Time for a Gripe Session

Written by Tom Becham for professorgoodales.net

Image courtesy newyorker.com
Sam Calagione, owner of Dogfish head Brewing, and poster boy for craft brewing, once said, “We like to say our industry is 99% asshole free.”

Largely, I’ve found Mr. Calagione’s statement to be true. But there is always that 1% to contend with, both in the form of individuals and companies.

In the category of companies, I have a particular beef with those who want to profit from the craft beer boom, but don’t care about delivering a quality product. There are many such examples I could list, but the most recent and vexing one involved a recent visit I made to the Total Wine chain here in California. I picked up a bottle of Jever Pilsner, a classic German example of the style, as I’d not ever had it before. And part of this is my fault, of course, for not looking at the back label and seeing the “best by 04/20/12” stamp. So, of course, when I opened the bottle, an overwhelming smell of skunky hops hit me like a brick. And there was no carbonation whatsoever. The beer was just too old and lightstruck (green bottle, of course) to be any good.

Courtesy ravenbrands.com
You’d think a large chain like Total Wine would have enough respect for customers to keep their stock updated. They certainly have enough staff standing around doing nothing that they could spare one or two to remove old product from display areas. But most likely, they’re just trying to eek out a few more bucks at the expense of hapless customers. Of course, they’re also being disrespectful to the brewers, as presenting a spoiled product may just lose business for the brewery in question in the long run. Unfortunately, this chain carries many products unavailable anywhere else in this region.

My example of an individual may be more controversial. Recently, I attended the Stone Brewing Sour Beer Fest, at the brewery grounds. (I resist posting any tasting notes from that festival, as at festivals, my notes tend to start out very detailed and meticulous, but after about the tenth sample, consist of profundities which in their entirety might read, “Yum!”) While there, I saw “Dr.” Bill Sysak, Stone’s Cicerone and one of their PR people.

Bill is apparently very popular with many people, and my issues with him may be partially my fault. Nonetheless…

My first encounter with him was at a beer festival 2 years ago. He was (or seemed) very open and forthright. I somewhat “saved” him from the attentions of a drunken moron by asking for an interview for Professor GoodAles. Unfortunately, I had also had a few too many samples, and my train of thought was starting to slightly derail. I asked Bill if he would be on-board with continuing the interview via e-mail, when I had all my wits about me, and he agreed. So far, so good.

The problem came in the subsequent weeks – which stretched into months. I submitted my questions to him, and he put me off, put me off, and put me off again. Now, I understand that working for Stone – which has a sizable cult following – can mean one’s spare time to deal with small-time ‘blog writers like yours truly can be truly limited. So, eventually I gave up trying to get him to answer.

However, the next year at the same beer festival, Bill Sysak was hosting a beer and food pairing dinner prior to the main event. To his credit, he did a remarkable job with the pairings, being limited as to what he had to work with by the hosts’ somewhat narrow selection. However, when he made the rounds of the tables, asking our opinions, I had to remark on his one pairing of Avery’s The Reverend with a veal osso buco. The pairing surprised me then (it doesn’t now, as I know a bit more about the theory behind it), as The Reverend has always struck me as a rather one-dimensional rendition of the Belgian Quadrupel style, and I’m unfamiliar with veal dishes for the most part. So, I ask if the pairing was something Bill had stumbled upon unintentionally.

You’d think I had questioned his manhood, parentage and fashion sense from the way he reacted! He started to bluster about how long he’d being doing pairings, and that NOTHING he did was accidental. In retrospect, I find that odd, as even beer-foodie luminary Garrett Oliver has admitted – in his book The Brewmaster’s Table – that he still finds some of his best pairings quite by chance. And if Oliver can admit that, then who is Bill Sysak to claim otherwise???

So, basically, this guy has dissed me twice, and I can’t help but feel that it’s overweening arrogance on his part that is the cause of it.

In any case, upon seeing “Dr.” Bill at Stone’s festival, I felt my lip curl up into a sneer, even while it was evident that many others in the crowd found him an approachable, likeable fellow.

Still, we all know people who do a disservice to craft beer in their haste to make money or fame from it for themselves. We need to call them out at every opportunity.

Bill Sysak, courtesy Twitter.com

Tom Becham lives in California, he’s a homebrewer and reviews beer, brewpubs, breweries and beer events for professorgoodales.net.