September 27, 2011

Stuff to Read While I'm in Denver

So this weekend I'll be at Great American Beer Festival, hoping to meet up with some of my blogging colleagues and, perhaps, some of you (seriously, if you are there, hit me up, because I love meeting random beerfriends). I apologize in advance for the coming lull in posts, but you can probably get solid real-time updates via Facebook and Twitter, if you use those things. Otherwise, I'll have a recap next week.

But I would never dream of leaving you all content-deprived. So here is some stuff to read:
Okay. I'll be back next week. 



September 23, 2011

Best and Worst of the Beer Art of the Week, in Which My Burgh Pride is Tested

A new Rogue label came through, so let's take a look:

I mean, there's almost no design department as consistent as Rogue's now. You know the way the basic look will be (character drinking in black-and-white-plus-one, under the wordmark, on dark background), you know where they can take liberties (the background, accessories and accents), and you know it'll be well-executed. It's good, it's great, I love it... but I'm starting to want more. Has Rogue put out a really different design since the Morimoto stuff? I started to get excited with the Chatoe Rogue bottles, but then it turned out those were all basically the same. I dunno. It's such a well-established look and brand that I understand the need to stay close, but still. Do they do anything crazy for one-offs I can't get in PA? Any PNW readers see Rogue bottles that are abstract expressionist kaleidoscopes of composition?

So, for the worst of the week, I would like to look at a spectrum of uses of women to sell beer.
First up, one that is not "worst" at all, is from the Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland, CO, which called its Oktoberfest "The Farmer's Daughter"
Now, all of their beers are references to fairy tales etc, and so one assumes this is a reference to one of the several stories of the fable/tale with the Farmer's Daughter as a title, and not simply a play on the innumerable dirty jokes. I think it's well-designed, with the nice use of simple color fields. She's blushing and showing enough of a leg that they're clearly relying a bit on sex to sell, but this is far from overtly pigheaded. Also, the rest of their design is really good. I love the taste profile on the left, and the Halloween colors seem natural, rather than gimmicky. So it's we'll done, and tasteful enough.

Better, for example, than Stevens Point's Drop Dead Blonde:
Stevens Point generally has very good design, but this is just lazy. First, can we just stop with the blonde beer style = blond woman thing? It's been done, it's not that interesting, and it really wasn't that clever the first time. Here, there's actually less effort than usual. The blonde in question is well-rendered, I guess, but it's just her face and then some REALLY BIG CAPS LOCK FONT to take up the rest of the space. And what is so drop-dead about her? She's pretty, but she's hardly a femme fatale. Am I to take from the fact that her bra strap is coming off that she has a 9mm in her garter belt? Now, if they showed a full-body shot of a blond-haired woman in little clothing, I'd be ripping them, so I clearly don't want that. But are we calling it Drop Dead because all other types of Blonde names were taken? Because if so, I think we can take that as a sign that we can do a little better with our naming.

Then there's Iron City:
I love Iron City. I do. Not because it's good, but it's Pittsburgh and I love it. And perhaps it is too much to expect class from such an institution, but... seriously? We're just gonna put a girl in a corset and heels on the label? No even attempt at anything beer-related. Oh, they threw two barley stalks on which she can recline? No, that doesn't count. Don't get me wrong, the model is attractive, and the target audience will definitely appreciate her composition and structural qualities. Still, this is just tacky.

Also, I'm mildly curious if this will replace Augustiner (their existing amber lager), or if it's a one-off, or what? I mean, are we headed for a series of labels with different women on them? I know beers have done many a hot-or-not contest, but has one ever done it for the honor of being on the label in one's underwear for drunken yinzers to admire while pregaming at the Triple Deuce, trying desperately to get drunk enough so that the Steelers' crushing victory over the Colts this weekend is even remotely watchable, which is basically impossible on IC Light anyway... what were we talking about?

There's no word from IC yet on how permanent a beer or practice this label-bunny thing will become. It feels like a gimmick from a brewery that has had more than its share of financial woes, but I wish it were a less awful one. I want the aluminum bottles back.

To leave on a high note, from the beer market I currently inhabit, I bring you the best beer debut video I've seen in a while. Certainly, veterans of the Philadelphia music scene will like it:

September 21, 2011

Uinta Redesigns with an Eye on Nature


So one of the breweries I really liked last year was Salt Lake City's Uinta (you-in-tah) Brewing Company.

A few months ago, they unveiled their new logo:

Per the release, the new logo is:
a symbol that closely represents the meaning behind the name “Uinta” and exemplifies character of the company, as well. Uinta Brewing Company, established in 1993, was named after the Uinta Mountain Range, the only major East-West running mountain range in the continental United States. To celebrate the uniqueness of its namesake, the new logo depicts a mountain range circumscribed by a compass dial highlighting the East and West coordinates. The Compass is a tool which represents Uinta Brewing in several ways. The Uinta family prides itself on its sense of direction and focus on brewing quality, consistent beers... The compass speaks closely to the Uinta family’s sense of adventure and exploration, inside and outside of the brewery... The tagline, “Earth, Wind and Beer”, will remain married to Uinta’s logo, as it speaks directly to the responsible business practices with which Uinta is genuinely concerned: sustainability, commitment to renewable energy, and of course, crafting great beer.
Okay, makes sense. It's small, replicable, filled with meaning. The font is distinctive, and even if the tag is a bit wordy in relationship to the size of the logo, it's part of the brand identity. I'm not 100% wild about the brighter shade of red, and red circles as a general form for logos are hardly unique, but they're trying to stay close to the original, and this one strikes me as really good and solid. As for the level of improvement, well... Here's the old one:

Yeah, that was probably overdue for a facelift. The whole bottle cap thing seemed like a better idea to everyone a few years or decades ago. This is a major and needed step for a brand doing good stuff.

Anyway, that overhaul was followed by a complete redesign of all the beers.

Inspired by an upcoming 20th anniversary, Uinta Brewery sought a fresh approach in showcasing its products while maintaining the classic Uinta feel which reflects an appreciation for the outdoors and the timeless beauty of the mountain west. The process enabled Uinta to clearly define three lines of beers under the Uinta Family: the Classic Line, Organic Line and Crooked Line. Uinta designed a custom, proprietary 12 ounce bottle as part of the redesign project. Referred to as the “compass bottle,” the new bottle shape is branded by a 360-degree compass embossed into the bottle’s shoulder.
A new bottle?
Hmm, interesting. Still follows the classic look but slightly different. The compass alone wouldn't do much for me, but the change in shape is an interesting enough twist that I'm intrigued.

This line from the post cracks me up:
Naturally, adopting the proprietary bottle gave rise to the need for a substantial investment in new bottling line equipment.
I think we have a winner for understatement of the year. Changing bottles is enough to really mess up production for a while, and I can only imagine what going to proprietary bottles does to your packaging line, from fill to case. Looks like the vertical might be the same measurement, so that could alleviate some issues, but at least new labelers and such. Suffice it to say that is a serious amount of money to sink into something.

Let's take a look at the beers themselves, keeping in mind: "The process enabled Uinta to clearly define three lines of beers under the Uinta Family: the Classic Line, Organic Line and Crooked Line... Additionally, as its beer names portray, Uinta appreciates the great outdoors that surround them in Utah and the entire Intermountain West."

First, the Classic Line:

Hikers or skiers making their way to a lovely tree. Man, this earthtone-drenched brown ale has a label so crunchy you can taste the granola. But that's the identity of the brewery (they've been 100% wind-powered since 2001, when no one even cared about that stuff), and so this makes perfect sense. The Classic Line labels follow the same look and layout (hey, branding!) but have different colors and specifics (hey, product lines!), but the art is clean and simple, and well-styled.

The Dubhe is what we saw above on a bottle:
Definitely looks a little better here, as one might expect. "Dubhe" is pronounced Duhb-ee and is the name of a star in the Big Dipper, as you can see in the label. The orange and yellow form a nice contrast to the blue-green. The branded panel on the left, as you can see, is the same except for a different verb for how the beer is created (nurtured, ignited, forged, etc.)

The Golden Spike is the Hefeweizen that honors the connecting of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Again, notable for the good use of complementary colors and the solid design. Perspective on the train isn't perfect, but the stylized look makes it work. I like asymmetry, but this label is really top-left heavy, with a train there and just some tracks in the lower right.

The Trader is their IPA:
Lots of green, obviously, and I like how the hop is both central but not overpowering. It seems part of the overall environmental look, which is appropriate. The compass is back, which is good to see, but the waves behind it look a little strange in the green. Still, they're basically accents and the label as a whole is nice piece.

Lastly, let's take a look at the Organic Line (we looked at the Crooked Line last year). These are the ones with clever names like WYLD, SUM'R, etc:
The left panel is still there, but the design is different. These all share the same font, with a monochrome background and a one- or two-color small image under the lettering. The simplicity highlights the organic quality in two ways. One is that the lack of extraneous things in the label suggests the lack of unnecessary (i.e. non-organic) ingredients in the beer. The other is far more practical: There is less to distract from that all-important USDA circle, and so it really pops out from the background.

There are many quibbles to be had with the standards for Organic, but the reality is that any certification for which one must apply is something to which one can draw attention. There are several organic beers, but clearly Uinta wants this to be a major part of their nature-focused identity, and they want you to know that part of what you're paying for is their commitment to natural life. All in all, I think the redesign is a very striking and successful for a brewery that, currently in 22 states, seems to be looking to take a step forward as a national brand.

September 17, 2011

Best and Worst Beer Art of the Week, and Your 2011 Canfest Contestants

So this week, we've said hello to a new brewing company out of NY and goodbye to amateur breweries. All in all, a full week.

But not full enough.

The best beer art of the week is from two sources. The first is a Scottish brewery called Tryst, of which I became aware through a post on Fuggled. They make a beer called the Raj IPA. Here's the art:
Rudyard Kipling loved this beer.
I can't figure out who did the label art, but I like the color, action and vaguely exotic look they've captured.

Other best beer art of the week is stateside and comes via the Lovely Package blog from the Boulder canning brewery Upslope:
Top Rope Mexican-style lager, according to the blog:
... has been available on tap at Centro for some time now. Centro requested a can design for Top Rope based on the Mexican Lucha Libre Imagery that is used as part of the restaurant decor and promotional materials.
Design is by John Carlson Design, for which I can find no site, but I like the clean, bright use of the Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) mask. 

The worst of the week may seem like kind of a gimme, but trust me, it hurts:

Okay, I love Natty Light. It's a personal history thing, but believe me, I have no desire to demean that fine institution of cheap swill. Still, this sucks. First, "Natty Daddy"? That barely rhymes and sounds ridiculous. What, was "Natty" just too classy by itself? Okay, so then we add the fact the "Natty" and "Daddy" are in wildly different fonts, at different angles, overlapping each other, and only one is what we call distressed (it looks like it's rubbing off). Sure, sometimes contrast is good. Sometimes it highlights elements. Here it looks like Daddy had too many Nattys, then passed out at his computer and his 5-year old son came in to finish it.

Then, we add "PONIES" in yet a third font, which is an all-caps military stencil similar to the "Daddy" font but slightly different. "Ponies" is not a badass word, and trying to make it one leaves one looking silly. We can tell from the fact that the cans are tiny, and from the government-regulated "8 oz" text, that they're small. Was another font, background, alignment and word really necessary? And, now that we're doing this... you do remember that you're Natty, right? You're not Labatt, or Hurricane, or Gatorade, or any of the other brands for whom this label art makes sense. You're the ones who gave us this:
Hotlinked from Ratebeer. It's Natty, dude.
Let's just remember who we are, okay?


Also, the CANFEST Blogger contest is here again. You may recall that my passionate missive about cans last year lost not-so-narrowly to the creative and awesome Lost in the Beer Aisle. I'm not entering this year since I couldn't go if I won, but as a can lover and blog-supporter, here are your contestants:
Voting is open until next Friday. Honestly, this will be tough for me. These represent some of my favorite bloggers, and I like them all. I don't know if I can bring myself to make an endorsement, but perhaps someone will contact me with a compelling bribe case in the next few days.

Three more links for your weekend:



September 16, 2011

Bomb Lager Builds a Brand with Art, Cans, and Affordability

One of the business models becoming more prevalent in the craft beer community is the once-derided contract brewing, where a beer company with a recipe essentially hires a production brewery to produce their beer so that they can focus more on getting the beer to market and navigate distribution channels. Many breweries have used contract brewing as an initial step to build brand equity, but especially in difficult real estate markets (like, say, New York City), contract brewing is now a staple of many well-known breweries.

One of the most recent entrants to craft beer is Bomb Lager, which is currently distributed in New York, brewed at Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and has attracted some attention with their unorthodox can design.


From the release:
“We are excited to offer consumers a craft beer for the masses. Bomb Lager is a beer with a subtle complexity that is inviting, rewarding and a perfect fit for everyone’s table,” said Pat Carney, partner, Bomb Beer Company. “Along with creating a quality product, Bomb Lager is about artistic expression, so we wanted a package that people would want to see and be seen drinking. In fact we placed our recently updated recipe in Billy’s “Black Can” design which is as refined and exciting as the beer within it."... Bomb Beer Company chose to launch their beer in aluminum cans because they offer the best canvas to display the artwork that is a key part of its brand.
The Billy to whom that refers is New York artist Billy Miller, who sort of combines Matt Groening with Keith Haring.  

A craft beer company that launches with an emphasis on art? If their goal was to interest this blog (it probably wasn't), mission accomplished. So I contacted them, and Bomb partner Michael Raymond was kind enough to answer my emailed questions.
How did the partnership with Billy Miller arise?
We were initially drawn to his work when we saw a couple murals he did in our neighborhood. His name kept popping up, and then as fate would have it, we were introduced to him by a local bar owner on West 3rd St. - a place that both us and Billy frequented. Go figure that in one of the biggest cities in the world, our artist was right under our nose. From there, his work spoke for itself.

Will Billy remain the artist for future BOMB packaging, or will other artists be used?

In the interest of promoting art we plan on utilizing the talents of many artists. We're constantly looking for new artists to collaborate with on future packaging. Send inquiries to info@bomblager.com

Bomb is working on a contract brew model, but craft beer drinkers are generally skeptical of contract brews in quirky packaging. Is BOMB a true craft beer?

There are many craft beers that use the services of a contract brewery. There are three others in New York I can immediately think of. Would we like to have our own brewery? Of course, in fact we plan on it, but all the financial and geographical aspects need to be aligned for us to move in that direction. Our definition of craft beer is the passion and ingredients that go into to the product. Our Brewmaster, our ingredients, our process would be in line with any of the American micro-brew’s that are currently classified as a craft brew.

A traditional Bavarian Helles that conforms to the Reinheitsgebot sounds good, but how is that different from many American light lagers? 

A lot of well known American lagers include adjunct ingredients such as corn and rice in their recipes. They include these ingredients because they're less expensive and easier to manipulate than a 100% barley recipe. There are no adjuncts in our beer.

Another difference is most American lagers are classified as a pilsners. Although the difference between a pilsner and a helles is fairly marginal, a pilsner will usually have a sharper hop bite to it while a helles will offer more of a malty character. One interesting fact is during Munich’s Oktoberfest, those one liter mugs you see filled with the foamy golden beer is often a helles lager verses a true Oktoberfest Marzen beer which is darker and stronger.

What are the expansion plans as far as...
  • Markets:We would like our beer to be found around the world. We're starting here in New York and will be moving across the US over the next few years. 
  • Brands or products- We do plan on expanding our product line in the future to offer our consumers different styles of ales and lagers. 
  • Facilities: As we grow we will be looking to build our own brewery. We would love to have our own brewery, but for us, offering a great product right now is our priority. 
  • Priorities (e.g., which of those is the most important to grow first?): Good beer, supporting art, music and having fun. We want people to associate our beer with quality and fun; that's our goal. 
A big focus seems to be on price. What will the price point for BOMB be?

We're offering a craft beer with out the craft price. We want drinkers to be able to experience a well made beer without breaking the bank. Our suggested retail price is under $21 per case. We are working hard to build a brand that people love and can afford.

Are there any brands or companies out there making beer like yours, or according to a model you admire?
There are certainly beers and brewers out there that we respect and admire, but we feel that our vision is a truly unique one. Bomb is all about self-expression, having fun, and enjoying a quality craft beer in a cool new package. That's exactly what we do here on a daily basis.

--
Now, as with all email interviews, it's important to take things with a grain of salt. But it seems clear to me that Raymond and the people involved here at least understand and respect beer. The answers about adjuncts and the difference between Helles and pils both show - to me, at least - that this is more than just a marketing scheme.


Some of the questions, particularly the ones  I took from answers sales manager Doug Clark gave in a quick piece on Brewbound. Specifically:
Clark says Bomb Lager is intended for starving artists, gamers and hipsters and will feature a lower price point than most craft beers.
“We want an approach where a guy can go and pick up a six pack and still have money to eat,” says Clark. “Most of the younger crowd doesn’t have the money to enjoy a seven dollar pint... American brewers have been creating such complex beers that are all fantastic but are just massive in flavor profile. The price point — it doesn’t necessarily have to be where it is.”
As far as contract brewing is concerned... Raymond is right. Lots of breweries do it, and I believe Lion is one of the better options for contract brewing in the region. The key is to make sure the recipes are easy to standardize and quality control, which a beer like this really should be. Would I contract out a 12% exotic IPA? No. But arguably, a Helles lager of this type is actually better brewed in a massive industrial facility than it is in a small company-owned one.

In any case, I'm interested to see how this effort goes. The brand seems strong and clear, the people seem to appreciate what they're doing, and there's always a place in the market for a quality product competing on cost.

In case you haven't clicked through to his site yet, here's more of Billy's art:


A light installation in Venice

September 14, 2011

Craft Beer Entrepreneurs and the End of Amateur Breweries

Over Labor Day weekend, I had a couple of great opportunities to have discussions with some of the many people who aspire to make their career in craft beer.

The first was a chance I got to speak with Wim Vanraes of the startup Saint William Brewery. We met up at the Ship Inn on the Delaware River in Milford, NJ, where there was some excellent session beer. The Giggling Monk was a great 4.2% Belgian-inspired ale that was balanced and light with a lot of flavor, and the lightest beer offered was the 4.1% Chocolate Stout, which was a delicious dry and roasty brew. Wim actually got a chance to go talk to the brewer afterward, and you can read more about it on his blog.

Saint William drank beer from a bowl.
Wim is a Belgian who has been in the United States for 7 years, including getting his citizenship last year. He has a Masters Degree in Archaeology from the University of Ghent, and works as a freelance linguist and translator, since he speaks eight (8) languages.

As usually happens when I get together with beer people, we ended up in a conversation about beer, particularly the industry and its quirks. As a Belgian, Wim has an outlook on beer similar to the one I heard from Don Feinberg, which is to say more balanced and concerned with tradition than the average American craft beer drinker.

"Like cuisine, each [brewing] tradition has its own philosophy," Wim said. "You have to understand where it's coming from."

As someone who trained with a third-generation brewer in Belgium, that view is perhaps not terribly surprising. What was a little surprising to me, though, was his perspective on the issue of what defines a craft beer. While he acknowledged the political realities of a need for definitions, Wim said the production and ownership structure of a brewery generally do not matter to him.

"It's not about the size; it's not about who owns it in the end," he said "It's about do they respect beer?"

That in some sense reveals Wim's plan for Saint William, which is an ambitious and growth-focused one. As you've picked up by now, this post is about business models for breweries and, while I must of course respect confidentiality for b plans, I can say that Wim's is quite different than almost any I've seen in craft beer. While all business plans rely to some extent on growth, Wim's is one that takes a different approach, building in expansion plans from the beginning.

Of course, any such approach will require more significant investment upfront, but it does what few breweries have done, which is plan for the fact that most production breweries have much greater trouble meeting demand than creating it. Given the vast expansion plans and withdrawal from markets that we've seen from even larger craft breweries, one can't help but wonder if Wim's thinking will become more common. As he put it:

"I can't imagine that you'd start a brewery and say 'I don't want to grow. I don't want to be successful.'"

He noted that this "challenges the homebrew mentality" that we saw in the initial generations of craft breweries.
"Brother Adelbrecht, remember when we could make geuze without an MBA?"
That idea intrigued me. Last week, I was part of an informal meeting of some homebrewers who had aspirations of one day making a living in beer, from opening a barn farmhouse brewery to a brewpub to being a silent partner. Again, I have to respect some privacy, but the following things were all topics of discussion

  • One homebrewer will be entered in next year's GABF Pro-Am competition. All he had to do was ask a local brewery if they'd brew and submit with him.
    • He was told "we'd just never considered it before."
    • That beer required a decent quantity of an expensive ingredient. He got it donated from a large, recognizable company. All he had to do was ask.
  • When buying a former industrial facility (at least in Pennsylvania), we discussed the need for an environmental engineering firm to get the state to sign off on pollutants.
  • We had an attendant who had gone from a homebrewer to a bottling volunteer to a production worker at a nearby brewery. It mostly came down to a willingness to work slave hours for free, and then very little money, for extended periods of time.
  • Brewpubs, the consensus was, are easier in a sense, because one can crank out beer, put it on a tap, and then never make it again if it doesn't sell. On the other hand, they are also longer hours, because they combine the 70 hours a week it takes to run a bar with the 70 hours a week it takes to run a brewery.
  • Production breweries, on the other hand, are mostly a struggle to hit a moving target of sales demand from distributors and bars that are want everything immediately, but will never guarantee space or sales.
Then, Eric Steen posted two great videos on two models for beer - nonprofit and co-op, that seem to take the grassroots/community aspect of craft beer and go a step further (go watch them). The place where the above group met was a bar where the owner, an accomplished homebrewer, is doing exclusively extract brewing, another quirky idea that might have seemed crazy a few years ago. I have a Q&A coming with Bomb Lager, one of the new contract brewing beer companies that is focused more on marketing and price points than exotic hops and two-row malts. 


So what is the point of all this?

I believe the days of the amateur brewery are over. 

Even small outfits in craft beer today require a level of business planning and acumen that was absolutely not required ten years ago. Yes, the industry is growing, but competition is growing faster, and there is no room any more for a homebrewer just starting a brewery and winging it for a few years while he or she gets the hang of it. And before you protest: Yes, there were many. Many of them made it, cleaned up, and are big names now, a few did not.

The craft beer market is more crowded and sophisticated every day, and it flatly won't tolerate amateurish endeavors. When even groups of true amateurs get together to talk theoretically about going pro, and everything from production schedules to environmental engineering is on the table, we've left behind the days when Sam Calagione could open a brewpub and figure it out as he went along. It is not even just about beer quality (we can all think of breweries with quality beer that closed). The level of business acumen required to be successful in craft beer, it seems to me, is significant.

September 10, 2011

Best and Worst Beer Art of the Week, with Vikings and Floodwaters

So for the best beer art of the week, I give you something with umlauts:
Einstok Icelandic White Ale is something you almost certainly pronounced incorrectly in your head, but from a design perspective, I'm a huge fan. Nice and simple, stark white with a nice ice blue. Semi-serif font is interesting but clean, and the sparseness keeps the numerous other fonts from looking out of place. The simple profile of the viking is dynamic and imposing and even carries some depth with remarkable simplicity. Even though it's a bit close and I would have put it at the bottom, I like the longitude and latitude location of the brewery in Akureyri. I really like the crossed battle axes at the bottom, which make sure you know their hamming up the viking theme for amusement.

And the worst? Well, the worst is not new, but it is new to me, and it is bad. I've several times mentioned the blog Design Your Way, which publishes massive lists of everything from Wordpress themes to billboards. This week, they have up 40 of the "best" print beer ads (some of which are recycled).

In there is this gem:
You stay classy, Fosters.
In addition to the obvious idiocy of this, I have questions about the point. Is the idea that the beer is actually one for less busty, more savvy, older women, who can then look down on buxom blondes? If the ad is for men, is it subtly telling us to look for people in jean skirts at the beach because they might know how to keep beer cold? Is there something going on here that makes this make sense? If that's the case, then the ad's merely uninventive and crass.

What's that? It's so bad you demand more good art? Well, okay.

In yesterday's post, we saw Dan of Small Beer do a nice side by side of Driftwood for us. He also passed along an image of Driftwood's I haven't seen (damn you, national borders and distribution ranges):


A nice Mucha-style image, pulling on some Art Nouveau with a little bit of Art Brut in the text. Sort of like our viking above, giving us a lot of art with few virtual brushstrokes.

That's great, you say, but can you give me something on which to spend my money? Well, sure. The Wench has found some wallets made out beer labels on Etsy. Yeah, but what if I want a shirt that has a bottle-opener on it in the form of a wallet? ThinkGeek. I like the bottle opener, but I'd rather it be wall-mounted with a disturbing-looking bunny form? Sourpuss.

I should really start charging for those links. 

Lastly, my thoughts are with everyone - breweries like Troegs included - that are cleaning up after this week's flooding. If you're in an area that's been hit hard in recent weeks, take some time and money and go patronize a local establishment that's recovering. Some music to play you out:



Have a good, flood-free weekend.

September 9, 2011

Catching Up, Including Chick Beer and Arbitrage

Hoo boy, lots to post.

First, there has been more kerfuffle on Chick Beer, that foul-looking pink and curly thing beverage you no doubt crave if you have lady parts. I weighed in with my rant on my new platform as a "Regular" over at... (wait for it)... Men's Health.

Just read it.
Some of you may be shaking your heads in disbelief, thanks to several of the more ill-advised "Drink This, Not That" pieces, where Men's Health writers recommended Michelob Ultra over Sierra Nevada Bigfoot basically because it had fewer calories. What I'll say is this: Give the new site, which is a massive undertaking devoted to covering many facets of alcohol, a shot (Ha! Get it? Seriously, I didn't mean for that pun to happen). From my conversations with the editor, they're taking it very seriously and I think there will be some interesting stuff. If you don't believe me, go and read my aforementioned rant. There's also the full writeup on the Trail of Beers, as well as a quick piece on Yuengling launching a new beer. Another writer has a cool feature pairing books and booze, with the first installment including a favorite of mine, Haruki Murakami.

For those of you placing bets on when I get myself fired... well, put your over/under suggestions in the comments.

But back to Chick Beer and the whole idea of beer for women. I saw via Crafted that Tecate has a boxing-themed hot-or-not contest going on right now, and I have a serious question for all of you: Which is more chauvinist, an online beauty contest with scantily clad women, featuring their measurements and the vague hint of a boxing theme, or a beer that tells women to like it because it uses pink, curly writing, and is low-calorie? I've got polls up here and on the Facebook page.

Okay, moving on.

First, the Washington Post's Daniel Fromson (who we last saw struggling with Belgian beer), then Jeff Alworth, and then Patrick Emerson of Beeronomics, all have tackled the idea of eBay beer sales this week. The idea is this: People buy rare beers (Russian River's Pliny the Younger, Dark Lord, Darkness, whatever), then they sell it on eBay for 10 times as much. People buy it, the brewer gets cranky. Alworth and Emerson both do not understand how this system, which is entirely predictable with a rudimentary understanding of economics, is problematic at all, and I sort of agree. Bill Night says that all of this ignores the fact that it's against eBay's rules, and amusingly points how big a sham the whole disclaimer is.
Reselling his beer makes Koch scream.

Of course, it's price gouging and I think it's kind of stupid to pay hundreds for a bottle of beer. But no one forces anyone to buy anything on eBay. And Stone's Greg Koch, who is quoted in the WaPo article as saying he's on the side of the consumer, laments that people buying online are getting a product that probably suffers from time and shipping shock, so this practice is unfair to consumers.

I think Emerson puts it: "There is nothing pro-consumer about special releases and events that restrict the beer to a lucky/well-connected/eager set of consumers."

Yeah, it's a bit grating when people claim to represent my interests by trying to make it impossible for me to get a beer I can't otherwise.

Emerson and Alworth argue that brewers should charge more for their special beers, and maybe they're right, though I suspect we'd hammer them if they did. I'm actually in favor of them jacking the price on these supposedly incredible rare beers, because I think that will help us move as a market to a slightly more mature stage. The reality is that anyone who buys a beer for $400, knowing that quality will suffer, is either insanely wealthy, or doing it for a reason other than beer.

Here's an anecdote: When I lived in Bethlehem, I once tried to buy a mug from the Fegleys Brew Works Mug Club auction and was unable to do it because the prices were exorbitant. (I think the lowest went for $300). The year previous, people had gotten mugs for $50, a fact that was used in marketing for the auction. I was annoyed, because no amount of loyalty was worth a dime, and I wasted a few hours in a very unpleasant environment to walk away with nothing, and the whole thing felt just a little too shamelessly profit-driven. But the economic consequences were perfect, in a way. I went to the Brew Works a lot less than I would have if I'd had a mug, and my dollars went elsewhere a lot of the time. The Brew Works did what they were supposed to, which was get the most money possible for a valuable commodity. In a way, everyone won, and the only cost was that for a couple days I felt left out of a club to which I quickly realized I didn't want to belong (that being, a group of people willing to pay $300 for the right to pay money for more beer).

So do I think the people who shell out tons of money for beer on eBay are making mistakes? Yes. There's good beer near you; buy 100 of those instead. But it's their money, and I can't see why Greg Koch or Vinnie Cilurzo care that much that their beer commands high middleman prices. If they don't like it, let them distribute the beer more widely themselves.

Okay, some notes:

  • Commenter "Dan" noted on my rundown of Driftwood brewery that there is often an unfortunate difference between the design on screen and the reality. His example was Driftwood's Twenty Pounder DIPA:
Pretty, bold design. Note the lots of grays that give the cannon complexity.
But the actual label is pretty washed out.

Even the Beer and Whiskey Bros find this funny.
Yes, that's the only way to get it. As they put it:
It is designed to push the boundaries and challenge people’s perceptions about what beer is and how served and enjoyed. In true BrewDog fashion we've torn up convention, blurred distinctions and pushed brewing and beer packaging to its absolute limits. This beer is an audacious blend of eccentricity, artistry and rebellion; changing the general perception of beer one glass at a time.
Their misuse of the semicolon aside, I think that's actually very well written.

September 3, 2011

The Best Art of the Week, from Pipeworks and Surly

Thanks in part to the Session, this week's Best (no worst) is a short one, starting with this certificate sent out by Kickstarted brewery Pipeworks to their funders, watermarked for paranoia reasons:


Cool, old-timey style mixed with a new-school color scheme. We see hops used well as decorative elements in the Victorian style frame, what appears to be Das Boot filled with beer in front of a tank, and of course pen-and-ink depictions of the founders. Nothing wrong with a little design to tide us over until the beers get here.

As mentioned, there is no worst this week. Instead, we have the new label for the ever-anticipated Surly Darkness.
Every year, as you know, Surly contracts a different local artist for a creepy red-and-black piece to adorn their signature beer. From the release:
This year’s label, indeed, looks nasty thanks to the steady hand of Michael Bergland. Bergland works for MNFX, an agency based in Minneapolis.
It's definitely nasty and in keeping with the horror theme Surly likes to use. A bit on the zombie side this time, with the "They Thirst" on the right referencing John Carpenter's awesomely campy They Live.

Okay, that's all for the week. Next week I promise to post the long-awaited Weyerbacher interview.

This weekend, as you drink delicious beer and possibly see great art and design, remember your long weekend is in memory of the generations of workers that endured violence, exploitation and unimaginable conditions to bring our society that most elusive of keystones: A thriving middle class.

Drink well.

September 2, 2011

Session 55: Beer Logos and Labels, or The Best Session Ever

So, the session this month is at Curtis Taylor's Hop Head Said, and Curtis has picked a truly wonderful topic for us this month:

Now it is time to dig through your stash and share your favorite label, coaster or cap art.
Yeah.

I know what you're thinking: Uhm, that's what this blog does all the damn time, so how is this different? Fair point, it's really not. But hey, this means for one glorious day, everyone's writing about beer label art!

Of course, there's a way in which this is the absolute worst Session topic for me, ever. Asking me to pick a favorite is like asking a man to choose between his several hundred children. Do I go with my main beer-art-crush of the moment in Lee Verzosa at Stillwater? Phineas X. Jones? Adam Forman? It's enough to drive a man to drink.

But I think it's been way too long since I discussed the first craft beer label that actually engaged me, and that artist and brewery continue to produce fantastic work today, so now seems as good a time for a memory-driven homage as any.

Some of you know that I was initially inspired to start a beer art exhibition by the kerfuffle over a risque label from now-defunct Legacy Brewing Co. And while that's true, I had secretly been caring about beer label art for years before that, since I discovered craft beer at a wonderful Pittsburgh establishment called Fuel and Fuddle

They had a 100 beers club, as many bars now do, and I was young and naive about beer, but my nurtured obsession with overachievement and connoisseurship drove me to start one, and I began drinking craft beer. One of the bottles on the list was different from anything I'd ever seen. It was funny, smart, artistic, creative. The label made me laugh and show it to others, something I'd never even thought a label could do. 
cheers to beermelodies.com for having this old image
Everything about it was different. The use of the "He'Brew" (Shmaltz Brewing's line of ales), The Chosen Beer, the fact that "It's the Beer You've Been Waiting for"... to a young Jewish religious studies geek like myself, this was gold.

Now it goes by a different name (the Messiah Bold), and Shmaltz has put a lot of resources into redesign and focus on the Coney Island Lagers, but dark ale lives on with quite a bit of the label copy intact. Years later, when I launched the aforementioned art show, and was desperately peddling my concept to breweries who clearly thought I was isane, Shmaltz founder Jeremy Cowan and artist Matt Polacheck not only sent art, but came to the opening and brought the house down with wit, charm and misdirected belly dancers (but that's a story for a later time).
Bigger, badder, and brighter... but the same sense of humor
Matt (who I have been fortunate enough to get to know) continues to crank out great work, including his creepy, brilliant carny stuff for the Coney Island Lagers, and he and Jeremy continue to push boundaries of art in beer (like starting "The world's smallest commercial production brewery," making beer one gallon at a time). If you're in the NYC area, a great place to meet Matt is at Freaktoberfest, where you can see people who really do stuff like this:
A skill, yes. A marketable one? Well...
I swear, no one asked me to promote that event; I've just been to it before and it is insanely freakin' cool and, like all things Shmaltz does, is balls-to-the-wall crazy. 

So if you like this blog, and you do go to Freaktoberfest or see Matt or Jeremy in your travels, you can thank them. Without that work, it may never have occurred to me just how powerful a marketing and design piece a beer label can be.