Beer Birthday: Jason Alstrom

Today is the 43rd birthday of Jason Alström, co-founder of Beer Advocate headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, but found worldwide over that series of tubes known as the interwebs. Started as a hobby, Beer Advocate has gone on to be one of the internet’s killer apps of beer, which has successfully branched out into publishing and putting on beer festivals. Join me in wishing Jason a very happy birthday.

Jason with Jaime Jurado, then-Director of Brewing Operations for the Gambrinus Company, and his brother Todd at GABF in 2008.

After judging the finals for the 2009 Longshot Homebrew Competition in Boston. From left: Jason, Tony Forder (from Ale Street News), Bob Townsend, Jim Koch (founder of the Boston Beer Co.), yours truly, Julie Johnson (from All About Beer magazine), and Jason’s brother Todd Alström.

Jason, standing far left, toasting at Munich’s Hofbrauhaus.

During a trip to Bavaria in 2007, the gang of twelve plus three at the Faust Brauerei in Miltenberg, Germany. From left: Cornelius Faust, me, Lisa Morrison, Johannes Faust, Julie Bradford, Andy Crouch, Peter Reid, Horst Dornbusch, Jeannine Marois, Harry Schumacher, Tony Forder, Candice Alström, Don Russell, Jason and Todd Alström.

The Difference Between Novice And Expert Beer Drinkers Infographic

Today’s infographic is an interesting look at the Difference Between Novice And Expert Beer Drinkers, created by Business Insider, using a paper from earlier this year by Stanford University computer science post-doc Julian McAuley and assistant professor Jure Leskovec. The paper outlined “how our tastes change as we consume more products and gain more expertise,” but they then took it a step father, and applied their model to the beer reviews on RateBeer.

Click here to see the graph full size.

According to the Business Insider article, here’s what else they discovered.

The figure above shows the relationship between user experience and beer preference. McAuley and Leskovec broke down the beers into lagers, mild ales, and strong ales, and then calculated each beer’s individual ranking by experience level.

The x-axis shows the average rating of products on the site (out of 5 stars), while the y-axis shows the difference between expert and novice ratings.

According to their study, while beginners and experts have similar top beers, experts tend to have stronger opinions than novice users. They explain in the study:

While a lager such as Bud Light is disliked by everybody, it is most disliked by experts; one of the most popular beers in the entire corpus, Firestone XV, is liked by everybody, but is most liked by experts.

They also found that more-experienced users gave higher ratings to almost all strong ales, illustrating that these types of beer are more of an acquired taste than traditional lagers.

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.