The Session: The Preferred Book of Choice

The Session

A brewing book I would like to see would be one about session beers. Our love affair with high ABV beers has long been established, and only in recent years have we seen the craft beer community putting more focus on beers that won’t knock you to the floor if you have a few in one sitting. I’d like to see a book with a few different sections, including: the history of commercial session beer, special aspects of brewing a good session beer, and how-to tips for home brewers looking to brew their own.

We’ve seen quite a rise in popularity recently in session beers, especially session IPAs.  But session beers were around long before that, even if they weren’t called that. The English ordinary bitter is a perfect example of a historical session beer. No doubt the saison brewed for farm workers in Belgium would have been of the session variety. Germany certainly had its share of session type beers. In fact, at one time, people had to drink beer instead of water, and certainly they wouldn’t have wanted to be drinking beer with a high ABV. I think the history of low ABV beer could be quite interesting.

There are certainly special aspects that go into brewing a commercial session beer. Breweries don’t want to brew a watered-down version of their standard AVB beers and call it their session. They want a lower ABV beer that has huge aroma and flavor. To achieve this, I’m sure they’ve got methods they’re using. This is especially true for the session IPA. In order to achieve a lower ABV, one has to have less fermentable sugar in the starting wort, which usually means using less grain. Hops not being affected by fermentation may seem to not play a part, but balance is so important, even in an IPA. Hop a 4% beer like an 8% beer and you may find you’re drinking hop tea. Learning what’s going on at some of the bigger breweries making session IPAs would make a great read.

Being a lover of commercial craft beer often leads you down the path to brew your own. There are many books on home brewing in the market, but none that focus solely on low ABV styles. Showcasing these styles, and educating home brewers on how to brew a high flavored beer without a high ABV punch would be useful. Home brewers would benefit from reading about how the pros brew their session beers, and these lessons could be discussed on a 5 gallon level.

A session beer book would be a great read. I would love to see one of these hit the market in the coming year. I love drinking lower ABV beer, and I know others do as well. A tome on the history of lower ABV styles, how pro brewers brew their beer, and how the home brewer might apply these to their own brew pot could find a home in many beer lovers’ libraries.



Beer Journalism

The Scales of Beer Justice

Is there a fine line between hackery in reporting, and pure truth?

Recently I read a good article on beer journalism. The writer, Andy Crouch, discusses the traditional ethics and etiquette of journalism in relation to beer reporting. Do we adequately follow the traditional rules of journalism? Do we need to?

The ideal situation with traditional journalism is that the reporter would have absolutely no bias. The person wouldn’t have a stake in the company, he/she wouldn’t be a familial relation, and the journalist wouldn’t accept any gifts, so as to avoid looking (or being) “bought.”

This isn’t just good for the consumers who are hopefully trusting your judgment. It’s also important for you, if you want to retain your readership. Think about this: A craft beer consumer is looking for good beers to experiment with. He/she reads an article on how great X brewery is. The person gives it a shot, since any new experience is better than no experience.

The person goes to X brewery and it’s the worst swill ever made.

Who else loses besides the customer and X brewery? You do, because the beer drinker isn’t going to trust your reviews.

Of course there are times when a blogger just disagrees with the public. Maybe you really did love X brewery. Maybe you had a certain beer that they do really well, while the consumer had one of their more middling offerings. That happens. That’s also why it’s important to mention any variables. Note in the article that you only tried the IPA, but not the barley wine. Make sure the readers know that you had it on tap, but you didn’t try the canned version.

Also, it’s important to remember that you should treat styles you don’t like differently from beers that are just poorly made. For me, if I know I don’t like a certain style, I won’t review the beer. It’s not fair to the brewer, and it’s not fair to the person reading my article. The beer didn’t stand a chance of getting a good review (unless it’s really not the style it is advertised as.) In my mind, it would be better to find someone who does like that style and let them take over that review.

Other factors may be in play that would make a beer “bad.” The tap line could be dirty. The beer could be old (and not meant to be aged). The fermentation could have been corrupted with unintended bacteria. Sometimes it’s impossible for you to know, but it’s good to keep these possibilities in mind. Maybe you could encourage your readers to post their opinions about the beer. You may find out that you are the outlier!

Another conundrum that Mr. Crouch points to is the difference between sugar-coated writing and hard-nose, truth-in-print journalism. The ideal journalistic endeavor is to go where the story takes the writer, whether it looks negatively on the subject or not.

That ideal has not always been faithfully adhered to by old journalism, and new journalism faces the same choice. Sometimes new media writers publish what could be considered “fluff” pieces: “What are your favorite beer bottle shapes?”, “If you could be any hop, what hop would you be?”

They don’t dive into the controversy because they want to be invited back. Should they be disparaged for that? Is there room for both types of writing?

As far as posting negative remarks—the contributors to Craft Beer Nation are honest in our reviews/blog posts. If something seems off style, we’ll say it. If a restaurant gives us bad service, we’ll say so.

However, I am guilty of occasionally just not reviewing a beer if it’s really bad, and I personally like the people who brewed it. That’s something I need to work on. Then again, there’s something to be said about not burning bridges. What’s the right answer?

Boris Castillo, one of our moderators, puts it this way: “As a brewer, honest feedback is important.” He says this is true regardless of who the brewer is. He hopes the breweries “would respect the honest feedback so they could improve or change the product…”

Another taboo of yore is to receive compensation from the subject of your writing, whether it be a monetary contribution, a gift or a discount.

All of these ideals are great to reach toward, but it’s not easy when you’re doing this for free. Personally, one of my happiest days was when the bartender at my bottle shop gave me the professional discount. She’s not there anymore, though, so I no longer get it. Maybe I’ll mention it next time I’m there.

Mr. Crouch offered a happy medium. If you’re going to accept gifts, or if you do have a conflict of interest, then be candid about it. For instance, if you get a free case of Bourbon Stout, note it in the article. If your best friend opens a brewpub, it’s still ok to write about it…just don’t let your ties influence your opinion.

Taking all of this into account will insure that you remain a respected commentator of the beer world. You may still be able to have your goodies, too.



No, Founders Did Not Sell Out

Founders_Logo_color (800x590)Well, as many of you have heard by now, Founders Brewing has sold a 30% stake in their company to a Spanish brewery, Mahou San Miguel Group. Mahou San Miguel, a result of an acquisition of San Miguel by Mahou has been around since 1890. They have deep roots in Spain and according to their website they produce 70% of the Spanish beer consumed worldwide. Before jumping to conclusions, Craft Beer Nation decided to reach out to Founders for comments on the matter.

First, from their press release, “Our number one priority remains successfully completing our facility expansion and continuing our domestic growth in existing and new markets.  We know a lot of states out there still don’t have the opportunity to buy our beer and we want to make that change.  That will get a lot easier once the first phase of our expansion is complete next summer.  A couple years ago we decided to enter a few international markets on a limited basis to test the waters.  We quickly learned that global interest in Founders is strong but given our capacity constraints we have not been able to meaningfully pursue those opportunities.  All these problems will disappear when our expansion is complete and we will no longer have to choose one state or one country over the other.  We greatly look forward to rewarding all of our fans for their patience through our growing pains.”

As we know, Founders is in the process of expanding their current facility as was discussed on Episode 024 of our Pints and Quarts show. By the looks of things, this move looks to be along the lines brewery expansion funding  as well as allowing Founders to tap into international markets. As stated above, Founders has already tested international waters with success and this minority stake, emphasis on minority, allows them to have a foothold in markets that Mahou San Miguel currently sells in.

To paraphrase from our conversation with Founders CEO, Mike Stevens on Wednesday, “This was really just a small investment. 30% gets us access to distribution improvements, but no one is in a position to ask us to change recipes. Mahou was clear that they DID NOT want to things to change, they just want to invest and help us grow.” 

When asked if Mahou managers will be in the brewery Mike explains, “Just the opposite. Mahou wanted employment contracts to make sure the people that have made Founders great are here to stay. Mahou has almost no distribution in the US. Their only presence is a small bit of importing into the Miami area. This deal is all about building a structure to be able to grow into Mahou markets. Not that that is happening anytime soon, though. We are just forming teams to explore the options.” 

It is very clear that the QUALITY of the liquid they produce is what got them to where they are today. Plans to change that would essentially be crazy and doing so is nowhere even close to being on table.

So look, we get it, the craft beer community is a close one that takes craft beer seriously. When we feel that “one of our own” may have crossed over to the dark side, we tend to take that personally. Rest assured that this is not the case. This was a business move that will enable Founders to not only expand into additional US markets, but also take the beauty and joy of American craft beer to the world. Founders has faced hard times before. They once stood on the precipice of shutting its doors in the early days, but they persevered via good business acumen and making an excellent product to position themselves to being one of the leading craft breweries in America. Losing that is likely something that they have zero interest in.




Mid-December is here and Christmas and the overall holiday season is upon us. Here at Craft Beer Nation we’ve decided to do a 12 Beers Of Christmas Event.

Over on Google Plus is our Event Page where we will be posting pics and comments on all of the Christmas/Holiday/Winter Beers. Every day, starting with our December 12th Friday Night Hangout we will be drinking and posting a different Christmas/Holiday/Winter Beers every day for 12 days and tagging it with #12BeersOfChristmas

If you are on G+ come join the Event and share your #12BeersOfChristmas beers. Or play along on Twitter or Instagram

We are really looking forward to seeing all of the different beers that everyone can find. And now it’s time for me to figure out which beers to kick off the Event.



Pints and Quarts – Brew / Drink / Run

This episode is about running! We are being joined by +Lee Heidel and +Raymond Gaddy. They are part of the crew that produces the podcast, Brew / Drink / Run.

They are Georgia residents that are dedicated to brewing and drinking the good stuff, and then running off the calories (I always miss that last step….2 out of 3 ain’t bad, right?).

Tune in to hear what they have to say about the beer and running scene in Savannah, GA.

#CraftBeer   #HoA   #HangoutsOnAir   #BrewDrinkRun  #CraftBeerNation



Pints and Quarts – Hardywood Park Craft Brewery


We will be joined this episode by +Patrick Murtaugh and +Eric McKay. They are the co-founders of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, VA.

Hardywood has a rich lineup of great beers, but the one that garners them national attention every fall is their Gingerbread Stout. The 2014 rendition was released in November, and this Saturday, December 6th, they will hold a release party for the bourbon barrel-aged version of the delicious liquid.

Watch as we talk to them about their beer and their business.




Pints and Quarts – Ep.024

Founders_Logo_color (800x590)Live on Thursday night at 9:30pm EST (and available anytime afterwards right here too), we will spend some time with Dave Engbers of Founders Brewing Company. Dave is one of the co-founders and is currently the Vice President of Brand & Education. We will be talking about their history, their beers, and their plans for the future. Watch here:

Or, participate in the conversation at our Google Plus Event here:





Pints and Quarts – Ep.023

This week, we are going to talk hops with Richmond, Virginia farmers, Kurt Stanfield and Devon Kistler. Their company, Huguenot Hops, is a new hops provider, and they are eager to provide local breweries with a key ingredient of Virginia Craft Beer.

We will broadcast live at 9:30pm EST on Thursday, November 13th, 2014. After we are off the air, this same link will provide an archive of the show. See you Thursday!