Addressing Diversity in Beer: A Q&A with Julia Herz

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In May, while attending the Craft Brewers Conference, I was able to ask members of the Brewers Association administration about the organization’s efforts to address issues related to diversity and inclusion.

Following their responses, I wrote this piece, pointing out the rapidly shifting conversation about gender and race and why the BA should take the opportunity to be a leader in the effort. It was recognized by the North American Guild of Beer Writers with an honorable mention award for “Best Beer Commentary or Criticism.”

In the months since, Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, brainstormed and wrote the column, “Embracing Diversity in the Beer Biz,” pointing out what the BA currently knows, what it wants to know and what it’ll do in the coming year and beyond to better support and promote diversity in its many forms.

As a follow up to the coverage on this blog, I recently spoke to Julia Herz about her column and what she hopes it’ll do to advance efforts by the Brewers Association.

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Will Legal Marijuana Impact Beer Sales?

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“Beer is art”

It’s something you’ve likely heard at some point in time. If you’re like me, there’s even a good chance that sipping on an otherworldly creation from malt and hops has made you feel that way.

But beer is also just beer.

Sometimes, it’s something to be savored. Sometimes, it’s the means to a relaxed end. In that regard, it’s only one of many ways to catch a buzz. For some states, however, the threat of what wine and spirits steal from beer may also be padded by legalized marijuana.

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Examining the Value of ‘Best’ Beer: BeerGraphs

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Quantifying aspects of beer is easy. We have definitive numbers that tell us about alcohol content, color, flavor and more.

But the question at the core of my last post, analyzing the value of “best” beer, asks about the potential of determining context for rarity. Given that the highest rated beers typically share common traits of style, ABV and availability, is there a way for us to better define what a lack of obtainable bottles or cans means to beer enthusiasts applying numbers to quality?

At worst, it’s a fool’s errand, trying to get into the minds of beer raters. At best, it’s an unscientific process that may scratch at the surface of a full effort, although we do have a good idea of what rarity means when it comes to product sales:

“Scarcity has this effect of making people perceive products as more valuable simply for the fact that they’re scarce,” business psychologist Nir Eyal told NPR in 2014, when, naturally, the network was covering the hype of Pliny the Elder, the sister beer of Pliny the Younger.

To build on the analysis of what we might have learned from Beer Advocate’s top 250 beers, I thought it’d be worthwhile to also peek at what we might learn from BeerGraphs.

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Examining the Value of ‘Best’ Beer

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As we close in on the end of the year, it means we’re soon to be swamped with a variety of “best of” lists. This website is no different … although a little.

In the last two years, I’ve created my own unscientific, objective-as-possible best beer lists analyzing the compiled efforts of others scattered across the internet. You can still read 2014 and 2015 results to find out which “best” beers you might’ve missed.

With my attention shifting in that direction in recent weeks, I’ve decided to get a head start in another corner of “best,” taking a look at ratings, style and rarity. As we’ve seen in the past, all three seem to be linked, and I’ve turned to two popular beer rating websites to gain a better understanding. First up: Beer Advocate. (You can read an analysis of BeerGraphs data here.)

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Rumor Central: What Can We Learn from Brewery Buyouts?

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Who doesn’t love a good rumor?

In our youth, school hallways were full of speculation of stolen kisses and scandalous breakups. As adults, our attention may be taken by tabloid magazines at the grocery store, but we refocus on what impacts our lives and interests, seeking out insight into the next plotlines and twists that will enliven the news of the day.

In recent years, beer lovers have followed this cycle with glee and horror as investments and brewery sales have become a regular part of the industry. Along the way, hearts are broken and curious minds churn, wondering what’s next for these businesses.

But there’s also the question of “who’s next?”

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The Life of a Professional Beer Taster

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Ken Weaver gets a visit from Andy three or four times a week. It’s been this way for more than a year.

Occasionally they’ll see each other at Weaver’s favorite local bar, but almost exclusively, Andy stops by Weaver’s house in Petaluma, California. He never comes empty-handed, either. IPAs, wheat ales, sours, stouts. Restocking a fridge has never been so easy or convenient when you know someone like Andy.

“I see a UPS or FedEx person here every single day,” said Weaver.

Andy, who works for UPS, is a regular at Weaver’s home, where he drops off boxes of beer. Sometimes he’s not the only one making that stop, either. Weekly – if not daily – cardboard boxes full of freshly packaged brews appear on Weaver’s doorstep. They’re unwrapped or pulled out of packing peanuts, the boxes are broken down and placed in the garage and later that day, Weaver pulls a bottle or can from his fridge and gets to work.

He’s no ordinary lover of beer, after all. He’s a professional taster.

Yes. He gets paid to sample beer.

“The best parts of this job are exactly what you’d hope for them to be,” Weaver said. “It’s neat to have beer arriving on your doorstep. I have access to just about anything you’d want. That’s fun and exciting and what’s most interesting on social media, and that’s the part of my job that brings people behind the scenes of what’s going on in the beer industry.”

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Carlos Brito and the Fallacy of Too Much Choice

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What a terrifying world we live in. Two breweries opening up each day. Stores stocking week-old beer. Shelves lined with bottles and cans as far as the eye can see.

“Our customers are thinking, ‘how much more of an assortment can you carry?'” AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito recently told Just Drinks, adding that consumers are “a bit tired of choice and go for fewer brands.”

The end is nigh. Or, at least, that’s how the leader of the world’s largest beer company would like you to see it. Because let’s be honest, beer drinkers aren’t taking to the streets to protest the volume of what’s available to them. In many ways, they’re embracing it.

There are specific problems facing beer sales, from maintaining flagship brands to warding off wine and spirits, but the idea of choice seems more like a welcomed challenge than worrisome threat. Brito’s belief that “[t]here’s only so much shelf space that you can share and cold box that you can split,” is a factually accurate representation of store layout, but presenting an array of options isn’t as cut and dry as he’d like you to think.

Instead let’s focus on what’s getting the most attention: the brunt of Brito’s assertion. Are consumers “tired of choice”?

Evidence suggests he’s wrong.

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With Eyes on AB InBev, Are We Missing Another Beer Fight?

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There’s an inherent problem with the argument the beer community makes when it decries the never-ending war between Big Beer and the Little Guys.

Yes, there are issues to discuss and advantages for some over others, but in the fight for share of mind and stomach, there are battles that go beyond AB InBev versus the world of craft. The lines extend past beer.

In recent years, as buyouts and heated discussions about distribution have taken place, drinkers might have been missing a shift in the very ground beneath their feet. At bars and restaurants across the country, tap lines have never offered such an array of choice, but the same could be said for what’s sitting on the shelves behind the bartender, too.

It’s not just about beer against beer these days. Wine and spirits are coming for your pint glass, too.

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How Committed is Your State to ‘Drinking Local’?

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By now it’s probably no surprise: people love to drink at brewery taprooms.

The opportunity to get fresh, from-the-source beer is always a big draw, but there’s certainly an additional layer of excitement about visiting the physical space itself. It’s a deeper connection to the liquid in the glass.

In many places, it’s also simply part of the drinking culture.

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I went to GABF with a Plan. I Found This Story Instead.

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I may have made a beer fest faux pas. I had a plan for the Great American Beer Festival.

Not necessarily a long, marked up sheet with beers I wanted to try – that can simply be disastrous with the pressure you put on yourself – but a short list of breweries I wanted to see. I was interested in their booths and what kind of attention they may receive from the thousands of committed beer lovers milling about the Colorado Convention Center.

The idea was to find these tables with hope of acquiring fodder for stories for All About Beer. I had good intentions. Things did not go as planned.

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