Dec 11

Survival is in the people’s hands

When you’ve got a retail business, the scariest thing is this:

Your business’s ability to survive is in the hands of the consumer.

No matter how varied your products are, no matter how competitive your prices are, no matter how many special events you hold, no matter how good your service offering is, … if the consumer chooses to shop with a megastore rather than an independent retailer, the reserves can only last for so long.

The people choose which businesses will survive.

It is with their money and regular shopping habits that people choose which businesses will survive.

To those of you who shop small business, thank you. I am so grateful. We are here because of you. We hope to be here for the long haul — so keep those referrals coming; keep sharing the love of craft beer with your friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

Do you love megaliquor chains more than specialty shops?

Love question: hands plucking off the petals This year has been difficult. Megaliquor chains are standing tall as the remaining “I love you” petal, as consumers pluck, “I love you, I love you not” by showing their support with their dollars.

Yes, 2014 has been very difficult for small specialty beer & wine stores in Washington State. All of us have lost a significant number of customers to the new megaliquor chain of Total Wine. If we are to survive, we need customers to more regularly “pluck” their favorite alcoholic beverages from our shelves, showing their “love” and support.

It’s difficult to show love in a biased marketplace

Consumer interest in supporting small business would be stronger if they could get all the products they seek at their neighborhood shops. But right now, Washington State favors these out-of-state megaliquor chains by giving them special rights.

This past spring we presented our case of “equal rights for small business” to the public and our state representatives, asking for their support. The Senate overwhelmingly voted yes. The first House Committee locked up the bill, refusing to put it to vote. Despite having hundreds of people contacting Representatives in the House, they refused to give 200 small businesses equal rights to Total Wine, refusing to advance the bill to the House floor.

To give specialty beer/wine stores under 10,000-square feet the equal right to sell spirits would give us the ability to fairly compete. It would bring in more customers, who now want to shop small, but are forced to drive long distances to support the few remaining small spirits businesses or visit the more conveniently located megaliquor chains.

To give small business equal rights to megaliquor chains would give consumers the ability to show their love.

Keep on swimming

My best friend always says, “Keep on swimming. Keep on swimming. Even when the tide is pushing and pulling against you, and you feel you’re being dragged out into the big ol’ sea, all you can do is keep on swimming.”

…I believe this is her take-away from Finding Nemo, applied to everyday life.

I am swimming. I keep on swimming. I swim and swim. Some days I’m treading water more than swimming. Some days my staff are my water wings, keeping me afloat.

“Survival can be summed up in three words — never give up. That’s the heart of it really. Just keep trying.”
—Bear Grylls

I talked with my dad at length last week. He’s been through this before: Operating a family retail business, a big chain comes to town, long-time customers leave for the newer, flashier business.

He tells me, “I wish I had some advice; all you can do is keep on fighting.”

The family experienced last-minute sale of one business, closure of a second. There were moments of total anxiety, fearing that everything would be lost. Business, home, all. Somehow they came out intact. Prayer and perseverance and luck.

So I keep on swimming.

All I can do is continue to be optimistic and courageously fight.
But some days it’s hard to feel optimistic.

If you want your dream to live on, you must fight.

I have hope that people will see the value of independent retailers in their community — and show their regular support by shopping small regularly. After all, it makes sense to buy craft beer from craft shops.

Nov 12

Why don’t you just get a keg?

Classic refrigerator converted into a kegeratorOverheard at the beer store…

After getting the overview of how growlers work (reusable jugs that you can have filled via tap from kegged beer), husband and wife briefly discuss whether they want a growler fill. Wife seems perplexed by the whole thing, so the husband continues explaining that the beer is in a “keg” as they peruse the shop. She says, “Well, why don’t you just get a keg?”

He replies, “Well, then I’d need a kegerator.”

“What’s a kegerator?” lady asks.

“It’s a refrigerator for a keg,” he responds.


Nov 01

I’m done. Let’s go home.

How to tell when you’re done for the day…

7:45 p.m.Go outside shop and grab A-frame chalkboard to bring in. Guy walking up to the shop sees you doing this and says, “Oh, are you closing?”

Respond, “You’re good; we’ve got about 15 minutes.”

Bring in chalkboard, wipe clean in preparation for next week’s specials.

Have staff stand there watching you do all this until one speaks up and points out you’ve got an hour and fifteen minutes until closing time.

Oh! Yep. I see that. It’s 6:45. I was reading 7:45.
LOL. Yep. I’m done. ‪Let’s go home.

Oct 16

The beautiful wife & bonding over beer tasting

So, this happened at the shop today…

manuela-hornThree men come in; two of whom are from North Dakota. They are in to do the tasting and buy beers to drink while they’re here on vacation and to bring back with them. They’re at the tasting counter, visiting and chatting.

An Eastern European customer walks up to the counter, checks out his mix of Russian & Czech beers, noticing the three men he says, “Zey look like zey’re having a good time; I’d like to join zem in tasting.” So I check him in, get his pours going and set him up with the three men.

Immediately he jumps into conversation with them, in thick accent says, ” My vife and I just went to Oktoberfezt lazt veekend,” bringing up a photo of the beautiful Manuela Horn on his iPhone.

The three men admire the beauty. One comments, “Your wife is beautiful!”

The European man replies, “Oh, zat’s not my vife!”

LOL!! He did follow-up with a photo of his wife.… and she was also lovely. Made me laugh.

Aug 06

Beer store regulars

Most adorable thing happened today…

99 Bottles beer store

Regular customer brought a friend with him to the beer store today.

He’s showing him around, “Here’s the German beer, here’s the cider, here’s the barleywine, …”

Giving him a little tour. It’s so cute!


May 04

Rate that beer? Or, let it be beer?

three caps = mass approval

My beer shop’s staff regularly flip me shit about my ratings on Untappd. Giving three caps (out of five) to nearly every beer I drink; we all know I would make a poor beer judge. The thought of having to critique each beer based on a designated style; pocketing a recipe into “it should be like this” rather than just letting it be. The very thought of stifling a brewer’s creativity, pushing it into compartmentalized flavor slots, makes me cringe. Would rating beer lessen my enjoyment? I think so.

Sometimes I wonder:

        Can’t we just let beer be?

I just want to enjoy this pour, without thinking: “Does it measure up?”

Beer rating is subjective

get info - Beer Judge Certification ProgramBeer judges have trained palates. They look for certain characteristics that’ll tell them if a beer is “on” for its style.

Beer enthusiasts may also have trained palates (or palates-in-training). However, most have not gone to extensive research and study to determine, identify, and realize whether a beer is “to style.” Scoring beers according to their personal preference, some scoring beer that’s great for its style low simply because “they weren’t into it.”

Beer ratings are totally subjective. Readers should read with caution… reviewers may be critics.

        The critic’s biggest intent: To put down.

Avoiding a beer because someone said “it’s bad” can be stupid unless you have similar tastes. Your tastes are unique; you could be missing out on something really delicious.

If a beer is well-scored for its style, you can expect it to be good to very good to excellent. On Untappd, likely this means in the “three to five cap” range. For RateBeer and BeerAdvocate, that’s more like 80 to 100.

Who’s opinion are you going to trust?
Is that beer true to style?
Do a lot of people like it?
Does it taste like what the brewer intended?

It’s what they intended: Good enough

If it’s a beer brewed to be sold, it’s got the brewery’s “stamp of approval.” Clearly they think it’s good enough to get your hard earned dollar and give you some satisfaction in return.

If they think it’s good enough for public consumption, then technically it should score at least “average” or “good” — shouldn’t it?

This is my thought behind three capping. I give caps based on: “They intended this for mainstream consumption. What do most people drink? How will most respond to what the brewer intended?” I am a little dismissive of: “Is it true to style?” as I am no Beer Judge.

But there are times where it’s really bad. Just a bad beer. It happens.

It’s terribly … off … style … flavor…

Once in a while there’s just a rancid beer. Sometimes you know it the moment you uncap the beer, at time of pour, at first smell. Other times you don’t know until you taste it.

Are these beers even worthy of a rating?

These thoughts run through my mind: “Could the bottle have been improperly stored at some point on its journey?” “What happened during the brewing or packaging process?” And, even on occasion: “Was the brewer off his rocker?!”

Don’t be quick to judge. A second bottle or a serving from a different source may reveal whether improper storage served cause. Commentary from others may confirm your feelings. Beer bloggers or the brewery itself may be able to share insight, to shed some light: “Did something go wrong?”

As more nano microbreweries popping up, you may notice their beer isn’t always consistent batch-to-batch. Depending on their financial position, a mistake may be too costly dump. However, if sold, may repulse the beer drinker. It’s a gamble they’re willing to risk their reputation on. When they choose to sell something that is, well — bad — it makes me, as a specialty beer retailer, wary of them and their product. It happens, and I wonder, “Do we trust to bring them back?”

How many caps shall I grant these on Untappd?

Oft times no cap, intentional.

One cap, two cap are more of “try at your own risk” beers. (There’s a little critic in me after all.)

Shock Top, 04-14-2013

Some Untappd friends question my sanity, commenting: “Three caps for big corporate brewery?!” Fellow craft beer fans often don’t appreciate the intent of the macrobrew; that brewery who intended the ‘cloyingly sweet’ or ‘sense of artificial’ — even though so many Americans yearn for these in soda, fast and processed foods. (Yes, I may have three-capped those Shock Top beers. I also pick up a McDonald’s burger once in a while.)

Yes, I gave it three caps, but that doesn’t make it fantastic.

Now that’s one fantastic beer!

A four or five cap tag on beers are those that I think of as “extremely recommendable” or “I’d definitely like to have this again” or “likely to be my new favorite.”

Cantillon Kriek, 10-21-2013Four caps. Love. Very good. Would have again. I think a lot of people who shop at my store would appreciate this beer; some will fall in love.

Five caps. True love. My beer affair. Five cappers are what I call “the Cantillons of my world.” (Taste-traveled sour beer lovers understand.) I don’t throw these out freely; these beers are top-notch, refined, smooth, layered. The kind of beer I want to spend the night with. Swirling in my glass, I want it bad. It comes to mind out of the blue. Months (or years) later the memory of it makes my juices flow. For these beers, I am a Pavlovian dog.

The problem with my five cap, highest rated beers: They’re often rare. The handcraft aspect, especially of barrel-aged beers, means differences from year-to-year. One year, true love (five caps). The next year, very good (four caps).

Ratings? Not so much.

My ratings aren’t really ratings. They’re notes intended to jog my memory.

My main objective: To try. To explore. To be adventurous.
To let beer be beer.

…no caps? Not always bad. The beer was beer.
Alcohol-relaxed fingers, tapping save before all notes recorded.

May 01

Why shop at independent beer & wine stores?

“Why shop at small business?” has been on my mind a lot lately. Sales have been declining enough that I’m sending employees home early, now two weeks in a row.

I wonder how to get people to shop first at, and regularly with, small business like mine. I think about my own shopping habits — I am driven by convenience, price, and product selection. My income has been minimum wage and is now shrinking as my business has been increasingly targeted by mega liquor chains.

Their targeting is based on making more profit. For me, it’s about survival. It’s about operating a break-even, viable business. It’s about keeping my employees on their schedules, so they know their paycheck is guaranteed regular hours. It’s about providing my customers with quality beer.

How to maintain ‘regular’ customers

So, I wonder, how do we get people to not just “think” about spending their hard-earned money with shops like mine, but to actually come in and show their support by purchasing product from us… again. And again. Regularly.

Only with the regular support of the people in the City of Federal Way, and outlying neighborhoods and cities, can my business remain viable. Only with their support can my business retain its awesome employees. Only with the support of regular shoppers can we provide the level of attention that they enjoy; the recommendations that they’ve come to trust; the beer that they love. Without them, we are nothing.

Struggling against corporate giants

“Why shop local?” has been weighing heavy on my mind and heart as we’ve been hit hard by the opening of two Total Wine and More locations in the past two months. The first, 20 blocks from my store; the second, within 13 miles. A third, within similar distance, is planned.

How does a small business get people to think and shop local? Daily. Weekly. Monthly. To shop with small business as part of their regular routine.

Spin against truth, in advertisements

I’ve been thinking about the differences in our business models: Profit vs Viability. Also about the advertisements, what’s truth, and what matters to the public. I’ve talked with my husband, my staff, my contacts in the beer industry, and even regular customers about these topics. With more input and views on the topic, perhaps, I will be able to find a solution. Together, we discuss the spin: What’s true. What’s not.

I encourage you: Don’t fall for the spin. Pay attention to what matters.

Big Biz Advertisement Truth
Mom-n-pops are ‘snobs’
(TW&M radio)
Independent beer & wine store owners are passionate about their products. Their livelihoods are dependent on their products; their lives are centered around their products. This means they’re thinking of the product not only during business hours but also after-hours. This passion comes through when they’re talking about their products. Sometimes they use words common to those well-versed in wine/beer; this doesn’t make them snobs. They’ll happily explain things in simpler terms; after all, they also started this love of beer/wine as a ‘hobby’ and can speak to casual drinkers as well as to connoisseurs.

Who’s better to help you get into the right beer or wine? I’d say the person who ‘lives the product’ — that is, the folks at the independent shop where they continually experience and educate themselves on the product.

‘Biggest selection’ For beer, what I’m seeing is false and/or misleading advertisement. At the mega liquor chains, their beer SKUs are counted as individual products, which means a dozen different packages of Budweiser is counted as 12 unique beers. Thus, when reading “2500 beers” you should be reading “2500 different beer packages” — thus, the “truth” may be “under a thousand unique beers.”

In contrast, I count the beers at my shop by the individual label. For example, the three SKU packages of Ballast Point Sculpin is counted as “one beer.”

In fact, My shop has one of the biggest selection of beers in Washington State, at over 1300 beers in store, with over 5000 on the books. We also carry some of the biggest selections of hard ciders and meads (honeywine).

No one’s advertising: ‘Best quality’

…it’s assumed.

People automatically give trust in this area: If a place is in business, we assume the products are regularly rotated, stored properly, and is well cared for…

This isn’t always the case.

In the beer departments at my local grocery stores, fluorescent lighting and past-date craft beers are the norm.

As for mega liquor stores, there’s fluorescent lighting and most craft beer is stored on ambient shelving, even the low-alcohol that have shorter shelf lives.

Last year I checked out a couple of mega wine-beer-liquor stores that’ve been in business for over a year to see what products were lingering on the shelves. It was autumn and there were still a couple of displays of spring seasonal beers marked at full price. These are things I would’ve put on sale months earlier to clear out to make room for summer beers.

Regularly we have customers coming in looking for seasonals months after they’re gone. They’re turning to us, as a specialty beer store, because “If anyone has it, it’d be you” they tell me. I am always perplexed by this, as I think the opposite, “If anyone has past-date product, it’s least likely to be me.”

Few beers go past-date while in my shop; my staff and I keep an eye on each beer and them on sale as ‘best-by’ dates approach. Sometimes all our supplier has is past-date and will not order fresh product in until they sell all the older product. If this is the case, and our customers are demanding the beer, we spot-check it for freshness, get it in the cooler, and mark it down. We do our best to help the suppliers and the breweries move their product while it’s still viable and delicious.

We destroy products gone bad, taking the loss. If the beer doesn’t sell fast enough to stay fresh in my store, we drop it from regular inventory. It moves to “full case preorder only” simply because it doesn’t sell fast enough to “be quality” for my customer. Quality is important!

The temperature of my shop is sometimes called ‘chilly’ by women coming in without jackets — but we’re focused at maintaining beer integrity of anything stored at ambient temp. The chains are focused on ‘people temperature,’ while the specialty shop is focused on the product so it’s at its best for the people.

You’ve read ‘fluorescent’ twice above; all our fluorescent bulbs are encased in UV filter protection, with clear and green bottles kept off the light-bulb rows for extra protection.

I tell all my staff to think of themselves as “stewards of beer” — we are simply caretakers of this wonderful product before it reaches its final destination.

‘Lowest price’ Of course, this is where it’s hardest to compete with corporate mega chains — and is of most importance to a lot of customers.

The mega liquor chains post their prices on the Web and in flyers. Note the small print: “May not be valid at other locations; prices are subject to change.” We don’t advertise or publish prices except ‘estimate prices’ for those checking out keg options. Beer bottle/can prices are always changing at the wholesale level; I’m constantly reviewing and adjusting prices to remain competitive.

They mail flyers into homes once, twice, three times a month. (Last month I received four flyers from mega liquor chain in my mailbox. It makes it easy to keep up with what the competition is doing when they send it to my house! Alas, it’s also frustrating as I don’t have the advertising budget of a $1.3Billion corporation but am forced to compete with it. Much of my advertising is low-cost or free: Facebook, Twitter, Constant Contact.)

I’ve heard other small business get up-in-arms, shouting: “Unfair! The supplier must be selling them at lower price!” For wine and spirits, there is bulk wholesale pricing. For beer it’s still illegal but it happens. Fair and equal pricing isn’t an area that’s regularly patrolled by State Liquor Officers.

For ‘lowest price’ beer, what’s mostly being done is the mega liquor chain leads their ads with popular breweries as ‘loss-leaders’ — not in the true sense where money’s lost on the product, but at very low mark-ups …as low as 5%.

Corporate chains establish ‘agreements’ with big craft breweries to regularly carry and sell certain beers at low prices. Though there cannot be co-advertisement between the brewery and the retailer, publicity from each can be timed to coincide, increasing the impact on the consumer. And from the brewery standpoint, this makes sense: It’s much easier to work with a single large corporate chain than to work with many small independents.

(Note: Since the end of Prohibition in the USA “alcohol supply contracts” have been largely unlawful, with segregation and controls put between three tiers: Producer / Supplier / Retailer. The result? This has led to golf course ‘agreements’ between corporate chains and alcohol suppliers. This is something I’m not supposed to be aware of as a small business owner. But I am aware of it, and I feel its effects. Likely I shouldn’t even mention any of this in my blog, but it’s part of this industry, and this industry is part of my beer lifestyle. There are a lot of politics in beer, wine and spirits. In Washington D.C., one of the industries with highest revolving lobbyists is the Beer, Wine & Liquor industry. Small retailers and producers have little input and must largely rely on the consumer making supportive decisions with their dollars.)

5% mark-up?! I understand as a consumer it’s hard to pass up those prices.

However, as a retail shop owner, I can’t pay my staff, my rent and utilities, the fees to accept credit cards, with only 5% mark-ups. The cost of doing business is too high to run 5-15% mark-ups. For a mega chain, they can allow one location to run lower numbers as another location has higher numbers; for a small independent, it’s the one location supporting itself.

So this leads to the question, “Why pay a more at an independent beer/wine store if you can pay less at a corporate chain?”

I think about this over and over again.

Every time it comes down to this: The people. And the quality. But, really, it’s about the people.

And I’m not just talking about the people who work at the independent beer & wine stores, I’m also talking about the people who shop local.

People who are passionate for the product

It’s true, us small business owners aren’t all smooth-operating happy-go-lucky upselling salespersons you’ll find at the mega liquor chains. Sometimes we’re tired; at my shop three of us are in overtime every week to keep things moving.

At the mega liquor chains, incoming product is stocked on the shelves by the distributor — these people don’t work for the store, they work for the supplier. At the small business, incoming product is stocked on the shelves by the people employed by the small business. At the small business, you are paying for them to make sure everything’s fully stocked, faced, organized, and sparkling clean. That’s a little insight into what you’re paying for.

At the mega liquor chains, the employees are coached as to what products to sell. If you frequent these 10,000-sq-ft and larger businesses several times a week and ask for the same recommendation each time, you’ll begin to notice patterns. In contrast, the independent beer/wine store is focused on figuring out what product would be best for you, for your event, for that gift. The small business wants to get you into what you’ll like. If you visit an independent shop like mine multiple times in a week and ask for the same recommendation each time, you’ll likely be shown many things. It’s an adventure, and the only agenda is to help you find something delicious.

So, the very advertising point that the big businesses are using to slam small business — calling us ‘snobs’ for being experts in our products — is the biggest selling point of the independent beer and/or wine store.

Why not shop with real beer and wine experts, your local independent beer & wine store?

We’re your neighbors.
We love our product.
We want to share our passion with you.

Who do you want to trust?
Where you spend your money shows who you trust. Most importantly, WHERE you spend your money shows WHO you want to keep in business.

If you choose to shop at mega liquor stores on a daily basis, saving the specialty shop only for special occasion, likely that small business will be out of business by the time you want that gift.

It’s so important to shop local regularly.

It’s only by regularly shopping with your local businesses that you develop the cool relationships that’re seen — between businesses owners and their staff and you — on shows like Seinfeld and Cheers.

This is what the small business has to offer:
Shared passions. Shared lives. Shared experiences.

Apr 04

Reading about beer? It’s not all beer journalism

The Session: A beer blogging first Friday eventThe Beer Hobo, Heather Vandenengel, is hosting The Session this month. Her topic: BEER JOURNALISM. She writes, “There was this Beer Advocate thread titled “Why is ‘beer journalism’ so bad?” Jacob McKean, founder of Modern Times Brewery in San Diego, recently wrote of beer journalism in an opinion piece, “In an industry with an almost total absence of real journalism, the cheerleading is virtually indistinguishable from the ‘reporting.’” And further asks…

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry.

What role do beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer?

Journalists and bloggers play a huge role in the growth of craft beer.

Likely you’ll notice that I broke them into two groups. But, really, I’d divide them even more differently…

Journalists are a unique breed. They’re ‘True Reporters’ in that their purpose is to present the facts. Their opinions and ratings are excluded. They let readers and listeners draw their own conclusions. This is the core difference between a blogger and a journalist. Bloggers like to give their opinion; they like to tell you what’s good or bad.

For consumers, this can be a challenge. They follow the lead of those they respect.

Likely we should simply call bloggers “personalities.” I will also lump in radio and podcast talk-show hosts into this category. The public develops a love of and an affinity for personalities. They’ll simply buy off a recommendation of that person, because they trust in, believe in, and want to be like that personality.

Case in point:
Mens Room RedThe guys on KISW, a Seattle-area radio station, love beer. In 2009 their afternoon drive-time show, The Mens Room, partnered with Elysian Brewing on a beer that’d contribute to nonprofit causes. Their simple line, “Because We Think It’s Yummy” has sold loads of the beer. Is the beer good? Sure. It’s an amber ale, tastes of caramelly malts with a bit of citrus hops; its got a bitterness that’s not overwhelming. At the time of its release, I’d never seen anything like it. Guys were flooding into my beer store, buying it by the case… we’re talking fizzy yellow beer drinkers who are used to paying under $20 for a case of 24, putting down over $50 for a case of 12 bombers — simply because the guys on the radio said it was “yummy.” Oh, the power of personality!

Journalists also have an impact on consumer beer buying decisions. For journalists, I’d cite those working for credentialed radio stations (NPR, Komo Newsradio, etc.), print beer publications (All About Beer, Draft, The Beer Connoisseur, Celebrator Beer News, Northwest Brewing News, etc.), other print publications (Science, The Smithsonian, etc.), and television (even though, IMO, a lot of the TV journalists fall into the “personalities” category these days). We regularly see people coming into the shop with print articles in hand, or notes from a news spot they heard.

Now the blogger… or “personality”…

The citizen blogger has been gaining more traction. This person is also a “personality,” sharing with us their opinion, likes and dislikes. Some omit their “dislikes” because of rules of etiquette, others openly flame. As for the debate as to whether bloggers who only “share the good” aren’t trustworthy, I’d disagree. It really depends on the “facts” presented. When it gets into good vs bad, there are often two sides to the story. If a beer or beer place was “bad,” why was it bad? Was the terrible experience intentional? Likely not. What’s the story behind it? Rarely do I see a bad review jump into the “whys” behind the bad experience. Thus, flamers and slammers simply appear less trustworthy, IMO.

As for blogger influence, the ‘unintended blogger’ making up the conglomerate of ‘beer raters’ who together place beers in the top 25, 100, and 250 on leading review Websites such as RateBeer and BeerAdvocate have a HUGE impact on people’s buying decision. Not alone, but together, they have power. Their compiled ratings create lists of “top” beers overall and by style. Consumers print these lists and bring them into specialty beer stores, seeking out what the majority say are “the best.”

As for the individual citizen blogger, we don’t see as many coming into the shop carrying their lists or blogposts. But as a small business owner juggling multiple duties, I use their blogs regularly to promote craft and import beers in store. I do this by sharing links to relevant posts and podcasts on facebook, twitter, and via the shop’s newsletter. How do I locate the relevant articles? Via Google search. That’s why I can’t emphasize enough for beer bloggers to optimize their posts for search engines.

Are we advocates, critics, or storytellers?

Beer personalities are all of the above — advocates, critics, and storytellers.

Some bloggers simply repost press releases. I’d discourage that, unless they’re also including an introduction of why they feel its important to share. Simply inundating the Web with standard boilerplate doesn’t add much value. If you’re re-posting a press announcement of a new beer release or a brewery anniversary party, what makes it important? Are you also looking forward to trying it or attending? Have you already tried it? Have you already visited the brewery? Share your thoughts. Remember, as a blogger, you’re a personality… unless your intent is journalism.

What stories are not getting told and what ones would you like to never hear about again?

Lisa Morrison, aka The Beer Goddess, of Oregon’s Beer O’Clock Radio says it best, “Every beer has a story.” I agree. I also feel there are a lot of stories not being told… or if they are, they’re not being found.

When drinking the beer, don’t just think about whether you like it. Don’t just think about its style. Consider its story: Who made it? Where was it made? Why was it made? Every beer has a story!

Oh, and I can’t think of any beer stories I wouldn’t like to hear again. (Even the ones that made me gag a little. LOL!)

What’s your beer media diet? i.e. what publications/blogs/sites do you read to learn about industry?

I read a lot about beer.

For print publications, my staples are:
All About Beer
Beer Advocate Magazine
Beverage Industry
Celebrator Beer News
MarketWatch Magazine
Northwest Brewing News
The Beer Connoisseur

My staples on the Internet are the Washington Beer Blog and Beer Pulse.

For blogs, my “standard list” to check are as follows. You’ll likely notice a theme running throughout them; most are more journalistic or editorial in nature. Perhaps I view them as “trustworthy” more than “opinion”…

A Good Beer Blog
Appellation Beer
Charlie Papazian’s The Beer Examiner
Beer Pulse
Beer Street Journal
The Beeroness
Brookston Beer Bulletin
Craft Beer
The Full Pint
Jeff Evan’s Inside Beer
New Brew Thursday
The Not So Professional Beer Blog
Seattle Beer News
Seacoast Beverage Lab
Stephen Beaumont’s World of Beer
Washington Beer Blog
Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile

When looking for opinions, I simply use Google and search the beer name, then flip through the resulting blogs and pods.

And Google search. I use Google search a lot! I can’t over-emphasize how much I search for beer. I scour the “news” section with keyword “beer” several times a week, and am continually looking up and researching beers by name and/or brewery on the regular Web search.

I should also mention this…
I also keep an eye on what Alcohol Justice is saying. They’re the self-proclaimed “watchdog” of the alcohol industry and are likely the biggest “anti-alcohol” advocate in the United States.

Are all beer journalists subhumans?

No. I just feel that a lot of people miscategorize “personalities” as “journalists.”

Is beer journalism a tepid affair and/or a moribund endeavor? And if so, what can be done about it?

Again, I’d say this all has to do with our confusing “personalities” with “journalists.” They are two different beasts. There are way more “personalities” out there than true journalists. True journalists don’t let their opinions seep in. When looking to “personalities,” I tend to navigate toward those who are “editorialists” or write in “memoir” fashion.

In the spirit of tipping the hat when someone gets it right, please also share a piece of beer writing or media you love — it doesn’t have to be recent, and it could be an article, podcast, video, book or ebook — and explain a bit about what makes it great. I’ll include links to those articles as well in my roundup for easy access reading.

I have a physical folder of clippings and printed blogposts to which I regularly refer. Alas, it’s at the shop in my filing cabinet so isn’t physically with me to point to as I write this post.

I just learned of a this one this morning. It’s from 1984 and was a local TV spot… and I LOVE IT!

Why I fell in love with it:

  • The simplicity.
  • They explain the difference between mass-produced beers and handcraft beer, in terms that the consumer understands: Mass-produced beer as the “Velveeta” or “Wonder Bread” of beer, in that it contains 40% of ingredients that are filler.
  • Drink beer on how they taste.
  • Different beers are made of different recipe.
  • The beauty of beer.
  • The passion of handcraft brewers.
  • The importance of following your dreams.
  • It takes time to develop a good beer recipe.
  • People will keep looking for beers that please their palate.
  • People will pay for good beer.

…plus the old Rainier commercials that I fell in love with years ago. Ah, memories! Every beer has a story.

Mar 04

Fair market doesn’t exist for Specialty Beer/Wine Stores in Washington State

URGENT! Washington State women-owned small businesses need your help

Two years ago, Washington voters approved a Costco liquor initiative that promised cheaper booze and greater convenience. Voters have now discovered what they really got — higher prices. But that’s not all they got. The Costco initiative broke out the welcoming mat to corporate America and stacked the deck against small business.

Only stores over 10,000 square feet are allowed to sell hard liquor. Box-store giants like Costco, Total Wine & More and BevMo have stores starting at 50,000 square feet. But where does that leave small-business owners like Tiffany Adamowski, owner of 99 Bottles located in Federal Way? The answer: boxed out.

Senate Bill 5731, which is currently in the Washington State House of Representatives, aims to give women like Adamowski a fighting chance.

“The bill would let me sell hard liquor made by small distillers, mostly craft distillers,” said Adamowski. “It doesn’t let me sell Jose Cuervo, Stolichnaya or other big brand names, so Costco would still have a huge competitive advantage. But the bill makes progress toward leveling the playing field.”

SB 5731 also helps other small business owners. In 2014, fifty new craft distilleries are expected to open in Washington State, but the number of expert alcohol sellers willing to carry their products is slim. SB 5731 creates much-needed shelf space for these craft producers.

Opponents of SB 5731 argue that it is unsafe to allow more hard-liquor outlets. Proponents of the bill disagree, pointing out they are the safest liquor retailers and that only existing true specialty shops would qualify under the bill.

“My shop is set up to sell liquor safely,” said Allison Helfen, owner of The Wine Alley located in Kent. “Kids never come into my store, and I don’t have shoplifting problems. Compare that to Fred Meyer. They leave Jack Daniels in open aisles where kids can easily get to it. If lawmakers are really concerned about public safety, then they should have shops like mine do all the liquor sales.”

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill, 43-4. But once the bill reached the House, it stalled in committee. According to some committee members, the bill was not ‘prime time’ and lacked support.

Beer/wine specialty shops, craft distillers, small family wineries, and craft brewers have all gotten behind the bill. The only people who opposed the bill are those who purchased former state liquor stores.

“I know many shop owners who have gone out of business since the Costco initiative,’ said Erika Cowan, owner of Full Throttle Bottles in Seattle. “How many more shops have to go out of business before we are ‘prime time’ enough?”

“We can’t continue being Costco’s punching bag,” said Adamowski. “If the Legislature doesn’t pass 5731 this session, I — and many others I know — will be out of business by the end of the year.”

To support small business, please contact Washington State Speaker Frank Chopp and urge him to pass SB 5731. You can contact him at 360-786-7920 or

Feb 26

4 reasons to support SSB 5731

Washington State Senators understand the importance of SSB 5731, the bill that would allow Specialty Beer/Wine Store licensees to carry small craft distilled spirits. However, members of one committee in the House seem confused as to the good will this bill brings to small businesses, consumers, and State revenues. Right now this bill dead-in-the-water for the second year in a row, with refusal to put it to vote. The result? More small businesses will close. Surely, our local businesses are deserving of a vote.

Here’s four reasons to support SSB 5731:

1) Consumer Choice & Customer Service

  • Shopping Location: There are few small neighborhood businesses selling spirits. Those remaining focus on top-selling mass-produced spirits. This forces most consumers to drive outside their neighborhoods to seek out craft spirits.
  • Local Support: Consumers will be able to buy craft spirits at local, family owned small specialty shops.
  • Customer Service: Specialty shop owners focus on knowing their products and personally representing every brand they carry, with ability to communicate information and make recommendations to customers based on their personal taste preferences.

2) Promoting Washington Small Business

  • In 2014, approximately 50 new small distilleries will open in Washington State.
  • Our legislators admit there will be insufficient shelf space for these local producers by year-end.
  • Small distilleries don’t get shelf space at large chain stores; grocery stores, drugstores, mega liquor stores, and existing small liquor stores all focus on fast-selling well-known brands.
  • By approving SSB 5731, our legislators have the opportunity to allow small specialty beer/wine store owners to obtain license to sell craft spirits by small producers. Specialty beer/wine stores have the shelf space, the ability to represent these products, and experience selling alcohol.

3) Safe & Experienced Retailers

  • Specialty beer/wine store owners are experienced alcohol retailers.
  • Small beer/wine stores have low incidence of selling to minors and low theft. That’s probably not a surprise as it’s pretty easy to keep an eye on shoppers in shops that are about 1200-square feet in size.
  • Though they’ve never sold spirits, many are already familiar with spirits.
  • Specialty shop owners pride themselves in knowing their products and are already experts at craft beer/wine.

4) Increased State Revenue

  • The State will have an additional tax revenue stream and more income from the 17% alcohol licensing fee for each bottle sold, plus sales tax, plus annual licensing fee.
  • With small businesses, the majority of profits stay in state. In contrast, BevMo! is a privately held corporation based in Concord, Calif.; it is owned by TowerBrook Capital Partners, L.P., a New York- and London-based private equity firm. Total Wine & More was originally founded in Delaware but now its corporate offices are located in Potomac, Maryland.

Other impacts

There are two major concerns that have been brought up in opposition to SSB 5731.

Addressing the public safety concerns regarding an increased number of alcohol outlets

  • Because specialty beer/wine stores are already considered “alcohol outlets” there will be no increase in the number of alcohol retailers.
  • There are fewer than 900 Specialty Beer/Wine Store retailers licensed in Washington State, of which “approximately 200 are true specialty beer/wine stores who qualify under this bill“, says Karen Rogers.
  • Not all small specialty beer/wine stores who qualify will apply for the Liquor license. Those that do, must undergo an application process monitored by the State Liquor Control Board.
  • Under SSB 5731, those small retailers eligible to apply for a (small spirits) Liquor license must have a Specialty Beer/Wine Store license issued prior to January 1, 2013. Thus, no new alcohol outlets will be added.
  • 167 state stores were sold at auction. Under 200 true small specialty beer/wine stores exist; estimates are that half of these shops will apply to sell small craft spirits. Thus, the market won’t be “overrun by alcohol outlets;” in fact, it would have about the same number of small business alcohol outlets as represented in the tables of I-1183.

Discussion on infringement on the rights of auctioned store license holders

  • Over 60% of the auctioned liquor stores have closed. More will be closing by the end of the year. The remaining liquor store have been operating 1-1/2 years now, but many of the new business owners still don’t do the basics in marketing their business and its products.

Commentary on SSB 5731 being stopped in the House Government Accountability & Oversight Committee

This is the second year that the bill that would allow small Specialty Beer/Wine Stores (under 10,000-sq ft) a more fair playing ground against large Specialty Beer/Wine Stores (over 10,000-sq ft) has been stopped in this committee. This sends a clear message to small specialty shop owners that the chairman of this committee prefer to cater to big business, than to make the playing field more fair for Specialty Beer/Wine Stores of all sizes.

Since the privatization of liquor, our state has experienced exchange of one monopoly (State) to another (corporatization). BevMo and Total Wine & More have entered the state in full force. Total Wine hasn’t been shy about going after small business, running radio advertisements targeting specialty wine stores. They are also targeting specialty beer stores. These mega-stores have two core licenses that allow them to sell alcohol in Washington State: “Specialty Beer/Wine Store” and “Spirits Retailer.”

Even though small wine and beer stores carry the same “Specialty Beer/Wine Store” license, they are unable to even apply for a Spirits license because their locations are under 10,000-square-feet. Does building size really matter?

Our legislators have worked with small craft distilleries to get bills passed to help them grow their businesses, but now as committee chair, Rep. Hurst, refuses to allow his committee to approve the optimal retailers for these producers. Specialty beer/wine store owners are experienced, safe operators. The Senate and its committees recognizes this by overwhelmingly voting in favor of SSB 5731. In the first House review committee, Rep. Hurst refused to put the bill to vote, stating the bill was not “prime time” enough and that he didn’t have the votes … in fact, he was one of the opposing votes. Why? Rep. Hurst has worked with small distilleries on bills, yet he is opposed to giving them experienced specialty alcohol retailers as sales outlets. In my phone call with Rep. Hurst, he first indicated he was opposed to 5731, then for. Which is it? For or Against small business?

In our conversation, Rep. Hurst indicated that specialty beer/wine store owners aren’t experienced in selling alcohol (spirits). While we haven’t sold spirits, we learn everything we can about the products we sell and are experts at selling craft beer/wine. If allowed to carry craft spirits, we will do the same. I’m not sure why this was even a topic he brought up as the State of Washington auctioned so many of its small liquor stores to people who’ve never sold alcohol, who have never worked with alcohol distributors, who have no experience in the alcohol industry. Specialty beer/wine store owners have years of experience in these areas; selling spirits isn’t that much different than selling wine or beer. It’s the reporting and taxation and licensing of spirits that is different; specialty beer/wine store owners have already demonstrated their ability to report taxes and direct-shipment receipts to the State.

While my sympathies go out to those owning former state stores, especially those contract owners, there are other bills in the legislature that are in support of auctioned and former contract state liquor stores, to help their businesses better compete with corporations (e.g., dropping their alcohol licensing fees from 17% to 7%). The effect of SSB 5731 on these small liquor retailer will be virtually null as they focus on 50-70 top-selling liquors (McCormick, Jager, Jack Daniels, Seagrams, Smirnoff, Makers, Absolut, etc.). In contrast, small specialty beer/wine stores would focus primarily on locally produced self-distributed handcraft spirits.

When working triage, you give your blessings to the dying (small liquor stores) and you help those who still have a chance to live (Specialty Beer/Wine Stores). On one auctioned liquor store, King 5 reported: “The sales from what the store was doing before privatization have dropped by about 95 percent,” said owner Meru Belbayeva. With 53% of their profits going to the State, that doesn’t leave much to operate on. Even Rep. Hurst, in our phone conversation, recognized that despite his efforts to help these retailers that the majority would be out of business by the end of the year. In contrast, many of the struggling small specialty beer/wine stores don’t need giant increase to bring their businesses back into the black; some just need a 3-5% boost in revenues, which could easily be attained by the addition of small craft spirits — products that aren’t offered at most small liquor stores.

The small Specialty Beer/Wine Store owners were sandbagged in the public hearing for SSB 5731. In the same hearing (watch it on TVW) SSB 6237, the bill regarding license issuance fees imposed on former contract liquor stores was presented. Their heartbreaking testimonies confused the issue at hand for SSB 5731, making it no longer about corporations vs. small businesses, but about small business vs. small business.

Though I strongly disagree that SSB 5731 is a bill pitting small business against small business. In our conversation, it was clear that Rep. Hurst disagrees. I pointed out that the liquor store nearest to my specialty shop had closed, leaving us unable to meet the requests of those turning to us for spirits. He counteracted, citing Sip City Wines and the former state store, Liquor and Wine Enumclaw. But catering to his belief, I ask “If you were to hedge bets on this triage scenario, to which small business would you give first attention?”

Side note #1: Many of these CLS Spirits Retailers have obtained a Specialty Beer/Wine Store license, with additional endorsements for growlers and keg sales. There is no protection offered to the small specialty beer/wine store owners for auctioned state liquor store owners attempting to steal our customers or edge in on limited supplies of rare beer/wine. We are being attacked both by small business and corporations. So, from that angle I can see that Rep. Hurst could be right when he infers that small business threatens small business… but he isn’t looking at it from both sides. Specialty beer/wine stores are being squeezed by both small liquor stores and big corporations. But as a specialty beer/wine store owner, I’m not asking to take anything from already struggling small liquor shops; I’m asking to have the right to bring in small craft distilled products. They’ve had opportunity to carry craft spirits, but most of them focus solely on the mega brands. It’s the second year his committee is refusing to allow businesses like mine to fairly compete with corporations. Note, there is no record of him voting against small businesses like mine on these bills because they were stopped at his committee (i.e., as committee chairman he refused to take a vote).

Side note #2: The auction winners who bid on the right to own and operate the former state liquor stores object to Specialty Beer/Wine Stores ability to obtain a Liquor license, even with its tight limitations of being only for those produced by “small craft distillers” because they believe it infringes on their rights. Together, they spent more than $31 million for Washington’s 167 state-run liquor stores. Their high bids were based on financials of a state monopoly, with zero competition in liquor sales. Their bids were over-inflated for what they were getting. Because they mortgaged houses and took out loans for their American dream, because their liquor license is “good for life” (within a certain square mile radius of the shop they purchased), they believe they should have exclusive rights to sell liquor as a small business in Washington State. Even after over 60% of them have gone out of business. Whoever they consulted with on this bad business deal should be sacked!

Side note #3: I can’t help but notice one simple difference between the two stores Rep. Hurst cited: Marketing. Only Sip City Wines has gone to the effort to list their business on both Yelp and The Patch – Enumclaw, the other hasn’t. Neither have Websites. Neither have facebook pages. Neither have twitter feeds. How can people learn about your business, your products, if you don’t take a few minutes each day to market them? As a small business owner, I have found marketing an invaluable tool — and the wonderful thing about the Internet is you can do much of it for free, it just costs a little of your time. As a specialty beer/wine store owner, there are days where I post a photo of a new product on twitter or facebook and meet customers coming in for it within 20 minutes.

But, really, let’s LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE of what’s really happening in Washington State:

It’s about corporations vs. small businesses.

Can the small David (small businesses) even have a chance at fighting a fair battle with Goliath (mega liquor corps) if the State takes away David’s slingshot and ties his hands behind his back?

Contact Rep. Hurst and tell him to bring SSB 5731 to the Government Accountability & Oversight committee for a vote. Washington small businesses need a fair chance to compete against corporate America.

Contact Speaker Chopp at (360) 786-7920 and ask him to help us unstick SSB 5731 and bring it to a vote. Small specialty beer/wine store owners deserve the dignity of a vote.

Older posts «

Sharing Buttons by Linksku