Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tony Magee vs. Sam Adams's Rebel IPA : Much Ado about Something

Sam Adams's has just entered the IPA race and Lagunitas's Tony Magee isn't happy about it.  Magee thinks Sam Adams's is directly targeting his brewery.  Sam Adams describes their Rebel IPA as a "West Coast Style IPA, brewed for the revolution" and it certainly does sound like they intend to compete with all the great IPAs out here on the West Coast, including Lagunatis's flagship IPA.

Magee started things out with a series of tweets accusing Sam Adams's of specifically targeting Lagunitas and other breweries.   His first couple missives are below.

I find Magee's comments on Twitter are best viewed as fascinating performance theater rather than any meaningful form of commentary.  Those outside the chummy craft brewing industry must certainly be puzzled by accusations of one brewery having audacity to actually compete with another one.  Of course, the outspoken Magee has plenty of people in his verbal cross-hairs .  Usually, it's mega-breweries like InBev AB, Molson Coors, or authorities such as the Federal Alcohol Beverage Control.   Magee has even taken on other craft brewers on Twitter.

Tony MaGee with his breweries flagship IPA
(Used with permission from Paige Green Photography)
Such as Magee's tiff with Knee Deep Brewing in November of 2012.  Knee Deep started bottling their IPA in 12 ounce bottles with labels resembling Lagunitas's flagship IPA.  Privately and quietly pursuing resolution through normal legal channels just isn't Magee's style, so instead he took to Twitter with his grievances.  The matter was settled,  but since Lagunitas is several times the size of tiny Knee Deep Brewing, many people, including myself, found Magee's heavy handed tactics amounted to bullying around the much smaller Knee Deep. Magee seemed to just shrug and move on.

Don't let all the goofy stoner and anti-establishment humor surrounding Lagunitas's fool you.   It's one of the largest and fastest growing craft breweries in America and they're marching into plenty of other brewery's turf. Lagunitas will open a second brewery and tap room in Chicago this year as part of their growth strategy. The whole craft beer pie is growing, but it's simply not plausible to assume that Lagunitas's tremendous growth hasn't come at the expense of other craft brewers and is a direct result of Magee aggressive expansion plans.

When Sam Adams, one of the few breweries in America larger than Lagunitas, launched Rebel IPA, it seemed natural for Magee to go on Twitter to confront Sam Adams.  After all, the face of Sam Adam's is billionaire Jim Koch, who founded the Sam Admas after leaving a large corporate consulting firm.  Koch is just the kind of guy Magee typically thumbs his nose at.

In a BeerAdvocate discussion forum, Magee further clarified his rambling Twitter accusations in a long rambling post which included:

"Here's the way I see the scenario: This particular thing is really more about Craft brew marketing and it's future than it is about me or Lagunitas... One of our largest distributors (in fact ABI's 3rd largest) on the east coast was told directly by Jim's senior-enough marketing people (they sell both of our brands) that the roll-out of their IPA was going to target our draught IPA business for replacement. This 'program' would roll westward over time. Some here said that 'everybody does this'. 

That's not true. 

A perfect example was how Torpedo (an IPA brewed by Sierra Nevada) and Ranger (New Belgium's IPA) went to market to be alongside other IPA's... and then you, the beer lover, could decide which stays and which goes, if either. THAT is very constructive and makes us all amp up our game. Targeting for replacement is precisely what ABI/MC/Etc do when they go to market. The thinking being that that retailer will sell whatever is on tap and NOT SELL things that are not on tap. This approach sees beer as a commodity, which it sort'a used to be, before Craft." 

Sam Adams's Jim Koch
(Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

Jim Koch's responded on the same BeerAdvocate discussion forum, writing :

"......at Boston Beer, we compete against ourselves and our own ideal – to brew the best beer we can. We don’t target other craft brewers. When we walk into a bar or restaurant for a sales call, we ask questions so we can get a better understanding of what beers are selling and what’s moving more slowly. With that in mind, we hope retailers will make decisions that benefit their business and their drinkers and hope they pick the best beer. Ultimately, it’s the retailer who makes the final decision on what beers to serve on draft. Distributors also make their own decisions as we saw in the memo from the Lagunitas distributor going after Sam Adams. It makes sense that a good distributor would work hard to sell beer. It's their job to try and replace competing brands."

Usually when these skirmishes arise, which are becoming more commonplace in the industry, somebody raises their hand and asks, "Isn't this supposed to be about the beer?"  On that score, Magee is the hands done winner.

As IPA's go, I found Rebel IPA to be surprisingly tepid and punchless, lacking the fruity, floral characteristics and aromatics of the best West Coast IPA.   Lagunitas's brews a real West Coast IPA, while Rebel IPA comes across as a soulless product, deliberately toned down for mass market appeal. In the unlikely event Budweiser decided to release an IPA, it might taste something like "Rebel IPA". Looks like Tony Magee may once again have the last laugh.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Slight Diversion to Santa Cruz Wine Country

View of the Santa Cruz Mountains from
Byington Winery
I must admit wine does have a few redeeming qualities.  Sometimes it's good to revisit this "other" beverage, so my wife and I took a jaunt on a hot California January afternoon through the Santa Cruz Mountains to sample wines from three of the region's wineries. All three wineries, Byington Winery, Burrell School Winery, and Loma Prieta offer great, sweeping views of the Santa Cruz Mountains to muse upon while quaffing their fine wines.

Of course, Santa Cruz County has a great beer scene that's really exploded in the last five or six years that's confined mostly within the city of Santa Cruz.  Out in the surrounding mountains, most Santa Cruz wineries have been making wine for more than twenty years.  In many ways, the Santa Cruz region mirrors Sonoma and Medicino to the north, where great brewing and wine making co-exist.

While beer is still my beverage, if you ever want to discover what wine has to offer, head for the mountains of Santa Cruz.  I'll leave you with a few pictures of our great afternoon.

The front door at Byington

The estate vineyard at Byington, dormant in January
There really is a school at Burrell School Winery
The "lesson plan" at Burrell School.  You must promise to sip your wine.
View from the deck at Burrell School

Yours truly contemplating a fine Pinot at Burrell School

The winter vineyard at Loma Prieta

A fountain high above at Loma Prieta

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Beer of the Month: Sneak Attack Saison from 21st Amendment

Our Beer of the Month to start off 2014 comes from up the road in San Francisco.  It's 21st Amendment's Sneak Attack Saison.  This unlikely winter seasonal was first released last year and was given heavy Beer of the Month consideration back then.  Having enjoyed many a glass of this brew once again this winter, it seemed I had no choice but to grant Beer of the Month status to Sneak Attack.  And so I did.

Saisons are traditionally a summer beer style, the name coming from the French word for "season" with this lighter, often yeastier style of beer brewed for the consumption of summer farm workers in the French countryside.  Sneak Attack is not all that yeasty, but brewed with cardamom, has great tangy, spicy flavors with slight lemon note and a lightly herbal finish.   This flavorful and refreshing winter seasonal is ironically perfect for this hot and nearly rainless Northern California winter.  It almost makes you forget California's severe drought conditions.

Of course, it wouldn't be a 21st Amendment Beer without the fun, historically inspired can art.  The bare-chested George Washington stoically crossing the Delaware River in his swim trucks to surprise the British is one of 21st Amendment's best labels from a brewery that comes up with plenty of clever ones.

Sneak Attack Saison:  In many ways, the perfect beer to celebrate our California "winter".

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Circling the Calendar: Spring 2014

The Field of last year's Bay to Breakers heading for the ocean.
(Photo taken by Rocky Arroyo, from Bay to Breakers Facebook Page)
It's that time of year to decide the races I'm going to do, and start training for them all.  It's
going to be an interesting spring racing season, that's for sure.

First up is the Double Road Race San Jose on February 22nd.  The Double Road Race Series puts a twist on the usual road race by creating a half-time of sorts in 15 kilometers of total running.   It starts with a 10 kilometer race, and then one hour and forty-five minutes after the start of the 10 k, everybody starts another five kilometer race.  The hour and forty-five minutes gives everyone about an hour of recovery from the 10 k before the 5 k starts.    The times of the 10 and 5 k are added up and the person with the lower overall time wins.  They promise this "Recovery Zone" of massage and other recovery aids during the break, which sounds like a great place for plenty of sponsorship opportunities.  Reminds of the track meets I did in high school where I had to recover from the 2 mile run at the beginning of the meet to run the mile near the meet's conclusion.  My trick back in the day:  Rubbing cold water over my legs.  So I'm looking forward to using the old cold water trick and to run down a few unsuspecting folks in the 5 k leg.

Next up, the Marin County Half-Marathon April 19th.  The course basically run in and around China Camp State Park in San Rafael along San Pablo Bay.  Plenty of great scenery, the Marin County equivalent to the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon I ran last year.

Finally, if you can't beat 'em you might as well join 'em, I am indeed running Bay to Breakers on May 18th.  In the past, I have written things less than totally complimentary about this race.  However, a bunch of friends have signed up for it, so I added my name to the list and get to run this historic race for myself.  Rumor has our group will have a dress up theme of Alice and Wonderland so maybe I'll be traipsing around looking like the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, or even Alice herself.  But I wouldn't bet too heavily on it.  I just don't want to lose to that guy in that damn pick gorilla suit!

Whatever happens, it should be a fun and challenging spring of racing, and I'm looking forward to it.  Best of luck to all for the spring racing season.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Running Reflections on 2013, going into 2014

The previous year's training on Daily Mile.   Other than missing
a couple weeks in June, had a very consistent 2104 year in running.
The early days of January are often spent looking forward by looking backward.  So with running in mind, I look back to 2013 to see what worked, what didn't work, and use that to build upon in 2014.  It's something I recommend all runners do.   I suppose a blog is a self-indulgent enterprise by definition, but trying to make this post slightly less than totally self-centered, I'll pass along some observations I think all runners could use.

The biggest takeaway from 2013 is that it was one of the most successful years of running I've had in the last five years, and a big part of this was due to consistency in training.  I've battled a bunch of injuries since 2008 and while a couple foot problems knocked me out for a couple weeks in 2013, it was a pretty injury free year.  Late in 2012, I discovered in a routine trip to the running shoe store that I was cramming my size 14 feet into size 13 shoes.  About a month after moving up to a size 14 shoe, chronic soreness in the ball of my right foot and left knee both subsided.  I also have to give a lot of credit for running largely pain free to the leg and core strength exercises I discovered in Eric Orton's fine book "The Cool Impossible".  Finding the right shoe size and working on core strength and balance really made a big difference in 2013, if for no other reason that I found myself a lot less sore at the end of runs and ready to go at it again the next day.  In 2013, I ran a total of 1736 miles which averages out to 33.3 miles a week, about five miles per week more than in 2012.  I also did long runs as long as 15 miles at the end of the year as compared to previous years where about 12 miles was all I could handle before my foot pain  became unbearable.

The other half of the equation is that I did a lot of tempo runs in 2013 at a wide variety of distances ranging from four to fourteen miles.  (More on long distance tempo runs here and four mile tempo runs here.)  I'm a big believer that racing success requires putting the stresses on yourself in training that you'll experience in the race, and tempo runs do just that.  Tempo runs, when done at the right pace, also allow for fast recovery.  Successful training is balancing the yin and yang of tearing yourself down in the right way in order to build yourself back up, and tempo runs worked well for me in 2013 and I'll be doing more of them in 2014.

It all paid off in the two major races I ran this year, the Santa Cruz Half-Marathon in April and the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon last November, as I was pretty pleased with both of these efforts.  I've already started training for an April half-marathon, most likely the Marin County Half-Marathon.

 I wish you all the best for running in 2014 and for those wanting to chat more about running and training, you can join me on DailyMile.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Session #83 : Full Circle

For this month's Session, Rebecca Patrick over at The Bake and Brew asks us to write about going against the grain of the craft brewing community.  I found this a fascinating question, since I've long felt that most craft beer drinkers have been going against the grain of the beer drinking public for years.  Perhaps the question is a sign the revolution is about over.  Craft beer drinkers are still a minority these days, but we're a very large and vocal minority.  It wasn't always this way.

Back in the early 90's during my grad school days at The Ohio State University, I found myself gravitating against the grain with a lot of my beer decisions.  Back then, the stuff we consider craft beer today was pretty hard to find.
I'd do things show up for Saturday night poker games with a six pack of Beck's.  Not a great beer, but somehow I found it's skunkiness conveyed a certain international sophistication.  My six pack of Beck's stood out in stark contrast to all the bottles of Natural Light, or Coors's Light, and Busch for the evening's beer stockpile.   Drinking Rolling Rock over a Coors's or Anheuser-Busch product was supporting your local brewer, since the Latrobe, PA brewery was only a little over 200 miles away from Columbus.   Going out to see some blues or funk band meant a Guinness Stout.  Carrying around a pint of Guinness gave me a certain pitch black badge of beer-against-the-grainess amidst all the straw colored lager pints in the loud, dark, smokey nightclub.  (They allowed people to smoke in bars back then.)  Most of my friends thought Guinness tasted like mud.

Pretty soon, I graduated to stuff like Sam Adam's Boston Lager, Samuel Smith's, and Pete's Wicked. One evening I spent catching up with an ex-girlfriend, who turned me on to a hard to find beer in the Midwest called Anchor Steam.  From there, I plunged gleefully down the slippery slope to craft beer nirvana.  After nearly two decades of transformation into a self-proclaimed craft beer aficionado, I've discovered a new simple pleasure in the world of beer.

Macrobrews.  That's right, macrobrews.

Like the time I recently caught up with a couple of co-workers one evening to shoot some pool at this place called The Blue Bonnet.  I mean no offense when I call it a dive bar, especially since the place clearly embraces its dive bar identity.  That goes double for the 20-something wannabe vixen bartender, who alternately intentionally ignored and flirted with all the male patrons in her skimpy black outfit, which revealed numerous mismatched tattoos and a body clearly not sexy enough for her dive bar diva act.  For this casual evening of friends, pool, and unpretentious surroundings full of friendly locals, the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap was not even an option.  The modest simplicity of Pabst Blue Ribbon, at only two bucks a pint, was the clear choice.  Familiar, unassuming and nostalgic, PBR was the perfect brew for the evening.
And when it's time for barbecue, there's only one choice:  Budweiser at near freezing temperature.  Now I've heard that porters, stouts, and IPA's are the preferred choice to accentuate the smoky and spicy flavors of barbecue according to Master Cicerones.  These people are simply wrong.  There's no point explaining the tradition as to why an ice cold Bud is the best beer in the world with barbecue. If I have to explain, then you just don't get it.

There are other times when no body's looking that I'll revisit the one-note roasty goodness of a Guinness Stout.  I like Blue Moon, find Michelob sort of interesting, and on a hot summer's day have been known to cool off with a Leinenkugel Summer Shandy.   For those of you who dare to chortle at this, and I know you're out there, well screw you!

Just remember if it weren't for guys like me twenty years ago, you probably wouldn't be enjoying some fine craft beer right now.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Check out these documentary videos of Russian River's Vinnie Cilurzo at Maximum Microbrews

I recently discovered some interesting, informative documentary videos Erik Jorgensen, produced with Russian River's Vinnie Cilurzo. It was part of a 40-minute documentary Jorgensen made back in 2008, right after Russian River's production facility opened but they remain fresh and relevant today.   You can find them here at his Maximum Microbrews website.

What's next for Erik?  He's in the process of opening a brewpub in Logan, UT.  It's an odd coincidence the headquarters of the company I work for as a regional sales manager happens to be located in Logan, UT and I return there two or three times a year for sales meetings.  With it's large Mormon population opposed to alcohol consumption, anything matter related to alcohol is a contentious issue in Utah.   Opening up a brew pub is a monumental task any where, but even more so in Logan is no small task.  A recent New York times article on a city-wide vote to allow alcohol sales in Hyde Park, located near Logan, outlined how divided the community became over this issue.  While Utah has some great beer, it could certainly use a few more brewpubs so look forward to the day I enjoy a pint in Logan from Erik's latest endeavor.  Let's raise a glass to his success!