Friday, December 23, 2011

A Year of Beer

Yesterday marked one full year since I signed up for Untappd, a social media site for beer drinkers. Untappd is fun — you can log your beers, where you drink them, earn badges for certain drinking accomplishments, and cross-post it to Facebook and Twitter. (Untappd is not the only such site, and I've been meaning to check out some of the others, but so far, that's the only one I do.) Most people, I presume, just do it on a lark; I also use it to promote this blog.

One of my favorite features is that it ranks your top 6 beers — creating, a I guess, your fantasy mix-and-match six-pack. I thought it would be interesting to examine mine:

Now, this list isn't entirely accurate. There were times when I forgot to or couldn't log my beers. But this is pretty spot-on for me.

Clearly, I'm a believer in "drink local" — all six are from Texas breweries. Now, I'm no beer xenophobe — I love beer from outside Texas, and I specifically make it a point when I'm on vacation to explore beers from wherever I am, especially beers that I can't get back home. But I'll also declare that this is a good time to be drinking craft beer in Texas. My homeboys (and girls) just keep getting better, more interesting, and more adventurous. We may never become an Oregon or California, but there's plenty to brag about here (and Texans are good at that).

Plus, my Texancentric bias is skewed by a superstition I have: When I'm watching sports (which is a lot), I always drink the beer most local to the team for which I'm rooting. And that team is usually some incarnation of the Texas Longhorns. It's also the reason Rahr's Blonde got on there: For the first time, I really started following the Texas Rangers, and thus sought out the Fort Worth-based Rahr, especially as the Rangers drove toward their second World Series. I'm glad I did — I used to not think much of Rahr, considering them fairly mediocre, but in giving them another chance I found that the brewery is much improved. This blonde is good stuff, and Rahr's Texas Red very nearly made my top 6 as well. I'm turning into a soccer fan — perhaps if I start following the English Premiere League, you'll see more English beers sneaking onto the list.

In a way, though, I also think the list is deceptive — or at least, it highlights the difference between the beers we drink most and the beers we truly love. Fireman's Four is a good beer. But is it my favorite beer, because it sits atop that list? Certainly not. There are plenty of beers I love more. But of course, the beers I love most cost a pretty penny, and are likely to be seasonal. For me, Fireman's is — as I assume it is for many people — my go-to beer. In Austin, it's always available, it's affordable (not the same thing as "cheap," but certainly cheaper than super-delicious Belgian beers or crazy Dogfish Head selections), and with our ungodly hot weather, it's usually right for the moment.

And for my favorite venues:

Not much surprise here. I was head-over-heels ecstatic when I learned that Black Star was going to open up walking distance (stumbling distance?) from my house. There's nothing cooler than having a neighborhood bar that you can just walk or bicycle to. Of course, the Pour House is slightly closer, and has a good beer selection, but it's not a brewpub and I think I just like BSC's vibe a little better. (Actually, most of my beer drinking occurs in my house, but unlike some Untappd users, I didn't create a listing for my house as a venue.)

My total stats: 989 beers, including 310 unique beers. Hmm, I think I see where my daughters' college fund has been going.

Actually, I'm pretty proud of that unique number. That means I tried a different beer almost every day! In general, I strive for culinarily adventurousness, and almost never drink the same beer consecutively.

And now I have it on record.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Partial Victory in Jester King Case

Yesterday, U.S. Judge Sam Sparks handed down his ruling in the Jester King et al v. TABC case. Unfortunately, he did not rule in favor of craft brewers on the most important part of the case — the section seeking to allow brewers to better sell their products, giving them rights on par with wineries. However, he at least agreed with Jester King on the First Amendment issues, ending the practice of forcing brewers to inaccurately label their products and freeing them to finally tell consumers where their products may be found.

Pasted below is Jester King's commentary on the decision, followed by comments from Texas state Senator John Carona of Dallas, chairman of the committee that oversees alcohol regulation in the Senate.

To read the full ruling, click here:

Full disclosure: I am no longer an objective journalist (okay, I was never really all that objective) looking at this issue from the outside. I got laid off from The Austin Chronicle in August (although I continue to review beer for them on a freelance basis), and on Dec. 1, I began employment as the Communications Director for Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio.
Yesterday afternoon, Judge Sam Sparks of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas issued his final judgment on the case that Jester King Brewery and our two co-plaintiffs, Authentic Beverage Company and Zax Restaurant & Bar, filed against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. With respect to all of the First Amendment challenges to the current state law, he ruled in our favor, declaring the statutes and TABC rules in question unconstitutional and therefore invalid. Congratulations and many thanks to our attorneys, Jim Houchins of Houchins Law and Pete Kennedy of Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody for taking on this case and for all of the hard work that they put in. Thanks also to Pete’s firm for supporting his efforts and to Jim’s associate, Rachel Fisher, for all of her hard work and diligent research.

As of result of yesterday’s ruling, beer in Texas may now be labeled as “beer” and ale may now be labeled as “ale”, regardless of alcohol content. Breweries and distributors are also no longer prohibited from independently telling consumers where their products may be purchased, or from communicating truthful and accurate information about their alcohol content. That means Jester King will now be able to add a “Where to Buy” section to our website, as will all other breweries selling beer in Texas.

“In a remarkable (though logically dubious) demonstration of circular reasoning” Judge Sparks writes in his ruling, “TABC attempts to defend the constitutional legitimacy of the Code through an appeal to the statutory authority of the Code itself.” Referring to the required use of the terms “beer”, “ale”, and “malt liquor”, he writes “TABC’s argument, combined with artful legislative drafting, could be used to justify any restrictions on commercial speech. For instance, Texas would likely face no (legal) obstacle if it wished to pass a law defining the word ‘milk’ to mean ‘a nocturnal flying mammal that eats insects and employs echolocation.’ Under TABC’s logic, Texas would then be authorized to prohibit use of the word ‘milk’ by producers of a certain liquid dairy product, but also to require Austin promoters to advertise the famous annual ‘Milk Festival’ on the Congress Avenue Bridge.’”

We were disappointed, but not too surprised, that Judge Sparks ruled against our claims that Texas’s disparate treatment of breweries and brewpubs violated the Equal Protection Clause and that its treatment of foreign breweries violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the Commerce Clause. The TABC never gave any reason why Texas should be able to prohibit craft brewers from selling beer to customers on-site, while allowing wineries to do so, or why Texas should be able to favor foreign wineries over foreign breweries, and Judge Sparks did not speculate on why that might be. But the legal standards are different and more demanding for challenges brought under the Equal Protection Clause than the First Amendment, and we were unable to persuade Judge Sparks to strike down these discriminatory laws. We were encouraged, however, by Judge Sparks’s observation that “The State of Texas is lucky the burden of proof was on [the Plaintiffs] for many of its claims, or else the Alcoholic Beverage Code might have fared even worse than it has.”

We’re pleased to have helped to bring about at least a few long overdue changes in the antiquated and often inconsistent Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, but small brewers still face many unjust and unnecessary obstacles that need to be removed before we can stand on equal footing with Texas winemakers and brewers in other states. Measurable progress was made with yesterday’s decision, but much more is still needed. We don’t yet know what, if anything, will happen next on the legal front. That’s something that we’ll need to discuss with our attorneys. In the meantime, though, it’s not too early to start thinking about the 2013 legislative session, with the hope that this case will help to bring some momentum for further change. For the first time, Texas consumers finally have a well-organized grassroots organization that’s working to modernize the Beverage Code. We, at Jester King Craft Brewery, will continue to do everything we can to support the efforts of Open the Taps and we encourage everyone who is reading this to do the same.
And here is the statement from Sen. Carona:
"A Federal Court has ruled that Texas' laws regarding the advertising and labeling of beer are flawed. In the case of Authentic Beverages Co. vs. TABC, the Judge awarded a summary judgment that certain laws directing the labeling and advertisement of beer are unconstitutional. While the three-tier system of manufacturer, distributor, and retailer has served Texas well since the end of Prohibition, it is an open question how well the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code reflects today's reality of Internet sales and the growth of the craft brewing industry. The Court's ruling suggests this is a topic that may be taken up by the 83rd Legislature."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Were the Top Austin/Texas Beer Moments of 2011?

Hey fellow Texans, I'm putting together one of those year-end list thingies that we journalists just love to do every December. Tell me: What do you think were the top events and happenings of the Texas craft beer scene in 2011, especially in Austin?

I need your responses soon — I have to have this done before I go to bed tonight. Thanks.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Black Star Co-op One-Year Anniversary!

There's a couple of big events happening today at my neighborhood brewpub, Black Star Co-op, both worthy of checking out. This afternoon, 1-5pm, is the Eat Drink Local Week Local Brewfest. But even more important is this evening, 6-10pm, the one-year anniversary!

Yes, that crazy idea of operating a cooperatively run, customer-owned brewpub has survived a full year, and from what I can tell, it's been a success. (I was in there Wednesday night and it was packed.)

As I wrote in The Austin Chronicle last year, I had my doubts whether this could work. I'm really happy to have been wrong so far, and I hope I keep being wrong about it for years to come. Congratulations, Black Star!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Market-Based Drinking

An odd little press release from Kung Fu Saloon:
More than 100 beers, fluctuating prices

(Austin, Texas) The owners of Kung Fu Saloon, one of Austin’s most popular bars, are proud to announce the first bar in Austin where prices fluctuate based upon supply and demand.

The commodity for sale: more than 100 different brews.

“The stock market pricing based upon "supply & demand" will be a first in Austin and will bring a new and engaging experience to the customer on West 6th Street,” said Managing Partner, Chris Horne.

The majority of available beers, 72, will be an assortment of rotating draughts from around the world whose prices will constantly be riding the market.

“Selections that are selling will increase in price, and those that aren't will go down. We think this creates a unique social experience that goes beyond just having a drink," Horne said.

The Brew Exchange market will go through volatility seen in the real world. There will be "market crashes" where all of the prices drop to rock bottom and “reverse markets" where there's an inverse relationship between supply & demand.

Customers will be able to watch the “Brew Exchange Market” in real time on a 62 foot long, ‘60s style stock ticker while relaxing in an architecturally unique and stimulating surroundings designed by Jamie Chioco.

Like its sister bar, Kung Fu Saloon, the Brew Exchange will give back generously to the community we too call home. In September Kung Fu Saloon with the help of their customers donated $5,000 to the American Red Cross to help the victims of the Bastrop Complex fires.

“We strive to find new and unique ways that we and our customers can help give back to the community that has given us so much,” Horne said.

Opening Bell December 2011. Buy Low, Drink Up.

Brew Exchange is a business venture of five friends who have all called Austin home for decades. They also own and operate Kung Fu Saloon in Austin, Houston and soon their third installation in Dallas.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Saint Arnold Scavenger Hunt

Sorry, I've been neglecting the blog while I was job-hunting (I lost my full-time gig at The Austin Chronicle back in August) and I might neglect it some more while I adjust to my new job (I just got hired by a state Senator to be her communications director), so I just wanted to offer this quick hit: Saint Arnold's Austin Scavenger Hunt wraps up this weekend. Details here.