June 29, 2011

Beer, Gender and the Tender Trap of Bikini Marketing.

This post is going to delve into the ease with which we follow well worn paths. So here is ours. It's true that we've responded to things that other beer writers have written and certain of those writers with growing frequency. Unless someone can point me to another beer writer here in the valley addressing our beer culture then we're going to continue to use Andy Ingram's Beer Buzz as a jumping off point for writing and discussion. I'd love nothing more than to cite other writers here in Phoenix, but it seems there is a focus on product and beer business reviews where the aim is not conversation driven. Kudos to those bloggers, but that's not our territory to explore. And now on with the show.

Today, Andy looks at Gender roles in beer advertising and characterizes the state of beer marketing produced by the big boys of brew:
If you look at beer advertising over the past few decades and knew nothing about the drink, you might conclude that beer is a drink for fraternity boys with a penchant for misogyny, marketed by athletes, rappers and girls on "bikini teams."
Keep that definition in mind, because we'll come back to it. The column continues with an assertion that the big boys can afford to potentially alienate up to 25% of its consumers; that craft beer advertisement, where it comparably exists, is story driven and generally gender neutral. Craft beer is diverse in flavor and variety and there is no reason to market or craft a beer specifically to women. On these and other points we're in full agreement, with a caveat which you'll come to see.

On the future of craft advertisements, Andy speculates:
The poisoned pill may be what got us into this mess in the first place: advertising. As craft brewers grow to a point where we see more television and print ads, my fear is that some brewers will use the formulas of the past to market their beer. Specifically, sexism.
Sadly, I've seen examples of Andy's fears come to pass. Back in January, Jay Brooks posted a You Tube ad for Red Brick of Atlanta. With a by-line like, "Blonds go down easy, real easy", you can see where craft beer has taken it well beyond the Miller Lite Cat Fight Superbowl commercial. I guess you would call it crass without the adjuncts.

Wasatch and Squatters Brewing of Park City Utah have some print ads that also fall right into this formulaic trap. Ask yourself, do these print ads fall into the frat boy bikini world Andy outlined? They do and so much more.
Not even Bud.
I don't think these breweries set out to demean women. I also don't find their content so objectionable that I am called to action or want to start some sort of boycott. Arizonans can purchase Wasatch and Squatters, but thus far, Red Brick is not available in the state. I'm fairly sure that the people green lighting these ads thought they were creative and clever. Frankly, I'm disappointed more than anything else. It makes them look lazy and tacky.

A week ago I had a Wasatch Devastator Dopplebock having forgotten about the Wasatch print ads. It'll be impossible for me to not make the association, now. Will I not buy that beer the next time? I'm certainly going to pause.

Calling Sir Mysogy-lot

I've said oftern that we live in a time and place where an unpresidented number of fine beers are available to us. More and more it's difficult for a brand or a brewery to differentiate itself. Breweries should know that our enjoyment of beer extends well beyond what's in the glass. When a brewery falls into the macro-advertisement trap, I feel a little let down, especially in a era when so many breweries want us to buy into the mistaken idea that passion is the fifth ingredient in beer.

Oddly enough, I believe the first "I'd Tap That Poster", I saw was at the 2011 Arizona Central Critics' Pick: Best Girl-friendly Brewery: Papago Brewing. Guess which beer from Papago was touted by author Kellie Hwang?
Many women who aren't into beer often change their minds when they taste the brewery's popular Orange Blossom beer, which tastes like an orange Creamsicle. Papago occasionally hosts events such as beer dinners and pairings with desserts such as homemade ice cream, which attracts many women.
I'm not here to call out Papago or even the author at the Republic. I just want to illustrate how pervasive and powerful the effect of generations of beer advertisement pounded into our brains is. From an early age, we're instructed that beer is masculine except when it comes to attractive females. For women to enjoy beer, it needs to be altered in some way. It's so ironic that the most masculine advertised beer brands are the most flavorless and least objectionable beverages created in the history of mankind. Have you seen the MGD 64 Lemonade review?  It shows how easy it is to walk the well-trodden path and not consider the message.

One group that is educating people about women and their growing involvement in fine beer is Arizona Girls Pint Out (AZGPO) led by Maureen Basenberg. In January, Maureen did a presentation: From Alewife to Bikini Girl and Back in which she discusses the sexism in advertisement and ultimately asks the large-scale breweries of the world to forget the marketing and, "just make better beer."

AZGPO is decidedly not a group out to influence how brewers should create and market beers for women, rather it is connoisseur group that gains strength in creating an ideal environment for beer tasting and education. The format is social with a blend of information and exploration of the many flavors of beer by a group that traditionally has been ignored, pushed away or was patronized.

AZGPO is not choosing so called "chick beers" for these events. The first two beer styles chosen for their Style Series meet ups was IPAs and Sour Ales. Their 1 year Anniversary beer was Milestone Märzen, brewed by Sun Up Brewing. If I recall, one of their first events included a Carnegie Style Porter. I've been drinking fine beers since 1988. I hadn't ever had a Carnegie Style Porter ever until I found out where Maureen got it.

Raise your hand if you even know what a Carnegie Style Porter is.

June 28, 2011

The Perfect Beer for an Arizona Summer

You've probably seen the ads and thought, "I like lemonade. I like beer. Lighter flavors in the summer are seasonal."

The best summer beer for Phoenix? It's not MGD 64 Lemonade.

This is especially true if you're Philadelphia Beer writer Joe Sixpack Russell. Not that Philly can tell any of us what to do, but I've seldom seen such a scathing review of a beer. It cuts right beyond what's in the glass and lays bare the brewer's intent. Scolding it. Harassing it. Shaming it. He begins with an agreeable premise about beer drinkers like you and I; and then... he goes there.
I've found something likable in almost every beer I've ever tasted. That's because, at its essence, drinking beer is a hedonistic act; it is about the pursuit of refreshment, the appreciation of flavor with character, and the pleasure of social bonding. It's the first instinct of beer drinkers to enjoy, not criticize, whatever we're drinking.

In that light, MGD 64 Lemonade is nothing less than a malicious, exploitive assault on the very institution of beer drinking. It is so vile, so absent any merit, that it can be understood only as an attempt to establish, once and for all, that, persuaded with enough advertising, some Americans will literally drink their own pee.

As to the calorie conscious elements of "64" Joe calculates:
"64" is its caloric content. How light is that? I've done some math (see work below) to determine that the alcohol content (2.8 percent by volume) accounts for 54.9 of those calories. Which means that the stuff that creates body and complexity and nutrition accounts for all of 9 calories, about the same as five peppermint Tic Tacs.
If lemonade and beer seems interesting to you, then what you want is a radler or shandy. That's where you mix the lemonade into the beer of your choosing. Really, it's that simple. Don't buy it pre-mixed in the can for you. You're not one of those mixed drink in a can people are you? No. Of course not.

So if not from the wise folks at the friendly duopoly, where shall we get our summer beer?

I'm usually of the mind that you drink what you like and disregard the season. I'm just as likely to drink a stout poolside as any other beer. I had a homebrewed Oatmeal Stout on Sunday.

Lighter styles emerged because of refrigeration, better methods of kilning and better brewing technology not strictly because of the seasons. Regional styles developed because of local conditions of the water, grains and available ingredients. The closest thing to a traditional summer beer in Dublin is Guinness Extra Cold. This light dark thing never made sense to me.

Do we really feel more of an affinity to Mexican beer because it's hot? How does that make any sense?

Now if you want refreshing beers in the summer. Stick to something that finishes with a crisp dryness, tart sourness or spiciness.

Over the last few days, I've had several beers that fit this bill.
  • A well balanced Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor with it's spicy Belgian character over restrained grassy hops;
  • Mana Wheat from Maui Brewing made with Pineapple. No, it's not syrupy sweet. Rather the flavor closer to the center of the pineapple where the distictiv fruit flavor derives;
  • Firestone Walker Solace- a blend of Saison and Hefeweizen; pleasantly creamy and flavorful, but perhaps more sweet than a bone-dry Saison;
  • Anderson Valley Summer Solstice- soft flavors of vanilla and caramel with a dry finish;
  • A wonderfully dry-hopped sour ale La Terroir from new Belgium.
There's a dozen other beers that fit the summer profile and I've yet to delve into the locals.  Do you drink to the season or do you drink what you like at any given moment? Can you nominate a perfect Phoenix Summer Beer?

June 20, 2011

David Schollmeyer Wins 2011 NHC Gold

David Schollmeyer from the Arizona Society of Homebrewers (ASH) and BeerPHXation won a Gold Medal this weekend at the National Homebrewers Competition (NHC) in Category 18: Belgian Strong Ale with his Chimayo Azul.
According to the BJCP, a Belgian Strong Ale should be:
Complex, with a rich malty sweetness, significant esters and alcohol, and an optional light to moderate spiciness. The malt is rich and strong, and can have a Munich-type quality often with a caramel, toast and/or bready aroma. The fruity esters are strong to moderately low, and can contain raisin, plum, dried cherry, fig or prune notes.
Shollmeyer used Chimay Blue as the beer's inspiration and used Mexican piloncillo in place of traditional Belgian candi sugar.

Chimay Azul was brewed commercially in 2008 by Sonoran Brewing as No Hoplo Inglés under contract by Papago Brewing.
It was the GABF Pro-Am Beer for Papago that year and the first of two times that Shollmeyer has been brewed a Pro-Am beer.

Chimayo Azul was poured at the 3rd Annual PHX Brew Party in November 2010 where it won accolades and was drained in record time.

BeerPHXation congratulates all of the NHC winners

June 15, 2011

Pacifico - Adventures on Tap

A Monday or two ago at the beginning of June, we were invited to an event kicking off the introduction of Pacifico on draft. In and of itself, that wouldn't be very interesting, but there is more to the story. In an earlier post, I discussed my thoughts on Pacifico and full disclosures on what was offered to us. I also outlined my expectations and what I hoped to learn. If you are experiencing any cognitive dissonance about why we're writing about this, then you need to go read that.

Without any prior knowledge, it would have been easy for me to imagine this sort of affair would have been staffed by spokes-models in tight shorts and revealing tops with double-entendre slogans about lemons. After all this is a lifestyle beer* and we do live in the age of Breastaurants.

You're with me on this, right? Hypothetically this could have been a private event at a Dos Gringo Trailer Park, with beer chicas handing out free bottle openers, pouring us up a coldie and a nudging us over to the lime wedge station for an education on "rimology". Perhaps there would be a green screen surfing video booth with up-link to facebook. That certainly would have been by the book.

It wasn't that. And thank you, Pacifico for not falling into that trap.

It was low-key. I don't think you would have guessed it was a promotion for anything other than a good time featuring live local artitsts, a DJ and freshly prepared food. I counted perhaps 3 people wearing any Pacifico gear. This was a house party BBQ on Roosevelt.

I spoke first with Joshua, who identified himself as the copywriter that came up with the campaign. A copywriter in the marketing world is one who writes things to spur others to action. Based on the turnout, he did a great job. The campaign consists of the Adventures on Tap team travelling through the 5 cities where Pacifico on tap will be introduced. Music, food, art and exploring the local community were all critical pieces in the series of events. Each city will be chronicled by an artist using a Sankey keg as their canvas.

Brooke Grucella will be working on the keg representing Phoenix. She is a craft beer aficionado based in Tucson who enjoys a Mexican beer now and again. She's experimented with the kegs and is really excited about the project and using stainless steel as a medium. Look for a possible project from her in conjunction with ASH in the not too distant future. We'll let you know when her keg is completed.

Unfortunately, almost all of the video we shot was dark. But you can see the group mural painted with Lalo Cota and Joshua Rhodes. Watching these artists work, listening to the DJ and the outstanding street tacos held our attention and kept us out late on a school night.

For some beer value, I sought out Steve from Crown Importers based in Chicago. We discussed  the duopoly that is Mexican Beer and what Pacifico on tap hopes to accomplish. Essentially every major brand out of Mexico has been subsumed by either FEMSA (Dos Equis, Tecate) or Grupo Modelo (Corona, Pacifico, Modelo).  He didn't see Pacifico vying for any craft or local beer handles in Phoenix, but we did talk about recent craft entrants into the Mexican import market space like Ska Mexican Logger and Big Sky Mexican Lager.

Overall, it was a great event that probably wasn't a budget breaker. I hope to see other breweries take note on how they can better work more people into the beer community. I suspect that since craft competes on flavor, they often ignore other aspects of the experience of enjoying beer.  This is really a shame, because there is so much more history and tradition that craft breweries can pass along.

*Lifestyle beer- a beer that doesn't compete on flavor. These beers compete on image, association with sports, exotic locale, gimmicky packaging (vortex, blue mountains), or other non-flavor components (cold).

June 13, 2011

Catching Up / Falling Behind

I've been working on a number of posts, but the calendar is telling me that this is a short week for BeerPHXation. David and I will be in San Diego catching the National Homebrewers Conference (NHC) where   Mr Schollmeyer has two beers competing in the final round.

I still need to update you on the Pacifico junket. That will happen, even if I need to write it on the flight.

I had planned on writing a response to the piece that Andy Ingram penned on Beer Culture in Phoenix. There is a good discussion going on over there that I'd like to see continue, so please read the comments and consider offering your thoughts.  Stan Hieronymus checked in, reflecting on his 1999 piece on Phoenix and what the future here might hold. A word to the faint of heart, there is considerable woe in the Beer Travelers piece; Mr Ingram being among the few survivors of that era.

This morning, Erik Lars Myers, (a friend of ours and founder of the NC startup Mystery Brewing) wrote about his skepticism with cans. Some of the arguments mirror our own, but he takes it a bit further with an video that illustrates our concerns with the purging process. Erik points out that cans play right into macro beer's wheelhouse and the economics just aren't there for most of craft beer. Being a craft beer startup, his concerns hold a diferent weight than our own.

June 6, 2011


Tonight, BeerPHXation will take part in a beer junket promoting the introduction of Pacifico draft in 5 cities. It's truly a junket-- we'll be getting things for free with the implication that we might write something of our experience and perhaps say some nice things about Pacifico.

It's not the first time that we've gotten beer to sample or perhaps a complimentary meal or logo'd merchandise. In the course of our role as highly visible members of one of the largest homebrewing clubs in the country (ASH) and as beer men about town (or "opinion makers" if you speak marketing) this happens on occasion. In the course of wading through our relationships with breweries, other bloggers and the beer culture itself, we've given away ASH merchandise, invites, homebrew and BeerPHXation swag. For the most part, it's been a two way street between friends without any expectation that we'd write anything or that we might expect something in return.

This Pacifico thing, however, is the first time that we've been formerly hit up in such a way as to disclose fully to comply with the federal Trade Commission, (FTC). So in anticipation of this, let me lay out what my impression of Pacifico is, what we are getting from Pacifico and why it is that we decided to participate.

How do I feel about Pacifico?
Ranked among Mexican beers, I find Pacifico inferior to Negra Modelo, perhaps equal to Victoria but certainly superior to Corona, Tecate and Dos Equis. It's brown bottle protects it from any skunking you might have in a Dos Equis or Corona. It's a beer that I have had many times. The bottles are homebrew friendly pop tops. The last time I had one was in February at the Silver Pony on 7th Avenue and Dobbins. It's fairly established in this blog that David and I prefer Negra Modelo with Mexican food.

From a marketing perspective, I'd call that neutral positive.

The Goods:
So here are the essentials of what we are getting. From an email sent from Jason Rubley, Senior Outreach Specialist at Digital Apparent:
..the event will take place at HoodRide Bicycles where brand ambassadors from Pacifico and artist Joshua Rhodes will be there tagging Pacifico inspired art at the bicycle shop.
After the tagging there will be a barbeque and a time to enjoy some food and some frosty Pacifico pints. 
We will send you out a Go Pro HD HERO 960 Camera to document your experience and to then share the story on your site, and your Twitter and Facebook pages with your readers. 
We will also send you out a Pacifico shirt, an invitation for the event, and itinerary for the event. As mentioned earlier a camera will also be sent to you, which is yours to keep after the event is over.
Also in the email were requests that we make clear that we were contacted directly by Pacifico and that we should make transparent, the products received and their requests for the nature of our participation.

Some quick internet math places the retail value of this junket in the $225 - $275 neighborhood. For the record, we haven't decided what we will do with this camera. It may be donated to ASH, or raffled, or given away or kept by one of us. For the purposes of your skepticism, you should assume that we've personally profited from it.

Why the Hell are we doing it?
We love beer. We love local beer better. We love beer culture. We prefer that beer culture be locally generated. So what does this Pacifico/Grupo Modelo/Crown Imports/Crescent Crown junket have to do with anything you write about? Have we sold out? Didn't you decry the store bought Pabst beer culture in your Ignite video?

Valid questions all.

The other day, I got a phone call from someone writing about beer culture in Phoenix; if it sees the light of day I'll let you know. "What did I think about our culture and how did I think it compares to other cities?", was the thrust of the conversation. Our culture is struggling. It moves in fits and starts. It's disjointed. But it's ours and it won't be like any other cities beer culture. The story of Phoenix is rather unique. Essentially there shouldn't be a city here. There seems to be very little organic cohesion.

Comparatively, lets look at Portland, just this weekend. They had single hop fest at Amnesia, Breakside Brewing released a collaboration beer with beer writers and beer culture mavens. There was also a nano-brewing sneak preview. All of this is relayed through the wikio top beer blog in the country, Beervana, and more colorfully through Brewpublic.

So how do we get to be more like Portland within our Phoenix context? I can't speak for how successful this event will be for Pacifico and it's impact on the larger beer culture will be minimal, but what can we learn from it? Take away the camera freebie, clearly the extravagant item on the ticket, and you are left with a bike ride, some beers, a local artist and a barbecue. Culture, after all are where all of the things we like to do meet in some cohesive essence. It's the intersection of beer, biking food and art. Isn't that what the Tour d' Fat is? Isn't this just an extension of the SanTan sponsored Brews Cruises? This type of event needs to happen more often and the local beer community needs to own these experiences.

What are your thoughts? Is this just a ton of self justifying rhetoric?

June 3, 2011

Session #52: Beer Collectibles & Breweriana

It's Beer Blogger Friday and we pick things up with the Session #52: Beer Collectibles & Breweriana. This month's Session is hosted by Brian Stechschulte at All Over Beer. Brian asks that we write about:
...the material that plays a supporting role. Bottles, coasters, cans, labels, ads, tap handles, church keys, hats, t-shirts, tip trays, glassware and signs have been collected by fanatics ever since beer has been sold. These objects constitute the world of breweriana, a term that surfaced in 1972 to define any item displaying a brewery or brand name. 
Milwaukee Macro Beer c1950

I no longer have any formal collections that I actively curate such as beer cans or LP records. These items have been donated as community property to a Northern Arizona vacation garage bar that I am graciously allowed to frequent.

Things still seem to come my way and stay.

I seem to gravitate toward brewery items that are functional and still retain sentimental or historical value.

Since I grew up in Milwaukee, many of the items reflect big beer in an era before craft or even quality imports. These vintage shorty tappers dispense homebrew now, but they fondly recall an era in Milwaukee that I barely caught the tail end of. The beers have changed considerably over my lifetime, Gettelman had sold to Miller before I was born and although someone retains the rights to the name, it's no longer in production. Schlitz, Blatz and Pabst are all contract brewed. There hasn't been a brewery in Milwaukee for any of these products in years. Pabst has moved from San Antonio, to Chicago and now soon to Los Angeles.

If I can bring this back to a local focus, I have two items that have relevance to the valley from the defunct Rio Salado Brewing Company. Rio Salado started sometime in 1998 and was notable for featuring craft lagers-- something that you don't typically see with any regularity in craft breweries even today. It was a favorite brewery of mine for the beers and because of the homey tasting room. I've even patterned my own homebrew logo with some color and elements that borrow from Rio Salado.

Rio influenced homebrew logo
Several years after the brewery closed in 2005, I happened to be in the basement tasting room at Sun Devil Liquors looking through the bottle case. I noticed several bottles had fallen to the floor and had become wedged against the cooler wall and the bottom shelf. Among the recovered bottles was 4 Rio Salado Kolsch Ales.

The last full bottle of Rio Salado???

Coincidently, the shift bartender that day was Kat Scropos, a former Rio employee. We cracked open the 3 year old ale and it was apparent that time had not been kind. Just a touch of tartness, yet still drinkable. I bought the other three and have had one every year as some sort of ritual to keep the old brewery alive. I'm down to the last and I haven't decided what to do.

Rio Keg: Keggle? Maibock? Dunno.

Also in limbo is a fully functional Rio Salado Sankey keg with the brewery name spray painted on the side. I picked it up a few years ago with the intention of making use of it either as a homebrew boiler or tun or perhaps even re-connecting with Rio's Tim Gossack and getting his Maibock recipe to fill it.

So how do these items relate to the actual drinking of beer, the central point of all of this? I think they bear reminders of the humility of the process of brewing beer. Each of these breweries made award-winning and well regarded beers. All brewing is compromise. Sometimes that changes the beer for better or worse. Brewers like to think that the flavor of the beer is the bottom line, but I would argue that one has to consider all aspects of beer enjoyment to have a truly great product that sees longevity. These items remind me that every beer has a story and I like to think about the entire process when I try a new beer or an old favorite.

From @DesertSailBrew:

 From @FooBrew

June 1, 2011

Bigger, Better, Less, Less

Earlier this month Republic National and Young's Market announced a "merger".
Young’s Market Company and Republic National Distributing Company jointly announced today that they have entered into a definitive agreement to combine their alcohol beverage distribution operations in the State of Arizona. The transaction, which is subject to customary contingencies, is expected to close on August 1. The name of the combined venture will be “Young’s Market Company Southwest, LLC” and the President of the new venture will be Mark Moser. Mr. Moser has 26 years of experience in the beverage alcohol industry, serving most recently as the president of RNDC’s Arizona operation. http://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&dataid=88322
I use that term merger in quotes, because I'm not sure what qualifies as a true merger or if this is a partnership. This seems to apply to the Arizona market and I don't know what it might mean to the parent companies. Regardless this is not the shake-up that had been rumbling over the last few months. There was some speculation that Alliance or even Hensley was involved in these discussion.  What will this mean?

First some background and an apology or two. Information about who carries which brewery is seemingly always in flux and it is sometimes difficult to get information especially on a blogger's budget (time and otherwise). Industry wonks can comment or email any corrections.

For those not up to speed on their distributors, craft beer in the valley is delivered from breweries to bars, restaurants and stores via one of the following:

  • World Class/Crescent Crown was among the original craft beer distributors though its former incarnation as Little Guy Distribution. World Class handles locals SanTan, Sun Up, Papago and others along with region crafts like New Belgium, Oskar Blues and Bells. World Class also has a sizable import catalog. The parent company, Crescent Crown handles Miller Coors brands.
  • Hensley are the distributors of Old World, Sleepy Dog and regional crafts like Sierra Nevada, Odells and Firestone Walker. Hensley is best known for its distribution of AB/Inbev products and is a recent entrant to the craft beer game.
  • Republic National does not currently handle any local crafts but has some older historic imports such as Orval and Samuel Smith, Westvleteren and Chimay. Republic is increasing it's beer profile with large regional Dogfish Head and newer players, Bison, Grand Teton and the soon to be distributed in Arizona-- Maui Brewing. Republic and Youngs are probably more widely know for wine and spirit distribution.
  • Alliance is the distributor of locals Four Peaks and Oak Creek Brewing. It's regional craft is Stone and it formerly carried Sierra Nevada.
  • Pitcher of Nectar is an independent boutique distro carrying Rock Art, Marin, Dale Brothers and Telegraph. 
Not unlike the airline, telecom and auto industries, three-tier beverage distribution seems to be going through a consolidation phase to gain efficiencies of scale. Major regionals like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium have changed distributors in the last few years adding some uncertainty to the industry. From an outsiders perspective Republic and Alliance would stand to gain some ground against the heavily war-chested Miller/Coors and AB/Inbev backed distributors if they combined. 

Is bigger better for the consumer?  Generally speaking, it isn't especially if we look back at the telecom, airline analogs. Fewer and larger distributors probably means that the biggest best selling crafts will get into your hands in more places and you'll probably get that product fresher. Smaller players will get less attention or dropped and perhaps be picked up by someone like Pitcher of Nectar, but I wouldn't count on it. Picking up a new product can be a lengthy process and there are formidable barriers to entry for any new distribution upstarts.

I suspect this is the first shoe to drop in many moves to come over the next year. I anticipate some breweries shifting alliances and some local brands disappearing off shelves and tap towers. It'll be interesting to see if more of AB owned Goose Island's mainstream beers like [312] Urban Wheat hit Phoenix. Don't get me wrong. I love Matilda, Sofie and the iconic Bourbon County but do we need a wheat beer from Chicago?