I don’t like to bask in my own braggadocio, but my holiday haul is going to crush yours this year. Over the last month, I have been showered with boxes full of delicious gifts from sources, clients and complete strangers working in the beer industry. It’s the golden shower I assume everyone’s always talking about. Scholarly books, celebratory beers, gourmet dry-hop coffee — all of these thoughtful presents have paved the way for (what looks like) a perfect holiday break for me in particular. I’m chest bumping a mirror right now. Check this out:
So, to help celebrate the unselfishness of the holiday season, I decided to dedicate this chapter of cool loot to myself. It should be noted, we are not a beer or book review site, but we do drink beer and read books, so we’re always quite tickled when craft businesses send us some of their awesome products for us to crush. In this reoccurring column, I will highlight those generous businesses, focusing on the innovative packaging techniques and cool products. I’d like to thank these business for their magnanimity. Here goes…
Cold remedy: Sublime Mexican Lager
To showcase how deserving I am of free beer from famous craft brewers, let’s start off by celebrating a beer I should have been writing about this summer. San Diego’s AleSmith Brewing Co. and legendary Long Beach reggae rockers Sublime announced in (gasp!) August that Sublime Mexican Lager would be available in six-packs of 12-ounce cans and on draft in 19 states nationwide. In my only defense here, AleSmith sent this beer to me right after the last Cool Loot column I did in early October.
My apologies — because this beer is absolutely binge worthy. Sublime Mexican Lager is a thirst-quenching 5.2 percent ABV twist on a traditional Vienna-style lager highlighted by a malt-forward sweetness and easy drinkability. It’s clean, crisp and balanced with a smooth finish. AleSmith only sent me one, and I wanted 20 more. Here’s some quotes from some Sublime alum (from the press release):
“This is the one! It doesn’t taste like anything else,” Sublime co-founder Bud Gaugh said of Sublime Mexican Lager. “The flavor is great, and it has a craft beer flare with a true Mexican lager taste.”
“Being a beer lover, I’m so proud to partner with an elite world-class brewery like AleSmith, and I know Sublime fans will absolutely love it,” added Troy Holmes, widow of original Sublime front man Bradley Nowell. “Like Bradley sang, ‘That second beer was such a turn on.’”
Tea me: Owl’s Brew Radler
I’m obsessed with tea. I have a clogged kitchen sink of congealed tea leaves to prove it. I cold brew daily. As a result, my girlfriend does not like tea, yet she does like Owl’s Brew (me too). In fact, I was super excited to get my mitts on some of this company’s unique product offerings. Jennie Ripps and Maria Littlefield co-founded Owl’s Brew in 2013. The company makes tea specifically for pairing with cocktails, and its sister company, Brew Lab Tea, specializes in creating artisanal custom tea blends. Ripps is an actual tea sommelier by trade, and the company has been experimenting in pairing tea with beer for a while now. Owl’s Brew Radlers are the refreshing results.
These are cans of sparkling spiked tea created using a craft beer base. The company just released its Short & Stout brand, which blends organic tea (black tea, cloves, cinnamon, ginger) with a craft beer style (in this case a stout) then mixes it with pineapple juice and coconut water. It tastes as good as it sounds. Owl’s Brew currently has distribution in 17 other states. Dig these other creative flavors:
- The Blondie: Wheat Beer paired with organic English Breakfast, lemon peel, lemon and lime juice.
- Wicked Watermelon: Wheat beer blended with organic white tea, watermelon and pomegranate juice.
- That’s My Jam: Amber ale paired with organic darjeeling hibiscus, strawberry and lemon juice.
Owl’s Brew, please send more.
Coffee me: CODO Design’s dry-hop coffee
While I often act like I know everything, I just know where to find everything. When it comes to understanding beer branding, packaging, web design and marketing, I know I need to find the fine folks at CODO Design. They have all the answers (all the important ones, anyway). Let us throw some questions out, and we’ll let CODO crush these stumpers into highly precise nuggets of wisdom:
- How do you calculate brand positioning using a matrix?
- How do you define your brewery’s culture through branding?
- Branding or marketing? What does your brewery need first?
- How can you brand a brewery with no apparent differentiator?
- What is authenticity’s role in branding your craft beer?
- Some jerk already took my brewery name, so now what?
Along with branding, the crew at CODO also know their beverages. They sent along this excellent, hand-crafted coffee package pictured above and below. To get a glimps of CODO’s creativity, just soak up some of the details in this holiday parcel.
The handwritten letter on the box, the custom coffee jar with CODO design stickers and the clever inside secret panel that explains this generous, caffeinated offering:
CODO runs on coffee and beer, so we couldn’t think of a better gift than dry-hopped coffee beans. However, when it comes to branding this stuff, we couldn’t agree on one direction — so we decide to do them all.
Isaac Arthur and Cody Fague, founders of CODO Design, have worked with breweries all over the country (and increasingly, the world), and they have written many a blog for the pages and posts of CBB. We even worked on a webinar together — A Crash Course in Craft Beer Branding. After years of working in the beer field they decided to gather their insights and create a free online resource — Craft Beer Branding Guide. Our suggestion: Grab some coffee and read it right now. It’ll change your perspective on selling beer.
My Christmas morning beer: Mad Elf Grand Cru
When a beer shows up on my stoop in a 750-milliliter cork-and-cage bottle, I know it’s a precious elixir meant to be savored, shared and enjoyed on a special occasion. I plan to do all of that — except for that sharing part. Right now, this magnificent-looking Mad Elf Grand Cru bottle from Tröegs Independent Brewing above will be uncorked on my Christmas morning — a panacea for the long, arduous day of family socializing ahead.
The Mad Elf is Tröegs’ mischievously famous Belgian Strong Dark Ale that clocks out at 11 percent ABV. The Mad Elf Grand Cru is the special release Director’s Cut. It’s the first time Tröegs has brewed this. The Grand Cru is a Mad Elf that’s been bottle-conditioned, loaded with Tart Balaton cherries and flushed with notes of cinnamon and clove. It looks to be one of the best gifts I got this holiday.
Tröegs was also kind enough to send along a can of its Winter IPA — Blizzard Hops — with corresponding glassware. It’s a storm of hoppy citrus and pine notes that I enjoyed while watching my girlfriend shovel the driveway, which makes it another beer made for great memories.
My evening Christmas beer: Rouge Ales Santa’s Private Reserve
Rogue Ales and Spirits brewmaster John Maier kind of looks like Santa Claus (at least in this picture). The Newport, Ore.-based brewmaster has certainly been giving us the gift of craft beer for three decades. His Santa’s Private Reserve is always one of my end-of-year traditions. I’m an especially big fan of its snazzy serigraphed bottle, this year picturing a relaxed Santa sipping on a celebratory mug.
This year’s Santa’s Private Reserve is a Belgian strong ale brewed with cherries, raspberries, Candi sugar and Imperial Gnome yeast. Mmm….Gnome yeast. It’s impressive to think that Santa’s Reserve has been a seasonal favorite in various iterations for 16 years and counting now, and it’s nice to see it become a Christmas tradition.
The Rogue team also sent along a sixer of Yellow Snow Pilsner. This is a refreshing new pilsner from Rogue Ales made with Oregon spruce tips. Wait, spruce tips? Yep. The light green tips on the branches of spruce trees — those things. The taste is reminiscent of a mild Oregon winter and the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. Yellow Snow Pilsner is now dressed in fresh new cans featuring a curious dog against a blue, white and yellow color scheme. Let’s cue up a quote from the press release:
“We’ve brewed Yellow Snow IPA for the past 15 years, but this year we decided to make a beer reminiscent of our Pacific Northwest winters,” said Rogue President Brett Joyce. “So, we created a crisp pilsner made with spruce tips from our own backyard and then canned it for enjoyment outside.”
Beer Law: What Brewers Need to Know
John Szymankiewicz — licensed professional engineer; martial arts instructor; book publisher; influential beer attorney. Szymankiewicz is all of these things and probably more. Today, Szymankiewicz spends most of his time heading up the Beer Law Center, which is a division of Matheson Law Office located in downtown Raleigh, N.C. He has a passion for helping craft brewers navigate the complexities of both business and alcohol law. In fact, he wrote a book on the subject:
Beer Law: What Brewers Need to Know [buy it here] is an overview of everything you need to know when you’re opening a brewery or growing your brewery to the next level. Covering topics like company formation, fundraising, licensing, and trademark. If you own a brewery, or want to, and you’re not a lawyer, you need this book.
Learn about contracts, intellectual property, trademarks, the three-tier system, federal licensing, state licensing, labeling, distribution agreements, taxes, human resources and even buying and selling a brewery. It’s an exceptional resource guide. Understanding the law is a monumental part of producing and selling alcohol. Beer Law breaks down the complications and ramifications of beer regulations into easy-to-understand chapters that can be quickly referenced when the need arises. Plus, you’ll just look smarter having a book labeled Beer Law on your shelf.
New Year’s resolution: Drink more Garage Brewing beer
I’m having a beer for dessert, and you’re welcome to join me. Apple Pie Pale Ale, Peppermint Stout, Chocolate Orange Milk Stout, a Belgian Style Strong Ale that tastes like peach cobbler — these ultimate beer confectionaries came packaged this holiday season via Temecula, Calif.-based brewhouse Garage Brewing Co. Talk about a sweet buzz.
The back story: Established in 2013, Garage Brewing Co. opened in what was once an eight-bay garage at the end of Old Town Temecula. They not only make great beer, but their fast-fired, custom-built pizzas are as sumptuous as the suds. In 2016, Garage Brewing expanded with an off-site, full production brewery in Murrieta, Calif. Let’s break down these four amazing brewskis:
Belgian Style Strong Ale (a.k.a. Holidation): Holidation is a Belgian Style Strong Ale that rocks the season with a reminder of homemade peach cobbler. Flavor: nutmeg, cinnamon, peach.
Aroma: peach and spice. Balance: warm with bitterness. ABV: 9.4 percent.
Peppermint Stout: A festive twist on an American Stout, this roasty brew is aged with real vanilla beans and balanced by a refreshing, minty finish. Flavor: roast and vanilla. Aroma: peppermint. Balance: dark malt. Body: rich and malty. ABV: 5.9 percent. IBUs: 22
Chocolate Orange Milk Stout: A confectionary Doppelgänger, this noteworthy milk stout makes taste buds sing with a dynamic duo of sweet delight. Flavor: roasty. Aroma: orange. Balance: dark malt and orange. Body: medium. ABV: 7.1 percent. IBUs: 9. This sucker won a Silver Medal at the 2017 LA International Beer Competition.
Apple Pie Pale Ale: This perfect fall seasonal ale will remind you of home cooked apple pie that your Grandma used to make. Flavor: apple pie. Aroma: fruit and spice. Balance: malty and fruit sweetness. Body: medium. ABV: 5.4 percent. This amazing beer was a Gold Medal Winner at the 2017 San Diego International Beer Competition.
Cheers to Garage Brewing, and cheers to all the beer makers and brewing professionals that sent thoughtful gifts my way. Let’s work more together in 2018!
Cool loot can be sent to Keith Gribbins, 20691 Forestwood Drive, Strongsville, OH 44149.