Nutshell: Pick Your Battles, learn a bit about American Economics 101, research these corporate partners before you climb aboard the Crazy Train. Please. These endless, clueless, feckless cries of “Sell Out!” just waste time and are, frankly, embarrassing for those of us have a Clue and share this culture.
Not all of this post is going to be about beverages. I apologize in advance but, as usual, I’m not sorry enough not to write it, so if you question the sincerity of this apology, I can’t say you’re off base.
Rant, The First: The news broke, earlier this week, that Avery Brewing of Boulder, Colorado, had taken on the big Spanish beverage maker, Mahou San Miguel, as a partner and people all over the Brewniverse started freaking out. The great Denver magazine, Westword, ran a post in their online edition entitled, “Does “Craft Beer” Definition Go Down the Drain With the Avery Brewing Sale?”
To his everlasting credit, Johnathan Shikes, who write the piece, was actually referring to the necessity of the Brewers Association reconsidering its official definitions of craft beer, not our shared perception of Avery as a craft brewer, which they certainly have been and remain. If, in fact, you were writing the dictionary definition of “craft beer”, it would not be at all incorrect to include a picture of the Avery logo as one of the numbered points.
For the next few months, at least, this IS a free country, so anyone can think whatever they damned well please about breweries partnering with corporations in order to finance their continued growth…and that is exactly what Avery has done with San Miguel. Avery has become, by the efforts of Adam Avery and a staff of astronomically talented brewers, one of America’s Top Five Indie breweries. That is not even really debatable, anymore. And they needed to grow or, essentially, die or, at least, stagnate to the point of irrelevance. So, operating by the same ethics and principles that motivated him to flatly refuse repeated overtures from Anheuser Busch, Adam Avery looked to an actual brewing company, with a history and dedication to making BEER, and not just beer as an adjunct to soft drinks and bottled water and whatever other fluffy shite AB is promoting this week.
I read response after response accusing Avery of selling out; calling Adam Avery a greedhead and a fascist (my favorite)and questioning his values, his manhood, his parentage, his penile girth, and his hat size, all because he brought in a PARTNER – not a buyer or a sugar daddy or a new ownership – to help his company grow. In choosing San Miguel, in fact, Avery showed his respect for his culture, by hooking up with a company which is NOT, unlike AB, trying daily to destroy or at least control the craft beer community.
TRY to get this straight: The ONLY corporate interest about which you need to have ANY worries as a buyer or partner of a craft brewery is Anheuser Busch, aka AB/InBev. PERIOD. They are the only corporation on the face of the planet which combines the toxic mix of the arrogance to truly believe that we don’t need and shouldn’t be allowed to have any choices available to us in beer with the arrogance and deep enough pockets to think that they can really, literally set about pursuing a strategy that will force all of us who drink craft beer back into being just peachy with a lifetime of mindlessly, soullessly swilling tepid, watery adjunct lagers and nothing else.
As the old song goes, “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” – yet another life lesson the Communally Delusional upper management of AB/InBev has ignored. How ya gonna keep us down with Bud Lite after we’ve tasted an IPA?…or a Stout or an ESB or a hoppy Pale or…? Answer: you’re not, but they keep on trying and that is why I bust out the knives and whips and the nuclear rhetorical weapons whenever some dumbass brewer sells out to those smirky, condescending ass-munchers and why seeing Adam Avery partner up with Mahou San Miguel as just another bit o’ evidence that our little fledgling Indie/craft culture is finally, after a blissful adolescence, joining the American business marketplace in the way we all knew it inevitably would. In business, Large is going to buy into or buy out Small. It happens. What matters – at the business end of the pipeline, where we as consumers taste and buy their wares – is who is partnering, what their goals are, whether they are planning to whore out that brewery’s products and practices, and whether they are actually going to help that stellar brewery succeed and evolve or become a speed bump.
As this point, we have ZERO evidence that any of the corporate interests which have partnered with craft brewers – the Constellation Brands, Duvel, Heineken, etc, etc. – have caused their brewery partners ANY diminishment in quality or accessibility. PLEASE, for the Love of God, TRY to get that this is just American Business 101. Unless that brewery has, like the douchebag breweries and the formerly-credible RateBeer – which have already greased up and bent over for Satan’s ruddy, multi-pronged Johnson – has been acquired or partially compromised by AB/InBev, this is simply NOT worth your time, venom, or energy.
Nutshell: Pick Your Battles, learn a bit about American Economics 101, research these corporate partners before you climb aboard the Crazy Train, and Grow The Fuck Up. Please. These endless, clueless, feckless cries of “Sell Out!” just waste time and are, frankly, embarrassing for those of us have a Clue and share this culture.
Rant, The Second: Whiskey, I think we can all agree, is pretty special stuff. As a contemplative drink to accompany considering one’s life choices, it has no equal. (Wine drinkers will claim that a Cabernet will work but they’re wrong) And this is the time of year when whiskey fits like a body-stocking and does the same thing: warms, comforts, and relaxes. Good whiskeys are everywhere, these days. The nomenclature may be a bit confusing, as our arcane liquor laws attempt to dictate what they can be called and what they absolutely cannot. Yesterday’s post, in fact, was about a whiskey made in Portland, using shipped-in real Scottish barley that’s peated in Oregon and aged in Oregon oak barrels. The result of this single-pass, pot still labor is as much Scotch as any whiskey you will find from any of your 400 year old castles in your Speysides and Islays and Highlands but it cannot, of course, be called “Scotch”. I get this. It’s correct and fair. The Scots have worked for a thousand years to establish the Scotch culture and that should be respected and guarded.
What I do not get is the growing number of America’s artisan distillers who have decided that anything they deem “whiskey”…actually is. I’m not, of course, going to name any names but I’ve now tasted about two dozen beverages that bear the name “whiskey” but have little or nothing in common with what the world generally thinks of as befitting that term. A handful of these distilleries have some fancy financing behind them and are able to buy TV and radio ads by the fistful, promoting their products, resulting in some of the products taking on virtual cult status among people who neither know nor care about what “whiskey” is but really like saying the word as they belly up to the bar. It’s roughly the same phenomenon as my Dad, in the early 1960s, drinking what was, at that time, a fairly trashy Italian white wine, just because he enjoyed the narrow-gauge Cool he felt as he sidled up to the bar, popped a Tareyton into the corner of his mouth, and drawled, “Gimme a…Soave.” (pron: SWAH-vay) Then he’d take the glass back to our table, smoke, order a beer, and take maybe one sip out of the wine and leave the rest when we went home.
I get this, too. I like the feeling of ordering a great whiskey by name, a fine wine by its single-vineyard designation, or a biere de garde or Quad or maybe a Barleywine by its style. I feel all Hip ‘n’ shit, even though I’ve never been either Cool or Hip for fifteen seconds in my entire life. (Ten seconds ONCE, in Alabama, during a thunderstorm) But I overhear people at bars, now, carefully ordering some distillery wannabe’s “whiskey” by name and I think, “That’s an aperitif or a cordial. It’s no more ‘whiskey’ than a bottle of Amarone.” Do I point that out? Not in a million years. But I think, every time, of the eventual effect of confused or oblivious distilleries’ marketing departments taking a bottle that’s 35% alcohol and 18% residual sugar and enough additives to make gasoline and blithely calling that “whiskey”.
This is pointless, I know. We live, daily, with some gaping rectangular anal-drip, squatting in a White House after an election that was rigged by Russian hackers, blatantly lying his greasy, lardy ass off, fifteen or twenty times an hour, so why should labeling as “whiskey” a bottle which, if it were in the beer category, would be properly called “Near Beer” mean anything at all?
I see TV ads for several of these ridiculous creations and I’ve now tasted every one of ’em and they are all, as the English so colorfully say, shite. And I see the shit stacked up like Budweiser in local stores and CostCo and I think, “These are truly The End of Days.”
If you want to buy a bottle of actual whiskey – wherever it’s made; Portland, Boise, upstate New York, Texas, Alaska, or Tennessee/Kentucky – and perform mad foodie experiments on it, I will lead the cheering. I’ll even forward you the 250-ish fucking PR firms’ cocktail recipes I get, every freakin’ month, even after telling all of those PR firms that I don’t do cocktail reviews and have no interest in them. (I believe they think that, if they keep inundating me with recipes, I’ll eventually snap and start posting them.) But that, at least, makes some sort of sense. The literal debasing of the nature and character of one of the world’s and this country’s most properly celebrated beverages does not. It’s symptomatic of the fact that our system of laws doesn’t have any structure or any real teeth, allowing a winery to call a keg o’ juice that’s been sitting for seven months and is less than one year old, total, as a “Reserve” wine. We have no guidelines about what “whiskey” means. In Scotland, there are laws that will toss some exploitative asshat into the pokey for violating their parameters for labeling Scotch. In France, they probably still haul out the guillotine for some vintner who would dare to call his Pinot Noir “Burgundy”, just because his property is just over the fence line between Burgundy and Right Next to Burgundy. Here, some small distiller with deep pockets and no qualms can call something whiskey when its sweeter than a Bourbon and Coke (**shudder**) and has been so dumbed down that its burn resembles what you’d get out of a packet of Taco Bell Verde sauce.
There are people reading this, right now, thinking, “What a hide-bound old jackass. What’s wrong with _____________ ? It doesn’t make me wince and I like it, so fuck off.” And, honestly, that’s what they’re supposed to think. There is a school of thought that says that making a “whiskey” that is that mild and sweet and easy to drink is the best way to ease people into discovering “real whiskeys”. If only it worked like that, I’d be taking these things seriously and searching for a way to review them and recommend a few. But its real result has been to spawn more and more imitators of that debased, watered down, sugary, Pop Tart-style of whiskey and lead people to scoff at the cultivation of a taste for anything stronger or more complex or that’s “different”…because we Americans really do not like Different all that much. And so whiskey as an art form – which it surely is – suffers the Death of a Thousand Cuts, bleeding away little by little until it becomes the sole province of cranks and throw-backs and Scotch, which has only in the past 30 years escaped that Booze Ghetto of niche obscurity, begins to be distributed less in the US because, hey, why cast pearls before swine?
Rant, The Off-Topic Third: This isn’t even about beverages although, quite often, there is one sitting next to me when it happens:
When I first moved to Seattle, I went immediately back to my life-long passion for sitting in a nice bar, of an afternoon, with a book and a beer or a Scotch or a glass o’ Cabernet, and just blissing out. I dearly LOVE to read, even more than I love those wonderful beverages, and I particularly love reading in public; declaring a tiny DMZ of quiet and escaping into one of those worlds created by Michael Ondaatje or James Lee Burke or Margaret Atwood or Michael Connelly. It’s better, for me, than a vacation: no airplanes, no passports, no TSA asshats, and every bit as colorful and fleshed out.
But at least – and this is no exaggeration – 95% of the time when I’d sit and crack open a book and settle in with my lunch or drink, somebody nearby would…start talking to me.
This happened in North Carolina but infrequently. Maybe, I used to think, people in The Old North State were scared of books? I didn’t know. But there, it happened about once every six months and I would smile tightly, respond politely, give then NO openings, and yearn for the time when I could climb back into the book. I tried to do that in Seattle but it became almost a daily occurrence. I was baffled and frustrated and actually began to read only at home, to just avoid what I assumed was some cultural dynamic that I clearly didn’t understand.
Finally, one sunny but cold afternoon, on a bar stool at the Virginia Inn, in downtown Seattle, I was sitting reading a Michael Connelly Harry Bosch novel and drinking a Big Time Brewing Old Wooly Barleywine, when the guy next to me said, “What’s it about?”
“Huh?” I managed, quite lost in the story.
“That book,” he smiled, “Is is interesting? Who’s the author?”
I took a long, deep breath and let it slowly out and turned to him.
“Okay,” I said quietly, “I’m not mad and I’m really not trying to be offensive but I really want to ask you why you just now decided to talk to me. You saw me reading and clearly engrossed in the book, but you decided that it would be okay to interrupt that. As you may be able to tell from my accent, I’m not a Seattle native, so I’m looking to fit in, here, and I’ve run into this a lot. Can I just ask – and I’m not looking for a confrontation – why you decided to speak to me?”
He looked puzzled and seemed to think about it and finally said, “Well, I don’t like to come into a bar and just sit, drinking, with no one to talk to.”
“I do,” I replied, “In fact, it’s one of my main pleasures in life. Is that weird or…what?”
“No, no,” he said quickly, “It’s not weird…exactly. But I always think that people come to bars and read because they have no one to talk with.”
I felt bad about jumping a guy who was just looking for a little human connection, so I bought him beers and we talked for over an hour. He was a nice fellow; intelligent, well read, and a life-long Seattle native. I learned a lot. And when I went home that evening, I began to entertain, for the first time ever, that I mighty be getting a little closed off and odd, there on the doorstep of forty.
I thought about that for months. Explored it from all angles.
And finally decided that, even if I was becoming a hermit, I liked it that way and still didn’t like talking in bars or restaurants anywhere near as much as I liked reading in them.
Tacoma seemed to be a bit different, when I first moved here, but it’s still the Northwest and, at Costco, last week, while eating a chicken bake and reading a novel on my phone, the guy next to me turned and said, “What’s it about?” That was episode number six, in two years, and that is my line in the sand. My response was monosyllabic and as surly as I could make it. I did not, at least open a verbal can o’ whup-ass on the guy…which was a small but significant accomplishment.
Folks, take this from me: those of us who sit and read in public places are NOT doing that just because we have no one to talk with. We are, MOST of the time, escaping for a few moments from a society that has arguably gone completely batshit crazy. We are willfully forgetting for a while that we have a mentally defective child with his tiny, greasy, fat-dripping fingers on the Nuclear Button, and that a significant percentage of our own neighbors are vile, callous, mean-spirited jerkoffs who would gleefully drag me behind a pick-up truck just because I’m a Liberal and I don’t hate guys, foreigners, lesbians, LGBTQ folks, or those who are “different” from white, Anglo-Saxon, suburban couch-potato types like me and that fat middle of America. Reading is a PLEASURE and, at this age at which I’m seeing courtesy to anyone who invades my space as a totally disposable social dynamic, I’m a LOT less likely to “make human contact” than I was back when I first arrived in the PNW, because those humans are often people with whom I want NOTHING to do.
If you see someone sitting and reading in some public place, and you’re the sort of person who DOES bring a book – or, these days, more likely your phone – because you have no one to talk with, leave that person ALONE. If they want to talk, you’ll get some sign. They’ll steal furtive glances around them, making eye contact and giving off the “talk to me” vibe. If they’re lost in that book, absorbed in what’s on that page, LEAVE THEM ALONE. They are on a journey which does not allow fellow travelers and, whether you understand that or not, they LIKE it that way.