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trouble-brewing-walmart

This is a reaction to this article originally reported by the Akron Beacon Journal and expounded upon best (so far) by Food & Wine here.

The premise of the suit is that WalMart willfully deceived customers into believing that their private-label beer brand, Trouble Brewing (get it?!?), actually brewed by Genesee is a true “craft beer” brand justifying a higher price point than non-craft beers. The shock here is not that WalMart took this circuitous route around forthrightness but, rather, that it wasn’t presumed to be the case from everyone from the start. I believe that there is a huge measure of caveat emptor in play here.

Keep in mind, that private label beer, wine, and spirits have been made for Costco, 7-11, Total Wine, Walgreen’s, Trader Joe’s, and many huge or widespread domestic retailers selling any alcohol throughout the US. This is nothing new. There is a measure of subverting the truth with nearly all of them, generally lies of omission. Where is the line drawn for true deception, though?

If I were a craft beer drinker in Boise Idaho shopping the beer aisle at the Overland Road WalMart Supercenter the first thing that would come to my mind when seeing Trouble Brewing (made in 2,285 miles away in Rochester, NY) is economy of scale—that in order to feed WalMart’s massive empire, this beer can not likely be a true “craft beer” made in a small brewery run by a couple of bushy-bearded beer-lovers chasing a dream. I have accepted these products in in practice and, to some degree, in theory because the waters have been muddy for a long time now. “Craft beer styles” (read: non-American adjunct lagers) are produced by several large, otherwise uninteresting breweries—from SABMiller to Sam Adams—to under the guise of being truly “craft”. It is largely a semantic argument at that scale. These Trouble Brewing beers are, at this stage in the game, virtually no different from the relatively high-production stuff that their sister brands, Pyramid and Magic Hat, foist upon the public from neither a quality nor truth in marketing perspective. These beers are simply a product of economy of scale to feed the vast WalMart supply chain and, I am sure, everything about them speaks to that, from the sophomoric packaging and marketing to the reportedly uninspired flavor profiles.

Make no mistake, this suit was not brought forth by innocent consumers who were shocked into action when they discovered they were duped. Craft beer drinkers are largely one of the most discerning, self-informed, and vigilant consumer segments in the world and this suit was brought forth by a craft beer consumer bent on enforcing transparency. As anyone who has ever read this blog will attest, I am absolutely for fighting for transparency in marketing, but I don’t genuinely believe that the wool was really being pulled over anyone’s eyes in this instance.

The core consumer that may toss these beers into their cart along with small appliances, housewares, toys, diapers, cookies, and cleaning supplies is probably not largely the core craft consumer up-in-arms over this. Most consumers outside the craft beer enthusiast market likely don’t care if it’s really a “craft beer”, only that it provides a favorable experience for the price. The argument in the suit that Walmart inflated the prices for the beers to put them in line with other craft beers as a deceptive practice is spurious. Honestly, many large-scale “genuine” craft beers have inflated pricing. All that matters is what the market will bear. If consumers feel they are getting good QPR from this stuff, what does it matter how much profit WalMart makes on it? Profit margin is their business.

To the larger part of the claim—the deception of craft provenance —WalMart may be trying to emulate craft beer, but nowhere on the packaging do they directly claim “craft” or its similars in any way.  The brewery is listed as Trouble Brewing with the same Rochester, NY address as many of Genesee’s other contract brewed products. This is all pretty easy to discern if you are a consumer who cares about that stuff. And that brings me back to my point that the vast majority of people inclined to even consider buying this stuff do not care about provenance as long as they don’t find out that it was made by poor children with a heavy metal-laden water source next to an electronic parts reclamation farm.

The clues of provenance, and scale, and, ultimately, honesty are all there in front of us with these beers and many other products that we just don’t care enough to be cognizant of and reactive to. No one can deceive you unless you are open and available to the deceit.

None of this is to suggest that I have grown less vigilant in my own pursuit of transparency in marketing. I strongly believe that there is a pervasive problem in marketing within an industry where the only regulations of import have to do with taxes and very little of substance to do with consumer protection. But this is another instance where we do not seem to take enough personal responsibility for our consuming habits. It is incumbent upon us to engage ourselves a bit more in our buying habits if we care about this stuff. Once we have made that commitment, the mere subterfuge becomes white noise and we can zero-in on the genuine deceit. Otherwise, all of the after-the-fact griping and class-action suits hold no water when real hard-core deception that actually hurts people comes along.


Gold juice.

My goal was to dress up a meal of diner-style open-faced roast turkey breast sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. That’s easy. Pairing is trickier than it seems because you want to avoid overt fruitiness and neutralize the saltiness of the dish while provding enough body richness to stand up to the full, earthy flavors. Fair roll of the dice, here.

  • Aroma: deep golden hay
  • Nose: beeswax, Bosc pear, lemon, delicate apricot
  • Taste: muted apricot and lemon pulp coated with (not-sweet) honey essence
  • Mouthfeel: viscous with a bit of mineral prickle cutting through a delicate waxiness
This is a classic Saint-Péray blend of of 50% Marsanne/50% Roussanne and all the requisite flavors and textures are here. On it’s own, many consumers might find this a bit too subtle fruit-wise and that is Marsanne doing its thing, providing the prevalent beeswax muting Roussanne’s fruity components. Paired against some salty food, though, the fruit pops beautifully while the wine retains its richness.
This is a lovely wine made from underrecognized varieties from an uner-the-radar Rhône region. Can be found in Maryland for $25-$30.

 

Hardy’s 2nd Label

It’s winter, so it’s time for rich brown spirits. Not that winter is a legit excuse for me—whiskey, añejo tequila, aged rum, and brandy et al. need no excuse for year-round consumption as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, I had grown somewhat weary of the Bourbons, ryes, and Scotches I had been drinking of late [though my hankering for some specific top-notch Irish whiskies will be sated shorty—review(s) to come] and thought I’d go in the direction of tried-and-true, great value brandy. 

Scanning the shelves for high QPR, straight drinkable and broadly mixable brandy, I chose a dry but intensely flavored entry-level Cognac. Maison Rouge is Hardy Cognac’s second label and flat-out represents some of the best values on the market.

  • Appearance: deep, varigated copper/mahogany
  • Nose: leather, sweet cigar wrap, cinnamon, Bosc pear
  • Palate: orange pekoe tea, candied dates, honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg
  • Finish: lingering sweet honey and spice sliding into orange zest, boozy but with a viscosity that quells the heat
Really, you can’t do much better for less than $25, this has been a go-to for me for a few years now as an intro to Cognac for customers or as an everyday bar stock for me. With most anything else at this price you would likely have to settle for an almost syrupy-sweet brandy from elsewhere, but this is legit Cognac. Simple satisfaction with a seriousness married with drinkability hard to find at this price. Pretty much a must-buy.

Feeling Autumnal.

 

I don’t believe I have done a whisky review here, so as the seasons change this just seems right. 

I taste a lot of whisky. It’s kinda my thing. Sure, I taste hundreds of wines every year, but whisky is second on the list. It is the one spirit category that intrigues me most and that, because of its ridiculous popularity of late, I have the opportunity to taste often. I tasted this with a rep one day and thought it a good value.

Canadian whisky is typically a category that does not inspire much interest (there are a few exceptions with Alberta Rye Dark Barrel, Forty Creek, Caribou Crossing, to name a handful of brilliant products that are not Canuck drams under the guise of US craft whiskies). Typically, I look to Canadians as whiskies of low impact on the palate and the wallet. Collingwood’s entry-level product is no different, though it has a bit more going on than those on the bottom shelf.

 

Appearance: copper-amber

Nose: caramel, rose, cinnamon

Palate: candied dates, caramel, cinnamon, maple taffy, wheat-heavy grassy grain

Mouthfeel: watery, unsubstantial

Finish: thins out fast and the low alcohol becomes readily evident with a charry astringency

 

A bit sweeter and more complex than Canadian Club or Crown Royal, but with a similar thinness expected of a blended whiskey. It is saved primarily by its sweetness which gives a superficial impression of character that just isn’t there under the surface. The added caramel color should fool no one on the palate as this is undeniably weak in richness and structure. The toasted maple staves show as just that on the palate, too—charry, sweet, and out of balance with the body-weight of the whiskey. The alcohol is definitely present but, fortunately, only as heat—not in that off-putting ethanol-y way. The 21 year-old expession shows richness and cohesiveness that this can’t even sniff (if you can find it, spend the scratch for it). Look, for under $30, this isn’t bad at all—I would just be inclined to relegate it to mixing.


 

Entry-level Cab Franc from François Plouzeau

 

It’s a rainy, early-Autumn day and I want to unwind with a bottle, damn’ it! After spending far too long cruising the aisles of a local shop, hemming-and-hawing (to myself, in my addled noggin)’ I finally settled on this.

I didn’t know what to expect, really. Loire Cabernet Franc seemed like a good idea—warming without being heavy or too brooding when at it’s best—but also a crap-shoot as it can be nigh undrinkable when executed poorly. However, it should be noted by all who read this, I trust Roy Cloud of Vintage ’59 Imports not to let me down.

 

Biodynamically-produced 100% Cabernet Franc from limestone soils in Touraine. No oak, as far as I can tell. Should find this for less than $25.

Appearance: medium plummy garnet

Nose: underripe blackberry, mineral-tinged pepperiness, a bit of alcohol

Palate: riper and lusher black cherry and blackberry on front-palate than expected but keen balsamic acidity cuts through from mid-to-back carrying on through the finish; roasted tarragon, maybe

Mouthfeel: pretty satiny on the front-end but the acidity brightens it up nicely

Finish: loooong and carried by a fruitful cherry and lime zest acidity with pleasant bitter herbs and anise on the very end showing soft tannins

 

This is perfect! Exactly what I wanted and better than expected. Juicy, mouthwatering, more complex than expected and never green or astringent. Thanks, again, Roy!

 

 

 

QWR: 2012 Paxis Red Blend


Bulldog? “Paxis!”

 

The goal was simple: find a fruity, no-fuss wine to pair with tacos and burritos (made with pork, jalepeños, avocado, tomato, red onion, cheddar, and a spicy yogurt sauce I like to make). The original plan was to go with Garnacha from NE Spain but I saw this on the shelf and just felt it was right. I had brought it into a shop I consult with several months ago and remembered its sweet fruit and thought of it as a nice spice-quelling match for the meal.

Appearance: ruby with a deep violet core

Nose: overt ripe, black cherry and plum

Palate: super-ripe black cherry and blackberry, not too heavy but hinting toward syrupy

Mouthfeel: ridiculously supple with sufficient fruit acid to peek through

Finish: vaguely velvety tannins and a touch of licorice-y astringency

Fun, early Autumn meal.

Well, it is certainly as fruity as I remembered. The sweetness definitely worked well with the spice of the dish, but those sugars provided a body richness that came close to being too much.

Plenty to like here as a sipper and will certainly appeal to the modern American red blend drinker despite Portugal (Lisboa, to be specific) nor the grapes Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Caladoc—neither listed on the bottle—being part of the typical knowledge-base. Nothing spectacular, but I certainly can’t argue with the relative value with the price at around $10.

 


Come to me, la Comme!

From a lovely little winery I visited in Beaune, March 2013 (see this post for details about the visit).

I had the fortune to impress upon a (now defunct) distributor to bring into the Maryland market a selection of these wines from a (now defunct) importer. Another fortune bestowed upon me was the opportunity to bring a six-bottle cross-section of these home for personal consumption. Down to my last two, I was faced with two premier cru Pinot Noir bottlings: a Pommard (which, by my estimation, likely has several years more life in bottle—for another, special day) and this, a Santenay (which by some accounts is in the latter third of its drinking window).

 

Appearance: deep, black-cored ruby—like The Dark Crystal

Nose: bright red cherry, cinnamon, licorice

Palate: high-toned red cherry, lemon, blood orange, pomegranate, delicate cinnamon/clove, licorice

Mouthfeel: lean and acidically gripping—like sucking a fresh lemon

Finish: fine, chalky tannins; long-lingering citrus acidity and delicate, high-toned pomegranate spice

 

Tasty, but the acidity demands food. Lean and not readily approachable solely due to the bracing acid as all other elements are really quite pleasant. Still young yet—well within its drinking window (I’d say, another decade lies in this bottle) despite the gentle tannins given the assertive acid. The fruit may never come into balance with the acid here, however.

I like this, but another several years may not be enough to make it accessible to the masses.

2015 Los Dos Rosado


Well, that went quickly.

 

After a week of menu planning, I knew I wanted a Spanish (or Argentine) rosé to go with my gazpacho and avocado grilled cheese sandwiches. Linda went to the local shop with a short list and the store employee suggested this. I was indifferent toward it after a few “meh” vintages. This turned out to be the best value choice in the store.

 

2015 Los Dos Rosado (85% Garnacha/15% Cabernet Sauvignon) Campo de Borja 13.5%

A: shimmery peach skin pink with slight blue cast

N: straight-up ripe strawberry juice

T: soft, creamy strawberry and raspberry with gorgeous tangerine and strawberry acidity 

F: bright, refreshing acidity and faint anise-tinged tannins 

 

This is the absolute best choice for our dinner. Easily the best Los Dos (red or rosé) I have ever had. Juicy, but thirt-quenching. Enough fruit to work against the acidity of gazpacho as well as more than enough crisp acidity to blast off of the creamy avocado grilled cheese on brioche. Just right, baby bear!


 

2012 Fattorie Melini Terrarosa Chianti Classico

It’s not exactly big Chianti season, but it’s what I was in the mood for, so there you have it.

Sangiovese and Merlot from vineyards in the Sienese region of Chianti Classio.

2012 Fattorie Melini Terrarossa Chianti Classico DOCG 13.5%

A: Medium black-cored ruby no signs of oxidation

N: rich, plummy/black cherry, slight vanilla, dried violets

T: full and soft, plum and cherry front- to mid-palate

F: fairly soft tannins, licorice, mint, subtle dried violets

 

It’s Chianti, all right, but nothing special. 

Super-easy-drinking but there is little here to excite to sustain interest. What makes the best mid-priced Chianti exciting is overt secondary characteristics. Those are here—suppressed and obscured by a new-world ripe, plummy fruit—but not present enough to keep me interested. Don’t get me wrong, this is plenty tasty. For $20 I want more depth and engaging character.

 


Isn’t she lovely?

 

Perennially one of my favorite rosé producers of recent years, Château Gaillard is a wonderful small biodynamic wine producer from Touraine focusing entirely on Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay Noir. This “gris” is actually made exclusively of Gamay Noir.

Appearance: copper-cored salmon

Aroma: fairly closed watermelon, fresh-cut grass, tarragon

Palate: watermelon rind, strawberry, delicate nondescript floral herbaceousness

Mouthfeel: creamy/silky with cut of acid throughout 

Finish: a bit of heat showing through a surprising touch of chalky tannins on the long, generously fruity finish

I’d normally prefer something a bit more crisp and refreshing on a hot summer day, but this is quite nice. It lacks the intensity of prior vintages but the complexity makes up for the softness.

 

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