August 30, 2012

A Growl. A Map. A Plan?

Yesterday, I mentioned Jess Harter's East Valley Growler Guide as well as Shannon Armour's New Time List. I then issued a challenge to the industry to provide comprehensive information on growler locations, event listings and a framework to create an independently edited Arizona Beer Portal.

This morning I was please to find this response from Chuck Noll.

View Growler Filling Locations in a larger map

It's a Growler Location Map of bar and store accounts that World Class Beverages put together. It's open source right now, I'm not sure if that's by design or not. It's a start and I'd like to take credit for getting the ball rolling, alas, we're looking at mere coincidence based upon the map's edit times. Work began on this at least 12 hours before my post.

It's a work in progress. Breweries aren't listed as of yet. I look at this as like minds thinking alike. It's a good sign.  

But back to the big picture. Arizona breweries have the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild and the Arizona beer distributors have the Beer and Wine Distributors of Arizona as trade organizations that represent their interests. Would it be possible for these entities to support a highly filterable single web source of the best beer events, locations, calendars and news? Are they capable of setting self-interest aside? Would they enlist independent editors and allow the consumer to select the information that's relevant to them.

This doesn't have to be all about Craft Beer if there are filters in place to allow people to subscribe to the information they desire. 
  • Would you like to know about any event in your zip code? Done. Can we add that to your calendar?
  • What if you wanted to be notified of pint glass giveaways? Sure. In fact, here's a map.
  • Care to know what  the next Bud citrifed product is? You got it. Can we text you?
If there is money out there in the beer world to do the type of advertising I see for every barrio liquor store in my neighborhood, (the entire inside and outside of the store are wrapped in product signage) then there is money for this project.

Our craft beers are distributed by some of the very same companies that are able employ people like Jay-Z who oddly talks about a mashable creative music scene based on our rich American musical heritage. In the same instance, he is also pushing industrial light lager--a product that represents the usurpation of robust beer styles into a homogenized and hegemonic industrial commodity. It's jarring to my soul.

I'll be clear. This is a big money proposition and there undoubtedly is some legal wrangling involved. It's nothing that couldn't be solved by a 501c(3) and the expertise of lawyers and accountants that I'm sure might already be on the payroll.

Does the industry have the will to pull this off?
As consumers, can we compel them?

August 29, 2012

Growler Trends After 663 Hours and a Bitch or Two.

We're 663 hours into the new growler law era (Look for our growler law coverage herehere, here and here) and I come to you with some updates.

James Swann of Whole Foods Chandler reports that Ska's Modus Hoperandi was among the top selling growler pours along with Ballast Point Sculpin. Four Peaks Peach has also been a big winner. James offered that the number of women coming in to by Papago's Orange Blossom was a surprise--not so much the beer or that it was women buying it. It was just a steady stream of women, by themselves, getting the beer and immediately leaving.

Ryan Jones of Taste of Tops was surprised at how many growlers of New Belgium Abbey are being sold. IPAs are generally selling well. Opening day, it was Bells Two Hearted but as their supply kicked it has shifted the other hop-centric offerings.

OHSO is boiling water
Sonoran White Chocolate Ale, Papago Orange Blossom and Oak Creek's King Crimson are the top three at OHSO according to Jon Lane.

Lane has a minor inspection hurdle to clear and he's read to brew most likely next week. This week he posted picture of the 1bbl brewhouse boiling water.

Jess Harter at Mouth By Southwest has put a winning guide to growler locations in the east valley with 16 locations and counting. I unreservedly applaud Harter's efforts. Still, I can't help but think that we truly won't be the beer city that we all long for until we get comprehensive beer coverage across the entire valley.

Our pulp publications have failed us and the largest one seems to be headed for it's own failure.* You should not have to pay money to learn about beer events.

This isn't a call to Harter. It's a call to the the industry to figure out how to build an event driven Arizona Beer Website and provide an unbiased editorial group with a feed of information and some start-up funds. Let writers write. Give them some freedom to editorialize. You're going to have to pay them too.

And No. It isn't this site or any that exists right now.

The well lit interior.
In other news, I recently penned a column on the soft opening of Angels Trumpet Ale House for Downtown Phoenix Journal. My experiences have been overwhelmingly positive and there is no doubting that the linked article is a glowing piece.

Others have experienced the common problems that befall a new business. One experience in particular bears a note. If you agreed to be seated on the un-lighted patio because the place was packed and you could not read the menu, perhaps just order a beer and come back another time. There are places that cater to dining in the pitch black, this is not one of them. If you couldn't see before your food arrived, it's silly of you to bitch about it online.

To those who have yet to visit, my advice is to check it out. If it fails to meet your expectations, talk to the owners and give them till at least their official Grand Opening on September 15 before you go internet tough guy.

*Edit I am aware of and enjoyed reading Shannon Armour's top 10 list of places to fill growlers in the New Times. That type of content has it's place. I'm looking for something similar to the weekly band guide that they publish--A definitive Valley-wide guide.

August 20, 2012

Flanny's Flaunts Tap Takeover Muscles

That headline would have been worded differently after last month's Four Peaks tap takeover. It may have said something like, "Flanny's Flummoxed After Four Peaks Tap Takeover."

Now, now, before the Flanny's fanatics come crashing down on me, I'd like to note that last month's Four Peaks tap takeover was a success on many levels – super-rare beers, super-big crowd, always-nice beer folk. It's obvious Arizonans love their flagship brewery. Unfortunately, the elbow-room-only crowd killed a few of those rare beer kegs faster than our server could get the beers to our table. Suppose I could have just bellied up to the bar instead, but one would think preordering the brews before the kegs were tapped would guarantee us said rare beers. Guess not. Bitter beer face indeed. 

L to R: Deliverance, Mo Betta Bretta,
Cuvee de Tomme, Red Poppy
Fast forward a month later to the next tap takeover: Port / Lost Abbey. I was pretty determined to miss this after the Four Peaks event, but my love for both Lost Abbey and Flanny's persuaded me to give it another go. And, boy, am I glad I did. Not only did we see some Lost Abbey beers rarely or never seen on tap here in the Valley (Cuvee de Tomme, anyone?), but the crowd size was much more manageable and there was plenty of staff on hand to help patrons in a timely manner – a vast improvement over previous tap takeovers. Oh, and another cool thing: the young lady sitting to my right had a Budweiser bottle in front of her (shudder). But, after a few minutes of banter, Bud girl replaced that bogus bottle with a tulip of Serpent's Stout. Ah, the power of beer-suasion.

What the Flanagans have done for the East Valley beer scene, hell, the Arizona beer scene, is impressive. From cask nights to these extremely popular tap takeovers, it's safe to say John and John have tickled the tastebuds of AZ beer drinkers everywhere. Now, if they could just get Firestone-Walker onboard for a tap takeover. Oh, wait... 

August 17, 2012

Remixing the King of Pop(ped corks) - Michael Jackson | Need Your Help!

This week I happened upon the Julia Child PBS remix. Julia would have been 100 on August 15.

The video is an auto-tune creation by melodysheep, aka John D. Boswell. PBS also did remixes for Mr Rodgers and he-of-happy-little-trees painting host Bob Ross.

These creations made me wonder if we could enlist someone on the inter-tubes to do such a thing for Michael Jackson. It would be a great way to introduce new beer drinkers to the man credited with documenting leading the international and craft beer renaissance of the 70's and 80's. These auto-tune mixes seem to surface every week or so now. Why not Michael?

This clip alone has many of the familiar elements of the PBS remixes.

"My name is Michael Jackson, but I don't sing."
"I drink beer. That's what I do for a living."
"I travel the world, sampling beers and writing about the ones I enjoyed."

"We'll go Beer Hunting in Bohemia, Bavaria, Brabant, Britain and the Bay area of San Francisco."

Corks popping, bottles glugging, English brass interstitial flourishes and of course the majestic opening sequence with the quirky klezmer clarinet break.

Part two details the lambic brewing process.

It's all there creative types. Maybe pass this on.
You have to admit. it might be fun.

Can we do that?

August 14, 2012

The War on Thursdays

This is an unusual year in Phoenix as we're still talking about beer events beyond April. In years past, most of the industry packed up their tents for Flagstaff only to return sometime in September.  As I talk to breweries and beer cultural veterans, most feel as though a busy beer summer is the new normal.

We're deep in the guts of August--a very hot and unrelenting August--and it seems as though most beer businesses are targeting Thursdays as the battlefield. As an example this week's (August 16) Thursday:

Four Peaks Beer Dinner at Lons:
Alaskan Beer Dinner at T. Cooks:
Each of these are spectacular and given the caliber of the Chefs and the restaurants, $65 is not a bad price. The beers are admittedly standard line-ups for the most part, but that's not the point of beer dinners. The star should be the pairing and one should be prepared to think about a familiar beer in a new way. You don't go to a pastry shop and exclaim, "Oh they're using flour. Good God can't they find something a little more exotic!" (Well maybe YOU do.)

Normally, ASH has it's Happy Hour on Thursday. It's been moved to Wednesday at Hungry Monk perhaps to make way for Flanny's Port/Lost Abby Tap takeover. Though I serve as the ASH President, I don't schedule the Happy Hours. I can imagine that given the firepower put out by the distributors the beer bars and the breweries, ASH may have to pick a different day to hold their humble event.

I'll mention also that Whole Foods Chandler always has a Thursday special. This week it's Craft Cans and a Growler Fill Happy Hour. Consult one of many Facebook groups for details on that.

Facebook, it seems is the weapon of choice for Thursdays War. It's getting increasingly difficult to link to these events without having an account and it's truly a shame. Once in awhile there is a website link, but it's often incomplete. For example, the Four Peaks menu above was on Facebook, but the menu is not available on the Lon's website. You shouldn't have to have a social media account to drink beer.

I repeat. You shouldn't have to have a social media account to drink beer.

I'd love to hit any of these, but I have 2 other conflicts. The first is a showing of Riff Trax Live - Manos Hands of Fate which is being satellite-simulcast into Valley theaters. Riff Trax is alumni of MST3K and it is a guaranteed 2 hour belly laugh. Personally, I could use that as much as a good beer dinner.

The second conflict is that I have agreed to judge Wit beers for Crescent Crown's Homebrewing Club.
(Homebrew winners before Beer dinners!)

RULE 5A facebook account should not be required to drink good beer. Every business should have a website and update it as frequently as other social media or at least provide a feed via their website. Using Facebook only is as bad as restaurants having a PDF wine list and no beer list on their flash driven website.

RULE 6: Thou Shall Not Ignore The Other Non-Thursday Days of the Week for Beer Events.

August 6, 2012

Jet Set Wit

Over the weekend, I flew to and from Milwaukee on US Airways*. I was tipped off that they had added Shock Top--a Belgian-style unfiltered wheat ale brewed with real citrus peels and coriander spice. It's made by the Shock Top Brewery in St Louis, Missouri according to the can. (Why must they do this? We all know it's ABI.)

I hadn't had one before. It's a bit too orange soda for me. If I'm going to give my money to a Belgian-Brazilian multinational I'd prefer a Hoegaarden with it's touch of bitterness and not so sweet finish.

I know that smaller airlines are adding craft beers. I'm guessing that it's easier to do when your flight segments are regionalized and you can ensure that canned versions are available in all of your destinations. A larger carrier probably has work with larger brands. US Airways has 200+ destinations and they rank #10 in carrier size. Maybe a New Belgium or a Sierra Nevada will be able to someday be everywhere that larger airlines fly. Until then, I think we're relegated to major beers on major carriers.

I didn't come to bash Shock Top. Think about it. Shock Top hit the market in 2006. If I told you in 2005 we'd be drinking Wit beer on airplanes someday, we'd probably be thinking, "Ooh wit bier on a jet plane! How Continental! What a bright future we have."

And, the future... It is bright.

*Disclaimer- I am married to the most attractive US Airways employee ever.

August 2, 2012

Be a Knowledgeable Growler User

Midnight struck on August 2 and Arizona began a new era for the growler. (Look for our growler law coverage here, here, and here). There are several things an informed beer drinker should know about growlers and so I write.

Growth and History
The new law has the potential for incredible growth. I wrote a general piece on what this all means for Food & Flourish Magazine. If you are interested in learning about the history of growlers, the linked source I cited in F&F was not included. Jess Kidden, a beer historian, has some amazing photos, scans and stories on growlers and a great many topics. Please visit Jess here:

The Law (or approximations thereof)

Rogue Scenario
Tanqueray Scenario
Next, a reading of the law alone won't give you the latest thinking from the Arizona Liquor Control Board (AZDLLC).  According to Chuck Noll of World Class Beverages as related in the comment section here, ceramics and other non-glass growlers like stainless steel are not allowed. Previously used retail containers are not allowed for refills (the Tanqueray scenario) per Federal Law, though it is acknowledged that this may be impossible to determine in some cases (the Rogue scenario).  Read Chuck's comment and the ones south of it and you're as knowledgeable as anyone in the industry on the legal aspects of a silly matter as complicated as an inert and sealable gravity assisted beer containment device could ever be.

Growler Citizenship
While the law maybe favorable to the consumer, that's not the end of the story (remember things are evolving here). A business has every right to refuse to fill your oil can for any reason under the sun. A business so licensed may decide to get into or out of the growler biz at any time. Filling growlers is not all that easy. Lots of beer in the form of foam goes right down the drain.  Beers sold on premise represents bigger check averages. There may be restrictions on certain beers. No one here would be happy if 3 gentlemen came into a place at a 5PM Hopslam tapping and killed a torpedo before the happy hour crowd arrived.

There should be no whining about this. Respect the establishment's decision. Shop elsewhere if you're prepared to fall on your sword over it but remember the bad karma you racked up will certainly slap you back in the face when the tap list changes. You'll want to come back.

I don't have specific word on this but I can imagine that some breweries will want to stick with tradition and only fill their logo'd growlers. The tradition in the craft beer era has been that growlers were filled only at the brewery and Federal regulations dictated labeling conditions. They enjoyed a special relationship with the customer and had complete quality control.

With this change they stand to gain outside sales but may lose more lucrative across the bar sales. They lose branding and marketing too.

The brewery remains the freshest place to get your beer and you should consider a visit.

Growler Maintenance 
When you finish a growler give it a good hot rinse immediately and dry it upside down. Don't forget to give the cap a scrub in hot water as well.

Before you fill it again, inspect it for organic matter. If it's good, use a hot soak and cold rinse.

I'd avoid using the dish washer for cleaning because of detergents contain surfactants. You may also have jet-dry and other anti sheeting agents in your washer. These products kill beer head and foam is the first thing to fade in growlered beers.. Rinse agents are difficult to remove from glassware even after repeated rinsing. If you clean your glassware in the dishwasher, google "beer clean glassware" and do the test. You'll see what I mean.

 Sheeting (left), Salt (center) and Lacing (right)
Photo; Brewers Association

If your growler is soiled, use a bottle brush and a hot soak. But you really don't need to because you rinsed it right away, right?? You can also use PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash), a non caustic homebrewing cleaning product. It won't leave a slick finish like Oxiclean will. Homebrewers use Oxi sometimes, but I wouldn't recommend it for cleaning glass used for finished beer. PBW is the right product and works wonders with Phoenix hard water.

I use Star San for sanitizing, because that's what I use for brewing. I make 5 gallons of it at a time. Honestly, I don't think you need to keep it sanitized, because you're going to keep it cold and drink it under 24 hours, so there is little point.

Should you decide to use it, be very careful. In it's concentrated form, it will eat through formica and stain surfaces. You don't need a lot of it. You just need to have wet contact for 3 minutes. You'll need to buy a oral syringe to make very small batches since 1 ounce of concentrate makes 5 gallons. If you use distilled water, batches are good almost indefinitely. Using the labeled concentration, Star San is completely safe and is no rinse--it's OK to have a little left swirling around in the container when you're done. A spray bottle of Star San is very handy for storing and using on growlers and the cap.

You can get all of these care products (and professional advice) at Brewers Connection, Brew Your Own Beer, What Ale's Ya, and Hops and Tannins in the Valley. (See here for locations). While you're in there, pick up a few replacement growler caps.

A cold growler foams less. If it's not busy at the bar, ask them to cold rinse your growler and store it in the cooler before filling. Have a pint or two while you wait.