The Goat Rodeo

Life, Beers & Brewing in a secluded (and slightly off kilter) nook in Northern California

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A brewer's bed time story (part 2)

So where did we last leave off  ? Oh yes - "And the beer drinkers across the land were sad." well, sort of, but about the same time that the the regional breweries were going the way of T-Rex  an unusual thing was happening. The vacuum left by the rapidly vanishing regionals sucked in some strange flotsam and fuzzy from another beer universe.  They were small, loud, unsophisticated, wild and unpleasantly young; they wore funny clothes, sometimes ....well .... they smelled odd, and they were far hairier than one might hope to see in one of the big boy's gatherings. They brought with them thier own products that were as odd as their makers appearances - and they always insisted on sharing it. No one was sure what to make of them and to be sure no one really took them seriously. They were a oddity, a novelty (really something of a Joke). But there they were and like it or not one thing was for certain it WAS hard to ignore them. 

At first they were eschewed, then the more persistent of them was grudgingly allowed to congregate and wander among the initiated. These new ones, they mostly tried to behave. On occassion they tried to participate, but usually they were mostly ignored. These new ones they were always asking questions - like a child - newer completely satisfied with the answers they received. And always they brought their wares. It went on like this for some time; the distance between the Giants and these new comers remaining. 

Then one day, as if drifting on a wind from a far and distant place came a memory, a memory of an earlier time, befor the fall of so many regional breweries, it dawned on one of the initiated Giants, that these new ones were doing something that most of the initiated had once done themselves  - these new ones, they were creating something, something they loved. 

The Giants began to be more interested in what these new comers were up to. They started to interact with them more and on a more of an even field. Discussions bubbled up here and there, ideas were exchanged, conversations were had. But still the new comers were just an interesting oddity. And for a time it went on like this. 

Time pasted. The older parts of the initiated began to retire or some passed on. Soon these new ones were active participants, some of them even taking charge in some areas. And it came to pass that people outside the circle began to take notice of the new ones. The public seemed far more interested in what the new ones were doing and they began to ask them about it. And this gave a nice shiny new face to the whole, both old and new, the giant and the small. The new ones were called micros, because after all that term seemed to fit, no one of them was larger than an bug (and easily as squash-able). The public seemed to love them and besides what harm could they do - they were so small. And for a time it went on like this. 

Time passed and these new ones - these micros - they began to grow and to multiply. So much so that soon their overcommsumption threatened to topple the whole industry. The giants had learned to survive on so very little, but the micros, small though they were, had an insatiable appetite. Soon they were consuming an ever greater portion of the pie, but what could be done. The giants thought about choking them out (while they were still small and not yet strong) but  the people might notice and then turn against them. A few of the Micro had grown bigger than even those old regionals, and the public had fallen so deeply in love with them too.  

The giant were growing older and as they did they began to look duller in comparison to these new micros - and is want to happen; as they grew older, they began to shrink some. Just a tiny bit at first, but they were shrinking, and these micros were growning - and no longer just a little bit. And After the giants had worked so hard to drown the old regional like the decrepit grandparents they were, now almost unwittingly, they had allowed this new brand of trouble to flourish right under their noses.  The micros were no longer the cute (somewhat unwashed) hippy dippy types they were at the start, now they had become a serious issue. And maybe worst of all some of the giants own people had gone over to the other side and now they were micros. It was getting very serious. Something had to be done, but what ? 

A brewer's bed time story (part 1)

Once upon a time, in a place not so far away, there were a great many regional breweries strewn across the land, and each of these breweries made different unique beers with different flavors for each of their local areas. Each of these regional brewers had different beers and different brands and different marketing to offer. The local beers appealed to the people who lived in the area. The beers were fresh and the money made and spent on the beers remained in the community. And these regional breweris were strong in their home markets.

And life was good.

Then one day the Regional brewers looked outside of the local market and saw other regional breweries and even a couple of national brands. And they decided they wanted to be bigger. They expanded their sales beyond their region with the hope of becoming a national brand. But as they did so they had to make their beers more and more standardized so that they would appeal to a broader and broader spectrum of the new markets they were entering.

Then, One day, they found that they were all making the same beer – the same beers as all the other regional breweries, and the same beer as the national brands too. It seemed that many of the regional breweries had the same idea and at the same time – they were all trying to expand their markets and as they all did so they came into competition with each other - and into competition with the national brands as well. All those regional breweries and the national brewer's brands fighting for the same market shelf space and tap handles.

But what separated all these breweries from one another ? What different did they have to offer ? Why should consumers want to buy THIER beer and not the other brands ? (I’ll give you a hint, it was not the beers, because the beers were all the same now) - it was the price.

But - These once unique regional breweries found they could not compete on price, quality or marketing with the bigger national brands and (because they bladed up their own beer to appeal to broader and broader spectrum of the market) they had nothing interesting or unique to offer in the way of their own brands. Now it was obvious - they could never compete with the bigger, more consistant, better financed and better marketed national brands.

Woe were the regional brewers - what had they done ? They were all spread so thin now and they had no way to compete, their home markets were no longer strong (invaded by other regionals and national brands).

And so - they all died.

Some were bought up by foreign investors and bled dry, others collapsed under their own weight, their innards sold off as scrap, their shells converted to apartments for yuppies, and a few (the lucky few ?) were bought out by the bigger national brands who made the once proud regional brands into cut rate “value” brands . There were no more regional brewers left.

And the beer drinkers across the land were sad.

The end

Friday, October 21, 2011

Japan !

I don't really remember exactly how it came about, but I am pretty sure it was over a few beers. In Singapore everything seemed to happed over a few beers. My Friend Matt was always working on some scheme - this time he wanted to put on a beer festival. Not a completely unrealistic endeavour for him since he knew a fair bit about the business (after all he owned his own bar). And he needed a hand with this festival idea, so I said yes (because when your friend that owns a bar needs a hand - well, you should always say yes - undoubtedly somewhere along the line there will be free drinks to be had - or at least there should be).

This Festival would be the first BeerFest Asia
( ). Matt also wanted to put on a beer competition and, having done a few, I agree to help there as well. He got Charlie Guerrier to manage the competition and off we went. I helped them with the beer fest and competition for the next three years and in doing so got to know a bunch of great people, and this lead to an invitation to judge beers in New Zealand and then this year to Japan.

I had always wanted to visit Japan, but there had never been an opportunity. Sure, I had transited through the Narita airport and used their famous (and awesome) beer machine
( & ), but that doesn't really count as actually having visited Japan. So when Charlie called and said that Ryouji Oda was looking for beer judges and would I be iterested - I said "Yes. Oh, Hell yes !"

I had met several of the Japanese brewers at events over the years but I had not tasted many of their beers (most of their beers are not exported). The few that I had tried had been very good. Most had come from the Kiuchi Brewery, the makers of the Hitachino Nest beer and the delicious Nipponia ale ( ) - the Kiuchi beers had all been very nice indeed. But one brewery does not represent the skill of the brewers for the whole country and so I did not know what to expect. I had read about the Japanese brewing scene over the years. I knew that their craft brewers (as New Zealand's) had gone through a similar initial boom and then bust as we had in the USA. Having worked in the nascent S.E. Asian craft beer market for the five years I presumed that it might be similar to that (albeit slightly more advanced due to its earlier start).

As is my way, upon arriving at a new locale I wandered about the neighborhood to get a feel for the lay of the land. Even on this early random reconnaissance I was surprised to find several interesting beer bars in area. This boded well for the rest of my stay. If there were several good (and unlisted) beer bars so close by, well there must be more (and hopefully even better one) further afield.

Right from the start I could see that judging beers in Japan was not going to be like judging beers in the USofA. For starters our hosts had our itineraries full - each evening we were being treated to a new (and exciting) beer venue. And each venue had some interesting foods to pair with the beer. And even thought the food might have been outside the range of what some of the judges found .... tasty - the beers we tried were very good.

The bent of the Japanese beers was less of extreme experimental (like one might find in the USA) and more on of the traditional European styles or (interestingly) focused on making a Japan-centric style of beer. A perfect example of this was the Nipponia beer made by Kuichi brewery. It uses Japan cultivated Sorachi Ace hops & locally grown Kaneko Golden Malt, and is aged (for a time I am told) in local Cedar wood. There were other examples of this variety of beer and it was nice to see Japanese brewers doing something unique to their region. (did I mention the beers tasted great too).

And then there was the food. Having spent five years in Singapore and S.E. Asia it is hard to make an impression on me when it comes to food, but the food we tried most definitely did that. There were (of course) some well done international dishes but what really impressed me was those dishes that were either traditional (I mean who doesn't love Octopus on a stick, cone sushi, fermented squid guts, or Wagu beef salad ? - ) or those dishes that were truly inventive combinations, ones that were a bend of Japanese and other cultural styles.

Also impressive was how much the bar staff and the owners were really interested in knowing and leaning more about beer and about what the Japanese beer scene was in comparison to where we were from.

(this blog post currently under construction - sorry for any inconvinience caused)

Points of interst
Ant N Bee:
Club Popeye with 70 beers on tap (at least 4 cask): &
Golden Gai (only for real bar lovers - all others stay away - please):
Harvest Moon Brewery:
Japan Beer Times (both paper & online veresions are interesting):
Kiuchi Brewery and Sake Factory (great sake and fantastic Soba noodle house):
Tip Top Cave (awesome hidden bar in Roppongi):
Tower Beer Bar:

Pictured above: Brewer, Tatsu Aoki (owner of Popeye's) and Youichi Kiuchi (owner of Kiuchi Brewery)

brewer's Japan pictures:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Connecting the Dots

Everything that happens to you (both good and bad) leads you to where you are today.

I am a lucky man, no doubt about that one, and I know that. Considering my total lack of focus & direction as a young man, it could only have been luck that led to where I am today. I was lucky to have stumbled on a profession I love and a profession that I am able to do well in. Although given my interest in beer back in the day (almost anyone I knew at University would not be surprised to learn that I work in the beer business) maybe it was only natural that I ended up here.

But even once I landed in the beer business I was lucky. I was lucky to beg my way on at Redhook Brewery. Lucky to been taken under the wing of then Brewmaster Rick Buccanan, where he took the time to have me work at each job, in each department.

I was lucky to have had the son of a friend of my mother tell her about a brewing position at Pike Place brewery. I was lucky to have been accepted for that position. Lucky to have worked there for the esteemed beer guru Charles Finkel (and his lovely wife Roseann) who had many entrees and international beer connections. Had I worked at another brewery I would never have met so many beer illuminati. I would never have had evenings out with Michael Jackson (no the beer MJ), dinner at the home of Humphrey Smith (owner of Sam Smith's), beers in Aying seated between the Schniders (owners of Schnider Weiss Brewery) and Bavarian Prince Leopold, or a seat at a table for the opening night of Oktoberferfst in the Hacker Pschorr tent (with Wicked Pete & Garrett Oliver no less). Charles & Roseann were undoubtedly well connected. And Charles' relentless PR and savvy media sense got the little Pike Place brewery noticed (and with it, their head brewer - me). We (the brewers at the diminutive Pike Place brewery) used to joke that we got more PR per barrel than AB. It was through Charles that I got my first invitation to write about beer. It was during the years at the Pike Place Brewery that I made the vast majority of my connections in the industry.

Bill Owens, Dick Cantwell, Garrett Oliver, Terri Fahrendorf, Greg Noonan (all met during those years) - it was these folks (and maybe others) that mentioned my name to a headhunter who (in 2004) was looking for a brewer to open a new brewery in Singapore. Again. I was lucky to have connected with the head hunter and even luckier to have somehow convinced the project manager, Andrea Teo, that I was the person for that job. (and BTW, Andrea if you are reading this, which I doubt you are - you were an awesome person to work for). The five years I spent in Singapore were the most exciting 5 years I have had yet (although the 5 years I spent in University are a close second) and I was lucky to be working for such an industry leader in Asia (Asia Pacific Breweries). Once again the built in connections with the brewery I worked for opened doors that might have otherwise remained closed to me on my own. I got to work in Singapore, Vietnam, India and Indonesia. I was able to travel to every country in Asia (except Myanmar & Bangladesh) and I made many really great friends while I was in Asia.

It was one of these friends (Charles Guerrier) that called me a few months back and asked if I wanted to judge beer in Japan. I, of course, said yes (actually I said "Hell yes!"). And, it was of the Japanese Brewing scene and the Japanese brewers that I want to talk about today ...... but I somehow got caught up this digression and lost the plot in my preamble of connecting the dots. But here we are

Everything that happens to you leads to where you are today - or tomorrow. And so it will be tomorrow that I will post a blog on about Japan - and their wonderful beers, brewers and brewing scene. (or maybe later today)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Beer Week vs. Oktoberfest

Okay, so, let’s be honest, if you are reading this blog you are either related to me (the most likely case) or you are a socially challenged beer enthusiast (a beer geek). If you fall into the latter category don’t feel bad, there is an ever growing number of us out there (as is evidenced by the incredible growth the craft beer segment is seeing right now). And being a Beer enthusiast you would (of course) want to spend your week’s vacation time in some exciting beer related activity (obviously).

The answer to what exciting beer event - well, it use to be obvious – there were not really that many choices. You had Oktoberfest or the Great British Beer Festival. Then later came the Great American Beer Festival, then the Oregon Brewer’s Festival, then ……

But in the last few years the equation has become much more complicated for us – enter the Beer Week. What (you may ask) is a Beer Week pray tell.
A Beer Week is a relatively new concept, it started in Philadelphia just a few years (only in 2008). And since its inception a short time ago, more than 50 other U.S. cities have emulated Philadelphia’s success and launched their own beer weeks. Today there is hardly a week goes by without a Beer Week happening in some city, somewhere in the USA.
The Beer Week is a semi-ill-defined grouping of beer events and activities that take place during a week inclusive of the weekend on either side. There is usually a central “opening event” that is “hosted” by the Beer Week organizers. This Gala event usually has all (most) of the participating breweries in attendance. These breweries are (by and large) breweries from around the sponsor city, but other breweries that sell beer I that market participate as well.

Then, throughout the week there are a myriad of other activities that are usually (but not limited to) events put on by individual retailers around the city. These events may include tap takeovers (where a pub takes off their regular line up to pour all the brands from one brewery), sit down beer dinners, guest chefs, beer & food pairings, BBQs, brewery promo nights, meet the brewer, beer style nights (like an all stout on draft), limited release beer launches, beer and music events, brewery schwag giveaways,– pretty much whatever one could dream up to entertain the patrons and promote beer.

To give you an idea this year we (Anderson Valley Brewing) participated in events in San Francisco, Sacramento, Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, DC and NYC. I (as Anderson Valley’s Brewer) did talks and beer dinner in each city. I also attended a few other brewer’s events. Some of these promotions are pretty outrageous; I went to a Firestone Walker beer dinner at Brouwer’s Café in Seattle that was over the top. It was hosted by David Walker (brewery owner). The food was prepared by celebrity beer chef Sean Paxton. There were 10 courses (including some of the most delicious things I have had in months) paired with different 12 beers (including special beers that even David Walker had not tasted in a long time) – The food was delectable, the beers great and the pairings awesome.

This year in Philadelphia there were over 900 of these kinds of events in and around the city during their 10 days of Beer Week. And really that speaks directly to my point.
Given the enormous range and number of choices (both in activities and in selection of beers) at a Beer Week, would you rather spend less (on flights, hotels and the events) and do more at a major cities’ beer week – or would you rather go to Oktoberfest ? I don’t mean to denigrate Oktoberfest (I have been four times, and I think ever beer geek should go once), and I love to travel around Germany as much as anyone - but Oktoberfest is just a single event (albeit one huge event), it is expensive ($$$), with only three styles of beers served, huge (HUGE) crowds, and only so-so food.

I am not saying don’t go to Oktoberfest - but I think that if you compare the offerings; the beers, the food, the activities, the patrons – I am saying there are other great choices out there in the beer world today. Check out the local Beer Week near you – I don’t think you will be disappointed

Almost all the Beer Weeks now have web sites with a good outline of their upcoming events. Check here for the web site listings:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In a Differnt Light

I have been away for a while. I was overseas in Singapore setting up a breweries for the last 5 years (but if you are a regular reader - Hi Mom - then you already knew that). And after being away for a while I am, on my return, noticing things in our the industry that I had not expected to see.

I poured beer at the San Francisco Beer Week's Gala opening event last week. It was a fun time, with lots of great beers. I was struck by the shift in the demographic of the craft beer drinker. Unapologetically I will assert that thankfully gone are the days of craft beer events populated by 95% men - or to be more exact 95% middle aged overweight slightly balding geeky white men (and yes I am aware that I just pretty much described myself). After five years in Asia where the mix of men to women was about 60/40 and the racial mix diverse (to say the least) I had become accustom to .... well let us say - more engaging interactions at beer events. And so I was pleasantly surprised to see such a varied mix of people at the SF Beer Week Gala. Not only was he crowd about 40% women, people were (on average) younger than 5 years hence and not a small number of them were of extractions other than northern European. Now I realize that this was San Francisco and not the rural Northeast* so maybe this is not really a good representation of what's what out in the world but still- I have to say I was feeling good about what I was seeing.

Then, a few days later, I opened a beer magazine - and I quickly realized that maybe I had overestimated the changes that had taken place. This magazine is not representative of all beer magazines (not by any means), and I am not saying that there is not a place for almost everything in our world - but this particular mag seemed to have itself aimed squarely at a lot of those things that the beer industry has done so wrong for so long (think an ad with a women, bare legs spread wide, a carton of beer between them, and a tag line that reads "there's a party in my box" - I mean really this is as tricky as they could get for a full page ad ?). I won't bother to describe the articles, or the feebleminded cartoons. My point is not to rag on this particular rag.

My point is that we do not need to fall back on mindless worn out mega marketed beer clichés. We cannot take our ques from the Mega-brewery's marketeers (those very companies that helped create American beer's pedestrian reputation). We have to be move inventive than that.

If we (as brewers) want to invite and make more appealing our craft beer offerings to women and minorities then we are gonna have to make the industry more inviting to them.

We are going to have to make ourselves not just less unsavory (think "a party in my box") but a little more captivating. Craft beer has a tremendous amount of different experiences to offer people; great flavors, unique ingredients, colorful characters, camaraderie, great stories, wonderful food pairings, fantastic festivals & events (just to name a few). These are things that appeal to a broad spectrum of people, men and women alike - and from all walks of life.

Putting aside the fact that making your product more appealing to another 70 plus percent of the population would seem to make good business sense - wouldn't it be nice to have more diversity at our beers events and at our local watering holes?

We have an opportunity to bring into our fold segments of the population that have traditionally been ignored by the beer industry - and because of that they have shied away from beer. We have an opportunity to position craft beer in a way that it appeals to a much broader spectrum of folks.

It is an opportunity we should not pass up.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Beer Mentality

If I hurry I can post this by end of January (thus keeping my new New Year's resolution to blog at least once a month) - that is if I hurry. But I am not really one for rushing things. Maybe it is having grown up in Hawaii, or maybe it is living in NorCal for so long (or maybe not), but even when I lived in a city of five million I tried to take a more laid back view of things and to have a more relaxed approach.

I was reading a piece about rare beers the other day. You know the ones - those beers that people make only a small batch of - once a year, or maybe they only made two barrels of it - ever, or it’s the one that the monks only bottle on the third Thursday of each month, or possibly it was made with the fruit from a single tree, but that tree is gone because it got struck by lightning - "so, like we can never make that beer again.” You know - those beers.

Now I like a top of the line product as much as the next person, and I am all for experimental and one off beers, but if you only make eleven bottles or some such nonsense – what the point. It is a bit like dining on Ortolan* or tiger’s penis. Why would I want to spend money or stand in line to partake in something I would normally eschew at all costs ? Rarity does not equate to quality or even make something interesting.

And (yeah, I know you should never start a sentence with a conjunction, much less a whole paragraph) although I love Pliny the Younger (as well as Pliny the Elder), for the most part I have to concurred with this guys main point. Which is basically don't believe the hype**. Any beer you have to queue for more than 5 minutes for - it ain't worth it. It’s just another beer.

I know that it may be upsetting for some people to hear a brewer (someone who – literally – spends his days thinking of ways to make better beers) say that - but to be honest, for me it is less about the beer and more about the surroundings and the people I am with. And I think that is my point here. For me, drinking (and especially drinking beer) is very much about context. It is the main reason I rarely drink alone. I would rather have a PBR in some dive with my friends, than have a $1000.00 bottle of the world’s strongest beer (poured from the carcass of English road kill - really ?!?!) or a glass of '89 Haut-Brion - by myself. To my way of thinking it is the community that beer brings about that is special, the joy of shared experiences. It’s why I love a beer hall, a BBQ or a good bar.

These rare beers (and they may be great beers) – they are not about sharing, they are not about communal enjoyment – they are about what one person got a chance to have and other people did not, they are about exclusivity. These are not traits I hold in high esteem in the real world and they are not what I am looking for in my beer world. So of course I would prefer it be great beer that we were all drinking together – but if it’s not great beer – well, that is ok by me – as long as I am having beers with friends.


** Musical interlude (although I am more of an NWA kinda guy) -

***like the strongest beer in the world would taste good anyway ?!? The last several times I had the “strongest beer in the world” (and it was not nearly as strong as the road kill beer) it tasted more like a maple syrup aged in oak than it did like a beer – yeeeh. If I want to have something that strong I usually have a shot of George Dickel or (on more expensive outings) of Pappy Van Winkle. If I have a beer, I want it to have some drinkability – with some carbonation and a bit of hops. sorry, I digress from the main.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Recipe for Disaster

After doing the Brewingnetwork's radio show and having talked about Durian beer, a few people have asked for my Durian Beer recipe ....
(you can jump to minute 49 if you would just like to hear about the Durian beer)

- so here it tis: (makes about 40 liters)

Buy one “fresh” Durian
wait 48 hours (for maximum odiferousness)
During this time the aroma may bother others - ignore their complaints*
open said Durian ,
separate Durian inside from sharp pointy semi-lethal Durian husk
save husk for novelty conversation piece or possible Halloween costume head piece
separate Durian flesh from seed
save flesh
Suck all flesh from seed or till flavor diminishes
Save seed for vain attempt at growing Durian tree indoors
Puree Durian flesh with a small amount of whiskey (preferably Mekong whiskey – product of Thailand),
Add pureed Durian Flesh to beer (adjust volume of beer for intensity desired)
Carbonate beer
Enjoy Durian beer
Smile a lot
repel most friends, family and neighbors with noxious aromas of Durian + Beer burps

* if they don't understand your love for the king of fruits - they will never really understand you - so clearly it would never have worked out anyway- it is better to lose them as friends now and save everyone involved the time and grief. After all you will still have your Durian (and the glow from that fire will surely light your world)