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.