Friday, August 24, 2012

Why Did the Craft Beer Coach Cross the Road?

I recently attended a Passion 4 Beer event at the New York City offices of Heineken USA. I want to thank Stephanie Jerzy (@StephanieJerzy on Twitter) for the invite and thanks to Heineken USA for hosting the event.

Why Did the Craft Beer Coach Cross the Road?

To drink free beer silly.

Now all of the craft beer peeps are probably wondering what a guy who calls himself the Craft Beer Coach is doing at a Heineken media event? Well, you've heard this from me before…about the importance of withholding judgment and assumption. If I had passed judgment on what I thought Heineken's message might be I would not have had what turned out to be a fun and educating (I'll get to this in a bit) experience. And isn't it all about having as much fun as possible?

And for the record, I have a less than favorable view of "corporate initiatives" after spending ten years in pharmaceuticals. But since getting certified as a life skills coach I am really working hard to suspend judgment. You simply don't know unless you try. There simply was no reason for me not to get the first-hand experience before figuring out what I thought about it. At least, large beer corporative initiatives will likely involve drinking beer.

I still think Heineken is a delicious and enjoyable beer. When a place only has macros on tap and it includes Heineken, Heineken will win that battle every time. I do try to avoid those places but sometimes it still happens…even in 2012! For the record, my favorite macro is Carlsberg.

So it really wasn't just for the free beer. I also went to get Heineken's perspective.

What is Craft?

I introduce myself to a gentleman who turns out to be the Senior Director, On Premise Development Americas (That is one corporate title!…just funny as I used to have titles something like this). Anyway I tell him that I have a craft beer blog and we proceed to have a brief discussion about, "What is craft beer?"

There is a bit of debate about this around Sam Adams and such lately. I remind him that officially part of it has to do with production volume, that it is craft if it is up to 6 million barrels per year. But I question the production limit stipulation. The definition of "craft" itself makes no determination of a production limit. It's any artistic skill, and it's often defined as especially being done by hand. That would make homebrewers the craftiest of craft beer.

Here is where my head is lately after recent debates about whether or not Sam Adams is still "craft?"

I would pose the thought that if a company does not compromise the quality of its product in the interest of cutting costs to increase profit, then what does a production limit have to do with it? Even that doesn't really fly with the definition of craft. Playing devil's advocate here- what if the company uses cheaper ingredients but does so by hand? Not likely to happen because manual labor is so expensive, but what if I used adjuncts in a brew and did it all by hand? By definition of "craft" am I more craft than a craft brewery that uses machinery?

The definition of craft alone really says nothing about what medium you use. It's all about how you do it. A craft person can use wood, paper, metal, etc…Is one craftier than the other if they are all handmade?

The Heineken Senior Director tells me that Heineken has the same recipe it's had since the beginning. I don't know this information so I would have to find proof of that.

Here is a link to the Brewers Association definition of a craft brewer.

Hey, I am open-minded and I want to know what you think? Share your thoughts below.

The Perfect Pour

Heineken has Franck Evers traveling the world to show people how to perform The Perfect Pour. It is a five step process that you can view and read about here.

I want to focus on the step that stands out from how a beer is typically served. That is the skim. I was asked by Franck to step behind the bar to pour two beers- one as it would typically be served with foam to the rim and unskimmed; the other filling the glass until the foam begins to build past the rim and then quickly skimming off the top layer of foam.

Here are my observations.
1. The appearance- When the head is skimmed the resultant head is a much tighter and denser head. After the skim, the head sort of re-energizes to form almost a cap on the beer just above the rim. It is visually impressive. We were told that this preserves the beer better than a typical pour and I have to think that it does because the head is just so tight and dense. According to Franck, skimming removes any remaining oxygen pushed up into the head by the CO2 and it also removes the most bitter flavor of the hops.

2. The taste- In my experience the skimmed beer had a much more balanced taste and fuller mouthfeel. The unskimmed beer felt flatter and the taste had a bit more unpleasant bitterness.

What can I say? I am not selling my craft beer soul to Heineken. They will have to pry the 750 ml bottle of fine craft beer from my cold dead hands but as far as the Perfect Pour, the proof was in the pudding. A couple of other #beerbloggers attendees who attended the Heineken event say the taste difference was as noticeable as the Speigelau Glass tasting session at the recent conference.

What do you think about skimming a draft beer? Let's discuss below.

All in all, it was a fun and thought-provoking event.

Garrett Oliver recently said, "The purpose of beer is people."
If we are to get any purpose out of this post we need people to talk. Share your thoughts below.


  1. I am sure that the debate of what is craft and what is not will go on and on. The macro breweries would have us believe it is not the number of barrels but the recipe (like stated) however recipes can stay the same while the quality of the ingredients diminishes.
    I recently posted a blog that is very similar to yours. I wondered what will happen to craft beer when it continues the trend that it is on, I, as do others feel Sam Adams is a bit mainstream to be considered "true" craft beer. However, at that same time they still have a better quality product than large InBev products.

    I have also noticed a renaissance to better quality products and consumers willing to pay more to get those products. Not just with beer, but in general and that seems to be what has really put craft beer on the map.


  2. Thanks Andrew so much for taking the time to comment.

    Good point about the quality of ingredients. I had missed that detail. I would agree that if a company is cutting corners on the quality of the ingredient then that would bring being "craft" back into question.

    I wonder though if a truer measure would be how well a beer matches the BJCP style while extracting as much flavor as possible? In other words, 2 beers brewed according to a certain BJCP style, one "craft" and one "macro" in a side-by-side. I don't know if this has been done?