Session #107: A Friendly Discussion of Friendships

The 107th Session is hosted this month by Dan Conley, who writes the brewery blog for the Community Beer Works in Buffalo, New York. For his topic, he’s asking us to consider whether breweries are our friends, or not, by bluntly asking the question. “Are breweries your friends?” Dan goes on to explain what he’s looking for in his announcement for the January Session:

To be in business nowadays you pretty much have to have a social media presence. This is especially true in the beer world, where some breweries have basically built themselves on their personality. And yet, at the end of the day, we’re also selling you something.

I believe this is the first Session to be hosted by a brewery rather than beer blogger. [It’s not, but he’s correct that there haven’t been many. Ed.] How do you feel about that? Do you want your feeds clear of businesses, or do you like when a brewery engages with people? Can you think of anyone who does it particularly well, or poorly? As the person who does our social media, which I think is very good (although not quite good enough), I struggle with this problem. I’m on both sides, and rather than come to any sort of conclusion of my own I thought I would make all of you write about it.


So to answer this question, I think we have to know what friendship is. I know that sounds like a stupid question, but I don’t think it really is. I tend to think that we all define what it means to be friends differently, not to mention that there are numerous levels of friendship. There are many different schools of thought about the differences in friendship we have among the people we know, from acquaintances (someone we barely know) to our best friend, partner/spouse and family. Some put family in a different category altogether, and I guess that makes sense since you can’t get rid of a family member who continually annoys you. You can stop talking to them and make a point of never being around them, but that doesn’t change their status: they’re still family. So for our purposes, I’ll avoid family and concentrate on people we choose to spend time with.

Not surprisingly, there are myriad theories of friendship. One of the simplest involves four levels. For example, the Institute of Basic Life Principles sets their levels as follows:

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Casual Friend
  3. Close Friend (Fellowship)
  4. Intimate Friend

That one seems like a good start but seems too broad to be very useful, as it leaves little room for nuance, setting up a lot of either/or situations. Friendship seems more complicated than those four. Still others have more, as many as six or seven. For example Cherie Burbach, who calls herself a “Friendship Expert” lists six Stages Of Friendship and another blog by Steve Schappell called Life, Relationships, the Universe and everything details The seven levels of friendship.

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Mentor
  3. Online Friend
  4. Friend
  5. Good Friend
  6. Best Friend

  1. General Friend
  2. Work Friend
  3. Activity Friend
  4. Outer Circle Friend
  5. Inner Circle Friend
  6. Close Friend
  7. Girlfriend/Boyfriend/Best Friend

Those are, of course, just examples. I’m no social scientist and haven’t been studying the “friend” question for years. But I have friends, of course. And they’re certainly some friends who are closer than others. In my own experience, you start with people you don’t know at all, strangers, or more charitably friends you haven’t met yet. Then you meet them, you become acquainted with them, and voilà, they’re acquaintances. It’s a start. And sometimes they do become friends, at least at some level. Some may never rise above the casual level, but others will climb the ladder, so to speak. Here’s my own unscientific take on the levels of friendship, based solely on my own experience and thinking about it for the last couple of days.


  1. Strangers
  2. Acquaintance
  3. Casual Friend
  4. Associates & Colleagues
  5. Good Friends
  6. Your Gang, Crew, Group, Tribe, Inner Circle, Posse
  7. BFF / Partner

And below is me spitballing what I mean by the levels of friendship in my pyramid.

  1. Strangers: This is essentially everyone you don’t know personally, meaning you have not met them or been introduced. It would include people that you know, meaning you know of them, perhaps even know their name, which would include famous people and personalities, friends of friends, people you’ve seen at work or at school or in your neighborhood or at the grocery store checkout line, etc., but you haven’t actually spoken to. This is without a doubt the largest group of people, containing billions and billions of people, but it’s also brimming with possibilities, because we can meet new people every single day. That’s why I jokingly subtitled this “friends you haven’t met yet.” Every single person in this group has the potential, however unlikely, to move into the next category.
  2. Acquaintance: These are people who are not quite your friends yet, but who are also no longer strangers. These are people you are acquainted with. Not only do you know their names and probably something about them, they also know who you are and you have, at a minimum, spoken to them. You probably have at least something in common with them, perhaps a mutual friend or you share work, a team, a hobby or maybe fit into some other venn diagram circle with them.
  3. Casual Friend: These are slightly more familiar than acquaintances. They’re people you’ve probably had a conversation with, but it was likely about the weather or whether the Giants will win the World Series this year (The answer to this is “yes,” BTW), nothing too deep or profound. You’d say hello to them whenever you saw them, and might even stop briefly to exchange pleasantries or shoot the shit. They’re most likely friends of other good friends, or new to your circle of acquaintances for some reason. Some will move up and become better friends, while others will likely stay in this friend purgatory where things remain pleasant enough but never grow more intimate. Maybe you just don’t click, maybe you don’t have enough shared interests or see eye to eye on some issues. But it doesn’t have to be a negative, either. Casual friends are the laboratory where all your friends come from, these are just the ones that didn’t quite make it up to the next level. They have their own set of good friends, and so do you. But they’re nice people and they make up a significant portion of your world.
  4. Associates & Colleagues: These are people you interact with on a professional level, often at work, but it could also be in other pursuits like hobbies, your school or some other organization you’re involved with. When you see them, you probably talk primarily about those shared groups you’re both involved in, but you also can spend time socially and know something personal about one another. Your discussions are generally more lively, longer and would likely involve alcohol. This is the level of friendship that would include having a beer. You associate with them in bars. After a hard day at work, you meet up with them for happy hour. At the end of the day attending a conference, you’ll see them at the hotel bar. You’ll feel comfortable walking up to them or they’ll wave you over to join them. They’re becoming your drinking buddies.
  5. Good Friends: These are people you make plans to spend time with. You make a point of scheduling time together. You’ll also drink with them, usually a lot, but they also know where you live, have been to your house, and maybe even crashed there a time or two. If you don’t live in the same town, they always call when they’re visiting wherever you live. They know a lot about you personally, probably started out as a colleague or associate in something. Maybe you went to school together or shared time in some mutual pursuit, and after a time grew closer and closer. You probably exchange Christmas cards.
  6. Your Gang, Crew, Group, Tribe, Inner Circle, Posse: These are the good friends you spend the most time with, and identify as your group of friends. They’re the ones you invite to impromptu backyard barbecues, birthday parties or other holiday brouhahas. You plan out events with them well in advance, many of them annual or regularly occurring. They make up the people in your wedding party, the groomsmen or bridesmaids. They know all of your intimate details. They know what you like to drink. They’re the ones you’re nervous to have meet your new girlfriend or boyfriend. What they think about you matters, at least to you. They have your best interests at heart, and you look out for them, too. People in this group would hold your hair back while you puke your guts out, and some might even clean it up afterwards while you sleep it off. These are the people in most of your group photos, your drunken revelries, the ones with shared histories and hilarious tales that are told over and over again. People not a part of this group often feel left out at a group event because they don’t get all of the inside references. Even if you move away or drift apart, you stay friends for life. They’re like family you choose.
  7. BFF / Partner: This is very small group. It’s your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, whoever you’re intimate with and have made a commitment to, along with perhaps one or two other people who you would feel comfortable asking to be the best man or maid of honor at your wedding, or perhaps godfather or godmother to your children. This is who you’d call first to bail you out of jail. This is who would call you when they need a ride to the emergency room. You have almost no secrets from these few souls. They know everything about you, and they still like you. They’re true friends in every sense of the word.

One thing I’ve also noticed from observing my kids is that the younger you are, the easier it is to make friends, and especially to identify people you’ve just met as friends. I think we grow more reserved, more private or more guarded. Not everyone, of course, some people are naturally more gregarious and talkative. They usually become salespeople. I’m certainly not one of them. That’s why I became a writer: less talking, more quiet time. But I certainly notice that it’s increasingly harder to open up to people now that I’m in my mid-fifties.

When I worked in an office, with other people in it, I hung out with work friends from time to time, and in fact that’s where I met my wife, when she started working for another lawyer in the same office. Twenty years later, she’s a lawyer and I work from home and take care of our kids. So the only people I see, apart from a few exceptions, are family and people I work with, which now consists of mainly people who also work in the beer world at some level. 2016 is my 25th year writing about beer and working at some level within the industry. As a result, I’ve met a lot of people in the same field, having at least beer in common, and in some cases much more.

I recognize that beer is a business. It has to be. It can’t really be anything else and the brewer or brewery owner who doesn’t keep that in perspective is likely going to fail. I’m not blind to the fact that I can help (or hurt) a brewery by writing about it, but also a brewery can help me by giving me something to write about. There’s certainly a symbiosis. But they are people, too, just like you and me. Since I’ve been doing this for such a long time, I have known quite a few other people who have also been at this for years. And some of them have remained acquaintances, while others have become casual friends or even close ones. There’s a certain inevitability to that, as far as I’m concerned. I believe I’ve remained professional, or at least tried to, but people are, I think, drawn together by shared experiences. And as a result I do count several brewery owners, brewers and people who work in the industry as my friends. What level of friends? It varies, of course, and some are closer friends than others.


Am I worried about that? Do I think it’s made me “tainted” or somehow beholden to anyone? Emphatically “no.” A few people think that a journalist should never be social and keep an arm’s length with the people they’re writing about. And they’re welcome to that opinion, and can conduct their affairs as they see fit. I have, however, grown weary of hearing how corrupt I am for such behavior if I don’t hold myself to the same standard that others would impose on me. I feel confident that the majority of my readers don’t care or don’t think I’m being untrustworthy with them with whatever I write about a beer or a brewery.

I also think readers like to see a glimpse into the personality of the people who brew their beer. And I don’t think I could bring that level of intimacy about a person I’m writing about unless I actually had a real relationship with that person, knew them for far longer than the time it took to call them up for an interview. My friendships, at whatever level, provide background and context that I doubt could be created any other way then simply living among the people in the industry, and mixing socially within it. Like many journalists, I suspect, I hear countless rumors and information provided off the record precisely because I can be trusted to keep that information private. But I also think that I can therefore have a better understanding of events, their consequences and what they might mean because of the background and context that I’ve built up over the last quarter century. I like to joke that I know where all the bodies are buried, but there’s some truth to that. I have institutional knowledge that I believe has significant value that I wouldn’t otherwise possess if I’d remained at arm’s length from people in the industry.

That does not mean, naturally, that I couldn’t or wouldn’t write critically about a beer or a brewery if it was appropriate, in my opinion. But every journalist has to choose for themselves, with their readers in mind of course, what they write about. And with obvious exceptions, I generally prefer to write about positive things, good beers worth drinking and breweries making good beer, especially when it comes to work where my audience is primarily consumers, unlike the Bulletin, which I suspect is more trade-oriented in its demographics. So I’ll continue to count others in the beer industry as my friends, some as close friends, some as simply casual acquaintances but all of them the reason I love my job, and I will continue to do so as I see fit.


But Dan’s question is “Are breweries your friends?” Which is a slightly different question. The Supreme Court may have declared corporations to be “people,” but the rest of us know how absurd that is, and can tell the difference. So while I’m perfectly at ease having friends in the beer industry, breweries themselves, and especially the ones large enough to have a staff beyond just the founders, the Mom and Pops, and the solo operations, are clearly businesses. And if they’re corporations — as many are — then they have a duty to shareholders (even if they’re just themselves and a few investors) to maximize profits and do whatever it takes to remain profitable. They want, and really need, your money to stay in business. Is there a difference between small, medium and large corporations? I think so. The small and some of the medium enterprises incorporated solely for liability protection, but function like they are accountable to their customers and the wider world. Some of the medium, or regional breweries, and many of the larger ones do not, and function more or less like any big corporation, which is to say the profit motive is the primary reason for virtually every decision. And for the most part, we all know who those businesses are.

But what about typical consumers, people who don’t write about beer, don’t dissect it or subject the industry to scrutiny on a daily basis? Are the people who simply drink a brewery’s beer or even are fans of them also “friends” of the brewery?

A few years ago, I interviewed Tony Magee, owner of Lagunitas, for a profile of him I wrote for Beer Connoisseur magazine. I first met Tony in the mid-1990s, maybe a year or so after he’d started out, before they’d moved to their present location in Petaluma. So around two years ago we met for lunch and I turned on my tape recorder (now just an app on my phone, but somehow that doesn’t sound as poetic) and talked for about three and a half hours. We did talk about the brewery, and the beer industry, but also touched on a bewildering array of fascinating tangential topics, too. One interesting idea we talked about was the relationship of the beer drinker, especially fans, to the brewery, and how they function a lot like tribes.

And while that particular incident was borne of necessity, it is indicative of the seat-of-the-pants philosophy that marked early success at Lagunitas. Magee made decisions based on what seemed to be right, using his gut and voracious appetite for information for guidance. And he listened to his customers.

“After Fritz Maytag, I don’t think any craft brewer ever took a risk and things would become risky only when their shortcomings caught up with them. Consumers built the industry. Period. As you look backwards, you might think you caused this or you caused that but the truth is that there’s this set of desires out there and it could have been craft beer, or nicotine-free cigarettes or it could have been electric cars or a clothing thing but there’s this thirst for a connective thing in life. Take all the tattooing that goes on today. You know I don’t tattoo, right, but this anthropologist was writing, saying that he thinks it reflects the death of a culture, that culture has abandoned its people and they do tattooing in order to build tribes.”

“There was a guy I ran into a while ago,” continued Magee, “and his daughter was an academic doing her thesis at MIT and she was writing a socio-anthropological paper about the ‘new primitives,’ and I really think craft beer is all about that. The tribe wills things into being, through collective thirst, and they’re always looking for that desire to be fulfilled. And it could come in lots of different forms, but in this case it came in the form of craft beer, and when the tribe — these people from a dying culture — recognized that they could see something in it, and then those consumers nurtured the breweries. They were willing to accept the brewery’s failures. This is why we could sell so much beer when we weren’t making very good beer. And why nobody got upset when our bottles would explode during the early 2000’s.”

Magee believed this plays into the idea of consumers and broken hearts, where consumers grow to love certain brands, and really want them to succeed, in fact actively nurture them into being successful. But at some point the brand has to continue to deliver. He points to one large and beloved California brewer, as a prime example. “What they did — the need that they satisfied — was consistency, predictability and a clear thing, you know. Well, that was plenty. But it found its limits. Because you also need to be able provide people with variety, challenges and engagement. So now they’re all over that. But it wasn’t until they started doing that, that they began growing again. They responded to the love. They didn’t betray it by denying and saying, ‘No I’m going to give you this instead.’”

“The biggest brewers now want to drive people, as if they were a herd. ‘It’s a herd. We need to manage it. We need to cut out our segment and try to drive it to our side.’ Craft beer, by contrast, is still cultivating its market. Craft beer is a currency of social interaction within tribes. There’s no reason why the future of craft beer won’t be local. It’s where that value is most evident to people.”

And I think he was onto something there. Again, I think it’s analogous to music. Craft beer fans, especially early adopters, feel like they discovered something akin to a new band or musical movement. They feel like they’re in on a secret that until recently less than 10% of the population was aware of, much less when it’s about a single brewery. And I do feel that people feel a sense of kinship or even ownership in that brewery’s success. And who can fault a brewery for feeding that desire? I really think it’s not at all cynical in most cases. I also believe that many, if not most, small brewers feel a reciprocal kinship with their core customers who did help them succeed. In may not be, strictly speaking, “friendship” but I think it does share some similar elements and their associated feelings. I also think that partially explains why some people seem to feel betrayed when a brewery sells to a larger beer company, precisely because the brewery did such a good job of helping them or letting them feel a part of their “tribe.” And again, in my experience, I think that affection for their consumers is genuine for most brewers. It’s only when they begin to grow and make the seemingly unexpected business decision that it jars people out of their happy place.


In the end, I think breweries can be, and often are, your friends, or something akin to that. It may not be the same sort of friendship that you experience with actual people, but it does provide some of the same emotions and often makes you feel like you belong or are a part of something in the same way belonging to a circle of friends with shared interests does. I know that technically, the real answer is “no” because people can’t be friends with organized entities, it requires “two or more people.” But that, I think, is too black and white, and oversimplifies people’s relationship with businesses. People have long been willing to essentially advertise a company’s brand by volunteering to wear a t-shirt, hat or other article of clothing or decoration that contains the businesses brand, logo or imagery. And in many cases, people actually pay for this privilege, handing over their money to buy this merchandise. Why would any sane person buy a shirt with the Nike swoosh on it, or any other company’s logo? It’s because they identify with whatever they perceive the brand to stand for on an emotional level. They believe it expresses something about their own personality that they want to identify with, and want others to see in them. And that’s as true for breweries as any other business.

If you stepped back from being part of a brewery’s tribe, you’d have to notice that they needed you to succeed. Somebody has to buy their beer or they won’t stay in business and can’t keep making it. So why shouldn’t they treat the people who are responsible for their continued success as nicely as possible, as “friends of the brewery.” From their point of view, that’s exactly what their best customers are. It’s smart business to create compelling merchandise with their logos, brands and beers on them and make them as cool as possible so people will want to wear them. Not only does it provide another revenue stream, which can be quite lucrative, it also spreads awareness of their brand in a more personal or intimate way than you could ever achieve with traditional advertising. Every person walking around in a logo t-shirt is a walking billboard. If the brand is perceived as cool, so is the person wearing the shirt. That’s gold if you’re a business.

Is it cynical or overly calculated on the part of a business to cultivate those perceptions or emotions so that their brand does resonate with consumers and especially their fans? I don’t think so. We all want to belong to something, even the people in those breweries, so there’s a part of this that’s human nature. Why not tap into it? A brewery owner wants his business to succeed, of course, and there any many paths to achieve that, not to mention that success is defined differently for different people. Some are content to achieve a sustainable level of profit while others are always trying to grow and make more, while others are somewhere in between. Making great beer is a good start, but with 4,000+ breweries vying for your attention and your wallet, that’s not enough. Every brewery needs their beer brand to stand out, to mean something to the people drinking it, enough so that they do feel part of their tribe.

Until, of course, they make a business decision that’s seemingly at odds with the perception you had of their brand. Then you feel like they tricked you, even though they really didn’t. They may have helped, but you convinced yourself you were part of the tribe, indeed its membership is largely self-imposed. You decided you identified with the brewery because of shared ideals or some other intangible emotional response. Few breweries did what Rogue managed by creating actual membership cards to the Rogue Nation, their tribe of fans. But the effect is the same everywhere. When we make an emotional investment in a business, it’s the ultimate marketing tool, but there is also a potential cost if you don’t keep it in perspective.

I think many breweries do want to reach you on an emotional level. They want to be your friend, or at a minimum want you to think that they are you friend. And I think they really are at some level, though not usually in the way you probably think. It may be that they’re “friendly” rather than your actual friend. But in most cases, that’s enough, especially if you’re able to stay objective and keep it in perspective. So I think brewers and breweries are in “the friend zone,” just don’t mistake that for more than what it is.



Next Session Questions The Friendliness Of Breweries

For the 107th Session, our host will be Dan Conley, who writes the brewery blog for the Community Beer Works in Buffalo, New York. For his topic, he’s asking us to consider whether breweries are our friends, or not, by bluntly asking the question. “Are breweries your friends?” Dan goes on to explain what he’s looking for in his announcement for the January Session:


To be in business nowadays you pretty much have to have a social media presence. This is especially true in the beer world, where some breweries have basically built themselves on their personality. And yet, at the end of the day, we’re also selling you something.

I believe this is the first Session to be hosted by a brewery rather than beer blogger. [It’s not, but he’s correct that there haven’t been many. Ed.] How do you feel about that? Do you want your feeds clear of businesses, or do you like when a brewery engages with people? Can you think of anyone who does it particularly well, or poorly? As the person who does our social media, which I think is very good (although not quite good enough), I struggle with this problem. I’m on both sides, and rather than come to any sort of conclusion of my own I thought I would make all of you write about it.


So what do you think? Are breweries in the friend zone? Should they be? Should they stay at arm’s length from their customers? Or somewhere in between? To participate in the January Session, leave the link to your post in a comment to the original announcement or tag them on Twitter at @communitybeer with your post on or before Friday, January 1. And please note that the first Friday of the month of January is the very first day of the new year. Given the revelry of the night before, it may be easy to overlook so you may want to tackle it before popping the cork on 2015.


Session #106 Round-Up

This month’s Session was holiday-themed, all about Holiday beers, and quite a few people were feeling the season. With over a dozen submissions besides my own, most of our participants are in favor of holiday beers, with just a couple dissenters, and a lot of reviewed seasonals. Here’s what everybody had to say:


The Beer NutChristmas for Home Brewers: In his post, the Beer Nut weaves a nice tale of Smithwick’s Homebrew Challenge, and reviews the two finalists from the competition, and both sound delicious just from their names: Sebastian’s Apple Pie Christmas Ale and Brian & Stephen’s Old Town Christmas Ale. And the winner is … nope, I won’t spoil the surprise. But it’s sounds like a fun contest and a great opportunity for local homebrewers, with the winner presumably getting an especially wonderful Christmas present.

Beer Search PartyIt’s Christmastime: Sean picks his six-pack worth of favorite, or essential, holiday beers. His choices include a few classics, a few imports and a few locals. After that, he’s on the hunt for new ones, but his regulars seem like enough to get anyone through the holidays.

Bend Beer Librarian’s By the BarrelHoliday Beers: As befits a library, Mark’s post is well-organized, starting with some general thoughts on his relationship with Christmas beers before tackling some specific beers and going on to answer my suggested question to give people ideas on what to write about, before finishing with some final thoughts. It’s a long and very thorough look at holiday beers.

Boak & BailyHoliday Beers: B&B decided that covered almost everything about holiday beers in previous posts, helpfully providing links, but ultimately had an interesting insight. “In an age when strong beers — really strong beers — are available all year round, and when Halloween beers have dibs on wintry spices, does Christmas beer even exist any more? Wizzard got their wish: for beer drinkers, it can be Christmas every day.” It’s a curious notion. Are Christmas beers no longer as special because there are so many other seasonals around throughout the rest of the year?

Blog BirraireHoliday Beers: Joan discusses the great change that occurred in Spain with holiday beers in specific, and the increase in craft beer more generally. Apparently in 2011, there were only four locally brewed holiday beers. Today that number is large enough that she’s no longer certain how many there are.

The Brew SiteHoliday Beers: Jon’s a fan of all things Christmas — even fruitcake — and loves holiday beers, as well. He offers a few suggestions as what comes close to being an ideal Christmas beer, but believing that the perfect example may not exist. But in the end, it’s own recipe that comes closest, a homebrew inspired by fruitcake, which he’s named Christmas Cheer.

Gary Gillman’s Beer et seq.The Session Looks at a Holiday or Christmas Tradition in Beer: Gary muses on the many traditions in brewing around the holidays that were sufficiently vague and uncategorized to noy create any one specific way of creating a Christmas beer. And he concludes that that’s a good thing. “It’s good that in a day when beers have been categorized to within an inch of their life, a fairly hazy notion endures about Christmas beer. Hazy suits the idea of a strongish ale sipped indolently at Christmas anyway.”

A Good Beer BlogChristmas Ales Through The Bloggy Years: Alan takes issue my description of what I think holidays beers should aspire to, and details the austerity of the holiday during his upbringing, and it’s lack of beer in its traditions, both then and now, apart from a few there and again. He concludes that for him, a least, the season isn’t about beer, though he admits “it’ll play its part.”

Kaedrin Beer BlogA 5 Year Anchor Christmas Vertical: Like me, Mark loves holiday beers, and managed to collect the last five years of Anchor’s Christmas Ale — also one of my annual favorites — to do a vertical tasting with some friends. Interestingly, last year’s vintage proved the most popular. When Anchor was more heavily spicing their Xmas beer, I felt it was ideal when it was one-year old. They also toyed with blending, an interesting idea, and vowed to do more of that next year.

Our Tasty TravelsTrapella Especial de Nadal by La Birreria Andorra: Their holiday diary is all about tasting a Christmas beer, Trapella Especial de Nadal from a brewery in Andorra.

Ramblings of a Beer RunnerAnchor Brewing’s Mark Carpenter Talks about the Transformation of the Anchor Christmas Beer: Derek’s post is especially nice because Mark Carpenter is a friend, and a great person. So it’s great to get his take on holiday beers, and the origins of Anchor’s Christmas Ale. I love the insight that while many breweries go with “holiday” or “winter,” Anchor stuck with “Christmas” in the title. As Mark remembers. “Fritz always insisted having ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’ on the labels. It shortens the selling time and our distributors wanted us to change it for that reason, but I think it’s a great tradition. The new owners of Anchor insist on this as well.”

Tom BedellHoliday Beers: For the past three years, Tom’s reviewed a dozen holiday beers and for his post included a link to his reprise of 2014’s beers, before detailing a few of his rules and highlighting this year’s Deschutes Jubelale.

Yours For Good FermentablesHoliday Beers: Thomas decided to keep things simple and just talked about a couple of beers that make him happy, his usual favorite, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and a more recent choice Deschutes Jubelale.

If you know of any Session posts I missed, or if I missed yours, please drop me a note at “Jay (.) Brooks (@) gmail (.) com.” Happy Christmas.


According to the Session calendar, the next Session will be hosted by Dan Conley at the Community Beer Works Blog. His topic will be “Are breweries your friends?” The date for the next Session will be New Year’s Day, January 1, 2016.

Boolean Logic & Beer

Today would have been the 200th birthday of George Boole, the self-taught mathematician who came up with Boolean algebra and Boolean logic. He’s been called the “father of the information age” because his Boolean logic made possible modern computer science. “Boolean algebra has been fundamental in the development of digital electronics, and is provided for in all modern programming languages. It is also used in set theory and statistics.” Boolean logic is “a form of algebra in which all values are reduced to either TRUE or FALSE. Boolean logic is especially important for computer science because it fits nicely with the binary numbering system, in which each bit has a value of either 1 or 0.” How Stuff Works has a nice overview of How Boolean Logic Works.

So what does any of this have to do with beer? Practically nothing, except that Scientific American had an article yesterday about Boole to celebrate his 200th anniversary coming up today. In the piece, The Bicentennial of George Boole, the Man Who Laid the Foundations of the Digital Age, after writing about Boole’s life and contributions to the study of mathematics, the author turns to some examples of how his Boolean logic is applied in the real world in, for instance, Google searches:

Boolean algebra and Boolean logic are very well known today, and form the backbone of electrical engineering and computer science. Indeed anyone who even casually searches the Internet , say for “Michael Jackson” the late beer and whiskey expert rather than the singer and dancer of the same name, knows how to make judicious use of AND, OR and NOT.

It’s pretty cool that he picked Michael Jackson as the search topic, and it’s a good choice since it’s hard to get just beer-centric results when the more famous Michael Jackson usually tops the list unless you figure out how to filter out the king of pop. Michael used to joke that the singer was named after him, since he was older, but it must be a pain in neck for anyone who shares a name with a person more famous them themselves. Remember the character Michael Bolton in the wonderful film “Office Space?”

I reproduced the search, and got slightly different results, but pretty funny, and cool — at least from my point of view — is in both instances one of my posts was the third result.


It’s a lengthy post I did a couple of years ago, Know Your Beer Gods & Goddesses, in which I researched world cultures and created a list of gods and goddesses that had something to do with beer, discovering over 100 examples. I jokingly included an entry for Michael as the “God of Beer Writers,” so that’s why my post turns up in a search for Jackson’s name. So that made my day, nice to show up in Scientific American, however tangentially.

And just to round out the ephemeral post, I’ll leave you with a little Boolean humor:


Silly Questions: If Your Blog Were A Beer

Okay, this is pretty silly, but starts out with some interesting comparisons. The infographic by Visually, asks the question If Your Blog Were A Beer, What Kind Would It Be? Once they start trying to define blogs by type of beer, it goes off the rails. For example, calling stouts “the heavyweights of the beer world,” shows that they don’t really understand their beer. Still, it’s fun little exercise, even it went goofy in its execution. Oh, and I don’t think I fit any of their identified blogs.

Click here to see the infographic full size.

Session #104: Reports Of The Session’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

For our 104th Session, our host is Alan McLeod, who writes A Good Beer Blog. For the topic, he’s extending the discussion I started a few weeks ago in The Monthly Session: Should It Continue Or Should We Let It Go? Twenty people weighed and cast a vote, and the ayes held the day, 15 to 5. So there you have it, we’re still alive, though perhaps on life support. Alan, who magnanimously offered to step in this month, did just that, donning his cape and wearing his matching knickers on the outside, is here to save the day. In his announcement, Session 104: Quick! Write… And Make It Good!!, he’s challenged people to step up, calling us all a “bunch of sookie babies” and get to it, meaning writing blog posts.

So, time to suck it up. I am hosting and you bunch of sookie babies are writing blog posts. Got it? I was going to tell you to write anything you feel like whether it makes any sense or not… but then I realized that’s what you do anyway. Especially you. Yes, you!! So you are going to write about this: if we just “take the philosophical approach, that the Session has run its course” aren’t we really admitting that beer blogging is a massive failure? I say no. I say this is a fabulous way to cover up problem drinking with anti-social internet addictions. Maybe you know of another reason we should keep writing and try to make some sense of the beer and brewing world. Well, goodie for you. Write about it. Explain yourself. Because if you can’t you are really admitting (i) you’ve wasted the best part of the last decade or (ii) you live in a fantasy world where think you are a beer writer and not a beer blogger and that’s soooooo much more important… as if your friends don’t share concerned messages about you behind your back:

Linda? It’s Barry. Yes, I saw him. He still pretends he writes about alcohol as a job… she’s the strong one… poor things… where will it end?

Make it good.


So I’m obviously late with my Session post this month, being that it’s Monday and The Session really took place last Friday. But this time I wasn’t just busy, I waited until today on purpose. I wanted to see what people had to say. As Alan noted, I had the shakes and even was a bit verklempt, as Stan and I wondered aloud and in print if The Session might have run its course. At best, it was on life support as people were no longer volunteering to host and keep it going.


Between the polls I took and my post, The Monthly Session: Should It Continue Or Should We Let It Go?, from a two weeks ago, I had an idea that many people would say that The Session should continue. And largely that seemed to be the case, even if participation seemed … well, not enormous. But more importantly, I wanted to see if anybody offered to host, to actually do something to help The Session survive. Happily, several people did.


I’ve now reached out to the people who offered to host and confirmed a month for them, adding them to the schedule. A few have already come up with a topic. But don’t let that deter you. Even if you haven’t been plugged in to host an upcoming Session, don’t despair, it’s not too late. Leave a comment here with your e-mail and I’ll reach out to you to find a month for you to host.

The Upcoming Session Schedule

  • November 6, 2015: Mark Ciocco at Kaedrin Beer Blog
  • December 4, 2015: Jay Brooks at Brookston Beer Bulletin
  • January 1, 2016: Dan Conley at Community Beer Works Blog
  • February 5, 2016: Jon Abernathy at The Brew Site
  • March 4, 2016: Mark Lindner at By the Barrel: Bend Beer Librarian
  • April 1, 2016: Sean Inman at Beer Search Party
  • May 6, 2016: Oliver Gray at Literature and Libation
  • June 3, 2016: Carla Companion at The Beer Babe

And Stan also offered to host again, as well, though on the poll said he would “after some others step up.” We now have eight months scheduled, nine once Stan chimes in with his favored month, which is a pretty good result.

See you next month. Same beer time, same beer channel.


The Monthly Session: Should It Continue Or Should We Let It Go?

Way back in early 2007, Stan Hieronymus had an idea, one he’d borrowed from the wine bloggers, who at the time were further along in both numbers and longevity. That idea was Beer Blogging Friday, the monthly Session that takes place on the first Friday of each month. The plan was simple. Beer bloggers from around the world would get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic each month, on the first Friday. Each time, a different beer blogger would host the Session, having chosen a topic and then afterwards would create a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. Over time, I had hoped that we’d collectively have created a record with lots of useful information about various topics on the subject of beer. And for a while, it worked great.


Around 2008, Stan went on an 18-month around-the-world trip with his wife and daughter, and I took over keeping track of the Session, and put up a page here listing all of the topics with links along with instructions on how to host and participate. When he got back, it was simple enough for me to keep the archive going and between the two of us keep recruiting hosts. It’s now been 104 months in a row, a little more than eight years, and somebody has stepped up each month volunteering to be the host and keep it going. There have been a few months when it looked like nobody was going to host, but so far something always seemed to work out. In the early days, we were booked out months ahead with hosts, which was great, and made things a lot easier to manage. Lately, however, it’s been hard finding hosts and fewer and fewer people have been stepping up. For the last year or so, we’ve limped along, and we’ve been able to keep going only by the skin of our teeth. There have been more than a few months when someone stepped up just in the nick of time and offered to host.

But I fear we may have hit a wall. With just two weeks to go before Session #104 is scheduled to take place, we have no host and no prospects for one, or so it seems. I could start asking previous hosts to step up — and perhaps I should — but that also seems a little contrary to the spirit of it being organic, something that just chugs along all by itself. I could also start begging and cajoling bloggers who have never hosted, but then again I don’t want anyone to feel obligated. It’s supposed to be fun, otherwise it won’t work. Which brings me to the elephant in the ether.


Should we keep the monthly Session going, or put it out to pasture, and declare it past its prime and no longer of any enduring interest? Certainly beer blogging has changed in the eight years since we started the Session. When I asked Stan yesterday — since it’s really his baby — he wondered if we should “take the philosophical approach, that the Session has run its course,” noting that “it lasted longer than the similar wine project” that inspired it.

We originally looked at it as an opportunity to promote one’s own blog, but more importantly to take part in a larger discussion and build cohesion or community or something vaguely positive among our fellow bloggers. I can’t speak for everybody, but that was at least my hope. None of us thought about it in terms of boosting traffic, but it certainly feels like that’s become part of the equation. There are so many ways to engage with readers, one another and just people in general nowadays, with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and who knows what else that blogging itself no longer seems as relevant as it once did as a medium. And indeed, it does seem like there are lots of beer blogs that have been abandoned or are no longer maintained.

According to the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference, as of August of 2015, there were 677 beer blogs in North America, 365 more internationally, 133 considered industry blogs, and another 71 they consider to be press beer blogs. That’s a total of 1,246 beer blogs. I feel like that’s number is getting smaller, that there actually fewer beer blogs then there used to be, although I have no evidence to support that whatsoever.


I do know that when I started the Bay Area Beer Bloggers in 2008 there were a little over fifty beer blogs here in Northern California but today’s list on our dedicated website includes less than half that number, and a quick perusal shows me a couple of those are now fairly dormant, bringing the total ratio to around 2/5, meaning three out of every five beer blogs in the Bay Area are no longer posting regularly, or at all, seven years after we started BABB. And that’s the trend I’ve seen around the country, if not the world.

Although to be fair, 1,246 is still a pretty big number. With only 104 Sessions under our belt, and ignoring the fact that a few people have hosted twice, there’s still theoretically 1,142 beer bloggers who have not yet hosted The Session.

So the question I have for the beer collective hive mind is should we continue to do the monthly Session, Beer Blogging Friday? Please vote below, whether you’ve hosted, participated or never even heard of it before now, whether you think it should continue, or whether we should move on to other pursuits. Maybe there’s something else, similar, or whatever, that could replace it, or perhaps we should just go our separate ways altogether. Please vote “No” or “Yes” below:

And if you voted “Yes,” are you willing to put your time where your mouth is? Or something like that. If you’ve never hosted before, would you be willing to? (If you don’t know what hosting entails, The Session page has a description of what’s involved.) If you have hosted before, would you be willing to again? Answer that $1,000,000 question below. If you are willing to host and chose either the first or second answer, please add your e-mail address in the field marked “other” before clicking on the “VOTE” button and it will send it to me. I’ll then reach out and see when you might be willing to host. Right now every month is open from Friday, October 1, 2015 and on. If you already know when you’d be willing to host, just drop me a note directly at “Jay(.)Brooks(@)gmail(.)com.”

Google Trends In Beer

This morning Jonathan Surratt alerted me to a fun tool that Google has available, known as Google Trends Explore. You can use it to compare trends in virtually any search term and even topics (which is in beta). Jonathan was comparing “craft beer” to things like potato salad and mashed potatoes, but you can do all sorts of comparisons. So just for a bit of fun, I tried a few different ones. Most are comparing searches, but a few measure topics. Five is the most comparisons you can do at one time, but that still allows for some interesting pairings. In each case, the charts show the trends from 2004 through the present, which is over ten years of data.

First, here’s the difference between craft beer vs. beer. Just beer is beating the pants off modified beer. Good.

Here’s Craft Beer, Beer and Wine compared. Wine is leaving us in the dust.

And here’s just beer and wine. But it’s not that far apart and we are gaining on them.

And this is beer vs. wine, but by topic instead of by searches. By topic it’s closer still, and we’ve even come up on top a few times closer to the present.

Here’s beer compared to four popular spirits. Vodka, not surprisingly, is leading the tightly packed spirits, but beer is besting all of them pretty handily.

And here’s five of the most popular beer brands.

This is the same five beer brands but by topic.

Let’s Grab A Beer

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 “” changed to “” 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.

lgab-offended lgab-national-day

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?


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.

A Link-Bait Manifesto

This morning I got a press release from the P.R. Firm for a well-known men’s magazine that was so obviously link-bait, that I almost didn’t even want to read it. I won’t say who or what, mostly because I’m tired of playing into their hands, but most of you will no doubt be able to figure it out.

It’s something I’ve been guilty of time and time again. When I see something that annoys me, or strikes me as being wrong on some level, I often feel compelled to intercede. I’m seeking help.

A few years ago, I definitely would have penned an angry response, pointing out the flawed reasoning, or what have you. But I think I’m done, at least I hope so. I was bcc’d (thankfully) so I have no way of knowing just how many people the P.R. firm was trying to bait with their e-mail, but I suspect it was a lot of people. The e-mail itself used the most incendiary quotes from the piece, obviously designed to raise the hackles of the beer community and rally support against the piece, all in an effort to get thousands of people to visit the website and get their hit count going through the roof.


Essentially, this has become a strategy on the internet. Say something incendiary, and reap the rewards. Maybe some of the people actually believe what they’re writing, but I get the sense that even if that’s the case, they do it in such a way as to maximize the outrage, and thus insure a greater number of responses. Often, I think, the extreme position taken is done precisely to get a rise out of people. I think it’s become a variation of the old saw about there being no such thing as bad publicity, in this case more along the lines of as long as people are clicking on the link, it doesn’t matter what they say or whether it’s even true or not. All that matters is the hit count. Oscar Wilde was saying something similar in the 19th century. “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Sadly, there are all sorts of helpful websites explaining just how to accomplish this. See, for example, the SEO Guide to Creating Viral Linkbait, The Marketer’s Ultimate Guide to Link Bait, or SEO Advice: linkbait and linkbaiting. There’s even a helpful infographic and a link bait title generator. While most of them insist that not all link bait is bad, in our little part of the interwebs, that hasn’t been my experience.

I think I’ve just grown weary of hearing why the bubble is about to burst, or why you hate hops or beer with flavor, or that you drink your beer out of a plastic cup as god intended. Please, stop. Okay, I’m certain that won’t work. No plea for sanity every has. So instead I’d like to propose that we all agree to ignore them. That’s really the only way to make them stop. If we all ignore the link bait, and they don’t get the expected backlash they’re hoping for, then they’ll have no choice but to stop trying.

Having a different opinion or wanting to spark a meaningful discussion about it will remain an excellent reason to pen a thoughtful blog post or article. But taking an opinion that’s designed to provoke outrage with inflammatory language, fringe positions, or by insulting entire swaths of people has no place in the marketplace of ideas that the beer blogosphere should aspire to. Just say know.


Don’t take the bait