Beer Birthday: Lucy Saunders

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because beer is food: in cooking, at the table, and by the glass …

So begins the website of beer cook Lucy Saunders, whose birthday is today. Lucy has done much to promote both cooking with beer and enjoying food with beer through her books and other writings. She’s a treasure, in more ways than one. Join me in wishing Lucy a very happy birthday Lucy.

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At the beer bistro in Toronto for Stephen Beaumont and Maggie’s wedding reception.

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Lucy with Stacy Williams, Brand Manager for Gambrinus, at the Hot Brands reception at the NBWA Convention, when it was in San Francisco a few years ago.

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During CBC in Austin, Texas in 2007, at the Moonshine bar for an event with Lucy for her book, Grilling with Beer. Here, Lucy with three contributors to her book, myself included.

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Lucy with Vinnie Cilurzo at the GABF brewers reception in Denver in 2006.

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Shaun O’Sullivan from 21st Amendment, Fergie Carey, co-owner of Monk’s, Lucy Saunders, the beer cook, and Tom Peters, also co-owner of Monk’s at the Canned Beer Dinner several Junes ago.

Beer Birthday: Jonathan Surratt

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Today is the 39th birthday of Jonathan Surratt. Jonathan launched the Beer Mapping Project and also runs the website for DRAFT magazine. He also created National Growler Day, though its exact date from year to year is still fluid, and he’s a twitter diva, too. Join me in wishing Jonathan a very happy birthday.

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Horse Brass publican Don Younger bookended by Jonathan’s wife Robin and Jonathan, displaying his excellent taste in attire.

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Jonathan with Sean Paxton and Jonathan’s wife Robin at GABF a few years ago.

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Jonathan, Ray McCoy, Robin, and Ray’s wife, Cornelia Corey.

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A self-portrait with Matt, from Oakshire Brewing, Jonathan, and me at the Goose Island cask event during CBC in 2010.

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Michael Roper, owner of the Hopleaf, Jonathan, and Wendy Littlefield, from Vanberg & DeWulff, when we had dinner there last year.

Not OK: Oklahoma Considering Beer Tax Hike To Punish Drinkers

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Oklahoma joins the ranks of states currently considering raising the tax on beer and other alcohol due to budget shortfalls, in effect punishing alcohol companies and the vast majority of people who enjoy drinking their products responsibly. According to the Oklahoman, the heads of three state health agencies, Health Commissioner Terry Cline, Mental Health Commissioner Terri White and Howard Hendrick, director of the Department of Human Services, “urged state lawmakers to raise the alcohol tax to help address a 2012 fiscal year budget deficit that could be as large as $800 million.” This is the same nonsense going around in other states whereby lawmakers go after a convenient target, often with the help of anti-alcohol groups, that they know play well to constituents raised on temperance propaganda that demonizes alcohol as a sin. But essentially the tax hikes aimed at alcohol punish both the companies that make the products and the majority of consumers who drink them responsibly and in moderation, while doing nothing whatsoever to address the root causes of the tiny minority that do abuse alcohol and drugs. They’re not remotely fair.

I’m as sorry as the next citizen that states can’t meet their budgets, but alcohol didn’t cause the problem and shouldn’t be called upon to fix it, either. We should have learned our lesson when this was first tried, during the Civil War, but we keep looking to lifestyles that some people find morally objectionable and trying to legislate that morality to punish people for their choices that differ from the self-righteous. But the budget problems Oklahoma, and many other states, are facing were not caused by alcohol. The specious “charge for harm” notion that the Marin Institute, and other anti-alcohol groups, are pushing is a flawed idea that argues that everybody who makes and drinks alcohol has to pay for any problems caused by a tiny minority that abuses it. But it continues to gain traction because if you beat a drum long enough, and never hear another beat, people start to believe the music is good.

For example “Howard Hendrick, director of the [Oklahoma] Department of Human Services, also said the state should look at increasing the alcohol tax to help pay for treatment and medical costs associated with the use of the product.” But the “medical costs” are not “associated with the use of the product,” if anything, they’re associated with its misuse, a very different thing. The assumption is that everybody that drinks alcohol is a burden on the nation’s healthcare system, but that is not only false, but backwards. The vast majority of people who drink, and who do so responsibly and in moderation, are actually living a healthier lifestyle and are less of a burden on healthcare as a direct result of their good drinking behavior. Such people will most likely live longer than abstainers or binge drinkers.

Hendrick concludes with this tortured bit of logic:

“We’re not saying you can’t drink, we’re not going to prohibition we’re just asking you to pay your share of the cost,” Hendrick said. “We’re just trying to deter people from behaving irresponsibly with alcohol.”

What nonsense. If I, and in fact most people, drink responsibly then we’re not costing society one penny more than any other person. If anything, by our moderation, we’re burdening the healthcare system less and are in fact saving money for the system. We have no “share of the cost” to pay. Raising the cost of alcohol through higher taxes in order “to deter people from behaving irresponsibly” is incredibly insulting to the majority who do not behave irresponsibly. But such logic is pervasive and does nothing to actually stop alcohol abuse. Like any addiction, an addict will find a way to get his preferred addiction by any means necessary.

The only thing that such measures accomplish is that they damage the economy, and place a greater burden on poor people, since alcohol taxes are very regressive. The higher taxes punish primarily law-abiding responsible citizens by raising the price of alcohol even though they’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve such a punishment and in fact have done just the opposite. Lawmakers just can’t let any good deed go unpunished, especially when they’re trying to fix their own mistakes without acknowledging their own culpability or making themselves look bad. Better to blame everything on alcohol. And why not, demonizing alcohol has worked quite well for over a century. There’s no reason to let the facts get in the way of a good story now.

Schlafly Looking For A Buyer

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In order to expand their business, St. Louis’ largest American-owned brewery — Schlafly Brewery and Taproom — is for sale. Well, perhaps not in the traditional sense. They’re looking for enough capital to grow the business while remaining involved in running the company. Neither co-founders, Tom Schlafly or Dan Kopman, have children interested in taking over the brewery so they figure it makes sense to sell now while they also need money for expansion. They also want very much for the business to remain local and are trying to figure out a way for employees of the brewery to either be the buyer or at least buy in to partial ownership so that the business stays local.

While no price has been disclosed, estimates range from $5 to 18 million, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. KDSK Channel 5 also has a version of the story.

We’ll most likely be seeing more of this kind of thing as the craft beer industry matures and some of the earlier players reach retirement age. We may indeed be entering the age of mergers and acquisitions for small breweries, as well as large.

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Schlafly co-founder Dan Kopman at this year’s SAVOR last month in Washington, DC.

Beer In Ads #131: IBI’s Full Case Test

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Wednesday’s ad is for IBI, or International Breweries Incorporation, a group of breweries that merged or were bought out in the Midwest beginning around 1955. The ad is from 1960, and shows the crowns, or bottle caps, for a number of their brands. I really like the ad visually, with the case of empty bottles suspended at the top of the ad and the crowns at the bottom. For the time, there’s an awful lot of white space in the middle, something that was fairly rare in 1950s advertising.

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While there’s not much information on the web about IBI, I did find this very old beer can collecting website, that doesn’t appear to be currently maintained, that had the following information:

In 1955 a group of businessmen from Detroit bought out Iroquois Beverage Corporation to help form the International Breweries Incorporation, with combining plants in Frankenmuth, Findaly, Tampa and Covington. International continued the Iroquois “arrowhead” label from the Iroquois Beverage Corp., however, they did change the Frankenmuth label from the Black Label to the oval label that came in beer, ale, and bock, from the Buffalo, NY plant.

IBI quickly created their own look, some collectors call these the “TV Screen” cans, the IBI cans came in Iroquois, Frankenmuth, Silver Bar in matching red beer and green ale cans, the IBI Frankenmuth Bock, and the IBI Old Dutch Beer. While the Buffalo plant was the only IBI brewer to produce all the cans, Iroquois remained solely in Buffalo. All the cans came as flattops, the IBI Iroquois beer has been found as a zip top. The Buffalo plant, also used 2 can companies, Continental Can Co., and Kegline, this produced a color variation with the red Beers.

The IBI logo eventually was removed, as some of the other plants closed or were sold, and a similar looking “TV Screen” can was produced. Buffalo kept filling Frankenmuth in Beer and Ale and shipping to the Midwest and the southeast in flattop cans. There are 2 different designs with the Frankenmuths, a single label with a yellowish background, and a 2 label white background can, however, not sure which came first. And similar to the single label Frankenmuth came an Iroquois Beer, but in a white background. Those were the final flattop cans from IBI of Buffalo. The Ponce DeLeon Silver Bar beer and ales that are identical labels were only canned in Tampa The odd thing is that they had matching beer and ales for Frankenmuth, but only the beer for Iroquois on the post IBI label.

Now there is a post IBI Iroquois Ale, but this is the identical label to the IBI’s, the Indian head replaces the IBI logo.This can has only been found in a zip top, no flats as indicated by the BCU and came out around 62 or 63, and is a very tough can to find. IBI of Buffalo only would last a few more years and canned their Iroquois Indian Head beer and Tomahawk Ale in zip tops.

Along the way International of Buffalo bought some existing labels that many collectors might not be aware of. In 1958 or 59, International canned the Blackhawk Beer for only a year or so before being sold to a Cumberland plant. They also picked up the Stolz label from Tampa, and a few tough variations came from Buffalo. In 1962 the Buffalo plant bought a few labels from Cleveland-Sandusky Brewers, and bear the International of Buffalo d/b/a. Canned in Buffalo were Old Timers and Crystal Rock. G & B was also purchased, and collectors have bottle labels from Buffalo, but haven’t seen a can yet.

Locally, in 1959, International bought out the Phoenix Brewery of Buffalo. Phoenix had just put their beer in cans a year earlier, and a very short run of Phoenix Beer bearing the Phoenix Brewing mandatory was run, this is a tougher variation than the Phoenix from International of Buffalo. The Phoenix Brewery eventually became the Ale plant for International. International eventually went bankrupt in 1966 and a Terry Fox from New Jersey bought the plant and renamed it Iroquois Brewing Company. They continued to produce the Indian Head Beer and replacing the Tomahawk Ale was the Iroquois Draft Ale. Bavarians Select had a short stay and was canned in Buffalo. In 1969, Fox sold the plant to a group from Buffalo, and the name changed to Iroquois Brewery. They discontinued the Draft Ale, and the famous white Draft Beer was canned during this time. With the invasion of Cheaper Canadien Beers, and the growth of the big boys, Iroquois could no not keep up, and on May 5, 1971, Iroquois the once proud brewer of Buffalo shut its doors.

Another website, Kentucky Beer Cans, also shows a few of the IBI cans.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Homebrewing Bill

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Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry signed HB 2348, which means homebrewers can legally brew starting November 1, 2010. “Oklahoma law already allowed for the home production of wine and cider, but until now excluded beer.” 48 down, 2 to go. Just Alabama and Mississippi continue to have homebrewing illegal in their state. See the full story at the American Homebrewers Association.

Smokin’ Aces Drink Bell’s Oberon

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We were watching Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball last night — quick review: mildly entertaining action adventure with cartoon violence and not much of a plot. Most of the best bits were in the trailer.

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Anyway, a good portion of the film takes place in a bar. One of the beers served is Bell’s Oberon. There’s a prominent tap handle of it on the bar, where one scene takes place. When the frame part of the scene at one point, the Bell’s logo along with the Oberon label can be seen in the foreground on the left-hand side of the frame. And at several more points, either the Bell’s or Oberon graphics can be seen. I don’t know if Larry Bell paid for product placement or if someone who made the film was a big fan. Either way, that was fun to see.

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Brewery Porn From Schlafly

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I just saw this Re-Tweeted and I can’t pass up brewery porn. The photographs are of the St. Louis Brewery a.k.a. Schlafly Beer and were taken by a woman calling herself Truckey. The slideshow below is from her Flickr account and all the photographs can be purchased. According to her Flickr gallery page, “prices range from $10-$200, and range in size from 5×7 to 24×36. I can do matte, lustre, glossy or pearle paper, or even print on canvas!” There’s some beautiful shots there. They’d look great framed on your wall. But for now, enjoy the porn!

Beer In Art #62: Steven Kozar’s Wisconsin Craft Brews

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Today’s works of art is another modern one, painted in a style that’s known as Photorealism or, more likely, Hyperrealism (the two are similar), although the artist doesn’t characterize his work in that way. The artist is Steven R. Kozar and his painting is titled Wisconsin Craft Brews, featuring bottles of beer from three Wisconsin breweries, Capital Brewery, New Glarus and Sprecher.

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The painting is 18 x 24 in. and is a watercolor. The original has been sold, but prints are available for $25 at his online store. Most of the works in his gallery are landscapes, and they’re spectacular.

Kozar’s a Wisconsin native, living in McFarland. Here’s a short biography from his blog:

Born 1964 in Lake Zurich, IL. Studied at ISU from 1983 to 1984, and at The American Academy of Art in Chicago from 1985 to 1986. At age 23 moved to rural Wisconsin and began full-time painting. Kozar’s paintings have been exhibited along side most of the artists he admired as an art student, including Midwestern artists Harold Gregor, James Winn, and James Butler. He has also exhibited with many of today’s contemporary masters, such as Andrew Wyeth, Gary Ernest Smith, Ralph Goings. John Stuart Ingle, Burt Silverman, Everett Raymond Kinstler, Peter Sculthorpe and Nelson Shanks.

You can see more of Kozar’s work at his website and his blog also has a few videos during the painting of this work, which are interesting to watch.

Price vs. Value

It’s been said that when you buy something, the price is what you pay and value is what you get. But if you want to get people’s attention, charge an astonishingly high price for something. Case in point, ever since Bloomberg News on Friday did a story about Carlsberg’s new $400-per-bottle beer, touting it as the world’s most expensive, it’s been burning up the blogosphere, online news outlets and forums. And with good reason. There’s a lot not to like about this story, and very little to suggest the $400 price tag is anywhere near reasonable, as many, many have already pointed out, from A Good Beer Blog’s Are You An Utter Fool? to Beer Advocate’s forum responding to the question, Are massively expensive beers good for the craft brew world?

What I find curious about this new beer is that, as far as I can tell, Carlsberg is almost completely silent about it. There’s nothing about it on their website, nothing under media or press releases. Wouldn’t you expect at least some PR information on the supposed release of something called the world’s most expensive beer? But all of the press this has gotten seems to be coming from a single source, the Bloomberg piece, which even more oddly appears to be aimed at the Latin American market.

The beer itself may be called Carlsberg Vintage No. 1, and all we know about it is that it’s 10.5% abv and “contains hints of prune, caramel, vanilla and oak tree from the French and Swedish wooden casks in which it [was] stored. It has a chestnut brown color, little foam and goes well with cheeses and desserts.” That’s according to Jens Eiken, the brewer at the Jacobsen Brewhouse (the small boutique brewery housed in the Visitor’s Center), who created the beer. Given that it’s so expensive, he’s surprisingly tight-lipped about giving any details that might convince one that it’s worth that hefty price tag. He says it’s relatively cheap, “considering the amount of time the brewery spent developing it.” Naturally he’s not saying how long that was, but does add “[w]e’re trying to raise the bar for what a beer can be,” which is maddeningly infuriating since he refuses to say how or to where he thinks this beer has moved the “bar” to.

But unlike other efforts to “raise the bar” where the process and rationale for a higher price tag have been spelled out somewhat convincingly, making beer of great value doesn’t appear to be the point one iota. Price appears to be the driving factor, which at least explains the lack of persuasion or transparency. The $400 price is a conversion from the price in Danish kroners, which is 2,008 — a figure arrived at simply to coincide with the year. Next year, the price will go up to 2009 kroners and 2010 the year after that. The 600 bottles initially being sold in three high-end Copenhagen restaurants aren’t even very large. Each bottle is only 37.5 centiliters, which at 12.68 ounces is just north of our standard beer bottle.

The beer was created for no better reason than to “challenge luxury wines in the gourmet restaurant market and capitalize on rising individual wealth.” You can see the visible hand of marketing in every step of this project. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think the way to challenge wine’s perceived supremacy is to make beers that rival the quality of fine wines, not arbitrarily price them as if they did. Frankly, I think one of the best selling points of better beer is precisely that in many cases it really does already rival that of fine wine, and does so at a spectacularly more reasonable price and one which bears some relation to the ingredients and process of manufacture. In other words, it’s a good value. Even Utopias, at $100 or more, because we know what’s involved and how it was made doesn’t seem too out of whack. Carlsberg Vintage No. 1 on the other hand? Whack job, all the way.

Beyond that, look at the tortured way they arrived at the title “world’s most expensive.” From the Bloomberg news article:

Vintage No. 1 will be the world’s most expensive beer, according to Eiken. That title is currently held by Boston Beer Co.’s Utopia, which costs about $100 for a 72 centiliter bottle, according to the Web site Most-expensive.net.

Bierodrome, a London bar, sells Belgian beer Vielle Bon Secours for 635 pounds ($1,260) per 15 liter bottle, which is 12 times less than the liter price of Vintage No. 1.

And according to The Longest List of the Longest Stuff at the Longest Domain Name at Long Last:

A New Zealander paid $2,595.00 USD for a beer in a Hong Kong bar. He must have had one too many and thought the credit card slip read $2.45 when he signed it, but he claims the bar tampered with the bill. Nevertheless his credit card company did not reverse the charges and the man only known as Mr. B paid $2,595.00 for a beer.

But while I don’t think an accidental over-charging can be more than a footnote in this discussion, reducing it to the price per ounce, liter, or whatever measurement doesn’t really work either. The Bon Secours is still the most expensive bottle, no matter how large it is. I guess if your goal is to have the most expensive anything, and you’re a large enough company, you’ll figure out a way to make that happen.

Is it enough that there are only 600 bottles (50 cases at 12 per or 25 cases at 24 per) to justify the price? Certainly supply and demand is a time-honored economic method of determining fair market value. But in this case while the supply is indeed low, the actual demand is non-existent, completely artificial and will have to be manufactured from scratch.

You have to wonder about what they’re not telling us, because a 10.5% beer that’s been aged on wood is not exactly newsworthy. I can find any number of beers similar to that description. There are entire beer festivals here in the U.S. devoted to wood-aged beers. I judged at the Bistro’s Barrel-aged Beer Festival in my own backyard last year and had at least a dozen beers fitting the description of Vintage No. 1, without having to travel to Denmark. So what could be so different about this one to not only justify the cost but also their claim that even at this price they’re losing money. If I wanted people to plunk down a previously unheard of amount for something I made, I’d go out of my way to justify that high price.

 

But I think the difference between Vintage No. 1 and other high-priced beers, like Deus, Vielle Bon Secours and Boston Beer’s Utopias is the following. I’ve talked to Jim Koch about his Utopias, their earlier Millennium Beer and even the Triple Bock they made in the 1990s. All of those beers are or were relatively expensive beers. But the fact of their high price was at best a secondary consideration, a factor of the cost or making them. Vintage No. 1, from what little we know about it, was just the opposite. The price was created first, as a marketing gimmick (being the same as the year), and specifically to fill a demand by the nouveau riche for something expensive to spend their money on. Jim Koch, on the other hand, at least was truly passionate about the beer he and his team of brewers had made. Love it or hate it — and I’m in the former camp — you have to admit Utopias really does push the boundary of what beer is and can be. Can the same be said of a 10.5% beer aged on wood, without knowing anything more about how it was made?

 

To give my take on the question of whether or not expensive beer is good for the craft beer industry, I think in general it can be. I think that for the most part the price of beer has been kept artificially low for too long and has helped to maintain the image of beer as a cheap, mass-produced commodity not worthy of respect. There is something to the idea of charging a higher price for something giving it more perceived value by that fact alone. Though I think it’s gotten out of hand, wine has been using perceived value for years instead of a cost of goods to mark-up ratio to come up with a fair market price. Beer, especially among the big breweries, works on volume sales rather than a high mark-up per bottle or per package. And to keep volume up, the big breweries have kept their prices low even as their cost of manufacture and for ingredients has steadily risen. This has also forced craft brewers to likewise keep their profit margins thinner, which has had the effect of keeping perceived value lower, too. Now that there are shortages to both hops and malt, that will have to change and it will be interesting to see how consumers react. I think as long as they perceive that for the price they’re still getting a good value, things shouldn’t be too bad.

That’s where I think Carlsberg’s Vintage No. 1 goes off the rails. There’s just no sense that there’s any reasonable value for the exorbitant price they’re asking. I’m sure there will be someone willing to buy it just to show off or impress others with their success. After all, there’s never been a shortage of fools with more money than sense. That doesn’t justify the price, of course, and in this case the utter lack of perceived value could indeed damage the cause of making fine beer more highly prized and priced. I’d pay almost any reasonable price for something I highly value. But I place almost no value in being tricked into paying ten times (or more) for something just because someone thinks they can get away with it.

 

UPDATE 1.29: I’ve found a bit more about what the bottle will look like. “Each bottle is labeled with a hand stenciled original lithographic print by Danish artist Frans Kannike, making the empties worth about $100 apiece.”