Historic Beer Birthday: Matthew Vassar

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Today is the birthday of Matthew Vassar (April 29, 1792-June 23, 1868). Vassar was born in England, specifically in East Dereham, Norfolk. While he’s best know for having founded one of the first women’s colleges in America, Vassar College, the money came from operating his brewery, M. Vassar & Co., which when he first built it in Poughkeepsie it was the largest brewery in the Americas.
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Here’s a short biography from Find a Grave:

Business Magnate. Self-made man with only a very basic formal education. When his father’s brewery burned in 1811 and he discontinued business, Matthew Vassar started his own brewery independently. As business increased he became involved in many things. Among others, in 1842 he became President of the Hudson River Railroad. In 1861, inspired by a niece, he endowed the first women’s college in the United States, with $408,000 and 200 acres of land east of Poughkeepsie which is where present-day Vassar College still stands. A lasting legacy for him which is also humorously embodied in an old song, “And so you see, to old V.C. Our love shall never fail. Full well we know that all we owe To Matthew Vassar’s ale.”

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For much more thorough biographies, there’s Wikipedia, the Vassar Encyclopedia, and the Vassar Quarterly has a long article about the brewery, The Brew that Built Vassar.

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There’s also another piece in a blog concentrating on the Hudson Valley, The Rise and Fall of M. Vassar and Co..

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This is the larger brick brewery on the waterfront Vassar built in 1836, just above the Main Street Landing. The waterfront facility had a brewing capacity of 60,000 barrels annually.

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Portrait of Matthew Vassar, by Charles Loring Elliott.

Beer Birthday: Steve Parkes

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Today is the 57th birthday of Steve Parkes. Steve owns and runs the American Brewers Guild, which trains brewers. I’ve known Steve for a number of years now and he’s one of my favorite Brits in the industry. I had the pleasure of writing a profile of him for Beer Advocate magazine a few years ago, from which I learned the following. Steve studied brewing sciences at Heriot-Wyatt University in Edinburgh and worked at several small UK breweries before moving to Maryland to open British Brewing (later known as Oxford Brewing). He then moved to California and created Red Nectar for Humboldt Brewing, which is also where he caught the teaching bug. Eventually buying the ABG school in 1999, several years ago making the leap to running the school full-time. In 2009, Steve was awarded the Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Brewing by the Brewers Association at CBC in Boston. Steve said at the time. “It’s gratifying when someone notices what you’re been doing every day. It just feels tremendous, like standing on the shoulder of giants. The willingness to share is the best part of this industry. I love being part of a working community that thinks like that. It makes you a better person.” Join me in wishing Steve a very happy birthday.

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Pete Brown and Steve at the GBBF in 2009.

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Steve at Cantillon in Brussels.

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Enjoying a Rodenbach.

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Words fail me. Happy birthday Steve. [Note: Last three Photos Purloined from Facebook.]

Historic Beer Birthday: Bill Siebel

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Today is the birthday of Bill Siebel (March 26, 1946-November 8, 2015). Bill was the grand-grandson of John Ewald Siebel, who founded what would become the Siebel Institue of Technology. In the early 1970s, Bill became president of the brewing school his family founded, and held that post until his retirement in 2000. I had the pleasure of meeting Bill a couple of times judging at the Great American Beer Festival, when we sat at a few of the same judging tables. Talking in between flights, he had a great sense of humor and seemed like such a nice person. I was only sorry I had’t met him sooner. Join me in raising a toast to Bill tonight.

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This is Bill’s obituary from the Chicago Tribune:

Bill Siebel was the fourth generation of his family to head a Chicago beer-brewing school that has produced tens of thousands of alums with surnames such as Busch, Coors, Pabst, Stroh and Floyd — as in 3 Floyds Brewing Co.

It wouldn’t be exaggerating to call him a member of the “First Family” of beer education in the U.S., said Charlie Papazian, president and founder of Denver’s Great American Beer Festival, the nation’s largest.

Bill Siebel was chairman and CEO of the Siebel Institute of Technology, established in Chicago in 1872 by his great-grandfather, Dusseldorf-born immigrant John Ewald Siebel. It bills itself as the oldest brewing school in the Americas. “There is one, based in Germany, established before us,” said Keith Lemcke, vice president of the institute, 900 N. Branch St.

“It’s been a continuous run,” Lemcke said, “except for this inconvenient time we call ‘Prohibition.’ ” During Prohibition, it kept going as a school of baking — which, like brewing, uses yeast.

Siebel Institute students, Lemcke said, have included August Busch III of Anheuser-Busch; John Mallett of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo; the father and grandfather of Samuel Adams brewer Jim Koch; and Greg Hall, a brewmaster at Goose Island Beer Company and son of Goose Island founder John Hall.

“The contributions that the Siebel Institute has made to brewing — and to training craft brewers — in its long history, are far too numerous to count,” said Koch of Samuel Adams. “I’m a sixth-generation brewer, and my father graduated from Siebel in 1948 and my grandfather in 1908. . . . The industry has lost a great one.”

Mr. Siebel, who had esophageal cancer, died on Nov. 8 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He was 69.

The family school is “the longest-living institution that has served as an educational institution for brewers in the United States,” Papazian said. “They’ve gone through a lot of transitions, from the small breweries going out of business in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, to embracing the small craft brewers that were emerging in the ’70s and ’80s, welcoming them, and offering them educational opportunities. Bill was involved with that transition.”
“Many of our employees are graduates of Siebel Institute, and the impact the school has made on the beer community is impressive,” said Ken Stout, general manager of Goose Island Beer Company. “A great industry leader has been lost, and we’ll miss him dearly.”

Bill Siebel and his brother, Ron, grew up near Devon and Caldwell in Edgebrook, and at the Southwest edge of the Evanston Golf Club in Skokie, where one of the tees was behind their home. A highlight of their youth was spending summers with their mother, Mary, at Paradise Ranch near Colorado Springs, while their father, Raymond, commuted back and forth from the Siebel Institute in Chicago. The Siebel boys became accomplished horseback riders.

They attended grade school at the old Bishop Quarter Military Academy in Oak Park. Bill Siebel graduated from Florida’s Admiral Farragut Academy and the University of Miami. He served in the Navy, rising to lieutenant, before returning to Chicago — and the family beer school — in 1971, said his wife, Barbara Wright Siebel.

Both brothers attended the Siebel Institute, where a variety of classes, diplomas and certificates focus on yeast, malt, fermentation, biological science, quality control, engineering and packaging. “One of my classmates in 1967 was August Pabst, and August Busch III was a few years before,” Ron Siebel said.

For decades, the school and laboratory were located at 4055 W. Peterson, where the Siebels had a brewing library and a second-floor bierstube with heirloom steins.

After their father and uncle sold the business, “Bill and I were successful in getting it back,” Ron Siebel said. “We got it back in the family hands, and it stayed there until [Bill] retired and wanted to liquidate his holdings in the institute.” Today, the school is owned by Lallemand, a Canadian yeast company.

Ron Siebel focused on selling products such as stabilizers, which preserve clarity in beer. “Bill was ‘Mr. Inside.’ He was very good with numbers,” his brother said. Because of him, “The business was always on a steady course.”

Bill Siebel retired in 2000, Lemcke said.

He restored himself and reveled in nature, hiking, and watching birds and animals. For their honeymoon, Bill and Barbara Siebel canoed nine days on the U.S.-Canadian Boundary Waters. And for 20 years, they canoed in Ely, Minnesota, where he enjoyed spotting bear and moose. He also loved reading Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

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And this is another obituary from website Beer Monopoly:

William (Bill) Siebel, philanthropist and former President of the Siebel Institute, died 8 November 2015, aged 69

In the classroom of the Siebel Institute in Chicago, there is a long wall featuring the graduating class photographs of students dating back to the year 1900. The year 1973 marked the first appearance of a young, moustachioed Bill Siebel in the faculty section of the Diploma Course photographs, and his image would appear in every class photo for the next 26 years.

Unless you knew Bill, visitors to Siebel could be forgiven for wondering who this prankster was, who, year after year, managed to blag his way into one of the world’s oldest brewing schools to have his photo taken with the brewing school’s graduates?

Certainly, Bill would have chuckled at the suggestion of him being a repeat gatecrasher at the school, which has borne his family’s name since the 19th century. He would have even taken delight in being awarded the nickname Zelig – the title character of a Woody Allen “mockumentary” from 1983 about a human chameleon that sneaked past guards at major events to rub shoulders with the high and mighty – because he would have known of the film or more probably would have even seen it.

Bill had a great sense of humour. When he attended the Munich trade fair Drinktec as an exhibitor for the first time in 1993, he came armed with only a poster, expecting to be given a tabletop for his brochures. To his surprise he had in fact rented a large booth. Bill being Bill made the best of this and immediately organised two dozen large trees in pots which he placed alongside the walls. If passers-by remarked that the Siebel Institute had obviously branched out into horticulture, Bill laughed his infectious and his eyes would sparkle behind his glasses as he repeated the story about his mishap over and over again.

Despite his self-effacing modesty, Bill represented the best of North American “beer royalty”. Being a fourth generation Siebel to run the business, whose passion for beer was undeniable – he was most inconsolable when he had to cancel being a judge at this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver due to his failing health – Bill felt equally strongly about his obligations as a citizen. He diligently and conscientiously gave his expertise to many good causes and probably even more in terms of financial support. However, you had to know him really well to discover this side of him.

Bill was a Chicago man: born and bred in the Windy City, which he loved but hated for its extreme weather. This may have been one reason why he chose to study in far-away Florida. He graduated from Florida’s Admiral Farragut Academy and the University of Miami. He served in the Navy, rising to lieutenant, before returning to Chicago — and the family beer business — in 1971.

The Siebel Institute of Technology was established in Chicago in 1872 by Bill’s great-grandfather, the German-born immigrant John Ewald Siebel. Unlike Bill, JE Siebel must have been a real sourpuss, judging from the dour-looking gentleman, whose bust Bill and his wife Barbara kept in their yard. On my last visit to Chicago this spring, we presented JE to the Siebel Institute – they already had the other of the two busts that JE had made – because Bill knew no one in his family would want such a stern character face them in the morning.

Bill did not bear his family’s heritage lightly. He would joke about how the Siebel Institute made it through this “inconvenient time” Americans call Prohibition. Officially, the Siebel Institute kept going as a school of baking – which, like brewing, uses yeast – and Bill would laughingly speculate that his ancestors probably were involved in all kinds of shenanigans. After all, Prohibition in Chicago gave rise to plenty of colourful gangsters whose empires were made with alcohol. In fact, reality was far bleaker than Bill liked to narrate it. When JE Siebel died in late 1919, Prohibition had already been ratified, which meant that the Siebel Institute could no longer teach brewing in America and several Siebel family members were left destitute, says Keith Lemcke, Vice-President of the Siebel Institute.

As we know, the Siebel Institute survived. But when Bill joined the Institute, his father and uncle had already sold the business. Fortunately, Bill and his older brother Ron succeeded in getting it back. “We got it back in the family hands, and it stayed there until Bill retired and wanted to liquidate his holdings in the institute,” Ron said. Today, the school is owned by Lallemand, a Canadian yeast company.

Both Bill and Ron attended the Institute to be taught all about yeast, malt, fermentation, biological science, quality control, engineering and packaging. “One of my classmates in 1967 was August Pabst, and August Busch III was a few years before,” Ron said. Over its long history, the Siebel Institute has produced tens of thousands of alumni with such illustrious surnames like Busch, Coors, Pabst and Stroh. But John Mallett of Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo; the father and grandfather of Samuel Adams brewer Jim Koch; and Greg Hall, a brewmaster at Goose Island Beer Company, were also among them.

For decades, the school and laboratory were located at 4055 W. Peterson, where the Siebels had a brewing library and a second-floor Bierstube in mock-Germanic style. For parties they liked to serve brat and sauerkraut.

While Ron would focus on selling auxiliary products, Bill was Mr Inside. “He was very good with numbers,” his brother remembers. Because of Bill, the business was always on a steady course. This does not mean that things were easy. For decades, the U.S. beer industry has been in a state of transition. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s a lot of the smaller brewers went out of business followed by the remaining mid-tier brewers in the 1990s. Fortunately for the Siebel Institute and thanks to Bill’s tireless travelling and networking, international students and craft brewers began to fill seats as of the 1990s. Bill wholeheartedly welcomed them, offering them educational opportunities.

Until his retirement in 2000, Bill taught at the Siebel Institute and took on various roles, from registrar, to President, Chairman and CEO.

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Beer Birthday: Michael Lewis

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Today is 80th birthday of Dr. Michael Lewis, who ran the brewing sciences department at U.C. Davis beginning in 1962, and became the Professor Emeritus in 1995, when Charlie Bamforth succeeded him, although Dr. Lewis remains active in teaching and in brewing. He was my instructor, along with Charlie, when I took the brewing short course at Davis a decade or so ago. He’s taught countless working brewers over the years and has greatly influenced the industry as a whole. Join me in wishing Dr. Lewis a very happy birthday.

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Michael receiving an award for a lifetime of achievement at the 2008 CBC in San Diego.

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Michael with Ruhstaller founder J.D. Paino at Sudwerk (photo from the Davis Enterprise).

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Michael (at far left) with the gang at Sudwerk Privatbrauerei in Davis (photo from the Davis Enterprise).

B Stands For Beer, Which You Drink When You’re Dry

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Education has certainly gone through a lot of changes over the centuries. We sometimes forget that our standardized school system only began at the beginning of the industrial revolution, mainly to train people to work in factories, and people quite understandably rebelled against them in the very beginning. They were especially opposed to by farmers, who relied on their children to help work their farms, and that’s the reason that school also takes the summer off, and doesn’t start each fall until after the harvest. Before that time, the rich sent their kids to boarding schools or hired tutors in their mansions or estates. The rest of us were left to fend for ourselves, and most were home-schooled. The resources available at the time were few and the quality of what was available sometimes left a lot to be desired.

One type of educational resource was the chapbook. They were “an early type of popular literature printed in early modern Europe. Produced cheaply, chapbooks were commonly small, paper-covered booklets, usually printed on a single sheet folded into books of 8, 12, 16 and 24 pages. They were often illustrated with crude woodcuts, which sometimes bore no relation to the text. When illustrations were included in chapbooks, they were considered popular prints.

The tradition of chapbooks arose in the 16th century, as soon as printed books became affordable, and rose to its height during the 17th and 18th centuries. Many different kinds of ephemera and popular or folk literature were published as chapbooks, such as almanacs, children’s literature, folk tales, nursery rhymes, pamphlets, poetry, and political and religious tracts.”

They were also used as textbooks and many were produced for that purpose. One such type of chapbook was the alphabet book, and more modern versions are still being produced today. We certainly had lots of them when my children were young and learning to read. Alphabet books were simply books with a page for each letter of the alphabet, usually with one or more pictures of things that were spelled with the letter on the page. If you’ve raised kids, or been around someone who has, you’ve seen one of these. Plus, I’m betting at one time in your life you probably were one; a kid, I mean. But they weren’t always the happy, colorful alphabet books we think of today.

For example, here are pages 6-7 of “The Silver Toy, or Picture Alphabet: for the entertainment and instruction of children in the nursery.” It’s from the Digital Media Repository at Ball State University in Indiana, but you can find it other places, too, such as the University of Washington. It was printed by F. Houlston and Son between 1820-1840, although another source places its date around 1825.

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These are the only two pages of inside the chapbook that I could find. I’m as liberal a person as you’re liable to find, and hold quite progressive views on how we should educate youngsters about alcohol, but even I think they could have started out with something simpler, like a ball and a cow, or a bat and a cat, before moving on to beer and coffins to teach those letters. Still, you have to love the way they described beer. “‘B’ Stands for Beer, Which You Drink When You’re Dry.” As true today as it was in 1825.

Beer Birthday: Keith Lemcke

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Today is the 57th birthday of Keith Lemcke, who is Vice-President of the Siebel Institute of Technology, a position he’s held since 2000. He’s also the Marketing Manager for the World Brewing Academy and a founding member of the Draught Beer Guild. I’ve been running into Keith off and on for a number of years now, and it’s always a good time. Join me wishing a very happy birthday.

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Nice portrait of Keith, taken by William Boyer.

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Just before the school’s move to nearby Kendall College.

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Keith getting his teach on.

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Keith with Siebel president Lyn Kruger in Portugal.

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Brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf, with Keith and a bunch of other Siebel folks during a trip to Chicago during her Road Brewer trip in 2007.

[Note: First four photos purloined from Facebook.]

Historic Beer Birthday: John Ewald Siebel

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Today is the birthday of John Ewald Siebel (September 17, 1868-December 20, 1919). Siebel was born in Germany, but relocated to Chicago, Illinois as a young man. Trained as a chemist, in 1868 he founded the Zymotechnic Institute, which was later renamed the Siebel Institute of Technology.

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Here’s his obituary from the Foreign Language Press Survey:

Professor John Ewald Siebel has died after an active life devoted to science. Besides his relatives, thousands of his admirers, including many men of science, mourn at the bier of the friendly old man. He died in his home at 960 Montana Avenue.

Professor Siebel was born September 18, 1845, in Hofkamp, administrative district of Dusseldorf [Germany], as the son of Peter and Lisette Siebel; he attended high school [Real-Gymnasium] at Hagen and studied chemistry at the Berlin University. He came to the United States in 1865 and shortly afterwards obtained employment as a chemist with the Belcher Sugar Refining Company in Chicago. Already in 1868, he established a laboratory of his own, and from 1869 until 1873 he was employed as official chemist for the city and county. In 1871 he also taught chemistry and physics at the German High School. From 1873 until 1880 he was official gas inspector and city chemist. During the following six years he edited the American Chemical Review, and from 1890 until 1900 he published the Original Communications of Zymotechnic Institute. He was also in charge of the Zymotechnic Institute, which he had founded in 1901. Until two years ago he belonged to its board of directors.

Among the many scientific works published by the deceased, which frequently won international reputation, and are highly valued by the entire world of chemical science are: Newton’s Axiom Developed; Preparation of Dialized Iron; New Methods of Manufacture of Soda; New Methods of Manufacture of Phosphates; Compendium of Mechanical Refrigeration; Thermo-and Electro-Dynamics of Energy Conversion; etc. The distilling industry considered him an expert of foremost achievement.

The deceased was a member of the Lincoln Club; the old Germania Club; the local Academy of Science; the Brauer and Braumeisterverein [Brewer and Brewmaster Association]; the American Institute for Brewing; and the American Society of Brewing Technology. Professor Siebel was also well known in German circles outside the city and state.

His wife Regina, whom he married in 1870….died before him. Five sons mourn his death: Gustav, Friedrich, Ewald, Emil and Dr. John Ewald Siebel, Jr. Funeral services will be held tomorrow afternoon at Graceland Cemetery.

Professor Siebel was truly a martyr of science. He overworked himself, until a year ago he suffered a nervous breakdown. About four months ago conditions became worse. His was an easy and gentle death.

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The Siebel Institute’s webpage tells their early history:

Dr. John Ewald Siebel founded the Zymotechnic Institute in 1868. He was born on September 17, 1845, near Wermelskirchen in the district of Dusseldorf, Germany. He studied physics and chemistry and earned his doctorate at the University of Berlin before moving to Chicago 1866. In 1868 he opened John E. Siebel’s Chemical Laboratory which soon developed into a research station and school for the brewing sciences.

In 1872, as the company moved into new facilities on Belden Avenue on the north side of Chicago, the name was changed to the Siebel Institute of Technology. During the next two decades, Dr. Siebel conducted extensive brewing research and wrote most of his over 200 books and scientific articles. He was also the editor of a number of technical publications including the scientific section of The Western Brewer, 100 Years of Brewing and Ice and Refrigeration.

In 1882 he started a scientific school for brewers with another progressive brewer but the partnership was short lived. Dr. Siebel did, however, continue brewing instruction at his laboratory. The business expanded in the 1890’s when two of Dr. Siebel’s sons joined the company.

The company was incorporated in 1901 and conducted brewing courses in both English and German. By 1907 there were five regular courses: a six-month Brewers’ Course, a two-month Post Graduate Course, a three-month Engineers’ Course, a two-month Maltsters’ Course and a two-month Bottlers’ Course. In 1910, the school’s name, Siebel Institute of Technology, was formally adopted. With the approach of prohibition, the Institute diversified and added courses in baking, refrigeration, engineering, milling, carbonated beverages and other related topics. On December 20, 1919, just twenty-seven days before prohibition became effective, Dr. J. E. Siebel passed away.

With the repeal of prohibition in 1933 the focus of the Institute returned to brewing under the leadership of F. P. Siebel Sr., the eldest son of Dr. J. E. Siebel. His sons, Fred and Ray, soon joined the business and worked to expand its scope. The Diploma Course in Brewing Technology was offered and all other non-brewing courses were soon eliminated. Then in October 1952, the Institute moved to its brand new, custom built facilities on Peterson Avenue where we have remained for almost 50 years.

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Siebel Brewers Academy c. 1902-04.

Here’s another short account from the journal Brewery History, in an article entitled “A History of Brewing Science in the United States of America,” by Charles W. Bamforth:

Dr John Ewald Siebel (1845-1919) was born on September 17th 1845 at Hofcamp, near Düsseldorf. Upon visiting an uncle in US after the completion of his doctorate in chemistry and physics he became chief chemist at Belcher’s sugar refinery in Chicago, aged 21, but that company soon folded. Siebel stayed in Chicago to start an analytical laboratory in 1868, which metamorphosed into the Zymotechnic Institute.

With Chicago brewer Michael Brand, Siebel started in 1882 the first Scientific School for practical brewers as a division of the Zymotechnic Institute. True life was not breathed into the initiative until 1901 with Siebel’s son (one of five) Fred P. Siebel as manager. This evolved to become the Siebel Institute of Technology, which was incorporated in 1901 and conducted brewing courses in both English and German. Within 6 years five regular courses had been developed: a six-month course for brewers, a twomonth post graduate course, a threemonth course for engineers, a two-month malting course and a two-month bottling course.

Amongst Siebel’s principal contributions were work on a counter pressure racker and artificial refrigeration systems. Altogether he published more than 200 articles on brewing, notably in the Western Brewer and original Communications of the Zymotechnic Institute. Brewing wasn’t his sole focus, for instance he did significant work on blood chemistry.

Son EA Siebel founded Siebel and Co and the Bureau of Bio-technology in 1917, the year that prohibition arrived. Emil Siebel focused then on a ‘temperance beer’ that he had been working on for nine years. Courses in baking, refrigeration, engineering, milling and nonalcoholic carbonated beverages were offered.

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And here’s the entry for the Siebel Institute from the Oxford Companion to Beer, written by Randy Mosher:

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Sonoma State Beer Appreciation Class Open For Fall

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Sonoma State University will again be offering my “Beer Appreciation” certificate course this fall. Classes start in just over two weeks, on September 9. The class is through SSU’s Extended Education school, and fueled by Lagunitas, which is where the 12-week, 36-hour course will be held.

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Classes are once a week, beginning September 9, on Wednesday nights from 6:30-9:30, and again classes won’t be in a stuffy classroom, but will be held in special lounge room at Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma. If you’re interested in learning more about the class, I set up a page with more about my Sonoma State University Beer Appreciation Course. Or if you’re ready to go, here’s the official SSU class page and there’s information online about registration, too.

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A scene from last semester’s class, with Dan Gordon talking about lagers, while Vinnie Cilurzo waits in the wings to present to the class about sour and barrel-aged beers.

Let’s Grab A Beer

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Show of hands: who remembers “Here’s to Beer,” the somewhat lackluster attempt by Anheuser-Busch to teach consumers more about beer eight years ago? No? Let me refresh your memory. The original idea in 2005 was to have all of the major breweries work together to promote beer as an industry, rather than promote any one brand, sort of like the Beer Belongs campaign by a brewers trade group in the late 1940s and 1950s. Unfortunately, trust was not strong among the competing larger breweries and none signed on, fearing A-B would run the show and control the message for their own benefit. So A-B decided to go it alone, and launched a consumer website in 2006 called Here’s to Beer. If you click on the link, it still works, but it’s not that first attempt anymore. Before it launched there were press releases and media talking about it, including me in Here’s To Beer — Here’s to Making it Appear Relevant and Appealing. A few days later the website went live and I did an initial review of it, which was not overwhelmingly positive. A year later I started questioning if Here’s to Beer was dead with R.I.P. Here’s to Beer? But it turned out that the reports of its demise had been premature, and a month later Phase 2 launched with an updated website. That website, which used to be “herestobeer.com” changed to “htbeerconnoisseur.com” and that’s the one that is still online, although it doesn’t appear to have been updated in quite some time, if ever. The copyright information at the bottom of the home page is dated 2009, and attributed to “Here’s to Beer, Inc.” which you won’t be surprised to learn is located at 1 Busch Place, Saint Louis,” the headquarters for Anheuser-Busch InBev. So Phase 2 was about as successful as the first attempt, and quietly faded away.

So this past Tuesday, on “National Beer Day,” you may have seen some of these graphics making the rounds on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. I know I retweeted a couple of them.

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It turns out they’re part of a new effort by ABI, this time called “Leg’s Grab a Beer.” Apparently Beer Marketer’s Insights first reported on it, but I saw it on AdAge, in an article entitled Let’s Grab a Beer… With A-B InBev: Brewer Tries Unbranded Beer Image Campaign. The idea, this time around, according to Julia Mize, ABI VP of Beer Category + Community, is wanting “consumers to understand all the different varieties that are available with beer for different occasions.” Which is much more possible now that they acquired several more smaller breweries outright.

But her subsequent statement is really hilarious: “[W]e wanted to do it in a non-branded way so that we make sure we are connecting with the consumers and it’s not forced. It’s not marketing. Our intention here is to just have a resource that is relevant and fun and celebrates beer.” That reminds me of something Bill Hicks said about marketing, “they’re going for the anti-marketing dollar.” Essentially they’re marketing by not marketing, a tactic more prevalent in our more media-savvy present. And while I’m certainly not against a little education, this seems more like a Tumblr than any real effort at that. The plan apparently is for the “site [to] include a combination of original and aggregated content, ranging from ‘deep reads about the past, present and future of beer’ to colorful charts and graphics,” although at least for now there’s a lot more of the latter. Some of the “deep reads” include such titles as “7 Beer GIFs that Will Make Your Mouth Water” and a photograph of “Women demonstrating against Prohibition 1932.” It’s not exactly heady stuff they’re tackling so far.

Here’s to Beer, for all its faults, at least tried to educate consumers. This latest attempt seems more intended to entertain, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The National Beer Day cards were done, apparently, in partnership with Some E-Cards. Sadly, it doesn’t look like you can make your own cards using the beer background. That’s a shame, it would have been fun to make some.

There’s definitely some interesting things being shared, but edumacation it ain’t. The other problem I see is something that seems to happen frequently to these sorts of efforts. There was a flurry of posts to the Let’s Grab a Beer Tumblr (might as well call it what it is) but then nothing new since Tuesday, three days ago. That’s a long time for a tumblr to not be updated. I have several, and make an effort to post something at least once a day, while many others post new content far more often than that. But Here’s to Beer suffered from the same problem: infrequent updates gave little reason to return to the site with any frequency. If you can absorb everything there in a few minutes and then there’s nothing new posted, why would anyone become a regular visitor?

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It’s somewhat obvious why they’re doing this, as one of their own posts makes clear. So if beer drinkers are using social media more often, why wouldn’t they realize you have to keep up with the pace of that social media? If they really want something like this to work, they need at least a dedicated person working on this 24/7. That’s what makes a successful Tumblr.

Midway through the AdAge article, the author suggests it’s branding at the heart of this move.

But there is also an inherent fear in industry circles about the so-called “wineification” [how I hate that word!] of beer. This refers to placing emphasis on beer styles, versus brands. For instance, if more people walk into bars and ask for a “wheat beer,” rather than a Shock Top or Blue Moon, brands become less valuable. And good branding equals profits.

“They are facing the ultimate challenge here of trying to promote a category that really lives through its brands,” said one industry executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “So how do you celebrate beer without making it a commodity? The value of the industry is in the equity of the brands.”

I have to take issue with her definition of “wineification,” saying it means “placing emphasis on beer styles, versus brands.” I don’t think that’s it at all. Nobody walks into a wine bar and says “give me a Chardonnay” or “oh, anything red will be fine.” The term generally has been used to suggest that beer is trying to be fancy, or be marketed more like wine, and is usually used derisively (at least by me). I think people do look to drink a particular type of beer they’re in the mood for or for some other reason just want at a particular time, but it’s been a long time (at least a decade or more, I’d guess) since most people would sit down at a bar and ask the bartender for whatever “pale ale,” or perhaps more popularly an “IPA, they have on tap. Brands still matter a great deal, as the spate of recent high profile trademark disputes among brewers should make abundantly clear to anyone paying attention.

But the rest is an interesting insight. Branding is how all of the big brewers made their fortunes, especially when most beer tasted about the same. In effect, all beer was commodified for a long time, which is why advertising, marketing and branding became so important for the success of the big beer companies. It was no accident that year after year, A-B outspent their competition in ad dollars per barrel by a wide margin. I haven’t seen those figures since InBev took control of A-B, but certainly that was the case up until that transition.

Now that smaller breweries have essentially uncommodified beer by offering a wide range of beers that don’t all resemble or taste like one another, big brewers are left asking themselves what to do now. “So how do you celebrate beer without making it a commodity? The value of the industry is in the equity of the brands.” In some ways that, anonymous executive is still engaging in old beer thinking, using the framework of how the industry used to be constituted. One could argue it still is since 90% of beer is of that single, commodified type — American lager — but it’s nowhere near as universal as when I was a kid. And I think even small beer’s 10% slice of the total beer pie is enough to have at least changed many, if not most, people’s perception of it, even if they choose to still buy the big brewer’s beers. Even the loyal customers still buying the bland American beers know about Yuengling, or Samuel Adams, or Sierra Nevada, or New Belgium, or Lagunitas. What the big brewers bought with decades of blanket advertising was not just blind loyalty, but habit. And habits are harder to shake, because they’re no longer conscious decisions.

So I’m unequivocally in favor of beer education for everyone. We’ve known since the beginning of flavorful beer’s rise that education was the path to winning over more beer drinkers. In order to appreciate it, you have to know something about it. That may not be necessary to simply drink it and enjoy it, but to appreciate what you’re tasting, you do have to know a little more.

I think music once again provides a useful analogy. You don’t need to know anything about music theory or composition to love the Allegro con brio first movement to Beethoven’s 5th symphony in C minor, or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. But if you do, the experience is much richer because you understand what they were doing differently than their predecessors and how they were expressing musical ideas. The history of music is all about rules, and breaking them. Baroque music was very orderly and followed strict rules for its composition, then innovative composers broke those rules and created the classical music period, which in turn had its rules broken by romantic composers, and so on. Each time there was push back from the status quo before the new music became the next established form.

I think we’re seeing something similar with beer, too, as traditional rules have been broken, but are often respected, too. Innovation is simply trying something a little different or even going back to something that hasn’t been done for a long time, or mixing the two, or doing something old in a new way. It doesn’t have to mean something particularly snooty or high falootin’ as we so often seem to think. It’s just how change occurs. It’s trying to find something you can call your own that a brewery can sell and make their reputation. Few breweries, if any, will do that making the same thing as everybody else is. That’s how we got in the mess we were in by 1980 in the first place. So we should expect breweries to try something new, with 3,000 of them they almost have to experiment to find a niche, or their place in the market. Some will undoubtedly work better than others, and some will ultimately fail while others succeed. That’s the natural order of things. That’s healthy competition, with breweries competing on taste or what people are willing to support and buy.

I think I’ve veered off quite a bit from where I started with this, rambling on about some unrelated ideas, but the takeaway is that education matters — “Just Say Know™” is my catchphrase — but this may not be the best way to engage more people to learn about beer. Still, I’m up for whatever. Let’s grab a beer.

When The Food Babe Talks, No Questions

food-babe
This would almost be funny, if I didn’t consider her misinformation so dangerous. Oh, and a h/t to Maureen Ogle for this one. Dr. Kevin M. Folta, who is the chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, writes on his blog, Illumination, about a recent visit by Vani Hari, as the Food Babe Visits My University.

As an actual living, breathing scientist, Folta understandably stood at odds with Hari “spreading her corrupt message of bogus science and abject food terrorism” at his school. Here’s how he really felt. “There’s something that dies inside when you are a faculty member that works hard to teach about food, farming and science, and your own university brings in a crackpot to unravel all of the information you have brought to students.” And she apparently was paid $15,000 by the University to add insult to injury, as well.

She found that a popular social media site was more powerful than science itself, more powerful than reason, more powerful than actually knowing what you’re talking about. Her discussion was a narcissistic, self-appointed attack on food science and human nutrition. It was one of the rare times when I laughed and puked at the same time.

So “who do you trust for real scientific information? This is why scientists go nutso.” Here’s a breakdown of the relative experience and knowledge between the Food Babe, Vani Hari, and Dr. Folta.

Hari-vs-Folta

Here’s a few more random thoughts from his post about the talk she gave, although I encourage you to read the entire post.

Hari then went on to talk about her successes in strong-arming Chick-fil-A, Budweiser and Subway into reformulating their foods and beverages. She’s proud that she was invited to the table, that a know-nothing with a following can affect change simply by propagating false information via the internet.

That’s not healthy activism or change based on science. That’s coercion, fear mongering and terrorism to achieve short-sighted non-victories in the name of profit and self-promotion, ironically the same thing she accuses the companies of.

On the plus side, reasonably educated college students weren’t going for her nonsense, he noted. “Throughout her presentation that was about Hari in the spotlight and ‘me-me-me’, students got up and left. She left gaping pregnant pauses where previous performances got applause — only to hear nothing. Not even crickets. This audience was not buying it, at least was not excited by it.”

Overall, he understandably found it disappointing, noting. “If this is a charismatic leader of a new food movement it is quite a disaster. She’s uninformed, uneducated, trite and illogical. She’s afraid of science and intellectual engagement.”

What stood out for me, though not a surprise in the least, is that although microphones had been set out at the sides of the stage for questions (something you see at virtually any academic talk like this) she left the stage immediately, apparently refusing to take any questions from the students. It was as if she finished talking, dropped the mic and walked out, “whisked by limo to her next fear rally,” as Folta opined. Unfortunately, that sounds about right given that numerous people tell me she deletes any questions or contrary evidence from comments on her website or Facebook page. She’s selling a product — herself — pure and simple, and she can’t let facts get in her way. In a sense, she doesn’t even need to engage anyone, as she has untold numbers of unpaid minions slavishly doing her bidding for her — the Food Babe Army — attacking any critics or criticisms, as I discovered for myself when I took issue with her nonsense about the ingredients in beer. I’m almost amazed she’s still peddling her brand of crazy to ready buyers, and yet not surprised at the same time. After all, there are still people who insist the world is flat and that climate change isn’t happening, so truly people will believe all sorts of kooky things if they don’t think too much about it. And in some ways, not thinking about stuff but believing it anyway with all your might may be well be the new American way. More’s the pity.

Derp of the Day
Don’t eat food with kemicles.