I was going to announce all the prizes today. I thought it was going to be that simple. But then I started having that good deep look at the best of the best and, yup, once again I am faced with my own failings. I couldn't take photographs this good. How can I then judge them... and at Christmas. How to sift then, decide amongst them? Well, for starters you can award a few prizes to narrow the pack. Here are four winners of topical and regional prizes to start off the gift giving. Click for a bigger image as always.
Ah, the great brewing tradition of Ballantine's in Minnesota. Err... not really. Ballantine was mainly brewed in New Jersey and its originator Peter Ballantine first trained in Albany, NY almost 200 years ago. While, through the decades and centuries, the thread of Ballantine connects late 1900s US hoppy strong ale to hoppy early 1800s US hoppy strong ale - the current use of the brand is just the result of trading in intellectual property rights. And, sadly, the current branding misses the truth calling this beer "America's Original IPA - 1878"... which is just silly. As Craig posted on Facebook today:
Dunlop’s of Albany were brewing and exporting an East India Ale to New York City. This Dunlop is likely, Archibald A. Dunlop, son of the early Albany Ale brewing magnate Robert Dunlop. The younger Dunlop followed in his father’s footsteps, operating his family’s breweries in Albany, West Troy (now Watervilet) and eventually (for a very short two year stint between 1864 and 1866) on 11th Street in New tYork City. This ad predates Dunlop’s New York City operation, but nevertheless proves, IPA was being made in the States well before Ballantine’s claim of 1878. Coincidentally, Peter Ballantine worked for the elder Dunlop during the 1820s, and purchased Dunlop’s original brewery on Broadway. Ballantine would re-locate to Market Street before leaving Albany for Newark, New Jersey, in 1840, to establish Peter Ballantine & Co.
Here is the ad to the left from the 1860s that makes the point. Here's an 1866 business directory entry. It's also relevant to appreciate that the branding followed the beer. Strong hoppy ales were important and enjoyed in the US as far back as the 1830s. The use of "IPA" I suspect was fitting the beer that had been made one way or another in the Hudson valley from the 1600s into a modern branding model. After all, as you can read in our Upper Hudson Valley Beer
Robert Dunlop opened his brewery in Albany in 1806. By 1810 it was located on the eastside of North Market Street (now Broadway), just above Quackenbush Street, and one of the largest in the city, brewing 3,000 barrels a year. By the 1820s, Dunlop has amassed quite a fortune, owning a grain and plaster mills near Syracuse, as well as malt houses in West Troy and Albany, as well as his brewery.
That wee empire was all in place before Peter Ballantine made land in the USA and joined the business. Dunlop - and likely Ballantine - just make what they make out of indigenous or reasonably priced ingredients and then label it whatever is trendy. After all, Quinn and Nolan were making California Pale Ale in Albany in the 1870s. Whatever is going on, however, Ballantines may well be the bridge from the past to the present even if it is not the beer that originated the flavour profile in any sense.
So what to make of this restatement of the beer that may well have had many restatements over the best part of US history? It pours a brilliant orange amber under a massive rocky off white head. Orange marmalade and maybe a little cedar box on the nose. In the mouth, the body is maybe one tiny notch lighter than a modern IPA but well within the ball park. I think i feel brewer's sugar on the lips, too. Characteristic of first half of the 1900s ale for sure. The hopping is rustic with that cedar note carrying over but otherwise this is a fairly standard USA craft IPA. Which may be the point. Who is going to make a claim to be brewing the originator of a style and then present a flavour profile that is at odds with it - present a brew with, say, the cat pissy hops flavour characteristic of Cluster, the most likely choice for actual 1800s US brewers? Who is going to make that? No one. No money in that actual history stuff.
A perfectly good beer undiminished by a less than perfect back story. The BAers have a lot of respect but you can likely find a very similar beer for $10 a six in the US, about half the price of this beer.
This is maybe my hobby interest in this hobby of mine - brewers growing their own barley. This time its in Saskatchewan:
They wanted to go back to farming, too, and were able to buy back the original farm. Lawrence and his family live there today. Most farmers sell their grain wholesale, but the Warwaruks have figured out a smart, sustainable way to add value to the barley they grow. They do this on a much smaller acreage than the typical large-scale farming operation, where 3,000 acres is usually the minimum to make a profit on the wholesale grain market. The Warwaruks’ farm is just over 160 acres. All the barley grown on the farm is used for Farmery products. “If I was to take that barley to an elevator, I’m getting less than $3 a bushel, which is crazy,” says Lawrence.
What is the big deal? New York has farmhouse breweries all over the place. And I suppose that is right. And Lars is studying the farmhouse brewing traditions of Europe and particularly Scandinavia. It's everywhere already, right? But in New York, a percentage of the hops and other ingredients must be grown or produced in New York State. Not all. And not all on that given farm. It's a great program but it's not all from one farm. And what Lars is exploring are really town and country brewing traditions - which is great. But it's not what I am thinking about.
What I think the Warwaruks and my nearby neighbours the MacKinnons may have in common is that they are involved with (i) family grain operations, (ii) the are using brewing to create a premium value revenue stream to secure the farm from risk and (iii) they are not making overly wrought beers. This model may not scale. It may not ever extend beyond the local market. But it is intensely local. It is malt barley focused. It is also not the result of a funding or a research program. It's utterly normal.
Any other examples out there? Girardin I suppose.
Ten days to Christmas. Upstairs, the children are fighting and the cookies for a workplace sweet treats swap are burning unattended. Me, I should be packing up presents and signing cards for distant family members and old friends. But no. Me, I sit in my easy chair contemplating the weeks past that have seen a short circuited wall oven needing replacing, snow tires needing buying, ball joints for the family van needing installing, the dishwasher needing fixing while the furnace and the gas stove each needed a good visit from the maintenance man. Contemplating. That's the word. So I could do with a bit of distracting.
Fortunately, a combination of Boak and Bailey as well as Stan today got me thinking. B+B revealed their take on the Golden Pint Awards while Stan tweeted a reminder to give up our annual annualism and consider a longer timeline. Can the two be combined? Can we consider the improvements of 2014 and also acknowledge the venerable record holders? Let's see. And just in case this does not work, I will post Mr. Thinking Chimp as a reminder of the passing of all things... or something like that.
Best Beer To Date: I am not sure any beer took me into place another hadn't before. I finally had that Timothy Taylor I'd been wanting for years. It was very nice. Like so many others. If I was being honest, my greatest new experience may well have been that one bottle of Oliver's Herefordshire Perry from last January. If anything, 2014 was the year I day dreamed a lot about perry. But I would be a very happy man if I had a case of the 1955 Double Brown by Ron and Dan and Martha. Beer of my year? Could well be.
Best Bar To Date: I did have some excellent days out this year, didn't I. An hour or two at Bellwoods in Toronto at the end of a night with beer nerds. The Holyrood 9A in Edinburgh with the family was a great find on a cold damp August lunchtime. Liked the Alechemy Rye on Rye with a venison burger. And I liked my visits to the Lionheart in Albany, too. Frankly, I like bars, taverns and pubs. The worst beat the hell out of a day at the office. The best beer spot news, however, was the reopening of the Finborough Arms in London. I'll be there four weeks tonight.
Best Book To Date: The more I think of it, I believe that the writing of encyclopedic beer books peaked some years ago with Garrett Oliver's ever excellent The Brewmaster's Table. When I compare it to the OCB, I am reminded of the game when I won the best play prize for a 35 yard field goal as well as the goat of the day award for the punt that landed five yards away... behind me. Everyone of the last few years has seen an effort to rationally contextual all of beer one way or another in between two covers for newbies and the select. None have come up to the level of The Brewmaster's Table.
Best Beer Blog To Date: None have replace or even entered the orbit of Simon H Johnson. I can't think of his sad passing in 2013 without pausing. He was funny, clever, serious and irreverent. He was daring and a slacker. He wrote "The Craft Beer Manifesto" which I am eternally grateful to Boak and Bailey for reprinting in full in Brew Britannia. Go and read the archives of his still readable body of work because the answer to the question remains no.
Best Beer Experience To Date: Co-writing the three beer books with Max then Jordan then Craig. A few years back, Maureen Ogle said in passing how irritating it was to read book reviews from folk who had not taken on the task themselves. I disagreed but now I can disagree from an informed perspective. I had no idea that I would enjoy the organized long writing - whether of history or drunk punk sci-fi - as much as I did. It was so compelling I needed a break. But I may get back into it soon. Beer and Brewing in North America Before 1700 isn't going to write itself.
Best Beer Social Media Voice To Date: None. I participate in both Twitter and Facebook for the propagation of thoughts about beer but find it depressing. I think it is the worst thing that has happened to hearing others since the demise of RSBS almost five years ago. Discussion has been replaced by proclamation just as surely as ambition has made damaging inroads on consideration.
Best Really Old Beer Thing: A model of a brewing and baking operation from the tomb of MentuhotepII, Deir el-Bahri, western Thebes, Middle Kingston, c.2010 BC. As seen at the Royal Ontario Museum. Not 2000 BC. 2010 BC. Got it?
Best New Thing in Beer: Even with the excellent beers being made by my new local craft brewery, Stone City Ales, I have seldom have been as excited about a brewery of my near neighbour MacKinnon Brothers Brewing. In the next golden age - after we overthrow our hop obsessed personalized taste hybridizing overlords and their sweet sauced saison allies - in that era of peace and plenty malt shall rule again. The way forward may be defined by those who not only brew with fine malt but those who have also grown it for centuries. Once again, beer may start tasting like beer again.
There. That's my version of the Golden Pints. Like an Old Testament minor prophet shouting into the storm before being swept away and forgotten, I tell you to grieve for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field is destroyed. Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Or just dive back into that next pint of 10% Christmas ale and never mind. It's all the same. Year after year. Just like the #YuletideChristmasHanukahHogmanayKwanzaFestivusBeeryPhotoContest2014.
And that is that. The final entries for the photo contest came in yesterday more or less on time. We use the Hawaiian time zone plus or minus 20% rule... as no doubt you all do, too. There are photos from Alan McCormick of Montana, Peter Bailey of Alberta, Jan Zeschky of British Columbia, Robert Gale of Wales, Mike Harte of Seattle, Kyke Navis of Bolivia, Michael Oman of New Mexico, Ed Wray of England, Kevin Priddle of Toronto, Tom Bedell of Vermont, Mark Hatherly possibly of Luxembourg and Tonia Wilson of Ontario. That makes for 28 entrants with 118 photos for consideration. That's seven less than last year which makes it just about right. In this the ninth annual contest, we prize our efficiency as well as variety. The 527 photos entered in 2008 was a lesson for us all. Were the last 350 really worth it? Really? In 2012 I estimated that we had 1800 entries overall to that point so now we must be over 2,000 all in all. No wonder Decembers feel rushed around here.
Anyway, now the considerations begin. The evaluation forms are being distributed along with the multi-coloured crayons. It suddenly gets all BJCP around here. Not really.
Just like that, it's almost over. Late November to mid-December goes like a bat out of hell. You turn around and you are fifty-one. Oh. Oh, yes you do. OK, you need to get your entries in now. Deadline is tomorrow. Unless there are beggars. And there are always beggar. The cat got ill. My dinner was burnt. Never mind that. Below are entries from Thomas Cizauskas of Virginia, Allison Olson also of Virginia, Alistair Reece yet again of Virginia but really from Scotland, David Bishop of England, Knut Albert Solem of Norway, Fabio Freire the Brazilian of Brooklyn, Zak Rotello of Illinois and Stephen Shorlin of Newfoundland. Be like them. Submit now. Submit. Here are the prizes. And here are the rules. And, below, you can find the latest batch of entries for the Yuletide Christmas Hanukah Hogmanay Kwanza Festivus Beery Photo Contest for 2014:
Ahh, the loook of a winning entry. That's the 2010 grand prize winner from Brian Stechschulte of San Francisco, California. Fabulous. Prizes. Did I mention prizes? We have prizes. Here is what's in Santa's ale laced stocking so far for 2014:
=> From John, the Beer Nut of Ireland a hardback copy of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider.
=> From Bush Pilot Brewing, a prize pack for a deserving entry from Ontario.
=> One copy of Vintage Beer by Patrick Dawson, the winner of the North American Beer Writers' Guild's Best Book 2014 award.
=> Two copies of Ontario Beer: A Heady History of Brewing from the Great Lakes to the Hudson Bay by myself and the ever plucky Jordan St. John.
=> Two copies of Upper Hudson Valley Beer by, again, myself and in this case surprisingly Jeffersonian Craig Gravina.
=> Two copies of Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer by the delightful Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey, winner of the British Guild of Beer Writer's award for the best book of 2014.
=> One copy of The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer: Rediscovered Recipes for Classic Brews Dating from 1800 to 1965 by our dreamy pal Ronald Pattinson.
=> One copy of Lost Breweries of Toronto Paperback also by the self same Jordan St. John.
More entries are coming in daily but the deadline looms. Here are the rules. Study them. Follow them. Bend them. But get your entries in by this Friday, December 12 by 4 pm eastern time zone according to the reckoning of the western hemisphere. Don't be late. Or maybe beg for an extension. If you must. May not get it. But you never know.
St. John says his last beer before the tweet above was a fruit wheat beer that combined the worst aspects of fruit and wheat. The world of beer appreciation is lashing back against overthought, not-actually-tasty brews, and #drainpour is just one symptom of this. “Breweries really are trying to run before they can walk. They open their doors and three months later they’re doing a Cognac barrel-aged double IPA with brettanomyces yeast and elderflower honey. Come on, just make an IPA first,” Beaumont says. “Brewers try to jump into the fray maybe a little too fast and little too heavy and they miss what is really constructing a really good beer.”
That pretty much captures it for me though my drain pours are as much from established ambitious brewers like Allagash or Dogfish Head than brewers trying to walk before they run. Breweries who try to experiment on my dime... and too often fail. Or brewers who bore me with false claims that don't hold up. I can't recall the last time I bought a Rogue. See, I have only so much need of any particular beer on a given night. If I open a bottle of "big craft dud" I can't be bothered to consider the bad idea for too very long. I move on. There are way too many other beers to enjoy. The same applies, of course, to the simply foul and infected. And, I am pleased that the article notes, the fruit flavoured saison... though that was first encountered in a bar so I couldn't exactly drain it. To get my attention these days you need to at least start to get my respect and, in this market, you really don't have that much time to earn it.
Yes, I think the only think I can't agree with is the characterization that the cause are breweries "trying to run before they can walk" as this suggests it's the newer breweries which inflict these confused emotional messes on the beer buying public. I see no evidence for this. Bad planning is a wide church with doors wide open these days. And the pews are full. Macro industrial, big craft and the newbie nano are all repeat offenders. The odd thing is that the same breweries in each of those classes can and do all make well priced, really good, complex and surprising beers at the same time. Strange.
What I think is really going on is another downside of the 3000 brewery 15,000 beer universe. Choice is much more perilous than the long promised bubble burst to those who have invested their lives and savings in small breweries. There is way too much choice now in the limited marketplace of the shelf and the tap lineup. And I know it. If I usually take a pass on big craft due to their avaricious price points and the newest nanos due to those early batch uncertainties, I am acting on the lessons of my own experience. If I pass on familiar gas station standby beers due to the unsettled grazing habits of a beer nerd, I am playing out my own curiosity. Can't stop me. These days, I want it all - virtue, price point, pleasures in the glass. And I can have it all because there are just so many good beers out there that qualify in every way.
Isn't the #drainpour a little more than about discerning taste? Haven't we passed the point that we worry whether something "can’t be helping the cause of good beer"? #drainpour? It's a strong sign of a buyers' market. No beer fan these days actually needs any particular brewery. The only folk who aren't worthy these days are the brewers who don't seem to know that. And it's only going to get worse... or better - depending on which side of the transaction you find yourself.
Beer is a popular subject, and the literature abounds in unsupported statements, misleading or inaccurate quotations and inadequate references.
Wilson, D. Gay. "Plant Remains from the Graveney Boat and Early History of Humulus lupulus in W. Europe." New Phytologist 75 (1975) 627 at 639.
That's just the sort of thing we need now more than ever, isn't it. Anyway, I will just leave that 39 year old thought with you as we look at, in addition to the one video entry, the first 31 photo entries for this year's Yuletide Christmas Hanukah Hogmanay Kwanza Festivus beery photo contest. These are from Thomas Vincent of North Carolina, Christopher Grzan of New Jersey, Boak and Bailey of Cornwall, Keith Adams of California, The Beer Nut of Ireland... the only true beer nut in the world, Mark Michalski of Maryland, and Aaron Stein of Oregon... not in that order. I could rearrange them I suppose. But that would take effort.
That's quite good, isn't it. Get your entries in by emailing me at beerblog@gmail dot calm. Prizes. For free. Well, for a photo. That doesn't suck.
Ding has asked a very direct clear question for this month's edition of The Session: which part of the beer scene do I currently inhabit? I am not sure I should care but I know I once was curious. In a 2007 email, I asked Evan Rail about my writing and he kindly wrote back:
...Stan's got it right. He's one of my role models, as you are, as is Pete Brown and maybe a couple others. Look at your own writing: you're catholic in taste, funny, a font of well-turned phrases and reader entertainment while you inform about beer in Canada and around the world. That's what everyone should be doing. That's what I want to do.
Does that still apply? Not sure. But it sure is nice to have that quotation in needlework framed on the computer room wall. Back in those days blogging was so cool that I could rank higher than Guinness for the search for the word "beer on Google. I was described in an AP news story as a founder of the beer blogging scene. My opinion was sought by The New York Times. But that was before all the others started writing online. The Stan and the Lew and the Stonch. The Mr. B. But that was then. It's the best part of a decade ago.
it didn't take me long to realize there was no real money in writing about beer unless I was (1) very very good and (2) wanted to dedicate my life to it. Back then I published a few articles I trade magazines and was paid about $100 a pop. Diddly. Back then I got the same for one month ad placement on the blog before the curse of social media struck. The guys who do make a living at this have all my respect... even if I don't mention that all the time. It is a tough life which I do not regret passing on. Life is not all party for the beer writer. It is also by necessity more focused on the product than I came to realize I care for. For me, the interesting thing is good beer culture now and - more and more - through time.
So, I write. This year, I co-published three books on the forgotten golden age of Albany's brewing supremacy to the forgotten tales of brewing in Canada's Arctic in the 1600s to the never to be forgotten adventures of Al and Max through time and space. I had a blast writing with Max, Jordan and Craig and getting to know them better. But I turned down, for now, an offer to help write another with a more serious academic publisher because, again, there is no money in beer writing. Adding up all three books, I likely spent twice any reasonable prospect of return on research and travel costs. It was fun but it was hobby work. The proposed book with a great topic, a great coauthor and a great publisher would have resulted in likely $10,000 in these sorts of unrecoverable costs beyond anything the publisher generously put on the table. If the research was to be properly done.
Which is where I think I am now, where I fit in the scene, As you know, I am not going to fret if I don't use commas consistently and if I misspell "temperance" half the time. Folk who think that these posts or those on any other blog or other forms of social media are not drafts of half developed ideas are missing the point. Good beer is a fantasically poorly thought out thing that is subject to big issues like financial interest, alcoholism and dependency, social awkwardness, trends, ambition for place in the conversation as well as a mass of underlying data that is incorrect, withheld or even tampered with. But because it is that joy juice called "beer" no one really cares. And maybe they shouldn't. But if no one cares about that no one really cares about how you placed that comma.
Where do I fit in now? Now I am that guy who is wondering why so many people think all beer was brown and smoky gak before brewers kept records in daily brewing logs. People are such slaves to records. And to the idea that the present is the culmination of something, that it's the result of the solving of all life's past shortcomings. Which means that I am the guy who likes to point stuff like that out. Given I now know that no one is paying for anyone to do that sort of thing I am relieved of the curse of ambition or even need. I get to do it to have fun, express myself freely and even perhaps direct others down a better path towards the way of good beer. No skin off my back if they don't have the good sense to take a stroll in that direction once in a while.