February 2012

Bursting the Bubble

In his latest book Coming Apart, author Charles Murray contends that that wealthier, more-educated Americans live in a bubble: they’ve never experienced the life of working-class Americans, and don’t even have contact with them. To prove his point, Murray offered his readers a quiz about cultural differences between the classes. One of those differences involves the brand of beer we drink.

Not so fast, says Conor Friersdorf, a writer for the Atlantic and thus a member of Murray’s “bubble class.”

Friersdorf responded by unleashing an inspired rant that draws heavily on his college drinking years. Being underage and short on cash, he drank the brands of beer that working people ordered at the local bar. He wasn’t impressed.

Eventually, Friersdorf graduated to imports and microbrews that he could appreciate for the taste rather than the alcoholic buzz. His conclusion: “To hell with romanticizing the beer of the white working class.”

French Beer: Back on the Map

France has always been an target of stereotypes, one of which is that the French don’t drink beer. Raymond Duyck, who heads Brasserie Duyck, is fighting that stereotype. He’s taken the lead in founding French Craft Brewers, which aims to improve the reputation of French beer.

Brasserie Duyck, which is located in France’s Nord Pas de Calais, specializes in the region’s biere de garde style (perhaps you’ve tried the brewery’s Jenlain beer). World War II, industry consolidation after the war, and the dominance of mass-produced lagers killed off most of the region’s 2,000 breweries. Brasserie Duyck was one of the survivors and it’s growing. Now Raymond is working on gaining his family-owned brewery a following outside France.

Escape to Laos

Tired of all this cold, dreary weather? Escape to Laos, and while you’re there, enjoy the national beer, Beerlao. Its brewery is jointly owned by the Laotian government and Carling.

The Friday Mash (Victory at Sea Edition)

On this day in 1885, Chester Nimitz was born. Nimitz was Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, and led the U.S. Navy to victory over Japan, in World War II. The best place to raise a glass to America’s last five-star admiral is at Oktoberfest in Nimitz’s hometown of Fredericksburg, Texas.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Boston, where the makers of Samuel Adams beer are preparing a special 26.2 Brew for the Boston Marathon, which takes place Monday, April 16.

In South Korea, the latest trend in licensed establishments is the self-service pub. Customers grab a table, select one of the 100 or so beers in the coolers, and settle their tab at the end of the night.

It’s not too early to make summer travel plans. The Forbes Travel Guide has some suggestions: its list of top ten brewery tours worth a visit.

The village of Melonsby, England, recently lost its mobile library, but the Black Bull Pub is trying to fill the void. It’s lending books to pub patrons, who can enjoy a book with their pint.

What are the top three top-selling imported beers in the U.S.? The answer: (1) Corona, (2) Heineken, and (3) Modelo Especial. The latter brand has posted double-digit sales growth for the past 17 years.

Curious about those bubbles in your beer? Don Russell, a/k/a Joe Sixpack, has 16 things to know about foam.

Finally, Rob Dunn of Scientific American magazine, has written an intriguing blog post titled “Strong Medicine: Drinking Wine and Beer Can Help Save You from Cholera, Montezuma’s Revenge, E. Coli and Ulcers”.

Beer…By the Numbers

  • Days until Cincinnati’s Christian Moerlein Lager House opens: 4.
  • Cost of building the Lager House: $10 million.
  • U.S. retail beer sales in 2011: $98 billion.
  • Change from 2010: Up 2 percent.
  • Bars per 10,000 people in the United States: 1.54.
  • Bars per 10,000 in Wisconsin: 5.88.
  • Wisconsin’s rank in bars per capita: 3rd (behind North Dakota and Montana).
  • Number of quasi-governmental Beer Stores in Ontario: 437.
  • Breweries in the consortium that own the Beer Store monopoly: 3.
  • Dollar value of beer sold by Beer Stores: C$2.6 billion (2009, the latest year available).
  • Alcoholic content of Black Label Big 10 beer (sold in Canada): 10.1 percent.
  • Size of a bottle of Big 10: 40 ounces.
  • Cost of a 40-ounce bottle: C$5.
  • People employed by the U.S. beer industry: 1.8 million.
  • Total U.S. beer industry payroll: $71.2 billion.
  • What’s in a (Pub) Name?

    Once upon a time, you were likely to find “the four P’s” at the central crossroads of a British village: the parish church, the police station, the post office, and the pub. Sadly, pubs are disappearing at an alarming rate, but they remain a British icon–and a pleasant way to learn history.

    William Greaves, the author of It’s My Round: A Personal Celebration Of 2,000 Years Of The British Pub, recently wrote a fascinating article in the Daily Mail, which delved into how pubs got their names. “Cat and the Fiddle” comes from Caterine la Fidele, better known as Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII; and “Elephant and Castle” is derived from the Infanta de Castille, Edward I’s queen. “The Red Lion,” still the most popular pub name in Britain, got that way because a red lion adorns the crest of the House of Lancaster and, later on, was an emblem of the House of Stuart.

    And why are so many pubs called the Marquis of Granby? Greaves has the answer. John Manners, the Marquis of Granby during the Seven Year’s War, bought a pub for every one of his non-commissioned officers who were forced to leave the army because of wounds. Veterans’ benefits weren’t exactly generous, and the marquis didn’t want his men to starve. The new pub owners showed their gratitude by naming their establishments after him.

    Art Appreciation

    A discussion of beer labels on BeerAdvocate.com inspired Maryse Chevriere, the editor of TheDailyMeal.com, to put together a slideshow of her favorites. The beers come from all parts of the country, (plus a few from beyond America’s borders); and they’re as pleasing to the palate as the labels are to the eyes. Paul’s favorite is Ara Bier from Belgium. That’s because he was a student at Notre Dame during the Era of Ara, as in Parseghian.

    “Beer People”: Craft Brewing in Michigan

    The annual Michigan Brewers Guild’s Winter Beer Festival takes place on Saturday in Grand Rapids. If you’re going, you might run into some of the “Beer People” featured in this video by Alan Torres, a film student at the University of Michigan. Even if you’re not going, “Beer People” is worth watching.

    Beer People from Alan Torres on Vimeo.

    The Friday Mash (Nixon in China Edition)

    Forty years ago today, President Richard Nixon began his historic journey to Beijing, where he laid the groundwork for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with China. “Nixon in China” has become a political catchphrase, and China now ranks number-one in the world in beer consumption.

    And now…The Mash!

    We begin in Mississippi, where state lawmakers will once again consider raising the maximum allowable alcohol content of beer, currently 5.9 percent ABV. Also under consideration: legalizing homebrewing.

    Fancy a pint of Kremlin Beer? The Russian government has trademarked that name, along with Kremlin Vodka. Ludwig hopes the beer will be a red lager.

    Corner taverns weren’t just places to knock back a few with friends. They were also centers of community life. Sadly, these establishments are disappearing, thanks in large part to yuppification and stricter licensing laws.

    The International Trappist Association, which recognizes seven authentic Trappist breweries, might recognize an eighth brewery: the Engelszell Stift monastery in Austria. Commenters on the story suggest that a couple more might be added to the list as well.

    Do you review beers? If so, you might fit into a stereotype. Billy Broas, who blogs at BillyBrew, has compiled a list of ten different types of reviews that he’s run across on the Web.

    If you’re headed to Canada’s largest city, the staff of Toronto Life magazine has some tips. They’ve chosen the city’s best bars to have a pint (or three). The establishments range from a locovore’s paradise to an authentic Irish pub.

    Finally, Monday is President’s Day. Jay Brooks calls our attention to beer and the presidency, from George Washington’s insistence on American-brewed porter to Barack Obama’s homebrewing.

    The Jewish Brewer

    Shmaltz Brewing started out as an inside joke. In 1996, Jeremy Cowan brewed 100 cases of Genesis Ale and delivered it around Northern California just in time for Hannukah. SInce then, Shmaltz has grown into a $2 million-a-year business.

    Cowan has written a book, Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah, which tells the story of Shmaltz Brewing, and recently talked about it with Jason Notte of TheStreet.com.

    After overcoming financial woes that afflict many startup businesses, Cowan found success by targeting Jewish beer drinkers. Shmaltz uses–no pun intended–an unorthodox strategy based on “selling a little bit of beer in a lot of places.” It’s proved a winning formula for selling craft beer.

    For would-be brewers, Cowen has a few words of caution: “When you buy a craft beer from either Sierra Nevada or Shmaltz Brewing, you’re literally only paying for the ingredients, labor and overhead to make that beer, with a very minor profit margin built in. You are not buying the kind of margin for bigger beer companies that allows them to become monopolies by marketing so heavily to everybody.”

    That said, Shmaltz has been in the black since 2004, and several of its beers have won gold medals at the World Beer Championships. Not bad for a still very much micro (9,000 barrels per year) brewer.

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