A Good Beer Blog


Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


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Stan Hieronymus -

Is the topic here "beer terroir" or beer journalism?

I ask because the story provokes one question with this:

“You can’t call that beer part of my terroir,” says McKenna, “because the malt was grown in New Brunswick – that’s not my region.”

And discussing your question about needing comments from consumers would take the conversation in an entirely different direction.

Gary Gillman -

The piece in the Globe was interesting, but as with discussions of terroir in the wine and food contexts, I always end up with an inconclusive feeling about it. Just because something is grown in one area and even assuming all components can be sourced from there, the taste may differ quite a bit from the brewery using the same things down the road. 19th century writers often commented on differences in taste amongst a group of brewers in one area, not because they used different ingredients, but because they had a "different way of working", or used different proportions of malts used to make porter say, or... There are just too many variables to be able to say any one production is terroir. Or if they all are but don't taste the same, the name loses meaning. (Also, and I won't go there further than this, what if the fertilizer and other nutrients added to the loam where the barley was grown comes from the States?).

The concept is useful as a rough guide. APAs have West Coast terroir if they use Oregon hops, for example. Doesn't matter where the malt is from. It's a rough and ready application that the term lends itself too, nothing more IMO.


Ben -

That is an intersting piece. Perhaps Noth American beer writing is maturing with our craft brewing industry. Outraggeous, excessive, and ultimately superficial character seems so yesteryear. I don't know if the growing localvore movement or the easy homogeneity brought on by this age of international trade. Brewers have access to the same basic ingredients, similar knowledge of brewing techniques, and general awareness of the trends in each other's products. The same is true for writers. The only path to distinction is one that leads to a unique depth of character. Brewer's can embrace terroir and bring a European variety to North American Beer. Writers need to feed from deeper roots if they want to rise above the crowd of bloggers typing for samples. I'll enjoy the increasing quality of products from both crafts.

Alan -

Stan, I always like to have at least three questions just in case two are dull!

I found that idea of "terrior" as territory interesting but being an Atlantic Canadian I understand what the Newfoundland brewer is saying - New Brunswick is not part of "here" to him. But is terrior necessarily about "me" and "here"? Or is it about place and authenticity? Loaded words for sure but as beer ingredients are mobile and always have been the distinction is valid.

The second point is not about beer journalism but beer thinking. The fact of the story is a gain for beer journalism in itself. But when we think about beer we, unlike other topics, often leave out verification. A brewer says "X" is a lot like corn flakes being new and improved. Should the story say that this is a niche in a niche in a niche? I think it implies that. But does it say that the difference is perceivable to the well informed craft beer consumer? It does not.

Craig -

I'm more of a hound guy myself. The terroirs are too yippy.

Eh? Get it?

Seriously though, I think beer can have a sense of place—but it transcends simply the soil from which the malt or hops were grown, or the air by which the yeast floated on. I think beer takes on the personality of the places that are from, because they are of that place. As far as corroboration goes, does it matter?

Stan Hieronymus -

Alan - I'll go with b) journalism. And, hopefully without repeating the old conversation. It seems to me that whether it is corn flakes or beer, journalism is still journalism. So it is fair to say, "this is a good piece of journalism but it lacks [fill in the blank]." This is a good story. You are right about what would have made it better, but all discussions about terroir eventually lead to a scary rabbit hole.

Alan -

I think you may be having an "inside baseball" conversation about journalism and not a reader's view one, Stan, as "journalism is still journalism" is not meaningful inherently.

And there may be a rabbit hole but that is independent of whether claims by brewers are meaningful. Until that challenge is raised in a story, good beer journalism or craft beer journalism - whatever it is - remains not what it could be.

Stan Hieronymus -

Not to start again, but I'll try one more time . . .

Judge the story, and any story, on its merits, calling its excellent journalism, very good journalism, giving it three stars out of five, whatever. Not based on the topic.

Alan -

I don't think I share your opinion, Stan, but am still unclear on your point. Choice of story and choice of what is not in a story - aka topic - is a vital decision for any writer, editor, publisher. If you want to leave that out of consideration, I am not sure what you have left that is not analogous to something more partisan, prone to labels like "club" or "clique" or "hack" even and to questions as to why.

Stan Hieronymus -

I'm afraid we're doing it again. Isn't what Crystal Luxmore does just journalism? Does it change when the subject is the sewer board? Wine? Milk duds?

Win Bassett -

I agree with Stan here. As long as a piece is well-written and tells the story, it is just journalism regardless of topic.

Alan -

Oh dear. That is like saying it is "language" Win. True but once we get that wishy-washy there's not much point in discussion. Can't wish away the editorial function.

Look, you will both have to explain your point back into context of the post, I am afraid. You have shimmied so far you are dancing out in the hallway. What is it you are objecting to? You are spending so much effort talking around something.

Stan Hieronymus -

Poor, Win. One comment and he's lumped with me.

I think I'm lost. But I'll give it a shot. As far as context goes, you wrote: "Beer thought is a shoal of troubled waters when it comes from independently corroborated information."

This is unique with beer? It is not true of wine? Or milk duds?

Alan -

No idea about candy but it is an issue with beer as claims are not challenged, tested, poked at with a stick, made discussion points. Like political or sports it is apparently prone to outside forces but, unlike those things, the drinking is not ancillary. And the question "why" lacks equal billing.

Alan -

PS: where is the Consumer Reports magazine of craft beer? I want test result reports on actual alpha levels!!!

Alan -

Or... the variant: you went on the junket.

Stan Hieronymus -

Day Two: I knew we never should have started this, or I should have chosen a) terrior. Silly me, I though that would be more confusing.

CR tackles beer every few years, proving beers are harder to compare than refrigerators. I don't think measure iso alpha acids was one of their benchmarks, although from a geek standpoint I'd love to see that happen. Although other measures that might better reflect "quality."

And certainly you could subject malted barley and kilned hops to laboratory tests to determine their properties before the brewing process begins and analyze the final beer to (try to) determine their impact on aroma and flavor. Then run that through some sort of matrix to measure "terroir." .

Of course that still doesn't answer the question at the top: Could we please have comments from consumers confirming the claims of vendors have any merit?

My opinion is that the role of a journalist is to ask that question. Whether the topic is beer, wine (where "terroir" is a very contentious subject) or milk duds.

Alan -

Always choose terrior. It's so simple.

OK, we just disagree. I know what you are saying but I could link to a zillion articles from weather to politics where the person on the street is asked their opinion. It may be the journalist's job to ask the question but who do they ask?

But even if that approach is fluff, corroboration is the important thing. I do not see it occurring. In the case of terrior, I would prefer and trust more descriptions of whether there is anything perceptible and which better expressed it. The New York Times was doing this quarterly for a while there but I am pretty sure that has dropped away - which is the best sour, the best IPA. I really don't care if a brewer is doing "X" or adding "Y". I want to know if it's any good. Lifestyle sections of newspapers are full of that every weekend in everything from wine to restaurants to cars to travel. Journalism that stops at what is available is far less interesting or useful than what is better and better value.

Win Bassett -

"I really don't care if a brewer is doing "X" or adding "Y". I want to know if it's any good."

Journalism is the telling of what the brewer is doing or adding. Opinion writing is the telling of whether one thinks it "it's any good." I don't particularly care if someone else thinks it's good. I'd rather decide that for myself!

Alan -

Ah, that is a limited sterile view of what a free press does, Win. Journalism as boosterism is the consequence. A free and democratic society with an open marketplace could never accept that.

Stan Hieronymus -

Alan, I agree that journalism "with a point of view" can work. But . . .

So I don't further confuse things I'll simply ask: Are you saying that unbiased journalism results in boosterism?

Alan -

No, I am saying until I am assured there is no bias, among other factors, I can not be certain I am not seeing boosterism. This gives me little comfort that I am not.

Alan -

And, to add a step further, boosterism is not journalism.

Stan Hieronymus -

I agree that boosterism is not journalism.

But I don't begin by assuming that journalists are biased. Certainly not Crystal Luxmore.

Because I can't really read that jpg I can't comment. The trip is to Boston Beer, obviously, but who is being entertained?

Alan -

I didn't assume that journalists are biased. I wrote that until I am assured there is no bias, I can't be certain there isn't boosterism. I start from a neutral position aware that an influence to one side or the other is readily possible.

At least four journalists as far as I know are being entertained, housed, moved, flown and well wetted.

Alan -

Well wetted including at the hotel room on arrival.

Crystal Luxmore -

Hi Alan & friends,

Thanks for commenting on and reading the terroir story. I loved writing about it, and I am fascinated by the dissenting opinions of beer makers and lovers when asked about this subject.

It really opened up the debate in terms of where beer is going, how brewers see themselves in relation to wine and the local food movement and the issue of technique versus terroir. Of course, the story is shorter than I would have liked, so I am posting the full interviews with people like Dr. Charlie Bamforth on my site - crystalluxmore.com - about once a week.

As for interviewing consumers, that's tough as there is no average beer consumer — and everyone has different palates. Instead I opted to encourage readers to see if they could pick out terroir - specifically in water - by the comparison of Pilsner Urquell and Steamwhistle.

As for boosterism, I posted pictures of the itinerary because I wanted to be transparent about why I was in Boston and who paid for it. I haven't published anything on the trip, (outside of posting a stellar video of Jim Koch talking about terroir on my blog) but if a story is published on the trip the support of Samuel Adams will be stated.

Cheers, and please keep reading my stories. I have one in this December's Reader's Digest on Barley Wines and another in enRoute's December issue on drinking craft beer in Santiago (I researched this while on honeymoon, a very understanding husband was dragged from one dusty start-up brewery to another). I also have a story on aging beer in this month's Tidings magazine.


Alan -

Good work. You should get a trophy for yourself for getting an alcohol related story into Reader's Digest!