First Things First, Second Things Second

Much has happened since neglecting my favorite web site, due to crazy local events. I refuse to bore you with those details, so let me get to the subject at hand: Beer!
I am sure by now almost everybody has tasted their fall marzen, or what is commonly called Oktoberfest. I usually sample as many of these as possible, but this year I slacked off a bit, but still had time to try the Kostritzer version from the black bier people in Germany. A change of pace from the caramel malt laden versions around, like Samuel Adams Octoberfest.
But the caramel malt profile has become synonymous with autumn beers in the United States. As the weather turns cooler the body has a need for more malts, which makes super hop productions seem out of season for the moment.
Since it is autumn and we are rapidly moving towards Halloween, I do want to mention one of my favorite seasonal productions, that being Saranac Pumpkin Ale.
Many compare this beer to pumpkin pie, although I do not eat pumpkin pie as a rule. No, what I like about this pumpkin ale is the recipe. I prefer it over Brooklyn Brewery’s Post Road, which Matt Brewing does the contract brewing for.
About a month ago I attended a distributor trade show where Rochester, New York brewer Dundee had samples of their Oktoberfest. A very good take on the style, that is not as widely distributed as it should.
I also got to sample Sierra-Nevada’s Chico Estate. A complete “in-house” brew, using hops grown by the brewery. It was quite good, but time limitations prevented the kind of serious, sit down contemplation this smooth ale demanded.
At the very same show (hell, it might as well been called a party) the Schlitz Gusto folks were in full promotional mode. Schlitz Gusto is the trade book name for the revived early 1960’s formula of Schlitz, before the marketing geniuses came up with the idea of tweaking the recipe, to supposedly produce more, while using less ingredients. That lead to the ultimate disaster where Schlitz, the number one beer in America since World War II, lost its market dominance to Budweiser, and never gained it back. As a kid, I heard beer drinking adults refer to Schlitz as “Shits” when the reformulated suds turned people away in droves.
But corporate amnesia was in full play this evening. Like Microsoft wanting you to buy 7 and forget all about something once known as Vista, the Schlitz Gusto had not only tied in to their daddy or granddaddy’s beer, with its Schlitz classic logo, they even had buttons promoting it as the beer of choice for the 1969 Woodstock music festival.
I also had to marvel at the riffs being used by the sales representative. Not only was he promoting Schlitz with quite a bit of gusto, he also had on hand their strong (8.5%) malt liquor, which he made a distinction that it was not malt liquor (which is in fact, a rather ambiguous term) but a high gravity lager.
Which was also in full play at this trade show, the distinction between craft, regional retro and corporate has becomes pretty much of a blur. I know the so-called craft brewers want to seperate themselves from the rest of the brewing industry, but is that actually possible, or is it by now, just another marketing ploy? I mean after trying Samuel Adams Coastal Wheat, how is it different than other big brewer’s wheat productions? From Coors’ Blue Moon to Bud Light Golden Wheat?
As I stated in a previous post, the recipe is the final deciding factor. Consolidation of brewing interests can reek havoc on a beloved brew. Take what A-B Inbev as done to the venerable Bass Ale. Corporate concerns have forgotten all about the character of this famous ale, that once upon a time, in Burton-On-Trent England, was brewed with gypsum mineral rich water that provided a somewhat chalky but delicious finish. None of that is present in the concoction now sold as Bass.
Luckily, some recipes have not been changed, or in rare cases, actually improved. Two of the early winter arrivals are outstanding: Avery’s Old Jubilation Ale and Flying Dog’s K-9. Both of these examples show that if you are going to fork out some serious money for a six pack of beer, it had better be worth it. In the case of these two, I would say it is.
As always my only prayer is thank you.

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