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94. If Only Craft Beer Was Half as Cool as "Platonic" Thinks It Is
Seth Rogen's brewer is a "cool, hipster fashion guy" lolz; plus some takeaways from another visit to CDMX, the BA's response to the letter of objection, and tarot to stop "nope"-ing it all.
The last two weeks have been ~a lot~, for better and for worse, and similarly for better and for worse, they have kept me pretty disconnected from at least the American craft beer scene. I went back to Mexico City, this time with some oldest, dearest friends. I got a lovely viral infection that quickly flipped a switch from eating and drinking all the best things you could possibly imagine to not eating and drinking much at all.
Meanwhile, we lost a friend suddenly, who, at the age of 36, went to sleep and did not wake up. One of my husband’s closest friends since before college, Kaween was an integral part of our early craft beer adventures. We’d work our way through the pages and pages of the beer menus at Sunset Grill & Tap in Allston (RIP)—where Kaween and I explored mead for the first time—and Publick House in Brookline and Bukowski’s off Boylston Street. He never really liked IPAs and was so excited when I wrote a piece once about how that preference could come down to biological programming, he’d immediately reference it whenever debating beer styles with anyone. He was a complicated person, but a loyal friend with a huge heart. He drove all the way from Massachusetts when my mom died even though he’d met her just once for maybe 30 seconds at our wedding. I guess all I want to leave you with is the trite but true: hold your loved ones close. If you’ve been hesitating to take a chance or start something new you’ve been wanting to, fucking do it. And go to the doctor.
Lessons in Hospitality and Experience from Mexico City
I know I just waxed poetic about all the ways Mexico City’s beer scene is one to watch back in January, but guess what. I went back and discovered even more wonders and I will not shut up about this city. I will not!
We made a lot of repeat visits both to take our friends to those treasured places and because, of course, they’re great so we want to go every opportunity we can. La Roma Brewing was hopping on a Friday night, with a roving band livening up the atmosphere alongside their eclectic tap list. At Drunkendog, I was able to introduce friends to cold IPAs and explain what a thiolized IPA is with a couple stellar examples. And we experienced the same lovely and knowledgeable service with our mezcal at La Clandestina, and with our beer at Trappist, as last time.
Some new revelations, though: we had the kind of luck I have never once had in my entire life on Friday night, rolling up to Baltra Bar at around 10pm to find a roomy table for five on the patio. I got the impression this does not happen at this bar, and it’s little wonder why. The main interesting takeaway from this visit, I think, is that we were getting carried away with excitement over our orders, at just how creative and innovative each drink was. There were combinations of elements that shouldn’t work, but just did, and beautifully. (Mine, for example, was a harmony of a tamarind cordial, rum, red wine, and cherry syrup.) And yet the winner? A simple blend of mezcal, celery bitters, and lime juice. It was so clean, so refreshing, so perfect. I highly recommend DIY-ing that for your summer sipping, friends.
Back over to beer: this time, I got to Lagerbar, the all-lager bar from Compañía Cervecera Hércules. This, I believe, is the platonic ideal of a beer bar. Anyone who steps into this chic yet unassuming, understated, and very welcoming space is greeted with a small pour of Hércules’s corn lager (the style may change). This is a lovely sign of hospitality, a delightful welcome to the bar, and something to enjoy while you make some tough decisions—because, after all, you are given an entire menu of all lagers! It is such a simple gesture, this little welcome taster, but as someone who is constantly thinking about how breweries and beer bars can differentiate themselves and create more of a worthwhile ~experience~ that draws people in and keeps them coming back, it felt like a game-changer. It felt like a very intentional, “this is what we’re doing, this is what we’re about.” A liquid mission statement, shared in an instant with everyone who walks through the door. You immediately know you are in an inviting space that takes its beer seriously, makes it extremely well, and wants to help everyone enjoy it. The rest of our visit carried on accordingly (aka, great), with a smoked lager and more opportunities for beer discovery for our whole group, from trying a helles lager next to a helles bock to experiencing a Czech pilsner in mlíko, snyt, and hladinka pours.
And back to spirits: I’d consider our visit to Handshake Speakeasy pretty unforgettable. Like Baltra Bar, Handshake is a World’s 50 Best Bars favorite, and it’s absolutely no mystery why. The entire staff sings a hearty “bienvenido!” and “adios!” to anyone who enters and exits, and in a way, like the taster at Lagerbar, it frames the visit, separating it from the rest of the world and its average bars. You step through these doors, and things are taken up a notch. When you’re seated, you’re brought hot towels, water, and some nuts with pepitas and grasshoppers while you peruse the lengthy menu—which, my friend noticed, highlights other bars to visit, with a message encouraging patrons to support the entire CDMX bar and restaurant scene.
Each drink is more creative—and successfully so—than the next, alongside a few classics, and plenty come with feats of showmanship. You could write off things like a server firing smoke bubbles from a gun for the patron to catch with their drink or setting a tumbleweed of steel wool ablaze on top of a glass-covering wooden disc as gimmicky, but I would argue that A, it’s fucking fun, B, yeah, it’s Instagrammable, but I don’t mind this one bit when there’s substance to back up the style as it’s yet another way to help a bar stand out, and C, these tricks all come with education—the servers spend time with your table to explain why these things are being done with these drinks, what aromas each brings to each drink and why.
One final very important thing: Handshake has both very thoughtful non-alcoholic cocktails as well as a page of alcoholic cocktails in mini sizes. Why isn’t everyone doing this? Generally speaking, I mean, as I’m sure different cost issues come in for some bars versus some demographic basics. But for the most part, I can tell you that, anecdotally, the rise of NA and mini cocktails’ prevalence at mixology-driven venues has made visits like this Handshake one possible to do with so many different friends. Think about all your friends and it’s likely you’ll realize there’s someone who doesn’t drink at all, someone who drinks very little, someone with a low tolerance, someone who likes that big booze, someone who only drinks beer or wine or clear spirits, someone with allergies…I know some people who write “fancy” cocktail bars off because they think they’ll be less flexible with their options, but I actually think many are leading the way in better inclusivity on their menus, and that means people who would have or could have never visited before now can—and that’s pretty cool.
I walked away from this last visit thinking there’s so much American taproom and beer bar owners and managers can learn from Mexico City bars in terms of hospitality and experience. As the craft beer industry moves in a way that re-centers the average local brewery’s away from distribution and to on-site business, making these special, extra, and inclusive gestures could take many a long way.
If Only Craft Beer Was Half as Cool as the Writers of “Platonic” Think It Is
I already mentioned this on Twitter, but the moment I saw the trailer for Apple TV’s new show “Platonic” and realized Seth Rogen is a brewer, I became quite excited to watch the show and obnoxiously point out inaccuracies that truly don’t matter and that only the most insufferable geeks would care about. Before you start looking forward to doing the same too much, it is important to remember that unlike famous mark-misser “Brews Brothers,” “Platonic” is not about craft beer. Every beat of every episode is not spent grasping at perceived inside-baseball references in the hopes of connecting with a minuscule but zealous audience of craft beer nerds, and entire plot points do not hinge on IBU counts. But, we do still get a few juicy morsels to latch onto and, tiresome windbags that we are, gleefully dissect.
For example, there is an entire B plot on episode three in which Rogen’s brewer Will is fighting the rest of the brewery team on a collaboration with a fast casual chain that’s basically Johnny Rocket’s. He feels both he himself and the beer he brews at the bar (they truly only ever call the brewery/brewpub a “bar,” and I don’t understand why, which grinds my gears) are too cool for this collab, which would make him a sellout. But the brewery—or “bar”—owner and the rest of the very small team see it as a way to actually finally make some money, seeing that the successful mega-chain would be selling this beer at all its locations. I won’t spoil the episode, but the conflict was a surprisingly accurate temperature read on craft beer right now, and I say surprising for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.
First I want to call out a few miscellaneous points of interest from this episode. One is another sign of someone doing their homework, as Ryan @sharpskibeer pointed out on Twitter: “Not much beer-speak to critique in the first three episodes, though I appreciated the YCH and BSG boxes used in the shot where he drops the keg on his foot.” The second point is a swing and a miss, and comes when one of the brewery employees explains the presence of a whole lot of cider they’re about to put on with, “Ladies love cider!” and Rose Byrne’s Sylvia lights up with an “I do!” Which, fine, Sylvia is a wine drinker with little interest in beer and just likes cider and presumably has no idea how different drinks are gendered—it was just irksome because the line itself implies the writers know how different drinks are gendered and that was their “acknowledge-and-toss” citation. The third NB circles back to a satisfyingly nail-on-the-head line from Will when describing who drinks the beer he brews at “the bar,” which is “people on Hinge dates and well-to-do alcoholics.” No notes.
But my main takeaway from all the episodes I’ve seen before, demonstrated most directly on the pilot—and which explains my surprise at the timeliness of the whole sell-out collab conversation—is that it seems show creators Francesca Delbanco and Nicholas Stoller have an outdated and rose-tinted view of craft brewers. The creative direction from this show last checked in with craft beer’s cultural status in, oh, 2012? And then wrote a character in 2023 based on that. When Sylvia reunites with her old bud Will and he invites her to a party at “the bar,” she and her friend spiral about whether they’re even cool enough to go to a brewery in downtown LA. They call Will a hipster and a “fashion guy” in the same sentence as “brewpub”—it does not compute. They arrive at this party—which, by the way, would be more at home in a full-on club—and Sylvia self-consciously pulls at her conservative clothes, feeling old, which is LOLZ because she is in exactly the age range of a brewery’s main audience today. On “Platonic,” a craft brewery is not somewhere Sylvia would feel more comfortable taking her kids and/or a good book on a Saturday afternoon, it’s a dark den of pumping bass and “fashion people” drinking the coolest fucking thing known to beverage alcohol, which obviously is beer!
If craft beer was still half as cool as “Platonic” portrays it, the industry would look a heck of a lot different. So, if you want to live in that dream world, the show awaits you—and importantly, I should mention, I think it’s overall a delightful show with a lovely theme and great performances from Byrne and Rogen.
The Brewers Association Responds to the Beer Is for Everyone Collective Objection Letter—Sort Of
You’re probably aware of, and perhaps you (hopefully!) signed the letter of collective objection spearheaded by Beer Is for Everyone founder Lindsay Malu Kido, Jen Blair, and Ann V. Reilly in response to the Craft Brewers Conference’s failure to acknowledge the danger and hate baked in to its hosting state of Tennessee as well as to the subsequent shortcomings re: inclusivity throughout the conference itself. I’m very grateful to Lindsay, Jen, and Ann for helping bring to fruition a tangible outlet for us to raise our voices here—speaking up and out and not letting this discussion fade out is the most vital means of real improvement we have here.
If you did sign the letter, you probably received on May 31 a response of sorts from Bob Pease, president and CEO of the Brewers Association. It was a form email blast, with an attachment reading as follows:
Dear Beer Is For Everyone,
Thank you for reaching out. We appreciate your perspective and have heard your comments and concerns. Please know that we are committed to continuing to improve and grow as an organization and as an industry.
We’d like to engage in live conversations with those who had a negative experience at the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in Nashville to understand how we can improve. We will be reaching out to Brewers Association members and CBC attendees that signed the petition to offer a dialogue about their experiences. For others who would like to have a conversation, they can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to engaging in earnest and solution-oriented dialogue with open hearts and minds and working together with each of you to learn how we can improve and help the craft beer community flourish.
Brewers Association Board of Directors
Bob Pease, President & CEO, Brewers Association
This is why I say they “sort of” responded…it is literally a response, but doesn’t actually address anything or take any accountability or acknowledge any issues raised. Of course, I imagine this conversation will be a long process and that makes sense—in fact, I think it would be doing everyone in this industry a disservice to rush through actually processing feedback. So, I wouldn’t expect too much more at this stage, but I will say I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed at more mealy-mouthed “apparently we did something wrong? idk you tell us, if it was so bad!” I do understand this will all take time, and it should, but I am beginning to feel impatient—can we somehow break out of this initial phase where there’s a kind of denial of how obvious the problems are? In other words…you know what you did, right? I’m interested to see what this next step looks like, where they will apparently be reaching out to individuals. In the meantime, them providing that feedback email address means you can still speak up now.
This week, I pulled the Four of Cups.
Cups speaks to love, emotions, and relationships; the Four of Cups to contemplation and reevaluation. It tends to come up when you’ve been saying “no” to a lot in life, maybe without even realizing it. Work and creative opportunities, social invitations, prospective new relationships, travel, etc. This could be because you’ve already got too much going on, but it could also be because you did have too much going on, got burned out, and just shut down. Now, even if you could really benefit from saying “yes” to some of these opportunities, you’re not really in a place to give them enough thought, to feel excited about them, and/or really just to care. It’s become easier to just blanket “nope” it all.
This is obviously not a great place to be. Yes, you need to say “no” to things and work at keeping a life balance for yourself that actually avoids burnout in the first place. But turning everything down at the jump is not the way to go—any of these invites or opportunities could actually be great for you, to the point where maybe it’s worth giving up something you’re doing now to take them on. They could energize you, fulfill you, work wonders for your career, bring you happiness. You need to get to a place where you can let this potential in and weigh each opportunity individually. Take some time to reflect and meditate on your current status and what could be closing you off, and only once you feel like you’ve got some clarity there, move on to reflecting and meditating when each new possibility presents itself.
It might help to let yourself feel excited again by the unknown, realizing that every new question represents a whole new path you may have never even considered before. Let your imagination run wild with Infinite Possibilities from Streetside Brewery, an imperial pastry stout with chocolate and peanut butter.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I just stumbled upon this fascinating delight of an Atlas Obscura story from back in February, “Remembering When Cocktails Were Just Soup” by Diana Hubbell. One thing I’ll note off the bat is that obviously this story winds up in present day when Campbell’s unveiled the holy horror of “brothtails,” and…did you know that was in 2021?! When I started reading this, I thought, “ah, of course we’ll end up at brothtails, from a few months ago.” What is time? What is happening? Where am I?
Anyway, I did not realize Campbell’s has been trying to grow and diversify sales via cocktail-and-mocktail marketing since the 1950s, and the journey Diana unpacks is a bonkers but also “ah, of course, because America and capitalism and advertising” one. The twist? We’ve landed somewhere not all together gross or unappealing, when you think about the current savory rein of the dirty martini—a brothy cocktail could be more likely in your future than you think.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
I enjoyed this delightfully refreshing Alsatian pilsner from KCBC at Beer Witch on Sunday. We ran into our super and his wife there and had a beer together, which was peak lovely neighborhood vibes! It was so nice to realize we all had an appreciation for Beer Witch in common, and I realized just how easily a beer shop + bar like this can invite everyone and foster conversations.
Until next week, here is Darby at a favorite spot, Obercreek Brewing Company.