Fall: Oktoberfest and Pumpkin Beer


Kasper on Tap today has a link to a panel tasting results on Oktoberfest and pumpkin beers. Last night I had Blue Point Oktoberfest and it was very good. Last week at the women in the beer industry panel I had the Dogfish Punkin which was also very good. I have not tried either style of beer before but enjoyed both. My favorite brewery while in New York is Brooklyn Brewery. I have liked everything I have tried from them. Last night I had Brown Ale which was really good. I hope to go and visit the brewery while we are here. If we do I will report on it.

Beer Promotion

I have only been able to attend one event of the many being held during NY Craft Beer Week. Eighty-three bars are participating and a $35 passport enables you to go to any of these places and pay $2 for a pint of that bar’s featured beer. The passport also gives you a discount for other events including the Women in the Beer Panel.

There are also a series of dinners, Zagat House Specials, which are $40, three-course,with beer, meals. The most expensive meal appears to be tonight. You could pay $350 for a seven-course dinner paired with Brooklyn Brewery Beer at Per Se. Thomas Keller owns this restaurant which is in the Time Warner Center, Columbus Circle.

Andy Crouch, Beer Scribe has written about the questionableness of such an expensive meal.  In a a larger sense, I wonder what the  organizers of NY Craft Week are trying to accomplish. The women on the panel all spoke about promoting craft beer and creating wider exposure to its good taste and qualities. Are $350 dinners the way to do that? Even the $35 passport which gets you $2 beers seems problematic. The whole experience seems to require that a participant already has knowledge of both the beers and the bars.

The organizers have created an equivalent to the gallery scene I described in an earlier post. They are not relying on street traffic to generate business. Beer festivals do seem to be more accessible.

Craft brewers may have  an identity crisis. Are they aspiring to achieve the elitist status of wine or do they wish to get some of the market share that the poor tasting mega beers occupy? These goals are contradictory.

Women in the Beer Industry: Part Two

The panel discussion on Tuesday was very engaging and went past two hours. Each of the speakers provided details about how they got into the industry. Carol Stout was an educator but got interested in beer through her husband who loved good beer. They travelled to Germany. On their return, Carol wondered why they could not have the same quality of beer at their restaurant in Adamstown, PA. She does not feel that being a woman hindered her career in brewing and credits two men, Karl Strauss and Greg Noonan, with helping her.

Carol, along with the other panelists, felt that it was mainly a myth that woman do not like beer as much as men and that they liked to drink “fruity” beers more often. She blamed much of this perception on marketing and media. Carol also believes that women brewing beer has long historical roots and that there are now many places in the world where women are returning to this practice. In particular, she mentioned Ethiopia.

Jennifer Schwertman, the bartender, felt it was a matter of educating women about beer and having better bartenders to help with this process. She believes it is a partnership between brewers and the community palate. Jen loves the community around craft brewing as much as she loves the beer.

Sarah Beach is from Belgium and has worked for Duvel Moorgat/Ommegang for four years. She is in sales and said when she goes into a retail establishment for the first time they often asked her if she is old enough to drink beer. I thought it was interesting that she was included on the panel since Ommegang is a craft brewery that a larger company owns.

Susan Greene, from Global Brewers Guild, is involved in sales and marketing and has worked for the company for over six years. Prior to her working in the beer industry, she was involved with restaurants. Susan feels that although New York has numerous excellent restaurants, the establishments often have poor beer lists.  In this area, she feels other cities are better.

A common theme among many of the panelists was that the craft beer scene is more vibrant in other parts of the country, particularly the Pacific Northwest. All are committed to making craft beers a thriving presence in New York City.

Debbie Boening stated that her family company had been involved, along with the Van Munching’s in importing and distributing Heineken in America. When Heineken took back distribution, it left a big gap in  Boening’s portfolio. It as at this point that she started looking at craft beers.

In the early 1980s, Jin Koch (Boston Beer) had to make several repeat visits before she would agree to sell Sam Adams. One of her sales reps was in the audience and told of going to various stores and bars saying, “I have Stoudt’s for you.” The other person would reply, “We have Guinness.” Sales Rep:  “It’s Carol Stoudt.” “You want me to buy a woman’s beer?” However, the distinctiveness of a woman making Stoudt’s did provide entry. Debbie said that, despite having many excellent craft beers in her portfolio, Colt 45 was still her top seller.

None of the panelists really felt that being a woman in the beer industry had made their path more difficult. All felt that the craft beer industry is very welcoming and supportive. The audience was overwhelmingly female so there may be a completely new group of women anxious to enter the industry.

Women in the Beer Industry:Part One

Last night I went to the French Culinary Institute, heard a panel discussion about women in the beer industry, and sampled beer, bread and cheese. All of the beers related in some way to the speakers. There were beers from Stoudt’s, Ommegang and Dogfish Head.

I had a Stoudt’s Pils which was very refreshing and had a good  taste and color, unlike the Heineken I had a few days ago. My husband had a Stoudt’s Scarlet Lady ESB which he liked very much. We both tried the Dogfish Head Punkin which, for me, was surprisingly good, not too sweet and just a hint of pumpkin taste.  My favorite was the Ommegang Abbey Ale which was delicious, a beautiful ruby brown color, and very smooth. It is 7% abv. It would go well at any meal at which you would consider serving wine.

Two nights ago we went to the Blind Tiger Ale House which is a very well-known beer bar with an overwhelmingly selection of both draft and bottled beers. It reminded me of a smaller Moan and Dove (my local bar) with more beers, food but no peanuts. We had Blue Point Cask IPA which I did not like. It was very still and tasted like a stout. I liked the Cigar City Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale though.

The women on the panel represented various aspects of the brewing industry, from production to retail. Maggie Fuller, founder of Beer  Ethos moderated the discussion. Maggie has a degree in brewing science from UCDavis and founded Beer Ethos to promote” the appreciation and enjoyment of beer through drinking and discourse.”* She plans on opening a beer store in the near future.

The women on the panel were: Carol Stoudt, President and Brewmaster, Stoudt’s Brewery. Carol was the first American woman to “oversee the design and development of a craft brewery from start to finish.”

Susan Greene, General Sales Manager Global Brewers Guild,”which represents a dozen domestic and imported beers throughout the East Coast.” (I couldn’t find a website)

Jennifer Schwertman, a bartender at the Blind Tiger.

Sarah Lescrauwart Beach, Ommegang Brewery, Market Manager. Duvel Moortgat, a publicly owned and traded Belgium company that brews Duvel, owns Ommegang.

Debbie Boening, Oak Beverages, President and Chief Executive Officer. Oak Beverage is  a “leading New York Metropolitan are beer wholesale distributor and part of the 107 -year old, fourth generation Boeing beer distribution group.” She is the only woman.

Tomorrow: Part Two: What they said.

* All the text in quotes is from the handout at the talk.

A New York Minute

We have had a few busy days so I don’t really have time to write much. I did make a commitment to myself to blog everyday while in New York so this will have to suffice. Tonight we are going to one of the activities of NY Craft Beer Week, Women in the Beer Industry: from brewers to bar owners with Carol Stoudt, the first female brewmaster in the U.S., and others. Tomorrow I promise I will have a beer related post. Cheers!

Beer Summit

This evening, President Obama, Henry Louis Gates, and Sgt. Crowley will all have a beer together at the White House. Apparently there is not much other news – I guess there is nothing going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy or health care and OctoMom’s reality show hasn’t started yet. Because of this dearth of news, newspapers and online news sites have  had a lot  to say about the beer summit. Much of the discussion has focused on what type of beer the three men will drink. Some American craft brewers are apparently offended that no domestically produced beer will be available. I think this is manufactured news and somewhat silly. Since this tempest in a teapot  or beer stein hasn’t generated much buzz, some news sources are trying to suggest that people will care about the President serving alcohol. Towards this end the Wall Street Journal spoke to the national president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Even if the WCTU was solely responsible for Prohibition as the article wrongly implies, is it still a relevant organization? I could not find out about membership figures for the WCTU  and it has affiliates in only five states. American society is not anti-alcohol and the number of people who totally abstain from drinking is a minority. To imply that President Obama will suffer a dip in his popularity because he drinks and serves beer is ridiculous.

A-B Anniversay

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the InBev takeover of Anheuser-Busch. Jeremiah McWilliams had a story about it in Sunday’s St Louis Post-Dispatch. His story detailed the sequence of events that led to InBev taking over the  historic, mega company  Anheuser-Busch. Sidebars contained comments by government officials about the importance of Anheuser-Busch to the St. Louis and Missouri economy.

I don’t feel that the sale of A-B to InBev has really made that much difference in the beer landscape. The company is still a very big corporation producing a high quality, standardized product that I don’t like. At the time of the takeover, commentators wondered if it would set off a new round of mergers. That has not really happened; probably because of the global economic meltdown. Prior to the takeover, craft brewers and the mega breweries occupied two different and fairly distinct tiers of the brewing industry. That has not changed. Distribution issues for craft brewers and the perhaps, unfair advantage the big brewers have, have also persisted.

The biggest impact of the creation of InBev-AB  has been on the employees of Anheuser Busch. In that way the takeover contributed to the country’s negative economic picture. However, a year later, this Bud is still not for me.

( I could not find a link to the story. McWilliams’ blog is lagerheads/stltoday)

Sin Taxes

There is a very lively discussion of the proposed fee increase in the federal beer tax going on in the blogosphere. Two places that have interesting discussions are Alan McLeod, at A Good Beer Blog, and Steve Sullivan, guest blogging yesterday on Kasper On Tap on the Baltimore Sun site. Sullivan provides a roundup of the current blogging on proposed increases in liquor taxes to finance health care reform. I have posted a bunch on this topic and my dissertation and a large part of my book dealt with the federal government and liquor taxes.

Last April I posted about a proposed increase in the Wisconsin beer tax. Many of the points are also relevant for the federal situation so I am re-posting it.

April 14, 2008

The  website Wausau Daily Herald.com had a posting yesterday suggesting that Wisconsin raise its beer tax. Apparently the state is facing a rising problem of underage drinking and some legislators as well as police officers  believe one response should be increased beer taxes. The state is also facing a budget deficit of $250 million.

Wisconsin has not increased the beer tax since 1969. It remains at six cents a gallon; the national average is twenty-six cents. During the forty years that the Wisconsin beer tax has remained stationary, tobacco taxes in the state have increased eight times. They are currently $1.77 a pack. Wisconsin ranks first both in percentage of high school students that drink and  binge drinkers.

Given Wisconsin’s historical image as a center of brewing, the author of the posting suggested that, “Proposing a beer tax increase here is like suggesting higher tobacco taxes in North Carolina.” The author actually understates the potential opposition to a beer tax increase since he cites only Miller as a factor in the current Wisconsin brewing industry and claims primarily sentimental value for the industry today. However there are over fifty breweries and brew pubs in Wisconsin; several of which are among the top fifty brewers in the  country. Miller Brewing is of course the country’s third largest brewers while  Minhas Craft Brewery of Monroe, Wisconsin is fifteenth.

In 1991, when the brewing industry faced the first tax increase for beer in forty years, brewers large and small joined to fight the proposed increase. In fact most brewing industry organizations including the Beer Institute, the Brewers Association, and the National Beer Wholesalers Association maintain that tax should be rolled back.

Although craft brewing has a certain cachet that would imply it is something other than a business, craft brewers are no different from Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors  in seeking the least possible federal and state interference and regulation via  taxation or other means. Given the poor economic landscape as well as the particular problems facing brewers such as the hops shortage, it is very likely that the brewing industry will argue against the tax as a regressive measure that would fall unfairly on middle class and working people. Because the brewing industry has always emphasized the heavy tax burden it already bears, it will argue that further taxes are not appropriate.

Increasing taxes to  cover the societal costs of alcohol and abuse is something that the brewing industry has always rejected and will most probably continue to. It is very interesting that these arguments date back to the the beginning of federal taxation of beer and distilled spirits in 1862 and have not changed very much.

Beer and Wine in Israel

In my post about Jewish Beer and Brewing I discussed Israeli and Palestinian beer. While in Israel, I had the opportunity to taste both Goldstar and Macabee. Goldstar is a medium color lager with a decent flavor and a small hoppy taste. Maccabee was pretty bad, on par with Bud or Pabst. My husband had Nesher Malt, which is a non-alcoholic beer which has been produced  since 1935.

Someone who was on our trip had Dancing Camel beer on tap and said it was very good. Their website has several different beers, some with funny names in the style of Shmaltz Brewing and He’Brew. The food scene in Israel is so amazing that I think it is just a matter of time before Israel has a thriving micro-brewery industry.

We also had a tour at the Carmel Winery in Zikhron Ya’akov. Most American Jews grow up drinking Manishevitz at Passover and think that is the extent of Jewish Kosher wine. The company dates back to 1882,Baron Edmund de Rothschild, owner of Chateau Lafite, helped established it.

Unlike Manishevitz, Carmel’s fine wines are not pasteurized which allows them to have a  better flavor. The wine we tasted was very good and our tour guide was an amazing, extremely stylish woman, originally from  Morocco. Unfortunately I can’t remember her name but I do have some pictures.

The guide is the person on the right
Wine Barrels

I am a Craft Brewer

The problem with the movie Beer Wars and the video, “I am a Craft Brewer,” (available at Andy Crouch’s site) by Greg Koch, shown at the Craft Brewers Conference in Boston, is that they simplify, to the level of good versus evil, very complex issues. Both also imply that drinking a craft beer is somehow a politic act. (Stephen Beaumont, World of Beer makes a similar point).

Beer Wars implies that supporting small craft beers will strike a blow against monopolistic, big business. “I am a Craft Brewer,” declares that craft brewers are “socially conscious.” How does any of this connect to selling and buying beer to drink? The workers of the large brewers, ABIB and Miller Coors are unionized and have been for over one hundred years. Are workers at “socially conscious” craft breweries unionized? Working in a brewery is hard, physical labor; do Sam Calagione’s one hundred workers receive adequate compensation and full health care coverage? Or is working in a company with a higher moral purpose sufficient compensation?

Both Beer Wars and “I am a Craft Brewer” also present a remarkably un-diverse craft brewing industry; overwhelmingly white and male. Shouldn’t a commitment to diversity be a part of social consciousness?

Before anyone responds that I am expecting too much of a business, that is my point exactly. Neither Beer Wars nor “I am a Craft Brewer” explicitly acknowledges that craft brewers are involved in an economic activity and in that way are no different from the mega brewers.