Ray Daniels, The Beer Professor…

In the beer industry there are brewers that every beer geek consumer knows and then there are a select group of individuals that every brewer knows. Author, educator, and cicerone-in-chief Ray Daniels is one of those latter guys. A veteran of the American beer trade, Daniels has taught hundreds of brewers, trade folk, enthusiasts, and journalists about all aspects of the brewing industry, from becoming a more technically proficient brewer or homebrewer to properly tasting beer and all its flavors and aromas. His resume is impressive: organizer of the great Chicago Real Ale Festival, past director of the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer Marketing Program, and faculty member at the Siebel brewing school. A long-time journalist and writer, Daniels has authored or edited more than a dozen books on brewing and beer, including Smoked Beers with Geoff Larson, the Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery, and Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles.

After leaving the Brewers Association, Daniels designed a program to help teach people in the industry how to better sell and serve beer. His Cicerone Certification Program will certifies beer industry employees and enterprising enthusiasts on a variety of topics, including beer styles and culture, tasting, brewing ingredients, and pairing food with beer. “As many in the beer industry who I talked to objected to association of the word ‘sommelier’ with beer, some new word was needed,? Daniels says. “But more directly, my desire to invest time and energy in creating this program comes from the common experiences we all have in buying beer from servers and establishments that have little understanding and less respect for beer.? Having tested and classified hundreds of applicants as Certified Beer Servers, Certified Cicerones, and Master Cicerones, Daniels hopes to continue his long-standing efforts to foster a greater sense of respect for beer.

–Article appeared in Issue 31 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

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A 2009 Great American Beer Festival Preview…

The 28th annual Great American Beer Festival is right around the corner and it has sold out earlier than ever, quite an achievement for the Brewers Association and the craft brewers whose unpaid participation is so crucial to the event’s success. I look forward to experiencing the 30-percent increase in floor space that the BA is heavily promoting and hope that the additional 3,000 tickets sold (out of 49,000 attendees) will not result in some geometric anomaly where we’re all still crowded together at the tables. By the numbers, 3,362 beers will be entered in the GABF Competition, 2,100 beers from 495 breweries will be served in the hall, with 51 new breweries attending the fest for the first time. Looking at the handy map of the festival layout, I am a little disturbed to see that New England’s dwindling presence appears to have hit a new low, sending not even half the number of brewers as the Southeast will represent.

As I did last year, and the year before, I want to provide attendees and other interested parties with a preview of things to come at this year’s event. Instead of misty remembrances, I’ll just quote from last year’s offering.

As I’ve written elsewhere, my first visit to the GABF had a great influence on my development and interest in craft beer. And it all happened by dumb luck. I was in Denver to visit a friend and on a lark the friend decided to surprise me with tickets to the fest. At the time, I was just beginning to acknowledge and appreciate the difference between certain American beers. Entering the beautiful environs of Currigan Hall (long since replaced with the mildly soulless Colorado Convention Center), I had a transformative experience, the effects of which have lasted to the present day. As much as I enjoy the festival and Denver, I’m having a hard time believing that this will be my [fourteenth] visit.

205×115.gifThe Brewers Association’s cornerstone event well-serves the general public and generates a huge amount of revenue for the association itself, all while small craft brewers don’t get paid for their time or beer (still an issue for another article entirely). And while I am not sad to see the fatally flawed Beer Journalism Awards go away, I would like to have some discussions about how we can promote beer writing in the future. I look forward to attending the festival’s successful and increasingly popular cooking demonstrations and panel discussions. After finishing a draft of my book, I’m also looking forward to trying some new beers from breweries that crossed my path during the writing process. I’m also looking to get to know some folks whose paths I have also crossed on-line in the last year and to seeing many old friends. Let me know which beers you have marked on your lists as must try offerings and have a great fest.

Here’s a look back at my coverage of the last half-decade or more of Great American Beer Festivals.

The 2008 Great American Beer Festival
The 2007 Great American Beer Festival”
GABF At 25 – The 2006 GABF
A look at the 2005 GABF
Revisit the 2004 GABF
The 2003 GABF
The GABF Turns 21 – The 2002 GABF

And will this finally be the year that craft brewers decide to dump their big brewery corporate sponsors they privately complain about? I guess we’ll see but I know what I’ll be happily drinking when I watch the Rockies kick the Cardinals’ butts on Friday evening…

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Discussing the Discussion Over the Brewers Association’s Recent Craft Beer Sales Numbers…

As I trudge my way through the book (and a pile of legal work frankly), I occasionally lift my head to read what others are writing about beer-related topics. As a testament to my limited world view, the few topics I inevitably pop into tend on occasion to reference things I have written. So was the case with the recent press release from the Brewers Association touting the craft beer industry’s recent sales numbers, which was then discussed by Beernews and Tom over at Yours for Good Fermentables. Both discuss my recent BeerAdvocate column in which I question whether it’s such a good thing to have every craft beer available on your local store shelves and use it to parallel the Brewers Association’s announcement of the following numbers:

Dollar growth from craft brewers during the first half of 2009 increased 9%, down from 11% growth during the same period in 2008. Volume of craft brewed beer sold grew 5% for the first six months in 2009, compared to 6.5% growth in the first half of 2008. Barrels sold by craft brewers for the first half of the year is an estimated 4.2 million, compared to 4 million barrels sold in the first half of 2008.

The folks at Beernews see this announcement as sort of a bad omen for craft brewers. While acknowledging that craft beer continues to grow, especially compared to the losses suffered by many larger brewers. In truth, I haven’t really digested or even thought about the numbers with my present schedule and that probably won’t happen until closer to the Great American Beer Festival next month but at first glance I can’t say I think the numbers are anything to really worry about. 9-percent dollar growth is pretty impressive in a down economy, especially considering that consumers, by most retail accounts, took the first two or three months of the year off from buying everything, including beer. Boston Beer, which comprises as much as a quarter of the craft beer industry’s sales numbers, took an especially hard hit in the first quarter of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see these numbers edge up a point or two by the end of the year. On the other hand, Coors Light has apparently raised its sales 6-percent so far this year by volume, so who knows.

I do agree with Beernews that the Brewers Association’s simultaneous announcement regarding the number of craft brewers was a little bit odd or even sleight of hand.

The U.S. now boasts 1,525 breweries, the highest number in 100 years when consolidation and the run up to Prohibition reduced the number of breweries to 1,498 in 1910. “The U.S. has more breweries than any other nation and produces a greater diversity of beer styles than anywhere else, thanks to craft brewer innovation,” Gatza added.

I suppose it’s just reassuring the media about the success of craft beer, which is certainly understandable in a world where decreased sales can be seen as a sign of weakness, even in a crap economy.

I won’t spend any time rehashing what I’ve said in previous columns about the serious issues facing the craft beer industry, including its selected method of achieving these levels of growth and whether they are sustainable except to say the following. While in Bar Harbor, Maine, this past weekend, I had a great dinner at a restaurant in Southwest Harbor, the Fiddler’s Green, which had a fantastic and detail beer menu. While that was a pleasant an unexpected surprise, it paled in comparison to my shock at being able to buy, on-premise, several of Stone Brewing Company’s 22 ounce bottles, including its Old Guardian Barleywine and Smoked Porter, for ridiculously cheap prices ($7 and $6 respectively). By way of reference, these prices are equal to or cheaper than what these beers cost at a liquor store in Boston. Now I think that this particular restaurant may very well have been the furthest possible place you could enjoy Stone’s beers away from the brewery while still in the continental United States (approximately 3320 miles). And while it was nice to have the option, I can’t help but wondering about the wisdom of sending beers so far from home and whether anyone is making any money on these sales. (For the record, we opted instead for the 750 of Val Dieu Grand Cru for $12, which went great with the Pot du Creme)…

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Brewers Association Cancels Flawed Beer Journalism Awards Program…

Just in from my beer writing buddy Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack) that the Brewers Association has decided to end its five year run of the Beer Journalism Awards, recently renamed in honor of the late beer writer Michael Jackson.

And while I have never been a particular fan of the awards, which involve cash payments and travel accommodations paid for by the Brewers Association, an industry trade group, and several craft breweries, it is sad that beer writers are left without a means of promoting their efforts and judging and awarding the best among them. Over the years, the BJA honored many talented beer writers and it would be nice if that laudable practice could be continued in a less ethically challenged manner. I’d be interested in hearing what others think about continuing these efforts in the future.

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SAVOR, Beer Writing and Ethics, Totally Unrelated Topics In This Post…

Things have been pretty quiet here lately, with some traveling, legal work, and more recently, work on the new book project. And I expect it’ll be quiet here, a bit of a summer hiatus perhaps. I’m leaving on Thursday for DC to attend the second annual SAVOR event and the promotion for this year’s event has been much quieter than last year. I had some concerns last year over a perceived snobbery attached to the event. This year we haven’t seen any admonitions to “dress to impress” or the like. The Brewers Association has settled on a target market for the event: the national media. All told, it’s a pretty expensive proposition, trying to entice and cajole positive media coverage about craft beer by throwing a pricey, money losing event. SAVOR also has the side effect of propelling beers’ place in the thoughts of our nation’s leaders. In a time when beer is threatened with ever increasing taxes, securing beer as a positive beverage may be worth twice SAVOR’s price tag. In any event, I look forward to the event and to seeing whether DC’s beer scene (and pricing) has improved.

On an entirely unrelated note, the Wall Street Journal has an interesting blog post up right now (thanks to Maureen Ogle for pointing it out to me) about the ethics of wine writing as it relates to Robert Parker, known for his Wine Advocate. In light of some of the discussions we’ve had here, it’s worth a read.

UPDATE: It appears I was a little quick on the axing of the Dress to Impress line for SAVOR. We’ll let the event speak for itself this year.

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