Category Archives: beer industry

Hooray For Boobies! (& Butts!)

As mentioned here (and on every other damn beer blog) back in December, Massachusetts-based beer importers Shelton Brothers had several of their beers banned in Maine due to the labels being “undignified or improper”. The beers included Santa’s Butt Porter, which pictures a rear view of the jolly old elf enjoying a pint while checking his list; Les Sans Culottes, featuring Delacroix’s classic painting Liberty Leading the People (detail pictured); and Rose de Gambrinus, featuring a watercolor painting of the king of Flanders sitting with a bare-breasted woman.

Well, it seems that common sense prevailed, and Maine’s Liquor Licensing Unit backed down after the threat of legal action from the Maine Civil Liberties Union. Unfortunately, the decision didn’t get reversed until just before Christmas, and Don Shelton didn’t find out until he returned from vacation this past week, so sales of Santa’s Butt were still heavily impacted.

And while Shelton Brothers may be happy about the outcome, they still plan on proceeding with legal action regardless:

Shelton, whose company has challenged similar bans in other states, said Thursday he has no plans to drop his lawsuit because state law still allows officials to deny applications for beer labels that contain “undignified or improper” illustrations. About a dozen beer and wine labels, out of 10,000 to 12,000 reviewed, are rejected each year on such grounds.

“You can’t have a law based on propriety and dignity. It’s too vague,” Shelton said.

It’ll be interesting to see what impact this might have on the arcane and outdated liquor laws not only in Maine, but right across the continent.

Sheraton Gets Serious About Beer

Today’s post by Jay over at Brookston Beer Bulletin reminded me that I intended to write about this topic back in November, but I never got around to it. Ah, well, better late than never…

I don’t travel a lot, but when I do, I always lament the poor beer selection that I find in most hotel restaurants and mini-bars. While I understand that hotels (at least the mid-range ones that I usually stay at) generally try to cater to the average (i.e. unadventurous) person when it comes to their food and drink offerings, their boring beer lists have always seemed like a wasted opportunity to me. After all, most tourists visit new places in order to experience things that make those places unique, including the local food and drink. So why not offer them some locally made craft beer?

It seems like someone at Sheraton Four Points, one of the mid-range chains owned by hotel giant Starwood, had the same idea, as they launched a new initiative called Best Brews this past fall. According to the mid-November press release, bars and restaurants in Four Points properties around the world now feature beer lists that offer “a selection of local, regional and imported craft beers”, with each location serving “a minimum of four draught beers and a selection of up to 20 bottled beers”. In addition, “all Four Points lounge and restaurant staff must complete the Best Brews online training program and master all aspects of the curriculum”, and each location will have a “beer champion” on staff who will be “helping guests discover new tastes and brands, as well as educating them about the differences between each beer”.

Looking over the Best Brews web page, this looks to be a serious and well-researched program. Unlike some other online resources, the information presented on the site is accurate and informative without being too geeky or know-it-all-ish. And adding a but of fun to the whole thing is the “job search” for a “Chief Beer Officer” that Four Points have been running for the past few weeks. The press release claims that it is a real position that they are looking to fill, with something verging on an actual job description:

One of the primary duties of the CBO will be to document all official activities and beer learnings on a Four Points beer blog. This includes discovering new brews to feature in the program and sharing their thoughts about each beer they sample in the portfolio, as the CBO will have a sampling of the collection delivered to their door each quarter.

However, the online “application” for the position is just a series of simple multiple-choice questions related to beer, and a request for your address and phone number, suggesting that it may just be a ploy to promote the program and build a mailing list of microbrew drinkers. Whatever the aim, it’s still an exciting step forward for craft beer, and one that will likely convince many beer lovers – including myself – to consider staying at Four Points hotels during any trips we may take in the future.

New York City – Night 3: Union Beer Trade Tasting

NYC – Night 3 – Tuesday, September 26th:

A couple of weeks before my trip, I was poking around for info about any beer events that might be happening in NYC during the week of my visit, and I stumbled across a short announcement about a free tasting event for the bar and restaurant trade that Brooklyn’s Union Beer Distributors would be hosting at The Puck Building in downtown Manhattan. I figured it would probably be a small event with some local brewers on hand, and maybe a few imports being sampled as well – a nice way to spend a few hours and try some new beers, assuming I could get in.

I dropped them a line mentioning my “credentials” as news editor at The Bar Towel and writer of this blog, but wasn’t holding out a lot of hope as it seemed to be a NYC-centric event based on the description. After a week with no response, I pretty much wrote it off as a “not gonna happen”, but then I got the following email:

Dear Greg:

On behalf of Union Beer Distributors, I cordially extend the invitation for you to attend the most extensive craft beer Trade Tasting in New York City history. On Tuesday, September 26 from 5 until 10 PM at the historic Puck Building on Lafayette and Houston, 85 breweries from around the world will serve their libations to an exclusive audience in an intimate setting. Complete with live jazz music, hors d’oeuvres, and speeches from some of the industry’s most influential figures, this will be an event not to miss.

Among the dozens of internationally acclaimed brewers in attendance will be:

Matthias Trum – Owner, Head Brewmaster, Aecht Schlenkerla, Bamberg, Germany
The sixth generation brewer of the world renowned Brauerei Heller Trum produces the world’s most popular rauchbier (smoke beer) style.

Etienne Dupont – Owner, Cidermaster, Domaine Dupont, Normandy, France
The fifth generation Cidermaster from Normandy is one of the world’s foremost calvados producers, however he earned his place in the world of craft cider when the New York Times voted his cider as the best in the world in a 2004 blind tasting.

Hans Peter Drexler – Head Brewmaster, Schneider Weisse, Kelheim, Germany

Toshiyuki Kiuchi – Owner, Brewmaster, Hitachino Nest, Kounsosu, Naka-shi, Ibaraki, Japan

Chris Beauwarts – Owner, Brewmaster, Brasserie d’Achouffe, Achouffe, Belgium

And many, many more.

Looked like it was going to be a little larger than I’d expected.

I arrived at the Puck Building soon after 5:00 PM and was ushered into a good sized room with beer being poured by a variety of brewers both familiar (Rogue, Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada, Ommegang) and not-so-much (Mercury, Cape Ann, Butternuts). A fantastic selection – but all American micros. What happened to the imports?

Then I noticed the passageway to the other room. The spacious, ornate, gorgeous ballroom with dozens and dozens of brewers and beers from Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, Japan and beyond. Not to mention a spread of bread, cheese & dried fruit, countless wait staff serving hors d’oeuvres, and a live jazz trio providing some elegant ambiance.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I almost wept a little.

Seriously, this was the most refined and well-organized beer event I’ve ever attended. Seeing beer being presented in such a civilised and respectful environment was a great thing indeed. Although since the event was being held by a distributor trying to flog their wares in one of the most competative bar and restaurant markets on earth, I suppose I should’ve expected it. I guess it’s hard to shake the jaded nature I’ve developed from living amongst the backwards beer culture of Ontario for so long.

So after walking around with my mouth hanging open in disbelief for a few minutes, I started in on the tasting. I haven’t gone through my notes to do a full count, but I’m sure I sampled somewhere around two dozen beers over the course of the evening, and enjoyed almost all of them. Here are a few highlights:

Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout
A new beer from Japan’s Hitachino Nest brewery that they were pilot testing at the event. It has a still, deep brown body with no head, and an amazing aroma of freshly roasted and ground coffee. The body is a little thin, but the flavour is fantastic, with lots of coffee backed-up with some cocoa and malt notes. Hopefully, it’ll be added to their official line-up soon.

Troubadour Blond & Troubadour Obscura
These beers from Belgium’s Brouwerij The Musketeers were completely new to me, but I’m glad I stopped at their small table, as both of them are very good. The Blond is described on RateBeer as a saison, which seems to be an appropriate style, as it has a bright golden colour and aromas & flavours that encompass yeasty, fruity and spicey notes. The Obscura is self-described as a stout, although it’s also undeniably Belgian, so it holds a very interesting combination of sweet roastiness and tangy spice that I really enjoyed.

Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier
I was very happy to have a chance to try this rare treat from smoked beer specialists Aecht Schlenkerla, as I’m a big fan of their more commonly available Märzen. Unlike the other Schlenkerla beers, there is no smoked malt used in this golden lager, but it picks up a delicious smokiness from the brewery’s filters. And it helps that even without the smokiness, this is a very nice lager, with well-balanced malt and hop flavours and a crisp, subtle body.

Thomas Hardy’s Ale
This famous vintage ale is descibed by the brewer, O’Hanlons, as “the beer enthusiast’s equivalent of rare cognac”. A little hoity-toity, perhaps, but having finally tried it, I’d say that it’s a pretty apt description. I sampled the 2004 vintage, which is considered somewhat young – it’s said to improve with age for 25 years or more – but I still enjoyed it. It has a huge, sweet aroma of toffee, fruit cake and whiskey, and a complex flavour of port, whiskey, sweet orange, chocolate and much more, all leading to a warm, tingly, lingering finish.

Aventinus Edelbrand
One of my favourite beers is Aventinus, the standard-bearing Weizenbock from Germany’s G. Schneider & Sohn. So when I walked by their table and saw a smaller version of the distinctive purple Aventinus label on what looked like bottles of icewine, I was intrigued. I asked and discovered that it was Aventinus Edelbrand, a brandy-like spirit with 42% abv that is created by distilling Aventinus rather than water. This rarity is generally available only in Germany, but several bottles of a special barrel-aged version were brought over especially for this event. The samples being doled out were understandably small, given the potency and scarcity of the beverage, but I got enough of a taste to appreciate the flavours of oak, port, whiskey and grapeseed. Not the best hard booze I’ve tried, but good enough that I’d be happy to own a bottle of it.

There were lots more, but that’s a good sample. Full notes and ratings for the whole night will end up on RateBeer soon.

Canada Strikes Back!

With the recent Sapporo buy-out of Sleeman, there’s been lots of hand-wringing about Canada’s three largest breweries being owned by foreigners. So it was nice to see the news today that some of my countrymen are doing some deals in the other direction:

Montreal’s ICBS Ltd. said Wednesday it is buying New York`s Lake Placid Craft Brewing Co.

The 10-year-old Lake Placid Craft Brewing Co. has created a market demand for their Craft beers, such as UBU and Frostbite ales, ICBS said in a statement.

The story also notes the ICBS also owns Ramapo Valley Brewery of Hillburn, NY, and Alan posts at A Good Beer Blog to let us know that they recently bought Maska Laboratories, a Quebec-based lab that does work for the beer, wine & food industries. Could be some interesting things afoot…

The Sleeman-Sapporo Thing

Back when I started this blog, I promised myself that it wouldn’t be one of those blogs that just posts links to other blogs without adding any commentary.

(I also promised myself that I wouldn’t use the word “blog” too much, but based on the paragraph above, I guess I’ve pretty much blown that one…)

However, as I was getting ready to post some thoughts about this past weekend’s takeover of Sleeman by Japan’s Sapporo Breweries – with a specific focus on what it might mean for Sleeman-owned Unibroue – I realised that a couple of other people had already said pretty much everything I was planning to say about it.

People like Stephen Beaumont, who posted his thoughts to On The House, a group-blog on the drinks industry that he contributes to occassionally:

Unibroue’s brands are both highly profitable and well-regarded, and yet at the same time they are also utterly foreign to Sapporo, who have no experience marketing anything like them. This, it seems to me, would indicate that the Japanese brewery might go in one of two directions.

Although the Japanese market for Belgian-style luxury beers is small, it is enthusiastic, which could mean that Sapporo might very well try to use Unibroue brands such as Maudite, Fin du Monde and Terrible as flagships for the super-premium segment there. Or they might decide that they want nothing to do with the brands and sell off the Quebec brewery, perhaps even returning it to local interests. The point in between, that being allowing the brands to languish, is to me the least likely scenario.

And hey, look, it’s Mr. Beaumont again, this time posting to his beer blog at That’s The Spirit:

What I view as the jewel in the Sleeman crown, Quebec’s Unibroue, may also be divested, as it represents a facet of the market – luxury brands crafted in the Belgian style – with which the Japanese have no experience. Conversely, I could also envision Sapporo embracing the profitable Unibroue line and expanding it both domestically and internationally, even making it an ultra-high end flagship in Japan. Either scenario I think signals a positive future for what is arguably Canada’s best-known craft brewery.

(Beaumont talks about some non-Unibroue factors in both of those posts as well, so I recommend you go and check them out.)

And course, our good friend Alan at A Good Beer Blog chimed in with some good observations:

[I]t is a little sad to note that no one is recognizing that there were a few factors that created the strain forcing the sale. The only one cited is the buck-a-beer discount phenomena. No one is discussing the move into the US which has not apparently gone well as Sleeman is placing its product next to quality micros and coming up short. No one is mentioning the challenge of buying up any number of larger micros across Canada and whether that project played out well. And no one is asking whether what is in the bottle is the issue. The way Sleeman is talked about you would think you were dealing with innovators like Dogfish Head or masters of quality like Brooklyn Brewery or even a micro brewery.

Thanks for the content, guys. I promise not to rip you off too often. You’ve just helped me fill some space until I can get around to finishing the last part of that damn Michigan festival report that no-one is waiting for…