Views on imported beers (The Session #122)

This month’s The Session on the topic of “Views on imported beers” is hosted at I think about beer by Christopher Barnes. It is apropos that this month’s instantiation of The Session falls on National Beer Day in the US, April 7th, when we, i.e., beer nerds, celebrate the Cullen-Harrison Act going into effect and effectively ending Prohibition. It is also, and more accurately, known as National Session Beer Day since it was 3.2% ABV beer that was approved for sale. Nor was it the entirety of the country as some states failed to pass there own legalization laws prior to the 7th.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

Barnes has a fairly close connection to imported beers as his post explains:

“I love imported beer, specifically Belgian and German beer. They’re what I drink. My cellar is made up of Belgian beers, my fridge is full of them, and there a few stashed around in a closet or two as well. Imported beer is my life. I drink them. I write about them. I travel to experience them. In fact, my career involves working with Imported Beer. I manage several prominent import portfolios for a Oregon craft focused wholesaler. And while I have a vested interest in the success of Imported Beer, it doesn’t lessen my passion for the traditional beers of Europe. As craft beer sales have surged across America, sales of imported beers have suffered. I’m going to ask a couple of questions.

For American and Canadians: What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market?

For Non North Americans: How are American beers (imported into YOUR country) viewed? What is their place in your market?”

I am clearly a North American, and sadly have not been out of the country in a couple of years so could not tackle the second question anyway. I will begin by first answering the related question: “What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in my beer drinking?”

#1: What place do imported beers have in my drinking?

For point of reference, I spent three tours in the Army in Europe: twice in Germany and once in Belgium and I have been back once to Germany for my son’s wedding. Just not lately. To say the least, I drank a fair bit of European beers and drank them fresh and (mostly) local during those tours.

Over the last couple of years, I studied for and qualified as an MBAA Beer Steward, a Cicerone Beer Server, and a BJCP Certified judge. Preparing for all of these involved drinking imported beers from the major brewing centers of Europe and a few of the smaller ones to boot.

I also quite enjoy lots of Belgian beers, German Lagers, Czech Pilsners [have not had those local, sadly], some Samuel Smith’s beers, and many, many others. No doubt I would love many additional beers and styles if I were exposed to them.

But. Freshness is a major issue. [I have a gestating post on the freshness problem in craft beer, including local craft beer, so this problem is not an imports-only issue, although many of the issues are different.]

Living in a thriving local and state beer scene, no, even a hip and happening local and state beer scene, means the imports see a little less love than they might in an area without a glut of choice for fresh, tasty and local beer. Sure, you can choose imported—European or otherwise—beer but it will not be fresh. If that seems too strong a claim, then purchasing imported beer will always be a crap shoot seeing as you have no idea how it was handled and stored on its voyage from the brewery across the seas and to the store shelf or bar tap. It may be quite tasty but it will (most likely) not qualify as fresh.

Just recently I started studying to retake the BJCP tasting exam in July. I want that 80+%! This means, again, looking for representative beers from twenty (20) European style categories and sixty-seven (67!) European substyles I need to have a grasp of.

Imported beers—of whatever quality—will be critical to my preparation. If our exam administrator finds the time to do a prep class again, like last year, then they become critical in the context of a larger group of people. Perhaps the importance is the same but moving scale from one person to a class of several or more amplifies any learning by being able to discuss the beers with other like-minded folks towards the same purpose. That seems to me amplification enough of their value, in an educational context.

Imports also provide some variety, which is quite nice amongst all of the PNW (and other) beer at hand.

Back to the larger question: “What place do imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market?”

#2: What place do imported beers have in a craft beer market?

One of the areas I think imports may serve in the craft beer market is as a potential gateway. There are many folks—of all ages but especially nearer mine—for who it is little to no stretch to consider an imported beer on occasion instead of only industrial lagers. They might not think much past that but they can at least get that far. It might even only be on a “fancy” occasion.

While I agree that many craft breweries can brew a craft light lager that blows any macro away as far as flavor goes, not all beer drinkers want their light lager to be so. If they consider an international lager, or a Festbier, or German Pils, or Hefeweizen or any other imported beer that has just that much more flavor, then perhaps craft Euro-style beers might also appeal or at least be given a chance. But if said drinker never deviates from industrial light lager then all flavor “lures” are off-the-table already. Then they might be tempted to try an American craft version of that style [which is another completely fraught issue of its own].

Aside on imported beer and craft/macro: Let me be perfectly clear, by-the-by, that craft beer and imported beer are neither mutually exclusive nor mostly overlapping categories, but overlap they do. Just as much imported beer overlaps with “American” macro beers.

Now this should not be the only role for imported beer in a craft scene. As I just said, many of these beers should and do qualify as “craft” [define how you like].

Beers like Saison Dupont are exquisite and amazingly affordable. Then there are the even more renowned beers such as Westvleteren XII that is neither affordable and was only once legitimately available here in the states. I still have 2 bottles that came with my 6 bottles and 2 glasses package. Being able to taste this “best beer in the world” and to share it with friends and fellow craft beer geeks was very special. Is it delicious? Quite. But I like beers of that profile, call it a style or not. Is it “the best beer in the world”? Seriously? Those titles are always ridiculous. It is not even my favorite beer. By a long shot. But I am stoked that I still have 2 little bottles to drink and enjoy some day in the future.

I guess I don’t really know “What place imported beers (traditional European) have in a craft beer market.” Many traditional European beers are craft beers.

Primarily, they should be available in their own right for being the (often) tasty beers that they are.

For many folks studying for Cicerone, MBAA, BJCP or other certifications, having a diverse array of imported beer available is critical to their study, preparation and continued learning.

Lastly, they might serve as gateway or transition beers for folks who either “do not like beer at all” or to lead those who might on occasion drink an imported beer to other craft examples, whether imported or American.

Beer Lover’s Gift Wish List 2014

This is my 2014 Beer Lover’s Gift Wish List which consists of things I am recommending for assorted reasons. Some I own and/or have used and some I have not. I will make it clear which is the case.

[Note: Having ordered something from this list as I constructed it over the last couple days has reminded me why I need to post this earlier if I am going to. Some of these cannot arrive before Christmas at this point but some can. There are also many other, and more appropriate, gift giving opportunities than Christmas.]

1. First up is something we bought personally from the creator at Fall Fest in Bend. We had been looking for a bottle opener that fully respects bottle caps and was ergonomic to use. Beautiful is also a definite plus.

Bottle opener by SJ Woodworks

Bottle opener by SJ Woodworks

Bottle opener by Steve J. Bonora of SJ WoodWorks  $18

It works beautifully. Here’s hoping it lasts a long time.

2. BottleTrade has several things but tshirts mostly. My favorite tshirt is the Hop Medley one. But my favorite item is the His & Her Stout Glasses. Check out that while you can get one or the other, you can also get a pair in all four possible combinations of His & Hers. That’s sweet and should be supported for that reason alone. I have a pair on order and maybe some as gifts too. They will arrive late for Christmas at this point but it is “the thought ….”

3. Educational and reference tools abound. The Cicerone Certification Program has several useful items that any serious beer geek who is trying to improve their knowledge base should appreciate.

I have a set of the Beer Styles Profiles Card Sets and I am also in the process of completing the Road to Cicerone German Course. Either that or the new British and Irish course would help anyone wanting to know more about the styles of those countries and certainly help anyone studying to become a Certified Cicerone.

4. Sadly I cannot afford to be a member of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas but I am certified by them as a Beer Steward.  Their web store has loads of useful times from educational to entertaining and many items are on sale now until the end of the year. We have both the Flavor Wheel and the Defects Beer Wheel. We haven’t had a chance to put them through their paces yet but look forward to it.

The Flavor Wheel is the official flavor wheel as developed by M.C. Meilgaard, et al. for the American Society of Brewing Chemists, the European Brewing Convention and the Master Brewers Association of the Americas.

Beer drinker, homebrewer, professional brewer, brewery worker, bartenders, etc.: all should be familiar with this tool and, more importantly, its terminology and organizational structure.

5. I have been meaning to write about Michael Kiser and his Good Beer Hunting blog/website for a good while now and just haven’t managed it. Check him out. Seriously. Just leave here now and check him out. His shop is full of quality as is his writing and photography. No doubt his podcasting and events are too. I have the issues of Mash Tun and a print of the Hunter Gatherer by Andrew Wright.

I do not have a Beer Peen Hammer but “Good God!” if you’d like to get me one. Check out that post.

6. Perhaps stocking stuffers for next year: Hop-infused lollipops made from locally grown hops – cooked in small batches and hand poured LolliHOPS™ from Yakima Hop Candy. 

7. Our friend Bend Brew Daddy takes excellent, collection worthy, photos and he has a calendar out for next year. Photos of Central Oregon beers and breweries here and the Rest of the World here.

8. Beer Hunter: The Movie Michael Jackson on DVD. Is there anything else to be said? I do own and have watched this and the “special features.” Worth seeing for all beer geeks; worth owning for many of us.

9. Home Brew Club Membership. A homebrew club membership could be just the thing for the budding homebrewer or someone considering it. Sara and I are members of our local club, COHO.

According to the All About Beer 2014 Beer Lover’s Gift guide there is currently a promotion on AHA membership. Join or buy a gift membership (reg. $43) for $43 and get a free book.

10. Beer books.

Bend beer Bend beer: a history of brewing in Central OregonJon Abernathy; The History Press 2014WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

Our friend Jon Abernathy’s Bend Beer was recently released. This is what I have had to say about it here so far.

“It is currently “the definitive” book on brewing in Central Oregon, but I know even Jon wants more answers to some things. There is more he could not fit due to space constraints. Such is book authorship.”

Vintage beer Vintage beer: a taster’s guide to brews that improve over timePatrick Dawson; Storey Publishing 2014WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder

My review of Dawson’s Vintage Beer.

“Vintage Beer by Dawson is an excellent introduction to cellaring beer. It is a quick read that will also bear close studying and better note-taking. Production values are high and it is well-edited.”

Cheese & Beer Cheese & BeerJanet Kessel Fletcher; Andrews McMeel 2013WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

Any fan of good cheese and beer should own, and make use of, this book. We picked up our copy from the author at a signing and tasting at the Deschutes Brewery Bend Public House.

Tasting beer Tasting beerRandy Mosher; Storey Pub. 2009WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

My review of Mosher, which I consider the core book in the Beginner’s Beer Library.

“Synopsis: This is an excellent introduction to beer, beer culture and history, and the tasting (not simply drinking) of beer. Highly recommended!”

11. Magazine subscription. All About Beer and Beer Advocate are probably the two leading beer magazines in the US. Both are worth reading regularly if you like to keep up on what’s happening in the wider world than your own backyard. I subscribe to both.

12. Spiegelau glasses. We have one of the IPA glasses which we got as swag at a Sierra Nevada tasting at Broken Top Bottle Shop and Ale Cafe. It does lovely things for the aromas of hop forward beers. That is enough to affect, and improve, the overall taste of these beers. It is not a massive contribution but it works. The glass itself is fragile and hard-to-clean (I handwash my glasses) but I haven’t broken it yet.

I would definitely like to try the new stout glass. [Link found via 2014 All About Beer guide but was well aware of the glass’ existence.]

13. $300 Yeti Hopper 30 cooler. OK. Honestly. I have no experience of this or any other Yeti coolers but having looked at their website I definitely want one! This could be most useful when buying beers on road trips to get them home at reasonably stable temps. It certainly could have many uses but that would be our most likely use case.

14. For other ideas see the following (some items on my list came from these):

  • All About Beer 2014 Beer Lover’s Gift Guide. As I said, got a few ideas and a few links from here.
  • 10 Gifts for the Serious Homebrewer from The New School. There are some seriously useful items on this list. I won’t waste your time and point you at the 1st part as it was mostly (80-ish%) stupid products. I’m hoping their upcoming 3rd list is better.

There you have it: my most recent list of ideas for gifts for beer lovers. There is always my Beginner’s Beer Library page for ideas as it evolves. No promises on how quickly that is, though.

Twitter Road to Cicerone #beerchat

Tuesday 15 July, Ray Daniels [see note below if you aren’t familiar with Daniels], held a Twitter #beerchat #RoadtoCicerone. During it he announced their new study program Road to Cicerone®, which was released the next morning. There will be 7 courses available in the Road to Cicerone® Self-paced Instruction for Certified Cicerone® Candidates but for now only the first is available: German Course.

[Check out Ray Daniels at the bottom of this page under “Who started the Cicerone program?“]

I am immensely interested in the German Course and what you get for $99 as I am currently setting up a beer styles study group for a small band of friends. While $99 is kind of pricey so is my time identifying and sourcing beers, researching history of the styles, and so on.

Daniels also took questions regarding studying and other forms of preparation for the Certified Cicerone exam.

Here are some of the things from the #beerchat that I found of importance and/or that I want to comment on [note: these are mostly in order from earliest to latest, but I re-arranged a few where it made sense]:

Steven Ward asks who should take exam and Daniels replies:

Daniel Hartis asks about beer writers:  

Daniel Hartis concedes the point and Ray tells us he started as beer writer:

Douglas Smiley asks about bloggers but I did not, nor could, find a reply.

Beer Styles:

Study partners:  

It sounds like they are trying to make Cicerone.org more of a community, with multiple ways to support each other and, of course, pay for more education. Sounds promising to me. All forms of support are needed in serious studying. This is serious.

How to manage so many styles:

Food and beer pairing:  

Notice the best and worst pairings comment. Why do some pairings not work?

Time required to study:

Someone questioned the “new to beer” comment and Daniels clarified that he truly meant new. I’m not sure why someone that “new” to beer would be jumping into taking the Certified Cicerone but it is possible.

Road to Cicerone courses: As I said above, the Road to Cicerone courses were announced during the Twitter chat.

Certified Cicerone considered “mature professional”:

So it appears based on this and above that Certified Cicerone is considered a professional certification for a “mature beer professional,” which includes exactly … what? Working in the “beer industry” or being a beer writer. Blogger; not sure. Distributor? Why?  On learning beer chemistry:

The bible for draft systems:

Great resource for learning draft systems (not cheap):

— —   After chat:   A while after the chat I retweeted the following and then a tweet of my own commenting on new pricing which led to a short chart with Cicerone (not Ray, but the Cicerone Certification Program account):

That morning someone with Cicerone tweeted that the cost for the Certified Cicerone is going up to $395, which is what my comment above was based on. I cannot find that tweet but here is the relevant section from the Certified Cicerone page:

Exam Cost – Initial test: $345; Retake Tasting: $75; Retake Written: $150.

**Please Note: Effective 9/1/14, the Certified Cicerone exam will be priced at $395. Retake Written $175, and Retake Tasting $100.

I fully understand the cost of professional certifications and have paid for acquiring them, along with having paid dues to professional organizations for decades. I also know no one has to use the Road to Cicerone courses. But if they did? That is 7 x $99 (at pricing for 1st; last not due to 4th qtr 2015) + $395. Or, $1088.00. But you also need the Oxford Companion to Beer. Let’s say a round $1100.

You still have to supply all of the beer.

Do not mistake me. I am not judging. This will be great for many people. Some of the rest of us have the time, knowledge and inclination to do a lot of the research on our own. As I said above, I am immensely interested in what is in the German Course as I am currently designing a beer styles study group using the Certified Beer Server and Certified Cicerone syllabuses, the BJCP style guidelines, the Oxford Companion to Beer, etc. And, lo and behold, German’s are first. Very interested and will probably spring for it as soon as I can afford it.

By the way, after my “after chat” I paid the Cicerone Certification Program $69 and took my Cicerone Program Certified Beer Server exam and passed it. I am not against Cicerone nor giving them money. I do not resent them their fees and I also find them appropriate as compared to other professional organizations. My point is simply that it is a lot (and here I am only speaking of the $395) for someone not in “the industry.”

I also maintain that the Certified Cicerone certification is highly relevant to beer writers, possibly some bloggers, also to serious beer enthusiasts, and to many in the “beer industry” but certainly not all.

Besides myself, I know of several people who are serious beer geeks but are not currently working in “the industry.” Some of us have assorted aspirations along those lines and some don’t. The point is we are highly interested in this certification.

I hope to participate in next week’s follow-up #RoadtoCicerone chat on Tuesday. I intend to ask about the new draft BJCP style guidelines. The changes do effect Cicerone but possibly (probably?) not that much. I am analyzing that info now. There are a couple small areas needing cleared up but that would be easy. I hope to know more by next Tuesday. Before the chat so I can ask intelligent questions during and then hopefully after based on response. [There was a recent press releases from the Cicerone Certification Program stating that they were working with the BJCP regarding style guidelines changes but this was before the release of the draft and had no specifics.]

MBAA Beer Steward Certificate Program and Seminar

MBAA Beer Steward Certificate Program seminar to be held in Bend on 16 Auguust at The Oxford Hotel. Please join me.

As I have mentioned before I am working my way through assorted beer certifications. I took the Brewers Association Beer 101 Course and I got my OLCC Server card.

I intend to also do the Prud’homme and the Cicerone certifications. In the meantime, I stumbled over the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA) Beer Steward Certificate Program and the fact that they will have an in-person all-day seminar here in Bend in August.

I did a little Internet research and emailed one of our Oregon beer celebs who I discovered has taken it. She said that based on my interests it would be worth my time and the expense so I signed up for the seminar. I do not know a lot about it but am looking forward to it and hope that enough people (min. 30) sign up for it.

Here’s some info and links to perhaps entice you to look into it:

Master Brewers Association of the Americas

There are two levels (with a third coming) of the Beer Steward Certificate Program

Associate Beer Steward Certificate

An independent study program with online exam “for front-of-the-house bartenders, wait staff, retail clerks, and duty managers looking to expand their knowledge of beer, beer styles, and proper handling and presentation of beer.”

“The online examination will ask 65 questions and take 60 minutes. A passing score is 70%.” [FAQ]

Beer Steward Certificate Program

An in-person seminar with online exam. Seminar “attendees will receive an overview on how to properly handle, store, and present a variety of beers to maintain flavor and freshness. Throughout the seminar, presenters highlight the history of beer, as well as the diversity of beer styles. Attendees will also learn how to showcase beer styles using food pairings and proper glassware.”

“The online exam will ask 75 questions and take 60 minutes. A passing score is 75% correct.” [FAQ]

Seminar in Bend 16 August

Facebook event page for the Bend seminar

Study Guides for both certification levels [pdfs]

FAQ

Most of your questions can probably be answered here if not already answered previously.

“Once you participate in the seminar and pass the exam you may use the program logo on your business card.” [FAQ]

What  the Press is Saying (and other marketing stuff)

Sure it is kind of pricey ($275) for the seminar but that does include the price of the test also, and it includes all-day face-to-face instruction. The Certified Cicerone test alone is $345, which includes no training whatsoever. As I said above and before, I do hope to work my way towards being a Certified Cicerone but that is a longer term goal and I feel that these other certifications serve as both intermediate steps and as good preparation.

Also, thanks to The Growler Guys for sponsoring this seminar in Bend! [FYI: Seminars are also currently scheduled in Cleveland, OH (Sep.) and Austin, TX (Oct.).]

Will you join me?