Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tips for a fun Brewery Tour - (Industry Class)

      I love, love, love going on brewery tours. Why? I love it because it’s a behind the scenes look into the magic, art, and science of how a brewery makes their beer. You get to see equipment, look at the processes, and get a true scope of what goes into that glass that you pour their brew into.

      I’ve lost track as to how many brewery tours I’ve been on (Not many really, maybe 40 at best) but I always go in with a fresh perspective regardless of how much brewery knowledge I think I know. Why? Simple – having an open mind allows you to reinforce what you know and ask more insightful questions.

     Many people believe that working for a brewery is fun all the time but it’s actually a lot of hard work. Sure there are good times and laughs to be had but it balances out in the long run. Brewery Tours are a great opportunity for the brewery to show the public what really goes on…and perhaps brag a little.

     I've put together some simple insights from my meager experience to help make the most out of your brewery tour experience, many of these are based on simple courtesy.

1) Check the brewery website 1st, then phone 2nd - Regardless of what the website says, I ALWAYS phone first and talk to a live body (talking to dead bodies gets a bit one-sided). Websites can change or not be up to date with brewery tour times. Maybe the brewery is having a special event on the day you and your friends want to go and won’t have tours available. It never hurts to double check to avoid surprises.  Some breweries expect you to have a group of individuals before they consider conducting a tour. 

     If the brewery either doesn't have a website (yes, there are breweries out there that don’t have one) or they don’t post tour times or say if they conduct tours, it’s a good idea to phone. I know I always want to be mindful that I don’t expect a tour on a during a brew day or cleaning day because it can be a bit hectic in there and you don’t want to be in the way of people doing their job.

2) Prepare safe travel – Brewery Tours are MUCH more fun with a friend or 5. I know my friends tend to stand back, watch, and laugh as I nerd out over a German made 6-roller mill, or the fact that the brewery has Cascade hops. One part of the fun is if you have prepared for a designated driver. Depending on the brewery location, you could try and use transit but some breweries are tucked away in industrial sections of towns or cities. If you can take transit, do so. Otherwise, make you have a Designated Driver (DD) or plan to use transit or the like to get safe travel to and from the brewery. Or you could connect with a company like this so that you can enjoy some tasty libations and they’re drive you around.

3) Please prepare to be early – Don’t wait until you jump into your car, plug in your GPS, and find out there is construction that will prevent you from arriving on time. Give yourself at least 15 minutes of extra time to find the brewery so your DD to locate a good parking spot.
This person didn't give obviously give themselves enough time to find a good parking spot before their scheduled brewery tour. Tsk, tsk. 

       The brewery staff are taking time out of their day to show you around their place of work. I've lost track as to how many tours I've been on where I've had to wait for inconsiderate dolts that show up late like they own the joint…those people should just stay home.  Some tours are first come, first-serve so you don’t want to be late.

4) Dress Accordingly – The vast majority of breweries will show you around regardless of what you wear and people want to be comfortable in the summer. If you read Step #9 in this blog post of mine then you'll see some parallels.  Do keep in mind that you’re essentially visiting a food production facility. I remember one particular tour where one woman was wearing a flowy dress that was getting caught on every piece of equipment she walked by and almost slipped a few times in her high heels trying to walk through a small puddle. She complained and belly-ached the entire time and made it seem like it was the brewery’s fault for having valves and hoses in specific spots. It pretty much was an accident waiting to happen.

      I’m not saying you need to wear steel toed CSA approved work boots but I know one particular brewery in Vancouver states on their website for their tours:

Please Note: For compliance with BC Health and safety standards, all participants must wear close-toed shoes and be at least 19 years of age.”

5) Don’t expect the tour to be conducted by the Head Brewer or Brewmaster – To get a tour by the Head Brewer or Brewmaster is a real treat (at least it is for me) because you can ask more technical questions (i.e. nerd out) and get some unique insight. If the brewery conducts paid tours then it is likely one of the retail or sales employees will be conducting the tour. This is NOT to say that your brewery tour guide wouldn’t be a knowledgeable individual (They know their stuff and some are downright hilarious!). Many people tend to assume that the Head Brewer can drop what they’re doing to conduct tours at a given moment. Keep in mind, that it is certainly not for the lack of want that a brewer would like to talk about their facility, brewing, and even share a sample with you but these guys and gals have lots of other tasks to complete when they’re not brewing (Trust me on that).

Brewing Director Brian Smith of Wild Rose Brewery in Calgary taking time out of his day to  host a tour.
A pleasant surprise and very informative
6) Don’t expect tons of beer  – Some breweries will provide you a sample to tide you over before the tour starts (which is why you get there early!). Some may wait until after the tour to provide samples to avoid glass breaking mishaps within the brewery. I remember one tour where a couple louts came in before the tour and said “When do we start drinking?!” I shook my head because these guys were here for the wrong reason. And you’re there to sample not to get rip roarin’ hosed. Remember, having a beer sample is a privilege not a right. I say this because recently I went on a brewery tour where no samples were provided at the end of the tour (that's right, none, nil, zip, zilch, rien, zero, nada, the list goes on). Sure, it was disappointing but I guess I shouldn't have had my hopes up in the first place.

Ah, the beer sample flight - it's a "nice to have" after the brewery tour but don't expect it.
7) Don’t touch anything…unless told to. – I can’t stress this enough. Even if you think you know what you’re doing, these pieces of equipment are very expensive and chances are that if you touch anything you could adversely affect an entire batch of brew. 

     I've witnessed this on a tour where one guy was leaning on a fermenter and had his hand on a butterfly valve. The guy conducting the tour didn't see but a few of us were ready to pounce on “Mr. Lean” in order to prevent a possible beer disaster. (and Peter if you're reading this, this was not "Mr. Lean" as in LEAN procedures) If the tour guide wants you to touch and hold malt, hops, or anything else – let them lead you through the process for your own safety.

8) Do ask questions – How else are you going to learn if you don’t ask? Take advantage of this opportunity and don’t be shy (usually a beer sample helps with that). I remember being on one tour where the mill had “SLAYER” written in dust on the side with a funny story to partner with it. Every brewery has a unique story or funny tale behind it that lends to its unique personality alongside their beers.

9) Show appreciation – Don’t forget to say thank you to your tour guide. (No, that doesn't give you the right to hug them regardless of how attractive you think they are.) Support the brewery further by taking home some of your favorite beer or some swag or both! (For me, brewery t-shirts and glassware with the brewery’s logo are my bane.) Tell your friends using social media! Lately I’ve been trying to remember the name of the tour guide so I can send people to that person specifically. A little goes a long way here.

10) Have fun! -  'Cuz that's what it's about right?

Do any of you have a unique tip that makes for a fun brewery tour? If so, post it in the comments. What are some of the most memorable and enjoyable brewery tours that you’ve been on? What made that experience fun?

Now get out there and go check out some breweries this up and coming summer and see for yourself how they put together some of your favorite beers.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Gluten Free Beers - Part 1 - Thoughts (Industry Class)

Disclaimer: In this article you may bump into, be nudged by, and potentially trip over a substantial amount of sarcasm. It doesn't happen that often but do be mindful while reading. After all, I take health and safety VERY seriously. 

You've been warned. 
     I was traipsing (that's right,'s kind of like surfing with intent) across the internet the other day found this article. It's titled "How we all went crazy for gluten-free beer."  

     After reading the title I thought, "People went crazy?" I can understand excited but apparently in the UK, Gluten-Free beers are all the rage. I did read some points in this article that really need to be addressed. 

"But with two of the main ingredients of beer - barley and hops - containing gluten, is there really any point in making gluten-free beer?"
"Great Horny Toads! Them thar hops have that pesky gluten. Get 'em!"
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down there. I get that barley has gluten and we use barley to make bread...but hops? Really? Obviously the author doesn't drink beer because even the average light lager drinker knows that hops doesn't have gluten. 

But wait, maybe I shouldn't be so closed minded. Maybe there is a special strain of hop that has gluten and it's been sneaking its way into every beer out there. It's those SNEAKY hops that are causing all the celiacs to have problems...not just the grains.

Ok, maybe I'm wrong though. Maybe there IS gluten in hops as part of some eerie "gluten-is-hidden-behind-the-lupulin-gland-of-the-hop" science-y thing that I'm missing. So being the curious guy I am, I looked it up. Last time I checked, hops are essentially a flower & flowers don't have gluten...or do they?  I decided to look it up further in The Oxford Companion of Beer (page 459 to 460 if you're really interested) and it mentions the following:
  • hops are perennial herbaceous plants (psst, that means plants like trees, shrubs, and vines, oh my! Yeah, you're trying to tell me a freaking TREE has gluten? I knew those bark sandwiches were bad for me!)
  • they are called the "little wolf PLANT", named for the plant's tactile qualities
  • hops belong to the family of Cannabinaceae (yep that includes Cannabis) (So technically wouldn't that mean that celiacs shouldn't smoke "the marijuana" as well?) 
I get it now! The gluten sensitive Orcs of Eisengard were only protecting themselves by cutting down all the trees that were full of gluten. Why would the Ents be upset by that? Can't we all just get along?
But don't just take my word for it. Here are a couple links for you to check out:

"Forget Craft Beers: 2015 will be the year that gluten-free grog made the mainstream"

(shaking head). Forget Craft beers? Craft Beer is undergoing another wave (kind of like surfing...yes, surfing...not traipsing). How can 18.72% (from the earlier math remember?) be construed as mainstream? Wouldn't that have to be a majority? So is this person saying that craft beer is mainstream? So does that mean that gluten-free beer is NOT craft beer? I'm getting sort of lost here. 

     I decided to ask a source so I promptly called up one of my favorite boutique liquor stores, Firefly Fine Wines and Ales in Maple Ridge, and asked them how many different beers they had in stock. I was informed that the store around 1200. That's really impressive! How many gluten free beers do they have? Twenty. 

(Here we go with the math again) So that means that 1.67% of their total beer stock consists of gluten-free brews. Now 20 different gluten-free beers isn't anything to sneeze at. Firefly has experienced such solid growth in the past 2 years that they have had to change from a small single shelf to 2 larger shelves. I also hear that this particular liquor store currently has the best selection of Gluten-Free beer in their area. That's awesome and great news for celiacs.

"You can't argue with the stats and 12 million Britons are now choosing gluten-free products, whether they need to or not."

     Ok, but when you mean "Briton", I'm sure you mean the UK. So that means out of an entire population of 64.1 million people (as per 2013) that means that 12 million are choosing gluten-free products? Unless my math is wrong, (No, I'm not using new math) that means that such is 18.72% which is a fair amount of people. Just because they are choosing gluten-free products doesn't mean they're choosing gluten-free beer
No, I didn't use new math to come up with my percentages. 
These people could simply be becoming vegetarians, vegans, valedictorians, whatever. Again, that does not mean they are going to reach for a gluten-free beer because they could be reaching for wine and / or cider. I'd be interested to see how many people on gluten-free diets reach for gluten-free beer, that way this can better tell the story. 

"Gluten-free beers tend to use alternative grains and grasses such as millet, rice, corn, buckwheat or sorghum in place of these during the brewing process. This can give the drink a slightly different taste, as the dominant flavour of a traditional beer is the hops (CELIA is one gluten-free option that is made with hops that are de-glutenized)."

     Well, the "slightly different taste"  is very subjective. Since when do you have to de-glutenize hops? When I visited Hop Union in the Yakima Valley this past September, I don't recall seeing a "deglutinizer" when it comes to hop processing in their facility. 

Again I decided to contact a source so I called up a buddy of mine who works at a hop-farm in BC. I asked him if there was a way to de-glutenize hops and the first thing he said was
 "(Insert Long pause)...........what? De-who-what?

I think this drives my point home. 

"Traditional beer is made with hops, but gluten-free beers often use other grains."

Hops are a grain? Then how come I NEVER see hop bread, hop muffins, hop croissants, hop crackers, or hop croutons?  Am I not looking hard enough? 

Hops: Apparently they have gluten. Who new?
     My additional counter-point to this comes from a video I saw on the Spinnakers Facebook page that had a panel during Victoria Beer Week in 2014. If you check out the vid, zip ahead to 23:00 because that's when they talk about gluten free beers. Keep in mind the panel consists of successful BC brewers. According to host and writer Joe Weibe (aka the Thirsty Writer (Super-talented guy btw)), he says that "17% of British Columbians claim a gluten-free lifestyle".

Hmm, that lines up with what is happening in the UK. Maybe the numbers are true, but I stand behind my point that those people may not be reaching for gluten-free beer. 

Keep in mind, Matt Phillips (Owner and head brewer of Phillips Brewing in Victoria BC), states there are 2 ways to make gluten-free beer:
  1. To use non-gluten type ingredients (i.e. sorghum, rice, I've seen chestnuts). 
  2. To use an enzyme that clarifies and removes proteins (mainly gluten). 
"My water is has gluten in it."
Both of these are problematic. This gets into the area of materials handling and proper storage protocols but more importantly: cross-contamination

That means you pretty much need to have an entirely separate brewhouse in order to keep from having any residual gluten from floating around...or wouldn't you? 

It seems that the enzymatic removal would be the way to go. But this leads into another point:

Are we going for gluten-free or gluten-reduced?

When my Mom was alive, she was a diabetic. When we were out grocery shopping together one day I had picked up some sugar-free product for her and she told me to put it back. After some discussion from my natural confusion she said this brilliant epiphany to me. 

"Just because something says 'sugar free' doesn't mean it's diabetic friendly."

With that being said, I say this to all you celiacs out there:

"Just because something is gluten-free doesn't mean it's celiac friendly."

But wait, the large majority of celiacs monitor their diet really well so you celiacs already know that. (No seriously! I'm not being sarcastic here)

     Now I personally know 7 people who are celiac and have varying degrees of sensitivity from "gluten makes me uncomfortable" to "OMG, I FEEL LIKE I'M GOING TO DIE!" For something to be considered gluten free, that means it has to have less than 20 ppm of gluten in it. My friends that are celiac have a hard time with beers that use enzymes to try and remove gluten below 20 ppm.

In fact, over this past summer I hung out with my pal Lisa and brought a bunch of gluten-free beers for her to try (all from my favorite liquor store). She stated that she couldn't have gluten-free beers that used enzymatic removal. My heart sunk. I thought I had hit the jackpot with being able to hang out on her decorated deck of awesome in the summer sun, catch up, and crush a few cold ones. Nope. 

I think there needs to be more research in order to completely get a beer to be gluten-free AND to be enjoyable for the conventional palate. Now, I've tried my fair share of gluten-free beer (which I'll do a follow-up post on), mainly because I want to find beers that my celiac pals and I can enjoy. 

If people want to have a gluten-free lifestyle (meaning they are NOT celiac) then power to them because healthy is good. But didn't we see the same sort of thing years ago and what happened to that? (**cough** Atkins **cough, cough**) 

Now I'm going to have a gluten-free beer, oh wait, I don't have any. Hmmm, cider is looking pretty good about now.

See ya!

PS: I'm thinking of doing a follow-up post to this with a list of Gluten Free Beers that I've tried and can suggest to those celiac individuals. If you think it's a good idea, then please say so in the comments. Thanks. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Beer Education - There's always more to learn (Industry Post)

      We all know that craft beer is growing (if you didn't know, then just take my word for it) and the need for educated people is becoming more prevalent & even required in order to keep the consistency of craft beer to a high level. To fill the gap of needing well trained individuals, there are 4 post-secondary institutions in Canada (at least that I know of and at the time of this writing) that are offering brewing related programs as follows:

Niagara College - (in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario) started the proverbial ball rolling with their Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management Diploma program a few years ago. They have the luxury of a viticulture program (that’s wine-making there, folks) and a culinary program to boot to round things out.

Olds College – out in Olds, Alberta (Don’t know where that is? Think about 1 hour North of Calgary), they’re going to be graduating their first class of their Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management Diploma Program this April.  Located in the heart of barley country so they enjoy close proximity to high quality ingredients combined with a large impetus placed on hands-on learning. 

Kwantlen Polytechnic University – out in Langley, BC have started their Brewing & Brewery Operations Program in 2014 and the first program of their kind in British Columbia. With all the breweries that are opening in BC, this makes sense.

Simon Fraser University – this group in has 3 campuses in BC and are offering a Craft Beer & Brewing Essentials certificate that’s launching in October of this year.

     Now if you’re not quite ready to commit to a few years to expanding your technical brewing skills then look no further than Olds College because they are offering a 2-day Practical Microbiology for the Craft Brewer short course held at Olds College on May 2nd & 3rd (Sat-Sun).

Get in on this while you can, I hear that space is very limited. 
Who will be instructing this course?

It will be instructed by Dr. Jordan Ramey who is a microbiology guru, certified Beer Judge, professor for the Olds College Brewmaster & Brewery Operations Management program, brewing consultant, sensory scientist, and contributing member of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas.

Why would you want to take this course?

This course would do well for people that may already be in the craft brewing industry (before all the brewery programs listed above came to be) and are looking to improve their lab skills.  Perhaps a craft brewery has brought onto their staff a talented home brewer and needs to introduce lab techniques to them? You could be part of a brewery and you’re building a lab and need to gain some skills.  
I have it on good authority that he will be assisted by Doug Cheknita who is part of the inaugural graduating class of the Olds College Brewing Program. A strong brewer specializing in Belgians, Sours, and wild fermentations, Doug has a special affinity for brewing microbiology and working with novel yeast and bacterial strains for creative flavor profile production. He has been working on a Special Project over the past year to isolate wild strains of yeast & brewing bacterias in Alberta. 

What should you expect?

Jordan & Doug are both patient, insightful, and bring a wealth of knowledge that will expand your scientific techniques with various microbiological assays that are commonly used in a craft brewery. Expect to learn about yeast counting & viability, Gram staining, media preparation, differential media use, micro QA/QC planning, and yeast library maintenance in a hands-on environment. Space is limited to only 9 participants so you’ll want to get in on this. Don’t expect to see scenes like the picture below, but that’s not to say that fun won’t be had. 

What do you think the caption for this should be? It's like a Meme waiting to happen. (and No, this isn't a picture of Jordan & Doug)
     As a brewing student that has taken Brewing Microbiology, learning about lab techniques that can be used in a craft brewery was a truly eye opening experience and truly rounded out my insight into the brewing world. 

     Now some of you may be thinking “Why the plug? What do you get out of it there, Beerlearner?” The funny thing is that I don’t get “anything out of it” short of satisfaction in helping get the word out to expand the knowledge of people in the craft brewing industry. Sometimes as a BeerLearner, it’s not just about my own knowledge gain but also spreading the learning to those motivated and interested people.


PS: In case you missed the link to check out this short-course, simply click here

Friday, March 13, 2015

Charity Beers & Sales - (Sales Class)

 In case you hadn’t heard, or you just got out of hibernation (I don’t blame you considering the amount of cold weather in this province), recently the female brew students of the Brewmaster program got together to brew a beer called Calamity Jane. Part of the proceeds of this beer will go to a women’s charity in Alberta and the Pink Boots Society. If you missed the story, check it out at my “brew-sister’s” blog .

It was discussed in my Brewing Sales & Promotions class that some businesses can receive a plethora of calls from various charities asking for charitable donations. It was also brought to my attention by my instructor, which made me really uncomfortable to hear, that charity events are often viewed as a loss in sales for businesses. Why is that? Has it always been that way? Wouldn’t the social media presence alone encourage the sale of this beer?

I can only speak for myself in that within me it creates a stronger bond with that brewery. It shows that a company is just not about making a buck and also wants to support their community.

One night, I got to thinking of all the breweries that do charity events or brews that I know. I’m sure there are a myriad of them out there and I could easily create a book. The notable ones that stick out in my mind are (in no particular order):

This is the beer from Phillips that I had
Phillips Brewing – they conduct a Benefit Brew where the public votes on which charity they donate via creation of a special edition brew. This year they have two Benefit brews – one for BC and one for Alberta. Don’t believe me? Check it out here:

I managed to snag their milk stout a year or so ago and really enjoyed it. The challenge with this program is that almost every time I want to get the beer, it’s gone from stores.

Central City Brewery Imperial IPA for Autism – This is a pretty extensive program that connects with the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) to build awareness. I’ve had this beer and it’s a cacophony of melon, red ruby grapefruit, passionfruit and typical Northwest hop personality backed by Central City craftsmanship. I hope Central City Brewery keeps putting out this beer because you get to help a worthy cause and drink great beer. You can read about this program more here.

This beer brings back memories...good ones.

Tree Brewing’s Community Pint – At Tree Brewing’s recently opened Beer Institute they had Community Pint night every Tuesday for the month of February where 50 cents from each pint sold was to be donated to a local charity. They do a similar thing in their tasting room located at their brewery where a portion of the tasting fee goes to a different charity for each month of the year. They have also been involved with the BC Fire ReLeaf Fund, Cops For Kids, Ski To Sea and the many charitable donations made throughout the year. I like the idea that a specific beer doesn’t need to be purchased to see some kickback to the community.

Read a bit about the Community Pint here.

Alberta Beer Festivals – Yes, yes, I realize that this group isn’t a brewery but their mission statement is 

Alberta Beer Festivals is a forum for breweries to share their stories, passions and products with beer enthusiasts of Western Canada. We create a positive impact in the beer industry, local charities and within our community”. Bill Robinson and his team are a great asset to the growing craft beer community in Alberta. They’re not about being at the forefront per se, moreso about allowing the brewing industry to unite under their own terms in a venue of camaraderie for the sake of the industry. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Bill, Mark, & Brett when they came up and gave a talk to us students. A great crew that have a provincial reach to numerous charities. Peruse their slick and updated website at this link

Honestly, I think that positivity and charity events will pay off in cross-marketing & promotions, collaboration brews and projects, sponsorship and involvements that can only benefit a brewery. Maybe I’m just naïve in thinking that helping out a charity is a loss in profitability.  I can understand that a brewery would have to pick and choose which charity / charities to assist that may better work with a brewery’s ideals and mission statement.

I believe with volunteer and charity work, what may not emerge with financial ROI will come back in good energy and an even better name by your consumers. Maybe that’s why this student of beer is growing his hair long and has a charity event planned that involves cutting off his hair for Cancer Kids. Now how do I go about putting that one together? I have a few more years at least so my hair gets to the length I want.

Thanks for reading,

PS: What other charity beers or beer events stand out with YOU? Feel free to list them in the comments. What’s great is that there is no wrong answer here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ladies in Brewing - a musing (Industry Class)

Recently all the female brew students in 1st & 2nd year at the Brewmaster program got together and created Calamity Jane Pale Ale in order to celebrate International Women's Day. These ladies did everything. They worked together to come up with the recipe, brewed it, transferred the brew, monitored fermentation, filtered it, bottled it, promoted it and more. Part of the proceeds of this limited release beer from this beer is to go to a Central Alberta Women’s Charity and to the Pink Boots Society. You don’t know who Pink Boots are? Well check out this link.

I visited my "brew-sister" Lisa and the 1st years on the day of the brew and there was a lot going on. Don't take my word for it, check out her blog here. They were all talking about how excited they were to support International Women’s Day. The gals even had a launch party at the local restaurant with plenty of media at the event to promote it. There’s even been some buzz around the web at these links.:

Now I got to thinking “Waitasec, women used to brew beer in history, so why not now? Is it all the corporate shenanigans that turned brewing into a male-dominated industry?”

When I think of 'women in brewing', I think of the following: 

Barleys Angels – Their website says that they“expand the appreciation and understanding of craft beer among women through events with craft beer professional”. There are a couple groups located in Alberta and a couple in BC and they span world wide. Take a peek here. 

Beer Chicks – Christina Perozzi & Hallie Beaune are two of my heroines in the beer industry from the US. They’re smart, sassy, intelligent, brew beer, and the list goes on. I have their 2 books: The Naked Pint & The Naked Brewer. These are 2 ladies that I’d love to have a pint or two with. Lots of talent and insight with these two gals at this site.

The book "The Naked Brewer" with Christina Perozzi & Hallie Beanue (aka The Beer Chicks). Why naked? Beats me but it got your attention right?
Brew Betties YYC - 

Started by the female powerhouse Tiffany, this is a group based in Calgary designed to bring ladies together to appreciate craft beer and more. She's a fun pal of mine. When you get a chance, check out her Facebook page!

Mirella Amato – How can you be in the beer industry and not admire one of the only 7 Certified Master Cicerones? I have her book Beerology and I’d love to take her course if I lived in Ontario. Another person on my “Must-have-beer-with-this-person-before-I-die” list.

Don't worry there are more! I've lost count as to how many gung-ho gals there are in the BC beer industry. People from brewers, knowledgeable sales reps & managers (Shout outs to Folland, Laura, Tess, Emily, Alicia, & Trish), liquor store managers (Go Holly @ Firefly Maple Ridge!), CAMRA members (such as Lundy, Monica, Amanda for starters and Natasha in CAMRA Alberta). Whew!

You want an article about some of these gals? Here you go.

I know I missed mentioning other talented female individuals in the brewing industry. It's not that I'm ignoring you, it's just that there are so many talented gals that are breaking down barriers of this male dominated industry. 

Gentlemen -  if you haven't embraced the change that ladies are into craft beer then please give your head a slight shake because back in the day...women brewed the beer!

Ladies! - Keep up the momentum! I salute you and honestly support all of you getting the word out about your unique insights and perspectives. 


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Bud Ad: Escalation or Damage Control? - (Industry Class)

Thanks for stopping by. Before you read this, grab a tasty beverage of your choice.

Now, I didn’t watch the Super Bowl (It’s because I tend to lose the bet on who wins and it late involves me wearing something embarrassing or no pants) so I didn't see the Budweiser ad that everyone has been talking about. I heard about it via social media. If you don’t know the ad I’m referencing, it’s in this article

     After I watched the ad, I confess my initials thoughts were of anger and irritation. I felt it was a blatant slam at the craft beer industry that I want to spend the rest of my life in. To sate my annoyance I wrote (actually typed) down some thoughts.
     After a craft beer and a good night’s sleep my mind was in a more rational place the next day.  I realized that the ad was meant to get a reaction out of craft beer enthusiasts across North America and I think it worked. Now that I've thought about it, I’m sort of “Meh” about the situation.  

There has been some retaliation of course in the form of counter-ads from the craft beer community such as this one

And this article really put together a lot of thoughts that I almost completely agree with. Paste magazine

Now I realize that’s a LOT of reading so I don’t blame ya if you skimmed a bunch of that stuff.

      My thoughts? Well a lot of those other blogs covered what I felt. I honestly feel that Bud is up against the ropes. Don’t believe me, read this – not right now, just later if you need to

Now the following was my initial & irritated reaction when I started writing and the other is my relaxed sort of chill reaction (well as “chill” as I get for those that know me). I thought it was worth posting as, not necessarily 2 polarized sides of my view, just two different ones. Why do such this way? After all, I'm only human...a passionate one at that.

The “Elysian Effect”

Irritated reaction: If I was an Elysian employee and I was nursing my wounds because the craft brewery I worked got bought out by Bud (and many of them didn’t know about it), I’d be pretty choked with the ad. Not so much with the whole depiction of the hipster-like guys in the ad but moreso that they said “Let them sip their Pumpkin Peach ale”. Bud obviously paid a TON of money for that ad and they knew exactly what they were doing. Not only did they kick the people that they financially took over down but they also hit below the belt at the fact that Elysian makes a Pumpkin Peach beer. That’s just too much insult to injury to me that it appears that Bud has little to no respect for their latest financial acquisition. The tragic thing is that most people don’t know about this somewhat recent news.

       So Bud, you may be the "King of Beers" doesn't mean you have to act like a tyrant. 

My ambivalent reaction:  I do know of one Canadian Northwest craft brewery that got bought out by a big macro-brewery some years ago. All in all, their product quality hasn’t dropped that much (just my opinion) but I will always try their seasonals…and a fair share of those seasonals more than once. Maybe this latest example will go the same way. Mind you, the Canadian macro brewery that bought the craft brewery didn't make fun of them for putting raspberries in their beer. So what does that tell you? Maybe it's 'cuz us Canadians like to play a bit nicer than our neighbors to the south.

“We’ll be brewing us some golden suds”

Irritated reaction:  Bud isn’t the only company that brews “golden suds” there ABI.  This just makes it sound like only you do and anything that is ‘dark’ is pretentious and prissy. Let’s count the number of styles that are not just adjunct lagers (like you are) out there that could be considered “golden”:

Blonde Ale, Hefeweizen, Belgian Tripel, Munich Helles, Dortumunder Export, German Pilsner, Bohemian Pilsner, Kölsch, Weissbier, Saison, Berliner Weisse, Belgian Blond Ale, Belgian Golden Strong Ale...I can keep going, but I think I lost you at "Belgian"  Wait, no I didn't, look who owns you. 

Ambivalent reaction:  When I think “suds”, I think soap. Bud & suds? Is that what is meant by ‘clean’ taste? I guess if you want to keep to one brand and not diversify then that’s your choice. I know my Brewing Industry Prof would not be keen on a brewery only having one brand. But then again, it seems to work for Steam Whistle. So power to ya. 

The Use of Beechwood Aged

Irritated reaction: Here you're making it sound like you're making whiskey or a high end spirit and playing on the lack of knowledge by the average consumer. I can’t deny that. But if aging with beechwood was full on used today wouldn’t it add an abundance of wooden tones to the beer that would be off putting to the normal consumer due to the lighter body of the lager? Some vital info is being left out here.

This is Randy Mosher and the book I'm referencing.
Well, my copy is a lot more worn out 
Ambivalent reaction: Why both adding anything here which hasn't already been said by Randy Mosher in his book Tasting Beer (which is an awesome book by the way) about Beechwood Ageing as follows:

At one time, most American breweries aged their lagers in “chip tanks” with a pile of wooden slats in the bottom. These are stripped of any wood character before going into the tanks and do not impart any wood flavor to the beer. 
Their real purpose is to provide the additional surface area for the yeast to settle on and this may have benefits for the conditioning of the Beer. Anheuser-Busch has found it is worth the considerable trouble for their yeast and their beers, but few breweries feel the same these days.
Verdict: Nice nod to tradition, but not what it sounds like.”

The “Enemy of my Enemy” - My reaction to MillerCoors getting out of the line of fire. 

You may need to enlarge this a bit but it's worth reading. 
Irritated Reaction: I saw this poster from MillerCoors and it appears  MillerCoors is just now sitting there with their palms facing up looking at the craft beer community going “Don’t look at us guys & gals, we didn’t say it! (We may have been thinking it) We’re cool though right?” [Holds out hand expecting a fist-pound.] Hey MillerCoors, I think it’s only time before you buy yourselves another craft brewery yourselves.

Ambivalent Reaction: Nicely said MillerCoors, (No, seriously) even coming out with some transparency about the Blue Moon brand. But part of me wonders if MillerCoors is not secretly kicking themselves for not doing that commercial first.

”After years of trashing macros, why would any of us be surprised that they bite too!?”

Irritated Reaction: Because if you're going to go big, then you better be prepared for the naysayers and the haters. I remember hearing that in my Brewing Management class and being told "That's part of doing big business".  When the Golden Arches got nudged, poked, & prodded, about the quality of their burgers, you didn't see them attacking the small burger joints. No, they took the higher ground and adjusted their menu accordingly…not that I eat there. Nor do you see Kraft or Maple Leaf taking shots at artisanal cheeseries or the small town butcher.
          Besides, if Bud's beer is SO good, then why should they care about what the “little” guys & gals are doing? Oh yeah, I forgot – maybe it’s ‘cuz they’re starting to feel the pinch in the market? Furthermore, not every craft brewery trashes macro beer but of course, they get lumped into the lot.

Ambivalent Reaction: (Shrug) Yeah I guess if you poke a dog the size of house often enough with a limp noodle it will get sorta choked…and then attack you and eat your face. I guess having at least losing 1.1% market share from 2012 to 2013 (I got those figures here) but still being a dominant majority, is enough to drop the hammer. (Sorry, don’t step in the pile of sarcasm). I mean sure, that's a big chunk of change to lose over time. Looking back, I can see why Bud took this road.
On another note, I know there is a letter that a brewery in Europe send to Bud inviting them over for a beerfest. I couldn’t find the it for the life of me using various Boolean operators and search criteria. If someone finds the link, please post it in the comments. Thanks.

I guess for me what this really boils down to is transparency. Transparency of ingredients (e.g. corn & rice use vs. Belgian candi sugar), people (e.g. letting people know what's going on), the brewing process (e.g. using machines to dose pellet hops vs. using whole hop cones), and ownership (e.g. overseas companies vs. employee profit sharing). 

My pipe dream is for all the breweries to just flat out tell their customers all the stuff that goes in their products like laying out a poker hand when someone says “Call”.  If the customers out there get all the info laid out to them and still make their choices for their brands knowing the whole picture then I will wholeheartedly respect that. I will even say "Cheers" as we 'clink' glasses in a pub as fellow beer lovers. Then we can get down to some fun story telling. 

Yeah, yeah, - I know that’s too hard to ask and that's NEVER going to happen, but a guy can dream right?

After all this I leave you with a quote from the book Beer & Philosophy that I challenge you, the reader, to disagree with.

"As craft brewers, we are not in the business of growth - we are in the business of making world-class beer. Growth is just a by-product of our business. Money is a means to our end and not an end in itself." - Sam Calagione of Dogfishhead Brewery

Thanks Sam. 


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Beer Servers: An Open Letter of Sorts - Sales Class

      Too many times I've been to a restaurant that serves craft beer and I end up with a server that has between little and zero interest in the beer they are serving. Tragically this is too often the case. In the booming craft beer industry where beer representation is becoming more competitive lack of service in this regard can be disconcerting. Now I don’t expect every single server to have an extensive amount of beer knowledge; I’m merely looking for a happy medium.

To me, a server is the connecting point to the consumer that represents the establishment and the kitchen. The customer’s expectations of you will likely be higher if you work in a big taphouse. Yes, being a server is a tough job (I know I’ve been one before) but with a little extra effort, one can evolve from being a mere mouth breather that delivers my order and takes my money.

So servers, please pay attention. Here are some insights that may assist in you providing superior service to not just us beer nerds, but all your patrons. (Oh, and if you’re already doing all of this, then you’re all sorts of awesome and have nothing to worry about – Keep on, keepin’ on!)

Use your words - The prof that teaches us brew students Sensory Evaluation constantly tells us (and for good reason) to avoid describing a beer using just the following words:

Hoppy, Malty, Bitter, Sweet, Dark, Light

Words to live by....see what I did there?
For servers to tell someone that a beer is “dark” will severely limit the average customer’s choice. Why? Because as soon as you say “Dark beer”, the customer automatically compares it to Guinness. Why is this bad? Because believe it or not, not every “dark” beer is like Guinness (Insert sarcasm here) (GASP! NO! REALLY? YOU THINK?) That’s like telling people that all white meat in the world tastes like chicken. (Psst, raw oysters don’t taste like chicken btw)

                Sure a beer can be “hoppy” but start looking at what the hops remind you of. Citrus? Grapefruit? 

How can a server expand the beer vocab? Reading any sales info from the beer sales rep helps. Ask the bartender (Note: I know a few of my brew colleagues don’t think too highly of bartenders in general but bear with). If in a brewpub, then ask the brewer. You could even take a course like this one. Taking that extra bit of initiative to learn will carry you a long way.

DON’T offer me your beer opinion (unless I ask for it) – I’ve seen servers do this when they rattle off a beer list off by heart. There are a few that will even say “I LOVE Shock Top” when they finished their list of primarily domestic brands. I get that a server is trying to be suggestive (maybe they get a spiff for selling out a specific brand) but the average beer nerd won’t like that. What if I absolutely loathe, hate, & despise the beer you’re suggesting with every fiber of my being? Guess what, you just peeved me off (Note: it takes a LOT for me to hate something, No seriously, you’d have to work at it.)

Yeah, don't do an advocate for your brands.
                If I do ask for your opinion (and I do that from time to time) about a specific beer like an IPA and you say “I don’t like IPAs.” then you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.  You’re the advocate for the brands your restaurant serves! If you don’t like it, why would I ever want to try it? I’m putting my trust in you. Instead, try meeting me halfway with a modicum of honesty and try something like “I’ve tried it. It’s a bit bitter for me but I can see why people would like it” or “I find it an acquired taste”

The best servers I’ve had say the above followed up with “I an amber ale guy” or “I’m a hefeweizen girl!” I remember one female server saying “I’m all about the Kronenbourg Blanc. What can I say? I like fruity drinks!” all with a pleasant shrug of confidence. I remember looking at my pals at the table with me, nodding, and saying “Alright then.”  I didn’t order her preferred beer but I respected her viewpoint.  

“I don’t drink beer.” – I’ve been told this by too many servers (and ALL of them that say this are female) when I asked which beer on their beer list that they like. First of all I’m thinking, “You’re working in a pub and you don’t like beer?” Ok, granted – a server may be working there to pay for tuition or bills or the like but if you don’t like coffee then why work in a coffee shop? Saying “I don’t drink beer” as you look down your nose at me just makes you look like a snob.  Since you’re looking at me like that, take note of your gratuity going the way of the dodo.

Try saying “I have a hard time with beer” or “Beer doesn’t quite agree with me” and then immediately (I’m talking before I even have a millisecond to register what you just said) hit me with “But I hear that such-and-such beer is popular” or “We just got Acme Specialty beer in last week”  or “Amy, who loves beer really likes Brand X”  I’ve witnessed a few servers get the resident beer-geek server or more knowledgeable one, bring them over to back them up. Gotta love teamwork. I can respect that.  Even using counter-questions such as “It’s not about me though, what do YOU like?” or “What are you in the mood for?” Use those open ended questions to ascertain what I’m willing to order.

Try all the beers the establishment offers – Unless you’re celiac or have some allergic reaction that causes you to sprout extra appendages, please try all the beers you offer. I’m not saying you have to like them, I’m saying that you need to try them.  That way when a customer asks you what the new smoked hefeweizen tastes like then you have an idea of what the beer is about. As a beer nerd, I enjoy hearing what a server thinks of a beer (when I ask them).
Ok, Ok, we believe you when you say you're allergic to beer!

                If you can’t try beer due to medical reasons, then see the replies for “I don’t drink beer” and you’ll be fine.
                If you work in a taphouse that has 20+ taps or so, I can see where trying them all may get a touch challenging depending on how often you rotate brands. I’m pretty reasonable if you say “You asked me about the one beer I haven’t tried yet. Ask me about another one!” or the like. Throw in a smile and we’ll be ok.

Be respectful of my odd glassware requests – When my friends and I go out to a pub for a beer, I almost always let them order their beer first. Why? Because I’m picky. I know I’m picky. I’m paying for a beer and I want it my way…kind of like how I want my sandwiches.  I’ll do my best to be nice about it and I’ll give you lots of thanks (usually in the form of gratuity) if you pay heed to my fastidiousness. 

What I mean is the following:
Frosted beer mug? No thank you...I like to taste my beer. 
  • No Cold Beer Glasses please – Please don’t put my beer in a frosted glass / mug. I know I’ll touch on this again and again in future posts but cold is NOT a taste; it denies the ability to taste. Try it. Notice when you drink beer out of a cold glass it mutes everything about the beer from nose to flavor? So, I want to savour my tasty beverage so please indulge my request.
  • If I order a bottle, bring me a glass – Or maybe ask me if I want a glass if I’m at a sports pub. It’s just courtesy.
  • I’m not fond of Shaker Pints – I have my reasons, most of them listed here . I understand that you may not know all the different names of the glasses that’s why I’ll try and help and get out of my seat, walk over to the bar, and point to the glass I want and say “I’d like my beer in that glass please” Is that extreme? To others, I guess. To my friends, they’re so used to it that they don’t even bat an eyelash.
  • Please check your glassware – I WILL return a beer that has a chip on the lip and request a fresh one. Don’t roll your eyes at me when I do so just because you missed it. Simply apologize and get me a new beer. It happens. We’re all human. I won’t be mad but I will be mad if my Czech Lager looks like I added clamato juice to it when I didn’t order any clamato (ick) because I cut my lip. Even if the bottom of the glass has a chip, just don’t chance me cutting my hand on it. How expensive is one glass in the long run?
Now I will always smile and say thank you for serving me my requested beer the way I wanted it…and I’ll send my friends your way to if you do it all with no negativity.
That it is, that it is. 
Please Listen when I say the beer might be"off"– I’m confident in my sensory skills to know when something is wrong with my beer and it has to be seriously wrong.I’m not telling you to make your life difficult. I’m bringing this to your attention because I’m going to assume you have pride in your products. Before I let you know of this will have already passed it around the table to my friends to get confirmation that I’m not getting cross flavors from aromas from the food.
     I'm man enough to finish a beer that is not to my liking because I ordered it. I’m willing to meet you halfway, follow you up to the bar, watch you or your bartender pour me a sample of the beer and have me try it again in front of you. That way if you need to either save face or your manager is counting their fluid ounces, the lot of us can come to an agreement. Offer me a different beer and don’t charge me for the replacement. Keep in mind that most customers may not be so accommodating. Meet me halfway and let’s find a compromise.

I know that if I meet a great server that knows his / her beer, accommodates my odd requests, and generates a unique experience for this beer nerd – I will not only make a note of your establishment, I will also take down your name from the bill. (Most receipts have the server's name or the servers sign the bill with their name like a rock star’s autograph and a smiley face)

If you WOW me, I pride myself on having a fat mouth in that I will tell everyone not only to come to your establishment but to get seated in YOUR section…and accept for anyone who will listen to accept no substitute. I’ll use Twitter and ask for the hashtag of your restaurant so that the few followers I have can hear about your exploits. When I come back again, I’ll ask for you by name. If I can’t get seated in your section then I will ensure that I walk by, stop when you’re with a table, apologize for interrupting, and tell your customers how lucky they are to have you as a server.

I hope that helps,
Thanks for reading.