The Fruits of My Labor

I don't have a particularly big ego --- big enough to sustain me in the kind of work I do (yes, writing DOES require a certain amount of ego: We assume we've got something worth saying), but otherwise? Not so much. However. Sometimes a girl's gotta give herself some credit, and in this case a bit of back-patting is not out of place.

One of the things about which I'm proud is that, thanks to the beer book, Jack McAuliffe has been able to enjoy his place in American beer history. Yeah, sure, maybe someone else eventually would have done the same, but the fact is: I'm the one who made it possible. So: chops to me.

As a result of the book, in the past few years Jack has been awarded and honored by the beer industry, and interviewed by many people. And now we can add James Spencer to the list of those who've recorded Jack's history for posterity.

James, for those who don't know, is the guy behind Basic Brewing. Among other things, he dishes up regular podcasts about this, that, and the other re. beer (focusing on homebrewing). Back when the beer book came out, I was fortunate enough to do some ninety interviews, but the one with James was hands-down the best. (James is also one of the coolest people I know.)

So I'm happy as hell that James and Jack sat down for a chat recently. You can find the interview here. You can also go to and find a link under the podcasts. (If you need a reference, the interview aired on May 10, 2012.) (If you want to hear James' interview with me, look in the podcasts for 2006; there are two parts, one in November, one in December.)


Andy Crouch and "Local"

As I've said here before, I'm a big fan of the two Andys (McLeod and Crouch). They're both smart and both lean toward the contrarian, which is always fine by me. I've been thinking about beer more than usual lately (having not thought about it much at all for the past year because my brain was immersed in meat). I'm only slightly on top of the various moves, maneuvers, and shuffles of various industry players in the past few months. But there have been some and yes, they're worth thinking about. In this recent post, A. Crouch looks at the to-do over the Big Moves by Small Brewers and ponders the meaning of "local."

Capitalism, Us/Them, and Finding the Middle Ground

Another quickie post (because, yes, I’m still working on the manuscript --- and so close to the end that I’m finally enjoying the writer’s bliss zone). (*1) But I’m taking a moment to comment on two essays I read this week. 

The first is by Alexis Madrigal writing at TheAtlantic. The second is a response to Madrigal’s piece by Rob Horning writing at The New Inquiry. 

Madrigal’s essay is about the mechanisms of online advertising tracking. Trackers “follow” you around the web, and then sell the info they’ve gathered to advertisers so that said advertisers can “target” audiences with appropriate advertising (read: with ads that will make you want to buy what they’ve got).(*2)

 Much of Madrigal’s essay is devoted to the nuts/bolts of how this works. (Fascinating stuff, by the way.) But that’s all by way of his main point: What does tracking mean for us in our “real” lives (if indeed our online lives are separable from our non-online lives)? And is tracking a bad thing? 

Madrigal’s conclusion (for now) is that it’s a necessary evil (my term, not his): Online tracking is the price, literally and figuratively, we pay so that the web/internet can remain a mostly “free” resource. The folks at the New York Times, for example, can post much of its content for free, or for a minimal price, because ad tracking helps pay for that content. In his words:

There’s nothing necessarily sinister about this subterranean data exchange: this is, after all, the advertising ecosystem that supports free online content.

In his view, the alternative to tracking is the paywall, and as far as he concerned that poses a greater danger: 

Sure, we could all throw up paywalls and try to make a lot more money from a lot fewer readers. But that would destroy what makes the web the unique resource in human history that it is. I want to keep the Internet healthy, which really does mean keeping money flowing from advertising.

Horning disagrees. (*3) In his view, Madrigal’s conclusion amounts to a sell-out (no pun intended) to “capital.” By conceding the need for tracking, we’ve ceded our “selves,” our humanity, to capital. In his (more eloquent) words:

 The question here is about what the internet is for, and whether it allows us to imagine alternatives to capitalism or simply serves to allow capital to co-opt the alternatives generated by technological development.

But one might argue that the fact that it seems as though we can’t have an internet not fueled by advertising is a sign that the internet is already unhealthy, sick unto death. And perhaps we are all sick too if we can’t imagine a way to collaborate and communicate without also commercializing it, that we need private incentives to generate and share information . . . .”


 There’s nothing not sinister about that, including the alibi generated through its association with our access to “free” content. That we think its free is indicative of our delusion: We are paying for it with personal information that may be used against us in perpetuity.”

Here’s my (admittedly paltry) contribution to this discussion. Despite their differences, Madrigal and Horning agree on one point: Tracking and advertising are an us/them situation. In their view, trackers/advertisers are “them” horning their way into our lives. (Madrigal’s “us” view, I should add, is markedly more measured than Horning’s. (*4))

I disagree. In my view, capitalism is less about us/them than it is a participatory system from which all of us benefit. Let’s consider, for example, Apple, the very model of capitalism, and, thus, presumably a “them.”

Apple has been criticized lately because it manufactures its products in China under allegedly less-than-stellar conditions. (I say allegedly because it’s not clear to me that anyone involved in the discussion is being completely forthright.) A strike against Apple. (*5) But consider the other positive ways in which Apple affects our lives. Consider, for example, the iPad.

Many people spent years imagining, designing, and developing those little wonders. They got paid for doing so. Apple’s marketing people earned money thinking about how to “position” the tablet in the market. When people visit an Apple store, they enounter a crew of employees whose job it is to help them understand and perhaps buy the iPad; that a crew earns money. When you buy an iPad online, someone in a warehouse earns in income by boxing your purchase for shipping (using packaging that others earned money to design, fabricate, and deliver) so that the woman in the brown uniform and driving the brown truck can deliver it to you.

Nor do the collective benefits of the iPad end with its delivery to your door: The iPad’s success elevated Apple’s stock and so its shareholders, including myself, earned more profit from it.

That’s obvious to the point of being simple-minded. But sometimes the obvious is what gets overlooked. Capitalism is less an us/them proposition than it is a participatory system: All of us, every last one of us, profits (literally) from this system. (*6) Tracking is less an us/them equation than it is a particularly efficient mode of stoking capitalism’s engine (and a device that, yes, many people have earned incomes inventing, designing, and implementing).

So perhaps one step toward “imagining” a better web/internet, and a better capitalism, is rethinking our stance on the conflicts (we believe/imagine) it engenders.


*1: The writer’s bliss zone = the moment when he/she realizes that, wow, this is truly, finally, almost a finished work! Hey, this is going to be finished; it’s going to be a coherent whole, worthy of sharing with the rest of the world.

*2: Here’s my own recent encounter with tracking: I’ve been looking for a shoulder bag for five years and not had any luck. (I’m not that fussy, but most bags are less about practicality than about fashion, in which I’m not interested. Unless “practicality” is a fashion statement.) But about six weeks ago, I finally found one that came as close to perfection as I was likely to find. 

But it was expensive: “suggested retail price” was (if I remember correctly) $235. I found it online for $178. I’m a writer; I make shit for income. (Boy were my taxes easy to do this year!) So I was willing to wait --- for the price to come down; for a coupon; for a “sale.” 

I’ll be damned. Twelve hours after I found said bag, I was visiting some site or other --- no idea what, but probably a news-related site --- and there, at the of the page, was a banner ad, containing my bag and a hefty discount coupon. I clicked the ad, bought the bag (and set in motion the chain of events I describe in the body of my essay). 

*3: For lack of any better place to put this: Horning does not address one of Madrigal’s main points: How the hell do we pay for content? That’s a biggie.

*4: About the trackers, Madrigal writes: “None of them seem like evil companies, nor are they singular companies. Like much of this industry, they seem to believe in what they're doing. They deliver more relevant advertising to consumers and that makes more money for companies. They are simply tools to improve the grip strength of the invisible hand.”

*5: Frankly, I don’t get the criticism, especially because the critics are busy tapping out their critiques on devices, Apple or otherwise, built under similar conditions, probably while wearing clothing and shoes manufactured under similar conditions, and probably while sitting in a chair manufactured under similar conditions.

*6: At this point, many of you are rolling your eyes. “Has she never heard of Enron? Did she sleep through the stock market collapse/scandal of ‘08?” Yes, I have, and no, I didn’t. Of COURSE the system has “bad” players. Every endeavor has its shares of incompetents, devils, and bad guys. 

But it doesn’t follow, logically or otherwise, that the system is bad. I’ve experienced more than my fair share of incompetent physicians, to name one example, but they don’t make me want to toss modern medicine out the window. (Indeed, I thank the universe pretty much every day for its wonders, without which I wouldn’t be here to write this.) There are bad lawyers and evil politicians and shifty bankers. But the law, and our system of governance, and banking survive and function well because most players are good, not bad.



More Jack, Thanks to Jay!

Ohmygod, you gotta go over to Jay Brooks' blog to see more about Jack.

I knew Jack was planning to visit Russian River this week. Yesterday he did, and by coincidence, Jay, a master chronicler of all things beer, happened to be there, too. So he's got photos, a video, and therefore documentation that our beloved Jack, screwed-up arm and all, climbed a ladder to sign his old New Albion sign (of which, Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo are the caretakers).

Damn, I wish I'd been there!

UPDATE: The next day, Jack, Jay, Pat, Natalie, and Vinnie trekked out to the site of Jack's brewery. Jay recorded the event.

But While I'm Here: On the Subject of Brewing, Selling or Not, Brewing History, Etc.

From my perspective, the InBev/Goose Island thing is a lovely coincidence: I just got home from the 2011 Craft Brewers Conference where I gave a short talk about the dangers of mindless expansion and why "mindful" growth is safer, even if that means no growth/expansion at all.

The example I used in my talk (well, one of the examples) was Leinenkugel: I argued that the Leinenkugel family had always focused its "growth" strategy not on their own bottom line, but on how growth (or not) would affect the community where the brewery was located (Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin). The family realized that if the company went under, everyone in town would be hurt by that outcome. So they always thought hard about making any kind of move toward expansion.

And when, in 1988, the family decided to sell the company to Miller Brewing, they did so not because they planned to make out like bandits, but because it was the only way to keep the company going and protect the town. (The deal they signed with Miller clearly guaranteed that Miller would leave the brewery up, running, intact, and in good health. Miller has honored that contract.)

My main point to my audience, which was composed of owners of small companies, was: Think before you leap. Because the history of American brewing is littered with the carcasses of brewers who opted for mindless expansion and failed because of that.

Anyway: on a cheerier note, my talk was brief because the main point of our conference session was to let Jack McAuliffe, pioneering microbrewer, speak. Renee DeLuca, who was also on the panel, and I asked Jack questions, and then we turned things over to the audience, many of whom were eager to tell Jack how they'd first heard about his brewery. One guy had two bottles of New Albion with him! Jack signed the labels.


Photo courtesy of Cathy McAuliffe-Dickerson

It was a deeply moving experience. Deeply moving. I meant what I said: I can now die happy because I finally got Jack in front of an audience of craft brewers so they could pay homage to him. It was all I could do to maintain my composure at the end, when the audience rose for a standing ovation.


Photo courtesy of Renee DeLuca

On a more personal note: I've talked with Jack many times by phone over the years but we'd never met in person. He's even funnier in person. The  man has an incredibly sharp wit (not surprising given that he's extraordinarily intelligent). The accident that nearly killed him two years ago has taken a toll: He speaks more slowly than pre-accident, and in a softer voice. He's also lost the use of his left arm (among his other injuries was a severed nerve in that arm, which means his brain no longer sends or receives signals that enable his muscles to move).

But he's in great spirits. Turns out he hates big crowds and noise as much as I do, so, like me, he mostly hid out. But when he was out and about, it was a joy to see people approach him. As when he and I signed books after the talk.


Photo courtesy of Renee DeLuca

And it was ALL worth it when he stepped on to the trade floor for the first time: the convention includes a trade show where beer-related vendors show their wares, and when Jack saw all that brewing equipment, his eyes grew three sizes and he couldn't escape from us dames (myself, Renee, and his sister Cathy) fast enough. (Jack is still an avid homebrewer and is now also distilling.)

So: a life goal achieved. Jack, my friend, here's to you.


Renee DeLuca, me, Cathy McAuliffe-Dickerson, Jack McAuliffe (Photo courtesy of Cathy McAuliffe-Dickerson)

AB InBev and Its Golden, um, Goose

I just got back from the 2011 Craft Brewers Conference in San Francisco. (Yes, had a great time; thanks for asking. Well, except for the part about the no airplane available on Sunday morning, which forced me to stay an extra day spent almost entirely in an airport hotel.....)

While I was gone, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced it had purchased a controlling share of Goose Island Brewing in Chicago and would soon buy the remaining shares. (ABIB already owned a share of the company that holds the minority share.

And the hand wringing has begun. (I'd post links, but there are too many. Just roam around the beerblogosphere and you'll find plenty.)

But: why? Why the hand wringing? And why is anyone surprised? People, were ya not payin’ attention here at the ol’ blogarooney?

I told you three years ago that you could expect to see moves like this. The only surprising fact here is that there haven’t been more of such moves.

Yes, ABIB and MillerCoors will continue to grab onto craft breweries (how many of them depends entirely on who is inclined to sell. Many craft brewers prefer to keep it small/local/beautiful/whatever). And why not? The people running those companies are not stupid. They understand that a small but affluent segment of beer drinkers is willing to pay a premium for, ya know, premimum beers. Like Goose Island.

And for a beer maker, premium is where it’s at. (Premium beers take up the same amount of space in the warehouse and on the truck, but they bringer a higher profit per bottle than “regular” beers.)

So. Of course ABIB is interested. What will the company do with its new acquisition? I haven’t a clue, although it has two obvious options.

One, it can leave the beermakers alone to keep making what they make (premium beers). Or two, it can tell the beermakers to cease and desist and start making Budweiser knock-offs.

Smart money says they opt for Door Number One. Why? Because ABIB isn’t looking for Bud knockoffs. It’s hunting for premium beers. (Remember those: the ones that yield more profit per bottle than Bud?) Why screw with the goose that’s laying the golden egg? (No pun intended until I realized that, heee heeeee!, I’d just made a pun!) (I’m not so good at puns.)

Leaving Goose Island alone to do what it does best is a win-win for ABIB: It earns profit and it can start loading GI products on its trucks and selling them in a larger territory than was available to GI when it was on its own. 

So. Time will tell, but --- I’ve been a pretty good prognosticator up to now.