This year’s always-fascinating and very valuable DAM Foundation Salary Survey came out in February, and there were some interesting – though also, possibly worrying – trends to analyze. First, though, the positives: DAM jobs are becoming ever-more-global, as companies begin realize the value of their digital assets (or, perhaps more accurately, as they discover how disorganized or missing digital assets are a huge money pit). This is an encouraging trend, and one I would hope continues to grow. And the influx of those with MS-LIS and other library degrees suggests that the value of accurate metadata is being recognized – though I’ll explore a concern that brings up as well in a moment.
Mapping job titles to skillsets and salaries was noted as a continued area of confusion, and one I have certainly seen borne out myself, as well as amongst my peers; while it’s to be expected in a still-somewhat-nascent profession, it can be an area of frustration, not only for the postholder, but for potential recruiters and managers. It may seem a minor point, but given the volume of confused recruiter calls I receive, I think it’s worth digging into it for a moment, given this background from the survey analysis:
“Those with the term “Director” in their title tended to make the highest salaries, and those with the term “Archivist” or Archives” tended to have lower incomes. There were no other clear correlations between title and salary. One listing that included the word “Supervisor” in the title made as much as other “Director”s; many with the title “Specialist” showed no appreciable difference than those listed as a “Manager”. This suggests that when reviewing the resumes of experienced DAM workers, an analysis of their actual daily duties, tasks, and projects may be more of an indicator of skill level than job title.”
Indeed, I’ve had to explain on numerous occasions that my current title, Content Librarian, isn’t ‘just’ a content management role, and that I’m fairly senior in the hierarchy, where my tasks include crafting policies, setting standards and analyzing IT solutions – so likening it to a position such as ‘the’ University Librarian, rather than ‘a’ librarian who happens to work for a university, only makes sense to those coming from academia. When speaking with those from a straight-IT background, I explain it’s a bit like a product or program management role with a lot of taxonomy bolted on, though any DAM professional knows that’s still only a portion of ‘what we do.’ And having worked in traditional library and archival settings as well as in IT-focused environments, that brings me to my chief concern – will having more (very useful) library skills drive down DAM salaries, over time, simply through assumptions made by employers over title and background?
I’ve experienced the disparity between IT and library-land salaries first-hand – I began my career in IT, building websites and managing content back when it had to be done by hand, before DAM and CMS solutions existed. Even as software to help corral and catalog content and digital assets came into being, my salary working with those tools remained quite comfortable. Then I went back to library school, with a view toward using my IT background, augmented by my new taxonomy and knowledge management skills, in the heritage/academic sector – libraries, museums and archives. Despite having additional skills and experience, moving into that world reduced my pay by more than 50%; at the time, it was a manageable reduction, and I had a fantastic work environment and great colleagues, but it wasn’t sustainable in the long-term. I returned to IT, and immediately more than doubled my salary – using the same skills, but with a different job title and cost center. While part of that jump was down to non-profit vs corporate budgets, even in the for-profit world, I know other DAM ‘librarians’ and ‘archivists’ who have found that a change in job title made a vast difference to them in terms of salary. It’s anecdotal, to be sure, but it seems that those whose titles are more ‘techie,’ and less ‘librarian-y,’ often have higher incomes, albeit for the same sort of work – and good luck figuring out who is more junior or senior, if job title is your guide! Clearly, we have some work to do.
As more librarians – and more women – come into the DAM field, there is a danger that salaries may become depressed; we already know that the youngest cohort in the survey results have lower salaries, and that they are overwhelmingly female, though they have more library degrees. Having said that, it’s quite rightly noted that their youth and relative lack of experience is likely the key driver behind their lower pay. But historically, the ‘feminization’ of a profession (think teaching, or, going back much further, textile production) has never had a positive impact on salaries; quite the reverse. It would be nice to think that we can ignore historical precedent and that we’ve moved beyond that – and I’ve written elsewhere about what it’s like to be a mid-career woman in technology facing those issues – but given the existing salary gender gap in DAM, it’s something we should continue to be vigilant about – let’s make sure that gap is truly reflective of a historical blip, and that it doesn’t become wider.
I am a firm believer in the value of a library background in the DAM world – combined with solid IT and management skills, it’s an ideal, broad-based skillset for an evolving field. And I completely understand someone coming from years in ‘traditional’ library settings jumping at the first salary offered in a DAM role; given the lack of funding in academia and public libraries, it’s (sadly) likely to be a big bump, regardless of how ‘low’ it might be for an IT or marketing position. But it’s been well-documented that failing to negotiate in salary situations leads to lifelong repercussions, and as we see more highly-skilled, and likely previously-underpaid people coming into DAM roles, we should continue to share salary surveys and job title information as we build toward a more well-understood profession. Likewise, as hiring managers, we should do our best to keep salaries fair, and to help our recruiters and HR departments understand that a great DAM professional might not be obvious from their last job title or training.
My longer-term hope is that by highlighting the value of librarianship in digital asset management, we can help enhance information work all around, making the wider world realize that it’s a useful route into a technical profession, and one that deserves to be better-known and appreciated, and paid on par with other IT jobs. An MBA may be one ticket to a ‘good’ salary in DAM, but we need to demonstrate that it isn’t the only one, and that men and women have an equal shot at long-term advancement in the field.
Consider this a call to action to make an impact before the next salary survey!
All sorts of things might make a post, and this certainly qualifies in that regard.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, my dad spent a lot of time in New York as part of his long career with 7Up. When I was a small child in the 1970s and ’80s, I enjoyed going through his collection of Playbills and programs with him, and naturally demanded to be taken to the theatre on every possible occasion. And while I’ve seen some great productions (and some less so – Martin Guerre, this means you) on Broadway, in the West End and elsewhere, my own collection simply isn’t as impressive (yet).
I’ve been attempting to organize his collection since his death in 2006, though I never seem to make much of a dent. But some of these are too fabulous not to share, and, of course, that goes for the ads, too.
It’s worth noting that they aren’t all for plays – this program was for a screening of Mastroianni’s 1961 comedy Divorce Italian Style, shown at the Paris on W58th. And sometimes there’s a concert – it’s hard to ignore this amazing program from a Robert Goulet show. But we quickly get into the good stuff – a Playbill from the original production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. My dad was always a huge fan of Zero Mostel – I’m reasonably sure I saw The Producers for the first time when I was around 6 – and he also liked to recount having seen him in a play in which Mostel flashed the audience.
There are more original casts: we revisit Zero Mostel in Ulysses in Nighttown – I’m presuming the 1974 play was the one involving a nude Zero Mostel, though it’s also notable for starring a young Tommy Lee Jones, David Ogden Stiers and Fionnuala Flanagan – then Funny Girl and the rather tamer Oliver! make appearances.
There are also some larger-format programs, for The King and I (which I saw much later, on Yul Brynner’s very literal farewell tour) and Golden Boy:
Among the ads for Tiki bars, cigarettes and furs, there are some amazing pieces – and some very worthwhile bios – young Jerome Robbins looks as though he wants to devour your soul, and a pre-Monkees Davy Jones had ‘the longest part ever written for a teenager’ on the radio (so think on!); one presumes many librettists still consider Benson & Hedges ‘noteworthy’ as the ad suggests:
But while there’s much more from the world theatrical that isn’t poorly-photographed here, I couldn’t miss out the Kentucky Derby program from 1956 – in case you don’t recall, Needles was the victor that year, the very first Florida-bred to win – he would also take the Belmont Stakes.
At some point, I’ll need to be a good archivist and make sure staples and paper clips aren’t damaging things, but for now, they are happily climate-controlled and reasonably well stored beyond that. I’ll have to do another installment in future: there’s a bio of a young Elaine Stritch that’s simply outstanding…
This month’s Session – or, Beer Blogging Friday – asks us to identify those under-the-radar locations that are about to become the next big thing on the beer scene. This presents an ideal opportunity to finally blog about our trip to Copenhagen in 2013; yes, this blog post is nearly two years late, but better late than never, and a wider audience should be aware of the wonders of the Danish capital’s beer scene, both old and new.
When considering Copenhagen, most beer nerds immediately think of Mikkeller, and with good reason – Mikkel Borg Bjergsø’s steady march to beer omnipresence, with bars and tasting rooms from San Francisco to Bangkok, and a global distribution network that some brewers with a permanent facility can only image, has been remarkable. And their original Copenhagen locations do not disappoint: especially at Mikkeller & Friends, in the Nørrebro neighborhood, you’ll find a warm welcome, and an ever-changing lineup for 40 taps. I would love to see more American breweries follow their ‘and Friends’ approach, which they take very seriously, highlighting not only Mikkeller beers, but also those of like-minded breweries from near and far. When we visited, we enjoyed having the opportunity to sample the wares of To Øl, Herslev Bryghus and Bryggeriet Refsvindinge, among others. And, this being Denmark, having a well-behaved child in tow was not frowned upon; quite the contrary. The bottle shop attached to the bar had an enormous crate of Westvleteren XII sitting in the corner – as you do – and a very interesting selection beyond that. Nørrebro is also home to Nørrebro Bryghus, whose beers are available across Copenhagen, from restaurants to tourist attractions. It was an especially welcome discovery at the National Aquarium of Denmark, Den Blå Planet: you can enjoy a beer or two while taking in the view of the Øresund. Amager Bryghus beers are also widely available around the city, and Brewpub København was worth a quick visit.
No list of Copenhagen tourist attractions would be complete without a mention of Tivoli Gardens, which we found a most pleasant surprise. Having previously only visited rather uninspiring to downright filthy theme parks in the US and UK, I admit I didn’t expect much, but it was in every way delightful – and it has its own small brewery, Bryggeriet Apollo, in the park. While the beer in general is nothing earth-shattering, nor did it have any reason to be, it was certainly well-crafted and offered at a not-unreasonable price, given the surroundings (and the fact that food and drink in Denmark is quite expensive, compared to other major European countries). Modern amusement parks could learn a lot from their 19th century forebear – good food and drink, lovely gardens, fun rides without long lines, and Tycho Brahe as a mascot, rather than cartoon characters – all well worth the price of admission.
Returning to bottle shops, Ølbutikken is a can’t-miss stop; Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø and his staff have a well-curated collection of beers from around the world, though obviously with an emphasis on the owner’s Evil Twin Brewing. And for those wondering whether the purported feud between the rival gypsy-brewer twins is A Real Thing, I can only offer this: Mikkeller & Friends had a number of interesting Evil Twin beers on tap, and Ølbutikken carried a good variety of Mikkeller beers. A little public friction is no doubt good for business, or it may be that Danish practicality overrides any present animosity; one presumes the truth is somewhere in the middle.
But brewing in Copenhagen isn’t just about gypsy brewers and tiny breweries – there’s a good case to be made for saying that this is where modern industrial brewing was born, and that isn’t necessarily a Bad Thing. Emil Hansen first began to culture yeast for Carlsberg in the 1880s, laying the groundwork for brewing as we know it today. And the Carlsberg tour is absolutely a highlight for anyone interested in brewing history, and in considering how huge, multinational brewers can still make ‘good beer.’ Again, children are made to feel very welcome – the tour starts in the stables (or in the shop, depending on your point of view), and petting the Jutland horses, who have been carrying Carlsberg beer for more than 165 years, is encouraged. From there, it’s a whistle-stop tour though the old brewhouse, complete with beautiful tilework and copper kettles galore, to the famous Carlsberg Elephant Gates (with their 1901 swastikas fully explained, for the benefit of any children, or adults who might have missed some art history lessons) and sculpture gardens. And the tour concludes with a mix of old and new, in the Jacobsen Brewhouse, named for J.C. Jacobsen, the founder of Carlsberg. Since 2005, Carlberg has been brewing a range of high-quality beers under the Jacobsen label, and mixing and matching Carlsberg and Jacobsen beers in your post-tour samples is encouraged. There’s no ‘craft vs crafty’ issue here – Jacobsen is very clearly part of the Carlsberg family, and a well-respected one at that – it’s just a great example of how a large brewer can respond to market demand for more flavorful, complex beers, all while keeping their flagship brands in the public consciousness.
There is, of course, much to do in Denmark beyond beer – visiting the Gundestrup Cauldron at the National Museum of Denmark was the achievement of a major life goal for me (this comes of having too many archaeology degrees), and the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde is also a must-see (though it is worth noting that both sites have some of the above-mentioned beers available in their shops and cafes). There are ample opportunities to visit a number of bog bodies across the country, and if you’re traveling with children, your itinerary will almost certainly include a visit to Legoland – which, like Tivoli, albeit with much more plastic, is surprisingly diverting for adults as well.
But if you seek a great beer destination that hasn’t quite been discovered by the hipster masses, head to Copenhagen; its mix of young, independent breweries and historic heft is hard to beat.
Note: I wrote something work-related, after years of silence in that regard! Revel in the novelty.
Having read and considered the three recent articles on the lack of innovation in the digital asset management space, I can only agree that there are certainly issues with vendors, chief among them being the lack of standards, and it starts at the most basic level of simply describing their solution’s basic function. Major Vendor A can call their solution ‘digital asset management’ while Major Vendor B uses a broadly similar tool for web content management, but they can each easily swap labels if that’s what the customer thinks they want, perhaps because they don’t have anyone with real DAM expertise on staff to dig further into what’s on offer.
And that goes to the core of Jeff Lawrence’s article – customers aren’t demanding clarity, much less innovation. It’s almost depressingly common in our field to discover that the only person in an organization who truly understands how DAM works (or, perhaps, how it should work) wasn’t involved in the purchasing decision; they’ve often inherited something that wasn’t truly fit for purpose, and they don’t have the budget to do much about it now. But if the customer does not budget for enhancements or new systems, vendors can’t be expected to pay particular attention; understandably, they’ve moved on to selling their existing solution to a new client. Yes, new features may roll out if that bigger client demands more attention during the implementation phase, but after that, the feedback loop unravels.
But standards are again top of mind in Ralph Windsor’s piece on the role of the media; his points about the truly alarming lack of metadata knowledge give one pause, and the difficulty in measuring ROI certainly takes time away from crafting the perfect taxonomy model. Some DAM vendors have clearly given careful thought to the role of taxonomy and metadata, and considered how users, both administrative and end-user, might interact with that metadata (even if they don’t know they are doing it). But that’s not true across the board, and if DAM enhancements have fallen to someone who lacks experience in that space, it’s difficult to move forward true functionality improvements, since all DAM functionality flows from useful, well-managed, metadata.
And while we ‘know’ that the DAM saves money in the long run, demonstrating that to those who hold the organizational purse strings isn’t as easy as it should be. This can prove a particular challenge if the team (or, let’s be realistic – person) running a DAM is that rare IT unicorn with a combination development/project management/taxonomy background; suddenly they also need to become an expert in presenting on their program’s successes and challenges to senior management. While that’s a great career development opportunity (and you may detect the voice of experience here), tools within DAM software should make getting to that supporting data simple.
To summarize, my view is that there is a lot of truth in each article, and it’s something of a vicious circle. DAM vendors (or vendors that have decided they have a DAM solution, even if it’s far from best of breed) aren’t incentivized to innovate because the clients don’t demand it. Clients don’t demand it because they have systems that can be difficult to use, and therefore hard to build a business case around further improvements when they’ve already spent their initial budget – not infrequently on the ‘wrong’ system, so they are essentially starting from scratch again when they can afford to ‘go shopping’ once more. And much DAM media is so internally-focused that the ‘right’ people in organizations that need DAMs don’t even know it exists. It seems that one solution would be for DAM vendors to seek out long-term DAM managers and librarians for product management roles – people who live and breathe the tools, and who understand the importance of standards – to really push the next generation of DAM solutions.
And as DAM professionals, we also need to keep the conversation going with our vendors; it’s not always easy, and there isn’t always a response, but keeping quiet hasn’t helped so far. Let’s get loud!
This post also appeared on Medium.
A bit of background is in order: I fell into my first coding job in 1996. I was meant to be working on my MA in archaeology in London, but I discovered that HTML, even back in those days before tables, offered a sense of instant gratification that is often lacking from the humanities. I duly emailed my (then very brief) resume to Time Out magazine in response to an ad seeking a Web Assistant, and that was such a novel approach that I was hired on the spot. From there, I bounced to Silicon Valley, turned down a job at Yahoo that would not have paid enough to live on, stock options notwithstanding, and spent the next several years at Women.com, where I quickly rose to the heady heights of Web Production Manager.
Then the dot-com crash happened, and things began to change.
It’s certainly true that many of the pre-bubble companies, including some I worked for, could have been more strategic, less spendy, and generally more thoughtful in how they did their business. But it also seemed that hands-on experience in being a part of the building of those companies’ products became less important than having a freshly-minted MBA, and the men in suits — and they were largely men — swooped in to pick over what was left. One of my former colleagues, who had been at the company much longer than I had, said she felt the experience of the boom and bust had been like getting an MBA in how not to run a company, and I fully agree, all these years later. With tech jobs becoming harder to find, many friends and colleagues went into other lines of work, and I found myself a minority, along with my fellow female tech holdouts. I took jobs that were a few steps below those I’d had during the boom, but assumed that would be a temporary step back –surely, the market would improve and I’d be back where I’d been at the age of 24. It was around that point I realized that while I often still had female managers, that was as high as things went on the tech side. There were women executives elsewhere in the companies I worked for, but they tended to be in marketing, HR and other roles. Somehow, the lady nerd pipeline stopped at middle management.
I ensured I still had as many strings to my bow as possible: true, I did less coding, but much more project and program management, more writing and content strategy, more taxonomy, more going to conferences, and spent a goodly amount of timing thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Social media and even its mainstream cousin began to fill with stories of women in tech being either subtly passed over to outright abused (online and in person), and that became one new reality. On the flip side of that, high-flying women in tech of the Sheryl Sandberg- or Marissa Mayer-variety were trumpeted as success stories. But for those of us somewhere in between, there was no real acknowledgement of our experiences, nor a clear pathway to get from the middle to closer to the top. There are a lot of possible lateral moves, but unless you want to found a new company — and more power to you if you do — it’s hard to get to the c-suite, or even just below it. And the women who do make it there often came from a less technical background, though I’d argue that your MBA won’t teach you as much about how to choose an enterprise software solution nearly as effectively as living through trying to integrate the wrong one. That’s not to say, as some might, that they don’t belong there; anyone can learn to code, but learning to be a good writer, people manager and politician can be a much trickier road. That said, it still seems that comparatively few women who started off in the lower rungs of the tech world, whether that’s valuable experience gained doing tech support or writing code, are getting to those top-level positions.
We’re told we don’t ‘do’ enough — we should ‘lean in,’ we should speak at conferences, we should go to hackathons, we should give back through programs that teach girls to code, we should be mentors in our workplaces — all while doing our day jobs, continually learning more skills on the side, raising families and occasionally sleeping. These are all positive things, but one wonders if men are held to the same measuring stick; I know very few men who do all of these things, yet they seem to keep rising in the workplace without all the ‘extras’ — yet they often seem to be prerequisites for a female tech leader.
And tech is perhaps unique in that it’s possible to earn more money in a ‘lower level’ position; I am constantly reminded by recruiters that I could be earning considerably more as a developer than in my present role managing developers (among other things), and while I still enjoy breaking out code from time to time, I like flexing other muscles more, and I’m very well aware that in many coding languages, there are people who are simply better at it than I am at this point. That may mean that I no longer pass the ‘real coder’ litmus test, which I find another irritating variety of the ‘female fake nerd’ straw woman, but it’s equally important to have someone in the middle who can see All The Things. And if I can still call out a vendor who claims there’s no solution to a problem when I found it in five minutes on StackExchange, so much the better.
But the question remains — how can we ‘upper middle management’ tech women get beyond our current levels (understanding that there’s already a huge amount of privilege and opportunity that is simply unavailable to most people on the planet, male or female, but that’s another essay), and into those CTO/CDO/CIO offices? Obviously to some extent you need to write your own ticket, and that’s not a path everyone wants to take, but the mid-career ceiling seems to be less made of glass, and more of a Red Rover situation.
From my perspective, what’s missing are the stories of women in tech who had a more varied path to the c-suite (or to whatever more senior role was their goal, understanding that goals can and do change) — those who haven’t had the editorial-friendly ultra-rapid rise to the top, who weren’t profiled in Wired, who didn’t have a book tour, and who can help bring others up behind them along the way. There’s nothing wrong or inauthentic about those who did have that experience, but it’s not reflective of those who started off as worker bees and continue to keep the hive humming.
If younger women look at tech careers and get the impression that the two options are to either encounter unbeatable sexism, or that you’ll have ‘made it’ by 30 (and that something is wrong if you haven’t done that), we’re doing a disservice not only to them, but to ourselves. Highlighting the other positives about tech — flexibility, a culture of continuous learning and experimentation, and a wide variety of potential career paths would be hugely helpful, and a more realistic view of the field, which is so often presented in mainstream coverage as a binary (see what I did there?) either/or.
If I’ve learned anything in nearly 20 years as a nerd-for-pay, it’s that you make career leaps when someone tosses an opportunity you weren’t expecting into your lap, and you’re left to sink or swim with it. But as I’ve gotten further up in the world, fewer of those have come my way. I’ve had people assume I ‘wasn’t interested’ because I was a parent (never mind that the man who got the opportunity was as well), and as managers who ‘didn’t realize’ I had a hands-on tech background. While there is no road map for challenging these assumptions, and beyond the high farce of the dot-com crash and subsequent layoffs (oh, I have stories), the ‘normal’ career progression isn’t an immediately exciting topic for a book, stories from women in tech who have had a career that trundled along nicely enough, thanks very much, would be of great value to others coming up behind them.
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The CHNM gets how this should be done
Although I presume Facebook is aware that they can further enhance the value of the content users share – photos, documents, videos and a huge amount of text – with consistent metadata and semantic linking, the opportunity exists to document, preserve and curate what must be the world’s largest corpus of modern social history material. Facebook messaging has replaced email for many – and, of course, email has long since replaced physical letters of the sort archivists are intimately familiar with appraising, preserving, cataloging and digitizing. Family photos, once the preserve of yellowing albums and poor environmental conditions, are now ‘pre-scanned,’ tagged and (after a fashion) organized on Facebook. The same is true of video, and Facebook statuses are unique, if ephemeral, documents of our current era, providing information on relationships, demographics and cultural mores.
But the sheer volume of data needs wrangling, and it needs to be organized with a view not only toward its present value (for advertisers, economists, epidemiologists and beyond), but for its future, priceless value as a record of how society – at least, those members with access to digital footprints – evolved. While Twitter is working with the Library of Congress to preserve their tweets, the range and depth of material Facebook users create every day calls for an internal response.
If I had the budget reins, I would propose a new role, with a globally-dispersed new department reporting in: a Chief Digital Historian, who would oversee the company’s internal archives and storytelling, while also setting the direction to ensure long-term storage, accessibility and interpretation of user-provided content. This position would work closely with existing groups that manage content strategy, legal and privacy issues, data mining and cloud storage.
The Chief Digital Historian would shape the efforts of the following groups, relying on their expertise in digital archives, digital content operations, digital humanities and public history to build a world-class team:
- Digital archivists, responsible for appraising, tagging and linking user-generated content behind the scenes, who would also lead long-term digital preservation efforts
- Corporate archivists and records managers who would ensure not only compliance with local laws, but also the preservation of company history, both electronic and paper
- A taxonomy task force, comprised of digital archivists and data modelers who will ensure worldwide consistency in metadata terms and usage
- An archives partnership team, working with internal and external stakeholders to make data available – where appropriate – to researchers, statisticians, vendors and other interpreters
- Data scientists, to analyze and query the information for trends, groupings and hidden linkages
The Chief Digital Historian would be the face of Facebook for potential collaborators such as the Internet Archive, the Library of Congress (and other similar international bodies, e.g the National Archives in the US or UK), universities and think tanks looking to develop online exhibitions and new uses for user-generated content, whether that is in setting new global standards for accessibility and long-term preservation, or partnering with companies like Ancestry.com to share content (all per the terms of service, of course). But the real driving force of the effort would be the archivists, whose work on accessibility and preservation would lay the foundation for the work of future historians.
Anyone who has worked in any sort of archives knows that you cannot preserve everything; the cost of storage is enormous, and there’s simply no way to tag and make that ‘everything’ available, whether it’s down to legal and privacy issues, or simply the amount of material; that would never be a goal of this program. But the opportunity to record and preserve a representative sample of daily interaction on Facebook is there, and missing it would be a great loss to future generations – it’s time to act. Facebook cites building social value as a core value, and this would be a perfect representation of that central tenet.
Anyone at Facebook want to make it happen? I know some people…
The swirl of discussion generated by the recent Boston Magazine article suggesting that Sam Adams and its creator, Jim Koch, have been bypassed by a burgeoning movement within the beer world has been interesting to observe. While there has been more than an element of hipster-bashing (not always unwarranted, but certainly overstated), I’m firmly on the side of Pete Brown in finding the snobbery distasteful. But while it was ever thus – more on that in a moment – we’ve reached something of a tipping point, in that the sheer number of people on the looking for ‘good’ beer is finally making a real impact in the market.
First, though, let’s rewind.
Back in the 1970s, Coors (yes, Coors) was the beer that American beer snobs wanted desperately. Unpasteurized, it was only available in the West, and its relative scarcity made it a hot commodity. Washington, DC’s Brickskeller (now reborn as The Bier Baron) first began to make waves as a ‘beer bar’ by serving Coors when it was still largely unavailable east of Oklahoma. But its rapid rise to ubiquity – not to mention its similarity to the other light lagers on the market – meant that it quickly lost its shiny unicorn status. While I would argue that Boston Lager, the Sam Adams flagship, is still a perfectly fine beer, it has likewise lost its own shiny unicorn status as the market has changed and evolved – but it won’t be the last.
As the number of breweries has grown, and choice of beer styles has greatly expanded – again, both very good things – an irksome mirror of snobbery that has developed alongside those trends. As a former resident of the Silicon Valley town, I can recall attending the Mountain View Smaller Brewers’ Festival from the late 1990s up through about 2001, and it was not at all difficult to find those attitudes. A casual visitor to the festival favorably compared a (nameless for our purposes) tiny brewery’s very pleasant pale ale to the local ‘big’ craft beer, Sierra Nevada, only to be smirked at and informed that they were entirely wrong to find any similarities between the two – one was made by a large brewery, and therefore simply Not Interesting, while the other was lovingly handcrafted (in this case, by someone just beyond the homebrewing stage – having sampled their other beer on offer, I can attest that they hadn’t quite nailed sanitizing everything), and therefore, Better. Several Comic Book Guy lookalikes (remember, this was Silicon Valley pre-dot-com crash) tittered their agreement with the brewer. You’d see a similar scene replicated throughout the tent, and the same thing is happening across the industry, at least in the social media echo chamber. Now, at least to a certain stripe of drinker, lagers are boring, pale ales are boring, and soon enough, IPAs will also be boring, just because everyone makes one (or, at this point, a double IPA).
Consumer demand for novelty has not been a bad thing; there are a lot of fantastic brewers who are able to push the envelope and deliver consistently wonderful, weird beers; I’m lucky to live a short walk from one of them. But it’s not a model that can be easily replicated, especially on a production scale, and when ‘everyone’ tries to do it, but delivers a product that simply isn’t as good, it drives away potential new ‘converts’ – let’s recall that while ‘our’ numbers are growing, they are still a fraction of the whole.
But the pursuit of novelty often overlooks the achievements of great brewers of ‘normal’ beers, and that’s what I find annoying – I’d love to have more great lagers, especially like Urban Chestnut’s Zwickelbier, or another really excellent English-style stout like Good English, recently enjoyed at the Barren Hill Tavern. Yes, I want more ‘weird stuff’ – but I don’t want ‘normal’ beers to become so rarely-brewed that they become the shiny unicorns in turn.
And if you’re still wondering what this has to do with Sondheim, worry no more. Uncle Stephen solved all of craft beer’s infighting problems back in 1987, when Into the Woods premiered on Broadway. He wrote that:
Witches can be right, Giants can be good. You decide what’s right. You decide what’s good.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, you should go do that – but the point stands. There are huge brewers making good beer – Carlsberg is doing really fun things with their Jacobsen line, and if you’re ever in Copenhagen, you should certainly take their tour; it’s a great beer history lesson, their horses are just as personable as the Clydesdales, and you can try some really good beers at the end, even if their namesake lager isn’t one you’d reach for. There are small brewers I won’t name (we already know the big ones) making some truly appalling beers. There are a lot of big and small brewers making mediocre beers. But the fact that we now have ‘Big Craft’ and can complain about it is a wonderful thing – it means we have a goodly number of small, medium and (relatively) large brewers making excellent beer. It’s driving the even bigger ones to innovate and improve the scope of their offerings. You can get decent beer on many airlines now. It means even your local dive bar will usually have a reasonable IPA on tap, even if you’ve ‘moved on’ (See? More Sondheim!) from IPAs – just hang in there, you may come back to them.
Market maturity, even if recently powered by what seems to be a puerile search for a malted barley cryptoid (I should probably trademark Ittan-momen White Sake-aged Imperial Smoked Gose before someone else does), is exciting. If your favorite local brewery one day joins the ranks of Big Craft Beer, enjoy it. If you saw REM play for 30 people in a bar before they got a lot of airplay, you can trot that story out now, but you had less fun if you began ignoring them after Green, simply because everyone else had joined the party. Yes, there were some terrible also-rans when indie went mainstream, but it also meant your favorite formerly-obscure band could afford to tour more often, and produce more records. Success doesn’t have to be inauthentic, nor do corporate trappings negate quality. Like what you like.
There’s a little bit of everything this year – lots of local beer, and for many of the non-local ones, I got to enjoy them reasonably close to their sources, both at home and abroad. In roughly chronological order, please enjoy this year’s top 10:
Mrs. Pigman, Tired Hands Brewing Company, Imperial / Double IPA, 11.5%
I suppose the narrative is less ‘I don’t like double IPAs’ and more ‘I don’t like not-very-good double IPAs’ – and too many breweries seem to think it’s a style at which they will be especially successful. Whether it is down to dark powers or sheer hard work, Jean Broillet IV and the team at Tired Hands are consistently good at absolutely everything. It was hard to choose just a few favorites from their ever-changing lineup; among their 2013 beers I’ve particularly enjoyed are their Caskette and LiverPool, both milds, We Are 138, a Cascadian Dark Ale, and Dr. Grasshopper, a Berliner Weisse. And although I maintain that double IPAs rarely meet expectations, this one exceeded everything. Sure, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger are good, but they aren’t this good. Really.
Ancient Knovvledge, Tired Hands Brewing Company, Saison, 6.2%
Yes, it’s another from Tired Hands – and yes, I realize I am extremely fortunate to be able to walk there whenever the mood takes me. In some ways, this is a ‘typical’ Tired Hands beer – a saison with something a little bit different. In this instance, the Szechuan peppercorns were what made this one stand out, adding a nice kick and the odd bit of a good sort of numbness. We won an AHA medal for homebrewing a mead with Szechuan peppercorns some years back, but we didn’t approach this level of expertise. It’s all good.
Courage Russian Imperial Stout, Wells & Young’s Brewing Company, Russian Imperial Stout, 10%
As mentioned above, a general rule, I don’t love most ‘imperial’ beers – so many brewers seem to be caught up in an ABV arms race, so it’s nice to dial it back to a real historical example. Wells & Young’s events during Philly Beer Week have become must-attend annual outings for me – there’s always someone personable from the brewery, and you get a nice history lesson with your beer. I enjoyed getting to compare both the cask and bottled versions of this beer, though I’d give the edge to the bottled one, which likely had a little more time to mellow. But it’s a small quibble – both were very tasty indeed.
Reparationsbajer, To Øl, American Pale Ale, 5.8%
As much as I enjoyed everything I had at Mikkeller & Friends in Copenhagen – especially for the opportunity to try Mikkeller’s less high-octane beers, I have to admit a slight edge to a few beers from brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø’s former students who went on to found To Øl. Brewers Tobias Emil Jensen and Tore Gynther describe this beer as a ‘morning after’ affair, but I found it just as pleasant as a curtain-raiser to the evening. It was also a fine illustration that just because you can make excellent ‘unusual’ beers, you can show off your skills with a very straightforward recipe as well.
Black Ball, To Øl, Porter, 8%
Another entry from To Øl – I am always happy to find a hoppy porter. One of my local seasonal favorites is Tröegs Dead Reckoning Porter, and this was almost like an amped-up version, though it never went overboard; it was really rather delightful. In fairness, we had excellent (if pricey) beer all over Denmark – more large-scale breweries could take a leaf from Carlsberg’s page and invest in their own in-house (apologies for the loaded term coming up) ‘craft’ lines, as everything we tried from their Jacobsen line was excellent, as was their brewery tour. Big doesn’t have to mean bad, just as small isn’t necessarily good, but they seem to be doing both right there.
Mikkeller Yeast Series 2.0 English Ale, Mikkeller, English Pale Ale, 6.4%
But fear not – Mikkeller did make the list. The frankly amazing taplist at Mikkeller & Friends included a very wide range of beers, both Mikkel-brewed and literally those brewed by his friends, and I loved the variety on display. We tend to get the higher-ABV end of the Mikkeller spectrum in the US, and it was wonderful to see how much more there was on offer. I love a good English Pale Ale, and this fit the bill perfectly. Yes, Mikkeller can make wonderfully weird beers, but that’s only one part of the story.
Freigeist Ehrenfelder Alt, Freigeist Bierkultur, Gasthaus-Brauerei Braustelle, Altbier, 4.8%
I do love a good altbier, and I especially appreciate what Peter Esser and Sebastian Sauer are doing with Freigeist Bierkultur, the small experimental line from already-tiny Braustelle Brewery in Cologne. Their goal of reviving old and often peculiar (to modern tastes) German beers is one I wholeheartedly endorse. It can be difficult to avoid something of a hipster label when enjoying these occasionally difficult-to-find and sometimes strange beers, but they are well worth the effort to seek out.
Sauer Porter, Freigeist Bierkultur, Gasthaus-Brauerei Braustelle, Sour Porter, 6%
Yes, it’s another double entry. In this case, ‘Sauer’ refers to brewer Sebastian Sauer of Freigeist Bierkultur, as well as for the beer’s lactic sourness. This beer has a lot going on – it’s dark and chewy, but also salty – like a gose, a style I am quite happy is having a renaissance, but also refreshingly sour, so it’s something akin to a heavier, dark Berliner Weisse. This is all wrapped up in a ‘porter,’ though those who adhere strictly to (modern) style conventions might wish they had a different category in which to place this beer. Despite the current popularity of the very broad range of sour beers on the market, I often avoid this trend as they are rarely to my taste – and this is not to take a contrarian position, but simply because I don’t like more than a tiny smidgen of Brettanomyces (you can blame me for not being a wine drinker). However, I do like the lactic end of the sour spectrum, and this sits perfectly in that spot.
Edel Helles, Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery, Helles Lager, 4.8%
After quite a saga, the General Lafayette Inn regenerated into the Barren Hill Tavern and Brewery, with Scott Morrison’s beers taking pride of place. Everything has been outstanding so far – the West Coast Oats and Burton IPA are particular stand-outs thus far – but I had to give the nod to the Edel Helles. Being able to drink the beer just feet from where it was brewed is especially useful for a beer in this style; sometimes even the best ones from Germany don’t necessarily travel well. This one is perfect.
Rosey Nosey, Batemans, Winter Ale, 4.7%
I have been a big fan of Batemans for many years, dating back to when I lived in the UK; indeed, I’ve often fantasized about being able to move to Lincolnshire, where I could easily enjoy their freshest local beers. Should I get transferred, I’d most likely end up near London again, but I would make it a priority to finally investigate their brewery tour at some point. Though rarely ‘weird’ or flashy, they always have a solid lineup, and I hope that more of their beers make their way to the US in future. I love this because it’s chewy and seems full-bodied, but without the 7%+ wallop it might have had it been brewed in the US. Lovely.
So, there you have 2013 – happy new year!
The good people at Arcadia Publishing sent me a copy of one of the newest additions to their Images of America series, and a very interesting one it is indeed. D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc., by Robert A. Musson, MD, covers the family brewery from its 1829 origin as the Eagle Brewery to its current status as America’s oldest operating brewery. What is perhaps most encouraging to see is the sheer number of photographs and prints the slim volume packs in; it suggests that the company archives are in a healthy state of organization. And, like any good introductory history, it raises more questions than it answers; I came away from the book wanting to know more.
While I was familiar with the general outline of Yuengling’s story – German immigrants, initial success, creative Prohibition work-arounds, post-war decline and re-invigoration – there were a number of surprises. I had never been aware of how far afield Yuengling’s reach was in the 19th century, and the snippets about David Yuengling, Jr., opening breweries in Virginia and New York was intriguging indeed. I was previously quite unaware that Harlem once boasted its own Yuengling Brewery, much less one turning out more than 30,000 barrels of just one beer – Champagne Ale – annually. Equally unknown to me was the family’s purchase of a further brewery in Harlem with an even greater capacity that was used solely for lager, and the brief notes about these plants serve to highlight the shift in the nation’s taste from ale to lager. Both buildings were sold by the tail end of the 19th century, but it’s a very interesting illustration of Yuengling’s expansion and quite purposeful contraction at that point.
Also of note was a caption about Minna Dohrman Yuengling, wife to Frederick and mother to Frank; there was a passing mention that she essentially co-managed the brewery with Frank after Frederick’s death in 1899, but I would love to know more about her and her role in the business. Even the more detailed Yuengling: A History of America’s Oldest Brewery, by Mark A. Noon, doesn’t give much more away – it sounds as thought there may be some rather juicy meeting minutes locked away somewhere. The late 19th and early 20th centuries seem an especially busy period in Yuengling’s history; I was somewhat surprised to see a poster from c. 1900 (page 33, for those reading along) that included the tag ‘America’s Oldest Brewery’ – it was particularly interesting as the text indicates that it wasn’t widely used in signage until the 1950s (p. 67), though it’s possible the earlier poster had a very different audience.
There are many other hints and clues scattered throughout the book that suggest there is much more to discover; my only complaint is that all the photos and prints are black and white (as is standard for the Images of America series); particularly for the early advertising, it would be nice to see some in full color.
But all told, it’s a pleasant introduction to Yuengling, and a useful reminder that change is a constant in the beer industry. If you’re still at a loose end for a holiday or new year present, why not pick up a copy?
While in general I like to avoid just putting up the press release, time and the occasion sometimes warrant it. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s finally time for Barren Hill Tavern and Brewery to open its doors to the public. The former General Lafayette Inn lives again at last, and with a little luck, the ghosts are still hanging around as well. Here’s what’s on tap, and both the house-brewed beers and guests sound fantastic – here’s the list directly from the horse’s mouth:
Barren Hill Beers for Opening Night -
Belgian Golden – Inspired by Duvel, the classic Belgian Golden. A beer that is well balanced as the hops, malt & the spicy yeast show themselves with each sip. Belgian Pilsner Malt & Slovak Stryian Golding hops7.2% ABV Medium Hop Bitterness.
16oz -Chalice or Pint $5.5 growler 64oz $18
Biere De Octobre – A French Country Biere de Garde, typically produced in Nord & Pas de Calais. A malty, earthy beer that is dominated by the malt sweetness up front, but dry in the finish. French Malt, French Strisselpalt & Aramis hops. Basically our take on an October fest – Biere de Guarde brewed with lager yeast.
6.75% ABV Low Hop bitterness 16oz pint $5 growler 64oz $15
German Pale Ale (pre prohibition) – An American Pale ale style with German hops. What we’d imagine the German brewers in Philadelphia were producing in the late 1800s. Smooth hoppiness, as we used Hallertau, Opal, & Brewer’s Gold hops from Germany. For a twist, we aged the beer on American Cherry.
4.8% ABV Medium Hop Bitterness 16oz Pint $5 growler $15
Pilsner IPA – a hybrid style also known as an Imperial Pilsner. We made a traditional German Pilsner, with a bit more malt & a generous amount of hops. We used German Pearle & Hersburker hops. Instead of being intensely bitter, we added a ton of hops towards the end of the boil for flavor. Then we added a pound per barrel of Hersbucker hops for aroma.
6.4% ABV Medium Hop Bitterness 16oz Pint $5 Growler $15
Belgian IPA Single Hop Series – Galaxy – a true hybrid – Belgian Yeast, Australian hops & American Barley. There is a lot going on in the glass, as you have the spicy Belgian yeast & intense Galaxy hops fighting for attention. This is the first in a series of single hopped Belgian IPA’s. The Galaxy hops show a strong tropical fruit flavor of mango & passion fruit.
7.1% ABV High Hop Bitterness 16oz Pint $5.5 growler $18
Berliner Double Weisse – a rarely brewed style a few years ago, it’s now a favorite of many. A traditional sour, but refreshing German Wheat beer. Most Berliner beers are about 2.8 to 3.0% ABV, we decided to double it. Clean bright sourness & great wheat flavors.
5.8% ABV Low Hop Bitterness 16oz Pint $5 growler $15
Down Under Triple - Belgian Triple, Brewed exclusively with New Zealand Pacific jade hops, which bring out a citrus and black pepper flavor. Belgian Yeast brings a distinct Banana aroma. Deceivingly light bodied.
9.9% ABV Medium Hop Bitterness 10.5oz tulip $5 growler $18
Edel-Helles – A German Helles, a perilously drinkable beer for those who prefer something on the “lighter” side. Edel in German is defined as noble, and the hops are Noble Hersbrucker hops from Germany.
4.8ABV Low hop bitterness 16oz pint $5 growler $15
Burton IPA – Burton is famous for the water, and we’ve recreated the beer and the water. All English malts, and East Kent Golding hops. English IPA’s are not quite as hop forward as American IPA’s, as many would consider this a pale ale.
6.2 ABV Medium hop bitterness 16oz pint $5 growler $15
Baltic Porter – A Finnish Porter, that’s fermented with Lager yeast, instead of Ale. This fermentation gives the beer a remarkably smooth character, and is aged for 8 weeks. A bit stronger than most porters, some would call it an Imperial Porter.
8 ABV low/Medium Hop Bitterness 16oz Pint $5.5 growler $18
Black Rye Double IPA – A double IPA with a few twists, the rye malt brings a distinct spicy character, and the American Hops bring a bold citrus/ woodsy character.
9.2 ABV High Hop Bitterness 10.5oz tulip
Imperial Vanilla Stout – Perfect for the onset of the colder nights, we use 12 different malts to create a complex, strong malt forward beer. Real Vanilla beans used from Madagascar, Indonesia, and Mexico.
9.7 ABV low/Medium Hop Bitterness 10.5oz tulip $5 growler $18
Other Beers on Tap for Official Opening:
Julius Echter Hefeweisse – a Hefeweisse that is a cloudy golden color with notes of citrus, banana, cloves & bubblegum.
5.1% Germany 23oz $6.50 growler $18 Wheat glass
Wurzburger Premium Pilsner – Clear golden color, toasted grainy malt body with notes of citrus and subtle grassy hops crisp finish.
4.9% Germany 16oz $5.50 growler $18 Pint
Ommegang Witte – Belgian wheat with notes of tart lemon, orange, cloves & coriander with a crisp refreshing finish.
5.1% NY 16oz $5.50 growler $17 Pint
Ballast Point Sculpin IPA Limited – golden amber, with subtle malt sweetness, notes of light fruits, big juicy citrus hops, with pine hop finish.
7% CA tulip
Bruery Tart of Darkness – limited – stout aged in barrels with brett & wild yeast, roasted chocolate malt dark fruits with funky tart.
7% CA 10.5oz $9.5 6oz $5.5 Growler $50 -tulip or flight glass
Yards ESA – a English style ESB that is a dark amber color with a strong malt background to balance the pine hop bitterness. 6.3% Philly, PA 16oz $4.50 Growler $15 Pint
Freigeist Sauer Porter – a dark beer brewed with salt & brett – funky &tart with dark fruits, chocolate & salt – This was my favorite beer at the Alvinne beer festival in Belgium.
6% Germany Tulip
Unibroue Ephemere Cherry – limited – slightly cloudy amber color, notes of yeast, spice & tart cherries.
5.5% Canada 10.5oz $5.5 Growler 25 Tulip
Free Will Saison De Rose – seasonal collaboration brewed for the Rena Rowan Breast Center – a pink saison brewed with pink grapefruit, hibiscus, ginger & pink peppercorn.
5% PA 16oz $5 Growler $ 17 Pint Brewed with Free Will, Erin Wallace (bar owner), Tara Nurin (beer writer), Carolyn Smagalski (beer writer), Marnie Old (wine author)
Williamsburg AleWerks Pumpkin – seasonal – amber colored, creamy roasted pumpkin body notes of cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves.
Suede Imperial Porter -limited collab with 10 Barrel, Bluejacket & Stone – Imperial Porter brewed with avocado honey, jasmine & calendula flowers 9.6% CA 10.5oz tulip
Allagash Confluence – limited – Belgian Pale ale brewed with brett & dry hopped, fruity malt body notes of funk, spice & citrus hops.
7% ME 10.5oz tulip
I’m really looking forward to my @untappd check-ins from @BarrenHillTav – got my weekend plans sorted!