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.