CVIndependent

Sat12152018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

It’s not easy to know exactly where your money is going when you buy something. Some large corporations take great care to intentionally obscure this knowledge, at least when looking at products superficially. You might despise a certain large conglomerate, and vow to boycott it … only to later find out that the paper towels you bought are made by a company that is wholly owned by that same conglomerate.

For decades in the craft-beer world, we didn’t have this problem: If you liked the beer you were drinking, you could find out who made it by looking at the label—and that was that. Well, the craft-beer market steadily grew … until the bigger boys in the industry could no longer stand by and watch its massive market share erode.

The plan was simple: Buy up craft breweries around the country.  

“What’s wrong with that?” you might ask. Not a single thing … at least not from a business and legal perspective. Lagunitas Brewing Company, the renowned brewer in Petaluma, sold half of the company to Heineken in 2015, and then sold the remaining half in 2017—yet the beer’s quality remains just as good as ever, and consumer costs have gone down. What could be wrong with that?

The short answer: Plenty. As for the longer answer, we’ll come back to this later, because now I have to try to make a relatively dry concept somewhat interesting: the three-tier system for alcohol in the U.S. At least it has an interesting origin, in the shadows of the Prohibition era and the Roaring ‘20s. In that decade, saloons popped up to serve the sinfully thirsty public, and many of them were “tied houses,” meaning an alcoholic-beverage supplier would pay a saloon to exclusively carry their products. Upon Prohibition’s merciful appeal, federal and state legislators saw the problem with this and sought to institute a system to protect the consumer from tied houses, encouraging free-market activity. Thus, the three-tier system was born: Breweries (or alcoholic-beverage makers more generally) would sell their products to consumers through a distributor that acts as a middle man.  

Benefits and drawbacks to this system have popped up in the ensuing years. One the biggest benefits is to smaller breweries: They have the possibility of getting their beer into other markets relatively easily, thanks to a distributor’s expanded network. This could allow a brewery to gain fans in places it previously might have never been known.

There is a dark side: AB InBev and Molson Coors have become the equivalent to The Empire in the Star Wars movies when it comes to craft beer. AB InBev is the massive multinational conglomerate and parent company to all of the Anheuser Busch and SABMiller beers, as well as many other brands. (Yes, that nasty yellow stuff is owned by foreign corporations. Don’t ever be fooled by the ridiculous beer commercials pasting American flags on everything.) Molson Coors is at least half-American, and I think you can guess which half. The company’s M.O. seems to be combining marketing and packaging efforts, as well as streamlining processes within the company. This allows them to produce the exact same product, no matter where you’ll find it in the world. It’s a feat of engineering, really, and something to be admired for what it is worth (and it’s worth billions for them), but what about the … uh ... taste?

Now we come to “branches”: Large breweries own distribution affiliates in select markets. While legal, it is plain to see the problem with this setup: These distribution affiliates can strong-arm local businesses into essentially becoming tied houses. “Oh, you’d like to carry (fill in the blank) brewery’s beers? They’re not in our portfolio, I’m afraid. And if you do carry them, we’ll pull all of (our popular but bland) brewery’s beers. If you want craft beer, though, you’re in luck! We have some in our portfolio. So what if we stomped on the quality of their beers in an attempt to make them more cheaply and more efficiently (with the exception of Lagunitas/Heineken … for now)?”

These conglomerates count on your ignorance of the origins of the beer you’re drinking. This isn’t anything to be ashamed of, by the way: Beer aisles are an absolute labyrinth, and nobody should be expected to stand around Googling who owns what. However … did you know that Los Angeles’ Golden Road Brewing is owned by AB InBev? Don’t be surprised; AB InBev owns at least 400 beer brands.

This mess inevitably spreads to the shelves. It’s why you might see packages of varying sizes and shapes of Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors, Miller Lite, etc. More shelf space equals more eyes on brands, which equals more sales. It has a distinct, anti-free-market whiff about it, doesn’t it? It’s also why these conglomerates spend ungodly sums of money on commercials that either dazzle you with visual stimuli, distract you with humor, or talk about all of its beer’s attributes without mentioning a single taste descriptor: “Hey, this beer is cold-filtered, crisp and golden? Those are my favorite flavors!”

At this point, a craft-beer fan needs to make up his or her mind. You don’t need my permission to spend your hard-earned dollars on any brand over another—but if you’d like to continue to see craft beer thrive, and become more interesting and exciting with each new beer released, join me in moving away from the products by the breweries that have sold out to Big Beer, and instead support the absolute glut of breweries that have not done so. The Brewers Association recently created the Independent Craft Brewers Seal, which qualified breweries can apply to their labels. (Note, however, that the seal is not yet being used industry-wide, so if a beer does not have the seal, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s being produced by a brewery owned by one of the large conglomerates.)

Since we’re in Southern California, I’ll mention a couple of breweries that have sold out.

AB InBev owns Golden Road Brewing and 10 Barrel Brewing. The latter is out of Oregon, but opened a large restaurant and taproom in downtown San Diego—something that was a topic of great contention in a county with 150-plus breweries. If you’re in San Diego and find your way to 10 Barrel, you’ve really overlooked some amazing, independent brewers within a stone’s throw (no pun intended).

Constellation Brands owns San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing. This buyout was a big deal in the industry when it occurred in 2015 due to the $1 billion price tag. At least Constellation is an American company; it also owns Corona, Modelo, Pacifico and many other brands. However, there are so many true craft breweries within a very short distance of any Ballast Point location where you could have a good or better time.

Go forth; stay vigilant; and drink wisely!

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

Coachella attendees who braved Saturday’s hot temperatures got some great music to enjoy, including the day’s headliner, Lady Gaga.

I must admit that I am not a big fan of pop divas, but I promised myself I would keep an open mind as I took in Gaga’s performance, rather than doing my usual full embrace of the “music snob” title that some have bestowed upon me.

As for that performance: After Bon Iver’s Main Stage set finished a little before 10 p.m., most of the area was dead, as attendees crammed the Outdoor Stage area to take in DJ Snake’s performance. That let Gaga’s die-hard fans grab spots close to the stage.

Gaga was scheduled for 11:10 p.m., and even though the stage seemed set well before that, she did not take the stage until after 11:30.

I watched parts of last weekend’s Gaga show on the live YouTube stream. While it was an impressive spectacle, some moments fell flat (a sentiment I heard from people who were there, too). The costume changes were over-long, meaning her backing musicians had to play lengthy solos before she would finally reappear.

This week, she tightened things up. Her default costume appeared to be a pair of decorated Spandex shorts over a leotard, with stars next to her eyes and on her temples. While her appearance may have changed a bit, the set list was rather similar. Her banter with the audience at times seemed to fall flat—although she admitted to the audience that she felt a little nervous, in part because her parents were in attendance.

She also told a story about how she arrived in Los Angeles from New York wearing all leather, and was told that it was too hot to wear leather. She added that she still loves leather and that she was bringing leather to the desert. I’m sure the small group of bears I saw earlier in the evening walking around with leather harnesses and aviator sunglasses were in that sea of 100,000 people screaming, “YOU GO GIRL!”

Many of the visuals that accompanied the performance were not included all that much on the live stream last week—and in person, the visuals were indeed stunning and well-done.

Lady Gaga ain’t my cup of tea, but I appreciate the energy that her music puts out, and that she has fans from all walks of life. While the performance was a little rough around the edges for my tastes, her appearance will be remembered fondly by most.

Other Saturday highlights

• Local band the Yip Yops were an early afternoon delight in the Gobi Tent, with many people coming through to check them out. Their evolving and futuristic sound definitely made them stand out. Of course, the Yip Yops were ready for the Coachella stage two years ago.

• Chicano Batman performed to a large and fantastically diverse crowd at the Outdoor Stage on Saturday afternoon. Despite temperatures at almost 100 degrees, the band still played in ruffled shirts and new navy suits. This band is truly on the rise and drew a much larger crowd than they did when they played in 2015.

• The Heineken House was the place to be on Saturday, thanks to the air conditioning and the never-ending flowing of cold, delicious beer. Late in the afternoon, the protopunk band Death, the subject of a documentary titled A Band Called Death, performed in the tent. While it may have annoyed the typical Heineken House audience of people who like house and trap music, the rock crowd that turned out to hear them play—myself included—loved every minute of it. One has to wonder why they were not put in the Sonora Tent instead.

• Bon Iver’s co-headlining Main Stage performance was nothing short of fantastic. The band’s indie-folk sound has evolved in a big way, and the show was nothing like the group’s Coachella 2012 performance. There was a lot of live sampling and layering during the performance, along with some pretty trippy visuals. Also, Bruce Hornsby and Jenny Lewis appeared with front man Justin Vernon at the end of his set. Vernon, wearing a T-shirt that said “PEOPLE” across the front of it, declared toward the end of his set: “If you don’t have close friends, you don’t have shit.”

Photo credits (below): Death, by Brian Blueskye; Bon Iver, by Julian Bajsel/Goldenvoice; Chicano Batman, by Erik Voake/Goldenvoice; Yip Yops, by Quinn Tucker/Goldenvoice

Coachella Weekend 2 is officially under way.

While this weekend is essentially a repeat of last weekend, there was still a great deal of excitement and anticipation in the air.

“There are some awesome bands and great weather. It’s going to be a good time,” said a man from Calgary as he went through one of the security lines.

There was even excitement among the bands playing at the festival. “We are very excited to have opened the main stage,” said Lorna Thomas of Skinny Lister. “The crowd was up for it today, and we had a good time, and it was a great gig.”

Art installations are widespread throughout the grounds. One exhibit that caught my eye on Day 1 was called The Coachella Power Station, designed by Los Angeles artists Derek Doublin, Vanessa Bonet and Chris Wagner. It looks like a model of a power station, with costumed workers wearing white jumpsuits and horse masks. It isn’t very clear what they are doing, but they open tool boxes and stuff the mouths of their masks with plastic imitations of wood and grass chunks.

“I love it,” said Ramin Omid, from Marina Del Ray, Calif. “I’ve been coming here for 10 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.” When I asked him what he thought about the costumed individuals inside the exhibit, he laughed and said, “They look like nuclear engineers to me.”

Another exhibit makes rounds throughout the festival. Balloon Chain, developed by Robert Bose, from New York City, is a kite-like chain featuring numerous helium balloons, pulled by individual operators who allow attendees to take hold of them for a few moments. When Andy with Balloon Chain allowed me to take control of the handle, the pull of the 1,800-foot-long cord with small balloons was incredible. “When the wind picks up, it’ll drag you across the ground,” Andy said. “Last weekend, we did shorter lines due to the wind. Last Sunday night, it was really windy, and we had to bring the Balloon Chain down.”

For those who are looking to cool down, Heineken’s air-conditioned “Dome” is an inflatable dome featuring a bar and a dance floor, complete with live DJs. “It’s super refreshing,” Paloma Martinez of Los Angeles said. “The music inside here is definitely different than what you hear out there.”

If you ever wanted to learn more about the subject of drinking water, the Oasis Water Bar is the place to go. “We’re sharing with people where our water comes from, and some potential places where our water might come from in the future,” the Oasis employee explained to me, before handing me a survey sheet asking questions, like: Do I own a water bottle? Do I drink tap water at home? Do I order tap water or bottled water in restaurants? Participants then receive a sample of one of the various waters; the one I tried was called “Moonshine Secret Sauce.”

It tasted just like water.

When it comes to music, Coachella Day 1 definitely featured some noteworthy performances.

Johnny Marr—former guitarist with The Smiths—played mid-afternoon inside the Mojave Tent. Walking onto the stage with a rose in his mouth, he opened his set with the opening track on his newly released debut album, The Messenger.

“Is anyone smoking pot? I know someone is!” Marr said in between songs, earning a laugh from the crowd. He asked the guilty individual to raise his hand; one attendee then pointed out the man to the rest of the audience.

“Here’s one you know,” Marr said before he started The Smiths’ tune “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” which electrified the audience and led to a sing-along. Marr closed his set with the Smiths’ hit “How Soon Is Now,” which gave the crowd another opportunity to sing along to a song they actually knew.

Reggae legend and producer Lee “Scratch” Perry appeared in the Gobi tent for an early evening performance. Perry, known for producing Bob Marley, was colorfully dressed in attire inspired by punk rock and Rastafarianism. Perry’s reggae sound has always been eccentric and nontraditional; he was accompanied by a dubstep DJ and a reggae band.

Following Lee “Scratch” Perry was former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra and his band, The Guantanamo School of Medicine. Biafra, who once ran for president on the Green Party ticket, is known for his heavy political themes in his music; he referenced the debate on firearms and people who fear having their guns taken away.

“If that were ever to happen, I’d get out my lawn chair with a glass of lemonade and watch it,” Biafra said to the audience.

Biafra taunted the audience with his strange facial expressions and hand gestures; he resembled a punk-rock circus clown, only without makeup. He performed two Dead Kennedys songs during his set: “California Über Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia.”

While The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are experiencing some negative reviews for their new album, Mosquito, their performance on the main stage proved the band still knows how to turn in a great live show. The band’s lead-singer, Karen O, is a pop-star diva with a little bit of punk-rock attitude. The combination of the band’s rock sound and dance elements got the crowd moving. They dazzled the audience with a performance of “Sacrilege”—backed by a full gospel choir—toward the end of their set.

While Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are playing Sunday night on the main stage, he also performed with his side project, Grinderman, in the Mojave tent. The stage featured sets of large amplifiers on each side; amplifiers were also placed on the ground level between the security fence and the stage. When the band started playing, the ground felt like it was shaking; the feedback from the instruments was screeching enough to almost shatter ear drums. While Cave generally sings ballads and well-crafted songs when he plays solo or with the Bad Seeds, Grinderman is a harder, faster, louder experience.

A reunited Jurassic 5 took the stage at the outdoor theater at 10:45 p.m. Jurassic 5’s positive and political themed hip-hop songs brought out a laid back vibe. An oversized turntable in the middle of the stage turned out to be not just a prop; both DJs, Cut-Chemist and Nu-Mark, took turns scratching the large record and messing with the mixer. As they say in one of their songs, “we came here to entertain,” and entertain, they did. They also made mention of Public Enemy being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and dedicated their performance to them, stating that without Public Enemy’s influence, Jurassic 5 wouldn’t have come together.

With Damon Albarn supposedly at odds with Jamie Hewlett as far as the Gorillaz are concerned, it’s not a surprise that he is continuing the Blur reunion. Blur, who switched spots with The Stone Roses this weekend, took the stage at 11:35. The 3-D, hologram backdrop of the underbelly of a bridge was realistic; it actually looked as if the band were playing under a bridge.

The group proved worthy of being headliners. “Out of Time” had many people gently swaying side to side, singing along to the sentimental song about not having enough time to appreciate life. Of course, no Blur show would be complete without their hit “Song 2,” which made the audience scream “WOOOO HOOOO” along with Albarn.

Photos by Noelle Haro-Gomez

Published in Reviews