Does This Seem Slightly Sexist To You, Too?

On Monday, Patrick and I sat down with five women who work in the beer world to learn how far we’ve come from those babes-in-bikinis ads from the 80s and 90s (podcast to follow). It was an illuminating conversation, because we learned how far things have come–but how subtle sexism still lingers.

Well, today I got an email that makes me wonder if the more overt sexism isn’t still an issue in at least a part of the beer world. AB InBev hired a firm to do some research about attitudes of women and what they drink, and the resulting “findings” are discouraging. Here’s the set-up.

Picture this:  Three women walk into a bar.  The first orders wine, the second orders a cosmo, and the third orders beer.  Which woman, do you think, ends up in a conversation with the tall and mysterious stranger?  According to the Budweiser ‘Beerpressions’ National Survey—a first-of-its-kind study about how beverage choices influence first impressions—your drink may be worth a thousand words.    Based on a representative survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by Learndipity Data Insights, Budweiser asked respondents to match common bar drinks with the perceived personality traits of the people ordering them.

Got that? The research was designed to learn how men assess women in bars based on their beverage choice. At first glance, this appears to be a return to that neanderthal sexism of the ads, where women and beer become accoutrements for men’s enjoyment. But surely that can’t be right? It can.

Drink Choice #1:  Domestic Beer (Budweiser)
  • 70% say a woman with domestic beer (Budweiser) is “friendly” and “low-maintenance.”
  • Conversely, only 36% believe a woman drinking imported beer is “low-maintenance.”

To be scrupulously fair, women and men both rated each other, though the characterizations of women had a lot more to do with sexual availability than they did for men. (“Low-maintenance” is an especially freighted term.) For a company that is trying to stanch the exodus from their brand, I wonder how effective this approach will be. Is this really going to be a winning pitch to a new generation of women drinkers?

from Beervana

“Sour” Beers, Craft’s Dark Secrets, and Yeast–Three Interesting Stories

August is reliably the deadest month on the calendar. The excitement of summer has passed, but no one wants to confront all these Oktoberfest releases the marketing people are trying to promote. True to form, this August started slow, but there have been a few recent articles out there that piqued my interest. I think you’ll have thoughts as well.

1. The New York Times Botches “Sour” Beers
Eric Asimov, the wine writer for the Times, has offered more misleading, confusing information about beer to more people than anyone on earth. I know he’s an astute guy with a great palate, but for some reason, beer is so far beneath him he can’t actually be bothered to report it properly. Last week he did a round up of “sour beers,” and made a predictable hash in framing it. I don’t mind particularly that he combined every tart style, from gose to lambic, in one category. In sensory evaluation, it’s fine to blend categories of like beers. But then he writes this, and my patience evaporates:

Many of these characteristics are a result of a brewing process seemingly derived as much from wine as from beer, in which the beers are aged in barrels after fermentation. As they rest, they undergo additional transformations as bacteria like lactobacillus and pediococcus interact with the beer, contributing lively acidity as well as tart flavors and increased complexity. Some are vintage dated.


My guess is that few commercial sour-beer brewers choose to allow the sort of spontaneous fermentations that shape Belgian lambics. More likely, they are inoculating their brews with selected yeast strains, including brettanomyces, anathema to winemakers as it can be the source of funky flavors great and small. If unwanted in wine, it can be great in beer styles like gueuze, a Belgian blend of young and old unflavored lambics.

Ugh. To make explicit the crimes here: 1) in the first paragraph, he conflates the production of beers like gose (kettle soured) with barrel-aged beers. Goses (and most Berliner weisses) do not spend months in barrels. People are confused enough about this already; there’s an entire debate raging about the cheat of making “quick sour” beers that’s fueled entirely by ignorance about style and technique. Asimov inadvertently feeds this. 2) In graf two, he reveals that he’s never even bothered to pick up a phone to inquire how the beers he’s evaluating are made. Are some breweries inoculating while others are using spontaneous fermentation? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  It’s a mystery!

(Asimov’s favorite beer was Cascade’s Kriek, and he loved it. He also admired a Logsdon beer. So I can’t be too disappointed in him, I guess.)

2. Craft Beer’s Dark Secrets
An article on Thrillist has gotten a ton of attention as an anonymous insider (“someone who’s worked in the industry for six years and currently works in marketing for a well-known brewery”) dishes on all the terribleness happening in craft. I have seen it reposted quite a bit with nods of acknowledgement. (Stan, for example: “Many of the points are valid. That some are less valid does not invalidate the story.”) It’s a pretty long laundry list of stuff, so I’ll skip trying to pull representative quotes. A lot of the observations are anodyne or wrong (competition is increasing; consolidation is happening; there’s a bubble), but there are others that are more serious and potentially accurate: working brewers get paid badly; the beer world is sexist; jobs in beer are hard and pay badly.

The big problem I have is that we have no idea from where these “secrets” emerge. The beer industry employs hundreds of thousands of people, and it follows that individual experiences vary widely. Some breweries are great to work for, while others are Dickensian hell. What does this tell us about “craft beer?” General, anonymous statements supported by anecdote are rumor, not fact or even reportage. I would bet my life that there are dark secrets in craft brewing–we already know about pay-to-play, as one example–and I would love to read a serious report, backed by numbers and on-the-record accounts. This is not that report–reader beware.

3. Yeast, the “God Particle”
Jason Notte has another excellent piece out, this time on the yeasty Dave Logsdon (founder of Wyeast Labs as well as the yeast-forward Logsdon Farmhouse Ales). You should go read the whole article, but one graf jumped off the page to me. This is Logsdon talking about his spontaneous program.

We’ve let those go spontaneously and haven’t tried to isolate and identify them. I don’t see a need to anymore. After spending a career in a laboratory, one of the things I wanted to do was get away from the strict, stringent protocol that was necessary. Even though we have a lab here and do our testing and stuff, it’s done on a more as-needed basis than a controlled management. With the 10 strains we do manage, I’m experienced enough to know what the right protocol is. 

I have written about this before, but there’s something very, very different about inoculating wort with wild yeast and letting beer make itself spontaneously. The end results, so similar a NYT columnist can’t distinguish them, belie the huge act of will it takes to get out of the way and let nature take its course. Dave has spent a career corralling and controlling yeast. It’s a testament to the life transition he experienced when he put down the test tubes at Wyeast and installed a coolship. It may look like an obvious step, but I think it was anything but.

from Beervana

Agave Snout Weevil, Coming to a Garden Near You

Agave snout weevil

Agave snout weevil

Agave snout weevil is a half-inch-long black beetle with a downward-curving proboscis that enables it to pierce an agave’s core, where it lays its eggs. Grubs hatch, consume the agave’s heart, then burrow into the soil to pupate. The weevil (Scyphophorus acupunctatus)—once prevalent only in desert regions and Mexicois spreading rapidly throughout the US and abroad, earning it the dubious distinction of being one of the “Top 100 Worst Global Invasive Species.”

Agave snout weevil

An agave’s grub-eaten core resembles a sponge.

According to the Global Invasive Species Database, “Scyphophorus acupunctatus is becoming a major pest of native Agavaceae and Dracaenaceae species worldwide. Native to Mexico, it has decimated populations of Agave crops there, in particular species used in the tequila and henequen industries. The importation of ornamental Agave plants worldwide has facilitated S. acupunctatus to establish in many parts of the world, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, in Africa, Asia and South America.”

Is your agave infested? Look for damaged tissue where leaves meet stem. The lowest leaves will appear wilted, and may slope unnaturally downward while the center cone remains upright. The plant, no longer anchored by roots, will rock when pushed. When an infestation is well underway, it’s possible to push the agave over onto its side. It’ll break at soil level, revealing a mushy, foul-smelling core infested by plump, squirming, half-inch, cream-colored grubs with brown heads.


Nursery stock may be infested, so from now on, plant agaves bare-root. 

Succulent collector Jeanne Meadow is well versed in pests that affect her plants. She has a large succulent garden in Fallbrook, California, halfway between Riverside and San Diego. Jeanne says people tend to assume nursery plants are pest free, yet that’s the main way snout weevil enters gardens. The beetles can’t fly.

When an agave in her garden shows signs of infestation, Jeanne removes it and every plant for several feet surrounding it. Then she sifts the soil and picks out grubs and beetles. “It’s a huge undertaking,” Jeanne says. “Fortunately they’re slow crawlers.”

Snout weevil hasn’t stopped Jeanne from bringing home new agaves. Before planting, she removes an agave from its nursery pot, sets the plant (root ball and all) in a wheelbarrow, and hoses the soil off the roots. She examines the plant for beetles and puncture holes, and the soil for grubs. If a plant is infested, she destroys it and informs the source nursery. Note: Jeanne plants ONLY bare-root agaves.

What about insecticides? Although neither Jeanne nor I advocate commercial insecticides, we agree that the responsible thing to do is to prevent the beetle from spreading. “This is an emergency situation,” Jeanne says. “The pest is spreading like crazy and has to be brought under control.” At the first sign of infestation, she drenches the soil around the agave with an insecticide that has Imidacloprid as the main ingredient. One brand, available on Amazon, is Compare-N-Save Systemic Tree and Shrub Insect Drench.

Insecticide drench


In my YouTube video, “Agave Snout Weevil Prevention and Treatment,” I demonstrate how to inspect nursery agaves, show resistant varieties, and interview agave expert Kelly Griffin at an infested colony of Agave americana. 

Kelly mentions applying a systemic insecticide as a prophylactic (preventive) option. If you want to do this, it should be applied twice a year, in early and again in late spring, when the beetles are active. Systemics, as the name implies, spread insecticide through a plant’s system, so any bug that ingests it dies. This will indeed kill snout weevils and grubs, but won’t prevent the plant from being irreparably damaged, because…

It’s not the grubs that kill the plant by consuming its center core, it’s the bacteria that the weevil injects into the plant. The weevil is a vector (carrier) of Erwinia carotovora, a micro-organism that softens the tissues, so its grubs can easily consume it. After chewing into an agave that has been treated with a systemic, a beetle will likely die, but the insecticide won’t kill the bacteria the bug introduced. If your goal is to kill snout weevils before they spread, a systemic ought to do it. But if you have one or more agaves you want to protect at all costs, applying a systemic isn’t the answer.

Green alert: Insecticides kill beneficial insects too, and can disrupt your garden’s natural predator-prey balance. Birds and reptiles eat snout weevils, which have coexisted with agaves for millennia. Personally, I like the idea of my garden’s lizards feasting on the grubs, which look like meal worms sold in pet stores. However, even more, I like the idea of doing my part to prevent the beetle’s encroachment into residential succulent gardens. So, with reluctance, I’ll drench my agaves if and when I see a snout weevil in my garden, or even a hole indicating that the pest has arrived. And I suspect it will, because several large Agave americana ‘Marginata’ in my neighborhood have succumbed to the pest.

If you don’t want to use inorganic pesticides, remove an agave at first sign of infestation and don’t plant agaves in that part of your garden again. You might replace them with aloes, which are unaffected by the weevil. Btw, one organic control currently under development is a pheromone trap designed to attract adult beetles in search of mates. Weevil-resistant Agave varieties also are being selected and bred, but it may be years before a good supply is widely available.

Kibby Mayo of Oregon says she’s “found using Beneficial Nematodes to be effective in preventing and treating these infestations.” Basically, the nematodes kill insect larvae. I’d like to know if anyone in the Southwest has found it effective against weevil larvae. Worth a try.Nematodes that eat grubs



Plant agaves only in pots. In areas where snout weevil is known to be active, plant agaves in containers, like the urns shown here. Potted agaves are more difficult for weevils (which don’t fly) to access, you can easily get rid of infested soil in case they do, and you know that the soil is OK in the first place because you put it there. Additional advantages to growing agaves in pots is that it elevates the plants for better viewing, enabling them to serve as garden focal points even when small. Moreover, potentially immense, pupping agaves (such as A. americana species) stay small in containers, which also serve to corral their offsets, preventing them from popping up elsewhere in the garden.

Susceptible and resistant succulents. The snout weevil seems to prefer Agave americana (especially older ones and variegates), but will go after other Agave species. It seems to stay away from agaves with soft leaves, such as Agave attenuata; those with tough, hard-to-pierce leaves (such as agaves ‘Sharkskin’ and victoriae-reginae); and those with slender, nonjuicy leaves such as A. bracteosa and A. filifera. However, it also infests other genera in the Agavaceae family, such as Nolina, Beaucarnea, Yucca, and Furcraea.

More info:

Pam Penick’s blog post: “Evil Weevils! Agaves Under Attack in Austin”

Tropical Texana blog:

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Global Invasive Species Database

View my 7-minute YouTube video, “Agave Snout Weevil Prevention and Treatment.”

from Gardening Gone Wild

Beervana Podcast Updates and Upgrades

Although it’s podcast 27 for Patrick and me, today we debut at our new home on All About Beer. (I heard some chatter about it being called All About Beer On-Air, which I love, though perhaps that moniker didn’t stick.) What this means, for the literally tens of you who subscribed to our old feeds on iTunes/Google Play/Soundcloud is that you need to resubscribe at one of the new locations: on  SoundCloudiTunes, or Stitcher.

We’re pretty pleased with today’s podcast, because it represents our effort to bring more voices into conversation. For this episode, we spoke with Alan Taylor about Zoiglhaus Brewing, the culmination of five years’ effort. We wanted to hear from Alan what it takes to found a brewery in the second decade of the new millennium. Alan explored many possible sites before landing on this one; what did he consider in terms of neighborhood demographics, location, and so on? How did he settle on a format and theme, and what considerations went into that? We asked about details like working with the city, designing, buying, and installing equipment, and creating the kind of pubby feng shui that will bring the community in to drink beer.

And of course, we talked about beer. Alan trained in Berlin and made Berliner weisse one of his specialties. We drank the version he makes each year for summer, one that is a year in the making, and learn why brettanomyces is an absolutely essential ingredient to getting the “typical” Berliner weisse flavor profile. (Brewers Association, please take note.)

Please listen, subscribe, and support us in this new endeavor. Thanks!

from Beervana

On Perfection

An article in the NY Times Magazine got me thinking. The subject of the piece is Michelangelo’s David, which may in time–like all things–collapse into dust. But what caught my eye was not the fascinating backstory of the statue nor the nature of the physics that threaten it, but writer Sam Anderson’s description of the statue’s perfection:

When I first saw the David in person, the only word that came to mind was “perfect.” Why hadn’t anyone ever told me he was perfect? I was 20 years old, exhausted, unwashed, traveling for the first time ever, ignorant of almost everything worth knowing. “Perfect,” I know now, is not a terribly original response to the statue, nor a very precise one, but in that moment it filled my mind. It felt like a revolution — urgent, deep, vital, true.

And then a bit later:

I stood there in my filthy Birkenstocks feeling a sense of religious transcendental soaring: the promise that my true self was not bound by the constraints of my childhood — by freeway exits, office parks, after-school programs, coin-operated laundry rooms at dingy apartment complexes, vineyards plowed under and converted into Walmarts, instability, change, dead dogs, divorce. No. The David suggested that my true self existed most fully in some interstellar superhistorical realm in which all the ideal things of the universe commingled in a perpetual ecstasy of harmonizing trumpet blasts. If such perfection could exist in the world, I felt, then so many other things were suddenly possible: to live a perfect life creating perfect things, to find an ideal way to be. What was the point of anything less?

Curiously, Anderson details all the conventional ways in which the statue is not perfect. That’s actually the point of the article: “The seed of the problem is a tiny imperfection in the statue’s design” (my bold). The marble itself is pockmarked in places, and one of David’s arms was once knocked off and reattached. What Anderson’s describing is an artistic and aesthetic perfection, one with such power as to impart a religious experience. He ignores the tangible imperfections and instead locates a mystical perfection beyond the physical object.

Is he looking for the perfect beer?

Perfection is a weird concept. It suggests both an empirical and  subjective quality. Like a perfect ten in gymnastics, it’s the way we attempt to codify in concrete terms our certainty of a surpassing aesthetic triumph. The perfect moment, the perfect man/woman, the perfect job. It’s a self-defeating concept, though, because there’s no way to actually measure the subjective, which is by definition a judgment based on non-quantifiable criteria like taste, opinions, or feelings. And that unverifiability is exactly why we want to have a concept like perfection. Calling something perfect is the act of desperate hyperbole, when we try to end an argument with the maximal rendering of judgment.

The reason “perfection” is a paradox is because the elements that compose it are always open to debate. We can’t arrive at perfection because we can never agree to the rules of debate. I mean, when I look at David and see that bizarrely mannered tuft of pubic hair riding David’s junk like a pair of furry chestnut burrs, I have a hard time moving on. And because perfection suggests a Platonic ideal, one which is so manifestly obvious that even a philistine like me can see it, David must not be perfect. In these matters, the doubters get the final veto.

In art, the idea of perfection is thrown around a lot. Maybe this has to do with the money involved. If you just spent a half a billion dollars on a Van Gogh, you don’t want anyone telling you it’s not perfect. In lower forms of expression–beer, let’s say–perfection is generally considered a quality to aspire to, not one to attain. I’ve seen this over and over again. In homebrewing competitions, no one gives out a 50, the highest score. You’re lucky to get a 40. It seems like the reasoning is encouragement: no matter how kick-ass your bock is, the theory goes, there’s always got to be some room to make it more kick-ass. Homebrewing is a journey, and a natural 50 would abruptly end things at the summit. Best to think there’s another, higher mountain beyond the one we’re just about to crest.

When I sat in on the tasting panel at the Widmer Brothers brewery a few years back, they rated the beers on a five point scale. Four was the maximum any beer ever received, which seemed odd to me. I assumed five would represent the best quality the brewery could produce, since they were evaluating the beer before it shipped. Nope, four was the highest score I heard that day. I asked about that and they said five was reserved for a truly exceptional beer, one that, like Anderson’s David, truly deserved the title of “perfect.” They had never encountered such a beer but, like hopeful Sasquatch-hunters everywhere, wanted to believe one existed.

I sometimes use perfect casually (so please don’t dig around the archives to disprove the following clause) but I’ve abandoned it as a useful concept. Whether we’re talking about beer or art, perfection is a unicorn. We can describe it in rich, vivid detail, but no one has ever actually encountered it. Worse, the existence of this fictitious state denigrates the excellence we find occasionally in the real world. We hold open the possibility that there’s something better than a Usain Bolt hundred-meter dash, or a 1966 Jaguar E-type roadster, or a Saison Dupont, but in pining for the impossible, fail to apprehend the real genius in front of us. The notion of “perfect” is what leads to hundred-dollar bottles of Cantillon and a veneration of mythical “whales” (or worse, “whalez“). There are a staggering amount of exceptional beers out there, more than the earth has ever seen, and settling into their enjoyment seems like a far better use of time than waiting interminably for perfection to come along.

from Beervana