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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Bailey -

Good question, and I guess it's what was in the back of our minds when we wrote this and maybe this.

The latter brewery is, we think, 'gypsy', while the former is contract, but it's hard to tell from the marketing material.

David -

While the definitions here are clearly both applied to the party who doesn't own a brewery, and if that's how the BA has defined it then fair enough, but it seems to make more sense to me that a contract brewer would be the party who makes the beer under contract to someone else while a gypsy brewer is someone who brews themselves on another brewery's setup. Is it really fair to call someone who merely places a contract, for a beer to be brewed, a brewer?
It would certainly clarify the distinction a bit more for me with each term referring to a different party.

Stan Hieronymus -

As I think I've mentioned here before, the first question I ask is who cleans up when the brewing is done? Extra points to the man or woman who shovels out the mash turn.

I'd also suggest control of ingredients is pretty important. Even when Boston Beer had most of its beer made in breweries it didn't own the company spent considerable sums on yeast management. In contrast, brands now long gone (who remembers if Rhino Chasers was one word or two?) showed up with a recipe (or not) and accepted the "house yeast."

Alan -

I do hope the good people at Pretty Things clean up after themselves. Perhaps proof of rubber boots, a wellie rules, is mandatory. Surely no reputable gypsy brewer borrows boots.

Velky Al -


Whenever I have brewed down at Devils Backbone, shovelling out the mash tun has been one of the things I look forward to most. Sure dumping hops into the kettle for the obligatory commemorative photo is cool, but actually doing some of the hard work is the reason I love the opportunity to go and brew with the pros.

Alan -

So maybe you can't call your self a collaborationist if you don't clean out the spent grain! Otherwise you are a collaborateur in the "'Allo 'Allo!" sense.

Thomas -

Rhino Chasers now that is a name I haven't heard in ages. Thanks for the memories Stan.

Leeman -

You guys have far too much time on your hands...

Simon H Johnson -

I have a recipe (or I buy the rights to use a recipe) and a bunch of ingredients.

If I send the recipe to a brewery and they brew the beer using my ingredients, they are the contract brewer. And I am, well, just me. I could be anything - individual, group, superstore, interplanetary space station etc.

If I go to the brewery and brew the beer myself using my recipe and my ingredients - and i'm legally incorporated as a brewery, paying my taxes and all that jazz - then I'm a gypsy cuckoo.

If I'm legally incorporated as a brewery but just send my recipe to the other brewery who brew my beer using my bought ingredients, then I'm a brewer and so are they. They've fulfilled a contract brew.

If I'm just me and I buy all my own stuff and brew it all myself on another brewer's kit, then (a) I'm lucky to have friends like these (b) I'm still just me and not a brewery and (c) the tax and legal implications make my sober head hurt.

If I just turn up on a brewday where the brewery bought the ingredients, will sell the final product and retains ownership of the recipe (even though it was my idea to add cranberries) and I half-heartedly dig out the mash tun and chuck in the late hops and I share in no financial risk (nor reward) then I'm a blogger.

Clear as...

Alan -

"You guys have far too much time on your hands..."

Let me know when you wake up, somnambulist.

Alan -

Doesn't matter of you are a corporation or a person. I have no idea how many collaborating beer writers, for example, do their writing and collaborating business under a personally owned corporation.

You have five categories:

#1 - both you and the brewing facility owner have been called a contract brewer but I prefer to make the instigator of the deal, the one hiring the beer making capacity and not brewing, to be a contract brewer as the actual brewing brewer is likely not defined exclusively by this behaviour. May offer site to gypsies and brewer their own beers, too. Too difuse to label. Plus, the slander is on the party who only picks of the phone and emails the recipe. You are the contract brewer in this case.
#2 - Agreed.
#3 - you are also a contract brewer in this case. Same as #1.
#4 - you are are a gypsy with issues.
#5 - you are perhaps at best a bloggers, likely a collaborateur but at least have dreams of #4 at best though you will never fulfill the dream and may pack in blogging from the response you get from people who actually know you when you explain what you did last Saturday.

Simon H Johnson -

I Know The Specific Gravity Of What You Did Last Saturday.

Another as-yet-unmade brewfilm classic.

Ron pattinson -

In a couple of weeks, when I finally get to see Dann brew, I'll be able to tell you exactly how much he does. At least at the mashing/boiling end. I've already seen him fretting over gravity readings and clambering scarily on conical fermenters to add more yeast. I couldn't watch as he jumped between conicals 30 feet up.

Alan -

You make sure he cleans up after himself. And get him to send me a sample for the love of our sweet Lord!!!

olllllo -

I thought that we had dispatch the word gypsy as a pejorative and had aims to go with vagabond.

At least hobo... It's a North American term that doesn't involve the Romani, the Irish or Cher and her traveling show.

Craig -

Hobo brewer has a nice ring to it. I vote for hobo.

Alan -

That is true. I did a paper in law school when asked to research a class of discrimination shown in law. I did 1500s Elizabethan gypsy law. The presumption was that they came from Eqypt. Some extraordinary laws like you were not allowed to be in their company without a priest being present. The most fun was that these laws were undone through these 1830s and 40s things called omnibus statutes that deleted whole masses of law at one go. Most most fun was discovering that one of the Canadian provinces never passed an omnibus law. Probably still illegal to vote there as a Catholic, technically. I pointed it out to the legislative counsel to the Province and was told not to tell anyone. So I do.

Hobo? I don't know. COde for homeless. Visigoths, however, is likely the only wandering tribe that no longer have implications of discrimination.

Craig -

But Visigoths don't have bindles made out of handkerchiefs, tied to the end of a stick.

Velky Al -

I am a #5 with no ambition to be numbers 1-4. One question though about #5, does a few free growlers of the finished beer count as 'financial reward'?

ethan -

One factor we're forgetting to consider is brewery promiscuity- someone like Brian/Stillwater, who has made his beers in a dozen or more breweries is in some sense 'more gypsy' than, say, Pretty Things who (I believe) rely essentially on one brewery's spare capacity. But both of those outfits, as far as I know, fully control all aspects of their beer and brands and-I assume but don't know-are on hand when their beers are created and packaged.

Alan -

A growler (or what the cool kids now call a "pottle jug") is not a financial reward even if it is a great reward.

Promiscuity! Love it. Is the charge of promiscuity worse if one does not neaten things up afterwards?

Dann Paquette -

Hi all,

I thought I'd give you a little insight. I've been educated at both Siebel and UC Davis and have worked as a professional brewer now over 20 years in more than 10 breweries both here in Boston and in North Yorkshire in England. I know that I've never been very well known outside of the Boston area as a brewer, but how many Boston-area brewers can you name? Anyway.

This skepticism is strange. When you're working as Head Brewer no one asks you if you "actually" brew the beer or why you don't own the brewery. The latter question would get the obvious answer "I don't own the brewery because I'm a low-wage brewer!"

Martha and I do all of the labour and cleaning associated with brewing our beer at Buzzard's Bay Brewery in Westport, Massachusetts. We wake up and get out of the house by 5:00 am, drive 64 miles south of Boston, unlock the brewery and if we're brewing on a weekday we are the only ones there for the first two and a half hours. In that time I mash in 4,000 lbs of grist and am usually at kettle-full by the time I wave good morning down to the employees of the brewery. They head in to do packaging on days we're brewing. Martha mills in the second grist of 4,000 pounds (these days we use some silo malt so Martha's back is happier) and I'm mashing-in the second 57 barrel batch in by 11:30 am. At about 5:00 pm the brewery staff waves goodbye and we're left to lock the place up. That's usually about 7:30 or 8:00 pm. In that time we've brewed about 115 barrels of beer, mashed-out twice, CIP's the tanks we use, the brewhouse and Martha and I clean the lauter tun together.

Many days in the summer time we sleep in our car and do it all again the next morning. That's fun because the brewery is on a farm and Martha and I build a camp fire, cook a meal and drink some beers under the stars.

The rest of the process is just like when I was a brewer at Daleside Brewery in Yorkshire. After we brew and see the beer through to being ready to transfer to the brite tank, most of our work is done - Harry Smith (the Buzzards Bay Brewer) acts as cellarman doing the transfers and the beer is also packaged and labeled by others. Typical stuff.

I have worked in breweries where I was both the Head Brewer and in charge of running the packaging line. Fortunately this is not the case in Pretty Things because Martha and I have a very busy schedule of in-store tastings and general events that we need to be at in order to sell the beer we brew.

Lastly, this is not in any way to diminish the roll of our host brewery. If it wasn't for the Russell family of Buzzard's Bay Brewery and the great staff that work their, free of egos and nothing but welcoming of us from day one - we simply couldn't be in business.

I hope that helps. While I can't speak for everyone, I hope you can sleep easier knowing we aren't a couple of lying marketeers.

I really wish we had our own brewery to make our beer in I really do, then this sort of thing might be put to rest forever. But the simple truth is that brewers do not make enough to build a brewery. When Martha and I moved back to the US in 2008, I couldn't believe our luck that we had $8,000 left over after all of our moving expenses. That eight grand became our business and is presently not only our full-time jobs, but we employ two more full-time employees now and have helped support a great brewery down in Westport, Massachusetts in the process.

Cheers to you all,

Dann Paquette
Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project
cell 617-682-6419

Craig -

Yes Dann, but the real question is—do you have a bindle made out of a handkerchief, tied to the end of a stick?

Chris Lohring -

The first question to be asked of a gypsy brewer is simple: have you ever worked in a commercial brewery in the past? If the answer is no, your bullshit meter should go up. It's hard enough for an experienced brewer to walk into a brewery they don't work in and brew beer, never mind someone without commercial experience.

Dann is the exception, and the real deal. I'm guessing through anecdotal evidence that very few, and I mean VERY few, are real "gypsy" brewers. Maybe I'm wrong, but I've yet to see evidence otherwise. I see recipes from famed "gypsy" brewers being faxed to the location where my beers are brewed, and these gypsy brewers are certainly not there on brew day.

I brew at two locations, and at one it is impossible to brew without the aid of a shift brewer. The other location where I brew, I was actually a brewer there for awhile, and even they won't let me do everything! Well, expect clean the mash tun, that is always encouraged.

I owned and ran a brewery in the past, went to Siebel, and did everything in a brewery - from brew to run a Krones bottling line. It pains me to see those who haven't done anything except work up a recipe and spec some ingredients take the title of "brewer." They haven't earned it, and are certainly spinning a story that is based in half-truths.

I am not a gypsy brewer, and refuse to be called one. I have too much respect for brewing, plus it's also a stupid name. I have no idea what to call my arrangement, it's certainly more than a contract, but it's certainly not a gypsy thing.

I do wish we had a bit more truth right now, because what gave contact brewing a bad name in the 90's was that contract brewers were lying.

For what it's worth, I wrote this two years ago:



Chris Lohring
Notch Brewing

Alan -

Sorry, Dann, but I think you got the discussion backwards. It's the labeling of contract brewers as gypsies (...ok, Visigoth brewers) that was the skepticism not your work or those of your rambling sort. This thing is not that sort of thing. It is another thing. And I would not apologize as ardently except the time you took to write that means 1.73 bottles of Jack D'or were lost to humankind.

Chris, embrace Visigoth brewer. It may not be the best label but it's the one that we are working with.

Craig -

Chris, I might suggest Hobo brewer, rather than Visigoth brewer. Bindles are cool.

ethan -

I hope I was not seen as casting any aspersions on either of the breweries/brewers I mentioned; I have great respect for both. One of my favorite outfits in the industry locally--3 Heads Brewing, from Rochester--is no question contract brewed by Custom Brewcrafters. I do not think they're at the brewery for each and every batch, but I do know their beers are good, CB's head brewer loves the guys, and they were quite accomplished hombrewers prior to starting the company. To each their own!

I was only trying to say that some with the gypsy label seem to peregrinate more than others.

Steve Parkes -

The way I understood it the term "gypsy" brewer was used to describe a brewer that brewed his own recipes in a number of different host breweries, with more emphasis being on the collaboration aspect of it. Mikkeller being the prime example. If you brew your beer at the same facility every time you're a contract brewer.

Stephen Beaumont -

I have to go along with Mr. Parkes, with some caveats.

Mikkeller, Stillwater, Evil Twin: All "gypsies" or "vagabonds" or "hobos" who use various breweries, rather than a single contracted facility. (Although Stillwater may be settling down now that the pub is open.) If you put both your and the brewery's name on the label, rather than just your own with "brewed at" in 2 point type, then you are a "collaborating brewer."

If you have a recipe you contract others to brew on your behalf, you are a "beer commissioner." (Credit for that term to Tim Webb, who really does have a way with such things.) The brewery you hire is the "contract brewery."

The question that remains is what to call Pretty Things and other such enterprises, where the only difference is that they don't actually own the equipment on which they brew? "Brewer" springs to mind as accurate, for is not a chef still a "chef" when he or she works in a hired catering kitchen?

Oh, and there may be one other question: Does any of this matter to the beer consumer?

Jeff Alworth -

If we create a hierarchy of beer geek approval, contract brewer is down there on some plane of hell. Regular brewers are the baseline. Weirdly enough, gypsy* brewers are a notch above. Guys like Strumke have gotten tons and tons of press because they're gypsies. There are lots of great little breweries around the country that toil in anonymity--they would do well to gypsify themselves as a PR trick.

*A cursory look suggests "gypsy" can be used for itinerant without offering racial slight. "Vagabond" and "hobo" have serious negative connotations--"disreputable" is common. For something neutral, "wandering" might do. But few would write about wandering brewers; "gypsy" is so much more alluring.

Alan -

"Oh, and there may be one other question: Does any of this matter to the beer consumer?"

Mr. B: Being one, yes. Of course it does. If I am being asked to pay a big premium for a Mikkeller or another beer because of the alleged participation in the process I want assurance that there was more than an email involved. Quality assurance. For my money. Did you forget it was my money? Otherwise it is just more tedious branding. I do agree that what Dann explains is really just brewer. They who clean are spotless in that regard.

I like beer "commissioner" a bit but actually something that remote is pretty close to mere "licensor and distributor". I like wanderer better but something from a Sinatra lyric would be best.

Jeff: all roads lead to Visigoth. Admit it. Embrace it.

Dann Paquette -

BTW - we calles ourselves "tenant" brewers. Works for us.


Alan -

Hmmm. I wonder. It's more a bit like a "profit appendant" rather than tenancy. Or maybe a "profit á prendre" but that is more related to the right to take crops than make the use of machines.

Errr... sorry. Having a copy of The Law of Real Property by Megarry makes one think of such things.

Gary Gillman -

Speaking as a consumer, I must say I do not see the distinction between any of these categories. It is just different ways to formulate and market a beer. Sam Adams makes beer I understand both at its own brewery and at others around the states where it contracts out: the beer tastes the same to me. Some people might choose to lease not own, or might say the bank owns the brewery! :) I have utmost respect for brewers but it is one part of the business of making and selling beer, there are other parts (managing the money part, creating a brand and a product formulation, of course marketing, etc. ) which don't relate necessarily to brewing as such. I say it is all good and must in the end judge by palate.

Alan -

So... you would or would not pay more for a funky brewer branded beer?

Gary Gillman -

I would only pay more if I thought the premium was likely to be earned by the flavour, regardless of how the brewer brought the beer to market.

Alan -

See, I've had a think for Dann's beer since batch three. I rely on their labels now because they have earned my trust. Sure wish I could find it for $5.99 a bomber now, just three years later.

Dann Paquette -

Gary that really gets to the point. No one fills out the TTB form with these definitions. From our point of view "tenant brewer" is somewhat important but really as a marketing tool only. It does't change what we're doing. But we have way too much anecdotal evidence that people think "contract brewing" means that we have nothing to do with the production of the beers. "Where's your brewery" is the second question every single person asks us. If we stop at "we rent a brewery" then the impression is that we phone it in. So it's helpful when we're out on the streets.

Alan -

Fair enough and it's a very good point. You have to make yourself explicable. Remember the Wessex Craft Brewers Cooperative from ten or fifteen years ago? Not sure if they are still around. Made great beer. You guys are a bit like the co-op in one. But how to put that? What to call you what you do so as make it clear to those who would pick at the thing that is pointless to pick that such picking is, in fact, pointless?