RANDOM. Recently, my good old pal Nile of MadFritz linked me to a podcast via a text. All he said about it was “Listen to last half TAA is spoken about. Let’s just say you know what you’re doing.” Hm. Intriguing on many levels. Generally, I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing (you can read this as deep as you like, just allow it to spiral wildly out of control into anything and everything that comes to mind) so any outside perspective that may prove to me otherwise is a magnet for my attention, for good or for bad. Nile Zacherle is also someone whose opinion carries some weight in my brewniverse and compliments from him are like shooting stars…they do exist, you just have to be in the right place at the right time. And lastly, I suppose that running a business that is in direct opposition to traditional advertising makes one hyper-aware when it comes to our ‘little engine that could’, the word-of-mouth scenario that has really shaped our brand image in the brewing industry and beyond. Needless to say, I followed his link to The Beer Temple (Beers to Revere) Insiders Roundtable, Episode #161. The podcast is almost 2 hours long and is really probably for industry folks more than anything as the show is a wide-ranging and in-depth discussion into the business and trends of beer. Chris Quinn is the host and invites guests (insiders of the industry, as the name correctly implies) to join him in examining their feelings and opinions regarding the beer industry and where it’s headed.
DISCLAIMER. Now, I don’t listen to industry podcasts. Yes, this is a real disclaimer! I don’t want to portray myself as a critic in any sense of the word. In fact, if there wasn’t a rather coincidental turn of events, I’d have given this podcast as much thought and blog-time as all the others I’ve enjoyed. Which is none. No offense meant, btw. It really doesn’t mean anything, but this particular episode, with this particular host and guest lineup struck me in a way that only the metaphysical universe can.
TANGENT #1. I think my fondness for coincidences may be my equivalent for religious faith. I appreciate how I must be paying attention in order to recognize them. I also appreciate how I feel when they appear; I feel connected to something that is out of my control, yet completely intertwined with my life. I don’t have to do anything other than bear witness to get confirmation in my particular belief system, the evidence laid bare in front of me. Once, long ago in my startup phase, when all brewery operations occurred on our property up in the woods, I would put a sign up on the road stating ‘Artisanal Beer for Sale’ with an arrow pointing towards the brewery. My bottles didn’t have labels, I snagged curious folks on their way up to Tumalo Falls and intrepid beer hunters looking for my mystical brewery from crumbs I’d left in Bend and online. One late spring day, two women came into the brewery and I walked them through my funny little brewery. One of them, Kristen, was familiar somehow, but since she was from back east, like way back east Vermont or something, I put it out of my mind. She had flown out to visit her friend, Jilly, in Portland (3 hours away from us) for a beer fest. Spur of the moment, they decided to drive out to Bend to complete the Oregon Beer Experience, found a mention of our brewery at the bottom of a pamphlet and drove up the road. Well, after telling them my story, Kirsten (from back east, remember), mentions how she had worked with someone years ago whose significant other had also put themselves through brew school. We discovered that she had worked quite closely with my wife 10 years prior in the Seattle area. Pretty random. Definitely coincidental. As they were leaving, all of us laughing about the situation, a car pulls up and an elderly couple get out. As they pass Kristin and Jilly, the woman says, “Jilly?? I’d recognize that laugh anywhere!” The two of them hadn’t seen each other in 25 years.
TANGENT #2. Now this doesn’t prove anything other than I like this stuff. Just yesterday, I was driving my family home from a long weekend visiting friends down in the Mt. Shasta area. Quiet ride, as we skimped on the sleep and maxxed out the imbibing of the range of craft beer in today’s day and age. As we approached Klamath Lake, I thought to myself how my busy life had occluded thoughts of my dear late Mom recently. She passed away in 2014 and, due to rather coincidental circumstances back then, our family sees bald eagles as her spirit animal. As the thought of her entered my mind, the van crested a hill and Klamath Lake came into view…along with a bald eagle spiraling up on a thermal. Ah jeez. Just like this brewery and the beer we make, these things only matter if you think they do. I’m not here to argue the merits of coincidences, nor will I argue that our beer is better than anyone else’s. I will honor the coincidence the same way I honor the process in which we make our beer and run our business and will happily discuss at length with curious individuals.
REPRISE. It’s a long lead-in to where I was going here. I listened to the podcast and couldn’t understand what Nile was referring to. The general topic when my brewery came up was that of the saturation & shrinking sales of the sour/wild ale market, and the dying format of the 750ml bottle and the price points associated. Definitely not things I would attribute to ‘knowing what I was doing.’ However, this conversation has been a hot topic at home and at work so I listened to all of it. Chris Quinn, the host, and his guests did their best to make sense of our incredibly dynamic industry and what is currently going on. Sadly enough, an overall sense of dismay and worry was woven throughout the segment. All brewers that produce sour or wild beer were lumped together, with no distinctions made between us and companies like The Rare Barrel, which is on an industrial scale compared to what we do. Kettle-soured beer and it’s distinction from barrel-soured beer was mentioned, and through the exchange awoke the realization that if I don’t know what I’m doing, then how can I rely on the observational critics to understand? I suppose it’s just as important for us makers to remind the aficionados how important their role is in developing our industry. There are (obviously) many details that give our products the value they are discussing, and overlooking or misrepresenting them does the kind of damage that elicits the melancholy I heard on this podcast. We make beer to celebrate with, so I choose to find principles and ideas I can get excited about. These are the things that influence our consumers and tell our story. If we are to celebrate and revere beer culture, I would request that we look deeper than how we were portrayed in Chris’ podcast episode #161.
OUTTRO. On the surface, without any coincidence, I would have probably left this podcast on the shelf and moved on. I wasn’t inspired to hear any more, I wasn’t enlightened. It was business talk, and if I’m going to listen to business talk, I’d prefer more emotion in it. However, my wife and I had met Chris when we brought our beer out to Chicago in the fall and one of his guests, Kate Bernot, had recently written to me in support of my blog, so with personal connections with 2 out of the 3 people on the segment the coincidence meter was beeping loudly, so I listened. And waited. I would have liked to hear how we source our ingredients locally, brew beer in our own fashion and strive to make a non-industrial product (in comparison to some of the breweries we were lumped in with). Chris’ podcast is the same name as his beer and bottle shop, The Beer Temple, one of the best in the city. I couldn’t reconcile how he could not mention these facts when bringing up our brand, as he wondered why we needed to sell our beer in Chicago. We had discussed this, albeit generally, when we visited him! Earlier in the episode he shared how Jolly Pumpkin needs to sell beer beyond Detroit to make their business model work. and how this style of beer (sour/wild) is only a small portion of a well-rounded consumers’ overall consumption. In this light, things look much more positive; our sub-industry is progressing normally with competition driving the producers and the breweries to present the consumer with the best value for their money. People all over the world are buying our beer! We are entering the phase where consumer choice is paramount, and this decision will drive what happens next. We celebrate that Parmesan cheese is available outside of Italy, and it’s the same for place-based beer, in my opinion different from fresh pub beer. For our part, we are moving a portion of our production into 375ml bottles and trying to meet our consumer at the shelf with all the value we can muster to guarantee their investment (Do I sound like a businessman or what??). Without context (and without an advertising budget) we rely on some intricate relationships and the hope that actions matter. I define our beer as ‘ours’ by the term Origin Beer (coined by Nile of MadFritz), which is basically an authenticity of production: where our beer is made, what our beer is made of, and how our beer is made. We are striving to find a way to define what we do in the structure of an industry with plenty of definitions, but none that directly apply to us. While it is frustrating when we are shaded by industrial breweries using commodity ingredients simply because we both make ‘sour’ or ‘wild’ beer, it is also the reminder that we are at the forefront and pushing hard for what we believe in. Similar to how people understand the difference between kettle and barrel-soured beer, or even food that is produced industrially vs. locally, I have hope that our origin beer will follow suit. It’s very simple, either people will pay for all the extra value we are adding to our beer or they won’t, but it definitely helps when all the information is on the table at the discussion. Coincidentally, our experience has been when people understand our commitment to authentic production (and taste the results) they give us all the information we need about moving into the future!