Thursday, April 17, 2014

Can You Do The Impossible?

Can you do the impossible?

Not what other people think is impossible.

What you think is impossible.

Can you do that?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014, was the one year anniversary of the bombings at the Boston Marathon, a race that is perhaps the pinnacle of every runner's bucket list. Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the bombing, wrote a powerful piece published in the Guardian.  His words reflect upon the iconic photo featuring three people rushing Jeff in a wheelchair to what they hoped was a waiting ambulance amid the smoke and chaos that enveloped Boston's Boylston Street.

Jeff writes, "one year later, I've still only seen the wheelchair photo once. But it still proves that two losers can't beat three heroes."  More poignantly he notes, "besides, the photograph isn't what most people think it is. It's not a picture of the bombing. It doesn't show the explosion, and it doesn't show me being injured. It is a photograph of the rescue."

This month's Runner's World Magazine includes numerous conversations with people who were there - people who had first been featured in the Magazine's issue which followed quickly after the bombing. 

Through their words we are provided a window into their lives during the past year.  Some were injured.  Some were stopped a mile from the finish - cold, exhausted and given few details why their ultimate quest had been interrupted.  Some were first responders or runners themselves who quickly turned back directly into the danger to assist those who needed it most.

A common theme ran through virtually every conversation:  Take stock of life. Your life, and those of whom you love the most.

Few of us know how we'd react in similar situations because we have been fortunate enough not to be presented with them.

I read these words with great interest because I am a runner.  When those bombs went off during this marathon of marathons, we all felt the shock waves. Not that you needed to be a runner to experience the pain of a terrorist attack. 

Yesterday, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, was the seventh anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech, my alma mater.  Thirty-two students and faculty lost their lives.   After seven years, it is no longer marked by the obligatory news story on CNN and other major news networks.  I don't know what to think about that. Glad, I guess, that now Virginia Tech is featured in the news for something else.  Excellent academics, for one. Fantastic research, for another. A rebuilding football team, we hope.

We haven't forgotten, however.  Every year my facebook feed is filled with fellow alumni and current students marking the occasion. It remains fresh in our minds. Painful. But that is not all.

"No one deserves a tragedy," to borrow the words of Nikki Giovanni, Virginia Tech distinguished professor of English and renown poet who delivered the words we most needed to hear in the days after the shootings. 

On this year's anniversary I did a seven mile training run, part of my preparation for the Missoula Half Marathon in July. I should have been doing something else, according to the press of business and other demands.  But every runner will tell you there are days when you really need to run.

I ran by two neighbors helping a woman trim an overgrown maple tree in her front yard, methodically cutting off chunks of branches before loading them into a questionable trailer pulled by a mini-van.  I waived hello to a smiling mail carrier making her daily rounds.  Along a nondescript street, an elderly mother passed in a car driven by her daughter, a large bouquet of flowers cradled in her lap.  Perhaps a colorful display in celebration of a birthday.  Maybe a solemn trip to a nearby grave to mark an anniversary of a death. Only they know.

I presume with relative certainty that none of these good people were thinking about the Boston Marathon bombings or the Virginia Tech shootings.  In contrast, I could not stop thinking about both.

It was a good reminder that life moves on. Not to forget, but to respond.

Taking stock, we call it. Remembering what's important we say. Life is short, reflected the people in Runner's World Magazine. Insert cliche here. 

Except it isn't a cliche. 

Life has its share of personal and national tragedies.

My life changed in response to the Virgina Tech shootings based on my recognition that things were not well with me.  Not in any surprising or impressive way, to be sure, but in a personally important way. It is a work in progress, even seven years later. While we have the capability of improving our faults and shortcomings, eliminating them is perhaps an unreasonable goal.

Among other changes, I decided to run. It seemed the hardest thing to do. I detested running. Told people I couldn't do it. It laughed at me. Told me I wasn't worthy. You can't do this.  You have bad knees.  Grade school classmates mocked you.

So I kicked it's ass.  Payback for tragedy.  How stupid is that?

My goal to run three miles turned into a goal for seven.  Seven turned into a goal to do a half-marathon. All 13.1 miles of it.  Could I do the impossible?  Not what other people thought was impossible. What I thought was impossible.

A successful 13.1 turned into the next "logical" goal, a full marathon and its 26.2 miles of exquisite glory.  Finishing it put me on top of the world.  I thought about the 32 people who once shared my campus several times during that race.

I ran a second marathon in part because I did not want people to think it was merely a one-time bucket list item. As if one bucket list marathon was all I was capable of. Stupid egos will do that to you.  That ego left me crashing and burning at mile nineteen, only to eventually cross the finish line in a heap of stumbling self-reflection.

I also realized I would never run a Boston Marathon. To run Boston you must qualify. To qualify you must be fast.  I may have changed my life and adopted running for fitness and health, but I am not Boston fast.  For that I will need to live vicariously through my co-workers whose running exploits have always left me in their humbling dust.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, the national media searched with great effort to find a student, faculty member, or employee who would give the perfect sound bite - the angry diatribe pointing the finger at an institution that had let everyone down.  Only they couldn't find one.  Those students, faculty members and employees were too busy supporting each other and determining what to do next. They had no time to feed the media's need for sensationalization.

The enduring image of Virginia Tech, the Boston Marathon, and Jeff Bauman is not one of shootings, bombings, and tragedy, but of community.  Of people doing the impossible in the wake of the unimaginable. Of community in the face of division.

Again, most of us are fortunate enough to not have been put in a situation where we need to react to the unimaginable. We nevertheless remain impacted by them in often profound, personal ways.

Virginia Tech's motto is Ut Prosim, latin for "That I may Serve." It is inscribed on many a building and indoctrinated into everyone who passes through its metaphorical gates.  Only "indoctrinated" is a poor choice of words.  It suggests preaching, a requirement, or something nefarious. In reality, "Ut Prosim" is a characteristic seemingly embodied by those who choose to attend and be enriched by the place we call Virginia Tech.  Service to others is a readily accepted part of every day life.

In a great melding of two of my favorite interests, Virgina Tech marks the anniversary of the shootings with a Run in Remembrance, a 3.2 mile run in honor of the 32 who were killed that day.  Though I am 2,000 miles away, I joined thousands of others this past Saturday in that run. 

Like yesterday's mail carrier, helpful neighbors, and the elderly woman, I do not expect you to share equally in my yearly reflection on these two events.  But do know that I recognize you have your own tragedies, both personal and national, that cross your path each year.

And so I ask again. Can you do the impossible? Not what other people think is impossible. What you think is impossible. 

Maybe that is running a marathon.  Maybe it is quitting smoking.  Maybe it is starting a foundation.  Maybe it is finally changing jobs.  Maybe it is moving to a new city and a new life.  Maybe it is spending a day helping others.

Whatever it is, it will not be handed to you.  No one steps off the couch and runs a marathon.  It takes dedication and determination.  You can't cheat the marathon, nor can you cheat any important change in your life. You either do the training or you do not.  If you believe otherwise, you will fail. If you believe in yourself you can do the impossible. Even when it remains a yearly work in progress.

And so, I ask of you this. Pick one thing to do that will make a difference - something that will make the world a better place.  Personally or in service to others.  Make a plan and carry it out.  Tomorrow. This week. Soon.

No one deserves a tragedy. But can you do the impossible?

~ Follow Growler Fills on Twitter and Facebook

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Draught Works Bacon N' Beer Breakfast Tickets on Sale

Draught Works Brewery will again kick off Missoula Craft Beer Week with its fantastic Bacon N' Beer Breakfast on Sunday, April 27 from 10 a.m. to noon. This great event sold out last year and is certain to do so again for 2014.
Photo Credit: Draught Works Brewery
Burns St. Bistro takes over the food this year and included in the $35 ticket price is all-you-can-eat bacon, maple bacon donuts, bottomless coffee from Missoula's Black Coffee Roasting, a cool coffee mug to take home and,  four 12 oz servings of Draught Works' beers.

Tickets are available only at Draught Works. Also new for this year is assigned seating, sure to alleviate some of the initial rush in the door.  As of yesterday afternoon, more than a third of the tickets have already been sold, so don't wait too long (you can call to reserve at 406-541-1592).

Stick around after the Bacon N' Beer Breakfast for Missoula Craft Beer Week's inaugural Brews on the Block (Party) taking place from 12:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Toole Ave. between Draught Works and Summer Sun. More details coming soon, but here's a list of the highlights:

Beer from Tamarack Brewing Co. and Draught Works
Three food trucks
Thirst Gear pedal pub mini rides
MT Beer Tours Info Booth and Raffle
Pong games and Home Brew Demo from Summer Sun
Outdoor theater from Warm Springs Productions
Open house at Freestone Climbing
Disc golf info table and disc gold holes
Mini golf hole and Registration for the Craft Beer Cup Tournament
Home brew and beer collectible swap meet.
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Monday, April 7, 2014

It's National Beer/Session Beer Day

April 7th - each year, even - is National Beer Day, celebrating the repeal of prohibition.  It's also Session Beer Day, celebrating and encouraging the creation of more lower alcohol beers.  There's not much more I can say about either that I haven't already said last year, in 2012, or 2011

Cheers to beer.

Session beers - or at least those with relatively lower alcohol compared to the average craft beer - do seem to be gaining momentum.  That's refreshing after the fortunately short-lived arms race to see who could create the beer with the highest abv.

While in Boston last July I had an opportunity to try some of Notch Brewing's beers.  Notch only brews session beers and they do a very nice job with them.  I've got a bottle of Big Sky Brewing's latest beer, a session IPA, in the fridge, but have not tried it yet.  Sierra Nevada's new "Nooner" session IPA is another new one that is pretty tasty.

Though I don't have much experience with shandies, I recently discovered Stiegl's Grapefruit Radler tastes delicious under the hot Las Vegas sun.  At 2.5% abv, it's got session written all over it. 

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Montana Brewery Status Update And Television Interview

With the news of yet another brewery hitting town, Missoula's KECI television station called for some insight into the state of breweries in Montana.  I happily obliged with an interview appropriately taking place at Draught Works Brewery.   You can watch the interview here (which I am unable to embed):

With Triple Dog Brewing Co. opening recently in Havre, Montana now has 41 operating breweries (42 if you count Kettlehouse's two locations).  Contrast that with 2009, when I started Growler Fills, and there were 26 operating breweries.  Two have since closed (Lang Creek, permanently and Desert Mountain, perhaps temporarily) but we've had a net increase of 17 breweries in five years.

Eight more are under construction and expected to open in 2014. (Lolo Peak, Kalispell, Muddy Creek, Beaverhead, Meadowlark, Katabatic, Cabinet Mountain, Great Burn.)  That would be the most brewery openings in a single year - at least in the "modern" era. Three others are in the planning stages in Missoula with perhaps Ice Bridge Brewing the furthest along. 

I have four others on my "announced, but not much more" list.  Plus, does anyone know what's happened to Butte Brewing Company? After a big splash and some serious construction activity, it's gone completely quiet.  If you've got the scoop or some contact info, send it along.

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Friday, April 4, 2014

The Session No. 86: Beer Journalism - A Giant Conversation About Beer

This month's Session* topic is hosted by Heather Vandenengel at Beer Hobo who raises a very timely and important topic broadly called Beer Journalism.  Here's what Heather wants to know:
What role do beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer? Are we advocates, critics, or storytellers? What stories are not getting told and what ones would you like to never hear about again? What’s your beer media diet? i.e. what publications/blogs/sites do you read to learn about industry? Are all beer journalists subhumans? Is beer journalism a tepid affair and/or a moribund endeavor? And if so, what can be done about it?
For a bit more context Heather explains, "I pitched this Session idea back in December after seeing a fairly steady stream of griping about beer journalism with little productive conversation about it." Indeed, it's been a growing topic of conversation, rising steadily with the increasing number of breweries, beer blogs and general news from main stream media about the "craft beer boom."

It's a topic fresh on my mind as well.  For the 2014 Beer Bloggers Conference in San Diego in August, I'll be moderating a panel discussion built around the topic of beer journalism ethics and best practices.  While a beer review blog is certainly different than a beer news media site, certain ethical principles and best practices are applicable to all: transparency, accuracy/verification, attribution to sources, and a clearly defined separation between reporting and analysis/opinion.

But what is beer journalism? Is it different than beer writing?  Does it matter and do we care? I get the sense that professionals in this arena draw a distinction, but there is quite a bit of intersection and overlap.  For example,  Oliver Grey at Literature and Libation has written one of my all time favorite beer reviews.  I enjoy it because it is great beer writing , but just as importantly, it really isn't about the beer.

I also enjoy straight reporting on beer.  Take and their occasional post that digs deeper into a particular subject, such as how many new breweries are blowing well past their predicted production volumes in a surprisingly short amount of time.

Contrast both of those with this fascinating New York Times piece by Jonah Weiner about the identical twins from Denmark who can't stand each other, but each of whom have carved out a prominent place in the craft beer world with the Mikkeller and Evil Twin brewing companies.  Great storytelling for sure, and elements of reporting, too?

Then there are the beer blogs - around a thousand active ones in North America alone.  Only a handful are nationally and internationally prominent.  Several more handfuls are regionally relevant or occasionally contribute on a bigger scale.  Yet, they all contribute in some way to an international conversation about beer.

Blogs are such a blend of storytelling, opinion, and, yes, even reporting, that the notion of them being pounded into one category or another is unsatisfying.  It's just as unsatisfying to the individual writing it.  I am not a journalist, for example, but I am interested in being more journalistic.  Hopefully you've noticed that evolution. 

Journalism is certainly not separate and distinct from great writing. Great writing envelopes us in an emotional cloud while carrying us from paragraph to paragraph as we peek over the billowing white mist in eager anticipation of what's next.  You know it when you read it, to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous concurrence, and you can find it in any subject, purpose and medium.

All of this is a long-winded way of demonstrating this is not a one-size-fits-all conversation, but is indeed a conversation important to all.  Someone writing a blog devoted solely to beer reviews might not consider herself a journalist, for example.  But she is nevertheless part of this giant conversation about beer.  If she fails to 1) tell you she got a particular beer for free, and 2) fails to admit her review is skewed to avoid pissing off the brewery, we've got a problem.  Transparency just got trampled.

Heather asks what role beer writers play in the culture and growth of craft beer - advocates, critics, or storytellers? Collectively we are all of the above and critics are quick to correctly point out we are extremely top-heavy on the advocacy part.

Modern Times Brewery founder Jacob McKean perhaps best summarized the criticism in a piece appearing in the Voice of San Diego. Writing about the accessibility of world-class craft beer to "just about everyone," he noted this "accessibility and casual vibe leads countless uninformed observers to believe that they can authoritatively comment on craft beer. * * * In an industry with an almost total absence of real journalism, the cheerleading is virtually indistinguishable from the 'reporting."

It would be easy to suggest the bulk of the cheerleading is coming from sources that are neither trying nor intending to be "reporters" or provide "journalism," but I'm not at all certain that is the case.  When was the last time your local newspaper ran a story about anything other than the happy side of beer

Brandon Hernandez, a San Diego area food and beverage writer and communications director for Stone Brewing, sparked a lively and important discussion last August with his article "Truth in Beer Reporting and Other Novel Concepts."  In it, he takes on an issue that makes most bloggers squeamish: there's bad beer out there (and many other negative subjects in craft beer) and we're afraid to talk about it.  (Brandon will be a participant in our upcoming panel on beer journalism ethics and best practices).

At least relatively frequent articles about trademark disputes peel back the curtain enough to expose one critical truth about craft beer: it's not all kittens and rainbows and one big happy family. 

Craft beer is, after all, a business.  A very big, quickly growing, and highly competitive business. We treat it differently and cheerlead for it and prop our brewers up like rock stars for another simple, but critical, truth: we love great beer.  Hell, we even love marginal beer if we're drinking it in a great place.

Back to Heather's questions: What stories are not getting told and what ones would you like to never hear about again? The second part of that question is easy.  If I never read another "story" about the "best" beers or the "top 10 breweries" that utterly fails to explain any semblance of methodology, I'll be happy.

The first part of the question is a little more difficult.  How do you know what you're missing if you're not hearing about it in the first place? Nevertheless, here are a few, most of which are well beyond the capability of your average beer blogger:
  • The politics of beer.  We know AB InBev and MillerCoors spend gobs of money lobbying our federal and state governments for favorable laws and regulations.  But how much do the Sierra Nevadas, New Belgiums, Lagunitases, and Deschutes of the world spend, either individually or collectively through trade associations? And on what? Just because we're fans doesn't mean they should get a pass.
  • Similarly, what are the stories behind certain state politics and the development of local policies around beer? Why, for example, is Georgia so worried about allowing growlers when other states have enjoyed them for decades? Is it as simple as saying "see story number one?"
  • What's real and what's hype? Take style-specific glassware.  Just as we're beginning to get people to understand that the style of glassware really does make a difference in your drinking experience, craft beer pops out with the IPA glass and, just this week, the Stout glass.  It it really all just about the money and hype?  Do we have no shame?
  • The logistic of beer.  How many fingers touch that beer from grain to your glass?  What are the economic and environmental effects? How do our tied-house (and other) laws affect this system?
Given my occupation as an attorney, I come by my interest in the politics and regulatory aspect of beer honestly.  In a sense, I'm also a professional writer.  The vast majority of my job is comprised of written advocacy where clarity, accuracy, attribution, and clear articulation between fact and opinion are essential.

Which brings me to my last point. Heather asks if the state of beer journalism is in such disarray, what can be done about it?  We can write to our strengths and acknowledge our weaknesses. In the citizen blogger category - where I fit - few of us have the time or training to put in ten phone calls and hours of research to develop a story one might recognize as journalism and great writing.

Yet, by using the skills and time we do have, we can each contribute positively to this conversation about beer.  Oliver Gray doesn't write about his state legislature and the intricacies of legislation and politics like I do, one of my strengths.  Rather, he uses his impeccable writing skills to capture scenes and convey context and envelop you in stories that contribute in vastly different ways to the conversation, clearly one of his strengths.  There is room for all.

Indeed, there are many stories which need to be told and we are the ones to do it. One-size-may-not-fit-all, but by adopting the principles of transparency, accuracy/verification, attribution to sources, and a clearly defined separation between reporting and analysis/opinion we can elevate this thing called beer writing.  
*Today is the first Friday in April which means it's time to take part in The Session, a collective effort of beer bloggers around the world to write on a common topic once each month.

~ Follow Growler Fills on Twitter and Facebook

FDA to Revise Spent Grain Rules

In a good example of the power of persistent voices, the Food and Drug Administration announced today that it will revise it's proposed rules on handling spent grain and release a new version this summer.  The full story can be found over at Brewbound here:

My comments on the issue, including a letter issued to the FDA by Montana Senators Tester and Walsh, are here, here and here.

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Montana Senators Tester and Walsh Issue Letter on FDA Spent Grain Rules

Comments of concern continue to pour in over the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's proposed rules for handling spent grain.  Numerous lawmakers are now taking up the cause, including Montanan Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh who issued a joint letter this afternoon.

The brewing industry has long had a symbiotic relationship with livestock producers, providing the spent grains for use as livestock feed rather than sending tons of additional waste to landfills. Spent grain is malted barley (and other grains) after the brewers have extracted the sugars to produce beer in a process called "mashing."

The FDA's proposed rule, created to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, would classify brewers as animal feed manufacturers, heaping a significant layer of new regulation on this very common practice.

On Monday, Maine Senators Susan Collins and Angus King issued a letter strongly urging the FDA to consider the significant economic effect from a rule that may effectively end the practice of donating and selling spent grains for livestock feed.  Eleven other Senators signed on to the letter in a bipartisan show of support.

Also on Monday, Colorado Senator Mark Udall issued a letter asking the FDA to "swiftly complete a 'risk assessment' of the use of spent grain for livestock feed before moving forward with the rule.    "Perhaps most relevantly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decades worth of data that demonstrates the history of spent brewers grain used as animal food," wrote Senator Udall. "This information does not reveal to my knowledge any evidence that dedicating spent brewers grains for agricultural use has ever compromised food safety to animals or humans."

Today, Montana Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh issued a letter to Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., the Commissioner of the FDA, urging the agency to "reconsider classifying small brewers as 'animal feed manufacturers.'"

"Montanans have told us that this proposed rule would likely end the relationship small brewers have built with producers, as the cost of compliance with the proposed rule would likely make such arrangements ineffective," the Senators wrote. "We urge you to continue to work on this proposed rule to ensure the final version both protects our food supply while taking into account the positive relationship brewers and producers have carved out."

Here is the entire letter:

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