On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss how craft beer is slowly moving back toward the 12-ounce can, and explore why craft glommed on to the 16-ounce tallboy despite the fact that it makes for an inferior drinking experience. Plus, a brief discussion on the recently released World’s 50 Best Bars list. Tune in for more.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And it’s the “VinePair Podcast.” So before we kick things off this week, I just want to chat about something really quickly and that is that many of our listeners, especially our most loyal ones, may have noticed a new theme song that accompanies this podcast. We felt like changing it up, going with some original music. This music has been written by Darby Cicci, who is a very talented musician out of Los Angeles. Used to be in a little band called the Antlers. He was really the best musician in that band — really the only reason that band was successful — and now writes lots of amazing music for us and other people, and has written the themes for all of our other podcasts. So I just want to give a shout out to Darby. Thank you so much for this new incredible theme song and we hope that you enjoy it. We’re really into it. Felt like it was time to have our own song, not one that you could just grab from the interwebs. So yeah, I just wanted to kick it off there. And now Zach, how have you been, man? Are you atoned?
Z: As much as I ever can be. Yes, I am doing great. We are recording this on Thursday, a day before my beloved Seattle Mariners play their first playoff game in 21 years.
Z: Thank you. Violates our rule of no baseball talk on the podcast, but f*ck you. This only happens once every 21 years, I’m led to believe.
A: What’s their seed? Are they good? Is this a wild card? What’s happening?
Z: They are, yes.
J: There’s always talk about baseball in the podcast.
Z: So mostly just about how Adam doesn’t like it. They’re the second wild card team. So actually this is a little bit of a Zach/Joanna showdown because they’re playing against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto for — I know a big Blue Jays fan, I’m sure, Joanna — showdown against the Blue Jays. So by the time anyone actually hears this, the series will be over, but I’m cautiously optimistic.
A: So it’s a three-game series?
Z: It is the best of three series. All three games are in Toronto.
A: Why are they doing that?
Z: No one knows.
A: Is that a new thing?
Z: It is new, yes. Baseball has changed its playoff format regularly over the last few years. This year they expanded the playoffs by one team per league, so there are two of these three-game series among the wildcard teams in each league, and the team with the higher seed hosts all three games. I suppose to cut down on travel so they can play all three games in three days as opposed to extending the playoffs, which I think is actually kind of in its essence good, but it is a little unfortunate for my Mariners, but that’s okay. We got here, which is like I said, it’s been a long time. I was a senior in high school the last time they played in the playoffs and I am decidedly older than that now.
A: So it’s tonight, tomorrow night and Saturday night?
Z: Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
A: Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
Z: So yeah, by the time anyone hears us on Monday you all know how my team did, but I don’t know here, so I don’t know.
J: Sounds like a great weekend.
A: Yeah, do you watch every game?
J: I’m sure it’ll be on in my home.
J: Yeah. Evan casually tunes into Canadian sports.
A: He’s a Toronto.
J: Yeah, so Toronto teams.
A: So wait, is this the American League or the National League?
Z: American League.
A: Okay, cool. Go Braves. Okay, so that’s all I know.
J: What are you drinking?
A: What have you been drinking, though? What do you drink when you watch it? Both?
Z: Well, so those are different questions or different answers, although related. So essentially it was really sweet for me. My mom happened to be here on Friday of the past week when the Mariners actually clenched the playoff spot. She was coming down to spend some time with us and with grandkids and she’s the person in the family that I have watched the most baseball with and has been the most sort of loyal fan along with me. We’ve been to I don’t even know how many games together over the years, and so it was really kind of special for me to get to celebrate with my mom. We opened a bottle of sparkling wine from here in Washington State. It felt appropriate given both the context and the locale bottle of Blanc de Blancs from Treveri Cellars. I’ve mentioned them on the podcast before. I don’t know what I’ll do if they advance. It feels weird to me. This is one of the funny things about the expanded baseball playoffs is like theoretically should the unthinkable happen and the Mariners were to win the World Series, there would be five opportunities where they’ve either clenched a playoff spot or won a series to advance. And it’s like, I don’t know if I’m going to open Champagne every single one of those or sparkling wine for every single one of those. We’re actually going to be visiting with my mom and stepdad on Saturday, during the second game so that I can watch it with her, and if they are in position to win the series, I might bring up some sparkling wine. But honestly, I haven’t gotten that far, but actually that same night they made the playoffs, I also — after the kids were asleep and after the game was over — was able to go out with my wife and go to an actual cocktail bar, which is a rarity these days.
Z: Yeah, I went to a friend’s bar called Roquette here in Seattle and had a couple of cocktails, but one of the standouts for me, which was a drink called the Sea of Cortez, which is sort of a tiki-esque or tropical-style drink with mezcal with some blue curaçao. So yes, it was a blue, kind of blue beautiful shade.
J: Blue drinks are having a moment.
Z: Yeah, I was going to say we talked a little bit about color drinks and we’ve talked about the Empress Gin, but we haven’t really talked about blue specifically. But yes, definitely back in, blue curaçao kind of back in, which is kind of fun. I don’t know. I don’t have a problem with it. It’s interesting.
J: It tastes good.
Z: Yeah, so it also has some yellow chartreuse, pineapple, lime, and coconut. It definitely felt tropical, was delicious, vivid blue, and was fun to drink. I had a couple other cocktails too, but we’ll leave it there. How about you Joanna? What have you been drinking?
J: Nice. I haven’t been drinking too much recently. We were a little down for the count in my house, but we did open a bottle of Santa Julia El Burro Natural Malbec, which was good. Very easy drinking. It was kind of plummy with dark fruits, pretty juicy without being funky. This is their foray into “natural” wines.
A: That foray.
J: So it was not funky, I need to note that. And we had it with burgers and it was good. So that’s kind of the standout for me recently. What about you, Adam?
A: So a few things. We had friends in town this past weekend.
A: So I went to three of my favorite restaurants in Brooklyn. They used to live in the city. They moved to Goshen, Ohio, where they bought a farm.
J: Oh my goodness. Wow.
A: And they have a farm and chickens and goats. And then Matt — who’s the husband — makes cider, he naturally forges for it. So for all these apples around Ohio.
A:And then he also planted a vineyard of all hybrid grapes.
A: And so he has his first vintage this year, so he’s really into food and drink, and Amanda, his wife, is one of Naomi’s closest friends from growing up. So we first went to LaLou, which is the best.
J: I like Blaufränkisch.
A: I do too. And it was really fun that he shared it with us, so that was the first really great thing I drank. And then on Friday night we went to Gage & Tollner and I had a 2007 Xinomavro on their list from Domaine Tatsis that was like… Honestly if you had blinded someone on it, they’d think it was old Barolo. It was really cool, and also a steal on the list, like 80 bucks a bottle, so for a wine that old was really fun.
J: They have a great wine list.
A: They have a great wine list. A really, really great wine list. I was very excited about it. And then also on Saturday of that weekend we went to Industry City and I think there’s a sleeper that no one knows about. Inside the Japanese sort of whole market there’s a small little omakase spot and you can do omakase for like $45 a person.
J: Oh, nice.
A: And so Matt and I did omakase and drank a $12 dollar of sake that I don’t even care what it was. It was just really fun and good. And then that night we went to Popina. And James O’Brien also on the VP 50 and his team took amazing care of us and we drank a really beautiful Barolo and it was a lot of fun. So just really great drinks all around. Had a White Negroni at Popina that the base was a lemon apéritif called Le Moné. It was really delicious as well. So it was this White Negroni with Le Moné, gin, and then they did Dolin vermouth. And that was also, we kicked that off and then had the Burgundy, sorry the Barolo, there was a Burgundy there too. But it was fun. It was a lot of fun. It was a fun weekend. We got together with a bunch of friends who all knew them and went out to different restaurants together, so that was that.
J: Good drinking.
A: Yeah, fun. And then I’ve been totally not drinking at all this week. So before we jump into today’s current topic, I did want to do a reprieve of a topic, like a revisit of a topic we had talked about a while ago because I’m a little interested to hear your thoughts. So basically for those of you who are very familiar with the podcast, in June we did a podcast about the United States Top 50 bars list and we sort of discussed our issues with it. And this past week the top 50 bars in the world came out and it was the perfect example of my issue with these lists. And that is that while the list has bars that are amazing on it, the bars on that list and their numbers contradicted the U.S. list. And I found it to be really confusing. So for example, the number one bar in the U.S. on the top 50 bars in the U.S. list is the number 22 bar on the top 50 list and a bar that is not the number one bar in the U.S., on the U.S. list, is the highest-ranked U.S. bar on the list at number six, Double Chicken Please which I love. I love Double Chicken Please. I think it’s very deserving, but again, the order is different. So I find that these lists are just always so problematic in that regard because I get there was probably a different judging committee. I get that there are different decisions. So Attaboy is never going to say they were 22, they’re number one in the U.S. Why would they ever promote that they’re number 22 in the world? Why would Double Chicken Please ever say what number they are in the U.S. when they’re number six in the world and the highest ranked on the world list U.S. bar.
A: This is the problem. This continuous thing reinforces the issue we have with these lists, which is that they really have no sense to them. Whereas if we were just giving out stars, we are just giving out a number rating or something like that, there could be some sort of consistency there. And so it just was something that I thought would be interesting to quickly talk about before we jump into today’s actual conversation because it has just happened and I was thinking about it.
J: Yeah, I don’t know. I think you make a really good point there. I’m actually not sure, apart from the ones that you’ve mentioned, I haven’t compared the list side by side.
A: Well Katana Kitten fell, I mean it’s behind.
J: Yeah, it’s like four on the North America list and six on the world’s or no? I’m inverting it.
Z: It’s nine on the world list.
J: Right. But what if one drops off? Are there any that are just on one and not the other?
A: I think there were and Licorería Limantour is higher on the world list than it is in the North America list. It’s just so weird.
J: I think it’s weird, and I think from a marketing perspective, like you said, why would any bar use the lower ranking?
A: And I feel like, again, I think what they’re trying to do, their intentions seem to be good to me. They say they’re creating lists that help highlight the magnificence of bars and people who are really pushing the boundaries and they want to give them their flowers, all that sh*t. But then I think they need to do a better job of having consistency between these lists, especially because the U.S. list was their first time ever doing it or else one list is going to matter and one list is not going to matter.
Z: Yeah, and you also come across the problem of looking at a list like this wherein I’m not familiar with any number of these bars. I mean some of them I am, but you get the problem that you see some on the North American list, but it’s even intensified here where literally the only bars from the United States on here are in New York with the exception of one bar from Miami, which weirdly doesn’t include several bars on the North American list that are more highly rated than some like Double Chicken Please or whatever. Again, it’s like, yes, the explanation is probably it’s a somewhat different set of judges maybe working on separate projects, but it is weird that under the auspices of the same organization, the lists don’t agree more. And it’s one thing if you have different rating systems or different organizing groups that list bars, and obviously in the same way that wine producers do with ratings from critics, they’re going to cherry pick the ones that they look good on and ignore the ones that they don’t. But when it is under the auspices of the same organization, and it’s not like the list came out a year apart or even six months apart, it was a few months ago, as you mentioned we did in June. It’s not like a huge amount of time has passed and you could plausibly be like, okay, yes, maybe when we put the list out in June, this was the order of North American bars and now we think it’s changed dramatically. That to me seems, let’s say a dubious suggestion at best. I also think, again, we get back to this issue that plagues these kinds of lists, which is that the world is a huge f*cking place and it’s so hard to look at a list like this and not think how much of this is tied to reputation that you obviously need to have a certain prominence to get on the minds of enough judges to even get nominated. And that’s fine to some extent, but it’s the same problem that plagues any kind of restaurant rating system or anything like that, which is that you have to play by a certain set of rules and subscribe to a certain model for a bar before you’re even on the radar for a list like this. Which means that as we talked about a more recent episode, there’s this issue to some extent of cocktail bars all kind of looking the same the world over. A certain kind of cocktail bar is playing for this kind of list, and they can obviously highlight local products and local ingredients and local techniques and stuff like that to some extent, but especially in the cocktail space, I think it’s harder to deviate that much from a format that is proven to be popular and that appeals to this kind of list.
A: Yeah, it’s really crazy. So anyways, maybe there’s a larger conversation down the road again about this, but I wanted to bring it up because the rankings just came out and just again, just further sort of highlight that I feel like there’s a lot of ways for these bars to get recognized and I get what they’re trying to do, but I feel like if this is to truly be taken seriously by the wider public and the press, there has to be some sort of standardization across all these lists, and there has to be, again, a clear format of what they’re looking for, how they’re judging, etc. Because if not, I don’t now understand why I would care about any list besides the world list at all. All right, so we published a story earlier this week about the format of beers changing it in the world of craft. So going from what are those 16- ounce tallboys to the 12-ounce beers that we’re sort used to when it comes to your general domestic lager. And this has become something that’s more common recently. So I’m curious, first of all, what do you guys think of those tallboys? I kind of hate them.
J: Yeah, I really don’t like them either. Neither does our writer Josh Bernstein. I feel like I’ve heard this sentiment quite a bit, which is so interesting to me because it feels like craft beer went pretty full force into using this format five years ago. So it’s really interesting because it doesn’t seem like anyone likes them. Zach, do you like them?
Z: No, I don’t, and I don’t like them for three reasons. I don’t like them because 16 ounces is… It’s one thing if you’re sitting at the tap room or something or you’re sitting down somewhere to have a beer. You’re going to have a single beer, 16 ounces is fine, whatever. That’s a reasonable size and maybe a 12-ounce pour feels a little short to people. But in the at home format, in the canned format, it’s an awkward size for me personally because I would, generally speaking in my day, rather — if I’m having beer — I would rather have two 12-ounce beers than what? One 16- ounce beer and then I’m like, okay, well I’ve not had quite as much beer as I want to have, but if I open another one, I’m a little bit further down the road than I truly want to go. Especially with a lot of craft beers, which we’ve talked about a lot lately are clocking in 6, 7, 8, 9 percent alcohol or higher. So it’s like, okay, that’s a lot of drinking right there. That’s two tallboys of an 8 or 9 percent alcohol beer. That’s the equivalent amount of alcohol for drinking a whole bottle of wine or maybe even a little more by yourself. And I mean, have I ever done that? Of course I have. But I don’t want that to be my only real option. I also think it’s a little bit of an annoying storage problem depending on your refrigerator set up. Tallboys can be awkward to fit in your fridge. It’s an issue that I face regularly, because I have so much other sh*t in my fridge, thanks to kids and stuff like that. And then the last issue against them and in my opinion is that they’ve also totally f*cked with how we price beer in the canned format. The plague of the $20-plus 4-pack of beer? Look, I get it to some extent craft beer, making the stuff’s not cheap and the raw materials are getting more expensive, etc., etc. But we’ve also kind of gotten to a ridiculous point where I’m sometimes looking for an interesting beer to try out and my option is a 4-pack of tallboys that cost me $25, and I’m just like, really?
Z: Six bucks for a take-home beer just feels like a lot.
A: This is my theory. Your third point that you don’t like is my theory for why they became so ubiquitous.
J: Better margins.
A: Yes, I think so. I think that what basically happened was… Josh’s article is really well done. He’s obviously a great beer writer. He talks a lot about the glass and how craft beer went to a specific color of glass to denote that they were craft. But I remember for a very long time until I would say maybe 10 years ago, maybe even sooner than 10 years ago, there were a lot of craft brands in 12-ounce cans. SweetWater was in 12-ounce cans, you had All Day IPA in 12-ounce cans, Lagunitas was in 12-ounce cans. Lots of people were in 12-ounce cans. Sierra Nevada I think has always been in a 12. The pale’s always been in a 12-ounce can. Also, they had the stubby little bottle, which I love. But they’ve been in these cans and I think the problem was that those cans were associated with the specific price point. So because of the size of those cans that come in domestic lagers, you’re never going to convince a consumer to pay $30 for that 6-pack. So what craft beer did, really smartly, especially the very trendy line-culture craft beer brands, is they moved to this 4-pack of tallboys and convinced you that this was premium and that you should pay more for it. And it worked. And I think that a lot of consumers also started to believe then that this meant that the beer was fresher. This meant that the beer was higher quality. That meant that the beer was in some ways hazier, pillowier, whatever it was. Oh, this brand’s not in tallboys? This must not be a legit hardcore craft brand. This must be an out-to-get-the-money craft brand. When actually they all were doing this that’s why they went into the tallboys in the first place and now there’s the blowback. That obviously was always there. And I think the only reason they’re willing to go back is because the goal has been achieved at this point.
J: Yeah, I think that you make a really good point there about the line-culture beers. If you’re waiting in line, you want as much of the heady topper as you can possibly get, because you’re not going to come by it frequently. But now we are well beyond that. Nobody’s doing that anymore. So it’s a harder sell I think for people like us to go… I mean, we will. I regularly spend $20 to $30 on a 4-pack, which is just ridiculous.
A: It’s stupid.
J: But it’s certainly not a preference.
A: No, and I think the desire, as we’re all saying, to drink in a smaller format is pushing them back. But now I think a lot of them are assuming they can still charge the same amount of money. We’ll see. Will that hold up? Maybe. If all of a sudden we start seeing Other Half, Green City in a 6-pack at $30 a 6-pack in New York City, will people pay that? I mean, you would assume yes because they’re very comfortable paying the tallboy 4-pack at that price, but who knows?
Z: Well, and a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans, you get more beer than a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans. I think another way where the size format than people being generally bad at math has worked in favor of the margins for craft breweries. Because you think, “Okay, a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans, a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans, it’s about the same.” And I mean it’s not like it’s an 8-ounce difference, it’s not a huge difference, but it’s almost a full 12-ounce beer’s difference, and that matters to people, it matters to me. I also think that the other piece of this is the weird, we’ve come all the way back around the bend again where craft beer is no longer trying to set itself apart from large-scale production beer in the way that getting out of, not so much into tallboys, but just out of the classic 6-, 12-pack format was so important to early days of craft beer, whether it was bottling. I mean, I for one, I’m glad that we have largely seen the end of the f*cking 22-ounce bottle, which is infinitely worse to me than even the tallboy.
A: Oh I agree.
Z: That was a drink at its worst. Such a terrible format that I’ve loathed since it was first introduced or since I first came across it, for virtually any kind of beer. I mean, you want to talk about your special releases that are aged, blah, blah, blah, fine, I guess whatever, put it in a big fancy bottle and charge me way too much money for it. But other than that, for any kind of regular drinking, the 22-ounce bottle is terrible. But the 16-ounce tallboy is not a vast improvement in my opinion. I think the only other way you could say it has been a plus for beer drinkers or beer culture such as it is, and it comes back to some of what we’re talking about is, it is a bigger canvas for design. And that’s been a huge part of craft beer too. And not that you can’t fit a cool design on a 12-ounce can, but maybe it’s harder to do or you’re a little more limited. I’m not a design person at all. So maybe there are some limitations there that the 16 ounce allows you to get around to some extent. But again, to me that’s not a big loss, at least my opinion.
J: I think what’s most interesting here, and you did touch on it, Zach, is that a lot of these brewers, they’re not doing away with their 16-ounce cans, they’re just introducing the 12-packs of 12 ounce cans because it’s an opportunity for them that they had left on the table for a really long time and now they realize they don’t have to. So they can have both and they can take the shelf space, which a lot of them said when sometimes there’s not space available for another 4-pack, there is shelf space for a 12-pack of 12-ounce cans. And I think it as we’re kind of flattening out of craft and macro more and more, it makes a lot of sense. Yes, you’re going to get a 12-pack box of 12-ounce cans. Just like you would any other whatever, light lager, macro beer.
A: I mean, I think especially we’ve already talked about this a bunch in other episodes, but tailgating and sort of party culture, you’re more likely to bring a 12-pack to those occasions than you are a 4-pack. Or just think to yourself, “Oh, man, am I going to buy two or three, 4-packs to be able to bring to a party? Well, I’m spending $100 for this party.” You know what I mean? “So I’ll buy a 12-pack and I’ll supply my share of the beers.” And I think they’re realizing that’s money left on the table. And even if you are Green City and you figure out how you can price a 12-pack, I don’t know, 45, 50, even 60 bucks, people will probably pay it because they like the beer compared to what happens when they put, again, three 4-packs together to make 12 beers, because at the end of the day, no one’s splitting these 16-ounces beers. So you’re bringing 12 beers to the party and you’re spending $100, just no one’s doing it. So I think it’s a very smart decision that they are going to realize very quickly has the potential to be quite lucrative for them.
J: Even if the margins are lower on the 12-packs.
J: And they seem to know that, but it doesn’t matter.
Z: Well the other piece of this too that we haven’t really talked about is, to what extent is this move into the 12-packs or move back into 12-ounce cans being driven to some extent also by the changing landscape for draft beer? And that for a lot of craft breweries, part of the reason that they might have the inventory to put into these old/new formats is because they’re not putting as much beer in keg because draft sales are down pretty dramatically for a variety of reasons, some Covid-related, some having to do with supply chain issues and things like that. If you have a lot of volume of beer and you need to put it in some kind of format, well as we’ve just talked about, the tallboy format might be already at its maximum level that people are going to buy from you, and so your only other option is these other beer formats that people are familiar with. And whereas Joanna said, you can take more shelf space potentially, or regain shelf space, etc. It’s also kind of pushing perhaps back a little bit or not pushing back against, adapting to perhaps additional other trends in alcohol. We’ve perhaps talked about a lot on the podcast lately, this kind of weird divergence between people who are looking for low cal, low carb, and obviously beer’s not going to be low carb or really low cal in some cases, but at least looking for more kind of restrained drinking. And that might be another way where you have a 12-ounce can option that’s appealing to people, it’s less beer, they feel maybe okay having one or two and without sacrificing your larger-format offering for people who are less concerned about that or just still prefer the tallboy, whoever they might be. So yeah, I think it’s important to look at all this as happening, not just purely as pushback against tallboys, but in the larger environment of what’s going on in beer and in craft beer in particular.
J: Yeah and consumer behavior.
A: That’s so interesting. Well, I’m curious what our listeners think of this sort of format, are you a fan of 16-ounce beers? Are you a fan of 12-ounce beers? Are you happy that a lot of brewers are moving back to the 12-ounce cans like we are? Or are you totally comfortable buying the 16-ounce cans and just letting it ride? So let us know. Hit us up [email protected]. We’ve loved getting all the recent emails, reactions to the show, etc. Always helpful in us coming up with new topics every week because it’s a lot to come up with. It’s a lot. Joanna and Zach, I’ll see you back here on Friday.
J: Talk to you then.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast,” the flagship podcast of the VinePair Podcast network. If you love listening to this show or even if you don’t, but I really hope that you do as much as we really do love making it, then please drop us a review or a rating wherever it is that you get your podcast. Whether that be iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, anywhere. If you are listening to this on a device right now through an app, however you got this audio, please drop a review. It really helps everyone else discover the show and now for some totally awesome credits.
So, the Vine Pair podcast is recorded in our New York City headquarters and in Seattle, Washington, in Zach Geballe’s basement. It is recorded by Zach, mastered and produced by Zach. He loves all the credit. Keep giving it to him. Drop his name in the reviews. He’s going to love hearing how much you love him. It is also recorded in New York City by our tastings director, Keith Beavers, who is the managing director of the entire Vine Pair podcast network. I’d also love to give a shout out to our editor in chief, Joanna Shareno, who joins us on every single podcast as our third and most important host. Thank you as well to the entire Vine Pair staff and everyone who’s been involved in making Vine Pair as special as it’s become. Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.