28 Jan 2013

Amateurs vs Professionals

Birraire posted today a very insightful analysis (in SP) of the situation in the "micro" segment of the Spanish brewing industry, and I couldn't agree more.

Like in many other countries, there is micro brewing bubble in Spain. Unlike the Czech bubble, where the predominant model is the brewpub, the Spanish one has fed mainly from homebrewers, who (likely) trying to find a way out of the crisis, and encouraged by the growing interest in the so (falsely) called "Artisan Beer", have set up small brewing enterprises with much illusion, passion, no little sacrifice and loads of hope.

The thing is that passion, illusion and enthusiasm are not usually the best sources of advice, specially if we are speaking about establishing a company. All this is related to what I said the other day:
"If you are a homebrewer who's planning to go commercial in 2013, before you brew your first batch, leave the homebrewer at home. Making beer won't be your hobby anymore, it'll be your job."
And that is exactly one of the biggest challenges facing the dwellers of that bit of the industry. This isn't about the quality of their products, it's about a more philosophical thing. Homebrewers make beer for themselves, without commitments or risks, while the commercial brewer makes beer for others. The product, therefore, should not be so much something that "I like", but more something that the consumer will like.

It's logical, and yet, there are many fetishists who see in this some sort of betrayal to certain imaginary ideals. "The craft brewer should keep the free and adventurous spirit of the home brewer, because that is the only way they will be able to keep on making beer with passion", or some bollocks like that they will say. Unfortunately, there not few manufacturers that listen to this nonsense and even believe it, and (partly due to their own fetishism) will deny being "commercial", assure us they don't make beer for money, but because they love beer and the art of brewing, without realising that all that feelgood gak can turn into the shovel that will dig their company's grave.

The day the bubble bursts, the survivors won't the passionate, the romantics, the idealists, but those who were able to build solid companies around clear ideas and strategies. Those who understood that beer is an industrial product (even if they don't say it out loud), that the key to long term success is not in following the latest fad and keep the fetishists happy with the novelty of the week, but in satisfying the true drinkers, the ones that want a product of good and consistent quality at a fair price, the ones that prefer to drink that to taste for whom beer is not an end in itself but just one more element in their leisure time.

But this will not be achieved without a change on our part. We should reduce the predominance of fetishism in the discourse (which is, in a way, the goal of the book I'm writing with Alan). It's necessary to stop celebrating the novelties almost automatically, to be more cynical and critical with amateurism, the experiments at the expense of the consumer and the "sucker juice" mongers in general. On the other hand, those who make beer for money, as long as they show us respect and are honest, should be given more praise, because there's nothing in wrong in wanting to get rich.

Perhaps is also time we started speaking more about the less fun side of having a brewery.

Na Zdraví!

21 Jan 2013

News about my new book

The idea that I announced the other day, writing a book on "beer thoughts", has evolved in an unexpected fashion.

It turned out that Alan McLeod had also been thinking about writing something along those lines and he figured out we could write it together. I loved the thought. Alan writes some of the most interesting stuff about beer and we have a rather similar way to see things. It sounded like a great plan.

I must say we are both very excited with this. We've been exchanging e-mails like two long distance lovers (minus the raunchy pics, fortunately) in order to give a shape to this project.

It's still too soon to say how long it'll be or when it'll be ready. What we are sure of, though, is that it will be something completely different to anything that's so far been written about beer. The topics we are going to deal with, well, I guess those that follow our blogs can pretty much figure them out, and they will all be wrapped in a fun and perhaps rather surrealist narrative.

The first words have already been smithed, the journey has just begun. We'll see where it takes us. Be ready.

Na Zdraví!

14 Jan 2013

Tell me what you think

With the work for the second edition of The Pisshead's Pub Guide stalled, I've come up with an idea for another "book", and I'd like to know your opinion about it.

It won't be a guide this time. What I want to do is to take the loose thoughts I posted the other day, expand upon them, link them to some of the stuff that I've written of the past year or so, with the intention of revisiting it within that context. And I don't discard the possibility of coming up with new thoughts and even changing my mind about what I've been saying so far.

I still don't know how long it will be, and there are no deadlines yet (it'll largely depend on my workload and mood), but before I start I'd like to know if there is anyone who'd be interested in reading something like this (and paying for it, of course) or, why not, if someone has any ideas about what shape it could take.

So, let me know.

In the meantime, I'll be having a (few) beer(s) to get some inspiration.

Na Zdraví!

11 Jan 2013

Friday Morning Musings

Taking the cue from Alan, Beervana Jeff is also trying to redefine the brewery categories in a way that is more realistic (for lack of a better word) to the current situation in the American industry.

I like how things are here in the Czech Republic. There are four legally recognised categories that are based on the annual output of the breweries, and that's pretty much it. Everybody makes "pivo", attempts to come out with something that will describe certain beers haven't had much success, and as I've already discussed, I'm really cool with that.

But back to Jeff, by the end of his post he says that "there's really no use for the term (craft) and I am going on a personal campaign to eliminate it from my own vocabulary." And I believe we should all do likewise.

Let's do away with the term "Craft" to describe certain beers and breweries. It has become just another label, like "Premium", that doesn't mean anything as far as the quality of the beer is concerned. (actually, I would argue that "Premium" carries a lot more meaning quality-wise than "craft"). And we are doing ourselves (the consumers) disservice by keeping the craft beer myth alive.

In a Tweet, Boak and Bailey (perhaps trolling a bit, he!) said that it's hard to have a conversation with blunter terms. I disagree, it's actually very easy. Instead of wasting time and energy trying to explain what craft beer is or isn't, you can speak about the breweries and their beers and why do you think they are, or aren't, good.

Mind you, I'm not against the use of "craft" per se, just like I'm not against the use of "premium". If it helps the people on the other side of the counter shift a few more bottles or kegs, I'm fine with that. Let them define "craft beer" with whatever convenient nonsense they see fit, but we should ignore all of it.

All commercial beer, regardless of the scale of its production, is industrial, after all, it has always been.

Na Zdraví!

2 Jan 2013

New Year Musings - Sod the movement!

About two months ago, I read an excellent article about Light beers in the US that, even after taking some of it with pinch of salt, makes you think a lot about the concepts of "craft" and "quality". But that is not what I wanted to talk about today (though I really recommend the article), but about what I started thinking after reading this little bit almost at the beginning:
Melissa Brandt (...) chimed in. She'd recently bought her father a case of craft beer but couldn't convert him. Once he'd polished off the gift, he retreated to his basement kegerator full of Bud Light. "It was a sad moment," she said.
Let's analyse this a bit. Unlike that wanker in Ustí, this woman's dad did drink the craft beers he had received, he "polished them", so we can assume he liked them (you don't "polish" a beer you don't like), and yet, he went back to the arms of his beloved Bud Light. What's so sad about it? Seeing a man deciding for something he evidently enjoys? No, what's sad are craftophiles like Melissa who believe their tastes are superior to those of the majority and can not understand, or even accept, that there are people who will voluntarily drink stuff they consider "shit".

To rather some extent, this is a product of that mythical beast "The Craft Beer Movement", which has made us, the consumers, believe that in some way we are together with the people on the other side of the counter fighting the war against bad beer*, that we all share the same ideals, goals and the same passion for good beer*. It's because of this that some of us feel it is our duty to promote true beer and evangelise the masses.

It has to be said that this fantasy works quite well. Not only there are many who refuse to critisise alternative brewers, but some will even frown upon someone else's doing so, which in turn has resulted in brewers who feel they should be immune to public criticism arguing that it can "hurt the movement".

If we think about it a little, this is something absurd. The ideals and goals of the consumers and the producers are opposed (passion is just a marketing buzzword, really), and the commercial relationship is just the result of both sides making compromises in order to satisfy their needs or wishes. Brewers will only make those beers they know, or at least strongly believe, will sell; we will buy those beers that we like o believe we will like. The price for them will be determined by a middle point between how much the producer wants to earn and how much the consumer is willing to spend; with the former trying to convince the latter to spend as much as possible (needless to say, the producers always have the upper hand, the average consumer tends to be ignorant, apathetic or not too hard to dupe).

But regardless of the bollocks and the delusions some might have, the truth is that the small/local/independent breweries aren't part of any movement whatsoever. They are part of an industry! Both [insert name of your most reviled macro] and [insert name of your most beloved micro] are in the same business, making and selling beer. The differences between one and the other are simply the result of scales, business models, and company policies and structures, just that.

Each of them, in their own way, want the same: that we choose their products over those of the competition. Since macros aim at a mass market, they use football teams, James Bond, sexy girls and what have you, while the micros, who aim at a niche or niches, use localness, passion, authenticity and what have you. In both cases, they want the consumer to identify with those values, which, as far as the quality of what gets to our glass is concerned, are entirely superficial. In other words, the ultimate goal of all of them, big, small, independent, corporate, local, global is the same, is to get our money.

But don't take this the wrong way, I'm a capitalist and I'm really cool with people wanting to make money, specially when they do it working and producing. What I don't like is to be taken for a fool and be sold, as Alan has genially put it, sucker juice. Though, we should be honest, as with the prices, the blame is always ours at the end of the day. It is us who should change. We should realise once and for all that we have no obligation of any kind to automatically promote and support one branch of the industry, let alone spread the "gospel of good beer" (really, I'm sometimes ashamed to have believed that). On the contrary, we should be more cynical and critical with the stuff said by those who want our money.

But I don't want to look so bitter and cold. Sharing, even figuratively, what we like and gives us pleasure is in itself a pleasant thing, and I will keep on sharing my tastes in beer and promoting the companies that do things the way I like them to be done just like I've been doing, but not anymore with the intention of illuminating anyone's taste buds. If a good mate, after polishing a growler of Kout decides to go back to drinking Braník straight from the bottle, I won't think any less of him. Actually, I wouldn't even mind to share his beer tastes, after all, better crap beer with good people than good beer with crap people.

Na Zdraví!

*Good/bad beer: If what defines good beer is the taste, then no beer is inherently bad as long as there are people who enjoy it and are willing to pay for it.