a blog.

middle brow | citizen how \ 4 aug 17 /

ballast point.

we spent some time discussing brewery ownership a few weeks back. so we won't spend much time on it today.

but some recent news bears discussing. as some of you may have heard (and as many others of you may have not because you have many better things to do than to stay abreast of what restaurant is opening where and when), ballast point is opening a massive brewpub in the increasingly overbuilt fulton market district.

ballast point is owned by constellation. constellation owns corona and several other very popular beer and spirits brands. ballast point also makes delicious beer. that said, its dictates do not come from family women and men interested in connecting with a community. instead, they come from shareholders. the executives at constellation and ab inbev (bud) and every other publicly-held company have a duty to maximize shareholder value. a straight-up duty; they'd be sued by their shareholders if they didn't do so.

and, as such, the decision to "capture the craft market" by placing a massive brewpub in the middle of a major-money neighborhood in the middle of the country isn't all that exciting. unless you get excited by short-term financial success.

... because that's all that this represents. short-term financial success. big beer brands tired to ignore "craft beer" for years. then they derided it. then, when they couldn't stem the bleeding, they decided to join the fun! haayyyyyyyy!!!! and now bud and corona and heineken and millercoors are furiously acquiring craft breweries. some such acquisitions are strokes of genius. others, strokes of hilarity. others, just strokes.

and what are they doing with these brands? they're using them to "capture the craft market", as mentioned above. but it's merely a medium-term move: with such forays into "normals" neighborhoods in cities like chicago, they're introducing craft beer to the masses. and the masses will quickly wet their pants over how delicious beer can be. and then? 

and then, since normals always follow in the footsteps of weirdos (see: gentrification. sports. music.): ballast point and lagunitas and brooklyn brewery and goose island (our hearts! our souls! we'll love you forever!) will become very tired and boring to normals. and the little-guy breweries living and brewing on the edge will quickly become exciting to normals!!

thanks yet again to the big guys at constellation and "the high end" (?) for hastening the process. in the meantime, make sure the beer you drink is made with some concern for stakeholder, not just shareholder, value.

drink good. do better.

middle brow | citizen how \ 28 jul 17 /

dunkirk.

we saw dunkirk in 70mm at the music box theatre last weekend. we don't like to review movies unless we've seen them more than once. but obviously it checks a whole bunch of *good* boxes. being beautifully shot not the least among them.

instead, briefly about beaches: virtually, if not actually, everywhere that water transitions to land, you find sand. and while there've been many land invasions over the course of human history, invasions by sea are inevitably quite common.

see: the greeks invaded the other greeks. the brits invaded the states. the states stormed normandy, as they say. but only after the germans took dunkirk. the states invaded vietnam. the states invaded grenada. and cuba. and wait! the other states, too! and let's not pretend the polynesians are perfectly peaceful people.

that is, war is pretty sandy. and likely quite beautiful. but imagine if you were a warrior in such a sea-placed war. and after your war ended, your family wanted to spend a weekend at the beach. next time you're crushing a copacetic on the beach, think about fighting a war with sand in your shoes.

middle brow | citizen how \ 28 jul 17 /

*transgender in the military*


"we can't do transgender in the military." this week, our president decided before his twitter following to ban transgender american citizens from serving their country.

hmmph.

first, there he goes mixing up nouns and adjectives again. his pronouncement sounds like "we can't have citrus in the compost". we can't have "subordination" in the military, sure. or "mutiny" on the [b]ounty. (or can we?) but "transgender in the military" doesn't make sense. and that's not just a commentary on his intelligence. it's a commentary on his complete nihilism. the man cares about nothing at all in the world. not even getting discriminatory grammar correct. he has no views. but i digress w/r/t that point.

so, trump's transgender ban is serious issue number one. this week. and every week. while this and other such policies stand. and i don't care how much it detracts from "trump russia", as he calls it. or the second most important issue (see below).

why? quite simply, it comes down to gender v sex v love.

sex: fine. your god (because your goddess would never) commands that gay sex is immoral and should be outlawed by federal, state and local governments. while i might question your god's priorities, and while i would definitely call such a view "bigoted" (sorry, but the definition is clear), at least you could pass blame to your religion.

love: again, you refer to your god for your insistence that a man/woman cannot be allowed to love another man/woman the way you love your woman/man. what a weird god you have! if you believe (and he believes) that the world is better with less love in it, you're going to a very unique church. ... we know something of jesus, having gone to catholic schools our whole lives. and that god-kid hipster was hardly concerned with anything *BUT* love.

but if you want to give someone a hard time about the gender that they feel with every inch of their body and brain? well... if you believe any of the above, we believe you're a dick. but let's just be clear: being transgender isn't about *having sex* with anyone. and it isn't about *loving* anyone either. except for yourself. it's about being comfortable in your own skin. about being happy with yourself. about feeling *right*. at least that's what we've learned so far.

we have so much more to learn about it. and many of you do, too. but, in the meantime, if you want to make our transgender friends feel like they have no place. if you want to add to the shoulder-shattering stress they must feel everyday of their lives. well, let's just say we'd gladly be passed over by you for coors or yuengling.

and anyway. as i said above. this president doesn't even care about the issue. he cares about nothing. he's been such a massive loser so far (see, again, healthcare last night), that he's just desperate for a win. and he chose to discriminate against a bunch of americans as a means to score a partial budget vote win in the house. for a budget that he knows full well won't make it through the senate.

but it's hard to win when you don't work hard.

middle brow | citizen how \ 21 jul 17 /

waste.

at middle brow we constantly think about the social ramifications of our actions. brewing beer is very water intensive, for example. there's no way around it. that sucks. ... we try to balance it out by conserving as much water at home as we can. and we intend to build a brewpub ecosystem that minimizes water waste.

waste. how about that? how often are our actions wasteful. think about the last time you grabbed a bunch of paper towels to clean up a light spill. did you really need that many? could you designate a kitchen towel for spills instead of creating unnecessary paper towel waste? 

or think about the last car you purchased. did you really need to purchase a brand new car? could you have purchased something used instead? these days, you can purchase a used car with all the same after-purchase service benefits as a new car. so what's the excuse in buying brand new? in being marginally responsible for adding another "thing" to the world?

our friend meegan czop owns and runs great lakes yard--the best reclaimed lumber yard in chicago. she taught us a lot about really subtle instances of waste. e.g., think about how we built the city of chicago: we ripped up forests all over the midwest. and when it's time for a house or a church or a school to come down, what do we do with all those former forests? we chop them up and send them back to *other* midwestern cities' landfills. why not build more, new things out of those materials? they should be preserved and reused.

or, take bicycles. you can go buy a brand new road bike for $300. or you can go to working bikes in pilsen and spend $250 on a really cool schwinn from the 80s. true, it's not much cheaper. but you're not putting new shit into the world that'll one day be trashed. what's more, in the case of working bikes, you're supporting their amazing mission of providing bicycles to underprivileged people in developing countries.

all to say: let's be mindful about our actions that create waste. let's bring our own coffee mugs to the cafe and give 'em a soapless rinse right when we're done drinking. let's buy used jeans, cuz new jeans are poorly made anyhow. let's all get a nalgene for water!!!!!! let's build breweries and restaurants out of once-used materials. and let's make sure our processes reduce waste. ... 

now. can someone in the upper midwest create a compostable beer can?

-

counterpoint: don't judge me every time i'm brushing my fucking teeth. 

counter-counterpoint: yeah yeah yeah ... of course we wouldn't. we try to be less wasteful ourselves. but if that doesn't fit your lifestyle, or your life patterns, we still love you. maybe you can find some small, easy way to reduce waste in your own way. and if not, come trade smiles with us some day or night anyway. and let's have a really fucking human moment.

middle brow | citizen how \ 14 jul 17 /

the great unmooring. 
 

no doubt. life in america has changed in the past 20-30 years. we know: that's not interesting. but still, it relates to beer. so, if you will, bear with us for the rest of your commute.

in these modern times, we feel increasingly less tied to our communities. you see it in the higher frequency with which people "leave home" to live in a different city. in the urbanization of suburban millennials coupled with the reduction in the tendency to know your neighbors. in the shift from an IRL social life to an online one whereby you connect with your own "virtual" community with such high frequency that you hardly have time to spend talking to your friends and neighbors. nothing new. heard it before. yadda.

and how did this happen? well, obviously social media played a big role. facebook focuses our attention on status. and so what. maybe it's human nature to size up your neighbor. but at least ten years ago you were sizing up your actual neighbor. and not someone you knew 6 years ago who now like 350 miles away.

instagram offer visual beauty! but always elsewhere or from another time. and there's so much visual beauty in front of you. right now. look! oh. too late. it's gone. back to your phone. 

twitter encourages the constant news chase. granted, this is often news about the world. but it's usually snarky news about the world. it's like one big average joke. nobody should make time for that. and nobody needs that much news about other places. about the coasts and the elites and communities of which *we all* are most definitely not participants.

also, though, things like reduction in church attendance have played a role in this unmooring. we're not religious people (in fact, we're pretty strongly anti-religious), but even we can acknowledge that church belongs to a certain category of things that strengthen communities. religious services, school board meetings, park districts, little league, community theater, public libraries: all of these things used to work together to help establish and grow a community. increasingly, though, we spend less time at religious services. we also spend less time in public libraries. and less time seeking out art in our communities. and less time actually attending school board meetings. so it's no surprise that we feel less connection to a given community or place.

this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. for instance, since we're not so tied to our community's needs from and expectations for us, we have more courage and energy for individual growth. we can be ourselves. and self-expansion is an important driver of happiness. on the other hand, though, people are generally happier in stronger communities to which they belong and contribute. 

so it would be wise to try to find new ways to make community. goddess knows food and beverages have become a much bigger part of our day-to-day and weekends in recent years. so restaurants and bars and breweries and bakeries and farmers' markets can help in that role. if one owns such an establishment, one should do her best to open that space up to the community. to hire from the community. to host free community-related events (like school board meetings or town halls). to offer free breakfast to folks (especially children) in the community with fewer resources. and on and on. owners of such establishments should also do their best to engender as much interest as possible in the *old* ways of community organizing, too. those ways worked for hundreds if not thousands of years for good reason. let's not let a few dozen tubes under the ocean change that.

we donate 50% of our profits to local charities. and we'll continue to do so for the foreseeable future. but that doesn't feel sufficient. as we continue to build our brewery, we constantly ask ourselves how to do more than simply write a check. we have to use our bodies and minds and mouths to change our shareholder culture into a stakeholder culture. and we'll be damned if we don't.

so anyway, require (and ***ask***) more from your favorite breweries and bakeries and restaurants and markets. they should be focused on more than making a food or beverage widget. it's become their responsibility.

middle brow | citizen how \ 10 jul 17 /

a brief few words on brewery ownership. 

the vast majority of beer drinkers (and humans) don't know or care about who owns the company that produces the beer they drink. and so the vast majority of beer drinkers likely have not been privy to the many big news breaks in craft beer over the past several months. in sum: big, evil macro breweries are buying up craft breweries like they're kit-kats. (should i hyperlink kit-kats? how i love thee.)

should this matter? eh. we don't know. but we do know that the better question to ask is: should this not matter? and we think the answer to that question is a resounding "no". we shouldn't simply ignore brewery ownership when making decisions about what beers to buy.

here's our two cents: beer is so much more than a product. "beer is labor", as some friends of our friends might say. beer is art. beer is the combination of so many communities: brewing, farming, metalworking, engineering, architecture, food and beverage service. beer is cultural. beer is social. but not just social in the get-drunk-with-your-friends way. it's social in that it can touch (and thereby help and harm) society in so many ways.

this is true of many products other than beer, of course. and, therefore, when you buy such products, you're making a social decision. and you should consider everything that goes into that product, and everything that comes out of it. it's so much more than simply the liquid in the can or bottle or keg.

so: does this mean nobody should drink beer brewed by any "craft brewery" that was purchased by ab inbev or heineken? that's your call to make. how much influence do you believe stockholders in a company have over the decisions of their managers? if you believe the answer is "not necessarily any", i think you're being too clever by half. sure: "not necessarily any" is technically true. but "usually significant" is the less naive, better answer. and any human who's ever owed anything to anyone else knows this. only a sociopath would ignore an entity that enriched him or her.

but ... does this mean those newly-purchased, formerly "craft" (ha!) breweries now make bad beer, or are run by evil people? most definitely not. but if you chose to buy slightly fewer of their beers, and instead spent slightly more of your money on less well-funded breweries whose social inputs and outputs that were more in line with your preferences, we wouldn't call you crazy.

we just hope the craft beer tweeterati STFU about this topic soon. we will now. unless we're forced into such discussions by any clever responders.

middle brow | citizen how \ 7 jul 17 /

fire for the future.

watch.

we feel like a broken record sometimes, but even our most earnest friends believe we should talk more about how we donate a substantial portion of our profits (sometimes over 50%) to local charities. we'd like to high*light* one of those charities today. ...

our friend pearl dick is an brow-furrowing woman in the best way. when you talk to her, you start to feel something inexplicable, such that your brow begins to furrow at the center. just a touch at first. but then, after 15 minutes or so, after you've nearly cried once or twice, from joy and from sadness, you've got a permanent furrow + smile on your head.

pearl is a co-founder of project fire, which offers therapy and employment to victims of gun violence through glassblowing. read that again. you don't even have to backtrack. here: pearl teaches glassblowing (and other fire arts) to children who have been affected by gun violence. she teaches them to engage with fire in a more constructive way. she knows the name of every child who walks through her door. she teaches them about hard work, and about compensation for such. she spends her whole saturday with them. she refuses ever to give up, no matter how tight funding might get or how seriously a student might be harmed.

we make small donations to her from time to time, as our *project fire* beers are brewed. maybe consider making your own donation from time to time, too.

in the meantime, head down to the firehouse arts studio (the oldest standing firehouse in chicago, converted into a studio for glassblowing and other fire arts like pottery) and take a look at what pearl and her friends at artreach chicago are doing.
 

middle brow | citizen how \ 30 jun 17 /

randy bryce.

watch. what's more middle brow than a working class man engaging in high citizenry? no matter your mettle for one side of the aisle or the other, this is compelling stuff. randy bryce is dripping with americana. he's an iron worker with a big belly and a mustache. but somehow he's a democrat... who's running a pro-health care agenda against paul ryan in southeastern wisconsin in 2018. a liberal wet dream.

it's no secret that at least two out of three members of middle brow are screaming liberals (the third is decidedly apolitical). that said, middle brow couldn't exist without the help of our friends and family, many of whom are screaming conservatives (at least in most eras they are). at the end of the day, though, no matter your background or political persuasion, it all comes down to economics. to the honor of true labor. to looking out for the little guy. and making it easy for that so-called little guy to feel like a contributing, respected, equal member of her community. we believe the leaders of one side have mastered the language of the little guy, but lack the little guy's heart. that leaves an opening for the other side to fill. we'll see if they do. but, for now, we digress.

middle brow | citizen how \ 23 jun 17 /

kitchen behavior.

we'll take a break from too many words this week. just a quick thought or two.

we had a lovely dinner last night at chef mickey neely's home. we talked about tons of shit with new and old friends alike: alaska. the chicago water taxi. learning to appreciate the lake as a resource in chicago. not donald trump. (not even one word. promise. it was weird.) but the thing that stuck with us the most was the discussion about kitchen culture.

most people these days are foodies. (damn that word to hadestown. also see below.) so most people have an inkling about kitchen culture. the kitchen can be a very intense place. it has to be: if you're going to serve beautiful, delicious food to hundreds of people over the course of 3 hours, you can't settle for anything less than perfection from you kitchen staff. it's a nearly impossible feat. but kitchens do it everyday aw low ver the whirled. everyday.

but. naturally. this leads to lots of yelling. can yelling be good? yes. can harsh but constructive criticism turn you into a better chef / cook? absolutely. in fact, it's likely necessary. but does this yelling cross the line? yes. often. and there's no need for that. some of the best restaurants in the world have perfectly cordial, scary-intense kitchens. criticism can be honest, direct, and harsh without crossing the line. but focusing entirely on the work product and not on the person. 

how is this relevant to beer? it's not. it doesn't always have to be. we're people, too. just like corporations. y'dig? and this applies to life in general: keep your criticism constructive. don't get personal. you're much more likely to be taken seriously that way. and you're wayyyyyy f'ing cooler that way. f machiavelli; anyone who follows his lead is a child. (pretty sure he was a child when he wrote his shitty prince anyway.)

did we say we'd take a break from too many words this weak? maybe next.

middle brow | citizen how \ 16 jun 17 /

event fatigue.

just a few thoughts here. about the world. starting with a bit of a beer ramble on...

one thing has been on our minds a lot recently: event fatigue. goddess knows there's too damn many events these days. and we're all getting so.... f'ing... tired of the fomo.

but why have events spiraled so out of control? over the last decade, social media has took control of many of our lives. and, by their nature alone, our social media accounts are ostentatiously experiential. so *experience* has become our principal social currency. in other words: we need to fill our social media accounts with interesting shit, 'cuz we gotta show the world how cool we are. so natch we attend and post about and hype up the super cool events and moments that we were privy to but that you missed. and then you gotta keep up. so you go looking for something cool to do. & on & on. it's a positive (negative) feedback loop.

and it's not only the sheer number of events that's to blame: it's also the lack of variety. because experience has become currency, experience has been commoditized. ever notice how every bar and restaurant seem to be owned by the same 6 people? you're aren't crazy. some very talented and insightful people saw this development early and had the tools to respond quickly to the experience generation. they tend to do a great job: that's why they turn out joint after joint, serving up heaps of dōp experiences for you to snap.

but there are only so many types of events one can throw in a bar or restaurant. and these bars and restaurants have to keep their seats filled. so, of course, the successful events repeat like an echo. and then the echo reverberates and independent bars and restaurants (so to speak) get inspired to do their own take on the idea. or sometimes the inspiration runs in the other direction. but either way, event overkill quickly sets in.

it's no surprise that we're all suffering from a serious case event fatigue. so... what to do?

well, first. we promise to do our very best to keep our events as original as possible. we won't always succeed, but we promise to try.

second. we promise to cut back on the excessive overhyping of non-event events. ever go to a tap takeover? it's a bar. with 4-8 beers on tap by one brewery. with the brewery team huddled at a table in the corner. it's certainly cool if you love the brewery. and you should go to those tap takeovers! by all means! but by itself it's not an "event". and it doesn't merit a social media invitation or advance fomo-generation (e.g. "you better not miss our tap takeover at 'frank's 'til 4' this monday!!!! we've got some special treats in store!!!"). breweries should be more particular about throwing these; and bars should be more particular about hosting them.

third. you readers can do something, too. you can commit to attending only the most creative events. save your event energy for stuff you know you'll reallllly love. for super creative, smart events like this wisconsin-inspired supper club happening every monday in july at the hideout. no need to attend your sixth beer fest for the year. there'll be three more waiting for you next weekend.

fourth. even if you're tired, make sure you go to those really creative indie events. even partial attendance is helpful-as-heck'm! you got 30 spare minutes for a 3 hour event? go. don't feel like staying out 'til midnight? catch the first few songs by a band you really dig and that you want to stick around. we could all use your support.

fifth, and last. a message to the big guys: be creative. and be generous. it's the least you can do.

this is a tough position to take for a brewery that doesn't even have a tap room or brewpub. but event fatigue is real. we must treat it before it's too late.