Hate Global, Buy Local

I didn’t think I’d ever do this. I’m an eternal beer optimist. To me every flavor, every oddity has its place, has a context. I don’t sit at my computer and trash beers or brewers or breweries because at the end of the day we’re all just people trying to live our lives on this planet and there’s no point in berating someone else’s work. But I just opened a bottle of beer that pissed me off—even after I was told that it would piss me off—even after I tried to give it every chance I could.


That beer is the 2010 “Old Dominion Brewing Co” Millennium Ale.


Full disclosure: I never was a huge fan of Dominion. I always thought that their best beers were their contract beers, Tupper’s Hop Pocket in particular. When I was buying beer for Rick’s Wine & Gourmet, I’d stock plenty of Hop Pocket and when it was released Millennium as well. Millennium was never my favorite Barleywine, but I always found it enjoyable and a fine example of the style. It was nice as a Beer Geek in the DMV to be able to say that we had a local brewery that had come to be somewhat well known for craft beer styles.


When Anheuser-Busch (I’m sorry—I mean Coastal Brewing, a ‘joint venture’ between A/B and Fordham Brewing) purchased Old Dominion in 2007, myself and every customer who came by the shop could only shake our heads. Promises flew left and right about how the quality of the beer would remain unchanged; how A/B was dedicated to keeping Dominion a craft brewery and only wanted to expand the distribution possibilities. Our little local brewery was grown up and ready to hit the big time. Sure.


In August 2007 Hop Pocket was discontinued. The local legend hoppy Ale wouldn’t reappear for two and a half years. I stopped ordering OD beers (I was only really selling Hop Pocket anyway) making an exception for Millennium when it came out every year. The Old Dominion Brewfest died a quick, ignominious death (can’t promote craft beer if it’s not your craft beer I guess) and in August 2008, the brewpub itself was shut down. Brewing was moved to Fordham’s “Coastal Brewing Company” (quotes because I don’t even know what to call the place—Google “Coastal brewing company” and you’ll get Fordham’s website) in DOVER, DELAWARE.


Yes Virginia, there’s an Old Dominion Brewing Company—and it’s in freakin’ Delaware.


#1: Delaware is Dogfish country. Don’t front.


#2: This is where the insidiousness of marketing rears its ugly head. So many people try a Magic Hat or a Sierra Nevada seasonal, think they’re experts on beer, see a name like “Old Dominion” and jump on board thinking they’re supporting a local business and brewery. Old Dominion is a name being positioned by a multinational conglomerate to represent the Home of Presidents without giving one Virginian a job. If you go to a Nats game (and if you do I don’t even know what to tell you) and get a Dominion Ale on draft you’re being bamboozled. You may as well buy a goddamn Stella Artois to try to buy local—they own A/B now anyway.


So why get all worked up about it now, Nick? I’ll tell you why…this is tougher than I thought…


…Their beer sucks. There. I said it. The beer sucks. The Ale, the Lager, the friggin’ Root Beer were always middling at best, even before the outsourcing courtesy of A/B. To be fair I always enjoyed Oak Barrel Stout even though it had no right to be as good as I thought it was. Like I said, Tupper’s was always great and the New River Pale Ale was pretty good too (not my favorite, but always popular). The saving grace of Old Dominion Brewery for me was Millennium and it’s Oak Barrel Aged version.


But do me a couple favors: Go take a look at the huge towering stack of this years Millennium (gotta catch that consumer eye, gotta take as much space as possible) at your local supermarket/Total Wine/etc. Now, don’t buy the beer. That’s the first favor. What I want you to do next is take a look at the packaging. Read carefully, now: “Dominion Millennium Ale. Ale Brewed With Honey. Brewed & Bottled by Old Dominion Brewing Co, Dover DE”. The words “barley wine” are tucked away on the back label, which seems to be the only thing unchanged about this abortion.


There are hints of the beer Millennium used to be in this bottle. But what it really is now is about as Barleywine as Shock Top is a Belgian White. It’s an “Ale Brewed with Honey” all right; the front palate and finish are overwhelmingly honeyed. The feel is that of a foamy soda, with only the faintest hint of hop reminding you that yes, this is supposed to be a beer you’re drinking. Not that you’d get that from the flavor of banana chips that seems to be the thrust of the Millennium experience now. I gotta tell you, this is the part that pissed me off the most. I love banana chips, and this beer made me be angry at the flavor of them.


By the end of the bottle this fizzy mess just didn’t taste like much of anything anymore. It’s just as well, because Old Dominion Brewing doesn’t mean much of anything anymore. If you really want to support your local breweries, do it right. From Blue Mountain Brewery to Devil’s Backbone to Blue & Gray to Legend’s to Williamsburg Alewerks to Cap City and so many many more just getting started there are endless ways to support local real honest great craft beer. Ask your beer guy at the shop you frequent. Ask the bartender at the good beer bar you go to. Email writers you enjoy who live around the area. They’ll tell you what’s up.


We all want to do well by our neighbors. We all want our local businesses to succeed, because success breeds success and we can all take pride in something great that comes from our community.  If you strive to buy organic, dine sustainable or if you buy food from the local farmers’ markets in the area, the least you can do is take the time to try what your true local breweries are putting out. The A/B’s of the world can find some other podunk state to hoodwink with fake “local” beer, but not here. Not in Virginia.

Don’t buy it.


There is no Old Dominion Brewing Company.


No more Old Dominion Brewing Company.


Beermonger

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13 responses to “Hate Global, Buy Local

  1. See, Nick, I TOLD you you’d be angry. But it’s a good angry.

    One more thing that you left out — the catch phrase on all of Dominion’s current, redesigned packaging: “Livin’ the Dream!” It’s the most gratutitous, vacuous and pandering piece of marketing-speak imaginable. What “dream” are they talking about anyway? More like “Livin’ the Nightmare.”

    Coming soon: The Top 5 beers that make me mad!

  2. Hey Jon,

    Hadn’t seen “Livin’ the dream” yet. Ugh. Yeah folks, Jon (current Rick’s beer guy) is the one who told me that Millennium would piss me off, and boy he was right. It’s just a waste of good hops and barley that had no control over what they were going to be made into.

    Off topic: How good was that dinner last night? Great stuff.

  3. An enjoyable evening was had by all, I hope. I had the veal. Kristin had the steak (which I had the leftovers for lunch). Yummm. Sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk with you and Joanna. Personally, the stars of the evening were the CDP, the spaghetti squash and, No. 1, the pommes dauphin. Again, yummmm.

  4. Casey Hollingsworth

    Nick, you speak from ignorance which is what normally transpires when people don’t do their research.

    You know nothing about Old Dominion Brewing Company let alone Coastal Brewing Company. Have you ever toured the brewery? Met us at any of the local festivals? Met our Brew Master? Done anything at all to ‘understand’ our company before you lazily type on your computer and take the easy way out.

    Cmon dude. There is more to life than the web. There are actually living, breathing people out here working hard to make a living and rather than get your facts straight you spew incorrect info and fabricate on your blog. Its not that difficult to learn the truth behind the smoke screen.

    If you don’t enjoy the beers from Old Dominion that is fine…doesn’t bother me because it’s all about opinion. However, when you speak about the past and present of our breweries/company as if you have an inside view, its wrong man.

    If you have any interest whatsoever of speaking or learning the truth than call me and we can meet for a pint sometime.

    Casey: 443-926-6939

  5. Hi Casey,

    I had a couple initial reactions when I saw your comment—the first being “Well, I guess this was inevitable.” The second was “Wait, people read my blog?”

    Let me first say thank you for taking the time to respond. I mean this, it’s appreciated and you made some great points that I actually really agree with.

    I’ve been uncomfortable with this post ever since I wrote it: The blog for me is a hobby that came out of my love for writing and my love for beer. As much as ‘controversy’ or vitriol draw attention it’s never been what I’ve sought out. I’ve left this post up because, well, it’s been published and it’s out there and also as a reminder of exactly why I don’t review beers I don’t enjoy.

    You’re correct in my knowledge of Coastal being limited. When I was a lowly retail guy, my interaction with the crew at Dominion was basically between my Guiffre rep and I, with the occasional conversation with Favio about what was coming down the pike. I met folks at a couple festivals, but not long enough for impressions to be made either way. What I knew about what was going on was more or less what the beer people in general in the area knew or professed to know. I knew what happened in my store, where many of the most ardent beer geeks in the D/M/V area shop and talk shop as well as (continuing in my absence to be) one of the best beer stores in the Mid-Atlantic.

    That being said, there’s a lot in the post that I don’t like. Despite the tone, I don’t affront Costal’s right or ability to be successful with Old Dominion as a brand nor do I fancy myself someone in any position to stop it even if I wanted to. I put it out there front and center that I was never an Old Dominion fan to begin with so my perspective was skewed (though I really shouldn’t have made that crack about the Root Beer—it’s a good one and there are so few out there).

    Having not a loooonggg history in the beer/wine business, but a history nonetheless (going on 10 years now), I’m familiar with the sometimes divisive area of branding and product marketing. You guys can do as you like with Dominion; it’s your brand, having paid good money in a situation where otherwise it would no longer exist. Do I think it’s lame that people see Dominion at their local Giant, or Harris Teeter or Whole Foods and buy it thinking it’s made here in VA? Yes, I do. But that’s only my opinion.

    I stand by my opinion of this year’s Millennium, and stand by my discomfort with the brand being made out of state but still labeled Old Dominion. But I wrote a screed that overwhelms the honest opinion contained within it.

    I hope that a comment might be coming that walks back a bit of the talk about my ignorance and the speculation about what kind of life I may or not be living. I guess it may have been fair at the time because of how the post was taken, but otherwise it’s just petty.

    I could just as easily have said sorry for not responding sooner, but I was doing a wine tasting all afternoon; you know, because I know so little and am just one of legions of people glued to their computer screens who never deign to get out there and support retailers, or wineries or craft breweries. (Side note: why hasn’t anyone come up with some ‘don’t take this part seriously’ html yet? I really, really need this)

    I might take you up on that pint, actually. I can come to the table clear and reasonable as anyone (as I hope this comment shows) and maybe we can just talk beer and have a good time. Up to you.

    Signed,

    Nick Anderson
    beermonger.net
    thebeermonger@gmail.com
    Ignorant Internet Loser and Author of One Insignificant Blog since 2008 (see? I need that html STAT)

  6. Casey Hollingsworth

    Nick, I sincerely appreciate your quick and candid response. I actually tried to send this e-mail last night but it bounced back for some reason.

    I hope you understand that my intent was not to undermine your passion and knowledge of craft beer or any other beverages for that matter. My main point was that Coastal Brewing Company has taken such a PR beating since the acquisition of ODBC and most of it has been unfair and not based on fact. Clearly, we didn’t do everything ‘right’. I do think, however, that we had good intentions. ODBC was not in a good place and we had to make some really tough decisions in order to keep it viable.

    There is no deception on keeping the name and sellling the beer in VA. Flying Dog kept the name from Colorado and somehow transitioned nicely in MD, Sam Adams kept the name and transitioned fine in Mass. The name has meaning regardless of where it is brewed. These are all subjective things that occur with many brands across many businesses.

    There are still many loyal fans of the Old Dominion beers and the reason they keep coming back is because the beer tastes good. There is a rich history and heritage behind the brand that continues to resonate with young and old. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

    We know the road ahead is challenging with a bevy of great craft breweries coming & making their way into town, e.g., Bell’s, Founder’s, Great Lakes. You mentioned Dogfish Head as owning the state of DE. We don’t consider Dogfish Head our competition per se. They are a very unique and powerful brand with a owner who has tremendous vision and who’s progressive nature pushes the boundaries of craft beer to a new level. Their portfolio if averaged out is roughly 9% ABV across the board. The beers of Old Dominion are still handcrafted using the finest malts and hops but we tend to offer selections that may be considered more ‘mainstream’. I do believe that our beers (styles considered) rank up there with any other brewery in the country. Our Pale won “Grand Champion” at the USBTC last year. Check theMay issue of All About Beer and read Charlie Papazian and Charles Finkel’s review of this brew.

    All things take time and we plan to continue to our work in VA because it is important to our company and integral to the long-term success of Old Dominion. Our charitable work with various organizations will never change and our ODBC bike team continues to support the cause.

    Stay tuned for a major announcement on April 1st.

    Let’s grab a beer soon.

    -Casey

  7. Hi Casey,

    The difference between Old Dominion and a Flying Dog or Sam Adams is the association of the words ‘Old Dominion’ with the state of VA. Like I said, business is business but any proud Virginian who sees the Old Dominion label is on some level being encouraged to buy out of pride in their local craftsmen. I mean, look at all the nastiness that starts up when you talk about car companies from all over only to find out that a rare handful are actually produced where you think they are. That’s now simply the nature of that business, but the brands are so associated with national identity and histories that make Toyota or Subaru indelibly Japanese when the ones you buy are mostly made here in the U.S.

    Example: A lot of people like the new Camaro. They want to buy American and see the car as a first step in GM’s turnaround. Turns out the car was designed by a Korean and made in Canada. Business-wise, this likely is the first step in GM turning around; launching a major project in the same manner as the big boys around the world. From what I’ve heard the car is pretty good, too. But what should the consumer who sees the throwback bodylines and grew up Bowtie feel after they go into their dealership to ‘buy American’ and come back with a Canadian-built Korean-designed car?

    Some brands are always associated with where they’re from, regardless of the moves the company makes. I have no doubt of Old Dominion’s future success. You guys obviously are putting a ton of work into getting the beer out there. I’ve seen more OD stacked in stores over the past year than I ever did before. The stories about and surrounding the purchase of OD are not my business, literally or figuratively. My concern is simply that rarely are products labeled with so local a name. My opinion is that people should know what they’re getting into, especially those who lean toward buying local, as they seem to be the ones most often and most specifically targeted to be led astray.

    Congrats on the award for the Pale Ale. I can only imagine that there were other Pale Ales in the same category for this competition, which were sorted out and decided upon by the various palates and opinions of a panel of judges. Mine is unchanged about the lineup, but then again my palate and personal tastes weren’t what started this discussion in the first place. People are obviously buying Old Dominion and enjoying it. Nothing wrong with that, unless they’re buying OD over something else as a perceived act of ‘buying Virginian’. Yes I’m a huge Dogfish fan but trust me as a former retailer and someone who likes to enjoy a beer with a friend after work now and then I know not everything can be so high octane.

    Looking forward to the big announcement. I’ll give you a shout in the next couple weeks and we’ll have that pint. Thanks again.

    Nick

  8. Casey Hollingsworth

    Nick, one last point I do want to make. The term ‘local’ is very subjective. If you go into any Whole Foods these days there are several breweries a lot further away than Dover, Delaware that are considered ‘local’. We would never deceive our consumer into thinking we are still producing this product in VA.

    We could have easily rolled out the trojan horse and hid behind the name, however, we are not ashamed of the move. Our brewery is closer to Dominion’s backyard than Starr Hill for example. If you are referring to a product that is made in VA than obviously we aren’t in that group.

    The more time I spend talking and interacting with the beer drinking public the more I realize they care about the liquid not where it is brewed.

    -Casey

  9. First off, I’m glad I discovered this blog via The Beermudgeon (via my good friend Beth Wolfe @ Siema Wines).

    Secondly, I am glad to see the dialogue that was sparked between you (Nick) and Casey.

    I have some proverbial skin in this game, having been a huge advocate (and customer) of Dominion (the brewery and the brews). Suffice it to say, as a lifetime VA resident who lives a literal stone’s throw from the W & OD trail, I did take considerable pride in helping support a local business. That they made beer I wholly endorsed made it a win/win. The annual beer festivals were semi-epic and I had friends come from near and far(ther) to partake.

    I too was never *crazy* about the original beers and agree with you (Nick) that their contract beers were superior. I love Tuppers’ Hop Pocket (ale and pils) and am while I was truly devastated when it disappeared, I was almost alarmingly thrilled to discover it’s baaack.

    I also was an unabashed fan of New River Pale Ale and that was usually the beer my buddies and I (from AOL) would drink when we had our regular 3-pint lunches, a postmodern nod to the old-school 3-martini lunches. And to be honest, sometimes they were 4-pint lunches. I’m not necessarily proud to recall that I probably had more borderline DUI drives back to work at 2pm from The Dom than I have had after midnight at any time in the past decade.

    Anyway, while I appreciate Casey’s side of the story and don’t particularly care one way or the other what really happened, the simple fact of the matter is that a great, local brewery went away, and the small sampling of beers that retain that brand’s name are underwhelming, at best–to this former fan’s palette. Perhaps there are people all over the area discovering these beers for the first time, and if they enjoy them, it’s all good for all involved. I certainly don’t begrudge Coastal any business or prosperity.

    Bottom line: we’ll never get the brewery back: things happen, you can’t change the past, etc. But I’d love to think there is the slightest possibility that we could one day see New River brewed according to its original recipe, with the integrity and spirit with which it was originally conceived. By Coastal, Jerry Bailey’s evil twin, or some bold and inspired local brewer.

    Cheers, all:
    Murph

  10. Casey: I think you pinned it down with talking about whether the product is specifically made in VA or not. The whole Mid-Atlantic is considered ‘local’ around here, but with a name so closely associated with a specific state’s identity there are bound to be some of us bothered by the issue of where it’s made. It’s a minute thing in the grand scheme of ‘why to buy/not buy a beer’ but it’s something that stood out to me. Some of us do care about where it’s made when our state’s official nickname is being used. Aside from that, I don’t. What’s good is good. That’s the joy of being a fan of beer; trying new things from all over and finding out what works or doesn’t work for you.

    Murph: Thanks for weighing in. If I remember correctly (maybe Casey can help out here) one of the partners in New River passed away, leaving the other to try to keep the brand afloat in what (from what I heard) was already a pretty rough financial situation. Last I heard the remaining partner was working for Sierra Nevada down in GA (?). The bottom line from what I was hearing at the time is that New River was likely to go away regardless as there just wasn’t the money available to keep it going. There is always the possibility of it coming back, but nothing that I’ve heard of.
    That being said, I don’t know how much (if anything) has been changed in the everyday Dominion lineup. If you like the beer and just want to buy the beer regardless of where it’s being produced I really have no problem with that. It’s just not what I would do. Deep down, I only really take issue with any situation where someone is buying a Old Dominion product within the mindset of specifically buying something made here in VA. Which is why I mentioned the other VA breweries that I did in my post. I didn’t mention Starr Hill because by and large I’m not a huge fan of theirs, either. Again; one man’s opinion.

    Thanks for coming by! I’ll probably run into Beth at some point this week so I’ll thank her for getting the word out.

    Nick

  11. ” Deep down, I only really take issue with any situation where someone is buying a Old Dominion product within the mindset of specifically buying something made here in VA.”

    Should have thought about this before writing an article. That’s an awfully narrow problem to have, not to mention borderline xenophobic and absurd (“I’m helping someone in MARYLAND pay their bills, and not Virginia?? Screw that!”) Do you realize how hypocritical this point sounds when compared to the concept of contract beers, which breweries large and small (not to mention any other kind of business) engages in?

    /rant

    Beer is not people; beer is not location; beer is beer.

    • Tony: On the one hand you’re exactly right. Beer is beer and there’s no reason outside of personal taste to enjoy or not enjoy something. And yes, contract brewing is an essential part of the business that helps many small local guys grow into familiar regional breweries.

      On the other hand, tell folks in LaTrobe it doesn’t matter where their beer is made. If you’ve seen Beer Wars, you see how at the highest level of big business, beer is like any other commodity. I don’t think any of us are under any illusions there. Especially being in the business gives you great perspective on this and if nothing else gives you an appreciation of how NOT BAD it is when a small business grows and gets bigger.

      Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows there’s nothing xenophobic in my issue here. My issue is that this beer carries the official nickname of a state, which implies a localness that may throw the causal observer. Many folks here in VA do go out of their way to support VA companies, especially breweries and wineries. A six pack of OD bought is one less for Blue Mountain, Devil’s Backbone, Williamsburg Ale Werks, etc. That and since being integrated into the larger portfolio at Coastal, the one beer I was a real fan of has become a shadow of its former self.

      And, not that I need the editorial advice (I know I’m hopeless there) but there were MANY things I should’ve thought of before writing this post. Just this once, I simply let loose with first impressions and didn’t give myself the usual time to gather my thoughts and find a perspective that would make a worthwhile read.
      To be honest, the only reason I leave this post up at all is that it’s 2010, even if I deleted it it’d still be cached. That and it’s staying there as a reminder NEVER TO WRITE ANYTHING LIKE THIS EVER AGAIN. I mean really, all of the points I had re: Old Dominion got buried in all the bullshit surrounding the post.

      Thanks for taking the time to write. I do appreciate all feedback and hope my momentary lack of judgment doesn’t keep you from dropping by in the future.

      Nick

  12. What a great discussion, gents! Great blog, too. I have taken issue with the Jos. Huber takeover and feel that subject is to me like the above is to you. Not a fan of Minhas products, and I’ve tried them all.
    beerbliographer

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