Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beer Interviews Continue

Today's interview is with Ron from beerblitz.com. His site contains lots of beer reviews, as well as a cooking section, and a mixed drink database with all original recipes, so check them out.
As per the usual Ran was asked to tell us a little about himself and then answer the same ten questions, here is what he had to say.

I have been trying and searching for unique beers with my best friend since the late 1980’s. I know we have tried more than 1000 but less than 5000 different beers over the last 20 years or so. Since 2008 we have published a website Beer Blitz at http://www.beerblitz.com/ with over 100 current beer reviews.

1 There is a lot of talk about the hype surrounding certain beers. Some people take a lot of pride in acquiring them while other people feel the beer is overrated and pride themselves on liking less popular beer for the merits of the beer and not all the hype about it. What are you thoughts on this?

I certainly wouldn't buy a beer repeatedly just because of the hype. Repeat buys are of course beers that I like the taste of the best. A lot of hype surrounding a beer is basically a benefit in public awareness and people like trying new things, particularly if they are popular. Everyone likes to be able to talk about things with their peers and if you are the only one who hasn’t had a beer then you are out of the conversation. Long term though I wouldn’t imagine people buying a beer again if they didn’t like it.

2 A lot of brewers are turning a decent profit now. The Boston Beer Company is a good example with Sierra Nevada, Stone, and Dogfish Head not far behind. Do you feel that as a brewery grows in size its product quality tends to suffer, or is it possible to turn out a world class beer in large quantities?
It is possible to make large quantities and maintain the quality. It is important to have strict quality controls in all brewing locations. If I buy a brand of beer today I want it to taste the same as it did two months ago or if I buy it while traveling it should taste the same regardless of where I get it. Inconsistency is the worst thing a brewer can do to itself. If the “bad batch” is the first time the drinker has sampled your brand they may never buy it again. As a repeat consumer of a brand a “bad batch” memory could easily steer me to alternatives which have always been consistent; there are many options out there these days. All of the brewers mentioned in your question put out a consistent product based on my own experience with them. An important exception, for better or worse, is that some breweries release bottle conditioned beers so that the drinker can cellar those and age them to their own taste preference. A good example is Bell’s Expedition Stout. This is my favorite beer when it is aged (at least 6 months) but when I have a recently brewed batch I don’t like it.

3 A lot of the craft brew sales are coming from big beers, imperial stouts and the like. How do you feel about a brewer brewing a beer for the purpose of keeping up with market trends?
I would expect a brewer to brew per demand and thus stay in business. I think there is some market for all styles, the demand for some fluctuating by the season. Imperial stouts as you mentioned are most likely bought more in the fall and winter, and many brands are only available then. These are heavy strong beers that can have an alcohol warming quality. On a hot summer day a lighter crisper beer can be more thirst quenching and satisfying. Those who are experts at pairing beer with foods though would by a certain style to go with their meal. In addition to that I like to cook with beer. The point here is that there is always some demand for a style and some stouts such as Old Rasputin by North Coast and Siberian Night by Thirsty Dog can be found all year in some places. I have read someplace that the largest selling beers are the specialty seasonals and I believe this is due to a tendency to try new things. I would caution a brewer not to think too far outside the box and not to release new styles so wild and so quickly that they lose their reputation for quality beers. There are a few breweries that I never have any reservations about because every beer in their product line is great. Dogfish Head and Flying Dog immediately come to mind here. Thus far they have been careful not to release a bad brand to tarnish their name. There are others such as North Coast, Great Lakes, and Founder’s. My final point here is that if you are not skilled in making a particular style of beer I would not release a sub-par example just to get in on the market wave. I would either wait until you have the style perfected or simply stick to those that are already done well.

4Beer is getting hoppier. This is more apparent on the west coast, while on the east coast a more balanced approach is taken. In your opinion, which speaks more to the skill of the brewer; brewing a tongue bracingly hoppy beer that still has flavor despite the lack of malt, or brewing a balanced beer with a lot of hops but also a strong malt flavor?
In my opinion the skill of the brewer is whether or not they can make something which has good flavors. Note I said flavors instead of flavor. The breweries that impress me are those who can make a beer with a complex array of flavors, even if they are doing a pilsner or IPA. I dislike beers that are simply one note. Anybody can load up their beer with hops but not everyone can make a good balance. Out of balance hops can mask all of other flavors and makes a beer less interesting, less enjoyable. A beer can also be too balanced where the sweet malt and hops literally cancel each other out giving a boring result. My favorite beers are those with complex flavor profiles where the flavors actually alternate back and forth as you drink the beer. There are many flavors…sweet malt, wheat, nuttiness, citrus, piney hops, bitter and sour hops, chocolate, coffee, roasted malt, salt, etc. The more I can get in a well composed product, the better I like it. The more complex the array of flavors, the more difficult it is to balance them well and not overshadow some components.
5Lots of craft beer lovers participate in online forums. Do you feel that sites such as beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com are the base of the craft beer industry? I think their readers are the base of the craft beer consumers.
I can tell by the comments and emails I receive from Beer Blitz readers and twitter followers that they are a well versed base of craft beer enthusiasts. Like everyone I like some styles better than others but I respect and have a use for all styles depending on my mood, what I am eating or cooking, etc. My hope is that great versions of all styles continue to come out. I think a brewer would be wise to pay close attention to this base of craft beer consumers that provide their praises and criticisms online. When someone likes or dislikes a beer enough to publish comments on it, that is the best marketing info a brewer can get, and its out there for free.

6 A lot of people complain about the rising cost of beer saying the brewers should have taken the hit on the rising cost of grain, hops, yeast, etc. and kept the price the same for their customers. What's your stance on this?
As a consumer I will always prefer low prices. I have watched many brands sell for $8.99 a six-pack, then go to $12.99 a six-pack, then have the six-pack go to a four-pack for the same price ! In the long run a brewer will have to price their product for the most profit, and this does not always mean raising the price. Depending on their supply and demand curve a brewer may make more money with a lower price if the increase in demand is a greater percentage than the price reduction. I hope all good breweries intelligently operate so that they can expand the reach and variety of good beer. Those who don’t price their products intelligently based on the pricing effects on demand will not exist forever.

7 Many people drink both craft beer and BMC (Bud, Miller, Coors) products while others refuse to drink BMC. Where do you stand on this and why?
I personally drink both and I see a use for both depending on the circumstance. The BMC beers that you refer to are of course more thin and more bland than the craft beers. I consider these inadequate for a beer tasting event as there are not many flavors to discuss. I drink these on a hot summer day, at some parties and summer barbecues. Lets be honest, a benefit of beer for some (hopefully after they are done driving for the day !) is to utilize the alcohol to relax or unwind in social situations to slowly build up a “comfortable buzz”. The BMC beers certainly accomplish that quite well. I wouldn’t light a cigarette with a blow torch and I can’t imagine drinking an imperial stout out of a keg at an all day summer party, long card game, or a beer pong tournament. Most craft beers are simply too strong or too filling for those situations. There are plenty of situations where either the BMC beers or craft beers have their own practicality and I don’t see one pushing the other completely out of existence.
8 What do you think the craft beer industry should be doing to attract more customers, if anything at all? What could we as craft beer drinkers be doing to convince our friends to try it, if anything at all?
The best advice here is to first make a good product and don’t release one that is substandard compared to the competition in that same style. One bad beer release can taint the breweries name and prevent some from trying your other variants even though they may be the best in the world. Craft beer drinkers are commenting on blogs or starting websites. My intent in publishing my site is to share the experience with others and to hopefully help keep the beers I like in existence so I can get them again.
9There are 1,400 breweries in the United States alone. Lots of them make great beer but never seem to get off the ground. What makes one brewery do well while others fail? Some should focus on only releasing beer styles that they do well. Another point is to be sure your beer is as advertised and be clear on the label. The consumer should know what they are buying. I don’t like it if the label leaves one confused as to whether or not they are buying a lager or ale. I am not sure of the exact distribution structure out there but having your beer widely available is the only way to have it well known. I receive messages all the time about beers that I write about but the responder has never seen it. I have tried plenty of beers that would sell well all over if they were made available. Lack of marketing killed a good “BMC type” beer, namely Hudepohl Gold in Cincinnati, OH. A brewer needs an excellent product, an attractive label that grabs attention, and a nice description on the label. One of my favorite breweries – North Coast – has my least favorite label description. It reads “water, malt, hops, yeast, & that’s all”. They put this on all their beers I suppose for an implication of purity. Their description is quite boring, however, and I know all of their beers deserve better. North Coast beers are usually bursting with flavor and they really deserve a more glowing description. Finally, get the word out ! Advertise on sites and have your product at events like AleFest for example. On a worldwide scale there are more brands of beer available than a beer drinker could have time to try. Once you have a good product something must make you stand-out among the thousands of others that are available.
10Lots of people talk about what brought craft beer to their attention. What caused you, once craft beer had your attention, to pursue your interest in it and become as passionate as you now are? I continue my pursuit for the taste. The craft beer industry is getting better every year in the U.S. This wasn’t the case in the late 1980’s. These days, in my opinion, craft brewers in the United States are making the best beers ever brewed. Many examples outclass foreign brewers that have been around for hundreds of years. I am always excited to try something new in this environment. I intend on continuing to try more beers, publish them on my site, discussing them with Twitter followers, commenting on blogs, and just enjoying the world of beer.


  1. I think this series of interviews is interesting. Having completely different types of interviewees respond to the same questions gives you a well-rounded perspective on where the industry stands.

    I think Ron makes a great point with quality control. Many entrepreneurship gurus make a stand about getting your products to the market as quickly as possible (ex. rapid prototyping), gathering customer feedback, and doing it all over again. But as Ron says, sometimes you only get one shot - make it count.

    Great series. Looking forward to the next one.

  2. Interesting stuff, though I profoundly disagree with some of his points (most noticeably his "BMC is great for BBQ" section.