So my latest mix pack is the River Ave Sampler from Long Island’s Blue Point Brewery, which was founded in 1998 and recently bought up by Anheuser-Busch InBev. According to my previous research, this means they are technically no longer a craft brewery, but they seem to be still operating independently and producing a nice variety.
This article (which I reached through the financial section of man.com) mentions the acquisition of Blue Point in a bigger context of questions about “local” brewing. The basic premise of the article is that the idea of a beer being “local” matters to some beer drinkers, but in the process of trying to define what makes a beer local, I feel like the author conflates several distinct issues: the limited financial rewards and expansion possibilities for a small brewpub, the purchase of craft breweries by outside investors, and the expansion of successful craft breweries that leads them to setting up production facilities far from their original headquarters.
The way I see it, running a brewpub is more akin to running any other restaurant than it is to running a beer production and distribution operation–it just happens that beer is the featured item on the menu, and as a result the business model has to be focused on pleasing the relatively small number of customers who can walk through the front door by giving them something they won’t get anywhere else. I agree that there is a concern whenever a small business gets bought out by a larger entity for whom the primary focus is the bottom line, but I think there are enough examples of the parent company giving the newly-acquired subsidiary the freedom to stick to its roots (the continued success of Ben & Jerry’s despite its acquisition by Unilever comes to mind) that I’m willing to adopt a wait-and-see attitude–I don’t see craft beer fans going along with any sort of “Budweiserization” that would dilute the quality and variety they have come to expect from their favorite small breweries. And finally, I think it’s a cause for celebration when a brewery develops a following so large that it can expand production facilities. Western breweries like Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, and New Belgium all setting up shop in North Carolina, Boston Beer/Sam Adams having breweries in Miami and L.A., and the establishment of overseas outposts of American craft brewers such as Stone Brewing (in Berlin) and Brooklyn Brewery (in Stockholm) are all signs of a thriving industry and hardly a cause for concern that they aren’t sufficiently “local.” Speaking for myself, as long as these expanding breweries keep on eye on quality control and continue to deliver a superior product, I’m happy to purchase what they are selling and go along with the song when it says “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home.”
So bringing things back to my own kitchen (can’t get more local than that), two of the four beers in the Blue Point mix pack were what I would think of as “everyday” beers—moderate alcohol content and a fairly typical flavor profile, though both on the higher hops end of the spectrum. I might give a slight nod to the American Pale Ale over the Hoptical Illusion IPA as being a little more balanced, but they were both perfectly serviceable beers appropriate for any occasion and for drinking whether or not you’re having a meal.
The other two were both more aromatic and higher in alcohol content, so not the type “to have when you’re having more than one” (as they said in this old ad for Schaefer) and, in my opinion, better with a meal so you have other flavors to play off. The first was a Scottish ale that goes by the name “Big Ugly” with a picture of what looks to me like a feral black cat on the label. Not exactly a name that inspires confidence, but it was a nice malty beer with some extra yeasty notes to compete with the 8.0% alcohol. The second was a Belgian-style golden ale with the moniker “Step-Right-Up” with a picture of what looks like an old-fashioned circus strong man on the label. This one had even more fruity and yeasty notes and an even higher (9.1%) alcohol content, so definitely a beer to savor and not something to help quench a thirst on a hot summer day.
The “bastard” in the post title is another Scottish ale but from a different parentage, since this one came from Founders Brewery and goes by the name “Dirty Bastard.” (The word “bastard” seems to have lost some of the power it had when I was young. Maybe that’s because the huge rise in single and unmarried parenting has removed or reduced the stigma of illegitimacy, but I still find it hard to use the word in serious writing or polite conversation.) I had this one at my friend Steve’s house at a party celebrating the (totally legitimate) imminent arrival of their daughter’s first child. Like “Big Ugly” this was an intensely colored and flavored dark ale with a relatively high alcohol content that forced me to take it slow despite the high enjoyment factor of a nice cold beer in a frosted glass on a warm, sunny Memorial Day weekend. Definitely another candidate for the category of beers to savor slowly.
I’ve put on my agenda to do some research into how brewers manipulate their alcohol content, but this post is long enough that I’ll save that for another day. Cheers!