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.