Feb 26, 2014
… but the type on the left is badass.

… but the type on the left is badass.

Feb 20, 2014

Fortune Favors the Bland

From Champagne to macaroni salad to this: Miller Fortune, a new “sophisticated” beer, made strong (well, at 6.9%, stronger) and targeted at hip, whisky-sipping millennials.

To offer cues associated more with liquor than beer, Miller Fortune comes in a black bottle; the first commercials are set at night, in gritty, urban landscapes; and ads will suggest pouring it into rocks glasses rather than beer glasses. (via New York Times)

Miller has always seemed more concerned with the bottle than with what’s inside it. From the Vortex to the punch-top can to the new Lite bottle "Inspired by form and design" (??) to, now, a bottle that, they say, "evokes a guy in a tapered, athletic-cut suit—designed to stand out among other bottles on a store shelf or crowded bar."

Bud already tried that.

Michelob premiered in 1896 as Anheuser-Busch’s upscale offering — draft only, and one of the most expensive around. Twenty-five cents a glass! Some clever bartenders marked it up even higher, saying it was imported, named after Bavarian braumeister Michelob Michelob. When they finally bottled it in the early ’60s, A-B played up the class, using specially made “teardrop” bottles with foil-wrapped necks designed, they said, to be more easily recognizable in the dim light of smoky lounges. (more here)

The idea with Michelob was that it wasn’t just beer, it was foreign beer. The idea with Fortune is that it’s not just beer, it’s fancy beer.

The rocks glasses bartenders will be encouraged to use are intended to set Miller Fortune apart the same way the orange slice has made Blue Moon one of the company’s fastest-growing brews and its answer to craft beer’s popularity. (via Businessweek)

Or perhaps the idea is that it’s not beer at all. Big breweries are scrambling for marketshare in moves that echo Prohibition, making anything they can think of, anything but beer. In the ’30s they made eggnog and chocolate, ice cream and cheese. Today, they make cider (Miller launched Redd’s with a $23.1 million campaign, more than they spent advertising any of their beer), Cran-Brrr-Itas, or or odd hybrids, dolling up beer with fruit flavors like Lime Cactus, Tuscan Orange Grapefruit, Dragon Fruit Peach, and… clam juice. Even Redd’s isn’t really cider, it’s “crisp like an apple, brewed like an ale.”

Sounds familiar.

C’est Cidre. Not Cider.
It’s a chalice, not a glass.
It’s not a beer, it’s a story.

And with Fortune, it’s not beer, it’s liquor.

“We asked, ‘How would Jack Daniel’s or Maker’s Mark do a beer and why?’ ” says David Kroll, who was recruited from appliance maker Dyson in 2012 to shake things up as MillerCoors’s head of innovation. “We tortured every aspect to say, ‘Are we falling back on what beer would do?’ because this brand [Miller Fortune] is intended to play in a spirits occasion.”

As Fortune’s brand manager Ben Feeney put it: “Let’s be proud to be a beer, but if another beer is doing it, then let’s not.”

Feb 18, 2014

Candy Crush

My skin smells like maple syrup; my breath smells like chocolate. We brewed a candy-cap mushroom and cacao bean porter.

To start, a rich grain base of Maris Otter, brown, crystal, and chocolate malt, plus a pound and a half of Madagascar cacao beans. Some hops, but light — a dash of strong piney simcoes to bitter, and another of grassy Kent Goldings to round out the earthiness.

And then, the crown: Lactarius rubidus, or candy cap mushrooms. You’ll find their tawny tops poking through the winter mulch ‘round these parts, detectable (but barely) by a faint sweet scent. Dried, though, that whisper booms — a small bag of these beauties will fill a room with the warm breeze of maple syrup and chocolate. It lingers long after; eat a candy cap cookie today and you’ll sweat sweet sap tomorrow. “It is true that after some sixty-four years, the herbarium material of it still has an odor of fenugreek,” wrote Lexemuel Hesler in his report on the species.

The beer is a chocolate maple brown ale — and yet, no chocolate (well, not really) and no maple. A trickster beer, a secret shaman brew, like the mushroom itself, its looks deceive. As they say, “edible and choice.”

Feb 17, 2014

A Welcome Inn


In Britain, pubs are suffering. Smoking bans repel drinkers, rocketing real estate prices woo developers. Their conglomerate pubco owners are more than happy to slough them off to condo builders. Also: cheap supermarket beer, scourge of public drinking since the first beer fridge buzzed to fluorescent life. In any case, some 7,000 pubs have closed since 2008. What’s lost when the local shutters?

Britain’s Community Pubs Minister says: community:

In many communities they are really important, not just because it’s where people come together, but it will be the focal point for fund-raising for the community, for the local football club, for the dance class, for the moms’ coffee morning.

Since beer began, there have been bars. Babylonian kings like Samsi-Addu and Hammurabi vilified these first bit sabiti — alewives’ kitchens, serving homebrew — as dens of sex, crime, and rebellious plotting. At the Green Dragon, that spirit lingered, as American revolutionaries toasted their defiance of British rule with drafts from Paul Revere’s silver Liberty punch bowl.

"In coffeehouses, the I is central," historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch wrote in Tastes of Paradise, which contains a fascinating tangent on the history of the bar. But “all rituals in pubs and bars issue from a collectivity, a we.” Beer was an equalizer.

That started to change with the bar itself. A new architectural element, the bar — zinc-topped, brass-railed, ring-stained, worn — split patron from proprietor and divided drinkers among themselves, shoulder to shoulder, not face to face. In the past, from Heorot Hall to City Tavern, bars were closer to living rooms — often, they actually were. Now they were business establishments. The bar, wrote Schivelbusch, had become “a nodal point at which business is transacted.” He compared them to Haussman’s Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris, swarming with traffic, or to a bustling Woolworth’s: built to move masses, a symbol of the modern age, a machine for consumption. “A traffic island,” he wrote, the bar “sped up drinking just as the railroad sped up travel and the mechanical loom sped up textile production.”

That’s the paradox of the bar: idea and thing, made for community and commerce. The best fall on one side; the worst, on the other.

Feb 13, 2014

Hopping Mad

In “Dyets Dry Dinner,” a semi-satiric cookbook and, perhaps, the reason we don’t eat oysters in months with “R,” Henry Buttes writes that ”Herisie and beer cam hopping into England both in yeere” — a pun linking hopped beer to the scourge of Protestantism. And in an anonymous 1640s poem:

For with this same Beer came up Heresie here,
The old Catholick drink is a pot
and in very deed the Hop’s but a Weed

A “pot” being a mug of unhopped ale.

Brought to England by Flemish refugees of the Hundred Years War, hopped beer wasn’t merely unhealthy (it “doth make a man fatte and doth inflate the belly, as it doth appere by the doche mennes faces and belyes”), but heretical. Catholicism had a long tradition of using sacred and medicinal herbs in its rituals — many of which it adopted from pagan practices — and Catholic brewers added them to their beer. Some were symbolic, like tansy for the Virgin or angelica for the Archangel Michael. Many were psychotropic, even poisonous. Still, in medieval and early modern England, herbal beers were popular, healthy marks of jolly country life and hops a sinister, urbane interloper.

Times change.

King Henry VI banned hops; today the TTB requires them. Herbal beers are the new heretics.

Want a taste? Come to Woods Cervecería this Sunday to try some pagan brews — licorice, sage, mushrooms, yarrow… and sin!

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