Category Archives: Craft Beer

Milk, Bread, and Beer

My wife and I met some friends for dinner a few weeks ago. We went to a Mexican restaurant, Cocina de Carlos, that neither my wife or I had tried before. It was an excellent choice – the food was freshly-made, helpings were generous,  and the service was both friendly and attentive. The owner and chef Carlos Mendez is from Jalisco in Mexico which, in my opinion, added some authenticity to our dining experience. In addition to excellent food Cocina de Carlos also had a nice offering of five beers from a brewery whose beers I had never tried before – 5 Rabbit Brewery in Bedford Park, IL. 5 Rabbit describes itself as “the first US based Latin American-inspired brewery” who “hope to bring the energy, passion and amazing richness of Latin culture and cuisine to the delicious world of craft beer.” So with dinner I enjoyed two of 5 Rabbit’s brews – their Gringolandia Super Pils and their 5 Lizards Cerverceria (a Witbier)

After dinner we popped into the Kroger supermarket that was just across the parking lot from the restaurant. While we needed a few grocery items, the real motivation for our visit was to check out the in-store bar. The store is a Kroger Marketplace – a concept that the Cincinnati-based retailer introduced in 2004. In addition to the standard groceries, a Kroger Marketplace (which is typically ~125,000 square feet in size) offers a whole host of other goods such as clothing and housewares. Add to that a Starbucks, a bank, a medical clinic staffed by a nurse practitioner, plus other services and you have a true one-stop shopping venue. And don’t forget the bar.

The bar at the Kroger Marketplace in Perrysburg, OH
The Kroger Marketplace bar had a nice selection of beer on tap
My Rounding Third Red IPA from Cincinnati’s MadTree Brewing Company

So after putting a few items in our grocery cart we headed off in search of the bar. We found it quickly. I was impressed. There were seats at the bar for around ten people and a couple of tables away from the bar each of which could sit six to eight people. The bar sold both beer and wine, with samplers of both available for purchase. There was an impressive portfolio of a dozen craft beers on tap. I opted for Rounding Third Red IPA from Cincinnati’s MadTree Brewing Company while my wife had a glass of red wine. As we waited to place our order at the bar an older getleman, sitting on one of the bar stools, engaged us in conversation. As he rattled off the day’s of the week and times of the day when the bar was busy and when it was quiet it quickly became apparent that he was a regular. I never thought of a bar in a grocery store being my regular watering hole, but I could see how that might work for some folks. After getting our beer and wine my wife and I sat and enjoyed our drinks. And as we did so I thought about how pleasant it would be to have a beer once or twice a week at the grocery store. This particular Kroger is some distance from our house, while the Kroger nearest our house has no bar; the good news, however, is that the Toledo City Council recently provided the necessary approval for a new Kroger Marketplace store to be built to replace our currently bar-less Kroger – fingers crossed that it will have a bar.

Kroger is not the only grocery retailer to have an in-store bar. Whole Foods stores across the country have in-store bars whose offerings include craft beer. Lowes Foods, a grocery store chain with  a hundred or so stores in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia,  have an in-store Beer Den where shoppers can sample a beer or pick up a pint, which they can enjoy while picking out their weekly groceries.

The Beer Professor enjoying a pint at The Paula Brown Shop in downtown Toledo

And grocery stores are not the only non-traditional venues now serving craft beer. A growing trend around the country is the availability of beer on tap in bicycle shops. Watts Dixon has ten beer taps in his bike shop,  Revolution Cycles, in Greensboro, NC. According to Watts one strategy to counteract the growing preference for internet shopping is to offer consumers what he calls “experience-based retail“. According to Maria Sicola, a San Francisco-based real estate research consultant, while most “stuff”can be purchased online, people will still go to brick-and-mortar locations to have “experiences”. Being able to sit and have a beer while getting advice on different frame bags for your bicycle is a lot more fun than browsing Amazon and adding an item to your shopping cart. In Toledo, OH, where I live, there is a home accessories store called the Paula Brown Shop which has an in-store pub called, appropriately, The Pub. At any given time it has a selection of six rotating craft beers on draft. So celebrate the purchase of your Simon Pearce Woodbury Vase with an Alaskan Hopthermia Double IPA at the bar.

Hair salons are another place where craft beer is becoming available. In California, for example, barber shops and beauty shops can serve complimentary beer and wine to their customers. According to the owner of Fine Men’s Salon in San Rafael, CA serving beer “is part of our business model” and is designed “to improve the atmosphere and make the customer feel a little special.” At Salon Saloon in Traverse City, MI customers can enjoy a beer while getting a haircut. As the salon’s tag line says “you sip, we snip”. The beer comes from Right Brain Brewery, which shares a space with the salon. As if that is not enough, the stylists at Salon Saloon have been chosen for “their intelligence, skill, and ninja-like reflexes.”

The availability of craft beer in these non-traditional outlets bodes well for the craft beer industry. The more venues that offer craft beer the greater the likelihood that people will buy it. In a world where craft beer is battling for precious shelf-space in grocery stores that is a good thing. And to that I say “Cheers”.

Last Call?

Jim Koch, who founded Boston Beer Company in 1984, is an iconic figure within the world of craft beer.  Forbes Magazine refers to Koch as a “founding father of the American craft brewery movement”. There can be little argument that the entire craft beer community, brewers and consumers, owe Jim Koch a huge debt of gratitude. Pioneer, innovator, entrepreneur – and so many more adjectives – can all be used to describe Jim Koch. So when Jim Koch speaks people listen. His opinion carries weight, as it should.

So earlier this month, when Koch wrote an editorial that was published in the New York Times I read it with interest. It was titled Is it Last Call for Craft Beer? and was published, appropriately enough, on April 7, National Beer Day. I am not sure who came up with the title of the editorial (whether it was Koch himself or someone at the Times) but it is highly provocative. In it Koch outlines what he sees as some of the major challenges facing the craft segment of the American beer industry. According to Koch, as a result of “slack government antitrust oversight” the American craft brewing industry is in for some very tough times ahead. Koch bemoans the recent (October 2016) acquisition  of SABMiller by AB InBev. This, he noted, resulted in a six percent increase in beer prices and the loss of 5,000 American jobs as the merged company engaged in cost-cutting and other efficiency actions. The control and influence that the mega-brewers have over distributors is also of great concern to Koch; a situation that will make it increasingly difficult for craft brewers to acquire increasingly precious shelf-space for their products.  In his final salvo against Big Beer and government regulators Koch notes that the acquisition of American craft breweries, by AB InBev, MolsonCoors, and Heineken, has created a situation where the beer drinker is being duped into buying beer that appears to be craft, but is really brewed by subsidiaries of the mega-brewers. Overall, Koch paints a bleak picture of the potential future impact of current trends in the American beer industry. This editorial was followed by an interview on CNN.  In the interview Koch focuses on the fact that when a consumer picks up a beer that is brewed by a former craft brewery (that is now owned by a mega-brewer such as AB InBev) there is no indication on the labeling that the brewery that produces the beer is owned by a mega-brewer. Koch suggests that disclosure of ownership should exist, as this would allow the beer drinker to look at a beer label and thus be easily able to discern who owns the brewery that brews their beer.

Not surprisingly Koch’s editorial has provoked a number of responses from those who follow the beer industry. Rich Durpey, writing for The Motley Fool, notes the irony of Koch’s displeasure at federal regulators doing little or nothing to halt the acquisition frenzy. It is ironic, Durpey points out, because the whole craft beer industry was “born out of deregulation” when President Jimmy Carter signed legislation in 1979 that legalized home brewing. Durpey makes a number of other points in his commentary which you can read here.

While I appreciate and value Jim Koch’s perspective, I find his prognosis overly pessimistic.  I see a much rosier future for America’s craft brewers than the one implied by Koch. Back in May of 2015 I penned a piece in which I shared some of my thoughts on the future of craft beer in America. And the two years that have passed since I wrote that blog entry have not dampened my optimism. So let me touch on a couple of points raised by Koch.

Lagunitas Brewing Company – a former craft brewery that is now partly owned (50%) by Heineken

Yes, mega-brewers have bought their way into the craft segment by purchasing craft breweries. So, for example, Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company and New York’s (actually Patchogue’s) Blue Point Brewing Company are both now owned by AB InBev, while Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, GA is owned by MolsonCoors. But there are over 5,000 craft breweries in the United States. AB InBev or MolsonCoors or Heineken can’t buy them all. Heck, it is unlikely that they could purchase all of the 186 regional craft breweries (these are craft breweries producing between fifteen thousand and six million barrels of beer per year) that exist in the United States. Yes the mega-brewers will continue to make strategic acquisitions of craft breweries. Most, if not all, of these will be acquisitions of larger craft breweries. AB InBev are not going to acquire a small brewery producing a couple of hundred barrels of beer per year. These acquisitions will continue to have a negative impact on the craft segment’s market share of the overall beer market. However, the vast majority of America’s breweries will remain independent. And the vast majority of those that remain independent will be small-scale producers. According to data collected by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau seventy percent of US breweries in 2015 produced a thousand barrels or less of beer per year. So the craft beer drinker has nothing to fear. Even after acquisitions occur, there will still be thousands of craft breweries producing dozens of different styles of beer. And this beer will be brewed by highly creative brew masters for whom experimentation and innovation is embedded within their DNA.

Small distributors like Cavalier Distributing focus on the craft beer segment

Another issue raised by Koch is his concern that the mega-brewers will, because of their size, have an unhealthy control and influence over distributors. This is a very legitimate concern, especially for craft breweries that are looking to expand the geographic footprint of their market. In practical terms market expansion for a brewery means getting its six-packs and kegs onto retail shelves and into bars which are at a greater and greater distance from where their brewery is located. For craft breweries who feel that they may not be treated fairly by large distributors one option worth considering is to contract with one or more of the growing number of smaller craft-beer-focused distributors that are popping up across the country – distributors like Cavalier Distributing (who focus on Florida, Indiana, and Ohio), Phoenix-based Arizona Beer and Cider Company, and Weigand Family Distribution who are located in Los Angeles and serve the Southern California region. As noted by John Verive, writing in Beer & Brewing Magazine, “the independent beer wholesalers provide access to the market for small breweries, they develop the marketplace for craft beer, and they have a big influence on beer culture.”  I fully admit to being no expert when it comes to the distribution side of the industry. It is a surprisingly complex piece of the beer industry puzzle. And the fact that each state has its own regulations regarding the distribution of beer, only increases this complexity. Indeed, as I write this, there is a distribution battle going on in North Carolina over the minimum production threshold after which a brewery can no longer self-distribute and must use a distributor.

Breweries, like the Vice District Brewing Company in Chicago, IL, focus on serving local markets

The need to work with a distributor is greater for breweries looking to expand their market reach. Indeed, one of the key strategic business decisions facing a brewery owner concerns the desired scale of production and geographic extent of his or her brewery’s market. Research by Tom Wesson and Joao Neiva de Figueiredo suggests that breweries that focus on serving a smaller geographic market perform better than those serving geographically more extensive markets. Focusing on more restricted geographic markets allows breweries to allocate scarce marketing resources more effectively, while establishing more authentic relationships with distributors, retailers, and customers. At the same time a local focus allows a brewery to leverage their beer’s locally-made attributes, while delivering it to the customer in prime condition. I raise the findings of Wesson and Neiva de Figueiredo because it does suggest that staying small and focusing on local markets can be a winning strategy for craft breweries.

The craft beer drinker is a smart and savvy consumer

Finally, to Koch’s point about disclosure of ownership. In his CNN interview Koch suggests that beer drinkers are being duped by mega-breweries into thinking that they are drinking a beer made by a small-scale, independent, brewery when, in fact, the beer is produced in a brewery owned by a mega-brewer. While some people may be unaware that Goose Island Brewing Company is owned but AB InBev or that Terrapin Beer Company is owned by MolsonCoors my experience is that many people who drink craft beer on a frequent and regular basis are well aware of which craft breweries have been acquired by which mega-brewers; especially if ownership is an issue for them. And if, while browsing the beer aisle, they are uncertain about brewery ownership the World Wide Web is only a smart phone away.

Tom Acitelli’s “The Audacity of Hops”

At the end of the day I have a tremendous amount of faith in the power of the consumer. It was the craft beer consumer, turned brewer, who created the craft beer industry. If you ever have the time, read Tom Acitelli’s book The Audacity of Hops. It tells the story of the America’s craft beer revolution. When I first read Acitelli’s highly readable and informative book (and I have read it several times) I was struck by the importance of the individual in the industry’s emergence and growth. Individuals (including Jim Koch) who did not accept the beer that the mega-brewers were selling to them; who knew better beer was possible. These early pioneers in the industry had vision, tenacity,  and passion to not only not accept the status quo, but to do something about it. In my eyes the craft beer consumer is no fool; he or she is at least as smart as the smart phones that they carry in their pockets. If ownership is important the craft beer drinker will seek out a beer that meets their ownership criteria. If being locally-made is important to them (and it’s important to about half of craft beer drinkers) they will drink predominantly locally-brewed beer. The future of craft beer will not be decided in the boardrooms of AB InBev, MolsonCoors, or Heineken. Rather, it will be decided by people like you and me and the answer we give when a bartender asks us “What will you have”?

Further Reading:

Acitelli, Tom. 2013. The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution. Chicago Review Press: Chicago.

Wesson, Tom and Joao Neiva de Figueiredo. 2001. The importance of focus to market entrants: A study of microbrewery performance. Journal of Business Venturing, Volume 16, Issue 4, Pages 377-403.

Lime City Brewing

One of Cedar Creek’s Church buildings

A few weeks ago, on April 1 to be exact,  my wife sent me a YouTube video via Facebook messenger. It was a video about a new brewing initiative that was in the process of being launched in the northwest Ohio area -Lime City Brewing. The video (which can be viewed here) is just over three minutes long. It was produced by Cedar Creek Church. Cedar Creek is a large non-denominational church which has five campuses throughout  northwest Ohio. According to the video Cedar Creek was getting into the craft beer brewing business.

Cedar Creek’s video was filmed inside the Black Cloister Brewing Company
Martin Luther was known to enjoy a few beers

The video caught me by surprise. I had not read anything in local media about Cedar Creek brewing beer. There had been no mention of it on social media. None of my craft beer friends had said anything to me about it. So as I watched the video I found myself trying to process and make sense of what I was hearing and seeing. There were parts of the video that seemed to add up (yes this looks real) and parts of it that had me scratching my head. The video opened with a representative of the church introducing the audience to Lime City Brewing. As he did so I quickly recognized where the filming had taken place; Black Cloister Brewing Company in downtown Toledo – the huge black and white wall mural was unmistakable. Why had they filmed the video here? Was their brewery still under construction? After watching the video a second time I realized that there was never any actual reference to a physical brewery – this was a “brewing initiative”. The thought then quickly passed through my mind that perhaps Lime City were contracting with Black Cloister to brew their beer for them. Knowing what I knew about the brewing set-up at the Black Cloister this did not make sense to me so I dismissed that possibility. The tag line associated with the new brewing initiative was introduced as  “Brew Well Do Well”. This seemed like an appropriate tag line for a church-sponsored brewery. Yet it sounded familiar. Then it struck me that it was very similar to Black Cloister’s tag line – “Brew Good, Do Good”. The presenter then noted that there is a long history of brewing being associated with the Christian faith. He mentions Martin Luther and the tradition of beer being brewed in monasteries. This was correct. It is well documented that Martin Luther enjoyed a few pints, while his wife Katie brewed beer for the household. And there is a tradition of European monasteries brewing beer since the Middle Ages. Today some of the best beers in the world are brewed by or under the supervision of Trappist monks. The video then cuts away to the brewmaster who runs through Lime City’s portfolio of beers – Perrysburg Porter, Findlay IPA, South Toledo Stout, West Toledo Weiss, and Whitehouse Wheat. The brewmaster looked the part, complete with beard and a Lime City Brew t-shirt. At various points during the video you see bottles of Lime City’s brews. I am not sure what is inside the bottles but each one has a very authentic looking label. I must admit the labels impressed me – they were, in my opinion, both attractive and well-designed. The video finishes with the individual who introduced the new brewing initiative standing behind the bar at the Black Cloister. He has six packs of the five Lime City beers in front him. He tells the audience that supplies of the intitial batch of Lime City beer is limited, but that an order can be placed at So I went to the website and scrolled down until I found the “Buy Now” icon. I clicked on it, not sure what to expect next. This took me to a YouTube video in which Ben Snyder (lead Pastor at Cedar Creek Church) informed viewers that the church was in fact not brewing beer and that it was all an April Fools prank. In producing the video he hoped that it would “create conversation about Church”. He then spent the next minute or so inviting viewers to worship at Cedar Creek while also noting that a lot of time, energy, and talent went into the making of the video I had just watched.

The video caused quite a firestorm on social media across northwest Ohio. Quite a few people were upset and/or offended by it. This included both those who worship at Cedar Creek and those who do not. Cedar Creek’s Facebook page was inundated with comments about the video. A number of my own Facebook friends posted their own thoughts on their own personal Facebook pages, with each of these postings generating a number of comments. Some of the opinions expressed were knee-jerk, while others were carefully thought out and very well articulated. Some  people were upset that their church produced a video about alcohol, seeing it as condoning its consumption. They were particularly upset about the timing of the video; just a few days before its release a drunk driver had caused the death of three area residents. Others were upset at the Black Cloister Brewing Company for allowing Cedar Creek to film the video at their brewery, thereby being complicit in the prank. I have my own personal opinion and perspective about both the video and the resultant backlash against it. But I am going to keep those to myself. This is a blog about beer. It is not a blog about theology or religion.

So let’s turn to the beer aspect of this. In this regard I want to make a couple of points. First, it is not out of the realms of possibility that a church might consider getting into the brewing business. In fact, go to Orlando, FL and you will find Castle Church; a Lutheran church that owns and operates its own brewery. The brewery cleverly leverages its Lutheran connection – among the beers brewed at Castle Church Brewing you will find  Katie’s Kölsch (named after Martin Luther’s wife), Mighty Fortress Doppelbock (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is one of the best known hymns written by the Luther) and Indulgences IPA (Luther was against the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church). Now I really do not know enough about Cedar Creek to say whether they would pursue such a venture. But if they did, they would not be the first. And as noted in their video, beer and Christianity have a long relationship  dating back to medieval times when European monasteries brewed beer. The monks would drink beer during the Lenten period as a source of sustenance. Tom Schaeffer, the CEO and co-founder of the Black Cloister Brewing Company, where the video was filmed, is an ordained Lutheran pastor.  The congregation at his church, Threshold, supported his decision to establish Black Cloister. Last year I attended Threshold’s Easter worship service which was held in the Black Cloister’s tap room.

Second, the fact that Cedar Creek opted to pretend that they were going to brew beer is informative of the status of the craft brewing industry in the United States. Craft beer has arrived, it is here to stay, and increasing numbers of people (even those who do not drink craft beer) are aware of its existence. It is not a passing fad and indeed one may even argue the case that it is now part of mainstream American culture. I suspect that the folks at Cedar Creek were clearly aware of craft beer’s rising star when they brewed  up their April Fools prank. This is not a video that would have been produced twenty years ago.

Third, I was intrigued, and frankly impressed, by the lengths to which Cedar Creek had went to pull off their prank. The name, Lime City Brewing was appropriate. The original Cedar Creek campus is located on Lime City Road in the suburban community of Perrysburg, OH. But it was the bottles and labels that really impressed me. It was clear that a great deal of thought had went into designing and producing what, to all intents and purposes, were authentic-looking beer labels. Not only that, but considerable thought had also went into the naming of their five beers. All five beer names – Perrysburg Porter, Findlay IPA, South Toledo Stout, West Toledo Weiss, and Whitehouse Wheat – were named after the five locations in northwest Ohio (Perrysburg, Findlay, South Toledo, West Toledo, and Whitehouse) where Cedar Creek have campuses. Naming beer after local places, people, and historical events is not uncommon in the craft beer industry. Indeed, in collaboration with two colleagues (Peggy Gripshover of Western Kentucky University and Tom Bell of the University of Tennessee) I am currently working on a project examining the names that Ohio breweries give to their beers. We are particularly interested in those beers that are named after Ohio places, people, and events. To date we have identified over one hundred and sixty such beers in Ohio. Naming beers in this fashion is tied to with the broader neolocalism movement, by which the names given to beer (and other products) are one of the numerous ways in which beer both reflects and promotes its localness.

So at the end of the day I am not sure to what extent Cedar Creek Church achieved their intended objective (“create conversation about Church”) with their April Fools prank. They certainly attracted a lot of attention and generated a lot of chatter on social media. Much of the response that they received was negative. I suspect that Cedar Creek, in making the videos, knew that this might be the case. As I read much of the critique of the video I was reminded of Oscar Wilde’s Lord Henry, who said in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Three Things I’ve Learned Drinking Craft Beer

Growing up in Scotland I was (and still am) an avid football fan. That’s the football played with a round ball, or soccer as it is referred to in the United States. My passion for the sport has not waned over the last four and a half decades. And thanks to the wonders of the internet I am able to watch livestream coverage of games played by my favorite football team back in Scotland, Glasgow Celtic. And I can also follow all the news and gossip by connecting to the webpages of Scottish newspapers such as the Daily Record or The Scotsman. A common feature that has recently made an appearance in these, and other, newspapers is the “Three Things We Learned” column (sometimes it’s five things). Typically these columns will focus on the weekend’s fixtures or a particular match-up and will detail three (or five) things that a particular journalist feels were learned from the set of fixtures or from a particular fixture. As I was reading one of these columns the other week it got me thinking about craft beer and the things that I have learned as a craft beer drinker. So here goes – in no particular order – three things I’ve learned drinking craft beer?

Brewery Staff Are A Friendly Lot

Lansing Brewing Company in Lansing, MI – one of the craft breweries with a friendly and knowledge staff

I have visited dozens of craft breweries, not just in the United States but also  in a number of other countries including Austria, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden. A common characteristic of almost every single craft brewery in which I have spent any time is the friendliness, passion, and knowledge of the staff. I like to visit craft breweries when they are quieter – late afternoon is one of my favorite times. I do so partly because I do not particularly like noisy bars. Also, those quieter periods are the perfect time to engage the bar staff in conversation. The bar staff in a craft brewery tend to be very knowledgeable and passionate about the product they are selling. They can also tell you about the brewery itself – the background of the owners, the size of the brewing system used, and the history of the building in which the brewery is housed. And it is a knowledge that they love to share. So I have spent many pleasant hours in craft breweries sitting on a bar stool chatting with bar tenders, asking questions and listening intently. And in the process I have learned so much about the craft beer industry. Not only do the bar staff know about the craft brewery at which they work but they also know about the other craft breweries in town; so my final question to them is often to ask their recommendation for the next craft brewery I should visit.

There’s A Craft Beer for Everyone

Something for everyone- Barley’s Brewing Company in Columbus, OH
Samplers are a good way to taste test a variety of craft beers

I have a number of friends who are not beer drinkers. Their preferred libation is wine. However, in going to craft breweries with them, to my joy, all of them have discovered at least one beer that they enjoy. In most cases these beers happen to be stouts or porters, particularly those that contain coffee or chocolate flavoring. In some respects I am not surprised that these friends have found a craft beer that they genuinely like. The Brewers Association recognizes the existence of over 150 different styles of beer. There is  Scottish-style Heavy-Ale, Finnish-style Sahti, Swedish-style Gotlandsdricke, English-style Brown Ale, German-style Kölsch – the list goes on and on. With so much choice there is surely something for everyone, and my, albeit limited, experience suggests that this may well be the case. So the next time you are in a craft brewery and a friend or family member tells you that they do not like beer, challenge them. Purchase a sampler of five or six different beers and have that person try them all. It might also be an idea, in selecting the composition of the sampler, to enlist the help of the friendly and knowledgeable bartender (see above) and have that person chat with the non-beer drinker to see what tastes and flavors appeal to his or her palate. So don’t take no for an answer when you offer to buy your non-beer drinking friend a beer. Their experience of beer up to that point has probably been Budweiser or Coors Light – so this is your opportunity to expand their horizons and introduce them to wonderful and diverse world of craft beer.

It’s Getting Harder to Drink Macro Beer

I rarely drink macro beer – but here I am doing it at a University of Toledo football game

I attended quite a few weddings last summer. All of them had an open bar. At the final wedding of the summer season I arrived at the reception and went up to the bar to see what was on offer – Budweiser and Bud Light. I opted for the Bud Light and went back to my table. After my second sip I realized that I could not drink any more. It simply was not a taste that I enjoyed. I had four or five hours ahead of me that evening and I am sure that I was close to breaking out into a cold sweat at the thought of drinking Budweiser or Bud Light all evening. Several years of drinking a wide range of flavorful craft beers had finally taken its toll. I simply could not tolerate the taste of macro-produced American-style pale lager – even if it was available for free all evening, as it was. A few minutes later I found myself back at the bar to see what they had for purchase. To my horror the bartender told me that they had no beer for purchase – only Budwesier or Bud Light for free. The bartender must have seen the expression of panic on my face because he quickly added that there was another bar in the building, which he assured me had a fine selection of craft beers for sale. I found it and spent the rest of the evening going back and forth between my table and the bar. The beers were around $6-$7 each so instead of drinking free all evening I forked out somewhere in the region of $35 on beer. But that is where I am when it comes to drinking beer. I’d rather pay for a good craft beer than drink a free Budweiser. I do not consider myself a beer snob. I do not look down on people who drink Coors Light. Live and let live –  if someone enjoys the taste of Miller Genuine Draft let them drink it. There are times, albeit very infrequently, when I do not drink craft beer. On those occasions my beer of choice, more often than not, is Pabst Blue Ribbon.

So here’s to beer drinkers everywhere – drink what you enjoy and enjoy what you drink.

Brewed By The Birds

Polly James (left) and Nerys Hughes (right) as The Liver Birds


The two sculptured birds atop Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building

The British can take credit for the creation of some wonderful situation comedies. Growing up in Scotland during the 1970s and 1980s I was a regular viewer of a number of these. Some of my favorites included Only Fools and Horses, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and Porridge. Recently I was reminded of another – The Liver Birds. The Liver Birds ran for ten seasons on BBC from 1969 and 1979. Set in Liverpool the storyline focused on the lives of two women (Sandra played by Nerys Hughes and Beryl played by Polly James) who shared an apartment. The title for the series was inspired by two sculptured birds that are perched on top of Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building. The building, opened in 1911, was built to house the offices of the Royal Liver Assurance Group. The “bird” reference in the show’s title, however, is also a nod to the British slang word “bird”, which refers to a young woman. The American equivalent would be the word “chick”.

In Melbourne I enjoyed this Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewing Company
Melbourne’s Hairy Little Sista Bar/Restaurant where I enjoyed a Sunset Ale

The show popped into my head, a few weeks ago, when I was in Melbourne, Australia. This was my fifth visit to Australia, but my first to Melbourne. I first visited Australia in 2006. While not much has changed since my first visit ten years ago one change that I have observed is the growing popularity of craft beer. Like Americans, increasing numbers of Australians, are demanding better quality and more flavorful beer than that which is offered by the large macro-brewers. I sampled quite a number of these Australian craft beers on my eight day trip there. One that I sampled was called Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewing Company. It was recommended to by a bartender in Hairy Little Sista, a bar/restaurant in Melbourne’s CBD. I was with a colleague and we went into the Sista to get a beer. It was my round so I went up to the bar to see what was on offer. The bartender saw me perusing the selection of beers on tap and before I could make a decision she said “You should try the Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewery. The brewery is owned by two women, that’s why it’s called Two Birds, and they make some really good beer. It’s brewed here in Melbourne”. This particular bird, the bartender, had a sweet smile – I couldn’t refuse her recommendation. And I was not disappointed. Sunset Ale is a tasty amber ale that comes in at an ABV of 4.6%. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I had another the next day in another bar; this time from a bottle.

The two birds behind Two Birds Brewing are Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen. They both grew up in the city of Perth, in Western Australia and met there while teenagers. Throughout the course of their friendship they both developed a love and appreciation for  beer. Lewis eventually entered the brewing industry where she gained valuable experience working  for a number of Australian breweries, including as head brewer at Mountain Goat Brewery in Richmond, a Melbourne suburb. Allen, meanwhile, was putting her Marketing and Public Relations degree to work. Her passion was the food and beverage industry and she worked for a number of private sector firms following graduation. These included some time spent as Product Development Manager with the Australian retail giant, Woolworths, where she worked on the company’s private label brand of food products, ‘Select’.

In 2011 Lewis and Allen decided to enter the world of commercial brewing. At that point they were not ready to invest in a bricks-and-mortar brewery; instead they contracted with other  breweries to brew their beers. This allowed them to concentrate on other aspects of the business, including recipe development, establishing a distribution network, getting their brand known in the market, and also raising the financing to build an actual brewery. The latter they did in 2014 when they opened Two Birds Brewery in the Melbourne suburb of Spotswood. Within the Australian context Lewis and Allen are pioneers – they are the country’s first female brewery owners. As part of the process of establishing their brewery the Two Birds made several pilgrimages to the United States, one in 2010 and one in 2013. They did so to immerse themselves in the American craft beer scene, to see what they could learn, and to draw inspiration – the fact that they made not one, but two visits to the United States is  a testimony to the cutting edge nature of the American craft beer industry.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have covered the topic of female Brewers in previous entries. In March 2016 I interviewed Shannon Fink, Head Brewer at the Black Cloister Brewing Company in Toledo, OH. In July 2016 I wrote an entry about female-owned High Heel Brewing of Lakeland, FL. Historically, before beer became an industrialized product, the role of brewer was a predominantly female one.

After I returned from Australia I came across an article about two women, Aida Musulmankulova and Arzu Kurbanova. Musulmankulova and Kurbanova are the owners of Save the Ales, the first craft brewery to be established in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. The brewery is located in Bishkek, the country’s capital city. Not only are the owners (who also happen to be the Brewers) female but they made the decision to hire an all-female staff.

While female brewers are still heavily outnumbered numerically by their male counterparts there is no question that the number of female brewers is on the rise. And here in the United States we have, I believe, reached the point where female brewers are no longer regarded as a curiosity or an oddity. And while there is still a ways to go female breweres are slowly, but surely, becoming mainstream. And that, surely, is a good thing.

Food For Thought

Enjoying a beer at the Mad Anthony Brewing Company in Fort Wayne, IN
Lansing Brewing Company in Lansing, MI
The Vierling Restaurant and Marquette Harbor Brewery in Marquette, MI

According to the Brewers Association most Americans live within ten miles of a craft brewery. While I have been aware of this fact for some time it really struck home earlier this summer when I was returning home from a family wedding. The wedding was in Noblesville, IN which is about three hours and fifteen minutes southwest of Toledo by car. The wedding was on a Saturday afternoon and so we stayed overnight in nearby Fishers, IN and drove home the next day. Before we left to drive Continue reading Food For Thought

A Beer for Women?

Back in May I came across a story in the USA Today. A new brewing company was up and running in Lakeland, FL. Nothing particularly newsworthy about that. Craft breweries are opening up at a rate of more than one a day. In 2015 alone 617 new craft breweries opened Continue reading A Beer for Women?

Craft Beer in the Queen City

My wife and I spent a few days in Charlotte, NC last week. I was there for the annual conference of the Mid-Continent Regional Science Association. And yes, I gave another talk about the American craft beer industry. This time the topic was the intra-urban clustering of craft breweries. This is work that I am doing with Isabelle Nilsson, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte and Matt Lehnert a doctoral student in the Spatially Integrated Social Science Program at The University of Toledo. Isabelle and I shared the presentation. I provided the background and context for our study while Isabelle presented our methodology, analysis, and findings.

Queen Charlotte

Charlotte was  founded in 1768 and is named after  Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III of Great Britain and Ireland. As a result it is known as The Queen City. Charlotte, like many cities in the United States, has a burgeoning craft brewing industry. According to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce there are 28 craft breweries in the Charlotte region, with 16 of those being in the city of Charlotte proper. In addition to these establishments there are 11 new breweries slated for opening, 5 of which will be in the city.

During our first evening in town my wife and I went to our hotel bar for a drink. I asked the bartender what beers he had on draft. “It’s all local beers on draft” was his reply. I must admit I was surprised. The hotel – the Charlotte Sheraton – is part of a multinational chain. I had expected the draft selection to include at least a couple of macro-beers. So kudos to the hotel for supporting the local beer scene in this way. And when I say local I mean local. All of the half dozen draft beers were from breweries in Charlotte.

NoDa Brewing Company on North Tryon Street
Dinner came from The Improper Pig food truck

The next evening a group of us met up at the NoDa  Brewing Company on North Tryon Street. The brewery is named after the NoDa, Charlotte’s historic arts and entertainment district. NoDa is short for North Davidson, the Main Street that traverses the district. The brewery on North Tryon is actually NoDa’s second brewery in Charlotte. The original (opened in 2011) is just over a mile away on North Davidson. The Tryon Street location opened in October 2015 and was built as demand for NoDa beer exceeded the capacity of the North Davidson Brewery. I was keen to try NoDa’s Hop, Drop, ‘n Roll, an American-style IPA, that had earned the brewery a gold medal at the 2014 World Beer Cup. Our hotel bar had it on draft but there is nothing like tasting a beer at the source. I was not disappointed. The NoDa brewery does not have a kitchen but a different food truck is there most evenings. When we visited The Improper Pig was on site with a variety
of BBQ offerings.

Zuri, our Charlotte Brews Cruise guide

My conference ended at lunchtime on the Saturday, leaving us with the afternoon free before heading back to Toledo the next day. We decided to fill the afternoon by going in the Charlotte Brews Cruise. The Brews Cruise is the brainchild of Mark and Trish Lyons and originated  in Asheville, NC in 2006. Since then it has expanded to other cities – Charleston, NC, Denver, CO, Atlanta, GA, Nashville, TN, Chicago, IL, and of course Charlotte. The Charlotte Brews Cruise was established in 2013.

Our Brews Cruise tour guide, Zuri, pouring samples at Birdsong Brewery

For $49 per head you visit three Charlotte breweries. There are seven breweries that the Brews Cruise have a working relationship with so you could theoretically take a second cruise and visit three entirely different breweries. The three that we visited on our cruise were Birdsong Brewing Company, The Unknown Brewing Company, and Heist Brewery. The departure point for our cruise was the Heist Brewery. There we met the other six people who were going on the cruise with us as well as our cruise tour guide, Zuri. We all then jumped into a twelve-seater van and headed off to Birdsong. When we go there our tour guide, Zuri, took us to the production area of the brewery and provided us with a description of the brewing process. As he did so he weaved in information about the brewery and its founders, Chris and Tara Goulet. As Zuri was talking he had a pitcher on hand that contained one of Birdsong’s brews. Sample glasses were 4oz but the pitcher contained enough beer for second servings. At Birdsong we sampled four different brews.

Left to Right (above) – Birdsong, Unknown, and Heist Breweries

Our tour group at Heist Brewery

After Birdsong we went to The Unknown Brewing Company and, after that, Heist Brewery where we were again provided with generous samples while Zuri regaled us with stories of the breweries and their owners. The Brews Cruise was highly enjoyable. It was well-organized and informative – overall a great way to spend three to four hours on a Saturday afternoon.

Rebels, Renegades, and Revolutionaries

Huggy Rao


I’ve been reading quite a lot of the writings of Huggy Rao recently. Huggy (or Hayagreeva to give him his Sunday name) is the Atholl McBean Professor of Organizational Continue reading Rebels, Renegades, and Revolutionaries

Eight Beer Bottles Sitting On A Sill

My view of University Hall from my office

I have two windows in my office at The University of Toledo, one of which overlooks the university’s Centennial Mall. From that window I can watch students and faculty crisis-cross the mall as they move from one Continue reading Eight Beer Bottles Sitting On A Sill