Later tonight, I’ll be hoisting a beer at the local Taco Mac in honor of Michael Jackson. Jackson passed away four years today, and I like to remember him each year around this time. You might do well to do the same if you’re a fan of craft beer, simply because no one had more to do with the craft beer renaissance than MJ. That’s not to say that craft beer would not have come back from the brink of extinction without him; I think it certainly would have. It would have taken a lot longer, though, and many might have missed it entirely.
I first heard of the Beerhunter in 1989 when Discovery Channel broadcast a mini-series of the same name here in the US. I met him for the first time in 1996 in Orange, CT at a beer dinner. Even today I look to his many books and columns on beer as an inspiration, and still go back to them frequently. If you’ve never read Jackson, you’re in for a treat for sure. Even if you haven’t, though, think of him the next time you have a pint of great beer. In many ways, you have Michael Jackson to thank for what you’re drinking.
There’s a move on in congress to cut excise taxes on beer. HR 4278 (which you can read over at the Brewers Association website) or as it’s also known, the Brewer’s Employment and Excise Relief (BEER) Act, would cut in half the tax small brewers fork over to the government. This applies to the first 60,000 barrels of production, but there’s also a further reduction of $2 a barrel up to the 2 million barrel mark for brewers producing up to 6 million barrels a year.
The aim here is to infuse cash into the coffers of small breweries and, hopefully, thereby produce jobs. While that is a truly laudable goal, lets not forget who ultimately pays those beer taxes: the consumer that buys the beer. And that beer consumer deserves a break. Beer prices, especially craft beer prices, have been on the upswing in recent years. Many craft brewers are doing very well indeed in an otherwise gloomy economy. Delaware’s Dogfish Head, in fact, recently had to pull distribution from several states because they just can’t brew enough beer to meet demand.
That’s not to say that beer excise taxes should not be reduced; they absolutely should. But the small brewers should not keep the proceeds, at least not all of them, regardless of how much that would help them. At least some of those reduced taxes should go to the consumer in the form or reduced prices. Since reduced prices should stimulate demand, the small brewers should sell more beer and end up in better shape anyway.
Kicking back the excise taxes to the consumer would have a snowball effect on prices, greater than the actual tax reduction. That’s because excise taxes are added at the production level rather than the sales level, so they get marked up on every trip of their journey to the consumer. For example, when a brewer pays $7 today to the government on a barrel of beer, they add it to what they charge the wholesaler. Let’s say the wholesaler marks that barrel up 25% when they sell it to the retailer, meaning that $7 just became $8.75. If the retailer marks his beer up by, say, 50%, we’re now at $13.13. And sales tax gets added to that (yes, you pay tax on tax), at 7% we finally arrive at $14.05, or double the original amount.
And you pay that. Not the brewer, not the distributor, and not the retailer. And you deserve some of it back.
Did you know beer saved the world, or at least the civilized world? It did. But don’t take my word for it, check out “How Beer Saved the World” premiering tonight at 8 and 11 EST on the Discovery Channel. It’s sure to be repeated as well.
We’ll check back in to let you know how we liked it.
Want to learn about craft beer and brewing? The Brewers Association thinks you should. To further that end, they’ve created a new online beer course you can take that includes audio commentary in a PowerPoint-like presentation. It’s voiced by such industry legends as Boston Beer’s Jim Koch and Stone’s Greg Koch (no relation). After viewing the one-hour course you’ll be tested, and if you get a 70 or better you can print out a nifty diploma. This isn’t free, however: there’s a $15 registration fee to view the materials and take the test.
Not a bad way to learn about beer if you’re new to the microbrew scene, but for seasoned veterans there’s not much new here. Then too, you could always learn just as much if not more by visiting free beer sites and blogs (might I suggest Bruguru.com or Beers in The Hen House? You might even offer to buy a beer geek a brew, and they’d be happy tell you as much over a pint. Then you could use the remaining ten bucks to try a few decent beers yourself.
Daniel Okrent's Last Call: Rise and Fall of Prohibition
After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the Unites States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.- 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
For those that enjoy the relaxing pleasures that the moderate (and occasionally slightly more than moderate) consumption of alcoholic beverages afford, few words can seem more cruel and unjust than the above. For those that lived through the dark years of Prohibition, however, those words were an unfortunate reality that denied them one of life’s simple pleasures.
Or did it? Reading Daniel Okrent’s insightful Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, it’s abundantly clear that during most of prohibition, getting a drink at a speakeasy or buying a bottle to enjoy at home might have cost more than it did before prohibition became reality, but by no means was it a difficult endeavor.
To be sure, Prohibition was the greatest social experiment ever attempted. It was also a colossal failure, and the only amendment to the US Constitution to ever be repealed. In his book, Okrent touches upon the reasons why Prohibition was doomed from the start, and why it was widely ignored while it was the law of the land from 1920 to 1933.
The author begins his dissertation with the origins of the prohibition movement in the 19th century, tracking the roots back to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League and such larger than life teetotalers as Carrie Nation.
From there, Okrent traces the emerging forces that catapulted the prohibition movement to a fully ratified amendment to the constitution in the early decades of the 20th century. He adeptly ties this to the progressive era reforms (such as the income tax that replaced the revenue that alcohol would no longer bring in) that helped to foster it. The author even posits that the advent of World War I, with it’s emerging anti-German sentiment, helped sour opinion on the American brewing industry, chock full as it was with German immigrants.
Okrent explores the widespread flaunting of the law while it was in force, touching upon the major organized crime elements that replaced the legal alcohol distribution network. Corruption of public figures was widespread, and the public’s relentless thirst for alcohol (it wasn’t technically illegal to drink it during most of prohibition) doomed the measure from the start. We see the repeal movement and it’s eventual success detailed as well.
I found Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition to be almost impossible to put down. Okrent’s talent with the printed word is readily apparent in his impeccably formed prose. His research is thorough, and the reader will learn more than a few things about the dark years of Prohibition. The author’s razor sharp wit helps push things along at just the right points, too.
A highly recommended read, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition is a thorough and entertaining history of the prohibition years and a warning against the pitfalls of overzealous social engineering.
I just love a good beer festival, which is why I’m headed to the Southern Brewers Festival Saturday, August 28th. Over thirty breweries, great food, and the proceeds go to charity. What could be better than that? I’ll be there, will you?
Southern Brewers Festival
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
Guinness is test marketing that holy grail of American beer geeks, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, in select US markets. If you’ve never tried this wonderful brew, now’s your chance to get some. It’s in Atlanta and reportedly New York as well, and if you don’t live near either of those places, best to find a beer geek buddy who’ll swap you some that does.
Pete Brown's Hops and Glory
If you’re a beer geek, you probably know that the “I” in IPA stands for “India”, as in, “India Pale Ale”. Fair enough. But did you ever wonder just how it got there? Pete Brown did, and he made a book of it, a rather good one in fact. The title: “Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire.” And while it helps to have an appreciation for fine beer while reading, it’s not a prerequisite. This is a work that spans a number of topics beyond beer, a fact that gives it a broader appeal than its title might imply.
Ask any beer geek what India Pale Ale is, and you’ll likely get more than you bargained for. A tale of a beer brewed in England in the late 18th century almost to the end of the 19th, a beer fortified with extra alcohol and lots of hops to survive the long sea voyage to India, where it would be supplied to British troops and officials. A beer that would condition during the voyage, mellowing substantially and rounding along the edges until it was ready to drink upon arrival in India, where the climate was not at all suited for brewing.
English beer writer Pete Brown wanted to know more. And so, he did something no one has done since the heyday of IPA more than a century ago: he decided to take a keg of India Pale Ale, brewed to the same recipe that would have been used for the original examples of the style, and follow the sea route to India.
Brown’s pilgrimage begins with a barge trip from Burton, simulating the river voyage IPA would have taken to get to the sea. From there, his journey takes him aboard cruise ships, sail boats, and container vessels on a three month adventure until he finally arrives in India, keg of beer in tow. Things don’t go quite as Brown expected, and there’s one major mishap that almost dooms his mission along the way. But Brown shows amazing perseverance and always keeps his eye on the prize, with amazing results.
As mentioned, Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire is more than just a beer book, however. Beer is an important component here, to be sure, but the work is made up of equal parts travelogue and history lesson as well. That’s because the author’s attention to detail in this 451-page work is careful and true, and we truly get the feel we’re on board each vessel right along with him. The container ship leg of the journey, complete with boisterous captain and modern-day pirates, is perhaps the most intriguing of all.
Brown also weaves the history of India Pale Ale, the mighty East India Company, and British imperialism into the book as well. He alternates between chapters from the past and his own adventures, weaving them together to form a perfect tale that’s hard to put down and that entertains as much as it educates.
Brown’s affable writing style is also a credit here. Take one part Douglas Adams and another Michael Jackson (the beer hunter folks, not the gloved one), and you have an idea what Brown’s style is like. His use of humor helps the book along nicely, and is just another reason why Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire is so much fun.
Whether you’re a seasoned beer veteran, a recent neophyte, or don’t even drink the stuff at all, there’s something for you in Hops and Glory: One Man’s Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire. The book is published in the United Kingdom is not always easy to find in the U.S., though I got a copy amazingly cheap from Amazon Canada. It came to me well recommended from a respected fellow beer enthusiast, and he was right on the money with this one.
Don’t miss it.
I’ve always had a fondness for spicy mustard. But when you make one with beer, why, what’s better than that? My latest find: Henry Weinhard’s Dark Pub Beer Mustard by Barhyte Specialty Foods. I picked this up at the market the other day and we got to try it Sunday while grilling out. This is not a mustard for the faint of heart, as it has a substantial spicy bite that is sharp and laced with a subtle burn. That’s tempered a bit by a hint of white wine and, best of all, a bit of creamy dark lager flavor. I slathered it on juicy bratwursts fresh from the grill to very good effect, matched with a cool glass of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Well worth trying for those who like every bite to bite back back.
For more information, visit the company website at http://www.barhyte.com/lines/mline.cfm?cID=4 .
Also available through Amazon.com.
As I sit here sipping an Uerige Doppelsticke Altbier from Germany, I can’t help but think that a good part of the reason I can buy rare and wonderful beers like this in the United States is because Michael Jackson wrote about them. That’s apropos, of course, since today is the Beer Hunter’s birthday. Michael would have been 68 today, and every year I like to commemorate the day by tipping a beer in his honor.
Hopefully, you’re familiar with Michael (not the singer but an English beer writer without equal) , but if you’re not, it’s not too late to learn from him. Jackson wrote books on beer, appeared in a documentary series for Discovery called “The Beer Hunter” (which really should be on DVD by now), and even a few CD-Rom programs for the PC. What made MJ really stand out wasn’t just that he started writing about beer when nobody else was doing it, but that he did it so well. Jackson’s prose simply flowed in a way no other beer writer has even replicated. He wrote with humor and style, to be sure, but he also wrote about beer by styles and paired it with food in a way nobody else did. He brought about awareness for beer as a class beverage, and fanned the flames of many a beer enthusiast. In many ways, he is responsible for the beer revolution that continues today. And as I pop a bottle of 2008 Stone Double Bastard I’ve been aging, I know that’s so very true.
So here’s to you, Michael. Happy Birthday, wherever you are. They say that in heaven there is no beer, but something tells me you’re up there now sipping a brew and smiling down on us all.
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