Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 was a full year. Now I am ready for 2010

I was looking back over my end of year post last year. (blog post) It listed things that I accomplished, things I failed to accomplish, and a bunch of things that didn’t really fit into either category.  After looking over last year and comparing it to this year, I realize that they could almost me the same year!

Sure, there have been a few extra things accomplished over the last year, most of them go into the filler category.  This year has been sort of a holding pattern with a few, very notable exceptions.

I had my 30 year high school reunion this year.  That wasn’t a big milestone for me but it reintroduced me to many of my friends from my formative years.  I have got to say: the women of the Indio High class of 79 have aged like fine wine.  We men, well lets just say that we are lagging behind the women of our class.

2009 was the year one of my kids attained their driver’s license.  Now, that is a milestone.  All of a sudden, you as a parent realize what they as your child has known for a few years.  That you are becoming obsolete.  No longer are you required for them to conduct their daily lives and routines.  Sure, you still need to put gas into the car in order for it to have more that 1/93 of a tank, but you certainly are not expected to be seen in public with them anymore.  That tether is severed for good.

The other child, it has become obvious, is no longer a child at all, but actually a young adult.  OK, not quite a young adult yet, with all the baggage and responsibilities that  come with that.  But, over the last year, I have started to realize that the time I have with them here, under my roof, able to sit with them and chat about their daily lives whenever I want to, is approaching an end. 

Soon, they will be heading off to college, facing the larger world and making their marks on it.  This year is the year that this has become apparent to me as more than something that will eventually happen, but as something that is getting closer to happening.

Also this year, the economy completed it’s triple back-flip. Other than some significant belt tightening and sleepless evenings, we have seemed to manage weathering that storm.  I think everyone has emerged a bit wiser for the wear.

I don’t  make resolutions for the new year.  Setting goals for my future seems best done continually and not all stuck artificially at the turning of the calendar year.   But, I have a feeling that 2010 will be transitional.  I am not sure what 2010 has in store for us, but I have that feeling that we should strap in for a ride.

OK, I think I am ready.  Bring it on!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Wine and Food Pairing. You are probably here by mistake.

I need to rant a bit, so bear with me. But first, let me just let everyone know that if you came here to find out what wine goes with what food, you are probably at the wrong place.

A fantastic dish, complimented by a wine that seems to fit it like a glove is rare, but when you find it, is an experience you will not soon forget. Where things get crazy is when people start coming up with simple rules of what wines go with which food.

As modern humans, We like easy rules to follow with which to make our daily decisions easier. The light is RED, so I STOP; GREEN, so I GO. Everybody else is jumping of a cliff: I will too; nobody else jumping, I'll just stay right here. Why wouldn't there be equally easy to follow guidelines for food/wine pairings? I have heard some of them.

We've all heard them. White wine with white food, red wine with red food. White with fish, red with beef. Bubbles, then white, then red, then port to go with appetizers, first course, second course, and then desert. These work for many situations but fail miserably in others. Like a broken watch, right twice a day, these rules work when they work, but don't set you clock by them.

The trouble is that pairing wine and food isn't as simple as color or course. There is as more variation in red wine sometimes than there is between red and white wine, so basing a pairing on color can be doomed to failure.

Recently, I read a blog from a winery that was lamenting that the their wine, a sumptuous Cabernet Sauvignon, probably doesn't go well with a dish of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. How did they knew it didn't go well together? Because conventional wisdom says that that dish goes with lighter, white wines. If you want to drink a luscious red, and have tomatoes, you better toss them in a pot and cook them down.

To that, I say, hogwash. In fact, I have had this wine, and that dish. They both, not only were great individually, they were great together.

Do you want a great, simple way to find what wines go well with what foods? Try this: Every time you eat or drink, pay attention to the foods and wines you have. I know, paying attention to what you eat is so cumbersome. But, when you taste a combination that works, take it a step farther: ask yourself why it works. What about that food and that wine makes the pair work. Make mental notes of these combinations, write them down when you get home. Then, use these as a guide.

Another system that works, but only as a guide, is similar to taking shots of tequila. Here is how it works. Get a shaker of salt and a slice of lemon or lime. Pour a glass of wine that you are looking to pair a meal with. Take a sip, savour it. Then, taste a pinch of salt. Did that add or detract from the wine? The do it again, but with the lime. How did that work? You can use this as an insight on how it might pair with something salty, like ham, or herbed dish. Or something tart, like a dish with a citrus glaze or component.

Again, these are just guidelines. The only way to know for sure is to have the dish and the wine. You can increase your odd for success when you are out with a group. Instead of ordering a bottle of one wine, everyone can order a glass of a different wine and then share. See what goes with what. You may have to try more wines, but that can't be all bad.

Don't be afraid of asking your waiter, or the chef. They do this for a living. But if they spout of the simplistic rules, consider doing it yourself, or order a beer..

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I think I see a pattern here.

I am suddenly seeing a pattern where I didn’t before.

Food, Alcoholic Beverage, Healthcare, Energy, Environment, Education, Corrections; All of these topics have debates going on right now.  Individuals and groups are arguing about these subjects.  I didn’t say discussing, I said arguing, because that is the level of the discourse.

  • Food: Organic vs “Conventional” (who decided that the term “conventional” gets to refer to the way things have been done in the last 50 years, and the term “non-conventional” get to refer to the other 99,950 years?)
  • More Food: Family farmers vs. agribusiness.  No one is arguing that modern agriculture practices have not allowed us to produce food more efficiently.  A farmer with a diesel tractor can manage over 300 times the acreage as one without.  Efficiencies come with costs, and all of those costs need to be considered.  But when we compare, lets honestly look at ALL the costs.  Like the cost imposed by the risk of large, monolithic factory farms shutting down because of contamination, or reallocation of priorities from grain for food to grain for biofuel.  Do we want our primary suppliers of food to “Run the Numbers” every quarter to decide if they want to stay in the food business or not?
  • Healthcare: Why is the primary goal of our health care industry oversight to keep our healthcare investors portfolios healthy instead of the citizens?  If my primary care physician told me that the reason he got into medicine was because that is where the highest profit was, I might look for a different doctor
  • Energy – Look around.  Do the math.  We use more power today than we did last year. Do you honestly believe that is not the trend?  Most energy comes from a black goop that we pump out of the ground.  Do you think that that will be available forever?  Where do you see the most time and energy spending going: maintaining what we currently do or coming up with a better solution?  Am I the only one that sees a problem here?
  • Education – This one really confuses me.  My parents helped me with college at first.  And there were student loans, and the rest was made up with me working though college. But it was doable and not unrealistic.  What happened to that? The cost of an education has been rising well above the cost of living  index.  The price for a college education has skyrocketed. Textbooks, tuitions, student housing and fees all all shooting up faster than the world around them.  Where is it going?  Is someone getting rich off of our desires to educate our kids?  That’s OK why?
  • Beverage laws – Yea, this one doesn’t really fit in with the rest, but it’s my blog, and I will try to tie it in at the end.  Work with me here.  We have some real screwed up beverage laws.  One state can ship to people in some states, but not others.  Some states can sell in stores on some days, but not other days. Some delivery companies can transport it, others can’t. Some states won’t let you taste wines in a store if “children can observe” you tasting.
  • Corrections – By this I mean our criminal justice system.  Neither of the terms are very good descriptions of the system.  Calling it “Corrections” would imply that something or someone is “Corrected” by the system.  “Criminal Justice” would imply that the system is just and fair in the application of punishment to criminals.  I don’t think an honest evaluation of the system would lead anyone to that conclusion.  Our correction system is a for profit business, run by contracted 3d parties, to house people that have been sent there by our courts for breaking laws defined by our legislature. These companies make money by having people in prison and use a lot of that money to encourage lawmakers to make laws that put people into prison and not to keep them out.

What do these systems have in common?  There is a lot of money that flows to groups in the system.  The money goes from the groups that control it, to the groups that set up the rules on how it is controlled.  These are all systems that we would like to believe have a primary goal of being for the citizens, but the incentives are to increase profits.  There is an incentive for increased efficiency.  But the efficiency is not meant to let them do more for less, it is to do less for higher profit.

Again,  I ask: Why is that OK?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Politics is NOT the least common denominator (I hope)

Does it seem like everything boils down to politics?  When did that start?  I am not sure if this is a new trend, or if I have just become overly sensitized to this. When I read a blog, listen to a newscast, meet someone new, read a book, anything; I immediately think of it in terms of where it falls on the political spectrum.  Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, Socialism, Marxism, Capitalism, Fascism, Progressive, WHATEVER.  I can’t help but start to put it into this or that box.  Then, after I put it in the box, I start to think of which politician or talk show host would agree or disagree with it.

I don’t know when or why that has become the way I view the world, but, I want it to stop.  Or at least I want to stop being so central it in my own set of classifications.

It wasn’t always like that.  Remember when there would be a news event discussed, and it wouldn’t include political commentary?  Doesn’t it desensitize us to the terrible actions that someone does, when it is followed by some talking head attributing it to reactions to this or that political party’s platform?  If some person attacks some other person, do we need to assume that it is rooted in political idealisms that the two sides have that are irreconcilable?

I hope that this is just a problem that we have in our reaction to the events around us.  That we are trying to look at the events around us and using personal politics as a way to try to make sense of the world. That’s what I hope.  Because the alternative is that we are actually seeing these terrible things happen because of fundamental political ideologies.  And that is scary, indeed.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Corked! (the movie)


After waiting for the arrival of the new mockumentary Corked! to show near me, and after the friendly twitter prodding from the producer to convince me that it would be worth putting off seeing Food, Inc in order to see his film first, I went to the independent film’s San Jose debut last night at the downtown Cinema 3.  I am so very glad I did.  Distribution of Corked!, limited as it is, probably meant that I might not get another chance to see the film before it comes out on DVD, while Food, Inc comes with a preset following and will be showing in the area for a while.

The movie, true to the  mockumentary genre, bounces back and forth between believable and sarcastically tongue in cheek.  The movie touches on the underlying snobbery, double standards, shattered dreams, racism, vineyard worker disrespect and fickle uninformed wine consumers.

The movie was fun to watch.  I found myself laughing out loud many times.  The scenes and shots of the over-worked solo winemaker, doing backbreaking labor, doing everything he could to keep awake after exhaustion from the long hours, seemed surprisingly realistic and sad, while at the same time true. 

But, as I was watching the movie and listening to the Q & A afterwards, I started to appreciate more than just the movie itself.  There was a bigger experience happening here.

The winery business has a reputation as being a subculture of misunderstood, overworked, passionate, committed and a somewhat crazy group of people with a dream and a desire to take a path almost no one in their right mind would ever seriously take.  That reputation is probably well deserved.

Interestingly enough, there is another industry that deserves the same characterization, that is the independent film industry.  At first glance, you imagine that film makers are making film after film, working on scripts while sipping on pernod at sidewalk cafes, hobnobbing with beautiful starlets, chain smoking cigarettes and living a pampered life as proceeds from their films roll in.  Well, other than the beautiful starlets (Sara Woo, that’s a reference to you), the rest of that imagined existence is all as much fiction as they provide in the films they produce.

The cast, crew, writers, producer and many of the people that made this film possible, know each other from growing up or going to school together.  They all have other day (or night) jobs that pay the bills.  Some work in the wine industry or come from wine making families.  Some had to drive hours back home late that night, to pour tasting room wines and give winery tours to tourists.  Much of the film’s budget, you can imagine, comes out of their own pockets or from friends and relatives.  Getting into theaters, dominated by huge Hollywood blockbusters is as hard as the small 1000 case winery trying to get shelf space along side the mega wineries. 

These filmmakers are passionate and dedicated to their craft and their dream.  I am glad I choose Corked! over Food, Inc last night.  If I hadn’t, I would have missed this gem.  Visit their website, follow the cast and people that made it happen, encourage them.  It will pay off in the future like a great, young wine, laid down as an investment for future enjoyment.

Good Job Corked!  Keep them coming.

Visit the Corked Website at or follow them on Twitter at  Or, if you really want to make this available to more people, talk to theaters in your area.  Encourage them to carry more independent films.  You owe it to yourself and your community.  And while your at it, find some great small wines to have while you do it.  Invite an independent filmmaker to come share it with you.  They make great company.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Twitter Follow Fridays (group back rubs)

A social meme activity has grown in the Twitterverse known as Follow Friday (or #FF for those of you who speak #hashtag). It is simply a mechanism to let other people who are interested in you, know who you are interested in.

As I wrote that, I realize how sophomoric that sounds, but that's what it is. Twitter, as a social network, does require relationships to be reciprocity. You can follow Bill, but Bill may not follow you. And that works well, maybe because you find what bill says interesting, but Bill might not feel the same about what you say. Wow, that sounds more shallow and self absorbed than it is. Bill might be very interesting and have thousands of people interested in what he is saying and it is reasonable that he would not follow everyone who follows him, regardless of how interesting he might find them. But, I digress.

Follow Friday is the popular method of saying to everyone following you: "I find these people interesting. You might also." The way it works if pretty simple and informal. On Fridays, Twitter users (or Tweeps) send a message (a tweet) with the names of people they are giving a shout out about, and then include the short hashtag (codeword) #FF. That's it! Pretty simple and not complicated.

Sometimes, peer pressure kicks in and people feel the need to reciprocate. Someone gives a shout out to there followers about me, and I might feel that I should return the favor and include them in my #FF message. I try to resist that knee jerk reaction. Although it always makes me feel good when I find that someone feels what I have to say is interesting, I feel that if you only have 140 characters to say something, you should be truthful about it. If my followers though I was just tossing out #FF names because they did it to me, it would dilute my recommendation that I find them interesting.

Sometimes, Follow Fridays seem to become huge virtual group back rubs. Everyone doing a little for everyone else, but no one really getting someones full attention.

Now, let me digress a bit into how I have begun doing Follow Fridays:

Twitter has a mechanism for flagging tweets that you find interesting as being a favorite of yours. It is real simple. You read something you like, and with a single click, it is flagged as one of your favorites. I use the favorite feature all the time. I don't always have time to read twitter, but if something catches my eye, I will flag it and will read it later. If, after I read it, I thought it a keeper, I will leave it flagged.

On Friday, I can quickly go to my favorites page and see all of the messages I found interesting. One click on the Reply icon for each and it adds it to my next tweet. Click-click-click-click, toss a #FF on the end. Maybe add a short message in it like "These made me laugh this week" and off it goes.

I hope that people that include me in there #FF messages aren't offended if I don't immediately reciprocate. Don't take it personal, I don't. I have the unfortunate predicament that I have interests in multiple, unrelated things. Winemaking, Computers, Beermaking, Science, Social behavior, Music, .... What I find interesting is probably only interesting to a distinct subset of people who follow me. I try to please everyone.

Happy Follow Friday everyone!

Who made me think this week? #ff @2020science @BadAstronomer @donttrythis @sciencebase @bayareascience @rstrohmeyer @tim_harper @maureenogle

You can follow me on twitter at @tbeauchamp, but only if you find me interesting.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Social Media: Turning an Echo Chamber into an Amplifier of a PR Campaign

A common characterization of the ecosystem of social networks, whether Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or any of the other on-line centers of virtual gathering, is that they become “Echo Chambers” for their participants, as opposed to engines of knowledge transfer.  Another term for this is “Group Think”.  This is when you bring people together and the critical mass of participants and ease of quick, bursts of comments becomes a fertile breeding ground for chatter, giving each other “props”, and reveling in the shared experience of discussion, rather than moving the discussion forward towards a useful end. 

Topics usually pop up around a central idea or event and then everyone participates and shares thoughts that circle and expand the idea.  But something interesting happens in the aggregate to the ideas.  The group’s social dynamic kicks in and reshapes the discussion.  “Shaping” probably isn’t the right term here.  It is more like filtering some aspects of the of idea and reinforcing others.

A similar effect happens in the physical world too, but with sound or light.  Sound generated in in a room will bounce off the walls and items in the room.  The dynamics of the room and all of it’s contents will dampen some sounds while allowing others to resonate.  Soon the sounds at the resonant frequency dominate the acoustics and the dissident sounds die out.  It doesn’t matter what white noise you start with, you end up with a spectrum of sound that comes out the same each time.  Nothing new, nothing original.  That is what can happens in a social network discussions also.  A topic is introduced and it quickly is molded into a similar outcome or consensus typical for that group. 

Utilizing social media as part of your marketing strategy has to be done with this phenomena in mind, sensitive to this echo chamber mechanism.  A traditional print campaign marketer might be tempted to treat the publishing event as the culmination of the PR process, not realizing that publishing the post is really just a transition from the preparation phase to the participation phase of the campaign. 

The added attention that you now have to give to your message doesn’t lessen the need for preparation and crafting of the message in the first place.  An incomplete or ill-conceived message will hit the blogosphere, Facebook ecosystem, or tweet-stream and quickly be torn to shreds for what it is.  But, even with an “on the mark” and well crafted post, setting it free in the wild requires ongoing attention and nurturing.  Unless your campaign says exactly what the community already wants to hear, it will either just be drowned out, or worse, take on a life of its own, which probably won’t be the message it was intended to be.  If the message resonates with that crowd, it will be amplified.  If it doesn’t square with what the audience wants, or what the crowd is predisposed to, your message will be molded into what fits that community's tone better, and then that will be the message that gets amplified. 

This amplification can be used to your advantage, carrying your message farther and with greater impact that just the original words themselves and form could have.  The message can evolve to live and grow in it’s new environment until it resonates with the crowd that participated in it’s current form.  Now, the message is the product of many contributors, all with a stake in it’s success.

This now takes the old model of message crafting, publishing and calculating ROI; and changes it to crafting, publishing, stewarding through the new social media landscape, and calculating ROI.  And ROI also needs to be evaluated differently.  More resources are expended in the delivery, but there are real numbers of active participants at the target.

In conclusion, this social media has not made PR easier. It has changed the lifecycle of a message and extended its reach.  But no longer can you just put it out there. Social media messages are now  interactive and living and evolutionary.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Winemakers Make Things You Can Hold

I think back growing up in the 70’s.  My dad was true renaissance man in my eyes.  He was a mechanic, a plumber, an electrician, a rancher, a teacher, and a fireman.  He could fix anything.  He had a garage full of tools and he taught me to use them all.  Our trucks always had mud caked on them from our ranch where we grew grapes and citrus.  I learned to drive on a Ford 400 tractor and at the end of the day, after spending time doing things on the ranch, I was tired and slept like a log.

In high school, there was a shop classes, small engine repair, woodworking, classes in which you did things with your hands, got dirty, sore, maybe scraped or cut up up a bit.  But, you touched the things your worked on.  You could actually bring it home when you were done and say: “I made this.”

I was pretty good at math and science too.  Actually, electronics was my interest.  College courses at night during high school, professor recommendation to a prestigious university’s electronic engineering program.  Theory, logic, circuit design, physics; they were all very engaging and interesting.  Computer science, computer languages, design patterns, punch cards, then terminals, PCs and databases all followed.  It all makes sense to me and it is engaging.  That was my destined career path.  That was the future.  Computers were the future and you were either with it or not.

But something was missing.

I have a hard time explaining to my parents what I do.  They understand that I work with computers, and they have become quite computer literate themselves.  Necessity and interest has led them to become very proficient in e-mail, the web, spreadsheets, even digital imaging and video.  But working as a computer scientist is hard to explain.  I have nothing that I can carry into their home and say “I made this.”

I think about this when I am making wine.  Wine is a hobby for me.  It doesn’t pay the bills, not even close. But at the end of the day, I have a bottle, with a label, with my name on it.  I can take it with me to friends and\or family and say. “I made THIS.”

That is the appeal of a winemaking for me.  It fills a need to produce something tangible.  The end result is something I can hold, carry and give to friends and family.  It doesn’t require abstract descriptions of what I did to produce it.  It is real.  That is what winemaking is about for me.

I made this.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sorry Will Akerlof, you're half wrong

This is a response to a blog posting I read on Online Media Daily. You can read the blog posting titled: Twits: Why Twitter Won't Change Marketing by a Will Akerlof

Before I go on, I do agree with Mr Akerlof that Twitter won't change the fundamentals of Marketing. Where I have a problem with his article, is the premise that it will have no effect at all and everyone will look back it as silly and deny we ever took it seriously.

I am a Twitter user. Sometimes I am a Twitter promoter. I wouldn't call myself a Twitter Zealot, but I do find myself compelled to defend the service from time to time. One thing I don't consider my self: a Twitter Evangelist.

Now, when I use the term Evangelist, it brings to mind a religious connotation, and that fits. There are "Born Again" Twitterers out there that would have you believe that Twitter is the second coming of The Net, or the "end all and be all" of this new field of marketing. But, don't let their extreme rhetoric distort the landscape

It is easy to get the impression that Twitter is populated by a few, distinct types of users. The popular press likes to represent new technologies that way. It makes it easy to fit it into a news story, or use it as background. Mr. Akerlof is a good example of the over-simplification of Twitter and its users. He presents a graphic showing that there are 3 types of users:
  • People he doesn't care about
  • People doing something interesting
  • People who twitter
And his Venn diagram shows that the overlap of those people is a very small area. It is cute, easy to understand, and probably wrong. I can't speak for him and the little circles that he uses to classify people, but his system of determining the data behind this graph seems just a little bit shortsighted. Does he really believe that the Marketing, Business and Network populace falls neatly into these three groups? That should make finding your audience and reaching them a piece of cake! Lets not put users into your little boxes quite yet.

Twitter won't drastically change Marketing. Saying that it will is as short sighted as the Dot-Com pundits who were saying that all the rules of business had changed because of the Internet. We all learned that, No, the rules actually still apply. At the end of the day, you do needed to make a profit and all the sock puppets and WebVan trucks you advertize are not going to make up for loosing money, just because your stock price is inflated.

The rules of Marketing still apply. You need to get your brand out there, connect with your customers and make them feel comfortable with your product. If 72% didn't stick with Twitter, and you were uninterested in that other 28% of vocal users, fine, ignore them. I bet a year ago, that 28% was only 10%.

Now, although the internet did not change the basic rules of business, you can't argue that it has not affected businesses. I doubt you would start a company and say that you are going to ignore any internet facing access for your company and its employees. That web thing and blogging is a bunch of out of work guys in they pajamas working from their parents basements, right?

Twitter's place in marketing is the same. If you are depending on Twitter to be your entire marketing campaign, you're going to fail. Unless of course you are one of the 500,000 life coaches, or Social Media Guru's that seem to have appeared out of nowhere.

Data showing that many 72% of Twitter users loose interest and drop out, is not a compelling argument that it is a wasteland or black hole of marketing resource. It is a piece of the puzzle, a small but very interesting tool in the belt of a marketing professional. But don't try to give the impression that it will have no effect at all, unless you are just trying to get others that don't "get it" to comment and reinforce your opinion.

That sounds like an echo chamber too.

But, thanks for making me think about it

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Does the Beverage Industry Seem to “Get” Social Marketing? Because It Always Has.

It makes sense.  Wine and food have always been about people sharing an activity with other people.  Wine and food is best experienced with friends.  Even when you’re with people you don’t know, wine and food seems to spark the conversation, lower the firewalls, provide the commonality for a shared experience that, many times, leads to discussion and friendships.

Families have been using the dinner table to re-connect with each other forever.  Sometimes, the supper at the dinner table is the only place or time we get to see the rest of our family.  A home base in our busy lives of work, school, and life.  The dining table was the original social network.

Friends and coworkers get together after work or on the weekends for a drink, time to relax, blow off steam, and catch up.  A glass of wine or beer lifted with friends makes up for all of those thankless interactions we all have during our day.  Whether going out or staying in, it allows us to catch up with our friends and find out how each other are doing.

Local pubs and watering holes were the original Facebook.  A place to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, share what was going on, laugh.  Not much different that the online version, only now your friends can be separated by more distances.  It feels comfortable surrounded by friend.  The the pub in Cheers, every knows your name.

I can imagine Norm from Cheers on Chat.  As soon as he logs on, all of his buddies sending him an IM at the same time that just say “NORM!”  Woody would IM him saying “What’s up Mr. Peterson?” and Norm would respond back with a witty one liner.  Of course, Cliff Clavin would be constantly sending out 140 character tweets of “Little Known Facts”, all taken from Wikipedia (Today’s Guinness Book).

The Beer and Wine community have always depended on relationships as their bread and butter.  Beer comes packaged to share will 5 friends.  A bottle of wine is the perfect size for 4 people; at least to start.  No one wants to drink alone, they want to do it with friends.  And, sharing it with friends builds memories.  Memories are what makes life enjoyable.  Online communities mimic this community.

There might be other factors that has helped the beverage industry in general, and the wine industry in particular to click with the technology based social media.  The proximity of California’s wine country to Silicon Valley has permitted a large cross pollination of resources and people to flow back and forth between high tech, net savvy people and wineries.  It is obvious that the social media connected wineries are heavily dominated by those close ties to Silicon Valley.  Napa and Sonoma is very well represented.

Another contributing factor is probably the economy.  The cost of entry to social networking is very low.  Although, to be successful, a business needs to invest quite a bit of time, fostering relationships and maintaining their online presence.  That is a hidden cost of Social Networking.  Where a business, in the past, may have taken out an add, or bought some airtime, Social Networking requires a social commitment.  These are not just customers, they are friends, followers and buddies.

Welcome to the world of Hospitality 2.0.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mayfield Iconoclast series Nocturna – Good, but not a value

IconoclastNocturnaLabelCRAlores When I first heard of Mayfield Brewing company in Belmont, I was intrigued with the beer, the brewery history, and the brewer. The brewer is a microbiologist as well as a beer and wine enthusiast, and a businessman.

The brewery is a reincarnation of an 1868 brewery that started in the San Francisco community of Mayfield, are area now known as Palo Alto. The brewery was serving the local peninsula until it closed down due to prohibition.

The beer is a blend of old world and new world brewing. Brewed in a small, local brewery, the brewer began experimenting with beer that he aged in wood barrels acquired from wineries. The beer was conditioned in the barrel, allowing it to develop characters from the wines that previously occupied the barrels, the oak from the barrels and from micro-oxygenation like a wine.

Hearing about this, I followed the brewers web postings and twitter posts as he blogged about hand delivering to local stores. My first few attempts to find the beer were not successful. The store clerks were unaware of the beer, but eventually, talking with the brewer and the buyers at the store, I found it. But I was a bit surprised at the price.

The beer comes in 750 ml bottles, and it is a small batch, completely hand crafted, hand bottled, hand labeled and hand delivered by the brewer. So I was expecting that it would not be an inexpensive beer. And I was correct. When I spoke with the buyer at the store, I asked how much it was and he said simply that it was $42.50. “Wow!” I thought. “That is a bit steep.” I pressed the buyer further. “Is that for a 4 pack?” “No”, he informed me. “That is for a bottle.” HOLY COW!

Now, $42 is a lot for many wines. A wine for $42, although not out of the questions, needs to be real special. You can get a wonderful, quality wine for that. But there are very few beers that rise to that price. There are a few notable exceptions, but they are all from well know breweries and have a track record for excellence. This beer is an unknown.

I decided that I was going to hold off for a while. Possibly I would be able to get a few other enthusiasts to gather with enough interest to get one that we could taste together. I had expressed my interest in the beer to my wife and, being the wonderful, supporting and enabling woman that she is, she surprised me with a bottle one day.

So, on Mothers Day, we opened it.

The Bottle is beautiful. It is a traditional 750 ml Champagne bottle. It is sealed with a cork and a crown cap, like many French and Belgian beers. The neck was dipped wax. Not a brittle was, but a soft, black paraffin. Clearly, the beer was packaged to be laid down for a while. From the neck of the bottle also hung a card on string which gave information about the beer and it’s aging to this point. It noted that the beer was a 2007 vintage, and had aged for over 10 months in an oak barrel previously used for a petit syrah port from Napa Valley.

The presentation was very nice. I was hoping that the contents would live up to the run up.

We poured the beer into wide mouthed wine glasses, to give the aroma as much of an opportunity as possible to present.

The color was a deep, dark stout black with a ruby color only visible in the sun. The carbonation was obvious, but not over carbonated. And the nice, creamy head consisted of fine bubbles. I would say the appearance in the glass was a perfect imperial stout pour.

There was almost no perceptible aromatic hop characters. As the beer warmed, it began letting some of the wood notes come out. I detected some of the oak, others did not notice that, but vanilla became noticeable and molasses and caramel characters from the malt started to come to the front.

The beer was well balanced between the sweetness and the bitterness, in fact, I thought it was very good. I felt that it could have had a bit more hop character. The time in the barrel may have diminished the aromatics of the hops. I don’t expect an imperial stout to have a lot of hop floral character, but this had none. It may have been the brewer’s intent to have the barrel character be a substitute for the aromatic hops, and to a degree, that worked.

But, that is when I realized the flaw in the beer. Yes, it was excellent, but so are many, many other beers available on the market. I enjoyed this beer, but there is no way that I would say that it was worth $42 dollars for 750 ml and my current gold standard imperial stout, from Dogfish Head, is 1/6th the cost.

Now, I know that Mayfield is not getting rich on this beer, even at that price. I can only imagine that at what I believe his production costs and quantities are, he is probably loosing money on it at this stage, or at the very best breaking even. So, I can not completely fault him for the pricing. But at the same time, I just can’t see this moving at the price point. I hope that Mayfield brewing can bring up the quantities or lower their fixed costs and overhead to bring the price down. Until then, I don’t expect that I will be have them again.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Critical mass, Fermi Pile, pent up resources, and a turn in the economy

I am not an economist. I don’t claim to be able to predict what this quarters GDP, earnings reports, unemployment figures or durable goods sales are going to be. I don’t know if the economy is going to turn around in one month or 10 months. But I think I can say with some certainty, it has been bad (real bad) and all previous history seems to indicate that it will get better again.

I have a lot of friends, family and previous co-workers that are either unemployed or under-employed. I know even more people who, even if they are not happy with what they do for a living now, there is no way that they would risk leaving it to try something new.

All of this talent is waiting, like the legs of a swimmer on the starting blocks. This talent is just waiting for the starter’s gun to go off. The energy, collectively stored in this reservoir of talent is almost unimaginable, ready to explode as soon as the shot is fired.

There is another storehouse of resources growing at the same time: Social media and social networks. This collection of simple little services such as Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter, and Web 2.0 communities have been growing, gaining followers, working out the bugs, getting past the novelty and probably most important, adding users.

The downturn in the economy may have enabled and even fed these social networks. Millions of users have a bit more time on their hands, not as much free cash to go out, and a need to connect with friends. Oprah alone may have taken Twitter over the top when she featured it on her show. Twitter went from being this obscure service that almost no one used or understood to this misunderstood service that almost everyone was talking about, but still didn’t completely understand.

In the hay day of the Internet explosion (before it was known as the DotCom Boom), the power of a system came from the design of the system itself. Webservers, mail servers, databases; they all were judged against each other by their speed, their storage, their throughput, and their feature set. And although those metrics are still important, the users don’t care. Who cares if you can send only 140 characters at a time, if you are doing it any from device, at any time, from anyplace. Who cares if it takes 30 to 60 seconds for a tweet to get to its followers if they are splitting their time between their MP3 player and the other 5 things they are doing at the same time.

The power of the social network doesn’t come from the software. It comes from the users and the chaotic flow of information between them. It is no longer the software that is valuable; it is the shear quantity of users that make the system valuable.

Just like nuclear fuel is not explosive in small quantities or diluted form. A lump of unrefined uranium will not start a self sustained nuclear reaction because the molecules of fissionable material are too far apart, and not concentrated enough to have the neutrons that are flying off of them collide and interact with the other fissionable molecules. In 1942, Enrico Fermi and his fellow scientists were able concentrate uranium and bring it close enough in proximity to enable the first self-sustained nuclear reaction. As soon as it reached critical mass, the system was self sustaining and able to keep itself going.

Social networks have now reached that point. They have amassed enough users that they have momentum. It is harder for someone to dismiss them as a fad or an oddity. And at this point, businesses either needs to get with it, or get out of the way.

Some businesses and government agencies were slow to move onto the web, not understanding how it applied to them. Other businesses fumbled with the early web, awkward domain names, unwieldy URLs and confusing, awkward or just unusable web sites. But those early adopters figured it out. They realized that the internet was not only required for their business to succeed, but there were businesses that succeeded only on the Internet.

Social networks and social mediums and the foundation for the next wave of business/customer relationships. Business has always been about relationships and now those interactions have just found a new mechanism to expose them.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Paid to blog about wine you say? Yes!

Don't expect to give up you day job. But lately, there seems to be more reports and articles about getting paid for blogging about wine than reports about the job market coming back.

Who would have thought that wine blogging would become a leading indicator of the economy turn around? But it makes sense. When times are tough, you tend to recall your passions. That passion might be wine. Or, wine might be the muse that brings that passion to the surface.

In any case, here are some opportunities for a mash up between wine and social media.

Tell them you heard it hear first!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Social Media and the Large Company

It is reminiscent of seeing football player and ballet classes. Awkward, scared, stumbling and falling. Unsure of their step. It is all so foreign, all so new, and all so weird.

Twitter seemed to reach critical mass about a few months ago. Can you pick the date when it happened? I think I can. January 15, 2009. Sure, there were a few of us using it, talking about it, being ridiculed about it. But then all of a sudden, it all seemed to change. On January 15, Janis Krums, (Twitter Bio: Entrepreneur, Former Athlete, The Miracle on the Hudson Photo Guy, Latvian, Co-Founder of Elementz Nutrition, Social Media Enthusiast) was on a ferry heading across the Hudson river and a plane went down.

U.S. Airways flight 1549 hit a flock of birds on take off and after suffering complete engine failure was forced to make a miracle landing in the Hudson River. News reports would have picked it up sooner or later and sent their crews out. But Janis Krum happened to be on a ferry in the area, and a Twitterer, and a subscriber of a sibling service called Twitpic that let him take a photo from his IPhone and upload it to his twitter account.

At that moment, all the rules changed. It was almost as if Gutenberg had just reinvented the printing press and movable type. All of a sudden, the popular media realized that there may be something to this connected world. Maybe it was the swoosh sound of popular media getting bigger that got their attention. Or, maybe it was the creaking sound of their part of if getting a little bit smaller. In any case, the genie was out of the bottle and there was no putting it back.

Just like when Sir Tim Berners-Lee first proposed the idea of networked documents, connected by links, accessible across this academic network, become known as the World Wide Web, now just the “Web”. People had no idea the impact. How could such an obscure idea move beyond its initial audience? I doubt he could have foreseen that within 10 years, children in grade schools would see “the Web” as synonymous with the internet.

Well, we are there again. This little, obscure protocol, web interface, internet based idea, has caught the attention of the popular media. And, as before, they have no idea what to make of it. I sometimes laugh at how they talk about Twitter. I hear on the news, references to “This new phenomenon called Twitter”. Or, “this activity called a Tweet”. And, now that it is something exciting and maybe even cutting edge, the Hollywood names are catching on. One huge celebrity, who had a disturbed fan following her on Twitter, that sent a disparate message indicating suicidal thoughts, responded with a tweet of her own about it. That sparked a firestorm of interest that resulted in a community tracking this desperate individual down and possibly saving her life.

Twitter has become the new “Thing” For better or worse. It is there.

Now, businesses are trying to figure it out. Is Twitter an advertising medium? A communication platform? An alternative to Email, Web? Mailings? What is it? How can I use it to my advantage? Big companies seem to have no clue. But then again, Big corporations rarely have mixed well with community anything. Unless of course they own the community.

But large corporations can see this untapped medium out there and are wanting to take advantage of it. They will, and they will probably be very successful at it. But right now it is the magical time for the small business to stake their claim in Social Media. Small business have always been the domain of social media. The local restaurant, reaching out to its neighbors in the local rag. The corner drycleaner with a flyer up at the downtown drugstore. That is what social media used to be. And, the electronic version is not so different.

The basis of Social media, whether it is Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or the like, is the concept of Community. People of like interest enjoy interacting with others of similar interests.

You see? It isn’t that different. Community is the key. If businesses keep focused on their community, whether that means down the street, their friends on Facebook or their followers on Twitter, they can use that media successfully.

The only thing that works in your community is honesty. You can’t deceive or take advantage of one part of your community and hope that the rest won’t know about it. The new Social media takes this to the next level. A business can’t successfully try to game the system. Information travels at the speed of the net now. Since the invention of the telegraph, you have not been able to outrun your actions. Now, with the internet and Web 2.0, your business has to be accountable in real time. If you accept that, you will succeed. If you try to beat it, you will loose.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Beer Wars Movie – I am trying to get upset, but I can’t

David vs. Goliath. That was the billing. Who was the evil villain in this film? Was is Big Beer, as exemplified by Anheuser Busch? Was it the beer distributors themselves, or the whole schizophrenic American 3 tier system?

I got back from watching Beer Wars. I thought it was a great documentary about the craft beer movement in the US and the mammoth commercial giants that pretty much own the US market, and of course, the post prohibition 3 tier alcohol distribution system. I am looking forward to buying the DVD when it comes out. I am not sure if I will watch it beginning to end again, but I might like to go back and revisit some places again. And, I expect I would like to share it with friends.

I am unsure of what to take away from the movie. Am I supposed to be upset with the state a beverage industry, or a supposed oppression of the craft brewers, or a racketeering-like beverage distribution monopoly imposed 60 years ago? But here’s the thing: try as I might, I just can’t get upset about it. Maybe that’s fine. That may be a sign of a good documentary. The producers just presented the facts, and let the audience decide who the good guys and bad guys are, if any.

The owners of the beer distributor, although seeming a bit (How do I say this?) Mafia-esk. Not that they are, or if they are, that there is any problems with that. I mean no disrespect at all. As the panel discussion’s moderator said: “I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning with a horse head in my bed”. The distributors do provide a service. Without them, many small breweries may get no exposure at all. The movie does show how there seems to be a overwhelming presence, and therefore bias towards the large megabreweries. And it was implied, and somewhat shown, the possible illegal influence that these breweries have on the distributors, to the detriment of the small craft brewers.

I wanted to feel sorry for the little guys, and angry at the big players. I could empathize with the craft brewers. They are working their buts off, against terrible odds, mortgaging their family’s home, college education, and retirement. Struggling against huge odds and putting in long, 20 hr days, 7 days a week, with a high likelihood of failure. But three things keep me from being angry at the suggested injustice.

1. These people are doing what they love, following a dream, much of the time not willing to trade it for anything, willing to risk everything to make it happen and truly passionate about what they are doing and have accomplished despite the odds. In many ways, I found myself envious of what they are doing and their bravery.

2. The large brewery conglomerates were once just like these craft guys. Small, mom and pop breweries. Many of them were penniless immigrants, looking to fulfill their dream, maybe even the overused term: “The American Dream”. They risked their families’ money to pursue this. And you can’t argue that they are not giving the American public what they want, even if they spend millions convincing the public of that. They suffered through prohibition and those that emerged were the ones that did it best.

3. And finally, when they asked the craft brewers on the panel, what type of growth have they seen over the last couple years in their own business. Both responded that they have seen a phenomenal growth. Stone Brewery mentioned that he as seen a 45% growth year over year. And Dogfish Head seemed like they couldn’t get the newer, larger tanks in fast enough, as they were lowering them in via crane from the roof of they huge new facility.

So, no, I did not come out of the movie with my dislike for the big breweries, or the distributors that I thought I would. What was confirmed was that I truly love craft brews, their community, their culture and even the industry. Would I consider taking the leap and doing it myself? Sometimes I think I would. , Most of the time I am perfectly content letting them do the work as I reap the benefit of their labor and enjoy my little brewery/winery/garage.

Thanks to the producer / director / writer/ financier powerhouse independent filmmaker of Beer Wars: Anat Baron. You did make a very informative, entertaining, enjoyable and thought provoking documentary. I hope that it was an overall positive experience for you. I know it was a labor of love and I look forward to seeing other projects from you in the future.

This blog post was not intended to be a review of the movie, just my observations and reactions to it. But I would like to briefly mention things I liked and did not like about it.

I liked seeing the lives and families of the craft brewers. Hearing in their own words and styles what brought them here and their expectations and experiences.

I liked being exposed to the dynamics of the industry, seeing first hand the long hours, back breaking labor and disappointments.

I like seeing the different aspects of the industry, including the craft brewers and brand marketers like the sole force behind Moonshot, Rhonda Kallman. I hope she does well, but I am afraid I would never buy a beer that has caffeine as an additive. I don’t believe in adding something to a beer just to make it appeal to a market but doesn’t actually improve it at all.

I liked seeing the representation of women in the industry. I would be interested if this accurately represents the percentage of women to men brewers. It may only be me, but women and beer just go together. Or at least they are two of my favorite things.

I loved seeing Charlie Papazian. I forget how much I enjoy him. He is such a great, smart, knowledgeable and energetic spokesperson for the craft and home brew community. I wish that he would have been given more time during the panel discussion. His comments were always the most informative, fact based and interesting to me.

I wish the movie would have talked more about the 3 tier system of distribution. It was touch on but I could have used more background, history, insight. You see, I am sure that I really should be angry at them. Help me there, please.

I would have like to see more about the histories of the big brewers, not just their activities once they were powerhouses. Some perspectives about when they were small craft brewers and maybe see some of their passions.

I thought that the pre-recorded comments from Todd Alsrom was distasteful. Having him talking about his distain of Moonshot beer, saying that it was a misspelling calling it Craft, and instead should replace the “FT” in Craft with a “P”. While that was entertaining, and a perfectly sound opinion, I though it was rude, contrived and a bit lazy faux conflict to show that during the panel discussion. Mainly, because Todd was part of the panel as well as the Rhonda Kallman of Moonshot. If he would be willing to say that to her face, during the discussion, great. But in this format, it was obviously there to embarrass one, the other, or both. Todd, if you were happy with the way that was handled, I have lost a little respect for you. And Rhonda, if for no other reason than that cheap shot, I hope you the best finding your niche.

Finally, I really disliked Ben Stein. I am not saying I dislike Ben Stein (“Bueller, Bueller, Bueller”). I generally disagree with his views, but he seemed to keep them in check during his moderation of the panel discussion. Sometimes I could hear his conservative views coloring his remarks or leading questions, but mostly he was straight down the moderation trough. But he obviously did not add any benefit to the movie, and seemed a bit fumbling. It might have been fun to have two moderators, then Ben could have been one, and a more cottage industry sympathetic moderator could have been there for balance.

Overall: Congratulations Anat. Great job, Great movie. Good luck.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Beer Wars - The movie

One Night Only – April 16, 2009
Beer Wars (the movie)

In the battle for the hearts, minds, and drink of choice of the American beer drinker, there is a war.

Documentarian Anat Baron has chronicled the fight to bring real beer to the American beer drinking public and the steps that the much larger beer industry has taken to keep that from your lips. As he calls it, the “Battle in the Bottle”

It is an interesting vehicle that Director Anat Baron is using to show his work. Instead of a smaller release in art theatres around the country, like many documentaries, Mr Baron has set up a deal with a large theater company to show it in 440 theaters simultaneously via live satellite feed all over the country, followed by a live panel discussion with key American craft brewers.

One night only, live April 16th. This may be a complete flop. Or, as I hope it will be, the beginning of a national discussion of what we choose to drink and which corporations get to choose its quality or our tastes.

Find out more about the movie and locations in your community at their website: . Maybe join me for the viewing this Thursday evening.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Two more Belgian beers

These two beers are from a small, craft brewer in a Flemish borough of Bruges, Belgium
Called Assebroek.

The Brewery, De Regenbook (which means The Rainbow) was founded in 1995 by Johan Brandt and they currently produce about 300 HL of beer per year, making it one of the smallest of the Belgian craft breweries. Johan is also a bee keeper.

When Johan fist started the brewery, he was brewing only one barrel per week . 4 years later, he increased to 1.5 barrels per week, which meant full time, all year. The brewery now produces just under 5 barrels per week (300 HL per year). Half of their beer is exported.

The first beer:
BB Bourgondier 't Smisje
12% ABV
Bottle conditioned

Brewed with:
malt, hops, candi sugar, Valerian and Lemon Balm, yeast and water.

The herb Valerian used in this beer, has been used since 400 BC for treatment of insomnia. But, at 12 ABV, I don’t think insomnia will be a problem.

Not heavily carbonated
Beautiful Copper color
Smokey and moderate maltiness in the mouth

Yeasty, but with a nutty character that goes well with the beer.
More of the spice became evident as it warmed up, and the citrusy notes, probably partially from the lemon balm, but mostly from the yeast was noticeable.

The finish was nice, lingering for a while. It was a bit hot, mostly because of the high
Alcohol level, but the malt balanced much of that out.

The second beer:
Also, an ale brewed with spices.
5% ABV
Bottle conditioned

Traditional Belgian white ale (witbier)
60% barley malt, 40% wheat malt, hops(Kent Goldings & Challenger), coriander and fresh orange peel

Clean nose, Coriander but no pronounced citrus
significant carbonation, maybe even too much
Not much lacing or head retention
Light body, very crisp
Mildly acidic

Not enough body to support the level of carbonation
As it warmed up, it got a bit of a soapy character and had lost all
of the orange

This beer started off promising. I expected that it would open up as it warmed, but it flattened out and did not finish well.

In some ways, it reminded me of some Berlin weisen beers with its sharp edge and zesty fiz, so this would be worth trying again on a warmer day. That might suite it better than a cool evening for tasting.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Urthel Hibernus Quentum - Tripel

As I continue my series of Belgian beer, I am again struck by the completely unique and distinct character of Belgian beer. More than any other type or style of beer, Belgian beer can be identified immediately as a representative of the style. Where other beer have hybridized from area to area and sometimes it is hard to discern a California Steam beer from and English IPA. A blindfold and nose plug would still not provide anonymity to a traditional Belgian beer.

Today’s beer is from a small brewer in Flanders, Belgium.

Hibernus Quentum
Tripel Ale
9.0% ABV

The brewery is owned and run by Bas and Hildegard van Ostaden. A husband and wife.
The Gnome on the label is carried through out with the fairy-tale theme of the breweries web site. I wish I could read what it said, being written in (I assume) Flemish? The imagery on the web site look like they are from Middle Earth.

The beer is bottle conditioned and unfiltered, although my bottle has been treated very well. The yeast lees have settled firm onto the bottom and it took a few real good swirls for the final pour to get any haze in the glass.

On first pour, it was a striking, pretty golden blonde.
significant carbonation and a nice creamy head with good retention
Lacing lingered a while

It had a delicate nose with citrus and clove overtones
Mouth feel was good, not too thin at all, but not coating
A medium body with good balance.
Apricot and citrus, clove were all evident, even a hint of banana.
It was dry, but the flower aroma teases out a sense of sweetness.

It was not overly bitter on initial taste but with a hop bitterness mid palette on the finish.
As the beer warmed up, the alcohol become more prominent, it is a tripel after all!

By the final pour, it had come to a cool room temperature, and with the yeast coaxed out into the glass, it brought out more of the clove and even cardamom spice.

Oh, it was very good. I wish I had a second one.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Tale of Two Belgian Beers

This is a story about two Belgian beers. One was a beauty and one was a beast. I have to first say, that you need to expect this from time to time. A beer, like a person, has a off night. I believe that the beer I will describe later was bad. That is to say, there was something wrong with this bottle and not this beer in general. But first, some background.

I must have been giving off a Belgian beer vibe lately, because for my birthday recently, I received an assortment of Belgian beers from two different people. And, that is more than fine with me. I love Belgian beers for so many reasons, not the least of which is the unique taste. Unique for each one and unique in general for Belgian beer.

Belgian beer is like no other. Imagine a beer savant. Someone who, because of the particular wiring in their heads, could make fantastic beer, no matter what. They would be like the McGuiver of beer. Able to take any ingredients, and with a Swiss Army knife and a discarded potato peeler, could make incredible beer. Now, imagine that brewing genius was dropped into a Belgian abbey. Have to figure it out on their own, but like Midas turning everything he touches into gold, this brewer turns everything he touches into a fantastic, although non conventional beer.

For starters, Belgian beers can have an incredible amount of hop bitterness. This seems to be catching on more and more with modern craft brewers, but Belgian beers have been doing this for a long time. But, the hops are usually dried and aged prior to using them, so although they add a tongue tying bitterness, they add almost no aroma.

Next, where as most brewers have their favorite strain of yeast, Belgian brewers don't force that on their beers. Many Belgian beers are fermented in very large, shallow fermenters. After the unfermented wort is put into the fermenter, the yeast indigenous to the area is just allowed to blow through and have it's way with it. We are talking Wild yeast, and the results can be wild too. Sure, they have been doing this for a long time and the yeast in the area and in the brewery has pretty much evolved as the house band.

Finally, Belgian beers can be aged in barrels. These barrels develop a character of their own. The yeast and brettanomyces (a different type of yeast that gives a very distinctive taste) take up permanent residence in the barrels and help give the beer much of it's character.

So, I received all of these beers and I figured I would review them two at a time. Most of them are high in alcohol, so although I am reviewing them two at a time, I am having them on two different occasions.

The first one was the "8" or Green Cap from the Rochefort Trappist brewery. From the name, you might have figured out that this brewery has something to do with the Trappist monks, and you are right. Some of the Trappist monistaries began making beer in the late 1500's. There are only 7 that still do. And there isn't a runt in the pack. They all are known for the exceptional quality of their beer. That is why I think the bottle I hade was not typical of the beer. Although the beer had a high alcohol of 9.2% ABV and a lot of hops, which also helps to preserve. This beer was not drinkable. It has no detectable nose, it was bitter, but not sour, and had a very bad aftertaste. I will give it the benefit of the doubt, given it's lineage.

The second beer I tasted was the Black Albert brewed by De Struise Brewery. I am not completely sure on this, but all information I can find on it seems to indicate that although the De Struise team is Belgian, and they are based in Belgium, this beer is actually brewed in the US, in the state of Maine, for a bar there.

Since, I think of Belgian beer, more of a style than a place of origin, that is good enough for me. And, this beer knocked it out of the park. This was also a massive beer, weighing in at 13% ABV. You used to be able to find wines with lower alcohol. And, it had hop bitterness of 100 IBU. That might not mean much to you, but as a comparison, Bud Light clocks in at a hop bitterness of about 1/15 that in the 6-7% range.

But, there is more to this beer that the burn from alcohol and the bite from the hops. The first aroma to come across was a mixture of coffee and dark chocolate. Crisp and full, these aromas were not a surprise. From the exceptionally dark color, it was obvious the malt was contained a good amount of very dark roasts.

As I took a sip, dried apricot and concentrated cherry were there, along with new hop flavors and aroma. The flavors coated my mouth. The beer had significant body, smooth and silky. Even with the high alcohol, there was still quite a bit of unfermentable sugars that gave a touch of sweet and round taste. The hops stuck around a bit after the taste was done and quite floral. This was a wonderfully balanced beer.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Brew Day at the Little Winery in the Back

Thursday 3/26/09
9:00 AM PST

The Little Winery, (which my wife erroneously refers to as her "garage"), will be the location for my birthday brewday. Watch on-line, send your comments, questions or encouragements.

OK, watching someone brew beer over the internet may not be the edge of your seat entertainment that it sounds like it would be, but I assure you, at least I will be having a good time.

The plan is to begin after the kids head out to school and all of the commotion that happens weekday mornings dies down. Coffee will be brewed, large propane burners will kick in and we will be off to the races.

I hope to have:
  • Both webcams streaming
  • Web dashboard with updated status, schedule and images and comments.
  • Twitter feed of activities
  • Public comments board
  • And, when we are all done BEER.
  • We may even have a warm scotchie to make it official

Watch this spot for updates.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why I am not going to complain about the new Facebook anymore

OK, I don't want Facebook to change back anymore. I don't appreciate the new layout, neither do millions of others. But, if a company has a vision, which Facebook has demonstrated they do in the past, then I say they should execute on it.

As customers, we think we know what a company should do. "The Customer is always right" rings loud and clear in our heads. Well, if the customer is so smart, and his idea is so much better than the company he is complaining about, then why doesn't the customer take that idea, go out there and make it happen.

You know what? Sometimes those ideas are better, the customer does go out and start a business of their own with that new ideas. And, sometimes they prove that their idea was correct. They did have vision, they were smarter and they are hugely successful.

But, then what do you think happens? They might continue being bold, smart, innovative. They have an idea about changing what they are doing in a way that might better, bold, and innovative. But what happens? A bunch of their customers complain. Is the customer always right? Who cares? If they are, great for them. Let them take their ideas off and capture the business that they think the company is leaving behind.

Facebook has shown that it sees what is possible better than other. It has become wildly successful because of that ability. Now, they have made a change because they believe this is the direction to go. Sure, you could argue they are seeing the new upstart, Twitter, and they are trying to capture some of that energy, great. They might just do it right again.

In any case, this is their bus. I think they have a right to drive it where they want. If I choose to get off, that is my choice. If they choose to keep going, they have shown to be a good trip planner in the past.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You think your job is stressful? Be an Astronaut!

Tonight, Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-119, will launch. It will be bringing it's a final set of solar arrays to the International Space station. Read about it on the NASA website.

As the US is winding down our shuttle program, there seems to be a lack of urgency for its replacement. Maybe it is understandable. We are all caught up in our daily crises, economic issues, job losses, wars and all of the day to day issues. We just don't seem to have the time to look up from our day to day issues to see the bigger pictures.

Exploration for the sake of exploration is a concept that many people don't "get". They say, "Why spend all of this time and money exploring, when there is so much to do right here and right now." Talking about forward, long term thinking is hard to prioritize when you are worried about keeping your job, feeding your family, or tending to a sick or dying friend.

Sometimes, we use the arguments, or justifications of space exploration such as "Exploration is part of the Human psyche", or "If Columbus had never explored, we wouldn't be here". I think those arguments fall short. Arguably, humans do have a long history of exploration, but part of our psyche? If you could ask early hominids what made them cross the land bridge to the Americas, you would probably find that it was in search of scarce resources, such as food or better climate. And, you could make a good case that Columbus did not sail to the "New World" because of some noble pursuit of truth or exploration for exploration sake. Gold, wealth, and power had a lot to do with it.

Using these completely altruistic arguments, although I personally like to believe they are true, fall short of presenting a powerful justification for space exploration. Why don't we talk about real, concrete reasons why we should and need to go into space? Why don't we hear more about how going into space, learning how to live and accommodate life in that thin shell that surrounds the earth, is the best way for us to learn how to take care of our planet. It is hard to appreciate the wildernesses of the planet, until you actually get to go out into them. It is equally hard to appreciate our delicate planet until you actually get to step out a little and look back at it.

We aren't even talking about stepping out very far. Most of my relatives live farther away from me than the astronauts are as they pass overhead. We are talking about space craft that orbits closer to us than some people drive in their daily commute. And we send astronauts up so infrequently that it is still a dangerous thing to do. Lets figure this out. Lets make our space program a priority. Lets move, just a little bit, away from the problems we face all day, every day, and look back. We might just find some solutions.

This is what is part of the human psyche: finding solutions. Lets look at the big picture. And, to do that, we need to step back (out) a little bit.

Good luck crew of STS-119. Be safe. Oh, and thanks!

Tim Beauchamp

Friday, February 27, 2009

Twitter Followers

Twitter Followers.

This is probably the 4th installment in my series on Twitter. Before you go looking for the first 3, don't bother. They are all in my head and have never been published. Sorry about that. But, it is not so different than most people's experience with Twitter.

For the new Twitter users, initially it makes perfect sense. It really is a simple service that appears easy to grasp. You sign up on Twitter and that makes us a Twitter User. You have other Twitter users that you follow and there are Twitter users that follow you.

By follow, I mean that followers get to see what the person they follow posts. Once you get that concept down, you pretty much get 80% of how it works. But the other 20% is the part that confuses, irritates, or generally just does not make sense to them.

I think that much of this confusion all comes down to what initially seemed like the simple concept of "Followers". How complicated can this really be, you think. If I follow someone, I see what they post. If someone follows me, they see what I post. But, right after you sign up for the service, you find yourself in this strange and uncomfortable positions of not following anyone yet, not having any followers, and no idea of how to change any of those situations.

Now, I submit that you have probably been in a situation like this before, in real life. I will come back to this parallel to real life again. Most of the questions that come up as to why or how things happen in twitter they way the do, can usually find a similar parallel in real life. And when you find yourself asking why interactions are the way they are on Twitter, just ask yourself why they wouldn't be.

So, you just started and you have no followers and you are following no one. Come on, you've been there before. First day at a new school. First day in a new job. At a party where you know no one.

I recommend following the same rules on Twitter in this situation that you would in real life. Don't walk up to everyone and share intimate and possibly bizarre quirks about your personality. If you know someone there. Find out their username and start following them. This gives you the opportunity to get the lay of the land. See what other people do, and not do. And probably find others to follow.

Now, just like in real life there are 3 different rolls you can play in social interactions and information flow. There are producers, consumers and relayers. These are people who say or provide interesting things, people who like to hear interesting things, and people who hear interesting things and just pass it on to others. You can be any one of these type of people, but you will probably find that your style is some proportion of all three.

As time goes on, people that you follow will relay (retweet) information you find interesting, and you may begin following their source for the content. Things you find interesting, you may retweet yourself to anyone following you. And you will probably feel comfortable enough to tweet original content you find interesting.

Now we have the question of how you choose followers and how people choose to follow you. And there are different schools of thought here.

One type of Twitter users will automatically follow everyone who follows them. When you start following one of these people, you will soon get the message that they have begun following you. It makes you feel important that this person feels what you have to say is important to them. That feeling quickly fades when you see that they are also following 2000 other people.

Another set of Twitter users only follow a hand full of people and they have hundreds or thousands of followers. These are generally the content providers. They say things that are interesting to large groups of people but they don't feel compelled to blindly follow everyone.

A third set of twitterers have a modest number of followers and people they follow. And many times, only a fraction of the people that follow them, they actually reciprocate. This set of users makes the most sense to me and most closely relates to the way our regular social lives work. We have friends that we mutually enjoy each others company. We find others interesting who may not know us well. And there are people who find us interesting but we don't really know them yet.

Most of the complaints you hear about Twitter as a service is that you get all these messages about stupid activities people are doing that you have no desire to hear about. That is easy to fix. Don't follow those people. If you had a friend that would just call you up all the time to tell you he is just petting his dog or taking a shower, you would probably stop taking his calls. Why would you follow him on Twitter? Feel free to remove them from the list of people you follow.

You will find your comfort zone. You may choose to just be a consumer of the intelligent streams of consciousness. Before you add anyone to follow, you can go to their list of tweets (called a time line) and see what they have been saying. If it seems like it would improve the mix of tweets you see, add them.

Does that make sense? Do you have a different strategy?

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @tbeauchamp
but down feel bad if I don't immediately choose to reciprocate.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Beer Tasting - January 2009 - Beer One - Palo Santo Marron

Palo Santo Marron (Holy Tree Brown)
Dogfish Head Brewery

This beer has been aged in 10,000 gallon wood vessels made from South America called Paraguayan Palo Santo

I was not sure what to expect. From the brewery's description, I was expected more chocolate, but that was not found. It seemed closer to an imperial stout in bitterness. Good hop bitterness but not a lot of aromatics. There were citrus overtones, maybe cherry of even mandarin.

The head diminished quite quickly, not enough to be a worrisome. The aroma was nice.

Sweet overtones followed the medium hop floral character. A distinct dark malt character is the dominant aspect of both the aroma and taste.

The really opened up as it warmed. At 60 degrees, it was in it's element.

The alcohol content is 12% APV, which should take it out of the beer catagory for me. But, the alcohol was balanced well with the malt. At that level, the malt was pronounced. Not only in flavor, but in the creamy velvet viscosity.

Vanilla, molasses, wood similar to a California Chardonnay.

The finish was lasting and pleasant.

The only disappointment with this beer is that it tastes so good that you would want more than one, but at 12% and 12 oz, that would probably be the extent of your evening.

I would recommend sharing this between friends.

Beer Tasting - January 2009 - The preliminary situation

This beer tasting was not overly planned. It started out as a trip to the local beer merchant looking for something interesting. Actually, I was looking for a good German Rauchbier (smoked beer) because I have had it in my head lately. But, the state of beer selection on the San Francisco peninsula seems to be declining. When I mentioned that I was looking for a smoked beer, I got the same look that I imagine I would get if I asked for a cranberry cougar tea infusion. Yeah, that's it. Look in the mirror right now after reading that.

In any case, the usual mecca of beer on the peninsula, Beltramo's did not give me satisfaction. They have a large selection of beer, but I get the impression that the selection is dictated more by the distributor than a wine buyer. I could be wrong, but it seemed heavily weighted towards eye appeal and kitschy names instead of brewing integrity and craft beer styles.

Beverages and More (or BevMo to those in the inner circle) had a couple Rauchbiers "In the System". Which means they had it listed in their computer, but not on the shelf. I might as well buy it from Don't get me wrong, BevMo has an incredible selection of things that contain alcohol. But, deep down, it is a "Box Store" and don't expect them to give you good advice on unique beers. They are the Walmart of Ethanol based products. I would like to think they have the consumer's best interest in mind, but the little tasting nook, un-staffed in the corner does not inspire confidence.

Finally, I went to the local wine merchant, K&L wines. I had given up on getting interesting beer and was going to turn my attention to wine.

Now, K&L wines is just that. A wine merchant. 99% of the store is dedicated to wine. But they do have one little cooler door. One 24 inch glass door that houses their entire selection of beer. And, their selection of beer is enlightened. I found out why too. I met the beer buyer. He was enthusiastic and pragmatic. When I mentioned that I was looking for a rauchbeir, he got this look on his face that was almost euphoric. He was a beerophile and had the beers to prove it. He brought me over to his beer door and we had a in depth discussion of what he had, what I wanted and what my options were.

Once I said that I wanted something interesting and worth tasting, we came up with a selection of craft beer that would make Michael Jackson (not the one with 1 glove) proud, may he rest in peace.

Let me tell you what I bought that day:
Three beers from a brewery in Delaware called Dogfish Head Brewing Company. They have been getting some press lately because they are pushing the envelope. I recommend you go to their website and have a look at what they are doing.

I bought 3 of their beers, Palo Santo Marron, 90 Minute IPA, and Midas Touch Golden Elixir.
And, I bought a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.

I will go into details about each beer in follow up posts, but I would recommend going to their respective websites and checking them out.

Stay tuned for tasting notes on these beers. And, feel free to comment on your own opinions.


Beer Tasting - January 2009 - The preliminary situation

This beer tasting was not overly planned. It started out as a trip to the local beer merchant looking for something interesting. Actually, I was looking for a good German Rauchbier (smoked beer) because I have had it in my head lately. But, the state of beer selection on the San Francisco peninsula seems to be declining. When I mentioned that I was looking for a smoked beer, I got the same look that I imagine I would get if I asked for a cranberry cougar tea infusion. Yeah, thats it. Look in the mirror right now after reading that.

In any case, the usual mecca of beer on the peninsula, Beltramo's did not give me satisfaction. They have a large selection of beer, but I get the impression that the selection is dictated more by the distributer than a wine buyer. I could be wrong, but it seemed heavily weighted towards eye appeal and kitschy names instead of brewing integrity and craft beer styles.

Beverages and More (or BevMo to those in the inner circle) had a couple Rauchbiers "In the System". Which means they had it listed in their computer, but not on the shelf. I might as well buy it from Don't get me wrong, BevMo has an incredible selection of things that contain alcohol. But, deep down, it is a "Box Store" and don't expect them to give you good advice on unique beers. They are the Walmart of Ethenol based products. I would like to think they have the consumer's best interest in mind, but the little tasting nook, un-staffed in the corner does not inspire confidence.

Finally, I went to the local wine merchant, K&L wines. I had given up on getting interesting beer and was going to turn my attention to wine.

Now, K&L wines is just that. A wine merchant. 99% of the store is dedicated to wine. But they do have one little cooler door. One 24 inch glass door that houses their entire selection of beer. And, their selection of beer is enlightened. I found out why too. I met the beer buyer. He was enthusiastic and pragmatic. When I mentioned that I was looking for a rauchbeir, he got this look on his face that was almost euphoric. He was a beerophile and had the beers to prove it. He brought me over to his beer door and we had a in depth discussion of what he had, what I wanted and what my options were.

Once I said that I wanted something interesting and worth tasting, we came up with a selection of craft beer that would make Michael Jackson (not the one with 1 glove) proud, may he rest in peace.

Let me tell you what I bought that day:
Three beers from a brewery in Delaware called Dogfish Head Brewing Company. They have been getting some press lately because they are pushing the envelope. I recommend you go to their website and have a look at what they are doing.

I bought 3 of their beers, Palo Santo Marron, 90 Minute IPA, and Midas Touch Golden Elixir.
And, I bought a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.

I will go into details about each beer in follow up posts, but I would recommend going to their respective websites and checking them out.

Stay tuned for tasting notes on these beers. And, feel free to comment on your own opinions.


Saturday, January 03, 2009

My New Years Resolutions

I can't imagine 2008 being a worse than 2009.

Now, 2008 was not all bad, and we don't want to get caught up in excessive negativity. There were many good things that happened in 2008. If the person who you voted for president won, or lost, you have to admit that it was a race and outcome that we will be talking about for a long time. As a country, I think we have reached a milestone of tolerance that many did not think we would see in our lifetime. I think that is all good.

I made new friends in 2008. Friends that share my love of the winemaking. I hope than in 2009, we will get to enjoy this mutual interest together and have some great times.

2009 is just starting and here are some things I want to do this year.

Arrange EARLY with vineyards for grapes. At one point in 2008, I was unsure if I would get any grapes. Fortunately, some came through but I want to get a source nailed down early and not spend September and October cold calling strange vineyards to see if they have grapes.

New label. This one is easy and hard, in that I already have a new label. But, I just threw this one together. I want something that kicks butt.

Follow up goal to the previous. I want to label all of my wine. I have wine going back a few years where the box is labeled but the bottles in the box are not. Having a simplified label might make this doable.

Dedicated winemaking area. I may fudge a bit on this. My winemaking area is currently an area in the garage. And, I expect it will continue to be that for the foreseeable future. But, it shares it's space with an unused sofa, boxes of unused clothing, cleaning supplies, a sewing machine, bicycle parts, a set of encyclopedias from my youth and a half a dozen other miscellaneous other things that dilute the "Winery Feel". I want to have my winemaking spot.

3 wine contests. There are wine contests all over the state. I want to get my wine into some of them. Watch this space!

Fill that damn fermenter! Alright. I have this great stainless steel fermenter, 500 liters, and I have not ever filled it! What is the point of having it if you don't take advantage of it. This year, if it means that I only can make one wine, it will fill that tank.

Wine from my own vines. Last year would have been the first year they were old enough to produce, but the 10 days of cool, wet, overcast weather just before veraison really crippled this years harvest. Next year we will be on top of the fungicides at the first sine of mildew pressure.

Let's see how well I can stick to my resolutions in 2009.


Friday, January 02, 2009

Short blog for the beginning of the year

2008 was all over the place. The economy went down the tubes, many friends lost their jobs, many people lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan (on both sides).

It makes an entry on a wine blog seem pretty small and meaningless, and in the big view of things, I guess it is.

But, here is to the passing of 2008 and the welcoming if 2009.