Quality Is Queen

What’s on the collective mind of the professional beer community? Quality.

On the heels of the brewery explosion – which is still mushroom clouding – smart brewers and business people in the beer world realize and know quality is queen.

Deschutes is a great example of quality driven beer.

Deschutes is a great example of quality driven beer.

Here are a few indicators:

  1. Having been invited to be a panelist at the inaugural CIA Crafting Beer & Food Summit, Napa CA, we were asked to talk about the Business of Beer. Nicole Erny was right on in her comments and I’d echo the same: quality + business = success.
  2. Consistency is also queen. Inconsistency of brands which are supposed to be consistent is not the way to build a business nor a clever marketing ploy to promote a brewery’s beer. Inconsistency is different from variety and variation of beers that get the green light to vary.
  3. When an entry-level consumer tries a beer which is not to style or brand, then we’ve all f’d it up. That sort of experience is a tough one to overcome. Plus if the consumer likes the non-quality beer, then we’ve just warp speed damaged what the experience is supposed to be.
  4. The Brewers Association recently released the Quality Management Book, written by Mary Pellettieri – and gave a complementary copy to every BA member. PLUS they already had the Draught Quality Manual out for establishments pouring beer on draught.

Quality is queen. It should be, as a quality product should be the goal and daily driver of all businesses. There’s a lot of poor quality beer out there, created by brewers who are too blindly passionate to realize that poor quality beer brings everyone down and hurts the industry community.

Ground zero is you and me. As the buyer and consumer of beer, we must demand quality, get to know beer, and speak up for quality.

Rally time is here. Join me in the call for quality.

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Keys To Business Success: Quality & Consistency

One of the primary keys to any business success is a true focus and commitment to quality. Another that goes hand in hand is consistency.

Great brands are built so the consumer can count on them.

In the beer world quality and consistency are talked about quite a bit. I think the conversation was jumped started a bit more when Paul Gatza, the Brewers Association, dropped the f bomb emphasizing quality import at the 2014 CBC.

Quality + Consistency = worthy brands

Quality + Consistency = worthy brands

I agree. If you choose not to fully dedicate to quality, get the F out. Of any business. The world has enough crap, enough sub par junk, more than enough mediocrity and middling service, enough detritus for us to float on for millenia. And yet some people, breweries included, still keep pumping out junk.

And no, this is not where anyone can trash ABI or SABMiller. Quality and consistency has helped them build their global branded businesses, keeping the experience for the consumer, the same every single time.

Sensory Analyst Lindsay Guerdrum, New Belgium Brewing, gave an enlightening and very thorough sensory talk at the 2014 CBC (lots to take in this year…as usual). I want to share a bit of what I took from her talk to this end.

  • Consistency + Quality = Key to Brand Success
  • You absolutely need to know your customer; You need to know who you’re responding to
  • “Make sure you’re shooting at the right target.”
  • Beer is inherently the variable, there is no gold standard
  • Aim for True To Brand; in lab speak – is it “Go” or “No Go”?
  • “N” can never = 1 on a sensory panel. You need 3+ people on panels

And in her summation, I’d stand up and shout YES:

Never stop training.

Thanks to Lindsay and New Belgium for continuing to set the pace for quality and consistency. People don’t call the brand Fat Tire (vs. New Belgium ) for nothing. They know what they’re doing.

Do you?

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ABC’s of Women, Beer and Food: Letter Q

Q is a favorite character in the Bond films for me. So pints up for today’s letter Q – long may it stand for QUALITY.

Quality is one of the most important aspects of beer and food. Quality can be measured. Preference and quality are different things entirely. Never confuse the two.

I’ve covered getting rid of words like “good” and “bad” before since those are arbitrary and subjective. What’s good? What’s Bad? And what of the raft of other why’s that accompany these words – “why is X good/bad?”

When you shift to a quality perspective, beer and food gets reframed for the benefit for all, starting with giving the beer and food a fair shake regardless of your preferences and prejudices.

Quality is Queen

Quality is Queen

Just because you don’t like this beer or that food, does not mean the quality is inferior. It means you may choose not to like it – fine. Do so. Do so with class and tact and remember ALL brands started small.

When I started WEB I used to cringe at people making disparaging comments about certain brands of beer, based on what they liked – or thought they liked sometimes based on murky memories and bad experiences, which were in no way the beers fault to begin with. Now I welcome the comments.

It’s still an ignorant shame that there’s a growing population of reverse beer snobbery as it pertain to the explosion of beers in the country. As humans we have the intelligence capacity to be compassionate, make our own decisions, change our minds and be diplomatic. Please use your humanity to like what you like and accept what others like as well with equality.

WEB encourages a focus on quality. After that it’s all a delicious downhill sleigh ride.

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ABC’s of Women, Beer and Food: Letter N

Nummy…Noble Hops…Nitrogenated…

While all of these are N worthy, today’s Letter N word is Nice.

Huh??

Yes, Nice. There’s a very unsavory and growing faction of people in the beer community who are making blanket judgements that certain beers are better than others shearly based on size of volume produced and ownership. That certain ones are uncool and bad, and some are good and worthwhile to attend to. Some stores are even choosing to eliminate choices for the very consumers they serve based on this judgement.

P1100709Being Nice means being diplomatic, being an ambassador, being kind and NOT being a judge. Leaders in any arena have a nice quality to them: business, community, family, friendships, social circles, service clubs. Do you want to lead or be lead?

Like the beers you like. Remember these things all the same:

1. All companies, beer and food and otherwise, start and started small in size. To now disqualify a beer or food because it’s successfully grown – by the support of the very same people who are now shunning it – is hypocritical and uncouth. Plus it’s totally ridiculous. Many times quality grows as a businesses income comes in, affording an increase in many facets that positively impacts the goods.

2. Size isn’t what matters here. Quality is. Is the company quality focused? Ask that instead of ‘what’s the volume of product produced and sold?’

3. Let everyone choose the beer and food they want. Freedom of choice is why there are so many choices and one thing that makes America and many countries in the world special.

4. Beer and food all start in the same way: with raw ingredients, by people, and for people. Before you dismiss a product out of hand simply for the volume of their products, take a look at their business and organizations. How many people to they gainfully and purposefully employ? How many suppliers, vendors and growers are impacted by the operation? Has there been any shift of quality?

5. Large and global brands are still great choices for some. And we’d agree with transparency that people are calling for in the interest of full disclosure. More and more people want to know who and where what they put in their gullet comes from. Agreed. When making your decisions though, return to deciding based on quality and flavors you enjoy.

6. We highly encourage not using labels for beer. Dark, light, craft, crafty, heavy, and so on. These are moving targets, arbitrary based on the judge or judging body. Don’t swallow anything whole unless you educate yourself first AND look at the wider implications of your choices if they affect others.

It makes WEB dismayed to see this reverse niceness and kick to the teeth of some long-standing brands that are growing in size that have (and had) fanatical followers because they were the small-er when they started. Now all the sudden the brands aren’t good enough…what?! Makes no sense.

In fact I’ve been to plenty of smaller size breweries whose obvious lack of commitment to cleanliness and sanitation is way more disturbing that larger ones. Yikes! Cleanliness is critical to high quality operations of all capacity and volume sizes. Do you know how clean the brewery and production facility is before you make that judgement, before you extol or condemn? Get educated first.

In most cases, size has little to do with enjoyment of a brand. Quality does. Unless some gross injustice of power, ingredients, quality or impact has occurred, we say stick with what you like. Being nice about beer and food is acting with graciousness and class, never judging.

No one likes a judgmental jerk. Don’t be one. Be Nice. Progress is made with nice.

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ABC’s of Women, Beer & Food: Letter H

One of the four primary ingredients in beer is today’s featured letter: Hops!

Hop bines just before harvest

Hops or hop, depending on who or whom you ask, is the cone flower bearing plant that’s included in beer making to add flavor, aroma or both as well as stability in beer (read this). It’s an extraordinary plant to witness live. Growing on bines 18 to 20 feet in the air, spiraled around their supporting lead, all the way up to the sky!

Have you been to a hop farm before? Do you grow hops at your home? Have you ever smelled or rolled fresh picked hops in your hands, still sticky and damp? It’s ethereal.

Hop plants started getting used in beer following Gruit and is widely used globally in beer production (with a few exceptions). Here are a few more hop terms to increase your vocab.

The connection with beer and food here is that hops can accent different foods differently. Think of the crisp bite of a well balanced beer and how it pairs deliciously with cheeses, can liven up a mild dish and can mellow out a hot and spicy one.  Like any ingredient, the hop profile will best complement food when intensity is matched.

This fragile ingredient must be either used almost immediately after harvest from the hop yards or dried as a whole cone flower or pelletized for storage. Cold is needed to best preserve this beer beauty as with any agricultural crop, it starts to degrade as soon as it’s picked.

The hop farmers and growers are some of the most hospitable, smart and thoughtful people I’ve encountered in the beer community. Some exclusively grow hops, some grow other complementary crops. You can learn more by visiting the American Hop Museum too – check it out!

Gayle Goschie of Goschie Farms, Nancy Frketich of OR Hops & Ginger at the Goschie Farm, 2011

Support your local hop grower if you have one. Support your own hops should you choose to plant and grow them. They’re rhizomes and spread in the right setting so plant them accordingly (read: provide LOADS of room to climb and spread). They make great sun shade on a South facing rise, properly trained with twine.

One tip colleague Gayle Goschie, of multi generational Goschie Farms told me in growing my own: when you see the heads popping up in the spring time, cut them off – behead them. If you let them grow in that first blush, you’ll get lots and lots of leaves, which takes energy away from the flowers. Beheading them forces the plant to regenerate and send up more efficient bines focused on flower production. So if you want leaves, let them grow. If you want cone flowers, behead them.

While I can go on and on about hops, I’d also share that there is a growing faction of hop education opportunities. One example: I was invited to attend Hop & Brew School by HopUnion in Yakima Washington last September. What a fabulous treat and a big eye opener! Great people, passionate, plugged in, and passing the information forward. All to the end benefit of high quality hops in the beer we enjoy.

My glass is up today to hops and more especially the growers, farmers, brokers and researchers of hops.

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How Do You Define Quality?

  • Is quality inarguable or arbitrary?
  • Is it something everyone can see, smell, hear, feel, touch and taste or is it invisible, odorless, silent, benign and flavorless?
  • Who determines quality and who measures it and by what scale or system?
  • Is the definition updated and if so how frequently or seldom?
  • Why does it even matter?

People love to have opinions. We all have them and we all voice them in our own ways. In the realm of beer I encourage everyone to focus on irrefutable quality standards, as opposed to preferences. Virtually everything can be loved, liked, dismissed or despised. It’s too subjective to build ideas and thoughts around basic opinions, letting dangerous judgements color the facts.

decide based on facts, not opinions

Decide based on facts, not opinions

Standards and scales that we can all address, learn about and from, and utilize would serve us much better than our own senses. People are quick to judge when given the opportunity, or when opportunity is simply taken without forethought or permission. Judging is a precarious and tenuous practice at best.

Think with your brain before you let your senses take over. Aim for quality and characteristics like cleanliness, sanitation, cell counts, and stainless.  Informed opinions based on standards are a much more sound foundation in which to educate and develop understanding.

Being intelligently informed is wise for all.

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Everybody’s First Interest

What’s your first interest? What’s the first thing your concerned with everyday?

If it’s work related, is it different from a personally relative concern?

If you apply this to you work, the first interest for everybody should be the product or service you’re providing. In the case of the beer industry, everybody’s first interest should be the beer. Period.

Cleanliness is one thing that's best for the beer

I first heard this though put forth by a respected and accomplished colleague in the beer community. It got written down – and now directly cited – because I think it’s very forward thinking. It can help guide your movement and goals. It’s a very simple proposal and should be simple to communicate as well.

“What’s best for the beer” is how a good friend and colleague puts it. If it’s best for the beer, then that’s the pursuit worth doing.

If it’s not, then rethink what you’re doing. If it’s not, you either need to adjust it to it is best for the beer or scrap it. Because if it’s not the best thing for the beer, it’s not a good thing for it either. Nor for progress in pursuing quality, consistency and efficacy.

If it’s not good for the beer, it’s bad for everything. What’s it going to be?

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Handmade, Not Homemade

“We want things to look handmade, not homemade.” – Sandi Globus

Nail on the head. Hand made or hand crafted is something you can talk about endlessly if it is indeed well done, high quality hand work.

Homemade echos amateur efforts that may display sub par quality.

Which are you after?

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What Makes A Place Return Worthy

Yesterday, I dumped on an exceedingly poor experience. Today, let’s shine some light.

If you read this and say “Ah! These are no brainers” then don’t tolerate it elsewhere either! Speak up – if you’re in the craft/beer community, say something so this does not get repeated (it was an embarrassment).

Okay – what to do:

1. Curb appeal – like it or not, it matters. Make sure your place looks inviting, the lighting is appropriate and not ugly, ugly industrial, too high, weak, fluorescent or otherwise bad. Curb appeal infers you care.

An excellent customer experience can be had at The Publican in Chicago

2. A sign to indicate you’re open or not needs to be nice and readable, not the $2 hunter orange and black variety. Geez, you put so much into your beer (theoretically) why skimp on a bad sign that turns people off?

3. Smell. What does your place smell like – and you can’t be the one to answer it. You smell it so often you’re immune to it. Ask others. Fresh, yes. Like beer is brewing – yummmm! Like industrial pine cleaner (horrific on a taste experience) or urine or garbage, bad bad bad. Clean it top to bottom with your crew 1 – 2 times per year. When everybody cleans it, everybody keeps it cleaner.

4. Clean fixtures – tables, chairs, floors, baseboards, bathrooms. Clean Clean Clean. Things should look, smell, feel, and be clean.

5. Only serve quality goods – beer and food. Simple is good – a simple fresh bowl of pretzels will always be better than a poorly executed and wasted dish of some other ilk. Don’t insult your beer by serving sub par foods.

6. Service. The very words connotes that you will indeed be served – whatever your model looks like. Drill home the servant mentality, train, teach everyday, reinforce, retrain, reteach, reinforce, rinse repeat. the passion for the customer has to come form the top too.

7. Value. Value = experience + company + environment + time spent + dollars. Get all the pieces right and it’s a fit. Get any of them wrong, then it’s time to evaluate and start over.

8. Training and education, leadership and guidance are critical pieces of the pie if you’re a one person show or if you employ hundreds. People love to patronize well run operations. Give them lots of reasons, starting here.

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Going From Bad Crazy to Good Crazy

If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll see some hot buttons in marketing beer to women.

Focus on the beer, not sex

Today I’ll offer smart solutions for those 6 points.

1. De-sex beer. Take away any inferences or sexual overtones. What our culture could use, since it’s not a very healthy sexual representation and very lopsided towards objectified women, is non sexual advertising and marketing. A great product should stand on its own merits. Period. If you have to use sex to sell it, I’d make a stab that the product ain’t that great to begin with. Clever – great! Humor – good choice. Just make sure you remove sex.

2. High quality delicious beer is made for everyone. Beer is genderless – approach your marketing efforts this way, targeting beer enthusiasts in general, and you’ll be successful. I’d point to Schlafly, Boulevard, and Ninkasi as great examples of focusing on beer, not sex.

3. See #2. Beer enthusiasts come with female plumbing and male plumbing. Ignore the plumbing and go for taste buds.

Good example of classy, non gender specific label

4. Beer names and labels need to be thoughtfully considered. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s clever if you turn a ton of people off – unless you flat out want to turn them off (and ruin sales potential). Mistress, girls, chick, babe, and any sexualized reference of women is a bad choice, no matter who you are and how big or small your beer world is. Men aren’t labeled as such; don’t make the huge mistake of intentionally insulting 50.9% of the (entire) population with a insensitive or inappropriate name. There are millions of words – find some that work and still remain true to your brand. This includes images by the way.

5. There IS a market for craft beers for women – those beers are known as craft beers. Yes, I just repeated the obvious because it still needs to sink in with many. Craft beer should be marketed for all. Yes, you market different for different market segments – including men and women. That said, when’s the last time you heard some one say “I want a really crappy beer”?? Quality is genderless; treat your customers with enough respect that you assume they all want quality craft beers. The key here is education internally and externally.

6. All craft beer enthusiasts want layers of flavor, complexities and characteristics. That’s part of the beauty of beer. With four foundational main ingredients, those four in concert with whatever the recipe allows for already encourages incredible variety for people to enjoy.

So the message du jour for breweries wanting to attract female beer enthusiasts: market your beer on its own merits – high quality, local, value, good business practices (yes, for you), and they will patronize you.

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Clean Thy Glass!

What does “beer clean” mean? Here’s a helpful post.

Beer clean glassware is also indicative of the commitment of the brewery, brewpub, operator – whoever is in charge of the beer inclusively – to high quality beer.

p1040352Larry Chase, brew master at Standing Stone Brewing Company is Ashland Oregon, told me this.

“Because beer is alive and produced by a living organism (yeast), in order to make better beer, the entire brew house should be clean. Everything the beer is going not touch needs to be clean.”

He tells me it tastes better and it’s more consistent when everything is clean. Not just surficially clean, really elbow grease scrubbed clean.

The dedication to a clean brew house and all its equipment is evident in fresh, clean beer – yes, you can taste the difference.

Any while contamination may not make you sick, it’s kind of a disheartening thought. To think that after all that effort, someone may be slipshod on cleanliness.

Quality assurance quality control makes sense to the senses.  Make sure your brewery is clean. All the way to the glassware.

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Do It Right – Or Don't Do It

This could be said for a great many things. I bring it up today remembering a brief interchange with David Walker this past May in San Diego.

“If you’re going to make a chair, make a chair.”

A chair is not a chair...

A chair is not a chair...

Okay – chairs…beer…women…Huh?

The overarching idea I took away from the exchange is that we can relate it to anything. Said another way, if you’re going to put effort into something, make sure the goal and the effort are worth it.

Chairs, beer, widgets. Quality & attention to detail pays off in everything.

Besides, women are paying attention. So are men.

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Quality by Dr. Michael Lewis

I have a high amount of regard for Dr. Michael Lewis. He’s a class act, educated, affable, well spoken, extremely well versed in all things beer. A gentleman.

So I was really pleased to be able to take in his presentation at the latest Craft Brewers Conference in Boston, this past April.

One indication of the aforementioned qualities is this quote, which he offered during his talk:

“Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s bad or poor quality.”

It was in response to people referencing big brewers in the discussion. Indeed – to brew consistently, whether you like the taste of the beers made by industrial brewers or not, is quite remarkable.

Quality always outshines mediocrity or poor product.

How’s your quality of the beer, the customer experience and the authenticity of your brand (who you are)?

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