Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Conference to Remember

Those who read this blog probably know of other beer blogs that are out there. It's interesting to read different ones and see the perspective that each blogger is writing from. After the beer bloggers conference ended, many people wrote multi-part blogs that covered each day of the conference. Others posted videos of their experiences in Boston. As a recent addition to the blogging world and a first time conference attendee, I've decided it would be best for me to give a broader view on the conference as a whole.

For me, the first day was all about introductions. Things kicked off with a trade show, at which I was introduced to several breweries that I had never even heard of before. Not only did I get the chance to try many new beers, but I also got to start picking up some "beer schwag," the promotional items that both bloggers and breweries gave out for free throughout the entire conference. On top of that, I had the opportunity to meet beer bloggers from across the country that I had been following over the internet for a long time. Over the course of the conference there were plenty of "twitroductions," or in-person meetings of people following each other on Twitter. The most exciting thing for me was finally being able to meet the crew behind the SBL Podcast!

After that, I had the opportunity to introduce Boston's craft beer scene to those who hadn't yet experienced it. We traveled to the Samuel Adams brewery on a bus, and on the ride there I began pouring what would be the first of many "bus beers," Trillium's Fort Point Pale Ale. There was a palpable feeling of excitement when we arrived at our destination, perhaps because everyone was a little buzzed.

I became just as excited as the evening progressed. We were treated to a keynote speech from Jim Koch himself, who later invited us to taste some 10th anniversary Utopias with him in the barrel room. If that wasn't enough, they had a variety of special beers on tap for us along with a nice spread of beer-infused food for us to enjoy! It was a fun night, to say the least.

The second day seemed to be more educational. There was a long list of presentations on the agenda, each one covering a different topic related to beer, blogging, or both. The beers kept pouring and the information kept coming. Being new to this, I did my best to soak it all in like a sponge. It was a long day, but I learned a lot!

On the final day of the conference, things got a bit more personal. The bloggers themselves were able to take their turns giving presentations about what they do and where they came from. Afterwards Ray Daniels, Founder and Director of the Cicerone Certification Program, gave a closing keynote speech  in which he shared his story with us and gave us all some advice on how to become better writers. I am truly grateful to have learned so much from those with such a wealth of experience.

To write about each and every event we attended in detail would take a great deal of time. From the Heavy Seas party at Stoddard's to our visit to the Harpoon Beer Hall, there was a lot going on. Needless to say, the weekend was a whirlwind of sorts. Though, even with the nonstop drinking and learning, I still wish we had more time.

If there was one takeaway from the conference for me, it was this: don't underestimate the value of quality time. The Beer Bloggers Conference brings together people who have priceless stories and lessons to share with others. It's not often that you're able to have a conversation about beer with so many knowledgeable people at once. If for that reason alone, I'd recommend attending the conference. If you're anything like me, it will be one of the most valuable experiences you've ever had. 

(For those who still want to know more about my time at BBC 2013, follow Raising the Barstool on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Of course, you should also visit the Beer Bloggers Conference website. I'll see you at BBC 2014!)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference

The 2013 Beer Bloggers Conference has ended, and with it, a weekend filled with learning, discussing, and drinking. As a relative newcomer to the beer blogging scene, I thought I'd start by giving my general impressions of the conference. It was my first time attending, so I don't have anything to compare it to. However, I did take plenty of notes during the conference and hope to write much more detailed blogs about the events that took place each day in the near future.

Overall, I am very happy that I decided to attend the conference this year. I really had no excuse since it was being held right down the street from where I live. Aside from the convenience, there were many other benefits to taking part in the conference, especially considering how long I've been blogging. I got the chance to learn from presentations full of all sorts of useful information. I had the opportunity to meet other bloggers who I've always looked up to in-person. I also got to drink a lot of great beer.

The pace of the conference was fast, to say the least. It seemed like we were all going from one event to the next without much of a break in between each one. Don't even get me started on the live blogging. The days were certainly packed, but I can't complain. Everything we did was pretty incredible!

It was nice seeing my fellow beer bloggers in the flesh as we reflected on the state of beer blogging together. I loved the diversity there was in the group that decided to attend the conference as well. It didn't matter if we were male or female, young or old, hopheads or sour fans. People came from all over the country to drink and talk about the one thing we all enjoy: beer!

Looking back on this year's conference, I have to say that it was extremely memorable. I'll remember all the fantastic conversations I had over the weekend, all the wonderful beers I tasted, and all the fun we had. Most of all, I'll remember just how much I learned in such a short time. I had no idea what to expect when I signed up for it, but the conference turned out to be more than I could have ever imagined.

Now that it's over, I feel like I can use what I gained from the conference to take my blog to the next level.  I'm still in the early stages of my blogging journey, but I think I now know which direction I'd like to head in with my blog. It may take some time for me to find my way, but once I discover my niche and establish myself as a dedicated blogger, I'm confident that things will begin to take off.

I hope that you'll come along for the ride with me. As a lover of local beers and the law, I'm going to move towards tailoring my blog posts to the craft beer community in Massachusetts and the legal issues that those in the beer industry face in this state. Before that, I'm going to try to give a more specific account of the lessons I learned at the beer blogger conference. Look out for more posts from me in the days ahead!

Saturday, July 20, 2013


The beer market can be pretty competitive.  With over 2,300 breweries across the country, craft brewers are doing all they can to gain market share as more of them start up each year. There are only so many spaces on the shelf, and only so many taps at the bar. Yet, even with all of the competition that's out there, you still see craft brewers coming together to support one another.

Working together rather than working against each other is essential for craft brewers, as they are still only a small percentage of the overall beer market. Today it's more important than ever that they stick together so that the craft beer market can continue to grow. Friendly competition is a good thing, but there is also the risk of becoming divided. That's where beer collaborations come in.

One of the first collaboration beers I had was Rhizing Bines from Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada. Sierra Nevada has also collaborated with Boulevard  to create a brew called Terra Incognita, a blend of different beers that is actually the second in a trilogy of Boulevard-Sierra Nevada beers. Seeing some of the larger American craft breweries collaborating has given me hope that more collaborations will come about in the future.
The bigger craft brewers can have a large impact on the craft beer market as a whole. I remember when I learned about Samuel Adams' hop sharing program, which led to the creation of Salute by Backlash (which appropriately features the brewer saluting Sam Adams). It's these kind of positive relationships between brewers and the support they give one another that I believe will lead to even greater growth in the craft beer industry.
Collaborations are kind of a new thing. You didn't really see them a few years ago, but now you're seeing them more and more. In Massachusetts, the ONCEMADE project set up by Pintley is aimed at bringing brewers together to try something new. The first release was a partnership between Backlash and Night Shift featuring two wild saisons, Wild King and Wild Queen. Two unforgettable beers!
What makes this collaboration even more memorable is the way that it's presented. Two separate bottles packaged together in an elegant pinewood box along with a letter signed by the brewers and a piece of the barrel that the beers were aged in. It makes you realize that this wasn't just a casual fling for the two brewers to make a profit. It was a truly meaningful partnership that resulted in something remarkable.
Other Massachusetts brewers have collaborated as well. Clown Shoes and Brash, two in-your-face brewers that brew their beer out of the same brewery in Ipswich, blended their brown ales to create a big beer known as Pimp. It just goes to show you that two brewers known for the humor can come together to create an even more hilarious beer than they could alone.
I'm sure other brewers are collaborating across the country, and I hope to see more of these kinds of things in the future. Beer should connect people, not set them apart. That's why collaborations are a great thing not only for brewers, but also for the people that drink their beer. We want to see our favorite breweries come together. It brings us closer, and it's a sign that the craft beer industry will continue to thrive.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Keepers of the Brew

Now that I've been blogging about beer for over a month, I feel like it's a good time to reflect on some things. Lately I've been hosting bottle shares at my place with my fellow backlashers (the unofficial nickname we came up with for fans of Backlash).  A bottle share is just what it sounds like: people bring bottles for sharing, hang out, and try lots of different beers without having to drink an entire bottle themselves. Getting together with beer friends is not only fun, but can also lead to great conversations about the world of craft beer.

At the latest get-together, we had some pretty good reading material. We talked about the latest issue of BeerAdvocate, but what we were really interested in was this week's issue of DigBoston. It's one of the coolest publications in the city, not just because of its creative style and younger vibe, but because it has a section devoted entirely to beer.

The Honest Pint is DigBoston's beer column that features that latest news and reviews about the craft beer scene in Boston and beyond. It's written by Heather Vandenengel, and features great beer news along with fantastic pictures. I've long been inspired by Heather's talent for writing, but it wasn't until I read DigBoston's craft beer issue that I realized just how talented she is.
There are several articles by Heather in the issue, with topics ranging from brewers of the past to the beers and breweries of the future. There's even one about a beer time capsule! Needless to say, it was the best issue of DigBoston I've ever read, and it got me thinking about other beer writers.
Some of the first things I ever read about beer were blogs. I started by reading a blog written by Michael Loconto, otherwise known as Area Man Drinks Beer. I then started reading Urban Beer Nerd's blog, which gives great insight into some of the more unique aspects of beer both here and around the world. I still look up to these bloggers as I continue to write my own blogs on what has become one of my favorite hobbies.
Brewers can also be bloggers. Backlash has a great blog that features updates as well as tasting notes on their latest releases. Jack's Abby also has a pretty cool blog that lets you know what's going on at the brewery. I love reading the things that brewers write, as they're the ones who have the most intimate knowledge of the brewing process and beer in general. When you read a brewer's blog, it's as if you're getting to know the brewer on a more personal level.
There are so many different blogs about beer, each with something that makes it special. That's why I'm excited to attend my first Beer Bloggers Conference next weekend. I am really looking forward to spending time with other, more experienced beer writers and learning how to improve my own blog. That and tasting lots of new beers!
I'm glad there are so many beer bloggers out there today. Not only are bloggers responsible for spreading the word about great beer and brewers, but in a way they are also beer historians. Like journalists, beer writers do plenty of research and investigating to report the latest beer news. At the same time, they create a record to look back on so that the history of craft beers and the brewers that came before can always be remembered.
I love writing about beer. I don't know why it's taken me so long to start doing it, but as you can see I've been reading what others have written for a while. They are my role models and the inspiration for starting my own blog. I continue to seek out and learn from other beer writers every day, and I hope to one day help others do the same. Until then, I'll just keep reading, writing, and drinking.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Rain Man Of Beer

Knowledge is something that everyone has and can share with others. It can be very personal in that we tend to know the most about the things we love. As individuals we often know more than others do about things like our favorite foods, sports teams, musicians, and hobbies. We spend a relatively long time thinking about these things, and as a result become even more knowledgeable about them over time. Just by having a conversation with another person, we are able to gain from the special knowledge that they have and add it to our own. That's why I was very happy to meet a man named Lance Rice this past week and talk to him about something he knows more about than almost anyone: beer.

Lance came to Boston as part of his Brewery Tour. Along with his nephew, Aaron Rice, and others that support him,  Lance has traveled the country visiting breweries such as Samuel Adams to increase his already vast knowledge of beer. You see, over the years Lance has accumulated an almost encyclopedic knowledge related to the history of both beer and the breweries that make it. Now he can finally share this with the world, a mission that is made even more remarkable by the fact that Lance is autistic.

Known as "The Rain Man of Beer," Lance has a photographic memory that has allowed him to become a true beer historian. Until now, he had never been able to achieve his dream of visiting breweries across the nation to see them for himself. It's taken many years, but Lance has worked to overcome the obstacles that autism presents and has embarked on a journey that will serve as an inspiration for so many people. It looks like Lance's dream is coming true at last.

There has been a wealth of support for Lance's Brewery Tour, from donations made on Kickstarter to the receptiveness of brewers throughout the country. Lance has been able to meet people like Dick Yeungling, President of America's oldest brewery. Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, also gave a warm welcome to Lance when he visited the brewery. Since I work right down the road from the Sam Adams brewery, I knew I had to meet him when he came to Boston.

When I met Lance, he had just finished taking a tour of the brewery. As I introduced myself and asked him about his cross-country adventure, he gave me a very detailed description of the things he had seen and the people he had met. I learned a great deal during the short time I spoke with him. That's why I was so glad to meet him and talk to him about beer, which is something we both love.

After meeting Lance, I realized what makes his story so powerful. If you've ever seen the Autism Awareness Ribbon, you know that it has a multi-colored puzzle pattern on it. The puzzle pattern reflects how complex the autism spectrum is. The range of colors symbolizes the variety of people living with autism. Finally, the ribbon's brightness signifies hope; hope that by increasing awareness of autism, those living with it will be able to see their dreams become a reality.

There are parallels between the ribbon's symbols and the world of beer. Beer can be a very complex beverage that is hard to understand at times. There is also a wide variety of beer drinkers, each with different tastes and preferences. Though, despite all our differences, the love of beer can connect us to one another in ways that other things cannot.

That is why the words "Beer. Autism. Hope." have such power. Beer can act as a bridge for people like Lance to make connections with people from all over the country. He can talk about beer with others while also helping them learn about living a life with autism. In doing so, he gives hope to others living with autism that they may be able to do something similar one day.

I am excited that Lance's Brewery Tour is being documented, both as a film and a book. I believe it is important to spread the word about what Lance has accomplished. We can learn many things from Lance's travels, both about beer and about life. Perhaps most importantly, we can also share the lessons we learn with the beer community and beyond.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Best Beer Is The Fest Beer

There are a lot of things to see and do in Boston. I haven't even lived here for a year yet, but I know that no matter how much time I spend in this city there will always be something new to experience. All sorts of concerts and conventions are held here every year, and each time one comes to town the city becomes even more alive than usual. Yet, out of all the things I've been to during my time here, I have to say that my favorite events to attend are beer festivals.

You can go to a beer festival almost anywhere nowadays. For bigger ones like the Great American Beer Festival (otherwise known as the GABF), you may have to travel a bit more. Still, you can usually find many beer festivals that are closer to home. Each state will typically have a beer festival that focuses on beers that are brewed locally and the breweries that make them. I'd suggest looking into when your state's beer festivals are and how you can get tickets. You'll be glad you did!

Here in Boston, there are plenty of beer festivals. I've been to the Beer Summit as well as the American Craft Beer Festival (also known as the ACBF), which are fairly popular beer fests in this city. However, when it comes to having a good time I would have to say that the best beer festivals in Boston are the ones that are organized by Drink Craft Beer.

A quick search on the internet will tell you just what Drink Craft Beer (DCB for short) is all about: "Drink Craft Beer is a community of people who enjoy craft beer; through beer tastings, beer festivals, home brewing, beer bars, brewery reviews, bar reviews, craft beer forums, craft beer reviews, guides to breweries, brewpubs, beers, bars, and news." The DCB website is full of great articles and resources related to craft beer. I stumbled upon it as I became more interested in learning about the craft beer scene, and I've gone back to it again and again whenever I want to know more about great beers.

Drink Craft Beer has become a big movement. Using social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, they've built up a large following of people who are passionate about doing just what DCB's name suggests: drinking craft beer! It's that kind of passion and the way that craft beer fans have become connected that make DCB's beer festivals the best around.

The first DCB festival I attended was Springfest. It was a celebration of hops, so naturally there were a lot of hoppy beers. By now you probably know I'm not a big hop guy, but that's why beer festivals are so great: you can try as many beers as it takes to find one that you like! With 70+ different beers to try from 25 of New England's best craft brewers at Springfest, that's exactly what I did. It was truly an experience I will never forget.

DCB Summerfest was this weekend. It celebrated beers typically enjoyed during the summer, including Farmhouse Ales and Saisons. After volunteering the event, I reflected on what it is that makes the DCB festivals so unforgettable. It's not just the friendly brewers pouring unlimited samples of beer, or the fantastic food available at the festival. It's not even the amazing fest-exclusive beers (Summerfest's was "Arnie," brewed by Night Shift). What really stands out about Drink Craft Beer's festivals is the people.

The people behind Drink Craft Beer who spend so much time planning and organizing the event. The people who volunteer at the beer fests to make sure everyone enjoys themselves and things run smoothly. The people who brew the beer and pour it for others to taste. It's these people along with the love and appreciation for craft beer they all share that makes these festivals something really special. I am more than proud to be able to count myself among them.

I had the best time at Summerfest. It was great being able to help the brewers set up their booths and to give them a hand whenever one was needed. I tweeted throughout the event (and saw my tweets show up on the big screen!), tried beers I'd never had before, and met some very cool people. I even got to see what it was like to be behind the booth pouring the beer (after getting my TIPS certification, of course). Overall, it was one of the most entertaining beer festivals I have ever been to.

I'm now looking forward to the fall festival more than ever. I'd suggest attending the next beer festival in your area if you can. You'll probably discover a new beer that you love, and have a lot of fun while doing it. You might even meet your favorite brewer or people who like the same beer that you do. Take a chance. Try something new. Make some memories. Oh, and drink craft beer!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Drinking Local

The dictionary defines the word "aficionado" as "a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a particular interest or activity; a fan or devotee." I like to think that after moving to New England I've become a craft brewing aficionado. The words "beer geek" inspire pride among lovers of craft brews, and I am proud to call myself a nerd when it comes to beer. Beer geeks such as myself are always looking for new brews to try to increase their overall knowledge of beer, but each of us also has a favorite brand that we always return to drinking. For me, that brand is Backlash.

What is it that helps us choose our favorite beer? Obviously a beer's flavor determines if we like it or not. Cost is a factor, but plays less of a role as people become less focused on how much beer they're drinking and more focused on how much they enjoy the taste of their beer.  Branding is important, as many beer drinkers search for a brand of beer that they can identify with in some way. Still, for most fans of craft beer it's decided by something else: location.

Many who drink craft beer prefer to "drink local," and will advise others to do the same. It's a smart thing to do, really. Not only are local brews more readily available for purchase, but the money that is spent buying a local beer has a much better chance of making a positive impact on local communities. Small businesses, including microbreweries, nanobreweries, and other beer companies, support each other and give back to the places that they call home. So, next time you're out at a bar, look at where your beer is coming from!

There's another reason drinking local can lead to finding your favorite beer, and that's because it gives you the opportunity to meet the people behind the beer. I met Helder about five months ago during a free tasting at a local liquor store. It's not very often that you see brewers conducting their own tastings, but Helder does it all the time. That's one of the many reasons that Backlash Beer Company is still my favorite to this day.

I met Maggie soon afterwards at a beer festival where Backlash was being sampled. Since then I've gone to many events hosted by Backlash not only to drink their beer, but to be able to hang out with the two people pretty much behind it all. They care not just about the beer they're brewing, but the people they're brewing it for.  It's the heart and the way they can relate to people that drink their beer that makes the brand that much more meaningful.

Backlash is based in Boston. Its founders live in the city and have made lots of connections with business owners in the area. That's helped them to expand locally and throughout the entire state of Massachusetts. Having lived in the city for almost a year now, I've come to think of Backlash as the beer for true Bostonians.

The Backlash brand has also been a key part of its success. Every Boston beer geek should recognize those brass knuckles. It's a symbol for the rebel inside all of us; a rallying cry for those of us who are tired of massive breweries dominating the market and want something more. In drinking the beer and supporting the brand, we too become part of the backlash.

It's been over two years since Backlash started, and ever since they've remained dedicated to creating quality brews for their fans. They've stayed true to their motto: "Stand up. Stand out." They have always stood up for their way of doing things, and their beers have always stood out. It's not just because each Backlash beer has awesome label art. It's also because each of their beers has a taste that you will never forget.

Their most recent release, Catalyst, is one part of a three-part series of beers that retain the original malt bill of Salute (one of my personal favorites) while highlighting a certain strain of hops. This one mainly focuses on the Amarillo hop, which makes it both juicy and powerful with a nice bitterness at the end. Oh, and you can see Backlash's lovable mascot, Stout, on the label!

It's that kind of creativity and independence that has always drawn me to Backlash's beers. The people behind the beer work hard, do things themselves, and put a great deal of effort into getting their beer out there for others to enjoy. It's not the money that drives them, but their passion. I hope that I continue to see them grow in the coming years. I have a feeling the amount of dedication and fans that they have will take them a long way.

New breweries seem to be popping up every day, and the breweries that have been around for a while continue to release new styles of beer. There will always be something new for us beer geeks to try as time goes on. Yet, it's the brews that we know and love that we can't help but come back to. I guess now's the perfect time to ask: What's your favorite beer?