So… What’s Your Favorite Beer?

As a believer in better beer, it happens to me a lot.  I go to the office happy hour (or wedding reception, or college reunion, or baptism…) and while many of my friends/coworkers/clergy order a “______ Light” I ask the friendly bartender: “What do you have on draft?”  I emerge from the bar with something dark or frothy or downright funky-smelling to quizzical looks from my em-bottled compatriots.

“What’ya drinkin?” one asks, and my response is about two or three minutes longer than is appropriate and includes adjectives that are generally used to describe internal anatomy or landscaping design.  Knowing glances are exchanged around the group and someone submits: “so it sounds like you’re really into beer.”  Realizing I’ve done it again, I laugh, take a sip, and brush it off with something like “I’ve been known to imbibe a few from time to time.”

And that’s when it happens.

“So… what’s your favorite beer?”

I’m not going to lie.  I hate this question.  Maybe it’s the Myers-Briggs “Perceiver” in me, but the question is just too singular, too final.  It lacks nuance.  I don’t have kids, but* I have to imagine that it’s like asking someone with multiple children which is his/her favorite?  First off, you just don’t do it.  Secondly, if someone does ask, you dare not answer it directly.

The issue for me is that what I find most interesting – I’m talking about beer again – is not how much I love one beer versus another but what it is that I love about a particular beer.  I know people mean well by asking the question,** so I usually approach a few different ways:

1) “It depends on what I’m in the mood for, what the time of year is, or where I’m at.”  This gives me a chance to wax poetic about how diverse beer is, how different beers traditionally are brewed with the seasons.  I wouldn’t eat the same food every day, so why always drink the same beer?

2) “I haven’t had it yet.”  This is the pithy answer, usually delivered with a smug look.  I usually follow it up by talking about how I love to try new and exciting beers.  Feel free to try this one at the singles bar.***

3) “I could never pick just one, but some of my favorites are…”  I’ll then give a litany of examples that reflect the different ways I love beer.  The local standby: Moerlein OTR.  The never-fail: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale.  The sentimental first beer: Harp.  The rare find: 1997 Thomas Hardy (bottled when I was in 8th grade).  The arrogant choice: whatever I just brewed at home.

I’m sure plenty of folks out there get this question a lot.  How do you regularly answer it?  And if you had to name one (or two, or three…), what are your favorites?

John (#13)

*Ever notice how no one who says this stops here – but probably should?
**I take any interest anyone shows in good beer as an opportunity to educate, advocate, and probably embarrass myself.
***To my wife: I swear I’ve never used this one on anybody but you!!!

Thoughts on “Beerfests” (recent and otherwise)

Beerfest was last weekend. For the second time this calendar year. By my count we’re going to be able to say that many more times before we greet 2011.

Let’s see, we’ve had the “Cincinnati Winter Beerfest” in January and the “Cincinnati Beerfest” last weekend.. If this year goes like last year we’ll have three summer events: Jungle Jim’s has its annual “International Beerfest” scheduled for June 18 and “Brew-Ha-Ha1 is slated for August 27-28. We haven’t heard for sure (yet), but summer may well also see the event that last year was called the “Cincy Beerfest @ Roebling Point”. Then, smack in the middle of Oktoberfest season we’ll have the “THE Cincinnati Beer Fest” (not a typo) on Fountain Square (expanding from one evening to a whole weekend). There may be others we don’t know about yet. Last October we had the excellent “Queen City Craft Brew Fest” out at Cavalier Distributing, and the too-fun-for-words Clifton Beer Fest at Fries Cafe. There were also cool events at Ault Park and the Mill Race Banquet Center in Winton Woods that may or may not happen again this year. All of them were well-attended, so I see no reason why they shouldn’t happen again.2

I’m not sure, but I think somebody around here likes beer. You know, if someone were smart they’d start a website that tracks all this stuff. Oh, wait…

I say all this as a preface to my take on the event that took place at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown this past weekend. There are two disclaimers you need to be clear on at this point: this one that says what this piece is, and this one that talks about the relationship between Hoperatives and the Cincinnati Beerfest.

My take? It was OK. Nothing spectacular. Nothing awful. There were things I liked and things I didn’t like. Taken together it adds up to an event that I’m just mild about. If it happens again next year, great. I’ll probably go if we’re in town. If it doesn’t, well, it doesn’t. There are more than a few opportunities in this town to sample different beers, some more expensive than this, some less.

One of the things the organizers stressed about the event was the amount of space and on that they delivered. The space was cavernous. It was difficult to be in there, though, and not think of a joke routinely told back in the days when I worked at the Houston Astrodome. We said it was the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and the rent was the ninth. I don’t know what it costs to rent a hall at the Duke Energy Convention Center, but I get the impression it’s a lot. My bet is — and I don’t have inside information on this — that the costs associated with putting this on go a long way to explain some of the, let’s say, odd choices of vendors. A costume shop? Really? OK. I was also a bit put off by being assaulted the minute we walked through the door with a timeshare solicitation, er, “contest.” But you know what? I ignored the stuff I didn’t like. There were lots of tables and places to sit, and we settled in down near the Chimay table and made an evening of it. I don’t know how many people were there. I didn’t count. There were a lot, but the aisles were wide and the booths were spread out.

Every local brewer was there. All of them. I’ll put that in the plus column. Red Ear Brewery from Vito’s Cafe in Ft. Thomas, KY (next Hoperatives Happening, people!). Listermann’s (kept going back for the smoked bock). Mt. Carmel. Rivertown. Barrelhouse. Moerlein. Regionals were represented there, too: Great Lakes, Goose Island. Other craft beers included Smuttynose, Ommegang, Brooklyn, Magic Hat, Rogue and Victory. Could there have been more? Sure, but anyone who says there were no craft brewers there is simply wrong. Was craft beer the focus? No, but I don’t recall the organizers ever claiming that it was. Yeah, Blue Moon was there. As was Foster’s. And Peroni. You may not like those those (they don’t do much for me), but last time I looked they were beer. Not craft beer, not artisanal beer, not homebrew, but beer nonetheless. And this was a beer event.

The beer pouring was a source of amusement the entire evening. Somewhere, somebody put the fear of [insert your deity of choice] into the pourers that each guest was to consume no more than two oz. per pour. Most eyeballed it pretty accurately, but some apparently went a little overboard with it. JT over at The Boilover reports that one of his pourers dumped some beer to get to what he or she thought was 2 oz (and the glasses weren’t marked, so they were all guessing!). Carla and I ran into differing understandings of whether it was OK for one person to hand the pourer two glasses and two tickets to get two separate pours (the better to hold seats back at the table).

Other than the local breweries there weren’t any brewery reps on hand as best I could tell. That was unfortunate, but not that terribly unusual for events here. Last year’s Jungle Jim’s festival had the most I can think of off the top of my head (your head may contain different memories).

My hobby is writing about beer and beer culture, so I hope it doesn’t come as a big surprise that I don’t consider myself the average consumer. The average consumer doesn’t either, but that’s another story. Anyway, if you’re looking for The Authoritative Pronouncement on the Worthiness of This Event™, you’ve come to the wrong place. My takeaway from Friday night was that this was not the most adventurous crowd around, but the longest line Friday night was always Chimay. Carla observed that some folks were treating the event as the warm-up to the rest of their evening.

Should there be a second one? I think it needs some work if it’s going to become a fixture like the other events I’ve listed. I thought the event was having a hard time deciding what it was trying to be. An indoor street festival? A sampling event? Something else? I don’t know. I’m always going to have a large place in my heart for the Winter Beerfest because it laser-focuses on beer and blues to benefits a most wonderful local charity. The room may be crowded, but you know why you’re there. I also have a love of Fountain Square, so that one will always do well with me. I love the river and comedy, so Brew-Ha-Ha is a fabulous idea, and if the event at Roebling Point happens again, great! You like street festivals? There will be one darned near every weekend from Memorial Day to the first weekend in November. Each of these events build from a part of the city’s identity, not merely from the fact that it’s being held in the city.

In a big room.

1OK, “Brew-Ha-Ha” doesn’t have the name “Beerfest” in it, but it describes itself as “50 Comedians on 3 stages, 80 beers.” Sue me.

2 Did you hear something? Oh, never mind. It was just my liver. Screaming. Seem like a lot? That’s why we have a calendar section folks. And why “This Week in Beer” has never been empty.

DISCLAIMER #1: I’m just a guy with a website. I have opinions, you probably do too. Does mine carry more weight than yours? Not unless you let it. I’m presenting a point of view. You’re welcome to yours.

DISCLAIMER #2: Hoperatives was asked and accepted an invitation to act as a host for a blogger/media preview of the Cincinnati Beerfest on March 4. We suggested some folks who we thought ought to be invited, but the guest list was ultimately determined by others. At that event we sampled beers from Rivertown Brewing and were given Servati’s soft pretzels at no cost to us. Further, Hoperatives was give four Cincinnati Beerfest tickets to give away to readers and two tickets that were used by Carla and me to attend the event Friday night. There were no conditions attached to any of these items, and we haven’t been asked in any way to write or say anything.

Somebody ought to pass a law…

A very specific law. H.R. 4278, to be precise. The Brewer’s Association has made the lowering of the Federal Excise Tax on the first 60,000 barrels of beer the centerpiece of its lobbying. If I’m reading the bill right, it’s dropping the rate from $16.00 to $3.50 per barrel. Think small brewers can find something to do with that $12.50 a barrel? (See the update below to get the facts straight).

I wrote Representative Geoff Davis this morning urging him to become a co-sponsor of the bill. It was rousing and poetic, analytical and incisive. It appealed to the best of our history and our basic goodness as human beings. I was going to post it here to inspire and awe you, our loyal readers, but I was overcome with emotion (or a case of teh stupids) and hit “send” on the web-form before remembering to copy-and-paste my deathless prose somewhere else.


So what you really need to do right now is write your congressperson. It’s easy. Go to the House of Representatives website and find your Representative’s website so you can contact him or her. There are “talking points” on the Brewer’s Association site, but it’s really better to write stuff in your own words than it is to use boilerplate copy. One thing to consider is that the economic impact of this bill will be positive whether you drink beer or not. Brewing is manufacturing, and breweries purchase the same sorts of goods and services as other small manufacturers.

We only do politics here at Hoperatives if it involves beer. I personally think this bill could really help our area by lowering the barriers to entry for new small brewers and giving our current small breweries a much-needed shot in the arm. If you agree (or have other reasons you think this is a good idea), please consider taking a few minutes to let your Member of Congress know it.

UPDATE: Andy from the Brewer’s Association clarified in a comment what the bill actually does (thanks Andy!):

There are actually two tiers in the tax relief, currrently the small brewers excise tax is $7 (up to a brewers first 60K bbls). The bill hopes to reduce that number to $3.50 while anything over that would be reduced from $18 to $16. Hopefully this clarifies, if you follow up with the congressman.

And I will be following up with Rep. Davis. Please join me if you live in his district, or contact your local Representative’s office. It just takes a minute!

What We’re Truly Thankful For: Great Servers

I’ve been contemplating this post topic for several months now, but today seems the perfect day to write it. Tom and I love better beer, but the place we go almost every Tuesday isn’t listed here as a local bar/restaurant/pub. Why? Well, the most “exotic” beer they have on draft is Sam Adams Boston Lager and the other beers tend to fall in the Bud/Miller/Coors category. So why do we go on an almost weekly basis? One word: Teena (aka the world’s best server). For many years now, Teena has been working as a server at Shakey’s Pub and Grub in Florence and we are so thankful for that. Teena introduces us to the new servers she trains as “her first official regulars at Shakey’s” (though Florence City Council would be a close second). Teena’s been known to put a “Reserved” sign on our favorite table and our pitcher of Sam Adams is usually ordered the moment she sees us. We share with each other the news of our lives each week. We rejoice in happy news like when Teena and Mark got married or when Tom went back to working at UC. We comfort each other in sad times like the recent passing of Teena’s father-in-law and my mother in past few months. Teena nudges me to eat more when I’m not feeling well and supports us when we’re trying to lose weight (yet again). Teena’s met my parents, my brother, my best friend and lots of local friends who we’ve introduced to the fun that is a Tuesday night at Shakey’s.

So this Thanksgiving, let us know about your favorite servers, your Teenas. And the next time you see them, let them know how thankful you are for everything they do for you. We can’t wait to hear about your favorite servers!

Yeah, We Tried It: Bud Light Golden Wheat (with Bonus Editorial!)

I’ve often said that my main qualm with the macro brewers (Bud, Miller, Coors) is not that they make bad beer.  In fact, they make a very consistent, high-quality product on a gigantic scale.  That’s really hard to do with a product like beer.

No, my issue is two-fold: 1) They’ve defined beer as one singular style, and 2) Their interpretation of that style – while extremely clean and refreshing – is not very interesting.  So then Budweiser comes out with a new Bud Light…and it’s a wheat beer.  That’s a step at remedying my first issue with them.  Let’s see how it does on the second one.

First, the formal review.  I’ll keep it short and sweet.  I’ve done my best to try to judge it by its style…Light Wheat Beer?…like I said, I’ve done my best.  Down the hatch!

Appearance: 2/3
It has a nice light amber color, darker than I would have expected from a beer with the words “Bud” and “Light” in the name.  Pours very effervescent, but retains a surprisingly decent head.

Aroma: 1.5/3
Definite orange on the nose.  The aroma is weak, but there.  It’s actually quite pleasing.

Taste: 2/4
There is still orange there, but it is not very prominent – it’s definitely a light beer.  The profile screams of Blue Moon, no doubt who Bud is targeting with this.  The wheat and orange is so slight, though, that it feels like more of an “apology” than an actual flavor note.  It ends up coming off flat and a bit acrid because it doesn’t really commit to the orange and follow through.

Very clean, very refreshing.  But not terribly interesting.

Surprisingly full for the style and appropriately carbonated.

Overall Impression: 3/4
I was pleasantly surprised, but I can’t say that my expectations were very high going in.  One sip, and it is obvious that this beer is engineered to capitalize on Blue Moon’s success, at least from the standpoint of the flavor profile.  But it also dances between that and the Bud Light parent brand.  And in the end, it underdelivers on the promised flavor of orange peel and coriander.

Final Grade: C (13/20)  It’s a Light Wheat Beer…if that’s not a style you’re looking for, then this is not the beer for you.  As a footnote, bear in the mind that this beer will more often than not probably be consumed directly from a bottle, so a lot of the tasting notes above kind of go out the window at that point.

So why review Bud Light Wheat, other than for the sheer entertainment?  Love or hate the macro brewers, they own the market and therefore shape it.  For decades they have stuck to American Light Lager as the singular style for their mainstream brands.  But craft brewing continues to grow, and even the macro brewers have tried to get in on the game with their more premium brands (Blue Moon, Michelob).

But Bud is taking their most mainstream brand and adding to its lineup a new style of beer?  That strikes me as huge.  And as much I and other beer lovers/connoisseurs/snobs might roll our eyes, I propose that this is a good thing.  That’s right, I said it.  This is great.

Why?  Because maybe this will be one more thing that helps get more folks interested in better beer, even if it’s only slightly better than what they are drinking now.  The truth is, most Americans only drink American Light Lager because that’s the only option that they’ve been given in the mass market.  Once their options are opened – perhaps by a mainstream, trusted product like Bud Light – they might be more likely venture out and try new things like…wait for it…ALES.

It’s the Starbucks effect.  Studies have been done that show that when a Starbucks moves in across the street from an independently owned coffee shop, that shop almost always sees their business go UP.  Why?  Because overall awareness of coffee in that area has been elevated by a known, trusted brand.  I have no love for these types of techniques employed by Starbucks (or the macro brewers and their distribution practices), but the data supports this effect indisputably.

Do I think that Bud Light Wheat will change the beer world?  No, but I think it’s a recognition of the success of the craft brewing movement and a sign that it isn’t going away.  And maybe it will help turn a few more folks on to a world of better beer.

A few months ago, I was at the Dilly Cafe with some friends of my fiancee.  I was raving about their beer selection, but it was clear that none of them were big beer drinkers, let alone knowledgeable of things like Belgian sour ales.  “Well, what are some beers that you like?  Do you like Blue Moon?” I asked.  Oh, yeah, they liked Blue Moon a lot when they’ve had it.  Before long, they were nose deep in a strange goblet of the challenging, yet very accessible, Tripel Karmeliet.  And dammit, they liked it.  I’ll have ’em drinking Dogfishhead 120 Minute in no time.

Am I completely off-base?  What do you think?

Homebrewing For Better Beer: Part 1 – Consider Homebrewing

This is the first in a three part series on the basics of homebrewing.  Part 1 looks at the benefits that homebrewing offers the believer in better beer (aka YOU).  Part 2 gives a basic overview of the process that a new homebrewer will undertake.  Part 3 lets you know what you need to get started and provides some helpful resources.  If you have thought about getting into homebrewing, hopefully this series will push you over the edge!

Homebrewers are fond of pointing out that brewing one’s own beer is not just some new hobby that popped up in the early 1990s.  Before potable water became readily available in much of the world, beer was a source of safe, nutritious drinking water.  New generations in diverse cultures learned to brew beer as they might learn to bake bread or chop wood.  The industrial revolution and the rise of large breweries, refrigeration, and transcontinental shipping – not to mention modern municipal water systems – made homebrewing largely obsolete.  However, it saw a resurgence starting in the 1960s and 70s when beer lovers started cravings something different than the (with all due respect to our macro brewery friends) eponymous American light lager.  After the federal government officially legalized homebrewing beer in 1977 – and many states followed suit – the growing movement of homebrewers innovated, experimented, and helped lead the charge in the modern craft brewing movement.

But nowadays, we have a wide variety of “better beer” available for purchase at local liquor stores, grocery stores, and (sometimes) even the corner gas station.  Why go to the trouble of brewing your own beer?  Here are a few great reasons:

Better Know Your Ingredients: When you homebrew, you choose what goes into your beer.  You can use nothing but Cascade hops in your hop bill, and when it’s all said and done, you will probably be able to pick out that exact hop variety in any commercial beer you try.  You can split a batch in half, using two different yeasts to see how it affects the character.  Brewing beer is like learning to cook – you gain a new appreciation for what you eat, even if it is at a restaurant.

Better Know Your Processes: Although homebrewing is in many ways very different from even small-scale commercial brewing, you still gain a great understanding for what work goes into producing a batch (here’s a hint: SANITATION & MORE SANITATION…but I’m getting ahead of myself).  You can taste beer at the different stages of production.  After you finish boiling your wort (unfermented beer, before the yeast gets to it and produces alcohol), you can give it a taste.  Seasoned brewers can diagnose and correct issues before even starting fermatation.  You can then try your beer before carbonation and before it has had a chance to properly condition.  You can’t buy that kind of experience at the store!  And it will give you a much better understanding of the end product.

Beer Evangelism: My dad drank Miller Lite exclusively for as long as I can remember, but he was eager to try his son’s homebrews (oh, a father’s pride) and now is willing to branch out to new beers.  I’ve found that very few people will turn down a chance to try your homebrew, giving you an opportunity to convert more souls into believers in better beer.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard: “You brew your own beer?  That’s so cool!  I’d LOVE to try it.”

Go Nuts: Homebrewers have been credited with resurrecting many of the styles we take for granted today (IPA, anyone?).  And they are pushing the envelopes of what we think beer is (Chile beer, anyone?).  Once you learn the basics of homebrewing, it really isn’t that hard to formulate your own recipes and push the envelope.  Got a huge patch of butternut squash ready to harvest in your garden?  Who says you can’t use that to make beer?!  If they can make pumpkin ale…

Save Money: Okay, I really don’t know any homebrewers who actually save money by brewing their own beer, but that’s because we’re always buying new equipment and upgrading to the newest gadgets.  But when you break it down, brewing is a hobby that gives you something tangible that you can enjoy.  You probably won’t stop buying your favorite brews, but I do know that I make fewer trips to the liquor store when I have a fridge full of tasty homebrews.

Oh, yes, and homebrewing is FUN.  Going into it with a friend/spouse is a great way to save money and spend some quality time doing some (mostly) wholesome fun.  And I personally think it’s impossible to brew beer without drinking some liquid inspiration.  I think you’ll agree

I know there are homebrewers out there who read Hoperatives, so what are some of the reasons why YOU homebrew?  Comment below!

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will look at some of the basics of homebrewing and what you can expect if you take the dive.

-John Lavelle (#13)

How greedy can you get?

Earlier this week, an article in Advertising Age by Steve McKee revealed just how far Belgian/Brazilian giant InBev is willing to go to save money:

InBev has replaced executive offices with bullpens. So what? It has cut jobs and dropped perks like first-class flights and baseball tickets. Yawn. It has pulled back on sports marketing, cut back on company cars, and even ended an agency relationship or two. Hey, times are tough.

But the company, which controls nearly half of the domestic beer market, has gone one step too far. InBev has unilaterally and summarily announced that it is going to take up to 120 days to pay its bills. That, my agency friends, sets a horrible precedent. And not only is it irresponsible, it’s simply wrong.

When asked about the decision, the response from the InBev CEO was basically the leaner we are, the more money we have. In other words, “we got ours.”

When we heard about this and re-tweeted it on the @Hoperatives Twitter account, many of you responded that it might be time to not purchase any more InBev products. That got us thinking and doing some research…

Anheuser-Busch InBev owns the following beers (grouped by “families”):
– Budweiser, Bud Light, Budweiser Select, Bud Ice, Bud Ice Light, Budweiser Brew Masters’ Private Reserve, Bud Extra, Budweiser/Bud Light Chelada, Budweiser American Ale, Budweiser NA, Bud Light Lime
– Michelob, Michelob Golden Draft, Michelob Golden Draft Light, Michelob Amber Bock, Michelob Honey Lager, Michelob Pale Ale, Michelob Marzen, Michelob Pumpkin Spice Ale, Michelob Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale, Michelob Bavarian Wheat, Michelob Porter, Michelob Pale Ale, Michelob Irish Red
– Michelob Ultra, Michelob Ultra Amber, Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus, Michelob Ultra Pomegranate Raspberry, Michelob Ultra Tuscan Orange Grapefruit
– Shock Top Belgian White, Stone Mill Pale Ale, Beach Bum Blonde Ale, Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale, Hop Hound Amber Wheat, Bare Knuckle Stout, Redbridge, Ray Hill’s American Pilsner, Wild Blue, SkipJack Amber
– Hurricane High Gravity, Hurricane Ice, Hurricane Malt Liquor
– Busch, Busch Light, Busch Ice
– Natural Light, Natural Ice
– Rolling Rock, Rolling Rock Red
– ZiegenBock, ZiegenBock Amber
– Bass
– Stella Artois
– Beck’s, Beck’s Premier Light, Beck’s Gold, Beck’s Green Lemon, Beck’s Green Lemon Alcohol Free, Beck’s Chilled Orange, Beck’s Level 7, Beck’s Ice, Beck’s Vier, Beck’s Dark, Beck’s Oktoberfest, Haake Beck Maibock
– Leffe Blonde, Leffe Brune, Leffe Triple, Leffe Radieuse, Leffe Vieille Cuvée, Leffe 9, Leffe Ruby, Leffe Christmas
– Hoegaarden, Hoegaarden Rosé, Hoegaarden Citron, Das, Speciale, Grand Cru, Verboden Vrucht
– Spaten Münchner Hell, Spaten Pils, Spaten Oktoberfest, Spaten Optimator Dopplebock
– Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel, Hefe-Weisse Hell
– Löwenbräu Original, Pilsener, Dunkel, Triumphator, Löwen Weisse, Urtyp, Löwenbräu Oktoberfestbier
– Staropramen Premium Lager, Staropramen Granat, Staropramen Dark
– St. Pauli Girl Lager, St. Pauli Girl Special Dark, St. Pauli Girl NA
– Boddington’s
– Czechvar
– Harbin Lager
– Tennent’s
– Labatt Blue, Labatt Blue Light, Labatt Ice, Labatt Sterling
– Kirin Ichiban, Kirin Light
– Tiger Beer
– Brahma
– Oranjeboom
(This isn’t even all of them. It’s just the ones you are most likely to see in the US.)

Anheuser-Busch InBev owns 50% of Mexico’s Grupo Modelo which is Corona, Victoria, Pacifica, Negra Modelo, Modelo Especial and Modelo Light. Anheuser-Busch InBev also owns 27% of China’s Tsingtaso Brewery and it distributes Red Hook & Widmer Brothers. In addition, they also own distribution rights to the Bacardi and Monster Energy brands.

Now, are we saying you shouldn’t drink these beers? No. If you’ve read our “About” page, you know that we define “better beer” as the beer you love and you may love one of the beers listed above. But, we also consider ourselves an informational web site and we wanted you to be informed. Since we regularly run into people who think Shock Top Beer is a craft beer made by a microbrewery (when it’s really an Anheuser-Busch product masquerading as a microbrew), we thought the information needed to get out there.

[Main sources:, and ]

Beer Grading Made Better

Reviewing a beer might seem a bit daunting to some people, after all there are 91  styles of beer judged at the world beer cup, each with their own nuances, and we have all seen the wine connoisseurs with palates that can distinguish the taste of  spruce, earth, plum, rosemary, thyme, small rocks, churches, and gravy all in a single swish and spit.

My take on beer review boils down to two questions.
  1. Does it conform to what you expect from this style of beer?
  2. Do you like it?
As an Engineer I tend to like to have formulas and things that can be calculated and working in quality we constantly stress standardization of processes. Do it the same way every time. Most people will never write a beer review but it can be helpful to keep a beer log or take notes at tastings so you can remember if it’s something you want to buy or recommend to other people. So after a bit of reading through different tasting scales I chose a simple scale that doesn’t require an adept pallet or in depth knowledge of beer categories. It’s a simple 20pt scale that adapts well to the current letter grading system we have been using on Hoperatives. I think its a good way to standardize ratings between individuals and weigh beers on an equal scale with out making it unecessarily complicated.
20pt Scale
  • Appearance                    15% (0-3)
Appearance refers to clarity, head retention, color, and lacing. It should be noted that not all beers are meant to be clear and a really cold beer or beer in a dirty glass isn’t going to have much head.
  • Aroma                              15% (0-3)
Different people smell different things just describe what you smell. Skunky, rotten, or vinegary smells are almost always considered to be bad.
  • Taste                                 50%
  • Hop/Malt Balance                 (0-4)
In general a really full bodied or heavy beer should not be overly sweet and a light easy to drink beer should not be overly bitter. There should be a nice balance between the two but the over all character of the hops vs malt will depend on the style.
  • Aftertaste                                  (0-3)
Was it refreshing and clean? Do you want to take another drink?
  • Mouthfeel                                  (0-3)
Full bodied? Light bodied? Overly carbonated? Flat?
  • Overall Impression      20% (0-4)
Did you like it?
20=A+ 19=A 18=A- and so on anything less than 9 fails as a beer and should be excommunicated from beerdom.
Feel free to use it or not to use it. I just find it to be a more organized way to explain what I like and dislike. I’m always open to good beer and suggestions.

Attention Kentucky Hoperatives! Read this!!!

Please read this very eloquent plea for help convincing our Kentucky legislators that HB166 (which would raise the liquor tax by 6% to a whopping 17% total) should not be passed in any form! Personally, I was not happy to find out that when I spend money buying beer at my favorite liquor store in a wet county, part of the taxes is distributed to the dry counties in the state. That’s just not right! Check out the link below for more information from Michelle over at My Wine Education and be sure to write your state legislators. Michelle’s post includes all of their email addresses and a sample letter for you to use. Write them today!

Taxing the Sinners: HB 166

Random Notes on the 2nd Annual Midwest Winter Beer Festival

This is not meant to be a comprehensive review of the event that took place at the Radisson Hotel this past Friday and Saturday.  I’m not sure such a thing is possible.  Carla and I were there for the Saturday afternoon session, and we had the opportunity to go in and take a look around during the evening session.

I have a real soft spot in my heart for this event.  For one thing, last year’s event started a chain of events that eventually led to this blog’s beginning.  I’m also an unabashed blues and boogie-woogie fan, so the fact that the event supports the Big Joe Duskin Music Education Foundation is a big plus.  Finally, it’s obviously a labor of love by organizer Craig Johnson and a small army of volunteers.

And let’s face it:  you had me at “beer.”

That being said, I think the event improved on its first outing last year:

  • The most visible difference was sponsorships.  Cork ‘N Bottle was most prominent, but Cin Weekly and the Radisson were both listed on the website as sponsors as well.  I hope I’m not missing anyone. I know it’s a down economy (if by “down” you mean “imploding”) but it seems to me that this event is one where a sponsor will get a lot of goodwill and a lot of eyeballs.  This is a crowd that likes the good stuff.  If you sell good stuff (of any sort), you probably ought to be there.
  • Good to see the Cincinnati Malt Infusers with a table with information on it.  Somebody hanging around to answer questions might have been better (I looked a couple of times, maybe I just missed them), but there was an awful lot of good beer just a few feet away.  How strong can a person be?
  • I think the whole thing just ran smoother this year.  Lessons were clearly learned from last year. The floor layout was better with the food spread out, and the Radisson staff seemed to be on top of things.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s all nice, but what about the beer?

  • We decided to concentrate on the draft beers over the bottled under the theory that most of the bottled beer was available anywhere.  Well, not anywhere, but anywhere that counts.
  • I’d forgotten how much I like Barrelhouse’s Boss Cox Double Dark IPA.  I probably need to have it more often.  And it was good to finally get Moerleins’s Emancipator Doppel.  We missed the tapping because we were out of town, so it was good to catch up on it.  The toffee notes make it something really special.  I vaguely remember going back for it most often.
  • I really, really missed seeing Mt. Carmel. I keep hearing that they’re switching from growlers to bottles, which has to be a huge job, so maybe they’ll be back next year.
  • Note to Dogfish Head:  It’s a three-session event.  Send enough of the offbeat stuff for three sessions, not one.  And Shiner?  As a expatriate Texan, I expected to see Commemorator.
  • It was good that the distributors were there to support the event, but it would have been nice to see a few more brewers.  That’s on them, not the organizers.

Last year there was talk of a summer event, but it didn’t happen.  I didn’t hear any such talk this year, and I think that’s fine.  Better to keep the quality of the one event than to water it down with two.

Plus, I have a feeling Craig Johnson needs to sleep sometime.

Congratulations to all on a great event.