Tuesday, February 24, 2009

BeerAdvocate revisited

New issue, cleaner look following the retooling. Gone is that crappy newsprint that soaks up ink and ruins the sharpness and contrast of any image printed on it.

To their credit, the Alstrom brothers took readers' complaints seriously and let only a single issue exit their confines with that grimy, cheap-looking makeover. Good job. Thanks, bros. Enough said there.

One more item from BeerAdvocate (for the record, we do subscribe): A call to boycott some beer festivals. The Alstroms stage beer festivals, so they legitimately have room in which to press a point, or points in this case.

Their chief gripes: festivals that don’t buy the beer from the breweries; festivals that hide behind the premise of charity event (unless all proceeds go to charity); fests that charge booth rentals; and festivals that extort free beer by conditionally waiving said booth rentals.

We’ll add a couple of points to the litany: big festivals that are drunkfests and big festivals that shamelessly have crappy food concessions.

Drunkfests ... No matter how bad some groups want to paint an image of drunk driving fatalities in our state, New Jersey, according to the research arm of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, ranks 47th – near the bottom of the stack – for DUI fatalities per 100,000 people. And for the record, DUI is, as Mr. Mackey would say, is bad. Mmm’kay? But that stat is good (comparatively speaking, which is what a state-by-state ranking reaches for).

So bacchanal beer festivals … they’re bad: They sully the image of beer, which, thanks to the craft beer movement, has been successfully distancing itself from the sophomoric, frat boy image. It’s probably impossible to make that break completely, but there is a growing separation. Beer has won respect. And if orange juice isn’t just for breakfast anymore, then good beer isn’t for jerkoffs.

So why gather the products of 55 breweries under one banner and roof and tell the crowd to go nuts in an afternoon session and an evening session? Drunkfests suck. They’re bad for image, bad for business.

Crappy food … There’s a lot of attention given to beer and food these days. Food’s a natural fit, and we’re not talking hot dogs, either. Real dishes by passionate chefs, some exotic, some with fancy names and diacritical marks over letters in their spellings. If people want cheap-shit food sold at concession, then let them go to any professional sports event or concert. Please don't burden good beer with bad food.

Boycott? BeerAdvocate urges its followers to boycott festivals that fall under list of shortcomings they highlight. That's an individual's call, and admission price and recession may take care of that this year. But over the long haul, the more likely scenario is promoters who have no incentives to offer are probably going to watch their business model blow up and encounter difficulty in attracting breweries to participate.

This far into the craft beer movement, brewerania souvenirs don’t do the same business for brewers – everybody has a T-shirt and hat – so having a festival booth isn't too exciting; plus, brewers' brands have long been out there, so the exposure is not what some organizers would like to boast.

The Alstroms are right. Buy the beer, back the brewer, give them something back. Hell, the bands don't play for free, so why should the real stars on the marquee get nothing for their trouble?

Bottom line, brewers are businesses. Treat them like they are. And festival patrons, they are consumers. Respect their dollars earned and promise something value-added, something besides quantity.

Monday, February 23, 2009

More grist for the mill

Yet more on recession and the beer, liquor and wine industry’s power to raise money.

Time has as story about blue laws, and poses the question of whether the national economic crater we sit in, widening as we gaze at computer screens right now, means the end to those mindless restrictions against selling spirits, wine and beer on Sunday.

Battle lines are drawn, to be sure. Blue laws don't go down without a fight. But you can’t escape the logic of allowing Sunday sales, more so if you’re say, Connecticut, and watching tax revenue go to another state (in their case, New York). It's a thought that follows economists’ point with stimulus cash: better it be spent locally, at a your Home Depot, to weatherize your house, than on a flat-screen TV made in China.

Anyway, this is grist for the mill in our state because the handful of our craft brewers we've spoken to would love to be able to kick in some extra sales taxes they collected, if state regulators would only update our arcane and archaic regulations governing production and sale of malt beverages. (They’re sort of analogous to blue laws, even if not conceived for the same reasons.)

That goes for production brewers, for which we again say let them sell unlimited retail like wineries (and let them open brewpubs, too, if they want to pop for the expense of location and licensing); and for brewpubs, for which we say let them have access to the open market and put their products in packaged goods stores and other bars willing to take them on.

Doing so puts revenue in state coffers and lets brewers boost sales (and production, too, for which they pay other taxes).

It may just make the difference between protracted recession and faster recovery.