Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Which Came First, the Chick or the Beer?

I hadn't planned on discussing this much via the blog, since a few friends in the industry have already weighed in with some great points (see Top Fermented and Food Sweat & Beers). But then Monday morning, I sat down with my cup of coffee and saw this article, which leads me to believe this recent trend of misled "feminization" of craft beer may be starting to get some roots. So what the hell, I'll throw in my two cents.

First off, in most cases, I'm opposed to the idea of just about anything being marketed as "women-friendly" (and full disclosure, until recently, I owned a small design & marketing company in Apex, NC for about a decade—whether that works in my favor or against is, I guess, up to you). Most women I know can take care of themselves without being coddled with some watered-down (literally, in the case of "girl beer") softened version of what "us tough guys" like to enjoy. I personally know some bad-ass chicks with great taste in beer (and on the flip side, I know plenty of guys whose libation of choice is Coors Light), and the same people, whether they wear heels or not, that will pick up a six-pack of Chick Beer are the same ones who step up to the bar to order a Michelob Ultra without even asking what's on tap. Certainly nothing wrong with that (I'm an equal-opportunity beer lover), but I don't hear too many women complaining about how their beloved Mich Ultra is giving them gas on a nightly basis and wish someone would come out with some other "delicious beer that was ya know, sorta like Bud 55, but, you know, like… less bubbly, kinda? Tee, hee, hee…".

Not to mention the name. I get it, I do. You're throwing it back in the face of the folks who refer to light, lousy, watered-down beer as "chick beer". Ha, ha. So if that's actually the case, why then did you decide to produce yet another light, lousy, watered-down beer and slap this ever-so-witty name on it? Oops. Looks like you fell backward into the hole you just dug.

The way I see it, these decisions, in general, are usually made just like you might picture: at polished tables full of Marketing People®, who shove a bunch of what other polls tell them is "beer" in front of an Optimally Diverse® group of females, then ask them all questions afterward (either that, or someone without a clue comes up with an idea they think is awesome, and no one tells them otherwise, for whatever reason). "This one doesn't like dark beer, so Our New Product® should be light." "This one has gas, so let's make Our New Product® less carbonated". That sorta thing. Most boardrooms' marketing decisions are based on stats and surveys (even, sadly, on a smaller firm's basis) or even worse, the client's whims, instead of common sense, creative experience or real guts. Of course, it's much easier for a small brewery to try a batch of something interesting, market it toward women (if and however they decide to do so), and then figure out whether it's a success or not. Or even better, most small craft brewers I know just make good beer that PEOPLE love, no matter how many X chromosomes they may have been born with.

When we open next year, Haw River Farmhouse Ales intends to brew Belgian- and French-style beers (with a little Southern flair, of course), many of which may appeal more toward women than others (our flagship Saison is delicious, ladies!). If the Ad Wizards that came up with Chick Beer would have looked into actual existing styles of craft beer and who enjoys actually drinking them (or hell, I don't know… off the top of my head, walk around GABF for a couple days with a list of all the vendors' offerings and ask those of the fairer sex which they consider their favorite), they might be onto something. I know plenty of women that will choose a Bell's Oarsman or a Dogfish Head Festina Peche over a MGD64 any ol' day, so why couldn't Chick Beer be based on a Berliner Weisse, for example?

I don't have the stats in front of me, but if I had to guess, I'd say that more women drink wine than men. So instead of targeting a portion of the potential craft beer market that happen to be women, why not reach those same customers by targeting your campaign to wine drinkers? Or recreational runners? Or teachers? Or graphic designers? Some of these might seem silly, but you get the idea: they're all areas where the percentages of women either exceed those of men, have increased greatly in the past few decades, or at least outweigh the current market segment women hold within the craft beer audience (which, according to Chick Beer, is 25% of all craft beer drinkers). By treating women like, you know, actual people who have interests and judgement, you can target the women for which you're aiming, but without speaking down to them or playing into the (already) tired cliche of pink bottles filled with flat, flavorless beer.

Sit tight, gals. We're planning to open Haw River's doors next Memorial Day, and we'll have plenty of great beer I think you'll like. Although it probably won't have strawberries floating in it… is that okay?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Off-Centered and Headed North: Days Three & Four

In case you missed our first post on the subject, take a look here to catch up a little, and then read below and enjoy a summary of Days 3 & 4 of our recent trip across the northeast United States, talking to brewmasters, farmers, business owners and other folks in the industry, discussing our plans and even bringing back a few ideas for our own brewery, Haw River Farmhouse Ales, which we're planning to open next Memorial Day 2012.

Okay, no more messin' around... we have many researchings to do.

. . .

Monday, May 23rd

By Monday morning, we realized it might be smarter to pace ourselves a little for the rest of our trip. :) We started heading east across Maryland, and decided to stop at Barley & Hops Grill & Microbrewery in Frederick (Dawnya grew up near and still has family in Baltimore, so in an effort to expedite our schedule and maximize exposure to new places while out and about, we decided to skip Clipper City, Max's Taproom, Flying Dog and a whole host of other great spots in Maryland, since we're up that way a few times a year anyway and can always catch them on a holiday trip or weekend away).

Very cool idea of integrating the brewing process with
a mainstream, approachable "neighborhood" restaurant setting.

I wasn't sure what to expect when we pulled into Barley & Hops, which looked, from the outside at least, to have been converted from a TGI Fridays (or something similar... I thought I might have to check my "flair level" before entering) smack dab in the middle of a strip mall parking lot. It was a pleasant surprise when we walked through the door, the first thing we noticed was a grain elevator traversing a few feet above our heads, heading to our left and leading to a vast array of shining copper-clad, stainless steel brewing equipment, all visible to the patrons in the dining and bar areas. Guess it's not a TGI Friday's any more.

These are the types of decisions
I don't mind having to make.
As we were seated, we noticed small touches that appealed to us. The globe candles on each table were filled with malted two-row. Stacks of 55-pound bags of grain surrounded the dining room. Decorative hop bines were woven throughout some of the woodwork over the bar. This place was meant to cater to the everyday diner, but was definitely built for the beer lover.

We ordered a flight of everything they had on tap, and I asked to try their cask-conditioned Sugarloaf Saison on their hand pump (which they were out of... boo). Luckily, they had the Saison on their regular tap, which was included with our flight (all delicious beers, by the way... their stout was outstanding). The food was great, with a number of veggie-centric options, and the staff was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive (when we arrived, there weren't too many folks in the dining room—it was a Monday afternoon, after all). We missed their brewmaster by just a few minutes, but overall, we had an unexpected great time visiting Barley & Hops.

Since we weren't actually heading through Baltimore, we decided to head east toward Delaware across a few of Maryland's more rural roads, where we found fantastic examples of some rustic farmhouses. One of the concepts that we're considering for Haw River Farmhouse Ales is to design and build a barn-style structure to house both the brewery and a small brewpub, so we wanted to make sure we tracked down and photographed a variety of farmhouse buildings and barns as we traveled.

Just one of many beautiful farm buildings
we ran across during our travels.

So as not to overload our day, we decided to simply head east into Delaware (with a quick stop in Marriottsville to pick up some beach house keys for that evening! Thanks Lew!), pointing ourselves toward the original Dogfish Head Brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Sorta like Graceland,
but with more beer.

And fewer blue-haired old ladies.
Being able to visit Dogfish Head was a true treat. We decided to sit outside to take advantage of the cooler-than-usual evening, and were led to a table beside a few arbor-trellises of various hop strains. Nice touch. As we took our seat, we couldn't help but notice the sheer number of "all-star" brews on the menu. We were excited.

Dogfish Head takes pride in trying new things. Their motto is "Off-centered Ales for Off-centered People" and it really shows in the selection of beer they craft, the quality of food they offer and the decor within the brewpub they run. We were able to try one of their brewpub exclusives (which I'd been itchin' to try for awhile) called Noble Rot, a farmhouse saison-style wild fermented with grapes, their Black & Red, a mint-raspberry stout, and a test-batch of their famous 120 Minute IPA (they recently had problems with this recipe, which they've just now finalized the fix, so when we were there, they had one of their test batches on tap).

Good thing this was the last stop for the evening.
The 120 Minute alone is 18% ABV (and 100% delicious).

After dinner, we took a little break and walked down to the beach, stuck our toes in the sand... and then figured it made sense to pop back into the Dogfish Head pub on the way back for a nightcap (and apparently $250+ worth of stuff to bring back home) before we left. On our stop back in, I was able to try their newly-released Hellhound on my Ale (a tribute to blues legend Robert Johnson) which had much more of a lemony bite (in a very good way) than I thought it would have. We met a few folks who were on a similar trip to ours (although I think theirs was "just for the heck of it", rather than a... ahem... research trip), shared some stories and another beer or two, then grabbed a cab south to Ocean Isle to hit the sack and cap our Monday.

Barley & Hops Grill & Microbrewery | Frederick, MD
Brew of Note: Schifferstadt Stout
What We Brought Back: Barley & Hops was a really interesting spot. What looked like a converted chain restaurant when we drove up turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise inside: these folks really love brewing beer. Their brewing system and ingredients were an integral part of the decor: full bags of malted barley were stacked alongside the rows of booths, clear glass panels encased the brew system and you have to basically duck beneath the chute on the way in that delivers the grains from the silo out front into the mash tun for brewing. So I can appreciate the fact that this "mainstream"-style restaurant/brewpub really pushes the boundaries of what their audience knows and may be interested in learning about the brewing process in general. With our own brewery, it'll be important to keep in mind that not everybody is as big of a couple of beer nerds as we might be, so there's a balancing act.
On the Web: barleyandhops.net

Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales | Rehoboth Beach, DE
Brew of Note: Noble Rot, Black & Red, Hellhound on my Ale... the list goes on...
What We Brought Back: To a beer lover, Dogfish Head is one of a few mecca-type locations in the country. Owner Sam Caligione is somewhat of a craft beer "rockstar" in the community, with books, TV shows and partnerships with celebrity chefs all dotting his resume. But there were some small touches Dogfish Head made that stood out to us: they place great importance on locally-sourced ingredients for their food menu, as well as local support for their community. We recently got t-shirts made for Haw River Ales that read "Think Global. Live Local. Drink Southern." We were pleased to see a chalkboard in the Dogfish brewpub that lists all their local resources and vendors, stating in green and blue chalk at the top "Think Global. Eat & Drink Local." Hopefully this is some sort of omen from the brewing gods that means we're on the right track.
On the Web: dogfish.com

. . .

Tuesday, May 24th

After a quick bagel and a coffee, we said goodbye to Ocean Isle, MD and headed north: Destination Philly. Dawnya and I were both excited about heading to our first stop, Monk's Cafe, for lunch. One of the first sour beers we ever tried was a Monk's Cafe Flemish Red, and it could be argued that this single beer was the catalyst that eventually set into motion events that would lead to our decision to have Haw River Farmhouse Ales focus on traditional French- and Belgian-style farmhouse styles.

This rather humble facade
belongs to one of the best
beer bars in America.
Let me start off by confessing that this country boy is not a big fan of driving in the "big city"—never have been, probably never will be. Make fun of me, I don't care. I can certainly do it, I just don't like it. Okay, now that that's out of the way, I can let you know that we eventually did find a parking spot fairly close to Monk's Cafe in downtown Philadelphia. And as soon as we walked in, I knew it was worth the stress level of getting there.

Tight rows of dark wood, dusty shelves of unread books and bottle after bottle of magical elixir greeted us as we took refuge from the sweltering heat outside, grabbing two seats at the 12-stool bar. Monk's isn't a brewery, per se (although they do have a few "house-branded" beers that are brewed by Brouwerij Van Steenberge in Belgium just for them, the Flemish Red mentioned above being their flagship of sorts), but they have an incomparable selection of great beers, both from around the country and across the globe.

We had a pint of their Monk's Cafe Flemish Red straight from the tap, of course, and tried a bottle of their collaboration with Cantillon, which was simply ridiculous. We ordered the mussels and frites, we had another sour or two (and was able to try a Lost Abbey Red Poppy, which I was excited to see there, since Lost Abbey doesn't show up in NC) and we happened to bump into the Pennsylvania Market Manager for Ommegang, of all people (coincidentally enough, she sat right down next to us for lunch as we were chatting with the bartender about our brewery). We had a great time.

We'd heard about a reputable bottle shop called Bella Vista in the area, so since we were already in Philly, we headed that way (it was a short walk from Monk's). When we arrived, we were dismayed to see that the shop was more of a wholesale/distributor open to the public, with cases of beer for sale, rather than single bottles. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with being able to buy a case of Russian River Supplication; I'm just not sure walking back through the neighborhood we had just strolled through with a hundred dollar case of beer on my shoulders would have been such a hot idea. For a few reasons.

A little disheartened, we headed back to our parking spot, only to find we showed up 10 minutes past the expiration of the meter. Kudos to you, City of Brotherly Love for being Johnny on the Spot with those parking tickets! As we pulled away from our spot, we headed toward Yards Brewing Company, another brewery in the area we'd heard great things about.

Glad we decided to pop into Yards. We just missed the tour,
but the beer was great, the patrons were friendly,
and the owner was willing to chat with us for a few.
Yards was one of the friendliest brewpubs we visited while traveling. As we cozied up to the bar, we ordered a flight (noticing a trend here?) and a few pints not available in small glasses. Yards brews what they call their "Ales of the Revolution" series, which includes beers based on historic figures from our country's past and their own beer recipes. We were able to try General Washington's Tavern Porter, Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce Ale and Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale while we were there (the spruce beer appealed to us a lot more than I thought it would). And as we were wrapping up our visit to Yards, owner Tom Kehoe stopped by our seats to visit for a few minutes and then wish us luck on our travels.

Eclectic both on the outside and in,
Earth Bread + Brewery was one of the more unique stops
we made during our travels.
Our next stop was just across town to Earth Bread + Brewery, which turned out to be truly one of the most unique and appealing spots we visited on our trip. I found one of the most interesting facets of Earth Bread to be the fact that they brew all "one-off" batches of beer; they have no true flagship, maintain no annual offerings, and don't distribute, which means if you want a pint of Earth Bread's beer, you're heading into Earth Bread to drink it. And there's certainly nothing wrong with that; the beauty of it is that this was seriously some of the best beer we tried during our two week travels. 

The small brew system resides in a section of
sunken floor just past the bar. Pretty cool.
We were able to sit down to speak with owners Tom Baker and Peggy Zwerver to got some great information regarding both practical brewing and cost-effective food service. Tom's main focus is keeping his beer and his food both simple and delicious. Earth Bread highlights local, seasonal specialties on its menu board, and strives to reflect the same aspects in its revolving beer menu. From their own website: "Our tenet is founded upon honesty, sustainability, environmental stewardship and a sense of place in our community. We embrace the connection between people and the foods we eat, emphasizing local and organic ingredients and products, and the producers and farmers with whom we work." I can certainly get behind that.

Exhausted from another productive day of brewery- and bar-hopping, we headed west to Downington to visit another of our favorite breweries, Victory Brewing Company. Surprisingly busy for late on a Monday evening, Victory offered both a range of our favorites and a few brewpub exclusives. We had the chance to try a cask-conditioned version of their fantastic HopDevil IPA, as well as a few summer seasonals and others not available in North Carolina. Had it been a little earlier in the day, we would have stuck around a bit longer.

Our visit to the Victory brewpub would have been twice as great
if we hadn't been so exhausted from... well, drinking beer all day.
We tried to make it to a hotel in Scranton that evening, but exhaustion (and a fire-breathing, razor-wire-antlered mammoth-deer hybrid beast that almost ran smack-dab into the front of our car traveling 70mph along the PA turnpike) kept us from making it that far. Found a little place in Allentown, Pennsylvania after deciding it was time to get off the road and hit the sack after a long day.

Wednesday morning, we point ourselves toward Cooperstown, NY, but it ain't for the baseball... (to be continued)

Monk's Cafe | Philadelphia, PA
Brew of Note: Monk's Cafe Cuvee de Monk's Gueuze
What We Brought Back: Like we mentioned above, the Monk's Cafe Flemish Red was the first sour beer we'd ever had, so visiting Monk's Cafe while we were in Philadelphia was a no-brainer. The bar itself had a great, friendly feel, and one of the ideas we had while we were sitting at the bar there was to either carry a range of "import" beers from Belgium (since we're producing "Carolina versions" of Belgian and French beers, it might benefit our customers to have access to genuine Belgian beer by the bottle) or have a few guest taps that carry Belgian-style beers from other NC craft breweries.
On the Web: monkscafe.com

Yards Brewing Company | Philadelphia, PA
Brew of Note: Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce Ale
What We Brought Back: Yards Brewing Company seems like a true neighborhood brewpub and business, located in the Northern Liberties neighborhood in Philly. When we sat down, we joined a handful of local guys, some tourists, a few of the brewers and owner Tom Kehoe, all sitting at the bar together.As a hub for the neighborhood, Yards succeeds by leaps and bounds. Our hope is that the Haw River Farmhouse will become a similar hub for the neighborhood one day.
On the Web: yardsbrewing.com

Earth Bread + Brewery | Philadelphia, PA
Brew of Note: Gryphon
What We Brought Back: Tom & Peggy have something very special in Earth Bread + Brewery. We had the chance to sit down and speak with both of them, and learned a good deal about the balance between creating a viable business and responsible steward of the community's resources. We've considered building our own brick oven for Haw River Ales to  They brew each batch as a stand-alone product; never do they repeat a batch's recipe exactly. Although this would cause nightmares for distributors or local accounts for most breweries, Earth Bread serves its beer only in its own brewpub, which means they have the freedom to experiment and offer innovative beers that can only be found in one place. You have to respect that.
On the Web: earthbreadbrewery.com

Victory Brewing Company | Downington, PA
Brew of Note: Cask-conditioned HopDevil
What We Brought Back: The Victory brewpub was a huge, bustling restaurant-style establishment with both plenty of bar space and dining area alike. They utilized reconditioned pieces of old copper brew systems to make their corner booths, which I thought was a great idea and exuded a polished, unique presence within the pub. This facet sparked a conversation between Dawnya and I that evening that has since evolved into our researching reconditioned barns within the area to help build our own facility. But more on that later...
On the Web: victorybeer.com