Beer and Pavement

Indie-Craft Interview #5: Jim Galligan

Posted in Beer, Indie-Craft, Interview by SM on May 3, 2012

Jim Galligan is the less bear-like half of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers, a semi-popular beer blog that likes to keep things light, aside from their beer and whiskey. The brothers have flirted with a TV series and now Jim writes beery thoughts for one of those awful morning network “news” shows. He’s self-effacing and generally a good guy, plus his favorite brewery is in my backyard (STL).

Jim and his brother Don have made a pretty good go at this beer blogging thing. They actually respond to every comment. It seems their ultimate goal is to sell out, but I just like to refer to that as “making a living doing what you like to do.” It doesn’t lessen the independence or craftiness of their site for me. Wanting to make a living doing what you love is as indie-craft as one can get.

1. Describe your craft(s).
My main craft is creating content, either by writing, designing, making a video, whatever. I like to entertain people and stir things up a bit. I mostly write about craft beer, which is something I love to turn people on to.

2. What’s the importance or benefit of remaining indie?
I find honesty refreshing, especially these days when everyone is afraid they’ll be crucified for saying the wrong thing. Say what’s in your heart, and if it’s wrong, who cares? For me, being “indie” is all about keeping it real. Authenticity is something I cherish.

I’ve found that writing about beer has given me a space where I’m comfortable being 100% honest about what I think, regardless of whether or not anyone else agrees with me. It’s liberating, and I find it has made me more confident sharing my opinions in places where there’s more at stake, like at work.

3. How does your craft contribute to society?
That’s a good question. Most craft brewers are more interested in making something great than getting rich (otherwise they’d work for Budweiser), and by celebrating what they do, I feel that my brother Don and I help whet peoples’ appetites for things that are authentic and special. I know since I’ve gotten into craft beer, I’ve also become much more interested in supporting indie restaurants and local shops, even if they cost more than the chains. I think once you get an appreciation for the good stuff the “little guy” can do, it bleeds into other parts of your life. So in essence we’re saving America – how about that?!

4. What other indie-craft products inspire you?
I like anything that shows how excellent people can be or even that people aren’t perfect. So I guess any product that has a real human element to it – artwork, a great meal, a Pixies song – will catch my interest.

5. What is your dream of success?
My dream of success is making a living doing something I love. I recently got paid for writing about beer for the first time ever – I have a weekly craft beer column for the Today Show’s website – and it was very cool to hold that first check in my hands. It’s far from enough to live on, but it’s a start, and that’s something.

Speaking of checks, I should note that even though I’m getting paid a bit here and there by MSNBC, it hasn’t changed my approach to writing honest stuff from the heart. It HAS impacted my topic selection and the tone of what I write – the sloppy sarcasm we sling on our blog doesn’t play well there – but I’m not out to please anyone more than the truth. I’ve seen you point to Sonic Youth as an indie band that moved to a big label but kept their integrity, and I’d like to think I can pull it off as well, but in a bloggy kind of way. To me “selling out” isn’t about who is writing the checks, it’s about who is pulling the strings.

Well, if there’s a way to sell out, Jim’s doing it the right way. Keep it real, Jimmy.

Gateway Beers (and Bands)

Posted in Beer by SM on December 22, 2010
Get it?

Image blatantly lifted from the blog I link to in the first sentence.

One of those beer and whiskey loving brothers[1] posed the following question:

Is Blue Moon good for craft beer, or is it a soul-sucking vortex of all that is good and holy?

Basically, the best selling “craft-style” beer[2] is Blue Moon. For the uninitiated, Blue Moon is hardly considered a craft beer. It is brewed and bottled by the monolithic Coors corporation, maker of all things rice adjunct-ed. So, crafty, Blue Moon is not. It is not the typical American industrial lager brewed with corn or rice, but that still doesn’t make it a craft beer.

However, that’s besides the point. Blue Moon’s status as mistaken craft brew makes it a prime candidate as a gateway to craft beer nirvana. Consumers who typically purchase cases of Budweiser or Coors, might take a chance on a Blue Moon. It’s light in color, not particularly offensive in flavor. So, it won’t scare anyone away. With some clever marketing, Blue Moon even feels like it could be a craft beer or the old-school “microbrew” to the craft beer ignorant. A beer with flavor that’s perceived as crafty might be a short jump to more ambitious brews, but I have yet to witness this effect. Let me illustrate…

Let’s just say that your PBR-guzzling bro orders the BM[3] at Friday’s or Chili’s or wherever BM is the most enticing option. He takes a swig (most likely from the bottle[4]) and holds the bottle out and inspects what he’s just dumped down his gullet. Cirtus. Bubblegum. This beer actually tastes like something other than beer.

“I might have to give some of these microbrews[5] a try.”

The night ends and eventually, your bro finds himself in the beer aisle with yet another case of PBR in-hand when he suddenly notices a display. On the display are some strange beers he’s never seen before tonight, before his craft beer revelation. They’re from exotic locales like Portland, San Diego, and Milton. The styles are even more interesting: India Pale Ale, Russian Imperial Stout, Saison with Brett. He realizes that these are the microbrews he was after. He drops the case and grabs what he thinks is a six-pack, only to find that it’s just a four-pack. That seems cool to him; this bro is low on cash after the trip to TGI Friday’s. Then he’s sees the price tag. “TEN FUCKING DOLLARS?!?”

Your bro carefully puts back the four-pack as if it’s his grandmother’s heirloom ceramic angels that he just super glued back together before she returns from the store. Then he eyes a bomber. “Hey, that’s like a forty. I love me some forties,” he thinks to himself. However, this “forty” is more expensive than the four-pack and has a cork in it. He nearly drops the beer before placing it back on the shelf, grabs his case, high-tails it out of the supermarket, and vows only to drink Blue Moon on special occasions, like eating at Chili’s.

And scene.

Of course, the vignette above doesn’t even address the surprise the craft beer curious experience when they do take a chance on a true craft beer. Imagine the same look the old dude with the bitter beer face from those ads in the early nineties upon a noob’s first sip of and IPA or DIPA in the neighborhood of 85+ IBU’s. Or think about that guy who drinks energy drinks instead of coffee because he doesn’t like the taste of coffee testing a big Russian Imperial Stout. Don’t even consider what happens when the craft beer ignorant try sours or Belgian beers. Forget it. This is not their father’s Blue Moon. If the prices don’t scare them off, the flavors will.

That’s why I think the best gateway into craft beer is…well…CRAFT BEER.

Take my gateway into craft beer, for instance. I started out on rice adjunct, industrial lagers like the rest of you. I tried to mix it up with a Rolling Rock[6] here, some Little Kings there, and maybe a Sapporo now and again. None of those beers satisfied and most imports of the day were skunked. Guinness and Sam Adams soon dominated my beverage choices by the end of college. After that, I often chose these beers or the periodic microbrew, thinking my palate was expanding but never really finding anything that challenged.

Then, the craft beer epiphany[7] happened.

I had ordered a sub sandwich to be delivered and figured I could wash it down with a beer. Of course, I didn’t really need a ton of beer, just a few before I settled in for the night. So, I sauntered down the street to the beer shop, the Pace-High Carryout. After looking around a bit, I noticed a cooler of these big beer bottles. Right at my eye level was a beer with a gargoyle looking back at me with the words “Stone Ruination IPA” etched on the bottle. I liked pale ales and the like and thought a couple of these bottles would do the trick for the evening. Plus, it seemed easier than lugging a sixer down the street.

Upon opening this beer and pouring it in the tumbler I once stole from a bar, the aromatic hops hit me like a ton of bricks. Then the huge malt backbone and tremendously intense hops pummeled my tongue into submission. How was this beer? Where had this kind of beverage been all my life? This was my gateway beer, not effing Blue Moon blandness in a bottle.

Of course, it took me a while to fully figure out this whole craft beer thing. It didn’t help that my local beer retailer had issues restocking their shelves. Either way, I was constantly in search of that big flavor and aroma Stone’s Ruination thrust upon me. The search never stopped, even after finding many, many fine craft beers. Bland beer did not make me a craft beer fan. Craft beer made me a craft beer fan.

The same goes for music[8]. My gateway band was Nirvana. Sure, I had flirted with the likes of U2 and REM, but it was Nirvana that exposed me to indie rock[9]. By the time I discovered Nirvana, they were no longer on Sub Pop, but Kurt Cobain and co’s feet were still firmly planted in the underground, choosing to tour with unknown indie bands, touting Dinosaur Jr on MTV and The Breeders in the pages of Rolling Stone.

I fell in love with indie rock because of indie bands, not bands marketed as indie or alternative. Bands who obviously came from and still supported the underground showed me a whole new world of music that corporate whores could not. Bands developed by major labels for the masses have never made me want to try out new bands the way indie bands have.

The point is that quality is not something one can fake through slick marketing or copying an aesthetic. You can’t beat the real thing, whether it’s music or beer. So, the next time you see your buddy reaching for the sixer of Blue Moon, direct him toward a Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca or Allagash White[10]. Or, really blow his mind with something else entirely, like an Arrogant Bastard or Maharaja. There’s no need to settle for the corporate thing that supposed to taste like the indie thing. Just go with the indie/craft product and we’ll all be happier.

Oh, and as an added bonus, there’s this.

1The little one.
2Read “craft-style” as “blatantly ripping off good, hard-working folk trying to keep tradition alive while still innovating and stretching boundaries in order to keep beer real” as that’s really all macro breweries are doing by marketing “craft-style” beers. Check the ratings for such beers on RateBeer or BeerAdvocate. You’ll find that the copycats only resemble craft beer in marketing and image, not flavor.
3I used this abbreviation for Blue Moon on the Brothers’ blog comments and it was pointed out that a “BM” is also a bowel movement. Freudian indeed.
4Because if you drink mocro beer, you don’t care what it smells like. In fact, you may actually hate the smell. I always ask people who drink a good beer from the bottle if they would smell a rose through a straw. Drinking a beer from a bottle has the same effect. Why is drinking from a beer bottle so accepted, but if I drink straight from a bottle of wine or liquor, I’m a lush? Avoid drinking from the bottle if you want to enjoy the beer. Pour it in a glass.
5I use the term “microbrews” as this is what peopel mistakenly call craft beer. I don’t know when/where this started, but I remember first calling them “microbrews” back in the nineties. The problem with the term is that it insinuates that these beers are somehow just smaller versions of the larger macrobrews or industrial lagers. Aside from the crazy numbers corporate beer pushers produce, nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, the macros are big, but their beers are not. Craft brewers brew the biggest beers and they are anything but smaller versions of Budweiser et al.
6At the time, Rolling Rock was still a pretty small, regional brewery. I thought I was drinking a microbrew at the time. Little did I know how similar they were to the big boys. Eventually, Rolling Rock was bought out by said big boys. The rest is rice adjunct history.
7Just learned this term in an interview by one of my favorite beer blogger/Buckeye fans, The Beer Wench. Her interview of The Dude from It’s a Fucking Beer is a must read.
8Sorry. This is where my argument gets a bit week. I still contend it applies, but I’m too lazy to really make it work. I’ll tie it all up with a reference back to the beer. Don’t you worry.
9This is a bit unfair to REM as they were and have always been a true ally to indie rock. I think it had more to do with the fact that I wasn’t old enough nor possessed the ability to know about REM and the bands they came up with. For me, they were not a good gateway as they were presented as something so separate from the underground, unlike Nirvana.
10Seriously. If someone likes a Belgian-style white ale/witbier that much, they should try what the style is really supposed to taste like. If they don’t like that, they should try other styles…or just quit pretending to like craft beer with real flavor.