Brew Biz: Werts and All

Written by Ken Carman for

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

Everyone has their own personal beer story. This is mine.

The picture above is of Bill Newman who started one of the first micros in upstate NY: Albany. I was into beer long before that, but was keyed into the start of craft beer and was visiting relatives: so we stopped for a visit. Newman Brewing is gone now: at the end Matt Brewing/Saranac brewed their beer. Equipment and having space is a pricey affair, so Bill decided to vend out. He chose probably the best, if not one of the best, companies to brew with… especially at the time where some breweries were giving their vendors “whatever’s closest to what they asked for we’ve already brewed.”

That’s a quote from a brewery tour in the early 90s, just south of Cinci. I had no respect for that brewer after that, and felt bad for their customers.

But I got into beer long before that. It started with me hating beer.

That’s right: I thought I used to hate beer. When I would drink I would order a Stinger, a beer, a glass of wine, a Harvey Wallbanger, another beer, a White Russian… you get the drift. One of my occasional quaffs was the Central Adirondack version of a Dead Man’s Float: a shot of everything off the bar.

A dangerous way to drink. I only had beer because beer was so light, so tasteless, it was the perfect way to relax and sip before the next wallop. That was the nature of most beer on the east coast those days. Miller, Bud and Miller/Bud wannabes. Then you had the occasional oddballs, like Rheingold Extra Dry… severely attenuated lager, and Ballantine Ale. Ballantine was the only one I came close to liking, but hard to get out of the NYC area: upstate NY.

When I was in college a fellow who seemed rather offensive kept wanting to be my friend. “Let’s go drinking!” I kept putting him off, and told him I hated beer. He must have figured me out: “I know a place that has DARK beer!” I love to try things that are different and unique. It was something akin to Miller, or Schaffer, or Utica Club Dark, I’m sure. Most used food coloring for the “dark,” but it had a few darker grains and was an ale, I believe.

I realized I loved beer: I just didn’t like that light lager (not “lite”) that seems to have almost as much corn or rice as it had malt… and not that sharp, acidic, sulfur like sense some brews with lager yeast seem to have. In 74 I went to Plattsburgh State for my last two years of college, and my soon to be wife: MIllie, her sister and then boyfriend went to Montreal. I saw this little second story place called Finnegans. I walked up to the bar and asked if they had dark beer. In an Irish brogue the tender said, “No, but I have Guinness.” “What’s Guinness?”

This was Guinness Foreign Export, I believe. What an education compared to what was available in the states! We came back several times.

After that nothing ever quite satisfied. Prior’s Double Dark came close, kind of a Porter wannabe. In 78 we moved to Nashville and one of my first jobs was as a security guard. On my post there was a homebrew store. I started to brew my own, and until the craft beer trend hit I was good to go.

The adventure has been so much fun. Homebrewer, columnist, beer judge: something I thought I hated, but found I loved, has filled my life. Maybe if I had been younger, and the craft beer revolution has been as strong in the east as say in California with Anchor in the 60s and so much after that, I would have been a pro-brewer. But by the time that could have happened I already had a full life as an entertainer and educational service provider. And touring gave me a chance to sample from the exploding brewpub/micro/nano scene.

Brew-wise that has made it a “beery” good life.


Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”

©Copyright 2012
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved

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