Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How Could Someone Live Off Of Nothing But Fermented Food?

Finally! The Fermented Man: A Year on the Front Lines of a Food Revolution is available today.

Get your copy (physical or e-book) from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Or stop by your local independent book retailer and support small business!

(If you work at a store that doesn't normally get books like this through your distribution channels, just email sales[at]overlookny[dot]com)

Also, catch me at one of my upcoming events, including this Friday at Inquiring Minds in New Paltz, the Beer Belly in Albany on Saturday night, and the Rhinebeck farmer's market on Sunday with Oblong Books.

Some background, in case you aren't familiar with the book already:

The Fermented Man: A Year on the Front Lines of a Food Revolution follows a year I spent living off of nothing but fermented foods, while chronicling their history, cultural significance, and evolution. It demonstrates that fermented foods are so varied and ubiquitous that you could literally live off of them, if you were for some reason so inclined. It's informative. It's occasionally somewhat funny. It's contemplative. It's got drama. To say this diet was not easy is an incredibly understatement, but the structure of it — this meta-diet I came up with — allowed me to explore the sort of extreme dieting Americans are obsessed with. I didn't start the fermented diet thinking this would be the sort of diet craze I'd be taking to Dr. Phil — I wanted to use it to explore not just fermented foods, but the nature of diets themselves.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. It's a book that I very much wanted to be approachable and interesting to anyone, regardless of their level of fermentation awareness. Even if you never intend to make a jar of sauerkraut yourself in your life, I think you'll still enjoy The Fermented Man. Tell your friends, tell your family, get them all copies for their birthdays.

Besides recommending the book to people you know, and sharing on social media, another way you can give a huge boost to an author (especially a first-time author), is writing a review on Amazon. It seems like a small thing, but Amazon reviews, regardless of their length or content, immensely help a book's visibility. By taking a few minutes to write a review, you'll help to make the book something other shoppers might discover and enjoy themselves. And I'll be really grateful and probably consider you my favorite anonymous reviewer person from the internet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Fermented Man: Soft Release This Week, Full Availability Next Week

Over the last two years, I wrote a book called The Fermented Man about the importance of fermentation in our diets and lives, and the curious things one learns when you live off of nothing but fermented foods for an entire year. It's a book about microbes, weird foods, culinary history, Americans' obsessions with health trends, and what it's like to follow a hyper-challenging meta diet.

Just wanted to let you know that The Fermented Man, while officially technically released this week, is making more of a soft gradual roll-out. Full availability will come next week -- by then most stores, and Amazon, should have the book in stock. An e-book version is available right now. IndieGoGo backers should be receiving their copies over the next few weeks as well.

If you aren't ordering online, please stop by your local bookstore or homebrew shop and ask them to keep The Fermented Man in stock, if they haven't already gotten copies!

If you are in NYC, come out to Covenhoven tonight (7/20) for a book launch party and Kent Falls rare beer night (there's gonna be some awesome stuff, and a limited number of copies of the book for sale), and if you're in the Hudson Valley, I'll be doing a very cool event with Stock Up in Beacon this weekend, also with beer, and fermented food pairings as well.

Beyond that, here's a list of events I will be at for the rest of the summer and early fall.

A few things you can do that will tremendously help out a first-time author: please share word and photos of The Fermented Man on social media to help get the word out, and please leave me a review on Amazon once you're done! Both are very small things that are surprisingly enormously helpful for the book's visibility.

Thank you for reading, and I very much hope you enjoy the book!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Catch Me At These Events for The Fermented Man This Summer

The Fermented Man will start hitting stores and releasing through online retailers next week. If you haven't yet, now is a perfect time to order yours through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or saunter on down to your local bookstore and pick up a copy there.

Undoubtedly, after you have hungrily devoured The Fermented Man in one sitting like a person coming off of an arbitrary meta-diet and experiencing guacamole again for the first time in a year, you might have some questions. Things that come to mind that you wish to discuss with me. Given that I am absolutely terrible at responding to emails, what means of exploring these questions could be left to you? How about asking me in person, at one of the many events I will be hosting / attending this summer to promote the book? My busy calendar includes everything from Kent Falls beer nights at fine drinking establishments, to fermented food and beer pairings, to bookstore speaking engagements, to a fermentation workshop on the world's largest rooftop farm, to fermentation festivals, to a hop harvest festival, to me keeling over in a parking lot from exhaustion.

This schedule is, of course, not entirely complete just yet. I am open to suggestions, and if you know of a place / business / organization that might be interested in coordinating an event with me, please feel free to reach out at bearflavored [at] gmail [dot com]. More distantly on the agenda, but not yet organized, is a trip to Vermont in the middle of October, and a trip to Louisville, KY around the Shelton Brother's Festival, October 28 and 29. If you live in either of those areas and would like to coordinate an event, hit me up!

Finally, after all this is over, having been working on this project for some three and a half years, I will be throwing down a smoke grenade, abruptly vanishing into the night, and spending the next several years in a cabin on some remote mountain peak in Colorado or Oregon, never to trouble myself with the concerns of human society again. At least until I write a book about it.

July 20 - Covenhoven, Brooklyn, NY (Evening)
We'll be tapping several fun Kent Falls beers, including the first keg of Fingerprint, a barrel-aged wild ale fermented with microbes indigenous to our farm... a beer that is discussed in The Fermented Man!

July 23 - Stock Up, Beacon, NY (4 - 10 pm)
The Hudson Valley book launch party for my book, this should be a doozy. Three beers on tap, plus food pairings. Stock Up is really killing it with this event, and I'm immensely excited for this one. Facebook invite and menu here.

July 29 - Inquiring Minds, New Paltz, NY
7 pm going until 8 pm — I'll be doing a reading, followed by Q&A. Facebook event with more details here.

July 30 - Beer Belly, Albany, NY
Kent Falls beer event, where I'll be answering questions and slinging copies of the book. Fingerprint wild ale will be making an appearance.

July 31 - Oblong Books at the Rhinebeck Farmer's Market, Rhinebeck, NY
Stop by from 11 am to 1 pm as I'll be there with books to sign, as well as answering all your fermentation questions. Event page here.

August 4 - DeCicco's Market Armonk, Armonk, NY
Kent Falls beer event, where I'll be answering questions and slinging copies of the book. Fingerprint wild ale will be making an appearance, and many other cool beers besides.

August 9 - Brooklyn Grange, Brooklyn, NY
Brooklyn Grange is an insanely cool project -- it's currently the largest rooftop farm in the world. From this amazing setting, I'll be leading a fermentation workshop and answering questions to a handful of attendees. This is a smaller, ticketed event, so reserve your spot now. [Just got word that this is already sold out! Will update if any spots open up.]

August 13 - Burial Beer, Asheville, NC
I actually don't have any particular specific events schedule at the moment, but we will be in Asheville to brew a collab beer with the fine folks at Burial, and thus hanging out in their taproom quite a bit. Come say hi!

August 20 - People's Food Co-Op, Portland, OR
More details TBA.

August 22 - Powell's City of Books, Portland, OR
More details TBA.

August 28 - Boston Fermentation Festival - Boston, MA
Cool festival that's also a great market for picking up fermented goodies, with lots of different information sessions. I'll be participating in the Fermented Reading Room, signing books, as well as at the Fermentation Help Desk, answering your fermentation questions.

Sept. 8 - Spotty Dog Bookstore, Hudson, NY
Signing books and answering all your fermentation questions.

Sept. 10 - Kent Falls Hop Harvest Festival, Kent, CT
Last years first annual Kent Falls / Camps Road Farm hop harvest festival was a really super fun day, actually, This year's should be no different -- we'll be brewing up another wet-hopped farmhouse ale, hanging out and chilling in the brewery while demonstrating the process, picking hops (obviously), and ending the day with a pig roast. Beer is available, hanging out on the farm is available, asking me fermentation questions and such is available, and I'll be in the brewery with copies of the book as we're brewing.

Sept. 11 - Berkshire Fermentation Festival, Great Barrington, MA
More details TBA.

Sept. 12 - City Beer Hall, Albany, NY
Beer dinner with Kent Falls and Grimm.

Sept. 18 - Brooklyn Book Festival, Brooklyn, NY
More details TBA.

Sept. 25th - Golden Notebook Bookstore, Woodstock, NY
Reading and Q&A.

Sept. 25th - Inquiring Minds Bookstore Saugerties, Saugerties NY
4 pm — I'll be doing a reading, followed by Q&A.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Is The Age of the Flagship Beer Over?

This here marks the second entry in a loosely connected series exploring the development and evolution of a new brewery's beer lineup, and how a brewery goes about refining such a thing. Part one went into the background of what we decided we should brew at Kent Falls, while a third future installment will eventually expand on the evolution of a particular beer, our Field Beer farmhouse ale. Field Beer was, from the start, intended to be sort of a 'conceptual' flagship ale, embodying an ethos that represented the whole brewery, if not necessarily leading the brewery in sales or release volumes.

Everyone knows that craft beer has dramatically shifted the way that the whole of the adult beverage market works. Before I even jumped into the process of helping to launch a new brewery, and planning and brainstorming and stressing and speculating what beers that I wanted to make would also be practical and sellable to the public, I had noticed something interesting about the way that breweries present themselves to their consumers. For years, maybe ever since the craft beer movement first began, its trajectory has been that of slowly and silently killing the model of flagship beer offerings. It has been one long history of flipping the way in which a brewery works.

For years, a brewery was a brand. Not a place or destination or personality or cult or whatever breweries are to the public now. The clarity and message of the brand was the product; the brewery as a personality was only really relevant so far as it was part of the brand. You didn't expect them to change what they were doing or switch things up on a regular basis. You were either on board with their brand, or you weren't. And while most of these brands did offer several products, they were usually slight variations on that initial core brand. Rather than releasing a distinct new brand with a separate identity, for example, you marketed a "light" version of your existing flagship brand.

Until recently, and even probably still now, this had a huge impact on how the average person would think about and discuss beer. For decades, the focus had been on a brewery as a brand. So that when you would talk to people about beer, most people would say things like "I had that Dogfish Head beer last night," or "You know what you would like? This one beer from back home, Troegs... you'd like it." And so on. The previous model of brewery-as-brand still greatly affects how the average person sees a brewery-as-a-business, even though it hasn't been that way for most breweries in decades. How many breweries today focus almost all their efforts on one single beer brand?

I mentioned that I view this as a slow trajectory, and I think there is an evolution in brewery identity that has been going on since the 70's. Those people that talk about a brewery as if they only make one beer would be wrong in almost every case, but you can understand why, if they don't really have much interest in the nerdy details of the beer industry, they might see a brewery like Sierra Nevada as a singular brand largely embodied by Pale Ale. That type of consumer would only rarely notice that there are other offerings from the brewery, and if so, probably understands that seasonals and special releases are a thing, and don't detract from the core identity of the brewery/brand. In the first wave of craft beer, this view would still basically be perceiving things accurately. Sierra Nevada was built by Pale Ale. That is still the core of their identity, though they happen to make many other products, too. And to the public, Sam Adams is just... Sam Adams. That's the beer. That's the brewery. That's the brand. But because they're a craft brand, sure, they also do sometimes have a seasonal release on tap as well. In the majority of bars, ordering a Sam Adams would create zero confusion. Only the pedantic beer nerd would protest: "But they make like 300 beers! Which one do you mean???"

The founders of the craft beer revolution largely stuck close to the existing model, focusing on flagship brands, but generally expanding this concept into having a group of "core" offerings, plus seasonals. This became the basic template for almost every brewery of the next several decades. Gradually, though, the obviousness of the flagship offering (and its singularity as the brewery's identifying brand) eroded. A flagship became merely the most prominent beer in a broader lineup of core offerings. Is 60 Minute the most popular and common product made by Dogfish Head? Sure, but they're a brand built on experimentation, and thus variety; it would be hard to miss that bigger picture.

One or two flagships bolstered by seasonals and special releases soon became half a dozen core lineup beers bolstered by seasonals and special releases. Much of this shift was likely tied to the resurgence of the brewpub, which, for most casual beer consumers, would start to define their image of what a brewery was. At a brewpub, having a clear and obvious single flagship isn't necessary, and from a branding perspective, doesn't even really make sense. As more and more began to define this new wave of breweries by their Friday-night-dinner experiences at a brewpub, the expectation that a brewery would offer a lineup of six, up to maybe ten core offerings, with a few side experiments that change every now and then, worked its way into our consciousness. And I'd say that's maybe where we've been for the last twenty years or so.

In that sense, the flagship beer is kind of already dead. Most breweries now don't expect to have one huge mega-hit that accounts for 90% of sales. In the rare cases where that does happen, it looks shockingly anomalous. How weird was it that The Alchemist, one of the most talked about and sought-after craft breweries in the world for a good part of this decade, only made and sold a single beer for a long chunk of that time? That Heady Topper stood as the sole offering of an immensely popular and beloved brewery was highly unusual for the time, probably because it wasn't even the brewery's intention for this to happen, but the whim's of fate and the wrath of mother nature.

Starting a new farmhouse brewery in a demographically-oddball rural area, we knew that a tart saison (or any kind of saison) was going to be a hard sale as Kent Fall's primary brand. You'd be surprised at how hard it is to sell large volumes of saison in the current beer market. Yes, I know, that probably sounds like a personal problem. "Have you considered that you only think that because you are terrible and no one likes you or your beer?" is probably your response, and while you are right, don't take my word for it. Ask any brewery that's producing a lot (or a majority) of farmhouse ale — unless their product is sour or barrel-aged. It may seem like saisons are super hot right now, but I think beer nerds talk about saison more than the general drinking public actually buys them in large quantities. In other words, it's a style that may do really well in special release formats (especially, again, if it's barrel-aged or has fruit or some other specialty situation), but saison is not dominating volume the way that, say, IPAs are, or session IPAs for example, or fruited IPAs, or to pick another random example, fruited session IPAs, or fruited session IPAs with citrus zest, or hard root beer. Saison is one of those styles that's beloved, but puts you in a weird spot if you want to make a lot of it.

Anyway, we anticipated this when thinking about our core lineup of beers, and came up with several concepts for "core" beers, though being that most of them were still in the farmhouse vein, we still ended up brewing for variety much more than we had anticipated. I'm guessing this is a common experience for many new breweries these days, unless you're focusing on hoppy beers for your flagships. Hoppy beers are probably the category that remains very easily (very easily) sellable as flagships or core brands, but in order to start off pushing hoppy beers as your primary offering, you either need to have put in the planning years in advance to procure awesome hop contracts from the start, or else be so small that you can still round up the hops you need from spot and trading. In other words, I don't think there are many styles remaining that are particularly easy to push as your flagship offering. And that may be a symptom of how drastically the entire brewing industry has changed. Variety, for now, is king. The real interesting question for me, is: just how sustainable is a model of "variety, always" actually is for every type of brewery, big and small?

If you enjoy my writing or reading about fermentation in general, please consider pre-ordering my book, The Fermented Man, on Amazon, and follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more regular updates.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My Experiences Developing the Beer Lineup for a New Brewery

Some breweries start out from the beginning with carefully engineered marketing strategies, while others take a more free-form, off-the-cuff approach to their products, based on whatever the brewer wants to do next. Most, of course, probably begin with a fuzzy mixture of both strategies. Before finally producing our first beer in February 2015, Barry and I spent about 9 months brewing up a storm of trial batches for only a mere handful of the initial offerings of Kent Falls Brewing Co. It's hilarious how much time — months and months — was spent trialing just a couple beers, compared to the staggering number of beers we've released since then, most of them with minimal test batch experimentation.

For most of the planning phase, we only knew that we would be making one or two particular beers for certain. Being a farmhouse brewery, our first beer was obviously going to be a saison. At the time, the concept of a seasonally rotating farmhouse ale called Field Beer was kind of our intended flagship beer — although we weren't entirely sure what that even meant, for a brewery like ours. Before I became involved, Barry had the artwork, name, and general concept in place. It would be a farmhouse ale that used all local ingredients, including raw grains (oat, spelt, wheat, and rye) that would change with each season. Once I started on with the company, we got to work developing a recipe, deciding on the structure of the beer (clean, funky, sour, wood-aged, etc) and refining the house saison culture that would ferment it. Farmhouse ales can go in a lot of different directions, and at that point we figured we'd only be making one or two saisons (excluding limited barrel-aged stuff) over the course of our first year. After all, with only three tanks and two yeast strains, how many different beers could you possibly make?

The amount of time spent developing those few initial beer concepts was severely disproportionate, in retrospect. Shortly after starting to sort out Field Beer, we settled on our second "core" beer. I had been spending much of my own homebrewing energy, over the several years previous, perfecting my ideal hiking beer, a Brett IPA, and I thought it would be badass to open up with a tart saison and a Brett IPA as flagship beers. As we still drifted through a dozen saison culture variations, we started refining my existing Brett IPA recipe with new yeast strains. Due to the nature of the types of beers I wanted to make, most of the R&D efforts were actually yeast related. Homebrewing gives you the opportunity to very casually and without any real pressure test out different yeast profiles in similar foundational beers over... well, all the time you want. Opening up a brewery, all of a sudden you're in this mad crunch to make sure you found the best possible combination of saison yeast out there. The best, most consistent, must management, most reliable Brett culture. How can you possibly test out all the thousands of different variations and combinations in time before you need to have a recipe locked in?

But then there's the other strange challenges of developing your brewery lineup. When thinking of how to name and label my Bear Flavored beers, ideas came easy. I had a stockpile of images and endless ideas for names, but they all pretty directly channeled my own personal weirdnesses and aesthetic inclinations, and I wasn't bouncing them off of anyone else. Branding, for a brewery that isn't just your own, is a far greater challenge. Everything had to funnel together the different visions of everyone involved, while representing the amalgamation of the brewery identity as a whole — whatever that was. We were still figuring it out, after all, in how we chose to name and label the beers.

Finding a name for our Brett IPA was, oddly enough, possibly the most difficult single thing in the whole long process — as far as creative spontaneity, failed solutions, and time spent before coming up with something that finally worked. We bounced ideas around for at least a month. At my birthday party that year, I passed around a notepad and had friends write down ideas, then vote on favorites. For the longest time, we couldn't quite nail it. But once one idea clicks, it's weird how immediately and easily other ideas click, and the whole trajectory of what you're doing inexorably shifts. Finally, possibly by accident, someone came up with"Waymaker" as the name, and at last, a name actually stuck. I remember thinking about adding coffee to the Brett IPA. Suddenly it hit me: Coffeemaker! The name came with zero effort, because it just made sense, and was kind of dumb and tongue-in-cheek, which is very much Kent Fall's. What about adding fruit to the Brett IPA? Juicemaker! Et cetera. It can take a month to lock-in one concept, and then only hours to establish a quarter dozen more.

You'll hear, from new breweries, that you can never fully anticipate what your first few years will be like. Business plans are just a nice idea you create to show to investors and the bank. Reality will dictate the real flow of the business, and it will almost never resemble the plan. But usually these reflections on the insane momentum of running a brewery are in relation to production growth and sales and whatnot. I suppose, for better or worse, we had a far more flexible vision of what our brewery identity would even be than most do. Or maybe not, even. I don't know. We had a very good idea of the types of beers we would make at Kent Falls. We were going to focus on farmhouse ales and sours and Northeast-style IPAs and a couple stouts here and there with the other varied oddball experiments on the side. In other words, I was going to continue to brew basically the same beers I would have been brewing as a homebrewer anyway.

But amidst all the things we wanted to make, we assumed we would have to start out making only a few of them. Produce a lineup of half a dozen or so core beers that would see relatively frequent distribution, and fill in the edges with some other stuff, some more limited adventures. That's how breweries work, right? I made charts and graphs and notebook scribblings about flagships and brew frequency and hop usages. We assumed that, as brewers, you just sort of establish those things, and the market drinks them up, mostly, and you see what does better and what's weak and go from there. Scale up on some things and scale down others.

One of the main factors determining these initial beers, the focus of a "core" lineup, is yeast. As a homebrewer, this is something you're aware of, but it doesn't dictate your brewing the way it will professionally. And in plotting out your brewery, you will realize just how limiting this sort of planning can be. Especially if you to want to do some oddball things with unique yeast cultures, or if you want to use certain yeast cultures, but only sporadically. Now, you either have to have an in-house yeast propagation system of some sort (which could be costly, eat up the floor space of your tiny brewery, and would demand more man-hours that you don't have), or you have to stick to using the same yeast for at least several batches in a row. Ordering a fresh pitch of yeast for each batch would be a significant cost; money that could be better spent more efficiently. So your schedule is, to a large extent, dictated by how many yeast strains you're able to bring into the brewery, how long you can / plan to keep them going for, and how affordable it is for you to order yeast cultures here and there that you only plan to use for a few batches. There's a reason that most breweries brew 95% of their beers with one house strain, and there's a reason it's usually a nice versatile American or British strain.

In practical terms, if you want one of your core beers to be a 100% Brett IPA with a unique yeast culture that the market still barely understands, that means you have to either brew that beer essentially all the time (hoping it will work as a true year-round flagship), or alternate it with a few other beers (using that same unusual yeast culture) to space out batches and not flood the market. Or finally, you could brew the one beer a couple times for one period of the year, then dump the yeast and switch to a new culture for that tank. Here was a new challenge: how many different beers could I come up with to be fermented with a 100% Brett culture that regular bars and restaurants would be willing to repeatedly buy? Coming up with these ideas in a homebrew setting is one thing, but now, as a production brewery in an area without a ton of craft beer-centric bars, you have to convince numerous bars and restaurants and beer halls to take in kegs of your wacky ideas. As much as I really wanted to brew a 100% Brett IPA as a core beer, could I really sustain the culture as a year-round thing?

Originally, due to the nature of the beers, some practical yeast management concerns, and the whole general Figuring This Out process, we didn't want to bring in a third yeast culture beyond our saison and Brett cultures. We had three tanks. Three tanks, to keep two yeast cultures alive and healthy. We had to devise a core lineup of beers around those two unique house cultures. It was actually quite a fun challenge. It forced me to be creative, but ultimately allowed us to brew most of the stuff that I wanted to focus our core lineup on anyway. We'd be brewing a Brett IPA (and several variations thereof), goses, and an assortment of saisons. The only types of beers that I was fond of but that I couldn't really get to, with that setup, were clean IPAs. But those could wait to come in later, especially as we were waiting to build up our hop resources. And still are — hop contracts are a whole other logistics nightmare that I won't even dive into here.

But the market is a force with a strong will — a will that is fortunately pretty easy to interpret, in this industry — and we were in a position to be adaptable. Or at least a mindset to be adaptable. The nature of our lineup was not set in stone. And the nature of our lineup — the beers I made in the first year, but more precisely how often I made each of them — was something that was shaped by the sort of responses we saw. As it happened, the market seemed to demand the type of brewing I was most comfortable with anyway. The type of brew schedule I would prefer to do regardless, because it's the same approach I took as a curious homebrewer with a terrible attention span. The market demanded variety. I like variety. We found that beers moved fastest, and thus were served fresh and at their peak quality, when we didn't brew any one beer too much all at once. With a few months in between releases — and a number of beers released only on an annual basis — the market could "miss" things they hadn't had in a while, rather than getting bombarded with the same offerings constantly. This realization isn't new — there's a reason why seasonals and one-offs have become such a big thing, even for older, flagship-oriented breweries — but I think this dichotomy is growing more and more prevalent and unavoidable. Perhaps our experience would have been less extreme if we had a tasting room or a brewpub, and regular patrons expecting certain things to always be there. But we had to build a brewery brand based on distribution only, and thus, the frequently-rotating taplists of other people's bars. Beer bars inherently favor variety these days. So, not by calculated planning or lengthy board meetings or strategy sessions, but by instinct and reflex and a readiness to embrace experimentation at the first opportunity, we became the type of brewery that releases about 50 distinct beers in its first year of operation.

We saw quickly that the market likes variety. This is great for me, because I also like variety, and I like brewing different things. But the degree to which the market pushed us toward variety was still shocking to me. And it made me question: is the flagship (or core lineup) model of brewing, at least for small new breweries, starting to die? How much will the rotating nature of beer bar draft lists shape the future of the brewing business?

More thoughts on that over the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you enjoy my writing or reading about fermentation in general, please consider pre-ordering my book, The Fermented Man, on Amazon, and follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more regular updates.

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