There are many different paths by which inspiration for a beer recipe can get into my brain. Sometimes it’s trying to replicate a beer I’ve enjoyed in the wild, or jacking it up. Sometimes, celebrating a particular ingredient or interpreting a recipe for something other than a beer. Sometimes illustrating a physical principle, or just being a bit perverse. This is the first time I’ve brewed a beer soley for the acronym.
One of the things I do in my CFO day job is to provide transparency on company performance by reporting and interpreting our financial results every month. Among these results is our operating income, for which our metric is Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization, abbreviated as EBITDA. To a degree of approximation, EBITDA measures the amount of cash your company generates on behalf of the stakeholders who hold a claim on that cash, including the debtholders—who receive interest—and the government—which receives tax payments. Depreciation and Amortization, two of the major non-cash costs that companies recognize, are backed out of this metric to better approximate cash.
(Side note: accounting involves a tremendous amount of judgment—dare we call it creativity?—in the service of the principle of matching costs to associated revenues. There are those—looking at you, Warren Buffett!—who will tell you with good reason that EBITDA cannot be trusted. I get where they’re coming from, but there are situations in which it can be. But be sure to review and understand the balance sheet and cash flow statement before you put your faith there.)
Us pointy-headed CFO types just accept that EBITDA is a thing, and forget that to the rest of the company, it’s silly-sounding jargon. We get a reputation for wielding this silly word; but if you stick at it and you’re lucky, some strange alchemy occurs and people start cheering you on. We’ve gotten to the point where in our monthly Zoom meeting, there are folks who are anxiously awaiting the EBITDA report. Largely, they’re waiting to make fun of me—but at least they’re listening!
In the case of this particular pointy-headed CFO type, my audience also knows that I’m a homebrewer. There’s another game during my financial reports where they try to read what’s on the Now Brewing chalkboard that appears in the background of my Zoom room, which is fun.
This past July, my colleague Lindsey—my Nothingburger Baltic Porter muse—hit upon the natural endpoint of all of this: I had to brew an EBITDA to bring to our All-Hands meeting in August. This was a perfectly ridiculous idea—but clearly a categorical imperative.
I wanted the beer to come by the name honestly—to be EBITDA, not just be named EBITDA. Here’s where I landed:
- Eric’s: this was valid—after all, it’s my damn beer.
- Brett: I could have gone with Bitter but now that I’ve started to go down the Brettanomyces rathole, this was would be a little more interesting. But I wouldn’t sour this one—any funk would come from the brett.
- Imperial: two choices here—I could go with India and make this brew extra-hoppy, or with Imperial and jack the ABV. I chose the latter, fortifying a big grain bill with Munich malt extract and pomegranate molasses (previously used in Asphodel Dunkelweizen).
- Turmeric: there aren’t a lot of random T’s kicking around the brewing world. I had good luck with the turmeric incorporated into La Mancha Sour Ale and it would complement the pomegranate molasses. It felt like ginger needed to be added as a flavor component, so this went in as well (but skirted the acronym).
- Dark Ale: To make this point, a hefty 5% of the grain bill would be dark Carafa III.
The overall vibe would be something dark and funky. A bit sweet and spicy, but not really trying to be a dessert beer. More of an after-dinner drink. I decided to lean into this postprandial character with a touch of smoked malt and some oak chips in primary fermentation.
This was a complicated recipe. But I wouldn’t call it a mess. Not exactly. And if you’re brewing a beer for the acronym—shouldn’t you just go for it?
This beer made its official debut at the Mozilla 2023 All Hands #zymurgy Beer Swap, and as it turned out, it was a hit. One review: “A beer brewed almost solely for meme purposes, this was incredibly well balanced. It became even better as it warmed a bit in my glass.” It also met a favorable reception at a CFO event in Los Angeles this October; I will allow this crowd would be favorably disposed solely on the basis of the joke, but even the non-beer-drinkers appreciated the balance of flavors, thinking that it had the character of some exotic brown good rather than a humble beer.
Maybe even Warren Buffett could appreciate it.
Another Mozilla cultural tic is the All Hands sticker swap. Most operating groups create something to trade—it’s a fun cultural currency and builds spirit. This past year I decided to extend my campaign to make financial metrics cool and made a special CFO sticker that folks had to get directly from me. It was an uncharacteristically obvious (for me) joke and people loved it.
I wanted my EBITDA logo plastered over every seedy rock venue in Montreal; failing that, I’d creatively visualize this situation on this label. Kevgusar from Indonesia helped me out; you can just smell the sweat and spilled beer ground into the concrete floor.
In 2010, Kenny “K-Strass” Strasser conducted a tour of morning shows throughout the midwest to raise kids’ consciousness of environmental issues through yo-yo tricks, a medium of which he is an acknowledged master. His impact, as seen in this compilation video, was profound.
That’s probably not what this Yo La Tengo track from their late-period masterpiece This Stupid World is about, but let’s just pretend it is.