Category Archives: Retail Stuff

Gotta Get Back in Time: A Trip Through a 2005 Distributor Catalog

Yes, it’s now gonna be stuck in your head just like it’s stuck in mine.

Welcome to those of you who found your way here via this week’s ArlNow.com column. For those who didn’t, go check it out for an analysis of how pricing of beer has (and in a surprising number of cases hasn’t) changed over the years.

Over the weekend, my wife and I were cleaning out some stuff around the house. Among these items I found an old backpack of mine from the days when I’d haul my notebooks, distributor catalogs, and CDs (ask your parents, kids) to work with me in one. The contents of the backpack were pretty unremarkable save for a nice note I found from my mom and a vintage 2005 catalog/price book from Hop & Wine Beverage. Flipping through it was like living that West Wing episode where everyone’s reading the book about what life was like 100 years ago:

"Josh, it says here 100 years ago (in 2005) no one gave a shit about Lager and some asshole named Nick in VA was drinking 90 Minute as his 'Session Ale'."

“Josh, it says here 100 years ago (in 2005) no one gave a shit about Lager and some asshole named Nick in VA was drinking 90 Minute as his ‘Session Ale’.”

For those not familiar with the area, Hop & Wine is one of the bigger beer distributors in the state, with a focus on craft beer that was years ahead of the curve. This is a copy of their catalog from 2005:

I'm not an expert, but I'd say CGC would grade that somewhere in the 2.5-3.5 range. I'll brook no offer under $5,000.

I’m not an expert, but I’d say CGC would grade that somewhere in the 2.5-3.5 range. I’ll brook no offer under $5,000.

Like I said, for deeper analysis check out the 7.11.14 edition of my ArlNow.com column. In the meantime, here’s some fun stuff I found floating around in here:

Michigan? Where’s that? A grand total of zero Michigan breweries are listed at this point in 2005. That stands in stark contrast to now, as Hop & Wine currently represents Founders, New Holland, Jolly Pumpkin (in DC only–don’t get excited, VA people…), and someone else…

…oh yeah–Bell’s. No Bell’s in VA back in ’05. I remember the days when I sold beer and didn’t have to think about dealing with HopSlam; the memory feels like a brand new pillow that is just firm enough. /sigh

<David Lee Roth voice>Wish they all could be California brews</David Lee Roth voice>: Even at this point in the rise of the ‘craft beer’ scene, there was still a heavy bias toward California breweries. This 2005 Hop & Wine book offers 13 Cali breweries alone; the next highest number goes to Pennsylvania with…3. In fact, there are more Californian breweries in this book than there are for those from any other country, save for–wait for this–England, with 14. England. That’s pretty incredible considering the ‘DGAF’ I get from the market today when it comes to British beers without heavy metal band mascots on their labels.

“Dear Belgium: You’re Welcome. From: America”: Speaking of imports–I remember so many more Belgian beers being around back in ’05, but there are only 8 listed in this Hop & Wine book. Bear in mind that Hop & Wine is the distribution arm of Wetten Importers, which is responsible for introducing much of the American beer-drinking public to beers like Delirium Tremens, Gouden Carolus, and these days Halve Maan and Beersel. I remember the explosion of Belgian-style beers from American breweries that occurred after the travels of the Brett Pack; I hadn’t considered lately what kind of impact the popularity of those beers would have on the interest level of American beer geeks for Belgian breweries themselves. So not only did we let Belgium by in this year’s World Cup, but we also brought untold millions to its beer industry. That’s American Exceptionalism, my friends. (/sarcasm) (kind of)

“This was back in dicktey-five. We had to say ‘dickety’ because the KAISER has stolen our word ‘two-thousand’…”: Yes, this is the ‘Abe Simpson’ segment of the post.

Pictured: the author.

Pictured: the author.

In my day…

Dogfish Head still packaged Chicory Stout, Raison d’Etre, and f’ing Pangea. Also, 120 came out 3 times per year like clockwork, and I could order as much as I wanted. WorldWide Stout? Every year; none of this ‘every other year’ stuff. Raison d’Extra hadn’t even been released to the public yet; now it’s slated to return after a nearly six-year absence that should’ve only lasted closer to three. Great Divide was available in ’05, and there were only two Yetis in the catalog. Two! What did they do with all that free time? Dogfish Head and North Coast were the only American breweries in the catalog doing four-packs; even stuff like Weyerbacher Quad and Victory Storm King were still in six-packs.

Speaking of six-packs: here are the ones you could get in Virginia in 2005 from these now big-names:

Stone: IPA. That’s it.

Lagunitas: Censored (yes, it’d already been censored), IPA, Pils.

Bear Republic: …..

He’brew: Genesis Ale, Messiah Bold (also, Schmaltz is listed as a California brewery at this point).

Pour one out for–wait, wait, don’t actually pour it out! Oh no…: You knew it was coming; the part where we get to the beers and breweries listed as available at the time but no longer with us. Everyone take a deep breath. Ready? Ok.

De Proef: Technically still available here in VA with another distributor, but the selection is pared down to essentially nothing–which is a shame, as I’m a huge fan. In 2005, there was even less De Proef to go around; only one beer, Flemish Primitive (which we know now as Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale), is listed.

Burgerbrau: I used to enjoy occasionally stocking a random Czech Lager, and Burgerbrau was nice.

Gale’s Prize Old Ale, Harvey & Son of Lewes, Ruddles: You know, any or all of these may well still be available here (I suspect Ruddles can be had, at any rate). But such is the state of British beer in this area right now that I have no earthly idea.

Shenandoah Brewing Company: I wasn’t the biggest fan of Shenandoah, the ‘brewery in Alexandria’ before Port City opened up shop. But they held the distinction of being the only Virginia brewery in this Hop & Wine 2005 book. Thinking about it now, I don’t remember for sure if breweries like Old Dominion, Starr Hill, and St. George were being distributed at the time. To imagine so few breweries in the state as compared to now is stunning.

I am Trying to Break Your Heart: This is the part that’s going to hurt. Let’s start with this:

Hop and Wine 05 Book 3

FANTOME. And CANTILLON. Yes, it was by special order and there were no guarantees, but lord almighty do I miss even the possibility of getting any of this stuff. And last but not least…

 

le sigh

le sigh

I remember in the 2007-2008 area being able to get a case or two or three of Damnation every now and then. I’ve talked to folks at Hop & Wine in the past and have been told that Damnation was the only Russian River beer sent to Virginia. My theory is plans were in place to carry the others, but it never came to pass as I’ve never spoken to anyone who had ever bought any in-state. In any event, I just had Supplication again this past weekend and I need a goddamn permanent IV drip of it–and when you need something, that’s a responsibility.

You're damn right it is

I learned that from this guy

See you next time!

 

ArlNow.com Column 6.20.14. (Beer Advertising) Supplemental

(Note: I’m going to start doing these occasionally when there’s a train of thought or a set of ideas that don’t fit into what I’ve written for a particular week’s Your Beermonger column for ArlNow.com. –Nick)

–Stone’ Greg Koch can continue to rail against everything from breweries advertising on TV to ketchup (I swear I’m not making that up); he’s an intelligent, eloquent voice speaking out for those of us who want to take The Man down. Despite Stone’s anti-corporate stance, though, it is undeniably a big business whose beers increasingly are popping up on the shelves of Big Box chain stores and groceries. While Stone continues to rage against the machine, Schlafly’s getting one of those ‘faceless multinationals’ to promote its brewery without the expense of its own national TV campaign. Just something to think about.–

That’s a pretty close approximation of how this week’s ArlNow column was originally going to wrap up. As I was writing, I thought it was needlessly antagonistic toward Stone and Greg Koch personally (who I’m a gigantic fan of), so I scrapped it. But there is a deeper issue for those of us who work with beer and who love beer, and I’d like to delve into that for a moment.

I think Greg speaks for a lot of us with his self-described “screeds”; some of us want our small breweries to take a stand against the corporations whose first commitment isn’t to making the best beer possible, but to increasing the value of its stock. I may take some issue to seeing chains like Total Wine or Whole Foods being allocated so much of Stone’s special releases in light of Koch’s philosopy, or feel an odd ping trying to reconcile Stone’s own corporate ethos and its beers becoming increasingly available in groceries like Giant, Safeway, etc., but there are two important factors to keep in mind here:

1.That beer is being sold by distributors, not Stone. Once the beer is sold to a distributor, breweries have varying degrees of influence as to how its products are sold or to whom they are sold.

2. The beer business is a business. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there are real-world issues at play here, and one of them is that Stone is an incredibly popular national name in the beer industry. Any brewers worth a damn is going to want their beers featured in as many supportive markets and retailers withing those markets as possible. There’s a certain extent to which we all need to grow up a little about this.

The achievements of Stone and other top 10 craft brewers (Bell’s, Lagunitas, etc) are remarkable because of the lack of major national ad campaigns involved in their growth. Stone stands out for essentially having a policy of not spending money on advertising. It’s not like Stone doesn’t get into marketing in any way, of course, but it’s still pretty incredible to have the 10th largest craft beer sales by volume without a penny’s worth of bought advertising.

There is room enough in beer for many ideas and approaches, all of which can be correct and all of which can work to the benefit of those implementing them. Even if you’re not politically minded, your decisions as a consumer are inherently political ones: you do in fact vote with your wallet. I do it in my role as a buyer–there are breweries whose items I don’t have an interest in stocking because I don’t want to support their business models. There are brands I won’t carry because I don’t like the imagery of their packaging. That’s my decision to make, just as it’s your decision to think I’m a haughty douchebag for making it, or thinking Greg Koch is an insufferable hipster asshat for not offering you ketchup at the Stone World Bistro and Gardens.

In the end, none of that is as important as recognizing that we can all be right and that when we attack the approaches of well-meaning small breweries, we do the Big Guy’s jobs for them. I don’t get pissed off because Stone, Dogfish, Bell’s, Lagunitas and the like are available at the Giant across the street from me–them being there means we’re winning; that consumers are choosing well-made, interesting, high-quality beer over the stuff that’s been sold to them for decades by, among other methods, gigantic TV ad campaigns.

I’m increasingly becoming fed-up with the term ‘craft beer’, because the point is that there’s nothing ‘special’ about using the highest-quality ingredients to make flavorful, interesting beers–it’s simply doing things the way they should be done. Continuing to say ‘craft beer’ sets us all up to be categorized as just another trend; something for SABInBevMillerCoors to laugh about at their stockholder’s meeting 20 years from now: “Hey remember ‘craft beer’? (everyone erupts in laughter while lighting cigars with Cease & Desist letters and defaulted-upon bank notes)”

History is written by the winners, folks, and as strong as ‘craft beer’ is becoming, it can very easily in-fight itself into ‘passing trend’ status. Stay focused. As the Bard himself said so well:

 

There endeth the lesson.

Tasting Notes: Foggy Ridge Ciders

Foggy Ridge

I’ll admit up front that I’m not much of a cider guy. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, I do–it’s just been something I’ve had a hard time really getting into the way others do, and especially in my role as a retail buyer. For years I’ve had cider fans asking me to carry more, only to have bottles sit on my shelves when I actually made the effort to bring some in. So forgive me, but my attitude until recently had been “fuck the cider people” when it came to my stocking decisions.

johnny-cash-middle-finger

Yeah, pretty much that.

Not to mention that every cider I bring in is one less beer I can feature, and when shelf space is at a premium like it is in my department at Arrowine, that’s no small matter.

Another part of my cider animosity is the rollercoaster of levels of quality in the ones I’d try. I can’t count the number of times some rep would say to me “this is our dry style cider“, as if simply saying the word “dry” would tickle the wine guy part of my lizard brain and make me buy in immediately. The worst part is that said “dry” ciders would either be blatantly sweet, meaning the cidery either had no palate to speak of or was just plain lying to me, or the cider would be ‘dirty’–packed with Brettanomyces flavors and effects which yes, can include dryness but at the cost of the fruit’s flavor. Not what I’m looking for. I’m not sold on what UC Davis has to say just yet; as my boss likes to say, wine is essentially grape juice–when you point out to me the part of the grape that is supposed to smell or taste like leather, or ‘barnyard’, or mushroomy I might start forgiving Brett. Until then, I’d like my cider to taste like apples if you please. I’ll keep the Brett in the beers it should be in, where I enjoy it.

Horseblanket

Ran a GIS for ‘horseblanket'; not one grape or glass or wine came up. Side note: how badass does this horse look?

All of this is by way of saying that I’m wary of trying ciders, and a bit exasperated with the prospect of finding and stocking new ones. It was with this jaded, downright shitty attitude that I met with my distributor rep for Foggy Ridge Ciders to try their wares.

Foggy Ridge is located in Dugspur, Virginia, southwest of Lynchburg. It would actually make for a good detour on a trip to Asheville, now that I think about it. Cider maker Diane Flynt has built her lineup around the preservation of heirloom varietals, specifically those with the tannin and acid content to make truly dry, structured Hard Cider. I got to try out five of Foggy Ridge’s offerings, representing the bulk of its line. Here’s what I thought:

First Fruit: Once again, I was told that this would be the driest cider of the group, but for once I was told correctly. The early-harvest fruit used in this cider makes for a truly dry, crisp cider with proper fruit character and–wonder of wonders–actual structure! My heart grew three sizes. Aromas are slightly nutty, but the apple comes correct. Also, it’s CLEAN. Love it.

Serious Cider: Serious is made from a mix of traditional English and American varieties. This is where the pleasant surprises really start: after First Fruit, I was expect a head-first dive into syrupy, cloying cider territory, and that is not what I got. The nose on Serious is more mild than First Fruit, but the blend of apples used gives it a green/yellow apple flavor that is all tartness and acidity in all the right ways.

Sweet Stayman: Made mostly from Virginia Stayman apples which apparently ripen later in the season. From the name alone I was expecting dessert, but Sweet Stayman is more ’round’ than it is ‘sweet’. The apple aromas are bolder and more concentrated here, but don’t suggest cloying sweetness. Stayman is  a tick sweeter on the palate, but it isn’t sugary at the expense of the fruit, or done in a way to pander to the ‘American’ palate. The roundness of the Stayman apple makes for a smoother-feeling cider, but one that still carries some sense of structure. Smart stuff.

Handmade: The only Foggy Ridge to come in 375mL mini-champagne style bottles (more on this in a bit). Handmade is mostly made from Newton Pippin apples and has aromas that made me think of Vidal white wine. The palate was mild compared to the others, but had an interesting pear-like fruit note (which they even mention on their website, funny enough) and was very nice.

Pippin Gold: A blend of a 100% Pippin cider and apple Brandy–think Pommeau without the extended oak aging. Sweet but appropriate for the style; my issue with Pippin Gold was that I missed the oxidation that comes with the long-term oak aging in Pommeau. Thinking about it now, Pippin Gold would be a nice substitute for a Loupiac, or other inexpensive Sauternes-like dessert wines.

So yeah, I really liked the Foggy Ridge ciders. A lot, in fact. But I won’t be carrying any of them.

Why? Well, the First Fruit, Serious, and Sweet Stayman come in 750mL bottles that would retail in the ~$18 range. The smaller bottle Handmade comes in, used ostensibly to make pricing more attractive to retail and restaurants, would still hit shelves around $12. Pippin Gold (in what I remember being a 500mL) would shake out damn near $25. I just can’t do it. I have world-class beers in those prices that have Yelpers and BA’s pissed at me as it is–I simply can’t put these ciders out there at these prices and expect folks to buy in because they’re from Virginia, or simply because they’re great (which, make no mistake, they are). I just can’t.

A smaller format would still be pricey, but I think doable for the main thrust of Foggy Ridge’s line. Hopefully someday this comes to pass; I really enjoyed the ciders and would love to feature them. Foggy Ridge is doing just about everything I want cider makers to be doing right now. If you get the chance to try their stuff out, do so; you won’t be disappointed. If you have time to make the trip, go visit–I’m sure it’s beautiful out there.

Oh well.

I did NOT get into a Twitter Fight With Total Wine

Really, I didn’t. I swear.

Where it all started today was with this post from @BeerInBaltimore, who’d spied this sign at a Total Wine location for American Craft Beer Week:

Needless to say, the fires got lit and a conversation ensued. A lot of stuff got brought up, from the nature of what ‘craft’ is to the merits of undercover macros like Shock Top and Blue Moon as ‘gateway beers’ for those unfamiliar to craft beer to the nature of large versus small retailers and their role in the movement. Here’s a quick (by my standards) recap of what I think are the important things to take away from this:

As far as the ‘gateway beer’ concept goes; the gang at Total and I have different opinions. I don’t consider Blue Moon or Shock Top a gateway to anything but more profit and shelf space for the macro producers who put them out, and many of those chiming in today seem to agree. At one point I mentioned Port City’s excellent Optimal Wit as something I’d consider a gateway; I’ve sold Victory’s Prima Pils for YEARS as THE gateway beer for those who thought craft beer too haughty or exclusive. There are too many great craft options available these days–and local ones at that no matter where you are–to say that the best gateways for new beer enthusiasts are made by the two biggest corporations in the industry, who by the day appear to be headed down the path toward being the SINGLE biggest corporation in the industry. Maybe Blue Moon sends someone down a path that leads to further exploration, but let’s not make things out to be more than they are.

The big point about today’s discussion in my opinion is this: Beer Geeks of the world–what did you expect? I know how this is going to sound for the next few sentences, but I’ll just say it for the sake of saying it; we’re talking about Total Wine here. Not exactly Indie, right? Who else is going to have the scratch to create a banner like the one above and who else is gonna hang it up? The big supermarket chains are only just dipping their toes in the craft beer ocean; like it or not, this is what Total is.

Here’s the important part: There’s nothing wrong with that. Total is a fantastic resource for beer and wine fans alike; they’re convenient and usually well-stocked and if you get lucky you can meet a specialist there and develop a relationship over time that can expand your knowledge and enjoyment of whatever booze you have a taste for. But if you think they’re keeping all the lights on only by way of the craftiest craft that ever crafted, you’re just being naive. About six years ago I left the wine/beer biz and went to work at a small guitar shop here in town. We were right down the road from a Guitar Center location. Customers liked to play it up as if there was some big rivalry; like we were fighting The Man all day everyday, and to tell the truth it’s fun to think that you are. Except the reality is that one day you’re a nice specialty shop with cool stuff and the next day you have to find a niche and step up your game because the Big Box down the road knows how cool people think you are. It’s not fighting The Man; it’s fighting for survival. That little shop I worked at is thriving now; in the time since I left it’s found its groove and become so good at what it does that most of us in the area who play find it irreplaceable. That’s how you survive in business; you make yourself irreplaceable.

But that’s just business. Guitar Center has not only gotten by selling the biggest brands; while they make the vast majority of their money off of them they’ve also gone out of their way to respond to the high-end and independent market by ordering in on small house luthiers, amp builders, and effects producers, which allows those small guys to grow and thrive. Total’s the same way. So don’t light your torches over them hanging an InBev banner for ACBW; if you must, have your little chuckle at Shock Top being craft’s representative and move on (which for the record was all I was originally doing on Twitter today). When 7-11 or CVS hangs that banner, light ‘em up.

The only real bone I had to pick today was with this tweet from the @TotalWine account:

“Hear U, but folks, let it go…advocate BEER: bring ppl 2 Craft”

That’s just some cognitive dissonance there. You got called out by Beer Geeks for touting Shock Top for ACBW–I say own it. Don’t tell us we’re the problem after you hang that thing up when it could just as easily be a print-out or chalkboard with a Dogfish Head, Stone, Victory, New Belgium, Sierra, Sam, or Lagunitas logo up there, or any one of hundreds of craft breweries spearheading an exciting new era in the beer business. Total is putting on great tastings all over the country this week to celebrate ACBW for sure, but the average consumer–the one that doesn’t know anything about anything past Blue Moon or Shock Top–doesn’t need to see those logos on banners this week. All it does is legitimize the ‘macromicros’ at the expense of everyone else.

But even in this I see little to get worked up about. Total’s ACBW tasting are going to bring new people into the fold, and their buying power will make the difference between life and death for more than a few emerging craft brewers this year alone I’m sure. They do what they do; I do what I do. We’re all raising the level of awareness for craft beer and in the end that’s a good thing.

This whole post was inspired by my texting my wife earlier today. I said: “Today’s been interesting. Check my Twitter feed.” She wrote back: “Damn Nicky, you got in a Twitter fight with Total?” Well no, actually I didn’t though I know more than a few of you would have enjoyed the entertainment value if I had. Hell, just a couple years ago I would have too, and gone scorched earth about this. But I’m at a place now where I know better what to take personally and what to get upset about. This is simply a matter of perspective. If it means that much to you, just don’t shop at Total. Easy as that. If you don’t like that I don’t have some of the beers you expect to see on my shelves, don’t shop with me. Believe me, I get as many eye rolls and sighs of disappointment every week as I do thank you’s and smiles. And I send a ton of people to Total as a reliable source of beer and wine that my employer either doesn’t stock or can’t get for someone when they absolutely need it. As Beer Geeks, we’ve helped spur a real revolution within an industry that had never really had one here in America, but our blog posts and Tweets and Facebook groups don’t add up to the impact of one person making one purchasing decision. Under all the passion and debate and history, this is a business. Never forget that. Keep it in mind at all times, then make your choice.

Until next time.

 

p.s. I’ve known a number of Total employees over the years, and they’ve been great folks who have a genuine love for beer and wine and look to help their customers every bit as much as I do. If Total Wine takes offense to anything I’ve written here it certainly is not intended and I’m available to chat in any venue if further discussion is warranted. As always, my views are my own and do not reflect those of Arrowine nor any of the breweries I mentioned in support of.

Hype and Hope

(The Biggie video is unrelated except I originally was going to start this post asking: “What Is Hype?” and this got stuck in my head).

With the debacle that was the release of Founder’s Canadian Breakfast Stout back in October the long-running debates over allocations to retailers, the doling out to customers of rare beers and the pricing of said beers flamed up once again. One aspect of these debates that I believe never gets enough attention is the idea of Hype; that a breweries’ excitement over a product, along with the public’s rabid want of said product, creates an environment where the ideal is impossible and even the reasonable is less than likely. Here then, is one retailer’s take on Limited Beer Hype, and in a better world, where that hype would direct itself.

I should start by saying I don’t mean to pound Founder’s or their distributors by using CBS as the example of Beer Hype gone amok. It’s just that the CBS release is the latest and in many ways the best example of issues within the Craft Beer community and business when it comes to releases like these. In my area (DC Metro; Northern VA, NoVA, the DMV) there were just under 60 cases of CBS to be doled out among hundreds of retailers and restaurants. From what intel I could gather, no one in the area got more than one case of CBS. Speaking only for myself this is a tough spot to be put in; my stores’ newsletter goes to thousands of customers every week, and here I am with 12 bottles to sell. It’s inherently going to be unfair to most people who want the beer. Some guys I know went to a lottery system to create a random chance for customers to get the beer. I like that idea; it’s a great way to not only be able to take a customer’s name (which gives them a tangible feeling that they may get their hands on something) but it eliminates the assumption many have that we as retailers hand out rarities to specific customers–a Beer Illuminati, if you will. Everyone thinks we do this, but the truth is not nearly as sinister. Speaking for myself, I can tell you that with quantities as low as they were with CBS and other beers of its type there is no Secret Society that just gets whatever comes in. It doesn’t hurt to know your beer guy, though–I did pull and hold one bottle of CBS, for a good customer who was out of town. Even then, I only did because he was coming back to town the day after the beer arrived, and I wanted to do him a solid. My solution, rather than a lottery (which I may go to in the future) was and usually is to simply say “First Come, First Served”. It’s fair but also proactive; how much do you really want that beer? Also, it brings people into the store and creates an environment where Beer Geeks get a chance to hang out and get to know their own kind. The day CBS arrived I had nearly a dozen guys hanging out in the store, having great conversations about beer that we frankly don’t get to have as often as we should. A lot of folks hate my use of First Come First Served, but I enjoy the environment it creates when a group of Beer Geeks come by to hang out so please forgive my little bit of social engineering.

The point I was going to get to is that, using CBS as an example, Hype can and usually does create an environment where virtually no one is going to be left happy. Founder’s was justifiably excited over their beer–hell, they had a whole day-long event at their brewery the day it was released. On forums all over the internet, there was chatter and building excitement over the release–I had customers asking me about CBS back in July; well before I’d even gotten a tentative release date from Founder’s. Beer Advocate and RateBeer (even Untappd, which I enjoy thoroughly) ratings and reviews hold beers such as CBS out as Geek Bait, creating a myth and cultivating the idea of Craft Beer as Status Symbol.

Founder’s reportedly made ~10,000 bottles of CBS. Mass disappointment was inevitable. So was retailers in some states gouging customers with the knowledge of CBS’s rarity (for the record, no one in VA that I know of did anything like that–there’s so little to go around that there was no point in gouging). The only thing Founder’s could have done, in my opinion, is release more to the greater U.S. rather than keep so much in Michigan. Then again, I’ve heard wildly varying accounts of how much CBS stayed in Founder’s home state, and even if they sent more out it would never be enough to even fractionally satisfy demand. A better example of this might be Bell’s HopSlam. Bell’s has admirably made more HopSlam available to us with every passing year, but the beer simply flies off of shelves. I appreciate the recognition of NoVA as a important market for HopSlam, but every year I hear about stores in Michigan buying huge quantities of it and even hoarding it to sell throughout the year–which goes against the entire idea of the beer as a “drink now while the hop is fresh” IPA. The bottom line is, while many limited releases will never be made in enough quantity to get into all of the hands that want them, a little extra would go a long way toward establishing faith in a brewery’s commitment to a market. Especially one as important as ours (shameless lobbying, I know–get over it; it’s my blog after all…).

As a quick aside: Before you start to blame distributors (and Spaghetti Monster knows I do often and deservedly so), try to appreciate the position they’re in just a tiny bit. These limited run beers are often extremely pricy compared to regular stock; many distributors are still wine-oriented and relatively unfamiliar with Craft Beer so sometimes they shy away from bringing in as much of an item as they maybe should. Also, when they do it’s not unusual to see them selling more than they should to Big Box stores–again, these are businesses and they need to make their money where they can. All you can do, as a customer, is to encourage your local Independent Retailer to kick and scream and fight for every bottle they can get. Trust me, we’re trying: I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard of seasonals and limited beers being stacked in chains stores and telling distributors “I could have sold a palette or two of this, if only you’d let me”. Squeaky wheels get greased, folks.

That brings me to us. The Beer Geeks. The people. What can we do about Hype? Well, what we can do is among the most difficult things to do in life; keep perspective. Understand that there are a great many things that are inherently unfair in this world and that being unfair does not necessarily make those things evil. I will use myself as an example: I’ve read about CBS for years. I’m a huge Founder’s fan and in particular the Breakfast Stout and its KBS variant. As a BeerAdvocate member since 2004, I’ve seen the Top 10 list evolve while only having opportunity to try maybe 10-20% of the beers that have made it over the past 7-8 years. I got 12 bottles of CBS into the store that I buy beers for, that I ordered for said store.

And I didn’t get to try it.

I didn’t sneak a bottle for myself. I didn’t get to catch it on tap in the area, or snag a bottle with dinner at one of the bars that had it. The thing is, though; I’m not in any way upset about that. I expected demand to be through the roof and supply to be microscopic. I accepted that I would likely not get enough to justify pulling a bottle for myself and decided it would have to wait for another day. News and rumors are flying about now about Westveleteren finally coming to the States in 2012. While yes, this may indeed signal the End Of Times, it is once again a beer that thousands will want deeply but only a handful will actually end up with. I’ve wanted to try Westy XII for years; to find out if it’s really The Best Beer In The World or just unobtainium in a bottle. But I know and accept that I likely won’t even see it. It’s ok, folks: As a rule, I encourage everyone not to get upset over anything that hasn’t been promised to them.

So what of Hype? Well, I try to focus it on beers that I happen to fall for that I can also reliably stock for my customers. There’s nothing wrong with Hype as a concept: it’s the expression of an excitement for and belief in a beer and the desire for others to enjoy it as you do. I’ve Hyped the hell out of Schlafly since they arrived in the DC area about four years ago; finally this year we’ve seen a flood of new brews from them here and the public response has been excellent. My current obsession is with Sixpoint: I’d heard many things about this brewery from Brooklyn over the past few years and was immediately excited when I heard they’d be arriving in VA this October. I went through the roof, however, when I got to try the beers out. They’re so focused and accessible, I saw a star in the making. Beyond that–tallboys! Who doesn’t like a tallboy can? Even their Cream Ale is outstanding! Sixpoint makes well-priced, complex, yet everyday-drinker-worthy Craft Beer of varying styles; that’s the kind of beer I want to Hype up. That’s the kind of beer that lets me know the Craft Beer Revolution is spreading, and will only gain more support over time as Macro drinkers find more realistic alternatives. Anyone can be excited by CBS, or Westy XII, or Dark Lord. In my world, if you can’t get excited over Sixpoint’s Bengali Tiger or Righteous Ale, or Schlafly’s Kolsch, you’re just looking to show off.

I know I’m thinking a bit too Utopian. I know the Craft Beer scene is not going to suddenly go Zen and accept that which is unchangeable and unfair. I don’t even expect myself to be that way all the time: Who among us doesn’t love trying new things; rare things? There’s a place for all of it is what I’m saying. And what a brewery like Sixpoint can give you with their everyday brilliance is hope–hope for a coming day where all shelves are fresh and local and true. Where there is no longer any misconception about Craft Beer being a luxury. The CBS’s of the world get lots of attention, but they’re not the front line in spreading the word. The Crisp, however, is.

Think it over, and remember: I and every retailer out there (I hope) am here to do everything I can to get my customers what they want. I stand to gain nothing but resentment and loss of business by screwing anyone out of anything. Most often, I’m in the same boat you are as far as wanting something we can’t get or can’t get enough of. Only together can we raise our voices loud enough to be heard, and for us all to someday, finally, be happy.

Good day, and good hunting, everyone.

-Beermonger

Cameo of the week…

Goes to Rob Tod of Allagash, who was just in the shop a couple of hours ago. I hadn’t met Rob before; he’s a super-nice guy with a very curious and defined pallate, which I discovered as we tried out a Brasserie Mont-Blanc La Verte that he noticed and asked me about.

Of course, I’m currently out of Allagash White, Dubbel and Tripel, so I felt a little like I got caught with my pants down. Then again, I do have Hugh Malone (Belgian-Style IPA), Victor, Victoria, Black, Four and Fluxus so I don’t think there can be much questioning of my support.

Overall, a very cool guy. Thanks for making my day, Rob.

Beermonger

Beer Geek Alert

Just received two cases (make that one and a half, actually) of Dogfish Head Theobroma. If anyone wants in call Rick’s and I’ll set some aside for you. This stuff won’t make it to the weekend, so don’t wait.

Because of the limited amount available, I’m limiting everyone to a maximum of two bottles. Review coming later tonight or tomorrow.

Also, Bell’s Hell Hath No Fury Ale is in. This is based on a Dark Belgian Ale and has some interesting coffee notes and kinda reminded me of Aventinus when I tried it yesterday, except without some of the banana clove feel.

Beermonger

Who Wants to Be A Beermonger?

Sorry for being out for so long: I’ve been a little busy at the store (we’ve had some staff issues–more on this in a bit). It’s been an eventful past few weeks. We’ve seen a bunch of cool arrivals at the store–Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is in, as is Bell’s Octoberfest, Double Cream Stout and Best Brown Ale. Lots of cool Southern Tier stuff around right now, with more to come (more on that later this week).

While I’m at it, I want to give a big shoutout to international BeerMinion Mike and his lady Dana for checking in from Amsterdam the other day. I’m sure they’re having a much better time there than I am here, but for once I won’t hold that against someone.

So–who wants to be a Beermonger?

Recently, one of our staff members at Rick’s had to move and her leaving puts us in a bit of a bind heading into the holiday season. Basically, I’m putting out a call here on the blog to anyone who is looking for a full-time job and is interested in taking over the beer department here at Rick’s. This is a position that will have you overseeing a selection of over 400 beers, not to mention special orders and weekly beer tastings. I can tell you first-hand that this can be a fantastic learning experience and can introduce you to many people in the craft beer business. It’s a lot of hard work, but then again it should be.

So, you may ask, why is Nick looking for a beer person? Well, as some of you know I actually have more experience as a wine sales guy. I went into my first wine job a few years ago (has it been that long? Yes, it has…) with a fair knowledge of beer, but knowing nothing about wine. This was a part-time position, stocking and keeping the store organized. My bosses offered to teach me whatever it was I’d like to know about wine and about three or four months later I was a full-time wine salesman. In fact, when I interviewed for the job here at Rick’s, I thought I was interviewing for a wine job up until the moment that Caroline told me they needed someone to run beer. I figured ‘Hey, I can do that…’ and that’s how I became the Beermonger you all know and love. Right now, though, I feel like I can be of greater service to the store on the wine side, hence looking for a beer person.

If you are looking for an ‘in’ into the beer industry; if you’re looking for a great job in a business that is tough but rewarding; if beer is a hobby that you think you could make a career call or write or come by Rick’s Wine & Gourmet and we’ll see what we can get going.

Regardless, I will continue to write on the blog here. I know I’m not the most consistent blogger on the planet, but I do have a job to do and cherish my time off. Anyway, I do have fun writing here so I’ll keep it up. You may see some ‘Winemonger’ columns on the horizon, though…

Ok, then. Write in or come by for my job. Do it. Back tomorrow or Wednesday with some very cool arrivals to tell you about. Until then,

Cheers,

Beermonger

Substitution for Friday Night Tasting

Unfortunately, the Ayinger Oktoberfest didn’t show up today, but the new Unibroue Quatre Centieme did, so we’ll be trying that out tonight.

Beermonger

Tasting Lineup Change and a Surprise…

Heads up,

Redhook Sunrye is out of stock, so we’ll be tasting out the Redhook Autumn Ale instead.

The surprise is that I’m getting a case of Southern Tier Pumpking for the weekend. I’ll likely be featuring it next Friday, so if you can’t make it out this weekend no worries.

Beermonger