Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Open Letter to Craft Beer Breweries

Firkin my desk.

Dear rising stars of the beer merchandising scene. Where do I begin? I'm talking to you breweries. Not all of you, but pay attention and you'll know if it's you of whom I'm speaking. I have something to get off my chest, so here it is...consider it some friendly advice, if I may be so bold to suggest.

I nearly tweeted this out today in 140 characters or less:
Rant time! Today I am unfollowing twitter accounts that never follow/reply back. Talking to you, breweries. Step up your social media efforts.
I thought better about pulling the trigger on that, but still, there is a nagging reason behind it. I now write about craft beer, ales and all beer for that matter, full time since quitting my job. I have a vested interest in beer, like you. Although I am not a brewer of beer, nor a marketer or merchandiser or distributor or even a retailer, I just like the stuff and have for as long as I can remember. I am one of many on the sidelines that cheers your efforts on, and do so by blogging about it from all angles. So what is my beef?

Beer is first and foremost a "social lubricant" which brings good people together for good times. In other people's words, "Beer is what you do, when you're doing other things." The craft beer scene burst out in the mid-eighties, about 30 years ago. It wasn't long after Jimmy Carter had signed the home brewing exemption law. From that point on, micro, nano and pico brewers have sprung up. Numbers in the thousands now - numbers not seen since the turn of the 20th century. In fact, this week the Great American Beer Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary which is about as long as this craft explosion has been occurring.  There have been a couple of contractions and expansions in the past thirty years, but craft beer has had phenomenal and expansive growth. It's pervasive; in every nook and cranny from brewpubs to breweries with tasting rooms, pizza and beer pubs. It has even begun to creep into restaurants, being paired with great food, just as with wine.

Now, at the heart of my gripe is what I explained before. Beer is a social thing. In the past thirty years we have also seen the explosion of another phenomenon, namely the internet. And as beer heads into its biggest expansion phase coinciding with the recent advent of "social media" on the internet, something has become all too apparent. The "social" part has given a new meaning to how we, the beer consumers, have given rise and credence to these emerging craft beers.

Okay. Enough background. What frustrates me is that pico, nano or micro, you need to realize this and stop using Facebook and Twitter and the rest as just an electronic billboard. Behind the Fan Pages and name handles are your real consumers. Stay connected, damn it! I have been following so many brewery accounts for so very long, yet, they are loathe to follow back or at the very least reply to intelligent requests. Set a social media policy just as you would a business plan or disaster contingency. If you don't, you not only risk losing your fan base, (your consumers), but also the demographics you can reap from it.

I started writing out of love for beer and being able to put a few good words together on a blank screen of pixels. It is frustrating to me, that a business such as yours tends to ignore rather than engage your audience of fans. I am not suggesting answering back every post or tweet, but at least you can acknowledge the meaningful. After all, How many of you sport a quarter million "likes" or "followers" anyway? There are few out there that have those numbers. But those that do have discovered it is better to have a person relate to those fans, than to ignore and lose the customer base. And as one who seeks this type of employment in your industry, I am shocked at times as to the governance and seeming lack of care with which many of you ascribe.

Though I have met many brewery reps, owners and brewers and have connected with them personally, I don't think that everyone should require this to get occasional attention. The better business models are built on making the business grow one consumer at at time. I am grateful to those that communicate with and mutually follow myself, as this provides tremendous insight when it comes to writing about your particular beers, ales, restaurants and all the other ventures and collaborations involved.

With all humbleness and humility, I hope that the handful of folks that read and interact with my blogs will get this message. Sometimes it can feel like your screaming in a vaccumm. Thanks for letting me vent.

How about we all discuss a bit more, perhaps over a beer?


Not Firkin Around...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Beer Fridge Makeover

Firkin Around...The Garage

Sanding down the rusty, but trusty old Kenmore in the garage
Sitting around the house I got in a in a cleaning mood and decided it was time to take the sorry looking old rust bucket that was the Kenmore and give it a makeover. Looking over the owners manual that the former homeowners left behind, I discovered the fridge is nineteen years old this month! And we've been here for ten years now. Hmmm...wonder why they retired it to the garage so early? It's been running fine; keeping the beer cold and all.

The first order of business was to remove two handles and a strip of chromed plastic from one of the doors. A few sheets of sandpaper had the pitting gone and removed ten plus years of rust accumulation from sitting outside in the garage. Florida's weather is notorious for rusting out anything made of metal that has been left outdoors for any period of time. The salt air and humidity had done a number on the finish, especially around the door edges where condensation tends to collect. That task completed, I washed the door gaskets with soap and warm water to remove the grime. Masking tape was applied to cover them up for painting.

Primer applied and drying
Since the entire fridge including all the side panels and the top had been sanded, I wiped it all down with a damp rag and let it dry. Then I used a tack cloth on the outside in preparation for the primer base. It took about three cans of primer to get it looking like this. Needing a breather, I went for some water and fresh air on this hot day. It gave the primer a chance to completely dry, according to the instructions on the can. The fridge was looking better already. Now, off to the store for some color.

Only a funky color would do for the beer fridge. Not anything way over the top, although the Krylon® Rich Plum was pretty cool looking. There were so many colors to choose from, but somehow the green shades kept calling out to my subconscious. And which shade? Pistachio Green! Dropping five cans in the cart, the purchase was made.

Krylon says Pistachio but I say Nuclear Green
Meanwhile back at the ranch, the primer coat had already finished drying. The cans were shook up well and now it was time to get cracking on the color. Man, what a difference. I did manage to get a few runs here and there, but wasn't overly concerned about the whole ordeal. Backing up and looking over the color as a whole I exclaimed, "A little bit drippy, but a whole lot more trippy!" That pretty much sums it up, don't you think? The color really 'pops' out at you. Some choice beer stickers will likely be applied to the doors, but one of my internet buds recommended painting hops cones, instead. That is definitely under consideration. I can almost imagine it.

What a difference - It'll go another twenty years
The last part was to recondition the door handles and trim. For the trim, a simulated chrome based spray paint was used. A couple of coats with drying in between and it turned out fine. That part sits on the top sill of the bigger door. Lastly, the stubborn limescale was scrubbed from the pitted metal chromed parts of the door handles. A couple coats of car wax and they shined up nicely. The rubber/vinyl grips were washed with soap and water and then a vinyl protective gel was applied. Back in black and good as new! Masking tape off, insides washed out, the Kenmore never looked so good. Note: One less beer went back into the fridge than what came out. Do the math, (ha-ha!)

Annnnnd, if you were wondering, and I know that you were.....the answer is 'yes'!  It will become a kegerator at some point in the future. For now, it will keep craft beers chilled and me happy. Cheers!

Firkin Beer Fridge!

Monday, September 5, 2011

BBC 2011 - Conference Recap Article for the Herald Tribune

Firkin Around...Portland, Oregon.

August 19th thru 21st - Portland, Oregon

In the afterglow of this year's conference, I was asked to submit an article to the local Sarasota, FL newspaper, The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Their "Beer Geek" editor Alan Shaw and I did a Q&A recap of the 2010 Beer Bloggers Conference that was held in Boulder, CO last November.

It stood to reason an article would again be submitted for publication again this year. You can peruse it below or you can also read it online at "The Ticket", in The Sarasota Herald Tribune's entertainment section.



BBC11 bloggers in the biergarten - The Old New Lompoc
Portland, Oregon was host to this year’s 2nd annual Beer Bloggers Conference. The conference was held August 19th through the 21st, however, many of the attendees arrived on Thursday the 18th and were treated to a pub crawl, make that a brewery crawl, through the city. My flight got me in a bit late for the beginning of the crawl and I missed the tour of Widmer Brothers Brewing. I quickly caught up with the group at Deschutes Brewery, where a lively street festival was in full swing. Beer and food pairings coupled with live bands set the scene for my arrival to the downtown area as hundreds of craft beer lovers jammed the street. We continued on to other great landmark brewers such as the Lucky Labrador, and The New Old Lompoc.

Fred Eckhardt reels us in with beer history
On Friday, the first day of the conference meetings, we were introduced to Portland native, Fred Eckhardt, a.k.a. “The Beer Guru.” This sprightly octogenarian literally wrote the book on home brewing back in 1969, long before the practice was re-legalized. Fred regaled us in one anecdotal story after another on his escapades in beer. We quickly realized that he was also likely responsible for the beer blogging movement, before the word "blog" was coined. He is a pioneer in the beer world and we all became very fond of him and his beer chronicles and adventures.

Fresh hops from the field
Friday evening was the peak of the entire conference as all ninety-five of us rode to the town of Silverton, about an hour south of Portland. There, the folks at Goschie Farms allowed us to tour their one thousand acre farm to watch the beginning of the hop harvest. Two hundred and fifty acres of the farm are devoted to growing hops, a major ingredient in the production of beer. Tractors snipped the eighteen foot tall ‘bines’ from the fields and hauled them into a barn used to separate, dry and bundle the cones. We were spellbound from the scent of hops which lay heavy in the air, as we snapped pictures with our cameras. Afterwards, we were treated to a wonderful picnic on the scenic farm grounds. There was delicious authentic German fare and of course, plenty of great local beer.

Gerard Walen ( presents at BBC11
Saturday’s conference highlights gave us plenty of instructional information about topics such as home brewing, and other subjects about restrictive beer laws as they vary from one state to another. All the presentations were highly informative and engaging. Later that evening, we were all whisked away to Bridgeport Brewing, one of the oldest breweries in Portland. They hosted us to some fine food and beer samplings from their pub and gave us a tour of the brewing facility. Sunday arrived all too soon, wrapping up the last of the presentations and we all bid each other farewell, until next year.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

BBC11 - Blogging Lessons Learned and Shared

Firkin Around...Portland, Oregon.

August 21st - Portland

made a promise this year to practice some "lessons learned" from BBC10. Much of the time last November was spent switching between a laptop PC, a camera, a notepad, my backpack and least reliably of all, my memory. I decided this year to rightsize my arsenal of equipment and try to keep it simple. The hallmark of these lessons was boiled down to its essence and became my simple mantra for BBC11...
"Travel lightly. Enjoy greatly. Live in the moment, always"
With this rule set in mind, I deliberately left a few things out of my luggage when packing for the trip. Most notable were a camera and a notebook. Many bloggers and journalists would call this heresy. This would seem to fly in the face of convention since the exclusive purpose of attending a blogging conference is to take photos and notes. Still, I wanted an unencumbered and engaging experience.

Man in motion - capturing the moment
(Photo by Gerard Walen,
So I had to have a good plan, and the plan was this: Challenge myself to utilize my smartphone to the extremes of its capabilities. After all, it is a veritable Swiss Army Knife ® of electronics. Some might say that would be a difficult challenge. After much  deliberation, I decided it would be worth the calculated risk to travel and blog a bit more unfettered.

What did I learn from this experience? Plenty. Here is a list of things accomplished with my iPhone 4 during my four day trip to Portland, OR from my home in Tampa, FL.

Added Portland, OR to the Apple Weather app a week before travelling to prepare suitable clothing.

Kept in touch with family via text messages every step of the way throughout my travel.

    Checked in at plenty of venues using FourSquare, which also added to my location whereabouts.

      Sent direct messages via twitter and Echofon to seek out where my group was upon arrival in Portland. Also used them to tweet out and read juicy tidbits by following the #BBC11 hash tag.

      Scanned business cards of colleagues using ScanBizCards app.

        Kept notes of conference highlights in Evernote to use later while blogging from my traditional PC.

          Updated FaceBook with posts and photos of all the happenings from our various venues.

            Took all photos and videos with the built in Apple camera app and shared viewing of them with the Apple Photo app.

              Edited photos for blogging using the app, Camera+.

                Used the Alarm app to wake up each morning and make reservation reminders.

                  Checked in to SouthWest Airlines using their app, to secure my boarding pass (while standing in line for lunch!)

                    I kept myself entertained with music, movies and games during lulls in travel.

                      I updated my beer brethren with Untappd.

                        Performing numerous searches of the internet using Safari was a breeze.

                          I could locate step-by-step directions to nearby destinations utilizing the Maps app.

                            Using the Calendar app helped to schedule all the event itinerary.

                              The Dragon Dictation app came in very handy for inserting notes by speaking rather than writing.

                                I shared contact information using the Bump app.

                                  Other bloggers QR code info was scanned using the i-nigma barcode scanning app.

                                    I was able to use the BJCP Styles guide as a reference many times.

                                      Locating an ATM was a snap using ATM Hunter just in case extra cash was needed.

                                        The iTorch4 flashlight feature was helpful, instead of fumbling for the hotel room light switch.

                                          And finally, I kept track of all the above using the built in Notes app.

                                            All this was accomplished by one handy electronic gadget roughly the size of a deck of playing cards. Speaking of cards, my protective iPhone case has a slot in the back that will hold about a dozen of my business cards. Is there anything this device can't do?

                                            On the eve of Steve Jobs departure from Apple, this post is most poignant. All he ever wanted to do was make smart machines to enable people in their daily lives. A great and noble effort from a man who saw the company struggle in the beginning, but now leaves at its pinnacle. Apple is one of the largest and innovative companies the world has known. All in all, I did end up travelling lighter and enjoying more during the conference. And indeed, I truly lived in the moment, knowing that with this device, I was able to pull off the near impossible as a traveler, writer and photographer.

                                            Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention, it's a phone, too! That was the least of the iPhone4 features leveraged during the trip. How's that for iRony?

                                            Choose your weapons

                                            Firkin Futuristic Phone!

                                            Saturday, August 20, 2011

                                            BBC11 - Bridgeport Brewery

                                            Firkin Around...Silverton, Oregon.

                                            August 19th Bridgeport BrewPub - Portland, OR

                                            Upstairs pub in the Heritage Room
                                            Tonight's trip is to "Beervana"; in other words, the Bridgeport BrewPub, located in Portland. Bridgeport is one of the early pioneers of craft brewing in the state of Oregon. Their brewery is setup in an old three-story tall, former rope factory (the historic Portland Cordage Company). The building dates back to the late part of the nineteenth century. Hand troweled brick along with hewn wooden beams are left exposed in the interior dining sections, creating an industrial yet inviting vibe.

                                            Building leased April 11, 1984
                                            Everything about the building was on a large scale. Across from a catwalk on the second story, there is an enormous clock hanging above the bar below. It is frozen in time at 04:11 and has the Roman numerals MCMLXXXIV, indicating the year 1984. I will go out on a limb to say the clock's time may indicate April 11th as the date of incorporation. This is based upon an article found on that mentions an April incorporation date from 1984.

                                            Also on the large side are the urinals in the men's room, which were described by some as everything from "open sarcophagi" to "vertical bathtubs." (Sorry ladies of #BBC11, you certainly missed that visual.) I've no pictures to show, but rest assured that these are definitely designed for a man-sized wee. And a good thing too, considering we were in a brewpub among some pretty great beer.

                                            Speaking of beer - - - liquid libations were sampled at the large upstairs bar, where an array of Bridgeport's best selling brews were dispensed by the sample or by the pint. Bridgeport's IPA, Kingpin, Blue Heron, Porter, Hop Czar and Summer Squeeze are just a few to mention here.

                                            Continuing on to the buffet dinner, there was plenty of tasty gourmet food to fill your plate. Mine consisted of fresh fish with pesto, a beef loin medallion, dark green garden salad, roasted potatoes, zuchinni and corn-on-the-cob, Rotini pasta salad and a thick slice of crusted bread. With some water and a beer, the course rounded out nicely. Simply as delicious as it looks.

                                            Just as dinner wound down, we spied some "Beeramisu" a takeoff on an Italian dessert favorite, Tiramisu. The kitchen staff have their own recipe which includes Bridgeport's porter, chocolate shavings and espresso cake. Mmmmm, good!

                                            Firkin Around

                                            More photos here

                                            Firkin Around the Bridgeport BrewPub !

                                            Bridgeport BrewPub and Brewery
                                            1313 NW Marshall
                                            Portland, OR  97209

                                            Bridgeport Brewpub & Bakery on Urbanspoon