Great American Beer Bar Favorites Chosen

GABB2013_logo, the consumer website for the Brewers Association released today the results of an online poll that took place in the last half of August. Here’s how they arrived at the 2013 Great American Beer Bar Selected by Readers. “ asked readers to nominate their favorite craft beer bars in the country, and received over 5,000 nominations, a 117 percent increase from last year. The choices were then narrowed down to the 10 most nominated bars in each of the five regions of the country. Over 37,000 votes were cast in total, a 23 percent increase from last year, resulting in the top three overall and regional winners. Voting was conducted from August 19 until August 30.” I’ve never been to any of the top three, so I guess I’ve got some travel plans to make.


The overall winners were roughly on the eastern half of the country.

  1. Mekong Restaurant, Richmond, VA
  2. HopCat, Grand Rapids, MI
  3. Cloverleaf Tavern, Caldwell, NJ

The Pacific (west coast) winners are as follows:

  1. The Bier Stein, Eugene, OR
  2. Toronado, San Francisco, CA
  3. Prospectors Historic Pizzeria & Alehouse, Denali National Park, AK

Great to see the Toronado making the list.

Feeling Thirsty??

Today’s infographic is an interactive one, meaning if you’re Feeling Thirsty, you should visit the interactive infographic. It was created at Stanford University, using the Stanford Network Analysis Platform (SNAP), which put more than 1.5 million Beer Advocate reviews into a dataset to create the infographic. I’m not sure why they used color (light, medium and dark) as one of the ways to slice the data, but otherwise it’s pretty interesting to see. Below are a couple of examples, but you really need to look at it on the original website.

Here, for example is what Westvleteran 8 look like:

And here’s Coniston’s Blue Bitter

Also, be sure to check out the About the Data graphs at the bottom.

Ruining Craft Beer With Hop Bombs

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past twenty-four hours, you’ve no doubt seen the provocative article on Slate, Against Hoppy Beer, The craft beer industry’s love affair with hops is alienating people who don’t like bitter brews, by Adrienne So. I’d been hoping to avoid taking the obvious bait, but I find myself thinking about the article itself, the way it’s gone viral and the two camps that have been set up online defending or decrying it.

From Slate’s point of view, it’s a massive success. As of this morning, almost 1500 people have left a comment, nearly 4,000 shared it on Facebook, and it’s currently one of the most read and shared articles on Slate. That’s eyeballs on the page; that’s money in the bank. But the article itself, though there are a few deep flaws, isn’t itself that inflammatory. It’s that headline, or as Stan points out: headlines. Because while the page itself displays Against Hoppy Beer, The craft beer industry’s love affair with hops is alienating people who don’t like bitter brews, e-mailing it changes the headline to Hops Enthusiasts Are Ruining Craft Beer for the Rest of Us and bookmarking it saves the headline Hoppy beer is awful — or at least, its bitterness is ruining craft beer’s reputation. If you look in your browser bar where the URL you’re at is displayed, you’ll see that’s what it’s titled online in the address. To me, that suggests that the last one was Slate’s original online title and the plan from the beginning was to pull people in with intentionally inflammatory, and somewhat misleading, headlines. It’s certainly not the first time, for them, or many other websites. I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s a rare article of mine that has the same title when I started as what ends up printed on the page or displayed online.

To me, that’s the ticking hop bomb, not necessarily the article itself, that discourse so often happens online in response to something incendiary rather than just as a desire to have a discussion or to address issues important to us a loosely defined group.


Because the issue of balance in beer is certainly a worthy one. Or as Stan Hieronymus muses.

It’s good to call for balance in beer, and too bitter is too bitter. Although perhaps there could have been a little more, well, balance. Maybe more about why there’s more to “hoppy” than bitterness.

But if the transition from bland, flavorless macro beer to a craft beer landscape should have taught us anything, it’s that there’s plenty of room for lots of kinds of beer: hoppy, malty, sour, dark, light, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. That hoppy beers have been in ascendency for a few years now is certainly true, but so what? All flavorful beer is selling more and more each day.

So admits that “[n]ot all craft beer is hoppy. There are many craft breweries that seek to create balanced, drinkable beers that aren’t very bitter at all.” How could she not? She blames Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for starting it all, perhaps forgetting Anchor Liberty Ale was the first beer to use Cascade hops and was considered very hoppy in its even earlier day. But as Jeff Alworth correctly points out, it wasn’t so much that those beers introduced imbalance, they re-introduced a new mix of flavors, ones which emphasized a bit more hop character than a majority of Americans were familiar with in the 1970s. I was alive, and drinking then, and can tell you there were not a lot of hoppy beers to compare these with. As Alworth puts it. “That was shocking because we’d slowly leached all hop character from hops and told customers that bitterness was the enemy. THIS was the bizarre position.”

Maybe it’s the bubble of Portland that has given So the impression that hoppy beers are the big sellers, but again, as Alworth points out. “When you look at the best-selling craft beers, they’re not hoppy: Fat Tire, SN Pale, Boston Lager, Blue Moon, Widmer Hef. Those five beers account for at least four million barrels—something like a fifth or a quarter of the market.” For several years, IPAs have been the fastest growing category in mainstream grocery stores, as reported by Nielsen and IRI, but you have to remember that’s from a very small base, and is not representative of the market as a whole. But even that aside, breweries are at heart, businesses. If their hoppy beers were not selling, they’d stop making them. Which begs the question. How can something that’s selling, and selling, be ruining a market that continues to keep growing? I’ve heard brewers tell me that they feel like they have to have at least one hoppy beer in their line-up, because customers expect it, and want it. Does that sound like a situation in which hoppy beers are alienating the customer? Or ruining the market?

Whenever I hear the canard that people don’t like bitter flavors, one word leaps to my mind: coffee. Please tell me again how people won’t drink something bitter? Go ahead, I’ll wait until after you’ve had your morning cup of joe, or even your Earl Grey tea. Even if you’re adding milk or sugar, it’s still a bitter concoction to some degree. Bitter is one of the basic tastes humans experience, and is present in virtually everything we eat and drink. Are there times when it’s too much? Of course, just as there are beers I find to be too sweet, or display too much oak character in a barrel-aged stout. Balance is the key, but sometimes even balance can be overrated, if done well. If every beer was balanced in the exact same way, they’d all taste the same again. And we all know what happened to American beer when that was the case. There’s room in the beer world for all manner of beers on the continuum of possible flavors, and if you want something that’s not overly hoppy, there are many, many choices available. So concludes by suggesting what she believes everyone who loves, or is obsessed, with hops should do now. “Give it a rest.” To which I can only reply, in the words of the great Marcel Marceau, who spoke the only word in Mel Brooks’ film Silent Movie. “No.”

What I’d really like to see given a rest is the attention-getting, inflammatory headline in which the article that follows can rarely back up its provocative premise. It’s the schoolyard equivalent of “look at me, look at me!” It’s like saying hoppy beers are ruining craft beer, or they’re just awful or that they’re alienating people. Those are just headline grabbing stunts to lure people in. And, sadly, it works. But it doesn’t seem to do anything to further what might otherwise be a valuable discussion about the changing nature of peoples’ tastes, preferences and the marketplace. And now I think it’s time to go to the refrigerator and grab a Pliny. After all this, I sure hope it still tastes good.

UPDATE: And while I was writing this, Jeff Alworth also posted his own response, Hops Are Not A Problem, which is worth taking a look at, too. As he nicely points out, bitterness is relative, hoppiness isn’t just bitterness and different regions have different styles.

Farmville Hop Farming

I know next to nothing about Farmville, the popular farm simulation game played on Facebook, apart from the fact that it appears to be a time suck of epic proportions, with something on the order of 76 million active users every month. I know the company that created the game, Zynga, is in San Francisco. I remember passing by their offices with a huge screen outside the building on the way to the annual Christmas party at Anchor Brewing last month.

So maybe this is old hat, but here’s something I didn’t now. Searching for a graphic of hops yesterday, I discovered that in 2011, FarmVille added hop farming to their English Countryside Farm module, and it’s apparently available beginning with level 20, whatever that means. According to the wonderfully geeky FarmViller:

The Hops is a seed on the English Countryside Farm, available from level 20. It became available with the introduction of the English Countryside Farm beginning March 22, 2011.

It is available from the Market for 150 coins after reaching level 20. When bought and placed on the farm, the player receives 2 XP. It can be harvested every ten hours for 220 coins. The seed itself can be sold for 8 coins.

Here are the stages of growing hops in FarmVille:

Freshly Planted Hops


Hops at 33% Growth


Hops at 66% Growth


Hops Ready to Be Harvested


Hops Treated with Crop Fertilizer


Hops After Having Withered


A quick search reveals that you can also grow barley, but there appears to be no way to malt it or put all the ingredients together to brew beer. Oh, well, just when it was starting to look interesting. Perhaps I dodged a bullet there, after all.


Beer Birthday: Mark Silva

Today is the 51st birthday of Mark Silva, co-founder of, one of the first beer portals to establish a presence on the internet. I’ve known Mark for a lot of years in a variety of enterprises. These days, I usually run into Silva at beer events, though sadly not as often as I used to. Join me in wishing Mark a very Happy birthday.

One of my favorite photos of Don Younger also features Mark at the Falling Rock in Denver during GABF.

Mark enjoying a beer in San Diego with friend Doug DeCarlo. (Note: this photo purloined from Facebook.)

Two Is Better

I’m a fan of the website Woot!, which offers special deals, one each day. They’ve since added additional daily deals, such as tech woot!, sport woot!, home woot!, and even kids woot!. Most days, it’s not something I’m interested in or need, but every now and then it’s totally worth it and I buy the daily deal. They also have shirt woot!, where they sell daily t-shirts, too. Generally, those are pretty interesting, a few funny ones, some clever. Today’s is a beer shirt. I personally wouldn’t wear it, but I thought it was interesting. And it’s nice to see beer shown in a positive light, even if just on a silly t-shirt. The shirt is called Two is Better and shows two full mugs of beer high-fiving with a rainbow connecting them. They’re the twin pots of gold, so to speak. Hard to argue with that.


Betty Crocker Beer?

Who knew that Betty Crocker even knew about beer? Today, I saw that they posted 35 Beer Terms Every Beer Lover Needs To Know, and it’s not a bad list. Of course, it helps that it was compiled by a Cicerone — Michael Agnew. But beyond that, there’s a whole section on Betty Crocker’s website dedicated to beer entitled Betty’s BrewHouse. Way to stay hip and with it, Betty. I guess she’s not just about cakes and brownies anymore.

Session #62: What Drives Beer Bloggers

Our 62nd Session is hosted by Angelo De Ieso from Portland’s Brewpublic and he’s asking the musical question: What Drives Beer Bloggers?. Personally, I use a car, but I have a feeling that’s not what he’s talking about. You read can his complete announcement, or in a nutshell, here’s what he’s driving at:

The title question really gets to the heart of the matter: “What Drives Beer Bloggers?” Why do people decide to start a blog? One thing seems true of most blogs: they are easy to start. All you need is a a computer and a rudimentary understanding of the Internet to initiate your meanderings. The difficulty resides in keeping up with content and reaching an audience. What draws folks to your site? And, what makes you think people want to read what you write?

Your mission as a craft beverage blogger reading this post, should you choose to accept it, is to compose a post on the topic of “What Drives Beer Bloggers.” There are no rigid guidelines about how to write about this topic but we’d certainly love to hear about the history behind your blog, your purpose in creating it, its evolution, and/or what your goals in keeping it going.


Today’s tale begins in a world before blogging, circa 2001 B.B., September 10 to be exact. Well … sort of, but it’s more dramatic this way. While the world changed for everybody on September 11, 2001, the night before it changed for just me, or at least for both me and my wife. Around 10:00 p.m. that night, after many agonizing hours, she gave birth to our son Porter. I spent the night in our hospital room with her, and very early the next morning a nurse came in and told us. “Turn on the television, something’s going on in New York.” We switched it on just in time to see the second tower being hit by an airplane. “What sort of world had we just brought our son into,” I wondered.

I had recently left my job as the beer buyer for Beverages & more and had joined the staff of the Celebrator Beer News. It had always been our agreement that I would take care of the kids, while my wife pursued her career, but Tom Dalldorf had made me an offer that was hard to refuse. After Sarah’s maternity leave, he magnanimously agreed to let me bring my son to work every day, in effect creating a nursery at the Celebrator offices, then located in San Leandro. He had no idea what he was getting himself into, but that’s a story for another day.

For the most part, it worked out pretty well, but there was a problem. By the time Porter was one, he wasn’t talking. We told his pediatrician we were concerned, but she told us that every child develops at his or her own pace, and not to worry. At eighteen months, the story was unchanged, and it repeated itself when he turned two. Words were coming, but at a much slower pace than his peers, and we even were starting to think he might be deaf, as you could clap your hands loudly behind his head and get no reaction whatsoever. He was tested, but it was inconclusive. By three, he knew maybe 100 or so words, but rarely strung two of them together. We visited speech therapists and other professionals at the Okland Children’s Hospital but little progress was being made. What does this have to do with beer blogging? Hang on, it’s coming.

My sister-in-law, who’s a research librarian, came upon something we hadn’t considered. She noticed some other symptoms we had not focused on that could indicate Porter might be on the continumum of Autism Spectrum Disorders. We had him tested, both by a doctor and the local school district, and both came back with that he was exhibiting autism-like characteristics. He was assigned to a special preschool and we started reading everything we could about autism, trying to make sense of it. There was an odd sense of relief insofar as knowing what it might be was a lot better than knowing nothing and being left wondering what was wrong for the previous two years. One thing was clear, Porter would need a lot more of our attention. The decision was obvious. I left my full-time job at the Celebrator to stay home with Porter, to shuttle him to his preschool, to physical therapy appointments, to play therapists, to host tutors in our house; in short to do everything we could to help him.

Despite having no regrets and believing firmly it was the right decision, it was not exactly intellectually stimulating or fulfilling. I craved adult conversation. I craved people just to talk with, but even at the playground, the other mothers tended to band together and fathers were routinely shunned. It was like having all stimuli removed, as if you were living in a social vacuum. I read a lot; at least a book, often two, a week. I started writing more. I completed a NaNoWriMo, writing a 50,00-word novel in 30 days. I surfed the internet … a lot. And then I discovered blogging. When Porter was first diagnosed as autistic, I was fielding calls and e-mails from across the country, with friends and family wanting to know how he was doing, what was going on, what they could do to help. Which was great, but I found myself answering the same questions, giving the same speeches, etc. over and over again. There had to be an easier way. There was. I launched the Brookston Family Blog in October of 2004 in order to let people read about how Porter was doing and even so they could see pictures of him, too. My intent, which is still there on the sidebar, was simple. “Our hope is that this blog will help us deal with all the issues we’ll be facing and keep our friends and family informed as well.”

I discovered that I really loved blogging. Not only was it the perfect vehicle to document what was happening in our lives, but I just loved the challenge of writing something every single day. It was, in a sense, liberating, cathartic and also fun. I started writing about anything and everything that was important to me, as well, and that included beer, of course. The upshot was that Porter responded slowly at first, but then began making terrific progress, and his language skills improved dramatically. Eight years later, Porter is in fourth grade, and got a perfect score on 7 out of 10 of his most recent state aptitude tests (and was in the 90+ percentile of the other 3). Most people who meet him never guess that he’s anything but a typical 10-year old. He’s smart, funny, kind and passionate about life. We notice things; little things. He has trouble making friends, though he gets along with most people. But there’s still some social awkwardness. He’s obsessive. That’s something he’ll probably always have to deal with, but we know friends whose children are not faring as well, and we feel fortunate that’s he’s come so far.

When I left the Celebrator, Tom invited me to continue on as the director of the blind panel tastings. It was only once every two months, and it was a way to keep my toe in the beer world. I also continued to attend beer events whenever I could, and began blogging about those as well. As Porter continued to make such great progress, I started thinking about getting back to work in some fashion. I was itching for it, and thought perhaps I could start taking on some freelance work while continuing to stay at home with not just Porter, but also our daughter Alice, who was born in in July of 2004. I started doing a regular column in the Ale Street News. I did a few features for All ABout Beer and the newly launched Beer Advocate magazine, among others. It seemed to work; that I could balance my family and continue to write from home. My wife and I discussed it and concluded that I would make a go of writing from home and in January of 2006, I separated the beer posts from my family blog and launched the Brookston Beer Bulletin. I set out with three goals in mind, though those quickly became five. The original three were track, share and support, followed shortly thereafter by report and monitor the industry as a whole.

Things rarely work out as expected, and this is no exception. I think I expected to quietly use the Bulletin to follow stories that I’d then pitch as stories to print media, fleshing them out in draft form, and commenting on them as I went along. Then, as now, there were no rules about how to blog. I wrote about what I was interested in and, if I was alone in that, so be it. I had no grand illusions about trying to build an audience. It wasn’t that I didn’t want people to read what I wrote, but I never felt the need to try to figure what the people wanted and give it to them. As far I knew, I had no people so better to please myself and hope for the best.

But blogging became its own reward, and indirectly led to lots of other paying work. And at least some people apparently were interested in what I wrote. At many beer events and conferences, people would stop me and tell me how much they enjoyed the Bulletin, which was — and still is — immensely gratifying. I’ve never had any sort of grand plan, or strategy. I’ve just tried to be myself and write from my heart about what struck me as interesting, or important, or worthwhile, or whatever. If nothing else, blogs are personal. I think that’s a part of their essence. They’re not like a newspaper, or a magazine article. They’re closer to the essay form than reporting, even though in many cases journalism is taking place. You have to be honest and authentic or people will see right through you. I try to write in the same voice I might use if I was having a friendly conversation with someone sitting next to me on the couch, sharing a beer. As a result, sometimes I say too much, or reveal personal details; what some might consider an “overshare.” C’est la vie. That’s just me being me.

I remember a conversation I had in 2006 at the Craft Brewers Conference, which was in Seattle that year, with Stan Hieronymus, where he lamented the fact that at that time there were so few beer blogs, especially compared to wine and even food blogs, which even then were quite numerous. Mine was only a few months old at that point, and there weren’t many of us. Fewer still from six years ago are around today, too. But boy how that’s changed in the intervening years. Beer blogs now number close to 1,500 worldwide, and that’s not including blogs written by breweries, bars, distributors and other related industry businesses.

After six, or even eight, years, I can’t imagine slowing down or not blogging every day. It’s become such a big part of me, and what I do. I assume that technologies will change and eventually blogging will give way to something else, perhaps something we can’t even yet imagine. But blogging has been such a useful tool that has enriched my life experience, that I can’t believe I won’t be doing it, or something like it, for the rest of my years. It’s almost like breathing. A writer needs to write, and I could just as easily keep a paper journal that I doodle in each day and never share with anyone. But it’s so much more fun mentally doodling for an actual audience, one that tells you when you’re on the right track and has no qualms about arguing with you when they think you’re not. It’s thrilling that so many people even care about some of the same things that I do, even if they don’t always agree 100%. In fact, I’d be worried if they did. I don’t really understand the appeal of “dittoheads.” I’d much rather have an audience that wants to discuss, analyze and debate, so long as they’re not hostile, of course. Healthy discourse is best, especially over a few beers. And in the end, that’s why we do it, or at least why I do it. Anything that leads to more beer has to be a good thing.

Celebrator Beer News Goes Digital

The magazine that I used to run, as the GM, along with publisher Tom Dalldorf — the Celebrator Beer News — has gone digital. Beginning with the current December 2011/January 2012 issue you’ll be able to read it online or download a pdf to put on your iPad ofr other tablet/smartphone. The online digital version includes every page, along with the ability to bookmark your place and zoom in to get a closer look. You can find a link to it on the Celebrator’s website and from the digital page you’ll see the pdf link to download it. Tom tells me that going forward, each issue will be available both as a print version (found in your favorite watering hole) and a digital version (when your bar has run out). He also plans to start converting back issues to digital editions over the next few months.