More benevolence, less beef in beer

The phrase “let’s talk about it over a beer” can mean many things, but typically hashing a quarrel out over a beer is a good thing. We’re talking face-to-face and, so long as we’re doing that, everything will be okay. We might not leave the taproom with our minds changed, but at least we heard the other side out.

Social media does not allow for this. It allows us to blindly — and often anonymously — stand behind a user name and avatar while we spew venom at people who don’t agree with us whether it’s about politics or whether or not children should be allowed at breweries.

By giving back to the communities and environments that buy their beers and provide their resources, these breweries are further elevating the beer industry at large.

As someone who follows the beer industry closely, there’s nothing more infuriating than watching two neckbeards fight it out over the keyboard, so I hoped to write about something more positive.

Earlier this week, VinePair published a story I wrote about benevolence in the beer world. That is, breweries who are aiming to use their platform to make the world a better place. Shout out to Dogfish Head, 10 Barrel, SweetWater, and Maine Beer Company for this!

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From the Gridiron to the Grapevine; Lobster in Beer?

This story is a year in the making. Around this time last summer, I began pitching this article about former NFLers who are making a splash in the wine game. I wanted to know if their wines were legitimate businesses, or were wine labels something upon which retired players could splash their names in order to make a quick buck.

The result of this inquiry appeared today in VinePair

Wine is a spirit of endless fascination to me, and the more I learned about it, the more I want to know. From the chemistry of soil to the regions climate, this is all interesting to me. I can tell you probably more than you need to know about the beer brewing process, but how the grapes interact with the yeast and how that varies year to year or the tannins and micro-oxidations in the barrels is more interesting to me right now.

It’s probably the science behind the barrels that interests me most, which is why I’m so interested in what Oxbow does at their Bottling & Blending facility up in Portland, Maine. I also published a piece this week about Oxbow’s Saison Dell’Aragosta, which — I’ll submit — doesn’t use barrels, but it still falls into the category of pretty freakin’ cool.

SaisonDell'Aragosta_bottle_photo_courtesy_of_oxbow

Oxbow and Del Ducato’s Saison Dell’Aragosta (courtesy: Oxbow Brewing Co.)

*Feature photo: Courtesy of Getty Images.

Stop using Pat Tillman to support your anti-Kaepernick narrative.

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When the news hit social media that Nike is endorsing Colin Kaepernick, there was the typical social media response: Overwhelming support and its polar opposite, complete with dissenters ruining articles of their own clothing. One of the more popular memes was of stark contrast to Nike’s original message. In the Nike-created version, Kaepernick, a black man, is prominently featured in a close-up of his face with the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” This, of course, alludes to Kaepernick’s protest during the playing of the national anthem before the start of NFL games, which resulted in an alleged blackballing from the league. This is not a space where I’m going to debate my thoughts on that.

In defying Nike, social media users have begun overlaying the words that appeared in the ad over a picture of Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who quit the league in order to join the Army Rangers after the events of September 11th, 2001. Tillman was killed by fratricide, or friendly-fire, in 2004.

The message this meme sends is that Tillman, who lost his life, sacrificed more than Kaepernick, who sacrificed his livelihood. In this, there’s a bit of truth. Tillman made, in a way of clichéd speak, the ultimate sacrifice.

But those who’ve read about Tillman life, for instance, in Jon Krakauer’s book Where Men Win Glory, or have watched the documentary The Tillman Story, know a different angle to this. Tillman referred to the war in which he was serving as “so fucking illegal.” He was critical of the war, the people leading it, and the underprepared people who were fighting it. 

All the while, he was used as war propaganda. He was made the poster boy for patriotism, a role he would have hated. When he died, again by the hands of his own platoon, the government did their best to cover it up. They did so as long as they could to ensure that what the public saw was a sacrifice by a great patriot, not the shitty death partially orchestrated by bureaucratic mismanagement. The powers that be saw it as an opportunity to drum up support for the war. This is not some conspiracy theory. This is all sworn testimony. The army burned his journals and his clothes. His platoon mates were ordered not to tell the truth.

A recommendation to award Tillman with a Silver Star medal, one of the U.S. military’s highest honors, immediately began moving through the Army ranks — something that is not done for deaths by friendly fire, Krakauer says.

And, says Krakauer, “when a soldier is killed in combat, you should put his uniform, his weapon, everything — anything that can be considered forensic evidence should be sent back to the States with the body, so the medical examiners could determine the cause of death. In the case of Tillman, none of that happened.”

Tillman’s uniform and body armor were burned, says Krakauer, and his weapon, helmet, even a part of his brain, which fell to the ground after the attack, disappeared. Army officials told the medical examiners that Tillman had been killed by the Taliban — and they stuck by this story when they reported the death to his family.

Tillman is too complicated a person to decide how he would have felt upon returning home from war, had that been the outcome. Anything I give would be absolute conjecture. I don’t know if he would have stood or knelt for the anthem. I don’t know what kind of support or dissent he would have given Kaepernick. I do have a feeling that the people posting this meme would be at odds his politics, but, again, conjecture. I won’t claim to know.

Knowing what I do know, though, about his refusal to take part in any press when he joined the military or when he was imbedded with his squad, I’m pretty sure he would’ve hated that stupid fucking meme for no other reason than how dare anyone presume to speak for him.

The Bachelor > College Title Game?

Last night, I missed the second half of what’s being considered one of the greatest national championship games of all time. Of course, there’s always a recency-bias to these things. Every Kanye album is the best Kanye album of all time (it’s actually him that says this the loudest); Every President, depending on your side of the aisle, is the greatest President of All Time. See? It’s true.

But, at least according to Twitter and the 73 text messages that I awoke to, the game was a classic. I missed it. And I’m (mostly) fine with that.

To call football my favorite sport would be difficult. I have a lot of difficulty swallowing some of the violence, the treatment of former players, the domestic violence issues, and the complete ignoring of head injuries and brain trauma. In other words, yes, I watch, but I kind of hate myself for doing so.

And, in reality, I tend to only watch one team per week. I don’t schedule my Sunday or Monday nights around the games; I barely even watch those games if my team isn’t playing. I think I saw one Thursday night game this year, early in the season, when my favorite team played. Contrast this with a sport like college basketball, where I will watch it all.

That said, it was Wild Card Weekend. This past weekend and this upcoming weekend are two of my favorite sports weekends. I even set these weekends aside in the family’s iCalendar. I’ll dedicate the weekend to watch all four games, making some bets, and generally enjoying life. Last weekend, during the Wild Card games, I watched all four, winning over the TV from my family. This wasn’t viewed as a problem and I will do the same this weekend.

Now, it hit me midway through Monday that the college football national title game was on that night, last night. Now, Monday night is my wife’s favorite show The Bachelor. We have one TV. I couldn’t justify taking the TV again. Not after the TV weekend I just had; Not after the TV weekend I’ll have come Saturday.

So we watched The Bachelor. Corrine is as entertaining as any championship game anyway. I streamed the game on my devices, but around 10 p.m., after The Bachelor was over and the game was at the half, I went to bed (I still can’t figure out how any other adult with kids goes to bed later than this). I silenced my phone and slept great.

Did I miss the game? Yes, of course. It was the best title game ever. Until next year I suppose.

Not that anyone cares

In what would probably be my sophomore year of high school, my friend Shaun wrote an article for the school newspaper about the absence of the Bud Bowl from the commercial lineup during that year’s Super Bowl. In the way that high schoolers eagerly pronounce their casual, yet knowledgable relationship with alcohol, I found this article hilarious. How cool was I that I recognized those cans on the television from that one party where there was beer that one time!

He wrote in an over-the-top, Microsoft Word thesaurus, “I was miffed and bamboozled” style, quoting mutual friends in quotes that were almost definitely fabricated or simply made up. Our school newspaper was not known for any sort of editorial genius: It came out twice a year at best, each issue severely dated and centered around the silly things we care about in high school: a singular sports team, prom tickets, Mrs. Smith’s can drive to help “needy families” at the holidays.

In short, I was on board.

I always enjoyed writing papers for class. I got to write funny articles, quote my friends, and have my name in print? I signed up immediately.

And I enjoyed these things. I found a way to write articles about my friends in an “athlete of the month” forum. I invented quotes. I used inside jokes that only my friends and I would understand. It was terrible journalism, but the narcissist that lies within me loved seeing my byline, loved hearing the compliment that someone liked my article. At this time, my dream was to host Monday Night Football. But I didn’t love being in front of the camera. Journalism was the answer.

Around this time, my friend made me a press pass on his computer. It was a press pass for a local sports site. I wasn’t part of their website, yet, for whatever reason, this press pass got me into most local games for free. I saved a whole $3 or something to get into a game in which I was openly cheering for one team. When I was a senior in high school, my cousin and I went to visit my grandparents in Fort Myers, Florida. During this trip, we went to the Red Sox Spring Training facility. I came armed with my press pass. Why not be part of the press corp? I literally had no idea what I was doing.

I jumped the rope into the press area and just kind of lingered around. I see the foolishness in this as I got older. I was 17. I must have stood out like a circus clown.

“Who are you with?” I was asked.

I told the nice gentleman with the cell phone firmly attached to his belt buckle who I was with.

He explained to me why I have to leave. He was nice about it. His name was Kevin.

When I was looking into colleges, I knew that journalism was what I wanted to study and it came down to two schools: Wingate University outside of Charlotte and Springfield College in western Massachusetts. Not exactly journalism powerhouses. That said, two good programs. When I went down to visit Wingate, I was disappointed by the focus on journalism and the emphasis on television; Despite the image of pretty southern blondes working on their non-regional dialects in all my classes, I left feeling that this wasn’t the place for me. In contrast, I went to Springfield where the focus was all on journalism. And, what’s more, all on sports. The professor with whom I spoke that day had written a book about one of my favorite teams of all time, the 1995-96 Massachusetts Minutemen. I was in.

During college, I oscillated between working hard and hardly working. Marty Dobrow was witness to all of this. There were times when I really took my journalism seriously; There were times when I mailed in an article in favor of beers in the back of our townhouse with my friends. And my professor Marty likely knew all this, and has told me that in college I seemed to be more interested in calling myself a writer than actually writing. I’m glad that opinion has changed.

I don’t regret all of this, but my network of journalism colleagues from college is remarkably small. The two with whom I keep the most contact are both working in major markets with high profile teams, but neither is writing.

I covered some cool shit when I was in school. I covered the Basketball Hall of Fame Induction. In 2003, I went to Fenway Park to cover a Red Sox game. As I waited in the empty ballpark for my companion to arrive and bring me to the press area, I was approached by a man with a cell phone firmly at his hip.

“Who are you,” he asked.

I brandished my press pass, legit this time. He was satisfied this time with my answer. His name was Kevin.

I told him the story of Fort Myers from years ago.

“That’s not the story I’d tell me at this point in your career,” he advised.

I laughed because I didn’t know whether he was joking.

I had a great internship alongside some really fine writers. Mike Moran and Matt Vautour showed me the ropes of covering local games well. There was a passion for the local high school teams that warranted close coverage. I enjoyed going to those games and I enjoyed going back to the sports desk to write them.  The internship was paid, too, which was a bonus. After leaving work on Friday nights around midnight, I could also be back in time to meet the guys for a few beers or be a last minute addition to wherever the party was. That was important to me then.

Still, when tasked with a big article — a profile on the college president comes to mind; covering an Elite Eight women’s basketball team, too — journalism was something that I took seriously. That’s a piece I remember re-working a couple of times at least. It’s also a piece I remember because it was the one piece that really helped me discover an interview technique. Prior to that, I’d come in armed with questions and simply run down the list. Armed with a tape recorder, I remember coming with notes, but hoping to simply just engage our President in conversation and transcribe afterward. That strategy changed the way I interview to this day.

I left college with an inflated sense of accomplishment, at least journalistically. We all have things about our past that we’d change and it’s likely I’d involve myself a little more in that arena given the shot to do it all over again. Then again, being in college was a lot of fun. I can’t promise I wouldn’t opt for that game of beer pong. I like to believe these mistakes or miscues provide not a hiccup but simply a different path.

Post-college, I moved out to San Diego and immediately found work as a journalist at a weekly paper where I was tabbed as their sports editor. This was a difficult position to be in as a 22-year old. I had no management skills. I had little idea how to operate a sports department but I had an intern. I spent a good amount of time driving to high schools all around San Diego County. I went to a number of football games and wrote a few articles a week.

It didn’t work out. Through no fault of my own, I found out. They simply had no money to pay me. It was 2005. Print journalism was bleeding out in some global ICU.

From there, I did some freelance stories for literally $50 a pop for another local paper. Community events, youth sports announcements, etc. I literally brought a date to a fundraiser I was covering and we got drunk and ate sushi. All paid for by a local paper. Ah, to be stupid and 22 again.

When San Diego had run it’s course, I interviewed back in Massachusetts at a local paper. I thought the interview went great and drove back east. The job went to an internal hire. I found a job as a substitute teacher while I continued to write for a monthly sports paper, mostly profiles and features. Then the school wanted to hire me full time, so I left the journalism gig.

Over the course of the teaching career, I had a few journalism bugs bite. I wrote some op-eds for the same local paper that didn’t hire me; I wrote a few things about the craft beer scene for an alt-weekly out of Boston. The journalism bug never really left. It persisted. When teaching really came to a close, I chose to get back into the field that I’d chosen so long ago.

And this was dumb, I realize in retrospect and I’ve been wildly lucky to be where I am now which is still, essentially, nowhere. I had this idea that I’d reach out to journalism contacts that I still had and they’d be thrilled to help me. They’d be overwhelmed with my Michael Jordan-esque return to the game and throw jobs my way.

The best reality check I got was from a friend named Brian Shactman who’d been an adjunct at Springfield when I was there. We got on the phone and he said, “Okay, pitch me five ideas.” I didn’t have one idea when I called him, never mind five. In a very direct way, he told me I need to be better prepared. It was the best phone call I had.

So there I was. Few contacts. No ideas. Sitting in front of a blank computer screen.

It started with a personal essay reflection on the time I covered the Atlanta Braves at Spring Training, another great opportunity I got as an undergraduate. I reflected on baseball and youth; I wrote about despair of winter and the optimism baseball brings. I showed a friend named Alan Siegel.

He referred me to The Classical, a place for sportswriting that’s kind of outside the box. It was unpaid, but the editor, Dave Roth, was a great guy and would treat me kindly. The piece was accepted. And, as I drove to New York City early one morning, I got buzzed with text messages from friends saying the piece was great. It made me hopeful, seeing my name in a byline again.

I did more things with The Classical, all unpaid, all about sports. Alongside this, I reached out to an editor at a local magazine about doing some beer writing. They accepted this idea. If they were going to do some features on wine (they were making an attempt at high brow journalism), why not the growing craft beer industry? This moved into some local news writing.

One of the stories I did for The Classical prompted an e-mail from an Eric Nusbaum, who asked to include the story in a collection of baseball writing. Of course, I wrote. In his e-mail, his signature included that he was an editor at Vice Sports, to whom I had just written a pitch to their generic “sports@vice” or whatever e-mail. I mentioned this, and forward the pitch his way. Again, they accepted. And paid! Not much, but anything was great.

From there, it kept moving forward. I’ve written for Smithsonian, Vice Sports, The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated’s The Cauldron as well as many others. Freelance writing is a constant hustle. The waters keep rolling. You have to write every day. You have to pitch every day. This is hard. In the past three years, we’ve had two children. Children need attention. They need food. They need time. They’re expensive. It’s hard to balance these things with writing. There has been stress and struggle. There have been tears and anxiety. There have been impulsive e-mails to people like Marty or Alan or my wife about quitting. And maybe that still might happen. A steady paycheck sounds great. I can’t imagine how rich we’d feel.

When I think about my family during these few years, I can’t help but recognize and appreciate the sacrifices we’ve made for this … whatever it is. Pipe dream? Fantasy? Impossible, silly thing? Or maybe it’s what makes our lives interesting. For so many people, life happens to them, rather than the other way around. We always talk about making our lives more “fulfilled” and following our passions, but how many actually do it. And how many people have the support of their wives the way that I do to pursue these dreams? I don’t know where I’m going to end up. Hell, I don’t even know if I know where I want to end up. The destination isn’t the fun part, though, right? The journey is.

A New Year

Last year, I got into a pretty good habit of writing every day on here. Even if I missed a day, it was because of an assignment that I had to fit in during my lunch time hour(s). It was a good schedule for me. I forced myself to be productive.

But the end of the year came. With the end of the year comes the closing up of shop. Invoices to re-send, making sure checks were for the right amount, did everyone pay me, etc.? Add to that the grind of the holidays where every free minute is making sure stocking are being stuffed and Amazon products are on their way.

Simply put, it was a gargantuan task to keep any writing going (I did manage some beer writing gigs which kept me same) during that insanely busy spell from Thanksgiving through New Years. Moreover, I gave myself the week after Christmas and before New Years Eve off. I rarely take time off. In the freelance world, a week where you’re not writing, pitching, planning, thinking can be killer. Alas, I decided for my own sanity I needed a break. I hadn’t taken that long of a stretch off since June.

It felt good.

But coming back to the daily grind was harder than I thought. Yesterday, recovering from a 24-hour stomach bug, I spent my free time not writing but on the couch. This morning, two kids in tow, I felt constricted by the lack of time and the neediness of my children. It’s hard. I began to think and it hit me:

Being a writer forces you to be like an elite NFL quarterback. You must have a really short memory. If you throw an interception, forget it and keep throwing; As a writer, if you get rejected or you get off schedule or you’re lacking ideas, forget it and keep going.

I wrote my wife an e-mail this morning about a lack of time and money and energy and this isn’t working. It was melodramatic, as I can be sometimes, and impulsive. I wasn’t wrong. Writing is hard by itself. It’s made more difficult by two kids at home. It’s made more difficult by the lack of time with the kids around and a second job at nights. But I’ve got to teach myself to take my own advice: Keep writing, keep moving forward.

Taking Days Off

A confession:

Once, I don’t know how old I was, I wasn’t really in the mood to go to school, so I turned on the light next to my bed, closed my eyes, and let the warmth from the lamp warm my forehead. Taking my temperature by hand, my mom decided I was burning up and needed to stay home. Sorry mom.

On the exterior, staying home from school is great. School sucks. But, when I was younger, staying home from school wasn’t like it is today. There was nothing on television. We were “too sick” to go to school meant we were “too sick” for Nintendo, too, so it meant hours on the couch, ugh, reading or watching The Price is Right or Days of Our Lives. Those were the only things on television. There were no computers. No cell phones.

Meaning, I wasn’t able to “catch up on homework” and be surfing the internet; I wasn’t able to text my friends and follow the days events on social media.

This isn’t a problem anymore. Realistically, I couldn’t care less about the social media aspect now, but I’m sure I would have back when I was a teenager. Days off aren’t spend bored anymore. Days off are spent doing the same exact thing kids would have done in school, but replacing history class with Breaking Bad, algebra with SportsCenter.

This makes me jealous. I feel like I missed out.

I was sick yesterday to the point where my wife had to leave work to come home, pick up our daughter, and watch our kids while I slept. When I was just awake enough to swipe my iPhone, I checked scores and fantasy football and Twitter, read a couple articles. My wife left for dinner, too, to the grandparents house to eat dinner. I laid on the couch and fell asleep watching a movie. Being sick is terrible; But being sick in 2016? Not so bad.