Beer Birthday: Brian Ford

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Today is the 50th birthday of Brian Ford, owner/brewer at the Auburn Alehouse near Sacramento, California. Brian previously brewed at Beermann’s Beerworks, but left before they closed a number of years ago. His new place is in an old historic building, a really cool space, where he’s making some more great beer. Join me in wishing Brian a very happy birthday.

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Brian pouring his beer at the Raley Field Beerfest in 2007.

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And here’s Brian with Glynn Phillips, from Rubicon, at the same event.

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Rich Norgrove, from Bear Republic and Brian, bookending a friend whose name I can’t remember, another brain cell casualty of getting old, at the Celebrator’s 25th Anniversary Party in 2013.

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A publicity shot at the Auburn Alehouse.

Sacramento’s Pyramid Alehouse Closes

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I just heard from a reliable source that the Pyramid Alehouse in Sacramento has closed. The Sacramento website has the following information posted:

WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT THE SACRAMENTO PYRAMID ALEHOUSE HAS PERMANENTLY CLOSED ITS DOORS AS OF TODAY, MARCH 4, 2013. WE WANT TO THANK THE SACRAMENTO COMMUNITY FOR THEIR PATRONAGE AND OUR EMPLOYEES FOR THEIR YEARS OF SERVICE.

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Odonata Beer Returning

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I just heard from Tracy Bethune, one of the original investors in Odonata Beer, that she’s re-launching the brand, which was founded in 2009, but shut down in 2011. Peter Hoey, the original brewer, and co-founder, is not involved with the new company, nor is Rick Sellers, who was formerly married to Bethune. A new version of their Saison will be available in limited supply at events during this year’s Sacramento Beer Week, which began yesterday. Here’s what I know so far:

Odonata Beer Company’s limited reserve Cellar Aged Saison is a special release of our flagship Saison that has been conditioned in perfect Wine Cellar conditions. Like a fine wine, our Saison is traditionally designed to be aged and the bottle conditioning has allowed the live yeast to provide a very dry exquisitely herbal finish along with the refined tropical fruit notes which define our outstanding Saison. Drinkable and refreshing, this beer scored an impeccable 98/100 points before we laid it aside for cellar conditioning – and industry experts are calling our reserve inventory better than the original!

After a short hiatus, Odonata Beer is thrilled to announce it’s resurrection and our Reserve Saison is being made available only by arrangement as a celebration of our local establishments and the fine beer enthusiasts of Northern California!

Tracy also informs me that she’s working on getting a new facility open in the Sacramento area later this year.
Odonata

Rare Beer Hysteria Gone Awry

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I assume many people already saw this, and the brouhaha seems to have died down, if not gone away. But the issue remains, lingering like a wound that won’t heal. The specific incident in question began a few days ago when a restaurant in Sacramento, Kupros Bistro, got a keg of Russian River’s highly sought after Pliny the Younger (PtY), and announced on Facebook (now taken down) that they would be offering it to the public for a whopping $45 for a 12 oz. pour, though to be fair that price also included “a burger, and a buck off any other tap beer for the remainder of the event,” as reported by RanSACkedmedia.com, whose byline is “True-life stories of Modern life in California’s Capitol City.” Many people complained, not surprisingly, and Russian River Brewing was inundated with e-mails, some of which even blamed them.

What many people don’t realize — and really why should they? — is that the laws are very specific about how beer is distributed and sold. It’s a highly regulated product. Most people just buy the beer they want, without a moment’s thought about how the system works, how the pricing is set, or what the law says about it. In California, by law, everybody is supposed to pay the same price for the same beer. Whenever prices change, a “posting” must be filed in advance with the California ABC in Sacramento, and it’s done on a county by county basis, meaning a separate “posting” must be done for every county where the beer’s price is raised or lowered. I’ve been to the ABC offices. When I visited, there was a shelf for each county, with the postings heaped chronologically on each one, usually in folders, which I think may have been for each month. I think I heard they’ve finally started to digitize the information but as recently as the late 1990s they were still all analog and the only way to review them was to go to the office and start opening folders. The point is that, despite the occasional shenanigans, the price that every bar pays for a keg in a given county is the same. Neither the brewery or the distributor can start charging more in order to gouge a customer or make more money as a beer becomes more scarce, not without changing the price for everybody by posting the new price.

It’s the retailer, the business that sells the beer directly to the customer, that has more flexibility in their pricing. They can, in theory, charge whatever price they believe they can get for what they’re selling, whatever they believe the market will bear. The manufacturer (in this case the brewer) usually recommends a price point — you often hear it expressed in other industries as the MSRP or “Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price,” but they’re usually not bound to take the suggestions. At Christmas there’s usually a hot toy item that becomes artificially scarce and it will cost you a lot more to get the latest Wii game, Tickle-Me-Elmo or Cabbage Patch Doll. Most people just accept that it’s part of living in a capitalist society.

But beer is usually handled somewhat differently, in part because it’s so highly regulated, and in part because until recently there haven’t been many beers that could command an excessively high price. We’re in somewhat uncharted waters. It’s only been maybe the last ten or so years that we’ve seen a proliferation of cult beers — Three Floyds Dark Lord, Portsmouth’s Kate the Great, The Bruery’s Black Tuesday and, of course, Pliny the Younger. So here’s what happened with the PtY flap in Sacramento. Vinnie Cilurzo, Russian River’s brewmaster and co-owner, contacted his distributor in Sacramento, DBI Beverage, and asked them to pay Kupros a visit. Again, ranSACkedmedia.com followed up on the story, reprinting an e-mail from one of Russian River Brewing’s fans who received a reply from someone at the brewery. I feel a little funny re-printing what was obviously intended to be a private e-mail, but since it’s already been posted there, it’s already out in the public.

Thanks for the email, but, please do not jump to conclusions here, it is Kupros that is the bad guy here. DBI Sacramento is already on this as I have received a couple emails before yours, they are heading to the account right not (or they may already be there) telling them that DBI and Russian River are very upset and DBI is dealing with.

We sell beer at a posted price (ABC law) to our Sacramento distributor, DBI Beverage. That means every keg we sold them was the same price. Then, DBI legally has to post their keg price with the ABC, this means they sell a keg of PTY to all accounts for the same price. With that said, it is the account Kupros that is ripping people off, not DBI and not Russian River.

Anyway, I really appreciate you emailing us, and please know that we are pissed off beyond belief and I can say for sure that Kupros will never get RRBC beer again.

That was on March 1, the next day, the event was cancelled, and in an effort to repair their reputation, Kupros announced the following on their Facebook page:

For some of our customers who feel taken advantage of: we wanted to make clear what we were offering you: Kupros was offering something special for those who wanted to make a special night out of enjoying their pint of Russian River Brewing Company Pliny. We were offing a pint WITH YOUR choice of 4 different burgers, happy hour all day and a raffle for free another pint of Pliny at the end of it. It was NOT $45 for a pint. It was NOT $45 for a burger and a small glass. It was a package deal that was mis-communicated on Facebook. For those who called in to confirm and purchase tickets, we thank you! We also thank our loyal patrons who understand that Kupros is not about capitalizing on others, but rather — about community and the special feeling we all get when we can make a night out feel amazing by enjoy a rare taste of beer! In the end, we are sorry for the inconvenience of the lack of clear communication!

Now I don’t know anyone from Kupros, and I certainly don’t mean to keep the wound open, but that sounds like damage control, pure and simple. Let’s say the beer should have been priced at $5 for a 12 oz. glass, is the rest of that “package deal” worth $40? Removing the beer, for $40 you would get a burger (and not just any burger, but you even got to choose from among four different kinds of burgers), happy hour pricing all day long, and the chance to win another glass of Pliny the Younger. That’s the package. And in the story, it’s revealed that the burger that’s part of the package is normally priced at $14, so that would mean your raffle ticket for the second glass of PtY and the right to buy additional draft beer at happy hour prices would cost you $26. As RanSACked also notes, “no mention of the raffle prize for one lucky patron to get a second glass of Pliny the Younger” was made in prior announcements of the event.

Apparently, most people weren’t buying that explanation either, and on March 2, Kupros posted the following on their Facebook page:

“Sorry Sacramento! We made a mistake. Due to the confusion, we will have Pliny the younger on tap for $1 (6 oz. pour) on a first come first serve basis this Sun. (3-4-12) Doors will open to the public at 6 pm. So that more people can try this exclusive beer, there will be a limit of one serving per customer. See you here!”

I think RanSACked said it best, keeping up with their coverage of the local story, when they expressed what I imagine most people thought of that:

“Due to the confusion”? Or was it due to the overwhelming internet backlash? Do you feel this mea culpa is adequate? Are you willing to move on from this SNAFU and patronize the bistro for a chance to taste the ultra-rare Pliny the Younger?

And lending credence to the damage control theory, one commenter noted that Kupros had deleted his sarcastic comment from their Facebook page.

I assume, and hope, this is an isolated incidence. But it is indicative of what can happen when the market changes and there is an unbalanced supply and demand situation. Overall, I think it’s great that breweries make small, special batches of beer. It keeps their creative juices flowing and provides something fun, interesting and hopefully tasty for craft beer’s biggest fans. It’s usually great press and even creates fun events for people to attend. And who doesn’t want to try an ultra-rare, hard-to-get, or one-of-a-kind beer?

While there are people who complain that it’s gone too far, the beer’s are rarely worth all the attention paid them, or that the effort to get one is just too much, I feel confident that almost every one of those same people would happily accept trying the beer if it was handed to them. They just don’t want to make the effort. And that’s fine, nobody’s making them. What I guess I don’t understand is why so many people feel compelled to insult the brewery for creating an exciting beer that many other people are willing to take the time and effort to acquire and to insult the people who are willing to make more of an effort than they are? It usually comes across as sour hops to me.

But as more and more beer lovers are finding craft beer every day, this is a problem that’s only going to continue to grow. When popular breweries make a small batch of beer, chances are there are more people willing to buy some of it than there is beer to go around. Whenever I get a chance to try one of the “cult” or rare beers, I feel fortunate and lucky to have had the opportunity to try that beer, but there are plenty of such beers I’ve never tried and perhaps never will. And for me, that’s just fine. There’s plenty of great beer out there, and I’m not going to waste my time fretting over what I didn’t drink. If someone else gets to try a beer I didn’t, I say “good for them,” and hope they’ll please tell me how it was and what it tasted like.

But it seems to me that many people feel that they’re somehow entitled to that rare beer, and if they don’t get it, then it’s just not fair. People who missed the lottery for some of these beers seem to feel they’ve been cheated somehow. People in other parts of the country seem to think it’s unfair that locals have the advantage. When a beer sells out before they’ve had a chance to try it, they take it personally, as if the brewery ran out of it on purpose just to ruin their day. I’ve even heard people complain to beer festival organizers that because they didn’t get to drink one of 100 or more beers available at an event, that they should be entitled to get their money back, as if a beer festival ticket guarantees a taste of every beer served there. This attitude seems to cause all manner of bad behavior.

If I’ve learned anything in my half-century on planet beer, it’s that people are funny creatures. They definitely want what they can’t get, and so there will always be a market to satisfy such demands, which is why we’re seeing a grey market emerging for cult beers. I saw a tweet recently that someone was filling two water bottles with Kate the Great and was looking to sell or trade one of them. I toured Three Floyds after CBC in Chicago a few years ago and discovered that a few days before someone from a tour group had stolen two bottles of that year’s Dark Lord and put one of them up for sale on eBay.

Many rare bottles now show up on eBay, and eBay seems to look the other way even though it’s supposed to be against their own policy to allow alcohol sales. They get around it by just selling the “collectible” bottle. Uh, huh. I even understand that an industry representative contacted them to try and put a stop to such beer sales and was rudely told they’d have to sue eBay to stop it. In many conversations I’ve had with brewers, they hate seeing their beers sold like that on eBay. But as long as there are people willing to pay high prices for rare beer, people’s greed will keep such a market alive. I’d love to believe we’ve moved past the “greed is good” days of the 1980s, but sadly there’s no evidence I can point to that doesn’t make me think as a society we’re even more controlled by money than ever. And so in order to have such rare, cult beers we’re going to have to suffer the consequences that such scarcity brings.

The good news is, of course, that what that also means is that the demand for such beer suggests all manner of wonderful things to come for craft beer’s future. If we all just learn to play together a little nicer, and not be so consumed by the desire for money, I think I’d drink a little easier. I’d hate to see rare beer become like coin or stamp collecting where it’s all about what it’s worth, and not its intrinsic beauty. Where I grew up in Pennsylvania, there was a big weekly flea market — Renninger’s — where people would come to on the weekends from all over the northeast. As a teenager, I remember feeling disgusted watching some yuppie from New York talking to a book seller about the leather binding of an old book while the seller tried to tell him the story its pages contained. The yuppie could not have cared less about the story; all he cared about was the value and the condition of the binding and how it would look in his house.

Beer is made to be enjoyed. It’s not meant to languish in a cellar. Yes, some beers can, and should, be aged for a period of time, but in the end their purpose is to be opened and, ideally, shared with friends. That’s true whether or not they’re rare or common. I believe that rare and “cult” beers are ultimately good for the beer industry, but only as long as they’re kept in perspective and it’s the beer inside them that’s most important. When it becomes about money, and greed, and grey markets, and eBay, and crime then we’ve lost what made them worthwhile and created the demand for them in the first place. When that happens, then I’ll really need a drink. I just may not be able to afford one.

Beer Birthday: Rick Sellers

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Today is the birthday of Rick Sellers, former beer director of DRAFT magazine and former parter with brewer Peter Hoey in the Odonata Beer Co., which sadly didn’t quite get off the ground. These days he’s back writing online at Pacific Brew News. Join me in wishing Rick a very happy birthday.

Rick Sellers & Peter Hoey of California's Newest Brewery, Odonata Brewing
Rick with Odonata partner Peter Hoey at GABF in2009.

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At the OBF media tasting: Rick, Merideth and Chris Nelson, the The Beer Geeks, and Meagan Flynn (at right) with her assistant, Annalou, publisher of Beer NW during the 2007 Oregon Brewers Festival.

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Rick, with me and J.J. Jackson tasting beer for a segment of a TV show that was done for KVIE, the PBS station in Sacramento.

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Me and Rick at the Bistro’s Double IPA festival in 2008. (Thanks to Bryan Kolesar from The Brew Lounge for sending me the photo.)

Celebrate Women In Brewing This Saturday At Rubicon

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For several years now, Rubicon Brewing in Sacramento has hosted an event celebrating women in brewing. This year’s Women in Brewing Main Event will take place this Saturday, April 16 all day long. Rubicon is located at 2004 Capitol Avenue in Sacramento.

From the press release:

Join us for our annual celebration of women in the craft brew industry! We’ve got some fantastic beers in store for y’all, including special brews from Sierra Nevada, Lost Coast, Auburn Alehouse, Stone, Santa Cruz Mountain, Blue Frog, Moylan’s, and more! So, stop in, have a pint, and chat with some amazing Women Brewsters. And above all … the event benefits a great organization, W.E.A.V.E.!

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Odonata’s Youngest Employee

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Talk about a father’s day gift. I just got an e-mail from my friend Peter Hoey, who’s the co-founder and brewmaster of Odonata Brewing in Sacramento. His wife Britany gave birth last night to their second child, and first son, Liam. But I can’t help but beam with pride after reading his middle name. Now that’s a beautiful name — good choice. Peter tells me they’re “now home resting and getting to know him.” Please join me in congratulating Peter and Britany Hoey as they welcome the newest addition to the Odonata Brewing family.

Particulars:

Original Gravity: 9 pounds, 0 ounces
IBUs: 21 in.
Style: Boy
Release Date: June 19, 2010
Label: Liam Porter Hoey

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Peter, Britany and Liam Hoey.

Odonata Saison Released Today

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Odonata Beer, a new brewery is Sacramento, is releasing their Saison today. Below is the press release with all the details:

ODONATA (OH-DOE-NAH-TA) is ecstatic to announce the arrival of its flagship beer, Saison! Brewed with malted barley, wheat & rolled oats, Saison is a rustic interpretation of the traditionally Belgium-brewed beer. Spiced with Styrian & East Kent Golding hops Saison has an aromatic, floral & peppery aroma and a modest hop bite. Our Belgian yeast strain also lends the slightly wild scents of passion fruit and spice. Saison is designed for refreshment & complexity; perfect on its own, or paired with ripened cheeses or classic Belgian-style seafood dishes. Saison bottles are bottle-conditioned, so serve chilled.

ODONATA Saison will be available on draft at select Northern California retailers beginning Friday, April 30, 2010 and will begin distributing bottled Saison in mid-May throughout Northern California. For further information regarding Saison, its availability or other inquiries, please contact Rick Sellers using the information found below.

ODONATA Beer Company is based in Sacramento, Ca. Brewmaster Peter Hoey is an experienced, award-winning brewer as well as an instructor at UC Davis’ prestigious brewing school and The American Brewers Guild. Sales Director Rick Sellers is an experienced beer journalist and former Beer Director for DRAFT Magazine, the world’s largest beer publication. Together Peter & Rick started ODONATA in 2009, with their first beer release (Rorie’s Ale) scoring a 100 on RateBeer and was named one of the best beers in the world.

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ABV: 6.4%
IBUs: 24
PKG: 22 oz. bottles
Suggested Food Pairings: Ripened cheese like Cyprus Grove Chevre’s Humboldt Fog; Pasta & Cream Sauce; Steamed Mussels
(The Homebrew Chef has also created a special recipe using Odonata’s saison for Saison-Steamed Mussels.
Serving Suggestions: Store Saison upright at cellar temperature & serve chilled, between 40-48 degrees, in a sturdy glass.

Women In Brewing Festival This Saturday In Sacramento

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This Saturday, April 24, another festival will be taking place in Sacramento. If yo happen to be up that way — or live nearby, of course — check out the 4th annual Women in Brewing Festival at Rubicon.

Here’s the info, from Rubicon’s blog:

In 2007 the Rubicon Brewing Company established the Women in Brewing celebration. This is an event that digs up the history of women in brewing while spotlighting the talent of those brewers in our industry today. The 4th Annual Women in Brewing Festival will take place at the Rubicon Brewing Company at 2004 Capitol Avenue starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 24th and will go until the beer is gone. Many talented female brewers have been invited to showcase their special recipes and hard to find brews. Some of these ladies will make the journey to the Rubicon Brewing Company to chat with event goers while enjoying a day in the sun with their fellow brewster’s and a pint. This event is not a competition nor is it a “brewfest.” It is a typical day at the Rubicon where we will highlight the fabulous “brewed by women” beer on tap for tasting in sample, goblet or pint along with food specials and, as always, great friends. A silent auction will be held with great prizes donated by local businesses. While honoring and bringing recognition to our women in the brewing industry, the Rubicon Brewing Company is dedicated to raising money and awareness for WEAVE. The event raises more than $4,000 to support crisis intervention services for victims of sexual assault. WEAVE is the primary provider of crisis intervention services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Sacramento County.

Denise Jones, the head brewer at Moylan’s will be on hand, and probably additional brewsters, too. Stop by and help support a worthy cause. When I first met my wife, she was heavily involved in volunteering for a similar organization in the South Bay, Next Door, so it’s an issue near and dear to me and my family.

The beers below will be served Saturday, and each one was brewed by a female brewer:

  • Auburn Alehouse: Scarlet Red
  • Blue Frog: Ginger & Meyer Ann
  • Lost Coast: Scotch Ale
  • Moylans: Hell’s Lager
  • Rubicon: Bull of the Woods, Stardancer, 80 Grit
  • Santa Cruz: Witches Wit
  • Sierra Nevada: Summerfest, Scotch Ale
  • Urthel Al: Hop It, Samarath

Odonata Website Launched

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Sacramento’s newest brewery, Odonata Beer. Co. — recently founded by formed Sacramento Brewing’s Peter Hoey and former DRAFT magazine beer director Rick Sellers — has just launched their new website, which for months has been essentially wallpaper. For updates, there’s also the brewery blog, too. You can also get a look at the now-approved label for what they hope will become their flagship beer, Saison Ale. It’s great to see things moving forward. Hopefully there will be beer to fill the bottles with those label very soon.

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