95. Hot Topics--the Ones in Craft Beer, Not the Ones in Your Malls / Your Nightmares
Reign of Terroir; toss a coin to your beer-and-entertainment collabs; Sapporo puts us all on the naughty list with no Christmas Ale; plus, tarot for "aha!" moments.
Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About—How About Terroir?
It’s Monday as I write this, and the hills that are #beerTwitter are alive with the sound of takes of all temperatures in response to Matthew Curtis’s “There Is No Such Thing as Terroir in Beer” for Pellicle. Whether you agree or disagree—which we’re about to get into—I think Jeff Alworth said it best:
Matthew is indeed a smart and insightful writer with a gift for unraveling fresh perspectives. An added layer here of helming a drinks publication with creativity and know-how results in a really satisfying article to sink your teeth into and enjoy how it’s creating the kind of buzz among both serious and casual beer fans that really not that many stories achieve.
So, what is this buzz all about? Well, I trust you’ve either read the story or will go do so nowish, but the argument posed is that beer can’t possess terroir. This is something that, at first glance, may seem absurd—what about farm breweries making beer with barley they either grow themselves or source from within their immediate vicinity, and ditto that for hops, and who even use their own house-cultivated yeast strain? Isn’t this what beer connoisseurs strive to prove and wax poetic about? But Matthew brings up two points early on that I think make a valid case against terroir’s presence in beer in two different and interesting ways. One: to romanticize beer with this heady concept of terroir—which comes with its own pretentious identity, warranted or not—is to, in a way, gentrify a drink of the people. Case in point, Matthew writes? Lambic, which can get quite pricey. Two: on the other hand, there is plenty already that’s quite special about how beer is made, but that rests in the domain of its makers. To chalk it all up to the land instead of the people who need as much science in their heads as there is art in their bones in order to make good beer is doing them a disservice.
The piece, from there, takes a journey through what terroir truly is and what factors define it or prove it’s not there—it’s tempting to keep unpacking all of this here as I could talk about this all day (and I’m not alone, judging by Twitter!), but at the risk of (poorly) paraphrasing a story that’s both truly helpful to read for people just cracking into this world of knowledge and helpful, too, for the people who thought they already knew plenty, I’ll practice restraint. I’ll say this: I went into this story with a set of opinions and was prepared to disagree; really reflecting on the impact of things like breeding in hops and kilning in malt has changed my mind and taught me new things. Which is cool, right?
With the state of the craft beer industry these days, I find that often, weeks and even months can stretch on without much in the way of real excitement, new learning opportunities, and reasons for healthy debate. We seem to swing from feeling like every possible new trend or invention under the sun has already been done to death, to unearthing the uglier things within beer, like its cultural components, that make any debate more exasperatingly toxic. It’s so refreshing to find a viewpoint that not only demands some deep-diving, but that can be argued out and also promises to take you down different paths of further reading and learning.
Beer & Entertainment Collabs Feel More Appropriate Than Ever
It’s certainly not a new or novel concept, but I became aware of two pretty major brewery-and-entertainment-property collaborations in the last three days that feel worth talking about. First, when I was in (awesome) local non-alcoholic shop Minus Moonshine here in Brooklyn on Saturday, I saw that Athletic Brewing has released Geralt’s Gold, a hoppy helles-style lager, in collaboration with Netflix for its show “The Witcher.” I have not seen “The Witcher” and know nothing about it other than I think there’s some kind of song about tossing a coin, so I am unclear on how the show inspired any beer at all, let alone a hoppy helles. Apparently, this is the first in a series of Athletic x “The Witcher” NA brews. Which, cool for Athletic! And cool for “The Witcher” fans—having a themed beverage like this is a fun way of building and extending the universe of a show or movie or band, etc., and having it be non-alcoholic just broadens the accessibility factor.
Then, I saw on Brewbound that Dogfish Head is releasing Asteroid City Lager in conjunction with Wes Anderson’s movie. This collab is pretty cool, and as Justin Kendall pointed out in his coverage, it feels on brand considering the offbeat personalities of both Dogfish Head beer (even if we’re talking more about the Dogfish Head of yore) and Anderson’s films. Apparently Anderson and Calagione did discuss some direction, and the beer is finished with “‘mid-20th century Pennsylvania lager yeast as a nod to the 1950s era’ in which the film is set.”
I think these collaborations are fun and a smart move for craft breweries considering how most need to really be thinking hard on ways to reach new audiences now. I’ve covered this a lot in the past when writing on metal bands making beer, but it can be a successful endeavor because fans of the band, or in this case show or movie, just want to get their hands on whatever unique merch they can, tasty consumable merch very much included. What I find extra interesting now, though, is how many parallels there actually are between entertainment and craft beer, even if the former industry is more of a behemoth than the latter. When you think about the absolute clusterfuck of streaming models and an over-saturation of content and wrong-headed prioritization of constant growth over sustainable, solid performance, entertainment and craft beer are in perilous situations not all that different from each other. I surely don’t think collaborations between the two industries is going to do any real needle-moving but it’s an intriguing partnership between two businesses that both need some overhauling.
Anchor is Going Cali-Only—How Much Does It Matter?
The other biggest beer-world hullabaloo this week comes to us courtesy of Anchor Brewing. Dave Infante broke the news Friday night, and the story with all of its resulting subplots has unraveled since then. In a move coming from Anchor’s parent company Sapporo USA, Anchor will no longer distribute outside of its home state of California, and, with a bah-humbug disregard for beloved traditions only Oliver Cromwell could love, Anchor’s Christmas Ale is no more.
This is big news worth all every bit of the coverage and social-media conversations that have been taking place because Anchor is iconic. It is one of the few true sparks of what became modern American craft beer, and, founded in 1896, it had a whole history before even that. As Dave pointed out in his continuing coverage of the Anchor news, his podcast for VinePair had literally just released an episode on how Fritz Maytag reinvigorated Anchor when he purchased it in 1965. And that Christmas Ale, by the way, is a revered piece of this puzzle, anticipated by longtime beer enthusiasts each year.
But there’s another side of this. Remove the Christmas Ale bummer, and the news is…not shocking, or illogical? I’ve seen several versions of the basic opinion that it’s not a bad thing to keep a beer local—it can emphasize its hometown appeal, its rarity, its special-ness. And on a less anecdotal plane, there are hard numbers to back up the practicality of this maneuver. Kate Bernot writes for Good Beer Hunting: “Since 2018, the year after Sapporo acquired the brewery, Anchor has never sold more than 23% of its packaged beer volume outside its home state—in 2022, eight of every 10 Anchor beers tracked in chain retail were sold in California.” This breaks down into more—quite interesting—stats from there, so if you haven’t yet, go read Kate’s reporting there.
Nostalgics and beer geeks will wring their hands and wax poetic, but it boils down, perhaps sadly, to the fact that most of us won’t feel much of a difference here. Apparently, not too many Anchor purchases have been reliably occurring outside of California, and now, Anchor can remain in the state where people do buy it and where it has a legacy very tied to its city of San Francisco. Just, again…no Christmas Ale. The people these Sapporo decisions most affect, of course, is Anchor employees, and to read about how all of this works with the brewery’s union, which was coming up for contract renegotiations as this all broke, head to yet more of Dave Infante’s reporting—over on VinePair, “At Anchor Brewing, Christmas Is Canceled and the Future’s in Flux” unpacks it all, and I think this says a lot:
“‘Sapporo has made rookie mistakes left and right, they have destroyed what this brand was,’ says one current Anchor employee, who requested anonymity to speak with Hop Take due to concerns over possible retaliation from the company. ‘Upper management ran this company not understanding how craft brewing works in America.’”
This week, I pulled the Ace of Swords.
Swords is the suit of intellect and decisions. The Ace of Swords speaks to new ideas, epiphanies, breakthroughs, and finding clarity. Basically, you’re about to have an “aha!” moment. You’ll suddenly realize something that will shed much-needed light on a person or situation in your life or in the world, and/or something may change the way you feel. For example, if you were a climate change denier, perhaps much of the eastern coast of the United States turning into “Bladerunner” while wildfires ravage Canada indeed made you say, “aha!”? I know, I know, no one reading this challenges the concept of global warming but…you catch my smoky drift.
This moment, the Ace of Swords tells us, is not only good because it positively impacts your life, but because it demonstrates that your mind is open and interested in new ideas. You actively seek out learning opportunities and aren’t afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Fresh realizations you have now could inspire new activism endeavors for you. It could rearrange your goals in a way that proves more fulfilling for you in the long run. It could save you from a toxic relationship, or lead you into a loving, healthy one. And the fact that you don’t close yourself off to any of these ideas because “that’s not the way it’s always been!” is a very good thing—you are a person who will remain capable of positive growth.
In honor of this card, have yourself an epiphany—literally, have Epiphany DIPA from Foundation Brewing Company.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I’ll keep this short and sweet since this issue is full of other reading recs, but this is a double whammy. Two smart pieces diving into edible interpretations of our current dirty martini mania popped up at the end of May. One is on Wine Enthusiast, from Emily Saladino: “Why Dirty Martini Foods Are Trending.” The other is on Eater, from Bettina Makalintal: “The Edible Martini Is Here.” Both are interesting examinations of how closely food and drink trends can weave together and how it stands out when the inspiration moves from drink to food instead of the other way around, and both will give you a whole list of dirty martini-centric foods you’ll want to try.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
On Friday night, I stood on the rooftop of Pier 17 in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport and danced in the pouring rain to Shovels & Rope. If you do not know Shovels & Rope, you should change that! It is a husband-and-wife duo, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, who play all the instruments (I mean truly “all,” it feels like they effortlessly juggle so many in the course of a song while singing) and unleash raw, emotionally-charged, bad-to-the-bone, beautiful, ear-wormy swirls of blues, country, folk, and rock. This was the fourth time I saw them live, and the rain did not dampen the electricity of their set, which I watched under the little personal tent of my jacket with a stovepipe of Lagunita’s IPA. I know we all fEeLiNgS about the 19.2-ounce can—just when I thought it could so rarely appeal to me, it turned out to be just the thing for an hour-long set free of return trips to the bar.
Until next week, here’s Darby in a rare nature-dog state.