expr:class='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What's Beer Got to Do With it?

I met Laura 25 years ago. She was a not quite halfway through her career in healthcare at the time. She reached thousands of people by way of her work in various hospitals, as an educator at OHSU and, more recently, as a Nurse Practitioner in the Legacy System. Today she retired, after 42 years of service.

At OBF 2017
Our paths crossed and eventually merged thanks largely to a common obsession with racquetball. This is not a made up story. We were addicted to the sport. During most of our first 10 years together, regular weekly play and tournaments dominated our annual schedules. It was quite insane.

What we came to regard as our "need for speed" also coaxed us into other risky activities. A shared interest in snow skiing led to annual outings on Mt. Bachelor and Mt. Hood. During a trip to Kauai in 1996, we developed a boogie boarding fetish that lasted many years.

Outings were not without peril and occasional anguish. Both of us were "spin-cycled"into the sand on the beaches of Poipu numerous times while boogie boarding. But the worst occurred on Mt Bachelor in March 2008. While skiing in chopped up powder after a stressful night searching for a marauding black dog, Laura caught an edge on a snowboard rut and mangled her knee. She was unable to stand. The Ski Patrol was summoned.

She had suffered a torn ACL and meniscus damage. The trip back to Portland was painful. Soon enough, the damage was surgically repaired. She eventually returned to the slopes wearing a rigid brace. It was tough to have such limited mobility and she was tentative. I don't think she ever recovered emotionally. Getting injured like that was something she'd never experienced, didn't expect. It knocked her for a loop.

With puppy Biscuit in 2009
That 2008 incident foreshadowed the end of our "calm years." In early 2009, Laura's father passed away, more or less unexpectedly. Returning from his memorial, I was laid off, an event that had lasting consequences. Shortly thereafter, the second of our first pair of Labs passed away. Soon enough, I learned my own father had cancer. He passed away in November. It's fair to say 2009 was not a very good year.

From that point on, Laura carried the load in our household. With my career in disarray, she kept us afloat by paying the bulk of the bills while at the same time planning for her impending retirement and contributing to the college funds of her two grandchildren. Somehow, some way, she succeeded. The house was paid off a year ago. The college funds grew. We survived.

Unlike my uneven career in marketing communications and writing, Laura's career in healthcare featured a gradual, upward trajectory. During the Clinton years, she opted to get her NP certification because she believed primary care would be the wave of the future. If memory serves, we both thought primary care would become somewhat universal and well-funded.

At Waimea Brewing, 2009
Things clearly didn't work out the way we figured. Laura rolled with the punches for 22 years in several scenarios. She's seen a lot of change. Technology now plays a far greater role than it once did. But the end result is that providing care has gotten more difficult, not easier. That's largely due to the way the insurance industry works, but never mind.

These last few months of work have been bittersweet. As she gradually approached her final day in the office, Laura exchanged hugs and tears with patients, some of whom she had been seeing for a number of years. She'll undoubtedly be missed by those patients, and also by the colleagues she worked with so closely during this final chapter at Legacy.

Even though she's retiring, Laura's efforts in the healthcare area won't end. She'll maintain her license for a while, maybe do volunteer work somewhere. She doesn't plan to consider work as a healthcare provider similar to what she's done for more than two decades. "That's a mission impossible scenario," she says. "Too messy."

Retirement dinner at Oxpdx
As with all things, there is irony. One of Laura's specialties over the years has been diabetic care. That experience will come in handy because we recently learned our youngest Lab, Biscuit, born on Valentine's Day 2009, is diabetic. So even though Laura is retiring from the office, she'll still be providing care. The irony is not lost on either of us.

What's beer got to do with it? Very little. Laura prefers wine and does not share my geeky interest in beer. But she encouraged it by giving me homebrewing equipment for my birthday in 1995. I brewed for years and we shared a lot of that beer. We also frequented the Oregon Brewers Festival as drinkers and volunteers for more than a decade. Today, only I chase beer.

Honestly, I don't know what her retirement holds. She has far too much energy to sit around and do nothing. Gardening, reading and sudoku won't be enough. This I know. I worry that she'll drive me nuts as I attempt to work in my basement office. She worries that I'll run off with one of my millennial beer friends. The reality is, we'll work things out just as we always have.

So congratulations on your retirement, my dear. It's certainly well-deserved. Time to start enjoying everything you worked so hard to attain for all these years.

Now, how about let's grab a beer? 🍻

Postscript: A quick shoutout to the folks at Ox Restaurant, Laura's chosen dinner venue. After a great dinner that included a bottle of wine and several entrees, as well as the ice cream shown above, we were told our dinner check had been taken care of. Our server had learned of Laura's retirement during the course of our meal. Needless to say, we left a large tip.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Fall and Rise of Anchor Brewing

Last week's announcement that Japanese brewer Sapporo will acquire San Francisco's Anchor Brewing was met with frowns around the industry. It's not easy to see an ironic brewery sold to outside interests. But Anchor's future is likely brighter than it was. Trust me.

Many saw the $85 million purchase price, made public by Sapporo, as being on the low end compared to other deals that have gone down in recent years. It's true that Anchor is an iconic brand with a lengthy history and heritage. But all things are not equal.

The reality is, things have not gone especially well for Anchor in recent times. Over the course of the last two years, sales have tanked... down to 1.75 million cases, according to industry sources. That's 100,000 bbls less than experts thought they were selling. Numbers like that tend to make a brand less attractive to potential buyers.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, really. Anchor is a brand that's become less and less relevant over the years. While upstart breweries entered the market with progressive new approaches and marketing ploys, Anchor was largely content with the status quo, making no significant effort to roll with industry changes.

Still, the hollowing out of the brand was not all Anchor's fault. Growth in the number of breweries has put a lot of established brands in a bind. As discussed here last week. many legacy brands have tanked as small new local breweries opened in areas previously not served or drastically underserved. Anchor was and is certainly a victim of that scenario.

There's more, of course. Recall that Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio, who purchased Anchor from Fritz Magtag in 2010, came from the spirits world (Skyy vodka). They had a grandiose vision of what Anchor might become in those heady days. Craft's growth swell in recent years may have sucked them into thinking they could pull it off. But craft numbers started to slide.

One of their nutty ideas was an ambitious expansion project on Pier 48, a collaboration with the San Francisco Giants baseball club. That project died on the vine when it became apparent that impossibly expensive seismic upgrades would be required. Greggor and Foglio looked at their faltering beer revenue stream and balked.

As Anchor Brewing slowed, the spirits business flourished. Makes sense, since the guys running the show get spirits. Today, the distillery is about 30 percent larger by revenue than the brewery, Greggor told Brewbound. They wisely decided not to compromise the growing spirits business by continuing to invest in Anchor, a losing proposition. Needless to say, Anchor Distilling is not part of the sale to Sapporo and will eventually relocate once the deal is finalized.

Everyone wonders what will happen to Anchor. The brewery is evidently antiquated and operating at just 55-60 percent of capacity, according to various reports. There's no urgent need to expand production, though the facility certainly needs an update. And the integrity of the brand could use some investment and attention, for sure.

In Sapporo, Anchor may have lucked into an owner with an understanding of beer, an appreciation of heritage and the deep pockets required to revitalize the brand. Sapporo will invest in the existing brewery and expects to open a new taproom across the street. In fact, Sapporo may be the perfect steward of the iconic brand it apparently coveted for some time.

As with many stories, there is irony in this one. You have go back to immediately after Fritz Magtag recklessly bought a majority interest in Anchor. Dark days. The brewery was dilapidated and the beer was poor. Although some credit Anchor with being our first craft brewery, that part of its history was yet to come.

Hitting the streets to hawk his beer, Maytag encountered angry publicans and restaurant owners who gave him an earful. Many had personally experienced Anchor's sour, defective product. Most assumed the brewery had ceased to exist years earlier, so horrible its beer was.

Unlike those who came along a little later, Maytag did not have a homebrewing background. He educated himself on better brewing practices in an effort to save his floundering company. But his realization that local restaurant patrons were purchasing a lot of expensive imports is what drove his motivation to make better beer and what it should be. Others would eventually follow.

So Anchor has essentially come full circle. Its craft history is indelibly inked to imports, for better or worse. And now it is owned by an import brand that appears committed to maintaining its heritage and refurbishing its tarnished brand.

We don't yet know how this is going to work out. But Anchor may be in better hands now than it has been in recent memory. The news could be a lot worse. Trust me. 🍻


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

When Your Legacy Brand Tanks

One of my industry friends just sent me a spreadsheet comparing OLCC taxable barrels reports for May 2017 and May 2016. I don't have a lot of confidence in these numbers. Why? Because the amount of missing information from month to month is often difficult to figure.

Here's an example, before I move on. Due to some kind of accounting or data collection issue, numbers for the Craft Brew Alliance (Widmer, Kona, Redhook, etc) have almost completely vanished from the monthly reports. That's a giant hole. Thus, my lack of confidence.

Anyway, the comparative numbers in this spreadsheet are shocking. We know craft growth is slowing. That's been a beer news item for the last year or so. What the numbers essentially show is that many older breweries are losing big while a few newcomers show solid growth.

I'll forgo the specifics in favor of generalizations. Deschutes and Full Sail were both down, Deschutes significantly. Locally, Portland Brewing and Bridgeport continue to drift into obscurity. Breweries showing notable growth include Breakside, Silver Moon, Crux, Block 15 and pFriem. No surprise.

More to the point of this piece, several of Portland's smaller legacy brands show scary declines. Lompoc Fifth Quadrant was down 14 percent. Alameda Brewing was down 18 percent. Lucky Labrador was down nearly 12 percent. Not good.

What's happening to the larger breweries we understand. As new, local breweries open in previously underserved areas, they siphon share from national and regional breweries. There's not much the big guys can do about that dynamic. Consumers seem to like local beer. Hard to blame them.

Established local brands are also losing share to upstarts, remote and local, that offer shiny new beer options and approaches. Essentially, many older local breweries are having a hard time competing for market share in markets they once dominated.

The reasons aren't as simple as you might think. It's easy to assign blame. I hear some failing local breweries blame their distributors. With so many craft brands entering the market, established breweries feel like they've been abandoned in favor of what's new and shiny.

Distributors are convenient whipping boys. It's true that they've taken on lots of new craft brands. Craft is where the action is. But they've also invested in the people and infrastructure needed to float everyone's boat. They really don't want anyone to fail. Blaming them is a slippery slope.

In fact, many established brands simply haven't worked to stay relevant. They were slow to adopt creative brewing approaches and higher quality standards. They refused to refresh tired, woefully outdated brand identities. And they failed to support brand health via focused social media campaigns and boots on the ground.

When you look at the most successful brands in this market, you see much of what the declining local breweries lack. You see beer that is typically solid across a wide spectrum. You see thoughtful branding and coordinated social media efforts. And, yeah, many of them have reps who work to keep brands fresh in the minds of consumers.

The reality is, the ground has shifted. There was a time when a brewery or brewpub could get by with decent beer. They didn't have to put much effort into chasing eclectic beer styles or enhanced quality because there wasn't much competition and beer palates weren't very sophisticated. Simpler times.

Those days are gone. Modern beer consumers demand more. Owners of older local breweries that are losing market share might do well to look in the mirror and evaluate what they're doing to stay relevant in a market that's getting more competitive by the day. It ain't easy.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Oregon Brewers Festival Experience at 30

Today's news that Tugboat Brewing will soon cease operations was met with inverted smiles in the beer community. Few are bemoaning the loss of Tugboat beer, which could be dicey at its best. They bemoan the loss of the experience. Tugboat was, more than anything, an experience.

Traversing the grounds of Tom McCall Waterfront Park this afternoon, I couldn't help think the same thing about the Oregon Brewers Festival, celebrating 30 years. Beer may be the main focus of the OBF, but the event is about much more than that. It's about sharing beer and conversation with friends and strangers in a unique place.

That's not to say there aren't plenty of good beers being poured this week. (I'll get to a short list of my favorites below.) But beer merely provides the grist that fuels the nonstop conversations happening in the park...the heart and soul of the event.

It's hard for me to count the number of friends I saw and talked to for the first time in a while. Many, though not all, of these are beer media or industry-connected folks. You might think we see each other all the time. It just ain't so.

I suspect beer has become a bigger part of the conversations in our current context. Eclectic craft beer is more of a fad than it was in the early days, when festival attendees were mainly looking for something a little different than the macro swill they were finding in stores of the time. We've jumped the proverbial shark from those quaint days.

Running into John Foyston, longtime Oregonian beer writer, we talked about the wide range of styles available. The list has morphed wildly over the years and it's gotten increasingly crazy in recent times as style guidelines have collapsed. That's a good and bad thing, I think, but never mind.

There are 91 beers available at the main trailers and a bunch more in the Specialty Tent. I won't say anything about the Specialty Tent beers because I don't know how long any of them will be on. Some of my favorites from the standards included:

Tigers in Tiny Spaces, Cloudburst Brewing, Seattle.
Hazy pale ale with notes of grapefruit and peaches. 5.6% ABV

Dragon's Milk: Thai Curry, New Holland Brewing, Holland Michigan
A bourbon barrel-aged stout with hints of curry, ginger and coconut. Wannabe drunks will be lining up for fills of this one late. 11% ABV

Heirloom Saison, Upright Brewing, Portland
Features a barrage of late kettle addition hops in a blended, barrel-aged sour beer. The young and old beers produce an interesting mix of dank and bright notes. 6.9% ABV

Avant Garde, The Lost Abbey, San Diego
A Farmhouse Ale with minimal sweetness, subtle hop presence and aromas of fresh fruit. Light, crisp and refreshing. 7% ABV

Cal Estupido, Ex Novo Brewing, Portland
Chasing the growing popularity of Mexican Lagers, this beer is flavored with lime and sea salt. If served slightly warm, as was the case on my first try, it will remind you of drinking a too-warm lager with a slice of lime on a beach somewhere. It's better when served cold. 5% ABV

Easy Beaver, Belching Beaver Brewery, Oceanside, California
Described as an "easy drinking session IPA for those wearing orange and black. True balance means Duck fans will love it, too." Works for me. 4% ABV

As always, there were beers I didn't care for. Hopworks' Kiwi Sparkle & Pop had some off flavors and metallic character. Laht Neppur's Strawberry Concoction was a hot, fruity mess. Neither is worth the tasting effort, though results and opinions may vary.

The event itself seemed to be running smoothly. I arrived just before the gates opened at 11:30 a.m. and saw lines at each entry. The bike corral, located at the South end of the park, was mostly empty. By the time I got my bike gear organized and headed into the festival, the lines were gone. Lines to buy tokens and get beer seemed short.

Of course, all that may all be out the window later in the week, when things get busier than they are on Wednesday. My advice is get to the park early and leave before the work day ends and cubical dwellers scurry in to catch up with people who've been drinking all afternoon. A word to the wise.

Finally, a quick thanks to my friend and occasional collaborator for hanging out and chatting me through the afternoon. The good news? We somehow drank less than we did at a Timbers match in June. Hard to believe, I know. 🍻

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

OBF to Feature Specialty Tent, Larger Sample Pour

The Oregon Brewers Festival, our longest running and biggest beer party, returns to Tom McCall Waterfront Park next week. Roughly 80,000 expected attendees will be treated to some new and old wrinkles at the 30th annual event, which runs July 26-30.

They'll pour beer from 91 independent craft breweries this year. That's up from 88 in 2016. Progress, I suppose. Yeah, the focus on "independent" means the baby Buds are locked out, so you won't see anything from 10 Barrel, Elysian, Goose Island, etc. Poor pumpkins.

Styles are all over the place. The media materials claim more than two dozen styles will be represented at the event. I can't vouch for the accuracy of that claim. But we aren't talking about an IPA-dominated fest this year. There are plenty of choices. The main festival list is here.

 A new twist this year is the so-called Specialty Tent, where they will feature more than 90 rare and experimental beers. This used to be called the Buzz Tent. Beers are going to cost more here, double or triple tokens, and quality is going to be hit and miss. Trust me on that point.

The Specialty Tent is replacing the International Tent, which organizers launched three years ago. I spent time in that tent in each of the last three years, with mixed results. The cost of bringing the beers and brewers in for the event apparently got to be too much.

"We'll bring the international beers back when we can figure out how to get them here fresher and more economically," Art Larrance told me. "The combined cost of the beer and shipping was difficult to recoup through sales. The cost became unmanageable."

Another change this year is the mug. No, they aren't going back to glass. This year's plastic mug (I haven't seen the real thing or a photo) apparently holds 14 ounces. Recent mugs evidently held 12 ounces. The larger size means a full mug of beer will set you back five tokens this year. It had been four tokens for quite a while.

"Due to the larger mug and increased keg prices, we feel justified in the first price increase in many, many years," Larrance said. "There's still no cost to attend the festival and no minimum purchase package, such as we see with many events."

There's a bigger surprise lurking.

Several years ago, the OBF went to a 3 oz sample. Yeah, that mark on your glass or mug has been 3 ounces since 2013, in case you didn't know. Larrance tells me this year's sample size is 4 ounces. What? And it will still cost a single token! Huh? If you think that's a surprise, you aren't alone.


Forget the mug price. Full pours aren't that common at this event. Samples are the rage. But every time they pour a sample this year, it'll be an ounce more than it's been in recent years. And they're worried about increasing keg prices? Strange, eh?

One thing the 4 ounce sample will do, assuming it's legit, is it will encourage attendees to get that size. It's too good a deal to pass up. Well, too good until the evening brofest lines reach the point where a full beer is required. Then you're going to suck it up and plop down five tokens. Admit it.

If you're wondering where OBF pours have been over the years, I did some research using my mug collection back in 2013, when they first went to the 3 oz sample. If you're so inclined, the link to that story is here.

It's almost hard to fathom, but the OBF isn't just about beer. The event also features live music, food vendors, craft booths, homebrew demonstrations and souvenir sales. It has evolved into a sort of mini-trade show surrounded by beer. Not a horrible idea.

When the first Oregon Brewers Festival materialized in 1988, there was nothing like it in the country. Organizers wanted a way to showcase Oregon craft beer, which was in its infancy, in a pleasant, outdoor setting. The idea caught on and evolved into something really no one anticipated.

Looking ahead to next week, I see a calendar full of smaller beer events around town. These events ride the wave of craft beer's popularity, a wave the OBF was instrumental in creating. They now compete with the OBF for patrons. If you don't see the irony, it might be time to stop drinking.

There's a ton of information on the event site here. Definitely give it a look before you head to the park. It looks like the weather is going to cooperate nicely. I'll return to this space next Thursday or Friday with a report on the actual event. Happy festing! 🍻

Note: This post has been edited to reflect what Chris says in the comments below. The smallest pour the OBF has offered is 3 ounces, which has been the case since 2013. I incorrectly said it was a 2 oz pour in recent years. I trusted my memory when I should have looked at my own research. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Challenge of Writing About Bad Beer

Is it the job of beer writers to expose bad beer? That question was posed the other day on the Beervana blog. It's a fair question. Because many who write about beer are hesitant to report on what's bad or not very good. Is that okay?

It's not hard to understand why many writers don't like to criticize. We tend to become immersed in the industry. In many cases, we know the brewers, the owners, the marketing folks. It's tougher to beat up a beer when you know and like the people who made it. Simple human nature.

There's more. A lot of writers are reluctant to report on bad beer because they fear doing so will cut their access to the few perks we get for this work...occasional beer mail and complementary event access. It's unfortunate, but positive coverage is generally expected. Or you may wind up blacklisted.

Don't believe it? Please. Several years ago I made negative comments about a beer on social media. Almost immediately I was harangued for those comments by a brewery rep, even though what I said was common knowledge in the beer media community. My mistake? Mentioning it publicly.

Shortly thereafter, lines of communication with that brewery, as well as sporadic beer mail, stopped. And that's how things have remained in the years since. When they hold an event, the only way I get invited is if an unknowing PR person floats me an invitation. That has actually happened once or twice...comical.

Another reason some are reluctant to expose bad beer is they double as promoters or hope to work in the industry. They don't want to rock the boat. Then there are the writers who provide apparently objective coverage of breweries, beers and events they have a financial interest in. Have they crossed an ethical line? I think so. Opinions differ.

The reality is, there are hoards of industry shills who specialize in providing glowing coverage of beers, breweries, events, etc. Some do it for money, some do it for pleasure. For the most part, I know who these people are and I know what to expect from them. But the average consumer mostly doesn't know, which is a problem.

My view is that beer writers have a responsibility to provide objective coverage of the good, the bad and the ugly. That means occasionally exposing beers that are obviously flawed or poorly executed. Believe me, there's plenty of bad beer out there. I've had beer bar buyers quietly tell me how much sketchy beer they taste on the road to selecting what to buy and pour.

Is objectivity tougher in our current climate? I think it is, in part due to the breakdown of style guidelines. It's easy enough to identify a flawed pilsner or pale ale. It gets tougher when you're evaluating a beer that's a mix of styles and flavors. That's where personal preference tends to enter the fray and objective coverage shouldn't be driven by that.

Beer writers who aren't willing to report on the good, the bad and the not very good aren't very objective. That can mean a lot of things. But it almost certainly suggests a connection (or desired connection) to the industry that is a bit too cozy. 🍻

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Alice Waters' Link to Independent Craft Brewers

It's been interesting to see and hear the chatter surrounding the Independent Craft Brewer Seal the Brewers Association recently released. Naturally, the best response of all came from Anheuser-Busch and its butt-hurt High End. Bunch of crybabies.

These charlatans want fans to believe AB and the High End are no threat to independent brewers, that they're basically operating the same way. The shoddy video they put together had High End brewers looking like robots reading from a hastily prepared, poorly imagined script.

The goal of that subterfuge is to confuse what craft beer is and where it came from. AB would like that history rewritten or simply forgotten. In fact, a great many modern craft beer fans have no idea how the movement came to be. Which makes Anheuser Busch's job a whole lot easier.

I was forced to consider that question when I was wrapping up Portland Beer in 2013.  You're stuck making an effort to track the roots of what happened here if you're writing that history. I absorbed a lot of opinions, written and verbal, while formulating conclusions.

It's a complex story with many threads. For me, the most persuasive one is that craft beer is a descendant of a paradigm shift in tastes that emerged as part of the 1960's counterculture. A small group of Americans rejected over-commercialized, tasteless food and instead sought locally produced foods with flavor and character. The movement would eventually spread from food to wine, beer, coffee and more. And it is still evolving.

As I say in the book, a strong argument can be made that the center of that movement was the San Francisco Bay Area. Besides being a hotbed of activism during the Sixties era, the Bay Area is also geographically situated in the middle of rich agriculture. The shift in tastes and demands helped convert some of that agriculture from large commercial farms to smaller artisan producers.

One of the key visionaries in the movement was (and is) Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971. Her original idea was that the restaurant would serve as a place where she could entertain friends with similar values. The Chez Panisse mantra was to offer high quality, locally sourced ingredients on its menu. Waters and her team developed a network of local farmers and artisans from which to acquire those ingredients for the restaurant.


At the center of Waters' value set was a complete rejection of large scale, commercialized food production. She had come to realize, at least partially while studying in France, that freshly prepared local ingredients were far richer in character and flavor than most of what she had known in the United States. It was that concept she brought to Chez Panisse and her future efforts promoting organic food production.

The outlines of the movement Waters was instrumental in starting were embraced on the west coast. Seattle and Portland eventually became bastions of a culinary renaissance, which has spread widely in more recent times. As noted above, the movement includes food, wine, coffee and, yes, beer. Homebrewing, from which many early commercial craft brewers came, was an offshoot of what Waters and others started.

When you think back to the people who launched the craft beer movement, most had two guiding principles: First, they rejected the tasteless, mass produced swill that was being sloughed off on consumers by big beer; second, they intended to use quality ingredients and artisan techniques to create beers with flavor and character. Those basic values have been carried forward.

So it's amusing to hear the High End brewers yabber on about quality and how they're doing exactly the same thing independent craft brewers are doing. Not so. They're now part of an organization whose values are completely at odds with those of independent brewers. Big beer bought these breweries to leverage the brands, not because they believe in the underlying values.

Alice Waters, Chez Panisse and independent craft brewers have it right. Big beer and the High End have it oh-so wrong. Don't listen to the crybabies.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Amazon's Potentially Disruptive Acquisition of Whole Foods

News that Amazon expects to buy premium grocer Whole Foods for $13.7 billion sent shock waves through the grocery industry. On the day the deal was announced, chain grocery stocks took a serious dump, Amazon stock shot upward, enough to pay for the deal, apparently.

Amazon's play is certainly grocery, where it has been trying to gain a foothold for a while. It has advanced IT and delivery systems, but lacked the needed distribution network in perishables. That changes with the acquisition of Whole Foods' 440 retail stores and 11 distribution centers.

While the grocery network (Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, Costco, etc,) is petrified of what Amazon might do, there's been consternation in beer, as well. Some worry that Amazon may connive to circumvent three tier laws or use its girth to bust things up in other ways.

Keep in mind the deal is subject to regulatory review by the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission. Realistically, though, it's tough to see a scenario in which it doesn't get waved through with flying colors. It's a do-nothing regulatory climate at the moment and regulatory agencies are running scared.

Assuming it is approved, Amazon's Whole Foods gambit will benefit local and regional craft brands more than big beer, at least in the short run. That's because Whole Foods has never done much with the big macro brands. It serves an affluent, persnickety clientele that doesn't drink as much swill as the general population.

The focus on smaller, decentralized craft brands would represent a significant reversal of current trends, a more worrisome matter for distributors than anyone else. Current stats suggest online beer sales have been dominated by big beer, which, as noted, isn't represented at Whole Foods.

A shift to craft online represents a big deal when your're talking about so many retail outlets and distribution hubs. The majority of these outlets are licensed for beer and Amazon's reach is huge, including 80 million Prime subscribers and a presence in every major US market. Online beer sales and delivery just got a whole (haha) lot easier.

From the distributor standpoint, the good news is Amazon will buy beer from local wholesalers for now. So it's still within the three-tier loop, The bad news, given Amazon's tendency to vertically integrate everything it touches, is they may attempt to bully state laws and get wholesale licenses for their stores and distribution centers. Box office poison for distributors.

The more serious threat, I think, is that Amazon may leverage the Whole Foods private label into beer. What's to stop Amazon from building a giant brewery and developing a line of private label beer brands it can sell online and in stores? It would then be supplier, wholesaler and retailer, a potentially scary scenario.

Statistics suggest that e-commerce accounts for about 50 percent of sales in some product categories. But only about 1 percent of US beer sales happen online. What will happen now that behemoth and master disrupter Amazon is entering the fray?

Like watching a train derailment in slow motion, this ought to be fun. Grab a beer. 🍺

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Summer Festivals Beat Each Other Up

The first time I attended the Oregon Brewers Festival in 1991, it was a revelation. Drinking good beer while mingling with folks in a great outdoor setting was an unknown experience in those days. It felt rather odd and at the same time pretty cool.

For years and years, the OBF was the only significant show in town. If you missed the festival experience for whatever reason, as I did when I was out of town in 1992, you were stuck waiting until the following year. Not much happening in-between.

Fast forward to modern times and things have changed dramatically. There are now numerous festivals crammed into the calendar. If you can't or don't want to be a rock star brewer, the next best option is apparently to have your own beer festival.

I blame Art Larrance and the Oregon Brewers Festival. Because if the OBF hadn't set the stage, then created and refined the template for what a beer festival should be, we probably wouldn't have all of these events popping up, competing against one another. But never mind.

The proliferation of festivals, a fact of life, has now reached the point where they threaten one another's well-being. There simply isn't enough room on the calendar to accommodate everyone, particularly during the peak summer season. As a result, events are piling on top of one another, inhabiting the same dates.

This weekend is a perfect example. We've got multiple events vying for the time, attention and dollars of beer fans. I attended Brewfest in the Park. It wasn't necessarily an easy decision. Competing events include the Portland International Beer Festival, Kriekfest out at Solera in Parkdale, and a host of worthy smaller events.

How Brewfest in the Park (formerly the Organic Beer Festival) and PIB wound up on the same weekend is sordid story. A couple of years ago, PIB unilaterally took the Organic Fest's June dates. The Organic folks caved and moved their event to August, a change that didn't work out for them. This year, Brewfest organizers decided to reclaim their original dates, putting them up against PIB. The PIB folks aren't happy. But who started this? Ezra has some answers here. Bigly!

It was evident during my Friday afternoon stay at Brewfest that having multiple events in the same calendar space is having an impact. There was never much of a crowd and it was never remotely busy. You might attribute some of that to changing dates. Fine. But I've never seen so few people at any large Portland festival, at least not in recent times. Nope.


It occurred to me that poorly attended fests are the coming reality unless there's more collaboration and cooperation among the festivals...a laughable notion. There's money to be made and everyone thinks their festival can win the war for patrons. So they'll carry on. I doubt we'll see any significant cooperation until attendance at individual fests bottoms out.

With respect to Brewfest, the updated layout of trailers and shade tents seemed pretty decent. I had as many mediocre beers as I had good ones, but I'm a snob and I didn't taste everything on the menu. I didn't miss the lack of live music. But I did miss being able to easily find drinkable water between beers, which should never be an issue. No excuse, folks.

What's the future of Brewfest? Even if this winds up being a lousy attendance year, which seems likely, the event will carry on. Switching dates is always a concern, even if competition isn't. These folks are connected to the OBF and know how to run festivals. They will be back, I'm sure.

I'm less sure how competing events are going to share space on the short summer calendar. So crowded. Maybe event organizers will eventually be forced to consider dates on the fringes of summer. I have no sense at all of how or if this is going to be resolved.

But something has to give.🍻


Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Future of Blogging in a Social Media World

I've said it before. When I started writing this blog six years ago, I had no idea where it would lead. Every year about this time, I like to consider where I've been and where I think I'm going. Is this still a worthwhile project or is it time to call it a day?

The beer world has changed dramatically since 2011. Here at home, Portland's brewery count had started to rise during the great recession, but it was less than 50 in 2011. By the end of 2016, there were 70 breweries here, 105 in the metro area, 261 in the state.

That general theme repeated itself, more or less, around the country. There were roughly 2,400 breweries in the United States at the end of 2012. By the end of 2016, the count passed 5,200. That's an historic explosion. We've never had more breweries in this country.

I had no inkling of what was coming when I started, I launched this blog largely because I had nothing better to do. Laid off in the crash of 2008-2009 and with nothing going on two years later, I figured beer was something I could spend some time with while keeping my writing and research skills (such as they are) reasonably sharp.

I honestly expected to return to corporate work. That didn't happen. Instead, writing the blog drew me deeper into the beer culture here. That would eventually lead to Portland Beer, published in 2013, and to a variety of articles for local and national publications in more recent times.

A lot of what I wrote here the first couple of years is fairly embarrassing to read now. That's because, in my effort to build a wad of content, I wrote previews and reviews of stuff that wasn't worthy of the time or effort. When you've got nothing going on, that's the rabbit hole you fall into.

Although the total number of posts here is about to pass 500, the great bulk of that content was written during the early years. In recent times, my output has slowed down considerably. If I post more than once a week these days, it's a miracle.

That isn't necessarily because I'm bored or lazy. Fact is, the beer media landscape has morphed. I don't know how many beer-centric blogs are out there today, but most of them are less relevant now than they were a few years ago.

Part of the reason is craft beer grew up. It's big business that attracts the attention of mainstream media outlets, including TV and radio. While those outlets may not carry significant weight with serious beer fans, they have a reach with the general public that very few blogs can match.

The more important development of recent years is the emerging power and reach of social media, primarily in the form of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Because of the way social media feeds mingle with user interests, it has become the preeminent marketing tool of craft beer.

That's a bit of an oversimplification, actually. Because social media alone probably wouldn't have become the phenom it has had it not been such a perfect complement to the smartphone and event marketing, which together form the promotional backbone of today's craft beer industry.

It's almost unfathomable in our present circumstance, but people once visited breweries and pubs randomly and drank whatever was available. New beers were released without fanfare. Tap takeovers were unknown. And there were only a few significant festivals. How quaint.

Today, fans are herded to countless tap takeovers, release parties and makeshift festivals. Ever wonder how that works? It's simple. Events are hyped on social media. All a beer-chasing millennial has to do is pull out her phone to find out when and where things are happening. Viola!

That's a far cry from the days when breweries and promoters depended on blogs to preview events and beers. They weren't getting coverage from mainstream media and social media hadn't evolved to the point where it could be relied on. Blogs were an inefficient way to get the word out, but they filled the void. No more.

This blog has never been particularly heavy on promotional content. There are events and breweries I've supported, but that hasn't been a priority. That's fortuitous because blogs as a promotional vehicle are dead. Yep. The action has shifted almost completely to social media, a virtually clearing house for event marketing.

Returning to the original question regarding the future of this (actually any) blog, the key is clearly going to be original, objective content. That's certainly been the focus here for the last couple of years and will continue to be going forward. There is no other viable path.

Having (finally) returned to marginally lucrative corporate work, I can write whatever I want here and not be concerned about it ever making a cent. I'm not sure how often I'll be posting. As anyone who does this knows, worthwhile content does not write itself. It takes time and effort.

For those who have stopped by regularly or occasionally during the past six years, accept my thanks. I don't know how long I'll continue to do this. For now, it remains challenging and reasonably fun. 🍻

Monday, June 12, 2017

Drinking for the Boys in Green and Gold

Sometimes you don't know what you don't know. I had never been to a Portland Timbers match and I honestly had no real interest in changing that. Nope. I watched as breweries, pubs, taverns and other businesses jumped on the Timbers bandwagon. Never bought in.

But along came a smarty pants, busy body friend who likes soccer. She couldn't understand why I hadn't been to a game. "What's wrong with you? It's fun! You should go to a game. Will you go to a game with me?"

Against my better judgment, I agreed. Tickets were acquired and we waited for game day, which was Saturday. Watching the weather all week, it looked like we'd be drenched. Didn't happen.

A lot of advice was passed out along the way. I was supposed to look up and learn the songs and chants. On game day, I was advised to leave my newbie scarf at home and wear one she would provide. "And don't you dare wear blue," color of the visiting bums from Dallas.

I never realized the extent to which the area around Providence Park has become a sort of pregame festing area for fans. It's tailgating without the parking lot mess and open grills. Bars and foodie joints near the stadium were fairly well packed in the hours before the game.

Our first pregame stop was a dive bar where we met up with (her) friends, a flock of pool playing millennials. The joint reminded me of busted up places where I drank illegally when I was in high school back in the dark ages. Except no draft beer. Only cans and bottles in this dump. Not many choices, either. My first (and only) beer was a Rainier. Nasty, inauspicious start.

Shortly, most of the group departed for the stadium. They had acquired wristbands earlier and were off to claim their places in the Army. Our tickets were in the same area, but on the reserved side. We had time for more beer, thank goodness. Where to? We wound up at the Civic Taproom, which was packed. One beer and we headed to Uno Mas for some pre-match food. And more beer.

After that, we made our way into the Stadium and found our seats. Also more beer. There were some decent options, honestly. But maybe more beer wasn't such a great idea in retrospect. We kept drinking and it crept up on us by the end of the night. No one was driving, fortunately

The pregame shenanigans inside the stadium were both funny and charming. Timbers fans holding up keys and chanting for the visiting bums to go home. Good stuff. Then the National Anthem and the twisting and twirling of scarfs at the end of each line. That was endearing. I might go back just for that.

Between the chanting, drinking and chatting back and forth, I'm not sure how much of the game my millennial friends caught. One of the great things about soccer is the nonstop action...well, nonstop until someone flops and they have stoppage. But constant action is a drag on social time. My friends didn't seem to be having it, chatting each other up incessantly.

At the half, we moved over to where (her) friends were sitting in the Army, a few rows from the front. There's a lot of noise, pageantry and action there. My pal suggested that I grab a flag and wave it around. She provided brief instruction. It was all good until I nearly conked a nearby fan on the head. That was more or less it for the flag.

As for the match, the Timbers scored two goals right in front of us. The first one I saw vaguely as I was headed out the tunnel for a restroom break. My friend was headed back in with...more beer. Perfect. The second goal happened as we watched from the Army. Brilliant. Confetti blast off. Dallas had some shots on goal, but never got much going. Timbers 2, Dallas 0.

Here's where we might have been smart. Having consumed a fair amount of beer over the course of several hours, maybe more beer wasn't the best idea. But the postgame celebration was on and, anyway, getting transit out of there right after a game can be dicey. We headed over to the Kingston for...more beer. Pure genius.

An hour later, someone suggested we stumble over to the nearby Mazatlan. Why not? After all, "We're still standing." So the collective somehow traversed the street, entered the bar and occupied a table. Amazing. That positioned us to place orders for...more beer. Fortunately, snacks were involved. Wise. And karaoke. Not wise, but highly amusing.

It was half past midnight when we (finally) requested a Lyft out of there. Kind of surprising how quickly the driver materialized. She was nice, clearly had some experience carting drunk folks around in the early morning hours. By now, the rain that was supposed to have arrived earlier was pinging down softly, symbolic end to a perfect evening.

There's something innocuous about these Timbers games. The nonstop action is a pleasure to behold and maybe what honest sport is all about. The players are fit and agile. The lack of timeouts means fans aren't constantly barraged with obnoxious ads. And, of course, the fan participation. It's an appealing combination of good stuff.

I now realize that experiencing a Timbers match in person is the key to getting interested. Watching on TV just doesn't do the experience justice. So I thank my kind (and awkward) millennial friend for dragging me out to the park and her friends for putting up with me. Good folks, they are.

With all that said, I recognize future games, if there are any, will require different beer rules. Hours of nonstop drinking Saturday evening tend to make for a bit of a pudgy Sunday. There's possibly a better way to do this.⚽