Tagged: craft beer


The African Cup of Nations kicked off a little over a week ago with a match between South Africa and Cape Verde.  Since then there have been two group stage matches per day, and I’ve indulged myself in watching at least one match a day.  It’s a tournament after all.  Time limited.  Only 31 matches.  There’s something captivating about a tournament.  A tournament is an occasion, a season like Christmas.

I followed the African tournament last year.  Someone was posting all the matches on YouTube.  The commentary was in Russian (mainly, though one of the matches had French commentary), but I didn’t mind.  The football, while not of the flowing, fluid sort that I prefer, was dramatic, exotic, festive.  The bright colors: orange, green, red, yellow.  The banners and costumes of the fans, elaborately designed, vibrantly colored.

When I start following a tournament, I’m enthusiastic for about five days.  Then I start getting spectator fatigue and so I end up missing the last round of group stage matches, the matches that should be more interesting.  The same thing happened to me over the summer when I tried to follow the European Cup.  The group stage is wrapping up over the next few days.  Then the knock-out stage begins.  I won’t miss any of those matches.

On Saturday I attended a craft beer festival.  Over the years, I’ve become less interested in beer festivals, primarily because festivals tend to be jam-packed with people.  Not that I am a misanthrope, it’s just that I prefer to keep a little personal space between me and my fellow drinkers.

The festival on Saturday was (in part) hosted by my brewery but it’s really a community effort, a partnership with our village civic association and a good friend of ours who runs an event planning business.  It’s the fourth year we’ve put on this festival.  We limit ticket sales to just under two hundred people which means that the festival hall isn’t overcrowded.  There’s plenty of room to move around and (more importantly) there are never any beer queues or queues at the toilet.

This year at the festival I made sure I talked at length with Kenny about my plan to help grow a soccer supporter movement on Long Island, similar to the craft beer movement which led to the foundation of the Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts and the launching of half-a-dozen new breweries on Long Island in the last six or seven years.  It’s time to augment craft beer culture with soccer culture and create a network of soccer pubs pouring craft beer all over the island.  Let’s give those thousands of craft beer enthusiasts something worth-while to do while they are at the pub: support their soccer club.

The reason why I was keen on talking with Kenny (beyond the fact that he’s a nice guy) is that he is in the process of purchasing a bar in Mt Sinai.  These things take time.  Permits, licenses, financing, etc.  Most importantly, Kenny is a soccer fan.  The key to making a successful soccer pub is the full and unbridled support of the pub’s owner.  Just as craft beer pubs put the beer first and make it clear that craft is a value, soccer pubs have to put the beautiful game first.  It won’t work if the owner doesn’t love and value the game.  Soccer supporters can tell.

Soccer culture is different than any other sport culture in the world.  People fanatically follow baseball, hockey, basketball, etc., but the fan culture for these other sports has a different quality than supporter culture in soccer.

The small world effect kicked in at the beer festival.  A long-time friend of mine, Wes, introduced me to a long-time friend of his named Eric.  “You two will get along,” said Wes.  “Eric’s into soccer too.”  Not only is Eric into soccer, Eric is a Borough Boy.

The Borough Boys are a Brooklyn-based soccer support group that started in 2007 with a mission to bring professional soccer to New York City.  You might think that New York City has a professional soccer team already, the one that plays in New Jersey, but the Borough Boys wanted something better, something within the five boroughs of New York.  And the best shot at getting what they want (at the present) is the New York Cosmos.

I told Eric about my own interest in the Cosmos and my vision of supporter culture on Long Island and how to grow it.  “The seed of soccer culture will be planted in beer,” I said holding up my glass.  “Supporters need a place they can call home.  A place to meet.  A place where they can hang their banners.  A place to gather and watch the away fixtures.  A place to catch the bus to the home match.”  That’s when I introduced Eric to Kenny.  Making connections.


Any Given Thursday

I look forward to Thursday nights the way most people look forward to Friday night.  Thursday evenings are protected.  No matter what’s going on in the world, Thursday is my night to say, “No, I can’t do it.  I’ve got other plans.”  Thursday nights are reading nights.  No streaming soccer matches on the widescreen display.  Just a book, and me on the couch, or the bed, or in my reading chair.  “I have a date with a book,” I could say.  But perhaps some wouldn’t understand.

Even though I read every day – reading is essential for the writing life – I rarely get more than an hour (here or there) on most days.  Except for Thursday when I can block off three or four hours to immerse myself into something.  And I won’t give that up.

My current reading list has a fair number of soccer (aka football) books given that my present writing project is soccer-themed.  I’m in the research phase at the moment.  The research phase for a book is the best since it involves reading and note-taking mostly.  The organizational, the structural phase is less fun.  The actual writing part is the labor.

There’s a long-ish piece in the New Yorker this week by John McPhee on structure (in writing).  It’s an interesting article to me, as a writer, because McPhee opens the door to the workshop.  I’ve always been a fan of the “Writers at Work” series in the Paris Review.  Although, I can’t imagine that anyone but a writer would be all that interested in how writers go about their work.  It’s literary shoptalk.  What I’ve learned in two decades of reading about how other writers write is that everyone has their own bag of tricks, everyone works in their own way, and there’s no standard method.  What works for one writer, won’t necessarily work for another.

Working methods differ, but the basic process is the same: conception, organization, implementation, revision, (and finally) publication.  How a writer goes about navigating that process is his business.

I still don’t know what sort of soccer book I’m going to write.  When I first got interested in writing about soccer (the latter part of 2011) my first idea was to write a book about youth soccer, a vaguely fictional memoir about a dad coaching his son’s team.  The first thing I did was a “literature search.”

When I was in graduate school, I had to come up with an original research problem.  That original problem would be the subject of the dissertation I would need to write to complete my degree.  The originality of the idea was key.  I couldn’t just do something that had already been done, the idea had to be completely fresh, something new in the world, pertaining to a problem that had never been solved before.  So each time I came up with an idea (the conception phase) I’d trudge off to the library (the Internet was still in its infancy back then) and do a literature search.  The mechanics were slightly different than doing a Google search, but the idea is the same.  The literature search had to be complete and exhaustive.  The worst thing is to pick a project, spend a year or two working on it, and then discover that it’s already been done before.

It didn’t take me long to find Jim Haner’s book Soccerhead.  The subtitle of the book gives you an idea of what the subject matter is: “An accidental journey into the heart of the American game.”  But it’s the premise that gives the book its structure: a dad who gets drafted to coach his son’s soccer team learns about the game and it’s history and development.  Haner covers the story of soccer in America, giving an entertaining history of the game embedded in the context of his trials and tribulations as a youth soccer coach.  It’s a brilliantly done book.  And there’s no reason why I should try to rewrite it.  Okay, perhaps things are different in the US, ten years since Soccerhead‘s publication, but there are other soccer books I could write, so why redo that one?

I’d moved to Long Island for practical reasons having to do with my writing career.  And after three years of working on a novel, a colleague of mine, another writer, encouraged me to take up blogging.  This colleague had been experimenting with blogging about wine.  He knew that I was an amateur brewer, so he kept bugging me about writing a craft beer blog.  Somewhat reluctantly, I gave it a try.  And the experience I gained over the subsequent five years helped shape my thinking about culture and society.  I wasn’t satisfied to limit myself to writing just about craft beer, I wanted to write about American culture and what the craft beer movement represented in that context.  The connections I made in those five years led to a partnership with two other brewers, and together we founded and launched a craft brewery of our own.  Now that I’m a professional brewer and not just a beer writer, I have a different relationship to the local beer scene.  So what I write about the world of craft beer is colored by this new perspective.

I thought about giving up writing about craft beer altogether.  During that time I indulged myself in working on a number of fiction projects I’d started over the years and not quite finished because I was so wrapped up in chasing after craft beer.  With the beer blogging out of the way I felt free to flirt with other subjects.  And because my son was getting more involved with soccer and his team needed an assistant coach, my life started revolving more and more about the axis of the soccer pitch and less about the pub.  The change was also good for my health.  Running around after eight and nine year olds is good exercise, and after a few months I noticed my beer gut shrinking.

Writing about the craft beer movement allowed me to write about culture, economics, politics, psychology, and pretty much anything else that interested me.  Craft beer was a lens.  And through that lens I hoped to gain new insights about how American society is put together, what’s going well, and where we’re making mistakes.  After a few months of talking with people in the soccer world and reading whatever I could find on the subject, I realized that soccer was also a lens.  And the soccer lens could be trained on the same aspects of American society, culture, economics, etc.  And, additionally, soccer and craft beer were connected by the umbilical of the pub and the stadium terrace where beer drinking and spectating meld into the same act (like chocolate and peanut butter).

Last year, shortly after my brewery got its final operational license in place, I was talking with Rasan about a book that I thought I was going to write, a book about my and my business partner’s experiences in getting a small brewery up and running.  I’d just read a book by Gabriel Kuhn called Soccer versus the State and I’d realized that we’d been running our brewery as an anarchist collective (without realizing it) for nearly five years.  Reading Kuhn’s book started my mental wheels turning.  At the heart of the craft beer movement is a (sublimated?) commitment to anarchism, and certainly an overt commitment to doing things for yourself rather than confining one’s role in society to that of passive consumer.  But I also started thinking about our local soccer club, and the pay-for-play model that we all agreed to uncritically.  What Kuhn had written about freeing the game from capitalist shackles seemed right to me.  Soccer is a game.  People get together and kick a ball for fun.  I’d already run into the politics of the use of public space and how that is controlled, and regulated with fee structures that are designed to keep out “undesirable elements” (poor people and recent immigrants).  The fees we had to pay to get our brewing license were not huge, but I wondered why the State had what amounted to a pay-for-play policy when it came to starting a new business.  It was like they were saying, unless you are part of the monied elite, don’t bother us, stay chained to your soul-killing, alienating nine-to-five slave-work like a good boy.  Imagine it.  What if anyone who wanted to could make their own beer and sell or trade it to whomever they wanted without interference from the State – it would be anarchy.  And that’s good thing.  Gabriel Kuhn, with his little book about soccer, had completely changed the way I thought about anarchy.  I’d been operating under a misconception about anarchism all my life.  After reading Kuhn’s book, I realized that I had been a closeted anarchist.  Kuhn gave me the courage to come out of that closet and declare my natural born and instinctive anarchist tendencies.  And if a book about soccer can do that, then I thought (as a writer) the subject was worth studying.


The chat last night with Alice helped.  After that, for added inspiration I picked up Gombrowicz and read his Diary imagining that it was a blueprint for this Diary, but where Gombrowicz writes about Polish literature and literary culture in general, I’d be writing about American soccer and world football culture.  Alice also said that I should keep writing about craft beer, especially since I actually did (in some hypothetical way) monetize my beer writing effort by establishing a solid consumer base of craft beer bars and their frequenters so that when we launched our brewery there’d be places to sell the beer to.  “You should write about the brewery,” says Alice.  “People would be interested in that.”  I think she’s right.  Very wise, Alice.

And I think about the Free Beer Movement, American soccer and craft beer working together to make our nation a better place.  There’s an audience for good writing about real football and real beer.  Beer and soccer go together.  Where do soccer supporters meet?  At the soccer pub.  So the first step in establishing a soccer supporter culture out here on Long Island is to team up with a soccer friendly bar owner.

“You’re always coming up with these crazy ideas,” says Franz when I explain my masterplan to him.  We’re at Callahan’s having a pint.  “When are you actually going to do something?”

“But I am doing something.  I’m writing.”  That’s my response.

“Oh that’s right,” he says.  “You’ve started blogging again.”

“I don’t know that I’d call it blogging anymore,” I say.

“What would you call it then?  If it quacks like a duck…”

“It’s just writing that is put somewhere where people can find it,” I say.

“How are people supposed to find it?”  He fires back raising a signifying eyebrow.

That’s where my long-term masterplan comes in.  Like all megalomaniacs I do have a masterplan.  And it’s easier to write about the plan than to actually follow through on it.


“Football please,” says Franz.

“Alright.  Football is a larger canvas.  It’s bigger than craft beer.  It contains craft beer.  Through the combined prism of soccer and craft beer I can explore (through the agency of the written word) topics of vital interest.”

“You mixed your metaphor there,” says Franz reaching for his pint of London Pride.

What I’m thinking about is what David Larkin, ChangeFIFA Co-Director and General Counsel, said on Beyond the Pitch recently.  Anto kept pressing Larkin about what the average soccer fan could do to help ChangeFIFA improve the working conditions of most of the world’s professional footballers.  (Check out FIFPro’s “Black Book” specifically pages 9 through 18 if you want to read ahead and be prepared for future posts.)  Larkin’s recommendation for how to get involved is to stop drinking Coca-Cola and eating at MacDonald’s, evidently the two corporations are huge football sponsors and institutionally indifferent to the problems facing lower league players around the world.  What a disappointment, I thought.  That’s all I can do to help advance the cause of the working class footballer?  Stop drinking an alcohol-free carbonated beverage and industrially branded fast-food?  I already don’t drink Coke and grabbing anything at MacDonald’s is simply not an option in the same way that I’d never set foot in a Wal-Mart or a Whole Foods.  These are already lifestyle choices that I’ve made based on a commitment to localism and resistance to the creeping corporate monoculture.  Like Anto, I wanted Larkin to give me a substantive mission.  “Take up the pen and write about the injustices of the world!”  Wouldn’t that have been an inspirational injunction?

“Not everybody writes a blog,” Alice said during our chat and I explained my frustration with the consumer boycott tactic.

“Some people don’t have a choice.”  (Which I realize is a ridiculous response, but writing is what I do.  When I’m not watching soccer or brewing beer, that is.)

Return on investment

On Sunday, I had an unexpected windfall.  A few months ago, we’d made a particularly excellent batch of Fresh Hop Pils and delivered it to a craft beer place on the South Shore.  This Fresh Hop Pils is really and truly tasty.  A consequence of this is that it sold really well.  And given that we had so little of it, we had no kegs left for ourselves.  No Pils for the brewers!  Well, the windfall is this:  Some beer geeks (beer dicks?) went into this place on the South Shore and did some scratching and sniffing and convinced the bar owner that something was off in the beer.  Reportedly these beer geeks (definitely dicks) found something amiss with the beer.  What could I do?  I gladly drove down on my Sunday “off” and replaced the “bad” keg of Fresh Hop Pils with something different – free of charge, of course.  So in my possession, I have one unsellable keg of Fresh Hop Pils because it took these dicks a couple of gallons to arrive at their negative sensory evaluation.  And a partial keg can’t be resold.  Thus, tonight, I’m relaxing with a delicious glass of Fresh Hop Pils.  Not a single flaw in the beer at all.  Their loss.  I feel sorry for the poor bar owner who is incapable of making his own judgements about the beer he sells.

After finishing up my work today, I had a long chat with Alice about what I should do this year.  Not that I expected Alice to tell me, but I find it helpful to have a good chat and see if any of my crazy ideas make sense to anyone other than myself.  What was rattling around in my head was the words “return on investment.”  I’d read Christopher Dobens’ farewell post on his Total Footblog today.  He’s throwing in the towel.  He says writing about soccer hasn’t given him a good ROI.  Basically, he’s not been able to monetize his labor and as a result has become alienated from his product.  I know what he’s talking about.  I’ve been in those shoes and they aren’t comfortable.

A few years ago, I started writing (blogging) about craft beer.  I wasn’t all that interested in monetizing my efforts to maximize my ROI, as a result I spent a lot of time running around, drinking some excellent beer, visiting some really great breweries, brewpubs, and taprooms, and all I have to show for it is a protruding midsection.  And some good memories too.  Memories I’ve recorded in four “beer novels.”  I asked Alice if I should just publish the other three and get it over with.  First I published my Long Island Beer Guide and that sold about 150 copies.  Good, I thought.  I’ve got an audience.  So I followed that up with my first beer novel, A Year in Beer, which flopped: 4 copies sold.  I had to give the rest away to friends who were polite enough to not to refuse my offer.  “You didn’t promote it,” said Alice.  How could I promote it? I thought.  I don’t have a self-promoting bone in my body.

“At least you could put a sample up on your web site,” she said.

Good idea, I thought.  But how will people find it?  (If you build it, they will… no probably not.)  Despite my natural pessimism about ever finding readers in quantities which can be numbered on the fingers of more than one hand, I figured revamping the web site was long overdue in any case.  So I got fair start tonight.  Instead of reading, which is what I normally do on a Thursday night (when there isn’t an MLS match).  Well, I’ll still read.  With my glass of Fresh Hop Pils freshly topped up, I’ll reach for a good book.  Probably a book about real football, the sort of football that isn’t played with the hands.