of stupid, finger wagging ads like these.
For rebuttal, we turn to PLCB spokeswoman Stacey Witalic:
First and foremost our intention was never to offend anyone with the images but to bring about a greater conversation about the dangers of binge and problematic drinking. We did a lot of work with focus groups and a lot of research for this campaign, and heard from our target — individuals 21 through 29 — that these are scenarios they have faced and their friends have was never intended to feel as if blame was placed anywhere but the perpetrator of the sexual assault. That specific ad is encouraging people to maintain control, and if you see one of your friends losing control, step in and help.
And that's patently absurd, so I could go on and on about how alcohol use is not the same as alcohol abuse, and that having a martini is not synonymous with passing out while your friend gets brutally raped. But... you're readers of a beer blog, and anyway I have no reason to believe any of you are morons.

No, instead, I'll focus on the part of this that seems small - that is small, considering the topic - which is the fact that the organization using 600,000 Pennsylvania taxpayer dollars is also the one that happens to be the STATE-OWNED MONOPOLY IN CHARGE OF SELLING ALCOHOL.

In PA, we've managed to create a system where the guy selling you vodka is also the one who confuses beer with GHB for the sake of making a wrongheaded rhetorical point. In business, we call that a conflict of interests. Actually, that's what everyone calls it, everywhere.

Imagine you own stock in a boozeahol company, perhaps a brewery. The CEO tells you that the company has decided to launch a campaign urging people to be responsible. Being a fan of corporate social responsibility, you say that sounds great. The CEO then tells you the campaign is called "Beer=Death." Well, wait, you say, that doesn't sound like it's about drinking responsibly. The CEO assures you that it is, since lots of people die from accidents involving drinking and driving, and many of those involved beer. Well, you say, first of all, that's not logically consistent; it's both employing the fallacies of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, and reductio ad absurdum. Second of all, we sell beer. Won't people just be, well, confused, if we say Beer=Death? The CEO responds that you clearly are in favor of death, and you'll continue this discussion later, but first needs to go order some hops and a new kegging machine.

You have just been placed in the shoes of every Pennsylvania taxpayer. 

We are consistently asked to accept the claim that the LCB sells alcohol better than the private sector every could, in spite of a literal planet of evidence to the contrary. We are consistently told we should pay more for this service we don't want, because if we do not, children will be downing vodka on every street corner. And we're told all of this by a string of politicians and their flunkies in patronage jobs, right before they spend more than half a million dollars, in a recession that is so bad we can not possibly afford to ask gas drillers not to poison the water, telling me that my friend was raped because I had a Long Island.

Look, when it's the neo-prohibitionists, or groups that have gone off the deep end, that say my responsible choices are just like someone else's criminal negligence, I get it. I don't agree with them, but it's a free country and you're allowed to work for the banning of alcohol if that's what you want to do. 

But when the insane arguments and offensive ad campaigns equating drinking with rape come from the same government body that is a consumer's only option for purchasing alcohol, we have gone over the top of William Penn's hat, around the bend at Horseshoe Curve, and a whole City of Bridges too far. This is beyond ridiculous, and it's time for someone to stop it.

December 7, 2011

Best Beer Art of 2011: A Call For Nominations

Friends, sorry for the week off from best/worst, but things are happening fast. Lots of news and links below, but I wanted to make sure I put out a call for your nominations for the best and worst beer art of 2011. As you may remember, last year we had three winners, all very different.

Here are the criteria:

  1. The art must have been designed and released in 2011. 
  2. It must be by a USA craft brewery.
  3. If I haven't posted it on this blog, let me know soon so I can post it.
Leave me a comment, tweet, Facebook message or some other communique with your nominations and suggestions.

A new one by Boulevard and artist Payton Kelly is a nice text-based label that fits their other labels well as far as tone and theme. The winning elements here are the smooth, deep colors and the 60s Nouveau revival decorative elements. Note how the stars are clustered up at the top and then diffuse toward the bottom, giving the impression of falling.

Ale Industries, of Concord, CA, released this trippy label some time back. Obviously a play on Pied Piper, here the Rye'd Piper lures adorable little dancing hops to their death in a boiling kettle of wort. Color-wise, the bright green contrasts with the red and orange sky. At first, I didn't like the music notes getting tangled with the text, but on review, I think it's a nice way of tangling the image together.

Including this quote:
Inevitably, Big Beer took notice of Jordan and her fellow microbrewers. In the mid-Nineties, Miller created Red Dog. Anheuser-Busch introduced its own faux craft beers, such as Elk Mountain Amber Ale. These brews failed, in large part because of internal resistance. “You have a lot of people who said, ‘Bud Light put my kids though college. I’m not selling this stuff,’ ” recalls Lew Bryson, a veteran beer writer. At the same time, many craft brewers succumbed to self-inflicted wounds. Between 1990 and 1995, the number of small breweries tripled. Beer sat on the shelves and spoiled. In 1996,Consumer Reports found that many craft beers were “sulfry” tasting, and plenty of beer drinkers agreed.
First, a gentle reminder that you can help Lew Bryson avoid the humiliation of being referred to as a "veteran beer writer," and instead be referred to in the future as "television beer celebrity" or "international beer superstar" by supporting his tv show on Kickstarter.

Second, it's another reminder of how much harder the beer world has gotten. Clearly the big beer folk have changed their mind (see Tenth and Blake story above, and they are also quoted in the BW story), and those bad craft beers would lead to very quick failure today. It's a brave new world, beerfriends.

November 29, 2011

Books About Beer and Design

My sources tell me it's a holiday season, so I figured I'd give you a quick rundown on some beer/design books I've read recently:

You can't click to look inside.
I hotlinked from Amazon.

  • For those of you shopping for the aspiring homebrewer, I just picked up William Bostwick and Jessi Rymill's Beer Craft: A Simple Guide to Making Great Beer (Rodale, $17.99). There are certainly more comprehensive guides to brewing and beer, but there are none that are easier to read and enjoy. It's colorful, extremely well-designed, and features good quotes by big name brewers, conversational language, and engaging design. It's also - and this is important - small. The taxonomies and infographics make it a nice pocket guide to beer ingredients, even when not brewing. It's a perfect book for a beer geek who is thinking about brewing some batches and wants to understand the process better, or someone like myself that has done a bit of brewing but wants a handy way to read and look up some of the more technical information. It's also on sale right now at Amazon for around $11.
  • For those shopping for the more experienced or just more hip homebrewer, consider Brooklyn Brew Shop's Beer Making Book: 52 Seasonal Recipes for Small Batches by Erica Shea and Stephen Valand (Clarkson Potter, $19.99). The book, by the owners of the Brooklyn Brew Shop, focuses on making beer in small spaces, and organizes some very interesting recipes by season. Like Beer Craft, there's a heavy design focus in this book. Instead of color, the design emphasis is on simplicity and readability, and it is a very handy guide and reference. It can certainly be a guide for beginners, but the recipes are different enough that a vet could still find it valuable. Also on sale, around $13.
  • On a design front, my father just gave me Simon Garfield's Just My Type: A Book About Fonts (Profile, $27.50). It is delightful, and one needn't be a design geek to love it (my father, for example, is not what one might call design-conscious, but since reading can't stop talking to me about Helvetica and Gill Sans). It is engaging and extraordinarily well-designed. The Introduction by Chip Kidd alone is awesome, and it makes a great gift for damn near anyone. Amazon has it for around $16, or $11 in paperback.
  • Lastly, I did receive the Oxford Companion to Beer, and have finished reading a good bit of it. It is every bit as wonderfully written as I had imagined. I know there are fights over facts, and they haven't stopped. Roger Protz chimed in with an ill-intentioned diatribe against its critics, and various others have weighed in on the side of the "bloggerati" or "the treasure trove," but most reasonable people, I think, feel as I do: It is an excellent, engaging, ambitious work that is generally very well-executed, with some unfortunate historical inaccuracies made slightly more high-profile by author Garrett Oliver's unwillingness to acknowledge and apologize for them. Actually, reading it has kind of heightened my sadness. I just wish Oliver had come out and, instead of casting the debate as one of adults who respect progress versus childish bloggers who hate books, said "Thanks so much for all of the input; we're all in this together. Clearly we made some errors, and I made some mistakes editing out historians in favor of popular legend. I'll make sure we take care of it in the next edition." Thankfully, we have Alan to take care of us all. Still, though, if someone you know loves beer and doesn't have this book, get it for them. It's down to $26.
Some news and notes:
  • Apparently we're setting records on label applications to the TTB.
  • Nebraska Brewing Company and The Bruery showed us all how to be really damn cool about copyright. Instead of lawsuits, they made a joke out of it.
  • There have been another rush of release events, some of which went badly. Pelican had one where the phones went down and disaster ensued. More locally, Weyerbacher's Idiot's Drool release party went so badly that owner Dan Weirback issued an apology. By contrast, the Victory Dark Intrigue release went smoothly and successfully. Adam Nason aka Beersage has put together a modest proposal of a way breweries can manage these events better. I think it's worth following. One brilliant member of BA suggested that brewers should never have to apologize for design, and I think that person is a moron. If you pitch a massive event for which people show up at 4:30 am and will shell out a lot of money, you have a responsibility to be prepared and make the experience as positive as possible. None of this is rocket science, but it's worth pointing out that demand does not increase along a linear path, so breweries are often taken by surprise. For example, Weyerbacher had a release a couple months previously that was nowhere near as crazy, and there was no reason to believe a mad rush would occur. Then they apologized, and they'll do better next time, so I'm not sure what more people want from them. But still, the moral of the story is that breweries should probably plan for the crowds, rather than risk angering fans.

New work from Arcadia:
Very nice warm color palette and throwback style to old-school travel posters. Compositionally we see that nice rule of thirds with the pouring fountain and the woman forming the poles. The yellow sky and green mountains in the backdrop help the nice bright image pop out.

Also good stuff from New Albanian. I think the artist is still Tony Beard:
All of their stuff is a bit dark and intense, and this is no different. I love the paint splatter and the snowy floor on which the Valkyrie flies in. The path of fire and the spatter and the asymmetry give it a real violence and sense of dramatic movement.

Beard's stuff will be in the running for Best Beer Art of the Year. Start thinking (and feel free to share) about your recommendations and nominees.

November 24, 2011

"We exist so that every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge."

Ed. Note: I first published this on Thanksgiving two years ago, on a now-defunct political blog. It is topical again, and my support for the cause remains undaunted, so I am reposting it with minor changes and a short addition at the end. If you read it then, my apologies for the redundancy.

In the third century before Christ, a man named Demetrius of Phaleron had a modest goal: Collect all of the world's knowledge. He learned to dream big from his teacher, Aristotle, on whose Lyceum Demetrius modeled his own little building. It was the first ever attempt to gather books from other nations and cultures, an unprecedented effort to reach beyond the learning of a specific empire.

Courtesy of take a frikkin' guess.
For hundreds of years, Demetrius' project made Alexandria and Ptolemaic Egypt the center of scholarship for the ancient world. The architecture he borrowed from the Lyceum is similar to that found in many universities and colleges today. Until 642, when some think an Arab army sacked it, it was home base for some of the greatest scholars who ever lived.

For a geek like me, Demetrius' dream is about the coolest one a person could ever have. Regardless of your personal or spiritual point of view, the sharing and pooling of knowledge is one of the few purposes that - I am fairly certain - is a sacred one. So I'm a fan of people, places and things that devote existences to that noble end.

I was able to tell you all of that stuff about the Library at Alexandria not because I know that type of thing off of the top of my head, but because Demetrius' effort has been reborn today. We call it Wikipedia. Thanks to the wonders of ever-increasing technological capacity, an army of passionate volunteer editors, and what Wired editor Chris Anderson called "the long tail" of knowledge, we are closer to collecting all of human knowledge than Demetrius could ever have dreamed.

Why do I bring this up?

One, because I wanted to post something a little off-beat before Thanksgiving, and a tract about how we built a country on myths about how we didn't try and exterminate the American Indians would be too big a downer. And because we're at a point when Wikimedia is asking us for help, in the form of money.

Wikimedia is the nonprofit organization dedicated to - among other things - collecting all of human knowledge and making it accessible on the Web. And for those of you still huffing that it's not verifiable, I direct you to the study showing Wikipedia to be as accurate as the Encyclopedia Brittannica. Yes, it is imperfect, but our recent debates on the OCB show us that all attempts to collect knowledge are imperfect. Of course, it's not the same as primary research, and I wouldn't suggest citing it in articles for peer review, but it does currently have over 3.8 million articles in English alone, and is a source of comprehensive information of which Demetrius of Phaleron could only have dreamed.

So, since it's that time of year, I thought it was worth pointing out that I'm thankful for this modern Library of Alexandria that is so easy to take for granted. As someone who uses it at least once a day, I felt compelled to send them a small amount of money as a donation. After all, it takes some money to run the largest repository of knowledge in the world on less than 100 employees. And, as I mentioned, it's run by a nonprofit, which means it relies heavily on donations from users. Like many "long tail" campaigns, Wikipedia needs major donations less than it needs many small donations.

Above the shelves in the Library of Alexandria was carved an inscription: "The place of the cure of the soul." A bit dramatic, perhaps, but it alluded to the fact that knowledge can be a soothing balm for those of us living in uncertain times (as if there are any other kind). Wikimedia has taken that place of curing, and moved it into every living room and coffee shop in much of the world.

So I encourage you to take a few moments and go donate a few dollars to Wikimedia.

In my niche of craft beer, there is a site that is just as - if not more - indispensable, and just as easy to take for granted. That, of course, is Adam Nason's, a repository of all beer news and TTB label approvals, sprinkled with insightful analysis when appropriate. Adam's site is ad-supported, though I know it has required significant investment on his part, and I do not believe he is getting ready to retire to his yacht and mansion on the proceeds just yet. Supporting him is as easy as a few clicks around his site, doing the whole like/follow/sharing of content, or patronizing one of his retail supporters. Unless you're the type with a business looking to reach a craft beer audience, in which case you could do a lot worse than advertising with his site.

In any case, I know many (myself included) spend a lot of time bemoaning the state of journalism, politics, the Earth, etc. It's easy to forget that information is now more accessible than it has been at any point in human history. Whether looking up the inscriptions in long-gone libraries, or trying to find the most offensive design that got slapped on a beer bottle this week, the only barriers to learning are the limits of our time and aspiration. We've got a lot left to do here, but that is one hell of a start.

Happy Thanksgiving.

November 22, 2011

More Stunning Artwork by Stillwater Artisanal Ales' Lee Verzosa

Okay, I've been saving them up to a point where I can't justify holding back any longer.

Readers of this blog know that my big beer art crush is Stillwater Artisan Ales, from Baltimore, and their label work by tattoo artist Lee Verzosa. It won best art of 2010 here, and honestly I'm considering a ban on repeat winners just to prevent him from becoming a choice every year. But I probably won't.

What follows is a bunch of his work from 2011. Prepare for gushing art geekery.

This is his most recent work, for Bronze Age. Those new to this art will see the pen-and-ink main elements over a watermarked, earthtoned backdrop that is the main composition for Stillwater and Verzosa. The style/motif is almost always a Gothic/Edwardian one, conjuring images of monsters and gaslit laboratories. Also, while there is the occasional move to literally display the beer's name, usually that is eschewed in favor of just putting some great imagery evocative of a character or theme, as we see here. There is no bronze or tools, but instead a binding of fingers, over a faded image of a brain flanked by grain sheaves. What we get is a feeling of a primitivism, which of course fits the idea of "bronze age." One could argue that the bound hand is not as skillfully rendered as could be (the fingers seem a bit too short), but I think it lends itself to the off-putting sense of monstrosity the image gives off. It we're picking nits, I'd focus on the fact that the foreground hands don't pop as much from the backdrop.

The label for Derviched leaves our Gothic theme and trades it for a messed-up mythological one. Here we have something like Adam and Eve surrounded by symmetrical crowds of unruly classical characters. The two wearing animal skins and bearing clubs are threatening, and the tenor of the agitated crowd is palpable. Look closely at the garden behind Adam and Eve; the foliage is vaugely distorted, and there's a skeleton with a scythe wandering through. This visual mashup certainly manages to be off-putting.

Back to some of those old-timey figures we remember so fondly from the Of Love and Regret label. Instead of plotting murder, we've got two ladies throwing down on a field of blood-spattered red. The amusing take on "Debutante" is driven home by the label over the watermaked woman's eyes. The fact that it's so off-center gives the fight a sense of realistic dynamism; the falling woman really appears to be dropping into our field of view. Like many Stillwater offerings, this was brewed and bottled as a collaboration, and the logo of the collaborator, The Brewer's Art, is well integrated into the background.

 In the label art for Folklore, the foreground element is distinguished not by darker lines, but by a striking color change and the fact that only he gets to be three-dimensional. As the angry, creepy jester-satyr steps over the Stillwater ribbon, staining it red on the way, he appears to be reaching out at us. Meanwhile, a closer look at the background reveals it to be without any coherent perspective, heightening the contrast of the main character with his subdued environment.

I have to say that the Jaded is one of the weirdest labels here (that's a good thing). We have a Edwardian/Victorian female figure looking at herself in the mirror, but she's distorted, perhaps by her clothes or perhaps by the rendering. Her arms are too big, her head too small, her waist almost nonexistent before bulging out into a mass of cloth that far too closely resembles organs for my confort. Two skulls look up at her, and a net of tentacles comes out from behind her in what might be a beast lurking or a signal to us that this person is way uglier than we think. The screaming medusa heads around the frame only make it less comfortable. Again, there's a great contrast between red and blue here.

Lastly, we have the tamest of the labels, the green Rule of Thirds. It appears to be a very straightforward, non-grotesque piece with a Van Gogh-like scene in the background. The rule of thirds refers to an art composition term used mostly in photography and design, which holds that ideally, compositional elements  divide a canvas three equal-sized fields horizontally and vertically. Here, Verzosa has literally divided the canvas up with those lines behind the main elements of the image. In a way, he's showing us a playbook for creating this piece: the Stillwater ribbon is along the bottom axis, the Rule of Thirds ribbon along the top, extending out from the woman's eyes. Vertically, the axes are tied to the highest points of the Stillwater ribbon, the end of the woman's face, and the word "of" in the upslope of the top ribbon. Wonderfully technical and enlightening as a process work. Worth remembering: This is on a beer bottle.

Of course, this style only works with Stillwater's brand. Owner Brian Strumke, a "gypsy brewer" who rents unused time in facilities to make beer in Europe and stateside, continually makes complex, interesting beer for those interested in some of the more high-end, subtle aspects of beer. He doesn't have a flagship golden or pale ale; he has farmhouse style beers that often defy style characterization. Because of that, he can afford to have art that is challenging, opaque and even unsettling, in a way that Sierra Nevada never could.

November 18, 2011

Best and Worst Beer Art of the Last Two Weeks, and Help Lew Bryson Get a Show

I was out in the woods (literally), and limited Internet access cost me a week of blogging and my chance in Jay Brooks' survival league.

But art!

First, check out this wonderful installation piece done by Red Stripe and a Japanese sound artist Yuri Suzuki:

According to PSFK,
Inspired by the resourcefulness of Reggae musicians, the Japanese artist set about creating a sound sculpture using thousands of collected Red Stripe cans. Working alongside Australian designer/illustrator and maker Mathew Kneebone, Suzuki turned 5,000 cans into a fully-functioning sound system. London DJ/mixer/masher Al Fingers and singer/songwriter Gappy Ranks then teamed up to create music on the sculpture.
You can also find a nice video of the process on PSFK's site.

More good beer art? Well, okay. From Smuttynose, we have the Satchmo:

As you can see, it's brewed with mushrooms (?) and aged on oak. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but I like the brown gradient with the label-maker text. It's ever-so-slightly off-center, with a little extra on the right side, and a fairly adorable little squirrel (?) on top. It conveys an earthiness without seeming dirty, which is what I'd want for an oaked mushroom beer.

On the negative side, we have, well, this:
Lew Bryson, to whom we shall return in a moment, has a lovely takedown on this new product, which is a high-abv version of Bud Light, and is marketed as "craft beer" and a "trendy blue-bottle line extension."

First: No, it's not.

Let's not even address the idea that craft drinkers will like this. Instead, let's focus on the idea that this is a marketing triumph.

Blue is not particularly trendy. It's a color, and this shade isn't terrible, I guess. The "Platinum" font is contemporary and could be the same as that on a lit sign of the coolest club in town five years ago. The halo around the platinum (aka gray) vertical bar is kind of exciting, in a strip joint sort of way (and I thought that before Lew wrote that the element itself resembles a stripper pole, an image which I can not now unsee). The use of the awful Bud Light logo at the top totally ruins any chance of this label looking anything like the sleek, modern appearance for which they are shooting. Instead, it looks trashy, and more designed to compete with malt liquor 40s than the craft segment.

Some notes:
As promised, we return to Mr. Bryson. Clearly, someone thought that what my life needed was one more project to champion on Kickstart. So he's trying to make a TV show, and the pilot/teaser appears to be the Stoudts. The aforementioned Jay Brooks even created an epic work of art to show what Lew's success would make him to the beer blogging world:
Speaking of images I can't unsee...

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: "Bryson? Isn't he that irresponsible, anti-government, big-beer-hating, alcohol bigamist with too many blogs?" 

And the answer is yes. But I think we can all come together and agree that Carol Stoudt needs to be more heralded, and this seems like a great way to do that. Also, he's wished me happy birthday on Facebook for two years straight! 

So go kick some money at Lew's project. There's a recession on, and people need to be told about good beer.

November 8, 2011

Cigar City Label ExtravaCANza

No, I could not leave that pun alone. Thanks to a great interview over at CraftCans, we have some great design news from Curatorial fave Cigar City Brewing. The Tampa, FL brewery will be canning soon, and they released some can-ified desings:

Let's remember that the Pour Curator's rule of good can design is that one should use all of the space one has. The difference between cans and labels is that a can gives you 360 degrees, and treating it like a tiny rectangle cheats one out of canvas.

So let's look first a the Florida Cracker wit and the Hotter than Helles lager

Both of them start with designs that are fairly basic, and just embrace the concept totally. By expanding the background into a massive color field of a complement to the color of the band and text, the elements pop and look clean. It looks like the wit background might have a touch of visual sandy texture, while the Helles mostly wants to scream loud, hot colors. The "back" panels are also clear and readable.

Right, but what more can we do? Well, let's look at their fan favorites Jai Alai IPA and Maduro Brown.

If you're a reader, you know I'm excited about this. The bright green hops of the Jai Alai form a rich forest background that extends through the entire can. It screams verdant energy, and combines with the striking yellow bands to make us expect some really flavorful hops. The Maduro, on the other hand, uses a blanket of dark brown tobacco leaves (maduro being a dark type of cigar wrapping) and a muted beige on the bands to convey a sense of rich smoothness.

Russ from CraftCans interviewed CCB designer Geiger Powell, and of particular deliciousness was this question:

(CC) As the designer of Cigar City's cans. What was the biggest challenge? What about the benefits of the can as far as graphics go?

(GP)The challenge was to come up with designs that popped as well as spoke true to what the beer inside is. We went over tons of prototypes before settling on where we are now, which is more closer to our bottle designs. The benefits of the can is being able to completely cover the vessel with our design. This creates a much more eye-popping product.
Cigar City also has a couple new designs out for their collaboration with Swamp Head:

Since the main design elements are pictures of famous dead WWII leaders, it's hard to say much about them. But the nice sepia shading is consistent, giving it a historical feel and a deep, rich character. The off-center composition and the shadowing of the leaders gives it a nice dimensionality.

Lastly, the Ligero, another cigar named beer.

Ligero is a type of cigar filling leaf that is usually a bit stronger and slower-burning. It also means "light" in Spanish, so there's perhaps a bit of wordplay happening here, since a black lager is generally a beer lighter in body but dark in appearance. I like the weathering on this label and the sharp-eyed, cigar-chomping dude staring out at us. That font is kind of a Courier spinoff, adding to the old-timey feel of the label.

November 5, 2011

Best and Worst Beer Art of the Week, from the Makers of Chick Beer

Best beer art of the week comes to us via Oh Beautiful Beer, and it's a private label for Puma by Brewers and Union called Kreechr:

The postmodern-misspelling-slash-Harry-Potter-reference name aside, it's very cool design. Significantly more menacing and foreboding than other attempts at Kraken-releasing booze design. The red tentacles give it a vibrance and activity fitting for an activewear brand, but the willingness to have a big black color field and the small white lettering give it an appropriate off-putting, ominous feeling.

The worst comes from Minhas, the same people who gave you Chick Beer:
Bland, boring, with "feminine" colors and a gratuitous cartoon girl in short flowey dress. Are uptown girls somehow associated with that attire? When I think uptown, I think little black dresses and high-end jewelry; she looks more at home on a patio. Also, I defy you to carry a beer glass like that without dousing yourself in fizzy yellow mediocrity. Lots of floral curls in the background, along with strange washout vertical stripes. A warm sunspot dead center totally defeats the white outline of the red lettering (aslo, the red-orange background doesn't help). There's a hint of serif on the font, but not enough to make it serious. And, just in case all of that wasn't enough for you, we have a factually inaccurate "COOL TO THE LAST DROP !" on the left for no reason at all (I guarantee you, that last drop is only cool if you drink it really fast, which, to be fair, you probably are encouraged to do). I guess Minhas has adopted Coors' strategy of treating "cold" as a flavor.

News and notes:
  • If this week seems light it's because I was celebrating a birthday with good friends and some rather old wine. Yes, I drink that, too, and yes I put that in just to make you jealous. But while prepping I heard a rumor that Weyerbacher is getting ready to unveil their new logo, something a few readers chimed in on this week in response to the post. I'll be watching.
  • For those of you into the PA privatization fight, Lew has been tearing things up over at Why The PLCB Should Be Abolished.
  • Flying Fish, on their move to Somerdale NJ (and nice piece of art trivia by Jeff in there)
  • That whole Dogfish 75 Minute thing was just label text. But we're losing Squall.
  • So I won some swag because of a not-that-impressive but sincere comment I left on the blog of Wolverine State Brewing Co. owner Liz aka The A2 Beer Wench. She just hit 60K pageviews on her blog, and all of them are deserved. As I said in my congrats comment, she is basically the one blogger who both consistently imparts interesting information (about opening a brewery in her case) and never takes herself too seriously. Worth adding to your RSS feed or inbox if you have any interest in the industry or just want something that is guaranteed to be a fun read week in and week out.
That's it for now. Lots of transitions for the Curatorial staff this fall, so thanks for being along for the ride. Have some music, and stay strong.

November 1, 2011

A Conversation on Rebranding a 15-Year-Old Weyerbacher with Josh Lampe

I noted a some time ago that Weyerbacher Brewing Co. in Easton, PA is undergoing a brand facelift. I noted that some time ago, because the rebrand has been going on for some time now. While many of the specifics are not yet ironed out, I was very interested in the process of a rebrand for a brewery as venerable as Weyerbacher, so Josh Lampe of SSM Creative sat down to talk with me about Weyerbacher, the challenges of rebranding, and consulting in the beer industry. I had been waiting for an unveil to have some things to pair with it, but as this interview is already a couple months old, it seemed time to get it up.

For those unfamiliar with the brewery, they are an odd case: They specialize in big beers (Founder Dan Weirback considers 6% a session beer), with complex, interesting flavors that remain remarkably drinkable. Their best seller is their Belgian Tripel, followed by the Imperial Pumpkin Ale.. Their Imperial IPA is the Double Simcoe, maybe the piniest beer you can imagine. They have several barrel-aged beers in rotation, and are constantly experimenting with flavors, though "extreme" would be a tough word to apply to them because of the balance that marks so many of their beers. They have a tendency to tack into the wind, producing a braggot when the rest of craft beer is cranking out saisons, and producing a restrained, delightful Belgian Pale Ale (the Verboten) at the time when everyone was adding Belgian yeast to their hoppiest IPA.

Perhaps most strangely for a brewery with the consistently high level of quality that Weyerbacher has, the brewery seems most beloved by those outside of its immediate environs. I've heard a number of theories on why that is, but everyone in the area seems to agree that Weyerbacher has more success outside of the Lehigh Valley (which, despite being the third-largest area in Pennyslvania and in the beer-crazy Philadelphia market, has only one other brewery right now) than they do in it.

From a branding perspective, those qualities - which make the brewery such an interesting one to beer connoisseurs - are also serious challenges. It's an interesting time for Weyerbacher. By craft beer standards, they've been around for a while, but they are entering a time of what could be great expansion.

Lampe said that, like most startup breweries (certainly of that time), the focus for the early then-brewpub was on beer and running a restaurant, with less of an eye toward branding.

"Dan  had an idea of what the brand should be, but that never got fully formed."

What's resulted over time is a brand with label design and art that - in this blogger's opinion - is usually good but ranges wildly from product to product.

For example:
The Blithering Idiot has the Jester that has become a kind of logo for Weyerbacher. The design is nice and clean, if a bit dated, with a clear style.

The Merry Monks is probably the closest thing they have to a flagship beer, but it is only a little similar stylistically to the Blithering Idiot.

This beer label is not bad for what it is (pictures of hops), but it could be from a totally different brewery
Then there's this, which is probably their strongest label to date, but again is tough to connect to an overarching brand.

"There's not as much consistency as we would like," Lampe said. "[Our goal is that] Every time you see a Weyerbacher, you know it's a Weyerbacher."

Lampe and company have spent the last several months defining the brand, interviewing brewery employees, and doing market research.

They've identified key elements to the brand as: "Bold, inventive, groundbreaking"

"We want to have the artwork and brand itself be representative of that," Lampe said."I don't think it's going to be anything like what you've seen yet."

Since SSM Creative started working with Weyerbacher, we've seen two new labels come out, both for large, higher-end beers. While neither are necessarily part of the rebranded Weyerbacher, we can draw a few things from them:

First, the obvious: There's a paring down here. We've lost those cartoonish faces and characters, and these are simpler, bolder, and unafraid to use negative space and asymmetry. The white-on-dark even gives it a feeling of almost imposing starkness, which again makes sense for the big, bold beers of Weyerbacher's limited releases.

Both labels also give us a sense of trying to draw brand connections. The Idiot's Drool is a barrel-aged version of the Blithering Idiot, and the font has been lifted directly. The Rapture has an outline of what definitely looks like the jester, perhaps being whisked up in the rapture? Subtle references, but again we can garner an idea of where the creative minds are going.

Lampe did say that there is unlikely to be a vast departure from the basic character of the brewery, which has a devoted following and established place in the beer scene.

"The last thing we wanted to do is come out with something different and slick that turned people off," Lampe said. "People are really starting to perceive Weyerbacher locally as just the high quality it is."

October 28, 2011

This Post Has Nothing About the Oxford Companion to Beer In it

But it has a bunch of other stuff.

First, from the "Homebrew Design" part of the Internet comes a new application, Labeley. It's a very cool, user-friendly program for designing homebrew labels. Ana Brady, who contacted me about it, said that the design team behind it is international, with one person in Canada and a couple in Europe. It's free and was a labor of love by some homebrewers, and definitely worth taking a look at if you're in the hobby. Nick at A Tale of Two Brewers did a nice review, where as a designer he found it a bit restrictive but ultimately a promising program.

Next, I got a note from Karen at Victory about the Dark Intrigue release party scheduled for Nov. 23, which they are calling "Dark Wednesday." There are some interesting (intriguing? groan.) things about this.

First, the announcement comes one day after the release party for The Bruery's Black Tuesday sold out in one hour and bottles began appearing on eBay immediately for as much as $100, and after the massive hype that accompanied the Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout release. As these hyped releases gain more and more traction (and garner the breweries more and more funds and attention), they have become also more of a bone of contention with some, who find the prospect of lining up in the wee hours to spend $200 on a case of beer a bit of a "circus," even if they appreciate it. Still, as many people as were annoyed by not getting tickets to this year's Dark Lord Day kefuffle at 3Floyds, no one foresees demand dropping next year.

So it's unsurprising that Victory has built up an answer to those national release parties that we see every year (Surly Darkness, Black Tuesday, Dark Lord, etc.). What's surprising is that this is the last year they'll be doing it for a while. Karen said it's basically that the barrels take up a lot of room and it's just not economical, so it's at least going away for a while. One has to wonder if there's a vacancy in this part of the state/country for a much-hyped annual release of some soul-crushingly potent quad-imperial barrel-aged dark nonsense?

Links, then art:

Our art this week comes via the always lovely Oh Beautiful Beer, and it's a bit of homebrew action by Shea Stewart:

“The label design was done for my aunt in Charlotte, North Carolina. She and a friend brew a beer every summer called “Hummm N’ Hammer Hefeweizen.” She asked me to design a label for the bottle, and this is what I came up with. I decided to create these two characters, “Hummm” (a hummingbird) and “Hammer” (a hammerhead shark), and create this quirky odd couple type relationship between them. Kind of like Timon and Pumbaa, but they brew beer together instead of searching for and eating bugs.”
Brewing: better than eating bugs (Note: Which is, generally, Kosher. My Torah portion was Shemini, the part in Leviticus where Yahweh lists all of the things you can and can't eat. Most bugs are cool, as far as dietary purity laws go.)

Very cute style, somewhere between children's book and the juvenile style we see in lots of natural-based marketing these days. Shea even even came up with bottle caps that, if they went into production, would be a great find for some other beer packaging bloggers. Lots of pastels, soft hand-drawn shapes, and of course the adorable title characters.
Next, via unkown origin, a new campaign that came from Jay Brooks' blog, originally via Firestone Walker's Twitter feed:
Now, some will say that this demeans the very sincere suffering of the 99% of America who is put upon by the wealthy 1% etc. etc. Those people are entitled to their opinion. But most craft beer drinkers are likely to be on the side of Occupiers, so any outrage would be ill-spent.

From a design and branding standard, though, I love it. The hashtag #occupythepub and the surrounding rhetoric is a really cool way to take a topical phrase and convert it into a fun type of marketing. Craft beer people are quite likely to empathize with the protesters, as we usually feel put upon by the 95% of the market that is the macrobrews. So there's some solidarity, which is nice for a brand, and some humor, which is nice for a beer brand, and I love the simplicity of the design. Some good varying of font sizes, a nice watermark of a stock retro beer bottle, a distress effect, and bam! I'd buy this t-shirt.

If anyone knows who made this or from whence it came, Please chime in in the comments.

October 25, 2011

Garrett Oliver: The Adult in the Room?

Ed: This is a long post with no art.

Since I spent some time summarizing the criticism that Brooklyn Brewery founder and brewmaster Garrett Oliver has received for his editing of The Oxford Companion to Beer, I wanted to spend a few moments doing the same for his response, which is now up on OCB Wiki Alan McLeod started to help gather edits, corrections and marginalia for the opus.

You should go and read it if you have a lot of time. And if you've read or joined the criticism of Oliver, you should make the time.

He starts by meeting Martyn Cornell's withering comments head-on, and weaves an eloquent defense of his work and tactics. I stated before that perhaps it would have made sense to have a professional writer handle this job, and it occurs to me I did not include the disclaimer that it is not Oliver's writing ability that lacks. On the contrary, anyone who has read Brewmaster's Table or, really, anything Oliver has written knows that the man can use words. I'll come back to that in a second, but it's worth pointing out now.

He rebuts some of the specific historical claims, pointing out the difference between seeing historical documents and interpreting them. Particularly compelling are his rebuttal to the origins of cider (he argues that humans have fermented everything possible since they first arrived, which is probably true) and his takedown of Cornell's weakest point - arguing about how "likely" the rise of the India Pale Ale style was in the 1700s:
“Foaming at the mouth” – these his own words – [Cornell] even goes on to complain about the use of the word “unlikely” to describe the rise of India pale ale, saying that such use is “unsubstantiated and unexplained assertion-making.” No doubt Mr. Cornell, having been there personally in the late 1700s, found the rise of IPA to be very likely indeed. In fact, by now I feel certain that he predicted it himself in the broadsheets.
As that makes clear, though, Oliver's purpose in responding is not substance but style. He is smart, he can write, he knows beer, and so by extension the claims that he was just "a dupe, a cretin and a liar, piloting a project populated by lazy idiots" seem to ring false on a instinctive level. He reassures us with comforting numbers ("“The Oxford Companion to Beer” is a peer-reviewed work, and 166 learned people from 24 countries expended many, many thousands of hours, for virtually no remuneration, to bring it about. I can assure you that neither I nor any of the OCB contributors have “made anything up”."), and later admits some small oversights - he left out Centennial hops ("an actual error"), and Leipzeiger Gose was a casualty of timeline - in a kind of humility that manages to avoid ever acknowledging that he was exactly wrong so much as overambitious.

Oliver devotes a good deal of time and space to answering open-ended questions about process and reception, and does so - again - with excellent thoughts and prose. They are interesting and valuable to those of us who care and who will read and own this book no matter what.

What he did not do was answer all of the specific factual errors (as some of them really are), particularly the major ones about the origins of stout and porter as styles. He does not explain why Cornell and Ron Pattinson were not allowed to just write the history parts on which they are experts. His jabs aside, he does not get down in the mud and trade blow for blow with Cornell. He defends the inclusion of associate editor Horst Dornbusch - a nemesis of beer historians thanks to his willingness to repeat myth and legend without evidence - with Dornbusch's credentials as "a Fulbright scholar, a brewer, a brewing consultant, a writer, a translator, and spent 10 years in magazine editing."

Indeed, he recasts the entire debate as not one of being right or wrong, but as one of history, interpretation and progress. In Oliver's telling, the victory is in the effort and process and existence of this colossal work, not in whether some nerds want to debate tiny details about origin and derivation.

History, far from being pure science, is a thing in constant motion, with much or it arguable or interpretable in various ways. People still argue about the precise make-up of George Washington’s false teeth, and he was the founding president of the United States, spoke before thousands and sat for portraits barely more than two centuries ago. I feel very confident that the OCB’s percentage of errata, though it must surely be more than zero, is probably as good as that of The British Museum, and no one is speaking of tearing that down. No one is more interested in the factual accuracy of the OCB than I am. However, it is famously said that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. Well, I have not, in my time on this earth, seen perfect yet. I do not expect to, either, and any wise person will approach attempts at perfection with at least an ounce of humility. Beer is a human thing, and one does well to remember that. We have made, I think, a very good start, and no one, least of all me, has claimed that the work is or will be finished any time soon.
Some of you know that in a former life, I used to be a political blogger. I've also, at times, worked in communications in politically sensitive fields. So perhaps I can't help but see this in political terms. But the one thing that Oliver's response reminded me most of was... Mitt Romney.

If you've been following the circus that is the current race for the GOP nomination, you have seen the rise and subsequent fall of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain as major contenders. As they all scramble now to get back in the race, the one thing that remains clear is that the electorate wants an alternative to the frontrunner, Romney. To listen to analysts, the alternative has to be acceptable to "the base" (which does not like the professional Romney), and must play to the "Tea Party." That generally means that we are seeking someone who is VERY far-right, and gets people excited with the small conservative geek credentials Romney - a former moderate governor of a liberal state - will never have.

Romney's strategy for each of these challengers so far has been to act above the fray. He makes the debate as not about who is more right on any one issue, but who is competent, presentable, and can represent the community the best. He plays the adult in the room.

Oliver has always played that role for the craft beer world. He is always impeccably dressed, arguing for beer's place in the finest restaurants with his aforementioned verbal strength. His brewery has resisted the "extreme" beer rush and focused on restrained balance, all while maintaining a genial relationship with Sam Calagione (the plain-spoken jeans-wearing man who embodies all things extreme in beer). He's the mature one.

I am certain this debate will go on, because many of Cornell's points are real and unsanswered. Some will say that it is all well and good for Oliver to talk about incremental progress, but his job was to edit a book that was accurate, and he still appears to have failed in at least some major ways. His vague description of how the breweries were chosen - which avoided specifically addressing the seeming correlation between availability in Brooklyn and inclusion in the book - probably did not satisfy anyone with a gripe. Perhaps all of it will be fixed in the second edition. Most likely, the Internet has made us all aware of the eternal fact that there is no such thing as a definitive anything.

When I said before that perhaps Oxford University Press should have had a writer tackle this task, it was my hope that a career with words might have allowed a different editor to avoid some of the pitfalls. I still believe that. Perhaps, though, that belief is naive. Perhaps there will always be a zealous fringe, and no amount of accuracy or fairness would forestall this debate. And if one believes that to be the case, then one can easily see how the OUP would want, first among all things, a statesman. By having someone with the skills and gravitas to recast the debate, you can relegate bloggers and nitpickers to the jabbering crowds trying to stand in the way of progress.

And for those of you who think I'm being melodramatic:
And [the criticism] goes on, reminding me of nothing so much as McCarthy’s House Committee on UnAmerican Activities... All the negative comments I have seen so far are about historical matters. Well, even though Mr. Cornell has surely done yeoman’s work digging up old brewing records, the reading of a historical record and the interpretation of it are two different things.
It is excellent writing indeed. Bloggers are laborers, and perhaps they ought to leave interpretation to the scholars. Worse, by criticizing factual errors in an encyclopedia, they send the message that we should not even try, and that all who do are... Communists?

For what it is worth, I do not have much of a dog in this fight. Yes, I'm a blogger, but I also understand the strategy and importance of Oliver's work with OUP, and I don't necessarily disagree with his overall point. What I find interesting is where this puts craft beer - and craft beer writing - as an industry, in meta-terms (what Jeff Alworth or Alan might call "navel-gazing"). It's a signal that the maturation of the industry - both existentially and economically - is a becoming a bigger and bigger issue.

Oliver has been saying for a while that it is time for us to stop being geeks and join the mainstream, that sustained non-niche success requires us to sit at the grown-ups table. While Cornell - a scholar and respected writer himself - may seem not the ideal stalking horse, here he is.

UPDATED: Via Adam Nason's site, we learn that Cornell himself finds it odd:
It worries me that he attacks me as “the blogger Martyn Cornell”. I’ve written two books about the history of British brewing and the history of British beer styles, which have involved many years of research – that’s my bona fides – and I’d like to hope I have a reputation as a beer historian rather than a blogger.
Yes, Martyn, but he's drawing battle lines.

Craft beer is now clearly large enough for two communities, and with the OCB, the "adults" are trying to establish - both internally to the geeks and externally to the rest of the world - that they will take us to prime time (perhaps kicking and screaming, if necessary). To them, public squabbling over history is unseemly and sets us back. Of course, there are those geeks who have no interest in mainstream acceptability. To them, beer is important in part because of its small community and inaccessibility to squares. The last thing they want is for bloggers to shut up about small things so that a big shiny book can sell better. Most of us, of course, have elements of both parties.

Every niche culture that ever "made it big" went through this process of purists versus evangelists, or evolutionaries versus revolutionaries if you like. Some, like American wine 40 years ago, managed to keep a balance. Some, like video games, keep having the debate. Some, like comic books, never quite resolved it and have paid the price.

Craft beer is there, and, while there was never a mystery as to which side Oliver was on, it looks for the moment like he's done being friendly with the other camp.