How The Nitro Project is Like Season Two of The Serial Podcast

 

The Serial Podcast is one of the many and various podcasts I listen to during my long commute from Lancaster into Harrisburg every day for work. Season One of Serial was innovative, enlightening, and enthralling. For a story about a 15 year old murder of a young girl it was highly entertaining and at times fun.

The story of death of Hae Min Lee, Adnan Syed’s conviction, and the gaps that appear between reasonable and doubt when it comes to justice sucked me in week after week.

Season Two of Serial tackled the politically charged story of Bowe Bergdahl, a man who deserted his unit in Afghanistan. This season, in my opinion, is not as enthralling or as interesting. The story of Bowe Bergdahl is weighted down with a deep political gravity warping peoples ideas of the story with preconceived notions of what Bergdahl did or didn’t do by walking off his military base; myself included.

Season One featured a case no one knew and people came with a blank slate. Season Two had none of that, it was dripping with preconceived notions of what Bergdahl did, why he did it, about the price paid for his return, and what should happen to him now that he was back in America.

Season Two is reporting, in depth, a story that has to be told; that people need to hear. This yeoman’s work of journalism of telling a massively complex story is just the type of work Serial’s Sarah Koenig and the This American Life staff need to tell.

But Season Two…it’s hard to enjoy.  At times it is like eating your vegetables. The story is one that has to be told and should be heard, but it can feel heavy and lack the surprises, twists, turns and interest of Season One. It is weighed down in a way that the first iteration was not.

Samuel Adams’ The Nitro Project feels kind of the same.  For years Samuel Adams was doing the yeoman’s work of bringing craft beer into the forefront and building a nationwide distribution. Samuel Adam Boston Lager was a remarkable beer when it first hit the market and it continues to be a great beer when you are looking for craft in a bar with nothing but Bud and Coors on tap.

Jim Koch has been an evangelist for craft beer and has been nothing but good for the industry. Koch is known for innovating and pressing the envelop when it comes to brewing beer (See: Utopias or Infinium). This latest move, Project Nitro takes a well established technology (nitrogen infused beer in a can) and adds a little bit of a twist (white ale and IPA in a nitro can, not just the usual stout).

Infusing beers other than stouts with nitrogen has been an interesting way to put a twist on well established styles at craft beer bars for years. Using nitro and their very tiny bubbles to make a hoppy IPA creamy with a silky mouthfeel yet bitter floral bite for beers like Sculpin or Green Flash IIPA was interesting.

The Nitro Project takes this same occasionally seen concept from your local craft beer bar and puts it in the hands of a broad range of consumers. This is taking a story that should be told and giving it a wider audience.

Sam Adams has put out three beers in nitro cans: White Ale, IPA and Coffee Stout.  I bought a four pack of each and while none of them are world beaters or going to change the way the experienced craft beer drinker thinks about their favorite beverage, it will get a wide audience exposure to a different way to enjoy craft beer.

The Nitro White Ale was the best of the three, The grains of paradise, a frequently used ingredient at Samuel Adams, comes through in the finish and provided a nice spiciness at the end of this 5.5% ABV, medium bodied beer. It’s a refreshing beer that is easy drinking and pleasant.

The Nitro Coffee Stout has the most difficult time right out the gate. Exceptional coffee stouts served on nitro are beyond ubiquitous. The Sumatran coffee flavors in this example provide a good roasted flavor but the body is as thin as its two brothers. The lack body here gives the beer a lack of substance as beer goes down. If this brew could really up the body and have a thicker, fuller texture it would go a long way as the flavor profile was approachable and balanced.

Not too long ago I tried Guinness Nitro IPA.  That experience made me a little worried about trying Samuel Adams’s version. The Guinness idea of an IPA ended up being poured down the drain. It was bad…awful on multiple levels. The Samuel Adams version was better but it too fell flat. There were hops but they are at best muted.  The pine, citrus, and floral notes just never quite showed up in significant amounts to really make this beer good, let alone great.  I can’t say I disliked the Boston  Beer Company’s attempt but I didn’t like it either. It just was kind of… there. Taking up space in my fridge until I drank it all.

The Serial Podcast Season Two is telling a story that should be told. Samuel Adams is brewing a beer that some people should try so as to get the exposure to a different way of enjoying craft beer.

In the end both are worthy, and in some cases necessary and important. I am just not overly excited about consuming either at this point.

Post Script: I had multiple reservations about doing this post. i.e. I was in danger of becoming overly political. I was not looking to make a judgement call on Bergdahl’s actions. Also I do not take the death of a young high school girl or the pursuing miscarriage of justice lightly even though years later it created an amazingly compelling story.

Hell… I don’t even know if the above comparison makes sense. But when you have a one hour commute, each way, every day you tend to have some really strange ideas sitting in the car by yourself.

If you think this post didn’t work… that is cool. Just tell me so and we can all move on and I can try to do better the next time. Until then… Cheers!

Defining Craft Beer

Reinheitsgebot

A lot of hay is being made these days over the definition of “craft beer” and “craft brewer.”  Recently it appears most of these arguments stem from opposing legislation called the Fair BEER and Small BREW Acts. When boiled down, these are tax bills. Seeking to create tax relief for either small brewers (what you typically think of as craft) and big brewers (AB, MillerCoors, or The Macros). As much as I would like to wax public policy and argue that “one man’s tax relief is another man’s tax loophole” this specific issue is moot as the legislation is all but dead.

But these bills did leave the beer community with one interesting question: “Is The Boston Beer Company (AKA: Samuel Adams) a Craft Brewer?”

The question is born out of the proposed legislation’s definition of “craft brewer” being set at less than six million barrels annually.  Assuming the continuation of their current rate of growth, Boston Beer would be a macro by definition sometime in or around 2018 when it is projected to produce more than six million barrels annually.

Bryan Roth over at This Is Why I’m Drunk postulated, reasonably so, that the volume of hard tea and hard cider produced by Boston Beer has resulted in it no longer being just a beer company. Simply stated, beverages other than beer are boosting the profit margins, significantly so, that the craft brewer distinction is reasonably in question. He makes an interesting and valid point in regards to The Boston Beer Company.

But I think the question still remains… What makes a brewery “craft?”

I am going out on a limb here but I don’t think it is based on volume. It is not based on an arbitrary number of barrels produced per year. That is exactly what the figure six million barrels is, arbitrary.

To me craft brewing is about the art of brewing and a philosophy. It is about being committed to the product and the customers who buy the product. There is an entire community of beer drinkers in this country that are committed to drinking real beer. This sub-culture is made up of beer snobs, beer geeks, beer evangelists, home brewers, and community and regional breweries. In many cases once regional breweries now have bi-coastal operations and/or nationwide distribution. If there is one thing all these players have in common it’s a stake in the industry they love.

To define this fine libation and the people that make it as being craft or not craft based on arbitrary volume numbers does nothing to help understand the product nor the people making and consuming it.

So I offer this definition:

Craft Beer (krăft bîr)

n.

A fermented alcoholic beverage brewed by practitioners with the best ingredients, skilled artistry, manual dexterity, ingenuity, and exceptional quality.

Is this definition perfect? Probably not. I am not quite that arrogant and I am sure Budweiser would say their adjunct lager swill fit that definition to a T.

So maybe this is just a start to having a serious discussion about what makes craft beer, craft brewers and craft beer drinkers the incredible movement it has become. Because arguing it’s about volume says nothing about what is really important…making and drinking good beer.

Postscript:  As I wrote this I really tried to develop in as few words as possible what defines craft beer. But this is just one guy’s musing about beer and brewing. What you see above is my best shot at it. Others certainly can do better. What may be necessary is for American craft brewers to adopt their own version of the Reinheitsgebot, The German Beer Purity Law. This could be a way for the craft beer industry to define itself. 

It would be up to brewers to determine what it means to be craft and to do so with intent. This should be done as a recognized understanding and commitment for the sake of the consumer.

The incredible limitations of the German Purity Laws obviously do not fit for the American craft beer industry but the intent at its heart does. An incorporation of guild regulations, adhered to by brewers in the collective, could help an industry experiencing skyrocketing growth and stave off the potential fallout of a bursting bubble in the years to come. It would be a promise to the consumer that the product adheres to strict and exacting standards and that it is of the highest quality.

Is doing this very, very difficult? Yes. But as Nicolas Winton said “I work on the motto that if something is not impossible, there must be a way of doing it.” This is not impossible.