Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tales from the (South Carolina) Road

At the Grapevine in Baxter, South Carolina, 2008.01.29Last evening I was in Fort Mill, South Carolina, at the new Grapevine Wine Bar (and beer).

I tapped a cask of Clipper City Brewing's Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale paired with a keg of the same beer.

[Pictured are l-r: David of Grapevine, Mike of Carolina Craft Distributing, Melanie of Grapevine, Jeff of Carolina Craft Distributing, me.]

A taste is worth a thousand words ... and anyone who knows me, knows I have no compunction with the latter!

The draft was delicious, but the cask showed that ineffable quality of freshness. Many wine people —and beer people— were fascinated by this.

It was quite the evening, with several local dignitaries in attendance for the shop's grand opening official ribbon-cutting. Thank you to my gracious hosts who made me feel quite at home.

A charming couple, owners of a newly opened chocolate shop were there; we discussed a return visit for a Clipper City beer and chocolate tasting. More as details are arranged.

Before moving to the US, the husband and wife had been landlords for a Brakspear pub in the UK. (They were astonished that a Yank knew about this brewery— now closed and brewed by Refresh UK — and had tasted the beer.)

A firkin cask contains 10.8 US gallons (9UK gallons) and weighs in excess of 100 pounds. A '36' is a cask of 4 times that volume -- 43.2 US gallons (36 UK gallons or 1 UK barrel)-- and weighs nearly 400 pounds.

Brakspear would only send him 36s. He would have to maneuver these casks in a cellar which had maybe a 5 foot high ceiling. As he said, Englishmen must have been much shorter in the early 1600s, when the pub first was built.

He is quite happy— as is, I'm certain, his lower back — to now be in the chocolate business.

Here's a link to my itinerary: please stop by at the Flying Saucer in Columbia tonight (Wednesday, 30 January), or Barley's in Greenville tomorrow (Thursday, 31 January) and introduce yourself.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Here's exactly what the U.S. Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is proposing for alcohol labeling regulations:

  • Alcohol content expressed in alcohol by volume (abv).
  • New reference serving sizes for beer: less that 10% abv has a 12-oz serving size; greater that 10% ABV has a 5-oz serving size. [sort of silly since beer usually comes in 12-ounce bottles. 6 ounces would make more sense.]
  • A serving facts panel with serving size, servings per container, alcohol percent by volume, calories, and grams of fat, carbohydrates, and protein.
  • An optional disclosure of fluid ounces of pure alcohol as part of the serving facts panel. [confusing]
  • An alternative of a linear serving facts display for bottles of 50 ml or less. [that is, beer bottles. A boon in cost-saving for small breweries.]
  • An effective date of three years from the publication of a final rule, although labels may be brought into compliance ahead of that date.
Earlier post here.

More about the federal government acronyms TTB and ATFE.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Newcastle goes to the dogs

Brewing conglomerate Scottish & Newcastle might soon be better known as Russian & Amsterdam. Its board has agreed in principle for the company to be purchased and split between brewers Carlsberg and Heineken for 15.3 billion dollars. The sale awaits a vote by stockholders and approval from the European Commission.

Carlsberg gets the Russian properties while Heineken gets the British operations. A list of many of the brands involved: here.

Beer writer Pete Brown penned a sardonic obit:

It does mean that the likes of Greene King, Fuller's, Wells & Youngs and Marston's are now the largest British brewers. I quite like that.

The on-line BBC has a history of the brewery.

More strong at the Bricks

Clipper City brewer John Eugeni at the Brickskeller
At beer tastings, I often try to be a good ticker and take notes. Invariably, conscientiousness is diluted as the evening progresses.

So, here are some of my scribbled notes from the Strong Beer Tasting at the Brickskeller of a few nights ago. And the word scribbled is appropriate: a result of high alcohol beers with my Catholic school whacked knuckles poor penmanship.

Clipper City

The photo is of John Eugeni, brewer at Clipper City. He brought a firkin of 2007 Below Decks Barleywine, dry-hopped with the English varietal East Kent Goldings. The evening's cask was in fact the only one of that vintage that the brewery had dry-hopped.

Capitol City

Brewer Travis Tredrow of Capitol City in Shirlington used Kölsch yeast in the fermenter and caramelized ginger-- and malts-- in the kettle for his tasty Biere de Garde. Travis is a ukulele picker and an apple pie aficionado, host Bob Tupper told us.

Brewer's Alley

Tom Flores, brewer at Brewers Alley, takes a no-frills approach to his beers. His Scotch Ale—his winter seasonal—he calls simply that. The grist is pale malt augmented by caramel malt, Munich malt, and a touch of roasted barley. It's a sweeter ale with a full depth of purple fruit.

Some of the brewpub's beers are now being bottled—by Wild Goose Brewery—and distributed throughout Maryland. Tom observed that you'd be more likely to find the 6-packs in the Frederick Maryland area, home to the brewpub.

Every winter—in addition to the Scotch ale—Tom brews a special batch of a strong ale. He racks it exclusively into firkins, and taps one, and only one, each new moon. Thursday 7 February is the next such lunar occurrence. With his usual succinctness, Tom calls the beer New Moon Ale.

Vintage 50

Vintage 50's brewer Bill Madden was in London last year for Mark Dorber's farewell party at The White Horse on Parson's Green.

Dorber was the pub's long-time cellarman, celebrated by beer writer Michael Jackson and other's as a foremost expert on cask ale and its service. Dorber led Bill on a tour of the pub's cask cellar.

Upon his return, Bill was inspired to begin a regular program of cask ale at his Leesburg, Virginia brewpub.

As well, he had been delighted by some of the more-ish Old Ales he tasted. So he brewed one himself, and brought a cask of it to the evening's tasting. Olde Abomination began its fermentation at 22 °P and finished at 6.8 °P. (Degrees Plato are a measure of fermentable—and unfermentable—sugars in a beer.) That's a relatively high terminal gravity, and the beer was indeed sweet—deliciously so—redolent of toffee, butterscotch, and Concorde grapes.

Bill was wistful when he talked about the recipe: English Pale malt, English Crystal malt, a small amount of English Chocolate malt, blackstrap molasses, and First Gold hops. Bill likes English hops—in particular First Gold. Due to the current hop shortage in the US, those may be the last Bill will be able to acquire for awhile.

Earlier posting on the evening's tasting.

Clipper City has a new look

Clipper City Brewing Company
A friend in the beer business keeps asking why Clipper City Brewing Company doesn't have a MySpace page. One step at a time, I respond.

The brewery today released its vastly improved new-look webpage:

Now on the revamped site, among many other things, is a page devoted to pictures of Clipper City events. There are only a few photos on the site today, but some of those were taken by me.

You can view more at my personal Flickr account.

I don't have a MySpace page, but I do have a page at Facebook. Not much there though.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Strong Beers at Bricks

Dave Alexander pours Below Decks

The photo is of Brickskeller proprietor Dave Alexander pouring pitchers from a cask of Clipper City Brewing's Below Decks Barleywine (10% alcohol-by-volume), however...

During the 23 January 2008 Strong Beer Tasting at the Brickskeller in Washington, D.C., Johansson's brewer Jay Lampert had the best quip. Reflecting on how the 'weakest' beer to be tasted that evening was 7.5% alcohol by volume (abv), he raised a glass of his Saison (8.5% abv) and toasted the audience:
In case we don't see each other later at police lockup, have a good night!


The lineup: brewers and beers

  • Capitol City -- Brewer Travis Tedrow -- Biere de garde (7.5% abv)
  • Brewer's Alley -- Tom Flores -- Scotch Ale (8% abv)
  • Vintage 50 -- Bill Madden -- Auld Abomination (8.5% abv)
  • Johannson's -- Jay Lampert -- Saison (8.5%)
  • Clipper City -- John Eugeni -- Below Decks (10% abv)
  • Old Dominion -- Tim Pulhouse -- 2005 oak-aged Millenium (11% abv)
  • Capitol City -- Fuel Coffee Imperial Stout (10% abv)
  • Sweetwater -- 2004 High Desert Imperial Stout
  • Russian River -- Perdition, Deification

Alcohol and nutritional labeling on beer, etc.

From Tuesday's Washington Post:

Alcohol Labeling Proposal Sets Off a Brawl

After more than 30 years of deliberation, federal regulators have proposed requiring the alcoholic-beverage industry to put nutrition and alcohol-content labels on their containers <...>

Pushed by consumer groups, the U.S. Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for the first time would mandate disclosure of how many carbohydrates and calories and how much protein and fat alcoholic drinks contain, as food labels do. How and where to disclose alcohol content is generating heat.

Salient points from the article:
  • Groups representing consumers have weighed in, too, asking for a label that expresses alcohol content by volume and in fluid ounces by serving.
  • A key issue is the amount of alcohol in a drink, which the proposal makes optional. Distillers prefer a standard measure of 0.6 ounces in a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor.
  • Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute trade group opposes this comparison because, unlike a 12-ounce beer, there is no standard measure for how much liquor, and thus how much alcohol, goes into a drink.
  • The alcohol industry is a $160 billion industry.
  • Any labeling requirement would not take effect until three years after a final rule is published.
  • The comment period ends this Sunday.
Rest of the article here.

[UPDATE here.]


To my post—Tales from the (Georgia) RoadAnonymous makes a valid point about the clarity of real ale — or the lack of it — when a cask is moved about.

I've been brewing and serving cask ale in the US since the early 1990s; the moment is overdue for observations on 'American' practice versus 'English'.

For the former, for better or worse, clarity is not always a primary concern, and, in fact, is not necessarily encouraged. Carbonation and alcohol levels drift higher, and other things differ, such as the use of a beer engine sparkler. These variations all speak to the core of the debate — on what is or is not real ale.

I'll report back in a couple weeks on this — in detail.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tales from the (Georgia) Road

Jessica Moss pours from firkin of Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale
I tapped a firkin of Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale at Muss and Turner's yesterday, a restaurant in Smyrna, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. It was the first cask that had ever been tapped there, so it was a special evening for beer manager Jessica Moss, and for the full house in attendance.

Pictured is Muss and Turner's cask service cart. When a customer orders a pint of cask ale, the waiter wheels the cart to the table where she pours the pint. Jessica plans to attach a beer engine. [UPDATE: Read this comment.]

The cask Loose Cannon—Clipper City's I.P.A.— was paired with Roasted King Salmon Salad and with Berkshire Pork Loin over roasted potatoes, leeks, and braised pork belly. Bottles of Below Decks Barleywine were served with pastries.

More photos here.

It's cold in Georgia — in the low to mid 30s — and there even were still a few patches of snow on the ground. Of course, that's all relative, considering the blizzards in the Midwest and New England area.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

So you want to be a Beer Judge?

I once congratulated Jerry Bailey—then owner of Old Dominion Brewing Company—on winning a Gold Medal for Tupper's Hop Pocket Pils at the Great American Beer Festival. The GABF is the premier judging competition for American beers—breweries large and small.

"Thank you," he replied. "We sold 30 more barrels this year than last."

In other words, all that prestige was more a recognition of quality from peers than plaudits and sales from the greater world at large.

Contrast that with last year's Beer Madness: a pick-your-favorite-beer contest with brackets like that of basketball's March Madness, printed in the Washington Post.

It was completely unscientific, and sometimes the comments by the 'judges' were just plain goofy (and drew the ire of some 'professional' judges), but it was a lot of fun. Folks at beer shops and pubs would clip each week's brackets and tape them to the walls.

Brooklyn Brewing Company 'won', and local wholesalers, caught unaware, initially did not have enough inventory to cover the surge in demand. Sales remained stronger for several months after the 'tournament' had concluded.

The Washington Post has just put out the call for judges for this year's Beer Madness:

Do you like beer? Are you 21 or older? If you answered yes to both questions, you're qualified to become one of five panelists in our second annual Beer Madness tournament. Woo-hoo! Send a one-sentence e-mail (bonus points if it's funny) to sundaysource@washpost. com by Wednesday explaining why you would make an excellent judge of beer. Include your date of birth (yes, we'll be checking IDs), home town and daytime phone number. Attach a photo if you'd like, but we will base our decision strictly on your beer-drinking credentials.

[UPDATE 2008.03.09: The initial brackets of Beer Madness appeared in the Washington Post Sunday Source this morning and on-line here.]

US hop harvest INCREASED in 2007

Another reader has sent in an interesting analysis—with good links—in the comments section to my Ethanol Fallacy post. As with the response from the Brookston Bulletin, I believe it to deserve its own post. So here:

Missed your blog entry "Ethanol Fallacy" the other day about the hop shortage but I've also been suspicious of the "ethanol" answer. As I understand it, the hop growers as a group, set out to specifically limit supply by voluntarily cutting back acreage, starting back in the "glut" years of the 1990's. A bit of Googlin' around the net will turn up attempts to get state or federal support for such a program, etc., and hop websites will show that acreage went down long before the current Ethanol supports, as you note. This 2005 report from the Hop Growers of America, shows a reduction of US acreage from 43,000 to 29,500 1995-2005.

From everything I've read, it seems to me that because of the '90’s glut's surplus, the hop growers may have *under* estimated actual demand (since the mega-brewers were still using the surplus in the form of high alpha pellets and extract) and that, along with increased demand from outside the US (bad growing year in Europe, increased hop demand from 3rd world, etc.) is the greater cause of the hop shortage.

(Something tells me, too, that despite the growers' efforts to control supply, they're not benefiting as much from current prices as are dealers and other middlemen- as is typical in agriculture, of course.)

For example, how does one explain this USDA report that shows a 4% *increase* in the US hop harvest? [emphasis mine]

As for Jay Brookston's report of corn growing in former hop fields, I , too, am surprised at that since the PNW is not typically “corn country". Perhaps it just seems counter-intuitive that a crop like corn (around 90 million acres planted in the US) could have an effect on a tiny crop like hops (and it’s 30,000 acres)- even given the price supports of corn and ethanol production and the high cost of maintaining hop fields. I still have to wonder if those fields were *specifically* switched from hop to corn, or were they simply taken out of hop production in the concerted effort to reduce hop supply, and, then, planted with the current annual crop that made the most economic sense? Was it “cause and effect”, or two separate agricultural incidences occurring at the same time?

Or, maybe it's just that non-farmers will never truly understand "modern agricultural economic theory" (something they may share with farmers and US gov't bureaucrats -g-).
My Ethanol Fallacy post.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

S&N for sale

From Stonch's blog came this link to notice of potential diminution of a once-powerful UK brewery oligarchy.

Some of the beers that Scottish and Newcastle owns outright—or through complex arrangements—include:
  • Foster's
  • Beamish Stout
  • Grimbergen
  • Kingfisher
  • Baltika
  • Kronenbourg
  • John Smith's
  • Strongbow Cider
  • Maes Pils
  • Sagres
  • Lapin Kulta
and, what started it all for them, in 1927: Newcastle Brown Ale.

Response to Ethanol Fallacy

Jay of the Brookston Bulletin sent a lengthy rebuttal to my post The Ethanol Fallacy. It was detailed enough that I felt that it shouldn't languish in the comments section. So, here:

I'd like to believe that the ethanol theory is wrong, too, but unfortunately I have driven through and around the hop fields in Yakima, Washington (the nation's hop-basket) and seen with my own two eyes many, many fields of corn planted there. And while I don't for a second believe it's the *only* reason hops are currently in short supply, it is one of the factors. For an article I did on hops last year, I interviewed several of the old family growers in the Yakima area (including the great-great-grandson of the very first hop grower there) and they all agreed that at least some of their former brethren were swayed to plant corn by the increased ethanol subsidies offered recently by W. As you mention in your Pollan cite, barley may indeed earn more per acre than corn, but what about hops? Hops are difficult to grow, finicky and require a lot of capital to harvest and process. So in that case, apparently corn is an attractive substitute for some farmers. Not to mention, the subsidy Pollan was talking about in his book (which I thought was wonderful BTW) was at the 2005 levels and my understanding is that Bush increased those when he made his ethanol push.

[I had recognized the increase of subsidies after 2005:
"Hops have been over-planted for years. The glut kept hop prices low. Thus even before the recent spike in government ethanol subsidies, hop farmers had begun to move to other crops." The decrease in hop farms, per se, was in part due to farm foreclosures induced by hop prices too low for sustainable incomes.]

It's my feeling that the barley situation will be fixed in relatively short order, but that the hop shortage will take several more years.

[Sean Wilson at Pop the Cap supplied a link to an article about barley as a possible source for ethanol. The same constituent that bedevils brewers—beta-glucans—may fortunately forestall the distillation of barley for ethanol.]

This year, those brewers who had contracts in place will be relatively unharmed with a few prices increases. Those on the spot market are already screwed. There are posts almost daily on the Brewers Association forum by people looking for hops, trying to trade hops, or just plain begging for them. Next year, all bets are off because even those who are diligent enough to make contracts will have to do so at higher prices.

As I understand it, hop prices tend to run in ten year cycles and that also had a lot to do with farmers turning to other crops. Now that the price is through the roof, however, you'd normally expect more acreage to be planted to meet that demand and make more money. But hops are a bit more tricky than other crops. First of all, it takes three years for a field to mature.

[I agreed, when I wrote, in recognition of the planting-to-harvest cycle: "I would expect to see an increase in hop acreage over the next 3 years." Here's an earlier post on the barley/hops ethanol issue.]

Second, hop growing is more expensive an enterprise to start up than many other crops and are also more difficult to grow for the inexperienced. Third, current hop growers can't easily produce more, not because they don't have more land — they do — but because they're maxed out on kilns, harvesting trucks, etc. and would have to make large capital investments that most are not able to or willing to undertake at this time.

[The current economic downturn may indeed make loans difficult and/or too onerous to obtain.]

There is statistical data available at the Hop Growers Association and a few other places that I can't quite recall (I think I found some world stats at a U.N. agro-agency, for example). And indeed, world production has been steadily decreasing everywhere for some time now, even though demand is on the rise.

[Ian Ward in his current New Brewer article, agrees that production has decreased. But until 2007, it had continued to outpace demand.]

So while the ethanol/corn issue did not necessarily cause the problem, it most likely did exacerbate it and has made a bad situation worse.

So for these, and other reasons, I think the hop shortage is very real and will likely be with us for several more years before it's resolved. Unfortunately, I think many brewers have been and are continuing to stick their head in the sand and are expecting this problem to just fix itself.

In my original post, I had promised that if I were wrong I would "drink a big, fat, over-hopped beer ... and I'll drink it like I like it." I hadn't said what I would do if I were half-right!

Chadwicks in Alexandria: Clipper Beer Dinner

Chadwicks Restaurant is a long-time fixture on the waterfront in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia. Chef/General Manager Peter Durkin has invited Clipper City Brewing Company to be the featured guest-of-honor there for a beer dinner on Tuesday 5 February at 7pm. (703-836-4442)

His menu for the evening will mate Clipper's local beers with local area foods.

1) Hors d'Oeuvres

  • Herb-roasted quail (Manchester Farms PA)
  • Toasted-oat-and-ale-battered fluke fingers (Chesapeake)
  • Kielbasa with braised-in-beer kraut (Ostrowski's of Baltimore)
  • Bay oysters with chili mignonette (Assateague and Chincoteague)
    a mignonette is an herb and white peppercorn garni
  • Fresh cut Old Bay fries
    Old Bay is a Maryland-area spice blend, somewhat spicy, famous for its use on crabcakes
Paired with:
  • Chadwick's Ale
    a German-style Hefeweizen brewed for Chadwick's by Clipper City.
  • Winter Storm Imperial ESB
    We're tapping this fresh from a cask; Peter believes this is the first cask ever served at Chadwicks.
2) Appetizer

3) Fish Course
  • Ragoût of Chesapeake rockfish, Middleneck clams, Kennett Square PA oyster mushrooms
  • Rockfish, a specialty of the Chesapeake Bay, is also known as striped bass.
  • Paired with: Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale
4) Meat Course
  • Stout-braised Virginia Wagyu Beef
  • Wagyu beef is a flavorful beer-fed breed, originally of Kobe stock imported from Japan.
  • with a house-made Agnolotti filled with Hummingbird Farms, MD Arugula and Yams
  • small, stuffed, crescent-shaped ravioli
  • Paired with: Peg Leg Imperial Stout
5) Dessert
  • Banana and Dark Chocolate Cream Puff
  • Paired with: Hang Ten Dopplebock
  • A 10% alcohol by volume weizenbock—very dessert-like and complex—aged for 7 months. The dinner begins and ends with weizens (German style wheat beers), but each of very different character.
The (good) aftermath.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Shakepeare and beer, wine, and victory

From Stan Hieronymous' blog: There's buzz in the beer-blogosphere about a piece in Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle that pegs a Senator Obama win in California to the wine and cheese crowd, while a Senator Clinton win rests with the blue-collar beer crowd.

Shakespeare said it this way in Act 3, Scene 5, of Henry V. (As the day wanes, the Constable is complaining to the Dauphin of the valor of the bedraggled English troops.)

Dieu de batailles! where have they this mettle?
Is not their climate foggy, raw and dull,
On whom, as in despite, the sun looks pale,
Killing their fruit with frowns? Can sodden water,
A drench for sur-rein'd jades, their barley-broth,
Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat?
And shall our quick blood, spirited with wine,
Seem frosty?

The next day is the battle of Saint Crispin's Day. Plot spoiler: Beer (barley broth) wins.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Breakfast at Wandsworth's

This time of day is the best time for a drink as your palate is at its most discriminating

That's Ken Don, past brewmaster for Young's, as quoted by photographer Steve Lyne, in the current issue of the Campaign for Real Ale's What's Brewing.

The time Don is referring to is ... 9 in the morning!

Lyne has published an on-line site of photos of Young's, which he captured between 2005-2007, the final two years of the great Wandsworth brewery.

I was fortunate enough to meet Brewmaster Don—over here—in the summer of 2004. Even then, his retirement was a foregone conclusion. More here.

The Brewer as Artist: photography exhibit

When the fur flies—as in, my beer is so much better than your beer—we forget that, yes, there is life after beer.

I work for Clipper City Brewing Company. Matt Saindon is our Packaging Manager. He is also an accomplished photographer.

This Saturday, 19 January, he's exhibiting work from a few of his ongoing projects—Through the View Finder, Soundscape, Candid Family—at a good beer pub in the Canton/Highlandtown neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland— The Laughing Pint. (Not having a kitchen, the pub may not allow anyone in under 21 years of age.)

The event is free—just pay for your pints—and officially begins at 8pm. Meet the brewer as photographer.

Matt's photographs will remain on exhibit for several weeks after that. See some of his work here on Flickr.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Breweries Starr Hill and Clipper City in the news

Two links this morning.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution beer—and music and film—columnist, Bob Townsend, has posted a favorable review of Baltimore, Maryland's Clipper City's Below Decks Barleywine, 2007 vintage. From the last two paragraphs:

Definitely less aggressive than most American-style barley wines, it should be interesting to try again after it's been cellared for a year or two. In fact, you can try the 2006 edition on draft at select Taco Mac locations this month.

Easily recommended as an after-dinner sipper, like most English-style barley wines. The sweetness in Below Decks would make a fine foil for foie gras or strong cheeses, such as sharp cheddar or Stilton. For dessert, try it with creme brulee or caramel ice cream.

Heavy Seas Below Decks 2007

It's from the 10 January on-line edition. You may have to open an account—no charge—to view this.

Today, Greg Kitsock of the Washington Post offers a calm look at the sometimes excitable Mark Thompson, vicar-in-charge of Starr Hill Brewing, located just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. As above, you may have to register for a free account—but with the on-line Washington Post—to view the piece.

Thompson calls himself a beer minimalist <...> He views beer's primary purpose as a social lubricant <...> beers that are too strong or too bitter interfere with that mission.

A Brewer With Hope in the Hereafter

Right on, brother!

Tibet to Oz

There's a bittersweet interview with Andrew Stewart on the imminent closing of his long-time Arlington, Virginia multi-tap bar, Dr. Dremo's, at the Washington Post blog, Going out Gurus (Fritz Hahn).

The last paragraph caught us up with the travels of peripatetic Bill Stewart, Jr.:

One person who won't be around for the last hurrah is Bardo founder Bill Stewart. He moved to Australia about six months ago, his brother says. "I believe he's in Sydney, but he's talking about opening a brewpub over there." The nucleus of this new business should ensure that the spirit of Bardo lives on: The bar's original brewing equipment is packed into boxes and sitting on a dock in Baltimore, waiting to be shipped down under.

Bardo was Dr. Dremo's predecessor. My post on Dremo's, with my hazy memory corrected by a reader: here.

In Buddhist dogma, Bardo is a Tibetan word for an intermediate state.
Dremo is a mythical Tibetan bear-like creature.
Amdo is the provincial birthplace of the current Dalai Lama.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The ethanol fallacy

You've heard this shouted like a dire warning. You've read it from respected sources. The gist is:

Hop bines and barley fields are being ripped out, replaced by rows of corn—acres and acres to to be churned up and distilled into ethanol.

To date, however, I have not seen evidence or statistical analysis proffered to support this assertion. Quite frankly, I believe it to be somewhat of a canard.

Hops have been over-planted for years. The glut kept hop prices low.

Thus even before the recent spike in government ethanol subsidies, hop farmers had begun to move to other crops. In 1950 there were 515 hop growers in the US. In 1990, there were 120; in 2006, there were 75. 1

So, in 2007, there were fewer acres devoted to hops. In addition, there were bad harvests in hop-growing areas throughout the world, there was an exchange rate favorable to exports (but unfavorable for imports) , and there was a hop fire in the Pacific northwest which destroyed 4% of the US crop. Hop prices jumped.

With prices higher—and more so on the spot market—over their level of a year earlier, why would any extant hop farmer willingly forgo that potential bonanza for a lesser financial return from corn? If anything, I would expect to see an increase in hop acreage over the next 3 years.

Now, let's examine barley: are farmers ripping up their fields to grow corn?

The barley belt—particularly for malting barley—lies north of the corn belt. The majority of barley is grown from the Dakotas north; corn, south. 2

US corn has been subsidized by the government for years, in effect promoting corporate agri-food-business. Even so, as late as 2005, the typical Iowa farm would barely earn more per acre for corn than its costs to grow it. 3

The bio-fuel mandate has indeed caused the price for corn to increase dramatically. However, the price for malting barley—traditionally greater than the threshold for both food and feed corn— has also increased, and remains above the price for corn. In great measure, this price increase has been caused by poor weather conditions. Many barley farmers have turned their drought-seared fields over to their ruminants, not to husks of corn. 4

So, this question: Why would barley farmers willingly switch from barley to corn in areas not normally suitable for corn and for financial return lower than for malting-quality barley?

At present, I believe that this ethanol-fuled idée fixe may have begun as a promulgation of a political point of view. It has since been repeated enough by other well-meaning observers to have become perceived truth.

I don't buy it.

But if I'm wrong?

I'll drink a big, fat, over-hopped beer ... and I'll drink it like I like it.

Related posts:

1 [Ian Ward, The New Brewer, Vol. 24, No.6]
2 [ibid]
3 [Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Penguin, 2006, p.53]
4 [Ian Ward, The New Brewer, Vol. 24, No.6]

Monday, January 14, 2008

Is RIAA redefining guilt?

Re-read this post:

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is insisting that it is illegal for anyone who has legally purchased CDs to transfer that music onto their computer.

and then my follow-up post:
the rhetoric of theft and counterfeiting are being dangerously used to cover all unlicensed activity, whether it is fair use (in the case of copying for personal use), or any other use content owners don't like.

And then this, most recently:
EFF Files Brief in Atlantic v. Howell Resisting RIAA's "Attempted Distribution" Theory

Briefly (sorry, bad pun) put: can people be sued for possible or assumed—yet unproven—copyright infringement?

As the Electronic Freedom Foundation states:
[The RIAA must prove] that actual infringing copies were made or that actual infringing distributions took place. It's not enough to prove that they could have taken place.

What am I missing? Is guilt what we might do rather than what we have actually done?

Boozy playoff bromide

Here was New England Patriot Linebacker linebacker Adalius Thomas' delicious reply when asked how Peyton Manning and the Colts might have taken advantage of his Patriot's porous pass defense if it had been the Indianapolis Colts instead of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday:

If 'ifs' were fifths, we'd all be drunk.

Of course, that speculation now looks silly: Peyton Manning's 402 air yards were insufficient in the Colts' loss on Sunday to ex-Redskin coach Norv Turner and his beat-up San Diego Chargers.

Thomas' quotation remains, however, standing on its own boozy merit.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

North Carolina good guy

It's not uncommon that organizations, charities, or other groups might achieve their stated goals—or fail to—but then straggle on, moot or parasitic.

But, sometimes, there are others that find new purpose for themselves—in a fashion related to their original objective—and thrive, and are relevant.

Pop the Cap 2.0Take, for example, Pop the Cap of North Carolina.

It began as a grass roots effort to amend the alcohol limit on beer in North Carolina.

Successful at that, it has since retooled itself as Pop the Cap 2.0. Its new mission—promulgated by its organizer Sean Wilson—is to celebrate and promote local beer, and to nurture craft beer culture in North Carolina.

Pop The Cap's focus over the next two months:

  • Produce and print a 2008-09 North Carolina beer guide. The North Carolina wine industry has a very nice map showcasing local wineries; we're going to make one for North Carolina breweries, brewpubs, beer bars and independent retailers. It should be ready by March.

  • Showcase North Carolina beer at a 1/29 New York City media event. The North Carolina Tourism Department has asked Pop The Cap to highlight four local breweries at a January 29th after-hours party for national travel, food, and beverage writers.

    The event, "The Art of Vacationing in North Carolina," highlights the state's great landmarks, food destinations, wineries, and breweries. Confirmed RSVPs include writers for the Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure, Gourmet, and a number of lifestyle publications. Highland Brewing Company and Natty Greene's are two of the participating breweries; we'll finalize details with two other breweries this week.

    The goal of this event is to get national and regional media coverage highlighting Mississippi, the best beer state in the South. (Hey now, just seeing if you're paying attention!)

  • Prepare for the 2009 legislative session. It's never too early to start planning. PTC has its eyes set on updating laws governing beer samples at stores and special events such as farmer's markets and festivals.

    Not to sound like a broken record, but the NC wine industry has a lot more flexibility to sample and sell their offerings to the general public than does the NC beer industry. Why? Because the wineries wisely formed a coalition and lobbied for laws that would benefit both individual businesses and the industry as a whole.

  • More of Pop the Cap's blog here.

    Beer doggerel for an unpleasant day

    It's not as if lexicographer Dr. Johnson could ever have unintentionally written awkwardly, but with this, he wrote an intentionally parodic verse ... and the final line is of beer.

    I'll take it for today, an unpleasant day.

    Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
    wearing out life's evening gray,

    Smite thy bosom, sage, and tell,
    what is bliss, and which the way?

    Thus I spoke, and speaking sighed,
    scarce repressed a starting tear,

    When the smiling sage reply'd,
    come, my lad, and drink some beer.

    -- Samuel Johnson

    A beer when you're weary.

    There's a wonderfully ironic scene in the movie Atonement.

    English troops are about to be sent to France —to their eventual Dunkirk— in the opening days of World War II. Robbie (James McAvoy), recently paroled in return for military service, runs after a bus carrying Cecilia (Keira Knightley).

    On the rear of the bus is this Guinness advert:

    Have a Guinness When You're Tired

    Enough said!


    Saturday, January 12, 2008

    It's a Capital idea for Fredericksburg!

    Word from Virginia beer blogger Musings Over A Pint:

    Capital Ale House has two locations in the Richmond area with a third scheduled to open soon. This new venue [opening in Fredericksburg, Virginia at some point in 2008, and thus the fourth location] would be a significant addition to the craft beer scene in Fredericksburg. The two current Capital Ale Houses have been rated among the top beer bars in America by BeerAdvocate.

    Fredericksburg—with the requisite demographics—is long overdue for such a good beer venue. Northern Virginia, which does have several good beer bars, does not have any 100-tap pubs such as these.

    So now, it'll be close to an equidistant trek for me: to Baltimore for the funky Max's TapHouse— also on a Top 50 list— or to Fredericksburg for the urbane Capital Ale House.

    Budvar to stay home ... for now

    According to, Budvar —the Czech brewery in the city of Budweis and owned by the people of Czech Republic— will not be privatized, if at all, until 2011 at the earliest. That's after the next Czech national election, when such annoying things as politicking would not be at the fore.

    The current Czech government is not likely to sell state-owned brewery Budvar during its term in office, ending in 2010, due to a lack of time. However in the future all or part of the brewery should be sold to a strategic partner, the Czech agriculture minister was cited as saying.

    'If (the state) really wanted to hold onto a controlling stake (in Budvar), it would be a matter of political discussion and a future government,' weekly Ekonom cited Petr Gandalovic as saying.

    I learned of this at Stonch's Beer Blog, who noted:
    The fear, of course, is that American giant Anheuser-Busch, who already distribute Budvar beers in the USA, will be at the front of the queue if a privatization goes ahead.

    Due to a long and sometimes acrimonious battle over trademark, Budvar Budweis has been re-branded here in the US as Czechvar. It's an irony that Anheuser-Busch (maker, of course, of Budweiser) is distributing the beer here at all, since it is still engaged with Budvar in a global naming-rights agon.

    Would it be a bad thing if Anheuser-Busch were to purchase Budvar?

    Consider this. The giant US brewery's sales have been sluggish recently, with any potential for real growth coming from import distribution and global expansion. Owning a super-premium property (after all, that's what we're really talking about here) would end all those trademark litigations, would gain Anheuser-Busch (A-B) further market growth, and would bring it a measure of good-beer credentials.

    But would A-B dumb-down the beer?

    First of all, is Budvar the 'best' beer in the Czech Republic, or the most popular? I don't know.

    Now, consider Miller Brewing Company's purchase several years back of the the US licensing rights to the name Lowenbräu. It did indeed use the name for a corn-fed ersatz brew.

    But it was the purchase of a name only, not a brewery; it was limited to the US; it occurred prior to the current widespread good-beer culture. In 2002, by the way, the name were 'un-sold'.

    It would be silly, I believe, for A-B to merely refashion Budvar merely as a super-Michelob. With a purchase, they would have—already in-place—the tradition, the bona fides, the brewery, and the worldwide infrastructure for a superior beer. And, at least in the short run, there would be eagle-eyed attention for any perceived diminution in quality.

    A-B & InBev?

    I think it more likely and significant that we'll be seeing A-B purchasing much of brewery conglomerate quisling InBev. A-B wants to re-brand itself as the world's largest beverage maker.

    More here on that.
    Original rumor about sale here.

    a bar debate: what's an ounce?

    I had one of those—ahem—vigorous bar discussions a couple of days ago.

    This one concerned the measure of an Imperial pint.

    A barmate was insistent that my assertion that his Guinness tulip glass contained 19.3 US liquid ounces was patently incorrect. No, he told me, the glass contained 20 US ounces; his reference was his friend, a bar owner.

    I explained that maybe the confusion was due to the fact that 19.3 US liquid ounces is the equivalent of 20 UK liquid ounces.

    No, that was not right, he again asserted.

    His friend not being there, and in the interest of comity, I agreed to disagree (even though the simple expedient of pouring into a measuring cup could have demonstrated this tiny discrepancy).

    So for him, here, in writing, from

    1 pint [US, liquid] = 16 ounce [US, liquid]

    1 pint [UK] = 20 ounce [UK, liquid]

    1 pint [US, liquid] = 16.653 483 693 ounce [UK, liquid]

    1 pint [UK] = 19.215 198 808 ounce [US, liquid]

    ... even a tad under 19.3!

    Freely presented for your use during your next bar discussion.

    Cystic Fibrosis: Brewers Ball 2008

    Brewers Ball for Cystic Fibrosis
    The Brewer's Ball is a gaggle of local brewers and their beers, live and silent auctions, various restaurants with their wares, and music, and it's all to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

    This is an event in which Clipper City Brewing and I have happily participated for three years now; this year it's to be on Saturday 1 March.

    Please consider attending. Click the photo for details and to reserve tickets.

    Jump here for a write-up of last year's event.

    YFGF gets a home

    This blog— Yours for Good Fermentables —has been receiving such traffic these days, that I felt it was time to award it its own unique address.

    So, now, it's on the interwebs at:

    My first post here was on 28 September of 2002. It was about an attempt to brew beer in space, and the strange results.

    I posted 8 times in those last 4 month of 2002, and then only 10 times in all of 2003. My frequency increased slightly each successive year.

    But in 2007, the number of my posts jumped to 336. And readership grew—by a lot.

    So, I thank all of you for taking the time to visit and read.

    Treat your beer with love and respect, and it will reward you with consummate enjoyment. I hope that I have been able to occasionally raise the window on my love affair —chaste not prurient— with beer.

    Yours for good fementables,
    Thomas Cizauskas

    PS. As of September 2008, Yours For good Fermentables has another, shorter, and more user-friendly address: A web squatter has taken the ".com" address. Oh, well.

    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Beer with dessert: Sweet Charity

    Sweet Charity 2007
    Clipper City Brewing Company annually participates in Sweet Charity — a gala fundraiser against illiteracy, for the Heart of America Foundation. Chefs from throughout the area create incredible—if I say so myself—desserts and pastries for the festivities.

    In the photo above, taken at the 2007 event, that's Carole Palmer of the American Cheese Society in the foreground. If you look closely, you'll see Clipper City Brewing's booth and me in the background.

    We'll be there again, later this year, 5 May.

    Jump here for the post on the 2007 gala.
    Jump here for the post on the 2008 gala.

    Beer appreciation by women

    From Jay Wilson's Brewvana blog:

    Is it any wonder that there are few female beer enthusiasts? With the macro-breweries focusing on babes in bikinis rather than flavor and education in their advertising campaigns, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that women are a little turned off by the whole beer scene.

    He quotes brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf:
    "What I have found, with people who say they don’t like beer, is that generally they don’t like yellow lager beer. They don’t like the sulfur or corn or rice flavors." <...> women are less likely to enjoy spilled beer-and-puke environments. <...> Like many women, Fahrendorf is put off by what she calls “the cheesecake factor,” the “sex sells” mentality of advertising.

    It's ironic that US breweries once gave great attention to female drinkers. From the World War II era, there's suggestion that the 6-pack itself was introduced because the breweries had deemed it to be the the ideal size for a woman to handle: quantity vs. portability. [Bob Skilnik, Beer & Food: An American History (Jefferson Press, 2007, Gambrinus Media), p. xiv] No comment here!

    Anyway, blogger/brewer Jay Wilson convened an informal taste panel/focus group to see what an age-diverse group of women — 6 women, 6 decades, 6 beers — actually did prefer, enjoy, or were intrigued by, rather than what they didn't.

    The results are illuminating. Yes, his panel was small, limited, one-time. But, if I might quote myself from ten years ago:
    At the 1998 Mid-Atlantic Beer and Food Festival, at least 40% of the attendees were women. This a proportion that had been growing at this festival since its inception five years earlier. For the most part, these women were bucking the conventional wisdom that women only drink sweet, flavored, or fruit beers. They were sampling all of the beers. <...>

    Particularly intriguing was a conversation between two women who appeared to be just past the minimum age. They were standing in line, eagerly waiting to receive refills of HopDevil Ale, an India Pale Ale, brewed in Pennsylvania by the Victory Brewing Company, that is big, bold, very bitter, and very aromatic.

    These women, however, were not remarking upon the bitterness of the beer, but, rather, upon its hoppiness, that is, its fresh herbal aromatics.

    Any generalization is fraught with inherent contradictions, but might it be that many of today's brewers (mostly men) are concentrating on no character on one end to extreme character on the other, while eschewing the food-like qualities of their beer?

    And ...

    Putting aside for a minute the aesthetic argument for a well-balanced beer, is it a good business model to ignore the preferences of female drinkers or potential female drinkers?

    It's beer for thought.

    [UPDATE: I'm chuckling. I've just noticed that uber blogger Lew Bryson has posted a piece on exactly this topic this morning at Condé Nast Portfolio. I'll take an oath that I had not seen his article when writing my comments. It's quite the beery convergence!]

    Past Steelhead Brewery brewmaster Teri Fahrendorf has been writing on her figurative and literal road trip in her blog Road Brewer.

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Foie Gras in your flip-flops ... and cask ale

    "Foie Gras in your flip-flops"

    That's the menu slogan—and clothing choice, not plating preference—for Muss & Turner's, a 'gastro-pub' located just northwest of Atlanta in Smyrna, Georgia.

    I've been invited by "beer maestro" Jessica Moss to guest-host the restaurant's first-ever cask ale dinner, Monday 21 January. (That's a 'u' for the restaurant, an 'o' for Ms. Moss.)

    I'll be tapping a firkin of Clipper City Brewing's Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale. Chef De Cuisine- Ryan Hidinger will prepare a 3-course family-style dinner.

    No foie gras will be served at this dinner, but flip-flops would be just fine.

    [UPDATE: recount of the event.]

    Wednesday, January 09, 2008

    Lucy Saunders: beer and food to D.C. in March

    Lucy Saunders, chef and author of The Best of American Beer & Food, will be in the DC/northern Virginia/Baltimore area the first week of March for three evenings of beer-and-food dinners. The events will feature recipes from her new cookbook as prepared by local chefs.

    Click on the above links for the details.
    Click here for my review of the cookbook.

    Hop-head addiction

    “The hoppiest beer?” Garrett asked. “It’s a fairly idiotic pursuit, like a chef saying, ‘This is the saltiest dish.’ Anyone can toss hops in a pot, but can you make it beautiful?”

    This is taken from today's article at The Pour, written by Eric Asimov, the wine (and occasionally beer) editor of the New York Times. The quote is, of course, from beer author and beer-and-food evangelist Garrett Oliver.

    Later on,
    Still, the best versions, in which all the elements are well balanced, are highly appealing. Florence [Fabricant: chef and food author, a taster for the article], in particular, was surprised at how many she found likable, and even elegant.

    A Taste for Brews That Go to Extremes

    This may indeed be an important distinction between the winos and the beer geeks.

    Wine does have its partisans for bigger is better, more wood, more extraction. But I would wager that there are more extremists in the beer world, who almost seem to have an addiction-like desire for more, more, more rather than better, better, better.

    They're not called hop-heads for nothing!

    Tasted were:
    • Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial I.P.A.
    • Weyerbacher Double Simcoe I.P.A.
    • Lagunitas I.P.A. Maximus
    • Oskar Blues Gordon
    • Victory Hop Wallop
    • Mad River Brewing Steelhead Double I.P.A.
    • Flying Dog Double Dog Double Pale Ale
    • Moylan’s Moylander Double I.P.A.
    • Southern Tier Unearthly Imperial I.P.A.
    • Great Divide Hercules Double I.P.A.

    America is worth fighting for

    "America is worth fighting for."

    ... in the war trenches, in the day-to-day struggles, in the preservation of liberties, in the respect for labor's intrinsic worth (not merely as an economic asset), in the care of our health, in the many small ways, and yes, in politics (which is after all what the Founding Fathers bequeathed to succeeding generations).

    Senator Clinton's New Hampshire victory speech may have in no way soared in eloquence as did Senator Obama's in Iowa, but its sentiment is one that gives hope as well.

    Sunday, January 06, 2008

    Why not (good) local beer?

    if you’d lower a restaurant’s score for using Velveeta, Wonder Bread or putting Blue Nun on their wine list, then why not if they had only pedestrian beer, too? <...> it’s hypocritical to be so fastidious about using only fine ingredients or carrying upscale items but then to not apply that same logic to beer. <...>

    Chez Panisse, whose famous owner Alice Waters has written books about using high quality and local ingredients, carried crap beer until only very recently. And even that wasn’t Waters’ doing, my understanding is that one of her bartenders finally persuaded her to carry local beer. Her restaurant opened in 1971 and it took 35 years for her to apply the same logic that made her a food guru to beer? That she had to be convinced says quite a lot about how even devotees of fine, local food and wine can’t easily manage to extend their thinking to beer.

    Great points from Jay Brooks at his Brookston Beer Bulletin. And there are many of us who have long talked about the marriage of good food and good beer.

    But even though the post above is specifically about ignorance of good beer, that lack of support for local beer is sometimes part of the good beer movement itself.

    It's almost as if it's sometimes a badge of good beer bona fides to believe that a beer must be from anywhere else, if it is to be truly worthwhile. It's almost as if it were tergiversation to believe that a fresh, local beer could be a good beer.

    Saturday, January 05, 2008

    Redskins win for #21

    Today, the Redskins may have lost their playoff game to Seattle. But, this year, these same Redskins have been forced to battle not simply an opponent, but real life — and death — itself.

    These men have dealt with tragedy with steel and grace, and gallantly. So today, these players and coaches should — and I hope will — hold their heads high.

    Hail to you Redskins.

    No laughing gas in stout

    I've heard this malaprop often, and again recently: Guinness Gas described as nitrous.

    So-called Guinness gas is a blend of 60-75% nitrogen (N) and 25-40% carbon dioxide (CO2). Originally developed by Guinness in part to imitate the naturally cascading bubbles of cask ale, this mixture is now considered by many to be di riguer for dispensing stouts. [Stout, Michel J. Lewis, Brewers Publications, 1995, p. 119] It's ironic to note, however, that nitrogen is not natural to the brewing process. It must be added in.

    If beer were indeed served via nitrous, rather than this nitrogen gas blend, the results might be quite hilarious. Nitrous is shorthand for nitrous oxide (N2O) — laughing gas, an anesthetic used during dental procedures. It's most definitely NOT in beer!

    Beer refrigerators are often placed far from the actual bar where the serving taps are located. Greater pressure is therefore needed to move the beer that greater distance. But using higher pressured CO2 to push the beer a greater distance will create a lot of foaming across the tap.

    To get around this, many draft systems employ a nitrogen/CO2 blend. Nitrogen is much less soluble in beer than carbon dioxide, so a Guinness blend can push the beer at greater pressure for greater distances without causing foam across the tap.

    There is a problem. Many bars make the common mistake of placing any stout on a Guinness gas line.

    Stouts, because of some of the grains used in their recipe grists tend to contain a higher proportion of middle-weight proteins. These promote head retention. But stouts do not naturally contain nitrogen. That is not part of the brewing process. It is an artificial injection during packaging.

    It is nitrogenated beers — such as Guinness — which will display the cascading waterfall effect when poured on a Guinness gas line (or cask ales, naturally without any gas). Pushing the beer through very small holes in a plate in a special tap, the nitrogen and CO2 break out of solution in very small, and thus stable, bubbles. But since nitrogen is insoluble, it stays in the bubbles, as opposed to CO2 which tends to break out — hence the tight thick head.

    (It's interesting to note that draft Guinness is very lightly carbonated, in fact to no more than one volume of CO2, the level of most cask beers. The rest of the bubbles are nitrogen-derived, applied in the keg under 25 pounds per square inch.)

    If a stout has not been nitrogenated — that is if it has been produced without artificially adding nitrogen — and if it's placed on a Guinness gas line, the result will be a lifeless, flat, beer. With so little CO2 in the mix, the CO2 in the keg will evolve out of the beer itself and into the headspace of the keg. The beer will dramatically lose its carbonation — i.e., go flat. The total
    pressure of the blend doesn't matter as much as the percentages of the gas content in the mix.

    There is a simple expedient however.

    By reversing this gas mixture — that is, by using a blend of 60-75% CO2 and 25-40% nitrogen — there will be enough nitrogen to push the beer a long distance — without foamingand enough of CO2 in the mix to prevent the beer from going flat.

    Guinness gas is often referred to as mixed-gas dispense. This is somewhat imprecise, because there has been another mixed-gas blend used for years to push beer long distances: CO2 ... and air!

    A simple air compressor would produce the additional pressure above and beyond the standard 15 psi at which most kegs are CO2 pressurized.

    That's fine and dandy if the beer is to be consumed rapidly (similar to using a picnic pump to dispense a keg at a tailgating party). But if the beer sits for any length of time (even overnight), you've got nasty stuff.

    Here's a deep dark secret: a few bars still do this ... as do many sports arenas.

    That's usually not a problem with North American Industrial Lagers (N.A.I.L.s) and their ilk, since they are sold in high enough quantities at sporting and music events. But any craft beer served like this will suffer deleterious flavor effects. It would be like leaving a glass of beer open and sitting on your table for several days before drinking it.

    ... and that's no laughing (gas) matter!

    No More DRM?

    Album sales decreased in 2007 by 15%. Digital downloads (often single tracks), however, increased — by 49%. And even if that number is figured in with album sales per se — industry standard assumption is 10 tracks per album — album sales overall still decreased by 9.2%. [from New York Times]

    Maybe that might account for this ... [from Business Week]

    In a move that would mark the end of a digital music era, Sony BMG Music Entertainment is finalizing plans to sell songs without the copyright protection software that has long restricted the use of music downloaded from the Internet, has learned. Sony BMG, a joint venture of Sony (SNE) and Bertelsmann, will make at least part of its collection available without so-called digital rights management, or DRM, software some time in the first quarter, according to people familiar with the matter.

    Sony BMG would become the last of the top four music labels to drop DRM, following Warner Music Group (WMG), which in late December said it would sell DRM-free songs through's (AMZN) digital music store. EMI and Vivendi's Universal Music Group announced their plans for DRM-free downloads earlier in 2007. <...>

    Many, including music executives, consider the industry's about-face long overdue. "This agreement is the first of many of these types we'll be announcing in the coming weeks and months," Warner Music Group Chief Executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. wrote in a Dec. 27 memo to employees explaining Warner's breakthrough deal with Amazon. "Many have argued that we could and should have done this long ago."

    [emphasis mine] "DRM tends to punish the innocent more than the guilty," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, a technology research company. "It was hurting folks who were trying to follow the rules more than the folks who were pirating the music."

    Labels used DRM software in an effort to prevent illegal sharing of songs on peer-to-peer networks, such as Gnutella. Instead, the restrictions served mainly to frustrate paying customers, forcing them to degrade the quality of music by first burning it to a CD before uploading it for play on the device of their choosing. <...>

    Rather than following EMI's lead, other labels are hoping to create another Apple competitor in Amazon, which is willing to give the recording industry greater pricing flexibility.

    Apple has had a holier-than-thou near monopolistic stranglehold on digital downloads, disingenuous at best.
    Because DRM tended to tie consumers to the store most compatible with their music device, the record labels unwittingly gave much of the power over music distribution to Apple, the manufacturer of the most popular digital music player, the iPod.

    Music industry executives say Apple has not wielded that power lightly. With control of an estimated 80% of the market for legally downloaded music, Apple pushed its preferred price of 99¢ per song over the opposition of several labels, which preferred variable pricing that would allow some artists to sell at a premium.

    Apple CEO
    Steve Jobs also refused repeated requests from the recording industry and iPod competitors to license its DRM technology so that iTunes customers could easily put their music on other devices, without first burning it to a CD or otherwise altering the files.

    • I was alerted to the Business Week piece by blog Musick in the Head.
    • More from me on this topic: here.
    • My most recent digital download (paid-for, of course): Levon Helm's Dirt Farmer. This is the first studio album in a quarter-century for this former drummer of The Band. It's a remarkable collection of music.