Elk Grove Brewing: Why I Support Beer Week

This is the story of two brewers & breweries, both in Northern California. Each has won multiple awards at The Great American Beer Festival – in fact, each won a Brewmaster of the Year award at the 1999 GABF. The first is a brewery you’ve likely heard of – it’s a small outfit in Santa Rosa called Russian River Brewing Company. The other? As the title suggests, it’s the now-defunct Elk Grove Brewing.

Clearly the continued success at Russian River is well-deserved. Vinnie & his brewing team continue to rack up awards, honors and other tangibles that measure a company’s success. This story is not about Russian River.

Elk Grove Brewing & its brewmaster Bill Wood didn’t stop winning awards in 1999. In fact, between 2000 and 2008 (the year it closed) the brewery brought home EIGHT GABF medals (two in 2001, one in 2003 and 2004, two in 2006 and 2008). This was no slouch in the beer industry, clearly. In fact, I’m willing to bet you’d be more than happy if your local brewery performed that well year after year. So, what happened?

I don’t fully understand, clearly, but it seems to me that a business closes because it doesn’t have enough butts in seats to pay its bills. This example of a brewery closing, to me, is the most clear reason I can point at to support your local brewery. Why wouldn’t you? Do you know how many great small breweries there are in this country? It seems likely to this writer that you live pretty damn close to a place that makes fantastic beer – but does your community know? Do you continually choose the trendy craft beer over the local craft beer – of world-class quality?

For me, “Beer Weeks” around the country are a celebration of Beer – not just beer (the liquid), but the people that make it, sell it, distribute it, serve it and keep that process repeating. As you likely know, I have taken on the role of Beer Director for Sacramento Beer Week. I do this not for the love of liquid, but for the appreciation of the industry overall and the fear that if we don’t create a reason to support our local brewers on a large-scale, we could see even more great brewers lost to closures. It’s happened too much here.

Breweries that Have Closed Around Sacramento & The Names I Associate with Them

  • Elk Grove Brewing – Bill Wood
  • Oasis (Sacramento Brewing) – Peter Salmond, Peter Hoey
  • BJs (though they only closed brewery) – Andy Armstrong, David Mathis
  • Beermann’s Beerwerks – Mike Sutherland, Tim Spinelli, Andy Armstrong (again) & many more
  • Sacramento Brewing – Peter Hoey (again)

Sacramento Beer Week isn’t just a nine-day, beer-crazed romp, it’s a way for me (and Dan Scott, the Executive Director) to get people excited about their local breweries. Each of the places above made GOOD beer – at least! Still, it seems that our community chose to embrace the more trendy beers – be it craft or industrial (mostly industrial, here). It’s a shame.

To be perfectly fair, I also understand that at least two of these closures had nothing to do with beer sales, but closed due to the fact that they had large restaurants attached that were under-performing. I don’t believe that is the case for for the other three, however.

So, beyond beer week – what can you do? It’s simple really. Stop in on occasion to fill a growler, enjoy a pint – have meetings – at your local brewery. I know you’re only one person – I suffer the same experience. Still, it’s good to do what we can individually in hopes to make a collective difference. There’s no good reason great breweries should be forced to close its doors. Don’t let your local, award-winning brewery suffer the same fate as Elk Grove.

About Bill Wood

Bill, the former brewmaster at Elk Grove, works today as Head Brewer for Auburn Alehouse (with Brewmaster & Owner, Brian Ford). Auburn Alehouse took home its first-ever medal from GABF in 2010, for its Pilsner.

Alcohol, Lies, Taxes & Idiocy

I wrote this several months ago for my friends – not sure why I didn’t post it here, too. Some of the stuff isn’t relevant (there are no petitions on the streets today, that I know of), but there is certainly a lot of talk about taxes and whatnot. Figure it’d be fine to share this here, too.

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Guess what everyone, I support alcohol in this state & country – even across the globe. I like beer, the occasional margarita & a nice glass of red wine with a meal. I have been to hundreds of bars, tried thousands of beers, spoken on the subject and made a modest living writing about it.

Alcohol is a good thing and in times such as these, provides important socio-economic benefits to our state and country. Let’s just look at California, shall we?

In 2008 the beer industry was responsible for 108,199 jobs in our state. These are brewers, distributors, reps, the Budweiser Girl and a few other folks that you might know. All told, the industry supported a whopping 211,082 jobs for the state… Impressive.

In 2008 the beer industry generated $2.8 BILLION in State & local taxes alone. We PAID an additional $875 MILLION in State & local taxes – again, not talking about the feds yet.

Wages paid by the beer industry in 2008? $8.35 BILLION.

Impressive stuff, and the beer industry in California has only grown over the past couple of years. Around the country we’re one of the few shining points in any production industry in the USA. While we seem to be unable to make it here anymore (as James McMurtry says) – beer is still getting it done the American way (whatever that means).

Now, why the hell am I telling you this? Because, many of you have a casual relationship with beer or alcohol in general. So, when you see a guy with a petition suggesting that the alcohol industry pay their fair share in the state of California, hopefully I can help shed some like on the total bullshit they’re spewing.

It’s true, there’s a petition going around right now lovingly deemed the Alcohol-Related Harm and Damage Services Act of 2010. They say they want to increase taxes on all alcohol in the state, and not just by a little. What they actually want is to create a new breed of prohibition – how else can you explain the 12,000% increase in taxes they’re suggesting? What’s worse than that is the absolute lies they spread about alcohol. Here’s a few:

1) Let’s get to the most fucked up one of all: “ninety-seven thousand college-age women are raped or sexually assaulted each year under circumstances involving the use of alcohol. Half of all rape victims were intoxicated and half of their attackers were intoxicated at the time of the attack.”

- Now, just ask yourself if this makes any sense to you. Sit there, ponder a moment and re-read this stat. What does that say? Well, it won’t say it, but they’re suggesting that alcohol causes rape. Let’s just not beat around that bush. By this logic, let’s just assume a handful of rapes happen on college campuses… can we just say that college causes rape, too? How about Catholicism? No, of course not. Now, I’m not denying there’s people who do stupid shit when they’re drunk… but they’re doing stupid shit because they’re fucking morons, not because they bought a few too many drinks! Honestly. I read this and I get angry – it pisses me off to no end that a group like this would try to associate me and my friends with the shitsnacks that would do such a horrific thing. I hope when you are approached with a ‘stat’ like this you can respond appropriately. I’m afraid I’d just go off on the poor sap that volunteered to collect signatures hoping to get laid by the hotty that works at Target.

2) “One person dies, and there are 533 incidents of violent crime, every hour due to alcohol use in California.”

Again, think about it… now, let’s play with math. Every hour? There are 20-some-odd of those in each day… and 360ish in every year (except Leap Year, which of course causes an additional 24 alcohol-related deaths each year). 8760 deaths per year blamed on alcohol. According to the NTSB there were just over a thousand alcohol-related deaths in vehicles in 2008, a number that has DECREASED EVERY YEAR SINCE 1982! So, that leaves 7500 deaths… related to alcohol. Anyone? Anyone? Yeah, turns out you can’t really substantiate that stat. I suspect they’re including any death where any victim or criminal had a drink in the past 24 hours. Honestly, not sure where they get that number…

3) They claim alcohol pays less than $1 billion per year in taxes and fees. This, as pointed out earlier, is plain wrong. Those numbers, again, were ONLY for beer – not including other forms of alcohol. There’s a lot of booze tax in this great state.

4) “Alcohol-related problems cost Californians an estimated $38.4 billion annually, including the costs of illness and injury, the criminal justice system, lost productivity, impacts on the welfare system, trauma and emergency care, and the foster care system.”

I don’t really know where to begin here, but again we must sit and think about this a bit. Read it again, put on the thinking caps… what the hell does that mean? I figure they’re suggesting only commit crimes when they’re liquored up. Illness, injury? Justice? Productivity? Hey, I know some sober folks that are very unproductive. Welfare? Trauma? Foster Care? My god… seriously?

Listen folks. Bottom line in our state is we’re broke. There are folks like Jim Beall and the good people at the Marin Institute that see alcohol as a fix for the economic shortfalls of our state, but in truth we’re paying a lot of money into the system as is. We pay excise tax – which in itself sucks – how many industries in the nation pay that? We’re demonized and told that we must pay more, more and more. Lies are made up, repeated on TV, Radio, Print & around the offices. It’s time we all had an answer, it’s time we corrected the idiocy that is spouted by well-meaning people who believe what they’re told. Hey, not all these folks are whack jobs, many are just uninformed folk that are trying to put it all together. No need to beat anyone up verbally or otherwise, but we also don’t need to just ignore it and hope it goes away.

I love my job and am proud of the industry I work in. The vast majority of brewery owners in this state are just making a modest living, making something that people like and is consumed responsibly by millions of people each and every day. They don’t have fancy cars, mansions on the lake or memberships at the posh country clubs. Likewise, the vast majority of drinkers in our state are responsible, working class folk. We go to jobs, pay our bills, raise kids, coach little league and make this country work. We are not the fix for the overspending of our land, we’re not cure for our budget. We’re happy to pay our way, our fair share, and believe that we’re doing so as a whole.

That’s all. Just had to get that off my chest.

Sources:
Beer Serves America
Alcohol-Related Harm and Damage Services Act of 2010
My Messy Brain

Your Beer Will Kill You Dead!

OK, maybe your beer won’t kill you dead, but it sounds good, right? Honestly, nobody could rationally think that beer kills, right? I mean, sure, the abuse of alcohol is a bad thing and there are some folks that are just ‘out there’ who might not see a difference between consumption of alcohol and the abuse of alcohol, but nobody really pays attention to those people, right?

Oh hell…

Alcohol kills more than AIDS, TB or violence

Drinking causes more than 4 percent of deaths worldwide, WHO warns

Yup, that’s the headline on MSNBC.com’s story forwarded to me by Kevin (Thanks, Kev). Read it, it’s entertaining. OK, it’s infuriating, but really… read it anyway. You’ll learn a few things, like:

  • alcohol control policies are weak and remain a low priority for most governments despite drinking’s heavy toll on society from road accidents, violence, disease, child neglect and job absenteeism, it said.
  • Approximately 2.5 million people die each year from alcohol related causes
  • every fifth death is due to harmful drinking (in Russia)

Here’s the rub for me. The story, by Stephanie Nebehay, tosses the word ‘alcohol’ out like it has an actual meaning to her story. It isn’t till the fifth paragraph that she even includes a quote that qualifies the type of consumption she’s really talking about – ‘harmful use’ (read, “abuse”).

What’s more, there seems to be no qualifiers for alcohol – a drink is apparently a drink – be it vodka, whisky, beer… it’s all the same. It strikes me as odd, however, that the article ends on the sudsy folks – ABIB and SABMiller (Diageo, too). Of course the SABMiller guy comes off sounding like a dick, suggesting the world would be a more dangerous place if people resorted to the unsafe practice of making beer at home… because apparently that can still blind you or something. Oh, wait, sorry – homebrewing beer is safe. That’s right.

Anyway, this seems to be just another example of blurred lines between use (which the vast majority of drinkers do) and abuse (the folks that make the news). The purpose of the story isn’t well-hidden either:

Health ministers from the WHO’s 193 member states agreed last May to try to curb binge drinking and other growing forms of excessive alcohol use through higher taxes on alcoholic drinks and tighter marketing restrictions.

Yup, let’s fix the overstated and misunderstood problem by punishing everyone for the follies of a few. Maybe if they put a skull and crossbones on the label with bigger warning signs it’ll help – I mean, nobody smokes anymore, right? Oh yeah, wrong on that one, too.

Don’t buy the BS. Brewers and drinkers, in America at least, pay their fair share of taxes. Look at the number of folks employed across the nation – look at the excise tax number for the Feds and the States, see the positive financial contribution made by the alcohol industry, overall. Our taxes are high enough – the scare tactics employed here are nothing more than an excuse to get even more.

See, that was fun!

Your Role in Greener Beer

I’ll keep this brief, at least I’ll try.

In the past few years we’ve seen more and more brewers embracing greener production policies – using less water, converting to alternative energy sources, reducing waste, etc. That’s a great thing we all love to read about, share with our friends and generally promote online.

What about us, though? The drinkers? Check out this quote from a story posted Tuesday titled “A Billion Bottles of Beer” by Cindy Ojczyk (pronounced Smith, I’m sure).

The EPA found that only 27 percent of glass is recycled. Aluminum cans are recycled at a rate of 58 percent.

Two Observations

1) This seems to be yet another incentive for brewers wanting to ‘go green’ to move to cans for packaging.

2) We’re not doing our part. To be certain the number of glass bottles doesn’t just include beer, but really – seems like we ought to be able to easily improve on that number. Less than 30% of glass recycled? Yeah, we can do better.

One Additional Observation

I also think we, as a country, ought to reconsider regulations that prohibit a brewery from recycling its own bottles. Honestly, it’s lunacy to me that we don’t allow this practice in America.

I Don’t Get It

Session Beer vs. Extreme Beer – I don’t get it. I read another strange piece today that is making its way around social media sites titled “In Search of Great Session Beers” by Jason Wilson. The article was beery enough, although I don’t think it is that difficult to find a ‘session’ beer in the Bay Area, but there was an underlying assumption in it that tweaked me a little – the belief that consumers want either a low ABV ‘session’ beer, or they want a hop/ABV bomb of an ‘extreme’ beer. Hell, there even seems to be a contingent that believes the session beers ought to be extreme.

Here’s a thought (not an extreme thought, mind you): why can’t we have and support and love both sessionable beers and extreme beers? I don’t think my drinking habits are uncommon. Some days I have my first beer with or before lunch (mainly on weekends and holidays, mind you, but it happens). On these days I’ll likely have six or more beers before the day is done. There are also days when my first beer is well after dinner. The tasks for beer ingested for each scenario are wildly different. In scenario one I’m hoping for a low alcohol beer with flavor. In scenario two, I might opt for a 10% double IPA or imperial stout. In both cases I demand quality and flavor.

Is it that hard to figure out there’s room in the beer-lovers diet for both ‘styles’ of beer?

Furthermore, it seems as though the biggest advocates for extreme beer have created a world in which they feel scorned by media and the general public. Take this quote, lifted from the article, by Todd Alstrom of Beer Advocate:

“For too many years the mainstream press and haters have attempted to pigeonhole extreme beer as being just about high-alcohol and unbalanced beers,” Todd Alstrom says. “Let’s be honest, they’re f- clueless.”

Perhaps there was more meat to the actual quote (Lord knows I’ve been misquoted and misquoted others), but still – what mainstream press is there that hasn’t embraced (even a little) the extreme beer movement? Do we not see more and more press time and space devoted to the American craft beer segment, often featuring the newest and hoppiest IPA? Sure, “mainstream” media does still like to equate beer with Budweiser, but… I don’t know. Maybe, as Todd says, I’m fucking clueless.

Then again, I’ve been to too many bars and beer festivals where the patrons select their craft beer based solely on the ABV or IBU count – which to me is pretty fucking clueless.

Look, I’m not an extreme beer hater – trust me on this. Chances are if you find me out drinking at my local watering hole, I’ll be enjoying a well-crafted, super-hoppy IPA or Double IPA – maybe an Imperial Stout. I love those beers, when they’re clean and flavorful. Then again, if you find me at my watering hole before dinner, you’ll likely find me nursing a lovely pilsner or Irish stout – something more in line with the session beer crowd.

One final note, specifically in response to a quote by Alstrom:

It’s our collective duty to reinforce [extreme beer].

I could not disagree more to this statement. Again, I think if pressed Todd would take a more inclusive tone to craft beer, overall, but at face value this comment is reckless. First off, the collective duty of the beer drinker is responsibility, first and foremost. Beyond that, quality and integrity come to mind. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of shitty, or sub-standard, craft beer in this world. As consumers our goal is to support and foster an industry that delivers consistent quality in its product – as opposed to blindly embracing products because they’re local, or craft, or nano – whatever it is we feel obliged to support. Once we have mastered the art and science of brewing, then lets talk about using extreme methods or ingredients and then prod our brewers to deliver something more interesting than the last batch of something interesting.

Maybe I am clueless.

Side note: I was recently invited to brew at beer with Sierra Nevada for the upcoming Sacramento Beer Week. My concept? A highly-hopped, low ABV pale ale. It should weigh in at 4% ABV, have an intense hop aroma and flavor with a sturdy bitterness. Release date for this is Feb 24th at The Crocker in Sacramento – the opening event for Sacramento Beer Week.

What Happened?

I’m not here to talk about the beer today, but Americans have long-admired the humor and whatever we are introduced to each year during the Budweiser Super Bowl ads. This year, however, seemed to be lackluster – at best! In fact, if you glance over at the viewer-compiled rankings over at Hulu.com you’ll see that the top-placing beer ad comes in at #24! That was for the Bud Light ad titled Dog Sitter. Most interesting to me is the move by AB-InBev (makers of Budweiser and Stella Artois) to include a non-American beer in America’s big game lineup – the one-minute-long Stella commercial, Crying Jean. Sadly, the ad was among the worst out there (currently ranked BELOW the controversial Groupon ad, Tibet).

I wonder if Eminem likes Budweiser?