Monthly Archives: September 2012

Driftwood Sartori Harvest IPA 2012 is now

You might already be too late. Today is the day Driftwood Sartori Harvest IPA hit the shelves, sometime around eleven this morning. Brewery Creek has a three bottle maximum and were already down four of fifteen cases within an hour of shipment at noon today. Viti has a two bottle maximum and were down two cases out of six when I got there at one. Yeah, I was on my game today. Anyway, the point is, fly like the wind to your nearest quality beer store or miss out and lament.

Driftwood Sartori Harvest IPA

If you don’t know, Driftwood Sartori is the consensus best beer in BC. It’s brewed once a year with still-wet hops freshly harvested from Sartori Cedar Ranch. It’s also brewed with barley malted by artisanal maltster and islander Mike Doehnel. And then partial proceeds are donated to the Land Conservancy of BC, making this beer all sorts of local and rad.

Driftwood Sartori Harvest IPA

Get out of the way milk!

I’ve delayed tasting this year’s batch to send you this alert, but I expect it to be as good as previous years. If you’re wondering how good that is, it’s seriously excellent. Check out some past reviews. Also, for more info checkout the Province’s recently posted interview with the brewer.

Here’s hoping you get some!



The Best and Worst of Beer PR

We’ve been getting a lot of beer PR stuff sent to us recently.  Some of it is so bad it makes me want to post horrible things about whatever is being promoted.  I’m not going to do that, because nobody likes a debbie-downer, but I do want to post about some of the generally awesome and terrible things we regularly receive.  I should also note that, as Erik stated, the only thing that’s really going to work is a truly great product and a brand that resonates with people.  It helps if you have international distribution networks and multi-million dollar marketing budgets (see Molson, Budweiser et al.), but yeah, great product is where it’s at.

Steamworks sent me a beer present, I liked that

Steamworks sent me a beer present, I liked that

First I’ll start with the good:

  • Can I send you a sample? Why yes, yes you can.  If you’re launching a new beer, there’s no better way to get me to try it than by sending me a sample.  Chances are, unless I’m already into your beer, I’m not going to go buy it just because you emailed me about it.  A lot of companies (breweries/agencies) are hesitant to send out samples because they think us bloggers are just trying to scam free beer.  Well I’ve got some news for you, we’re totally trying to scam free beer off you.  That’s the single greatest thing about being a beer blogger, free beer.  By sending us samples, and we’re just talking one or two bottles here, you’re making us very happy (unless it’s bad) and enormously increasing the chances we’ll talk about it (if it’s good).
  • Please come to our launch party – Hey thanks, I’ll see if I can make it.  Launch parties are also very much appreciated and I usually go if I’ve got nothing else going on.  They are mostly pretty fun and they encourage active discussion of the new beer, since everyone there is drinking it.  I enjoy talking to the brewery staff in person and hobnobbing with my fellow bloggers.  The best launch parties have tasty food, minimal presentation time, free rides home, are at convenient times, and are conveniently located.  If you want people to show, make it really easy for them.
  • Do you want to talk to the brewer? – Yes, yes I do.  Brewers are rad, down to earth, hardworking people.  They also care way more about the beer than the marketing and communications people. I freaking love talking to brewers.
  • Can I add you to our maillist? – Maybe, thanks for asking first.

You might think I sound like an entitled, spoiled brat right now.  And while I am an entitled, spoiled brat, the crux of the situation is that PR people are trying to get me to do something I probably don’t want to do.  If it’s not fun or interesting or easy for me, chances are I’m not doing it.  Now for some specific real examples of awesome PR.

Granville Island Brockton IPA party

Erik at the Granville Island Brockton IPA party

Granville Island, even before they were bought by Molson, have always been great.  They email to tell us about seasonals in a very non-douchey way.  They throw launch parties and invite us, plus our wives (we’re both married, not Mormons).  They let us talk to the brewer, Vern Lambourne, who is a rad dude.  Granville Island use Jive Communications and I really like dealing with them a lot. A post about the Brockton IPA launch we attended.

Rickards send us samples without demanding posts in return.  They also invited us to the launch of their new seasonal last month, but we were too lazy to go.  We once received a kinky sample box, complete with blindfold.  A knock on them, I thought their Movember campaign was shameless.

Rickards Dark sample

Free samples? I’ll take it

Steamworks sent a six pack of their new bottled product attached to a giant balloon to my office.  They invited us to their launch party too, but we couldn’t make it.

Phillips run their own mailing list, periodically sending out funny emails about their new beers.  None of this FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE garbage, just the straight up info.  Sign up for it here if your interested.

Not to mention the scores of breweries who don’t do any PR because their beer is so good, I’m looking right at you Driftwood.

Now for the bad:

  • Free guest post for you! – We’ve been getting a lot of this lately.  I always ask to see the content, despite never intending to post about it, and it’s usually a bs story with a few links to some major brand.  The highest profile brewery to pull this stunt on us was Fosters UK.  Recently somebody representing offered me $40 to post their spam.  There’s your links, jerks.
  • Why didn’t you blog about the sample I sent you? – Really, are you really asking me this?  I’m not a corporate shill and I’m not going to blog about something just because you sent me $3 worth of beer.  The real reason I didn’t blog about it is because I hated it.
  • I subscribed you to our maillist without asking – Did you now?  Thanks for that.  And, oh, no unsubscribe link, thanks again.  Guess what?  You’re going straight to spam.
  • Can I please send you irrelevant information? – How did you know I wanted to hear about things I’m not the least bit interested in?  Your new wine, whiskey, far away event, and/or hot sauce would look nice up on this here blog.
  • Broadcasting my private contact details – Oh, you meant to use bcc and not cc, cool.  I can’t wait for the reply-alls to start.  Breweries, ask yourself this, how much are you spending on your PR firm to have a technopeasant intern disgrace the internet?
  • We’re hipsters, so we made art – In this day and age, you need to be creative to stand out, right?  So why not hire a bunch of hipsters to make something they think is cool, but that’s also completely unrelated to a decent beer?  This guy, who’s way cooler and richer than you, drinks Delirium Tremens, so you should too.

Oh man, writing that part about bad PR has me all worked up.  I mean really, it’s simple.  Make good beer, tell a good story (try starting with the truth), and do your own PR.  Start a maillist, get on twitter, get on Facebook, go to local events, and spread the word.  You’ll do better than most PR companies out there and you’ll probably have a lot of fun too.

And beer PR companies who might get offended by this (one guy I called out for sucking got my phone number and threatened to get me fired, a logical and feasible reaction, no?), just do better.  I gave you plenty of good examples above.



Beer Cultural Studies

Beer culture is changing. Although excess is still a large part of our beer drinking norms, drinkers are beginning to realize that beer should taste good. The realization that beer is more than cold fizzy alcoholic bubbles is profound to those used to consuming generic light lager, which is promoted as cold and smooth. In general I believe people always prefer what tastes best, but pricing, brand preference, and just wanting to fit in with your fellow drinkers tends to get in the way. Before mass marketing sunk its teeth into the beer industry, consumers let their taste buds decide what beer was best. The craft beer movement is changing beer culture to be more about taste than quantities of cold smooth beer.

The culture built around drinking beer has been developed through stories, traditions and rituals passed on from one drinker to the next. Keeping to its working-class roots, formal beer study has largely remained outside of the classroom. Instead of chalkboards and textbooks, beer education takes place in pubs, brew houses, and increasingly so, our homes – which now happen to be tethered to the internet.

Some of the beer communities’ most respected cultural educators are self taught experts. Individuals such as Michael Jackson (the beer hunter, not the pop star) and Charlie Papazian. Both have made immeasurable contributions to the better beer movement and have little by way of formal beer training. They taught via television, books and other means. Their message, teaching people about how good beer can be, spread virally through the beer community. The work of Jackson and Papazian has heavily influenced the movement for a standardized beer education system.

Beer is often compared to wine, but positioned as a less sophisticated option. It is true that beer culture is informal, but beer is no less sophisticated than wine in its flavour profile and food pairing options. The inclusive, low-key nature of beer culture remains engrained in today’s modern food culture, but the average beer drinker is far more educated than 100 years ago. Craft beer culture and the individuals that make up the beer community have evolved to a point where a more in depth study of beer culture is possible, beneficial and enjoyable. While the wine community is working hard to de-stigmatize wine as formal and sophisticated, the beer community is attempting the exact opposite.

Formal academic beer education is in its infancy. There are a number of universities and colleges that have been offering brewing degrees, diplomas and certificates for a number of years, but these studies are based on the sciences, focusing more on how to make beer than how to drink beer. The study of beer culture is a study of the arts.

Leading the charge in a formalized study of beer culture is the Cicerone Certification Program. Although not yet a standard offering at universities and culinary institutes, the Cicerone Certification Program is very much changing how we learn about beer, and ultimately how we drink beer.

The Cicerone program was started by Ray Daniels, a beer geek and academic. With the goal of never being served bad beer, Ray, an instructor at the Siebel Institute of Technology, started the Cicerone Certification Program to help educate, regulate and standardize the beer service industry. And so far it appears to be working. Certified Cicerones are popping up in every major food city across North America, helping improve the quality of beer service while educating consumers and businesses about the better beer alternative.

The Cicerone Certification Program offers three levels of certification: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone. I recently passed the online test to become a Certified Beer Server, which means I am a certified beer geek, and I have the papers to prove it. It also means I have $74.00 less to spend on beer than I did one week ago.

Beer geeks with a solid knowledge of beer who possess basic Google skills should be able to pass the beer server exam with only minimal study time. The second level, Certified Cicerone, is much more challenging, involving a tasting component and requiring proof of industry experience. The third level, Master Cicerone, is more challenging still. Only five individuals have achieved this degree of beer excellence.

Beer culture changed when individuals said no more to bland beer. No longer will marketers control what we drink, nor will they dictate how beer should taste.  With this cultural shift has come a vast array of new education options. Pubs, brew houses and our homes remain the lifeblood of beer culture. Programs like the Cicerone Certification Program are replacing the current marketing centric beer education system (or lack thereof) with a standardized system to educate passionate consumers and members of beer trade.

If you want to learn a bit more about the Cicerone Certification Program, or beer in general, is a great starting point. For those in Vancouver wanting to dive in a littler deeper, Chester Carey, a Vancouver based Cicerone, offers an 8 week beer education program at the Pacific Culinary Institute. The eight week program is designed to give students the knowledge to pass the Certified Cicerone Exam. One of these days I will sign up and hopefully attain Cicerone Certification.



San Francisco beer guide

I spent this past long weekend in San Francisco and it turns out there’s quite a few rad beer things to do there.  The place is full of old-timey saloons and dive bars, which pretty well all had something decent on tap.  You could almost always find Anchor and Sierra Nevada, and usually one of Anderson Valley, Bear Republic, Stone, or Lagunitas too.  While I was dismayed by the prevalence of Pabst Blue Ribbon on special (dirty hipsters), I was pretty pleased in general.  But you’re probably after the good stuff, so here are my top five rad beer things to do in San Francisco (in order of perceived radness):

  1. City Beer Store
  2. Toronado Pub
  3. The Monk’s Kettle
  4. Magnolia Brewpub
  5. Anchor Brewing Tour

I should note that I didn’t actually go to Magnolia Brewpub or do the Anchor Brewing Tour.  Turns out you have to book Anchor Brewing tours months in advance, which I did not do.  And we just didn’t have time to visit Magnolia Brewpub, but it came highly recommended and apparently the food is excellent.

Of things I did do, I was super impressed with my visit to City Beer Store.  It’s a bit out of the way in gritty SoMa, but it’s well worth dodging hobos to get there. This is the sort of beer store that asks you, “would you like that for here or to go?”  In addition to their epic bottle selection (not a massive selection, just very, very good), they also have twenty taps going of equally epic beers.  Check out the current tap list.  I purchased as much Russian River stuff as the stupid airline would let me stuff in my suitcase.

City beer store

Inside the City Beer Store in the bar area

I also really enjoyed Toronado, San Fran’s classic beer destination.  This place is all about the beer and is completey covered in posters, coasters, tap handles, and anything else beer related.  Anywhere that has Pliny the Elder on tap is a winner in my books, though I could have done without the heavy metal background music.  This place is not a cosy pub and my wife appreciated it accordingly (as in she hated it).  They also have an extensive bottle list and you can purchase bottles to go.


Wife in Toronado, pretending to enjoy it

Toronado draft list

Toronado draft list, get out of the way! too embarrassed for a second pic

Speaking of cosy pubs, the Monk’s Kettle is just that.  If I was to go again, I’d make a dinner reservation because the food looked excellent and the bar was packed.  I might have regretted not eating here, but I’d just come from La Taqueria in the Mission and so was pleasantly sated. Again, the Monk’s Kettle has an excellent beer list of California craft beer and good stuff from around the world.

monks kettle

Monk’s Kettle sign, too embarrassed to use the flash in the packed bar

My beer wanderings in San Francisco taught me that I need to go back to San Francisco.  Despite the hills and the fog (Voldemort’s icy breath, according to the wife), San Fran is packed with character, tasty food, and good beer.  Did I miss anything I need to catch next time?



Examples of good beer PR

We get a lot of crappy beer PR stuff and one day I’m going to write a post about all the things beer PR shouldn’t involve.  Erik just wrote a post about beer PR determining that the best beer PR can only be successful if the product is good.  While I agree with this, there are still good examples that make me take notice.  Like today for example, somebody from Steamworks showed up at my office with a six pack of their new bottled product attached to a giant balloon. We get our fair share of samples, but never quite so dramatically.

steamworks surprise

Steamworks surprise! Bigger balloon next time please

My office is a mere three blocks away from the Steamworks Brewpub in downtown Vancouver.  I can only assume the guy walked over from the pub carrying the giant balloon laden six pack, surely attracting the attention of local, prospective clientele.  The delivery caused a bit of a stir in the office too, rousing enough attention for my coworkers to be impressed with me or think I’m a massive douche (I mean really, who gets free beer delivered to the office?).  In either case, they know Steamworks is bottling now and had a taste, because I shared.  How many local people know about Steamworks new bottles now? Probably a fair few more, and the local people that count too.  It’s pretty cheap marketing as well, just the price of a six pack and a balloon.

As for the beer itself, it’s the same as what Steamworks has in the brewpub and I don’t love it.  It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not going to unseat Central City or Driftwood enough for me to buy it.  I tried the Pilsner and the Pale Ale, both decent.  I really like their new labels though, supremely well done (apparently this guy did them).

Another really cool thing happened today as well, I visited the new Tap and Barrel pub in Vancouver’s ex Olympic Village.  The place was absolutely packed and the service was justifiably affected.  We had to wait for our food for a while, then got the wrong food, which was quickly rectified.  When the bill came, straight up $0.  Two meals and four beers for free.  We weren’t sure we’d go back, but now we will.  The location is great, the beer list was very good, and the food was decent, so we’ll give it another shot.  Why don’t more businesses realize these are the kinds of actions that make a difference?