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So many beers, so little time.

Trouble Brewing

beer-1632263_1280Over the last week or so I’ve read a few articles and blog posts about the macro vs craft thing, particularly as it’s taking shape in the U.S. It seems that there are people on the craft side that are encouraging all out war against the macro brewers. They want to use tactics like peer pressure and boycotts to … to do what? I haven’t seen an objective stated.

What, exactly, will boycotting the craft brands of a mega-brewer accomplish if you don’t boycott everything they do? Do they think that boycotting at the local level will have any discernible effect on the suits at Head Office? As far as I can tell, the biggest effect will be on the front-line people that are making and pouring the beer. You know, the people that had no say when their formerly independent craft brewery got gobbled up.

Those advocating for boycotts and applying pressure have accused the mega brewers of being bullies. They need to take a look in the mirror. They’re very, very close to adopting the same behaviours of the mega-brewers they’re fighting against.

Look, I don’t have an issue with someone trying to encourage consumers to shift from one product to another; that’s what marketing and advertising are about. But I do have an issue with negative marketing and advertising. Back in the days when Pepsi vs Coke was a big thing, I took the side of Coke because they advertised the merits of their product, rather than taking Pepsi’s approach, which was to effectively bash on Coke.

You want people to shift from macro to independent brewers? Awesome! Tell the consumer about the merits and virtues of the independent breweries, and win them over that way. This is about beer, which ought to be something that brings us together for a good time, regardless of what beer each of us drinks. I’m all for craft beer and supporting independent brewers and the communities in which they operate. But, I’m not in favour of supporting something to the detriment of something else.

Yes, some of the mega-brewers employ business practices that aren’t all that nice and friendly, but if I eschewed the products of every company that didn’t operate in a humane, loving, 100% honest, and friendly manner, there’s not many companies from whom I’d purchase anything. I’m willing to be educated and informed about the companies I may purchase from; I’m not willing to be told whether or not I should purchase from them. I.e.: don’t tell me what to do, give me the facts and let me make my own decisions.

There’s already far too much hate, divisiveness, and negativity in the world. Let’s not let all that nonsense creep into this wonderful thing we call Beer Culture. As noted author, speaker, and consultant Simon Sinek says, “Fight against something and we focus on the thing we hate. Fight for something and we focus on the thing we love.” We love beer. We love great craft beer brewed by independent breweries. Let’s fight for that.

Cheers!

Why I Became the President of CAMRA Alberta

camraNewLogo2I’m happy, excited, and a wee bit nervous to announce that I am the newly anointed President of CAMRA Alberta. Why am I a little nervous? Because I know nothing about the craft beer industry. Well, that’s not totally true.

I know that at a local level the Alberta craft beer industry creates jobs, supports farmers, contributes to charities, and just generally makes our communities nicer places in which to live, work, and play. I also know that the industry is full of people who care deeply about their craft, collaborate rather than compete, and go out of their way to help each other. I want to be a part of that.

I’m never going to be a brewer or a beer judge; I’m cool with that and you’ve all had a lucky escape. I’m simply a consumer who cares. And one of the things I care about is the beer I drink. As I told my two oldest children, you’re better off spending a little more and drinking quality products, than spending less and drinking inferior products. And you better wait until you’re of age and you better drink responsibly. I also just happen to really enjoy craft beer. The fact that the money I spend on the beer I drink goes back into the community I live in is an added bonus.

So, how did I end up as President of a craft beer volunteer thing when I know nothing about craft beer? Well, I’m glad you asked.

  1. In July of 2016 I came across this video. In the video, Graham Sherman, co-founder of Tool Shed Brewing, talks about craft beer being locked out of the Calgary Stampede and why that’s a bad thing and must change. Some unkind thoughts about brewglomerates and Stampede organizers may have been thunked by me. I wholeheartedly agree with Graham; Alberta craft beer must be present at one of Alberta’s premier events.
  2. Reacting to the news that I was going to spend a weekend in Calgary (I used to live in the Edmonton area) to take a tour of Village Brewery, my former spouse remarked “I hope you can make money with this.” or something to that effect. And I thought, “why not?”
  3. As a result of #2, I started contacting all the then active craft brewers in Alberta to offer my services (I’m an IT-type, management type consultant). I also contacted some brewery management software developers. As of this writing, I am not employed in the craft beer industry, nor do I have any clients in said industry. I remain, however, undaunted.

So, those three things combined and made me want to go to work in craft beer. I really have no idea what I’d do, I just know that I feel compelled to find something. In the meantime, I’m going to participate how and when I can, and hopefully bring something meaningful to the table.

For those of you reading this that are beer drinkers, please go and try something from your local craft brewers. The beer’s probably pretty tasty and your community benefits. And for those of you in Alberta, consider signing up as a CAMRA Alberta member and supporting the craft beer industry. In return, you’ll enjoy discounts at local breweries, bars, and restaurants, and you’ll be supporting local businesses and charities. Look, I’ve even included a handy link that takes you right to the signup page. If you’re a partner / sponsor candidate, I have a link for you, too. And it’s a sweet deal.

I love craft beer and I’m enamoured of the industry, so I’ve decided to contribute. However, I can’t do this alone. The CAMRA Executive is made up of a bunch of very talented, generous people. We’ve also been lucky to have a wonderful President the last three years, and I’ve got some pretty big boots to fill. So, I’m also taking this opportunity to thank Natasha and wish her all the best on her journey (hint: it involves beer).

If you (anyone in the Alberta craft beer community) have comments, suggestions, complaints, related to how CAMRA Alberta serves the industry, or if you want to invite us for a pint, please reach out and let us know. We really are here for you guys.

Cheers!

Chris

president@camraalberta.com

Craft Brewer or Independent Brewer?

beer-brands-1070
Image courtesy of Visual Capitalist http://www.visualcapitalist.com

I read this article recently and it got me thinking again about what is “craft” about craft beer. In an earlier post, I said that I believe “craft” is about how and why something is made, rather than who it is made by; I still believe that.

My day job is in an industry that sometimes seems to thrive on splitting hairs over semantics and being overly pedantic about terminology. However, every once in a while, we get to a point where it makes an actual difference. I think the craft beer industry may be at that point, at least in the United States.

More and more craft brands are being gobbled up by the major producers. Yes, there are many that think the craft brewers are selling out and being traitors to the cause; that may or may not be the case, but this isn’t what this post is about.

I believe that it’s time to distinguish between “craft” brewers and “independent” brewers. The U.S. based Brewers Association defines craft breweries as independent businesses that produce less than 12 million kegs of beer annually. So, according to their definition, an independent brewer using the same methods and ingredients as AB InBev to produce less than 12,000,000 kegs of knock-off Bud Light (or is it Lite?) would be considered a craft brewer. And if someone like your favourite craft brewer produced more than 11,999,999 kegs they would no longer be considered craft, purely based on production. That’s just stupid.

It’s time that we add some clarity to the definitions of “craft brewer”, “independent brewer”, and “small brewer”. I threw that last one in because of the 12million keg thing and because the Alberta Small Brewers Association considers a brewer “small” if they produce less than 700,000 hectolitres.

Craft Brewer – it’s really about the ingredients used and how the beer is made. I think adjuncts for flavouring are fine, but not for reducing costs or increasing margins. Automation has no bearing on whether a brewer is craft or not. Automation helps ensure quality and consistency, which all of us (consumers and producers) want.

Independent Brewer – so we know that if the brewer is a brand / subsidiary of AB Inbev, Molson Coors, Diageo, et al, they’re not independent. But what if there’s a parent company that’s an umbrella for some small, craft breweries? Can those still be considered independent? Take a look at Bear Hill Brewing, for example. How would you categorize them?

Small Brewer – pick your annual production limit and off you go. What if the brewer is under the threshold, but is a brand of one of the macro brewers? Can they still be considered small? Whose production counts; the brewer or the “family” to which they may belong?

I bring this whole thing up because a schism about craft brewers and perceived sell-outs is evident, and if you’re going to take a stand it’s probably a good idea to have some clear definitions. I’m not for a minute suggesting that I’m an authority on defining what craft is, what independent is, or what small is, but, as respected beer educator  Kirk Bodnar pointed out the night I became CAMRA Alberta President (another post coming up), what makes the Brewers Association the authority? I had this post running around in my head for a while, but it was really the conversation with Kirk, who brought up the automation angle, that convinced me it was worth writing.

I’d love to get your thoughts about this topic. Feel free to comment directly on the post or via email at president@camraalberta.com.

In the meantime, I’m still going to enjoy the occasional Lagunitas IPA even if I do refer to them as Laguneken in my head.

Bottle Shops & Tap Room Tours

I like going to Kensington Wine Market, Oak & Vine, Lacombe Park Spirits, 5 Vines, and other stores of that nature for my beer shopping. By “stores of that nature” I’m referring to bottle shops that don’t remind me of big box hardware, electronics, and appliance stores. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking the big box-like purveyors of fine libations. They’re convenient, they’re ubiquitous, and sometimes you can get a pretty good deal. There’s even a couple near me that have decent staff that care about the stock they sell and the customers they sell it to. And therein lies the crux of the matter …

When I go in to one of the shops I mentioned in the first line of this post, it’s a completely different experience than when I walk into one of their big box competitors. What ought to be a quick in and out to grab a six-pack can easily turn into thirty minutes or more of chatting about the various beers in the store, new arrivals, relative merits of one brewery over another, opinions of what I tasted the week before, and talking about the local (Calgary) craft beer scene. Hell, I’ve even had beer mongers tell other customers in the store to ask my opinion about craft beer (not that I know much beyond what tastes good to me).

When I go in to one of the big box stores it seems just a little, I don’t know, clinical and antiseptic. Yes, I can still get craft beer, but what I don’t typically get is that interaction with someone that shares my fondness for craft beer. I don’t have the interaction with someone that actually gets the whole community and collaboration that is intrinsic to craft beer culture. I can get a six-pack or bomber of good, local IPA pretty much anywhere. But if I want to explore and chat, I will go out of my way to visit the likes of:

Kensington Wine MarketShawn knows his stuff and is really great to chat with

Oak & Vine – Really nice guy and lady I chatted with on my visit (Inglewood location) a few weeks ago

5 Vines – Sorry I didn’t get your name, Bearded Dude, but thanks for helping me out.

Lacombe Park Spirits – my go to place for craft beer in St. Albert

I’d encourage anyone that’s into craft beer, especially if you’re just getting into it, to take the time to visit the smaller, independent retailers. The attention to detail and level of service is really hard to beat. It’s worth the extra effort.

If there are other retailers that you think I should visit, please let me know via the comments.

Calgary Tap Room Tour 2017

Since I’ve really become fond of and enamoured of the craft beer scene here in Alberta, I’ve decided to do what I can to support it. I joined CAMRA, and will consider being elected to the Executive in the Spring (I think). I’ve also decided that I am going to visit every taproom and brewpub in Calgary this year, and may even include surrounding areas like Cochrane, Airdrie, Bragg Creek, etc. I will also likely be able to visit a few out-of-Calgary places due to my travels. So far I’ve managed to get visits in to Highline Brewing and Cold Garden. I got excited because I thought I could add a few more to my list, but it turns out those visits were in late 2016. Oh well, I guess I’ll make the sacrifice and visit again.

I’ve determined that the only fair way, in my mind, to rank the various establishments, is based on how good their IPA is. There are a lot of good IPA’s brewed in this city and province, so I am really looking forward to this journey / challenge. However, I can’t imagine that, based on a scaled ranking, there will be a huge gap between first and thirty-eighth.

By the way, if you’re not looking to pick up a variety of beers, purchasing direct from the brewery is a pretty good option.

Why Did I Do It?

Recently, I attended two out of three Master Classes put on by CAMRA Alberta. I would have attended all three, but I had a timing conflict with the first class. The classes covered: 1) German & Belgian beer styles; 2) English based and North American craft beers; 3) Off flavours (not kidding, one tasted like rotted carboard). CAMRA puts these classes on primarily, I think, for people that want to become beer judges or work in the beer industry. I don’t want to be a judge, but I do eventually want to work in the craft beer industry (on the business or IT side). So why did I join CAMRA and take these classes?

Well, I like craft beer. I also like what’s happening in the craft beer scene in Alberta, and I want to support it however I can. So, that means that I will learn as much as I can about beer and the business of beer, and I will also work with CAMRA Alberta and the craft beer industry, however I can. I’ll work to promote the industry, advocate for the industry, and advocate for us (beer consumers).

One of the things I hoped to get out of the Master Classes I attended was to be able to, when necessary, have an intelligent conversation with a bartender, server, or brewer about why I think a beer is off, rather than just saying “this sucks, take it away.” I’ve had more than a few conversations with people close to the craft beer action, and one thing that’s struck me is how well intentioned people are. It’s cool that when critiquing a beer, it’s done, mostly, with the intent of improving things, rather than just being a dick.

I also joined CAMRA and attended the classes to meet people and get involved in the craft beer scene in Alberta; it seems to be working. The whole idea of getting involved in craft beer came about because of a piece I saw on the news, and some upheaval in my personal and professional lives. The news piece featured one of the guys (can’t remember if it was Jeff or Graham) from Tool Shed (Star Cheek is fantastic) talking about local brewers being shut out of selling at the Calgary Stampede. That’s asinine, I thought. It turns out that one of the big brewers has an exclusive for selling beer at official Stampede events, and the local brewers are shut out. I want that to change and I am willing to help the change happen.

I don’t know if craft beer is going to be the next big thing in the Alberta economy, but I do know that a thriving, healthy craft beer community is a good thing. The community, and that’s what it is, employs local people, uses local ingredients, generates buzz locally, and gives back to our local communities. All of these things are positive contributions to Alberta. A thriving craft beer community is also good for me, ‘cause, you know, more beer.

Craft Beer and Classic Rock

The craft brewers mentioned and linked in this post have been chosen because they brew great beer and I’m supporting / showcasing local brewers; I’m not making a political or commercial statement.

Thanks to my buddy Marko for the picture up there.

I read this and this and just couldn’t not say something …

To me, craft beer is like classic rock in that it’s about a vibe and how the thing gets done. It’s not about who owns it, where it’s poured / played. For example, just because K-Rock (classic rock station) in Edmonton played some Loverboy song doesn’t make the song or Loverboy classic rock. And just because Kid Rock’s All Summer Long was only released in 2008 doesn’t mean it’s not classic rock. Craft beer is similar. If Banded Peak were bought by some macro brewer, but changed nothing about how they made their beer, would their beer not be craft beer? I think it would. Based on the OFFICIAL definition of craft beer, Last Best wouldn’t be classified as craft because of the corporate structure that they fall under. What a load of crap!

As far as I’m concerned craft beer is about spirit, art, community, craft, and not turning things into mediocre commodities. Craft beer is about striving for excellence. Hell, craft anything is about striving for excellence and not settling for mediocrity. Just this morning my girlfriend and I were talking about how there’s an acceptance and expectation of mediocrity in our professional lives (we’re both in IT), and how what was once true skill and differentiation is now a commodity. Fortunately, beer has craft brewers to combat that.

If Molson or any other macro brewer had sub-brands that really practiced craft in their brewing and made beer I liked, hell yeah I’d drink it and more power to them. That does not mean I’m not on the side of the micros and nanos. I am. I got interested, beyond drinking, in craft beer as a direct result of local brewers being shut out of local events through contractual arrangements with a macro brewery. That just sucks. As far as I’m concerned there’s plenty of room for both. Earlier this year when this beer brands infographic thing was a discussion topic, I read a comment from someone stating that they would no longer drink some craft brand or other since they found out it was owned by a macro brewery. Why the hell not!?

If Banded Peak, Last Best, or Village got bought by SAB Miller and still produced great beer, I’d still drink their products. If anyone of them started supporting causes with which I have moral, legal, political, or ethical issues, I’d boycott them in a heartbeat regardless of their corporate structure. For the record, none of them support anything with which I have moral, legal, political, or ethical issues.

Bottom line … craft is that thing I taste and feel when I drink beer. Craft beer is about how it’s made, not who made it. When all is said and done there are two basic types of beer in the world; beer I like, and beer I don’t like.

Numerology of Beer

Since we’re celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot this year,  I thought I’d reflect upon my fondness for beer…

My fate was sealed 448 years before I was even born; in 1516 the beer purity law was enacted in Germany. If you add the digits in 1516 together you get 13 (1+5+1+6=13). 13 happens to be my favourite number, as well as the number I wore for most of the seasons that I played baseball. During the few seasons that I didn’t wear 13, I wore either 5 or 8. Those of you who are mathematically inclined will notice that 5+8 = 13 = 1+5+1+6. I never stood a chance. I also got married on the 13th.

So, as much as I tried to resist the siren song of the hops, I’ve been pre-destined to love beer. Numbers don’t lie. Plus, you know, Canadian, eh.

Brewery Management Software (BMS) Survey

Over the last month or so I’ve spoken or emailed with quite a few craft brewers about the software they do or could use to manage their brewery operations. What I quickly discovered is that regardless of which solution any of them are currently using, all of the solutions are geared towards the U.S. market, leaving poor Canadian brewers with less than optimal solutions. I’ve also noticed that there are some functional gaps that have the potential to provide some pretty decent benefits to brewers on both sides of the border.

I’ve put together a brief survey to gather some data about what is important to brewers as far as Brewery Management Software (BMS) is concerned. If you could complete the survey and ask your brewer peers to do the same I’d really appreciate it. Depending on the responses received I’ll likely do a followup post with the results, including fancy charts!

 

Better Together

Pictured: Sam Adams Rebel IPA and Andaro’s Super Special – mmmmm.
I’ve been speaking to a few of you (Alberta craft beer brewers) and some of the software vendors you’re using to run your breweries and come to a bit of a conclusion; you ought to collaborate to get the most out of your software investment. A few of you have already, when asked, expressed an interest in a [pick your software provider] user group.

The way I see it, right now there are three main purposes of user groups:

  1. share (software) challenges and successes;
  2. share best practices for working with the software;
  3. discuss and suggest new features that you’d like to see in the software.

If there are other benefits you’d like to get out of a user group, let me know.

A user group would also be beneficial to those brewers who are investigating what software to buy. A low-key environment, without vendors present can be a great forum to learn the unvarnished truth about software, regardless of what industry you happen to be in or what business issues you’re trying to address.

I’ve reached out to a couple of vendors to get their thoughts on this, and to see what kind of support they might be willing to offer us. It really is in their best interest to be supportive, however, their blessing is not required.

Initially I’d like to keep things pretty informal, fun, and logistically simple. Monthly or bi-monthly gatherings at a rotating volunteer “host” venue seems to be the simplest approach. Based purely on numbers meeting in Calgary makes the most sense. If numbers and interest warrant we can always have meetings in other locations.

And since I know some of you are thinking “what’s in it for him?”, the answers are simple:

  1. Consulting work;
  2. Beer.

Here’s my take on this: your core competencies are making great beer and running breweries; my core competencies are working with businesses and technology vendors, and using technology to make businesses run better.

Let me know what you think. You can comment directly on this post, use the contact form, or email me directly at chris.walker@phigsimc.com.

Cheers!

Taps ‘n’ Apps: Craft Beer Meets the Cloud

IPA Day 2016

August 4th was IPA Day. Being a fan of IPA’s, well, how could I not take part. So off I went to National on 17th to participate in the festivities. What follows are my thoughts on the 12 IPA’s I sampled.

IPA Day Flight 1
Flight 1
IPA Day Flight 1 Scores
Flight 1 Ranking

Flight 1 notes (in the order I posted them to untappd) …

  • Pineapple Sculpin – holy crap that was good! The hops certainly took care of the sweetness from the pineapple. I didn’t expect to like it this much.
  • Longhammer IPA – uh, I earned a badge but don’t remember what I said, so, no comment.
  • Snow White IPA – wheat is for bread, not for beer. That said, this was actually pretty damn good.
  • Phil Paul – really wanted to like this one as it’s brewed locally, but …
  • Cold Brew IPA – Loved the coffee taste. This one was really complex, and the longer it lingered on my tongue the more I liked it. I couldn’t drink more than one, though.
  • Hopilano IPA – seriously friggin’ good IPA. Nothing else to say.
IPA Day Flight 2
Flight 2
IPA Day Flight 2 Scores
Flight 2 Ranking

As with Flight 1, notes …

  • Fresh Squeezed IPA – fruity, but not like Snapple or something sickening. I’d drink this again.
  • Scout Rye IPA – Okay, if you haven’t tried Rye IPA’s do yourself a favour and try one (or three). They are really, really good and this one is no exception.
  • Easy Way IPA – nope, nope, nope. This one was like a terrible pilsner that someone chucked a small handful of hops into. Even though it was a 5oz pour I still couldn’t finish it. Should call it No Way IPA. Odd because I’ve had other IPA’s from Ninkasi that were really terrific. I think it’s the session thing – Canadian brewers just seem to make session IPA’s with more flavour and character.
  • Hopulent IPA – reminded me of a Hobgoblin with extra hops. Should call it Hopgoblin. 🙂
  • Summit Seeker – departed too far from the classic IPA, IMO.
  • IPA #3 Tokyo Drift – looks like grapefruit juice, tastes like an awesome IPA. I’d drink this again. And again and again and again.

My top three, in alphabetical order:

  1. Hopilano IPA – Bridge Brewing, North Vancouver, BC
  2. IPA #3 Tokyo Drift – Last Best Brewing & Distilling, Calgary, AB
  3. Pineapple Sculpin IPA – Ballast Point Brewing, San Diego, CA

Any (most?) of the Alberta and British Columbia brewers can be found on this page. For Last Best, use the link for Bearhill Brewing (parent company).

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